It was the spring of 1973 and I had been dating a sweet young girl ( who I would later marry) that was attending college in downtown Hiroshima. She was going home for the summer and invited me to come with her. Her family lived in a ruralvillage about 40 miles west. I arrived in early summer and quickly found work in the rice fields as a laborer. I lived in a hut behindthe barn. It took a while to grab the local dialect but I was gettingby. I was the only hakujin (white person) I saw that whole summer.
For the majority of folks in the village, I was the first white man they had ever seen. They would stop in the street and stare at me in amazement. As I walked around, kids would yell to there parents "Here he comes", their parents would come out of the house to watch me walk by. On one very hot and humid day while working in the fields I decided to take my shirt off. I was working with two older women and the middle aged owner of the farm. The two older women stared at me intensely for several reasons. First, I had violated a modesty code, I was notfully aware of, and secondly they were amazed by my body hair. Both starting pulling on the hair on my back and chest. They had never seen such a hairy person before and were mesmerized. The farm ownercame over and labeled me "Shiro Kuma" . The name stuck. All the villagers would yell to me " Shiro Kuma" as I walked around.
In mid-August at the Obon festival, the mayor of the village brought meup on a stage to formally introduce me to the village. He did not use my real name (David, too hard to pronounce) but instead called me Shiro Kuma. To this day, as I walk through the village, I am still greeted by this title. It has kinda grown on me. We live in the States now. My children refer to me as Shiro Kuma when I correct them. If the shoe fits, wear it.