Kamakura 1955

Kamakura was a natural fortress surrounded to the north, east, and west by mountains and to the south by Sagami Bay and in AD 1192 became the political center of Japan. When it was the fourth largest city in the world, bloody Samurai clans battled to forge Japan’s first military government. Since AD 1252 the Great Buddha (Diabutsu) perched here in eternal meditation. In this ancient city, I learned to shed prejudice and appreciate Japanese culture.  Dad found us a four-bedroom three-story house we entered from a narrow alley. When he arrived he gathered us outside and counseled, “In Japan we remove our shoes at the genkan (entryway), step up to the raised floor, place them in the getabako (cabinet), and put on slippers.” Our bedroom floors were made of tatami, a woven soft rush straw, with padding underneath. Rooms were separated by portable sliding doors made from wood and opaque paper that allowed outside light to pass through. Individually-sized mats fit each bedroom that was bordered by plain green cloth. Our beds had thick silk covers, called futons, decorated with golden dragons and other Japanese symbols. Mine was a brilliant blue one and Chip chose bright red. Wooden hallways ran beyond the bedrooms. Portable wooden boards on the exterior sealed the house at night. Extended roofs protected the partitions from getting wet when it rained. Wood and clay shingles coated the roof. We immersed ourselves in a traditional wooden high-sided soaking tub (ofuro) containing steaming hot water up to the chin, located in a large tiled shower that contained a mosaic of Japanese symbols: Mount Fuji, a geisha in traditional kimono, cranes, cherry trees, and bamboo.                            We showered before entering the bath using a flexible hose and a wooden stool to sit on and let the ofuro water clean the next person. The expansive “bathroom” contained no toilet but a tiled floor with a drain to catch the runoff from the tub and the waste water from the shower. Taki, our stocky maid and cook, started a fire in charcoal underneath the house to heat the ofuro. Females went first. We knew they had finished when Nicky, and her two daughters, Valerie Lee, fourteen, and Paige, thirteen, appeared in multi-colored yukatas (kimonos). We males wore white kimonos with black or blue pattern. Taki cooked most meals on a hibachi BBQ and placed the pan in the middle of our carved wooden dining table that stood a few feet high. She made sukiyaki by adding sake (rice wine), oil, and soy, or other sauces to a large pan of Kobe beef filet mignon (Dad’s favorite), adding onions, leeks, carrots, tofu, and bamboo shoots.                                  Dad served Chip and me a small amount of heated sake, while he and Nicky drank generous portions from a heated porcelain container, and we all took hot green tea. She served us in separate gray porcelain dinner bowls decorated with red dragons.                           We ate in the dining room on a tatami matted floor with red, black, or blue silk pillows and sat in yoga position. We quickly learned to use dark wooden chop sticks and sipped miso soup from a smaller bowl without a spoon. An observation room appeared at the top of the house with waist high windows. I tooted my trumpet there while Chip wailed on his saxophone. Paul Mayerson, our high school musical director, chose a variety of music we sent wafting through the neighborhood. Paul loved original arrangements of classical, pop, and Japanese tunes we played enjoying a panoramic view of Kamakura’s narrow alleys, and a landscape that reached out to a train station with oak, pine, and maple trees scattered on green hills. Often the most prominent feature came into view covered with snow half way up the slope—the active volcano shaped like a perfect cone more than 12,000 feet, Mount Fuji with a sky of Forget-Me-Not Blue.

Related Images:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Please type the characters of this captcha image in the input box

Please type the characters of this captcha image in the input box