USS Midway


Alone in Tokyo

By Bruce Lonardo



Before I was fortunate enough to actually be stationed aboard USS Midway, I knew very little about the history or culture of Japan. However, the few traditional images and depictions I had seen before arriving (mainly in different issues of National Geographic magazine) fascinated me! Soon after I completed my basic training at Great Lakes, Illinois, I received my first set of PCS (Permanent Change of Station) duty station orders and learned that I was going to be stationed in Japan. I was thrilled!

I remember the day I first arrived in Japan aboard a Northwest Orient 747 flight. We landed at Yokota Air Force Base, near the outskirts of Tokyo. There was a small white Japanese transport bus just outside the passenger terminal that all of the newly arriving Navy and Marine Corps personnel were boarding onto (many of us were in transit either to the Midway or to one of the escort ships in her battle group). A few other persons and myself were the first to board the bus. The bus driver was an aged Japanese man and as we waited for the others to board the bus, the driver took out a small bamboo flute and began to play traditional Japanese songs. It was really nice and so began a two year tour in Japan that I would look back upon with fondness as a privileged adventure for the rest of my life.

I remember the first time I went on liberty to downtown Tokyo. I didn't know how to get around on the trains yet much less how to get to Tokyo, which was over thirty miles away from Yokosuka, where the Midway was home ported. A friend in my squadron, Duane Keating, offered to show me how to get to Tokyo on the train and so one Friday evening we headed to downtown Tokyo on the Yokosuka line, which ran from Yokosuka to Yokohama. In Yokohama we changed to another train which went from Yokohama to Tokyo.

Tokyo is the largest city in the world and it is actually made up of several cities. The Tokyo city I visited first was Shinjuku. This ultimately became my favorite city in Japan to go on liberty. In my opinion, Shinjuku was the most exciting place for fabulous nightlife in Tokyo. When we arrived at Shinjuku, I felt like I was in Disneyland, it was a city of lights in every direction. Everywhere you looked there were colored neon signs and more colored neon signs, all of them in the traditional kanji script of the Japanese language. There were in fact so many lights, the entire sky above the city glowed pink - and it was clearly night time. I was completely amazed at all the sights around me. Besides all the signs, I saw there were traditional Japanese lanterns hanging in front of many shops and markets. Outside of every restaurant that I saw, there were display cases which contained rubber models of all the different menu items each restaurant offered. There were so many people everywhere because much of Tokyo's Ginza (shopping district) is made up of open outdoor markets and shops.

On my first visit to Shinjuku, Duane and I headed to a place called Chester Bulley's Discotheque. When we arrived, the place was packed with people. Duane and I were the only Americans; actually we were the only non-Japanese people in the entire joint. Wow! There were so many beautiful Japanese women there! We must have seemed like a novelty to them because many of the Japanese people there took a noticeable interest in our presence but they were very polite and extremely friendly. Soon after we arrived, Duane had bumped into some Japanese friends of his that he had met there a few weeks before and he introduced me to them. They were very nice people and they invited us to come and sit with them at there table and we were delighted to. Not long after that, a Japanese girl that Duane had met the week before arrived at the club and met up with Duane and she wanted to take Duane out to dinner. When I realized Duane was leaving, I asked him to tell me again what train I should take to get back to Yokosuka. Duane told me that I should stay and not worry about rushing back to Yokosuka so soon. Now, I was the only American, all by myself, alone in the heart of downtown Tokyo for the first time ever. To be quite honest, it was a little scary… I mean to be there all alone and for the very first time!

However, before he left the discotheque, Duane told his Japanese friends it was my first time in Tokyo and asked if they could kind of show me around. I found my new hosts to be very delightful, affable people and I 'm quite sure that they perceived me the same way because we really clicked and I felt very comfortable in their company. In the group I was sitting with, there were three Japanese men and two Japanese women. They asked me what America was like and how I liked their country. I told them I found Japan to be a very beautiful country, a most wonderful place and that I was very happy to be stationed there. I was amazed as I soon realized that they spoke and understood English very well, in fact, most people in Japan who are students or around the college age do speak and understand English fluently as a second language. I found I had to speak slowly because they kind of have difficulty understanding slang or fast spoken English. I was having a good conversation with one of the Japanese guys in the group and in the course of our chat; I commented to him how beautiful I thought Japanese women were. He extended his arm in a hospitable gesture to the crowded dance floor of Japanese women and asked if I would like to be introduced to one. He told me he knew many of the girls that were there at the club. “Wow, really?!?” was my reply and I told him yes, I would like to be introduced to a Japanese woman. He then asked me "who would you like to meet?" So I asked him if he knew a particular Japanese girl who had been smiling at me from the dance floor. He brought me over to her and said something in Japanese and she started dancing with me. After we danced a few songs together, she came back to our table with me. Her name was Mitsuko Sato and she was a nineteen year old student at Waseda University in Tokyo. She didn't speak or understand English as well as the others but she was very nice and very nice looking.

I had been keeping a close eye on the time because in Japan, the trains stop running at midnight. They wouldn’t run again until 6:00 AM the next morning and I had early morning duty aboard the Midway the next day. When 11:00 PM arrived, I told my Japanese hosts that I had to get back to Yokosuka before the trains shutdown and I had to be back aboard my ship in the morning. The Japanese guy who had introduced me to Mitsuko told me not to worry, that we were all going to his house and that they would bring me to the train station in the morning. We all left the disco just as it was closing at midnight (and so were the trains), so at that point, I just surrendered to the will of the night. We all piled into a taxicab and the next thing I knew, we were at an all night grocery store. My hosts bought several different food items that I had never seen before. The only item I recognized was the rice they bought. They would not allow me to pay for anything and were politely quite insistent on this.

One of the novel things I remember about this small grocery store was that there was a small open window with some bamboo wind chimes hanging there that constantly jingled with a xylophone sound. After my hosts purchased their food items, we all piled into another taxicab and headed for the house of one of my hosts. Before long, we arrived at his house which was a small, very traditional Japanese house. Following the sliding front door there was a hallway of about ten feet and then another sliding door. However, before we could enter, we had to remove our shoes. This is a sacred Japanese tradition as old as the country itself and Japan is a country of about 1500 years old. Once inside, the size of the house's interior was about twenty-five by fifteen feet. There was really no furniture in it, just some thin bedding mattresses rolled up in one corner, some clothing chests, a huge Toshiba stereo boom box and a small flat lacquer-type table that stood very low to the floor with small flat pillows all around it to serve as sitting places. In the center of the room was a sliding partition dividing the room into two equal sections and it was soon opened, creating one big room. On the far side of one end of the room was a small open pantry area and over the sink was a small square open screened window where some brass wind chimes continually tinkled from the small breeze gently blowing through the window. On the opposite end of the single open room was another sliding door which led to a small bathroom. The interior walls were white and the longer walls each had two small square windows evenly spaced apart and were located up near the ceiling, so they were probably more intended to allow light into the small home and not meant so much to be viewing windows.

My hosts prepared a sumptuously delicious Japanese feast and we chowed down! Everything was delicious and my hosts were pleased to see that I really relished Japanese food. After our delicious meal, one of the girls took one of the host's cassette tapes of traditional Japanese Koto music out of a cassette briefcase and played it on low volume in the big stereo boom box that was in the small house. I found the sound of the Koto to be mesmerizing and so incredibly soothing. That was my first introduction to the sound of the Koto and I've loved Japanese Koto music ever since. I remember as I reflected on the moment, I could not believe how lucky I was. I couldn't get over where I was and what I was actually experiencing. It was like a fantastic fantasy that became reality without me even expecting it to. Then we retired for the night and my host divided the room into two sections with the sliding partition. Mitsuko and I were in one section and my three other hosts were in the other. My first trip to Tokyo could not have turned out better!

In the morning, we had breakfast and among the Japanese breakfast foods I tried which were new to me, was one of the most delicious sweet breads that I ever tasted. Soon after breakfast, my hosts brought me to the train station and I thanked them for their wonderful hospitality and said bye to Mitsuko. Mitsuko and I went out together a few more times afterwards, but unfortunately she moved to southern Japan and regrettably, we lost touch. In the year and a half that followed, I met many more nice and wonderfully kind Japanese people. Throughout the rest of my tour in Japan, I grew fonder of the Japanese people, their country, their culture and their incredible cuisine! Several years after I left the Navy, when I attended college back home, I wrote a final term paper in one of my English Composition classes about my first visit to Tokyo and I received an A on the paper. I titled the paper “Wind Chimes.”