Thursday, February 11, 2010

A trip down the coast to the resort town of Atami

I believe this will mark the end of my unreliable posting habits, at least for another two weeks.  I am now at my parents' home in Crosswicks, NJ, snowed in under about 2 feet of the white stuff.  My mother dragged out all of her old photo albums and I will be scanning some pertinent photos by the weekend.  Also, I will be scanning the stash of Maj. Gillham's Japanese photos and materials that I got from my Aunt Emily, so be prepared for a flood of new pictures (some of which may be inserted in previous posts -- I will keep you informed).

This next letter is especially entertaining and informative, and it gets us away from the hometown-news format of the last few letters.  Maj. Gillham visits the resort town of Atami with an Army buddy of his and gets an on-site tutorial in Japanese culture.

Tokyo, Japan
3 Dec 1945

Dearest Love,

Your two letters dated 19 & 21 Nov and postmarked 21 & 23 Nov received today.  In one you said you had received my letter saying I had received my first batch of mail.  That makes four crossings of the Pacific for our mail in about 40 days.  That is pretty consistent mail service, isn't it?

Scotty's outfit is at Fukuoka on Kyushu, the place where Dick Johnson is.  However, if he is with the Artillery Group, as I think he is, he is in the vicinity of Oita, on the NE shore of Kyushu, destroying Japanese war material.  Mail service may be a little slow from down there, compared to what it is here, but it should get through in time.  We have one officer here that came on the Mayo with me and he has never yet received any mail.  He is very worried and I feel sorry for him.  Surely am glad that I am getting your letters.  They are the main thing that I look forward to every day.

8 PM -- After writing the above at the office, I got another nice letter from you mailed 24 Nov. and teling about your swell Thanksgiving dinner.  That was really some spread, and lots of good fellowship makes it really worthwhile.  You are certainly sweet to write me after such a strenuous day.  I hope you enjoy Ellen's visit.

Darling, there is so much that I want to write you about that I never get it all done now.  All day long when I see interesting things, I am composing in my mind sentences that I want to put into letters to you, and then I just don't get the time to write them down.  I never did get through telling you about my trip to Nikko and now there is so much else I can't get back to it.  Anyway, here are some of the pictures I took there.  It was very cloudy that day and I knew the pictures wouldn't be good, but I took one or two time exposures that came out fairly well.

I got a reply today from Wrightson.  He is at Wakayama, on the peninsula north of Osaka, and seems to be having a fine time and getting much loot, which is something that is difficult here.  However, from all I can hear and see, I don't think that many are as well situated as I am here.  We now have a lot of big new GM buses, just like the latest city buses in the states.  They make regular runs between all our offices and billets.

This last week-end I went to Atami, a popular resort about 75 miles south of Tokyo.  I went with Lt. Cmdr. Reese from Dublin, Ga.

When we got there, about 8 PM, we couldn't get a place to stay anywhere, so we got the Japanese police, and one of them went all around with us.  He finally secured lodging for us in a very nice Japanese home that had some spare rooms that they let out at times.  They gave us the entire second floor consisting of three large rooms, and waited on us hand and foot.  The lady of the house was much embarrassed that one of the rooms did not have the single picture that hangs in most Japanese rooms.  She ran and got one and put it up at once.  It and a vase of "chrysanthemum-mum-mums" were the only decorations and yet nothing else was called for.  I like the Japanese method of living in a house and think it is not such a bad solution, and you must remember it is an entirely independent solution, or evolution, from our own culture.  We had K rations, but they gave us tea and hot water for bullion and coffee, and mikans (tangerines), and at one meal we ate with the family.  They had rice and other things.  We gave them some soap and candy and a few such things during the course of the visit.  The son was a college student and was the only man present.  I think from some pictures he showed me in an album that the others were in the army in China.  The lady of the house had her sister living with her who had a little girl about five.  Her name was Musume and she was very cute.  We struck up quite a friendship and she cried when I left.  I took a couple of pictures of her which I hope turn out well.  Atami is famous for its hot springs and most of the houses have this hot water piped directly to them, as this one did.  The bath was a beautiful tile job with a tub about the size of a bed and three feet deep.  The top of it was flush with the floor and it was filled to the brim with this very hot spring water.  It might seem strange to you, but my hostess casually walked in while I was standing there stark naked soaping, and showed me how to regulate the water.  Oddly enough I felt no embarrassment and the whole thing was as matter-of-fact as though we had met on the street and said "good morning." The covers on our futons (sleeping pads) were of beautiful silk.  The son acted as our guide the next day, and Atami is a very picturesque little town.  It is a sort of Japanese version of La Jolla or Carmel.  The scenery along the coast there is as fine as I have seen anywhere -- somewhat like Point Lobos or the 11 Mile Drive.  There are many nice spots along there like our rock near Carmel.  I will never forget our last trip around the drive.  It was a nice interlude to remember, wasn't it?

When we went to leave Atami, we were a little afraid we would be stuck for our lodging as we hadn't asked the price, but they wouldn't take a sen and invited us to come back anytime and made each of us a present of a little plaster doll in a box.  I will send it to the children with my next shipment.

You haven't said much lately about your plans.  I am afraid we will temporarily get out of touch with each other when you start to travel.  I understand that regular cables of your own composition will be available to the army in a few days in the Tokyo area to & from San Francisco.  It is just a good thing to know in case it is needed.

Lots of love to my very sweet family.  I certainly love you all a great deal.


P.S.  The streets of Tokyo are lined with ginkgo trees.  They are bright yellow now and very pretty.  Enclosed are a couple of leaves, just for old times' sake.


Kyushu is the southernmost of Japan's four main islands, and is best known to Americans as the location of the city of Nagasaki.  Just off the southern coast of Kyushu begins the Ryukyu archipelago, which extends all the way south to Taiwan and includes the island of Okinawa.

The island of Kyushu, in orange.

Just as a refresher:  the Ellen referred to in this letter is Ellen Montague Upshaw, the sister of Jack Montague who owned the vacation house in Robles del Rio that the Gillhams were living in.  Ellen and her husband Ernest lived in Piedmont, which is a neighborhood of Oakland that backs up to the hills and offers spectacular views of the Bay Area.  Maj. Gillham's maternal grandmother was a Montague, and therein lies the connection.

From what I've been able to discern from reading about the Occupation, gathering "loot" was a popular pastime among U.S. soldiers in Japan -- so much so, in fact, that now there are published catalogs of such loot along with price lists and valuations, as well as collectors clubs and websites.  As you will see in later letters, Maj. Gillham stumbles upon his "own" pile of loot while driving around Tokyo and begins to send a lot of it home.  My mother remembers vividly receiving package upon package from Japan filled with brass ornaments and trinkets.

Atami is a sea resort town on the Pacific coast of Japan about 100 miles south of Tokyo.  It is famous for its hot springs and curative waters, and it is situated on a coastline that is very similar to that of Monterey or Carmel, as Maj. Gillham mentioned in the letter.  Also, as you recall, in Atami there is a high concentration of authentic geishas that continue to flourish.

View of Atami, looking south

Map showing the relative distance of Atami to Tokyo and Yokohama

K-rations were originally designed to be a compact, portable, three-meal ration for active-duty soldiers during World War II.  The concept was designed by a Prof. Keys at the University of Minnesota, and comprised of three meals (designated, interestingly, as "breakfast, dinner and supper") totalling 2,900 calories.  Each three-meal ration was packaged in a cardboard container about the size of a Cracker Jack box -- which is not surprising, since the Cracker Jack company was contracted to manufacture and distribute the K-rations.  The rations usually included a canned meat entree, powdered drinks and coffee, hard biscuits, and a dessert, as well as, amazingly, four cigarettes per meal.

Futons were practically unknown to Americans in 1945, which is probably why Maj. Gillham felt compelled to add an English descriptor ("sleeping pads").  Japanese futons are laid down on simple tatami flooring made of woven rice straw, unlike our Western futons which are almost always placed on a wooden frame that can also be converted into a couch.

Incidentally, one of the ginkgo leaves did survive the years intact and is in surprisingly good condition.  Here is a photo: