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The “Scents” of Being in Japan in 1964
July 16th marks the 53rd anniversary of our arrival in Japan and friends and family, as well as ourselves, have sometimes tried to understand the sense of us still living here. The reason, of course, is that Japan is “home” for our family of 11 – 2 children, a son-in-law, a daughter-in-law and 5 grandchildren, 3 who are studying abroad.
We knew so little about Japan when we sailed into Yokohama Harbor on July 16, 1964, but we were soon to learn. We had been aboard a P & O ship for 15 days with a couple of thousand other passengers, some with whom we became quite friendly. These new “friends” had lived in Japan for several years and filled us in on a few things to expect, but their experiences hardly prepared us for those first few weeks/months.
First of all, when we disembarked at Osanbashi pier, we found that the passenger terminal was under construction, getting ready for the ’64 Olympics; it was nothing more than a desk on a dirt floor where arriving passengers could check in. Unfortunately, we arrived on a Saturday, at noon, so our baggage took four hours to be unloaded while we waited in the heat and humidity of a July summer day. There were no chairs to sit on, no toilets to use, other than one outdoors which smelled as bad as the harbor itself. We didn’t know the Japanese term “shoganai” or any other Japanese, actually, so Don, my husband, had no choice but to hold our two-year-old daughter, Leslie, over the hole in the ground, losing his favorite corncob pipe into the toilet.
I grew up in rural South Dakota, where outhouses were common and air-conditioning unheard of, so life in Japan wasn’t going to be a big challenge, I thought. However, for the first month our family of four slept in a 4 1/2 mat room with just a thin plywood door between us and the “obenjo” (toilet). Our South Dakota outhouses were outdoors, but this one was indoors. The use of incense or the toilet deodorant “Shatto” couldn’t obliterate this unpleasant scent.
Public restrooms had some of the worst scents, but have greatly improved so we no longer have to seek out a western style hotel with western style public toilets when we are out and about in the city.
I found a few other scents, at first, to be unpleasant – tsukemono, miso, and seaweed, which I now love, and grilled fish, which I have never grown to love. Some of the more acceptable and pleasant scents were katori senko and green tea being roasted in front of a tea shop. I especially remember the fresh, sweet scent of a watermelon being burst at the beach that first summer in a game of “suikawari- similar to breaking a piñata.
These are just a few of the things that we found new and we had to make “scents” of during those early days in Japan.