A Different Culture

                                           By Alan Palmer 1956

                                                         (Edited by Wilf Aldridge)

My first impression of Japan was that I had entered another part of the world, with a different way of life and culture to that to which I had been accustomed. My first experience of this took place when I took a shower during the first evening of my arrival at 31 Command Pay Office. There I was, an innocent 19 year old, stark naked and washing away the grime of the day, when in walked several twittering, giggling Japanese civilian female staff who, totally and cheerfully unconcerned by my presence, promptly stripped off before beginning their own showering. Not an experience that I had ever encountered before, but nevertheless a very interesting one!


Our camp in Kure, where we could have an obligatory army haircut by a Japanese barber, or a hot towel neck massage, for 10 Yen each (1010 Yen = £1.00 Sterling at that time), was in a pleasant area of the city and situated next to the Railway Station from where we could clearly hear, every day from early morning to late evening, musical notes announcing the arrival of the local and Tokyo-bound steam trains on the narrow gauge tracks which were standard in Japan at that time. At the back of the city stood the imposing 2418 feet high Mount Haigamine, the summit of which, during the war years, had been the site of a large anti-aircraft    Alan Palmer is standing in the back row

gun emplacement. However, when   several           and is the third man to the right

 of us climbed to the mountain-top,  we found                           

 that a peacefully manned weather station had replaced the mutilated remains of the gun, although the base of the emplacement remained. I was fascinated by the many small shops lining the city`s two main streets, the Hondori and Nakadori. Mostly family owned and selling everything from cameras and highly decorated clothing to fine bone china tea, coffee and dinner services, the staff worked a seven day week from mid-morning until about 9pm, with only a half-day off each month. One of the camera shops had a man making optical lenses and in another shop worked a man fashioning traditional Japanese swords. The local Post Office had a machine which could record `personal` gramophone discs. Not being a lover of writing post-cards, I used this facility a couple of times for my messages home.


Also in abundance were the beer halls and bars catering for the thirst of the many hundreds of multi-national British Commonwealth soldiers, sailors and airmen stationed in Kure or nearby. Japanese music was played outside on loudspeakers to help entice these, mostly young, men into the dimly lit bars where hostesses waited to ply them with Asahi       Nakadori             and Kirin beer, at about 200 Yen a glass,  or Japanese brewed spirits. Each customer was also expected to buy drinks, usually coloured water resembling alcoholic concoctions, for `their` young ladies. These drinks would require topping up quite quickly, to the unwary customers cost! If however we were short of money, there was always the ever popular forces run Kure House which housed reasonably priced restaurants, bars, baths, a theatre-cum-cinema and a popular WVS gift wrapping service for the parcels of souvenirs which almost everybody posted home.


The city`s main means of transport seemed to be three-wheeler van which were quite like the British Reliant Robin. But they could travel quite fast in reverse gear, so we had to be very aware of the direction in which they were going when we attempted to cross the roads, many of which were heavily potholed. Basic repairs were carried out by women using yokes with heavy baskets of stones at each end, whilst the local men squatted on 

the pavements smoking and playing some form of chequers! Another hazard to the unwary was the uncovered monsoon ditches at the road edges – I remember falling in to one of them whilst out walking one day!


A short time after my arrival in Kure I became a patient in the Britcom 29th General Hospital, after which I was sent to                                Hondori

the tented camp at the Miyajima Rest and Recuperation Centre for a two week stay (the former hotel, which had been previously used as accommodation, had been completely gutted in a recent fire).  Miyajima was a fascinating island with a world famous red coloured wooden Torii gate, under which I strolled when the tide was out. 


Sadly, my service in Japan quickly came to an end and I was posted back to the UK for demobilisation. But, even though some 57 years have now passed, I still cherish my memories of the pleasant and friendly Japanese people whom I met and the beautiful scenery of the Japanese Islands.


#146 Parkway Vol.28 No.4  October - December 2013