The nature, culture and living in a small village in Japan just after the last world war, reflected through the boy’s eyes.


Chapter 3. Opening the Bus Services (1954)

Written by Y. Otsuki(Sendai, Japan)

Translated by Y.Otsuki(London)


Charcoal Bus: Of course, Japan had already been producing cars by using American car manufacturing technologies before the second world war. Japan was short on all resources, especially domestically-yielded metals, became very scarce due to weapon production. The government forced people and companies to deliver all kinds of metalworks such as; industrial machinaries, poles, rails, manhole covers, kitchenwares, bells, bronze statues etc. There were also some more extreme examples, such as Buddhist alter decorations, which had been treasured by forefathers for a long time. The buses also decreased to an all-time low. There was a similar situation with regard to oil. Japan had very little oil resources and relied on imported oil. Following the outbreak of the second world war, oil imports were extremely limited by the allied powers.

An alternative oil, taken from pine tree sap was developed and used mainly in non-military industries, then for the war planes. Buses couldn’t use such a precious oil and “charcoal buses” were developed as a result. The mechanism of the charcoal buses is as follows; the conventional buses were equipped with combustion furnaces in order to generate carbon monoxide by incomplete combustion of charcoal. This was put into a carburetor, so it could mix with air and then syphoned into engines as fuel, rather than using gasifiled oil. As Japan is rich in wood, this system was helpful to get rid of oil shortage. However, this came with several problems.

In order to start the charcoal bus, one hour of preparation time was necessary to produce a good amount of carbon monoxide. The conductor had to perform this role, which was difficult for him on winter mornings. On steep slopes, the buses couldn’t run, because only a small amount of was produced from carbon monoxide. The passengers often got off the bus to help push it up the slope-like the early years of motorization in US.

During the period after the years, which explained above, the oil had already been imported through the general headquarters of allied powers, so the charcoal buses started to disappear when the system was returned to its original state(dispatching the furnace).

Work after the last war: The traditional Japanese working style had been the apprenticeships.  That is to say, when some shops, factories etc. had labour shortages, they hired employees from rural areas through private connections and employment agencies. The employers usually letted their empolyees to live their families and work by educating everything to live as well as more specific skills. The wages were very low, and holidays(to go back home) only happens once a year. Superiors among these workers were able to be independent with a financial support by the employer, after working for the employer for several ten years. This employment system still survives partly in Sushi bar and some service trades.

Japan had closed its doors Western countries except Holland for more than 250years from early part of 16th century.(In this period, Japan had diplomatic relations with China and Korea.) In mid-19th century, America forced Japan to open the trade once again. Many people from other powerful western countries immediately rushed there, because they already knew that Holland amassed a huge fortune with its exclusive trading and using tricks to make more profit.

The new government, established in 1868, knew how those western countries were exploiting the wealth from Africa,America and rest of Asia. It made a desparate effort to build up a strong army as well as introducing advanced items from West. Unfortunately, Japan had already lost most of its money, even thought it used to be one of the richest countries in terms of gold and silver (after discovering the gold mines in the 8th century.). So, the government promoted the establishment of export industries. One of these was the silk-reeling industry. Silk makers built their factories in rural cities, and produced cheap silk by gathering together female workers from farmers at a low price. The government scudd to military power until the second world war, and ended up driving Japan into tragic poverty. Afther the second world war, many people were forced to live in extreme poverty. That is, the war destroyed many industries and there were few means by which to rebuild in such a situation. Then, the government set their eyes on teenagers, who had just graduated from secondary school. In the year that bus service began, the government sent them from northern part of Japan to Tokyo. It was called “mass employment”. They were hired by small enterprises and shops etc. as workers or clerks, but couldn’t become indepent as in the traditional case.

The policy had been used nationwide for 20years, and supported the revival of the post-war economy by sending a huge number young people to work. This policy was especially famous in northern region of Japan. Ueno station in Tokyo, one of the  terminal stations for trains that carried the workers, was the epitome of “mass employment”, and included in the lyrics of popular songs. For example, someone yearns the people of Tokyo to hear their dialect, because they miss home. This poem is famous for evoking a sense of northern Japanese people’s homesickness, although the time composed is different from the oneof the mass employment plicy carried out.



そを聴きにゆく     石川 啄木

Loving very mushc the dialect particular

To my native place, I go to the crowd of people

at the station to hear it. ( Composed by Takuboku Ishikawa, Translated by Teruo Suga)

As making free translation by Y. Otsuki;

Unable to stop yearning my hometown

I stood amongst the crowds of people

at the station to hear its dialect.


A girl, who had lived in the village, wearing the stained clothes and with dirty hands was now back at home, on holiday, from Tokyo, one year after “mass employed”. She was wearing beautiful fashionable clothes and make-up. In the boys’ cases, they went by car from Tokyo by saying that a car is cheaper than owning a house. This is an example of the differences in the values between rural areas and Tokyo. He wanted to show that he lived in the new era. This was also another kind of civilization and enlightenment.


The village was located on the foot of a small mountain, where a brook was running from west to east with water flowing into the rice field. There was a village centre with a primary school and a grocery shop as the only public facilities. It was facing a road along the northern side of the brook. However, people can’t usually be seen there because of the small population of the village. On a sunny day in May, the road was unusually crowded on both side of the brook. “It’s coming, it’s coming.”  As soon as these shouts were heard coming from the leader of the crowd, the nose of the bus appeared from the corner of the road. Yes, today is the memorial day of the opening of the bus service between the village and the town. The bonnet-bus came along heroically casting a shadow over the people in the northern side of line formed by villagers.

The bus, regrettably not one of the new models, that was stained arrived at the terminal in front of the school. The door opened and the conductress got out, and so did the driver.

The daughter of the richest family in the village presented a bunch of flowers to the driver, and the representative of the young men’s association presented some to the conductress. “Bang, bang, bang” – the sounds of the fireworks echoed three times across the mountains surrounding the village.


The village is about 3 miles west of the town. Up until that time, there were limited ways to commute-either walking for one hour, or cycling for half an hour (although cycling was only taken up by rich families). From this day onwards, it only took 20minutes by bus. The people of the village had been wanting this for such a long time. The bus staff seemed so heroic, like astronauts.

Of course, once the bus service became regular by going about its daily routine, the driver lost the admiration of the people, who lived in the village. It’s the same in the case of the astronauts-they become heroes, due to the uncommoness of the their job. So, although astronauts will be heroes forever, because embarking on space flight is not a part of everyday life, their activities are not seen in wider society. In other words, the contribution of astronauts to everyday life is certainly less than the bus crews’.

At least bus crews have been heroes among the villagers for several months. The conductress was especially idolised by the young men in the village and as soon as she knew it, she applied more and more make-up each day since she couldn’t change her uniform. Then, a rumour about the conductress’ romance spread. On the other hand, the women in the village were too shy to romantically approach the bus driver.


Several weeks after this commemoration day, a teacher from the boy’s school asked the pupils to write about their ideal future job. There were less than twenty pupils in his class. They were all farmers’ children, except for this one boy. The farmers’ sons couldn’t choose any other job, apart from farming. The eldest son of the family had to succeed the farm owner, and others will live a life, full of labour, just like workhorses. Daughters had more paths, that they could take due to marriage prospects. However, they didn’t have the right to choose who they married, because everything was arranged for them.

The farmers’ children had never considered their futures outside the farming. Therefore, writing this essay wasn’t particularly meaningful for them, or might have upset their parents. This time round , everyone’s ambitions had changed a lot. Now all the boys wanted to be a bus drivers, except for one boy. Naturally, all the girls wanted to be bus conductresses. The one boy, who didn’t wanted to be a bus driver, was wandering what his answer to this question would be. In a previous essay, the boy had written that his dream was to become a diplomat, but gave up in search of something more realistic, because he lost confidence, due to bullying by other boys. A year earlier, his elder sister married a man, who worked as a bus conductor.

So the boy had been thinking about being a bus conductor in the future. On the contrary, he didn’t want to write the same answer as everybody else. What do you think he wrote in the end? As a matter of fact, he doesn’t even remember. At least he didn’t write “bus conductor”, which would seem to be a breach of faith of his brother-in-law’s profession. He was deeply regretful for considering it.