Japan Thru Non-Japanese Eyes

Ken Shellberg
Columbus, Ohio
June 19, 2000

Ken's Proofreading Class

1. Japan Thru Very-Young Non-Japanese Eyes

Myself, my sister and our big American car in front of
our house in Nagoya,1954.

My experience with Japan begins some 45 years ago. I was a young boy, about 6 years old, with two younger sisters. My father was in the United States Air Force and he was stationed at Nagoya Air Base, in Nagoya, Japan, from1953 through 1955. During our first year in Japan, we lived in a Japanese house in Nagoya, and during our second year, we lived on the base in American-style housing. Nagoya Air Base provided American schools from kindergarten through high school for the children of personnel stationed in Nagoya.

Of course, I was very young and that was a long time ago. However, my father took many pictures while we were in Japan. After we returned to the US, whenever we had guests, my father would setup the slide projector and show these pictures and tell stories of our life in Japan. Over the years, seeing these pictures and hearing these stories, over and over, helped me to remember what it was like to be a very young American boy living in Japan.

From my father's slides and stories, I remember parades, statues of Buddha, the Nakamura Torii and the Castle Donjon. Our big American car was often too wide to easily drive on narrow streets. I remember going to the Noritake china factory, where my parents purchased sets of china.

I also remember a wonderful afternoon@at a neighbor's house, where we were entertained by puppets.And I remember a man we called Toshi, who worked as a baker and sometimes brought pastries to us.

While we were in Japan I gained a new brother, and my mother, with four very young children, wanted some help to take care for us. In those days, some ten years after WWII, an American military officer in Japan was quite wealthy, even though military pay wasn't all that generous by American standards. Thus, our family was able to afford to hire a young Japanese woman, Nobuko, to help with the children. I still remember her saying to me, 'Chotto matte kudasai' as she struggled to help me get dressed. And she taught us to count to ten, and to say "Doozo" and "Arigatoo." I was very fond of her. I often wonder where she might be today.

As these are the memories of a child, they are rambling and simple, reflecting the way a child experiences life. While I wish I had been older when I was in Japan, I cherish these childhood memories just the same. Japan will always be a special place for me because of them.

2. Japan Thru Older Non-Japanese Eyes

Anemone.jpg - a picture of a Japanese anemone from my garden.

Over the last 45 years, Japan has changed immensely. It has become a modern industrial nation. The phrase, "Made in Japan", has increasingly come to be associated with quality. Japanese cars and electronics are everywhere and they are considered among the very best. One of my major interests is gardening, and many of the tools, from pruning shears to chain saws to garden tractors are also Japanese, and are also among the very best.

Japan also provides gardeners in the US with many horticultural plants. As the climate of Japan is similar to that of the eastern US, many ornamental plants from Japan have been imported into this country. As I enjoy my garden, I note that much of its beauty is from perennials, trees and shrubs that are native to Japan.

However, it seems that all this growth and development has come at some cost to "Old Japan". Recently I read an article about Japan in our local newspaper. The article said that every year, Japan pours twice as much concrete as we do in America. I found this to be a very surprising statistic. And several years ago I encountered a web site entitled, "International Society to Save Kyoto". It seems that some of the old historic areas of Kyoto are being demolished to make way for new development. Of course, I know that finding a balance between preserving the past and building for the future is not easy.

Someday I will go back to Japan. I hope that I will be able to find the Japan that I remember from my childhood. But I know that Japan has changed tremendously in the last 45 years. Even so, I look forward to seeing and experiencing all of Japan, both the old and the new.

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Copyright 2000 SHE Ltd.