Saturday, March 2, 2013

Bridge to the Sun

Two things greater than all things are.
The first is Love, and the second War.
            And since we know not how War may prove,
Heart of my heart, let us talk of Love!


When I was a wee girl in Tokyo, my older sister, Debi, was like a second mother.  I used to ask her, “When Mommy dies, will you be my mother?”  Just trying to straighten out how things work in life, you know.  Her teenaged girlfriends from the American School in Japan, were tall and beautiful, with their long, straight hair, miniskirts and heavy eyeliner that were popular in the mid-1960’s.  One of these statuesque girls was Emi … a Japanese-American girl who had a sick sense of humor.  She convinced my sister that the Japanese word for hot chocolate was “opai”.  Debi called room service at our hotel, and ordered “Two hot opai, kudasai” not noticing that Emi had collapsed on the floor laughing.  She had ordered two hot breasts.

Debi and Liz in Tokyo, about 1966

Emi had been a child actress, performing in a movie called “Bridge to the Sun” with Carroll Baker.  She played Mariko, the daughter of a young American woman, Gwen Harold, who had married a Japanese diplomat, Hidenari Terasaki, on the cusp of World War II.  The movie was based on Gwen's memoir with the same title.  Refusing to be separated from her husband, Gwen, with young Mariko, was deported to Japan, where she lived and endured the worst of the war in the Japanese countryside.  Starvation, bombings and illness were ongoing battles.  This was a part of the war that most Americans never knew about.  Few people thought about the citizens of Japan who were the unlucky recipients of America’s fierce air campaign late in the war.  It was easy to mentally pinpoint the enemy as the stereotypical Japanese soldier or kamikaze pilot, not thinking about the civilian women, men and children who scratched out a meager existence with very little food and the daily threat of death. 

One of the most poignant scenes from the movie is when Mariko witnesses a school friend die in a ditch during a bombing raid.  The book and the movie are clear statements against the brutality of war, and how love can reach beyond racial and national differences.  As an adult, Mariko devoted her life to “issues ranging from the arms race, war and peace, racial and sexual equality [and] political reform.”  (  She was an honorary Consul-General to Japan.  She has done her best to maintain the “bridge” between the United States and Japan about which her parents cared so deeply.
Mariko Terasaki Miller, in later years.  (
It was remarkable that my family lived in Japan a mere 20 years after the end of the war, and there were very few reminders of the carnage.  My parents had a deep respect for the Japanese people; there was none of the outrageous xenophobia that was pervasive during the war.  One only has to look at some of the propaganda that existed at that time to see how deeply the hatred ran.  My parents were living examples of tolerance and acceptance.  Mom still talks about Japan with misty fondness in her eyes. 

I don’t know how she came to get it, but my mom had an autographed copy of the book that Gwen Terasaki wrote back in the 1950s.  I’d like to think that she actually met Mrs. Terasaki at some point.  The battered and ripped copy is one of my most prized possessions. 

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