When my Air Force father was stationed in northern Japan at Misawa Air Base I absolutely loved it. It was 1966 and coming from Tucson, Arizona half way across the world to this distinctly different and unique corner of the globe was a shock and a thrill. I was unsure, enraptured and enamored with my surroundings.
It was cold in Misawa, with a snow accumulation of almost twelve feet and blizzards that blew in off the northern Pacific. It was the first time I had participated in any kind of winter fun like sledding. It was also the first time I had seen Christmas lights reflected on the snow. That is a picture I will never forget. Trudging through the snow to and from school, level both ways, was not so fun but an open field of pristine snow to play in couldn’t be beat.
It was hilly and green, with forests of trees that surrounded the base. In the summer we would go down to the bay to swim and picnic. I remember we had, what seemed to me, a huge hill we had to drive down to get to the water. We would find little glass globes which were the floats for the fishing nets the Japanese fishermen used. I remember we had a basket full of various sizes and colors of these treasures. I don’t know what happened to them once we left.
The base had those big navy blue Air Forces buses that would carry me to the base exchange, movie theater, commissary and other places I would want to go, but when my parents purchased a bicycle for me my freedom was complete. I could go wherever and whenever I wanted. It was a beautiful Japanese bike that rode like a dream. I would take off on it and only when I realized it was time to go home did I return to our apartment on base.
This bicycle was to be the cause of one of my most wonderful and scary adventures into the Japanese countryside.
When we first arrived our housing was off base, near the main gate. We lived in “B” battery and then moved to the “W” housing further away. B Battery was small, a bit run down and very close to the main gate. We lived there for a few months and then were transferred to the W housing. This was a much bigger house, with three bedrooms, a very American feel to it except it was freezing cold in the winter. After we moved on base the apartment we lived in was like a palace to us, warm, large and carpeted!
After a while I starting taking rides off base and into the town of Misawa. I always carried my military ID just in case. Misawa was so quaint and rural with beautiful little businesses where I could spend my allowance and be greeted by smiling Japanese shop owners who lived above their stores. I was never afraid to be on my own. Sometimes I would have a friend with me but usually I was on my own. I am still like that to this day.
One adventure would take me further than I had gone before and I became a bit lost. I was trying to find our old house in W housing but made a wrong turn somewhere and before I knew it I was in the Japanese countryside. I decided to turn around and retrace my path when the chain on my bike came off. Now understand the chain was completely covered in a housing that protected it so I couldn’t even get to it. Well being lost and walking my disabled bike down a narrow paved road somewhere in northern Japan was more than this seventh grader could handle.I started crying.
I know I hadn’t walked too far when I passed a very traditional Japanese home, thatched roof and all. There was a Japanese man standing in the yard watching me. To me he seemed old, but he was smiling at me and pointing to my bike and his house. I wasn’t sure what to think and I remember shaking my head “no” but he came out to the road, still smiling, and waved me over to his yard. At this point a beautiful older woman came out and just like the man was dressed in very traditional garb. She was smiling and took my hand to take me into her house. He took my bike away and I cried. She brought me inside and I am sorry to admit I don’t remember too much about it aside from the large fire place in the middle of the room. She had cookies and water for me, and I remember her showing me some pictures. I know I probably cried some more but she kept feeding me and smiling. They spoke no English and I spoke very little Japanese, enough to say please and thank you and greet someone. I don’t know exactly how long it took but in he came and waved at me to follow him. As I walked outside there stood my bicycle. He had fixed the chain and I was ready to go. I had some Yen and wanted to give it to him but he shook his head and waved me off.
I road back to the base and never told anyone what happened for years.
I still have that bike and plan to clean it up and start using it again. I’ve never had a bike I was as comfortable on as that one. Old wheels will feel new again and my warm memories of our time in Japan and those two beautiful people will come alive for me.