Saturday, November 17, 2012

October 14 - 16, 1953 The All Japan English Speaking Contest, Watching the Wonderful Work, Harvesting Rice and The Trip to Nara

Bonnie (center) at the All Japan English Speaking Contest, Oct. 3, 1953
Dear Mother & Daddy,

"This is only Wednesday evening but maybe if I start my letter a little earlier this time I can get it mailed a little earlier.  I think I told you that I had been asked to serve as a judge for the All Japan English speaking Contest.  On Saturday, Oct. 3, I went to the University at 9:30 in the morning and was there until about 4:00.  High School students from all over Japan compete in these contests.  They write a speech about anything they wish, learn it and give it before an audience just like we used to do in our contests.  The winners of the small contests then compete in the one national one.  They are judged on the speech itself, how well the words are pronounced and how well they can give the talk.  The subjects were all different and unusual.  One was about the terrible floods, one about what the boy had seen in Hiroshima and the third prize winner talked on "Mother Love".  All of the speeches contained some argument against war.  These high school children seem afraid of war and I guess they have real reasons.  They remember too much.  They are not bitter against us but are simply afraid of the atom bomb and what it can do.  Only one speech showed any bitterness and this was toward both the U.S. and Japan and that was about the illegitimate war babies and the way they are being treated now.  There has been a lot in the papers about these children having no rights and it seems to be a serious problem.  Another interesting thing about the contest was that four out of five winners were girls.  That is something in this man's world and the University boys made comments on them.  They didn't care but it made an impression on them.  There were 23 speakers and we heard half of them in the morning, had an hour for lunch and then heard the rest.  I wasn't bored a minute of that whole day.  This final contest is sponsored by Kwansei Gakuin University and the English speaking newspaper, Mainichi, so the judges were from the University and one man from the newspaper.  We had a short meeting of the judges with tea and then went on the stage and were each introduced to the audience.  The boy who was chairman got mixed up and told the audience I graduated with a bachelor of surgery degree instead bachelor of science.  We (the judges) had a good laugh about it afterwards.  The audience didn't seem to know the difference.  After the speeches were over the judges had cake and coffee while we made our decisions.  Then we went back on the stage.  One of the men gave a short criticism of the talks and since I was the only woman they asked me to read the names of the winners and their schools.  These names!  They are all right when you have some practice with them but I didn't have time for any.  Anyway, I did all right, I guess.  At least, the right students got the right prizes.  The University then gave each judge a beautiful bouquet of flowers, (a huge bunch with real long stems.  Mine was big white lilies, mums and dahlias) and a metal from the English Speaking Society.  The Mainichi gave me a silk furoshiki (a scarf to carry packages in) and the men, tie clips.  Then they took loads of pictures.  That was the last thing.

During the noon hour a young man came to talk to me and he had just graduated from New Britain and is here now as a missionary.  He knows all the people we do in New Britain.  I invited him to come to see us so maybe he will sometime.  There was a tea in a nearby Junior College that afternoon but Ann didn't want me to go so B went with some of our neighbors and I stayed at home.  We went out for dinner that night too and I thought it was enough for one day.  So far, the children have been included in every dinner invitation and I hope it continues.  There isn't much night life here, thank goodness.  All school functions are daytime affairs and I like that.

Bob and Ann have learned to use chopsticks.  Bobby is really pretty good and can eat anything with them.  He loves to use them and would every meal if we let him.

We are gradually discovering good brands of canned foods like vegetables and fruit.  Fresh vegetable markets are very plentiful but they have very few vegetables that we can eat.  Most of the vegetables are Japanese and we can't eat their big radishes and lotus root.  Carrots are plentiful and potatoes are cheap.  All vegetables have to be cooked unless they are grown on a farm called hydroponic where they use special chemicals for fertilizer.  Markets for these vegetables are few and we haven't found one yet.  We do get wonderful fruit--apples and pears which look like yellow apples.  They must all be peeled.  The canned fruits and vegetables are good, too.  We buy Nestles powdered whole cream milk and mix it with water.  It is very good and doesn't taste like canned milk does.  There are many stores where we can buy U.S. brands of goods but they are terribly high and it is silly to buy them when we can find substitutes.

People are still cleaning up the typhoon's mess.  I told you about our trees blowing over.  One morning some of the University gardeners came and started cutting limbs off them and we supposed they'd cut them up and haul them away.  Instead they replanted those trees by pulling them up with ropes and pulleys, got them exactly straight and then braced them with big poles.  There they are now and one is much taller than our three story house.  The Japanese people save everything that is beautiful.  It was really wonderful to watch them work on those big trees.

Bobby's little friend fell when they were playing and broke his arm so he's been out of school.  Bobby started crying about having to go so we just sent the teacher word that he was unhappy and would be back when Jimmy went back.  He went a few days after Jimmy was out and came home real happy each day but I guess he felt sort of alone since he couldn't understand the other children.

We went into Kyoto where the typhoon hit hardest and although it was two weeks after the storm the flood waters were still everywhere.  Lots of new houses were standing with water up to the windows.  Some places you could see the very tops of the rice or vegetables and other places just muddy water.  People were going around in boats, prodding the water with long sticks.  I suppose they were hunting for belongings or maybe some of their family.

We bought an iron in Kyoto and buying it was quite an experience.  We just happened to see one (a Japanese brand) in a little shop on a side street so we stopped to look at it.  The streets are very narrow in places and the people live in back of their stores.  All the neighborhood gathered round to watch us buy the iron--mamas and kids.  It was a long process for after we said we wanted it the man had to polish it until it shone.  Then the woman of the shop ran to ask a neighbor for wrapping paper.  Another neighbor contributed string to tie it.  Still they all stood and smiled and chattered.  I happened to have a bag of tiny Hershey bars so I passed them around.  Our candy makes a real hit and everyone was happy.

Now we have a maid and I'm beginning to feel like a lady.  At first, I thought it would be plain extravagance to have one but she is a necessity in this big house and since there are so many things we want to do.  She is a young girl and plans to be married sometime next year.  She is a Christian and is very proud that she plans to be baptized at Christmas time.  Her English is scant but we get along.  She is a jewel and like all Japanese she seems to love the children.  She does all the cleaning, washing, ironing and most of the cooking.  I plan the meals and help her cook some things.  She has been trained in a missionary home and is a good cook.  These missionary women are always cleaned up and ready to go somewhere.  Some of them teach and the others keep busy with clubs and church activities.  After we got the maid we had to have a set of dishes so she could set the table right.  We bought a cheap set but the table looks pretty and she always has things just right.

The rice crop is ripening now and farmers are beginning to harvest it.  Most of the fields are about the size of your yard and most of them have scarecrows of some kind or another.  Sometimes they are make-believe people just like our scarecrows and sometimes they have rags or strips of tin tied to tall bamboo poles.  The tin makes a soft clanking sound in the wind and I guess these things really keep many birds away.  Fields without these things usually have birds swarming in them.

I am now a member of the Kobe Women's Club and went to the first meeting on Tuesday.  Kobe is the international city and the club is also international.  There were all sorts of women there.  It is conducted in English and the program should be interesting.  They go on short trips and I hope to do and see a lot of things that I couldn't if I didn't go in such a group.  The first program was just music and tea but I enjoyed it.

Long ago I wrote you about the scout coming to see us on the boat.  He lives here in Nishinomiya so B wrote him a note and invited him to come to see us sometime.  He came in just a few days and made a call.

This is Thursday night and we are all tired after a big trip today.  We left early this morning and went to Nara.  It is filled with Buddhist shrines and temples.  The largest Buddha is in a wooden building 1000 years old.  Most of the people seemed to be sight seeing but there were many who said prayers in the temples and burned incense.  There is one section of the city called Nara park which has tame deer by the dozens.  Venders sell little wafers for people to feed them and they just walk right up to you.  Bob loved to feed them.  The deer are considered as sacred messengers of Buddha and the priests call them in to shelter every night.  The whole area was beautiful.  The leaves are all still green but they say it is a real showplace when the leaves turn in a few weeks.  School children of all sizes were all over the place and there was one crowd of U.S. Marines there.  One group of little girls swarmed around Ann and our houseboy (who went with us) heard one girl say that Ann was more beautiful to see than the deer.  Of course, it was in Japanese and they were talking constantly so we wouldn't know what they were saying.  The train was just full of kindergarten children and their mothers--all going on excursions.  One of the mothers asked me how old Bob and Ann were and then told me in her poor English that she was an American from California.  She spoke so that I couldn't find out why she was here but she was so proud of saying she was American.

The Japanese children act just like ours--squeal and laugh and squall.  They were dressed just like ours when we came but it is autumn now and the day it became autumn (even if it was a hot day) they put on wool clothes.  Little boys wear short wool pants, long sleeved white shirts and knee length or long stocking held up with plain old fashioned garters.  Little girls wear smock-like wool blouses with wool slacks.  Some wear sweaters and skirts and smaller ones wear knitted underpants over their cotton ones.  These are interesting because they are bright colors and fit like snuggies.  Usually you can see them below their skirts.  Little girls wear stockings, too.  All of them wear hand knitted sweaters.  Stores are full of bright yarns and women even knit on the trains.  School children (not kindergarten) wear uniforms.  I think that is voluntary but undoubtedly saves on clothing bills.  The girls wear navy serge middy blouses and pleated skirts or sometimes navy jumpers.  Boys wear black trousers and black coats with a high collar.  You can see students wherever you go.

Your letters are coming thru fine now.  We didn't have a bit of mail for two weeks after we got to Nishinomiya and then we had four letters at once.  I am glad you are feeling better, Mother and hope it keeps up.  Did the injections help your knee?  Can you walk better?  I finally got letters written to Buddy and Bessie and to Beulah.

Springfield really put itself on the maps with those snakes.  We had read about them in our paper before we had your letter telling about them.

We haven't been to church yet.  B has been going to the weekly prayer meetings that the missionaries have but it comes just at the children's bedtime so I haven't gone.  We will have to go into Kobe to church and Sunday School.  It is a union church for English speaking people and all nationalities go there.  They have two services every Sunday and Sunday School is in the afternoon.

B's classes begin on Monday so he has been working on his lectures.  He plans to type them out so the students can have them to read over.  While many of them speak English they don't always understand easily unless you talk very slowly.  Many of the students speak to us now and call us by name.

One thing I have meant to tell you and I don't think I have yet.  When we drove up to our house that first evening, the first thing we saw was a little sign by our front walk with our name on it in both English and Japanese.  It made us feel like we really belonged here.

I must stop before I have to send this by parcel post.  It gets longer and longer.  It takes me several days to write one of these letters but it's almost like talking with you.  Keep yourselves well.  We love you all."


NOTE:  Here is the story of the snakes in Springfield, Missouri.   In the fall of 1953,  a teenager reportedly purchased an exotic fish at a pet store.  Angered later that the fish died, he returned to the store and released a container of snakes he believed to be harmless.  One by one the snakes (cobras) appeared around town, alarming residents and creating quite a community scare.  The resulting situation became  known as the Great Ozark Cobra Hunt.   Apparently in the late 1980's, the individual who released the cobras confessed.


  1. Thanks! I like them too. Hard to believe they were taken nearly 60 years ago!


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