Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Stranger in a Strange Land

At three o'clock in the afternoon on July 24, 1941 the Arabia Maru docked in Yokohama harbor.   A debilitating mix of homesickness and seasickness made Toguri's first week on board difficult. The rest of the trip was more pleasant. She socialized with the the crew and she learned some  Japanese phrases. Still, after nineteen days at sea, she was eager to get off the ship and plant her feet on solid, dry land. Her joy at ending the voyage was short-lived.  Japanese immigration officials did not accept her certificate of identification as a valid document.  She had to wait another day for a temporary visa to be approved. Disappointed Toguri spent a lonely night a gangplank away from dry land.

The next day, visa in hand, she disembarked.  Waiting for her on the dock was her uncle, Hajime Hattori and her cousin Rinko.  Aunt Shizu was too ill to make the trip. Wanting to make her feel at home Uncle Hajime suggested lunch at a western style hotel. She was thrilled when she surveyed the menu and saw she could order a cheesburger with French fries.

After lunch the trio boarded a train for the seventeen mile trip to Setagaya, a suburb of Tokyo. It was a steamy summer day, and Toguri sweltered in the unfamiliar humidity.  The initial excitement of meeting her relatives dissipated as the reality of her situation began to sink in. Looking around the train, she saw only Japanese faces.  Even though she shared their physical features, she felt out of place. She did not think of herself as Japanese; she was American.

In a 1948 interview she said, "Japan impressed me as very, very strange.  All the customs were strange to me, the food was entirely different, wearing apparel different, houses different, people were stiff and formal to me...I had no idea what the country was going to be like until I hit Yokohoma...I felt like a perfect stranger, and the Japanese considered me very queer."

As she settled into the routine of nursing her sick aunt, Toguri did her best to adapt.  She took her shoes off before entering the house. Instead of sitting in a chair she sat on a mat with her legs folded beneath her and she mastered the trick of eating with chopsticks.  She had a difficult time adjusting to the lack of privacy. The house was small with paper thin walls.The bathroom had no toilet, only a hole in the floor.  Accustomed to rushing around, she had to learn of move carefully from one room to another.  Most troubling was her inability to understand what people were saying. Determined to fit in she enrolled in a conversational Japanese class.

Quote from Duus, M. p.50

To be continued