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Manoa 13.1 (2001) 109-115

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From Japan Journals

Donald Richie


It was winter--cold, crisp, and clear--and Mount Fuji stood sharp on the horizon, growing purple, then indigo in the fading light. I was standing at the main crossing at Ginza 4-chome.

There was no smoke because there were few factories, no fumes because the few cars were charcoal-burning. Fuji looked much as it had for Hokusai and Hiroshige.

Then the sky darkened and the stars appeared--bright, near. The horizon stayed white in the winter light after the sun had vanished and Fuji had turned a solid black.

The Ginza was illuminated by acetylene torches of the night stalls and by the passing headlights of Occupation jeeps and trucks. In the darkness, Fuji remained visible, a jagged shadow fading into the winter night.

Most of the buildings were cinder. It was a wasteland. And from the crossing, Japan's familiar peak was seen as it had not been seen since Edo times and as it would not be again until another catastrophe.

At the crossing, there were only two large buildings still standing. One was the Ginza branch of Mitsukoshi Department Store. But it was gutted, hit by a firebomb, and even the window frames had been twisted by the heat. Across the street was the white stone Hattori Building with its clock tower. It was much as it had always been, once the clock itself was repaired. With its curved front window, cornices, and pediments, it remained from the prewar Ginza.

South there was not much, nor east, where the standing ruins of the burned-out Kabukiza constituted the view. West were the round, red, drumlike Nichigeki and the Asahi Building. At Hibiya there were a few buildings, some theaters. There were the Sanshin Building, still standing; the Asahi Saimei Building, where the military-police offices were; the Tokyo Takarazuka Theater, then called the Ernie Pyle; and the Hibiya and Yurakuza motion picture theaters--these last destroyed later, as was so much else, by peace, affluence, and the high price of land.

The view was block after block of rubble. The wooden buildings had not survived. The buildings that still stood were made of stone or brick. Yet [End Page 109] already among these large, fire-blackened structures, there was the yellow sheen of new wood. Reconstruction was under way.

It was the first month of 1947, over a year after the end of the Pacific War.

People were still returning to the city. During its destruction, many had left, and now it seemed that every day more returned.

During my cold, late-afternoon Ginza stroll, walking down to view Fuji in the five-thirty twilight of midwinter, I saw numerous people shuffling along the pavement. But there was no laughter and little conversation. One somehow expected festivity--there were so many people shambling along or lounging about. But there was none. And instead of shop windows there were the street stalls, each illuminated by its gas torch.

Everything was being sold--the products of a dead civilization. There were wartime medals and egret-feather tiaras and top hats and beaded handbags. There were bridles and bits and damascene cufflinks. There were ancient brocades and pieces of calligraphy, battered woodblock prints and old framed photographs. Everything was for sale--or for barter.

And around the stalls, the people. Uniforms were still everywhere--black student uniforms, army uniforms; young men wearing their forage caps, or their army boots, or their winter-issue overcoats. Others were in padded kimono, draped with scarves. Women still wore kimono or the monpei trousers used for farm work which in the cities constituted something like wartime dress. And many wore face masks because of winter colds. And everyone was out of fashion. In peacetime they were still dressed for war.

The crowd was very quiet. The only sound was the scuffling of boots, shoes, wooden sandals. That and the noises of the merchandise being picked up, turned over, and put down. The merchants made no attempt to sell. They sat and looked, perhaps smoking a pinch of...