Monday, March 14, 2011

Remembering Japan

My heart is aching for the Japanese people. I can hardly bear to watch the news showing all the devastation.

When I found out that we were going to Japan in the late 1980s, I didn't really want to go. It was never one of places I hoped we would be sent. I wanted to go to Italy or Germany. But off we went, and what a culture shock!

We left warm, sunny Hawaii where the air smelled of flowers and the ocean to a place where it was gray, cold and rainy every day for the first month or so that we were there. The skies were gray, the buildings were gray, the roads were gray, the kids were all in mostly navy blue uniforms, the men wore dark suits, carried briefcases and rode the trains, the women wore sweaters and skirts and sensible shoes and rode bicycles with baskets to do their daily shopping at the market. The cars were new, and usually white. Only Americans drove old cars, and we could buy them from a Japanese guy named Blackie for only a few hundred dollars. When we left Japan we gave the cars away to friends.

We arrived at Narita Airport at night, and rode a bus to Camp Zama, a few hours away. I fell asleep on the bus and woke up to see store awnings inches from my window as the bus sped through the narrow streets of a town. Arriving at Zama, we were greeted by our sponsor family, who had a spaghetti dinner waiting for us in our temporary quarters in Building 780.

It was so gloomy that we didn't know we could see mountains in the distance until weeks after we arrived. One day the smog lifted and the skies were blue, and there were mountains!

It took awhile, but as the weeks and months went by, I grew to love Japan and the Japanese people. We were warned not to accept housing at Sagami Depot, several miles from the main post. But guess where we wound up? It was really a good place for us, because we were away from the "politics" and the fishbowl of the main post. I was never a typical officer's wife and didn't enjoy the "socialization."

Because we lived away from the main post, I was forced to get out and about, unlike some of the women who lived on post. I learned to drive on the "wrong" side of the road in a car whose controls were on the "wrong" side. We had some harrowing rides in the beginning, and learned to navigate using landmarks since we couldn't read Japanese.

I became good friends with a Japanese woman named Masako. Masako wanted me to know the real Japan, and she took me on many trips, tours and outings. She invited me to her home, where her 90 year old mother-in-law greeted me at the door and got down on her knees to bow all the way to the floor in the entryway. I was never so honored and touched! We had a delicious lunch in their little kitchen.

Masako and I went to the Kabuki Theatre several times, we went up into the mountains on a bus tour and stayed overnight in a hotel situated on the top of a volcano which was still moderately active. You could feel the floor move. We slept on thick futons on the floor in our yukata, and when we woke in the morning, Masako looked as if she had not moved an inch all night. Her hair was still in place, her yukata tied perfectly and unwrinkled. My yukata was all wrinkled and undone and my hair askew.

Our family took lots of trips, too. Kelly and I went on a bus tour to Kyoto and had such a wonderful time. We saw Kinkakuji, the Golden Pavillion, Nijo castle with the nightingale floor, and lots of other wonderful sights. We squeezed through the nostril of the big buddha in Nara, and fed the deer in the park. Kelly had a line of deer following her around as if she was a pied piper, and then a group of Japanese teenagers all wanting to have their picture taken with her because they thought she looked like an American movie star. :o) We bought a special kind of Macha from a street vendor that was so delicious, and we've never been able to find any tea like it since.

I remember a train ride up into the mountains with Ron and Josh, who was in 3rd or 4th grade at the time. As we went higher and higher and left the cities behind, we began to see thatched roof houses, and Josh was so thrilled by them that he would point them out excitedly. The people on the train are usually very reserved, not looking at one another, but absorbed by their newspapers or their own thoughts. But Josh's enthusiasm was contagious, and soon they were watching him, smiling at his delight and watching for thatched roof houses themselves. :o)

We got off the train at a little village at the top. It was so pretty, and we went into a small cafe for lunch. Josh ordered udon noodles, and slurped them up while using his hashi (chopsticks), just like the Japanese. A man and his son came in, and they were so surprised and delighted to see the little American boy eating noodles just like them.

We went skiing in the Japanese alps, we took our boys scouts to a park where there were monkeys that would come right up and try to steal things from you. I didn't like them much--too aggressive. We went to cherry blossom festivals, Bon Odori festivals, mochi poundings, drum shows. Ron and I traveled to Hong Kong with a group from Zama. So many memories. Sometimes it felt as if we were living in a dream.

I lost contact with Masako when we came back to the States, but she has been on my mind and in my heart so much these past few days. I don't think the area where we lived was affected much by the earthquake and tsunami, but I know her heart is aching for those whose lives have been so dramatically changed and for her beautiful Japan.

My oldest son met the girl he married while we were in Japan. They were high school sweethearts, and when we came home, she enrolled in a college not far from us. Her mother is Japanese, her father American. Her father died in Japan of a heart attack. He was at an employee picnic in one of the parks. Her mother lives here now, but still has family in Japan. I hope they are okay.

Please pray with me for Japan and the people there. Thank you!


Kelly said...

I'm feeling the same way you are about what's happening in Japan right now.

Japan was our HOME during the time we were there and a big part of my heart still lives there so it's very hard to watch the news and see the devastation.

I'm praying for everyone.

Sarah Oldham said...

I'm continuing to pray!

I have often thought that if we were blessed with orders to Japan that HI is a great place to have a tour before hand . . . it's Asian enough here, I guess, that it's a great way to ease into some of the ways, you know. I worked for ONO Pharmaceutical Co. (Osaka) in Seattle for a few years and Japanese culture is very interesting/peaceful/reserved. I like it. I suppose that is why I so enjoyed our outing to Byodo-In Temple in K-bay. I've always had a fondness for Japanese style gardens as well. Always.

Yes, I am praying. Some may not feel bothered by something that has happened 'so far away' but I am numb with sorrow for their people.

I truly enjoyed reading your memories - warm, astoundingly beautiful.

Rosemary Bogdan said...

I lived in Japan for a year as a college student. My heart is aching too. Praying for them every day. I still keep in touch with my old host family and they are fine. I will be writing about Japan soon too. I loved Japan. Still do. May God be with them all!!