When my family and I first came to Japan, in Spring,1972, we flew on an American contract airline, via Honolulu and Wake Island, from Travis AFB, California.
We arrived at Yokota AFB in the northeast outskirts of greater Tokyo at night. An Army staff car and driver picked us up and took us the two and a half hour trip to Camp Zama, the old Japanese Army military academy grounds, and dropped us off at a BOQ, where we would stay until we received our household goods and could move into quarters.
Other than that I never had any occasion to travel to Yokota, except in 1974 to try a batch of criminal cases for the Air Force when their legal staff there had placed themselves in a conflict-of-interest situation, where they would rotate prosecutors and defense lawyers, so ended up arguing both sides of the case on different days. It was a big Buddha-weed bust on an AF transport heading back to the States. A civilian lawyer caught them at it, called them out, and those cases had to be retried. Egg on the Air Force’s face.
In all, I traveled back and forth to Yokota three times in normal daylight hours and we went through a small city of half a million, actually a suburb of Tokyo, named Hachioji. The first time, I wasn’t prepared.
Driving through what looked like just more endless city, just like the several miles on the south side of Tokyo, where I lived, my driver, a Japanese man in a suit, turned around, and said, “Captain, we are coming to Hachioji City. Please roll up windows, lock door, and look straight ahead. Make no face.”
Shortly, along the narrow streets that Japanese called “two-lane highways”, people began coming out of the shops and little 3-stooler restaurants they would lunch at, and began pounding on the car, shriek curses (I guess), spitting, making hand gestures, with scowls that could cause an exorcist to squirm.
In a couple of minutes they either quit or we left the city.
It was the same way on the return trip. And for the next two times I traveled there.
My driver spoke so little Engirisu I didn’t even know how to ask. So when I got back I asked Gerry Sullivan, a civilian lawyer in our office who had been there since the Occupation. He knew everything.
He said that in the war, after we’d begun sending in waves of B-29’s to blast all their industrial areas, of course, a few were shot down. It seems a couple of those crews went down in Hachioji, and were paraded through the city, much like the Somalis did our Blackhawk crew, only the B-29 crews were still alive.
The captured American airmen were beheaded with samurai swords in some public place, and filmed, and it so impressed the bosses at the war ministry in Tokyo they turned the film into a propaganda film, and spread it throughout the Empire, showing that they were beating back the barbarian Americans.
Bad idea, for when American pilots saw the published photos of the executions, they adopted the motto, “Save one for Hachioji”, meaning hold back one bomb from their assigned bombing runs and drop it on Hachioji.
Thousands of bombs saved for a target with no military value at all.
The destruction was so extensive that, for decades after the war, American military personnel were warned not to visit Hachioji, because of the residual hostility to Americans.
Still, we had to drive through to get to our air base. I was there 30 years after the war, and found the Japanese people, except when traveling as a tour group anywhere in the world, to be the most polite and easy-to-talk people on earth. And now, 40 years further down the road, Japan, not Germany, has turned out to be America’s greatest success story at nation-rebuilding.
I wonder if that includes Hachioji?
There’s a lesson there somewhere.