Family Secrets – Part 4

“We ain’t in Kansas no more, Toto.” After spending six months isolated in flea bag rooms between a junk yard and a dirt lot, the port call finally came in. The misery is left behind as their journey continues. We rejoin our family on the Pacific Ocean off the shores of Japan.

Eventually we saw the Japanese coast through the heavy mist but would not be entering Tokyo Bay till the next day. Another agonizing wait.

Next day it was cold, gray and misty. The water was as calm as when we were in the eye of the storm. Our ship silently slipped through the waters calmly and deftly.  Took with me  a school foot ball pom-pom so dad could see where we were on the deck. Unfortunately, I had pulled it out too soon and it got soaked by the heavy mist we were gliding through.

The purple and yellow coloring ran down my arm as it was tossed into the sea. Symbolically, I think my naivety went with them. The harbor was hectic with small boats scooting all around our ship to their destinations. They looked just like miniature Chinese junks. The Japanese did not use paint much on their boats or wooden buildings. Later I learned it was another way they stayed closely in tuned to nature.

In spite of so many small boats in the harbor, it was silent. The only sound was the point of the bow whisping through the calm water.  Shapes of a shore began to develop and objects with straight sides took form. We were right on target for the warf no differently than a large passenger plane accurately touching down in the middle of the runway.

We could now see the piers of the dock rising from the water. The buildings were wooden and a small crowd began to appear. In the middle, two beaming GI’s stood out among all the other dark coats and umbrellas in their khaki uniforms. We could see real Japanese people for the first time. The picture I had created in my mind of the way they would look evaporated into reality..

We saw dad and the partner who’s wife was traveling with us clearly now. Their lips were moving but no sound reached us. The irony of this role reversal of the dads waiting for our arrival was lost in the anticipation of seeing rickshaws being pulled by guys in pointy hats and girls in kimonos. Oh, and I got to be with dad too.

Shoot, they were taxicabs. The French version of Volkswagens called Renault 4CV’s. The girls mainly wore white blouses, black skirts and short heeled pumps. All the young men wore black school uniforms. Everybody wore only black or white which only looked blander in the mist. Who would think that khaki would be the wildest color at the party? Man, now I knew what I had suspected about Santa Claus was true. Reality sucks but I soon got over it as we were driven to the military hotel in downtown Tokyo.


As we gingerly navigated through streets, not moving more than four feet at a time, I could hear a new noise practically everywhere we went. How can I describe it? To this day, this noise is still not heard in the States. Anyway, I ask dad why the Japanese don’t dress like Japanese. “Oh, you mean the western clothes?”

“Where, do they have horses too?” This was getting exciting!

“No, the Japanese have been dressing in our style for a long time, even before the war. They call it western clothes because the U.S. is west of Japan.”

“Do they ever wear Japanese clothes?”

“Every day. Look closely at the crowds. You will see men and women wearing something like a bath robe.”

Because everybody was wearing mostly black, I had not bothered to look deeper into the crowds.

“Why are they mostly wearing black, did somebody important die?”

“No, the Japanese wear white to funerals.”

Man, this isn’t getting me anywhere so I just shut up and watched the people as we moved on.

The buildings were just like those in any of the towns back in the States. I seemed to have forgotten that those B-29’s destroyed everything in this city. Every –  thing.

Why doesn’t history note that more people were killed in one conventional bombing raid over Tokyo than at Hiroshima?  This is also true for Dresden in Germany as well as a few other cities there.   Hiroshima and Nagasaki were not the only places that had many more deaths over the years to come after the raids.  The burn victims from conventional bombs had terrible struggles as well.

 All the buildings were new and modern. None were more than seven stories high or ten years old. Everything had been rebuilt in downtown Tokyo. I saw no evidence of the carnage that was in this place only seven years prior.  It had started with their raiding us and ended here…and no nation has attacked us since.

Even the neon fantasia that Tokyo is famous for was already well on its way. Technically, we were still the occupation troops. Where I now live, it takes eight years to build a county road.

No street was more than one lane in each direction except along the moat that surrounds the emperor’s palace. Everyone was driving on the wrong side. It made me dizzy. Cars were coming at us in the lane to the right. Those taxis were all over the place. Did see a couple of rickshaws in from of the Imperial Palace Hotel. Guess you had to be rich to ride in them.

Then I started seeing bicycles with the back section removed hitched to… rickshaws ! They looked like fun to ride so accepted the compromise.

Dad asks “Do you see any red cars?” Man, I am trying to see people in bath robes and now he wants me to look for red cars”

“Why,dad, do you want to buy one?”

“No, keep looking.” 10 minutes go by and no red cars. I’m getting dizzier .

“See, any yet”

“No, dad”

“Well, you won’t”

“Wann’a bet?” I was anxious to horse around with dad.

“You don’t want to do that”


“Because there aren’t any.”

“How can you be so sure. You got an air plane up there looking or something>?

“No, the color red is reserved for royalty. The people can’t have red cars.”

Something else different! I give dad a push on the shoulder from the back seat. It felt good.

While he’s up there smiling, I go back to looking for the bath robes among the penguins.

That sound again.

I see one! It’s an older man and his robe is gray. No collar and the sleeves were real baggy. He is wearing those things on his feet I had seen in so many pictures. They were flat and had a two short strips under the sole sticking down, one front, one back. They were the only part of the shoe thing that touched the ground. Sort of like real short stilts. They were made of wood.

That sound again! It was from those wooden…whatevers! Because these things were only attached to his big toe the same way thongs are, he could not lift his foot up to walk or they would fall off. He walked with his weight on his toes and the shoe thing would snap down like a woman’s high heel shoe does when it doesn’t have any straps in the back (shack up shoes, mom called them). Those wooden Japanese clogs would rattle along the sidewalk making a percussion sound so loud you could hear them across the street. Yes, we saw them in books but the books didn’t have sound. Wow, things are getting more different by the minute.

* * *

Obviously these clogs were invented long before sidewalks. They do not make any noise on the dirt. The little stilts were just that. They often wear a slipper sock type of thing with a slit sewn in by the big toe for the thong strap. The little stilts helped keep the slippers dry on a wet road.

* * * ?

Too soon, we reach the hotel. Mom and dad seemed anxious to check us into the hotel. As soon as we got to our room, they told us we could go down and explore and see if we could find the big cement ball that the hotel was mounted on. Yeh, right. Dad didn’t give me a key. We would have to knock to get back in.

We were allowed two hours and had to come back in time for supper. My sister was six years younger than me. Coincidentally, she was now six years old, too, and had already lived more different places than the years of her life. She was not a tom boy and never would be but shared my spirit of adventure.

When a people first starts going to new places, they complain about how that new place is different than the place they came from. To us, the payoff for all the trouble we were put through is discovering different things. We would not drink whole, fresh milk for the next three years.  (My sister would loose all her teeth by age 30.) 

We were going to have to carry kerosene for the stove and got stuck with dozens of hypos. It is now time to start collecting our bonuses. When we were exploring things new, it seemed we were the same age. That’s why I took her with me up to the bridge of the ship at San Francisco and why we were now going out to explore the streets of Tokyo together.

We went out and just stood and looked at things. There was a construction crew working on a scaffolding going up about five stories. It was made of bamboo lashed together with what looked like straw. No way would I get on that thing.

We went around a corner and saw Japanese people had started coming towards us…

We would have been scared but they were bowing and making pleasant sounding words. As they came closer, we could tell they were all looking at me sister. They stayed several nonthreatening feet away, saying words in Japanese very softly and quietly. They sounded like pigeons cooing. They would put their hand out towards her but did not get near enough to touch her. They were so pleasant and friendly, my sister was not at all afraid. In fact, she was digging the attentions with a grin from ear to ear.

They all remained slightly bent at the waist and a few women looked up at me and stroked their own hair and then pointing at her. They were attracted to my sister’s blond hair! It had just mesmerized them and in a few moments they went away bowing apologetically for disturbing us.  Sister was beaming and flashed her eyes at me to rub her fame in deeper. Our little adventure was starting off with a great bonus for her.

We continued around the block stopping every few feet to make sure we hadn’t missed a thing. When we got to the hotel to look, we started poking around for the alleged concrete ball in the basement. Apparently so many people knew about this, they put up signs directing everyone to it.

No, the signs did not say  “This way to the ballroom”   This was a DOD flop house, not the Ritz.   The furniture was made of solid oak and the whole place was GI clean. After six months in the no-tell-motel and two weeks on that old Liberty Ship troop transport, this placet was plush enough for us.  

The directions told us how to get to the chamber under the building so we went down on our own. It was a little like the dungeons of a castle with low lighting and away from the noise of the lobby. After searching around a bit, we found a large room. There it was. A giant concrete ball in the middle of this good sized room. Okay, big deal.  We went back up to the lobby.

At least dad did not send us on a fool’s errand to get rid of us. It would be hard to compete with the sights outside the building and the experiences of our little walk. The concrete ball did not have a chance.

When we came back to the room,  dad was in civilian clothes and we went out to dinner. Mom looked refreshed and relaxed. Mellow, actually.

We went down to the hotel restaurant and had the first supper together in six months. That night dad taught me to play go-mo-co and we played into the wee hours. It is played with small black and white stones on a wooden board full of squares evenly covering the entire surface. The object is to get five in a row in any direction.

Mom had gone out like a light after dinner. Her ordeal was finally over. All that remained was the simple routine of setting up another home. We sure got lucky in the mother store and our lives seemed to be coming back to normal. We all slept pretty good that night.

?Dawn of a new era

The next day we got to explore the Ginza Strip and buy stuff—with yen! Dad gave me a bunch of bills and coins with holes in them. The naturally strict social conduct of the Japanese is out of place in an active place like the Ginza.
A pastime we had in Pennsylvania was to go to local auctions. Anything and everything was sold and the back and forth action between the auctioneer and the bidders was not new to us. They were the eBay of their day.

Bartering is a bit different. It’s mano au mano. It was intimidating at first but soon became fun and with a lot of tongue in cheek.  The shop keepers would act as though we were killing them with our low offers.  We would begrudgingly come up a bit.  The price would be settled we paid thinking we got a great deal.  It was truly win – win and smiles all around.  

 It would have a lot more fun if we didn’t have a deadline for getting back into the hotel. When we get back, we would be confined to the hotel for 24 hours. Tomorrow was the first of  May.

We sat in the window of our second story room that next  morning like a kid with a new bicycle that he was not allowed to ride. We got a taste of the glitter of Tokyo and wanted more. All there was to do was just sit there, watchin.


We had gone down and had breakfast and then had to go right back up to our room. The gray skies were gone. It was a beautiful sunny day. The sun made everything look different. Yesterday we saw a city that had just about completely dug itself out of the rubble of WWII, All the black and white people were serious. Not any joking around but far more civilized than any place I had seen. The sun brought color to a place that badly needed it.

The doors to the hotel were locked. There were plenty of M.P.s in the lobby. The only people on the street were Japanese. There were only a handful going about their business.  The street had been blocked off at some point we could not see by people we did not know. 

We kept looking up and down the street. No auto traffic made it unusually quiet for being in  the largest city in the world.


The window sill was very wide and comfortable. We had are backs on the sash of each side watching in opposite directions of the street. I could see part of the bamboo scaffolding but no workmen. When my sister leaned forward with her eyes as open as wide as they can go, I turned around to look at what she saw. There was a crowd of Japanese men coming down the street towards the hotel. Each one had a scarf tied across his forehead.

They reminded me of the movies on Victory At Sea showing the Japanese pilots getting in their planes to attack Pearl Harbor. They wore the same kind of scarf coming at us. At the front of the crowd was the largest flag I had ever seen. It was red, a color of red I have never seen since. It absolutely glowed in the bright May Day sun. The man holding it up was waving it back and forth making it flutter in the light wind. As they came closer, each time the flag flowed to the right, something yellow began to appear in the upper corner next to the pole. Couldn’t make it out. 

As  it went beneath us, the flag flipped to the right and the hammer and cycle popped into full view right in our face. For a moment, everything froze.   I could not even hear the loud rhythmic chant the crowd was shouting out while they contorted their bodies with each beat.

We aint’t in Kansas nomore, Toto!
It could not have been a better message to explain why we were there. Boy, what I would have given for one water balloon. They continued down the street and the communist May Day demonstrations were over.

We still had the rest of the day to kill so dad drug out the go-mo-cu board like nothing happened. “You want white or black?”


   The family continues its journey from the Tokyo docks to begin its life in Japan. First they go to an air base unlike any they have seen. They are eventually sent back to Tokyo till a knock on the door changes everything…

We end our story with murder, escape and an adventure on an isolated atoll in the middle of the South Pacific.







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