Chapter 7, segment 1 of 2, 'Leaving, Summer 1911'
Braaah!, braaah!, braaah! The three long blasts from the horn of the freighter, Mexico Maru split the air. On July 7th, 1911, a little less than two months after their marriage, the former Mizuko Takahashi and her new husband, Kazuichi Nomura set sail for Tacoma, Washington from the port city of Kobe, Japan.
An uncharacteristic apprehension gnawed at Mizuko as the shoreline and mountains of Kobe receded rapidly into the distance. She was leaving everything she knew and cherished with a man she had barely met.
After their hurried, nondescript wedding in May, her husband’s behavior had been mystifying. While cordial to her when with others, their private moments were awkward and devoid of any signs of affection. He had rented a tiny apartment not far from the Takahashi home were they stayed while he took care of ‘important business matters’. Those ‘business matters’ often kept him away for days at a time on such a regular basis that Mizuko decided to go back to the Takahashi house during the day. In the late afternoon she would return to the apartment to await Kazuichi's return.
Her siblings were glad of her return, especially her thirteen year-old sister Tomoye, to whom most of the household tasks had fallen. While waiting their departure to America, Mizuko showed Tomoye how to efficiently handle the washing and cooking, how to multi-task, and gave her time-saving sewing and mending tips.
One day, in the washroom as they were beating the dirty clothing clean with wet wooden paddles, Tomoye asked her sister, “What’s it like to have a husband?”
Mizuko looked at the ernest expression on her sister’s face and laughed nervously. “I don’t really know, Kazuichi-san has not been around too much. He’s often away dealing with business...
“You mean you haven’t slept together yet?” Tomoye interrupted.
Mizuko’s face turned red, then she turned and laughed wholeheartedly at her sister’s impertinence. “That is none of your business, little sister,” she smiled.
“But what about making babies?” Tomoye persisted. Mizuko splashed water on her sister, then realizing that she had no idea of what marital relations should be like, turned away in embarrassment.
In truth, Mizuko was thoroughly puzzled by her husband’s behavior. She tried to ask her father for an explanation, but Kichinosuke refused to question anything Kazuichi did.
“He is a busy man. He must have good reasons for keeping the hours he does. A dutiful wife’s main job is to support her husband…, no matter what”. When Mizuko tried to extend the conversation, her father turned a deaf ear.
When the Kobe harbor could no longer be seen, the enormity of her father’s mandate for her to marry struck Mizuko with full force. If given the choice, she wouldn’t have married Kazuichi, this unfathomable, older man, especially with her medical studies yet to begin.
A light rain prompted her descent to their meager accommodations on the steerage deck at the bottom of the ship. Shikataganai, she thought as memories of her sisters, brothers, her school, and father bidding her farewell, flooded her thoughts.
Below decks the newly boarded passengers from Kobe were setting up their sleeping arrangements. Mizuko and Kazuichi had been assigned to a large room reserved for the relatively small number of Japanese passengers. After the ship’s final port of embarkation in Yokohama, the number of Japanese on board had increased to twenty-five; sixteen headed to Canada while the rest, including Mizuko and Kazuichi, bound for Tacoma, Washington.
Mizuko was startled by the total number of passengers already on board when the ship arrived at Kobe. The initial departure point for the Mexico Maru had been Hong Kong, where over a hundred Chinese, mostly men bound for Canada, had boarded. After the port of Kobe, the ship followed the Japanese coastline until it reached Yokohoma. There the final passengers boarded before the Mexico Maru turned eastward for its long journey across the Pacific Ocean.
Compared to the fresh air on deck, the humid, stagnant air of steerage made breathing laborious.
“Put the bigger things under the platform,” Kazuichi directed, pointing to the area below the ‘silkworm shelf’ that would be their bed and seating for the duration of the trip.
“And watch that no one takes anything,” he added before heading for the stairway.
Where was he going? Mizuko wondered. He always has something to do, even when there is nothing to do.
end of Chapter 7, Segment 1 of 2, 'Leaving, Summer 1911'