About a year ago, I started a series of sketches about my own life for "future genealogy," so in that vein, here's another installment.
I had a great childhood. My father was a Naval officer and we were constantly on the move. With all that upheaval, my description of a “great” childhood might seem a bit surprising. The “great” part came from all the unique experiences we had as a family over the years, and I would say that living in Japan topped the list. From 1968 to 1970, Dad was stationed at the Navy base in Yokosuka, about an hour and a half south of Tokyo. It is one of those places that seems to hold special memories for anyone who has ever lived there.1 I loved it because I had the freedom to roam around on my bike without parental supervision, and movies at the theater were free. I think my mom most enjoyed the fact that there were 360 yen to the dollar.
My mother always likes to try new things —“it’s an adventure!” is a phrase we heard often growing up. So when she saw an ad in the paper seeking westerners for photographic modeling jobs, she thought it would be a fun thing for us to do. Before long, our headshots were on file at the Eddie Arab Modeling Agency (which, by the way, is still in business today!)2, and we were making regular trips up to Tokyo to meet the agency handler who would take us to the photo shoot.
Our meeting point was always the dog statue at the Shibuya train station. The statue commemorates Hachiko the dog, who punctually waited for his master’s train every day. Even after he died, the dog continued his daily ritual of meeting the train for nine more years, until he himself died. His fidelity has come to symbolize the ultimate expression of loyalty. Naturally enough, the statue, placed at the spot where Hachiko waited for his master all those years, has become famous as a place to meet.3
|Nancy (left) and Kathleen (right) at Shibuya train station, circa 1969|
And I suppose Mom was right… in retrospect, modeling was an adventure!
...I became the face of Suzy Homemaker products,
And some really modern, space-age TV sets:
My sister was on everyone’s breakfast table ….
We were in a few commercials, too… I mostly played board games, while my sister appeared in ads for cameras (below), and Datsun (now known as Nissan).
For some odd reason we did a radio commercial once, saying the Japanese words for “It’s new!” in our American accents.
Mostly, though, we were in ads for clothing:
The 1960s may have been “mod” and “groovy,” but it was also the decade of protests and riots — in 1966, my family experienced some of the drama ourselves, which I wrote about here. Japan didn’t escape the overall mood of that era, and had its own trouble with violent student protests. Students weren’t just against the war in Vietnam, they were also concerned about the nuclear weapons coming into Japan on U.S. warships. In 1968, the approaching re-negotiation of the U.S.-Japanese Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security4 brought this issue to the forefront. Whenever a ship carrying nukes docked at the base in Yokosuka, we could be sure of a demonstration outside of the main gate, complete with rocks and tear gas. (Here’s a link to a photo of the main gate as it looked in the '60s--without the rocks in the air).
We generally had advance notice of the protests, and were warned to be inside the gates well before they started. On one of these days, however, my mother, sister, and I were in Tokyo for a photo shoot.
“No worries,” they told us, when we told them about our deadline. “You will be finished in plenty of time to make your train.”
Famous last words…. We ran over our time limit, and had to race to catch the only train that might get us back in time.
I remember the trains from Tokyo to Yokosuka were always crowded.
My mom was pinched countless times, but people were generally nice to little kids. I was regularly invited onto the laps of strangers (wait, that sounds bad…), and nobody minded when my sister fell asleep on them.
On this day, the trains were crowded as usual, but instead of cute little boys, as in the photo below, the train was full of young men, wearing helmets, carrying shields, and holding signs saying “Yankee Go Home.” It wasn’t quite so cute; we got more than our usual stares on the train that day.
I remember feeling just a little uneasy on the trip home, but my mother was calm and upbeat as usual. As our train was arriving in Yokosuka, though, we knew we might not make it to the gate in time. Even Mom started to get a little nervous; once the gates were closed, there was no entry, under any circumstances.
At the door of the train, we stood ready to spring out and run for it the minute they opened...but we could see the crowds already gathering on the platform as we arrived — a solid mass of angry humanity. It wasn’t a long walk to the base from the station, but on that day it could have been a walk to Mars. As the doors opened, Mom took our hands grimly and was about to step into the crowd, when a fellow passenger, all decked out for battle, grabbed her by the arm and said:
“Don’t worry, come with me, and I'll get you to the base!”
Without another word he pulled us along, and maneuvered through the crowd like a man who knew what he was doing. Before long we reached the gate, just as it was beginning to close. Relieved, we flashed our ID cards at the guards, and made it back inside to safety. From my vantage point inside the gate, I watched our guardian angel melt in to the mob, and transform back into the angry protester, shaking his fist and shouting “Yankee Go Home.”
Somehow, a person could hate and love simultaneously. I’m still trying to figure that one out.
For Further Reading......
Gibney, Frank, “Politics and Governance in Japan,” in Richard A. Maidment, David S. Goldblatt, Jeremy Mitchell, editors. Governance in the Asia-Pacific, London: Routledge Pub., 1998. E-Library edition pub. By Taylor & Francis, 2005, pp. 70-75 [www.books.google.com, accessed 30 Jul 2015]
Hamaguchi, Takashi. “Student Radicals, Japan 1968 – 69,″ website describing exhibit of photographs, Dec 4, 2014 – Jan 24, 2015, presented at the Taka Ishii Gallery Photography Paris [www.takaishiigallery.com/en/archives/14892/, accessed 30 Jul 2015]
Marotti, William. "Japan 1968: The Performance of Violence and the Theater of Protest," American Historical Review. February 2009 [http://www.jag.ucla.edu/marotti_ahr.114.1.pdf, accessed 30 Jul 2015]
Oguma, Eiji. Translated by Nick Kapur with Samuel Malissa and Stephen Poland, “Japan's 1968: A Collective Reaction to Rapid Economic Growth in an Age of Turmoil.” The Asia-Pacific Journal, Vol. 13, Issue. 11, No. 1 [http://japanfocus.org/-Oguma-Eiji/4300/article.html, accessed 30 Jul 2015].
Discussion Thread: “60s era Yokosuka demonstrations/riots against 'nukes’” 5 March 2009, www.Submarinesailor.com [http://www.submarinesailor.com/bbs2/forums/thread-view.asp?tid=5429&mid=24828, accessed 30 Jul 2015].
(all photos from the collection of M.G.Hill; used with permission)
1 This is a very unscientific impression gleaned from postings on a closed Facebook Group “Yokosuka Naval Base Past and Present.” [https://www.facebook.com/groups/32380381645/ accessed 30 Jul 2015]
2 Kawaguchi, Judit, "Actor/Talent Agent Eido Sumiyoshi," The Japan Times 14 May 2009 [http://www.japantimes.co.jp/life/2009/05/14/people/actortalent-agent-eido-sumiyoshi/#.Vbz9iHhJetg, accessed 30 Jul 2015]
3https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hachikō, accessed 31 July 2015
4https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Treaty_of_Mutual_Cooperation_and_Security_between_the_United_States_and_Japan, accessed 30 Jul 2015