Okinawan Venture

China's slow suicide

By William Wetherall

First posted 18 September 2009
Last updated 26 May 2010


Robert T. Frost
Okinawan Venture
Tokyo: Bridgeway Press Books, 1958 (1st printing)
228 pages, softcover, attached jacket
Published and distributed by the Charles E. Tuttle Company, Rutland, Vermont and Tokyo, Japan
Printed in Japan by the Kenkyusha Printing Co.

This is one of the few early fictional works set in Okinawa during the period it was under direct administration by the United States, written by an American who served there when the islands were under a US flag and, like Japan, part of the backstage of the US-led United Nations alliance in the Korean "conflict" that became a "war" and then a "War".

Frost's story involves two married Air Force officers who fall in love with the same "ne-san" maid. She had come to Okinawa from Japan and worked for a while in a bar but quit because she didn't want to go out with the trade. She then became a maid at the quonset hut the two American "honchos" were sharing before their families arrived. Torn between the affection of both, she returned the love of only one.

Dick -- the character most likely in the sight and earshot of the third-person narrator -- heads for the Officer's Club as soon as he has arrived at Kazaki Air Base in Okinawa and showered and dressed (page 7).

The club was crowded that Saturday afternoon. Dick joined two acquaintances he had met on the flight down from Japan. Before long he was relaxed and adjusted to the carefree surroundings and air conditioned comfort. He and his friends made a pastime of watching and comparing the cute uniformed Okinawan waitresses -- "ne-sans." They learned by listening. "Ne-snas" and "boy-sans," "papa-sans" and "mama-sans," "hancho" and "number one," all seemed to work naturally into their vocabulary as they mimicked overheard conversations around them.

Dick, a petroleum officer, did not know whether the Air Force would keep him in Okinawa, or send him to Korea or back to Japan. He learns, though, that he will be staying in Okinawa, and because the new permanent Bachelor Officers Quarters are full, he was assigned to an an older facility -- a quonset hut for two men a quarter-mile bus ride from the base.

Dick is waiting for family housing to open up so his wive Norma and son Sandy can join him. Steve, also a lieutenant but a dentist, is assigned to the same quonset, until his wife Helen can join him in facilities for married officers. Steve has already bought a car. Dick will be content with a motor scooter.

The officers next door already had a middle-age mama-san maid named Sachiko. Two weeks later, Dick and Steve get a younger maid who has never worked before in a BOQ. Her name is Kimiko, and Sachiko shows the ne-san what to do.

Kimiko is later described in some detail (pages 38-39).

What either Dick or Steve felt about her was difficult for Kimiko to guess. She wished she knew. Were they not men and therefore interested in women? She studied the pictures of their wives on display in the bedrooms, compared her appearance to theirs and wondered. Kimiko was not only attractive, but she also knew it. She had been told so, often enough. She remembered, and shuddered, when she thought of some of the ugly situations she had almost been in before she quit working at the Cherry Blossom Bar in Koza.

Kimiko was only an inch over five feet tall and she was beautifully formed. Her head was small and an irregular hairline that grew low on her temples framed her light, tan-complected face with its small nose, slightly widened at the nostrils. She had the most attractive eyes, accented by dark, well-defined eyebrows. Heer eyes were not slanted, rather they were normally spaced, with a delicate fold at the inner tips creating an alert brightness in their dark brown color that made them sparkle in her everyday happiness. They were intense eyes with deep inner magnetism. High, fairly prominent cheek-bones widened her face to classic round-facedness, relieved by her small mouth with generous lips. Her teeth were perfect, without a trace of the gold filling so popular among oriental people. A band of freckles across her nose and cheeks enlivened heer whole face. When she smiled, who could resist but to smile in return?

A slender body with tiny waist, small, rather thick hands with short fingers, gracefully formed legs and ankles with small feet, widened at the toes, completed her physical appearance. She was, as were so many young women in Okinawa, small, well formed and full of boundless energy that belied their size. She was as graceful as music in motion. Her life was happy now and she was content. Kimiko only wished she had started work as a made long before she did. But her past was behind her now and she cold look to the future.

Dick, who has been watching Kimiko and liking what he sees, askes her one morning to pour a cup of coffee for herself and join him at the table. They speak a sort of pidgin English (page 47).

"Poor Kimiko, always shy. Why for you always shy?"

"I no shy. This first time I do this. Other hanchos never ask ne-san have coffee. You different."

"Why am I different?"

"Oh, I do' know," she replied coyly, giving Dick a sideways glance. "You no same Steve. I think he no like me. He never speak nice, all time make fun Kimiko. I no like -- go hide."

"Steve like you all right, Kimiko, he just seems to like to tease you. You no get embarrassed all time, he soon no more tease."

Dick studied her small, intent face, the bridge of freckles. He noticed how her irregular hailine gave her face a small, compact look. "She's really attractive," he thought. "Where are all the slant eyed oriental women I've always read about? Kimiko sure isn't one of them. Her eyes are different looking, but they're not really slanted. They're pretty eyes."

"You like work here, Kimiko?"

"Oh, I like."

"Where you work before you come here?"

"I no like to say -- you make fun."

"No, I won't make fun. You say."

Kimiko hesitated, then answered. "I work bar. I no like that kind work. I never go back."

By the end of Chapter 4 -- two pages later -- it is clear that Dick and Kimiko have found themselves fatefully attracted to each other.

Synopsis on front flap of jacket

Here is a book that is as colorful as an Okinawan sunset, as tranquil as its calm and as turbulent as its typhoons. It is as simple and peaceful as the people of Okinawa, and as loving and as tender. Yet, under the surface, it is as involved, as complex and as baffling as the hsitory and destiny of the country. This story is truly that of an "Okinawan venture," true to the country, true to its people and true to the Americans who are now there.

Essentially this is another West-meets-East story in which an American is overwhelmed by the impact of a strange and foreign land upon him, overwhelmed by the debilitating climate and the time-honored charm of its fascinating women.

But unlike other stories having this theme, "Okinawan venture" succeeds brilliantly in describing the baffling, overpowering fascination of the oriental woman without any odious or derogatory comparisons with American womanhood. It is this element in "Okinawan Venture" that adds to its deep emotional conflict and makes it truly an outstanding novel.

Like most promotional burbs, this one has little foundation. Okinawan Venture in narrated in an awkward voice that wavers between intimacy and distance and is sometimes pitched from an undertain standpoint. Anyone who had read and attempted to emulate the pulpiest paperback originals of the 1950s -- which include some truly excellent writing -- could have packed several times as much drama and characterization into the same number of pages as did Frost.

Author profile on back flap of jacket

All I know about Robert T. Frost as of this writing is contained in the description of author on the back flap of the jacket, which reads as follows.

ROBERT T. FROST, the author of "Okinawan Venture," modestly describes himself as a graduate of the University of Colorado who spent a year and a half on Okinawa during active duty with the United States Air Force, who now resides in Boulder, Colorado with his wife and daughter. All this is true, but there is much more to his credit.

A most cursory reading of "Okinawan Venture" shows unmistakably that Robert T. Frost is a careful observer and that he has a deep understanding of basic human values. His delicate handling of the situation in "Okinawan Venture" labels him clearly as a mature and thoughtful writer, even though he is yet young in years.

Sensitive though he is, he also has a keen interest in sports, particularly in skin diving, which forms an integral part of this book. His explanation of the techniques used is most interesting and his descriptions of spear fishing and the ocean's depths is both beautiful and breath-taking.

Robert T. Frost is certain to make a name for himself as a writer.


"Kozaki Airbase" -- the fictional setting of Okinawan Venture -- is almost surely Kadena Airbase, the largest and most controversial of US military bases still in the prefecture. The base originated as a coral runway built just before the invasion of Okinawa by US ground forces on 1 April 1945. The strip, damaged by naval bombardment, was quickly captured and convered for use by US military forces in the continuing battle for the islands.

Kadena became the headquarters for numerous military units and commands, some of which were to participate in the planned invasion of Japan's main islands. Japan's surrender obviated the need for an invasion, but Kadena served as the home for a number of air units that flew reconnaissance, rescue, and combat missions related to both the Korean War (1950-1953) and the Vietnam War (1964-1975), and remains as of this writing -- 2010, nearly forty years after the return of Okinawa to Japan in 1972 -- the largest US military facility not only in Japan but in the Asia-Pacific region.


There are three major and several minor characters in the novel.

Dick  Lt. Richard Walker, petroleum officer, skin diver, scooter owner. Assigned to quonset hut because newer Bachelor Officers Quarters are full. Waiting for opening in family housing so he wife Norma and son Sandy can join him.

Steve  Lt. Steve Gibson, dentist, car owner. Waiting for wife Helen. Assigned to same quonset hut as Dick, which the two officers thus sharehe thus shares, with

Kimiko Shimada  Maid at Dick's and Steve's quonset hut. Calls dick "Deeku" (as in "Diiku").

Sachiko  Maid at nextdoor quonset hut. Veteran "ne-san" hence "mama-san" to other maids.

Status of Okinawa

Okinawa, invaded by US Marine and Army units in April 1945, was effectively captured and occupied by the end of June, and was under a US military government at the time Japan accepted Allied demands for its unconditional surrender in mid August 1945.

Both earlier versions of General Order No. 1, drafted by the Allied Powers and issued by the Japanese government concomitant with its signing of the Instrument of Surrender on 2 September 1945, had placed the Ryukyus in the surrender group which included the Japanese Mandated Islands, Bonins, and other Pacific Islands. The final version, however, grouped them with the main islands of Japan and adjacent islands, Korea south of the 38th parallel, and the Philippines.

Though US forces were in effective control of the Ryukyus from late June, remnants of Japanese units did not formally surrender until 7 September 1945 -- in one of many surrenders that continued over the next several weeks in various localities where Japanese forces remained -- within the sovereign empire (including Taiwan and Chosen), in leased or mandated parts of larger legal empire, and territories otherwise occupied by Japan.

Article 3 of the San Francisco Peace Treaty, signed in 1951 and effective from 28 April 1952, provided that Japan would agree to "any proposal of the United States to the United Nations to place under its trusteeship system, with the United States as the sole administering authority" -- certain islands which had been captured by American forces during the war and would remain under US control -- including the Okinawan islands.

The Allied Powers, however, excluded Okinawa from the entity of "Japan" it defined for occupation purposes. Therefore, Okinawa was not part of "Occupied Japan" -- and people in Occupied Japan with family registers in Okinawa, though nationals of Japan for purposes of nationality, were "aliens" for purposes of border control residential status.

Okinawa was not formally returned to Japan, and Okinawans were not formally counted as Japanese, until 15 May 1972.