At the beginning of September 2002, Pinniped found himself in Hiroshima, Japan on a business trip. The coincidence of a visit to the world's original Ground Zero a few days before 9/11's first anniversary led to a remarkable conversation, and the Post recorded it here.
In March 2011, a few weeks after an earthquake and tsunami devastated the north-east seaboard of Honshu, Pinniped chanced on correspondence with his erstwhile project partner. It led him to send an e-mail expressing concern and sympathy. He didn't expect what happened next.
My e-mail was tentative. It had been nine years since we last met, and eight without communication of any kind. Would this seem like an intrusion? Might he have retired by now?
The answer to both questions, it seems, was no.
His phone call caught me off guard. It took me a moment to realise who it was, and sometimes we have to be grateful for such moments. My habitual telephone manner would have been facile and over-familiar. Instead I found myself adopting the hesitant reverence of the Peace Park, all those years ago.
Dear Mr Himitsu. I hope that you receive this e-mail and that it finds you well.
He said he was calling to thank me, but also to reassure me. Not everyone understands Japan, he noted. Perhaps Azarashi-chan knows it better than many, but time passes and things can be forgotten.
I wanted to tell you that I am thinking about my friends in Japan right now.
He remembered things I told him a decade ago. He remembered how I'd said that a colleague of mine had been visiting Kobe on business at the time of the 1995 earthquake, and how someone from the steel company had travelled through a shattered city to meet him in his hotel and to apologise for his wasted journey. He remembered that I had daughters, and asked after them.
My feelings are a mixture of sympathy and admiration for a courageous and dignified people.
If I had planned the conversation in advance, I would have talked of the eerie similarities between 1945 and 2011: the devastation and the lingering radioactivity and the thousands who would never be found. I would have mentioned the one profound difference too, that the West was guilty the first time. The Allies chose to assist the rebuilding of Japan in part to assuage that guilt.
I am fearful that there is only pity from the West this time, when Japan needs more than that.
I didn't get to say any of those things. Instead he recalled something quite different that he'd told me that day in the Peace Park. He said back then that the atom bombs would one day become a blessing, in some future time of calamity. The people of Japan people would remember Hiroshima and Nagasaki and through them they would find the belief to come through any sorrow. He told me yesterday that that time had come.
I hope that you and your loved ones are not caught up in the terrible disaster.
He told me that his home was safe in the far west, and that there was no damage out there, and that the groundshock had been perceptible but unexceptional. But then he said that his wife's birth-town was Sendai and that her relatives were now staying with them in Hiroshima Prefecture. There was no way of knowing when they might be able to return home, but for now all that mattered was that everyone was safe, and that he felt lucky and thankful to have a house big enough to accommodate them all.
If there's anything I can do to help, I hope you will suggest it. If not, then please know that you are in my thoughts.
Well of course you must write, he said. That surprised me, because he hadn't really liked the first piece. Respect for the story is worth more than pride in its telling, he said. The first piece was good, but my enthusiasm about it was not. This time, he felt sure that the writer's humility would complement the writing.
Your respectful friend, Mick (Azarashi-chan)
He thanked me and said goodbye, and I started to think of all the things that I should have said.
The Other Side of the World
But I didn't say those things, and so now I must write them instead. These few words are just the beginning. I don't know if I have the ability to tell this story, but I promise to try.