First Glimpse of Japan

Aboard USS Bon Homme Richard, CVA-31

Late Spring, 1956

Steaming into port after weeks at sea is like re-awakening in a completely new life. And crossing the threshold of a new country is like entering another world.

At 0530 hours the sun was rising out of the placid water behind us, casting a golden sheen on its mirror-like surface. We looked off the bow to the west for our first glimpse of Japan. There was a certain odor in the air which quickened our senses and dispelled the early morning sleepiness. Staring into the distance, our coffee cups perched precariously on the railing, we strained to see the islands and hills our radars had already registered on their pale green faces.

With the lifting of the distant haze, which we had not realized was there before, there appeared some shapes in the water. As we drew closer we saw a fleet of fishing boats—small wooden craft which, though the water was calm, rocked and swayed seemingly to a strange oriental rhythm. Our huge ship steered through the middle of the fleet and as we passed the boats we gazed down at their occupant’s smiling, weather-toughened faces, and they up at our pale below-decks countenances.

Our gaze shifted from the boats and once again toward the west and off the port bow, miles away, the sun’s rays reflected of a huge, white cone-shaped form which seemed to be suspended in the air. It was as though the top of some lunar mountain had been severed and was being slowly lowered onto that spot on earth. The sun rose higher and we could discern the slopes of Mount Fujiyama extending downward from its snow-capped peak into what were now visible as small green hills.

Everything seemed to burst into view at once. All around us now were strangely shaped green hills bordering on a dark green bay through which we were now more slowly forging. Over the 1MC came the bos’n mate’s whistle and call—“Now all hands to quarters for entering port. Flight deck parade.”

As we stood in formation on the flight deck at parade rest, the whole panorama of Tokyo Bay spread out around us. The water was a dark, olive green which we had never seen in other ports. The whole area looked and smelled alive with vegetation. Not an inch of space was there where something did not grow on those dome-shaped, green, terraced hills. On all sides of us were boats, most of them fishing craft of the type we had seen before. Their occupants were busy at work, but not too busy to  give us an occasional friendly wave.

Our anticipation grew as the tiny, powerful tugs pulled along side to guide us toward  the port of Yokosuka. We became surrounded by a close ring of hills and turned sharply into out berth. As the first line went over the side and we were dismissed from quarters, we gazed once again at compelling Fuji, wondering what wonderful new customs were awaiting our experience.


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