Christmas, 1973. “The Most Beautiful Girl” by Charlie Rich is the number one record in the U.S., while the UK charts are topped by Slade’s “Merry Xmas Everybody.” The most popular radio station in Japan at the time is the Far East Network (FEN), now known as AFN Eagle 810. And the most popular show is a four-hour radio magazine, “Tokyo Calling,” produced and presented by Jim Dougherty.
According to an Arbitron Radio Survey, four million listeners would tune in every Sunday.
“That particular year, I wanted to spice up the show for the holiday season and came up with the idea of writing a Japan-based parody of Clement Clarke Moore’s timeless Christmas poem, ‘A Visit from Saint Nicholas,'” said Dougherty.
Then he delved deep into FEN’s archives, looking for back-time music, and came across a funky version of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” by Booker T and the MGs. Blowing the dust off the record and clearing his throat, he tried reading the poem over the soulful licks of Booker T. But it needed more work.
With Christmas fast approaching, Dougherty got to work rewriting the adaptation. After days of “testing rhythmic phrases, tweaking syllables and stretching rhythms,” he finally came up with the right combination of poetic license and light-hearted humor and matched it to the funky rhythm.
“From there it came together as a recording in only three takes. When it aired on ‘Tokyo Calling’ the following Sunday, the telephones lit up with requests for encores and copies,” Dougherty recalled.
“Christmas in the Paddies” instantly became a holiday classic for military personnel and civilians in Japan. From 1973 to 1990, it was the most requested Christmas song on FEN (finally knocked out of the No. 1 spot by “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer” by Elmo and Patsy).
However, years after “Paddies” was recorded, its origins became shrouded in mystery. Many long-time FEN listeners claimed to have heard “Paddies” before Dougherty recorded it. Wayne investigated, and in the Weekender 1982 Christmas edition he wrote he had found a web of conflicting stories.
Apparently, popular FEN announcer Gary Kolasa recorded a Christmas parody. But Kolasa, when asked, refuted actually authoring “Paddies,” and he did his last show for FEN on Dec. 1, 1972, a year before Dougherty says he wrote the thing.
Then Milt Radmilovich, FEN Program Director in the mid-1960s, gave his vague two cents worth: “It was written in the mid- to late- ’60s by an Army or Air Force man, possibly stationed at Misawa.”
Enter Kevin Krejcarek, a station announcer in the mid-1970s. Krejcarek originally pointed to Kolasa as the author, but then claimed to have found a Japanese base employee who remembered being taught “Paddies” by her English teacher as far back as 1955.
The following week, Radmilovich called the Weekender offices with a fresh lead. Rumor had it “Paddies” was written some time in the 1950s by Jean Lovering, a military dependent wife at Misawa. Or perhaps it was Iwakuni?
Radmilovich’s source was long-time FEN listener John Suchy, assistant principal of the Sullivan Elementary School at Yokosuka Naval Base.
Suchy was contacted, and confidently cited a Christmas 1961 article in Pacific Stars and Stripes. Stripes’ senior writer Hal Drake was brought in, and he agreed to check the archives. But Drake’s search turned up nothing.
“Christmas in the Paddies” had become a Christmas mystery story, with strange powers to induce collective memory loss, mass confusion and maybe even the unexplainable disappearance of printed articles.
At the same time, the military lifestyle referred to in the poem was also receding. In the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, many military and civilian personnel lived in off-base housing. Essential on a cold Christmas Eve (and throughout the winter) were the kerosene space heaters, rarely found today.
The houses also had no insulation, so it was necessary to cover the windows with plastic sheets to keep out the freezing, brutal wind.
Now, most military families are housed on-base, in centrally-heated tower apartments.
The two strands of the story converged in 1990. FEN chiefs decided to have a clear-out of their archives and throw away old records that were no longer played. It is believed someone decided modern listeners could no longer understand or relate to “Christmas in the Paddies,” and the master tape was destroyed.
In a final twist this year, Dougherty, writing the “Business Scan” column for Weekender, found original drafts at his home (see above), which perhaps, after all, proves his authorship of “Paddies.”
He contacted some Japan FEN veterans to try to clear up some of the mystery. Two of them, Bob Barker and Dick Edwards, recalled in the late 1960s a housewife from Yokosuka sent in another parody that became popular-“Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” And there were other parodies going around. But nobody had a copy. And none could remember any words.
‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house,
The cold would awaken the sleepiest mouse.
The stockings were hung by the space heater with care
In the hopes that St. Nick-san would soon be there.
And I in my blanket, with the heat turned on high
Had just settled down–oyasumi nasai.
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
Mom was checking the oil drums and as mad as a hatter.
I threw open the window and peered through the plastic.
Gomen nasai darling, don’t do anything drastic.
I had forgotten to order some more of the stuff,
And it looked as if Christmas would be kind of rough.
The moon on the breast of the gravel and snow
Gave the luster of midday to the compound below.
When what to my wondering eyes should appear
But a chisai sleigh and eight tiny reindeer.
A little ol’ honcho, so lively and quick.
I could tell by his accent, he must be St. Nick.
More rapid than jet forces he came
And he whistled and shouted and called them by name:
Now Dozo, now Daijobu, now Chotto and Matte,
On Soba, on Sushi, on Ah So Desuka.
(Because of the unions I suppose over here,
He probably employs Japanese reindeer).
As fast as lightening, he entered the door
And opened his furoshiki and dumped on the floor
Dozens of packages and gifts of all sizes,
Just what the kids wanted plus extra surprises.
I was so happy I wanted to squeeze ‘im
Christmas would be merry, even though we were freezin’…
Thank you, I said, You’re such an old dear,
Domo arigato, as they say over here.
But how did you ever find this place?
We worried that maybe you just went on base.
His eyes, how they twinkled; “Now don’t ever tell,
But I don’t go by rank or key personnel…”
What did you bring me? I wanted to know.
He shook when he laughed, like a bowl full of tofu.
“Well, you private renters sure need a lot,
But for you, it’s something special I got;
It’s much too big to go under the tree,
So look out in the yard and you will see,
To keep peace in the family, you know what I mean,
Your gift is a drumful of kerosene.
And now I’d better be off, for I’m on TDY
And it’s quite a trip back to the good ol’ ZI”
He sprang from his sleigh and to his team gave a whistle
And away they all flew like the thrust of a missile.
But I heard him exclaim as they drove out of sight,
“Christmas Omedeto and to all a good night!”