Chapter 8, segment 2 of 2, 'America - Fife and Beyond'
A pattern of life on the farm for Mizuko established itself quickly. Arise at 3:30 am, stoke the stove, cook breakfast and make a carry out lunch for herself, Kazuichi and from three to five field hands, clean the house, tend to the horses, work in the fields until late afternoon, make dinner, do laundry and mend clothing until at least 11 pm, six days a week. Taking produce to market with Kazuichi varied the routine depending on the picking schedule, but unless it was pouring rain, the farm work continued unabated.
On days when she accompanied Kazuichi to market, Mizuko often drove the wagon home alone with a few bartered goods and even fewer store-bought necessities. On those days Kazuichi remained in town to “take care of business,” which, as Mizuko came to know, meant gambling, drinking, and consorting with prostitutes.
Ignoring Kazuichi’s debaucheries, Mizuko tried to make the best of her situation. She scoured the grime out of the house and brought as much order to her surroundings as she could. She was a good cook and a hard worker, and the workers were impressed by her abilities and appreciative of the meals she made, and her kind demeanor.
She became expert in baking homemade breadthrough trial and error. She learned to make her own western style clothing by taking apart the few items of used clothing she was able to acquire and replicating the various sections. She tried to civilize the house with the addition of homemade curtains and hand-knitted blankets.
Although Kazuichi profited substantially from the farm, he seldom gave money to Mizuko for even the most basic expenses. Even the money she earned for making the workers’ food and doing their laundry was regularly collected by her husband.
Even the horses benefitted from Mizuko’s presence. She enlisted Masao to help repair the leaky overhang on their small shelter, so they no longer stood unprotected from the frequent rain. She repaired their harnesses, replaced the worn fittings, and treated the open sores they had caused. Both Kuro, the black gelding, and Shiro the old white mare, became healthier and far more responsive as a result of her care. Kazuichi gave up trying to harness them, because they always ran from him, and left the task to Mizuko, who quickly gained their trust through her daily ministrations and unruffled demeanor. Soon she was regularly enlisted to drive the horses hitched to the wagon or the plow.
The rich alluvial soil, plentiful water, and mild summers of Fife practically insured bountiful crops. Those crops were initially sold for top dollar to meet the ever-expanding demand from Tacoma’s population explosion. The time and expense of Kazuichi’s trip to Japan to secure a good marriage with Mizuko was soon paid for by the farm’s profits. A large part of the success could be attributed to the diligence of young Masao, who had maintained the farm while Kazuichi was away ensuring that the planting, nurturing, and marketing of the crops had continued. The expansion of nearby Camp Lewis, a U.S. Army base, added to the demand for fresh produce.
However, while the neighboring farms prospered, the Nomura fortunes rose and fell according to Kazuichi’s gambling fortunes. When the dice and cards were falling his way, Kazuichi had money to burn, spending it on meals, drinks, and other pleasures for himself and his cronies in Tacoma. Occasionally he would even buy clothes for Mizuko or incongruous, expensive furnishings for the house.
Mizuko became acquainted with a few of the sixty-plus Japanese farming families of the Fife area through interactions at the produce market in Tacoma and the occasional Sunday social event. Immigrants from Hiroshima-ken were the largest group from Japan within the Fife farming community and their kenjinkai activities in the summertime and at New Year’s were among the biggest social events of the year. Kazuichi reveled in the kenjinkai picnics where he could show off his singing and dancing abilities.
At a Hiroshima-ken gathering in July 1912, Mizuko learned the shocking news that she was not Kazuichi’s first wife. While working with a small group of woman from neighboring farms to arrange food for the picnic the following conversation ensued.
“That is a very pretty dress you’re wearing,” said the loquacious wife of a nearby farmer.
“Where did you buy it?”
Mizuko blushed with embarrassment, knowing she had designed and sewn it herself. “Ah, it’s nothing really,” she answered.
“It really is nice,” volunteered another woman. Several others nodded their agreement.
“Please, you’re being too kind.” Mizuko answered. “I was able to make it myself,” she admitted.
“Ah, that is very impressive,” the first woman replied. “Your husband is very lucky to find such a resourceful wife this time.”
Alarmed, Mizuko thought This time? What is she saying?
“But SHE was as pretty as a picture,” added another.
Mizuko looked from one woman's face to the other, panic threatening to break through her outwardly calm exterior.
“And the baby was cute as well,” the first woman responded. “What happened to the baby?” she asked, turning to Mizuko.
Mizuko felt an overwhelming desire to run away. “Please excuse me,” she replied with her face turned ashen.
“Ah, you look a bit pale. Are you okay?” Another woman said sympathetically.
“I have a blanket over there under the trees,” she offered, gesturing to an area in the shade.
Mizuko thanked her benefactor, excused herself from the group and went to sit down. Her body shook involuntarily from the shock of this unfathomable news.
It took several weeks for Mizuko to summon up the nerve to ask Kazuichi about his “other” wife and family. Furthermore while cleaning the house, she found an unfamiliar woman’s blouse wedged behind a drawer in the dresser. Finally on a rainy evening after dinner, she showed the garment to Kazuichi.
“Oh that? It must have belonged to Yei,” he replied nonchalantly. Mizuko’s eyes grew wide with astonishment. “She died after the baby was born,” Kazuichi replied, already looking bored with the topic.
“And what happened to the child?” continued Mizuko, unwilling to drop the matter.
“I left her and her sister with their aunts in Hiroshima before I came to Onori-mura,” he replied.
“Her sister?” she exclaimed. “How many of them are there? What are their names?” she stammered.
“Just the two,” Kazuichi grunted. “As for their names…” Mizuko’s husband, his attention momentarily piqued by the question, rubbed the top of his closely shorn head.
“Chieko, Choko, ah, Chiyoko, that’s it.” He smiled with satisfaction at his ability to recollect.
“The first one is Chiyoko, the baby is Shigeko”, he said.
“But why didn’t you say anything about them when you came to my father’s house?” Mizuko exclaimed.
Kazuichi’s face took on a bemused expression. “Would you have married me if I had?” he said lightly. Mizuko sat down heavily and stared at Kazuichi. The machinations of her husband’s mind were beyond her comprehension. Her eyes watered as an overwhelming sense of confusion engulfed her. What next? she thought.
“Bammm!” The sound of Kazuichi’s fist slamming down on the table broke her reverie. “What was I going to do with two small girls?” he raged. “I did them a favor. They’re better off in Japan with their aunts,” he said dismissively. “Now fetch me my tobacco, I feel like having a smoke.”
Mizuko stared across the table at the incredibly self-absorbed man she had married. Mah, mah, this is unbelievable, she thought as she fetched her husband his tobacco. Another family all together! How must those girls feel, abandoned by their father? Do they even know that I exist? Should I reach out to them?
In the following months, Mizuko became resigned to the fact that her husband lacked the empathy and consciousness that she had come to expect from men in her family including her father and older brother. Kasuichi was clearly a clever man, but had no sense of personal or familial responsibility. He expected complete subservience from Mizuko, but felt no obligation to provide for her. He also had no interest in the ideals of hard work, honor, honesty, and loyalty that Mizuko had been raised with and valued.
His personal shortcomings and untrustworthy nature eventually became their undoing. After losing the Fife farm because of unpaid rent and short-changing the farmhands, the couple was forced to move. They ended up in a decrepit house on the fringe of Tacoma.
Kazuichi had little interest in the long hours of farming but his ability to calculate numbers and farming yields kept some income coming in. After talking some of his drinking cronies into loaning him a financial stake, he became a Produce Broker. He went from farm to farm offering growers a preset payment for their soon-to-be-harvested crops. He was able to compute, in his head, the yield of a farm plot before harvest, compare that to potential future wholesale prices plus the cost of taking it to market, and offer the farmers a set amount. So accurate were his calculations that he inevitably was able to insure himself a good profit.
Although the process protected the farmers from the uncertainty of wholesale prices, they grew to resent Kazuichi for profiting from their conservative natures. Concurrently, Mizuko took in laundry from farm workers, an exhausting job that had her working eighteen-hour days. Through it all Mizuko tried to maintain a positive attitude, the words shikataganai and ganbatte constantly shaped her thoughts.
While other Japanese farmers in the area like Nakanishi Yokichi flourished, Mizuko and Kazuichi survived mostly due to Mizuko’s hard work and far less often on his unsavory schemes and gambling profits. By late summer of her second year in America, Mizuko was pregnant. She wondered with mounting uncertainty what kind of life awaited her and her first child.
end of Chapter 8, segment 2 of 2, 'America- Fife and Beyond'