Friday, September 13, 2019

Date Night in Japan

Photo by Joseph Jowell from the Doug Price Collection
Sasebo, Japan, 1953 or 54.  I share this image because its time and place largely coincide with the atmosphere encountered by PVT Philip Hughes in May-June 1950 during his brief billet in Sasebo, Japan, immediately prior to the Korean War.  The U.S. occupation facilitated large scale interaction of American servicemen with Japanese civilians.

The humanity captured in a photograph sometimes speaks volumes.

The young man depicted here, dressed appropriately for off-duty leisure, relaxes with a local companion. He was born during the great depression. Odds are that he was not from a wealthy home. He grew up at a time when Americans were quite clannish, preferring to settle in communities with people of kindred ethnicity or nationality.  Yet here he is (caught?) with a Japanese companion, enjoying a smoke while reclining on a tatami mat. Does his facial expression betray some embarrasment?

His companion looks like she could be a bit older. The young woman is on the front line of Japan's economic reconstruction, testing cultural boundaries with this gai-jin (western foreigner). Their pose suggests intimacy, but the facial expressions are devoid of... joy.  Seriousness prevails. Fatigue may be an explanation. The woman's posture as she hovers over companion suggests dominance, or at least a sense of purpose. She is old enough to have survived the horror and deprivations of World War II, up close and personal.  It's very likely that her family was irrevocably affected in some way by the war.  But that was in her past. Her current agenda is more relevant and enduring.

Both individuals have compromised their respective cultural boundaries for more expedient needs. This is a scene that was replicated hundred of thousands of times in Japan during the late 1940s and 50s. It is really not fair to draw a one-size-fits-all conclusion for this couple. Their relationship might have been ephemeral... or maybe not.

Walk through a national cemetery for American servicemen sometime.  Read the tombstones. You will see a lot of Japanese spouses resting with their gai-jin husbands.  Just sayin'.

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