Friday, May 25, 2018


     In the 1950s, the Reynolds family consisted of Dr. Earle Reynolds, a professor  of physical anthropology (otherwise known as Daddy), his wife Barbara Reynolds ("Mummy"), a housewife and an author, mostly of children's books, and their three children: Tim, Ted, and Jessica. (That's me.) 
     Daddy had been sent by our Atomic Energy Commission to do a 3-year study on the effects of the A-bomb on Japanese children.  In his spare time, he designed and built a 50-foot yacht.  She was christened "Phoenix of Hiroshima" and launched in 1954.  Daddy took a sabbatical and the Phoenix took our family (except for Tim, who went back to the States for college) and three Japanese yachtsmen around the world.  I was 10 when we started the trip.  Ted was 16.
     Our voyage was for pleasure and ended up taking almost 4 years.  We arrived back in Honolulu with just one more leg to get to Hiroshima and make the circumnavigation official.  But it was 1958 and the United States was testing atmospheric nuclear tests on and around the Marshall Islands, between us and Japan.  Our government had declared 390,000 square miles of the Pacific ocean off-limits to American citizens.  Our necessary route back to Japan (winds, currents, time of year) went right through this zone.
     Four American men in Golden Rule, a small yacht down the dock from us were preparing to sail into the zone as an anti-nuclear protest.  On June 4, on their way out of the harbor, they were intercepted by the Coast Guard, brought back and jailed.
     Now our own voyage took on a more serious purpose.  My father was an expert on the damage radiation causes.  He knew even nuclear tests release death into the air and sea currents around the planet--and he believed somebody ought to do something about it.  He was a scientist and at that point he also became an activist.
     Our family and our Hiroshiman first mate sailed from Honolulu bound for Hiroshima and on July 1 we entered the test zone to protest the testing of nuclear weapons.  Three years later we would sail from Japan to the USSR for the same reason. . . Later Dad would sail through the 7th Fleet, protesting the Vietnam War by taking humanitarian supplies to the Red Cross in Haiphong.
     The Golden Rule and Phoenix were only together for those few weeks in 1958.  They changed owners.  The crew members lost touch with each other.  Some of them died.
     Then, in 2010, out of the blue, both boats were found separately 225 miles apart--on the coast of northern California.  The Golden Rule had been abandoned, her masts gone, with a hole in her side, lying on a beach in northern California.  Almost at the same time, an ad for the Phoenix appeared on Craig's List, "FREE: 50-foot yacht."  Her masts were gone. The man who answered the ad towed her up the Sacramento River to work on her, hit a dock which gashed a hole in her side.  She sank.  He abandoned her.
     The Golden Rule was restored by Veterans for Peace ( ) and re-launched into Humboldt Bay, California in 2015.
     The Phoenix is still at the bottom of the Mokelumne River off Tyler Island in northern California. In her day she changed our family's lives and then thousands of other lives.  We hope she will change thousands more.  This boat gets into the blood and imagination of everyone who comes to know about her. 
     But first we have to get her out of the river.  A small but swelling group of us is trying to get the word out, get set up as a non-profit so donations can be tax-deductible and raise interest and money to restore the Phoenix as a (mobile) historical monument.  There is lots of enthusiasm to see the Phoenix rise over the next 4 years, to sail with the Golden Rule again for a nuclear-free world.
     Following posts about The Reynolds Family, The Nuclear Age, and a Brave Wooden Boat are current updates about her condition and progress on restoring her.

To be added to our email list for updates on Raising the Phoenix, contact me at We also have a Twitter account at and hope to be on Facebook soon.

Jessica Reynolds Shaver Renshaw
Extra Ballast,
Phoenix of Hiroshima, 1954-64



Thursday, May 24, 2018

Growing up in Hiroshima - (1st of 2)


     Franklin Delano Roosevelt ruined my first birthday.
     I'm sure he didn't mean to. He died. News of the president's death reached the mothers in our neighborhood in Yellow Springs, Ohio, while they were at my party, bringing it to an abrupt and tearful halt.
     With Harry S Truman's elevation to the presidency, my first birthday marked what would foreshadow the beginning of the nuclear age.  The second World War was at its most dangerous, the outcome in doubt.  Four months later Truman would order the dropping of the first and second nuclear bombs to be used on people, weapons so secret Truman himself knew nothing about their existence until he was suddenly president.
     Daddy and Mummy (Dr. Earle and Barbara Reynolds) were at a writers' retreat in North Carolina when the news came that a new type of bomb had obliterated Hiroshima.  Three days later Nagasaki was mentioned almost as a postscript. My parents felt relieved.  Not because they had anything against the Japanese. But maybe this would end the war.  Mum went back to polishing the murder mystery she was writing, Alias for Death.  Dad went back to working on his latest play. Bite the Dust, maybe. Or, I Weep for You.

     We had no way of knowing that the reverberations from those two explosions would someday reach out and profoundly affect our own family, shaking our assumptions, our ways of thinking and our plans to their very foundations, radically redirecting our lives.  The day would come when Mum would tell survivors of those bombs, weeping, "I too, am a hibakusha (explosion-affected person)."  They would design a monument to her with those words on it in her handwriting and unveil it in 2011 in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park (their Ground Zero).
     But for the next six years they didn't think about the bomb.  We lived a normal American life in the small college town where Dad--with a PhD in Physical Anthropology from the University of Chicago--worked at Fels Research Institute and taught at Antioch College.
     In 1951 that changed forever.  The National Academy of Sciences, through the Atomic Energy Commission, assigned Dad to move to Hiroshima and conduct a three-year study on the effects of the first nuclear bomb on the growth and development of surviving children.  Mum, Tim (15), Ted (13) and I (7) moved with him.
     We all had to get passport photos taken, apply for visas--and worst of all for a terrified seven-year old, endure a series of ten injections, for everything from typhoid to typhus, smallpox to yellow fever.  Then, complete with our "Woody" station wagon and our dog Cappy (short for Caprice), we packed up to move to Japan. 

     We drove to San Francisco and steamed across the ocean to Yokohama on the President Wilson.  Dad drove the Woody carefully down the length of Honshu, the main island, because the only road was often only one lane wide, and even where it was wider, one of the lanes was always under repair.  Large chunks of the road had been blown away. Perspiring laborers were lugging the chunks back from the fields in baskets swinging from each end of a stick across their bare shoulders.  Beyond them, ankle-deep in mud, their wives stooped to transplant spears of rice.
     We passed through towns that were clogged with cars, bicycles, oxen-drawn carts and three-wheeled "bata batas." Once Daddy had to back up and he asked me to look and see if there was anything behind us.
     "No, Daddy," I said. "Nothing but people."
     People.  Wherever we stopped, children, their eyes bright with curiosity, crowded around our car, greeting us with a chorus of "Harro, Harro!"  They jostled each other aside and held out grubby hands, grinning and clamoring for "Chu-in-ga-a-mu!"  That's all the English they knew.  Chewing gum.  The only foreigners they had ever seen were soldiers.  We were a family.  A father who was not wearing a uniform.  A mother.  Kids, like them.  (Later, when our grandmother DiggyDee came to visit, her soft white hair made a sensation throughout the country.  Even grown women wanted to touch it.)  And a dog!  There were no dogs, cats or birds left in Japan after the war.  Rumor had it they had all been eaten. 
     Every child had a runny nose.
     Japan was still occupied by Australian and American forces.  The Australians were finishing up and would be gone in a year.  Although Dad was coming to Hiroshima as a scientist we lived on the nearby Army base, a community of pastel-colored houses called Nijimura (Rainbow Village).
Tim and Cappy
     Families in Nijimura did what families were probably doing back in the States.  The men went to work every day and the women got together for bridge and gossip.  Tim and Ted attended high school on the island of Eta Jima.  They had to commute to it daily in a "veeHICular ferry," an American Army landing craft.
      I rode my bike to the nearby elementary school where all the grades met in one room.  I would have been starting second grade back home but the Australian school system was tougher and I had to re-do most of first grade.   When the Americans took over using Calvert correspondence courses we could study and take tests at our own pace.  By the time we left Japan I had caught up with myself.
     The first year we were there the base was run by the Australians, who had been in Japan with the British Commonwealth Occupation Forces (BCOF) since 1946.  BCOF included Australian, British, Indian and New Zealand military forces and at its peak, comprised about 40,000 personnel, equal to about 25% of the number of US military personnel in Japan.
     While US forces were responsible for military government, BCOF was responsible for supervising demilitarization and the disposal of Japan's war industries.  They occupied the western prefectures of Shimane, Yamaguchi, Tottori, Okayama, Hiroshima ad Shikoku Island.  BCOF headquarters was at Kure, the biggest city near us. (Of course I didn't know all this at the time.)
     But the Aussies only overlapped the Americans for a year or so.  Tim came home from one of his first days in Australian-run Eta Jima High School to report excitedly that the school was going to have a "fight."
     Mum was alarmed.  "A fight?  The principal won't allow that!"
     "Sure he will," insisted Tim. "The school is putting it on."  A fete, we found out later.
     (Mum made sure that we met up with my Australian friend Carol Exton a few years later at the Puckapunyal Army Base near Melbourne in her own country. There is a Facebook page now for BCOF Japan Kids, those descendants who went  to or were born in Hiroshima between 1947 and 1953.  It is a closed group but they let me in.  We were sad,  comparing notes, to find that many in the group, living near Hiroshima so soon after the nuclear bomb, had had multiple health issues there and after they came home that didn't make sense until they started reading about ionizing radiation-related illnesses.) 
     Tim, the firstborn, was with us in Japan for only one year.  He was popular among the children my age living on the base as a magician at my and their birthday parties.  He wrote what may be the only poem to come out of the Allied occupation of Japan:

     It cheers one to know that there are a lot of Japanese in their 30s now
     who have as one of their earliest and most cherished memories
     the first foreign devil they ever saw
     & he did a magic show, man, like you would not believe,
     doves, rabbits, we wanted to eat them,
     he had a chopping machine & he chopped a potato in half with it
     & told Yamaguchi-san to stick his arm in
     Was this how the Occupation was going to be, we wondered
     We figured it would be interesting, but
     what did it portend? 
     Was it good? Was it bad?
     We just couldn't make up our minds.
    Just like 7-year olds back in the States, in my free time I cooked real cupcakes in my one-candle-power oven and had tea parties for my dolls and Teddy bear.  (In my case mine it was a koala, which I know is not a bear.)  Cynthia was plastic with articulated arms, Judy was a chubby baby and Boh-chan was a dark doll with a perpetual pucker of distress.  He wore two layers of cloth kimono and I assumed he was Japanese.  I didn't look at him appraisingly until I was grown.  He wasn't Asian, he was African-American, not that it mattered to me.  I also taped pictures of American movie stars--Ava Gardner, Joan Crawford, Susan Hayward, Barbara Stanwyck--to my closet mirror.
     Every Saturday all the kids attended the matinee at the one theater on the base, even though there were only enough of us to fill the first few rows.  I think there was only one movie shown all week.  I may be wrong about that. I noticed the other kids didn't put the seats down. They sat perched on their edges. So I did, too.
     We had just arrived in Nijimura and I didn't know anyone yet.  It was Saturday and either my parents had walked me down to the theater or I had gone alone.  I was waiting in the front or second row, surrounded by running, climbing, swirling, laughing Army kids, for the matinee to start.  A girl my age emerged from behind the curtain, walked down the stairs from the stage and came straight to me.  She motioned for me to come with her and I followed eagerly, grateful for the gesture of friendship  Without a word she led me up the stairs, behind the curtain, and turned me over to a wizened old Japanese man who reeked of cheap cigarettes.  After she disappeared he French-kissed me and let me stagger back to my seat dazed and nauseated.  I have thought since that perhaps this man was getting his own private revenge against the foreigners who humiliated his Emperor--by humiliating their daughters.
     Of course I didn't tell anyone; no one did in those days.

     Other than on this occasion, the base effectively insulated us from Japan and the Japanese people, except for those who cooked our meals and mowed our lawn.  I rode home for lunch every day, eating bean-with bacon soup and bread-and-butter--my choice--alone at the dining room table, served by our Japanese "housegirl" Dote-san.
     It was fun living in Nijimura because we had a maid.  Mum didn't have to cook or clean and I didn't have to wash dishes or pick up my clothes.
     Miss Dote (Dohtay) couldn't read English so the first night she worked for us, she opened all the cans to see what to serve for dinner. Then for some reason she peeled off and threw away the labels, so we had to do a lot of guessing ourselves for weeks and ended d up eating some interesting combinations.  We'd go by size, stewed tomatoes and peaches came in big cans, vegetables and soup in smaller ones.  We heard that one housegirl in a home with small children was horrified to see small jars of food on kitchen shelves with pictures of babies on them!  And there was much discussion among the kitchen staff of all the Nijimura families when, for an American-sponsored picnic, they found out we were eating hot dogs.  (Maybe Dote-san thought Cappy was to be the piece de resistance.)
     Once Dote-san forgot to cover the pitcher of maple syrup and when I poured sit over my pancakes, a two-inch-long shiny black cockroach washed out along with the dark, thick liquid.  He lay atop them in departed dignity, thin contracted legs in the air.  Little brown roaches, of no consequence by comparison, never bothered me after that but it took me a long time to like pancakes again.

Ted and me, with Cynthia

     My brother Ted, who was absent-minded long before he became a professor, wore the same shirt every day.  At night Dote-san would wash it, iron it, fold it, and place it back in his drawer on top of the others--until Mum pointed out that Ted was pulling out the same one every day and instructed her to put the clean shirt on the bottom.  My mother was a genius at some things and avoiding confrontation was one of them.

     We kids played jokes on the maid but Mum tried to get to know and befriend her.  Miss Dote was young and overwhelmed, trying to survive in a foreign world within her own devastated one.  The Americans she had been taught to hate were now the employers she must learn to respect and serve.

     Most people in Nijimura paid little attention to the world outside the gates. Every August 6, the anniversary of the bombing, everyone was warned not to leave the base in case the Japanese turned hostile. (In all my years there, I only saw one Japanese hostile toward Americans and he was drunk.)  But hardly anyone left the base anyway unless they had to. Daddy and Mummy called it "the zoo."
     Whenever dependents had to leave the base, they watched curiously through their car windows, noting shops lining narrow streets, their fronts open to display fruit, vegetables or cheap trinkets.  Little girls wearing pink and red together with no sense of fashion.  Mothers nursing babies in public with no sense of modesty.  Men urinating along city sidewalks with no sense of shame. How primitive, how offensive! Americans would never think of using public Japanese restrooms.  They were just holes over mountains of reeking excrement.
     Foreigners would return to the base relieved to be back in their familiar habitat.
     But our family was an exception.  Mum and Dad took us kids off base by choice.  Mum wanted to experience Japan.  As a child, she had read a book called The Japanese Twins by Lucy F. Perkins (published in 1912) and she was fascinated with Japanese life.  She had her mother strap a doll to her back and practiced using chopsticks.  So she had never feared or hated the Japanese before or during the war. She was excited when Dad was assigned to Japan and we were invited to go with him.
     Mum had me take lessons in flower-arranging, calligraphy and dance (a far cry from the ballet and tap I studied during three months we had spent in Tucson).



While Dad was at work (ABCC sent a car and driver to pick him up), Mum would take us into Hiro, the nearest town.  We would get out of the car and walk down the narrow roads and look at, even buy, the fresh fruit and vegetables.  Japanese women behind the stalls would rush to help us, bowing a lot, carefully selecting the cost of the items from the coins we held on open palm.  Others, in kimonos and wooden clogs, perhaps a baby asleep on their back, would sling dippers full of water on the dirt roads to keep down the dust.  We'd smile and they'd bow, their baby learning social skills by bowing with them.
     Mum had learned the two simplest of the three Japanese alphabets and she taught them to me. We were on a train ride together, just the two of us, to northern Honshu, maybe even Hokkaido. (I remember nothing else about the trip.) She identified the harder letters with animals and made up little stories about them. "Neh" which is shaped like a crouched animal with a curly tail, was for "nezumi" (mouse). I have never forgotten them.

     She herself learned them from Dr. Yamada.

     Dr. Yamada was a strait-laced little professor Mum and Dad had hired to teach them Japanese. Impeccably groomed and proper, carrying a briefcase, Dr. Yamada would come to our stucco block house in Rainbow Village once a week and teach them to read and write his language. They would ask him all kinds of questions about the culture and try to understand the "inscrutable Japanese" mind.

     After they felt they knew him well enough, Dad asked him how to swear in Japanese.

     Professor Yamada's impassive expression betrayed nothing. "We do not have words like that in Japanese," he answered politely.
     "Sure, you do. Every language has words like that," Dad prodded. "What would a workman on a ladder say if the man above him spilled hot tar on his head?"
     Mr. Yamada was unruffled. "He would say, 'Please don't spill hot tar on my head.'"
     "Come on, Mr. Yamada," coaxed Dad. "What would he really say?"
     Mr. Yamada relaxed just a little. "Well," he admitted confidentially, "he might not say 'please.'"  
     Mr. Yamada lived into his 90s and became one of our best friends and strongest supporters.   

Mum had written children's books for Tim, (Pepper, about his raccoon) and for Ted (Hamlet and Brownswiggle, about his hamsters).

Later she would write Emily San about a little American girl in Japan with her family, for me. It was translated into Japanese after her death and published as Rainbow Village.

*Note: Truman didn't have a middle name. He arbitrarily made it an "S" which doesn't stand for anything so it's not supposed to have a period after it.