Chapter 6, segment 1 of 2, 'Marriage 1911, Spring'
“Otoo-san, Nomura-san is here!” twelve year-old Tomoye announced, running into the large room at the center of the house. “He’s in the genkan. And I think he looks a little scary,” she added.
Kichinosuke gave her a stern look.
“Tomoye, that is a very impolite thing to say. Go tell Sanae to prepare to serve the refreshments.”
Kichinosuke went to the genkan, greeted his guest, and accompanied Kazuichi Nomura into the house.
“Thank you for agreeing to see me on such short notice,” said Kazuichi bowing.
“Please, do not concern yourself. It is my pleasure to welcome you into my home,” Kichinosuke answered.
“Dozo, please take a seat and make yourself comfortable.”
Kazuichi gracefully lowered his stocky, muscular body down onto a zabuton, a flat cushion in the center of the room.
“As you probably already know, I have been in America for the past several years, and long distance communication has been difficult,” Kazuichi began.
“I understand. Again, please do not concern yourself. Your baishakunin explained the circumstances to me when he set up this meeting. Will he be joining us?” inquired Kichinosuke.
“Unfortunately, no. Since I arrived in Hiroshima earlier than expected, he had to honor a previous commitment and cannot join us. He sends his apologies,” said Kazuichi bowing his head slightly.
“The two men sat in companionable silence for a moment. His manners do not match his appearance, thought Kichinosuke. Even though he looks like a laborer, his speech and deportment are that of a gentleman. This is most curious….
Kichinosuke’s thoughts were disrupted by a gentle tapping on the sliding door. “Hai,” he responded. Eighteen year-old Sanae smoothly slid the door open, bowed and entered on her knees. Then in a series of graceful and efficient movements, lifted the tea tray into the room, slid the door shut, and placed the tray in front of Kazuichi. Deftly, she poured the tea, moved a dish of sweets closer to her guest, and sat back in seiza, legs folded under her.
“Kazuichi-san, this is my daughter Sanae. Sanae, may I introduce you to Nomura, Kazuichi,” said her father. Sanae bowed demurely, her eyes averted from directly looking at the man sitting in front of her.
“I am very pleased to meet you,” she said quietly. Sanae was the picture of refinement, her complexion exquisitely pale and clear with only the slightest embellishment of make-up. Her hair was neatly in place, a single tasteful red ornament securing a coiled roll of ringlets above the nape of her flawless neck. The colorful spring kimono she wore fit perfectly over her small, plump body.
Kichinosuke glowed with pride. He glanced at his daughter’s suitor and was surprised to see a poorly concealed look of disappointment on the man’s face.
The awkwardness of the moment was suddenly interrupted by a loud crash followed by the thumping of rapid footsteps and raucous laughter in the hallway adjacent to their room.
Outside the window at the far end of the room, a young boy came into view only to be suddenly jerked to a halt by the outstretched arm of a tall, fit-looking young woman. As the boy squirmed in her grasp, a young girl ran into view giggling hysterically, and jumped onto the back of the woman. The woman turned, casually supporting the weight of the girl, and re-entered the house pulling the smiling boy along with her.
Kazuichi found he had stood up without realizing it. He noticed Sanae’s father shaking his head as he rose to stand beside him.
“Who is that?” Kazuichi inquired.
“I’m so sorry for the rude interruption,” Kichinosuke replied. “The children can be so thoughtless at times. There is no excuse for this kind of behavior.”
“Never mind, who is that woman?” Kazuichi persisted.
Kichinosuke leaned back, momentarily disquieted by the abrupt manner of Kazuichi’s question. “That is my third daughter, Mizuko. She is currently responsible for the care of the younger children and…” Kichinosuke stopped, realizing how odd it would sound if he said that Mizuko was the acting Lady of the House, while her older sister Sanae was being considered for the man’s bride.
Kichinosuke gathered himself and said, “Please be seated agian Nomura-san. Let’s continue from where we were before the interruption, shall we? Can you tell me about what you have been doing since you left Japan?”
Kazuichi settled back onto his cushion and said, “I have been conducting business in America for the Nomura family, and have been exploring possibilities for agricultural expansion overseas,” he said with obvious pride.
“And what kind of business have you been conducting?” Kichinosuke asked.
“Are you familiar with the Nyu-nyu Dairy in Hiroshima?” Kazuichi asked
“Of course,” the older man replied. “They are known throughout Hiroshima-ken for the excellent milk they produce.”
“My father Ikuzo Nomura began the dairy in 1897. I am responsible for buying and importing the six Guernsey cows from America that form the core of the dairy herd. That breed of cow is known worldwide for the superior quality of their milk. There is no comparison between them and the native Japanese breeds,” Kazuichi said in an obviously boastful manner.
Kichinosuke’s reaction was conflicted. On the one hand, Nomura-san was clearly a keen and aggressive businessman, but the way he relished his own accomplishments was unseemly.
“Nomura-san, would you care for more tea?” asked Sanae. Kazuichi grunted his assent, but seemed uninterested in the delicate, graceful manner in which Sanae served it.
“Excuse me, Takahashi-san, but might I use the facilities?” said Kazuichi returning to the more genteel form of address with which their dialogue had begun. “I have been traveling most of the day...”
“Of course, please do not ask twice.” Kichinosuke said, relieved to be on more formal terms again. “I understand completely. “Sanae, please show our guest to the toilet.”
Sanae rose gracefully and led Kazuichi down the hallway to the back of the house. On the way they passed the kitchen where Mizuko was wrestling a huge pot over a washbasin, scrubbing it energetically as she held it on its side. At the rough hewn table behind her, hunched over steaming bowls of rice porridge, sat Masamichi, the boy Kazuichi had seen earlier, his sister, the giggler Atsuko, Mizuko’s sister Tomoye, and the third of the late Sawano’s children, Yoshiko. Slurping their food with great gusto, they stopped in unison when the stranger in their midst declared, “Hoy, that looks tasty!”
Mizuko turned at the sound of Kazuichi’s declaration and eyed him suspiciously, then returned to her work without speaking.
Entering the toilet room, Kazuichi was immediately struck by the cleanliness and order of the space. Absent was the acrid odor of waste and grime common to such facilities. He thought of the young woman hard at work in the kitchen and smiled to himself. After relieving himself, Kazuichi followed Sanae back into the great room.
Before they resumed sitting, Kazuichi asked, “Takahashi-san, may I speak to you in private for a moment?”
Kichinosuke looked from Kazuichi to Sanae. “But of course. Sanae, will you please excuse us?”
Sanae nodded, picked up the tea service and quietly exited. The men took a moment to sit as before. Once they were settled, Kazuichi asked, “Can I be frank?” Alarmed by the request, given the purpose of the man’s visit, Kichinosuke could only stroke his spare beard, then nod nervously.
end of Chapter 6, segment 1 of 2, 'Marriage 1911, Spring'