Daily Archives: 16 June 2004

New Missionaries to Japan, 1950

We left for Japan from Winchester, Virginia, in August of 1950. We travelled from Martinsburg by train. We had one child who was one year old and 17 pieces of baggage. We traveled to Cincinnati, Ohio, where we had to change trains for the three day trip to San Francisco where we would debark for Japan. Our cabin was a small one with barely enough room for us to sit or lie down. Joel had problems with being cooped up so long in such a small space. Edith was pregnant and often sick from the motion of the train. It was not the most pleasant trip of my life.

We finally arrived in San Francisco where we stayed in a hotel for two days until the ship left. The several new missionaries who met there took turns baby-sitting each other’s children so that they would have some chance to tour the city and make final preparations for departure. We embarked on the President Cleveland on or about August 12 for the two weeks voyage. Our accommodations were great and the ship provided us plenty of space to move around, laze about, play shuffle board, horseshoes, deck volleyball, and take walks around the ship. Joel had just learned to walk and could not understand why the surface on which he walked kept bobbing around. The food was exquisite. Our waiter complained, “A banquet every meal” and he was right! We could order as many appetizers, entrees and desserts as we wanted. Mealtime was sometimes quite an experience with a one year old and a pregnant, seasick wife, but I mainly remember how good the food was.

We arrived in Japan on August 23, 1950. Japan was a long way from home in Southampton County, Virginia. Except for the trip on a cattle boat to Europe in 1946, including a brief few days in Poland, this was my first experience outside of the United States. I really knew very little about the land which would be my domicile for most of the next twenty years or so. I knew even less of the Japanese language for it was the philosophy of the Foreign Mission Board that foreign languages were best learned in the country where the missionaries would work. A Japanese actress who had spent most of her life in the United States and was on the President Cleveland returning to her native land to play a leading role in Madame Butterfly took the time to teach those of us who were interested a few phrases in Japanese. So, as I have so often in my life I embarked on an adventure for which I was ill prepared.

I did not at that time fully realize that all those Japanese were not the foreigners but we were. Americans often feel that natives of other lands are the foreigners rather than ourselves when we travel to their countries. Everything seemed so “foreign” to me. The language sounded like nothing I had ever studied or heard. Signs in Japanese had no appearance of familiarity as would have Spanish or German for instance. The many unknowns gave the whole experience an aura of excitement but the predominant feeling was one of awe and uncertainty about what lay ahead. I remember seeing an American flag flying on a ship in Yokohama harbor and feeling a sense of security that we would be living under an occupation which would provide some measure of safety in this strange land to which I have come to live. This proved to be true but I do not remember feeling any anxiety about being mistreated by the Japanese even after the Occupation was over. The Japanese people welcomed us and were gracious to us. They were often rude but not more so to us than to each other it seemed. In fact, they treated us better than they treated each other. We learned soon that an outward politeness was often a cloak for negative feelings but on the whole we were pleasantly surprised that these people who not so long ago had been America’s bitter enemies were now so very friendly to Americans and so eager to learn all they could about their former enemies.

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Evacuation Day from Korea, 1940

During the Korean War, the rapid UN retreat from northern Korea in the face of massive intervention by the “Chinese People’s Volunteers” in late 1950 was known as the Big Bugout. Almost exactly ten years earlier, many Westerners in Japanese-occupied parts of Northeast Asia staged their own Big Bugout.

On September 12, 1940, U.S. Ambassador Joseph Grew cabled Washington from Tokyo with his famous “green light message,” switching his support to the hard-liners in the U.S. government who wanted to punish Japan for its aggression on the Asian mainland. Yet punishment was hardly advisable as long as thousands of American civilians, all potential hostages, were living in the Japanese Empire. It was time to put out the signal that war was getting closer by evacuating “non essential” American civilians from East Asia. The number to be evacuated from China, Japan, and Korea was estimated at over a thousand, making it necessary to charter several passenger ships to make the rounds and pick them up. The SS Washington was sent to Shanghai, the SS Monterey to Shanghai and Yokohama, and the SS Mariposa to Shanghai and Ch’inhuangtao in northeast China, Jinsen (Inch’ôn) in Korea, and Kobe, Japan.

The State Department’s evacuation order went out to embassies and consulates during the second week of October. When it reached Seoul, Consul-General Gaylord Marsh quickly wrote up a notice and passed it to American community leaders for distribution….

He had no legal power to order anyone to leave Korea. However, the American community reacted with something bordering on panic. An immediate casualty was Pyeng Yang Foreign School. At the time, PYFS was one of the best international boarding schools in Asia with a history of more than forty years. It had started the 1940-41 school year in September with new teachers from the United States and 105 students, 55 of them from outside Korea, and everything had functioned normally through the middle of October. But over the weekend of November 1, PYFS simply ceased to exist. When the evacuation order came from Consul-General Marsh, the school board held an emergency session and voted to suspend classes without delay. The boarding students were put on trains within hours, and three days later, on Tuesday; November 4, the school closed forever….

The withdrawal of American civilians from Korea touched off withdrawals by British subjects also, including Canadians and Australians who were essential to the Protestant missionary effort. In Seoul, Horace and Ethel Underwood were appalled by the stampede. After fighting off the Presbyterian Mission’s attempts to remove them from Chosen Christian College, they were in no mood to obey the consul-general’s alleged order. Horace was angry at the way Gaylord Marsh had frightened the expatriate community….

The evacuation “order” caused consternation in Japan. In Tokyo, the Japan Advertiser gave the official Japanese view that “Evacuation in principle is all wrong and a retrograde move. Even at the cost of some personal and temporary difficulties it should be stopped, if not by governments, as far as possible by individuals.” A columnist in the Miyako described the U.S. government as “trembling at phantoms” while the Tokyo Nichi Nichi said that the evacuation was one of a series of moves meant to intimidate Japan and wondered what subsequent moves might be. Other Japanese papers welcomed the withdrawal as a chance to move in on American privileges and markets in China and Korea. While expressing amazement that Washington could think its citizens in danger, the departure of American and British “fifth columnists” was seen as a boon to the future of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere.

On November 15, 1940, the Mariposa crossed the Yellow Sea and anchored at Inch’ôn…. For the Americans on shore, the next morning brought Evacuation Day. From all parts of Seoul by car, Korean kuruma cart, and on foot, more than two hundred Americans converged on the railroad station for the 22-mile trip to Inch’ôn. Porters carried trunks on chigye A-frames, enough to create a mountain of baggage on the platform. Korean friends braved police surveillance to come and say good-bye, and there were enough empty seats on the special evacuation train to permit many of them to travel all the way to Inch’ôn for their last farewells….

Toward dusk, the Mariposa weighed anchor and headed for the open sea, the Americans aboard feeling reassured by a rumor that the cruiser USS Augusta was out in the darkness standing watch. Life on the Mariposa then took shape as people settled into their cabins. The ship was not full, so the captain did away with the class system–after making sure that the Foreign Service families had the best cabins. The crew organized games and parties for the 196 children on board. Religious services were organized and a room was set aside for daily meditation. And there were the ship’s usual amusements: tea dances, movies, and band concerts. On Thanksgiving Day there was a turkey feast. In fact, everything wonderful about America seemed to be contained on the Mariposa. “The Mariposa is a little bit of Heaven,” wrote one evacuee. A tea dance menu carefully preserved by another bore the notation “This boat is a luxury ship, and no mistake–everything about it is superb.”

SOURCE: Living Dangerously in Korea: The Western Experience 1900-1950, by Donald N. Clark (Eastbridge, 2003), pp. 250-257

I have similar fond memories of being “evacuated” to Japan aboard the SS President Cleveland and SS President Wilson as a kid.

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