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One Woman's Opinion

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A Year in Japan: 1964, Part 6

Mary Wakefield Buxton

by Mary Wakefield Buxton
Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5

Urbanna, Va.— Dozens of Japanese flags, a red ball on a field of white, were snapping in the breeze off Truman Bay, Yokosuka, Japan. Men with steely eyes were shouting angry words through bullhorns and shaking their fists. Busloads of people were jamming the streets. The mob had grown to 8,000 strong. They had come from all over Southern Honshu to participate in the many demonstrations sponsored by the Japanese Communist Party in protest against the arrival of a U.S. nuclear submarine scheduled for the next week in Sasebo. 

Oh great, I thought, nice day for me to be out driving to the Yokosuka U.S. Naval Base with a fellow officer’s wife in her bright red Ford convertible with the top down. We were so obviously Americans that we might as well have been flying the American flag off our antenna.

We were caught in snarled traffic outside the base where we were headed for lunch in the Officers Club while our husbands were at sea. “Do you think we should put the top up on your car?” I asked her beginning to be really worried about our predicament. She agreed and we had the top up and secured in a minute making sure all windows were up and doors locked. We felt a little safer.

Bullhorns were blaring all around us shouting angry Japanese messages. I imagined the words . . . “Americans bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki with atomic bombs and now they want to bring a nuclear powered submarine into our country!”  

More passersby stopped to listen. We could feel mounting emotion as the impassioned crowds gathered momentum and pushed closer to the main gate of the base. It seemed all eyes were on our stopped red convertible caught in the middle of the demonstration.

We spotted the U.S. Marine sentries standing on guard at the main gate. They had rolled out a barbed wire barricade that seemed to dare the mob to come closer. Behind the wire, two rows of heavily armed steel trucks were parked—loaded with Marines holding guns and crouched low in anticipation. Fire trucks were next in the formidable lineup, with men aiming the heavy hoses toward the crowd ready to turn them on at a split second command. Behind the fire trucks were more battalions of Marines, all armed and ready to move. The U.S. Navy was taking no chance, but oh, what were we junior officer Navy wives caught outside the base supposed to do? If we were attacked, would the Marines save us?

Meanwhile, just yards away from the main gate at the Yokosuka Officers Club the guests inside were doing what we wished we were doing . . . dining and dancing, being served and entertained entirely by Japanese help. Yet I realized just as we were locked outside the base, they were locked inside the base and probably for the entire weekend.

There were seven rushes by the mob on the U.S. Navy Base main gate that day (none successful). The Communists were anxious to break through the Yokosuka base for propaganda purposes. This gate was the only one left of all the U.S. bases in Japan that the Communists had not succeeded in breaking through during demonstrations.

I finally realized we had to make an escape. “Turn at this side street and let’s try to exit the city,” I said to my friend whose knuckles on the steering wheel had turned white. It occurred to us we were easy targets for capture. But if we could get out of Yokosuka we would be safe in our homes in Akiya. If we could only get there.

Thankfully, the crowds parted like the Red Sea and let our car turn on a side street to head for home. They knew we were Americans by our red convertible simply because the color red for a personal car is illegal in Japan (reserved for emergency vehicles), although Americans were excluded from the law.

We were conspicuous for many other reasons. The Japanese called Americans “round eyes” because our eyes popped rather than slanted. Also, in 1964, many Americans were nearly a foot taller than the Japanese due to differences in diet (this is no longer the case). Then, Western clothes gave us away. In my case, baby Liz had bright red hair, which loudly announced we were not Japanese.  

The Communist Party of Japan, well organized and financed, was determined to stop the U.S. nuclear submarine visit to Japan. Even the union of Japanese employees working on the U.S. base threatened to strike if the submarine arrived.

How ironic, I thought, that labor unions that could organize freely in a democracy would ever side with communists as if they ever took control of Japan they would never tolerate a union strike.

Wisdom prevailed. The U.S. Navy canceled the nuclear sub visit and the crisis passed. Just another day for the military stationed far away from home.

(To be continued)


posted 05.03.2018

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