A Voyage to Japan in 1955

Dad returned to Morgan Park at Christmas and said, “Boys, I have an opportunity to be transferred to Japan if I were married. How would you like it if I married Nicky, we go to Japan, and you attend an American high school there?” He had introduced us to her while we were in Chevy Chase. She had two children named Valerie Lee and Paige from an earlier marriage. We had no objection but found it humorous that now the family would have two Valerie Laverys. Valerie Lee was one grade behind me, had dark hair, a lovely smile, and big breasts. Paige was an attractive strawberry blonde with freckles, had a wonderful soprano voice, and enjoyed a jovial disposition. (click on pictures to expand) Losing out on playing quarterback as co-captain of the Frosh-Soph Football team and center on the basketball team bothered me, but Dad made going to Japan sound like an adventure, a learning experience, and a new marriage for him. No woman would ever replace my dear mother or her parents. We would call her Nicky, not Mom. We left for a fourteen day cruise on a Military Sea Transportation Service ship, USS General George M. Randall (AP-115), from San Francisco to Yokohama. Chip and I shared a small stateroom and played chess daily with an elderly passenger who always smoked a pipe. He knew crafty openings and strategies he shared after demolishing our pieces that fell like dominos to his onslaught. Soon we caught on and became proficient against most comers but not our mentor. A Japanese woman taught Japanese language and culture every day: “My class will help prepare you for the culture-shock awaiting you.” Learning vocabulary, pronunciation, numbers, food, Samurai history, salutations, common phrases, and customs made me look forward to experiencing Japan as an exciting adventure. The ship required us to put Chip’s white Chihuahua, Tico, in a crate on the forecastle exposed to the weather. We visited him daily to feed him, took him out for exercise, and showed him love. His tail wagged excitement every time we approached. When a tune from a xylophone sounded on the loud speaker, the waiters served excellent eight course meals three times a day. Nicky, a former high school principal, was an expert on history, languages and a purist on table manners. When she said, “You eat like a farmer,” she embarrassed me after everybody laughed. Offended, I disliked her from the start, but soon learned she was brilliant and had a great heart. We anchored in Honolulu for one day to drop off and pick up passengers and left the next morning. The Randall ploughed through the Pacific Ocean smoothly until we changed course for Yokohama on the tenth day when we encountered a series of waves from the north that made the voyage far rougher. Many people suffered from seasickness. The smell of vomit permeated the stateroom area. Waiters counseled, “Suck on a lemon, eat crackers, don’t drink many beverages, go out in the fresh air, and concentrate on the horizon.” None of us got motion sickness by following this advice.             We entered the "realm of the Dragon" when we crossed the 180 th meridian and lost a day. In accordance with a long Navy tradition, a person who played King Neptune conducted rites of initiation for first timers, known as “pollywogs.” The veteran “shellbacks” selected a large Hawaiian messman as king who sat on a throne wearing a crown of artificial seaweed holding a three-pronged trident. Covered in a blue and green robe with dolphin jumping from waves, he was surrounded by other messmen as his court had their faces smeared with paint like Indians. All had to bow to the King and crawl on the deck past the court who lightly beat us with palm fronds. At the end of the line we entered a room where we received a certificate acknowledging our status as shellbacks and celebrated with cakes, cookies, soft drinks, and ice cream.   Our arrival at Yokohama ended the monotonous rocking and rolling we had endured. Magnificent Mt. Fuji welcomed us in the background, its perfect cone covered with snow shot up into the blue sky. With my suitcase in hand on mother earth, still feeling the ship’s motion like walking in a bowl full of Jell-O, my mind pondered what adventures would await me in a country that was once our mortal enemy?

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This entry was posted in Humor, Memoir "All the Difference", Non-Fiction, Pictures, Writings and tagged , , , , by Daniel C. Lavery. Bookmark the permalink.

About Daniel C. Lavery

Dan’s writing shows his transformation from a child to an athlete and a Duke pre-ministerial student where he began to question ancient and arbitrary dogma. He graduated from Annapolis, navigated a Navy jet, and a ship to Vietnam, fell in love, turned peace activist and a civil rights lawyer for Cesar Chavez's UFW. His memoir, "All the Difference," describes the experiences, some humorous and others deadly, that changed his consciousness from a pawn to an advocate crusading for justice against some of the most powerful forces in America.

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