Dr. William Daniel Ehrhart, poet, writer, scholar and teacher, who has served in Vietnam, reunited with a Japanese Corporal serving together after thirty two years. They traveled together Japan and Vietnam this year and Dr. Ehrhart wrote an essay about their journey. His essay will be posted in this JNTO blog site for the next few days. This will be mainly focused on their travel in Japan. The whole adventure is described in the website of Dr. Ehrhart.

I. The House in Hue, 1968

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LCpl. Takenaga & Cpl. Ehrhart, 1/1 CP, Hoi An, July 1967 (WDE)

The weapon that got Kazunori “Ken” Takenaga and me was an RPG, a rocket-propelled grenade. We didn’t call them RPGs back then. We called them B-40s. But a rose by any other name still has thorns, and whatever you call it, one B-40 can screw up your whole day. It certainly screwed up ours.

I got a cheap Purple Heart and a permanent hearing loss, but Ken got hit worse. He was evacuated immediately, first to Da Nang, then to Hawaii. I didn’t see him again for 32 years. But when I finally tracked him down, our friendship picked up where it had left off, as if no time at all had passed. He’d spent his life in the travel and tourism industry, and when he suggested this spring that my wife Anne and I travel with Ken to Japan, and then on to Vietnam, I readily agreed.

II. Yatsushiro

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The wall and moat of the long-ago destroyed castle of the lords of Yatsushiro, where Ken played as a child. (SA)

Our journey began in Japan. Having been a guest in our home in Philadelphia on many occasions, and having seen where I grew up in Perkasie, Pennsylvania, Ken wanted to share with us his own roots. In Yatsushiro, Ken’s hometown, we stood on the walls of the ruined feudal castle where Ken had climbed and played as a child, watching a single black swan float slowly by below us. Built in the 1600s by the Lords of Yatsushiro, it had been destroyed after the war of the Last Samurai against the Meiji Restoration. On its foundation, in 1874, a shrine was built to honor the then-crown prince of Japan. We also visited the nearby Shohinken or Pine Beach House, an elegant tea house built in 1688 by the third Lord of Yatsushiro for his mother, the pond behind it filled with lily pads and rimmed by irises.

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Shohinken tea house, Yatsushiro. (SA)

As we walked the streets of Ken’s old neighborhood, he pointed out the local jail where Ken’s grandfather had once been locked up for “overspending” on election day (long before Ken was born). The jailers, Ken says, were sorry to see his grandfather released because every day his wife would bring a sumptuous feast for her husband and for them. We stood on the corner where Ken’s house had once stood. Though it has since been replaced by a newer structure, just across the street is Kangyo-ji, the Buddhist temple where his grandparents’ graves are, and where his will be some day. Later, Ken arranged for Anne and me to be decked out in traditional kimonos by a dressmaker and her two teenaged daughters (the process takes nearly an hour). Having thus arrayed us, the three of them and an assistant then gave us a traditional tea ceremony.

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Bill being instructed on the proper way to hold and rotate the cup during a tea ceremony. (SA) Anne and Bill being fitted for kimonos by a dressmaker and her daughters. On the far left is a colleague of Ken’s from the Yatsushiro Tourism Association, Hashizaki Shingo. (SA)

>> A special tour package in tribute to Dr. Ehrhart’s travel is now on sale.

Text copyright: W. D. Ehrhart
Photos copyright: Sachiko Akama (SA
Anne Ehrhart (AGE)
W. D. Ehrhart (WDE)