Written by Kuri Michika (translated by her husband).
This guest post originally appeared as an assay in Japanese in a tanka magazine in Japan called ちぬの海 (Chinu no Umi). Tanka, literally “a short poem”, is a type of classical Japanese poetry requiring a prescribed pattern of syllables, namely 5-7-5-7-7, originating in the ninth century. I thank the author and her husband for their permission to publish Kuri Michika’s musings on my blog.
I have a large number of dishes and such sitting in the cupboards in our house that we inherited from my American mother-in-law. Unusual among them is a set of Western dinnerware marked “Made in Occupied Japan.” It is a beautiful porcelain set with a floral design that was manufactured during the Occupation from 1945 to 1952 and was exported to the United States.
There are reasons for my affection for porcelain made in Japan during the Occupation. For a period after the end of the war, my father managed a chinaware shop. That was during the Occupation and it overlapped with my primary school period. It was located in the middle of Kagoshima’s busy shopping area and aside from the usual Japanese dinnerware there was also a large amount of Western dinnerware with floral designs on display. I remember being mystified by a gravy boat with its container and saucer being together as one unit and with my childish mind wondering how on earth you would use it. American military personnel wearing sailor uniforms or SP* armbands would drop into the store with a “Hello” and they would buy a large amount of this Western dinnerware. The person dealing with the American sailors in English was a young shop employee that had been repatriated from the continent and was attending high school at night. Sitting on his knee I had my first introduction to English.
In our house there was another repatriate from Manchuria, a widowed maid.
She really loved movies and while I was in the fourth grade she took me to my first Western movie, L’eternel Retour [English title: Love Eternal] (screenplay by Jean Cocteau, starring Jean Marais). It was a movie romance for adults. She would say that we were going to the hot springs baths but actually we went to see movies. I made a promise with her to keep it a secret from my mother and I kept it for her whole life. I myself became a great fan of Western movies and later on I went with the shop employee and the maid to see such movies as The Bicycle Thief, Waterloo Bridge, The Jungle Book, Children of Paradise, The Red Shoes, The Third Man and Casa Blanca, which were shown during the Occupation. I saw almost all of the famous Western movies during my primary to middle school period.
There was a dance hall in the neighborhood and I would peek through the window to see young men and women dancing along with American sailors as well. I could always hear jazz and popular music from the radio, such as the Glen Miller band, the Duke Ellington orchestra, and the sweet vocals of Bing Crosby, Peggy
Lee and Doris Day. As I remember, the songs and children’s songs authorized by the Ministry of Education in the prewar period along with the military songs of wartime were replaced to a surprising extent with a large variety of American music.
When the Occupation ended the American sailors disappeared from Kagoshima. My father’s chinaware shop also closed down. I was by then in high school and was reading widely in Western literature at the library. I majored in English in college and at the age of thirty I married an American. At thirty-eight I moved to the United States. When I think about it, my interest in Japanese history, literature and so on had been completely absent within myself at the time. Works said to be masterpieces of Japanese cinema, such as those by directors Ozu Yasujirō or Kurosawa Akira, I didn’t see until I was in the United States. The Occupation policy was basically to brainwash or weaken the Japanese people by immersing them in Westernization. I have come to think that I myself might very well have been “made in Japan” during the Occupation.
I have learned to write tanka poetry after half of my life had passed and along with rediscovering the beauty of the Japanese language, due to the benefits of the information revolution I feel gratitude for the gradual dispelling of the brainwashing within me.
* [Translator’s note: for those unfamiliar with U.S. Navy terminology, “SP” stands for Shore Patrol & is the navy equivalent of Military Police (MP) in other services.]
English translation of the Japanese lyrics in “Akatonbo” (Dragonfly):
Dr. Dennis Paulson, University of Puget Sound
Dragonflies as red as sunset
Back when I was young
In twilight skies, there on her back I’d ride
When the day was done
Mountain fields in late November
Long ago it seems
Mulberry trees and treasures we would gather
Was it only just a dream?
Just fifteen she went away one day
Married then so young
Like a sister lost, I loved and missed her
Letters never seemed to come
Dragonflies as red as sunset
Back when I was young
Now in my eyes, when I see dragonflies
Tears are always sure to come