A Life Incomplete

Notes on things past, present, and future from somewhere in Japan (and perhaps elsewhere)

Unlike the day before, I woke up to clear blue skies. Disgruntled at being discouraged to rent an electric car, I decided I didn’t like vehicles to begin with and I should walk the whole day. It was Good Friday, after all. That ended soon after setting off. I passed by a bus stop which noted the next bus would be coming in a few minutes. Looking up at the slope I was walking up, I decided buses weren’t so bad after all. The bus, with me as its sole passenger went up and down the hills of Shinkamigoto until I was able to see my first church of the day, Aosagaura.  My entire trip to the Goto Islands could realistically be traced to when I initially saw this church in a Tora-san movie almost 10 years ago.  I spent over an hour there, following Bishop Barron’s Stations of the Cross (which I luckily finished right before someone came in to do some vacuuming), discovering where the film was shot inside and outside the church, thinking about how the light refracted through the stained glass, reflecting on how I ended up here on Good Friday in 2024.  Perhaps purposely I watched a bus going on to my next destination pass by on the road below. But eventually I had to leave.  I walked to my next destination, Maruo Catholic Church. My first stop was the old Maruo Catholic Church, where another scene was shot of the same Tora-san film.  The former church ended up having been turned into an ossuary, so after taking a few photos outside where the film – it was a burial scene – was shot, I walked down the hill a bit to the current Maruo Church. It is a contemporary, active church.  On the whiteboard it said the Good Friday Stations of the Cross would be held at 3pm.  That was the same time as Aokata Church near my hotel. I thought about trying to get back to “my church” in time but instead enjoyed the view of Mary overlooking the sea. I walked a bit to reach a temple with a gate designed by the architect Yosuke Tetsukawa, a Buddhist who designed many of the famous churches in the Goto Islands and elsewhere in the early 20th century.  Looking at the bus schedule, I realized I could make one more church and still make it to Good Friday services.  I arrived at Oso Catholic Church right at 3pm and found the Church full with parishioners for the Good Friday Stations of the Cross.  I left my Japanese booklet in my room but I followed along as best I could. I chatted a bit with one of the parishioners afterwards, who welcomed me by saying that I had made it just in time. I caught a view of Japan’s floating petroleum reserve while walking back to the hotel. I went to the Good Friday service at Aokata. Chatting with a parishioners after the service, I discovered the easy to understand priest of the church was just dispatched there by the diocese — the church itself did not have a dedicated pastor. I went back to the hotel to get ready for my Easter Vigil trip  back to the mainland, where I would meet my wife and we would head by one of those dreaded rental cars – my wife not sharing my dislike of vehicles, to another island, Hirado.  

The weather looked bad when I woke up, and it only got worse throughout the day.  Announcements over the local loudspeakers reiterated that all the ferries in and out were cancelled. I even heard that the ferry I had taken the previous day had broken down. I don’t plan on leaving here till Saturday, but I didn’t have a choice, in any case, to leave today. I took the bus from Aoka to the Arikawa Ferry Terminal and then another bus, all by myself, through the mountains and across a bridge to Kashiragashima Island and the World Heritage Church there.  I had made a reservation the previous day to visit.  I could only stay inside the church for 30 minutes. There were three hours between buses. I had to find things to do for another 2 and a half hours. The only shop in the area was closed. Even the vending machine was closed.

 I spent the time before my appointment watching the sea and the rain and the wind, looking at the church and the cemetery, while contemplating those parishioners who had built this church, who lived and died there without the convenience of a bridge or daily ferries that only sometimes broke down or were incapacitated due to weather.  I was most impressed when I spent the first 30 minutes at the beach, watching the wind blow waves across the water. I imagined people there 100 years ago, with only the church, or before that, just their community, to help sustain them on this isolated island they had chosen to live to keep their faith.   As my time approached, I made my way to the church – as there was no guidance for those hardy souls who took the bus, I ended up asking the only person not working for the World Hertiage Site for help.  I spent my 30 minutes doing the Way of the Cross and thinking some more.  The weather was even worse afterwards so I spent the time in the official visitors center watching every video I could and also reading a whole photo book cover to cover on the Christian related world heritage sites in Kyushu. When I finally felt I needed to move on I shifted to the nearby Furiai Center, an old house that was now managed by the city. I chatted a bit with the staff member who had initially guided me to the information center. I took a picture of the home altar and went through the books Finding the hymnal from John Paul II Nagasaki mass I once again thought about the parishioners here. I still have memories of seeing John Paul II’s mass at Candlestick Park as a child. and I came out to Nagasaki to see Pope Francis mass, as well. What were they thinking and feeling in 1981 as they took a ferry to Nagasaki to see the Pope that had come to see them?

As the weather worsened, I took one more walk down towards the sea. I came back and waited for the bus driver to come back so I could get out of the rain and onto the bus, just to discover right as the bus was to leave that the bus driver was onboard the whole time with doors closed! I came back to Arikawa. I chatted a bit with the person in the pilgrimage center at the ferry terminal, took a few photos of the hotel that had closed down where the crew of the Tora-san movie that was filmed here stayed, chatted with an unenthusiastic staff member about whether or not renting a small electric car was feasible for my plans, had some local udon at the same tourist complex, and finally went to a local coffee shop that was also closing down for good in a few days. Even as the rain fell and I had abandoned my umbrella the rain that the wind had snapped into two I tried to find the street where Tora had been those many years ago but all the shops around him in the film were gone, so it was difficult to determine exactly where he had been, in the end.  I arrived at my bus stop a bit before it arrived and discovered that the bakery I had planned on visiting since I saw it on my morning bus closed an hour before.

Getting back to Aoka, I bought a bento from a local shop rather than go back to the restaurant I had been to the previous day, got lunch for Friday at the supermarket, and went back to my hotel to freshen up for Maudy Thursday mass at Aoka Church. The church wasn’t full, but it was noticeable that the men mostly sat on the left while woman mostly wearing chapel veils on the right.  The priest’s homily for Maundy Thursday, about the last supper being the first mass and the reason for going to mass every week was God’s love for us, was fairly easy understandable for me, which is always a plus when I go to a Japanese language mass.  I had dinner back at the hotel, hoping the weather would be a bit nicer on Good Friday.  

I ran out of my hotel at five till six to get to the six am morning mass at Fukue Church. After checking out I went down to the station and rented a bicycle and preceded to see three more churches. One fairly new, one very small, and one very old. On my way I passed by an old gravesite of hidden Christians dating back to the second half of the 18th century. As I followed the signs to the site I ran into the owner of the land and he showed me around, excited that someone from California who spoke Japanese was interested in this site. The last church is located in a small valley right on the coast. I slowly rode up hill before a steep, downhill decent brought me to the church. The ride uphill wasn’t the most enjoyable but I was rewarded with a beautiful, quiet hour at this seaside church and beach. I made it back to the port, dropped off my bike, took a ferry to a small port that Tora-san used in a film and made my way by bus to my next hotel in Shinkamigoto.

I got on the bus thinking it was going one way but it ended up going in an entirely different direction. My day was ruined for about 30 minutes, but the kindness of the bus driver and the person in charge of the Dozaki Church museum made things better. I headed back to the center of town with a rosary, some postcards, and the memory of a beautiful brick church on the coast – the same coast where storms came through that would cause enough damage that it could not be registered as a World Heritage site. Which makes it easier to visit, in the end. After having lunch at a restaurant Tora-san ate lunch, I made my way to Tamanoura, where Tora-san also I went. Getting off at a church with the oldest Lourdes grotto in Japan, I walked the few kilometers down the coast to Tamanoura Church, where Tora-san once passed by. Everything else in the town that Tora-san visited had changed. The church was still the same, though. As I was taking photos someone came by to lock it up – so I had made it just in time! I wandered down to the red lighthouse where Tora-san had also been. No one was around, just me and the waves crashing into the sea. I had now been to Abashiri where Tora spent time thinking while looking at the Hat Rock and the Goto Islands where Tora looked out into the sea next to the red lighthouse.

I woke up before dawn to go to Mass at Nakamachi Church. I left early enough to first go to Nishizaka Hill, where the Twenty-Six Martyrs of Japan were executed in 1597. I checked out, went to the local department store, Hamaya, to get my shirt with its newly sewed buttons, some food for lunch, and chatting with someone while standing outside of Pompadour (yes, there is a Pompadour bakery in Nagasaki!), I headed down to the ferry terminal. (Though I first tried to buy some local pudding for my wife just to discover the shop was temporarily closed today.) Sailing during a rainstorm made for some beautiful views but I decided to stay inside and read and scroll after slipping on the deck. I bought a one day bus ticket for tomorrow, walked down to the surprisingly large Fukue Church, where I got my first official pilgrimage stamp. I was happy to find out they have daily mass at 8am but sad to see it was canceled tomorrow, and only tomorrow. When I got back to the hotel I found out the owner's aunt was in the scene in Tora-san 35 that was filmed at Aosagaura Catholic Church.

I started the day by going to Palm Sunday Mass at Urakami Cathedral. I first came here eight years ago to attend Easter Vigil Mass. The original cathedral was the largest in Asia. It was destroyed after the US dropped an atomic bomb on it — the cathedral was only 500 meters from the hypocenter. I lingered a bit after Mass and chatted with some parishioners before turning around and seeing a large number of tourists gathered in the back of the church behind a rope. I walked down to the Dr. Takashi Nagai Memorial Hall. It is small but it made clear and concrete the affects of war, especially atomic weapons. I bought a bilingual copy of Nagai's most famous work, The Bells of Nagasaki. I walked through the Peace Park to Nagasaki's Atomic Bomb Museum. It was my first time there although this is my third time to Nagasaki city.

In the afternoon I went to Oura Cathedral and the new museum built in the old seminary on the grounds. I didn't have much time but that ended up not being a problem, in the end. A free pork bun sample led me to having a full sized pork bun before having dinner at the new development near Dejima. I tried to go to a jazz kissa that I read about in Monocle Magazine but found it closed so I found an old coffee shop with a cat and spent some time there. I took a photo of Megane (Spectacles) Bridge before heading off to my hotel for bed.

I left Hiroshima before dawn so I could stop off at Yamaguchi. The clerk at the church bookstore asked if I was there because of the New York Times. I had to be honest and said no, as I was there to visit her church. the Yamaguchi Xavier Memorial Church. I had just enough time to visit the church and walk through the Xaiver museum.

I enjoyed rereading Joerg Rieger's Faith on the Road in the afternoon.

As I got close to Nagasaki that evening the rain became heavier but luckily the train didn't stop. I did take taxi to the hotel, where I arrived just in time to see Tora-san meet Sachiko Kobayashi in the mountains above Shimabara as Tora-san 47 ended on it's weekly TV showing.

In the morning i went to Mass at the The Memorial Cathedral of World Peace, where I was volunteered to read the 12th station during the Stations of the Cross. In the early afternoon I cycled around Hiroshima and eventually ended up at an excellent chocolate shop. I ended the day by spending a few hours at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. It was my first time to Hiroshima and the Peace Museum in 29 years.

I left my home in Sagamihara at dawn and got to Hiroshima 823 kilometers to the west just before 10 pm.

Something I saw while visiting Hattori Ranch here in Sagamihara

A small sheep standing on a bigger sheep

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