September 22, 2006
A FICTIONAL NON-FICTION TRIP TO JAPAN
By Jim Kittelberger
IN THREE PARTS. PART THREE.
Our work was located in Tainan, Taiwan in the headquarters building. The building was large and well appointed. The work was easy and everything was right with the world. Except when I had to relieve myself and I had to locate the latrine, the loo, the head, the bathroom, the john. Well that’s enough of that. I had to go. It was a strange meeting of west meets east in the bowels of the building. Sorry that was a bad pun. But this whole subject is. So I will get to it. The only reason I even mention it is because it was another cultural shock, of which I seemed to be running into daily. I entered the bathroom and was impressed by its tile and dimensions. But I was there on business, and I had to get to it. The bathroom was completely free of fixtures. There were nicely appointed holes in the floor where I was expected to squat. I was an Ohio boy and not exactly new to roughing it once in a while, but there I was. What to do? Luckily in our military compound relief could be found.
The American compound was a settlement of bamboo huts. Other than that it was just like any other military reservation. Our cots were in a bamboo hut, with a coal-burning stove. We had an American style latrine, thank God. Of course no military man, especially overseas military men want to miss out on happy hour, so another bamboo hut was built for just that purpose and christened Club Jake.
Billy Tumbler inadvertently or overtly discovered the one hut where it seemed higher authorities turned an unseeing eye. Billy had run into the never-ending poker game. AA and Ray tried to dissuade him from joining in, but like a bull in heat he had the scent and that was that. When the first player to go broke stepped away, Billy stepped in. All went well for a while and it seemed that maybe Billy had learned a lesson from his previous setback. But this was not a game among friends and roommates, this was a game with serious undertones, and friendship was left at the door. The outcome was preordained and soon he went bust. Billy pleaded to be allowed to play on the margin using IOU’s, but this brought only laughter and a few dirty looks. He was politely, but firmly informed that this was cash only, but he was welcome anytime as long as they could see the green. The same night Billy’s family in Selma received a telephone call requesting they send him money.
Japan was to me, a very young man away from my home in Ohio in the 1950’s, like having the pages of the National Geographic come alive. I had spent the war years in the forties growing up and playing make believe war, along with baseball, riding bikes, and listening to the radio comedians. The war had been over for a decade when I arrived. The actual occupation was over, and we, the Americans, were here under a joint cooperation and security agreement signed in 1952. To borrow from Hollywood, this was not the Japan depicted in the movie, Tora, Tora, Tora, but more like the Japan from the movie Teahouse of the August Moon. The first problem with exploring a country as a GI, a young GI, is that you learn only about the places most convenient to your assigned base. The second problem is you have as a tour guide, another GI, probably as young as you are, ergo these are not the sights the guidebooks recommend you visit, or rate too highly.
Saturday morning arrived bright and sunny as I emerged from the showers to run into Billy who I could tell was bursting with some news he wanted to share.
"Come on Johnny, we’ve got a field trip to go on today."
"Really, I said, is this just you and I, or can Ray come along too?"
"You bet, Billy said, come on, come on", his excitement rising.
While I was dressing, Ray asked about our destination.
"Komaki, he said, and we can ride the train, it’ll only cost a couple yen.*
*I don’t really remember at all what it did cost, but not much and we did go on the train. Great way to travel. England still uses the trains a lot. Our AMTRAC experiment seems to have jumped the rails, which is really too bad.
Well we did go, and we grabbed AA and took him with us. What it was that had Billy all excited was an annual fertility festival. It was all in fun, with everyone in laughing moods, but when I read about it later it is taken quite seriously by the Japanese and has been for centuries. I will not go into it, but I will offer up a hyperlink if you want to check it out. My point is that this is the kind of stuff that is on the GI list of places not to miss. You wouldn’t get to see this kind of stuff if you were traveling with an AAA travel guide.
I did visit a castle near Nagoya and stayed the night in a Japanese hotel and what I remember most is sleeping on the floor on a futon and the shockingly hard pillow stuffed with rice. I awoke with a headache, you wouldn’t believe. We were all too young to appreciate the opportunity afforded us to use some of our free time to visit the postcard Japan. To illustrate how young I was, I actually thought I might return someday with my wife and enjoy it together. Life and the reality of cost gets in the way of that happening in most cases I am sure. So what do I remember of my time there? I remember the politeness of the Japanese. They were polite to each other and they were to me, a young foreigner in their land. One of the reasons for their politeness I have read, and I have no reason not to believe it, is the dense population. There are just so many of them living so closely together, it is imperative that they get along.
Finally I feel quite fortunate to have served in the military for four years that were free of any weapons being fired in anger. I wasn’t much of a soldier, or airman more accurately, so the country was lucky I didn’t have to do more than what I did. I enjoyed it, but enjoyed getting out more.