A Blue Dress, Food and Post-war Japan

Cover Shot – Aunt Eiko

After a war’s end, the war for food continues for a losing country.  Japan was no exception.

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In “There Be Gold in My Family,” Taro was mentioned.  He was miraculously able to track down my mother and Aunt Eiko in what remained of Tokyo after Japan’s surrender in WWII.  He was part of the US 8th Army’s Military Intelligence Service and had brought them much needed food, clothing and cigarettes.

L to R: Aunt Eiko, mom, Grandfather, Grandmother and Uncle Shibayama. Aunt Eiko, mom and uncle are wearing clothing given to them by Taro who took the picture. It is dated January 2, 1947 on the back.

After being discharged from the Army in early 1947, he returned to his family’s farming roots in Livingston, CA.  With his meager income, he still managed to buy clothing and shipped them to my mother and Aunt Eiko.  He was a kind and generous man.  To this day, they are indebted to Taro.

One ensemble Aunt Eiko received was a blue dress, shoes, and handbag.  More later.

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When war ended and the Allies began their Occupation of Japan, the population was in rags.  Many had no homes.

Civiians with ration books waiting in line for beans. Note the containers for carrying clean water.

Everyday people suffered from poverty, filthy conditions, hunger, and food shortages.  In order to help distribute food, Japanese people were given assigned rations by the Allies.  This was put into motion quickly thanks to the Supreme Commander, Gen. MacArthur.  He ensured the most humane treatment possible under those wretched conditions.

In reality, living just on the rationed food often did not provide adequate nourishment, and a thriving black market developed amidst the constant food shortages.  Civilians lined up, waiting for their rations of beans as even rice was not available to them at that time.  (The last point is critical to this story.)  They also carried receptacles to carry clean water which was also rationed.  As many young Japanese men were killed, a majority of those lining up were the elderly, women and children.

Of course, Americans were issued food ration stamps as part of our war effort back home and textbooks show many photos of starving and tortured American prisoners.

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Back to Aunt Eiko’s blue dress ensemble.

She recalls how “Western” they looked.  Especially since the outfit was a BRIGHT blue.  Very American.  Very NOT Japanese.  Madonna-esque.  You can tell by looking at the clothing the women were wearing in the food line picture.

Aunt Eiko was so happy though.  She wanted to show off her dress but was fearful of the ridicule or demeaning comments she may receive from passerbys.  You see, even in 1947, only a small minority “had”…  The vast majority were “have nots”.  Neighbors would turn their backs on those that appeared to have received favors from the conquering Americans.

Nevertheless, she was too happy and wore the ensemble through the still decimated Ginza.  She caught a photographer’s eye.  She was asked to model.  So she did.

The photo series ended up in a magazine, a rarity as paper was still in short supply and very expensive.  Another case of have versus have nots.

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Although the magazine now is extremely fragile (the paper quality was very poor), it is one of Aunt Eiko’s prized possessions.  I was so worried the pages would fall apart if I opened up the magazine to scan the pages.  Its odor was typical of old newsprint.  But somehow, the pages stayed together.

This is the original B&W of the cover shot:

B&W original print. Aunt Eiko does not recall why the bottom left corner is cut off. Taken in 1947.

Inside the cover:

Orginal B&Ws of this page:

Original B&W. Note the handbag and shoes sent to her by Taro from Livingston, CA.
On a sofa.

Aunt Eiko cannot recall why the actual magazine took about a year to be issued.

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But what is the connection between a blue dress, food and post-war Japan?

The photographer paid her with “ohagi”.  Out of his food ration. Made out of precious rice and beans.

Ohagi. Rice covered with a sweetened bean paste.

23 thoughts on “A Blue Dress, Food and Post-war Japan”

  1. The overall portrait is bleak but what a lovely and colourful interlude the blue dress was and how very beautiful Aunt Eiko looked in those spreads. What a hard time it was for many after the war.

    1. I would agree, animalcouriers, on the overall… “War is no good” is what my father and Old Man Jack both said. While I am neither a war hawk or a dove, war is necessary at times. For instance, I do not wish to be ruled by Osama Bin Laden. But war is horrible.

      Thanks for the visit from afar!

  2. Thank you for sharing this story. I agree with the others, your aunt is beautiful. I’m sorry for all of the horrors war inflicts.

    1. Indeed, Chatter Master. The overall message I try to convey is everything we have around us is from the sacrifices made by those that did not survive as well as from those who did.

      I also wish this next generation does not become overly spoiled although many families are without jobs or income. They are perhaps confronted with an essentially similar situation endured by millions of that generation.

      1. I think we’ve had some times where we have forgotten what the generation (s) before us went through and went without. I hope to learn from these lessons, yours and others, about simplifying, being grateful, and remembering what was could easily become what is. Great post.

  3. Aunt Eiko was a really beautiful woman! I love the photos! With POWs returning from the Pacific in such terrible shape and with such horrific stories I remember hearing that Americans were unhappy with MacArthur’s decision to ensure that food was delivered to the Japanese people. As you so well state, they didn’t receive any abundance. It’s always so tragic when we don’t differentiate the people from the government. The Japanese were victims, too, but perhaps if I’d been alive during the war I would also have been bitter. What a “human story” this is! It makes me a little sad, but that’s probably appropriate! Debra

    1. It was a very bitter war that extended well beyond the battlefields. There was deep hate on both sides.

      Indeed, I can imagine many Americans were upset about feeding the people of Japan. But because of the bitterness, perhaps, there was political motive behind the Great Berlin Airlift. Tons and tons of food and supplies were airlifted to West Berlin.

      Gen. MacArthur’s decision was one of the greatest in history. It made for a peaceful occupation and the rebirth of a strong ally. Now, the two navies participate in military maneuvers. That was unthinkable in 1945.

      And thank you for your nice compliment of my Aunt. She is now 88 years old and an American citizen.

  4. RE: Comment about today’s children.
    It reminds me: we never learn anything by “good times” – except their value when times grow hard.

    It seems it is only adversity which teaches a person something – those real lessons in life about values and morality.

    A lesson more I think should learn – but then we’d have to put them through a hard time (deprivation, maybe war) – in order to teach them.

    1. I agree, sir. While we as parents contribute (i.e., when the kids say “I want”, you don’t correct them), the outcome today is that some 16 year olds insist on driving a 20 year old BMW instead of a six year old Hyundai “beater” they “wouldn’t be caught dead in”. 🙂

  5. As a retired sailor and a product of WWII I really enjoyed your story. I have been in the former Japanese naval officers club in Sasebo and while there you could not help but think of the young men who proudly walked those grounds and gave all for their country. So sad how many more young men will be sacrificed to the god of war.

    1. I thank you for your visit and for your sentiments. Indeed, our young men are dying or are being killed for a grateful country but not by our ungrateful Congress and CIChief. Thank you for your service, sir.

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