Sunday, January 17, 2010

A day on the town: The first trip into Tokyo

From his quarters at the Army post in Zama, Maj. Gillham took a day pass into Tokyo and describes some things for the first time that will soon be very familiar to him.

2 Nov 45

Dearest Darling,

Got a pass yesterday and went into Tokyo.  It was quite a day.  I haven't had so much fun since I was in college.  This place is about 45 miles S.W. of Tokyo right out in the country.  Five of us, all majors who shared the same cabin on the ship, went in together.  We left here about 1000 and walked about a mile to the nearest electric railway station.  Only Maj. Chun and I could talk much Japanese and we were rusty.  We had no map and no idea of how to get anywhere, but we just kept trying to talk Japanese to everyone we saw and figured out how to get to Tokyo by making two transfers.  I had heard that the Japanese were the train-ridingest people on earth and now I believe it.  All trains were packed so that people had to climb in and out of the windows at stops.  They all carried either a big bundle or a baby or both.  We pay no fare and ride anything we want to.  I was amazed at the the electric railway system around Tokyo.  It is on a par with the I.C. in Chicago, only much more of it, and it is functioning smoothly in spite of tremendous bomb damage all around.  Yokohama is nothing but burnt out ruins and Tokyo was hit bad in spots.  The industrial areas are the worst, naturally.  The people have salvaged the burnt, rusty sheet metal from the roofs of the plants and constructed thousands of little huts out of them.  Chun and I talked to all the Japs near us and they were very interested in the fact that we could talk a little Japanese, and tried to be very helpful.  The rural areas are just about like I expected them.  Right now they are harvesting the rice.  In Tokyo I was a little surprised at how modern it was.  I knew it was a very large city, but I didn't expect wide, clean streets and beautiful modern buildings.  Some of them have been burnt out, but others are intact.  We went to the GHQ and there I saw several that I knew, including Col.  Dillard, Col. Clark from Chicago, Lt. Cmdr. Wilson, Maj. Raul (just out of hospital at Manila) and others.  They are all set up and you might think you were in the Pentagon Bldg in Washington, D.C., just to look around.  Most of them are living in the Dai-Ichi Hotel, a nice big modern hotel.  The big shots live at the Imperial Hotel.  The desk clerk, a Jap, told me there were 20 generals there at present.  It was about 3 PM when we were there but we talked our way into the kitchen and got them to fix us sandwiches and coffee.  Only field officers and above are allowed in the place.  We went back there for dinner that night -- the only thing we paid for during the whole day.  We went to a supply depot and drew two wool shirts, two pants, a sweater, and a combat jacket -- no charge.  Nearly everywhere we went we would hail a jeep and get a ride.  Kimonos are very high right now, Y500 to Y1,000, but the native population looks very well dressed, and I know they don't pay those prices, so after I get established I imagine I can get some cute things.

I don't know where I will be assigned yet, but may find out this afternoon.  A large per cent of this group is to go to Korea.

I washed all my dirty clothes this morning and took a sponge bath -- all this in my helmet.  I am ready to move now when I get the word.

I am afraid that your mail may be slow in catching up with me.

I want to get you one of these rigs for carrying a baby on your back.

Lots of love,



The Imperial Hotel was the jewel of Tokyo hotels and was not damaged significantly during the war.  It was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright to replace the original hotel built in 1890.  Wright's hotel was completed in 1923 and was damaged slightly that same year in an earthquake.  It was designed in the "Mayan Revival" style that incorporated a pyramid motif and other features prominent in Mayan temples.  It was the primary billet of the upper echelon of the Supreme Command of the Allied Powers during the occupation of Japan.  After years of gradual demise, the hotel was demolished in 1968, although several sections, including the famous main entrance, were restored in local museums.

The Imperial Hotel, Tokyo, in the 1930s

Below is a clipping from the Pacific Stars and Stripes from October 1945 that Maj. Gillham included in a letter.  Across the top he has written, with his trademark misspelling, "This is no exageration."  You may have to click on the cartoon to get a bigger image.

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