Friday, October 2, 2009

Canned Beef

60 years before I made my first sojourn to Japan, my grandfather was but a few miles down the road from me now, stationed in Yokohama as a G.I.. While he was en route to the Pacific Theater by boat, the bomb was dropped and the War finished. He spent about a half year serving in the occupation forces.

Over the years, I've only gradually gathered bits of information about his experiences here. According to the family rumors, he managed to bring back kimonos and swords, but I've never managed to see these items. When I asked him about it a while back, he said the Japanese were forced to disarm and that there were piles of weapons in the streets. It might not be the most PC by today's standards, but he always said that the Japanese were very docile and friendly, that since the emperor had decreed the surrender, everyone obeyed and were welcoming to the American soldiers.

I spent a day strolling around Yokohama earlier this summer and couldn't help but think of my grandfather. Amidst the high rises, flashing neon, and bustle of the modern city, there are still many architectural artifacts from his time, classic government buildings, giant warehouses, preserved shipyards. I knew that he had walked these streets and gazed on many of the same scenes.

The other day, I talked with my grandfather over the phone and learned of a new story that I hadn't heard before. I asked him what Yokohama was like back then.

"Food was the most important thing to them. I used to sneak some food to a few people that I liked."

Who were these people, I wondered. I probed him further but he didn't seem to understand my question.

He told me about how he was friends with the Mess Sergeant, who was of the same rank. He used pick up a few extra cans of beef and smuggle them out in the pockets of his trench coat. "Strictly illegal," he said, "but in war time you do what you've got to do."

Last year, before coming to Japan, my grandfather gave me an old box of keepsakes from his time as a soldier. The box was mostly filled with old money from the imperial government and old photos.

Wartime destruction in Yokohama:Sakuragicho back then:
The Yokohama Club:
A souvenir postcard:
Skeletons of burned out buildings, indistinguishable from similar photos of Hiroshima and Nagasaki:
View down a ghostly rural street:

No comments: