The CACAPON carried a jeep onboard; and when we were at anchor
it was put ashore. I became its designated driver because I'd been in Japan briefly
six years earlier. I never considered this a valid reason, but I accepted my
new responsibility with pleasure.
While we were awaiting orders to return to the United States, I
used the jeep at every opportunity, not only to see a country I had once
considered beautiful, but one now struck by the horror of war. The initial
American air raid on Tokyo
on April 18, 1942 of thirteen carrier based B-25 bombers did little damage. The
raid was essentially symbolic.
In the first serious Tokyo
raid on March 10-11, 1944, forty percent of the city was destroyed by our
incendiary bombs and caused between seventy and eighty thousand deaths. This
was followed by the next big attacks of April 13 through 15. The total number
bombings in 1944 and 1945 were nearly four thousand. By August of 1945, more
than four million people had fled the city.
American fire bombings were not restricted to Tokyo. All major cities, with the exception
of Kyoto, were
virtually destroyed. Why not Kyoto?
For a sensitive decision difficult to understand considering the pressure of
war, we avoided damaging this beautiful ancient capital of Japan. A
Japanese friend told me one of our bombs had been mistakenly dropped on Kyoto, and it landed in a
graveyard. I'm not sure I believe his story.
I could not drive too far from my ship, but Tokyo was within range. I went there at every
opportunity. From Yokosuka
in the south of Tokyo Bay, I passed through Yokohama
before crossing the Kanagawa River and entering Tokyo.
These were abysmal but fascinating drives ... mile after mile of
burned-out homes with only their concrete storehouses unscathed. Fireproof and
containing works of art and other household valuables, at least these treasures
survived if the house and its occupants did not.
was in surprisingly good shape. Here the buildings were of steel and concrete
and generally resistant to incendiaries. On each adventure, I stopped at the
Imperial Hotel in memory of my stay there in 1939. I'd always order a bottle of
beer which was rationed one per person. The hotel was virtually unharmed. This
famed design of Frank Lloyd Wright had escaped its second challenge. The
devastating earthquake of 1923 was the first. Years later it would not be as
As a partial offset to the depressing sight of thousands of
burned-out homes, I enjoyed parking the ship's jeep in Tokyo where I'd immediately be surrounded by
friendly Japanese. With the war having ended just a few days earlier, this
reaction was surprising.
Of course, what I was bringing with me in the jeep probably had a
great deal to do with it. As Supply Officer of the CACAPON, I had easy access
to items greatly in demand.
To the children, I gave candy bars and to the men, packages of
cigarettes. The women were the most responsive of all when they received a bar
Let me explain. There was no begging or requests for gifts. The
Japanese were much too proud a people for that; but my unsolicited offerings
were accepted with gracious appreciation.
On my last visit to Tokyo, I drove
through the Ginza
and on to the Nihombashi district. I was heading for
the Mitsukoshi Department Store. En route, as I drove up Chuo-dori, I passed the Takashimaya Department Store and the
Bank of Tokyo. Little did I know at that time how important they were to become
to me some day.
Immediately following the end of the war, inventory was scant. In
fact, Mitsukoshi was almost barren. I remember this visit because of a piano.
On the landing halfway up the sweeping stairway to the second floor,
there was a grand piano. An American G.I. was playing it. While badly in need
of a tuning, it wasn't the missed notes I remembered. It was the look on the
soldier's face. I didn't know when he'd last seen a piano, but it must have
been a long time. This afternoon he'd forgotten the war and had returned to
Returning to Yokosuka and the CACAPON and once
again passing thousands of fire-proof store-houses standing like dreadful
sentinels behind the burned-out shells of what had once been homes,
surprisingly I was reminded of the difference between American and Japanese
In our culture, possessions must be shown even though walls may
be covered and tables crowded to the point of overflowing. This is our European
heritage. If you've got it, show it. In Japan, it's just the opposite. A
family may own many treasures, but only one is brought out at a time.
Decorative rotation requires the majority of treasures remain in the
This lack of clutter makes a small home look much larger. It
argues that less is more ... understatement can be the strongest statement.
Some years later, I would develop a design program inspired, in great part, by Japan.