102. ⛩ Tokyo, Nihon ~ August, 1966 The Land of the Rising Sun 日本

It’s now the third full day of our unexpected holiday in Japan. Traveling with me into Tokyo this morning were 2 fellow crewmen, including Bill, the other, I’ll name Frank.  

With the knowledge that our ship’s Officers were staying in hotel rooms in (any)town by now and with the hull and such under repair, we were on free time to play here in Japan.

There was no doubt of our shared excitement to be taking the Shinkansen or better known to us Westerners as the ‘bullet train’.  This high-speed rail system began in Japan a mere two years before I would be a passenger on it.  And at that time (when I was there), it was the fastest train service in the world!

I think it was the Tama-Plaza station where we caught our train.  The Japanese National Railways’ New Tokaido Line would take us on a thrilling journey for approximately 29 kilometers from the station in Yokohama, to our destination of Tokyo.

 🚢Not having to return to the Trans Western every morning made this feel like a real vacation, one that normally we’d have to pay for … instead we were the ones being paid!  I liked how this was working out.

Beautiful scenery began with the majestic Mt. Fuji, a view to behold indeed and, perhaps it was magical because I knew it to be Mt. Fuji and that I was actually in Japan, viewing it with my own eyes.

Now I’m being reminded by my editor about the tragedy of flight 911.  Not even 6 months prior to my seeing this world famous mountain, a BOAC airliner (and 3 others in this year, 1966) had crashed, killing all on board.  

Flight 911 had departed in the early afternoon from Tokyo International Airport and was barely 15 minutes into flight when, after experiencing severe turbulence, the Boeing 707 jetliner literally began separating from itself in many pieces.  

It had been witnessed, the aircraft was trailing white vapor.  Then it was losing altitude and pieces of it began to breakaway.  It was almost immediately rumored, the pilots wanted to fly a little closer to the mountain to show it off to the passengers.  Talk about mixed emotions when looking upon what would remain a beautiful sight.

Arrived Shinjuku Station and the view out my window has set me up for immediate speechlessness.  Looking at all there is to see and we’re not even out and about in the city yet!  My mind is nearly blown!  Observing my surroundings I see the sheer busyness, the hustle and the whirl of life in motion yet, I feel it’s presented in near perfect grace.  

I see no one pushing their way through the crowd trying to make his train …there’s no shouting or vulgar language that I can hear; certainly would have, if this were Brooklyn or Bombay.

The native commuters seemed to move with light-footedness, the female passengers poised and all at once, moving efficiently.  Can you picture this?  Altogether their fluidity of movement had me feeling as though I may vanish into the floor if I didn’t move my butt as gracefully and decidedly swift as they.

We made our way to the outside of the station and on to Koshu-Kaido Avenue.  From here the three of us ambled around.  Walking just to absorb the sights, smells and sounds of this beguiling metropolis.  Wandering aimlessly in a city we know totally nothing about save for our hopes of amazing food, great beers and well, I’m ready for a nap! 

This is so cool, I’m absolutely drawn in by the pure foreignness of what I could see and process in my mind.  Business men all suited up, mostly in western business attire, the ladies mostly in traditional dress, all the busy people.  The hustle & bustle, we watched as the city expanded & contracted in heartbeat; it felt almost dreamlike.

We spotted a man who had fallen down and the three of us, thinking alike, rushed towards him in assist mode.  People who saw us in deliberate attempt were quick to warn us,  leave him be.  One had said, “The police help the man, not us.”  I know I felt extremely awkward just leaving him there on the sidewalk.  I guessed he wouldn’t be trampled in their seemingly effortless steps … they’d just walk around him.

The three of us kept tight company, originally thinking safety in numbers.  Although we were cruising around in a war zone not that long ago, this city had an entirely different vibe to it.  It wasn’t frightful, just an altered state of humanity, it was … remarkable.

Our bellies told us it was time to eat some of those foods we were smelling along our aimless path.  Yes indeed, a nice cold Japanese beer and a delicious meal was the immediate plan.  We came across a large restaurant in only moments.  

We were seated almost immediately.  I examined the menu which was written in Japanese of course but then I saw beneath each entry was, in smaller letters, the dish description in English.  Just then Frank burst out with, “Oh thank goodness!”  I know I thought the same.  Bill and I nodded to one another and to Frank.  We confidently placed our orders, beers included.

First the ice cold Sapporo beers were at our table almost immediately.  Next to arrive at the table was the place-settings; ours included silverware to go with the chopsticks.  They must’ve known what would be next.

When our dishes arrived, we tried keenly to use the chopsticks but alas, our attempts were causing much laughter and not enough food going in!  Bill actually managed for a few moments to look like he knew what he was doing but quickly gave in to the fork as Frank and I already had.  Delicious!  Worth every penny!  Wonderful!

In complete agreement after our very filling meal, we hailed a taxi and asked him to take us to a decent hotel where we would get a good night’s sleep.  He seemed to know exactly where to take us.

We would stay in Tokyo for the next two days & nights.

👘

_________________________________________________________________

81. Puffed Up Arms in San Francisco

Early 1966

I thought about it most of the night and chose not to return to the hospital that morning as I knew it would be far too difficult to leave at all.  

I trusted Alok was safe and I hugged and kissed my children before leaving for the few days I assumed I’d be away.  My previous job at Santa Ynez I had left on good terms and with positive reference, as was my habit of doing.

I knew in my mind that if I was going to get to Fiji it was now or never.  Diana drove me to the station so I would catch the 10a Greyhound into San Francisco.  After dropping me off she went back to the hospital to bring Alok home.

For the most part it was a straight through drive up north with only a few key stops along the way.  I arrived some time that evening just after the dinner hour.  Upon arrival in San Francisco I took a taxi to a friend’s apartment.  I’d known Morris since Fiji.  This is where I’d stay for nearly a week.  

It just so happened the Seafarers’ International Union of North America was across the street from his apartment building.  What were the odds?

Next morning I took that fateful walk across the street and made myself known to them, stating my intentions and then fell into their process.  One of these things was to take their form to a doctor (choose one from a list f I didn’t have one up there, which of course I didn’t) for shots, check-up, etc.,  whew!  What a lot of technical to-dos.  

I returned to Morris’ apartment late that afternoon with the certificate of completion of the union’s medical requirements.

I also had the need to go to bed.  My arms were loaded with shots, painful, swollen and these caused me to feel quite ill.  Well I was forewarned by the doctor this most likely would be the side effect.

I did manage to call home and check with Diana about Alok’s health, how Amar and Asha were doing, how she was getting on, things at home and you know, stuff.  

She comforted me, telling me that all is well and how wonderful it was having Susan and Lisa with her young son just next door.  I told her about the not-so-fun time at the doctor’s office.

Fortunate for me, Morris’ wife nursed me a bit, fed me good Indian food and I was able to rest the remainder of the day and the night through.  The next two days I was really a mess.  I felt much better the third day.

In that next morning I returned to the Seafarers’ Union office to submit the doctor’s completed form and certification showing I had all the proper vaccinations.  

After what appeared to be a thorough review the staff behind the counter gave back to me all of my papers, the ID clearance card which I had previously obtained in Long Beach and my identification to include my British passport and my Green Card.

I was instructed to sit with the other fellows over in the reception area.  We would wait. Little conversations took place, something to pass the time.  I noted I was the only Indian, there was a small handful of African origin gents, a couple of Irish men and the rest were American or something.  I’m guessing.  It’s not really important, is it?

My name was called and I went back up to the counter.  I was told,  “We need a waiter.”  The one agent asked if I was experienced.  I replied, ‘Yes and I have worked on a ship before.’  I was then instructed to throw in my ID card, like literally.  

It felt like a gamble; it’s the way they do it.  Other people reviewed my papers and near immediately I was accepted for the position.

Next thing is I’m being told where the ship is docked.  It was at my own expense to get to this ship.  The location is on Suisan Bay at Concord, California.  I’ve been given everything I need to report to that ship.  Grateful for the job I returned to Morris’ apartment and shared my exciting news.  

|||


Suisan Bay   a part of Contra Costa County which is located in north-­central California.  This is where you’ll find the Concord Naval Weapons Station.  That’s about 70 miles southwest of the capital of Sacramento.