My Dad in 1954 was aide to Lt. General Thomas Hickey, commanding General of IX Corps. Dad originally started out in Korea with General Hickey. In July 1953, Dad rejoined General Hickey in Japan at Camp Zama, IX Corps headquarters. Once dad got settled in he arranged for Mom and I to come over to Japan.
In 1954, Mom drives from Ft. Bragg, NC to San Diego, CA with myself and our cat, Mittens, in tow. We sailed on the converted troop ship, the USNS Edwin D. Patrick. All pets were on the deck in cages and Mom and I would go out to feed her. I’m sure I was sea sick from time to time as these ships were not exactly like the cruise ships of today. I don’t remember much about the trip over but I did earn a “Golden Dragon” status when we crossed over the International Date Line in our ship. When we pulled in to Yokohama, I think, there was the military band playing a welcoming tune, probably a Sousa march or similar. I saw my Dad on the pier next to the band and he was waving at Mom and I.
We settled in a Japanese village where quarters had been built for Americans. We had a maid, Kamiko (Sp?) and a driver who would shuttle us back and forth to Camp Zama and the Sendai American School. I remember playing with the Japanese kids in the neighborhood. We would have water pistol fights and play as kids do no matter if they spoke each other’s language or not. We also played with cards but don’t ask me what game, it probably was all made up. Every now and then a puppeteer would arrive in the village square and put on a show for the village kids. They handed out graham crackers, or their version of them. We would munch on them and watch the show.
One incident I do remember was when our driver accidentally knocked over a guy on a bicycle. We stopped and Mom, of course, was concerned about the guy on the bicycle. Our driver gets out and all I saw was a lot of bowing going on, I guess the bicycle guy was ok.
I was in First Grade at Sendai American School. I don’t remember too much about the curriculum other than counting one to ten in Japanese. I remember my teacher and how pretty she was. Ms. Astorino had a sister that was also a teacher at this school. I remember we would be treated to some Japanese people coming to demonstrate how they make baskets, Japanese lanterns or umbrellas. At some point, we watched some dances performed by Japanese folks with all their fancy costumes.
We were invited to a Japanese home where some celebration was afoot. Maybe it was a wedding or something, I don’t recall. The young Japanese girls put on one of those dances with the fancy costumes and makeup. I think the Japanese girls were impressed with seeing an American kid in their house, but I didn’t come away with any phone numbers.
At the Officer’s Club at Zama we would be treated to dinner, Christmas and New Year’s celebrations. Every other Thursday a bulletin was generated by the folks at Camp Zama. This bulletin would advise what theater films were being shown and extended articles about Japanese culture and traditions.
In July of 1955, we start to make ready to return to CONUS. We visited Tokyo and hopped a Northwest Airlines “Super Constellation”, in first class, and flew to Anchorage, AK. This was my first airplane trip. We refueled in Anchorage then flew to SeaTac, WA where we spent some time with relatives. We then flew to Atlanta, where Dad was continuing his Aide duty with General Hickey.
Sendai American School is still there, as far as I know, but it’s called Tohoku International School. I believe it was slightly damaged by the Tsunami of 2011.
While Reviewing my annual from Sendai which is titled “Samurai” I noticed there were other dependent schools listed toward the back. Among them were Tagajo, Younghans and Matsushima.
Apparently in 1955 construction began on a new 4-room annex to the school. An annual “Geta Day” festival was held usually in October. Everyone from first grade to teachers participated in kimono and other Japanese dress.
I think for the most part, I enjoyed our stay in Japan. The experience opened my eyes to different cultures, traditions and ways of doing things. The only downside was not having many American I can kids to play with except when I was at school. I got along with the Japanese kids in my neighborhood but I don’t think they grasped the concept of Cowboys and Indians.