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Excerpt from Standing Tall: The Extra/Ordinary Life of Mizuko Takahashi Nomura - Chapter 8

On July 27, 1911,1 after twenty days at sea, Mizuko took her first step onto American soil.

Because their landing party of Japanese alien passengers numbered only nine, 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.2

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 husbands took place. The group members bade each other brief 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 wagon3 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 already 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 highly 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 and glared back at the driver. Only after a lengthy pause did the horse turn and plod forward.

Mizuko looked at the dirty bed of the wagon and 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 displaced by her fascination with the unfamiliar 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. Some of those she stared at tipped their hat4 in response. Flustered, 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 from Tacoma. The farmland was dotted with toiling workers. They varied in appearance, from dark and fair-haired immigrants of European backgrounds5 to a number of crews consisting solely of Japanese laborers.6 They passed dairy farms7 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 of his seat and stretched dramatically before heading into 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 knife8 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 stove9 sagged against the far wall next to a table full of dirty dishes, pans, and utensils. To her right was the metal-framed bed and the chair. She turned to face a half-empty armoire10, doors askew, the only decent furniture in the room. Beside it stood a mismatched set of drawers, the bottom two 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 was another room with a rough-hewn table surrounded by wooden chairs on 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 picking 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 wooden crate of cabbage weighed between eighty-five to well over a hundred pounds, a load that several of the other pickers struggled with.

As the sun was setting Kazuichi called out to Mizuko, “Get started on dinner, it’s going to be dark soon.”

A pattern of life on the farm established itself quickly. Arise at 3:30 a.m., 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 p.m., 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.

Notes:

1. July 27, 1911, Mizuko Takahashi Nomura’s initial journey to America
Mexico Maru travel itinerary:
June 27, 1911—depart Hong Kong
July 7, 1911—depart Kobe
July 11, 1911—depart Yokohama
July 26, 1911—arrive Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, 5:20 a.m.—131 of 147 passengers disembarked.
July 27, 1911—arrive Tacoma

The Mexico Maru had 147 total passengers. They included:
114 Chinese bound for Canada
16 Japanese bound for Canada
1 German bound for Canada
There were sixteen “through” passengers bound for the U.S. Nine of them, including Mizuko and Kazuichi Nomura were Japanese.

2. Invertebrate parasites that lodge in the intestinal tract of a human host. Many Japanese immigrants were afflicted with hookworms which were acquired in Japan and in often unsanitary emigration facilities in cities like Kobe and Yokohama.

3. In the early 1900s in Tacoma, even though cars, trucks, and streetcars were prevalent, horse-drawn wagons made of wood were still a common means of transportation for people and goods.

4. A greeting gesture in which the hat is touched or raised by a man in deference and/or acknowledgement to others.

5. The early 1900s saw a significant rise in the number of European immigrants settling in the Northwest U.S. Immigrant farmers and laborers in the Northwest came mainly from Sweden, Italy, Germany, and Great Britain.

6. Many Japanese immigrants in Washington worked on farms. The other major jobs for recent immigrants were as workers in lumber mills, mines, railgangs, and the fishing industry.

7. Dairy farms raise cows for the production of milk. The steady rainfall and rich soil of western Washington insured lush pastureland for grazing milk cows. Some Japanese were engaged in running dairy farms.

8. A long sharp knife used in the wilderness for dressing game or on the farm for harvesting vegetables such as cabbage, cauliflower, and broccoli.

9. A heating and cooking appliance that burns wood fuel. Stoves of this era were made of cast iron and used chopped and split trees and branches for fuel.

10. A wardrobe or tall cupboard.

 

* Read the rest of Chapter 8 and buy the interactive ebook at: Standing Tall—The Extra/Ordinary Life of Mizuko Takahashi Nomura. For more information, go to: facebook.com/StandingTallTheExtraOrdinaryLife

 

 

© 2015 Art Nomura

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