• Art Nomura

ST: Chapter 1, 'Birthday', part 3 of 3

Updated: May 11, 2018

Shoya-sama, it’s a girl.”

The smile that Kichinosuke Takahashi, the shoya, village head of Onorimura, Toyota-gun, Hiroshima-ken, and the scion of the Takahashi family, had worn all day faded quickly upon hearing his mother’s declaration.

April 23, 1895 had been glorious, the first sunny day in Hiroshima-ken after weeks of cloudy skies and rain. The nearby ocean shimmered as if covered by glittery sequins.

Kichinosuke had spent the afternoon under the cherry trees near the river, reveling in the sunshine with his two closest friends. His spring robe still held a few of the delicate pink petals, the sweet scent wafting around him as he approached the genkan of the expansive family manor.

Another girl, he pondered. The premonition that had haunted him for months had come to pass. What a bitter pill to swallow! The third daughter in a row after the birth of his one and only son, Katsumi. He rubbed his hands across his face while he tried to regain his composure.

Why me? What have I done to deserve yet another daughter? A father needs sons, not daughters. At the age of thirty-five, a man should have the comfort of many sons. Only male heirs can bring honor and prosperity to the family name.

He slowly became aware that his mother and the beloved grandmother to his children, Kyoko Takahashi, was still bowing low, nose to the mat in front of him. Containing his displeasure, Kichinosuke uttered, “shikataganai, it can’t be helped.”

His mother gracefully stood up from her bow and smiled sympathetically. She understood without explanation why his response to the birth was so bittersweet. Kichinosuke methodically removed and arranged his wooden geta on the outside steps and stepped into the house.

Suddenly, the sliding door separating the genkan from the hallway flew open with a bang. Eight year-old Katsumi, glowing with excitement, entered.

Otoosan, father, I have a new sister!” he said breathlessly. “She’s all pink and wrinkled, more like an old woman, or a monkey, than a baby! And so little!” he added.

“The midwife let me hold her, she weighed less than the cat,” he reported happily. “I’m going back to see what’s going to happen next.”

Before anyone could respond, Katsumi was gone, leaving his father, grandmother, and an abashed manservant in his wake.

“I apologize for his rude behavior, sir,” said the manservant, removing his master’s out-door robe and deftly replacing it with a silk housecoat.

“The young master has been very taken by the arrival of the baby.” The servant bowed and gracefully backed out of the genkan, silently closing the door behind him.

Buoyed by this son’s energy, Kichinosuke addressed his mother with regained composure.

“And how is Tona-san?”

“Your wife has survived the birth well, and she has already nursed the baby,” Kyoko obaasan exclaimed.

Kichinosuke grunted an acknowledgement as he headed toward his study.

“Your new daughter is big and robust,” she added, “and cries with great vigor. And with your permission and approval, I feel I have already discovered the perfect name for her.”

Kichinosuke stopped in mid-stride and turned to his mother. “And what might that be?” he asked with unveiled curiosity.

Mizuko. Which means Pure Character,” Kyoko obaasan offered.

“The manner in which this baby has weathered a difficult pregnancy and emerged healthy and strong makes me feel that she will have the ability to overcome every challenge set before her.”

Kyoko obaasan approached her son and stood by his side. With her right index finger, she wrote out the kanji or Chinese character for “Mizuko” onto the palm of her left hand.

Kichinosuke considered the character for a moment, than slowly nodded his head in agreement.

“Then so shall it be!”

end of Chapter 1 of Standing Tall: The Extra/Ordinary Life of Mizuko Takahashi Nomura

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