Gypsy's Travels

Friday, December 7, 2007

A Lesson in Dignity

In his post on "Keeping warm by hibachi," Abraham Lincoln describes the way some Japanese people recycled cigarettes shortly after the war's end. It reminded me of an occurrence while we were living in Okinawa.

My mother and I were shopping for fabric (see I come by it honestly!) in one of the small shops "in town." When we were there, "town" consisted of some tin-roofed shanties set up just outside the gates of Kadena AFB. They seemed to specialize in various things and I loved to wander through them. As my mother bargained with the shop keeper, I watched. Another customer entered the store while extracting a cigarette from her purse. The cigarette fell to the ground. She carefully picked it up, placed it on a stack of nearby stones, and announced to no one in general, "I am sure the shop owner will throw this away for me."

The shop keeper was silent, but the look in his eyes still haunts me. I believe he was hurt and offended by the woman's condescension. His cultural training would never have allowed him to say anything to her......a foreign woman....victorious from a war only 10 years ago.....publicly offering him a dirty cigarette.....but I wonder what he would like to have said. I wonder what he would say if he knew how much the episode has affected me over all these years. I wonder and I wonder.....


  1. When I was first in the service, the guys that smoked would go around a d police the area for cigarette butts, take the tobacco and chew it. After payday they were smoking cigars until their money was spent and then back to picking up butts and chewing. Cigarettes was something I have never attempted since our Dad always had one hanging out of his mouth.

  2. Tobacco was like money in Japan when I was there. One or two cigarettes were worth a considerable amount and then some said the guys would give a whole pack when only three or four were asked for. The Japanese were quick to realize they could ask more and get more and so what was one or two cigarettes became one pack. I also remember that they dry-cleaned out wood OD class A uniforms in gasoline as they had nothing else to clean them with but they came back smelling like gasoline and we had to air them off outside for a while.

    Your post today reminds me of a lot of other memories I have but for some reason have not yet posted them.

    Thanks for the link.

  3. This reminds me a little of bartering with cigarettes in Russia. One pack and 10 rubels got me the portrait I have from that time. Small price for me and they were happy to have it - likely to continue down the black market.

  4. Yes, it seems we can always find something to barter - cigarettes, Levis, T-shirts - everyone has a currency.

    Yes, trading thoughts inspires memories we thought were long forgotten. Now, if we can just get them all down on paper....

    Thanks to all for sharing!


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