Standing On A Chair

Telling it like I see it…

On “The Ginza Incident”

[Author’s Note:  This piece was meant to be published last week, in honor of Pearl Harbor Day.  Another pertinent event, however, compelled me to write about something entirely different.  So this subject is a week past due.]

I remember it as a time in my life marked by a virulent case of back, chest and facial acne.  I was thirteen years old and living in the middle of the rice paddies just off Itazuke Air Force Base on the southernmost island of Kyushu.  Talk about adolescent culture shock?  I was a hot mess.  Plus, all my girlfriends were getting boobs.  My chest remained concave.

My Father-the-Colonel was transferred to Japan from San Bernardino, California in August of 1961, with me headed into an eighth grade filled with a new batch of strangers, and my mother headed giddily into a new world of maids, houseboys, golfing and the Officers’ Wives Club.  We stopped in Honolulu on our way and spent a week, where we toured Hickam Air Force Base, and my dad showed me the scarred buildings which stood as a monument to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor twenty years past.  He of course told me the entire story in detail, most of which my pubescent mind chose to ignore.  But I got the highlights, and it was cool to know we bombed the shit out of them in retaliation.  Twice.

By December I had managed to make new friends.  I was having a great time living in this strange and exciting country, and going to a school on base for dependents, where every student was a fellow military brat.  There was a bond among us.  We were different.  We all knew how to drop friends and pick up new ones in a nanosecond, because we were forced and tortured into doing it every year or two, all of our lives. 

My new best friend, “Carol,” and I were joined at the hip.  One day she and her mother invited me to join them on a visit to Nagasaki.  Carol’s mother was the wife of the base commander, who was my father’s boss, so of course I got permission to go immediately, even at the cost of missing a few days of school!  Dad said it would be educational.  Little did he know just how “educational” it would turn out to be.

We spent the first couple of days touring with Carol’s mom by day, and by night Carol and I got to stay alone in our hotel suite while her mom went out and did I-don’t-remember-what.  We watched Japanese television and giggled incessantly.  We ordered room service.  We hired hotel masseuses to come give us massages.  We read The Catcher in the Rye out loud to each other, rolling around on the floor in hysterics.

On the third day the three of us went to the local Ginza, which is a sort-of open air shopping mall somewhat like today’s larger outdoor flea markets.  Carol’s mom let us roam on our own, a teenager’s dream.  What a kick it was trying to bargain with merchants in Japanese.  We’d picked up enough of the language to get by, but just barely. 

We were hovering in a booth filled with gorgeous silks and brocades when suddenly we heard people screaming from directly behind us.  Carol grabbed my arm and abruptly turned us around, where we found ourselves face-to-face with a group of disabled and disfigured Japanese men and women. 

We stood in horror as they moved closer to us, their screams growing louder.  And although they yelled mostly in Japanese, it quickly dawned on us what they were talking about.  “Hiroshima!” they shouted.  “Nagasaki!” they wailed.  “Bombs!” they screamed.  “Bad Americans!” they hollered, all while showing us their stumps where arms and legs once were, their burned skin, their scarred faces and their empty eye sockets.

“We didn’t do it!” Carol shrieked. 

“We weren’t even born!” I cried. 

By this time we were both in tears, moving backward, holding tight to each other, looking for a gap through which we could escape.  Out of nowhere appeared Carol’s mother, who jerked us to freedom and pulled us toward a distant, waiting cab just outside the Ginza. 

As we ran for what we thought was our lives, Carol stopped, turned around and screamed, “YOU STARTED IT!  PEARL HARBOR!!” 

That wasn’t really a very good idea, because then even non-disabled Japanese people started running toward us, and we barely made it into the cab and out of there before being mobbed.

Carol was grounded after that trip.  Me?  Nope.  Mercifully my parents were not told about the masseuses and the room service.  I, however, couldn’t wait to tell my parents about the “Ginza Incident.”  Turns out my mother had her own story to tell, after we realized that the “Ginza Incident” happened precisely on Pearl Harbor Day, Thursday, December 7, 1961. 

So while Carol and I were busy pissing off the Japanese in Nagasaki, Mom’s Pearl Harbor Day festivities included a huge reception at the Officer’s Club, given in honor of, and I swear to God this is the truth, the local “Japanese Women’s Garden and Nature Club.”  In attendance, as my mother tells it, was an officer’s wife who was born and raised in Scotland.  Oddly enough, it was she who saw the astonishing irony.  Waving her arms about, she shouted aghast, over and over, “It’s Pairrrrrllll Hairrrrbah Day!  We’re honoring the Japanese on Pairrrrrllll Hairrrrbah Day??”

I guess if you can laugh about something as horrific as dropping bombs on each other, you can laugh about anything.


December 14, 2010 - Posted by | Military Life | , , , , ,

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