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One Woman's Opinion

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A Year in Japan: 1965, Part 12

Mary Wakefield Buxton

by Mary Wakefield Buxton

Urbanna, Va.— The USS Mars was mostly out to sea in 1965 supplying the troop buildup in Vietnam, leaving Navy wives and children alone and having to entertain themselves. One week we were excited to meet Miss Peggy Kinnett, English-born Buddhist priest, who gave a program at the Yokosuka’s Navy Officer’s Club on Buddhist philosophy to her spellbound audience.

I took note of similarities and differences to Christianity. The most interesting difference was the Buddhist conception of God. That God is inside man, not somewhere up above looking down on man, is a main tenet. Buddhist morality stems from man finding God in himself or becoming the actuality of his potential. The desired goal is the same as in Christianity that is learning to live a good and moral life. All this sounded very sensible to my 23-year-old brain and I wondered if I were a closet Buddhist?

Then, the Buddhists accepted Darwin’s theory of evolution as explanation to the eventual development of man, which many Christians today also do in spite of Biblical explanations. (Many church denominations today encourage members to come to their own conclusions about the origin of life and evolution.)

I was interested in floral arrangements and began Ikebana lessons, the Japanese ancient art of arranging flowers. My school taught the Chara method that stressed strict simplicity of flower, color and arrangement. In 1965 I wrote “my teacher was an ‘ancient lady’ of 87 years old” (but 54 years later such age doesn’t strike me as “ancient” any more!) who came to my house twice a week for instruction. We sat on zabutons and meditated on our flowers for an hour before we arranged them. This was difficult as I am rather the sort that picks up a bunch of flowers and just happily jams them into a vase. Also, my legs ached from sitting on the zabutons. 

After full meditation came the slow ritual of selecting each flower, cutting it, looking at it from all angles and then placing it in the correct spot in the vase. Our creation was finally displayed in the Tokonama, the raised platform in the Japanese living room where all the aesthetic objects are placed. This process was difficult on an American whose legs had “gone to sleep” while kneeling before her flowers. I remember jumping up in the midst of meditation and hopping about to regain circulation all the while my “ancient instructor” looked on in horror.

My Japanese language classes met twice a week and took a great deal of study. I couldn’t learn the thousands of written “characters,” and just concentrated on speaking Japanese. Fortunately after the war Japan converted to our alphabet so it was possible to learn Japanese words phonetically.
It was frustrating to speak Japanese in the store and have them answer in English! Of course, they wanted to practice their English as much as I wanted to practice my Japanese.

My late father, George Wakefield, a dedicated Rotarian, prepared a tape explaining five major business enterprises in Vermilion, Ohio, for me to share with the Yokosuka Rotary Club. I was very happy to meet with the Japanese Rotarians to present my father’s program as Rotary is an excellent means of international brotherhood and friendship.

On the day of my program I was stopped by a Japanese policeman on the drive to Yokosuka. I climbed out of my Karmann Ghia in then fashionable 3-inch spike heels and to my embarrassment discovered I towered over the tiny officer. He couldn’t speak English and I couldn’t think of anything to say in Japanese (one does not tell a policeman that it is a lovely day) so I never knew what I had done wrong. Fortunately, he motioned for me to go on, which I was most happy to do.

The Japanese Rotarians greeted me warmly and I gave the program in English wondering if any of them understood a word I was saying. After the meeting a pair of bright blue eyes addressed me. “Hi Mary, I’m from Toledo Ohio,” the gentleman said. It turned out he was in Japan during the war and never left.

Rotary brings people together from all nations of the world and I decided at that very moment I would become a Rotarian one day. That didn’t happen for many more years and only after the 1992 Supreme Court decision that opened male-only civic clubs to business and professional women.
In 1999 it was my great pleasure to help Susan Gordon, Bob Tassone and Pete Olenek charter the first Rotary Club in Middlesex County. What a happy day! Today women are welcomed in Rotary Clubs all over the world. As my mother always said, if you live long enough, all the injustices in life are corrected.

(To be continued)


posted 05.30.2018

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