The first foreign country that I ever lived in was Japan. It was the fall of 1954 and I was less then a year old. (Whoops, am I dating myself?) My Dad was in the navy and was stationed in Japan. My Mom and I joined him there. I have no real memories of our stay there. My main connection to that time comes through the home movies that my Dad took while we were living there. He had bought an eight millimeter movie camera. There is one infamous, so-called, X-rated scene. It shows the infant me being bathed by our Japanese house girl. Years later my brothers delighted in showing this movie to my then high school girlfriend, Anne. The other connection that I can still remember is my red snow suit. This was a head-to-toe affair and it was fire engine red. I remember it because it was hand-me-downed to those aforementioned brothers.
Rather then rely on just these sketchy remembrances, I called my Dad: We lived there from the fall of 1954 to the spring of 1955. My Dad didn’t qualify for on-base housing so we rented a house in a fishing village, Hayama, between the cities of Yokohama and Yokosuka, just south of Tokyo. The nearby Hayama Imperial Villa was sometimes used as the emperor’s winter retreat.
The house’s architecture was somewhat westernized. It had plaster walls instead of paper. It had a tile roof. The glass windows were sliding and had shutters. Most of the house had wood flooring. The kitchen had concrete flooring. The bedrooms had traditional tatami mats. The house had no heating system. My folks rented a space heater for the living room. The bedrooms had no heat. I was put to bed in my red snowsuit. For hot water, every morning my Dad laid a fire for the maid to light. When she arrived she would light the fire and soon there would be hot water. One day, maybe the fire got too hot or something else, but the hot water tank overflowed.
My Dad left me with an interesting story about the place. This story developed the week before Thanksgiving when our landlord died after a long illness. My folks were approached by his widow and their landlord’s brother. They said that since the deceased had expressed the desire to live in the house, once the Americans had left his country, he should have his funeral service there. My folks were expected to either vacated the house for a week or at least confine themselves to the back bedroom.
My Dad sought restitution through the military’s legal system. He consulted a Navy lawyer and was plainly told that they can’t do that. He later consulted an Army lawyer, who concurred, but also offered a strategy. When next he met the widow and the brother he told them that if they persisted with their demands that we would all vacate, but that their property would be blacklisted by the U.S. military. Recognition occurred first with the widow. Subsequently, the brother brought a bouquet of chrysanthemums as an apology. The chrysanthemum is the emperor’s flower.
Years later, Dad again found himself in Japan. The year was 1960. Back in Hayama the widow had proven herself a shrewd business person. She had branched out into renting pleasure boats for the tourist trade. She was rich and was contemplating re-marriage.