Tokyo South

Odawara District

A Day in America

The Chevrolet was parked in front of the station plaza. The taxi drivers had to thread their way around the immense hunk of Detroit steel to get to the loading zones.

The driver stood like a sentry by his automobile, oblivious to inconvenience he was inflicting. With his blue eyes, cropped brown hair and camos, he and his car looked like some kind of postmodern sculpture, almost comically out of their element.

“I guess you ride those things a lot,” he said.

“What things?” said Thackeray. “Oh. Trains. Yeah, we do.”

“You know, I’ve never been on one.”

“Never been on a train?” said Matlock.

“Don’t get off the base very often. Only going to be here another year, you know. Suppose I should get out and see the country.”

“What?” said Matlock.

“Hey! A Chevy!” Johnson whistled. “How’d you get it?”

“Bought it from a guy on rotation. People used to ship ’em over all the time. Which one of you is Elder Gordon?”

Gordon stepped forward.

“I’m Brother Nolan. This your district?”

“We’re all here.”

“Pile in. It’s about a mile to the base.”

The car rolled slowly down the narrow streets. It was like any other small Japanese town, shop fronts crowding the sidewalks and narrow front yards cordoned off with gray cinder block walls. In Odawara, people would have gawked at an American car driven by an American and filled with Americans. No one noticed here.

Brother Nolan made a left turn. The gates and guard blocks of the military base loomed up in front of them. He nodded to the guard and drove on through.

“Holy cow!” Johnson pressed his face against the passenger window. “Will you look at that? Lawns! When’s the last time you saw a lawn?”

“And real houses,” joked Brother Nolan.

A dumb thing to say, thought Thackeray, but that was the first thing that popped into his head too. A Cape Cod here. A split level there. Two-family flats perched behind broad front yards. Neatly striped blacktop bordered by white concrete sidewalks. Thackeray stared and twisted around. Japan had vanished. They’d driven right into small-town America without crossing the Pacific.

Brother Nolan parked behind the base chapel. They walked into the building—with their shoes on—and down the hallway to a large rec room. Full of food, Americans, and missionaries.

“Hey Thack!”

“How ya doing, Tuckett?”

“Okay. I’m okay.”

“I saw they put you together with Kempner Choro.”

“Yeah. It’s working out pretty well. Hey, you know who’s dying next Tuesday? Jensen.”


“Yeah. We’re having a party.”

Kempner’s thick hand clamped down on Thackeray’s shoulder. “Looks like I caught me a runaway.”

“Hiya Kempner Choro. Nice improvement on the last stats.”

“Yeah. Maybe I’ll be out of the doghouse by the time I die.”

“Don’t get caught stealing donuts.”

“No way.”

“Yo! Adkins!”

“Where’s that D.L. of yours?”

“Over there.”

“Who’s the new sister missionary? No, the cute one—”

“Yeah, I know. I’m gonna smoke you at the arcades next zone conference. Yo! Gordon. That means you!”

“When are we gonna start eating?”

“WELL, LET’S GET THIS THING ROLLING!” A stocky man, graying around the temples, stood up on a chair. “We’re really glad you missionaries could share this Thanksgiving with us.” A smattering of applause. “And for you who don’t know me—I see a few new rotatees out there—I’m President Whitfield. As you know, the family and I recently returned from an inspection tour in California. Spend ten hours laying over in Hawaii. And I’ll tell you, never thought I’d say it, but it’s good to be home! Now, Brother Allen, get up here and bless the food.”

Brother Allen offered a Thanksgiving prayer—overlong but tolerable. And entirely comprehensible.

“Jeez, I don’t know where to begin,” said Johnson, leaning over the serving table.

They heaped up their plates and sat down together.

“This chair taken?”


A man not much older looking than the missionaries sat down next to Thackeray. “Hi,” he said. “Name’s Jim. Jim Eddins.”

“Elder Thackeray.”

“Where’re you from?”

“Odawara. Or New York. Depending.”



“Coast Guard. This is my first tour. Say, do you guys come to the base very often?”

“Only on Thanksgiving. Yokohama missionaries get farmed out to Yokosuka and I guess the Air Force gets the rest.”

“I didn’t know the Coast Guard went overseas,” said Gordon.

“Sure do. I’m a technician. Radar telemetry.”

Matlock said, “I have a question.”

“What’s that?”

“We rode in with this Nolan guy.”

Yeah. Tom.”

“Said he’s never been on a train before.”

“Yeah. You know, there are guys who come here on a three year tour and never step off the base unless it’s in a sightseeing bus.”

Gordon said, “With this place, though, that wouldn’t be hard to do. Reminds me of Pasadena without the smog.”

“You don’t have to live on base. I share an apartment with Bob over there. The Hirsch’s live on the economy too. Do it right and you really come out ahead.”

A middle-aged woman came around behind the table. “It’s so nice to have you elders here,” she said, patting Matlock on the shoulder.

“Thank you, Ma’am,” mumbled Matlock through a mouthful of potatoes.

“I suppose it’s difficult for you growing boys having to eat that Japanese food all the time.”

“It’s not so bad, Ma’am.”

“Well, we’re glad we have this opportunity to give you a good American meal. Eat as much as you want, now.”

“Thank you, Ma’am.”

Thackeray drank some punch and tried not to laugh.

“I hate being called Elder,” said Matlock, after the woman left. “What does she think we are, starving prisoners of war?”

“We eat like it.”

By this time, Johnson was ready for seconds. “Careful, big guy,” his companion warned. “Your stomach’s not used to the load. Something’s gonna give.”

Johnson wasn’t convinced until after splitting a pie with a marine from Pocatello.

Thackeray felt his right leg going to sleep. He got up and walked to the end of the room and sat on the edge of the stage. He watched the Americans eating and talking and socializing, and it struck him that they were all either tall or fat or both, except for the enlisted men, who were just big.

“Having a good time?” A girl sat beside him on the stage. She had long brown hair and was wearing jeans. She looked about eighteen.

“What’s your name?”


“Why don’t any of you have on those little badges? It would make it easier to get to know you guys.”

“Out of habit, I guess. We don’t wear them when we dendo because it scares people off. Makes them think we’re Sokes or Moonies or something.”

She nodded. “By the way, my name’s Lisa Hirsch.”


Hajimemashite,” she interrupted. “There, beat you to it.”

“Sorry. Force of habit.”

“I’m taking Japanese at school.”

“How’s it going?”

“I’m making everybody in the branch dependent on me. Only the brats ever bother to learn the language or go off base.”


“You know. Army brats. Actually, we’re civilian. Living on the economy. Dad doesn’t like being on base any more than he has to.”

“How do you like it?”

“I think it’s neat. You know, you ought to come over and see us sometime. Mom cooks a great sukiyaki.”

“I don’t think so. I’m in Odawara. Zama is out of our zone.”

“Too bad.”

A man waved to them from the other side of the room.

“That’s my dad,” said Lisa Hirsch, sliding off the stage. “He probably wants to go now.”

“Nice meeting you.”

“Yeah. Bye.”

Gordon walked up. He was carrying a brown paper grocery sack. “Hey Thack, when’s the last time you saw one of these?”

“Where’d you get that?”

“It’s our doggie bag. Say, were you counting on being back in time for English class?”

“Suppose so.”

“Well, then we’d better get a move on.”

The crowd in the rec room was beginning to thin out. The Machida zone elders had already left. “Are you sure you can’t take some more?” asked Sister Whitfield.

“Thank you, Ma’am,” said Gordon. “But our refrigerator’s not big enough.”

Jim drove them back to the station in his beat-up white Nissan. He took a different route than Brother Nolan. “You can save a one station fare from the south gate,” he explained.

The base turned out to be far larger than the small suburb they’d come through. They went past a golf course, and several large playing fields dotted with basketball courts, baseball diamonds and backstops. The bachelor officer and noncom quarters were scattered about indiscriminately. Thackeray was amazed at how much open space simply went unused.

They came to another suburb of houses and office buildings. Bright red octagonal stop signs were perched on every corner. Jim waved to the guard and drove back into Japan.

“Thanks for the ride,” said Gordon when they arrived at the station.

“No problem. It was great having you guys around.” He waved goodbye and drove off.

“You know,” said Thackeray, “I feel like I’ve just come back from a foreign country.”

“Foreign country?” Gordon laughed. “More like the Twilight Zone. If that’s what America is like, I’m going to have a heckuva culture shock going back.”

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