Fry, Elizabeth: 1953 – 1954: Misawa Air Force Base

I arrived in Japan in Sept. 1953 by MATS ship, having courses in survival Japanese as we crossed. Not knowing whether we would be assigned to Florida weather or Alaska weather, it was hard to be prepared. Immediately I was put on a train that night for Misawa AF Base. Culture shock lasted for quite awhile as I wasn’t prepared to be tucked into a sleeping compartment on the train while the Japanese men undressed down to their BVDs in the aisle.

After getting almost settled at our base, several new acquaintances and I took off for Hokkaido to take advantage of the Labor Day weekend not realizing that no meals were served on trains and that 2nd class accommodations on the steamer meant sleeping on a raised tatami mat covered bed” with 100 Japanese tourists.

Our school was well supplied with materials. Our faculty was made up of a tremendously friendly group of teachers from all parts of the U.S. We were selected carefully to be a conservative, non-partying bunch, to follow the bad reputation of the previous year. Consequently we were all of similar backgrounds and formed such fast friendships that we are still having reunions after 40 years.

I taught a 2nd grade and found the children very adaptable as they had been “Army brats” all of their lives and had learned to cope with new schools. We did a creditable job of teaching from K-12, even though our deepest impressions are of the country and our travel experiences.

We lived in a 2 story BOQ which had a sign “No male personal above the 1st floor”. A nice protected life for a green horn like me. Our year brought this native Southern Californian new experiences such as banging radiators, storm windows which blew off and crashed if you didn’t fasten them closed, a maid who took care of our rooms and clothes for $10 a month, snowy days where the children could go out for recess as opposed to rainy days. Air raid drills required jumping into foxholes with survival equipment in hand. Visits from Japanese school principals at our school, our visits to Japanese schools, bowing, eating with chopsticks and politely refusing the always offered bean paste candy.

Trying to get warm around the hibachi on weekend jaunts into small villages with teahouses with no heat. Visits to Japanese inns where the plumbing was like our outdoor privies yet inside the hotel, and the beds rolled up and put into a closet as soon as you got up. Honey bucket wagons. Wonderful treatment by friendly Japanese, always offering to help us on trips, serving us tea in the station masters office, while we waited to change trains, music played in the train stations. Visits to small villages with friendly farm people always allowing us to take their pictures.

Flights to Tokyo in MATS planes, roasting on the ground–freezing at upper elevations, having to wear Mae Wests and parachutes. Looking down on patchwork fields of yellow mustard and green rice paddies. And wonderful visits to Kyoto, Nara, Mt. Fuji, the Emperor’s palace and castles, castles, castles. Cherry blossom time and autumn leaf trips. One to Lake Towada that took three hours by bus although the distance was about 35 miles, the roads were that bad. What a privilege to visit a country for a whole year to see the changes of seasons and how people of Japan adapted to them all. Sweet potatoes carts serving hot sweet potatoes on snowy days.

There was only one TV Channel and none of us owned a TV. The radio had one American radio station operated by the military and the Japanese stations had mainly children’s choruses singing.

On our base we had a drama group which allowed the military and civilians to get into “little theater” and we staged “Born Again”. It was our fast introduction to “gay” problems and we had quite an education in it.

Our base was so close to the Russian air bases on Sakhalin Island that the OSI officers wouldn’t bring their wives but we were so ignorant that we didn’t know enough to be scared.

My year in Japan was the most exciting year of my life. I married one of the men who taught in the I & E Department on the same base and later at radar sights, Bamey Fry. So our one year for AOS had affected our whole lives. We’re still grateful to Uncle Sam for giving us that year in Japan.

Members of our faculty included. Mr. Steinberg, Boice Winchester, Francis Burruss, Delta Barker, Mona Fisher, high school faculty. Janice Humphryes, Sarah George, Alma Clarino, Lillian Nygaard, Joan Thoma and others I’ve forgotten. Our most outstanding faculty member was Anne Z. Moore who wrote a book about our year and published it herself.

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