(Courtesy of GlobalSecurity.Org website)
Yokosuka...By far the best liberty port in the Western Pacific! It was, and still very well may be, the one port where a sailor could go ashore, get as drunk as he wanted, find a young lady to go home with and be assured, come morning, she would have him up, dressed and on his way back to the ship in time to report aboard. If on those rare occasions when you needed a taxi and didn't have taxi fare, she made sure that you did. You knew in Yokosuka you were always in good hands!
Yokosuka Navy Base
(Courtesy of USS Los Angeles CA 135 Website)
An article in the magazine "Our Navy" (1 Oct. 1958) described Yokosuka as "a city unlike any in the world--as exciting as Paris, as exotic as Hong Kong, and as mysterious as the Casbah.
We arrived there on March 28th. I wrote in my letter home to my girlfriend that evening: "I was beginning to think this last trip at sea would never end. And as to Yokosuka...I don't think this place ever changes. At least, it hasn't changed any within the past ten months. I have 'Shore Patrol' duty tonight, so guess I'll have to go over and play the roll of a 'flatfoot' (Ha!) Oh well it's always more fun looking at other people get drunk than to be one of the one's that's getting drunk. Right?"
Yokosuka Navy Yard
Before leaving the states, I had set my mind on buying a set of china at the Navy Base Exchange on arriving in Yokosuka. And I was bound and determined to do it done before going into town, otherwise my money wouldn't stay in my pockets -- too many bars and too many girls.
So on my first opportunity, I headed straight for the BX. I knew from a visit there a year earlier that the BX had everything we could get in town and in better quality and at a realistic price. So my mind was pretty well set on what I wanted and about what I wanted to pay for it. It came down to a selection of patterns. If you care to pause for a minute, there's a big article published on Yokosuka and the Navy Exchange (Ship's Store) in the March '57 issue of the Spangler-Bulldog News (pages 3 and 7). Naturally we have it published here on our website, thanks to Greg Schurer. Click here then use your back button to return (clicking the Previous button a couple of times will return you to Page 3, then you'll need to use your browser's back button to return here). Don't stay too long, you've just begun here!!!
Two sets of china attracted my attention, and I must have spent at least a half-hour deciding between the two. Both were Fukagawa Hand Painted China. One was solid white with a ¼-inch etched silver edging and cost $75 for a twelve-place setting. The other was blue, varying in shade from blue-black near the outside edge to a very light blue-white near the center. It would have cost me $100 a set, just about my entire paycheck. Sad to say, while I was set on buying the china I was also set on going into town, so that helped make up my mind.
I've kicked myself over the years for not purchasing the blue set, but my wife has been equally adamant in her argument that the white set is far more appropriate as a table setting, plus it has the advantage of matching up with almost any tablecloth. She's protected it over the years as if it were worth a million dollars.
I purchased the set and immediately carried it back to the ship and stored it in the windless locker room before heading back out on liberty. I wasn't engaged yet, so didn't think it right that I should send it to my girl until that step was taken. She says she felt exactly the same. So in June when we arrived back in the states I shipped it to my parents for safekeeping.
A sailor's greatest fear while over seas was getting a "Dear John" letter from his girlfriend (not that many of us didn't deserve it). And it seemed that the best way to get one was to mail home something really nice and expensive. It amazed me how often a guy would mail his girl something special and not long afterward receive a Dear John. Call me superstitious, but I wasn't about to set myself up for that downfall!
I've learned recently that Bert Pulaski also purchased the same set at about the same time. It's possible that the two of us went to the BX together, since it's unlikely that I would have done this totally alone.
Shore patrol duty in Yokosuka is a blast! You know you will be running into drunks all evening and very likely have to break up a bar room fight or two. That's navy life in Yokosuka! You have to expect it! And, you have two choices, you can either hall their butts into the brig or give them some pocket change for a cab and send them back to the ship. I chose to do the latter, you never want a fellow sailor to end up in the brig if there's any other choice and to do that you need to keep him out of the grasp of the Marine MP's, if at all possible.
Most of my time on shore patrol was spent wandering back and forth along Sub Alley and Dobuita-Dori Streets. I'm sure we referred to the latter as Honcho Street back then, but Honcho is really more the name of the district that includes than street.
Trying to imagine Yokosuka without seeing it first hand has to be difficult. But you can come close by browsing the collection of photos on the "Yokosuka Then and Now" website. A snapshot of part of the website is shown below as a hint of what's available. It's an awesome site well worth a visit! So take a breather, click on the image for a visit and come back. You won't regret it! Just use your brower's back button to return.
Okay, back to my story...At some point during the evening a Mama-san would invariably come running down the street yelling to the top of her voice, "Hurry! Hurry! Sailor fight in bar! You come quick! You fix!" The one instance I recall best was at a corner bar at the far end of the street and we could hear the racket half a block away! But as we drew near the noise drew less and less noticeable; word had preceded us that we were on our way. The place was dead quite when we stepped in the doorway.
That's the way it went: You go walking in the doorway wearing that shiny white helmet, your white garrison belt, and those white leggons and carrying a night stick in your hand, and the world was yours. Ask what's going on and the answer invaribly would be "Oh, some of the guys were wrestling and having fun. No problem! Every thing's fine!" At that point you give them your Shore Patrol scowl, turn around and walk out.
Being on Shore Patrol can be a power trip if you let it! But it can also be fun and satisfying! You know that tomorrow night you'll be on liberty and some other guy will be on Shore Patrol, so you don't want to burn any bridges. Putting a guy into a taxi and handing the driver some pocket change with instructions not to stop until he reached the navy base, left you with a feeling of a job well done!
I recall another night when a shipmate and I had shore patrol together. Thinking back on it I'm not sure it's something to brag about! But I'll go on with the story: We were assigned the task of making certain no one entered or exited a particular alley on Honcho Street, the main drag in downtown Yokosuka where all the bars and clubs are located. Places with names like Snack Honey, Club 69, Diamond Horseshoe, Club San Diego, Cafe Pear, Bar Daijyobi and Bar Eagle come to mind to name a few. That was not a big problem! We did okay! Where the problem came in was that we had a couple of cute Japanese girls from the bar next door walking over and talking to us. Heck they even brought us a beer, said they were feeling sorry for us having to stand there most of the night and missing out on all the fun. Needless to say, we did what all good swabbies did...drank that beer and grinned from ear to ear.
Supposedly some drug dealers were using the alley to transport marijuana and we were there to guard against it. Yeah, sure! While the girls diverted our attention the dealers were probably hauling that stuff behind our backs. I would sure hate to think so! But they "were" mighty friendly girls and definitely eye catching!
Going into downtown Yokosuka was similar to going into downtown Tijuana or Juarez, Mexico in the 50's; bars, bars, and more bars, and in between those were souvenir shops offering every imaginable item. Open-air vegetable stands were plentiful as were small restaurant shops. The sound of music, typically country or rock and roll, along with the presence of girls standing in the doorways, offered an enticing sight to young sailors.
The photo on the right shows a shot of Honcho Street and was borrowed with permission from the USS Klondike AR-22 website. It's well worth your time to pause a moment and visit the site.
Phil Eng, IC2, accumulated a nice collection of business cards while we were in port. Click on the one displayed below for a peek, but be sure to use your back button to return when you done!
So with all the jumble of bars, clubs, streets and alleys in Yokosuka, how did one go about finding their way around? Well, the standing joke aboard ship was that the Japanese never ever said the word “no” it wasn’t in their vocabulary. Asking them if they knew where such and such is located, invariably brought forth the same response: "Hai" for "yes" and then they would point in some direction. You might have to go clear around the earth to get there, but eventually you would get to your destination. They just didn’t know how to tell you they didn’t know. So the smartest thing to do when going ashore was to go with someone that had been there before, or remain in the vicinity of the E.M. Club for the first few nights on liberty and gradually move out from there.
The streets were narrow, asphalted and not in good shape. There was obviously no plan or design to the city, if an empty spot materialized a new wooden structure quickly filled the empty space. Most of the bars or nightclubs (with the only difference between the two being that nightclubs included dancing) were one and two story wood buildings, with the bar on the ground floor and dressing rooms, storage and rooms with beds or pads on the second floor.
US greenbacks were not permitted off base and instead we were paid in military script, which in turn we had to convert to Yen. Script were small, red colored bills that look very much like monopoly money and about the same size. Supposedly it was worthless off base but enterprising ladies figured ways around that. They would accept script when nothing else was available, but you can bet the exchange rate would be a little higher than the standard rate at that time of 360 Yen to the dollar.
Going on liberty you either walked down the gangway to the dock, if you were lucky enough to be tied alongside one, or you took a liberty boat to shore. The problem with the latter as I recall was that the boat ramp where the liberty boat docked was at the main shore patrol station (Yeah! Just what we needed! To have to walk by the shore patrol station every time we went on shore). Oh well, we had to walk past a shore patrol booth in going through the gate to get onto the navy base, if we were tied up there, so I guess it didn’t make a lot of difference.
The main gate and the shore patrol station were both just a short walk from the Enlisted Men’s (EM) Club down the street. It was called Club Alliance, as I recall. Normally EM Clubs in other ports are on the base itself, but in Yokosuka, it was off the base and the first large building you came to as you entered the town of Yokosuka.
As EM Clubs go, this one was large, similar in may respects to the Armed Services YMCA in San Diego. I’m pretty sure it had a bowling alley, a post office, some party rooms, a large room loaded with slot machines, a lounge with a dance floor, a store where we could buy cigarettes, beer and liquor, and a money changing booth. The exchange rates was 360 Yen to a dollar, as I recall
We weren't under any drinking age limits in Yokosuka, so if you had an ID card you could buy all the beer and liquor your money could purchase. Smirnoff Vodka was 90-cent a bottle. Lesser known brands ran about 80-cent a bottle. Seagram’s 7 costs about $1.10 a bottle.
The small shops on Honcho Street typically carried such items as kimonos, tea sets, Zippo lighters, samara swords...you name it! Embroidered jackets displaying dragons and the names of names of ships sold well. Several of the shops had artist specializing in caricature drawings and custom painted portraits. They were really very good! I had a 14x16 painting done of my wife (my girlfriend back then) that I'm very proud of!
When the Navy Fleet is in port the streets are packed with sailors and the atmosphere is wide open. But Yokosuka takes on a more somber mood when the Fleet is out. Bar girls and girls of the evening know that they have to make enough money during the time when sailors are plentiful to carry them over when they are not.
Girls in Yokosuka applied a variety of trades: you had those that worked as store clerks in the local shops or as office support personnel at the navy base and those that worked in bars and nightclubs and typically went home alone from work, or occasionally took home a sailor boyfriend. Then on the seeder side you had those that worked in the bars and nightclubs solely to lure sailors into local hotels for obvious reasons, as well as those that worked in business houses for the same purposes under the watchful control of a Mama-san. Then there were those that worked the streets as prostitutes, including those that referred to themselves as suckahatchi girls (that latter is likely self-explanatory) and worked the streets and back alley-ways.
The 1 October 1958 issue of Our Navy included an article titled "Joyful Kingdom of The Orient" by Fred Harden. His description of nightlife in Yokosuka covers the subject far better than I can hope to accomplish. I've included an excerpt below and the full article can be read on Jim Graslie's website Yokosuka Then and Now. After you reach the website click on "Yokosuka City of Sin." You'll love his website!!!
"Except for Yokosuka's two nightclubs and a couple of lively tea rooms, the joints close up between eleven and twelve at night. During this eleventh hour, the pimps and prostitutes move out in force, propositioning the troops. The going price for a "short time" is 300 to 500 yen (85 cents to 1.40) and an "all night" is in the neighborhood of $3.00."
"The business houses demand more, as a rule. Yokosuka has several such establishments, the New Fukusuka being a good example. Here, the rates run as much as $3.00 for an hour and $10.00 for all night. The New Fukusuka is a plush establishment with modern stateside rooms. It has two bars where you can buy any drink you can name, or if you prefer, you can bring your own bottle, check it, and for about a buck and a half they will supply you with all the ice and mix you need until they close shop. There are fifty girls or more to select from, and are available for selection up until ten o'clock. There is no doubt about it, the New Fu has some of the best talent in town. The girls are you and and attractive and house rules will not permit them to drink "on duty" unless there time has been paid for by a customer. They make no commissions on drinks and consequently, don't push them."
I learned first hand that Yokosuka girls who put their stamp on you as a steady American boyfriend were extremely territorial. In other words you were their's and no one elses (come to think about it, American girls are sorta the same way aren't they?) They considered it okay for them to have more boyfriends, that was just part of business, but wouldn’t abide the same from their boy-san. “Butterfly-Boy-San” as they called it was when a sailor floated from girl to girl, much like a bee from flower to flower. They would say “You no butterfly! I better no catch you butterfly! And if they did, you had better be ready for some hard ass chewing and hands on your back pushing you out the door! And heaven help you if you were stupid enough to butterfly with a girl in the same bar or club or one nearby, because word of it passed like wildfire.
My only time to go up before the "Old Man" came about as the result of a young lady getting revenge for just that reason. Her revenge came in the form of not waking me up in time to report back to ship by duty call. Yep! Those girls could get angry!!! This particular instance was during my return trip to Yokosuka in '58. The Captain forgave my transgression because of my good conduct record, but the XO wasn't so forgiving and refused to let me have my 2nd Class rating while he was aboard. Fortunately he left the ship a couple of months later!
Girls known to be involved in sexual activity were required to be licensed and had to take daily physical exams. This was Yokosuka’s effort to put a good face forward to control prostitution, so girls were prohibited from walking the streets along side a sailor unless the couple was married. If the two were to meet someplace they had to arrange to arrive separately, unless it was a pretty short walk and they could see the coast was clear. Otherwise the girls could end up in jail overnight and risk having their license revoked.
Street prostitutes apparently ignored the law; they were blatant in their efforts at propositioning sailors walking along the sidewalk. Evidently they didn’t feel they had anything to lose. The same was true of the “Suckahatchi” girls (again, I’ll leave it to your imagination as to their occupation), you only needed to walk a short ways on a Yokosuka street before one would tug at your sleeve and say “Hey Sailor! You want Suckahatchi Girl! I do you good! ” Sometimes it would be a kid tugging at your sleeve on their behalf saying: “You want Suckahatchi Girl! My sister, she treat you good!”
Seeing them and knowing what they had to do for a living was sad, if you are human at all. You knew they didn’t bother with the requirement of daily physicals. These were likely girls down on their luck, likely had failed a health test, or possibly had been barred from working at bars or nightclubs within the city.
It was standard routine in the navy when nearing Japan and other countries overseas to have all sailors aboard ship to watch grotesque films on people suffering the consequences of venereal diseases, especially gonorrhea and syphilis. AIDS was still unknown in the 50's and 60's. In any respect, fooling around with any of the girls in these foreign ports was a gamble. It paid to be careful and choosy! Young guys knew that, but being young they felt invincible.
Venereal disease was not a big issue aboard the Spangler. But it was there! My bunk was on the wall opposite the Doc's office, so it wasn't unusual for me to see several guys lining up for their morning penicillin shots. The humorous, but sad aspect of it was going into the head (latrine) and hearing those guys moan while trying to pee. Evidently peeing burnt something awful from the way they sounded!
Hey, don’t for a moment think my memories of Yokosuka are all about the seedier side of the city! Far from it! Prostitution was prevalent, that’s true! But that’s not the whole story! The girls I knew were all human beings with hopes and dreams like anyone else. Yokosuka had it's scenery and offered other things to do. Take for example the day Phil Morris, GM1, Phil Eng IC3, and several other guys visited an orphanage in Yokosuka.
Most of the kids were of mixed nationality and not excepted into the Japanese Society at the time. As to an outing for the day, it couldn't have gotten any better than this! Eng was the ship's photographer, so you won't see him in the photos he was too busy behind the camera.
If you couldn't find something interesting to occupy your time in Yokosuka you could always jump on the train and travel to Yokohoma or Tokyo. But scenery is scenery and that's not where I want to go here.
The 50’s were still rough times for the Japanese, especially for women from less fortunate families. No telling how many dollars were being sent home to support loved ones, parents, sisters and brothers. For many of the girls, bars, clubs and even houses of prostitution were their only escape from poverty.
The girls love to sit and visit (Yeah, sure! They wanted your money, thats a given, but they were also sincere.) They would ask about home back in the States, your girl friend, they love to look at pictures, and talk about future plans. Now that I think back on it, the hours I spent talking with them may well have set the foundation for the strong ideas I developed about marriage and attending college on leaving the service. Other servicemen may have had different experiences. But I like to believe what I saw and experienced was for real.
I admired their honesty! I don’t ever recall a girl stealing money and goodness sakes they had plenty opportunities.
The first or second night I was on liberty there in 1956, one of the guys with me accidentally dropped his wallet on the sidewalk. An elderly lady in a kimono caught up with him a few minutes later and said, "You drop wallet!" She handed it to him then turned to walk away. We were speechless! He ran after her and offered her money for finding it but she smiled and waved him off.
Equally profound for me was the evening a young lady invited me home with her -- with a part of the evening spent watching her do her evening prayers. This was my first exposure to the Budist faith, a cultural eye opener for me, to say the least. I was awe struck, not only by her deep faith, but with her transformation from a "bar girl" to a lovely, young Japanese lady.
I had visited with her in a the bar previously on several evenings and as always kidded when it came time to close that I wanted to go home with her. Heck, we did that with all the girls! Her response, as always, was "Me no take sailor home! Sorwee!
One evening out of the blue she surprised me by timidly asking "You like go home with me?" Well, you don't have to guess my response! We stopped in a local restaurant next door and picked up two bowls of curry rice and egg to take along with us. She lived on a narrow street that wound up a moderate hill off Dobuita-Dori Street . I remember it was one of those cold nights and the old Navy blue jacket felt pretty good. It felt a whole lot better, though, when we stepped into her home.
Mostly it was a single large room divided by a bamboo curtain separating the bedroom from the sitting room. Instead of a fireplace or stove, the sitting room had a fire pit with a raised low level table over it. How the coals got there ahead of us, I don't have the slightest idea. But the heat felt good. It was around this low table that we set on grass mats and enjoyed our meal and talked until time to call it a night. To this day I still don't know how the fire pit worked or how she vented it, but I vividly recall the glowing coals.
At the end of the evening she said "I say prayer now!" I moved into the bedroom and watched from there as she kneeled before a small Buddhist stature and lit incensed candles, at the same time humming in a very low prayerful voice. A half hour passed, at least, before she finally stood up, looked back at me and smiled. I was fascinated, but admittedly a little embarrassed, wondering if I had any damn business being there! This was so out in left field from any experience I had ever had. Somewhere along the way from her beginning her prayers to when she ended I had begun to feel like a heel.
The Spangler sailed from Yokosuka headied for the Pilippines a couple of days later. So I didn't get to see her again for the next two month until we returned to Yokosuka on our way back to the states. When I walked into the bar she came running up hugged my neck. I'm not sure which she was more excited about, though, to see me or to tell me she had a steady boyfriend. I think I was just about as excited for her as she was! She was a special young lady! But then so were a lot of the girls I met in Yokosuka!