An invitation from a Japanese afforded us a glimpse of home life in wartime Japan. We never could have found the place by ourselves so he waited for us at the streetcar stop and took us by various devious turnings to the small frame house which he shared with his father. Before entering he pointed to a pile of rubble in the opposite street-corner; a solitary bomb had fallen there in the last raid, demolishing the house, which was fortunately empty, and breaking all the windows of the houses nearby.
His own house was neat enough but it had a melancholy air; the little front garden overgrown with rank weeds and disembowelled by the usual shelter, as well as the dim chilly rooms and corridors, told a tale of discouraged struggle against wartime privations. Bustling about cheerfully, borrowing bulbs from socket to socket as we went along, he took us to see his newly born baby. It was lying quietly on the floor of the family bedroom, wrapped up in gay red quilts. Even under our stockinged feet the straw mats felt cold and clammy. The charcoal brazier was dead; their daily quota was being used upstairs for the visitors and meantime the baby would just have to do without. We were about to leave the room when he took me aside and, sweeping aside a shabby curtain, showed me his magnificent and dazzling collection of neckties. Somehow it was the most poignant touch of all; he was obviously so proud of them.
Upstairs there was only one other guest, –a charming and vivacious Japanese lady who had sung in various countries all over the world before the war. She said that her train had been strafed the day before by one of the carrier-borne planes and then the conversation took the directions that might have been expected from the company. Our host dug up a scrapbook and showed us his collections of clippings: interviews carried by small pacific Coast newspapers when, as a young Japanese Protestant minister, he had blamed Japan’s troubles on the warlords. The lady singer pounced eagerly on a stray theater program; yes, she recalled the theater, she had sung there once, when was it now, ‘34, or ’35,
oh, it had been fun. Our hostess sat quietly nearby, a thoughtful smile on her face. Born in Washington state, she had spent all her life in the U.S.A. until our host had come along, married her, and brought her home to Japan and to a suspicions and hostile family. You would not think it of her now; the slender laughing girl whom the young visiting minister had met in a church choir and had taken riding in a borrowed Plymouth was blanched and bloated by the diet of rice and pickles, soft-spoken and submissive in her baggy mompei, her hair lank and awry. I took another look at her husband as he beamed and laughed and passed his clippings around, and for the first time I saw that this chirpy brisk young man, challenging all wartime rules and conventions with flashy suits and bright neckties, was profoundly unhappy. He had stayed in the U.S.A. too long; he had admired the Americans too much; it had changed him subtly but hopelessly in an environment that had never changed. It explained that queer defiant looking-for-trouble quality in him that had so often puzzled me. He was an American, an imitation American, in Japan, one man playing at democracy where despotism was the rule of the game, the only soldier out of step. I felt no admiration for him, only pity.
“When the Americans come in,” he boasted, “I’ll put out a sign on the gate: Welcome, English spoken here.”
Poor chap, he should never have gone home.