Chapter 10, segment 2 of 2, 'To Japan'
Finally, on an evening when Kazuichi was out ‘taking care of business’, Mizuko was able to draw her father aside. “I am very concerned about the welfare of the children,” she began.
Kichinosuke looked at her with concern.
“What is the problem? Are they ill?”
“Thankfully no, they are both strong and healthy.”
“Then what is the problem?” her father inquired.
“Neglect,” Mizuko said softly.
“But you are their mother. How can they be suffering from neglect?”
“Father, your son-in-law is not all that he seems. Kazuichi is not a consistent provider... and…,” Mizuko paused, struggling to maintain her composure.
“Life can be a challenge, but that’s to be expected. Surely you can work this out between the two of you. Now what of this neglect?” her father asked.
“I cannot give the boys the attention they need and deserve because I am required to work full-time and more to earn enough to live by,” Mizuko lamented. “Even now I must leave Takuma-kun on his own for most of the day because I am working in the fields.”
“I’m sorry, father, but nothing is sure about my life in America,” Mizuko interrupted. “I have no idea when Kazuichi will work, arrive home, pay bills, nothing.”
“I don’t understand,” Kichinosuke said with rising concern, “how a person can behave this way. What can be done about it?”
“I have tried to come up with a solution for years father, but it is beyond my ability. I am very sorry to even bring it up, but I was wondering if there is any way that the children and I could live with you here in Onorimura?” Mizuko said, her voice cracking.
Kichinosuke looked at his daughter without speaking. He didn’t doubt her tale of hardship, but he felt powerless to help her. “We are at the limits of our resources now,” he began.
“It is out of the question,” intoned Komatsu okusan who had entered the room and been listening silently.
“Your duty is to your husband no matter what.” Any concern that Kichinosuke felt for his daughter quickly ebbed away on the heels of his wife’s comment.
Mizuko fought back tears as she recognized the finality of her stepmother’s words.
Mizuko began the long trip back to America in a deep depression, but the combined influence of Takuma’s irrepressible ebullience and Chiyoko’s clever machinations eventually buoyed her state of mind. Chiyoko had an uncanny sense of what to do to get things to go her way. Before long she and Mizuko were receiving concessions from Kazuichi that would have been unthinkable before Chiyoko had become a member of the family.
Chiyoko, at eleven, had the ability to scheme and plan on their voyage home that often left Mizuko amazed and laughing. She would express a seemingly innocent thought like, 'how strange it was that those from Hiroshima-ken were getting less that the other passengers at mealtime.' And by the next meal Kazuichi would have created such a stink with the ship’s bursar that the Nomuras would get double portions. Chiyoko was also a great help in occasionally taking over baby Jiro’s care, giving Mizuko a well-deserved break from around-the-clock caregiving.
By the time they reached Seattle on April 23, 1918, aboard the Mexico Maru, Chiyoko and Mizuko were working together like a well trained team. Together they took care of the boys while constantly discovering ways to lessen the impact of Kazuichi’s unpredictable behavior.
With the United States fully engaged in World War I, jobs for able bodied men, minority or not, were plentiful. Kazuichi was able to get work at the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul, and Pacific rail yard in Othello, Washington shoveling sand in the sand house. The sand was used to increase friction between the drive wheels of the locomotives and the steel rails of the track. It was brutal work, but with his gambling habit, and a wife and four children to support, Kazuichi surprisingly persevered.
In September of 1918, Kazuichi received further incentive to continue working for the railroad. The local draft board required him to register for the military draft, even though he was thirty-nine years old and an alien resident. The fact that he was working for the railroad, a vital wartime industry, kept him from actually being taken. Kazuichi was uncharacteristically diligent at his job until the war ended in November. In a bid to make himself look more patriotic, he listed his birthdate on the draft registration form as July 4th rather than the actual January 1st.
The end of World War I on November 11, 1918 brought the return of veterans and increased competition for jobs. In the formerly bustling Pacific Northwest, whose financial well being had been bolstered by the wartime economy, farms, factories, and businesses slowly went bankrupt as labor supply outpaced demand. A general depression soon followed. Railway activity declined and Kazuichi was reduced to working part-time.
Mizuko, with Chiyoko’s help, was able to eke out an meager existence for the family by washing clothes and baking bread, but her paltry income barely kept them fed.
On March 16, 1920 Mizuko gave birth to her first daughter in a train boxcar residence (a perk of working for the railroad) in Othello, Washington. A Japanese midwife in the area helped her prepare, so she was much more confident in delivering her third child than she had been for the first two. Although the midwife was not in attendance at the actual birth, thirteen year-old Chiyoko was present to assist. As before, Kazuichi was conveniently away for the event. Mizuko named her daughter Yoshiko, after Mizuko's half-sister in Onorimura.
With another child to feed, and Mizuko unable to work long hours after the delivery, Kazuichi made a decision that would change the family’s destiny.
“The Americans are making it harder and harder for a Japanese person to make a living. We cannot sign a lease for farmland. When jobs become available we are always pushed to the back of the line,” he grumbled.
Mizuko, exhausted from a day of hand washing clothes, listened half-heartedly. She had become used to the rants of her husband who sat at home complaining much of the time.
“Takuma and Jiro-kun should not grow up without a future,” Kazuichi proclaimed.
“What are you saying?” Mizuko asked.
“The boys,” her husband said with irritation, “Why don’t you listen? The boys should be in Japan where they can get a decent education and not have to kowtow to every white person that crosses their path.”
“Yamano-san sent his son back to his hometown last week and is feeling much relieved,” Kazuichi continued.
“But the boys are so young,” Mizuko protested. “Who will take care of them?”
“Your father is a great teacher. He is the natural choice.”
“But he has already said that he doesn’t have the resources to take care of any more dependents.”
“Don’t worry. I’ll send him enough money to make it worth his while,” Kazuichi said confidently. “Right now I’m hardly working. Let’s take Takuma and Jiro back to Japan while we still have a little money.”
Inured to the futility of arguing with her husband, Mizuko returned to nursing baby Yoshiko.
Perhaps this will be the break my sons need to do something with their lives, she thought hopefully. They would also probably fare better outside the direct influence of Kazuichi.
In September 1920, Kazuichi, Takuma, Jiro, Chiyoko, and Mizuko, with six month-old Yoshiko in her arms, returned to Japan.
As expected, Kichinosuke, with Komatsu at his side, refused to take in the seven year-old Takuma and his four year-old brother Jiro.
“We are far too old to raise children,” said Komatsu, even though they still had fifteen year-old Yoshiko and her eleven year old sister Atsuko under their roof.
“But Kazuichi will send you regular payments to more than pay for their upkeep,” Mizuko urged.
Komatsu okusan hesitated for a moment then suggested: “Try Tomoye. She has a new baby and two older children now and can definitely use the money.”
Shortly after their last visit to Onori-mura, major events had roiled the Takahashi clan. After Mizuko had married Kazuichi in 1911 and left for America, Sanae, who had been his originally intended bride, had settled on an older man, Haruto Hayashi for her husband. After Sanae bore him a daughter, she was diagnosed with cancer.
Tomoye, who was Sanae’s and Mizuko’s youngest sister, had been working at the time as a surgical nurse. After Tomoye completed her work shifts at the local hospital, she would go to the Hayashi house to take care of Sanae. As Sanae’s cancer progressed, the sisters made an agreement that Tomoye would marry Hayashi-san upon her death and become the successor mother to their child. Sanae died from cancer at age twenty-seven on April 15, 1920.
Mizuko had heard about Sanae’s death by letter, and had felt guilty and deeply depressed at not being able to attend her sister’s funeral. She also regretted not taking the time to see Sanae when she and Kazuichi had visited Onori-mura in 1918.
Sanae had spent her life preparing to be the perfect, cultured wife. Mizuko grew melancholy thinking about her sister’s premature passing. It was hard to reconcile her death with Mizuko’s memories of a refined yet lively sister. It had been nearly a decade since Mizuko had seen her last.
In addition to Sanae’s daughter, Tomoye inherited an older son from her husband’s marriage before Sanae. When Tomoye married she soon became the mother of three children: Sanae’s child, Haruto Hayashi’s son, and of her own newborn with Haruto, whom they named Arata.
The idea of assuming the care of seven year-old Takuma and four year-old Jiro was deemed impossible until Kazuichi brought up the issue of regular monetary support.
Haruto Hayashi worked as a bookkeeper at the same school where Kichinosuke Takahashi presided as principal. His monthly salary was 20 yen or about 10 U.S dollars.
“And how much will you send us?” asked Tomoye.
“A minimum of eight dollars a month for as long as they are here,” said Kazuichi.
“That’s a lot of money. How can you afford it?” she asked.
“In America, one can make a lot more money than in Japan. It will not be a problem.” Kazuichi said confidently.
Mizuko, conflicted by the surety in Kazuichi statement versus their actual financial reality, resisted the urge to say anything to contradict her husband.
Tomoye looked over at Haruto, her bespectacled, middle-aged husband. He looked back with a smile and readily nodded his assent.
On October 16, 1920 Kazuichi, Mizuko, Chiyoko and baby Yoshiko departed Kobe aboard the Japanese steamship, the Katori Maru. Left behind were Mizuko’s beloved sons, Takuma and Jiro, who had been told that their family was just going off to visit other relatives in the area and would return shortly.
Aboard ship, Mizuko was overcome by grief at abandoning her sons and having to go back to a bleak, futureless life in America. What has been the point of all my struggles? She asked herself. Am I being punished for something I did or didn’t do?
Pummeled by guilt day and night she thought she might go mad. Even the antics of clever Chiyoko could not lift her out of her depression.
Half way through the journey Mizuko left her sleeping platform during the night, and slipped out of the third class accommodations with baby Yoshiko in her arms. Planning to throw herself overboard with her child, she was stymied by a seaman stationed at the stairway who barred her way to the deck. The sea, as though angry at Mizuko for her thoughts of suicide, was raging around the ship. Passenger access to the upper deck was prohibited because the weather was so bad. Not to be denied, Mizuko waited until the next day, then the next to end her life, but the storm-driven seas persisted.
Finally, as they neared their destination, Mizuko realized what needed to be done. She would do what she could to make sure that her sister Tomoye would have the resources to properly care for her sons. As for her daughters, Yoshiko, Chiyoko, and faraway Shigeko, they were all deserving of a loving, living mother.
end of Chapter 10, segment 2 of 2, 'To Japan'