W.F. Bellais II
(this is a continuation of “A Boy’s Adventure.”)
People-watching in Tokyo’s Main Railroad Train Office (RTO) had a sporting aspect to it. The boy would count up the number of women in kimonos and then the number of men in business suits. Since it was so late at night he did not expect to see children, but there were a few. Once a pair of Canadian Provost Martial Police came through the main waiting room, but they had no interest in the boy. He could relax.
The main waiting room of the RTO probably qualified as the largest enclosed space he had ever been in. His high school gymnasium floor did not seem as large. The space also had height. He counted four stories of windows over the balustrade of the space that seemed to be a mezzanine. Even at this time of night the noise of people chattering to each other echoed off the walls and the high ceiling.
He had missed the connecting train to Gotemba and had to wait for two hours to catch another train to a place called Numazu. He had never been there before and he was not certain about this connection but he had been assured by a railroad information clerk that a train to Gotemba could be caught there. For over an hour the boy observed the Japanese people who passed by his bench and actually felt some gratitude that he had the time to pay attention.
He looked at the main clock of the RTO, which was accurate to a millisecond, and saw that he had fifteen minutes now to go to his platform. He rose from the bench and reached the platform as people were gathering to enter passenger cars. He looked for the car that had the fewer number of people standing by it. Most of the time he had found that the Japanese fill passenger cars to the maximum, with many standing cheek to cheek or hip to hip and feeling as if they had been canned in a tin. Because of the lateness of the night and because the rush to begin the work week did not begin until Monday morning (this being a Sunday night), there were far fewer passengers at every car.
While the train made frequent stops, the boy found the ride, nonetheless, comfor-table. He could not see anything out the window other lights flashing by. The coach did not fill up so he had a seat and thought he could sleep a little. Sleep did not come. Sitting directly across from the boy sat a jovial Japanese man who had been drinking sa-ke. His bottle now empty he wanted to talk.
“You American? Okay?” The boy said, “Yes, I am an American.” The drunk then said, “You American Marine; I can tell.”
The boy looked at the lapels of his tunic. No Marine Corps emblems on them. Then he took off his fore-and-aft cap and saw no emblem. But on his uniform were campaign ribbons awarded for just being in Japan and a PFC stripe on each
sleeve. The boy said, “Yes, I am a Marine, but if you don’t tell anyone, I am out of
The Japanese man grinned and did not indicate exactly what the boy had said. “In war I sunk ships.” The boy did not quite understand the remark, but said, “Is that so?” Now the grin got bigger. The Japanese man said, “Yes, yes, goddamned Americans shoot my ship three shots. I drowned.” The boy said in a surprised voice, “You drowned; are you dead?” With exasperation the drunk responded, “No, I not okay, I not drown, think I drown.” The boy puzzled by this conversation said, “Let me get this straight. Your ship sank after being torpedoed three times.” Now fully without patience the Japanese man said, “No, I on three ships sunk by goddamned American submarine; the American submarine goddamned good!”
Not knowing what to say, the boy sat looking at the drunken passenger in front of him. He had not heard anyone in Japan talk about the war. The Pacific War had ended just nine years earlier but that now seemed a distant memory almost anci-ent history.
Finally, the boy broke the silence and asked, “Were you in the navy?” Now calmer, the drunk said, “No, no, I merchantman.” The boy, attempting to indicate he understood said, “A merchantman? Your ships carried cargo and they were sunk during the war?” The drunken passenger looked at the boy with a puzzled expres-sion as if to say, “That what I say.” And then he added, “I think I get more sa-ke.” The man rose abruptly from his seat, grabbed the back rest and turned. He stumbled down the coach’s aisle and never returned. Other passengers looked at the boy and they shook their heads and gave the impression that the drunk had embarrassed them. The boy returned to sleeping.
At midnight the train came into the Numazu. The boy disembarked with other passengers while others entered the coach. The terminal soon emptied and he stood there alone. Now he needed to know when the next train to Gotemba arrived. At the station master’s door he found someone to ask. The boy said to the station attendant, “When is the next train to Gotemba?” The attendant did not answer. The boy asked again this time, when no answer came, he realized the attendant did not understand the question. The boy said, “Gotemba.” Then he pointed to his watch. The station attendant indicated that he understood by saying, “Ah, so.”
The attendant turned to the board where arrival and departure times apparently
written with white chalk provided information. Written in Japanese calligraphy,
that information, however, meant nothing to the boy. The attendant pointed to
the board and the boy saw the numbers 0430. The boy said, “Oh, God!” Four thirty in the morning would not do. He had to be back by five. Supposing the
availability of a cab, the drive to Camp Fuji, after arriving at Gotemba, took as much as thirty minutes. Now, he knew he would be AWOL and faced reprimand; he could only hope the first sergeant and the company commander would understand his dilemma. His head bowed in defeat he paced about the station platform stewing over his situation. Lights outside the station gate caught his attention and he saw three taxis, typical small Japanese cars the boy thought of as being Datsuns, and their drivers in the light beams.
He said to himself, “That’s it; I’ll take a taxi back to Gotemba.” He poked into his pockets to find he had two thousand yen and realized he had a camera hanging from his neck. How he got through all that he had without losing his camera astonished him. He had not taken any pictures during the entire weekend, but still he had the camera. He also found in his pocket his ticket, on it the word written in English, “Gotemba.”
To leave the station through the ticket agent’s wicket, even though he had a paid ticket to Gotemba, required him to pay for an additional ticket to Numazu. That might leave him without enough money to entice a cabby to drive him to his destination.
The station had an English Victorian appearance featuring a small white depot building from which a white rail fence extended. If he maneuvered himself over the waist-high fence, across a grassy yard, and then across the street to the cab stand he might get a cabby to drive him to Gotemba for two thousand yen and a camera. However, if he could not negotiate a deal, he needed to reverse his evasion plan and return to the station platform. He believed in the chance for success and took the risk.
The warmth of night forced the cabbies to sit on the hoods of their Datsun auto-mobiles. The boy, who had successfully eluded detection on leaving the depot, engaged the first cabby. He offered the driver his two thousand yen and his camera. The cabby said, “Yes, sure, I do.” The boy squirmed into the cab and with some trepidation watched the station disappear and soon the boy, the driver, and the taxi were in utter darkness. The boy soon realized that they were not on a paved road and he could hear muddy water slush lapping under his feet. Appar-ently, rain had turned the roads into muddy thoroughfares a few hours earlier.
Looking out the open window of the taxi he made out rice paddies and then emerging out of the darkness the moon shown in full splendor. The moon, low on the horizon, illuminated everything and the landscape shimmered in cool colors of dark and light blue. He could make out more fields on which grain grew, he could see houses in the distance and lights, but the beauty of the night with its full bril-liant moon became a picture postcard as snow-capped Mount Fuji emerged from behind a low bank of clouds. The full moon provided a spot light for the mountain and it stood there knowing its starring role in the landscape. The clouds carried the earlier rain and now moving on to water other fields gave the panorama an additional night-time beauty. If he had not been worried about not getting back to Camp Fuji on time, this would have been a joyful experience, but his mission that night focused on not being AWOL. Nevertheless, this view of this icon of Japan could not be ignored and unappreciated.
The bumpy country road worried the boy. He knew this to be a rural area but he had expected the road to be paved. The boy, now worried the driver had not
understood the destination, said to the driver, “Is this the road to Gotemba?” The
driver responded, “Yes, this is road to Gotemba; I take short road.” Oh, oh, the boy thought. Short cuts always seem to be longer. Just then the taxi took a very severe bump and stopped.
The boy asked, “What’s wrong?” The driver said, “In hole.” The boy said, “In a
hole?” With impatience the driver snarled, “Yes, we in hole; you get out, push.” This unexpected demand startled the boy. He said, “Get out and push?!” The snarled again, “Yeah, yeah, we in goddamned hole; you push.”
Reluctantly the boy got out of the taxi and immediately could see in the moonlight that the front end of the taxi had sunken into a hole that could eventually swallow the entire cab. The driver also got out of the taxi and the two of them went to the front of the vehicle and began to push.
The front bumper snagged in the mud and held the vehicle back. The driver sig-naled that both should lift the vehicle up by the bumper and pull the cab out of the hole. The boy joined the driver and the two heaved until the bumper was free. Then they pulled until the front wheels were on solid ground. The boy laughed at himself when he thought that they were on solid ground.
Both the boy and driver were now covered in mud. The boy’s shoes were soaked and he thought ruined. His dress greens were now so badly soiled he believed it would not matter if he had his insignia on or not. Once the front wheels were out of the hole, the two went down in the hole to push the cab out all together. After a struggle of several minutes, the cab finally rested on “solid” ground. The cabbie got into the cab, restarted the engine, and put the cab in gear. The boy shouted, “Wait; let me get in.” The driver said, “I not go; you get in.”
The trip continued, the moon rose higher over Mount Fuji, and the view still exhil-arated the exhausted boy.
Finally, they arrived in Gotemba. The driver told the boy he knew the location of the camp gate and took him there. The boy left the cab, thanked the driver, and then turned to the gate house. He pulled out his liberty card and I.D. and walked to sentry. “You’ve made it,” the sentry said. In an exhausted tone the boy said, “Yeah, looks like I have about 45 minutes to reveille.” The sentry said, “You have a good time out there?” With a feeling of accomplishment the boy said, “Sure
The boy passed the sentry’s inspection found his barracks and bunk, changed into work utilities, and got thirty minutes of rest before the day’s activities begun.