A meeting that set the course of my life

Autumn, they say, is when the heavens are high and horses grow fat. I have delighted in autumn in many lands, but there is one September in one place that remains with particular joy in my memory, because it is when and where I met my first two Americans after the war. This meeting set the pattern for my entire future life.

Karuizawa is a summer resort 100 miles northwest of Tokyo and 3,000 feet into the foothills of the Japan Alps. It was "discovered" by a British missionary on an evangelizing tour of inland Japan. The missionary delighted not only in the coolness of the hills but in the birches and other vegetation that reminded him of his home in northeastern England.

Other missionaries gathered there for rest and refreshment from their fields of labor throughout the country, joined by diplomats and businessmen of all countries seeking to escape the humid heat of the plains around Tokyo. Karuizawa in summer was one of those rare places where Japanese and foreigners could mix in total freedom, with the bicycle as the principal means of locomotion.

After Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, Americans and Britons were interned and eventually repatriated. Only citizens of Japan's allies, like Germany, and neutral countries, like Sweden and Switzerland, stayed on. When American bombing of Tokyo became intense, many of these foreigners took to living in Karuizawa year-round - under the strict surveillance of the Japanese police.

In August 1945, the Emperor of Japan gave his celebrated broadcast announcing Japan's surrender. Before the end of the month, Gen. Douglas MacArthur had arrived with his American troops. Our family, reunited after various wartime adventures, once again enjoyed our holidays in Karuizawa. Here, in mid-September, my mother received news that an American soldier was urgently seeking to contact a mutual friend whose children were attending college in the United States. He bore letters from the children to their parents.

My mother immediately invited the American to visit us in Karuizawa and arranged for her friend to stay with us as well. This friend had lost her own home in Tokyo in a bombing raid and was living in a remote mountain village that happened to be not far from Karuizawa. My mother wasn't sure the American soldier would be willing to take a train from Tokyo that would be crowded with Japanese, but he was, and so a date was arranged. I walked a mile or so to the station to greet the train on the day of his arrival.

Sure enough, amid the stream of passengers alighting from the train, and a full head and shoulders taller than the surrounding Japanese, was not one but two Americans in olive drab. I pressed forward, introduced myself, and we started walking down the dusty road toward our home.

The first soldier introduced himself as Lt. Robert Peel. The second was a war correspondent, Gordon Walker of The Christian Science Monitor. We were soon on a first-name basis, and Gordon explained that he had decided to come with Bob because, on their first train ride in newly occupied Japan, two would be better than one. Also, he was looking for an interview with a German Embassy official who was, he had been told, the head of the Gestapo in Japan.

My mother had been able to wheedle a good cut of beef from our butcher, and she prepared a succulent sukiyaki dish for our guests. We sat by the fireplace and talked far into the night. Bob had been teaching at the college where our friend's children had stayed throughout the war. His field was English literature - the very subject I had been hoping to study. In the Army, however, Bob had been assigned to the Counterintelligence Corps and was about to participate in a series of arrests of high-ranking Japanese war criminals.

Gordon had spent the war in the Pacific, island-hopping with General MacArthur's troops as they steadily moved closer to Japan. Bob and Gordon were both lean six-footers. Bob seemed serene and spoke melodiously with an accent betraying his English ancestry. Gordon had the tense energy of a coiled spring. I learned that on the train ride, Gordon had carried a pistol, not sure of what might happen, while Bob was unarmed. He never carried a weapon except when ordered to, he said.

Then a college student, I met often with Bob after he'd returned to Tokyo. He had been given leave to live in Japanese surroundings and took advantage of the contacts he developed through our friend's family to meet widely with Japanese intellectuals, politicians, even with members of the imperial family. (He gave Princess Takamatsu, the Emperor's sister-in-law, her first solo jeep ride, an event chronicled in the pages of this newspaper.)

Bob the teacher read Shakespeare with me. We went through "Romeo and Juliet," Bob explaining that the words Romeo and Juliet exchange during their first dance are a sonnet: "If I profane with my unworthiest hand /This holy shrine, the gentle fine is this:" and so forth.

He was also an instructor in democracy, to me and to other Japanese he encountered. Freed from long years of repression, Japanese men and women were marching in the streets, waving red banners and demanding rice and employment. The long-hated police, now deprived of their swords, handled these demonstrations gingerly, whereas Bob would tell me of Oliver Wendell Holmes saying that freedom of speech did not mean you could shout "Fire!" in a crowded theater.

Bob was delighted to find Christians who had kept their faith, especially followers of a fiery preacher, Uchimura Kanzo, who refused to bow before the Emperor's photograph. One of these Christians, Prof. Yasaka Takaki, told Bob that Japan had rushed into the modern age without experiencing either the Renaissance or the Reformation, and was now paying the price. It was a comment I have since thought of often, not only in connection with Japan, but with other non-Western countries striving to modernize as well.

Six months after his arrival, Bob was demobilized and returned to the US, where he went on to a distinguished career with this newspaper and as a scholar. I had many occasions to see him after I emigrated to America in 1948. But those early days after the war with Bob remain a glowing light in my memory.

Gordon was an influence of a totally different kind. A journalist through and through, he would never rest until he got to the bottom of things.

In March 1946, a committee of Japanese preparing a new constitution for their country came up with a totally different draft from the extremely conservative versions that had been leaked to the press up to that time. Gordon immediately recognized that the US had had a hand in the drafting of it.

Gordon scooped his journalist colleagues by bringing to light the fact that the constitution had been written by a small group of Americans headed by Col. Charles Kades and working in total secrecy.

Years later a friend who had been a member of this team told me of her astonishment when the article appeared. "Who did he talk to?" she asked. But like all good journalists, Gordon never revealed his sources.

Gordon Walker inspired me to become a journalist. Bob Peel was my guide in a deeper sense - both intellectual and spiritual. I will always be grateful for having known these two men.

About these ads
Sponsored Content by LockerDome

We want to hear, did we miss an angle we should have covered? Should we come back to this topic? Or just give us a rating for this story. We want to hear from you.

Loading...

Loading...

Loading...

Save for later

Save
Cancel

Saved ( of items)

This item has been saved to read later from any device.
Access saved items through your user name at the top of the page.

View Saved Items

OK

Failed to save

You reached the limit of 20 saved items.
Please visit following link to manage you saved items.

View Saved Items

OK

Failed to save

You have already saved this item.

View Saved Items

OK