An Enduring Love Of Japan Grows

Susan Page
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Wednesday - March 30, 2011
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Two weeks after the quake, fishing boats remained jumbled together in Kesennuma

It is a most personal connection to Japan that I share in this space today.

This month’s horrific earthquake and tsunami in the northern part of Honshu, Japan, has forced each of us to try to understand unimaginable human suffering. Some have close ties to Japan - relatives, friends, history - some none at all.

But regardless, in this darkest of hours the Japanese people have shown us a better way to face great loss. They have impressed a watching, wondering world with scenes of orderliness, patience, humility and honorable deeds over the often-seen chaos, demands and blame under similar circumstances.

It was the autumn of 1967 that I found myself in Tokyo. I was a 20-year-old and unworldly beyond belief.

I knew little more of Japan than that my dad had been a Marine second lieutenant on Okinawa until World War II ended.


So he and Mother were quietly horrified by my announcement from New York City where I was attending school. John, my fiancé, was being sent to Japan with his Marine attack squadron for two months out of Vietnam, and I was flying to Tokyo to marry him on Dec. 13.

Our “wedding” at the American Embassy included two Japanese men applying for visas - our witnesses - and our “vows,” swearing to “uphold the laws of our state concerning marriage.”

My new husband was in love with Japan. He had been stationed there four years earlier and found everything about it appealing: the people, the food and especially the customs.

Japan was the way America used to be back in the 1940s, he’d say. They were courteous, giving to a fault, modest, had pride in their appearance and didn’t complain, he told me.

That his Japanese acquaintances showed him so much respect blew his mind. America had hippies with long, matted hair who spit at him for his military service.

Our honeymoon was on a sleeper train headed south from Tokyo station to Iwakuni. The berth was Japanese-sized, no room for two - or even one, in our cases. Wide awake, I watched the peculiar landscape sweep by as the full moon illuminated odd-shaped blue-and-silver rooftops, rice paddies, narrow roads and curious shop signs written in squiggles and symbols.

I was falling in love, too.

We stopped in Nagoya to meet a friend of an American friend. Mr. Narumi owned a china factory that sold china in America under the name Mikasa. He took us to eat Kobe beef and to a private nightclub for men only - one of the hostesses asked my husband to dance and another asked me!


The next day at his factory, he told us to pick out any set of bone china we wanted as his wedding gift.

What kind of place is this where people you don’t even know offer such kindness?

I could relate a hundred stories of such kindness over a 44-year relationship, both personal and business, with Japan. Some of my deepest friendships are there in Iwakuni, Yamaguchi ken, Japan.

Miyoko, 83, and Toshihiko Hamada, 86, are as much family as blood relations. From Hiroshima, Miyoko was a 16-year-old school girl when the atom bomb fell and killed her mother, who was shopping at ground zero.

Miyoko loved my true-blue-Texan husband like a brother. When he died in 1981, she flew all the way to San Antonio, Texas, by herself, knowing only a little English, to pray at his grave and read a letter in Japanese from the community he dearly loved.

The Hamadas also loved my son like their own when he was stationed in Iwakuni for three years.

A month before my husband’s Harrier jet crashed in North Carolina, I found him in the living room playing an LP of his favorite Japanese song, Kitaguni no Haru, which tells of the beauty of spring in the North country. He knew all the words and was singing along, tears streaming down his face.

Why he was so emotional he could never explain, only to say he missed Japan and feared he’d never see it again.

This spring, as tragedy struck the north of Japan, I thought of him, his song and his deep love for the Japanese people, who the world is just beginning to understand - or at least appreciate - a little bit better.

 

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