One can only imagine the depth of beauty of a singular woman that would inspire a man in his seventies to write a memoir of a few months in 1959 Japan when he was a boy of only 19 years and serving with the U.S. Navy. Neither the years, nor life itself, could strip away the layers of her beauty, even though the only surviving proof that she ever lived is the letters she so passionately wrote.
The author’s rediscovery of those letters in 2012 began the process of his bringing to life again those precious months when two very different people on different paths found a common passion for art and culture that made all those differences inconsequential for too a short window of time.
Pulitzer-prize winning journalist Paul Brinkley-Rogers has created something more than a memoir in Please Enjoy your Happiness—it is a love letter tribute to Kaji Yokiko, whom he could not fully appreciate in his youth, and only now, after years of seeing what life offers, realizes how remarkable she was.
Stumbling into the White Rose, a hostess night club frequented by sailors near the Navy base in Yokosuka, Japan, he first met her. Paul Rogers was English by birth and in his sensibilities, but joined the U.S. Navy, and at 19, was shy, quiet, and nearly without words when he encountered women. Thus it was up to Kaji Yokiko to pick him out of the crowd of sailors, because he carried a book of poems by Dylan Thomas like a security blanket.
In many ways, Yukiko was everything he was not. Along her path to the White Rose and at age 31, she had accumulated a wealth of knowledge about life and things, which included how to talk to and entertain men. She was a modern geisha of the highest order, whose artistic and conversational skills were the tools of her trade that kept men satisfied at a safe distance, rather than with the physical pleasures of the flesh.
Well versed in literature and poetry, in popular, jazz, and classical music, and in art films, she shared the best of Eastern culture with Paul inside and outside of the club. Through the course of sharing, the buried secrets of her very dark past are slowly revealed.
Their bond was far deeper than friendship, but less than lovers, and their chaste relationship was fueled by letters. Her letters were meticulously crafted with typewriter and dictionary, and have a depth beyond the surface awkwardness of her English.
While being in port in Japan and out to sea multiple times on the appropriately named aircraft carrier Shangri-La, Paul’s fondness for her grew, but eventually, the day came for his permanent departure. After one happy last meeting, followed by one last letter, it was over until Paul Rogers began this book.
Enjoy your Happiness is highly personal and deeply intimate, making it appealing to some, but excessive for others. Yukiko’s existing letters supply the structural posts and the author provides a context around them. He chooses a first person narrative, by mostly talking directly to Yukiko in letter writing form in the present and in the past, and his youthful innocence and his mature wisdom and flawed elder self stand side-by-side. The letter writing style may seem archaic and difficult to adjust to in this time of instant communication, but it brings an intimacy that only letters can.
The gushing descriptions of Yukiko at the book’s start can bring a sense that these musing are the imaginations of an aging man that only grew more unreal with the years, but a disturbingly violent incident depicted in the second chapter awakens a harsh reality and sets the narrative on a new course, thus ending all such skepticism.
Yukiko’s forward-looking vision of Paul becoming more than his innocent self at 19 and into a writer, as well as her own realization of how her dark past matured her more than the dozen years that separated them, adds even more credibility and complexity. Just as real is her barely contained passion for a deeper kind of love with this youngster.
The author does more bring life into his personal story, and another pleasure of this book is how he splendidly conjures up the time and place that was 1959 Japan. The watering holes and their inhabitants near a naval base in the greater Tokyo area where the two meet were soon to disappear, but in 1959 no one yet knew that. It is a special time, where both innocence and jadedness mix freely, as memories of WWII are fresh, and Vietnam and the trends of the 1960s are nowhere to be seen, even at the near horizon.
This is a coming–of-age story for Paul Rogers, and as 1959 ends, so does innocence. In the end, the admonition of Enjoy Your Happiness carries just as an important meaning for the author, as it does for those who are privileged enough to peer into the window of his happy past, where a rare and pure kind of love found life in the hearts of an unlikely couple and in the most unlikely of places.