A seagoing cowboy’s impressions of 1947 Japan

All eyes have been on Japan this past weekend with the closing of the Olympics, bookended by the anniversaries of the American bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. An event embracing the peaceful coming together of athletes from nations around the world took place in the backyard of the sites of the most horrific destruction ever to be waged on another country. Today’s post steps back in time for a look at a significant goodwill gesture in 1947 to this former World War II enemy—a shipment of 25 purebred Holstein bulls made by the Heifer Project to help the war-diminished Japanese dairy industry rebuild and nudge Japan and the United States forward on a path to peace.

Martin Strate, at that time a Heifer Project staff assistant, was one of three seagoing cowboys who accompanied the bulls to their new homes in April 1947. A few months after returning home, he wrote up his “Opinions and Impressions of Japan.” He said, “Prior to 1940, the Japanese were recognized as one of the better importers of U. S. Holstein cattle.” He noted that the war had reduced the number of dairy cattle there by 40% and this shipment would help with rehabilitation of their herds.

Seagoing cowboy Norman Hostetler holds one of the Heifer Project bulls for inspection on the S. S. Alfred I. duPont after arriving in Japan, May 9, 1947. Photo courtesy of Norman Hostetler.

“The animals were allocated and distributed to sixteen national and prefectural livestock breeding stations throughout Japan,” Strate says. “With the cooperation of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, we made arrangements to visit and inspect these governmental farms. The purpose of this travel was not only to inspect and advise, but also to interpret to the Japanese the desire for peace and understanding among people throughout the world and that this gift to them came as an expression of brotherly love and practical Christianity. . . . That any group within a former ‘enemy’ country should make a forthright contribution to them was beyond their comprehension.”

After a 10-day quarantine for the animals, the Japanese government held a formal ceremony for the presentation of the bulls.

Martin Strate, fourth from the right, stands between Japanese Minister of Agriculture and Forestry Kimura and Governor Uchiyama of Kanagawa Prefecture following the ceremony, May 19, 1947. Photo courtesy of Norman Hostetler.

“This memorable occasion was only the first inning of a rich game of new experiences and warm fellowship,” says Strate. “Every day in Japan brought something new and interesting. There was never a dull moment from Hokkaido to Kyushu—the Maine-to-Florida idea in Japan. We were cordially received everywhere by the government officials, many of whom were Christians.”

The three cowboys at a banquet given for them at the Shizuika Governmental Livestock Farm. Photo courtesy of Norman Hostetler.

Among the “stimulating experiences” Strate mentions was having tea with the Mayor of Hiroshima. “We talked with him more than an hour about his reconstruction plans for the city, current attitudes of Hiroshima residents, the material and spiritual damage of the Atomic Bomb, and the Annual Peace Festival which was being held for its initial time on the anniversary of the A-bomb; another courageous display of faith in the future, and their ambitious desire to help accomplish what so often seems only a dream today.”

View from the top of Hiroshima’s City Hall located about 1/2 mile from where the A-bomb was dropped. June 1947. “The city is gradually being rebuilt,” Hostetler says. “They say this was all fine homes at one time.” Photo courtesy of Norman Hostetler.

Strate concludes, “I thank God that this privilege of visiting Japan was granted to me, that I might be an ambassador of the peace-loving forces in America toward helping to strengthen the common bonds between us. Through this gift of dairy cattle, the concerned people of our country will help build and develop harmonious and prosperous relationships by such a display of Brotherly Love.”

Brethren Service Committee brochure announcing a contest for the best ideas for “concrete, workable plans” in their post-World War II Campaign for Peace Action.

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