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Posts Tagged ‘Japan’

green park

My parents, brother and sister called Green Park apartments in Tokyo, Japan their home for a short time when they lived overseas in the 1950s. Built around 1953, the complex had everything families would need under one roof – a post exchange, a movie theater, club for teens, etc.

For more information about Green Park, please visit Green Park photo essay featured on the Japan Brats website (which is also a very cool site to peruse if you happened to spend a lot of growing up years in Japan as a military brat – I’m looking at my sister here!)

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gaffeygazette

In 1953, my dad had already been in Japan for several months. Now, it was time for my mom, brother and sister to make the journey. They boarded the USNS General Hugh Gaffey for the trip over the sea from Seattle to Japan. Following are bits of my mother’s letter diary she wrote.

June 10, 1953
Well, will start our daily diary on board ship.
June 9 – We were up at 5:00 A.M. at the Hostess House. Had our bed check at 6:00. Bags were picked up at 6:30. Then we went to breakfast at 7:00 A.M. Had 2 hrs to wait. At 9:10 we boarded buses to take us to the pier. Everything went according to schedule. At 10:15 we unloaded, rec’d our passports and went aboard.
Mom Ann Mike on ship
After looking over our cabin & stowing away some of our packages we carried aboard, we went up on deck. Our cabin is on B deck which is 2 decks below. Have nice quarters. It was very interesting to watch people coming aboard as we were among the first to board. The band was playing. We took several pictures of the dock and band & people coming aboard.
We pulled away from the pier promptly at 11:00. Stayed on deck for awhile, then went below. We are on 2nd call for mess so our hrs are 8:00 A.M., 11:45 and 5:15.
In the afternoon we had to go to a meeting and also had a fire & boat drill. We don’t stay below too long at a time as I guess the depth and rocking of the ship makes you squeamish.
We went up on the sun deck and watched the sights. We are traveling the great circle route which is by way of Alaska. Our ship travels 29 knots & goes faster than you realize. At 7 o’clock I asked one of the Lt’s if we were out of the sound yet as we still saw land. He laughed & said what you see now is the Aleutian chain, stretching out from Alaska. The sun never set till 10 P.M. last nite & was beautiful. Also at 10 P.M. we saw the last touch of land. The children have curfew at 8:00 P.M. They have to be in bed by that hr.  We will only be on the water 9 sailing days but due to the time change will actually be 10 according to the calendar. I heard someone talking & they said we would skip Sat, but will wait & see, you hear so many rumors you’d be dizzy if you believe them all.
June 10 – It is now 11:15 and will soon go to lunch.  We were up at 6:30 and made ourselves presentable, at our breakfast or rather I did. Was raining this A.M. & real rough.  Was like riding the elevator.  The ship just pitches about.  The Captain announced some of the decks closed due to rough weather.  He expects to be out of this roughness in the next day or two. In the evening played canasta.  We have coffee hr at 9:00 so drank coffee & ate angel food cake & then retired.  The ships paper said we traveled 471 miles in the last 25 hrs.
June 11th – We sat our watches back one hr in the nite, and made it difficult to try to sleep. The sea is really rough today the ship just rocks from side to side & back & forth. We have run into considerable fog. Was talking to the Capt of the ship & he said this fog has put us back a day & they have changed course. He’s a very nice person & comes around & talks with everyone. We have slowed down to 15 knots & traveled 560 miles in the last 25 hrs. We have 2400 troops aboard too & I feel for those boys. They don’t have any privileges & have to stay either on the forward deck or aft. and have no protection. They are quartered on the same deck as we are but are in the center of the ship & very poor ventilation.
June 12th – We sat our watches back another hr in the nite, and are to set our watches back again tonite. We rec’d our declarations forms for customs at 8:30 this morning. It is quite a job to fill it out. Had another boat & fire drill this morning at 10:30. Tomorrow we pay our subsistence. It is much cheaper than we all thot. Is only 16.43 per person so will only come to little over $49.00. Here I was planning on $90.00. The trip across is cheaper than the trip from Ohio to Seattle.
June 13th – We ran into a storm in the late afternoon & tossed the ship.  Our port holes were latched down & our room was like a dungeon.  It is the Aleutian squall we are in.
June 14th – It’s Sunday & sure is rough.  The bow of the ship comes up out of the water & slaps down.  Still have our port holes latched down.  It is stifling in the cabin.  All decks are out of bounds as the waves are quite high & we toss about.
June 16th – It is Tuesday.  We cross the international date line yesterday afternoon.  So we missed Monday entirely.  The sea has calmed so our port hole is open.  Has warmed up & by grapevine we are 2½ days out of Yokohoma.  Boy this is a long boat ride, even tho I haven’t got sick I’ve seen all the water I want to for awhile.  It’s the monotony that gets me.
June 17 – Wed & just a few more days to go.  The day passed very fast for me.
Debarkation title
June 18 – Thurs & today & tomorrow before we get off this ship.  We will drop anchor late tomorrow afternoon about 20 miles off shore & then Sat morning will dock. It is getting very hot. We ran into a squall last nite & they latched down the port holes & brother we roasted. I’m sitting here in my slip trying to cool off. Will write more tomorrow.
Fri June 19th.  This is our final day sailing.  Will drop anchor sometime this evening.  Also we are to see land about eight tonite, sure will be good to see the good solid land (even tho its Japan it’s better than all this water).  The steward was telling me it’s a sight to watch the husbands come storming up the gang plank.  They are to come on by alphabetical order there’s no stopping them.  I’m going on deck to watch them & take some pictures then will rush down to the cabin.
Sat – June 20.  This is the great day.  It seems nobody slept much in the nite.  Saw land for the first in 9 days.  We had stopped around midnight & was sitting outside the harbor.

Yokohama harbor
At 8:30 had our money changed.  Then back on deck.  We couldn’t take pictures till we were 300 yds from the pier.  We had a good spot along the rail.  Finally we could see the sponsors & band in the distance.  Seemed the ship would never get to the pier.  I started taking pictures of the band just as we nosed into the pier.  I spotted Gene right away.  They were all standing on a high balcony.  I started waving & finally he spotted us.  He used the binoculars so he could see us close.  He also was taking pictures as the ship was pulled alongside.  Gene was smart & started downstairs.  He got up to the gate so he could be one of the first on board.  All the passengers on board had to go to their cabins so the sponsors could find you.  He had a staff car & driver to take us to where we were going.  Went thru customs.  I’ll bring this diary to a close for this time.

(Photos: Mom, her roommate Ann and my sister on the deck of the USNS General Hugh Gaffey. Photographer: Jim Amore. Digital image scanned from original slide by Wendy Littrell; Scans of ship’s newspaper, originals in possession of Wendy Littrell; photo of Yokohama Harbor. Photographer: Jim Amore. Digital image scanned from original photo in possession of Wendy Littrell – address for private use.)

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Yoshie (hopefully I’m spelling that right!) – was my parents’ Japanese maid while they were living in Japan. I have heard a lot of stories about her. I do know that I heard everyone talk about her fondly. For many years, she and my parents exchanged Christmas cards and letters. I wonder what happened to her and her family.

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leaving battlecreek

When my dad got orders for Japan in the early ’50s, he went ahead of the rest of the family.  Mom had to get from Ohio to the Pacific Coast in order to sail to Japan. 

The photo at left was taken when my mom, brother and sister were leaving my Uncle’s home in Michigan headed west.  They drove 450 miles in one day and got to Fargo, North Dakota about 6:15 p.m.  In a postcard to her folks, Mom said they stayed at a cabin for the night – the cost: $4.  They traveled through Montana and went to Oregon in order to visit my great-grandmother for a short time.hughgaffey naval ship  Then north to Seattle to Fort Lawton where they had to wait a few days before sailing to Japan on June 9, 1953. 

The trip, aboard the USNS General Hugh J. Gaffey, would take 12 days – although by crossing the international date line, they lost a day.  While on board, my sister tap danced in a Variety show and my brother – when not seasick – made friends.  The ship carried 2400 troops – all on their way to Yokohama. 

dad_nash

trainMy parents were in Japan for two tours and while there, they drove the Nash that had been transported via ship with them.  Sometimes they jim school busrode a train like the one pictured (left) and my siblings rode a bus (right) back and forth to school or on field trips.

While on their 2nd tour in Japan, my parents and brother all learned to fly courtesy of the Tachikawa Aero Club.  They even “starred” in a short film promoting the Aero Club Family Plan.  Back in the States and after I came along, my parents still flew every once in awhile.  Here’s a picture of my Dad in ’72 getting ready to fly.dad by plane

My parents had some very interesting adventures in the air and on land.  I feel very blessed that not only do I have stories and pictures, but memories of when I accompanied them on some of their adventures!

Written for the 18th Edition of Smile for the Camera – Travel.

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japanese-clothesline

Clothesline on the outskirts of Tokyo, Japan – mid 1950s
Photographer: Gene Amore
Original photo property of Wendy Littrell (Address for private use)

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Audio Tapes

In the 1950s when my parents lived in Japan, they bought a reel-to-reel tape player and recorded oral letters which they sent to my grandparents in Ohio.  There weren’t many that survived as they were erased, recorded over or became so bad no one could understand what was recorded on them.  Those that did survive were compiled into CDs by my cousin and sent out to those of us who were there.  I really wasn’t there as it was many years before I was born.  I’m on one or two tapes that were recorded at my dad’s family reunions. 

Yesterday I received these seven CDs in the mail and hurriedly put one in to listen.  I had never heard my sister as a young girl or my brother’s voice as a young man.  All of them – including my parents – sound so young.  Then today I listened to another CD that included the voices of my grandparents. 

To say that this is like Christmas for me would be an understatement.  I’m hearing people whose voices I haven’t heard in many years.  Even though I have dozens of handwritten letters, there is something to be said to actually hear family speak about their day to day activities.  I hear the excitement of being in a new country, the sadness of being so far from family, the laughter from being silly, and the fear when my aunt became very sick.

My cousin probably doesn’t really understand just how much these CDs mean to me.  It’s a piece of time that will never come again – yet it’s been captured forever in the lilting words of my family.

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For the 48th Carnival of Genealogy the theme is: Mom, how’d you get so smart?  The challenge was to write about how Mom got so smart whether it was through book learning, self-study courses, or the school of hard knocks. 

My mother is primarily a very private person, and it took me three tries to write something that I think she would approve of just in case someone she knows reads this and tells her!  She hasn’t always been a hero to me – just ask my teen-age self 20+ years ago!  But as a mother with four grown children now, I look back on what my mother has endured over her 80+ years and realized just what a hero really means.  So here’s my take on what made my mother so brilliant in my eyes.

Highest School Attended: High School – received diploma in 1939.

 Domestic Skills: Learned the basics from her mother – cooking, cleaning, sewing, running a household

 

Parenting: Dr. Spock wasn’t around when Mom started having babies so she learned on the spot with some sage advice from her parents.

 

What College Might Have Meant: Had Mom gone on to college, she probably would have made one heck of a great CPA.  She could do bookkeeping and math in her sleep.  During her employment in Civil Service she moved quickly up through the job grades because of her accounting ability.  It also meant that later in life when she had to leave a job she didn’t want to leave, the company had to replace her with two people.

 

Unique Skills and Talents: Mom was the best seamstress I have ever met.  I didn’t say “designer”.  She could look at a pattern and know how to tweak it to make it fit a person the right way.  Shoulder seams where they were supposed to be (not halfway down the upper arms), the inseam just right (not too tight or loose), the hem perfect all the way around.  Nothing she ever made fell apart or ripped at the seams (unless the person tried really hard to rip it).  She’s the only woman I know who will walk into a department store, turn the clothes inside out to see if they are “made right”.  Most of the time – they weren’t.  She made most of my clothes when I was growing up.  I’d complain because I wanted to wear “store-bought” clothes.  True to Mom’s word, when I do that now – I see myself coming and going.  Most of my clothes became hand-me-downs to my niece, who is 6 years younger than me and some of those clothes I got back for my own daughters!  And the seams and stitching were all still in perfect condition.

 

Other Handicrafts: Mom wanted to knit so my dad bought her this big knitting machine that she had to take classes to learn to use.  But the things that she produced from that machine were amazing!  She taught herself needlepoint as a grown woman and that became a passion for her.  She didn’t just stitch “samplers” – she’d find the most elaborate needlepoint designs and when they were finished, had my brother frame them.  They truly are works of art!  She was also making all sorts of things when I was growing up: a Christmas wreath in pinecones or folded newspapers spray painted gold, hand painted Christmas ornaments, embroidered items, she’d arrange flowers like a professional florist – she was like that home decor goddess with the initials of MS – only BETTER!

 

Flying: Mom learned to fly when my parents lived in Japan (Dad was stationed there twice in the ‘50s).  At that time and in that place and thanks to the NCO Flying Club, lessons and pilot licenses weren’t that hard to obtain.  It was amazing to watch an insurance salesman almost fall off his chair when he asked her if she had a pilot’s license and went to mark the box “no” when she said “yes.”  He stared at her in amazement until she produced said license for him.  True, by then, she hadn’t flown in a number of years.  But it was still amazing and I was filled with admiration that she could “awe” someone else!

 

Fixing a Car: When Mom faced the future without a husband (or a male family member who knew much about auto engines), she enrolled in an Adult Community Class that taught basic mechanics to women.  No mechanic was going to pull the wool over her eyes.  It came in handy a few times when she actually showed the mechanic what was wrong for him to fix!

 

Pop Culture: If I hadn’t been a late in life baby, Mom would probably still be ignorant of so many pop culture influences.  I was (and still am) a huge fan of Alice Cooper.  Of course in the 70s, most parents thought he was evil incarnate.  I actually made my points clear enough that Mom not only likes some of his softer songs but watches him whenever he plays golf! 

 

Sports:  Mom played on her high school basketball team (still has the scars to prove it!), played golf for recreation, tunes in to pro baseball and college football and basketball games.  She is up on the all stats and knows who the up and comers are.

 

 

 

Religion: Mom was raised in the Evangelical and Reformed Church (which has since merged with the Congregational Christian churches to become the United Church of Christ).  She attends every Sunday that she is able to and has attended many adult Bible or study classes.  She’s served on the church’s council and as a delegate to their association and conference meetings.  She reads her devotionals every morning and has listened to or watched services on the radio or television. 

 

Languages: During their years in Japan, Mom learned quite a bit of the Japanese language.  I grew up hearing phrases that became standard vernacular in our household.  She learned more about the culture, language and people of Japan by living it.

 

Teacher: Without college or a degree, Mom couldn’t be a teacher.  Yet, she served as a substitute teacher many times at my elementary school and was a Girl Scout leader for many years.  My friends always wanted to be at my house instead of their own because Mom, through her words and actions, cared enough about them to teach them right from wrong.  Even after I’d left home for another state, many of my friends continued to visit Mom seeking her advice and counsel.

 

My mother may not have gone on to college or higher education, but she has learned through doing and experiencing.  If not for the low points in her life, she wouldn’t be the same person she is today.  If not for the happiest moments of her life, she wouldn’t have raised three children to “live today like it’s your last”.  She is a storyteller, a confidante, a friend, a teacher, a world traveler, a cook, a seamstress, a pilot, an accountant, a daughter, a sister, an aunt, a grandmother, and a wonderful Mom!

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