This is an excerpt from Dear M: Letters from Japan 1968-1969.Dear M coverIt’s a book of mine chronicling the adventures of me, my children and my first husband, John Burnham, when we lived in Japan during the Vietnam War. He’s a doctor who got drafted into the Army during the fifth year of his surgical residency at L.A. County Hospital. We lived in a Japanese house in Irumagawa, a village west of Tokyo and near an Ari Force base. The kids were 1, 2 and 4 when we got there; I was 27. I wrote almost daily to my friend Mary in California, telling these stories. She saved them. Every word is true.

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This excerpt is about a trip to the zoo with the students and staff of Meguchi Yochien, a Japanese Methodist nursery school the kids attended. They could sing “Jesus Loves Me” in Japanese.

Kids in Japan

Andy, Jill and Tony in our Japanese house on Jill's fifth birthday

June 9, 1968
Dear M—
We have a three-day pass coming up soon. John wants to go
to the beach, but of course it will rain. The beach is about 6
hours away from here. It’s called the Tibet of Japan (Chiba
peninsula) because it’s so isolated. There is nothing Western
there and no one speaks English. We know of no hotels or
restaurants or even if the meat is safe to eat. John says we
will take the camper and sleep in it, also ten gallons of water
for washing out our armpits. If we take a hibachi, he says, we
should be able to survive. Doesn’t that sound like a dream
vacation? I, needless to say, have dreamed of coming to
Japan to spend four rainy days in a camper in Tibet washing
out my armpits on ration.

The school’s trip to the zoo was very nice. John finked out
AS USUAL. It turned out to be a regular zoo but with a kiddy
amusement park and playground and some lakes with boats,
which the kids loved. I wound up carrying Andy a lot which is
hard on the legs and back. There were a few other American
parents, all Regular Air Force. Very weird looking people when
you get them out of their element. Pin heads, eyes too far
apart or too close together, acute nose problems, strange
teeth, concave chests. One Capt. Tisdale had whisker-short
hair, asked if Andy were a girl and made vomiting noises whenever
a hippie walked by, that is if he were not adjusting the
three cameras slung around his neck to keep them from banging
together as he “walked.”

The animals were very old. The camel was fat, molting and
foaming at the mouth and couldn’t get to its feet. The elephant
had a lot of nose freckles (age spots) and had a trick
of rolling his trunk up in a coil and bouncing the whole thing off
his knee. This brought stares of joy from the Japanese who
seem to giggle or laugh only when it is inappropriate. The
schoolmaster, who looks a lot like King Kamehameha with his
hair in a French roll, came up to me at one point and said, “Half
hour three times,” I said, “Arigato Gosaimashita,” and he
smiled and walked away. Had I been propositioned? Had I said
“thank you,” “good-bye,” or “how much for one of those”? The
teachers looked like they had been run over by a truck, especially
Tony’s. The Japanese kids kept touching Andy’s hair and
giggling, inappropriately. Tony bit or kicked everyone in the
entire area. They gave us a little bag of goodies for each kid
and Jill opened a package looking like flat dried apricot, but
which smelled terrible and was, in fact, dried squid. She made
an appropriate noise at 50,000 decibels.

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