I shouldn’t have done this

by Jeff Berry

When we moved to Dai Nippon, the Military Occupation was still in effect, meaning that Americans were treated by the Japanese public very carefully. To a youngster like me, aged about 11, the whole setup seemed to be made for me. I had free transport by bus from home in Negeshi Heights to downtown Yokohama. Once in Yokohama, I could board any one of dozens of ancient trams which took me to all sorts of exotic places. I embraced the Orient with its sights, smells and music. Loudspeakers played the hit tune that year, Kana Kana Musumei (in English, Can Can Girl).

Yokohama was still being rebuilt from its horrendous wartime firebombing by the “B-ni jus”, (B29s) as the locals called it then. The replacement houses were mostly the same type of edifices that had stood in the original spots before the war. There were a warren of narrow lanes for me to explore, where anything was possible. The local Japanese policemen were polite to me and never stopped me. The American Military Police seemed impressed by my father’s rank, which I dropped when needed. He was a Major then and they were mere enlisted GIs. Looking back through the retroscope, I can see that I was regrettably a spoiled stinker.

So I could explore to my heart’s content. One time I was walking through what was probably the Red Light District of the town, although I didn’t then know the meaning of the word, since I was obeying the Cub Scout Oath and was always mentally and morally straight, whatever that meant.

I was walking up a narrow path. From ahead of me strode two young ladies who probably worked near by. I will politely call them “entertainers”. They were laughing and having a good time. The girls split up as they espied me approaching. When they were abreast of me, they grabbed me by the upper arm on either side and picked me off of the ground.

I was now being propelled backwards down the road! I weighed about 85 lbs. in those days. Kidnapped!

I yelled to them, “STOP!”.

“Oh, American boy, we are going to show you something you will like very much”, one of them said. They giggled.

The trouble was that I did not want to go with them and was scared that I was being abducted!

After 50 feet or so, I managed to tear myself free and escape from their inviting clutches. (In later years, I regretted this move, but I was just too young for such adventures.)

Once free from White Slavery or something worse, I ran off. Still in a mood for (children’s) adventure, I stumbled upon a magic shop. Somehow I remember it as being out of the Willie Wonka movie, although I had not seen that film yet.

It was amazing! One could purchase all sorts of delightful things to scare one’s parents, like mechanical spiders, wind-up toy rats that ran around the floor, whoopee cushions and a wide range of costumes. I also discovered faux tattoos, where one could wet them and carefully apply them to the body. They looked real. I had to have one!

I chose an imposing crimson red heart. It took up my complete upper shoulder. The heart was pierced by a dagger which went in and then back out. It dripped graphic drops of blood from the wound. Most realistic, I thought. Above the heart I added the word MOM. All this cost me about Y400 (roughly $1.25). I put my shirt back on, covering my masterpiece and headed home. Wouldn’t Mother be surprised when she saw my latest joke, I thought.

When I returned Mom was waiting for me.

“What did you do today, Jeff?”

“Oh nothing much,” I replied. “I just got a tattoo.”

“A tattoo!” she exclaimed. “Show me!”

I proudly rolled up my right sleeve revealing my tribute to parental love.

Mother would break out laughing now, I thought. It was all so funny.

She didn’t, however.

Mother let out a wail and then gave a series of heaving sobs.

“Jeffy, how could you have done this?” she asked.

I had tricked Mom all right, but in the worst possible way. I had made her cry!

I made my apologies and scrubbed MOM, heart and dagger and drips of blood from my body.

Which explains why after all these years, I am tattoo free.


Check out Jeff’s book, Notes To Mother

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