Tag Archives: 日本

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.

Old Man Jack-isms #3


One of the few times Old Man Jack would tell me what island something happened on, it would be humorous – as humorous as he could make it.

He HAD to laugh off some of the horror.  He needed to survive being under attack by his own thoughts.

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On January 16, 2011, eleven months before he passed away, we decided to go to Denny’s for breakfast.  He hated that place – except for their (gawd awful) coffee.  He loved their coffee.  And he complained about the coffee on the islands.  Imagine that.  Denny’s coffee couldn’t have tasted that much different.  Denny’s uses ocean water, too, you know, for their distinctive flavor.  Perhaps that is why he liked their coffee.

Jack with “Green Island” story and his tradmark grin – Jan. 16, 2011.

“Green Island” was Jack’s last combat station when he earned enough points to be rotated back home.  He told me when they yelled out his name, he just ran straight onto this makeshift pier where a PBy was starting up.  He jumped in wearing only his shorts and boots.  They took off.  He was on his way home.

(Click here if you wish to see official US Navy photos of Green Island when Old Man Jack was stationed there.)

In my internet research, I did come across some detailed battle history of Green Island.  I printed it out and not knowing how he would react (even after 11 years of friendship), I presented it to him before the (gawd awful) coffee came.  I didn’t want him to be TOO alert in case things didn’t go well. 🙂

Well, you can see his reaction.  He was “tickled and pickled” I went through the trouble.

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During breakfast, he told me about one detail he was assigned to on Green Island – the digging of new holes for latrines.   Never mind my eggs were over-easy.  But he’s gone through hell whereas I was spared.  This was everyday fare for him.

He told me he picked out two “dumb new guys” who thought they knew everything for the detail.  They went out where the other “used up” latrines were.  He ordered them to start digging new holes in this hard coral-like stuff not too far from the other “used up” holes while he “supervised”.

I knew I would get his goat if I interrupted him.  That was part of the fun.

So I interrupted him.  For fun.

“Jack…dig?  Why didn’t you just have them make a small hole then throw in a grenade?”

Well, I asked for it…  in Denny’s…  on a busy Saturday morning.

“You dumb shit,” he declared with that boyish grin.  “YOU could have been one of the dumb new guys.  YOU would have fit right in.  We didn’t need any more craters!  We had LOTS of craters – all around us!  So we dug holes like we were ordered to.  So shut up and listen!”

Whooo-ee.  That was fun… in Denny’s… on a busy Saturday morning.

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I never asked him if he read the history on Green Island.  Later on, though, Old Man Jack said he had wanted to go back to those “stinkin’ islands” just to see.  It felt as if he wanted to let some demons out.

He never made it back.

Perhaps he’s there now saluting his young buddies he had to leave behind.