60 years ago, as a young Marine Lieutenant with the Fifth Marine Division,
we steamed into Sasebo on the island of Kyushu, Japan, courtesy of the
U.S. Navy. We had been combat loaded to attack Formosa when President
Harry Truman dropped two devastating atomic bombs. Our leaders quickly
The destruction of Tokyo, Japan
Photographs courtesy of Getty Image
Herb Chase, the writer,
during his military days
More than 1.5 million Sasebo residents disappeared
into the surrounding hills, believing they might be slaughtered
as dozens of huge U.S. Navy warships took over the slightly damaged
Japanese Naval base.
Things were tense! For a few weeks, we did guard
duty as the only personnel allowed on shore. We had six killings
in the first seven nights, mostly because the jumpy Navy personnel
had been issued Colt 45's for which they had not been trained.
Frightened 'swabbies' shot each other and they shot at us. (killing
one Marine who was standing guard at the bottom of the gangway).
I spent a year in Japan during the occupation.
We made friends with the defeated overly subservient Japanese
who were gracious and helpful, but very meek and fearful - still
expecting the worse.
Two years ago, I was the guest of the owners of TKS
offset press manufacturer and we were exposed to an all new and different
Japan. The contrast was startling.
TKS was trying to sell use one of their latest high-speed
presses. Being their guest was critical because the first thing we noticed
was that prices in modern Japan are sky high. Counting luxury suites
in the Imperial Hotel, being out every night at different and luxurious
restaurant or geisha house, taxis all over Tokyo, great Kobe steak,
and lost of drinks - probably cost our hosts well over 35,000 for four
Unlike typical American hosts who might pay the bills,
but send top people to party along, the brothers who own TKS were with
us every night, along with their top executives. They all know how to
entertain with enthusiasm, introducing us to modern geisha houses -
in fact, they own two of them.
THE GEISHA HOUSE
A young maiko, or apprentice geisha in Tokyo
at New Year's.
taken by anthropologist John W. Bennett
My first experience with a geisha house was in
Sasebo where there were three adjacent to a notorious red light
district. We had to send patrols through the district to make
sure no Marines were 'participating.' Frequently the Marine patrolmen
got 'lost' and didn't return for hours, making it necessary for
us to go in and find them. The whole thing was a joke and the
offending Marines were seldom disciplined.
Modern Japanese geisha houses are definitely places
for good food and reputable entertainment, with no sex involved
- or so they told us. That had not necessarily been the case in
THE MODERN JAPANESE
In contrast to the meek and mild Japanese men and women
we experienced some 60 years ago, the people we met on our recent trip
were assured, well-educated and very polite --- but not in a condescending
manner. The women no longer walk two paces to the rear of their man
--- except for the older generations.
The modern Japanese people were as interested in learning
about America as we were in studying their reformed country. From what
I understand, the Japanese history books pay very little, if any, attention
to their cowardly attack on Peal Harbor or the series of devastating
defeats they suffered from Guadalcanal to Iwo Jima.
While on Kyushu, another Marine lieutenant, an all-American
basketball player from the state of Washington, and I were assigned
to administer the Province of Issumi, where more than a million Japanese
lived. We had ten marines with us. Our assignment: blow up the military's
left over Kamikaze planes and boats.
The leaders of the Issumi Province invited us to their
homes fro dinner almost every night. We soon tired of four hour endless
boring meals, surrounded by men who couldn't speak English, while the
wives were out of sight in the kitchen or whatever they called the cooking
In those days the horse-drawn 'honey pots' patrolled
the housing areas, digging out the human waste from traps below ancient
toilets. The cities and villages all had pervasive human waster smell,
which was quiet unpleasant. Every patch of land was used for growing
vegetable, which were fertilized with human feces - adding to the noxious
None of these old Japanese habits and customs are visible
in modern Japan. On our recent visit to Tokyo, the people were competent,
friendly, confident and well-groomed. The streets were clean and safe,
though there was no strong visible police presence. Taxicabs are everywhere
because there are hardly any parking lots now that every inch of land
is covered with spectacular high rises, all lit up like Broadway in
New York or downtown Las Vegas.
Talk to Herb@TravelingBoy.com