Japan Trip

My Japan trip was really a dream come true. I had heard from one of my university friends about an audiovisual conference that he was trying to arrange in Tokyo. I didn't dare hope that it would really happen, but one day he was on the phone saying, "Funds for my project have been approved by the US Office of Education. Also Anna Hyer, AECT Executive Secretary, has approved the project. Now I am making the final plans and I am depending upon your attendance"

So, in just three weeks after I got home from Paris, Darlene and I were on our way to Japan. We decided to spend a day in Honolulu, Hawaii, on the way. We notified our teacher friend, Lillian Lum, that we were coming. We had made her audiovisual catalog earlier, and she had visited us while we were working on it.

Lillian met us at the airport and immediately put leis around our necks to properly welcome us. She took us on a whirlwind tour. We saw her office at the University of Hawaii; Diamond Head, an extinct volcano and now a military establishment; China town; and the Punchbowl Cemetery. She then took us to our hotel and made arrangements to meet us later for dinner. She and her husband treated us to a Chinese dinner in a very nice restaurant.

We had promised to call Merilyn Kingís parents while in Hawaii. Merilyn, who was a runner in training for the Olympics, was a college friend of Glendaís. We called them and they came to our hotel. Even though we were tired after our long day, we really enjoyed visiting with them.

The next morning we had an interesting breakfast at the International Market. Then we rented a car and drove to the sugarcane fields, pineapple farms, Waikiki Beach, The United Methodist Church and Pearl Harbor.

Sugarcane was nothing new to me. Dad had raised sugarcane and stored it in our silos. Iím sure it was a different variety from the Hawaiian cane, however. Dadís cane didnít have much sugar in it, but the livestock seemed to like it fine anyway. The sugarcane in Hawaii grows tall and had a very high sugar content.

Dole Pineapple signs were everywhere. We were disappointed that we didn't get to visit a processing plant, but we did see the pineapple fields.

Waikiki beach was just as beautiful as the pictures we had seen of it. It rained off and on while we were there, and no one else was around. Regardless of the weather, we took off our shoes and socks, walked on the warm wet sand, and took a few steps out into the water.

Next we found the Honolulu Methodist Church. It was an unusual building. There were no real side walls, just huge arched structures that held up the roof. One could tell it never got very cold there.

Pearl Harbor and the USS Arizona Memorial were the highlights of the afternoon. The Japanese sank the USS Arizona in the harbor on December 7, 1941. Hundreds and hundreds of men went down with the Arizona. Rather than try to raise the Arizona to the surface, it was determined that the entire area around the ship would be a National Memorial to honor the men still entombed there. Seeing that place brought back lots of my war memories. I had indeed been blessed to get home safely from my years in the South Pacific.

Our day in Hawaii was all too short, and soon we were on our plane headed for Japan.

We had to stop at Wake Island to refuel. That island reminded me of the small islands I had landed on during the war, such as Palau and Wadke. I always felt queasy when we landed on one of those little spots of ground in the middle of the Pacific, but I was lucky. I well remember how a plane of our guys didn't make it, and I had the job of writing letters of condolence to their families.

Upon landing in Tokyo, we knew at once that here was an entirely different culture. There was a different look all around us. Just as we entered the terminal, three smartly dressed Japanese men met us.

"Mr. McMurry?" one called.

"Yes," I said, feeling relieved that someone was there to meet me.

"We are from the National Science Museum. Follow us," one said, after gracious bows and handshakes.

We were immediately cleared through customs, and escorted to a sleek limousine which took us to the beautiful American style New Japan Hotel. Our hosts made us feel very welcome and safe in our strange surroundings. After giving us some information about scheduled events, they left the hotel.

We were alone now pinching ourselves that we were actually in Tokyo. We did some unpacking and then ventured from our room and out on the street to see what we could see. The many electric signs everywhere, all in Japanese, of course, made us know we were far from home.

As the next day was Sunday, we wanted to attend church if possible. We found a sign on the bulletin board of the hotel lobby for Tokyo Union Church, which had English language services. We asked if it was near and they assured us that it was, and a taxi could take us there.

Sunday morning it wasn't hard to find a taxi. There were scads of them waiting in front of the hotel. When we started to enter the rear door of the taxicab, the door opened automatically. How nice! I was just sure that getting to our destination would be a snap. The hotel clerk had written the address of the church on a piece of paper so we were doubly sure that the taxi driver knew where he was going. He looked at the address and smiled graciously. Then he rushed from the curb and headed into that "herd" of cars that seem to think getting anywhere meant get there fast, real fast.

After the driver had stopped several times to look at that piece of paper, we began to become suspicious that he was lost! Finally, he stopped and pointed to his left. We looked down a narrow street and thought we saw the church. He didn't seem to want to go any further, and the street really didn't look as if it were made for cars. He seemed to want us to get out. I guess he didn't know any other street to go on to get any closer to the church. The walk was longer than we had expected, but we finally got to the church. Of course, we were late.

There was a small congregation made up of both Caucasian and Japanese. We enjoyed visiting with several people after the service. I've forgotten just how we found our way back to the hotel.

I do know that we rode the subway during the afternoon, and it was crowded with people. The subway was very clean and ran very quietly. Of course, we couldnít read the signs so we had to depend upon those who spoke a little English. The young people seem to know the best English. We carried a card with the hotel address and just pointed to it to learn which subway to enter and exit.

That evening taxis were waiting to take all of us conference delegates and our wives to dinner. That taxi ride was one we didn't soon forget. There were no traffic lines on the streets, and our driver darted in and out among the many cars at a very fast speed. How he kept from crashing, Iíll never know! We thought for sure that we would be the first to arrive. However, we were the last! He must have taken us the long, long way around.

We had dinner sitting on pillows around the table. The meal consisted of several courses, but we didn't know what we were eating most of the time. Oh, yes, as we ate, the Geisha girls entertained us. The evening was a delightful experience.

We noticed that none of our hosts had brought their wives with them. I suspect this was a place that usually only men came to dine, but they made an exception in allowing our wives to come.

The three-day conference was a rather mundane affair. Since some of the Japanese delegates couldnít understand English, everything said had to be translated making each talk twice as long.

I shouldnít complain about the few hours of formal conference times, because they treated us royally the entire three days. Iíve already described our Sunday night dinner. Monday night there was a lavish reception in the hotel. Tuesday night they arranged for us to see the Kabuki Theater. Wednesday afternoon we visited their National TV facility. It was certainly a large operation.

While we men were in conference, they entertained our wives. Their guide was a young lady who had been an American Field Service exchange student to the states. She had stayed with a family in Southern California, and, as we promised, we called her foster parents when we returned home.

She took the wives to the Emperorís Palace. They were told that very few Japanese citizens were allowed inside. They were greeted by the Emperorís Director of Music who showed them the beautiful concert hall and the collection of ancient musical instruments. They also visited the Olympic Stadium. In fact, we men felt a little cheated, having to sit and talk while they were having such fun.

I must tell a little about that Kabuki Theater. The building itself was very large with a well-lighted marquee. Inside it was elaborately decorated. The play lasted four hours and, of course, we couldnít understand a word. All the performers were masked, and men played all parts. The actorís voices, which were a combination of squealing and shouting, were interspersed with the sounds of various percussion instruments.

It was interesting to find that the audience took their lunches with them and ate all during the performance. So, we bought a box lunch and did as the Japanese did. The lunch was packed in a small wooden box. I have to admit we didnít know what we were eating and we didnít care too much for it, especially the raw fish.

At the close of the conference, we took the famous bullet train to Kyoto. It was supposed to top 125 mph, and I donít doubt it. However, the ride was very smooth and quiet.

In Kyoto we saw the Golden Buddha. It must be thirty feet high and, yes, coated with gold leaf. All we could do was to stare in awe.

At the Old Imperial Palace, we were especially intrigued by the sand garden. The sand in that forty by twenty-foot garden had been raked in geometrical patterns. One couldnít see where the raking had begun and where it had ended. Not only that, there were no footsteps in the sand.

We stayed at the International Hotel in Kyoto and had a surprise the next morning at breakfast. While waiting for our order, a couple Japanese girls walked toward our table. Imagine our astonishment when one of them asked in perfect English," Arenít you Mr. McMurry?"

"Yes, I answered," wondering how she knew me.

"Iím Ken Muriís wife," she said. Ken was one of my colleagues at the USCís Cinema Department. We learned that she and her sister were tourists the same as we. Furthermore, she couldnít speak a word of Japanese. Just another example of that well-known expression: "Itís a small world."

From Kyoto we went to visit Culver Cityís sister city Kaizuka, which is a suburb of Osaka. The city officials gave us a royal welcome and took us on a city tour. We saw the lovely Deer Park, which had not only deer, but also a large Buddha.

We chose a Japanese style hotel for the night. As expected we slept on the typical floor mats, and I have to admit that my back didnít feel too good the next morning.

As we returned to Tokyo on that fast train, we again enjoyed watching out the windows as we sped past the many rice paddies and other small garden spots.

In the afternoon we took a subway to the main downtown section of Tokyo, and had fun wandering through one of the large department stores. The streets were crowded, but all waited courteously at the corners for the green traffic lights. It was interesting just to watch all the people, but since we seemed so much taller, we did feel a little conspicuous.

There was a demonstration going on in one street and after asking many people, we finally learned it was against the Vietnam War.

Our next adventure was going to Yokohama by monorail and taxi. We visited the harbor, the Silk Center, the Temple, and the marine Tower.

Too soon, it was time to return to Tokyo and get on the plane for home. What a wonderful trip we had! We never regretted borrowing that money so Darlene could be with me. Later on, after I retired, we did lots of traveling, but nothing really ever topped the thrill of our Japan trip. How lucky I was to be chosen for that conference!

For a USC news release on my Paris and Tokyo conferences, click here.

Back to the Main Story