September 8, 2006
A FICTIONAL NON-FICTION TRIP TO JAPAN
By Jim Kittelberger
IN THREE PARTS. PART ONE.
The wheels touch down on the Tachikawa runway, the reverse thrusters sounding like an enraged animal roar into action as the ninety ton airplane shivers and begins it’s accelerated braking, slowing the huge metal bird before coming to a stop at the proper place, at the proper time. Once more baffling logic about how an object heavier than a Marriott hotel can lift into the air and land safely.
Emerging from the steel cocoon, the second of which he had flown on in quick succession, he arrived tired and in a state of jet lag with approaching culture shock still in store for him. The journey had started in California with a stop in Hawaii, then on to Wake Island, continuing on to Japan, a trip of too many miles and too many hours.
John Gregg, a son of the Midwest, used to green hills, green corn, and yellow fields of hay descended into a world of black and white. Men and women in black or white kimonos all with the same black hair and wooden getas on their feet were crowding the streets. Women carrying cloth bags with red-cheeked babies strapped to their backs hustled to complete their marketing. Younger boys wearing black were hurrying to school. In the middle of all this, the sight of a man relieving himself in the gutter was something it would take John a little while to understand and assimilate, as it seemed an affront to his midwestern modesty. This would certainly be included in some of his letters to his buddies back home.
The blue Air Force bus that had picked up John and other newly arriving airmen continued down packed streets packed with humanity, the horn blasting at every intersection. The air coming in the open windows was moist and strangely fragrant. As they left the city and continued down unimproved roads the fragrance grew stronger.
"Excuse me pal", came a New England saturated voice breaking the silence of the tired and grimy bunch of fellow airmen.
"Oh", he said jumping, unawares that he was concentrating so hard on the new sights, sounds, and smells.
"I’m sorry pal, didn’t mean to interrupt your thoughts".
"That’s okay, said John, "what can I do for you?"
"Do you mind if I share your seat with you? My seatmate has fallen asleep, which I don’t mind, but he seems to snore, a lot, and plenty loud."
"Don’t mind at all", John said, "plop yourself down. I wouldn’t mind the company.
My names John Gregg, from Ohio."
The man who sat down next to John was named Ray Roberts, like John on his first overseas assignment. He hailed from Gloucester Mass, a son and grandson of fishermen. A husky guy, a little shy of six feet, with big calloused hands, the result of summers on his fathers boat helping to fill the lockers with lobsters and cod. If Ray were a talkative type, which he wasn’t, he would say it was hard work, and if the lobsters and cod co-operated it could fetch pretty good money. His family had been fishermen for three generations and it was expected that Ray would become the fourth generation to go down to the sea after his tour of duty in the service. He had become expert in the mechanics of the trade, and it was assumed that in time he would become captain of his own boat and crew.
They swapped stories about the schools they’d attended. Their favorite teams, what they liked to eat, or not, who they left behind and why oh why did they do it? And John eventually asked as delicately as soldiers, or airmen in their case, can, "What the hell is that smell that we can’t seem to leave behind?
"Well", Ray said, "since I come from a delicate background of tossing fish around all day, I’ve learned a bit about smells. Now this particular smell, aroma, scent, you are inhaling through your olfactory canals is unique to this part of the world."
Taking on a professorial air Ray pointed to a Japanese man carrying a long pole with two wooden buckets hanging off each end. "If you would please notice papa-san chugging down the road beside our official blue bus?"
Ray looked at John as if he was waiting for some answer. "Yeah, yeah, I see him, so what?" said John eager for him to get on with whatever he was leading to.
"Well, my new friend John from the Midwest, the buckets that papa-san is carrying are called honey buckets."
"Yeah, go on." John encouraged.
"Those buckets are filled with the fertilizer that is spread in the fields that is actually quite miraculous in the results it brings in. They get huge vegetables, bigger than ours back in the states. That is the aroma that wafts over all the rural areas of Japan, it is the smell of human waste my friend, the miracle additive of the orient."
"Naw, you mean? No you’re not serious, it’s, Oh for crying out loud. So what I’ve been smelling is human shhh pooh?"
Something about the incredible nature of Ray’s little seminar spoken with his New England accent and trying to be so serious struck John as somehow hilarious. He started to laugh, and then Ray caught the humor of it and joined in. They laughed for five minutes and that sealed their friendship. Finding a friend five thousand miles from home was like striking gold in your backyard.