In the early 1960s, the least expensive and most common way to travel to Japan was by ship. I have tried to remember the name of the ship going to Japan. I think it was the P&O Oriana, but I'm not sure. It was a very relaxing two weeks, with a one-day stop in Honolulu and ending in Yokohama. There were a number of other young Americans aboard. Several missionaries from the mainline denominations, fresh out of college, most going to Japan for three years to teach English in Sendai, but who had little or no orientation to Japan, were aboard and I hung out with them quite a bit. Then there were three young women heading for my university for a "Junior Year Abroad" experience.
One humorous incident stands out. The three women and I all had to visit Japanese and US bureacracies to get visas and passports stamped or approved. We took the bus and train in from Mitaka to Tokyo, then buses to the government offices. After doing our official business, I suggested that we stop in a Japanese noodle shop for lunch. The proper way to eat Japanese ramen noodles, is to "slurp" them. It is a noisy business and completely contrary to the prim and proper way we Americans are taught to eat noodles. When we got our noodles and sat down, I proceeded to eat my noodle soup in the perfectly appropriate and polite way of the Japanese. My friends were outraged at my impolite behavior. They were only somewhat mollified when I pointed out the other Japanese eating my way, not theirs.
The whole first year of college was about learning Japanese. One of the keys to International Christian University was its commitment to internationalism. Every matriculated student was required to be bilingual. Speaking, reading and writing in Japanese was important to be able to communicate in the culture in which we had chosen to immerse ourselves. It goes without saying that with most classes taught in Japanese, a fair mastery of the language was necessary. Of course it went beyond this. If I had to interview someone or read original documents, the language was a necessity.
For Japanese students the school recognized that the international language of commerce and politics is English. That may not make the French or Germans happy, but it is the case. In fact French and German don't even come in second. Far more people speak Spanish. The result is that ICU has a very high rate of graduates working for the United Nations and other international bodies and NGOs.
Studying Japanese 12 to 13 hours a day, did not preclude taking some time off to play and party. The international students included people from several European countries as well as both HongKong and Taiwanese. As much as I love Japan and have some of the most wonderful Japanese friends, it is also true that the Japanese culture tends to be insular. The Japanese students tried to include us in their activities, parties and interests. Still there was often a little wall that separated the "gaijin" from the "houjin" or Japanese. It was not a prejudicial wall or based on negativity; not intended to be excluding. But it was there none the less, based on culture.
I do not want to make too much of this. It was, however, an interesting and enlightening language phenomenon. Two Japanese could speak only a few words and understand each other even though, what we would think of as subjects and adverbs and adjectives might be missing. They were just understood in a way that Western language did not operate–or Chinese for that matter. This is not so different from reading Haiku written by a Japanese–I mean real Japanese haiku, not the Americanized versions–where the meaning is so dependent on culturally conditioned understandings. I will return to the haiku later as it plays a role in my family.
The next year, I began teaching English and had contracts with Teikoku Jinken, one of the early innovators in polyester cloth. Being a teacher was to be in an honored status. Pretty heady for a college sophomore of 25. I enjoyed this group of innovative managers and had several adventures where the class went out for a "party night". I suspect that I was an excuse for them to charge an evening of Geisha party or simply a very high class sushi dinner to the company or as a write-off.
Over the next three years, I had teaching positions with the Asahi Shimbun, a leading Japanese newspaper, Matsushita Electric–the home of Panasonic, and six or seven other large companies. The fees they paid covered all my expenses for college and built up a small surplus.
The language and linguistics department at the college had, as one of its charges, to contribute to the teaching of English in the Japanese schools. Most Japanese take classes in English from middle school through college. But they usually don't learn to speak. The classes are taken up with learning English literature, Shakespeare, and other, often Victorian, writings. This is probably because the teachers themselves have never learned spoken English.
With funding from the Rockefeller foundation, the the English Language Exploratory Committee, created workshops held in various places in Japan. For two weeks, Japanese English teachers would travel to a location where they would be subjected to native English speakers from all over the English speaking world, but mostly the US. When they needed teachers, our linguistics department would recruit from among us. The pay was good and we got to see a variety of different geographical regions. It also meant that we could use the travel to discover new areas of Japan. My first experience was a workshop in the far west coast of Japan in Akita province.
During my freshman year, I lived in a "geshku," a rooming house, with many single-rooms. The traditional room in Japan was measured by how many tatami-mats it took to cover the floor. My first room was a second floor four and a half tatami room. That means it was not quite nine feet square. I slept on a futon on the floor. Later when someone vacated I moved up to a six tatami room, 11.5 feet by 8.5 feet. Most of the rooms were rented by Japanese students, but one room almost directly under mine had an interesting American who already spoke several languages including German, Russian, Spanish and Finnish. Matesoff fascinated the Japanese. He was slovenly in his personal hygiene but also had a very high IQ. He held weekly Satanic rituals in his room, inviting others of like mind. His purpose in being in Japan was to add Japanese to his list of languages so he was in my classes at the university, even though not matriculated.
Among the "Junior Year Abroad" students were the three young women I have previously mentioned. I frequently hung out with them and played tour guide. But one whom we will call Rachel got much closer. We went places and did things together frequently. The other two let me know that Rachel was interested and that accorded with my feelings. But romantically, we did not progress. I was still a fairly conservative but good man from Texas. Rachel was engaged to someone back home. Good ole' Texas boys just don't jump each others "claims." I did the honorable thing, but one of the saddest days of my young life was the day that Rachel and the other two boarded a ship to return to the U.S. And in all candor, some part of me never got over Rachel until many years later–but that is a story for a later part of this narration.
At the start of my second year, I had the opportunity to move into a rental house located in the middle of a farm. My good friend Don Richtenburg and I rented together. This gave us the luxury of our own bathroom, kitchen, a small yard and even a tiny study room.
This was the year I declared my major: Political Science. There was still some intensive Japanese studies. After all we still had to read and write in Japanese. While it was not to be expected that we would learn the 4-5000 characters that our colleagues could read, we at least had to learn 2,000 just to be literate. But most of the classes then were about political and international relations, Korea, labor relations (One of my teachers was one of the founding members of the International Labor Organization.) international economics, power and peace. The school insisted that all students take a core set of courses in liberal arts.
Along the way, I spent an afternoon attending a lecture in Tokyo by a famous Dutch theologian Hendrick Kraemer. I had been invited, by Tamayo Sato who was deeply involved in her church and in a lay seminary. Remember that I met Tamayo as one of the people from the Emmaus House, servicemen's center at Johnson Air Base. Two years later here we are at this lecture. In the U.S. we might go out for a cup of coffee (Might now in Japan as well.), but in 1961 we went out to a noodle shop for a bowl of ramen noodles. (No. Not those awful things you buy as "instant ramen." Real ramen is much more subtle and ambrosial.)
This began more than a year of gradually getting to know one another better and deeper. It was many months before Tamayo asked me to marry her and I agreed. We won't go into depth about all this time, save to share that one night we got caught making out in Hibiya park. The police officer was kind enough to say, "Please watch your belongings, things could get stolen," as we turned red-faced and quickly scuttled about straightening our clothing and belongings.
We eventually visited her home in Kisarazu, where I met her three brothers and her parents. Tamayo's father spent his days as a civil engineer for the city government but by night he shed that identity and became "Super-poet." He wrote exquisite haiku, sometimes in calligraphy. I lucked out. Most of the family did not "get" him. I did. At the college I was reading old Japanese poetry. By now, my Japanese was fluent enough that we had a good conversation. Our poetry connection, (I did not write poetry, but greatly admired his.) helped "seal the deal."
In 1962 we married. Tamayo was working for the Rev. Roy Barlow who had taken over from Don Sears and she was deeply involved at her church, Shiloh Kyokai, in Yokohama. The pastor, Murata-sensei and Rev. Barlow officiated. We combined English and Japanese, wrote much of the liturgy ourselves but we were still a bit shell-shocked through the day. We immediately left for our honeymoon in the mountains of Hakone.
When we returned to Mitaka, Don moved out of the house and Tamayo moved in. We lived in that house for two years and had many adventures there. Tamayo went to work in the office of the university chapel. I continued to teach English both to corporate managers and as part of ELEC.
The Japanese school year has two major breaks. One in the spring and another in the summer. I again taught for ELEC and gradually became a "regular." This gave me the opportunity to travel to Hokkaido, visit Lake Mashu (One of the clearest and deepest lakes in the world), When the workshop was over, Tamayo came up and we spent a week sightseeing. In fact this became our way of vacationing. We had some wonderful trips as offshoot of the ELEC work, visiting most of Kyushu, Hiroshima, Sendai, and elsewhere. During the last two workshops, I was promoted to be the lead instructor working with the administrator to make the workshop happen. After each workshop, Tamayo would join me for a week or two of sightseeing.
The school year in Japan begins and ends in spring. I completed my studies and graduated in April of 1964. We booked passage on the P&O Orient lines Chusan, arriving in San Francisco, ready to begin the next adventure.