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This true life experience took place some 36 years ago and will be in about 6 parts and is

one that I still look back on with fond memories. This is the story of how I was
introduced head first and with no life preserver, into the Japanese culture. In the early
70’s the Japanese economy was just beginning to boom and the country, as a whole, was
just emerging into being a major player on the world’s stage. A majority of households
had still to feel the effects of this boom, but their income, livelihood, and standard of
living was gradually on the rise.

March 16, 1973. Friday night. Party time!!

I was stationed at Camp Zama, a small US Army base (actually it was kind of a country
club when it comes to military bases) located south of Tokyo along the Odakyu train line
and had only been in Japan about five weeks when I met Sachiko. (To protect the
innocent, that was not her real name.) We met at a night spot in the Honmoku section of
Yokohama where servicemen from the Navy and Army hung out to party and, with any
luck, meet Japanese women as they were known to frequent this place and it was one of
the “hot spots” for meeting them. It wasn’t a hostess bar or anything. It was just a place
for drinking, maybe do a little dancing, and listen to some American music, and was
opened until 4 am. They also served pizza, fries, ramen and such.

I had made Sachiko’s acquaintance maybe once or twice before during my previous
visits, but this was the first time we had a real opportunity to meet and talk. She was
remarkably good looking and was quite tall for a Japanese woman at 5’ 6”, with long,
straight, jet-black hair. How we exactly got together I can’t remember. I just remember us
sitting at a table across from each other. Maybe we were introduced or I asked her to
dance. For the life of me I can’t remember.

Anyway, my Japanese was nil at that time, but luckily, her English was fair and we held a
pretty decent conversation. We talked about the usual things one does when first meeting
a person and when the question of age came up, I told her I was 22. (Actually I had
turned 18 about three months prior, and probably looked 16!). She had just turned 21. I
had heard from friends that if you told a Japanese woman you were younger than they,
you would probably lose any chance with them as they preferred men the same age or
older. I was told that that was the way it was in Japan. Since she was so good looking, I
lied.

We danced and talked the night away and hit it off really well. The songs I distinctly
remember that we danced to were “Color my World” by Chicago, and the everlasting
“Ebb Tide” by The Righteous Brothers. They are what the Japanese called “cheek songs”.
We also had something to eat and I clearly recall that I really loved the “spaghetti soup”
as I called it then. I was so green to Japan that I didn’t even know that it was called
“ramen” and I never even had the pleasure of eating it before.

As time wore on she asked me what I was doing that night and I said I didn’t know.
“Maybe go back to Zama with my friends as they have the car”, I told her. She then said
that if I wanted to I could come to her place to spend the night. Silently pinching myself
and thanking all gods past, present, and future, I thought, hell yes! “Sure”, I told her.

Remember, this is the first night I got to know this woman and she was inviting me to her
place for the night! However, don’t jump ahead here as Japanese culture is distinctly
different as I was soon to find out, and things are not usually what you expect, especially
in this case.

We continued talking and dancing till about midnight when she suggested that we leave. I
informed my friends that I would be leaving with Sachiko and would find my way back
to the base tomorrow – or Sunday if things went “really well”.

We went up the stairs and hailed a cab. It was maybe a half hour or so ride at that hour of
night from Yokohama to where she lived (about 15-20 miles). Being the gentleman, I
paid the cab fare. It was about 3,000 odd yen. Cabs were cheap back then. At that time
yen was 300/US$1 and the cab fare only cost about US$10. Today that same ride, at that
hour, would cost about 10-20,000 yen! US$100-200!! (Come to think of it, it really
wasn’t that cheap as getting a salary of about $370/month it was about a days pay!)

We were let off on a dark, narrow main thoroughfare where we walked down a narrow
path lit by thin fluorescent street lights and past quite a few houses on both sides that
were closer than any houses I had ever seen. They seemed to be right on top of each
other. A dog barked at us from one of the houses and I remember thinking that either she
was wealthy and owned her own house, or her apartment was way in the back. After what
seemed like a full minutes walk we came upon a house that was so close to two other
houses that you could probably touch the other houses from the window or something.
“Cool”, I thought. “She owns her own house”.

She put the key in and slid open the sliding frosted glass doors which made quite a racket.
She put her finger to her lips and said “Shhh”. We went into the “genkan”, entranceway,
and I followed behind her. The genkan was lit by a really dim light bulb that was
probably 5 or 10 watts. She whispered to me to take off my shoes and took out some
slippers from what looked like a box on the left and placed them on the floor about a foot
above where we were standing. I took off my shoes wondering why she was whispering
and we stepped into the slippers and up into the house. The Japanese really do take off
their shoes in the house, I remember thinking.

This was my first experience with anything of real Japanese culture. Prior to this day I
had only visited gaijin bars (bars where foreigners frequented), a restaurant or two, a love
motel and rode the trains, but never really experienced any real Japanese culture never
mind actually visiting a real Japanese house. Living on base was no different, culturally,
than living in the states, except that many Japanese worked there.

The first thing I noticed was how cold it was. It seemed there was absolutely no heat in
the house and the outside temperature was about 40 degrees F. There was a room off to
the right that had its sliding doors closed and we entered the kitchen where she turned on
the fluorescent light.

The kitchen was small (at least to me), with a stainless steel sink at the far end with a
white contraption over it with a hose coming down. (This was the hot water heater.) To
the right of the sink was the smallest, what I figured to be a stove, I had ever seen. It was
just a silver thing with two burners. To my right was also what I assumed to be a
refrigerator, but it also, was the smallest one I had ever seen. There was a brown table in
the middle with five chairs that seemed to take up the whole room. To my left was a small
china cabinet with dishes in it. To the left of the cabinet was a door that led to the outside.
It seemed you had to step down to exit the door and there was a pair of slippers on the
concrete floor in front of the door. The kitchen floor was polished brown wood. As I sat
in one of the chairs Sachiko bent down to a funny looking metal contraption that I soon
came to know as a kerosene heater. (I had never seen one before.) She turned a knob,
lifted the flue and lit the wick with some wooden matches. The room started to smell of
kerosene and she opened a window.

She asked if I wanted a beer and I said “sure”. I was already feeling the effects of the
previous beers, but I didn’t care. I was just anticipating what was to come! I noticed there
was clock on the wall above the sink. The time was 12:50am.

She opened the “toy refrigerator.” I mean it was really small; maybe 4-5 ft tall and 3 ft
wide. Compared to what I was used to, this was SMALL! She took out a large bottle of
Kirin beer, placed it on the table, opened up a cabinet and brought out two glasses. She
retrieved a bottle opener from a drawer, opened the beer and poured it into the glasses.
She then took out some packages from a cabinet and put the contents into a plate and a
small bowl. She told me the white stuff was dried squid and that the small brown things
were rice crackers with peanuts. Squid! I had never eaten the stuff before and was quite
repulsed at the thought. We sat facing each other and drank the beer while having small
talk. The room started to heat up and I welcomed the warmth as we both still had on our
coats.

As we talked, I glanced around the room and realized that this place seemed quite old.
The walls and ceiling were faded from age and I also found it odd that there was no
central heating. Maybe she’s poor and can’t afford it, I thought. I didn’t know at the time
that 99% of Japanese houses in this area of Japan didn’t have central heating like I was
used to in the US. Anyway, I was just amazed and dumbfounded that I was actually
sitting in a real Japanese house with an extremely beautiful Japanese woman. Talk about
a culture shock!

I asked her if this was her place and she said that no, it wasn’t; it was her parents house.
Thinking that her parents owned the house and she just lived there, I didn’t give it much
thought. I mean how many women would take a strange man they just met home to their
parent’s house? She urged me to try the squid and I reluctantly gave it a try. Hmm, I
thought, a little salty and fishy, but not bad. Not bad at all. While we talked I noticed that
she kind of kept her voice down and I did the same thinking that maybe the neighbors
might hear us or something.

After a while I mentioned to her that I had to go to the bathroom and she directed me to a
hallway behind me. She turned on a light to the left and said it was here. She slid open
the door and motioned to the slippers on the floor and I stepped out of my “house
slippers” into the “toilet slippers”. (These are the special slippers, usually vinyl, that are
located in every almost every Japanese restroom in Japan. Please, whatever you do while
in Japan, do not forget to step into these slippers! It’s akin to a sacrilege if you don’t!

I entered the room, closed the door behind me and was surprised at what I encountered.
The room was really small, maybe 4ft x 4ft and was dimly lit by a really small light bulb.
The walls were brown wood and there was a small porcelain Japanese toilet on the floor
over an open hole that had water in it. I mean it was flush with the floor. Although the
hole was small, the “depository” must’ve been about a meter square and about 2 meters
deep.

Man did it smell horrible in there. And it was cold! I had never been in a “real” Japanese
restroom before. Sure, I had seen Japanese toilets in the bars and such, but they were
always the flush type. I’ve heard of outhouses in the states, but growing up in New York
City I never saw one before. I guess you’d call this an “inhouse”.

Even though there were about three or four ball type ammonia air fresheners tacked to the
wall, I still had to hold my breath as I deposited my “beer” into the hole. I mean you
could see “everything” down there. I didn’t know how one would do “Number 2”, but I
soon found out that you had to take everything out of your back pockets and squat! If not,
you would probably lose your wallet. I was really amazed at this new experience of no
flush toilets. Later on I discovered that, at that time, that less than 50% of Japanese
dwellings had flush toilets.

Anyway, I finished my business and went back into the kitchen. Not realizing I still had
on the bathroom slippers she laughed and said I shouldn’t wear them outside of the
restroom. She brought them back to their proper place and brought me the “house
slippers”. She then got a cloth from the sink, wetted it and proceeded to clean the floor
where I had walked from the restroom to the kitchen. I remember thinking to myself that
I had really made a mistake and that the Japanese really must value cleanliness. No shoes
in the house and separate slippers for the restroom. One thing I really noticed was that I
didn’t smell anything from the restroom. How strange, I thought.

We continued talking and I discovered that she was the fourth of five children. She had
two older sisters who were married to US Navy men that used to be stationed at
Yokosuka. One was living in the US, and the other was in Europe where her husband was
stationed. Looking at her and realizing how pretty she was, I remember thinking, “maybe
you’ll be number 3”. She also had another older sister who was still single and a younger
brother who was about my age. She was the fourth of five children. I guess that after the
parents finally had a son they stopped. She also worked as a bank teller during the day.
We talked for about an hour over another beer and I really enjoyed the squid and rice
crackers. Then it was time for bed. Finally! She turned off the kerosene heater and I
followed her through the small hallway, past the restroom, where she opened another set
of sliding doors into a room that was dimly lit by another tiny bulb in the lamp hanging
from the ceiling. We took off our slippers before entering the room which felt strange to
my feet. I had never felt tatami mats before. When my eyes adjusted to the light, what I
saw in that room stunned the hell out of me!