13 September 2018

Slow boat to Japan

The year 1905 was a fateful year for Japan, Russia, China, and Korea. In the swirl of mutual suspicions, imperial ambitions, and outright bloody combat -- with Great Britain, France, and Germany pressing their own interests on the geopolitical chessboard -- two young Germans decided to make Japan their new homeland.

Emma and Paul (and me) in Stuttgart
What drew Paul and Emma Schmitz, my mother's parents, to Japan? What vision of the future were they pursuing? I also have some very practical questions: Did they go to Japan as a couple, or did they meet there? Did they go to Japan directly from Germany? What were their ports of embarkation and arrival? Later, how did they earn a living? When they were deported to Germany in 1948 (by order of the American occupation forces), I imagine their departure was bittersweet, but in all my conversations with them in my childhood and teenage years, I never thought to ask about any of these questions.

My father's family tree in Norway is voluminously documented online, but I've searched in vain online for clues about my mother and her parents. With our retirement, we have at long last an opportunity to fill in some of the blanks. Judy and I decided to travel to Japan the same way my grandparents went there -- by sea.

Routine transoceanic transportation by ship was the norm in the years before airlines took over that task. It remained the norm for my parents in my own growing-up years: I immigrated to the USA on a ship, and and my next four transatlantic round trips were on ships as well. But now, to go by ship from North American to Japan usually requires the leisure and money to book a cabin on a freighter or a luxury Asian cruise. But, periodically, ships make the crossing simply to transfer from one seasonal market to another, and the cost can be surprisingly low. That's what our ship will be doing as it leaves Canada Place in Vancouver tomorrow and heads west ... ending its service on the Alaskan cruise market, and crossing the Pacific for two weeks to begin a season of Asian cruises.

We don't arrive at our destination -- Yokohama -- until September 30. The voyage includes eight uninterrupted days of ocean travel between Sitka and its first Japanese port, during which I hope to do a lot of background reading. One book I've loaded onto my tablet is Akira Kudo's Japanese-German Business Relations: Co-operation and Rivalry in the Interwar Period -- precisely the period I'm interested in with respect to my grandparents.

Thanks to Japanese Friend Takayuki Yokota-Murakami, with whom I served during my first term on Friends House Moscow's board, I have some clues that I never would have been able to find on my own. He and a colleague at Osaka University, Ayano Nakamura, have found out that Paul had a machine import firm based in Osaka. They also found a student record at Kobe's German school confirming that my mother was enrolled there. The school still exists ... and so I'm hoping to include that place among my visits. My Osaka University colleagues may even have found the location of my grandparents' home in Kobe.

With that information, I found one more intriguing little clue. I remember my mother telling me that the U.S. military deported them in order to confiscate their house. In an issue of the Pacific theater edition of Stars and Stripes, May 1949, in the "for lease" announcements section, there's a reference to a house labeled "P. Schmitz" with a Kobe location.

It's possible that I'll miss a deadline or two on this blog during these weeks. I'll check in when I can.

October 4:  Deutsche Schule shorts.
October 11: Kobe: The quest continues.
November 8: Slow boat (PS).

Conversation in a Vancouver souvenir shop:
Store clerk: "Where are you from?"

Johan: "Portland, Oregon."

Clerk: "Oh, you're Americans. Have you read the book yet?"

Johan: "What book? ... Oh, that one."

Clerk: "Read it. It's a gamechanger!"

A Russian-Japanese peace pact this year?

On the youngest Russian protesters: Tatyana Schukina is scared that children talk like that.

The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine has been filling an undisputed need for nearly 70 years. What would possess a U.S. administration to cut 100% of the USA's support? (OK, I really had hoped to have a post completely free of U.S. politics, but, given my own ties to the region, I couldn't pass this story by.)

Publication of Andrea Sears's missionary attrition study is in progress.

Brazilians grieve the loss of their National Museum ... and consider innovative ways of restoring its place in their lives.

Big Mama Thornton in Eugene, Oregon, 1971, filmed by the crew of television's Gunsmoke. (For the full Gunsmoke Blues documentary film, just go back to the beginning of this video.)


Gerry Yokota said...

Can't wait to meet you in Osaka! By the way, my Japanese grandfather Tsunekichi Yokota left Kobe for the U.S. the year after your grandparents arrived. He settled in NYC and married an Austrian-American woman, Emilie Niernsee. I have had similar difficulties trying to trace my Japanese roots, though we can trace back to the 18th century on the Austrian and Scottish sides. Safe travels and good luck!

Kristin Lord said...

Good luck to both of you on your trip, and say hello to Gerry to me once you get to Osaka!

Kristin Lord said...

*To Gerry for me, I mean.

Johan Maurer said...

Greetings and warm thanks to you both!

Johan Maurer said...

Gerry, you too have a Germanic connection in your grandparents' generation!

Liza Duilio Roll said...

Wow! 8 days on the ocean! The adventures continue! Can’t wait to hear more.