Japan tsunami: heartache for a nation

A sakura in full bloom during a sakura festival in Yoyogi Park 2009. PHOTO BY : Vince Versace


As images and stories continue to increase about the tragedy, despair and faint glimmers of hope emanating from Japan this author’s heart aches a little more.

The March 11 earthquake that rocked Japan, pegged at 8.9 on the Richter scale, has left a trail of devastation that is hard to comprehend. This was not a third-world or underdeveloped country with poor infrastructure or lack of planning and preparedness for a natural disaster, this is one of the world’s leading nations (though economically suffering for sometime now) physically brought to its knees.

Over the last few days I’ve quietly thought about what to write about in light of what Mother Nature’s runaway water locomotive did to a country and culture I admire deeply as if it were my own. Japan has been a lifelong fascination of mine and a fantastic trip to the Land of the Rising Sun two years ago was a dream come true for my travel mates and I.

A flame outside the Great Buddha Temple in Nara. PHOTO BY: Vince Versace

Since the earthquake and tsunami danced their deadly two-step on Japan so many memories have flooded back, I can still smell the sakura of Yoyogi Park, hear the soles of Tokyo’s “salarymen/women” on a Shibuya station tiled-floor and feel the warm morning sun on Mount Koyasan…Japan left me with memories to last a lifetime:

“I miss the pace, the people, the culture which felt so foreign yet oddly comforting and familiar all at the same time. It did feel like I was on another planet but in a good way.” I wrote on May 2009, in a post called My Japan Blues.

Catastrophic may come close as the word to best describe the damage which ravaged Japan’s northeastern coast (which I did not visit) but it could be an understatement. There are many ways to donate to help, here are a few:

  • Canadian cellphone users can text ASIA to 30333, to donate $5 to the Canadian Red Cross Japan Earthquake/Asia-Pacific Tsunami fund at no charge for the text.
  • Canadian Red Cross donations can be made at redcross.ca or call 1-800-418-1111.

An old Japanese proverb comes to mind:

“A single arrow is easily broken but not 10 in a bundle”

Just as we come to the aid of other nations, come together and complete that bundle of arrows to help Japan recover, for as wounded as she is, her people will not break but sure could use the help.

A statue of samurai Kusunoki Masashige, a national patriotic hero known for his loyalty and courage. PHOTO BY: Vince Versace

We’ve hit two years – Happy Birthday On Deadline!

On Deadline celebrates its 2nd birthday today.

Two years and almost 200 posts later and we are still kicking.

This blog started on a whim two years ago today and was strictly meant to give me an “online presence”… little did I know it would become not just an obsession some days but also something I hate on others.

The push and pull of creating not just anything for the blog but something of quality has been an interesting exercise. I never wanted it to be an asinine collection of links and videos nor just a place where I rant. My ultimate goal from post to post is to give a reader some sober second thought on a subject or get them motivated to make a positive change. Sometimes I succeeded, sometimes I failed but the posts, readers and views kept coming.

Over the last year The Good Revolution found us worthy enough to be contributors to them  and the fundraising efforts we supported, from Two Write Love On Her Arms to the World Food Programme, proved to me the quality of you, the On Deadline readers. You are all worth whatever menial struggle I have to overcome to click away at the keyboard.

My thanks to you for ensuring this blog and my efforts are worthwhile.

On Deadline readers you simply rock.

Vince Versace


1. My blog post about the frustrations in trying to find the Terry Fox Memorial in St. John’s, NFLD and my eventual disappointment in what I found was the most popular over the last year here at On Deadline. Though it was penned this past October it has screamed up to the top on the most viewed and referral charts. Feels good to know that a personal hero of mine is so popular and that others found the memorial not worthy of this amazing Canadian.

2. Sex does sell and it does equal visits to your blog. My sexy Canadian politicians post from last year still brings eye balls trolling for sexy pictures of sexy politicians. What disappointment these folks must have felt when they found G-rated photos of some attractive Canadian politicians and then nothing else.

  • This year I introduced a category called Writer Talk where I looked at the craft of writing, the joys of reading and all the frustrations that came with them. My post called Pushing an Elephant Up A Mountain was my favourite. Judging by the discussions, responses and messages from other fellow writers, hacks and wordsmiths, it struck a chord. My other two favourites were about my last, late night walk in Tokyo and Amanda Lindhout being freed.


These following three terms brought the most people to On Deadline: terry fox, ruby dhalla, voodoo.

Thanks again and on to Year Three!


Hiroshima… Never Again


Never again.

The two words are almost always guaranteed to come up in any conversation, debate or literature about Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the infamous date of August 6 1945.

The deadly devastation that was unleashed on those two cities courtesy of the United States and their A-bomb is stunning even by our modern standards. Commemorating and trying to spread a message of peace is not trite or hippie-fare, it is a responsibility. If you don’t believe that, visit Hiroshima sometime.

After my trip to Japan this past April, Hiroshima holds a special place in my heart and global conscience.  Attending today’s Hiroshima Day ceremony at Nathan Phillips Square in Toronto only felt natural. Toronto is among the almost 3,000 cities in the “Mayors for Peace” movement.


As I listened to Hiroshima survivors tell their story my mind pictured the bustling, blue-collar friendly city I experienced this spring. As I heard their words depicting the horror they have emblazoned in their minds, I tried to picture the city I enjoyed so much, leveled and ashen, burnt to cinders.


It is the modern Hiroshima that inspires me so much. To walk the streets now of a city which was utterly destroyed except for the iconic A-Bomb Dome and the facade of a bank seems unreal. Hiroshima, as I blogged earlier this year, is a prime example of rising from the ashes, of overcoming the worst humankind can do to one another and the strength of will and spirit.

As I looked at the various lanterns children made at the Toronto ceremony, reading their simple messages of hope written in crayon and in that “kid script” we all once had (…and some of us reporters still do…) I recalled the message of peace we ran into almost everywhere in Hiroshima.


Whether it was a little restaurant, a coffee shop or a hostel, all away from the tourist areas, their messages of peace or requests for you, the guest, to express your peace, were evident. Seeing them again and again, left an impression. How a city destroyed rebounds and takes on the mission of spreading peace, when it was a victim, is not just admirable but noble.


Survivors of the atomic bombs from Hiroshima and Nagasaki are known as Hibakusha. Innocent people around the globe since World War Two and even now suffer horrors thanks to war and unrest but the mass of humanity burnt to nothing in these two Japanese cities cannot be forgotten. As these Hibakusha now enter their last years and pass away, their memories, messages and the responsibility to carry them on, grows in importance.

Never again.


Last walk in Tokyo

2:20 a.m., can’t sleep, I’m always restless the night before a flight and it is my last night in Tokyo.

Get up, get dressed and start to roam the streets around my downtown Tokyo hotel. The lights are all out on the nearby World Trade Centre Building, the only businesses open are late night hole-in-the-wall eateries, a bar, nearby massage parlours and a strip club.

Only signs of humanity are the a handful of straggling and stumbling black-suited salarymen of Tokyo, disheveled and drunk. One sits on a low concrete pillar. Collar open, tie twisted to the side, he sits, eyes closed, brief case in on hand. Just five hours before, both sides of the streets were bursting and teeming with the hard-working, black-suited salarymen and women of nearby Tokyo offices.  Laughing, smiling, they were releasing stresses and energy from a day of hard work. Away from their families and friends, they cavort, laugh and talk loudly freely on the sidewalks and patios.

Now, only five of them are left, another eats late night McDonald’s, briefcase between his legs as he sits on a step. Another, at a nearby outdoor counter, drinks a canned beer he scored for 300 Yen from a nearby vending machine.

I walk. Take in the colourful signs and written words I cannot read. Each word looks like a piece of art and is a mystery. This city and country are still a mystery even after two weeks of travel within it. We may have pulled back the veil a bit, and had a taste and peek at this wonderful society and its people but we are far from truly understanding it.

Cabs zoom by as I turn to head back. I walk by a taxi stand, the three cab drivers are standing outside of their vehicles, in the nearby designated smoking area. Even at this hour, when municipal bylaw officials have long retired for the night, the three drivers still stand in the six by 10 foot area people are allowed to smoke in on this block in public.

I walk back to the hotel and look down the street, the ancient massive gate of the Zojoji Temple sits at its end, stalwart, imposing and strong. The usually bright and  tacky Tokyo Tower that screams up to the sky behind it, now sits dark too. Only a red light at its tip now glows.

It is lights out Tokyo and lights out on this trip too.

Lightning in a bottle

We caught lightning in a bottle while in Hiroshima and boy…did it burn bright.

Some trips simply develop their own pace based on a variety of obstacles, barriers and challenges and then, on some days, everything simply comes together to create a lasting set of memories. For the “Canadian Four” trekking across Japan, like a jigsaw puzzle, pieces fell into place in Hiroshima and the least hyped stop on our trip  turned out  to be the best one thus far.

We were expecting sombre and sobering experiences while here in this city that literally raised itself from A-bomb ashes. We even expected a healthy dose of skeptical looks cast our way thanks to Americas lasting and dark legacy here. Instead, we met a community, not a city, but a community of people that were as welcoming as could be.  They were real people, no pretension, no arrogance, every where you turned, welcoming glances were returned and conversation was easy.

Japan has been awesome but no place has felt like home as Hiroshima did, go figure. We visited it for a history lesson and received a life lesson, you can pick yourself and rise above those who knock you down.

Experiencing a city on foot, in the trenches of everyday life, is always the most rewarding way to explore a new place and Hiroshima just gave us kilometres upon kilometres of new streets to explore. The frenzy of Tokyo is not here. The cultural haze of Kyoto not here either. Instead, Hiroshima motors along at 1.4 million people as a hard working city and the most open minded  of them all.

We took in all the sad and stomach-turning historical sights, the viciousness of that A bomb dropped here is hard to fathom when you are surrounded by a vibrant city. To think one nation would unleash such terror  on another is even harder to understand.

On to a Hiroshima Carp baseball game, now that was a surreal experience, Japanese baseball. Fans chanting and cheering for nine innings straight but always respectful of one another. When the opposing teams fans cheered, the home team fans would wait until they were done and then begin their noise. So much more to write about this experience alone…

Then, Hiroshima at night…wow, what a throbbing heart beat it has. Side alleys alight in gaudy neon and main drags full of people but never a sense of impending danger, just impending fun and celebration….

there is just so much more, so much more…but that happens when you catch lightning in a bottle.

Hiroshima we are here

Never thought my stay in Hiroshima would start this way but it has. We just enjoyed the afternoon on the rooftop terrace of our hotel, in a blazing sun without a cloud in the sky, whoever thought I would be working on my tan in Hiroshima.

 After a smokey train ride from Kyoto (we ended up seated in a smoking car to get here) we made it to our home away from home here. A city with some sad serious and depressing history with so much to offer we hear. We have been warned that it will likely be a depressing experience but instead, we have hit the most laid back of Japanese cities thus far.

We have not done any sight seeing yet, instead, we are going to enjoy the city’s night life and live music scene tonight which should be interesting. Tomorrow, we hit the A- Bomb Dome and, the memorial park and then to the war musuem.

Talk to you later. Take care.

Kyoto we hardly know you

Kyoto,we hardly know you.

After a whirlwind two days in Kyoto we cannot help but feel there is some unfinished business here.

The cultural capital of Japan is definitely a city in transition. It has many stretches of postcard old japan from the 1930s to 1950s. Unruly telephone wires, British architecture on buildings that once were banks and post offices which then sit cheek-to-jowl with temples and shrines randomly, dominate the cityscape.

Our hostel – the Sugar Tomato – sits right next to a shrine first built in 1392, Ashawando temple it is called. Pregnant and ill women tend to pilgrimage to it for blessings of good health. Spent a morning in it just as the monks cleaned it, they let me roam about snapping photos and we quietly communicated with subtle hand gestures and bows.

Much more to write about Kyoto – we roamed some awesome temple complexes- but we are off to see the Golden Temple this morn before catching a bullet train to Hiroshima,

Until then,cheers!