Posted by Myron Barnstone, edited by Joel Bowers on April 13, 2016
When I went back to work, I had already struck up a friendship with one of the guards by the name of Kenji. He invited me to his home and I met his wife. He took me on walks through the countryside that were so exotic. I was a kid from Portland, Maine. Here I am being guided through some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world. These farmers became my friends and they opened their country as I never could have done without their help.
Though Kenji, I met some young art students. He took me to a kindergarten playground. He said there is a Sensei there, a teacher, who holds a life drawing class. I went with him and two other friends. One was a very successful illustrator from Boston named Milt Johnson. He had a beautiful studio and a stunning Italian mistress. This guy was having the time of his life. He was a sergeant and was doing graphic design and other art-related activities for the military. He was to go back to Boston when his tour of duty was over. Another fellow came along but I cannot recall his name.
Kenji, learning I wish to find an art group which met to draw from the model, took me to a kindergarten playground to me a biology teacher had a class. So Kenji took us to the teacher who was holding his life class. And when it was a break time for the group, they all came out into the playground. Kenji, very politely, and bowing very low, addressed him Sensei San, and explained that his friends were serious artists and wanted to join his class. Well, you may find it hard to believe, but not all of the Japanese loved us. We had recently dropped two nuclear bombs on their country and we done a number on many of their friends and relations. So when Kenji asked if we could join, the teacher launched a fusillade of profanity at poor Kenji. I didn’t let it go on for too long. I then bowed very low and apologized in Japanese for having interrupted his class and having upset him. He was humiliated. I had understood everything he had said. He had lost face in front of all of his students. So, he instantly apologized, most profusely and bowing more deeply with each bow saying I was welcome to join the class and my friends could come with me.
So we joined the class and went in. I told Milt we were going to sit in the vast, last row and be the first out. When we go to the playground, we are going to the furthest corner of that playground, and turn our backs on everybody. We will not look at one girl. Don’t be seen looking at any of the girls. Milt and the other fellow were black. There was a community that had all of the black military where they had prostitutes and they had sections where the prostitutes came to serve the American service men and I just didn’t want to be a part of any of that trade or look like it.
The person who organized the class was a biology teacher. He contracted the models with a model master from Tokyo and monitored the poses. So we entered the class, and, as it turns out, we were the best dressed in the group. When we left our drawing boards and went outside to smoke, all these younger people came over to see what the Americans were doing. They gradually got the nerve to talk to us. They wanted to talk about American student drawing. In retrospect, I regret it because I would have rather they taught us something about Japanese art. As it turned out, our drawings were the best in the class and when we left for a smoke caused the students to gather around our drawings and admire them. During the second break, many of those students introduced themselves and invited us to join them after class to buy Yekameshi from the vendor who operated a food cart in the neighborhood. We became fast friend and through these art students become members of their community. At the end of the session of classes, this group helped us to find a studio and contacts which allowed us to order models from Tokyo. We now had a foothold in a Japanese community. The students had girlfriends and families in the area. We belonged, we had links in this wonderfully exotic place.
They became dear friends. And they became girlfriends and they would take us to their families. This opened up a whole new world for us. It was a wonderful experience.