Wednesday, April 21, 2010

A trip to a Japanese spa in Nikko

In this and the following letters, Maj. Gillham uses American Red Cross stationery, perhaps something he found while in Nikko.  It's a rather odd size, 8-1/2" x 7", with the long side as the top, sort of like a truncated standard sheet of paper.  Across the top in red is a large cross with "American Red Cross" printed just below it.

Nikko, Japan
31 Jan. 1946

Dearest Lovely,

This time last year we were certainly sweating it out, weren't we?  It looked pretty gloomy then, but everything came out fine in the end.  You were a very sweet, brave girl, and now we have a fine young daughter nearly a year old.

Today I was rather stiff and sore, especially in the shoulders from using the poles, but I went to a spa about ten miles from here and took a hot mineral bath and now I feel much better.  In fact, I am planning to try the skiing again tomorrow.

About 20 of us went in one of the hotel buses over to this place, a fine Japanese-style hotel which is owned by Mr. Kanaya, the owner of this one.  We were ushered into a nice Japanese room, sat on the floor and were served tea.  Then we undressed and streaked through the cold halls down to the bathing room.  A big tiled pool there was big enough to hold us all.  It is very refreshing and you don't feel the outside cold for a long time afterwards.  This hotel was located on the brink of a beautiful gorge.

This afternoon I took a tour through the temples.  Having seen them once before made them even more interesting, and I saw many details that I didn't take in before.  Also, I am now better able to appreciate my brass collection that I have sent home.  I saw how each vessel was used and I think I have at least one of nearly everything used in the temples.

I saw a skating rink filled with Japanese skaters (children).  Their skates are generally a block of wood with a runner mounted underneath.  This they tie to their foot (frequently bare) with a long rag.  How they manage I don't know, but they all skate well.  I saw a little girl not over 6 or 7 skillfully tying a skate on her sister.  She was as self-confident and doing as well as an adult could have done.

A change like this is quite a break.  I think I can now go back and see my share of the occupation through.

I am still reading Pastures of Heaven, but I can't figure what he is driving at.  It is a series of character studies, which are well done but a little morbid.  There has been very little raw stuff so far.  Much of it hinges on the school.  I judge he has the Tularcitos school in mind.

How are my two sweet, smart, big girls getting along?  I haven't heard from them lately.

Lots and lots of love,



There are three main shrines in the Nikko area:  Futarasan, Tosho-gu and Rinno-ji.  They were built in the 17th century during the Edo shogunate, or pre-modern period (1603-1868).  The first two are Shinto shrines and the Rinno-ji is a Buddhist shrine.  There are 103 buildings in the three complexes, nine of which are registered as National Treasures of Japan.  The entire area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The main building of the Rinno-ji shrine in Nikko

The school that Steinbeck used as a model for his book was not the Tularcitos school (which is where Emily and Monty went to school when the family lived in Robles del Rio), but rather a school that was part of the Salinas school district which is apparently still being used as a school.  The Tularcitos school is part of the Carmel school district.

It is interesting to note Maj. Gillham's use of the the word streak when describing his naked run down the hall at the bathhouse.  According to Webster's Dictionary, the term was first used in print in 1973, so there was clearly an oral tradition of the term dating back much earlier.


Anonymous said...

I remember hearing the word "streak" before 1973 and from other sources than my father. Martha

Russell Caldwell said...

Thanks, that pretty much confirms my suspicion.