settled into my new job quite well: There was lots of work and I found
myself accepting responsibility for running the technical side of
processing British Commonwealth forces in transit, Gillie Potter was my
immediate supervisor and he just told me to “get on with it”, so I
did it my way, which was a revelation. Indeed, for the Forces at that
period; it was a revolution.
I had a staff of about thirty
Japanese workers and it was here that I met my first challenge; that of
unravelling the convoluted hierarchy as practiced in that place at that
time. One chap who was
quite low in the workplace ‘pecking order’ had, in fact, been a very
senior Naval Officer during the WW2 he was now junior to another man who
had been an Army Corporal. During working hours
they obeyed a strict protocol in regard to seniority and after work they
also observed strict protocol, only this time in reverse!
My chief assistant had been a pilot
and was only saved from a Kamikaze mission by the dropping of the
H-Bomb. It was mainly
due, I believe, to this strict observance to correct etiquette that we
all got along extremely well. I
received a great deal of assistance from them, both in my military
duties and also privately in my search for knowledge of local customs.
They introduced me to the finer points
of Japanese life and, happily pointed out potential pitfalls of
etiquette in my dealing with both themselves and with the local
population. They invited
me into their homes; a privilege I discovered that was unique, as the
Japanese normally held foreigners at a distance, (something like
Tickhill, now I come to think of it!).
was instructed as to how I would be expected to behave once I visited
their homes, the fiction being that the host would not know about this
helping hand and therefore I would not ‘lose face’ by contravening
some point of Japanese etiquette.
I remember a visit to the ex pilot,
Nackamura San. I received detailed instructions on how to find the
place, and I truly needed them, for he lived out in the countryside with
no access road, and, for the final half mile there was only a narrow
footpath threading its way through the ubiquitous rice paddy fields.
transfixed with the beauty of these ancient buildings with their wooden
verandas surrounding an inner courtyard which was laid out in the
traditional Japanese, (Zen) manner.
The first sight of his home was a
disappointment to me, for I was still getting orientated to the Eastern
way of doing things. I
rather apprehensively approached, what I was sure could not be the
correct house; for I had been given to understand it was extremely old,
and was the traditional family home of a much respected and venerated
All I could see upon my arrival,
was a very large and rambling collection of what appeared to be a farm
surrounded by walls of rusting corrugated iron and scruffy looking
trees, all of which was enough to obscure almost everything behind them,
it looked like a third rate junk yard.
soon found this to be a deliberate mood setting ploy: After being met at
the outer gate by one of his daughters who, smiling brightly and having
relieved me of my shoes in the entrance hall, ushered me through some
bamboo and paper screens into what I can only describe as Paradise. The
contrast between the outside and the inside of this dwelling place was
I stood transfixed with the beauty
of these ancient buildings with their wooden verandas surrounding an
inner courtyard which was laid out in the traditional Japanese, (Zen)
manner. There were
strategically placed stones set in sand which was raked into intricate
patterns, resembling the flow of life energy, (Chi). There was even a
small waterfall, cascading down to a small fish pond in the background.
I was made so welcome, and I felt so spiritually
‘lifted’ just being in such magical surroundings that I just did not
wish to leave when it was time to go.
Life in Japan was like nowhere else
I have ever seen; even the army duties appeared more relaxed. Albeit, I
was still kept very busy; perhaps it was because I was now employed in
an administrative role that I found it so easy.
I was in the
tub with Aiko when they all trooped in, stripped off and started
washing, they began talking about the weather and the rice crops, all
being translated to me and the girls parents...
I met, and took up residence with,
a most charming and highly intelligent lady who challenged my intellect
with mind boggling new ideas, and this I found extremely exhilarating.
I now began a period of self
indulgence in a semi domestic life, which was structured in the Japanese
manner. One of the first things to pique my interest was that the
bathhouse reminded me of the laundry tub back in Tickhill.
This was situated separately and
was shared with our landlord plus his family. It consisted of a small
building with a large iron tub filled with water which was heated by a
wood fuelled fire, the latter being accessed from the outside.
When this was working at full tilt
a nice fog of steam would be generated, very much in keeping with the
idea of a Scandinavian sauna. There
were cold water taps with basins inside but these were only used for an
initial washing and rinsing before getting into the bath, thus enabling
more than one person to hygienically use the tub at the same time.
I remember being a tad startled
when the neighbour, his wife and one of his daughters entered the room
just as I was getting comfortable. I was in the
tub with Aiko when they all trooped in, stripped off and started
washing, they began talking about the weather and the rice crops, all
being translated to me and the girls parents, by both the daughter and
I soon got used to it but I admit I
was a trifle nonplussed one day when I entered a public bath: The ritual
was the similar to the domestic ritual, with everyone washing outside
the main bath, (this public one was almost as large as a small swimming
pool). We were in the countryside, far away from the main areas of
East/West contact. I thought little of it until I got inside and people
started coming up behind me and start to giggle, apparently my sun tan
covered my whole body with the exception of that part covered by my
swimsuit, thus leaving a section of my anatomy nice and white, Aiko just
about had hysterics laughing at my discomfiture.
She took me to
her birthplace of Hiroshima, or what was left of it...She had been close
enough to ground zero that the heat from the blast imprinted the pattern
of her Kimono into her flesh...
She introduced me to the Shinto and
Buddhist religions and arranged for me to stay in a Buddhist monastery
for a couple of weeks. She encouraged me to think in a different manner,
and thus opened up my mind and stimulated my senses to a degree I had
never imagined possible.
She took me to her birthplace of
Hiroshima, or what was left of it, which was not very much.
On the day the A-Bomb was dropped
she had been visiting a married sister on the outskirts of town. The
rest of her family, who had lived nearer the center of the city, were
all killed. She had been
close enough to ground zero that the heat from the blast imprinted the
pattern of her Kimono into her flesh down one side of her body.
She had taken training as a Geisha,
(for those who do not know it, a Geisha is not, as is sometimes thought,
a ‘fallen woman’), they are educated and highly skilled
entertainers; they are keepers of traditional rites and ceremonies. Of
course there are different degrees, and consequently, different price
ranges of what each ‘House ‘offered, similar to the ranking of
Hotels in the West. The lowest, were not very good at all, but the
middle range, which was all I could afford, were quite reasonable, and
very enjoyable. Aiko was not tied to a particular Geisha house and she
acted as a ‘freelance’ professional.
To attend a good quality Geisha
party was not simply a matter of going up to the door and asking for
admittance, you had to be recommended, the procedure being that a group,
in my case usually members of my staff, would decide to have a party and
one of the number would be designated as being the person responsible,
both for making the arrangements with the Mama San of the house, and
also to take responsibility for the behaviour of the guests once the
Prices varied by the number of
guests, the type of entertainment, traditional or modern, and time
required. A start and finish time would be negotiated, and this was
strictly adhered to, albeit normally just before your time became due to
expire, the Mama San would take the designated head of the guests to one
side and tactfully inform them of the situation, generally, at this
point, an impromptu opinion poll would be instigated and an extension
organised, usually at a greatly inflated rate, for by that time everyone
was having a good time and no one wished to leave.
I began to
think I was the greatest thing since Casanova.. I was terribly deflated
and totally mortified when I discovered the real attraction was the
belief that a bald headed man was very virile...
Sex was a taboo subject if
initiated by the guest; indeed all conversation had to be approved by
the Mama san, any repeated transgression and you were banned not just
from that one house but also from houses in the neighbourhood, it took
time and tact to get reinstated.
What I found odd to my Western
eyes, was that if one of the girls decided that she might like the
company of one of the male guests for the night, she would speak to the
Mama San, who would tactfully mention to the designated head of the
guests that Miss So and So would not object if Mr So and So wished to
keep her company after the party and perhaps for the rest of the
evening; the guest representative would then approach Mr So and So and
pass the message on, and so it would be arranged, with no direct words
spoken on the subject between the couple involved, all very civilised to
say the least.
I began to think I was the greatest
thing since Casanova when I was the recipient of a couple of invitations
in a row; I began to think ‘the word’ had gone around! (This was
before I met Aiko) I was terribly deflated and totally mortified when I
discovered the real attraction was the belief that a bald headed man was
very virile, and by this time, my hair was thinning, and I was just
beginning to show the first signs of baldness!
a couple of severe ‘quakes’ during my stay, my first one was
accompanied by a Tsunami which wiped out a complete fishing village
situated close by.
Earth tremors, “when the sleeping
dragons under the islands turn over” were more commonplace than I had
thought they would be. I experienced a couple of severe ‘quakes’
during my stay, my first one was accompanied by a Tsunami which wiped
out a complete fishing village situated close by. The army helped in
trying to rescuing the victims but were not very successful; the
Tsunami, (Tidal wave) which accompanied the ‘quake, had been followed
by a huge avalanche of mud falling down the hillside and this completely
buried the site, thus making the possibility of live rescue virtually
My second real ‘quake happened
late at night. I was asleep in the lodgings I shared with Aiko. We were
about a third of the way up a narrowly terraced and very steep
mountainside, situated just below a tea house which was perched on top
of a jutting rock, this being the place where many of the locals, (plus
Aiko and myself) would sip tea.
Green tea, brewed with the aid of
charcoal fired ‘Hibachi’s’ was served in the tea house in the
traditional manner, and those gathered around would share a sense of
solemn wonderment as they gathered together and silently watched the sun
go down. Some of the traditionalists were a trifle perturbed on my first
couple of visits, after all this was not a tourist attraction, and I was
a foreign ‘devil’, but after a while they accepted the fact that I
could be civilised, and upon my demonstrating that I was not about to
disturb the tranquility of the moment, they made me welcome.
I remember that second earthquake
very well, I was awakened by the floor, indeed the whole building,
moving around; oddly enough, even today, I still do not recall any
sounds, (such as one might hear in a movie about a similar disaster for
example) it was as if I had been struck deaf, and, although things were
moving about me, I swear I heard no sounds,
woke Aiko and asked what we ought to do about this.
“What do you think you
can do about an earthquake?” she asked. As
I was clearly stuck for an answer, she just glared at me, turned over
and started to go back to sleep.
The place was still rocking around
so I gave her a nudge and asked; “What about those rocks up the
“Can you hear any rocks falling?” she asked.
“No” I replied.
“Then they are not falling, go to
“No but”, I started to argue.
It was then that I began to see her
point; if you can’t hear them, they are not falling; therefore there
is no danger, and, if we were able hear them? Then, of course, they
would be falling, and there would have been no time to escape! This was
essential Zen, a pure enlightening moment. In any event the rocks must
have been secure; after all, they had been subjected to tremors for
centuries, and they certainly stayed in place that night.
As time went
by, I became increasingly more and more uncomfortable. The rain
continued steadily and was falling, mixed with blood, into my,
The next morning was a nightmare,
my shoelace came apart, the chain on my bicycle broke, and it started to
rain, I slipped and half fell into a rice paddy, I was late because my
alarm clock was messed up due to the ‘quake.
I decided to climb over the back
fence into the camp in order to save time and to avoid being seen,
covered as I was by filth from the paddy. As I struggled over the top of
the barbed wire topped fence, I slipped and my ankles became entangled
in the top strands of the wire, I was held upside down and just able to
reach the ground with my hands, but unable to get loose.
As time went by, I became
increasingly more and more uncomfortable. The rain continued steadily
and was falling, mixed with blood, into my, (inverted) nostrils; I was
bleeding from some cuts to my legs, altogether a totally unhappy
situation. Then to my mixed emotions, relief, in the shape of the Senior
Warrant Officer of the Camp came walking by, I say mixed emotions
because in the whole wide world the last person you wish to witness your
infraction of regulations; is the one man designated to uphold them!
The camp had been badly hit by the
‘quake, some of the buildings had been cut in two and had settled with
one half about two or three feet higher than the other, they were now
true ‘split level’ configurations of what had previously been single
level buildings up to this moment.
became clear why these places had been constructed in the manner they
had been. There were ‘steps’ all around where the earth had opened
up and then closed into different levels.
was doing an inspection of damage, he had been up most of the night and
apparently I had been reported as ‘missing’, which, incidentally,
did not cheer him up at all. He barely stopped; he merely glanced at me
and said, “Good morning”, “Good morning sir” I managed to
splutter in reply. He continued on his way but then turned to come back
and face me, “I want you to know” he said, “I have seen some
senior NCOs in some very peculiar positions in my time, but you take the
bloody biscuit” he paused, “Report to my office at 0900”. He then
turned smartly about and disappeared! A short while later a couple of
lads with ladders and cutters came around, I just had time to get
cleaned up and grab some breakfast before reporting to discover my fate.
“I can only surmise that the earthquake picked you up and threw you
into that position” he greeted me, rather curtly I thought. He then
continued, “I am looking for a volunteer duty NCO for the next couple
of weekends”. I can take a hint, “I’ll volunteer sir” I said,
“I thought you might” he said. I had ‘got away with it’ - for a
change, at last!
All things come to an end, and all
too soon it was time to say farewell to my friends, pack my bags and
embark on another troopship, this time for Malaya.
the next installment: Valerie