Tom Marsh - The Other Sex

We saw very few of the women of Japan. As I have stated, on such times as we marched through the crowed districts to and from work, as in Yokohama, all civilians scuttled out of the way of the soldiery. If they did get in the way they were likely to be beaten. That is why when the Americans arrived it took some time to for the civilians to feel they were safe to line the curb. They are afraid of all soldiers.

I saw an amusing incident along these lines. We were being marched to work under a particularly obnoxious guard whom we called Moose Face and who, to us, seemed a little crazier then the others. He was one of the fortunate ones who had returned from active service abroad where possibly he had been wounded. To attract attention, when there were plenty around to observe him, he would spring out on the camp compound and go through extraordinary gymnastics, jumping around on all fours and springing into the air, finally standing erect and patting himself on the chest. Obviously he considered himself really something. The boys had a name for him but it is not printable.

On this occasion when we were marching to work, a Japanese civilian dared to attempt to cross the street through the lines of prisoners. Immediately Moose Face went into action. He seized the civilian by the collar, shook him and slapped him. This civilian however was of tougher fiber than the ordinary run of the mill. He shouted back at Moose Face and finally made him understand that he was one of the officials of the shipyard and of importance. Grasping this fact Moose Face countenance fell in dismay, and he stood at attention while the civilian soundly berated him, emphasizing each word with a blow. All of us, tattered and emaciated, grinned. Such incidents helped our morale, which surely needed a fillip (boost).

To return to the ladies, sex was in very little evidence in the camps. Malnutrition with its following of painful and weakening diseases, aggravated by constant labor, left no inclination or thought of sex. Hunger and its abeyance was our constant thought. Those who have never been really hungry cannot visualize the obsession to obtain enough to eat which besets the starving man. However, the Japs thought of women. They regarded women as a lesser breed to be used either as workers to perform all menial tasks in the home, and much if not most of the work in the factories and also for mans entertainment. Therefore through out Japan were the Geisha Houses and teashops. The Japanese woman was constant, hardworking and a slave to her husband. She was not allowed to sit at her own table until her Lord and Master had finished his meal and was made to walk five paces in the rear on the few occasions when he deigned to allow her to go out with him. However he could and did frequent the Geisha Houses and was entertained by as many females as he could afford.

During the later part of the war the authorities closed many of these places as a war measure, the Geishas being drafted to the factories. The Japs resented this and bemoaned the pleasures that were past. At the close of the war these houses immediately started up again. At Sendai coal mining camp, where we were marooned three weeks after liberation, most of the boys visited the town and some found themselves being entertained at the local Geisha establishments. I was one of these, as at the time they were the only Japanese places where we could go. We squatted around a bare room and were served in small cups of tea made out of willow leaves. A bevy of flat faced, flat chested waited us upon, duck bottomed females, bundled in a multitude of rags. They all wore insipid grins and toddled around evidently quite satisfied with themselves. It was rather pathetic. There was no music or dancing. A particularly gruesome number, with bad teeth, attached herself to me, devouring avidly an American chocolate bar which I gave her and hiding others in her not too clean garments. None spoke English and we soon tired of trying to show interest in Japanese. Then came the big moment. My partner squatted in front of me and giggling stupidly waved both hands in front of herself, evidently inviting my attentions. I refused, as did most our boys. Our not so charming hostesses were evidently disappointed, having I believe, lost face to those who had picked the less discriminating. We got out of there fast. We were bored and a little sick at such fraternization, male or female they were all Japs.

In the summer the boys had an occasional bath in the sea. There was no soap, towels, or bath suits. Such things are not worn in Japan. All bathe naked, male and female. In the towns and villages they have community bathhouses. In peacetime they were filled with hot water but as fuel became very scarce during the latter part of the war I doubt if there was much bathing. The Jap had broadcasted that he is a very clean race but most of those I saw, both military and civilian, were dirty. They had no soap and of the clothing they wore most of it wouldn’t stand a washing.

Their sanitary arrangements were filthy. Men and women used the same toilets in the shipyards. These toilets consisted of holes in the ground. The Japanese superintendent, who expected us to admire the efficiency of the shipyards, asked how they compared with the shipyards at home. We told him that they were medieval in many respects. For one thing the whole works was indescribably dirty. He asked how this could be remedied and it was suggested that at least there should be seats for the toilets. So a wooden plank was placed above the hole used by the prisoners, but as the Japs continued to squat the plank and the whole place was as filthy as ever. There being no disinfectant the location was black with flies which helped to spread dysentery and other diseases.

I remember an occasion when a group of prisoners bathed in the sea beside a group of Korean women. These women were employed as laborers in the shipyard. The Koreans are much better looking people then the Japanese being taller and not as yellow. Although most of the women bathing would be classed as tough and homely looking by our standards, some of the younger ones could be called attractive. Our boys paid little or no attention to them and this was not surprising. When your shoulder blades stick out like wings, stomach bloated with beriberi and the bones of your buttocks making it painful to sit down, one is in no shape to make a hit with the ladies.

The attitude of many of the Korean women was that of pity. Some, when unobserved by the guard, slipped scraps of food to the prisoners. It is possible that one of those boys now returned to Canada will one day be reclining on a beach at a summer resort. His wife or sweetheart, in a very fetching bathing suit will be beside him. She will be trying to feed him chocolates, which he refuses with closed eyes. He is thinking of another beach in far away Japan and of another women, a young and rather shapely Korean who out of pity slipped him a dried fish head wrapped in a Japanese newspaper. How grateful he was for the gift and how delicious the fish head tasted.

The Japs had some queer quirks about sex. They seemed to delight in making prisoners strip believing this to be humiliating which perhaps at the beginning it was. Later we paid little attention as many were reduced in the summer months to wearing little more than a ‘G’ string. The Jap often delighted to relate sex experiences with others and would ask the most intimate questions about a man’s sex life before capture. They reminded me of smutty minded adolescents. The prisoners were not interested in this conversation. This, I think, is the answer to the Japanese behavior. They are in most cases mentally immature. They seldom reach the stage where they are responsible individuals. Always they look to be instructed and ordered around.

To abuse and discredit white women in conversation with the prisoners was common. I remember having a conversation with Condo, a paint shop acquaintance. He spoke as an authority, comparing white women to Japanese women. His knowledge of our women came from American films that were shown in Japan in pre-war days. Incidentally, in spite of what Condo had to say these films were very popular.

Condo said, “Your women domie (no good)! They throw themselves into improper attitudes, show their legs and breast in public. They have no posture. They slump and fall around exposing themselves. They talk too loud, have no respect for anyone. They mush and kiss long time. This not sanitary. They dress like men and smoke. Japanese women dainty like butterfly or little bird. They respect everybody. They talk sweet like little bird. They walk pretty like this.”

Condo, putting his hands level with his chest, fluttered them and minced around the paint shop. I agreed that it looked very nice but thought, ‘Every man to his own taste, as the Irishman said as he kissed his cow,’ and the Japanese taste is not ours.

Another time, this in Hong Kong, we were marching through the streets and passed a compound where women internees were housed. Most of these were either Portuguese or Parisians. They crowded to the edge of their enclosure and waved at us as we went by. In charge of us was a Japanese interpreter nicknamed Kamloops. He was born in Canada and educated in that town. He spoke Canadian English well. He told us he hated us.

“When I was in Canada I took all kinds abuse.” He said. “ They called me a little yellow bastard and I smiled. Now where is your so called superiority you dirty scum, etc., etc.”

Being wise to our language and habits, Kamloops was able to check and report a man absent from Parade when he’d been marked present. Then he would have Capt. Morris of the Grenadiers brought before the Jap Commandant for an explanation and before the whole Parade he would fly into a violent temper, knock the Captain down and kick him unconscious.He took a delight in torturing us by his snooping and reporting. All hated him.

To return to the women, they waved and smiled at the boys. Kamloops went wild. Shrieking, he told us, “These women are for us Japanese. Keep your filthy eyes off them!”

And then followed a whole spew of filth. The women fled and we marched on. Kamloops heard us muttering and caught a repetition of what he had been called in Canada. He tried to find out who had spoken but failed to do so and punished us all.

To be likened to a woman was considered a great disgrace. Some of the boys had gotten into trouble by some minor infringement of the camp rules at Yokohama. They therefore had to be humiliated. Feminine garments were produced and they were compelled to strip and put them on, and were then paraded around the camp. They were finally made to stand in the compound to be inspected by the men returning from work. Instead of the culprits being humiliated however, they entered into the spirit of the thing, and as the boys filed past they simpered and ogled lifting up their skirts to show their emancipated limbs and all had a good laugh. All except the Jap that is. He was furious. He could not understand.5

Japanese women are squat and bandy legged. They are flat chested and have bad teeth and other blemishes. To a white man they can have very little sex appeal, perhaps I did not see the best. They are browbeaten by their men folk and, as young girls, are often sold into brothels by their fathers. Ridiculous restrictions are placed on every movement. They are childlike in their simplicity, devoted to their husbands and children, hardworking and loyal to their Emperor and family to the point of fanaticism. They possibly deserve a better lifethan that vouchsafed them. When they are young they are passable but when old they are grotesquely wrinkled and indescribably ugly.

Marching to work one day, under the guard of Moose Face, we saw one of these poor creatures, old and wrinkled, standing on the side of the road. She was naked to the waist and her withered breasts hung down to her stomach. We could not help noticing her ugliness. Someone remarked,

“ Look there’s Hedy LaMarr!” And got a big laugh. Moose Face noticed this, saw to whom the joker was referring and sprang off the road towards the old women. She saw him coming and fled yelling. Moose Face, in hot pursuit, overtook and beat her. I thought Japanese women like little bird. Poor wretches, they were beaten for being what Japan had made them.6