The young marine from The Bronx listened to the lean sergeant talk about the invasion of Japan. The Gunnery Sergeant did not need to remind the group of battle weary marines that any attempt to land on Japan proper would be met with fierce resistance. The Pacific island hopping campaign had proven the Japanese Imperial Army would sacrifice all to prevent an invasion of their homeland. The lives of hundreds of thousands of Japanese and American soldiers were lost on mostly obscure coral atolls and volcanic spits of land, and military analysts were projecting similar or greater numbers of casualties when Allied forces landed in Japan.
I’m not sure what fear or anxiety my father felt as he waited to set foot on Japanese soil; he was a marine and marines were not supposed to show fear. A palpable sense of fear could provoke hesitancy, and marines were taught that a hesitant marine was a dead marine.
Sixty-four years after my father was sent to fight a war against Japan, I am traveling on a mission of peace. My father never arrived in Japan - two atomic bombs convinced Emperor Hirohito that the war was lost and my father got his wish to go home. I am expected to land at Tokyo’s Narita Airport in fourteen hours.
It is a curious thing how the paths of fathers and sons sometime intersect at unforeseen crossroads, misty places set aside by time and purpose and fate. My fate is taking me to a faraway land known more today for its ability to achieve high math and science scores than the code of Bushido and kamikaze pilots. A single generation separates my father and me, but it is a generation made distant by a postmodern world.
I have been invited to Japan by the JEE baba Foundation, an educational organization that promotes the exchange of students and teachers between the United States and Japan. Each year for the past 15 years JEE baba has invited the national teacher of the year to meet with Japanese education officials and to tour the country. I am scheduled to meet with the minister of education, the school superintendents of Tokyo, Yokohama, and Kyoto, and the governor of Chiba Prefecture. My meeting with the governor will be filmed for the nightly news.
I wonder about the Japanese people and their children. Stereotypes about their academic prowess place them on the inside track in the global “race to the top” and I have read countless articles about the successes of their educational system. I need to see firsthand what is truth and what is propaganda. I bring with me a bias that America’s teachers are among the best in the world and so must inhibit my impartial judgment.
My plane has landed at Tokyo’s Narita Airport and most of the Japanese and American business people are beginning to rouse from a restful sleep. I stayed awake the entire flight because my mind was busy thinking about my role as an ambassador for America’s teachers. I have been provided a quick lesson in Japanese etiquette and replaced the dollars in my wallet with yen. But I do not know what is expected of me. I am a pilgrim on a quest for some end unseen by my father’s eyes. As I exit the plane and feel Japan beneath my feet, I think about my father’s opinion of the Japanese people. He told me many times “the Japanese people are good people” and never talked about the war. He wanted to return to Japan one day as a tourist. Sadly, an early death prevented him from meeting a people he once fought but always respected.
I stand still for a moment and let my fellow passengers walk around me. I stare at the ground and smile. My footsteps have fulfilled a father’s hope and dreams.
The opinions expressed in Road Diaries: 2009 Teacher of the Year are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.