Struck up a conversation with "Jiichan" (gramps) and "Baachan" (granny) in the park last week. Jiichan is always out tending his garden, talking to the neighbors, watching kids in the park, or playing gateball, and he and I'd talked a few times before. But Baachan, behind her thick glasses and leaning on a cane, was new to me. She asked me how long I'd been in Japan, and I told her that and how much I like it here.
"Yeah," Baachan said. "Japan is OK, I guess. But kids today ..."
"Yeah," Jiichan said, nodding, his voice deep and rough from wear. "They never knew the war, so they don't understand anything about hardship."
"Their grandparents are OK. We told them the stories and they remember."
"Yes. The generation after the war generation is OK, but the Japanese started going bad after them. They don't understand that freedom comes with responsibility. They think they can do whatever they want."
Baachan nodded. "But it's good Japan lost the war, though I'm sorry for the people in Hiroshima."
"That's true," Jiichan said.
"Why?" I asked.
Baachan looked around and motioned to the neighborhood with her cane. "Things have been so much better since the war."
"Yeah," Jiichan said. "America won the war, but we won, too. Our government back then was bad and led us into the war, and it was terrible. Things are much better today. I remember, I was a kid during the war. This area out here, along the coast," he pointed along a series of highrise apartment buildings. "It was an important shipping yard." He grinned at me. "Do you know 'B-29'?"
"Yes, I do."
Jiichan chuckled. "Well, a flight of B-29s took out that whole part of town. I was a kid back then. We didn't know the taste of sugar because of war rationing. The bombs set the warehouses on fire and we could smell the sugar burning. The mayor ordered us to grab buckets and get some sugar, and we did. After that we had sugar, although it was illegal."
Baachan was staring off into the distance, the blue sky reflected in her glasses.
Jiichan continued, "None of us would have done it except the mayor told us to. We Japanese, we follow our leaders like that. The way our government works now, that's probably OK. It's a good system for us. But the world can't trust our leadership. That's why the world needs a strong America."
Baachan nodded. "Yes, that's true. People joke about America being the 'world police,' but the world needs that. Americans are always questioning their leaders, and everything is so open. That's why we can trust America."
"Yes," Jiichan said. "We like Bush."
"A lot of people were disappointed Kerry lost," I said.
Jiichan nodded. "That's true, but Bush is good."
"Yes," Baachan said. "Bush is good."
The conversation turned to other things after that, and ended as we got on about our days.