Chapter 10, segment 1 of 2, 'To Japan'
In February of 1918, Kazuichi and Mizuko, along with their two small sons, Takuma and Jiro sailed from Seattle, Washington to Hiroshima-ken via Kobe. The stormy winter weather made for a very rough sixteen-day journey, but the excitement of returning to Japan after nearly seven backbreaking years in America was worth the turbulent transport for Mizuko.
A large contingent of family members from the Nomura clan assembled to greet them at the train station at Fuchu-mura in Hiroshima-ken. Ikuzo, Kazuichi’s father and the family patriarch greeted Mizuko cordially and exclaimed over his first grandsons.
Mitoyo Doi, the eldest of Kazuichi’s two younger sisters, approached Mizuko with a petite, attractive, adolescent girl in tow. “Chiyoko-chan, this is your new mother.” Mizuko was stunned to silence by her sister-in-law’s introduction.
Doi-san, sensing Mizuko’s discomfort, quickly added. “The girl has been in our charge since Kazuichi left Japan with his first wife, Yei-san. Even though she has been like a daughter to me, I think it is time for her to live with her real father and his wife.
Isn’t that right Chi-chan?”
Chiyoko looked up at her aunt with arched eyebrows. “Don’t call me Chi-chan! I’m not a baby!”
“I’m sorry dear, but you are like a baby to me,” Mitoyo pointed out.
“Ahh,” said Mizuko. Another child to care for? How will I manage? She thought as her mind raced. Mizuko turned to address her stepdaughter directly. “Your father and I will discuss the possibilities of you living with us as soon as possible.”
Chiyoko stared back at her defiantly, but Mizuko managed to conclude the interchange with some grace by saying, “It is wonderful to finally meet you both. Mitoyo-san, I have heard a lot about you, and I’m so sorry that we didn’t have the chance to meet when I married Kazuichi.”
Mitoyo smiled thinly. “Yes, that was regrettable,” she said, bowing slightly.
The introductions to other family members continued under the watchful eye of Ikuzo’s second wife, Moritomo. Like Mizuko’s own father, Kichinosuke, Kazuichi’s father Ikuzo had remarried after his first wife died. Moritomo had since bore him three children. The eldest, Hiroshi, was a handsome twelve year-old with large, intelligent eyes. Mizuko’s son Takuma was smitten immediately by both Hiroshi, and his younger brother Shikizoo. For the rest of the visit he shadowed them constantly.
Several times during the afternoon Mizuko observed Moritomo speaking to her husband Ikuzo with great urgency. It seemed as if the mere presence of Kazuichi and his family was an issue. Her agitated behavior cast such a pall over the gathering that after other family members were introduced to Kazuichi and Mizuko, they suddenly remembered reasons to excuse themselves and left. Mercifully the introductions tapered off quickly until there were only two people left to meet: Namba-san, Kazuichi’ s youngest sister, and a shy little girl that trailed behind her.
“Shigeko-chan, come here,” ordered Namba-san in a stern yet affectionate manner. The pretty eight-year hung back until her aunt seized her by her arm and pulled her forward.
“Speak up. Introduce yourself,“ Namba-san insisted. Mizuko smiled and nodded towards Shigeko in her most inviting way, but the child remained mute.
“Sah, Sah,” Namba-san lamented. “She’s always like this with strangers. Speak up, you silly girl!” Shigeko retreated behind her aunt again. Despite the persistent urging of her guardian, she stayed stubbornly in place.
“Please. It’s OK,” Mizuko said in a conciliatory tone. “There is no rush. I’m sure we will find the time to get to know each other when there isn’t so much going on.”
“You are too kind,” Namba-san replied.
“Matta-ne, we’ll see you soon.” As Mizuko bowed in return, she caught a hint of a smile from Shigeko as she peered momentarily around her aunt.
After a few more days of awkward interaction it became clear to Mizuko that Kazuichi, herself, and their sons were not really wanted in Fuchu-mura. Ikuzo remained cordial enough, but his wife Moritomo was not, hovering around her husband ominously like a guardian spirit. Her continual presence did not allow for a single moment of one-to-one interaction between Kazuichi and his father.
Kazuichi, became increasingly restless in the presence of his stepmother and his half-siblings. It was clear that the family ties that bound him to his father and stepmother were exceedingly fragile.
On the morning of their departure to visit Mizuko’s side of the family, in Onorimura, to the south of Hiroshima, Kazuichi’s sister Mitoyo and her niece Chiyoko appeared at their door. “It is time to take charge of your daughter,” Mitoyo said as she handed Kazuichi a battered suitcase.
“But Mitoyo, you’re like Chiyoko’s mother already, and America is no place for a civilized girl,” he replied.
“I am NOT her mother and this uncivilized child should flourish in America. She and the Wild West will be a perfect match.” With that, Mitoyo turned on her heel and departed before Kazuichi could say another word.
“Otoosan, Okaasan, onegai itashimasu*, ” bowed Chiyoko. She turned an angelic face up to Mizuko. “Please allow me to be your humble daughter,” she said with total sincerity.
After absorbing the surprising difference in Chiyoko’s demeanor since their initial meeting a few days earlier, Mizuko thought, having a daughter as lively as Chiyoko may turn out to be a blessing. She thought of the loneliness of being virtually a single parent in America and the idea of taking Chiyoko with them suddenly felt right. Kazuichi grumbled a bit, but eager to get underway, seemed resigned to take the child.
“What about Shigeko-chan, my sister?” Chiyoko asked as Mizuko finished packing her own bags. “Nani, what??” Kazuichi exclaimed, throwing his hands in the air.
“What about Shigeko-chan, your other daughter. Maybe she wants to go to America too,” repeated Chiyoko.
Kazuichi grabbed Chiyoko’s suitcase and started toward the door. Mizuko turned and called after him. “She’s right. We must see about taking Shigeko as well.”
“Aunty Namba’s place is on the way,” said Chiyoko innocently. A glowering Kazuichi stood seething in the doorway. “She’s really a hard worker you know. And she hardly eats and is very quiet.” Chiyoko added.
Between the entreaties of his daughter and Mizuko’s urging, Kazuichi uncharacteristically agreed to modify his departure plan.
“All right, all right, we’ll stop by Namba-san’s. Now let’s get going and stop wasting time,” he blustered.
At their first knock Namba-san answered the door as if she had been anticipating their arrival. “Shigeko is in the back tending to the cows,” she said. When asked by Mizuko whether she felt Shigeko would want to go back with them to America, Namba-san was non-committal.
“I think she is content to be here, but you should ask her yourself,” she said solicitously.
They found Shigeko in a muddy enclosure behind the house wiping the udder of one of several cows with a wet rag. When the group neared she stopped working and quickly backed away from them. Mizuko gestured to Kazuichi and Chiyoko to stay where they were and inched toward the girl, as if approaching a skittish colt.
Shigeko looked up at Mizuko’s kind face and stopped retreating.
“Hello Shigeko,” Mizuko said softly.
“It’s very good to see you again. We are leaving Fuchu-mura to visit my family in their village and then we’ll return to America. Your sister Chiyoko is going with us. I was hoping that you would come with us too. Would you like to do that?” Mizuko asked.
Shigeko looked like a deer caught in the glare of a bright light. She glanced from Chiyoko who was vigorously nodding her head then back to Mizuko. After a brief pause, she slowly shook her head and looked down at her feet.
Mizuko was about to continue the dialogue, when Kazuichi bellowed, “She doesn’t want to go. Let’s get going!”
“But,” began Mizuko.
Kazuichi interrupted, “We already have one more mouth to feed. We’ll come back to get her when she’s a little older. We need to go now or we’ll miss the train to Onorimura.”
Mizuko reached out to touch Shigeko’s arm, but the child sidled away.
“We will be back,” Mizuko promised as she stood.
“I will keep in touch with you through your aunt. Goodbye for now.”
The image of Shigeko standing alone in the muddy enclosure that day haunted Mizuko for many years. But the two-hour train trip to Onorimura gave her the opportunity to think of other matters. She was desperately hoping that she could find a way to stay in Japan with the support of her own family. The Nomura clan had treated their arrival with indifference at best. She was counting on the Takahashi’s welcome to be more positive.
Their interminable journey finally ended when the local train pulled into the tiny Onorimura station. Unlike Fuchu-mura, Onorimura was a small triangular shaped hamlet. On two sides, green, bamboo covered hillsides rose from the flat tract of the village. On the third, the reclaimed land from the former Takahashi estate extended for at least two kilometers to meet the distant shoreline.
Impressively, all the people waiting on the platform were from the Takahashi clan. Young Takuma, irrepressible as always, waved wildly through the window at them. The children in the welcoming crowd waved back and called out enthusiastic hellos. As soon as the train stopped, the men of the group, including Mizuko’s fifteen year-old half-brother Masamichi, stepped forward to help Kazuichi unload the luggage.
“Mizuko-neesan, it’s so good to have you back!” Yoshiko Takahashi grasped Mizuko’s hands and held them tight. Mizuko's half-sister, at age thirteen had grown up.
“I can’t believe it’s you,” Mizuko exclaimed. “You were only six when I last saw you. Now you’re a young woman!”
Hisako reddened at the comment but she retained her grip on Mizuko’s hands. “I’ve…we’ve missed you so much.”
Behind her Mizuko could see Yoshiko’s sister Atsuko, now nine, and their mutual father Kichinosuke, beaming with pleasure. Next to Kichinosuke stood Komatsu Takahashi, who had married Mizuko’s twice-widowed father in 1914, three years after Mizuko and Kazuichi had left for America. Her angular facial features and immaculate hairdo made her attempts to smile look unnatural. She moved in tandem with her husband Kichinosuke, making sure she was continually within arm’s reach.
Mizuko introduced her son, Takuma, her newly acquired daughter Chiyoko, and baby Jiro to enthusiastic welcomes from everyone. Kazuichi stood on the periphery of the group stamping his feet and blowing on his hands.
Komatsu, noting his behavior, and at the same time asserting her role as the lady-in-charge of the Takahashi household spoke out. “Please, its cold out here. Let’s all go back to the house.“
Mizuko noticed immediately that the Takahashi home was in much better condition than when she had last seen it. The former guesthouse had a fresh coat of paint and the doors and windows were all in good repair.
When she mentioned her observation to her father, Komatsu interceded, “Its very important to take care of what you hold dear. This home,” she added possessively, “is part of who we are, and so must be carefully maintained and cherished.” Kichinosuke looked at his wife with clear admiration and nodded his agreement.
“Dinner is ready,” called out a familiar voice. Mizuko turned to see her younger sister Tomoye standing in the doorway.
Oh how I’ve missed you! Thought Mizuko. I never would have believed that being back in this house with my family could be so dear! The two sisters embraced heartily and Mizuko felt tears of joy spring from her eyes.
“Mah, mah, you are so skinny,” admonished Tomoye, finally stepping away and looking at Mizuko. “Let me do something about that! Please everyone come and eat. I don’t know how good the food is, but there is plenty of it!”
The next few days were happy ones for Mizuko. Her sister Tomoye, half–sister Hisako, and her “new” step-daughter Chiyoko shared in the care of baby Jiro, while Mizuko’s half-sister Atsuko kept the lively Takuma entertained. This allowed Mizuko the opportunity to talk to her father and catch up on what had happened since she had left.
She learned that Kichinosuke had been promoted to principal at a local college for women while maintaining his duties as shoya of Onorimura. He gushed when he described the contributions that Komatsu had made in stabilizing the household and supporting his work.
Komatsu okusan, like Kazuichi’s father’s second wife, Moritomo okusan, had the last word when it came to family matters. It became increasingly clear that while the Takahashis had maintained their long-held social standing, they had to carefully shepherd their resources to keep up appearances.
Mizuko hoped desperately that her father and stepmother would consider her plan. With rising anxiety she waited for the ideal time to broach the notion of staying in Japan rather than returning to America.
end of Chapter 10, segment 1 of 2, 'To Japan'