Chapter 8, segment 1 of 2, 'America - Fife and Beyond'
On July 27,1911, after twenty days at sea, Mizuko took her first step onto American soil.
Their landing party of Japanese alien passengers numbered only nine, so Mizuko’s stay in the dockside Immigration Detention Center was relatively short. There were brief physical exams, including an examination of their stool for intestinal worms. Everyone’s luggage was fumigated to kill lice and other vermin, and then the passengers from Japan were released into the bright light of a clear summer day in Tacoma, Washington.
Long-awaited meetings between picture brides and their expectant husbands took place.
The group members bade each other goodbyes and good fortune then quickly left the dock in various private cars and cabs.
Mizuko and Kazuichi were the only passengers left awaiting transport. After an interminable wait, a decrepit wooden wagon drawn by a dirty black gelding pulled up to the curb. The driver, a short, sturdy young Japanese man dressed in a sweat-stained black suit and bowler hat, leapt from his seat, and bowed low to Kazuichi.
“Please forgive me for keeping you waiting, Nomura-san,” he apologized. “The horse ran off when I tried to harness it, and it took some time to catch it”.
“Bakatare, idiot!” Kazuichi barked, displaying the mercurial temper that Mizuko had come to know well. “Hayaku, hurry!” Kazuichi snarled as he thrust his luggage at the still bowing younger man.
Kazuichi climbed up onto the wagon’s seat, sat down and folded his arms. Mizuko took a step forward, and the driver his face flushing red, bowed self-consciously, and hurried to load her luggage into the bed of the wagon. Turning back to Mizuko, he seemed at a loss as to what to do next. Mizuko made an attempt to climb into the back of the wagon but was stymied by the constrictive nature of her kimono. After some inept efforts by the young man to assist her, a irritated Kazuichi jumped off his seat onto the ground and hoisted his wife into the back of the wagon, as if she were no more than a sack of potatoes.
Back on the wagon, he grunted to the driver to proceed. The young man snapped the reins down on the back of the horse who swiveled his head around and glared back at his handler. Only after a lengthy pause did the horse turn and plod forward.
Mizuko tried to arrange her kimono to avoid the lumps of dirt around her. Her embarrassment at being transported in such a primitive fashion was soon replaced by her fascination with the alien sights of Tacoma.
Multi-storied, squared-off buildings, many appearing freshly built, crowded the road. As they made their way down the main street she marveled at the number of cars, trucks, and streetcars rumbling past them, far outnumbering the few horse-drawn wagons present. The largest buildings were constructed of brick and stone and dwarfed the structures of faraway Onorimura. Furthermore, aside from their fellow Japanese immigrants and a few laborers unloading cargo, everyone she saw was white and tall! Almost all the men they passed on the wooden sidewalks lining the street stood at least a half head taller than she. Many of those she stared at tipped their hat in her direction. Flustered by the attention, she lowered her eyes whenever it happened, but she was nonetheless pleased.
That simple gesture made her think, America is a very different place than Japan, where women are seldom acknowledged by men.
It was late afternoon by the time they reached Fife, a small farming community located in a verdant valley six miles northeast of Tacoma. The farmland was dotted with toiling workers. They varied in appearance, from dark and fair-haired immigrants of European backgrounds to a number of crews consisting solely of Japanese laborers. They passed dairy farms with more black and white cows than she ever seen. In the distance, the vista of snow-capped Mt. Rainier provided a dramatic backdrop to the green fields before her.
The wagon finally creaked to a stop in front of an unpainted wooden house fronting fields of cabbage and potatoes. Kazuichi eased himself off his seat and stretched dramatically before heading to the house. Mizuko stood up and handed the luggage to the driver, who then awkwardly helped her down to the ground.
Mizuko entered the sparsely furnished dwelling where Kazuichi was already changing into soiled work clothes and a pair of leather boots. He gestured to a dirty pair of men’s trousers, a dingy shirt, and a pair of old dress shoes on the straight-backed chair beside him.
“Change into these and join the workers in the cabbage field right away. We still have at least three hours of daylight. Grab a field knife from the shed on your way out,” he said.
Without waiting for a response, he rose, plopped an old fedora on his head and exited through the back door.
Mizuko surveyed the room with dismay. An ancient wood-burning stove sagged against the far wall next to a table full of dirty dishes, pans, and utensils. To her right was an ancient metal-framed bed and the chair. She turned to face a half-empty armoire, doors askew, the only decent furniture in the room. Beside it stood a mismatched set of drawers, the bottom two pulled out and empty. Mizuko unlatched the room’s two small windows to clear out the hot, stale air.
She walked over to the door adjacent to the rear exit and opened it. On the other side of the door was another room with a rough-hewn table surrounded by wooden chairs at the near end and several bunk beds on the other. The room smelled of sweat and grime. A few jackets and trousers hung on nails haphazardly pounded into the walls. Piles of dirty clothing were heaped against the walls next to the bunks.
She retreated back into the first room and changed her clothes quickly. The waistline of the pants was several sizes too big, but she was able to get them to stay up by using a short length of cotton rope she found on the floor. She grabbed a wicked looking blade from the tool shed adjacent to the house and headed out to the field where Kazuichi and a small line of workers were systematically lopping off cabbage heads and packing them into wooden crates.
“Join Masao over there,” Kazuichi ordered, gesturing in the direction of the young man who had driven them to the farm.
Mizuko stepped over several rows of plantings to where Masao was working. She watched him deftly cut a cabbage from its stem with a knife like the one she carried.
Mas bowed meekly and handed the cabbage head to Mizuko. “Please trim and pack it into the crate,” he said bobbing his head yet again.
Mizuko hefted the cabbage head in her hand. It was solid and hefty, at least four pounds. Large, green leaves flopped around the remaining stem making it hard to handle. She looked at the cabbage already in the crate and trimmed off the loose leaves until the head she was holding matched the others. She packed it snugly into the layer and turned to face Mas.
“Over there, please,” he said, pointing to an adjacent row.
For the next several hours, Mizuko cut and packed cabbage. The constant bending and lifting was tiring, but it felt good to be physically active again after the long ship voyage.
She drew astonished looks from Masao and some of the others when she took a turn at hoisting a filled crate onto her shoulder and carrying it to the wagon sitting over a previously picked area of the field. A filled crate of cabbage weighed between eighty-five to well over a hundred pounds, a load that several of the other pickers could barely manage.
As the sun was setting Kazuichi called out to Mizuko, “Get started on dinner, it’s going to be dark soon.”
end of Chapter 8, segment 1 of 2, "America - Fife and Beyond'