Japan is far and near 65 years later.


My dad, a safety engineer for an industrial insurance company, had been deferred several times during World War II when finally he was drafted in May of 1945. This was, of course, just at the end of the war. Mother, my baby brother Bob, and I were moved to Grandpa’s house. This was, in part, because my grandmother had just died in March. My mother, an only child, was an emotional mess.

Dad was quickly sent from Fort McClellan to Japan for the “clean up.” His boatload of soldiers was on its way to Nagasaki, but was directed elsewhere as soon as the men were told it would be bombed. I am not sure of all the places Dad went. I’d have to read through his letters again – all out in the trunk of “memories” my mother saved. In one of them he drew a jeep, which was a novelty to us then.

We did have the letters out briefly when my young Japanese friend Junko visited while my mother was living here. We read a few pages and all had a good cry. Junko’s grandmother was dying back in Japan. Mother was dying. Dad had died. Junko did not remember the war, of course, she hadn’t been born yet, but she knew.

I had recently re-read THE CRAZY IRIS, a collection of short stories by well-known Japanese writers, each gem (or cinder) about the aftermath of America bombing their cities. It is one of many books on the effects of World War II I have read. I am especially curious because my father never talked about it, and because I had recently learned a good friend’s Japanese wife lost her father in the bombing of Hiroshima, along with all his scientific research..

The illustration here is a little card Dad sent to me. Of course he sent other things: small prints of Japanese children, a doll in a glass display case, coins with square holes, and fans. He brought me a child-size kimono, which I wore on Halloween, appropriately made up by my mother, when I was about 9 years old. He brought back pearls for both of us. I had those restrung and should give the short string to the littlest granddaughter. But little girls don’t wear pearls, and – truth be told — it’s hard to part with them.

The “now” of Japan is Ghibli Studio films that this littlest grandaughter loves: PONYO, OUR NEIGHBOR TOTORO, and KIKI’S DELIVERY SERVICE. I have watched Ponyo ten times, three times in a movie theater. That creative team has brought Japan to us in a fresh way, with innocence and reality mixed in. The environmental damage to the ocean, the terrifying tsunamis, the wind and rain — and the sick mother that Mei tries to deliver an ear of corn, but gets lost on the way to the hospital. Totoro is a big furry monster, a pet monster, He helps her with his catbus (part caterpillar, I believe), and they zoom over rice paddies. In Kiki, the city she goes to to become a witch apprentice looks a little like Paris, a little like Rome, and feels very unlike recent onscreen images on Tokyo.

I recommend that you read THE CRAZY IRIS and show the little ones these lovely, touching, important films.

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