It sounds strange, but when I’m in Tokyo, I think about Trollhättan, the city where SAAB cars were once made and where I spent formative time with my grandparents as a youngster.
Let me explain.
For about a year, sometime in the early 1970s, I lived with my grandparents Eskil and Agnes Andersson on Örtagårdsvägen 17 in Trollhättan. At the beginning of this nearly year-long stay with them, communication between my grandfather and me was pretty much impossible. His English vocabulary was just as limited as my Swedish. Grandmother Agnes was no linguist, but she had studied basic English at night school for a few semesters.
When my grandfather and I shared breakfasts, there was often silence at the kitchen table. The only sound was the loud slurping noise when my grandfather ate his thick morning porridge or drank coffee from the saucer with a sugar cube between his teeth. He had already done an hour’s work on the farm before sitting down to have breakfast with me.
Grandma Agnes always had a lot to do in the mornings and rarely took the time to eat with us.
After breakfast, my grandfather would retreat to his study, carefully cutting out the TV schedule from the last page of the local newspaper. With his thick, rough fingers holding a black ink pen, he would circle the television shows he planned to watch that evening.
Eskil Andersson was born in 1901 and was not an educated man. I don’t think he had more than six years of schooling. On the other hand, he was very practical, curious, and eager to learn.
He followed the news on TV, listened to the radio, and meticulously read both the regional paper “Göteborgs-Posten” and the farmer’s specialty magazine “Land”.
He never touched grandmother’s stack of weekly magazines. I, on the other hand, enjoyed them for their cartoons. My favorite was “Året Runt” (Year Around), where the cartoon about the delightful anti-hero “Mister Kronblom” was published.
On weekdays, when my grandfather returned from either farming, the stable, or the smithy in the evening, we had dinner together with my grandmother.
If I didn’t have any homework, we would meet again just before the news program “Rapport” aired in his study, where the TV was placed at the far end of a disproportionally large wooden desk (which, as I recall, was covered with light veneer).
There, my grandfather always sat in his creaky, semi-circular wooden chair with armrests and squeaky wheels. He reached the TV’s volume knob and channel selector (two buttons, one for each channel) by grabbing the desk and pulling himself along the floor.
Once he’d found the right program and adjusted the volume level (he was hard of hearing even back then), he pushed the chair back across the floor, took out his pipe, stirred the burnt tobacco in the bowl with an old match, tapped out the ash, and pressed a fresh pinch of Borkum Riff or John Silver into the pipe.
Then Grandpa lit the tobacco with a new match, leaned back in his chair, took a puff, and exhaled smoke through both his nose and one corner of his mouth. I remember being completely fascinated by his pipe ritual.
During these TV evenings with my grandfather, my grandmother would come in after a while with a bowl of carrot sticks or sliced winter apples for me to snack on.
By then, Grandpa’s study was already filled with smoke, and despite being asthmatic, I really liked the scent of tobacco fumes. Today, whenever I see someone with a pipe or smell the aroma of pipe tobacco, my thoughts immediately go back to those lovely moments with my grandfather Eskil.
Ok. Let’s move on to the connection between Tokyo and Trollhättan.
During lunch break one Friday at Lyrfågelskolan in Trollhättan, the school I attended for a semester, the boys in my class were enthusiastically chatting about a monster movie that would be shown on TV later that evening.
I, of course, wanted to see that movie, but I thought it would be difficult to persuade my grandfather to skip the news at 9:00 PM and instead watch “Destroy All Monsters” with “Gojira” (ゴジラ) aka “Godzilla” in the lead role over on the other of Sweden’s two channels.
When I came home in the afternoon with my blue gym bag over my shoulder, I went straight to my grandfather’s study to check which tv shows he had marked for the evening. To my delight, I saw that “Destroy All Monsters” was circled several times, and that the news show “Aktuellt” was even crossed out!
It was later that Friday evening that my then seventy-something grandfather Eskil and I were introduced to Godzilla, Mothra, Rodan, King Ghidorah, Angilas, Minya, and Spiega. And to the city of Tokyo and the mighty Mount Fuji, where part of the film’s exciting plot unfolded.
Here in Okinawa, we don’t hear sirens from police or fire trucks as much as we did in Tokyo last week. But there and then, I often associated those alarming sounds with the old Godzilla movies. And above all, to that very first one that my grandfather and I watched together on the outskirts of Trollhättan back in the early 1970s.