It started raining as I reached the end of the roofed Renga-dori mall, a shopping street in the middle of Kure with rows clothing shops, selling dresses devoid of sense of time, and restaurants with lunch time specials of the day displayed on the street for the regulars. This brick-lined street was originally called Naka-dori, but changed its name since it became a pedestrian mall lined with 360,000 bricks in 1978. Renga means brick in Japanese.
It was Dr Keiko Tamura, Australia’s foremost scholar on Senso Hanayome (Japanese War Brides) in Australia, who suggested I visit this street, because Naka-dori was where young Japanese woman met with Australian serviceman, who were stationed in this town as part of the British Commonwealth Occupational Forces (BCOF). BCOF had an anti-fraternisation policy, which meant that dating between Australian men and Japanese women was a definite no-no, but then again, I understand from my study about Japanese War Brides in Australia during my research residency at the Australian National Library, and from reading books such as Children of the Occupation: Japan’s Untold Story by former ABC correspondent Walter Hamilton, that families, friends and the most of the population, both in Japan and Australia, would have disapproved of such liaisons.
Without having dressed for rain, I looked for a convenience store to buy a cheap umbrella, but couldn’t find one nearby. Instead I found an old-fashioned umbrella shop, selling high quality umbrellas, some handmade, next door to a men’s clothing shop with a 110 year history, with its window full of naval uniforms, caps and accessories. This was after all Kure, a port city proud of its naval history dating back to 1886 when it was named as one of the four main administrative districts of the pre-war Imperial Japanese Navy. It was also the place where most of the 11,000 Australian servicemen sent to Japan as part of the BCOF was stationed.
After reluctantly buying an expensive umbrella in the shop, I walked up the Irifuneyama hill to visit the Irifuneyama Memorial Museum, which include the former official residence of generations of Naval Commander-in Chiefs of Kure, and after WWII, that of the BCOF’s Commander of the Allied Forces.
Half way up the hill after a fork in the road, with no signs for tourists in sight, I asked a handsome man about my age, walking the street about its whereabouts. He told me I had taken the wrong road, and that he would show me where it was as he was going the same way.
With both of our umbrellas keeping us a comfortable distance away, we shared small talk about the rain. When I told him that I was from Australia, interested in the Australian history in Kure, he nodded as to acknowledge he knew the history well, and as if to acknowledge a common bond, two people of the same generation with an interest in military history, he said, “I too am a member of the Maritime Defence Force.”
This response wasn’t so surprising. Despite the fact that Australian troupes were stationed here once, the city’s long proud history does not reflect the seemingly short period of Allied Occupation, nor I assume, that the people here would want remember those ten long years under occupation. After all, Japan lost the war.
“So you know the history,” I said. “Its difficult being Japanese in Australia because of the memory of Japan’s treatment of Australian POWs, and of course the bombing raids.” Then I remembered that Kure was only 30 kms away from the centre of Hiroshima, and that this place too, was bombed heavily by the Allied Forces killing over 2000 people, half of them, civilians. I then quickly added, “Other than the first contact between Europeans and Indigenous Australians, the Japanese are the only people that ever attacked Australia.” After a long silence, I added again, “And of course there is the issue of text books in Japan.”
He said very little, but gave me what seemed to me like knowing nods.
I was reluctant to end our conversation, but by this time we had reached the grounds of the former residence, now turned museum. But before I thanked him for guiding me to my destination, I quickly added, “So I am interested in the War Brides that came from places like Kure to Australia. I’m researching the relationship between Australian men and Japanese women. I’m hoping I might be able to write a love story.” There was no time left for him to respond, but he bowed instead, and wished me a safe journey. I proceeded to walk up the hill from the entrance towards the residence, stopping occasionally to take photographs, not yet allowing myself the space to think further about my living the binary divide between Australia and Japan; men and women; past and present.Add to favorites