Susanne of Allen Dale Farm, Part 8 – Touring Japan

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In the summer of 1952, having been promoted to Colonel during two years of sea duty, I was ordered to take command of the Marine Barracks of the Naval Training Center, Great Lakes. Illinois.  There Susanne and I were assigned spacious government quarters in one of the beautiful old homes on “Brick Row.” 


Shortly after the birth of our second son, Charles Antoine, in March 1954,I was ordered on an unaccompanied tour (without family) with the Third Marine Division in Gifu, Japan.

Susanne was left with the burden, typical for service wives, of vacating our quarters, finding a new home, and moving our family in. She found an apartment on top of the gate house of a large estate in nearby Lake Forest, which she affectionately called “Tree Top House.”

I returned a year later, this time with the happy prospect of returning to Japan with my family to serve as Headquarters Commandant for the Theater Commander, Army four-star General Lyman L. Lemnitzer at Pershing Heights in Tokyo.


The Japanese: Friendly, Generous, Industrious

We travelled across the Pacific in a naval transport with all our possessions, including the ever-present cat, not at all pleased with being placed in a caged box, with a barking dog in another box below. But it was pleasant to become reacquainted with son Charlie, now just over a year old, who seemed to enjoy placing greasy hands on my freshly-starched military shirts.

As our naval transport lay at anchor in Tokyo Bay, awaiting a pilot, Susanne proclaimed that we were going to drive all the back roads of Central Honshu, the principal Island of Japan.  I protested that the roads were unimproved and impassable for western-style automobiles, but Susanne prevailed.  As a result of her inspiration and inquisitiveness, we did tour the entire area – an unforgettable experience.

We found the Japanese people, especially in the countryside, to be generous, friendly and hard-working.  Driving an American automobile, representing, in those days a luxury far beyond their means, we never sensed any resentment or envy. Yet, this was only ten years after the devastating Tokyo raids and Hiroshima.


Cormorant Fishing on the Nagara Gawa

Shortly after our arrival in Tokyo, we were invited to the home base of the Third Marine Division in Gifu to view the ancient art of cormorant fishing in the nearby Nagara-gawa.  Here, we were taken out into the shallow river in a small houseboat, where we enjoyed a typical Japanese meal, augmented with sake, a tasty rice wine.

At dusk our gaze was attracted up river where small flatboats were approaching, each carrying an iron basket filled with burning pine to attract small “sweetfish.”  I was reminded of the grunions that swarm onto California beaches at night to spawn.

In each boat was a “handler,” controlling several cormorants on leashes secured to rings around their necks.  These large birds, after diving for fish, would be brought back aboard where their catch would be disgorged, the ring having prevented the swallowing of all but the smallest fish.


A Cormorant Objects

Have I mentioned Susanne’s curiosity?  She stepped out of our boat and, wading in the shallow river, approached a fishing boat where she examined a cormorant’s throat to determine what happened to the fish.  She found out and was rewarded with a cut finger, the bird objecting to its beak being pried apart.

As a example of the attitude of the Japanese people at that time, I quote from my 2008 column in The Sentinel-News, “Touring Japan with Van and Susanne.”



Stranded on Mt. Akagi

But we were not through yet with the mountains.  Retracing our route toward Takasaki, we turned off toward another extinct volcano, Mt. Akagi, 6,000 feet in elevation. [After which a Japanese aircraft carrier sunk by U. S. dive-bombers at the Battle of Midway had been named.]  The twelve-mile stretch to the top required following a steep switchback “road.”  Here, we encountered a “bouncing” effect, which, upon a rocky road, can cause damage to the underside of an automobile.  As we proceeded farther the reverse turns became more frequent and the roadbed worsened.

  The engine over-heated under the strain and we stopped twice for water, the second being the last watering place before reaching Lake Ono, a crater lake near the mountaintop.  At this point, observing deep ruts in the road ahead, I asked Susanne to walk on the road to guide me.  Even proceeding at a snail’s pace, I hit bottom rather hard and she called frantically for me to stop.  I got out to view one of the most discouraging sights possible: oil was trailing out on the road behind our automobile!  Stranded at dusk, two miles from the top of the mountain where lodgings might be available, I could visualize returning to Tokyo, 100 miles distant by bus and train, to get parts and a mechanic.


Mr. Hosakawa to the Rescue

Fortunately, a road foreman soon arrived and with his gang, pushed our Dodge to a parking spot clear of traffic.  Then, a bus pulled up, and out stepped a man who could speak a little English.  While the bus driver waited patiently, this gentleman, Mr. Hosakawa, informed us that a compressor and a welder were available at a construction camp half a mile down the road.  We got in the bus together and descended to the camp where a construction crew suggested they could repair the oil pan.  I then returned to my stalled auto, where the friendly road gang turned it around so that I could coast downhill to the camp.

Here Mr. Hosakawa, the engineer heading the construction crew, whose task was the construction of a tunnel to tap the waters of the lake, offered us his hut, saying he would move next door with a friend.  His housekeeper brought us some coals and we prepared our meal on a hibachi (anopen-topped container, lined with a heatproof material, designed to hold burning charcoal).


“Hotsie Bath” for Men Only!

Later, I was led to a bathhouse, where a tub was filed with hot water and I took a much-needed soaking.  Evidently this was for men only, and Susanne was a little disappointed not to have an equal opportunity.

We awoke to a beautiful dawn and took advantage of Mr. Hosakawa’s offer to guide us on foot to the lake.  We soon passed the area of our breakdown, continued up to the crater rim and headed down to beautiful lake Ono.  Returning to the summit we discovered that our auto had been seen up on top, evidently on a test run.  When we returned to the camp we found it awaiting us, raring to go.  The mechanic and his friend had removed the oil pan, welded a small break, used cardboard as a replacement gasket and filled it with truck oil.

I pulled several yen notes out of my pocket to pay them, but they refused payment, saying in halting English that my appreciation and thanks were recompense enough.  They finally accepted a carton of American cigarettes.  This was a memorable example of the friendliness, courtesy and generosity of the Japanese people.  Next day we drove back to our quarters in Washington Heights, having formed a lasting fondness for Japan and its people, only a few years after I had fought against them in the Pacific during World War II.


NEXT: “O Canada” Visiting Europe with the Canadian National Defense College