- Historic Sites
The Little Diplomat
As a ten-year-old boy, the author had a role to play in bringing Douglas MacArthur’s vision of democracy to a shattered Japan
December 1995 | Volume 46, Issue 8
Getting to Kyōto was no casual undertaking. It meant an overnight trip aboard the private railway car, over tracks that were being rebuilt around the clock.
We went other places in the railway car. My mother especially remembers the time we rode it aboard a ferry from the main island of Honshū to the northern island of Hokkaido, and how what she now terms a “swarm” of Japanese laborers, perhaps more than fifty, with no power machinery whatsoever, struggled to maneuver the car from the land-bound tracks to the pitching ferryboat. They got the lead pair of trucks aboard the ferry, but then the lurching boat kept causing the tracks to misalign, leaving the car to skew back and forth while the Japanese struggled to inch it forward and simultaneously tried to control the heaving ferry.
I have a vague recollection of this occasion. I better remember being bored once on Hokkaidō, waiting with my mother in some chilly hotel, sleet falling outside, while my father did his business, and how that evening we returned aboard the private car for the trip home; altogether a three-day journey for a six-hour business meeting.
While the railway car was for official long-distance business, and my father had an Army auto and driver for his frequent trips up to 8th Army headquarters in Tokyo, we were on our own for private jaunts. Because most rural Japanese roads had yet to be rebuilt—some still had bomb craters—long-distance auto travel was precluded.
It was just as well, then, that our favorite destination was a relatively close-by resort hotel, the Fujiya. This was (and still is) a great sprawling luxury retreat, with magnificently varied meandering gardens and a host of recreational outlets, especially for my parents a golf course and fishing and boating for me.
While use of this and other resorts had been appropriated by the occupation, they were not exclusive. Japanese of means frequented them. My first memory of the Japanese ritual of the public bath is of the one at the Fujiya, where I remember my father and me paddling about in the steaming water amid a crowd of Japanese men and boys.
But what I best remember about the Fujiya is our accommodations there. It was the policy that rooms be allotted to Americans with preference to the senior officer present. Since my father was in charge of housing throughout Japan, this meant that he booked us into the Fujiya when he knew he would be that officer.
He did well. Each time there we stayed in the Lily of the Valley Suite, at the farthest end of a remote wing, with its own garden and swimming pool. My parents had their room, and I had mine, separated from theirs by a common room. My room was inordinately huge, larger than at home, and magnificently appointed. The room came with its own servant, each time the same, a quietly deferential teenage girl who would appear at odd moments to inquire, in halting English, whether there was anything I needed. As with our house servants, my duty was always to reply in the negative.
While we usually had dinner with other Americans and their families in the public dining room, we always had breakfast in our suite, announced by a maid tapping lightly on my door. Like so much else in this land of rituals, breakfast was no casual affair but an exquisitely sumptuous, artfully arranged version of a typical American eye-opener. This may seem an odd thing to remember so vividly, but then you tend to savor mornings that begin in a room opened to dewy, perfumed air, a glass of apricot nectar and a freshly cut chrysanthemum on fine china beside your fresh eggs (a rarity; the eggs we ate at home came in powdered form from the commissary).
I also remember the cocktail hour in our room in the late afternoon: for the tea sandwiches, my first experience with same, and also for the ubiquitous Ritz crackers. My presence was required whenever my parents entertained Japanese guests (but not necessarily American ones). I could otherwise scarf down Ritz crackers and also peanuts just about anywhere else; bowls of them dotted the public rooms.
And the cost for all this sumptuous extravagance, in a remote and exquisite resort with fawning attendants everywhere? While I’m sure meals and refreshments were extra, the charge for the suite itself is forever sealed in my memory: fifty cents a night. The Fujiya today lists double rooms at well over a thousand.
In addition to personal trips, there were numerous formal ones requiring our presence in an official capacity. Some were U.S. Army affairs, but the most memorable were those when we were among the official guests of Emperor Hirohito. For these we were usually driven to Tokyo in my father’s official car.
One was the annual cherry blossom festival in March, on the Imperial Palace grounds. At one of these I got to ride a horse in the parade past the emperor who was seated in his horse-drawn carriage no more than fifty feet distant.