1965: My First Visit to Soviet Russia – Full of Lines and Surprises

New York, N.Y.  For the first time in 1965, I went to Russia to accompany my husband’s performance of ten cities tour. At that time, the country was still called the Soviet Union, the strongest Communist country in the world. I thought about souvenirs to take there. There were no nylon socks or ballpoint pens, which was the best souvenir item at that time. The ball point pens I had in my pocket were stolen, disappearing immediately.

Moscow_July_2011-16I first explored Red Square in Moscow, 1965 – unchanged by time.

At that time, the fixed exchange rate was one dollar officially at one ruble. However, one dollar could be 40 to 50 rubles if you secretly exchange money inside a taxi. Foreigners’ shopping was limited to stores called ‘dollar shops.’ However, there was nothing to buy there, except caviar.

The hotel was completely standardized. With the same design no matter where you went in the Soviet Union, We went 10 cities but the equipment, furniture, towels, soap, toilet paper, and the restaurant menu are exactly the same throughout , So we ate just the same meal every day. I never saw any local goods or food.

First we arrived at Kiev, the capital of Ukraine. As my husband spoke some Russian, We went outside of the hotel. I noticed that everyone was carrying a large frozen fish at the tail and walking from one direction and people were running against the fish carrying people. Which was a direction of the Market. It was a weird sight.

il_fullxfull.1475555782_5om0In 1965, when I first visited Russia, there was nothing to buy there except caviar.

In fact, I noticed that everyone in town always carry a bag. Whether lemon’s “only, often white content, inside” is sold, the skin has already been used by the Government for something else. About 20 pieces are put in a bag, as everyone can only buy the same amount.

I was told that there is no vitamin C in winter, so it seems everyone catch a cold all over town. Usually, the central government suddenly starts selling goods in the market. It may be hard to imagine for us living in a democratic country, but at that time people have to shop right there. Shop at that place right away when any goods arrive.

When the goods appear and the sale starts, everyone run there. It is possible to sell only the same amount and everything sells out quickly, so at the end, when it’s gone its gone.

That day, you can only buy the goods sold only at that time. There was a great matrix there.

marketA marketplace was the centerpiece of almost every town and village.

We often went out to town without guides and interpreters, One morning, we were able to go to the market early, so we can see and understand of the general citizen there.

There was an orange sale on that morning. When I went, it had already come to almost the end of goods. As only the certain amount can be purchased, the seller uses the traditional hanging balance-scale to place the weight on the other side and sell. Next to the box of fresh fruits, there was another box for the rotten spoiled oranges.

Apparently, when the weight is not enough, they adjust the weight and sell it by adding a few pieces of rotten ones. When we were there, one of them complained because the seller put two oranges from the rotten box… She insisted on getting new ones. The seller refused to give it to her. He gave the portion to the one behind him. That was the last portion. The angry person got so angry that she couldn’t buy it anymore. It became a serious fight with the person who got them, yelling, scratching and pulling hair, it was so awful to witness.


They know usually how many grams of butter people buy, so the butter should be wrapped beforehand, but they will weigh the butter from the heap every time. The bread is also cut in half to adjust the weight. In that way, because they sell while weighing one by one, the line doesn’t move well, with everyone waiting for 2 hours or 3 hours each time to buy just one thing.

It usually took six hours just to buy bread and butter and by then the day was over, and so on. They put jams in jars that people brought with them, but they weigh them, add them, and weigh them again…

No one was reading a book or studying. People just waited and waited for hours for simple shopping. By watching them, I wondered what a waste of human power. Perhaps the Soviet government at that time did not want its citizens to think or be educated. But this is spring of 1965.

Originally published as Vol. 55 in Weekly Biz, February 23, 2019; translated by Jim Luce.

See: Dr. Kazuko Hillyer Tatsumura Column in Japan’s Weekly Biz



Tags: , , , , , ,

About Dr. Kazuko Hillyer Tatsumura

View all posts by Dr. Kazuko Hillyer Tatsumura
Dr. Kazuko Hillyer Tatsumura
Dr. Kazuko was born into a distinguished old family in Kyoto, Japan, and graduated from Toho conservatory of Music in Tokyo. In 1961 she came to U.S. as a pianist sponsored by the Boston Symphony. She studied at Boston University, New York University, and received her Ph.D. in Oriental Medicine from New York State University and the International Academy of Education in Tokyo. From 1968 to 1992, she promoted cultural exchanges from East to West and vice versa, and became a world famous impresario, producing 2,000 events each year all over the world encompassing over 140 countries. In this connection, in 1972, she went to Dharamsala to find the lost Tibetan Folk Opera, and met His Holiness the Dalai Lama, with whom she remains a lifelong friend. In 1973 and 1991 she arranged and funded personally the tours of the Folk Opera of Tibet to the West. She has received many medals and honors from different countries. Her tireless life long work in Philanthropic field is vast and well known ranging from Save the Beacon Theater, Save the Boat People, Help the Homeless, natural disasters of earthquakes and tsunamis, as well as relief to AIDS and HIV positive children in Africa. She has been a dedicated Board Member to both the J. Luce Foundation and Orphans International for years. Her work focuses on the Tibetan people; Tibetan children remain especially strong in her heart. She raised fund for the new academic building for Manjushree Orphanage in Tawang, India and supported many aspects of the school. See HuffPo pieces entitled Japanese Holistic Healer in NYC to Build School for Tibetan Orphans in India, A Japanese Dinner with Raul Castro’s Daughter, and NYC Gala in Support of Tibetan Orphans Set for January.

Comments are closed.