Dr. Davy McCall served as a Mandarin translator during the occupation of Japan and worked for the Allied Translator Interpreter Service (ATIS). McCall was in college when the war broke out. In 1945, McCall was assigned to the ATIS and served in that capacity until he left the service.
Going to the Kabuki
Second day I was there [in Japan], I had a roommate who had been there a little longer and spoke Japanese, he was very busy. Somebody, a Japanese contact had given him a ticket to the Kabuki theater and he couldn’t go. So he said “Would you like to go?” and I said “Oh sure.” So I went this was amazing because this was maybe late September of 1945 but the Kabuki was going.
What is that?
The Kabuki? Oh it’s a classic Japanese theater and its classic stories which have blood and thunder and maybe not much romance they’re very picturesque. The theater, the theater was a big theater and from the stage was a runway and the costumes are fantastic and masks and everything. And when the characters come on [imitation of character noises] they’re making they’re speeches and they run out on this runway into the audience so everybody has a chance to look at them more closely anyway this man said “would you like to backstage?” and “Oh, sure” I said. So we did and then he led me back underneath the theater where all the scenery was stored and I thought my gosh what are you doing here this would be a great place to lose an American soldier, but that was not what happened obviously. But it was very interesting because he took us back to see the stars getting dressed and it was all men no women, so the men were dressed as women. And remember this man we saw, he started out he was very slim, he had a white silk kimono and then another kimono and then a very elaborate, heavy brocaded kimono and then the big sash, the obi that’s buttons in the back, it was not tied just buttons, which I thought well that’s sort of phony. And then he puts on the wig and then he kind of minces out, he’s the heroine of the show. Y’know one of the things they showed me that impressed me, they had a whole shelf, a series of shelves and on it were heads they used in decapitation scenes. So that was an interesting experience.
And then that same man, he was actually the one who actually invited us to dinner and I felt guilty about the dinner. But I felt well we’re here and the war is over and they want to make some contacts with Americans perhaps have access to cigarettes, lets do it y’know lets make the contact. So I did and oh I met some other interesting people.
So what was it like interacting with the Japanese civilians, did they aside from y’know the few others you mentioned were they angry or were they just at a loss for what they lost in the war, how was that?
The man that I knew best, he was a doctor, Dr. Ayoki I think his name was. He invited us to his house and they had an upright piano and his daughter played the piano for us and then his son came in and his son was still in uniform, he had been demobilized. But he had been in the Kamikaze, the suicide and I could see from his look he was not at all happy at seeing us. And they were terribly without anything, without food. I remember it was, they didn’t have heat, y’know it’s cold in Tokyo, in Japan in the winter and they, melted as I mentioned their radiators and furnaces and it was just very, very tough. And I remember I was getting a rather pretty silk scarf for a friend of mine and this girl was selling it to me, a Japanese girl and I looked at her hands and they were just full of chilblains from the cold and I could see the way she handled it was oh this so beautiful and it’s not for me. That was, well I had one very interesting couple that I met, the wife was German and the husband German Japanese and they were interned and he was an engineer by profession and they lived in a little tiny style Japanese house, near Kama Cora which is down on the eastern peninsula, it was up on a hill, it was out of town and sort of the railroad was chugging along the end of the hill and I went to see them. And also I should say her mother was there with them, German mother , I think she was on the last trans-Siberian train that got from Germany to Shanghai. And anyway they were very cultured people and he worked in town, he got a job with the American occupation, with SCAP, which is a blessing.
And the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers (SCAP), that was Macarthur that was the American occupation authority. And so it was dusk and it was the weekend it was a Saturday and he was coming out for Saturday and Sunday to his family and so I said “oh”, I could hear the train [imitating train noises] down in the valley, coming along and then it stopped and he got off and was walking up the hill. And he began to whistle the theme from Beethoven’s fifth [imitates Beethoven’s 5th] and she would answer back and y’know as he got closer and closer of course it got louder and louder and louder very dramatic. But they of course had had [a] very, very tough time during the occupation, during the Japanese war because they had been interned. I think the Japanese had heard dreadful things about the Americans. I think one story was that in order to be a marine you had to kill your mother. And so they expected the worst and instead Americans were dealing in cigarettes, chocolate bars, so on, and were anything but fierce when they were there at least in most cases. Certainly in my experience in Tokyo and whatever else I saw.
Bartering for a Priest Robe
Had one funny experience. I collect antiques, I really got started in Japan because there were things there. And one day I took a trip to Nikko, which is a small town north of Tokyo, which has shrines beautiful shrines. And there was a big antique shop there and I visited it and I saw a beautiful piece of brocade and it was sort of gold with pink and blue figures on it. It was really very, very lovely. So I thought well gee I’d like to buy that and so I had cigarettes with me and I chocolate bars and I had soap and I brought them out and then he said to follow him back to his storeroom and it was piled to the ceiling with cigarettes, there were cartons. So, it was cold, it was in probably January and I noticed he was wearing long johns and so I pointed to my long johns he said [gesture signifying agreement]. So went to the men’s room in the town hall, got out of my long johns, gave them to him and came away with the brocade. Which I gave many, many years later to the Baltimore art museum. It was actually a priest’s robe which was also very special in construction. Buddha is said have been going up on a mountain, sort of in solitary contemplation and he was just dressed in rags and his disciples then brought him more pieces of cloth and so on. So this priest robe was made up of pieces that had been cut and then sewn back together. Although it was all from the same material so it was all one very beautiful piece of brocade but had been put together to look as though it was made in pieces for the priest’s robe.
Troop Ship and Censorship
So anyway there I was and then came back on a troop ship which was very very very crowded. And interesting it was totally integrated, we were all down in the hold in hammocks and about all you had in space was your hammock and you were in it. But it was there were African Americans all, Y’know it was just totally integrated that ship.
Was that different then when you went over?
Yes, I don’t remember any African Americans on the ship that we had went on, that was the so called assault transport and I don’t remember too much about it. I remember I wrote home to my mother and I was just what else to do. They had a good library and I was reading Russian novels Turgenev and Tolstoy and so on. And so I was what else can I write to mom about so I wrote a letter and I told her what I was reading and what I thought about and so on. And when she got the letter all the names of the books were x’d out, they though it was some sort code.