Story: Japanese Navy In Portland

Story: Japanese Navy In Portland

(c) Leo G Campbell       3/12/2017      11/4/2016

Story: Japanese Navy In Portland

In 2005, I read a brief news blurb, in the Portland Oregonian newspaper:

“Two Japanese Navy light cruisers, carrying Japan’s entire naval class of 126 fresh commissioned officers, would be tied up at our Portland, Oregon Seawall.”

The Portland Commerce Chamber, and the Mayor, asking for volunteer Portland citizens –

” – to greet several Japanese, young officers assigned to them, to show, ” … around Portland”.

“Phone this number, sign up, & give your ID details. The new Navy of Japan, shall arrive in 10 days… ”

Well, now.

Okay, so I secured my friend Dean, to be a guide to Portland, too. We were both US military veterans, Air Force and Navy. I rented a new Ford passenger van, we were all set. The early morning we drove downtown, to our Willamette River Seawall, on the west side of the Willamette River, to the ships.

A hundred-plus, uniformed Japanese military were lined up, in “summer white” uniforms. Dean and I met our two assigned visitors, shook hands. We all politely got in the van, Dean in front as shotgun, the two young officers sat in the second seat.

I was a Viet Nam vet, disabled, former Air Force officer. Dean was enlisted Navy, post-Nam.

The Tall One, quiet in demeanor, asked, “May we – I see – a Yellow Rose – this is the Rose City, Eh?” “Where? I want to see.”

To see a yellow rose – West Hills – Rose Test Garden, in full, early summer bloom.

Tall One, could speak halting English, which worked good enough for our tour to be meaningful (did the ships’ senior officers, pair their men off this way, deliberately? I would say, yes).

Dean and I confirmed, we had a Portland tour in mind, but would take their requests.

The Tall One said, “I would love to see a real, yellow rose. Portland is,  The City of Roses, yes?”

Tall One was referring to Portland’s history of having annual Rose Festivals, since 1906. Our city now had a complete Rose Test Garden nearby, that we could show him thousands of yellow roses… we explained, and they agreed.

We drove up West Burnside, through our clean busy downtown, then up into the West Hills.

The Rose Test Garden, is a formal city park, complete with acres of plateau-ed rose bushes, all carefully labeled as to name. All the rosey colors… red, yellow, pink, and whatall.

We went to a “yellow” area, as Tall & Less Tall took many photos… yes, both had nice Japanese film cameras. Tall One was very pleased. We stood at a viewpoint by the rose acreage, took the view of the city, below.

Portland stretching away to the east, where small green mountains surrounded the father mountain, Mount Hood, garbed in bright white snow. It must have reminded them of Mount Fuji, but none of us spoke.

In the car, I briefly explained that the West Hills (400 feet elevation above Portland) were part of the Ice Ages; much of the soil here, had been pushed by glaciers moving down from Canada, eons ago.

Short One said something in Japanese, making Tall One smile. “He says, then we are on Canadian soil here, yes?” Ah. So, Canada… quite, yes. Here in Portland, USA.

Tall One & Short One, were out of 35mm color film, so I stopped at the Safeway supermarket grocery store, down below the Gardens, and the four of us entered the store. The current popular color film had a large display, with scads of green film boxes for sale. They nodded at it, but didn’t move to it. I said, “Fuji Film, yes?”

“No, Kodak!!” T & S said together. So I walked them over to Kodak, where they filled up a hand basket, with scores of yellow boxes. As we stood together in the Safeway checkout line, Tall One explained to me, “Kodak better, kinds of color.” These guys – I knew they were well educated in engineering. and related sciences.

As we got back in our van, I thought, what a great television commercial for Kodak Color Film, we just acted out… two young Japanese Navy officers in an American supermarket, in white military naval officers’ uniforms:

Me, the el stupido Americano gringo: “Fuji Film, yes?” Closeup to T & S:

“No, Kodak!!. “. Followup with Tall One at the checkout: “Kodak, better kinds of color.”

But I never did bother with it…

We crossed across Portland to the east side of town, going from the Safeway store to Mount Tabor Park, a 250-foot high, fir tree-covered steep hill, we drove up to near the top, parked and got out. The “steep hill” actually was the ancient lava cone of a now-extinct volcano. Our city fathers didn’t discover that, until 1915.

Viewing from Mount Tabor – Short One told us that, as we sat by the road, the Franklin High School Building far below, “Looks like the Hiroshima Naval Academy – you know? Hiroshima, “Boom”.

I did not tell him, of my father, in the U.S. Army Air Corps, who served in the 663rd Heavy Bombardment Squadron (the “Atom Bomb Squadron). My dad served in the squadron’s “Intelligence” Unit – they planned the timing, etc. of America’s attack on Hiroshima, and Nagasaki…

We drove north, on Interstate 5, across the interstate highway bridge, into the small river town of Fort Vancouver, state of Washington. We left the highway, and drove into a large cleared area, that displayed Fort Vancouver – the replica of the first fur traders, of the Hudson’s Bay Company, who in 1824 built the original log stockade with Dr. John Mcloughlin (“The White Eagle” due to his long white hair and the fierce look in his eyes) as it’s Chief Factor.

The U.S. Forest Service had a small museum displaying artifacts fron the original fort. Bid and Tall Ones noticed a large map, showing the course of migration of the first indigenous peoples  from Siberia, across the Bering Strait, into North America.

Our young officers said that Asians sike to study the history of the early native migrations – our “Indians” were actually Asians. Yes, and we all smiled.

Outside, in front of the museum, was a huge 18th century sailing ship’s boat anchor, and its long, iron anchor chain.

The display sign, said it was recently found a few hundred yards away, sunk in the depths of the Columbia River.

The belief was, the ship had sailed up the Columbia River to the fort, deposited passengers and cargo, then “raised anchor” to return to England. And then, somebody forgot to properly secure the chain, and the entire anchor assembly then sank into the river.

The four of us stood silently, and studied the anchor and chain. The mistake was disastrous – the ship could go nowhere without its anchor assembly… we were all speechless. Wow. And – what happened to the unfortunate anchor crew? Wow, again.

We returned to Portland, and had lunch at a nice German-style restaurant on NE Sandy Boulevard. We sat at a good table, ordered our food, and teased our young offices: “Sorry, no chopsticks!” – Knife & fork for chopsticks… Hmmm.

Tall One smiled, picked up his fork and knife, and displayed the metal eating utensils in his right hand, moving them as if, using them, as chopsticks. It was very funny.

We went to two neighborhood, outdoor house sales –

– A “yard sale”, followed by a “garage sale”, a few blocks away.

At the yard sale, occupants of their house, placed for sale, some household things of value, on small tables in the front yard, also on the lawn strip by the street.

All of us, in quiet, polite single file, walked around, studied everything… all the items.

The household owners were quiet, and smiled at each other ( I whispered loudly, “These are friends of ours, from Japan”).

There were electric coffee pots, tea pots, and frying pans, parlor games, ceramic figurines, even a real handgun, a Colt .22 caliber revolver (unloaded, I checked, but with a box of .22 shells next to it, on the table), and an airgun pellet rifle for shooting squirrels. Oregon, with the normal American gun laws.

Short One would speak for both, ask a price. How much for this book? Do they have one like it, in Japanese, for sale?

Or, this is a nice lamp, but I could never take it on ship… fit it, in my bunk…

Tall One purchased a very nice cultured pearl necklace, in a clam shell case, for $35 US. I thought he did a fine bargain, it should retail in a Portland store, for $125 US. Before we got in the car, we all gave him hearty congratulations. Tall One was always somewhat quiet, but he smiled, and beamed.

We had to park our car at the curb, at the next sale, and walk up a short driveway, to visit the vehicle garage, to inspect items inside, for the sale. In the eastern USA, such sales are called “tag sales”, because each item for sale, has a price tag. This term, makes no sense on the west coast of the USA. This is, a “garage sale”.

Nailed up on the wall of the garage, was a mounted taxidermy head, of a black bear, priced at $120 US. All of us, admired it and wanted it. Dean finally purchased it – to the  envy of the rest of us.

We were returning to the river sea wall, and stopped on West Burnside, for a late afternoon snack. I pulled the car into a “drive-through”lane, at the McDonalds – no line – we ordered into the loudspeaker box, to an invisible voice – “4 Cokes”.

And, “4 Big Macs, and 4 Berry Pies”. Instant nourishment, instant gratification. A plastic part, of America, but it was sufficient for the moment.

Parked back at the sea wall, at the Japanese Navy ships, the four of us, looked around, then at the ships, where white-uniformed young naval officers were returning onboard.

We had been gone 8 hours, sharing a very unique trip, around Portland, Oregon, but… also, around America. Around, and… about Us, we were Americans. Picked at random.

We all knew, we had enjoyed our trip. We respected, each other, we also liked, enjoyed each other’s company. So.

Shaking of hands. A straightening, of bodies. Turning. We watched them return to their ship.

Several months later, I received in the mail, an envelope from Tall One. Inside were photos of his family, a shrine, and a note, “I shall pray for you.”

And two pairs of Japanese cuff links, each displaying the “Rising Sun”, differently.

I guess, one for Dean, and one for me.




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