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Sharing Memories of a Yokohama Childhood After Making the Journey Home Decades Later

February 25, 1990|KUNIO FRANCIS TANABE | THE WASHINGTON POST

My nephews and nieces who live in Yokohama are amazed by the stories my brother, sister and I tell about our childhood. In fact, the years after the war were quite a struggle. We ate rationed oats instead of rice, stale biscuits that would break our teeth, and vast amounts of pumpkin. But the sea in front of our house yielded treasures: clams, crabs, eels, sand dollars. At low tide the still unpolluted shoreline extended almost half a mile out, and my dog Sheba and I would prance about or dig for clams or live bait; when the tide rolled in, we would go fishing in rowboats.

Last summer, as I walked along the narrow streets in my old neighborhood with my mother and sister, I met a group of men, all dressed alike in blue and white yukata (summer kimono), all carrying lanterns. We stopped to introduce ourselves. "Of course I remember the Tanabes. You lived just around the corner," said Mr. Suzuki, fondly recalling the exotic sound of harp music coming from our house (my grandmother practicing for concerts in Tokyo).

"Yes, the bon-odori festival still goes on," another man said. "It's held at the Shinto temple grounds nearby." Bon-odori is the traditional dance to appease the souls of the departed; I remember everyone dressed in summer kimono dancing in unison around a tower, with drummers rhythmically beating to the joyous songs of hot days and moonlit nights.

One of our old neighbors hasn't abandoned fishing. Now he takes groups of businessmen out into the bay of Tokyo on fishing expeditions. And he related another piece of encouraging news: In August the neighbors still take out the ancient festival boats (although now they have to carry them on trucks out to the sea) to perform a ritual many centuries old. After a ceremonial boat race, the young men of the neighborhood set adrift a straw horse to help them predict how next year's catch will be.

Trains run frequently between Tokyo and Yokohama. For more information on transportation, accommodations and the city in general, contact the Japan National Tourist Organization, 624 S. Grand Ave., Suite 2640, Los Angeles 90017, or call (213) 623-1952.

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