Letter home during Japanese occupation, October 1945

*A Navy Intelligence officer reflects on his experiences in Japan in the immediate aftermath of the surrender.*

ISBN 0-87011-638-X

Otis Cary (Ed)

From a Ruined Empire

a sample:

Oct 28, 1945

From: Sherry Moran in Tokyo

To: Mrs Frances Moran in Ohio

Dear Fritz,

It is probably too soon after the war for people in America to realize what an amazing course the occupation has taken in its first eight weeks. Even I, who expected the Japanese to surprise us by their adaptability, who always thought it was a mistake to hold that the Germans were simply misguided human beings, susceptible of re-education, while the Japanese were animals to whom decent behavior could not be taught–even I find the Japanese reception of us heartening beyond all previous expectation. And I cannot help but wish that there were some adequate way to convey my feeling to you at home, to make you sense what it is like for us living and working among the Japanese.

I was going to tell you about the flood of letters which Japanese have been sending General MacArthur, who is now regarded by many as a savior, in approval of his policies. Some of the letters have been translated, and their general contents published in the *Nippon Times*; twenty-four letters in favor of prosecuting Japanese war criminals, sixteen in criticism of the Japanese government, and so forth. But a sample of this kind is not very convincing evidence of the Japanese state of mind. It has no statistical validity, unless one perhaps considered how unlikely it was that even this many letters were sent by Germans to their Allied masters. And it will not impress you with the genuineness and human appeal which the same sentiments convey when presented, as they are to us, in the context of personal relationships in the course of everyday life.

One day recently I had to visit someone who lived outside of Tokyo. When my party reached the town, we stopped to inquire the way at the local police station, and, as always seems to happen, we were furnished with a policeman for a guide. I had hoped this could be avoided, since the man we were calling on might be frightened when he saw us approaching with a police escort. It proved unavoidable, however; the policeman insisted on coming along for what I later learned was his first ride in a jeep. The ride was a bumpy one, of course, and conversation was difficult above the thump and rattle which marked our passage over each hole in the road. But the policeman kept looking at me as if he had something important to say, and when we ran into a short stretch of fairly smooth road, he finally came out with it.

“I am truly grateful to America for finally bringing us peace. Before, it seemed as if hardship and suffering would never end, and now suddenly it is gone.”

“Do you think that everyone looks at it the same way?” I asked.

“Oh yes, almost everyone”

“How about the police?”

“I think that most of the police feel as I do. I realize that we have a reputation for oppressing the people and preventing criticism of the war, but what else could you expect the police to do in wartime?”

“Well, the bad reputation of the police did not start with the war. Their tyranny has been well-known for years.”

He was stopped for a few seconds, then remarked that he had not joined the police until a few years ago and could not speak about their earlier conduct. But he was sure that even the police were struck by the fine behavior of the American troops. “They are”, he said, “an inspiration to us; as representatives of democracy, they are winning many Japanese over to your way of doing things.”

“How long do you think we will have to stay in Japan to get the country started on the right road?”

“Sah…(the Japanese equivalent of “You’ve got me there”). It is hard to say how long it might be. But I think you should stay until the job is done”.

I do not think the policeman told me these things just to please me. He was under no obligation to say anything more than “Right”, “Left”, or “Straight ahead”, when we came to crossroads along the way. He may not, it is true, have been speaking for the majority of the police in Japan, but his sentiments must be those of many Japanese, for otherwise Americans would not find it so safe and pleasant as they do to travel around the countryside. These trips frequently take us far from the protection of any occupying force, and it would be an easy thing for hostile elements to do away with us, leaving no trace or clue to our disappearance. On dark nights I have traveled alone in a jeep, unarmed, in wild country far from an occupation outpost. A well-placed boulder in the road, at the end of a sharp curve, might have thrown the jeep and myself into a deep canyon, where the wreckage would not be found until the next day, too late to start a search for saboteurs.

Almost every day I meet people who speak as the policeman did. Only once so far have I run into a person whose feeling toward Americans did not quite fall into the common pattern. In our barracks building there was a girl named Aiko, who served in the mess upstairs. When our medical facilities were well enough equipped, it was decided to test the waitresses and kitchen help for venereal disease and tuberculosis. Aiko was declared tubercular and had to stop waiting on tables, but apparently she was not anxious to look for a job elsewhere. Her home was in Northern Japan and she had no desire to go back there; so, I learned on speaking to her in the hallway one day that an arrangement had been made for her to stay on doing maid’s work while the medical people continued to treat her tuberculosis.

“I never expected them to be so kind,” she said, “I hoped they would let me stay on, but it did not occur to me that I would also be given medical treatment. The kindness of Americans amazes me. Your arrival here has meant just the reverse of what we were told it would mean. It actually seems better that Japan did lose the war.”

A few days later I heard that Aiko was acting as an assistant to the Army doctor who treated the Japanese personnel working in the building. He had established a dispensary on our floor, and I began to notice that Aiko seemed to have a lot of spare time on her hands, for she would hang around the officers’ quarters and occasionally offer to darn someone’s socks. I also noticed that she gradually adopted the un-Japanese habits of chewing gum and smoking cigarettes, and that she attempted to enhance her natural attractiveness by an increasing use of make-up, which must, I thought, have been received from an American admirer.

One night after supper I was standing in the hall, eating an apple and thinking about what I would say in a letter I was about to write to you. Aiko came down the hall and sat down at a desk near me. She seemed less gay than usual, avoided my gaze, and hardly answered my “Good evening”. When I asked if anything was the matter she was slow to speak, covering her mouth with her hands so that I could barely understand her request for me to sit down at the table and talk a while.

“You know about my tuberculosis, don’t you, and the work I am supposed to be doing for the doctor in his dispensary.”

“Yes, I know. Have they told you to leave?”

“Oh, no, it is not that. I am not really consumptive. I am sure the doctor just said that to make me work for him; he knows that I can’t get a job anywhere else after being declared consumptive. You see, there is really no dispensary here at all and the doctor does not even intend to establish one. I have tried to ask him for work, but he doesn’t understand my poor English. Won’t you please speak to him about it? Ask him to get me some work and a girl to keep me company at night.”

I did not like the idea of prying into matters that did not concern me, and since Aiko seemed to be accusing the doctor of some vague foul play, I hesitated to approach him without a much better case to present. At the same time, I have run into many misunderstandings which arose simply from language difficulties, and felt obliged to offer myself as an interpreter in getting the matter straightened out. I indicated to Aiko that her story was a little hard to believe. Trying to get at the heart of things, I asked what reason the doctor had in keeping her on.

She started to cry. “The doctor forces me to sleep with him.”

“Forces you to sleep with him?”

“Yes”, she sobbed.

I wondered what could be done or said about such a delicate problem. Aiko thought my puzzled look meant that I did not believe her. She pulled me up by the sleeve.

“Come with me.”

I followed uneasily. Through my mind ran a suspicion that the girl’s distress might be faked, a device to get me alone with her in the dispensary.

We entered a suite of rooms, over the door to which was painted, in English and Japanese, the word “Dispensary”. Inside I found a scene which quickly dispelled my doubts–a little love nest of makeshift couches, a whisky closet fairly well stocked with “Suntory” Scotch and some American liquors, a few novels and miscellaneous furniture which could hardly have been put to any medical use. The doctor had apparently been drinking and playing solitaire. Dirty glasses and cards were strewn about the table. Most convincing of all was a .45 pistol lying among the cards. I stared at it. Aiko murmured, “He threatened me with that pistol”.

Plainly Aiko was not deceiving me, but those sordid surroundings made me very uneasy, and I left quickly, pausing outside the door just long enough to make sure of the sign above it: “Dispensary”. As we hastened back down the hallway, she begged me to write a note to the doctor in English. She did not wish to sleep with him that night because she was menstruating. I had a little difficulty over the Japanese word *mensu*, which I realized later was borrowed from the West, and my difficulty was heightened by her female embarrassment in explaining what she meant. After the note was written (it said she “would appreciate waiting a few days before going further with the doctor”), I agreed to meet her again in the morning and promised that I would bring enough yen for her to buy a ticket to her home in the North.

Aiko must have left very early the next morning because she did not meet me as planned and I have not seen her since.

The whole experience shook me pretty hard at first, but I guess nothing can be done about it now. Americans have an awful lot of power over people here, and those who want to misuse it can do our cause plenty of damage without getting caught.

All my love,

Sherry

#Letter #home #Japanese #occupation #October

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