Chapter 1: In the Beginning

 Chapter 1. In the Beginning

In November 1966 my husband and I loaded all of our possessions on a State Line freighter to embark from San Francisco on our journey to Japan. The ship sailed beneath the Golden Gate Bridge at dusk, arriving five days later in Honolulu, where it docked for several days before heading for Midway.

The weather was balmy, the sea changed from an icy blue to a gentle green hue and jumping fish entertained us as we stood on the deck gazing out at the endless expanse of ocean lulled by gentle waves capped with white froth. As the boat approached Midway, we saw the remains of B-29 bombers resting in the shallow emerald green waters, a poignant reminder of the Battle of Midway. The ship was the only commercial freighter allowed to dock because it delivered provisions to the US naval base. Passengers were permitted to disembark and walk around the island which was inhabited by the military and wives of the officers. As we strolled on the white sandy beach we passed a woman sitting on a bench looking intently through binoculars at the ocean. When we asked her what she was looking at she said that she was searching for the glass fish balls used by fisherman to weigh down their nets. When she spotted one she sent a sailor under her husband’s command to collect it. She decorated her basement rump room with the balls, her main hobby while she was living on the island. The short stopover at the base was my first exposure to US military bases in the Pacific but it did not prepare me for what I was to experience in Japan.

The ship entered Yokohama Bay at 2am.  The night was crystal clear. We could see a myriad of tiny lights floating on the water and as we slowly drew nearer to the port we realized that the lights were coming from the lanterns used by the fishermen on their small boats to attract fish. We disembarked from the ship at 6am after our passports had been checked. We were sponsored by the senior partner of a San Francisco law firm specializing in maritime law, which was the first American law firm to enter Japan. Our sponsor was also the first foreigner to receive a law degree from Tokyo University.

The storage agency which would store our possessions until we found housing sent a truck to meet us at the dock and collect our goods. The driver and his partner kindly offered to take us to the hotel located on the outskirts of Kamakura where we planned to settle. Kamakura is located about an hour’s train ride from Tokyo and is located on the Shonan Peninsula. The city is a popular summer resort known among Japanese and foreigners alike for its beaches and its tourist attractions such as the huge statue of the Hase Buddha, the Zen Buddhist monasteries and Hachiman, the Shinto Shrine. There are many villas which were owned by wealthy families before the Second World War but were now leased to the Supreme Command of the Allied Powers (SCAP) personnel during the Occupation and to the American military for R&R during the Vietnam War.

We knew only a few basic expressions in Japanese and within a few hours after arriving, I made my first error. A typhoon had hit the area before our arrival and the weather was hot and humid. The hotel, which was located directly across the road from a beach, catered to summer tourists. There were no other guests and the atmosphere in the dining room was eerie. When a young waitress took our order I asked for a Coca Cola to cool down. Curiously we waited for twenty minutes before the waitress returned with our order. I was shocked when she placed in front of me a steaming cup of cocoa. Evidently, the Japanese pronunciation for Coca Cola was simply Cora. I was too embarrassed by my first language bungle to ask for my original order and drank the piping hot drink while perspiring profusely.

After lunch we took a trolley to town and wandered around this cultural mecca in search of a Japanese chocolate bar in order to compare it with Hershey. I tried a bar elegantly packaged in a green box decorated with red leaves and labelled Ghana which was produced by Lotte. The price was the same price as a Hershey bar but I was disappointed because the chocolate was oilier and less sweet. I also tried traditional Japanese cakes of rice flour and sweet red bean paste and I was hooked.  Although I soon became accustomed to Japanese brands of chocolate, I also developed a penchant for Japanese sweets and cakes.

As remains the case today, Japan’s political economy is fairly controlled and recognized as being xenophobic. It was difficult to find a rental because Japanese landlords were reticent to let to foreigners who, compared to the Japanese, did not keep their property as tidy. It was definitely discriminatory but logical as well because the Japanese are generally fastidious.   My husband’s acquaintance in Kamakura introduced us to a real estate agent who catered to foreigners and whose landlord clients were willing to rent property to foreigners. The landlord required a sponsor together with a guarantee payment, which is still the case today.  My husband was determined to live in a traditional Japanese-style dwelling. The house he fancied was located in Inamuragasaki a fifteen minute trolley ride from Kamakura and stood at the top of a flight of fifty stone steps and quite isolated. It had been built before the war with wooden floors in the hallway and kitchen and tatami floors throughout the other three rooms.

The beach of Inamuragasaki was nearby where a famous battle in 1333 ended the rule of the Kamakura Shogun who kept fifty pug dogs in his kennels. It was said that the echoes of the cries of soldiers defending the Kamakura government against invasion could be heard during bad storms.

Our beds were Japanese futon on the tatami floor and getting up on a winter’s morning was like breaking through a wall of ice. We placed sturdy Aladdin kerosene stoves imported from Great Britain strategically in each room to provide the only source of heat but we were advised not to use the stoves for more than two hours at a time because of the danger of carbon monoxide poisoning. A coal stove was stoked each time we needed hot water for the Japanese style bath, and a small electrically generated hot water heater placed above the kitchen sink taps provided hot water for washing the dishes. The kitchen faced northward which was freezing during the winter months while the room where we entertained guests faced to the south which was typical in Japanese homes.

There was a roofed veranda which was also home to a variety of insects. My husband who had lived in the tropical paradises of Tobago and Hawaii was amazed by the size of some of them, including centipedes, praying mantis, huge roaches and hairy creatures with many legs that were harmless but unattractive. During the hot and humid summer months we were serenaded by hundreds of chirping cicadas. Abandoned cats with their tails chopped off roamed around our untended garden.

Becoming accustomed to insects, hot and soggy summers, cold winters, climbing up the stone steps while lugging packages and cooking on two propane burners in an icy kitchen, took some time but our neighbors and the majority of Japanese lived in similar conditions. However, unlike our neighbors two plain clothes policemen visited our home twice annually to check on us and to ask questions on the activities of foreigners who were living in our area. As far as we knew there were no foreigners living near us.

Food Glorious Food

Food plays a central role in Japanese society and housewives traditionally spend a good portion of their household budget on food. Until the late 1980s frugality dominated with the quality of food taking precedence over the amount on the plate. Shoppers habitually examined products, comparing one piece of fruit with another or one vegetable with another vegetable for several minutes before deciding on a purchase. In the 1970s this practice extended to purchases of packaged meats and fish because the import tariffs made foreign products too expensive for daily consumption. Meat was very expensive and, although beef imports from Australia and lamb from New Zealand could be sourced, US beef was almost non-existent. Observing household buying patterns became a hobby and a visit to a market was not necessarily related to buying groceries.

Nevertheless, it was difficult to believe that Japan’s industrial complex and infrastructure had been devastated by the war. The Korean War (1950-1953) spurred the production of armaments in Japan’s decommissioned factories and raised exports to the American military. The 1964 Tokyo Olympics promoted a flurry of construction. Preparations for the Olympics included catering to the needs of thousands of foreign visitors, most of who had never held chopsticks or chewed on a morsel of sushi. Foods from abroad such as cheeses, biscuits and cereals, chocolates, canned goods, wines and spirits were imported to Japan by the large trading companies. The Japanese, feeling the first flush of prosperity since before the war, also purchased these imports. They liked what they tried and the demand for imported foods increased.

In order to stabilize Japan’s economy and to promote rapid economic growth the US opened its markets to Japanese imports of which the Japanese government took full advantage while keeping tight control over domestic markets. The government’s policies not only shielded industry from foreign competition but, also, Japanese consumers’ choice of products which were limited to goods primarily produced in Japan. However, there were inexpensive canned goods from Rumania and Bulgaria, although not sold in the US due to the Cold War.  Imports of processed foods, teas and coffee were distributed by the large trading companies such as Itochu, Mitsui and Marubeni. Often the products’ labels indicated that the distributors were manufacturers of goods such as steel and unrelated to the food and beverage industries.

There was rice called ‘Specially Chosen Rice’ (tokusen mai). The name was specifically given to rice grown domestically in prefectures renowned for rice production such as Niigata Prefecture but we heard that some of the special rice was actually from California and sold on the black market. Because imported rice was banned due to strong lobbying by rice farmers, who were receiving substantial subsidies from government, the claims were difficult to confirm.

I experienced the same lifestyle as a typical Japanese housewife. Domestic foods suited Japanese palates and ours as well. The small homes lacked storage space and freezers were out of the question. Refrigerators were half the size of the American brands and without freezer compartments. Refrigerators with freezer space for ice cream and ice cubes were considered luxury items.

Since we lived on the outskirts of Kamakura our access to markets was limited and we depended on the village greengrocer and fish monger for provisions. The milkman delivered bottles of milk to our home. We made the occasional hour train trek to Yokohama to a street where a supermarket catering to foreigners sold a variety of western imports but for a price. The area was called Motomachi where westerners were allowed to reside (the foreign ghetto) when they ventured to Japan to provide services to the Japanese in the late nineteenth century as part of the push by the government to modernize Japan’s industry to join the ranks with western nations. A cemetery for foreigners was located on the hill above with graves dating back to the 1870s.

There was a significant German presence in the larger cities, indicating Japan’s long relationship with Germany including its first constitution after the Meiji Restoration, which was based on the Bismarck constitution. The Meiji government dispatched Japanese to Germany to study science, medicine and engineering and until the mid-seventies, patients’ medical records were written in German. German brewers went to Japan to teach the art of beer brewing and German butchers taught the Japanese ham and sausage production. In the 1930s, Japanese engineers were sent to German to study automobile design. Some German foods and beverages became staples in the Japanese daily diet. German restaurants, bakeries and coffee houses were prevalent and Germans seemed to be the most favoured of foreigners as opposed to Americans despite the popularity of American pop-culture.

The only sacrifice for us was not being able to drink the usual morning orange juice. Due to the high tariff on oranges a glass of fresh orange juice was $5 and we were forced to substitute Taiwan bananas. But domestically grown fruit was also relatively expensive compared to US produce, although US grapefruit were sold at almost the same price as in the US because they were not grown domestically The Japanese mikan controlled the markets while Navels and Valencia oranges, priced at $3 per orange, were left to rot on the shelves. Mikan juice from Ehime Prefecture, one of the primary orange-growing regions besides Shizuoka Prefecture, was sold in cans but foreign residents considered that there was no substitute for Valencia from Florida. The high tariffs were the result of the policies of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries (MAFA).

Major Japanese wine and liquor producers were importing and distributing foreign wines, fortified spirits and blended whisky in the 1960s. Bottles of Johnny Walker Red and Black labels and Chivas Regal were much sought after for corporate gifts and for special friends.  But the domestically-produced wine was inferior to the wine imports because Japan’s humid climate was not conducive to the cultivation of grapes for wine and producers mixed their wine with cheaper grape juice from Hungary and Bulgaria.

The Clothing Conundrum

The yen/dollar exchange rate was exceptional at ¥360 per dollar. Joseph Dodge, the chairman of Detroit Bank, was SCAP’s economic advisor who planned policies to revitalize and stabilize Japan’s economy. Known as the Dodge Line, the policy also acted to promote Japanese exports in overseas markets. Since we received funds from the US we benefited considerably.

The majority of consumers’ expendable income was still limited through currency regulation but foreign luxury brands had already entered Japan through either licensing agreements with Japanese producer-distributors or through joint ventures with the Japanese companies controlling 51 percent of the shares. Christian Dior licensed Kanebo, the venerable textile company and the oldest listed company on the Tokyo Stock Exchange, to copy and sell its fashions in one of its outlets in the Ginza. Dior also licensed Kanebo the rights to manufacture nylon stockings for the Dior brand. Since foreign apparel entered the market through licensing agreements and was manufactured in Japan, the clothes were produced specifically for the Japanese stature. I purchased a Dior tweed coat for a pittance but the sleeves had to be lengthened.

Footwear produced in Japan also was sized according to Japanese feet. Japanese or foreign residents with longer and narrower feet were at a disadvantage and experienced difficulties sourcing domestically manufactured shoes. My husband and I brought most of our clothes with us but my husband had to go to a tailor to have his shirts made to fit his taller frame.   Tariffs on leather goods such as handbags and shoes were high and receiving any leather goods from the US was a luxury we could ill afford.

Learning the Language: a fifteen-year struggle

A month after our arrival we began studying Japanese privately with two teachers to whom we were introduced at a Japanese language school for Jesuit priests who were sent to Japan to teach at Jesuit universities and private high schools for boys. The director of the Juniso School was a Jesuit priest from the Basque country in Spain who spoke five languages, including Japanese. Our teachers who instructed the priests lived in Kamakura. They also taught Japanese at Sophia University, a Catholic university, in Tokyo. The text books had been written by Anthony Alfonso an American Jesuit priest who was a professor of Japanese at the University of Michigan and at Sophia. Japanese Language Patterns was considered for the next thirty years as the quintessential Japanese text book for spoken Japanese. It was rumoured that Alfonso had suffered a breakdown subsequent to publishing the book in 1966.

The text book for written Japanese (kanji) was authored by my Japanese teacher, Kazuaki Niimi and together with ‘Japanese Language Patterns’ was used for years at such universities as California and Michigan. Both Alfonso and Niimi taught Japanese in the Department of Japanese at the Australian National University in Canberra.

Niimi’s home was located in the district of Zazengawa (‘meditation river’) appropriately named because of the many Zen Buddhist monasteries in Kamakura. I visited him once weekly for two-hour lessons conducted in a traditional Japanese room with tatami floor. I sat on a cushion with legs tucked under body facing Niimi across a low wooden table. At the end of each lesson, Mrs. Niimi served tea and Japanese rice crackers or cakes or yogurt that she had made.

Mr. Niimi was a superb teacher. He told me that in order to build a vocabulary and understand the nuances of the spoken language it was paramount to becoming fluent in the written language. He presented me with his kanji manuscript prior to its publication. Niimi’s instruction and manuscript initiated a fifteen year struggle of learning around 3500 kanji so that I could read post-Meiji literature in the original by famous authors and correspond with close Japanese friends while I was living away from Japan. It was a daily ordeal memorizing each kanji, writing and rewriting by hand on special practice paper. It was impossible to foresee that the written language, which gave me access to great literature as well as to the nuances of daily life would one day be a tool giving me entry to Japanese companies and access to information where I worked not usually available to foreigners.

With a Little Help from My Friends

The generosity of new and accepting friends aided the process of integrating into Japanese society. Our rental was divided by a wall into two living spaces. We were fortunate to live next to a young couple with two children and a little dog. The husband’s father had been an ambassador to France but it seemed as if the family was struggling financially. Mr. and Mrs. Saida were devout Catholics and the little boy attended a parochial school. Mrs. Saida taught English at several schools in order to afford the expensive tuition fee.

She introduced me to a large private girl’s high school in Kita Kamakura, which was one station north of Kamakura and where most of the Zen temples were located, to give private piano lessons to students who wanted to enter first-tier music schools in Japan and in the US.  My degrees in piano from the Julliard School of Music was enough to gain employment because the school was as well-known as Harvard. I was pleasantly surprised that even Japanese who had no knowledge of music were impressed with the label, which also significantly eased entrance in Japanese corporations even though music was not involved in the work. I began to understand that in Japanese society where one received a degree was as important as one’s skill sets.

We met our closest friends by coincidence during our first year in Japan when we were visiting Kyoto to see the Zen Buddhist temples and monasteries. One early morning we were waiting at the front gate of a temple known for its pine tree. A man and woman in their early sixties were also waiting to enter. They introduced themselves in hesitant English as Mr and Mrs Hibi and we replied in hesitant Japanese. By coincidence the Hibis lived in Kita Kamakura and they invited us to visit them at their home. Their house sat on top of a hill just a five minute walk from the train station and from Engakuji, a famous Zen Buddhist monastery.

I was reluctant to contact them because my Japanese was still basic and communication could be uncomfortable for them. Six months passed until one day outside the entrance of Kamakura Station on my way to the Kita Kamakura High School I felt a tap on my shoulder.  Turning around I saw Mrs. Hibi’s smiling face. She had been trying to locate me and insisted that I visit her the following week for tea.

The Hibis built the house to escape to the countryside because their home in Tokyo had been destroyed during the war by fire bombs dropped by the American air force. The house was large by Japanese standards with a big garden tended by a gardener. A housekeeper cleaned and cooked twice weekly. The lounge area was heated by central heating, a real luxury in comparison to our house.

That first visit initiated the beginning of a long friendship which was based on mutual interests, humour and a devotion to the consumption of Japanese traditional sweets. My relationship with Mrs. Hibi profoundly influenced the way I adapted to Japanese social mores and values. She was a gracious hostess who was an avid reader of Japanese literature, which she preferred to domestic responsibilities. My determination to learn written Japanese was inspired by Mrs. Hibi’s love of literature and I wanted to read the same books in Japanese.

The first book she recommended was Mon (the gated entrance to Buddhist temples) by her favourite author Natsume Soseki, which is set at Engakuji. It took me an entire day to read one page, constantly referring to a Japanese dictionary. But I completed the book and went on to read a number of Soseki’s works as well as Mrs. Hibi’s other recommendations. My visits with her focused on sitting on the lounge floor, listening to classical music and laughing at silly things while consuming quantities of Japanese cakes served with green tea followed by western cakes with English tea.

She was self-effacing and did not speak much about her background other than that her father was a university professor in Tokyo and that her grandfather was the first consul general to Beijing during the Meiji Period. His grave was in Beijing. One of Mrs. Hibi’s most treasured possessions was a splendid large Chinese calligraphy her grandfather had sent to his family and which decorated the Japanese style room in her home. She boasted that the some of the finest things in Japanese society had been imported from China. My other Japanese friends who were also well-educated shared Mrs. Hibi’s values. Therefore, my initial impression of how the Japanese related to the Chinese was entirely positive.

On New Year’s Eve the Hibi’s entertained us with a special meal which Mrs. Hibi had prepared, followed by a visit to Engakuji to hear the monks ringing the giant temple bell eighty-eight times. We returned to their house for the mandatory bowl of noodles at midnight to signal longevity.  On New Year’s Day Mrs Hibi served the traditional cold lunch in lacquered lunch boxes she had prepared the day before. I always helped with the washing up in the cold north-facing kitchen.  Even though she was not an enthusiastic cook, thanks to her patient instruction, my repertoire of Japanese dishes increased considerably.

Whenever I visited the Hibi’s for a meal or for tea, Mrs. Hibi gave me boxes of expensive biscuits or Japanese rice crackers or canned crab all stamped with the Mitsukoshi logo.  Mitsukoshi is one of Japan’s oldest department stores where Mrs. Hibi seemed to purchase most of her clothing during the sales. Years later a friend told me that Mr. Hibi’s ancestors were among the stores’ founders in Osaka during the seventeenth century. Since Mr. Hibi was from Osaka and since I was served dishes cooked in the Osaka style, I presumed that the information was correct.

My husband and I reciprocated with western style meals at our house. I served Spaghetti Bolognese or a minced beef recipe on dishes that did not match, which they enjoyed immensely because it was a respite from their usual cuisine. There was also the welcomed element of informality. Mr. Hibi had a good sense of humour but it was not until I could speak Japanese that I was able to communicate easily with him. We stayed at the Hibi’s home many times. They also entertained my parents on a visit to Kamakura and visited us for a week in San Francisco.

The Outsiders

The word for foreigner in Japanese is ‘gaijin’ which can also be translated as “other person” or “outsider”. We had numerous adventures as a consequence of not fully understanding the language and not having integrated into the culture. Some were rather unpleasant because of the way Japanese perceived foreigners but we tried not to take this personally because it was a part of the society.

Our ignorance also prompted some experiences which were very comical. Nevertheless, these experiences also prepared me for future work in Japanese corporations and understanding how to relate to Japanese staff who had never associated with foreigners or who had limited exposure to foreigners. As importantly, I became inured to what most foreigners would regard as discriminatory behaviour. Japan was to be accepted on its terms if one wanted to establish a comfort zone.

While the Hibis were a part of mainstream society, three female friends suffered the consequences of not being one of the crowd. Our sponsor introduced us to a friend who had been married to a Japanese diplomat who was posted at the United Nations in a very elite position. However, the marriage was an unhappy one and she requested a divorce, despite the social ramifications. She returned with their young daughter to her family’s estate in a town located near Kamakura. Since her father owned newspapers and a golf course near Mt. Fuji and was very wealthy, she was well-taken care of. However, the woman admitted that the divorce had stigmatized her among her social circle and that it would be difficult to marry a Japanese again. On the other hand, her sister, who was determined to become a ‘princess’ one day, married a member of the Toshiba family.

One of my first impressions of Japanese society was that many Japanese appeared to have either poor dental habits or poor diets because their teeth were capped with silver and gold.  The woman explained that instead of treating tooth decay through preventive measures Japanese dentists tended to drill or extract teeth that were regarded as remotely rotten. She kindly introduce us to her British dentist in Tokyo who was excellent and refrained from removing or drilling my teeth.

My exposure to less positive aspects of Japanese society occurred when we met another woman one afternoon on a commuter train returning to Kamakura from Tokyo. She had noticed us while we were having coffee at the German Bakery, a popular confectioner in Tokyo, where she was the hostess. She invited us to her home in Kamakura to meet her German mother and Japanese father.

Her German mother had been divorced from the German ambassador to Turkey in the 1930s before she remarried her father who managed the silver mines during the Japanese occupation of Manchuria where she was born. At the end of the war her parents fled Manchuria with her and her grandmother in tow and only the clothes on their backs. When they arrived in Tokyo they were impoverished. The parents took out a loan and opened a German restaurant which became a favorite eating establishment in Tokyo among ministry officials. They sent their daughter to an expensive private girls’ parochial school from which the Empress had also graduated. Although my friend was very attractive, compared to Japanese females her body was voluptuous. During her teenage years, she had experienced sexual harassment while riding on subways and even when walking down a street. When we met her she was in her early thirties and had yet to marry. Her parents were very worried and were searching for a match. Two years later they found her a husband who moved into their home, which was a new build and quite spacious. The relationship was not particularly happy and we never met the husband.


Our friend introduced us to one of her friends whose husband, who was the president of the sewing machine division of a large Japanese manufacturer, had built a spacious modern house in an area between Kita Kamakura and Kamakura where they lived with their boxer dog. The animal substituted for a child because they were having problems conceiving. At the time, household pets were relatively uncommon. The couple finally had a little girl several years later.

The husband was often away on business but the couple invited us one autumn as their guests to the mountain resort of Zao in Yamagata Prefecture known for its hot springs and skiing where we had the opportunity to become better acquainted. The tatami mat rooms in the traditional Japanese inn were well-appointed and we enjoyed the baths and the Japanese cuisine. The following morning we accompanied them in a chauffeured car to a gated estate nearby. A middle-aged woman and an elderly woman, both in kimono, were solemnly standing in front of the gate as we approached. The husband got out of the car and went up to them to chat for about ten minutes before returning to the car for the drive back to the resort.  I guessed that the elderly woman was his mother but the other woman remained a mystery. I wondered why our friend did not join him. I was to learn the true nature of the couple’s relationship several years later. The husband dropped the three of us at the inn before leaving on another business trip.

We visited the temple Yamadera where the illustrious seventeenth century haiku poet Matsuo Basho wrote his famous Frog Haiku. I purchased a slab of polished grey slate on which his hand-written poem is transcribed. It is still among my positions in its original wooden box.

The following morning we travelled to Sendai where our friend took us to meet her husband’s old friend, the owner of a pachinko parlor. The middle-aged woman had met the husband in Harbin during the war. She greeted us in front of the parlor and guided us inside for a brief tour.  Koreans are usually the proprietors of pachinko parlors but I was unsure of her nationality. It was the first and last time I entered a pachinko parlor but despite the early hour, men were standing in a trance before the machines trying their luck.

The woman escorted us upstairs to her apartment above the parlor. The front door opened into an interior, dominated by red walls and heavy black ebony furnishings. A high-pitched voice of a child or an elderly woman repeatedly sneezing and calling out in a very high voice, “Mama-san!  Mama-san!” came from another room. We followed the woman into the room to the voice. To our utter astonishment, there was a big iron cage hanging from the ceiling. Standing on a rung in the cage was a large jet-black Minna bird wagging its head as it sneezed, chirping “Mama-san! Mama-san!” We tried unsuccessfully to suppress our laughter.

The woman took us to a Chinese restaurant for dinner before escorting us to our hotel. The next day we visited one of Japan’s oldest Zen Buddhist temples before taking a boat ride around the major tourist attraction Matsushima, the small uninhabited islands covered with pine trees.

Language: 101 mistakes!        

The number of errors I made during the first three years exceeded belief. Some of the mistakes related to the misinterpretation of English words that had been abbreviated by the Japanese in order to ease pronunciation. The incidences were comical, embarrassing and could be expensive as well. A few months had passed after our trip to Yamagata when the wife offered me a misshin at a reduced price. Presuming the misshin was a washing machine, overjoyed, I accepted. She called me the following week to announce that the misshin would be delivered to her house by one of her husband’s staff. It was perplexing because washing machines were usually transported directly to the home by truck and installed. I visited her at the appointed time and was ushered to the tatami mat Japanese-style room, which was used on special occasions.

A gentleman in a suit was kneeling on a cushion in front of a low table. But the medium size case on the table was far too small to contain a washing machine. I kneeled on a cushion across the table from him. My friend settled next to me wearing a very pleased expression on her face. The man opened the case to reveal a sewing machine, which in Japanese is called a misshin. Unable to conceal my shock, I sputtered out in English that I did not sew, which was not what my friend was expecting to hear and not what I had intended to say. Although the gentleman did not understand English, my friend seemed to understand the expression of dismay flickering across my face. Her face darkened. I quickly recovered my composure. I knew that if I did not thank my friend and the employee profusely for the misshin and purchase it on the spot, her husband would lose face. I carried the case home, ¥40,000 poorer.  I did not open the case until we were preparing to return to the US a year later. Fortunately, I was able to resell the misshin at the same price.

Before returning to the US I tried unsuccessfully to contact our friend. Although Mrs. Hibi had never mentioned that she knew of the couple, she told me that the wife was one of the president’s mistresses and that she had been in a protracted argument with one of his other mistresses who lived in the nearby town of Ofuna. Evidently, the president had cut off our friend’s accounts at the local merchants causing her to accrue substantial debts at many shops in Kamakura. Fearful of being arrested, she refused to leave her house or answer her telephone.

We were still ignorant about the common practice at the time by wealthy businessmen to have mistresses. I then considered that the middle-aged woman standing in front of the gate in Yamagata was the president’s real wife and that the woman who owned the pachinko parlor may once have been a mistress whom he had set up in business.

Is There a Doctor in the House?: hit and miss

My husband became unwell and since the standard of medical care in Kamakura in the 1960s was inadequate to deal with my husband’s illness we commuted to Tokyo, first to St. Luke’s Hospital, which was purported to have more modern facilities. Nevertheless, the doctors were not up-to-date with his type of illness and my husband ended up in an American Seventh Day Adventist Hospital for treatment. My own experience at St. Luke’s is memorable.

When I felt sharp pains in my lower back and developed a mild fever I went to St Luke’s Hospital and was seen by a nurse. She insisted that I did not have a fever but that westerners had higher body temperatures than Japanese. The physician on duty prescribed a sulphur drug. Within several days, the back pain worsened and I took the two hour trip to St Luke’s again. The diagnosis was inflammation of the kidneys. Again, I was prescribed sulphur tablets. The pain became unbearable and I also had difficulty breathing. This time I went to the Seventh Day Adventist Hospital for a diagnosis, which was not only nephritis but, also pleurisy. I was kept in the hospital for ten days before being released.

A taxi collected me for the ride to Tokyo Station but on the way, the driver hit a small pick-up truck which turned over. Fortunately nobody was injured. The taxi driver, apologizing profusely, hailed another taxi. When I reached the train station I found that my wallet was missing but, fortunately, I had enough money for the train ticket.

Although I had suffered considerably from the delay in treatment and a lost wallet, there was a happy ending. A few days later, I received in the post a packet containing my wallet intact along with a letter of apology from the taxi driver who had discovered the wallet, which had fallen out of his taxi during the confusion. Twenty years later when I returned to Tokyo to work I was to experience a similar episode.

A Close Encounter with the New Komeito Party

The New Komeito Party (NKP) is currently in coalition with the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). The original party was an offshoot of the Soka Gakkai, a lay Buddhist organization based on Nichren Buddhism and founded in the 1930s. The organization developed rapidly after the war primarily due to the sponsorship from Japanese on lower incomes The organization published magazines and brochures advocating devotion to the church’s precepts. Believers who contributed to the Soka Gakkai coffers were promised successful and lucrative careers. The political party, the Komeito (‘Clean Party’) was established in the 1960s and it evolved to include other right-wing parties since the 1990s. According to NKP officials, the Soka Gakkai and the NKP are independent organizations. Nevertheless, the Soka Gakkai and the NKP meet biannually and the majority of NKP members belong to the Soka Gakkai.

My first exposure to the Soka Gakkai was in 1969. It was common to see young male American missionaries from the Baptist Church or Seventh Day Adventist Church in black suits and ties making the rounds of neighborhoods and going from door-to-door to distribute literature with the hope of bringing new members into the flock. However, it was not common to see members of the Soka Gakkai visiting homes. But one day I received an unannounced visit from our next door neighbor’s cleaner who was accompanied by two gentlemen wearing suits. I was alone when she and her friends knocked on the back door of the house as a sign of respect. Unable to speak English, she offered Soka Gakkai literature in English.  I knew that the Komeito Party, was directly connected to the Soka Gakkai and was momentarily at a loss of how to deal with the situation. In order not to disappoint or humiliate the cleaner I told her that I was an American citizen and that if I participated in any political activities or voted in foreign elections I could lose my American citizenship. The cleaner and her friends vehemently denied that the Soka Gakkai was a political party but I insisted politely that the Komeito Party was associated with the religious organization. I hurriedly produced my passport and opened it to a page which stated something about not participating in foreign elections. To my relief, neither the cleaner nor the gentlemen could read English and departed without further protest.

US-Japan Relations: unwilling bedfellows

We relied on the Armed Forces Radio which mainly broadcast news on the US and music programs which were programed for the military. Although the Occupation had ended, the Vietnam War was in high gear. The constant presence of American military throughout Japan was a painful reminder for many Japanese of their country’s defeat and the Occupation. I saw the war from very different perspective than Americans in the US because Kamakura was located near Yokosuka, a town that hosted a major American naval base where thousands of US naval personnel were stationed. The servicemen who returned from Vietnam on R&R were as young as sixteen and the anxiety of having to return to the front was evident.

There was a palpable anti-American sentiment. Prime Minister Eisaku Sato (1964-1972) was forced to close Tokyo University for a year in 1969 because of student protests against the US-Japan Security Treaty and Japan’s support of American military engagement in Vietnam. One afternoon on our way to Tokyo we were stopped on the platform of Kamakura Station by police in riot gear who requested our passports and cautioned us not to travel to Tokyo because there was an anti-American demonstration in Tokyo.

Yukio Mishima (1925–70) was one of Japan’s greatest writers of the twentieth century and nominated three times for the Nobel Prize for literature. He was born into a family of bureaucrats and was a nationalist. He enlisted in the Ground Defence Force in 1962. In the same year, Mishima formed a small private army of which most of the members were students and pledged to protect the emperor, whom he felt exemplified the Japanese spirit. On November 25, 1970, Mishima, accompanied by four members of his army, tried to instigate a coup d’état at the Self Defence Force headquarters in Tokyo. They broke into the commandant’s room and held him hostage. When Mishima read his manifesto to the soldiers who had congregated below, he was jeered at. Humiliated, Mishima returned to the room and committed suicide.

I conducted in-depth interviews in 1994 with Japanese officials in the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI) who were children in the 1950s and 60s. The interviews included questions related to their impressions of America during their childhood.  There answers revealed the general reaction of the Japanese to the American Occupation and to the US military bases located throughout Japan.

A MITI ‘elite’ career officer aged 46 stated:

The Japanese saw America as the ideal country. Japan was supported by a large amount of American aid. Men from the Occupation Forces were in the town where I was living so I saw American troops often. The men had splendid physics. I thought that the bases were very luxurious. My main impression was the gap between the poverty in Japan and the abundance. I didn’t see any resistance to the Occupation but the Japanese, who were attending elementary school and who were of a slightly older generation than I, felt great sadness at the loss of Japanese traditional values. Some authors like Yukio Mishima and Shintaru Ishihara saw the Occupation Forces as conquering devils and Japan as a pitiful nation. The Japanese, particularly at that time, were simply trying to survive so there was a strong feeling that America was supporting Japan. Social values completely changed. In a word (and this is true for the entire world), Americanization was taking place and, consequently, Japan was inside this giant wave.

A MITI non-career officer aged 36 told me:

Although I was born quite a while after the end of the Second World War, the American Occupation Forces were still in Japan. My first sense of America was that America defeated Japan in the war. Until Japan’s definitive defeat, Japan had never lost a war. There was an army base in my neighborhood. I was very small so I don’t remember seeing soldiers, but I saw many American civilians in my area. My impression was that Americans were very large and that America was a powerful and wealthy country. Americans lived very wealthy existences with big cars and shopping centers. They were independent! The Americans who lived in my town looked well-off and lived in spacious quarters. On the other hand, Japanese lived in a small area in cramped quarters.

An officer who was 31 confided:

My father was in the Second World War. I didn’t hear specific things about the war, but I often heard about Japan’s poverty because of the loss of the war and how everybody suffered. Rice and food were at a premium and it was wasteful to leave anything on one’s plate. Subjects such as war dead [and] the peace pact were not discussed much. Only after Japan became richer was there talk about how Japan broke the peace. There was also ambivalence about the US. The Japanese lost self-confidence because of the loss of the war. Self-confidence was also lost because everyone stopped telling their children about Japanese culture, Japanese values and how they wanted their children to live. My father kindly taught me various things but he didn’t speak about Japanese culture, civilization or social values. I think that this was true for most Japanese households.

Yukio Mishima was one of former Tokyo governor Shintaro Ishihara’s closest friends. Ishihara’s initial exposure to the United States was during the war when his neighborhood was strafed by American aircraft. Ishihara claimed that the aircraft flew so low that he could see pictures of naked women and cartoon characters painted on the sides of the planes. His book Japan Can Say No (No to Ieru Nihon) was a collaborative effort with the late Akio Morita who was Sony Corporation’s founder and chairman. Published in 1989 the book was a best-seller. Ishihara argued that the United States regarded Japan as a subordinate and that this attitude was related to racism.