• Art Nomura

Chapter 21, segment 1 of 2, 'After the War'

In February 1946, during a respite between the Idaho winter storms, Sam Hasegawa the 442nd WWII veteran and his sixteen year-old brother-in-law Yoshito (Jimmy) headed down to Southern California to find work and a more permanent home for their families. They caught a bus from Weiser, promising to call for the others as soon as they had secured a foothold down south.

The arrival of spring meant the start of another planting season in Idaho. Mizuko, and Sam's father, Kinzaburo resumed working in the chilly fields while Yoshiko cared for the household and Harumi. The frigid mornings aggravated Mizuko’s increasingly arthritic joints, but she willed herself to work through the pain and stiffness. At fifty years old, and with a body that had logged nearly thirty-five years of hard labor, Mizuko wondered how much longer she could work the long hours of a field hand.

As spring turned to summer the group received word that Sam was ready to reunite the families. In June of 1946, Kinzaburo Hasegawa bought a used Chrysler sedan in nearby Weiser without consulting the others.

“I got it for less than the ‘dumping’ price,” Kinzaburo crowed.

“That’s not always a good sign,” sighed Mizuko, staring at the car’s rusty fenders and nearly bald tires.

“It’s a great one,” Kinzaburo insisted. “I checked it out thoroughly. It’s not much to look at, but it runs like a top.”

“I thought we had decided to go by bus,” remarked Yoshiko as she carried a curious Harumi around the car. “That way there won’t be much chance of getting lost or breaking down.”

“Enough!” Kinzaburo shouted. “We’re taking the car. The cost for gas is less than half what we would pay for bus fare, plus we’ll be able to set our own pace and stop whenever we want. Now everyone needs to pack up. We’re leaving on Friday.”

At dawn a few days later, Kinzaburo, Mizuko, Yoshiko and two year old Harumi, plus Ayako, recently returned for the summer from nursing school, piled into the old car. Their destination was North Hollywood, California, over eight hundred and fifty miles away.v They soon discovered that their ‘great’ car shook violently when pushed to speeds above fifty miles per hour.

Consequently their estimate of two, ten-hour travel days of travel was clearly over-optimistic. The stress level in the car rose even higher when Kinzaburo announced that he, and he alone, would drive the entire way.

In addition to the slow pace, the trip took even longer because two year-old Harumi became carsick the minute the car doors closed. bYoshiko, Mizuko, and Ayako took turns attending to her as she suffered through the trip sick to her stomach and in tears. bFinally, after fifteen hours of travel, multiple stops, and several close calls as Kinzaburo nearly nodded off from fatigue, they pulled off the road.

On a desolate stretch of highway in western Nevada they managed to get a few hours sleep. At first light they were back on the road, and despite an ominous knocking from the engine during the final hours of the trip, made it to North Hollywood by the night of the second day.

Sam and Jimmy were overjoyed to see them, and, after examining the condition of the car, amazed that they had made it. vThey were shown into a decrepit rented house on the edge of the farm that had been leased by Sam’s older brother, Toshiro Hasegawa (Tosh).

Married with several young children born before the war, Tosh had made the decision to re-settle in Texas, beyond the restricted West Coast zone for Japanese rather than be evacuated. By doing so, he and his family avoided incarceration. Tosh and his family were among the few former Southern Californian Japanese Americans who had not gone into the camps.

Although their years in Texas had been difficult, both financially and emotionally, they had evaded the deprivations of imprisonment that his father and siblings had experienced. Since he was fortunate to return to Southern California before most of the camp returnees, Tosh had been able to find a good farm to lease in North Hollywood not far from where the Hasegawas had lived before the war.

Although Mizuko and the others were warmly welcomed, Tosh’s small dwelling was barely adequate for his own family, let alone four additional adults and a sickly child. Nonetheless, everyone felt good to be back in California. The balmy summer weather was a welcomed change from the blazing summer heat and gritty windstorms the returnees had had to endure in camp.

After four years of absence, Mizuko was finally free of Manzanar, and the sub-zero winters of Idaho that followed their release from camp. She made sure that Yoshiko and Harumi were adequately housed then contacted her eldest son Henry who invited her to move in with him, Mikako, and their two children in Venice, California. Ayako decided to accompany her mother so that she could visit her brother and meet her new nephew, Arthur Ikuo, who had been born after she and Mizuko had left Manzanar.

After enduring several inadequate living situations himself, including a sweltering metal Quonset hut meant for storage, Henry had found a duplex apartment for rent in the Oakwood area of Venice on Brooks Avenue near the beach. With the influx of GIs returning from the war, housing was at a premium, a situation made even more difficult by the blatant exclusion of Japanese from the Southland rental market. Henry had explored many possible housing options, only to be turned away time and again with responses ranging from, “Sorry, it’s just been rented,” to “We don’t rent to Japs.”

Ironically and luckily for Henry, the Venice duplex owner had already rented the top unit to another Japanese American, thereby unconsciously creating a problem in renting the other unit. Prospective tenants, upon learning that their upstairs neighbor was Japanese, would suddenly opt to search elsewhere. For once, the fact that Henry and his family were Japanese was to their advantage, and he gratefully signed the rental agreement.

The Venice apartment became a gathering point for visiting relatives as both the Nomura and Nakadegawa members made it a point to stop by whenever they were in Southern California. Mizuko quickly assumed an active role in maintaining the household and caring for her grandchildren.

She enjoyed living with Mikako and her children and resumed her unique relationship with her eldest son, Henry. Since she was only seventeen years older than Henry, they tended to interact more like siblings then mother and child. Consequently, they communicated freely, arguing as much as agreeing, both constructively critical of each others’ decisions and activities.

When Mizuko expressed concern over youngest son Jimmy’s future, Henry suggested that he move in with them, intimating that he might eventually become a part of Henry’s trucking business. Mizuko, aware of how headstrong and demanding Henry could be, initially resisted the idea, but knowing that Jimmy still needed to finish high school relented and asked Jimmy to move in. So after finishing a summer of farm work with the Hasegawas in North Hollywood, Jimmy moved in and enrolled in nearby Venice High School to complete his high school degree.

Following graduation, Jimmy worked full-time for Henry at his trucking business, loading and unloading produce. Henry was a demanding taskmaster to everyone who worked for him but was toughest on his own family members. Like his brother Kaworu, who had worked for Henry before the war, Jimmy was overworked and severely underpaid. Henry drove himself as hard as anyone, but his ownership of the business meant that he directly benefitted from his efforts, whereas his siblings had little to show for their hard work beyond a poor hourly wage and vague assurances of greater involvement in the company.

Jimmy decided that he needed to choose his own path in life and joined the U.S. Air Force in late 1948 when he was eighteen years old. He was assigned stateside duty as an assistant at a laboratory that used test animals to analyze the effects of motion sickness. Because the tests often resulted in injury or death to the cats and dogs used as test subjects, Jimmy found himself at odds with his duties. An animal lover like his mother, he periodically allowed animals to ‘escape’, often caring for the escapees in secret. His clandestine activities were never discovered, but he was much relieved when he was finally honorably discharged from the service.

In 1947, Henry decided that he and his family were outgrowing their apartment and began searching for a larger place. He was also keenly interested in becoming a home owner.

Two years after the end of WWII, the practice of redlining real estate in the Los Angeles was still a commonly employed tactic to deter minorities from entering all-white neighborhoods. Those of Japanese ancestry had few options.

Once a potential buyer was identified as Japanese, realtors would stonewall any inquiries about houses for sale, insisting they were not available even though ‘for sale’ signs indicated otherwise. Finally, through word of month, Henry heard of a three-bedroom house in South Central Los Angeles, near Santa Barbara Avenue.

The house was the property of a Chinese immigrant who was willing to sell to Henry even though he was Japanese American. The $10,000 asking price was high for the area, but the house came with an important bonus: the owner was willing to finance the sale. That meant that instead of having to face the red tape and discriminatory practices of the commercial banking industry, Henry would be able to make his payments directly to the owner. In 1948, the deal was closed, and the Henry Nomuras, together with Mizuko, moved from apartment to house. It was the first house to be purchased by any of Mizuko’s children.

In the meantime, Mizuko’s second son, Jiro, was spending his post-WWII years working in Japan as a translator for the U.S. Army. Beyond his assigned duties in the greater Tokyo area, he found the time to travel to Hiroshima to reconnect with relatives on both the Nomura and the Takahashi sides of the family. Not all of his attempts to link with his extended family were positive. When he met with his father’s half-brother, Hiroshi Nomura, Jiro was bitterly accosted and blamed for abetting the act of "dropping the bomb" on Hiroshima. Luckily, despite the tongue-lashing Jiro received, no one in the Nomura family had been physically harmed in the bombing.

On the other hand, Mizuko’s family, the Takahashis, had suffered gravely. Ayano, Mizuko’s oldest and favorite sister and Jiro’s aunt, had died from the blast as well as two of his Takahashi cousins who were shopping in downtown Hiroshima the day the bomb fell. In addition, Jiro discovered that many of his former classmates from Onorimura were dying or had died from radiation poisoning caused by the nuclear explosion.

After he returned from Japan, Jiro would often say to Henry, “If we had remained in Japan, we also would have been killed.”

The thought of that probable fate fostered a greater appreciation for life and in the benefit of good luck for both brothers.

While others of the Takahashi clan had survived the atomic attack, their standard of living, like most Japanese, had been severely diminished by the war. His aunt Tomoye Takahashi Hayashi, Mizuko’s youngest sister, was living in poverty, barely maintaining self and family with foraged greens and little else. Although living conditions had been bad during the seven years she had cared for Jiro and Henry in Japan, the prospect of starvation was shockingly real immediately after the war.

When Jiro visited Tomoye she was stunned, then happy to see him, despite the fact that he wore the uniform of the U.S. Army. She was filled with regret for the way she had treated Jiro and Henry and asked for his forgiveness. Jiro had come to realize that like his own family during his childhood, his aunt had struggled mightily to make ends meet, a task that had been made nearly impossible with the addition of two unwanted wards.

He readily forgave his aunt and helped her and her family with gifts of food, clothing, and other necessities purchased from the U.S. Army base PX. On the other hand, his step-grandmother Komatsu, and his grandfather Kichinosuke Takahashi, who lived nearby, received no gifts from Jiro. A quarter of a century earlier, despite Mizuko’s desperate entreaties, they had pointedly refused to offer any assistance to Jiro and Henry.

In 1949, Jiro, his Japanese-born wife Masaye, and their two year-old son George left Japan for Los Angeles. They temporarily lived among other Japanese in Boyle Heights, just east of downtown Los Angeles. When their second son, Jon was born in December, 1950, Mizuko decided to move in and help her daughter-in-law with her newborn baby.

However, despite Mizuko’s best attempts to fit in, tension built up between her and Masaye. Since Jiro worked long hours as a partner in the Nomura Brothers Trucking company with Henry, Mizuko ended up spending most of her time alone with Masaye and her two young sons. Their differing views on childrearing, material wealth, social status, and religion, made for a difficult relationship. So after helping them move to a house of their own in the Crenshaw area of Los Angeles, Mizuko resumed living with Henry and his family.

end of segment 1 of 2, 'After the War'

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