Below the Teahouse
by Vern Snyder (from The New York Times)
sometimes ask if the comedy "The Teahouse of the August
Moon" is not,
in reality, a serious piece of work. Then I hasten
to point out that they should make the "Teahouse" what
they wish, for it was meant to be that way. The "Teahouse" was
meant to make you think if you with to think, or to make you forget
you wish to forget.
Teahouse of the August Moon" contains
two stories, but only one story is told directly. That is the surface
story which shows the trials and tribulations of Captain Jeff Fisby
in Tobiki village, Okinawa. Perhaps it is foolery, or fantasy,
call it what you wish. Yet I, for one, sincerely hope that it will
bring a few smiles, or better still, a few chuckles.
underlying this surface story is another one, never told but
rather implied. And if anyone wished the "The Teahouse
of the August Moon" to be serious, the seriousness will come
from this story.
is somewhat difficult to explain the under story. Ultimately,
it is an
expression of certain ideas. One such idea being that
people, the world over, are basically the same in their wants
and desires, but that often we are confused by the externals.
As Sakini, the interpreter, would way, holding up his finger
"Illustration!" The Japanese might want his miso soup for breakfast;
the Korean might want his pickles, called kimchi, and the American
might want his ham and eggs. yet basically they all want the same
thing -- namely, breakfast.
At the risk
of sounding presumptuous, I would like to mention that
the under story of the "Teahouse" was also intended as a guide
for those who some day might be engaged in Military Government
work. I remember back in those days of 1944 when the United
began to find itself in the Military government business, many
of us, assigned to such work, were at a complete loss.
At that time
a factual work on the occupation of the Rhineland in 1917 was
considered the guide. But in April of 1945 when we
went into Okinawa with the invasion forces, most of us found that
instead of a guide it was a piece of fiction that helped us in
the villages, among the people -- John Hershey's "A Bell for
should the occasion arise (and I hope that it doesn't), still,
perhaps the "The Teahouse of the August
Moon" might be of benefit to some United States Military Government
officer, somewhere, sometime. Perhaps it might show him that if
he looks to the wants of the people under him, then tries to satisfy
those wants, he will have very little need for barbed wire and
guards armed with rifles.
will also show him, among other things, that what works in
Pottawattamie, Iowa, often will not work in Tobiki Village,
Okinawa; that Plan "See" is much better than Plan B. That the
culture and way of life of an occupied country is often very
old and, strangely enough, ideally suited to that country. And
that there is more to be learned in this old world than will
ever be taught in a pentagon-shaped schoolhouse.
a word about this island of Okinawa. The name, so I'm told,
as "the rope that lies off shore." Actually, it is the
largest island in a chain that stretches 2,000 miles or so
south from the mainland of Japan. And though it is the largest
still it is a small island -- not more than ninety-five miles
long and from five to fifteen or twenty miles wide.
people of Okinawa seem to be neither Chinese nor Japanese.
In ancient times they had their own language, known as the Luchuan
dialect; and a few of the older people still speak it. In ancient
times they had their own kingdom, known as the kingdom of the Ryukyus,
the name for their chain of islands. But Okinawa was small.
was some dynasty on the mainland of China that demanded tribute,
and Okinawa could only pay. Then the eyes of some ancient
Japanese war lord fell on this island, and Okinawa had to bow.
Her kings became rulers in name only. And as the centuries
passed, little Okinawa at times paid tribute to China, at other
to Japan. And sometimes she paid tribute to both at once.
on April 1, 1945, a new conqueror came to replace the Japanese
who had held the island since 1895. He came off his steel ships,
and he was worried, especially if he was assigned to work with
the civilian population. For, technically, they were enemy. And
since the first duty of Military Government is to keep the civilian
population from interfering with the military operation; and
since one American would be called upon to handle perhaps 5,000
it was only natural that anyone assigned to such duty would have
visions of bridges and supply dumps and switchboards being blown
up. But, then, the American met the Okinawan -- completely lacking
in shame and pretense and filled with wide-eyed, childlike gratitude.
What happened is illustrated by a story told by a lieutenant of
looked across the lines one morning and saw movement. It had
to be the enemy out there, yet the figure ahead
of him wore American uniforms. But they couldn't be American, for
the lieutenant was holding the front. This was the furthermost
outpost. The lieutenant was tempted to open fire, but thinking
it, he called, "Who's out there?"
Government," came the reply.
Government! The lieutenant could hardly believe it. Military
Government was supposed to be in back, not in front. "Well,
what are you doing?" the lieutenant demanded.
"Looking for sewing machines."
heard there's some in the caves ahead. And we need them in
the village to make dresses for the women."
But I would
like to point out that "The Teahouse of the
August Moon" is not a war story. And I hope that the reader
of the viewer will not be concerned with the under story if he
is not so inclined, or if he is not in the mood for such. The "Teahouse"
was meant to be whatever you wish to make it.
-- Vern Sneider