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Number 1 Shimbun

Tales from the Round Tables: When the Dollar Ruled

 

 by the Shimbun Alley Whisperers

"T

here never was a luckier generation than that which knew Japan in those years,” reminisced James Michener with great affection in a 1951 Number 1 Shimbun article. Post-war Japan was emerging as a critical ally of the United States in the region, and with the outbreak of the Korean conflict, the economy was finally beginning to show signs of a recovery. Occupation-era restrictions and rules for travel were being relaxed.

If you could ignore the city landscape still hideously pockmarked by the incendiary bombings in the final chapter of war and the suffering from chronic shortages of daily necessities, Tokyo offered some of the world’s best hospitality and charm – which made it a favorite hub for many correspondents who were flocking in those years to the still very exotic East.

It sure didn’t hurt that things were enchantingly cheap, particularly for those earning dollars – easily increased if one played the currency manipulations on the streets. Even more heavenly was life for those correspondents who had access to “the golden P.X. on the Ginza,” as Michener described the U.S. Occupation retail outlet. It peddled “full meals at thirty-five cents, haircuts at fifteen cents, shoeshines at five cents and Kodak film at twenty cents,” not to mention bourbon, steaks and silk stockings far beyond the wildest fantasies of most Japanese. “The more daring of us lived mainly on the Japanese economy,” he adds, “and to do so on American incomes was an experience.”

 

He needed all his strength to remain standing

when a well-dressed lady from the friendly establishment

delivered the bill

 

But then again, not everything was cheap even back then. There were the famously beckoning houses in Tokyo where beautiful women made every customer feel they were God’s chosen (which, of course, many of the Western journalists were already inclined to believe during their time in Asia). One such legendary establishment was Miyoshi. Guests were welcomed with lavish entertainment in a large tatami room, after which a beautiful attendant would lead the way across a pond and into a small guest room where “she would see that her guest was properly bathed, helped into a starched yukata, and bedded down in a comfortable futon,” according to the annals of the FCCJ.

So just imagine how sumptuous the reception would have been for an injured hero like UP’s Bob Vermillion when he returned to Tokyo for R&R after breaking his leg jumping with the paratroopers during the Munsan operations in the Korean War. He made a beeline to Miyoshi for his R&R. So impressed was he by the hospitality that he invited a bunch of FCCJ friends over for some memorable evenings. When he finally reported back to the office after a few weeks, friends and colleagues commented how he looked like a new man.

 

He needed all his recovered strength to remain standing when, a few days later, a well-dressed lady from the friendly establishment delivered the bill for his stay to his office. He paid the whopping bill, which was enough to buy a small house. His boss, Ernie Hoberecht, was not amused.

There were no such financial concerns for Errol Flynn. The action hero and global heartthrob was introduced to Miyoshi by a very tipsy Vermillion, who happened to jump into Flynn’s limousine outside the Club one night after mistaking it for a cab. Club legend has it that Flynn liked Miyoshi so much, he moved his entire crew into its surroundings for the duration of his movie shoot, with – the Round Table recalls – no qualms whatsoever about the price.

 

 

Published in: April 2015

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