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What Pearl Harbor Wrought

A Soldier is a Soldier - Part 3

The flat wooden deck of the river ferry was small. Jo, his duffle bag and small back pack, and Isamu and his mo-ped, took up a third of the deck space. Two steel cables, anchored on both banks of the river, straddled the ferry while a third was attached to a two-cylinder motor, which popped and smoked as it was revved up. The ferryman, in an old pair of denim coveralls and wearing a conical straw hat, could have been as old as the ferry itself. He was lean, tall for a Japanese, and had a stubby white beard and a face with wrinkles running through weathered, tan skin. His arms, probably from his daily tugging on the ropes of the ferry, were sinewy.

Ah, Kisa no ko—Kisa’s son,” he said with a smile when Isamu introduced Jo. The ferryman said he remembered Jo’s father well; ferried him across the river more times than he could remember. Looking into Jo’s face, he said he could see some resemblance, but that Jo had his mother’s eyes. As he talked, he seemed to be reminiscing—“Mukashi, mukashi...a long, long time ago...” he said without finishing his sentence.

As the ferry moved ahead, Isamu pointed across the river to a group of houses stretched along a narrow strip of land above the river bank. The houses were nestled just below the start of mountains among patches of cultivated land, thickets and ravines, and then low ridges.

The sky, by now, had turned overcast. As the wind, in gusts, blew droplets of water onto his face, Jo recalled stories his father used to tell of trapping pheasants in nets strung along probably those same ridges. The pheasants, his father said, would not fly up into the twilight air for fear of hawks. As a boy he would run through the fields, chasing the birds up the ridges into the nets. The dull whitewash of the walls of houses, the thatched roofs and the cluster of trees made Jo wonder how much may have changed from when his father had lived in the village so many years before.

On the opposite bank, the ferryman, after securing the ferry to the wooden landing dock, turned, gave Jo a quick, overall look, then said with a final nod, “Shikkari shite—keep your chin up.”

Arigato,” Jo said. The words of support the ferryman used probably were the same words the man used when he had bid goodbye to the local youths who had gone off during the war to fight Americans.

Once off the ferry, Jo and Isamu rode the mo-ped down a narrow gravel road, Jo sitting piggy back with his baggage. People were still out in the fields and exchanged waves or nods with Isamu as the mo-ped went by. Most were either cousins or related in some way to the family, Isamu said. Jo would get a chance to meet them later.

As they approached a farm woman walking beside the road, Isamu stopped. When the woman turned, Jo was surprised. From behind he thought he saw the walk of an older woman. But beneath her bonnet, the eyes were alert, moved quickly; the face, though ruddy, was still young.

Ara,” she said, also surprised. “Isamu.” This was a week day. Shouldn’t he still be at work? He was an office supervisor and usually came home much later in the evenings, she teased.

Jodan iu-na—stop joking,” Isamu laughed, then introduced Jo. She was also a cousin.

Ah, yokatta,” she said, her face beaming. At last, she said, she was able to thank someone from Jo’s family personally for the food packages and clothing they had sent over when the war ended. No one, she said, could ever fully appreciate how grateful she and her son felt.

Mi-te,” she said, turning up the front part of her cotton jacket to show the sweater underneath. Jo immediately recognized the beige color and stitch pattern; the cardigan was one his mother had knitted years ago and had worn around the house.

Though the cousin’s enthusiasm seemed to bubble, the harsh meagerness of her life was apparent. Her teeth were still fairly white, but her gums were an off-color pink, probably from some lack in her diet. Her face was wind-burned; her hands were rough; the fingernails curved in, their cuticles cracked.

As she noticed Jo look, she stepped back slightly.

Konna kakko—my appearance, please forgive me,” she said. She said she had to be out in the field a lot with only herself and her son, a 10-year-old, to tend to their rice paddies. Her husband, she said simply, never came back from the war. When she mentioned her husband, she paused, seemed to notice Jo’s uniform for the first time.

Gommen nasai,” she said suddenly, bringing her right hand to her mouth as if she had said something wrong—maybe for mentioning the war.

Why? Why should she be apologizing, Jo wanted to ask. He searched his mind for the proper words in Japanese to express his feelings, offer condolence; could find none, and before he could say anything, the moment had passed. Her face, again smiling, hid her emotions as she turned and trudged off to a nearby field even though it was starting to get dark.

© 2010 Akio Konoshima

family fiction identity Japan Korean War racism soldiers travel

Sobre esta série

What Pearl Harbor Wrought is an episodic novel written by Akio Konoshima, an Issei who was interned at Heart Mountain during WWII. The stories within are based on the author’s observations taken from his youth in California, his time spent in Heart Mountain, and his years serving the United States Army. Discover Nikkei will be publishing a few select chapters from this work, starting with “Flo,” the story of a young woman in love and the effects of the war on her family. Look forward to “A Soldier is a Soldier” and the novel’s epilogue in weeks to come. Konoshima hopes that his words will help “give his children and grandchildren a sense of their heritage.”