This month I have read a most interesting book: Japan Restored: How Japan Can Reinvent Itself and Why This Is Important for America and the World (2015) by Clyde Prestowitz, who is the founder and president of the Economic Strategy Institute. He previously served as counselor to the Secretary of Commerce in the Reagan Administration.
In the very first sentence of the book, Prestowitz tells about first seeing Japan from aboard the SS President Cleveland in 1965. That grabbed my attention, for June and I along with our two children at the time boarded that same passenger ship in San Francisco and first saw Japan from its deck on September 1, 1966.
In contrast to that leisurely 13-day trip across the Pacific Ocean, on this coming Sunday (April 24) June and I are scheduled to board a flight from Los Angeles and to arrive in Japan 11 hours and 50 minutes later. This will be my fifth trip back to Japan since retiring in 2004, and it will be a bittersweet time.
We are eagerly looking forward to being back in Japan, which was our home for 38 years, and to seeing many friends, several of whom we first met in 1966 or in 1968. But, sadly, this may well be our last trip there.
Our first two nights will be spent in a hotel north of Tokyo—and not far from Fukushima, the main region damaged by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami. We will transfer airplanes at Narita Airport in Tokyo on the 25th (because of the time differences, we don’t get to Japan until Monday afternoon in spite of it being only a 12-hour flight) and fly into Sendai Airport, which was damaged by the 2011 tsunami and had to be closed to commercial flights for just over a month.
We are going to Sendai mainly to visit dear friends, Sumio and Yoko Kaneko. Rev. Kaneko was our pastor for several years after we moved to Fukuoka City in 1968. For more than 40 years now I have considered him one of my best friends anywhere in the world—but we would hardly have been friends as kids 70+ years ago.
Kaneko-sensei is a few years older than I, and he has told me how he and his school classmates in the early 1940s were taught to hate Americans. In every country, people are taught to hate the enemy during wartime.
Mrs. Kaneko was born in January 1935 in Ashiya, Japan, a town between Osaka and Kobe, less than 200 miles east of Hiroshima. Three years ago she wrote a fifty-page booklet telling about her girlhood in wartime Japan. Much of her book tells about being sent with other children to a “camp” in the mountains where they would presumably be safer than in the highly-populated area on the seacoast where they lived.
I greatly enjoyed reading her fascinating story, and I wondered why we had not asked her back in the early 1970s to share her experiences.
The main reason for going to Japan at this time is to participate in the centennial activities of Seinan Gakuin, the school system where I was a professor for 36 years and also an administrator for many years before retirement.
I’ll likely write more about Seinan Gakuin next month, but in the meantime perhaps some of you might like to read some of Prestowitz’s book that begins with a vision of Japan in 2050. I hope his vision comes true—and that many of Seinan Gakuin’s graduates will help make it come true.