When Mom Left for America

When Mom Left for America

While in Japan I ran across a bunch of scanned photos that I think my sister did last time she was there. I grabbed them and within the collection, I found one of my favorite old photos of my mom.

My father loves Japan. He moved there in the early Sixties when not too many Americans would venture to the “Far East” as they used to call it back then. The story goes is that he was in Amsterdam, working for a Dutch trading firm, when word went out that they were opening a branch office in Tokyo. He jumped at the opportunity. His job was to find interesting things for his company to import from Japan.

At that time the Japanese Yen was something like 330 JPY/USD. He had a flat in the tony suburb of Denenchofu, took taxis everywhere, had a maid, and basically lived like a king. He met my mom during this time, they hit it off and began dating.

My Japanese grandmother and grandfather were suspicious. They had heard of young GIs wooing away the young daughters of the village and then flying off to the US where they never saw them again.

My dad was different. He was not in Japan with the Army. He deeply respected the culture, took kendo, studied kanji, and planned to live in Japan for the rest of his life. It took my father a long time, he said a year or two, to convince my grandparents that he was not going to be one of those to steal away their eldest daughter.

If you know my dad, you know he has eclectic tastes. Apparently his nominations for lucrative exports (colorful koinobori flags for one) were not cutting it with the home office and after a time, they decided to shut down their Japanese operation which was not proving lucrative. At that time it was impossible for a foreigner to get a job in Japan unless you were there with the military. The English teacher route wasn’t an option, no one could afford one. My father had no choice but to return to the United States, specifically New York City, where he knew friends in the publishing industry that could get him a job.

My grandmother was not pleased.

The photo above is one of my favorites of my mom. Here she is, all dressed up to fly to New York. This is when people flew Pan Am or BAOC and they got all dressed up to fly. And look in the background, at my grandmother, dressed up as well in a kimono, to see her eldest daughter off to somewhere very, very far away. She’s scowling! I can imagine what’s going through her mind, “I knew this would happen, I knew this would happen!”

Flash-forward to several months later to the photo below. Dad now has a job in Manhattan and the two of them are living in a brownstone in Brooklyn. Life’s pretty good but my Mom’s trying to figure things out. My dad suggests a local Welcome Wagon event for recent immigrants – maybe she’ll meet someone there.

The Brooklyn Welcome Wagon (circa 1965)

And here is my 2nd favorite photo of my mom. She’s there trying her best to fit in. They’ve got some weird activity where you’re supposed to cut up some Dixie cups into stars and that’s the supposed to be this crafty thing. I guess this is folk art for a country that’s only 150 years old. You can see she’s trying her best to put on a smile for the camera but you can see that she’s thinking, “What the heck have I gotten myself into?”

Anyway, thanks for indulging me in this bit of family history. These two photos have been haunting me and I’ve told this story numerous times to friends and have referred to these photos and now I have a link that I can send them so they can see for themselves.


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