Saturday, April 11, 2020

来日記念日 (半世紀) : Since 1970

The kanji in the title says "rainichi kinenbi (han seiki)", which means "anniversary of arrival in Japan (half a century)". As of today I've lived in Japan for that long, and although most years I have some sort of celebration on this date, they're usually fairly low-key, mostly an excuse to have a few more beers than usual, or an additional bottle of champagne. Fifty years is a nice round number, though, and a pretty big one, too.  Since I''m temporarily less mobile than I would prefer to be, and since places where I'd like to go to celebrate are closed in any case as a pandemic countermeasure, the time seems right for quieter celebration, and perhaps some reminiscence.

The 30th of last month was my 70th birthday, but it had less impact on me than my 50th, when I finally had to concede that I'd entered middle age. In at least one way it had less impact than my 25th birthday: I'll probably never forget walking into my office in the morning and being greeted by my secretary with "Good morning! So how does it feel to be a quarter of a century old?" That almost had me looking around for a skull or skeleton or some other such memento mori in the scene; my erstwhile feeling of invulnerability took a hit that day, and while no less callow because of it, I became somewhat less carefree. I had been in Japan for just under five years then.

My arrival in Japan followed a chartered 707 flight from Travis Air Force Base in California to Yokota AFB in Fussa, western Tokyo, with a refueling stop in Anchorage, Alaska. Less than two weeks after my 20th birthday, and after an extended succession of farewell parties, I got my first impressions of Japan from the plane's window: the astonishingly beautiful Mount Fuji, the rugged mountains beyond and around the Kanto Plain below, and the brilliant azure blue of thousands of tile roofs in the sunlight.

Later in the day I and my equally young Navy comrades would be driven through Yokohama at evening rush hour to our duty station of Yokosuka Naval Base. One of the two strongest impressions from that long but fascinating ride was  the beauty of the sakura fubuki (桜吹雪), the "cherry blossom blizzard" of petals whirling snowstorm-like in the spring wind. The other was the--bizarre, to me at the time--ubiquity of surgical masks; I couldn't believe that so many medical personnel had forgotten to remove their masks before heading home. Our driver explained the mask wearing custom, and although I quickly became accustomed to it, the current pandemic-related increase in masked people echoes for me a chord struck on that first of my days in Japan.

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