In June of 2005 I turned 65. I realized that August 6th would be the sixtieth anniversary of the bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. There would be no better time than to go to Japan. Carolyn Affleck accompanied me for three weeks in the country, with the help of our good friends Chris and Lieh. How can I sum up this full and rewarding experience?

We walked - along highways, over bridges, past fountains, up mountains. We talked - to mayors and monks, schoolchildren and survivors. We bussed, we drove, we super-trained, we ferried. We listened, we sang, we laughed, we cried, we wandered and wondered, we sweated and we swam!

In Hiroshima, on August the 6th, 2005, at 8:15 in the morning, thousands sat in silence in the Peace Park. Then, official declarations were made, addresses were given and a children’s choir performed a haunting song. Even at that hour, the heat was fierce, but nothing, I thought to myself, like the heat felt on August 6th, 1945. After this event, we walked silently around the Peace Park. Later, we broke silence by ringing the gold crane-shaped bell at Sadako’s memorial statue and then laid our origami peace birds from Vancouver, the Sunshine Coast, California, Alaska, Germany and Japan at its foot. In the afternoon, we met an A-bomb survivor, and listened to her personal story, marveling at her lightness of spirit and determination to create a world free of nuclear warfare.

Three days later, at 11:02 am in Nagasaki, we sat again in silence. After the official ceremony, we wandered the Peace Park to enjoy small grassroots events, with people of all faiths and nationalities and hundreds of smiling children. We then explored the environs and found remains of an old cemetery, and a small Shinto shrine next to a camphor tree festooned with cranes. After the tree was destroyed on Aug 9, 1945, it miraculously come back to life, growing around the charred remains, and thereafter became an object of veneration. We got to listen to the tree “breathing” through a stethoscope! Although the bomb that fell on this city was larger and potentially more devastating than the one that fell on Hiroshima, due to Nagasaki’s geographical characteristics, more people and more structures survived. A glimpse of the modern city through a half-fallen shrine-gate was particularly moving. At times it was eerie, realizing we were walking on the bones of so many victims, and the rubble of so many homes.

Hiroshima and Nagasaki are lively, bustling, thriving cities. It was amazing to us that these places were not only completely rebuilt but they are once again full of happy productive people, choosing to live peacefully. Having survived almost total destruction, Hiroshima and Nagasaki live on, pledging to never let the world forget the horrors of nuclear war. They remind us of our great potential. They embody the very spirit of peace.

Later, we also explored the island of Shikoku, where there is an ancient pilgrimage to 88 Buddhist temples. We experienced their mystery and quiet beauty, delighting in finding hidden stairways and caves to explore. We enjoyed learning and performing some of the rituals one undertakes upon entering these sacred spaces. Later, in one of the larger cities, we unexpectedly got caught up in a parade during a dance festival! At the end of our trip, we visited Chris and Lieh in Hamada, and traversed, with a group of new Peace Walkers, the majestic bridge spanning the city.

So - my dream of walking in Japan was fulfilled, but our journey has not ended. The spirit of Peace still burns like a flame in our hearts.