I arrived in Camp Otsu in February 1955. Camp Otsu was the Headquarters for Southwest Command Japan. General Ralph W. Zwicker was the commander for the Southwest Command Japan. His picture is above on the left this was taken during World War II when he was with the 2nd Infantry Division in Europe. He was decorated for heroism during the Battle of The Bulge. Also pictures of the Honor Guard and the Welcome Booklet Cover are above. These are thumbnails.
When I got there I was told that I was going to be assigned to the signal unit at Camp Eta Jima. I had gone to school at Camp Eta Jima for installing and operating pipelines. I didn't want to go back there so I ask if they had anything there at Camp Otsu.
I had just come from a signal supply depot in Pusan Korea. They said there was an opening for signal supply specialist at Camp Otsu. I said, "I would like that." They ask me to sign for the Signal Supply Warehouse and it's inventory without taking an inventory. Also there was a back log of orders for supplies that hadn't been filled. The stack of orders was about a foot high. The average number of items per order was about 15.
Some of the orders were over a month old. The outgoing supervisor hadn't filled any his last 3 weeks there and I got there about a week after he had left. The PFC that had been his assistant hadn't filled any orders either. I went to the OIC and told him that I would not sign for the building and the inventory without taking an inventory first. He finally agreed and we took an inventory over the weekend. The inventory was about $10,000 short. When I showed him my inventory he couldn't believe it and he supervised a second inventory. His inventory had a shortage of about a $500 less shortage then the one we took. I don't know what steps were taken against the previous supervisor but I signed off on the new inventory.
For the stack of back orders we decided anything over a week old would be sent back to the units for reorder. Those that were a week or less old would be filled and the units notified to pick them up.
That was my introduction to Camp Otsu and the Southwest Command, Japan. General Zwicker was a great commander and would back his men all the way. He was a gentleman in every sense of the word.
Below is an article on Dick Simoneau's experiences at Camp Otsu and a short history of Camp Otsu. It was published in the Stars and Stripes. That is the newspaper for the United States Armed Forces stationed overseas. It is published in all of the countries where our military people are stationed. It was written by Specialist Dick Simoneau who worked directly for General Zwicker. He worked in G-1 section of the Southwest Command Headquarters.
MY TOUR OF THE FAR EAST
That Dreadful Journey Over
"Your tour of duty will be thirty-six months," were the dreadful words spoken by the confident classification and assignment sergeant at port of Embarkation in Fort Lewis, Washington.
Is this really happening to me? Three years of my life to be wasted on a little island which had caused so much trouble in 1941. It will be ages before I can visit with my friends and family in that quiet, conservative town in New Hampshire.
I never was much of a girls man, but I just knew that I was going to miss the dates at movies or drive-in's with a conniving but pretty girl from the New England section of the United States. These thoughts flitted across my normally constructive mind as I boarded the USNS General Tom Smith destined for Yokohama. What will I eat, rice and fish heads? I hope they have a few hamburger stands, because if I must eat off of the fat of the land, I would prefer hamburger to that Japanese food the Korean veterans had told me about.
The trip across a never ending ocean is but a hazy, miserable event planted in the roots of my locker of nightmares in my subconscious.
When I was nearly at my wit's end, the constantly complaining ship docked in Japan. It suddenly dawned on me that I was on the other side of the world, nearly 9,000 miles from my beloved state.
So This Is Japan
After completing the hustle and bustle of removing myself from the ship, I was herded onto a weird looking bus with forty other bewildered soldiers. For ten minutes I sat in the little cramped seat staring ahead at the driver's seat. I finally figured out what was wrong - - the driver and steering mechanism were on the right side, I mean wrong side.
The driver efficiently move the diesel burning monstrosity onto a narrow bumpy road, and immediately roared into high gear, twisting dodging and missing children, holes, and more children. A tiny car, purporting to be a taxicab, roared in our direction. I began to fidget and squirm as the little toy-like car came closer and closer directly in front of us. I frantically threw my arms over my face and scooted down in my seat as our bus continued onward driving on the wrong side of the road. As I peeked over one arm, I saw the taxi swerve sharply to the left, missing our bus by mere inches.
We finally arrived at Camp Drake's replacement center, a little scared and a little more confused. After reporting to another confident classification and assignment Sergeant there, I was told that my permanent assignment would be at Camp Otsu, Headquarters of Southwestern Command.
We Found Chow, But Where Is Camp Otsu?
Following our interview, the unfortunately harassed replacements were herded to the mess hall for a supper meal. Here it comes, I thought this is where I have to eat that Japanese food.
I picked up the familiar Army tray and oversized silverware, moved to the familiar chow line, and received the shock of my life to see a Japanese KP (Kitchen Police) serving the ever familiar beef stew. I felt a little foolish for the thoughts and worries I had about eating foreign food. I should have had sense enough to know that an organization as big as the Army would have good old American food wherever the were.
After that hearty meat, I wandered over to the depot's day room, which turned out to be a combination game room, and reading and writing room with luxurious leather sofas and chairs to relax in. I wandered over to a bulletin board that displayed a large map of Japan.
After carefully studying Japan in its entirety, I searched for Camp Otsu. To make sure I wouldn't miss it, I began at the very north end of the island, working my way down. About fifteen minutes of scanning and reading the oddly named cities, I found it, just as I was ready to give up, Located near "Biwako" which I soon learned was the largest fresh water lake in Japan.
My First Glimpse of The Outside
One of my main interests while I was at Camp Drake was, "When do we get passes around here?" I was quickly relieved of any doubt that I may have had with a very polite, "buddy, around here you wouldn't last ten minutes if you held your breath waiting to get outside of this camp. You would think that they had never seen the outside of that camp. I later found out that they hadn't.
My stay at Camp Drake was a very short one and most unpleasant because of my anxiety to see just what life was like outside those gates. Late during my fourth day at Drake I was again cramped on one of those little buses and hurriedly spun on my way.
I was just as excited about seeing the many unusual things that followed. Again we wound our way through the narrow streets wondering just what would happen if another car, or bus happen to come from the opposite direction. I noticed something that was unlike anything I had ever seen before. A man was pulling a long cart and his wife was helping him. On the cart were three large buckets made of wood. What was inside the buckets was a mystery to everyone aboard. A Corporal that was in charge of us said it was a "Honey Bucket" and then burst out with a hearty laugh. I just couldn't understand why it should be so funny.
We pulled into the front of this large building and I was surprised to find out that it was a train station. When we got on the train I finally got a glimpse of what it was like being around so many Japanese people. Their Language was nothing but Greek to me and when I noticed that they were wearing wooden shoes I never realized that the situation was so bad over here. I was told later by a friend that the wooden type shoes were called Geta's and it was their custom to wear them.
We arrived at Camp Otsu about 12 hours later. We were immediately rushed into camp and given bedding. A very nice Sergeant showed us where the mess hall was and let us loose for the rest of the day. Providing that we stayed in the camp area. He showed us where the Movie and the Enlisted Men's Club were located.
A Look Around the Post and Then My Assignment
I did not make it a habit of going to clubs where there would be most likely a large amount of drinks that were intoxicating. Lets face it, anything would have been better then going to a movie that would probably be all in Japanese language. They must have had only Japanese movies because everyone that I met that night was using some form of Japanese. It seemed like all of them had been over here at least 30 months. Some guy came up to me and said "Anone" (which I later found out meant "Hey You"). He said the he had been over here for 6 months and I could see that he could speak a lot of Japanese.
Early the next morning I was interviewed and assigned to safety section. I enjoyed my job very much. During my first pass into Otsu I found out just what was in those buckets that were being pulled in that long cart. Well, how was I to know that they do not have a large amount of fertilizer over here. I made it a habit to avoid the carts whenever I saw one.
As time passed I was suddenly finding my presence requested in G-1 Section which was part of the General's Staff. I seemed to hit it off good during my first few months there. I found myself with a lot of time off. That gave me the necessary time I need to scout around. By this time I could speak Japanese just enough to get by.
A Short History of Camp Otsu
A Japanese Army hospital before World War II, the camp was first U.S. occupied when a unit of the Sixth Army moved in from September, 1945 through January, 1946.
After the surrender of the enemy to the Allied Forces, the 35th Infantry Regiment was ordered to occupation duty in Japan. On 19 September 1945, the first echelon began its post-war move to Nagoya, Japan, where the Regiment Command Post was later established. The Regiment was relocated in January 1946 to Otsu, Japan, on the island of Honshu, where it continued its mission of occupation duty and maintaining a high state of training and combat readiness. Camp Otsu was than left under the control of the 8028th Army Unit.
In the fall of 1952, a Marine unit moved in and remained until May, using the post as a retraining and replacement center for troops released from the hospital.
After the Marines left, Headquarters Camp Kyoto combined with Camp Otsu to form Camp Otsu headquarters. Southwestern Command Headquarters moved in during the later part of May, 1952.
On May 1, 1955 the missions of the 8249th and the 8028th Army Units merged and deactivation of the 8028th Army Unit resulted.
My Movie Career
Late in 1954, I was given a screen test for a movie that Columbia Studios were filming over here. Much to my surprise I was picked for the part of an MP (Military Police). I found myself staying at the New Osaka Hotel with all expenses paid. The most exciting part of my movie career was the day I was asked to act as a stand-in for Phil Carey. As the days past I almost hated to see my short movie career come to an end. When it ended I found myself back to Camp Otsu just a normal enlisted man again and not a big movie star. Now don't get me wrong on this, the part I was in was not cut when the movie was released but if you blinked your eyes you would have missed me.
Entertainment At Camp Otsu
Camp Otsu itself offered many facilities. Spacious Service Club. which houses a Library, game Room, Craft Shop, Reading Room and other features for troop use.
A Snack Bar with excellent food, fast service and reasonable fees. A completely equipped Field House, Baseball and Softball diamonds. A football field.
A hotel, the Biwako, offering a swimming pool, horseback riding, dancing and guided scenic tours.
A Hunting Lodge, a short distance from the camp, with sailing, fishing hunting and picnic grounds available.
Again I want to say, "Fortunate indeed is the American Serviceman when finds himself assigned to Camp Otsu, the paradise post of the Pacific."
Back to the day when I must again climb into that cramped bus and grind through the streets that are just about wide enough to allow the bus to pass. Perhaps it will be my turn to have some new sightseer ask me "What do they call the long cart being drawn by a man and his wife." As I burst out with laughter I will be at least kind enough to warn him of it's contents. Knowing that as I leave this post of paradise I will most likely never return, one question arises in my mind, "How will I ever get use to the Foreign Country they call the United States?".
This story and history was written from the life that I had during my stay in Japan during June of 1954 to January 1957 and all that is written above is true to the best of my knowledge.
This story is forbidden for publication with out the consent of the undersigned.
Richard A Simoneau
Dick and his son run their own business in Modesto California
The movie Dick was In was "Three Stripes In The Sun" it stared Aldo Ray, Dick York and Phil Carey. There were some other men of the 8028th Army Unit used in the movie also amoung them the Unit Commander.Richard's wife Leona passed away in 2009 and Richard passee away in November 2010
Hello Bob -
I was there long ago. In '47 to be precise. I was part of the 8002
Hydroponic Farm Depot, that had 25 acres of hydroponic farms near Otsu and 55 acres near Chofu (west of Tokyo). When I got there, to Otsu, the 8002 did not have a mess hall, and we used to drive down the road to the 25th Division, 35th Battalion for all our meals. Would be pleased to hear from any one else that was there in the Otsu area or was part of the 8002
Hydroponic Farm Depot at Chofu.
Not for publication without the permission of Richard Stoll.
Richard Stoll (aka email@example.com)
Thanks for the e-mail about Camp Otsu. I was there from March 1956 to July 1957. I was assigned initially to Heavy Mortar Co. for about 4 months. A friend of mine who worked in the personnel indicated that they were looking for a typist to work there,so it didn't take me very long to apply in person for that cushy job - fortunately I got the job and the rest of my tour of duty was quite delightful - I was assigned to Service Co., the barracks were over by Lake Bewa away from the main camp. I have very fond memories of Camp Otsu - a wonderful place to be stationed. We spent allot of time in Kyoto - what a great place that was!! And the money exchange as you'll remember was very favorable - 360 yen to the Military dollar. One could have a great time in Kyoto for as little as
$25.00 over the weekend!!! I'm very appreciative of your reply - I went thru your web
site - really interesting. So I say to you Garry Owen - hope to hear from you again - take care
An ex-7th Cavalry Regiment Personnel Typist. Specialist 3rd Class J. Bruce
Not for publication without the permission of Jack Bruce.
Hi there Robert,
I was at Camp Otsu for about 13 months in 1953 and 1954. I was with "H"
Company, 9th Marines, 3rd Division. We were actually headed for Korea to
force the North to the treaty table.
I guess it worked, because about the time we were around Hawaii, they
changed our destination and we headed for Kyoto. I don't remember where the
rest of the division went, but we offloaded from the USS Montrose and took a
train to Otsu, then by truck to the "B" camp I think it was called. It was
located near the seaplane base the Japanese used during the war. Seems like
it was about a mile or two from the main base.
While I was there, I was also assigned to the 561st Army MP Company to
control the Marines on liberty and keep them from running wild throughout
the town. Spent two separate one-month tours with them. The MP office was
just inside the main gate to the left.
We also made several training trips to Gotemba (near Fuji).
It was amazing that none of the Japanese guards that worked the gates and
rode around with the MPs never fought the Americans during the war. They all
say they fought the British or Austrailians.
While I was with "H" Company, I was the Machine Gun Platoon Sargeant. I
didn't have a platoon leader, so I had to watch after 52 men and six guns.
I retired from Conoco a little over 11 years ago, but before I retired I had
to make a trip to Otsu to evaluate a fabrication shop that was doing some
work on one of our projects. I got to talking with the boss man, and let him
know I'd spent some time in Otsu. After my evaluation he took me to a
mountain top (great big hill) where there was an overlook where you could
look down on Otsu. That little town is now HUGE, and is a Japanese tourist
spot with high rise hotels and apartment buildings. It was hard to believe.
Seems like they finally discovered Lake Biwa and had time on their hands to
enjoy it. There were motor boats, cabin cruisers, and sailboats everywhere.
Anyway, I really enjoyed your website and thank you for letting me in on it.
Sure brings back a lot of memories. I'll probably visit it again several
times in the future.
Not for publication without the permission of Tom Keith
Enjoyed your web page very much especially the section on Otsu and Camp Otsu. I was stationed there in 1952 - 1953 as part of the 561st Military Police Company. When I arrived in Japan, I was a medic, just out of training at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. However, in Tokyo at the repl Depot a group of about 40 of us in rout to Korea were pulled out and made MP's because they had shipped all available MP's to Korea. We were sent to Osaka and were split up into the 561st and 562nd MP Cos. The 652nd ,which half of us went into,was an all black company. We were one of the first intergrated units in the area. Some of the regular force from each of the two units were then split and interchanged between the two units. We under went about three to four weeks of training taught by the officers and sergeants and went on patrol in Osaka. We were only there for a few months and were transferred to Otsu. Some to the men were put on special duty in the Osaka area some of us were sent to Otsu, 561st and the rest to Nara, 562nd. I had been drafted in August 1951, after having just been married in June. When I was settled in Otsu, although only a Pvt.. I managed to bring my wife over. she came by freighter into Kobe Port and I met her there. She had a tourist visa but I took her to the Japanese embassy and had her status changed to dependent of the Army. The Army was quite surprised because there was a long list of dependents waiting to come over, but they let me live off post. We rented a small Japanese house near the Omijingu-mai trolley station between Camp Otsu and Lake Biwako and enjoyed Japan very much. We were there about a year visited Fuji, Tokyo, Nara and many small towns in the vicinity reachable by train. We went back two summers ago with a group, found where our house was, now gone, and our landlords son and one of theneighborhood girls. She is now 64 and the principle of the local school. Modern Japan is still beautiful because it had retained it's oriental quaintness in spite of advances. No more honey carts; now modern sewage, spectacular beautiful buildings such as the Kyoto Railroad station, and lots of autos.
By Conrad Karnish
Not for publication without the permission fo Conrad Karnish.
GUARD MOUNT CAMP "B" OTSU, JAPAN LEFT TO RIGHT CPL. WILLIAMS, BACK TO CAMERA CPL. NELSON. UNKNOWN PFC, CPL DELAHUNTY A AUSIE, PFC KEENAN, PVT E-2 DEVANEY, PFC WEST AND A CPL ATTCHED TO 561ST MP SERVICE COMPANY FROM THE 24TH DIVISION 1954. PHOTOGRAPHER UNKNOWN PHOTO FURNISHED BY DONALD DEVANEY
GUARD MOUNT CAMP "B" OTSU, JAPAN LAFT TO RIGHT CPL. NELSON, UNKNOW PFC., CPL. DELAHUNTY A AUSIE, PFC. KEENAN, PVT. E-2 DEVANEY, PFC. WEST AND A CPL. ATTACHED TO THE 561ST MP SERVICE COMPANY FROM THE 24TH DIVISION 1954. PHOTOGRAPHER UNKNOWN PHOTO FURNISHED BY DONALD DEVANEY
PVT. E-2 DEVANEY AND UNKNOWN MP BEHIND THE WHEEL 1954. PHOTOGRAPHER UNKNOW PHOTO FURNISHED BY DONALD DEVANEY
LEFT TO RIGHT CPL. WILLIAMS BACK TO CAMERA. PFC. KEENAN, CPL. DELAHUNTY AUSIE, 2LT, DON BACK TO CAMERA, PVT. E-2 DEVANEY, 1954 THE 561ST ORDERLY ROOM BEHINDE THE MP'S PHOTOGRAPHER UNKNOWN PHOT FURNISHE BY DONALD DEVANEY
LEFT TO RIGHT 1ST. LT. UNKNOWN, B.G. RALPH W. ZWICKER, COL. UNKNOWN AND HOWARD F. HALL, SAFETY, DIRECTOR, HQ SWC CHRISTMAS 1955. PHOTO CHUCK TEWELL
DONALD DEVANEY WAS AT CAMP OTSU IN 1954 FOR 3 MONTHS WITH THE 561ST MP COMPANY. HE SERVED 30 YEARS IN THE ARMY AND NOW IS THE PROVOST MARSHALL AT TRIPLER ARMY MEDICAL CENTER IN HAWAII AS A GS-13 WAY TO GO DON. 2003 PHOTO BOB PROCTOR
Camp Otsu Reflections - November 1954 until my last visit in 1999.
November 1954 - Arrived in Camp Otsu and turned 18 on November 21st
while on the boat USNS Freeman. What a tub. About 20 MP replacements
caught the Train at Marunouchi Station in Tokyo headed South. We
received a "flying $20 cash payment" at Camp Drake. Nobody had yen.
The Army issued meal tickets for the Train Station and Train itself. I
remember in the Tokyo Station we were all hungry and wanted breakfast
and for the first time we saw how the Japanese did it. They asked for
payment with an order and of course we thought it was because they
didn't trust Americans. It wasn't that because they do it that way
today. Then we boarded a milk run with Class II seats. The train had
Class I, II and III. The II seats were upholstered and the III seats
were wooden. The Japanese in III liked to party on the train and all
the stations sold sake and small jugs of whiskey. Sooner or later one
of the guys figured out how to break a $10 bill into yen and we were off
to the races drinking those gigantic Asahi or Nippon Beers.
I was judicious on how I spent my yen, but I remember drinking two
possible three beers and had that talkative buzz. The first military
stop was the Otsu RTO. All of us were ordered to dismount and fall into
a column of ducks. The Sergeant came with a slight glow and said we
were in Otsu, SW Command HQ. He was going to read some names and told
the rest if your name was not called, get back on the train. They
didn't do it scientifically what soever. He read two names from the top
of the roster and three from the bottom in alphabetical order. So the
561st received Crumpler, Devaney, Umland, West and Windsor. We then
boarded a bus and went to A Camp for the night. It was about 8:00 PM
and we were assigned transient rooms and I recall it was cold inside the
barracks. The Sergeant said we could go to the Jack and Jill Club but
we didn't have passes to go into town. I followed one of the non-MP
Corporals and we went out the back side of the post by the Sunny Hotel
and stopped in the first bar we saw, The Happy Beer Hall. The girls
were on us so fast. All wanting a drink and we not knowing which end
was up. A Japanese Beer was 200 Yen and I thought that very expensive,
especially since on base it was probably 10 cents. But we had some
dough and spent some time at the Happy Beer Hall. Most of the girls had
names like Connie, Jackie, etc. Some kept their Japanese names like
Sachiko "Sach-chan" and the barmaid, cook was called what sounded like
O-Batcha it really was O-Batchan, but I never heard the n so I called
Not for publication with out the permission of Don Devaney.
Thanks to Dick Simoneau, Don Devaney, Tom Keith, Pat Garland and Chuck Tewell for their contribution to this page
A SCENE FROM THREE STRIPES IN THE SUN 1955 STUDIO POSTER MANY OF THE SOLDIERS OF CAMP OTSU WERE EXTRAS IN THIS MOVIE THANKS TO DON DEVANEY I HAVE A VERY GOOD COPY OF THIS MOVIE
SOME OF THE UNITS THAT WERE STATIONED ON CAMP OTSU
27TH REGIMENT, 25TH DIVISION, WOLFHOUNDS
AFFE (ARMED FORCES FAR EAST) NOW USARJ (US ARMY JAPAN) THIS WAS THE COMMAND SOUTHWESTERN COMMAND FELL UNDER.
In 2005 I returned to Vietnam after an absence of 40 years and it was an exhilarating and wonderful experience. Now just two years later I had a similar opportunity only this time to revisit Shiga Prefecture where I began my military police career in 1954. It seems like 53 years is such a long time ago, but time plays tricks on our mind and it is like traveling in a time warp or we are fortunate to become a modern day Rip Van Winkle or Urashima Taro.
I graduated from Aldrich High School in June 1954 and immediately left for the Army along with my classmate Ralph Bodette. We were both assigned to the ｡ﾈFighting 69th｡ﾉ Irish Infantry Division at Fort Dix, New Jersey for basic training. After that Ralph went to Airborne School and I went to Military Police School and we have never seen each other since, however I learned he had a successful civilian career as a Commander and top leader in the Warwick Police Department. After Military Police training I went with a group of others and flown to Fort Lewis, Washington directly from Bush Field in Augusta, Georgia on a two engine plane stopping about 5 times before landing in the rain at McChord Air Force Base. At Fort Lewis nobody had the faintest idea where we would be sent but since the Korean War was on a shaky truce of about one year we just knew that is where we were headed. Huddled in the gymnasium the Sergeant told us we would be given one of three IBM cards. The Cards would have an A for Alaska a J for Japan or a K for Korea. Most of the MPs received a J. We then boarded a troop ship, the USNS Freeman that took 22 days to go from Seattle to Yokohama, but we made it. Then to Camp Drake for another round of processing and of the entire group of 60 about 20 were selected for Southwestern Command. Japan was divided by the US Military at the time into Northern Command (Hokkaido; Sendai; etc); Central Command (Tokyo, Yokohama) and Southwestern Command (Shiga, Kyoto, Osaka, Hiroshima, Kyushu etc). So we boarded the train around 10:00 AM at the Yamanouchi Station bound for the City of Otsu. We arrived about 8:00 PM and were met by a Sergeant who read off 5 names, and I was one of them, to remain. The rest reboarded the train for other destinations. Thus my introduction to the City of Otsu.
Camp Otsu at the time was the headquarters for Southwestern Command, and the Commanding General was Ralph Zwicker who Senator Joe McCarthy tried unsuccessfully to slander at the famous hearings in 1954. The Army had two camps in Otsu designated ｡ﾈA｡ﾉ and ｡ﾈB｡ﾉ camp. The 561st Military Police Company (Service) was located in B Camp next to Lake Biwako. And that is where I remained until 1955 when the dream ended and we were sent to Okinawa.
As an 18 year old everything makes an impression especially a new culture that has thousands of years of history. I was educated in measuring time before or after Christ and it was hard living in the US a country that was 179 years old to imagine a country that was thousands of years old with families tracing their lineage 55 generations or more. In those days our duty required the traditional services on a military installation but in addition we had town patrol most of the time and that was patrolling the Cities of Otsu, Nara and Kyoto. Just imagine the heritage in those places that were spared the bombing of World War II and for that reason alone the Americans had a tremendous advantage in being accepted and making friendships.
Otsu is an old City and was the capitol of Japan in ancient times. The Tokaido Road runs next to the train station this very day and from my hotel, the world class new Biwako Hotel I met three traveling priests called Komusou. walking the road from Kyoto. They were stopped briefly next to the lake for a rest and I would guess they were about 78 years of age. One of them was playing a shakuhachi and the music simply serene and fantastic. I approached them for permission to take pictures and they were obliging. The leader then explained they had walked to Otsu and were continuing on to another city quite a distance away and would make the return trip on foot. Two of them wore baskets over their head and maybe all 3 did, and that was a reminder of how things were in the old Japan.
I landed at Kansai International Airport that is about an hour outside of the city of Osaka but it is the major airport for that area (called Kansai as opposed to Tokyo located in Kanto). The train service is in the heart of the airport so from baggage claim, walk a short hallway and one is at the train station. I purchased a ticket for Kyoto where I was to meet the General Secretary of the Shiga Prefecture Association who would be the protocol officer for this visit as I was a guest of the Association. In 2005 Shiga Prefecture (a prefecture is the equivalent of a state in the United States) was holding a world-wide anniversary celebration in Los Angeles and the steering committee invited people from its sister cities in Lansing, Michigan and Wurzburg, Germany to attend. They were also looking for former US military personnel who were assigned to Camp Otsu in the 1950s and as a result I was contacted by the late Barry Palmer, Cambridge Graduate from UK who was a language instructor at the university in Kyoto, and a member of the Shiga Association Executive Committee. My wife and I were invited but the trip to Vietnam was in conflict so we sent our regrets.
I thought that would be the end of it, but for 2007 the association is hosting a grand celebration in November that will include the presence of the Emperor and Empress and I have once again been honored with an invitation. I explained that my wife and I usually go to Okinawa Prefecture in April of each year so I wasn｡ﾇt certain about a second trip in November. To my surprise and pleasure we were invited to spend a few days in Otsu during our April trip. We also had our son George with us and he was making his first return visit to Okinawa since 1975 so we went directly to Okinawa but I made the solo sojourn of my lifetime with a trip to Shiga from 9 until 14 April.
As planned I was met at the Kyoto station taken downstairs for another train and the 10 minute trip to Otsu City. At the train station I was greeted by Mr. Nakazawa and it was 9:00 PM in the evening but we went directly to an inner city park that was lighted to show the beautiful cherry blossoms that were in full bloom. It was a scene from a movie. After that we went to the Biwako Hotel a huge modern building on the waterfront of Lake Biwa the largest lake in Japan and one of 10 in its category world-wide. My room was on the 9th floor fronting the lake and I was told that I could wear the Yukata robe and visit the hot spring Onsen on the 4th floor at anytime. I went there twice a day, in the morning and before going to bed. The Onsen is not only comforting and refreshing but it is an example of redirecting cultural instincts. Middle aged women rush about picking up towels, straightening out buckets and in general cleaning as you go while there will be 6 to 7 men completely naked either washing or soaking in the pool. You even say ｡ﾈOhayao Gozaimus｡ﾉ without making eye contact. Day one was designed for me to become reacquainted with the new Otsu city and walk the streets once again which I did. Early in the morning it was evident that most workers used the bus, trains that are on trolley lines more than 100 years old and rapid trains with few automobiles. The cars that are prevalent are small toy looking vehicles but amazingly roomy inside. My car was nicknamed ｡ﾈChotto Soko Made｡ﾉ a Japanese expression. My old barracks in B Camp is still there, one of a few original buildings inside a modern Japanese Self Defense Force installation. At 10:00 AM we were invited for a tour of the lake from the paddle ship Michigan replete with a small band (Australian and Japanese) and the weather was fantastic. Lunch was at the beautiful old and famous restaurant, Uoi, next to a river and the Tokaido Road, owned by Mrs. Reiko Inoue. I went to the 2nd floor and she showed me some of the art screens and her wedding umbrellas that were mounted on the ceiling. Then to her Japanese version of a ｡ﾈhope chest｡ﾉ a trunk made for her by her parents as a wedding gift. She opened it and it contained bedding and a wedding kimono. I had eel for lunch and will attach a couple of pictures that are worth a thousand words in describing this delicious delicacy at the end of this report.
On the West side of Otsu and Shiga Prefecture is a mountain range and the most famous of them is Mt. Hiei home of the Enryakuji Temples. The General Secretary and I took a trolley train to the indescribably beautiful sub-town of Sakamoto home of the Tendai priests and many schools and laden with Cherry trees in full bloom. Parking our car is always a problem because of space and all cars in Japan are required to park off the road. The lot was a long walk for me to the Cable Car station, all uphill. Then the cable car ride to the top of Mt. Hiei and once again a foot trek to the summit. The scenery fantastic and the shrines along the way beautiful. At the top were temples built 1600 years ago and you cannot help but appreciating the religious connection. People talk in a whisper and remove footwear before entering the temples. On the way back to the Cable car, a walk of about 12 minutes, we were pleasantly surprised with the Gagaku sound of Shakuhachi playing and sat on a bench along the path contemplating the scenery and beautiful music before making it back to the cable car and being dropped off at the Biwako Hotel (for another splash in the hot bath).
After a wonderful and healthy breakfast of soft scrambled eggs, OJ, corn flakes and oatmeal I was ready for day number 3. In the morning I had a 9:00 AM appointment with the Chief of Police, Mr. Kenji Nagano. Prior to that I had an office call with Mr. Masakiyo Oguro, Superintendent and Chief of Community Safety Planning Division for the Shiga Prefectural Police Headquarters. He had been a Rotary International Group Study exchange student in Minnesota and served in Paris and New York. He was summoned to New York from France when terrorists first hit the World Trade Center in the 1990s. My visit with the Chief was excellent and they had prepared for me the history books reflecting the 1950 era of Otsu and Shiga with pictures of the military police and my former camps. In addition Chief Nagano explained the Japanese police model which essentially is a nation wide state police centralized in each Prefecture. He presented me with a beautiful police lapel pin and medallion and the key to the city so to speak. After leaving the government complex around noon we boarded the train for the 12 minute ride to Kyoto. Our first stop was an unscheduled look at the Okura Hotel lobby that was at the train station. Amazingly Mrs. Ukai-Palmer who was my escort spotted a kimono dressed lady in the lobby that looked familiar. It turned out to be her elementary school classmate who she had not seen in 30 years or more. That was a good omen. We were headed for Miyagawa cho near the Gion District of Kyoto to see the 58th annual ｡ﾈKyoodori｡ﾉ stage show with original Gagaku music and cast. This was no ordinary show as tickets cannot be bought but are issued by lottery to the ｡ﾈmothers｡ﾉ of the Kyoto Geisha houses. It is arduous and they line up and wait and then get 2 tickets and if they want different seats they go to the end of the line and start the process over again. The house mother of the Sakura Geisha House had two tickets and she gave them to Mrs. Kazuko Hattori, President of the Kazuko Hattori Kimono Institute and known throughout Japan. She is a friend of Mrs. Ukai-Palmer thus the two tickets were given to her and I therefore was the only foreigner to be able to see the production that was absolutely beautiful to watch and listen to. The stage show was finished late in the afternoon and we walked throughout Gion taking pictures and I was being lead to a ｡ﾈsurprise｡ﾉ party at a secret location.
The Ashiya Steak House is probably the most well known restaurant in Kyoto and Japan itself. The owners are Tokiko and Bob Strickland and it is a refurbished residence at the end of an alley. The clientele are the elite of the world including George Bush, 41 and Bill Clinton, 42. I saw Tom Cruise｡ﾇs autographed picture on the wall along with the tragic pre-Challenger picture of Ellison Onizuka and his family who had dinner there. There were 5 in our party and the owner was cordial and wonderful as was the Kobe steak. It was the atmosphere that grabs you in a place like that but I also know the prices are astronomical. After dinner we bid Mrs. Hattori farewell in her taxi and the rest of us jumped in a cab for the return trip to Otsu. Hard to imagine a better day than this but there are more coming.
The following day was a scheduled trip down memory lane and to re-visit the places I worked or walked or played in 1954 and 55. The Midera Shrine and canal was a special stop as again the Cherry trees gave it a fairy land appearance and the Canal over 100 years old goes to Kyoto. Mrs. Ukai-Palmer then explained some of her family history that goes back 45 generations. At one time the Ukai｡ﾇs were boat builders for the lake and issued seals that indicated payment of a certain tax and those boats were allowed to leave the lake and go to Kyoto to enter into commerce. We then drove to the original Biwako Hotel which was kept as a Prefectural Shrine and reconditioned by the city. Many famous people stayed at the old Biwako including John Wayne when filming The Barbarian and the Geisha. We enjoyed an Italian style lunch and I was mentally preparing for the honor of having an office call with the Governor of the Prefecture, Mrs. Yukiko Kada at 4:30 PM. The time arrived and I was whisked into her office. She was an impressive lady who had served in Kenya and was fluent in the English Language. Recently elected she impressed me in many ways and most particularly was her concern for the environment. I presented her some Kona Coffee and a paper weight from Governor Linda Lingle of Hawaii and she in turn gave me a hand-made spinning top that is exquisite and after 25 minutes I departed. The evening was extra special as I was invited to dinner with the Headmaster of the Tendai High School in the Sakamoto Township. Dr. Somon Horisawa and his wife hosted us at a lakeside hotel Biwako KRR and it was also a world class hotel. There was a private dining room on the 2nd floor and one table with four place settings. His wife joined Ukai-Palmer and me for an evening of Japanese dishes and lots of talk and beer drinking. After dinner we were invited to his home on the mountain. You enter a gate like you would in the 1500s; it is so low you have to bend over. The home sits on the side of the mountain splendid in simplicity. It is actually a compound with three buildings that I saw. The main home had 3 front rooms and the prayer room with altar that was temple like beautiful. You sit on the Tatami on pillows and a modern hibachi with blanket to keep your feet warm. It was so comfortable and Mrs. Horisawa served tea in a special chrysanthemum cup and a cake. After that we went next door to the music hall where she played the piano and sang opera style songs. She is going to hold a concert in Honolulu maybe in 2008 and it will be to a packed house. Around 10:00 PM it was back to the hotel.
Friday the 13th proved to be a lucky day for me. In the morning it was a trip to another mountain and more temples and shrines with outstanding views of the lake, rivers and city below. Ishiyama Shrine is beautiful especially during spring with many flowers in bloom. At this temple is enshrined Murasaki Shikibu, a lady who wrote the Tales of Kenji ｸｻｻ睫ｪｸ・/span> in (1021) or the 11th century. One of the police officers, Mr. Ogura, can trace his ancestry 55 generations to the time of Genji and in fact cares for the family home that is more than 500 years old on weekends. Friday being the last day my hosts took me to a lakeside German Restaurant (as Wurzburg is a sister city). It was authentic in every way imaginable. A couple days earlier I was taken to an Irish Pub in Kyoto but unfortunately or I should say fortunately it was closed. In the afternoon I returned to Sakamoto and had a 1:00 PM appointment with the school headmaster, Dr. Somon Horisawa who is from Niigata, Japan but has lived on the mountain for 55 years. He is 77. I told him after 53 years of being in and out of Japan and married to a Japanese lady for 47 years I should have a Japanese name. It was a big deal and we had to meditate for the right name to come to mind. Mrs. Ukai-Palmer was the interpreter and taking notes as I expressed the thoughts I was having and at first I was not having any. Then some ideas floated by like birds flying, water falling, wind blowing and then the Sensei said that is it and he retired to his office desk behind a cubicle. After 5 minutes he reappeared with my new name written on rice paper. Two Kanji (Chinese) Characters ｡ﾈSo fu.｡ﾉ It means universal wind and thus I am a born windbag. Everybody said it is a beautiful name and when I returned to Okinawa all there were in approval. So now I can be called in addition to other things Sofu. It is a great name.
Otsu is about an hour and half from the Kansai Airport in Osaka and I thought I would be put on the express train and bid everyone farewell, but it was not to be. The Japanese think of everything and Mrs. Ukai-Palmer escorted me to the Kansai Airport with a quick change of trains in Kyoto. We went to the railway Soba shop and I ordered a bowl of noodles, the kind I like and then boarded an express train for Kansai where we bid farewell at the airport.
Thomas Wolfe said we can not go home again, but still we try; return is the child of departure. I was not trying to go back in time but wanted to gauge how time changes everything to some degree, yet a lot remains the same. So if we can｡ﾇt go back to someplace we love then what are memories for? So all we do is look and see invisible things and what remains is the self we have become.
Not for publication with out the permission of Don Devaney.
SHIGA KEN FLAG
THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES. ONE STORY I NEVER TOLD. WHILE ASSIGNED TO THE TRANSPORTATION OFFICE, 8249TH CAMP OTSU. I FOUND MYSELF IN NEED OF THE LATRINE. IT WAS SUNDAY MORNING AND I HAD THE STARS AND STRIPES SPREAD OUT ALL OVER THE FLOOR (I OF COURSE WAS SITTING AT THE TIME). A MASTER SERGEANT IN FATIGUES CAME IN AND SAT NEXT TO ME AND IN A RASPY VOICE ASKED IF HE COULD HAVE SOME OF THE PAPER TO READ AND OF COURSE I SAID BE MY GUEST NEVER REALIZING THAT IT WAS ALDO RAY. I DIDN'T CATCH ON UNTIL A COUPLE OF GI'S APPROACHED HIM, KNOWING FULL WELL COULDN'T WALK AWAY FROM THEM, AND ASKED HIM FOR HIS AUTOGRAPH. ONLY THEN DID I REALIZE WHO WAS SITTING NEXT TO ME. THE YEAR OF COURSE WAS 1955 AND HE WAS FILMING "THREE STRIPES IN THE SUN". I DID GET MY MUG IN THE MOVIE DURING THE BASEBALL SCENE, IT WAS A PAN SHOT WHEN MITSUKO KIMURO ENTERED THE BLEACHERS.