Natsuhiko Osaka, Youngest Son
The boy child stood on the dock speechless, his insides, paralyzed, barren of emotion. He stood atop the thick, wooden pilings, the waves battering against the pier beneath his tiny boyhood being. Suddenly, unfamiliar feelings, deep inside his trembling body began awakening, cracking into existence. His mother was leaving.
His ancient grandmother stood beside him. “Wave to your mother,” she scolded him. “Natsuhiko, wave good-bye to your mother.” Exasperated, she grabbed his smooth, young hand with her worn, wrinkled one. She shook the child’s listless hand, making a feeble waving motion toward the ship; they watched the steamer slipping away into the distance.
Standing on the deck of the ship, his mother smiled back at him and waved her hand in return.
Tears welled up in his eyes. Why is she leaving? He turned to his father but his attention was firmly focused on the steamer. Where was she going? He turned to his grandmother, but she was watching the ship too. Why was she leaving without him? He was an appendage; a part of her, like a leg or an arm is part of a body. Since birth he had rarely left her side. During the day, while his sibling were in school or working the fields, he followed her from house to coffee field, played in the trees as she collected macadamia nuts or dug holes as she worked the garden. He’d busy himself near her in the kitchen as she prepared the family meals or washed and ironed clothes. She was never out of his sight. Even at night he slept on a mat near hers.
He had heard serious conversations for days, but hadn’t understood. Now, slowly he began to comprehend, fully aware of unknown pain inside. He wiggled out of grandmother’s grip and chased after her to end of the dock. He stopped abruptly at its edge, confused that he could not continue. His mother caught her breath as he wavered over the edge but was relieved as her mother-in-law caught him. She paused and then waved again. His pain became unbearable. The soundless tears began to pour into torrents from his eyes and stream down each side of his small nose, and finally dripping on the wooden planks under his feet. The great ocean stood firm against him. Natsuhilo’s world was shattered.
Nariko Inaba Osaka, Honorable Grandmother
Grandmother was at his side. “You’ll be the death of me,” she scolded him out of breath. Nariko Inaba Osaka’s body wasn’t use to the form fitting komon kimono that she wore for the occasion. It was proper; wearing such fine Japanese clothing revealed her family’s high status in the Japanese-American community. But she was eager to replace it with the baggy farm shirt and loose pants worn on the farm. Her feet hurt from the tiny conforming sandals and the tightly fitted socks that surrounded each individual toe; she was weary and impatient to exchange them for her more comfortable socks and padded straw zori.
She paused, poked some imaginary loose hairs into place and watched as her daughter and granddaughter receded into the distance until only shadows of the ship remained. The gulls made dark ragged clouds with their wings hiding the last of the images.
A Japanese glass ball floated by bouncing off the pilings below her feet and distracting her thoughts. Her first impulse was to chase after it; it would bring in good money for a collector. Then somewhere deep inside her soul, a tidal wave of emotion surged, clashing against her carefully controlled composure. She experienced the same tearing sensation as her grandson and the tears began to flow. If only she were younger. She wiped away the droplets with her free hand and quickly shook them aside. How often she had dreamed of returning to Japan, to visit her ancestral home and relive golden, fragile memories. How she wanted to see her family, but who was left? Most of the men were dead from the war and few women survived the American bombings in her home in Hiroshima. Besides, the faces had faded long ago, the sounds and smells of a different humanity dissolved and dissipated over a lifetime. No need. No reason for tears. Her real life and, it was a good life, was here on the big island of Hawaii, not the fantasy from a child’s memories.
As a child, Nariko Inaba left Hiroshima with her family to work in the sugarcane plantations of Kauai. In Japan the Inaba family had been born into unforgiving poverty and low ranking in the caste system; their future in the American territory could be no worse. When big-nosed foreigners came to their village with promises of work and good wages, her grandfather signed the papers, hesitantly at first, but finally he signed, marking them with a bold X. The son of the War Lord had burned his house to the ground to force the move. There was no other choice. A week later, three generations of Inaba’s were on board a rickety, ancient steamer crossing over more water than any of them had ever dreamed existed. Once arriving in Kauai, they found the work in the sugar cane fields to be back breaking, unforgiving and tedious. Everyone worked, man, woman and children; only the babies were left behind under the care of young girls and aged grandmothers.
Their living arrangements proved to be even worse than they had imagined. In the beginning, they slept on fly-infested, sticky dirt floors in decrepit wooden bungalows provided by the land owners, but gradually they moved to makeshift wooden huts or grass shacks of their own making. Others preferred to sleep outdoors on hand-woven mats. The women wove tatami-like mats from the leaves of dried sugar cane stalks instead of the rice straw used in their native Japan. The landowners provided little, if any food, and fortunately fish, taro and fruits were plentiful and easy to gather, though they had no rice. Often coming off the fields after the sunset, they cooked and ate under open skies. The grandmothers made extra money by selling produce from gardens, weaving and selling sleeping mats and woven lauhala baskets. It was a difficult existence.
After the three-year contracts had been fulfilled, the Inaba family could sign up for another three years of backbreaking work in the fields, return home at their own expense or stay on the islands, finding their own way. Mr. Greenwell, a landowner, agreed to rent five acres of his land to Inaba, but only if he agreed to farm and raise coffee beans. So Inaba moved the family from Kauai to the Kona district on the big island of Hawaii; in this new place, the family planted, harvested and roasted coffee beans, gathered macadamia nuts and made a life. Since she was the eldest of many girls, it was arranged that she marry her cousin also from Kauai. When her father died, her husband, Oki Osaka, inherited the coffee farm and business. Oki Oki Osaka, their first and eldest son, took over and did well. He built a traditional Japanese-style house, which rivaled any home in mainland Japan even importing rice straw to weave traditional tatami mats. Now Nariko lived there with her son, daughter-in-law and grandchildren, sharing her wisdom and life experiences with them on a daily basis.
She pulled her grandson’s hand and shuffled back toward the mainland. Her son, Oki Oki Osaka, turned at some silent signal and followed her to the car parked on the edge of the sandy beach, a few blocks from downtown Hilo.
It would be nice to visit a teahouse, look through some shops, or stroll though the famer’s market, but the farm was waiting and her son was anxious. Besides her feet hurt.
Hanako Osaka, Eldest Daughter
Hanako Osaka, Oki Osaka and Mineko’s Osaka’s daughter, and granddaughter of Honorable grandmother, turned stood facing the shore, studying the ship and noting the series of decks and lifeboats. She had just graduated from the American high school in Kealakekua on the western side of the big island. Her parents had decided she would accompany Mineko, her mother, to Japan. Her two older brothers had been their first choice, but they were needed on the farm. Out of all six of their children, Hanako seemed the most interested in traditional Japanese culture. This would be an opportunity to learn about her ancestral roots, become exposed to real Japanese culture and improve her Japanese language skills. Along with all the other Japanese-Hawaiians, she had attended Japanese school after regular classes at the American schools. She had been the top of her class and could speak fluent Japanese with her grandparent’s generation but her parents wanted her to learn proper Japanese of mainland Japan and not the dialects and the slang that evolved from growing up hearing several languages.
She was apprehensive about this trip, not knowing what to expect. She had heard her parents whispering about arranged marriages, but they would never do that to her and she dismissed the possibility. Her parents were modern. They even ate the American food that she learned how to cook in her Home Economics classes, though they complained that muffins and breads hurt their digestion. She smiled at their complaints because they ate them anyway.
Still, the thought of meeting a young and handsome Japanese man was tantalizing, that was if any decent ones were left after the war.
Mineko Uchida Osaka Daughter, Wife
Mineko Osaka stood silently, holding tightly to the rail of the steamer; she let the wind batter her face. It blew violently at her hair, which was covered with a scarf and tied securely under her chin. Loosened strands tangled together flapping at her face, while she stood mesmerized, staring after Hilo as it disappeared into the horizon. Automatically her hand passed over her chest feeling for the black, rectangular purse hanging under her clothing against her body. She could feel its weight from the strap looped around her neck and sewn tightly at the top of the bag. It was filled with American dollars and she felt the heavy responsibility for its safety. She was taking it to her family in Kyoto. “A return on their investments,” Joseph Greenwell told her.
Before the outbreak of the war, Mineko knew her grandfather silently invested significant amounts of money in American and territorial Hawaiian banks and property with the help of Greenwell. Her grandfather was one of the Japanese elite who disagreed with the emperor over the decision to bomb the American fleet in Pearl Harbor and thereby “awakening the sleeping giant”. He guessed the outcome of the war would favor the Americans. However, his brothers and other family members, those with significant holdings in the port of Kobe, had disagreed. In the end her grandfather was proved correct; the port had been utterly destroyed during the last phases of the war. They lost everything. But in nearby Kyoto, her family home and businesses had been spared. Fortunately for her family and the Uchida family fortune, the American military decided against destroying the rich historical buildings and the ageless Buda temple. The decision safeguarded their kimono business and their reputation.
She was grateful. She would see her home and the family members who had survived the war. Most of the men were gone, died in the war, while others died of infection and illnesses that come after a war. Information had been sketchy but she thought Grandfather was still alive but her father and brother hadn’t survived.
The ending of the war in 1945 came with American occupation, thankfully an occupation of rebuilding not of reparations. Though they kept in touch, no one was ready to return to see the actual devastation and ruin until the Americans finally left. Now in 1952, they were finally leaving and Mineko could safely return with some of the investments without the watchful eye of American soldiers and politicians. The ship’s hold held canvas bags of Kona grown coffee, the last of the third picking. Coffee would save her family, not the kimono business.
The waves slapped against the side of the steamship in a rhythmic flow and calmed her insecure thoughts. The motion allowed her mind to slip into an earlier layer of time. This exact spot was where she once stood, standing in this same place, a place where portals of time intersected in her life. It was twenty-seven years ago but instead of leaving Hilo, she was arriving. She closed her eyes and memories flowed, spilling in and out of the fissures of her mind.
The days are long but the years are short.
She had been born into the Uchida family, an upper class of wealthy merchants. The family home sat on a side street in the bustling commerce district of Kyoto. Like other businesses, the office and shop faced the street. The family slept and ate upstairs over the office quarters and in an expanded family building built behind the main rooms. A lush garden, a pond filled with koi, and a delicately handcrafted bridge connected the two separate buildings. A pair of snapping turtles and iris blooms in their time finished the tranquil scene.
In contrast, the streets in front were active, filled with the language of commerce, buying and selling, arguing, profits, and losses. Bicycles, carts and rickshaws maneuvered in and out, while merchants and traders gathered in coffee shops and tearooms working out arrangements, closing deals or sharing gossip. Grandfather favored the thick dark taste of coffee over the delicate teas and decided to open a coffee shop next door to the family home. He hired one of his nephews to operate it, and it was there Grandfather, uncles and other cloth merchants met to discuss trade news from the ports, politics and share in their own sources of gossip and rumors.
The Uchida family had been successful in the silk trades for generations and grew into a wealthy, respected and powerful family. The main source of their silk acquisitions was with the Chinese mainlanders who held a monopoly over the silk trade. The Uchida family held on to their own monopoly with the Chinese through expensive bribes, shrewd business acuity, and flattery. In spite of the threat of a gruesome death sentence, a family member managed to steal a few silk worms out of China and hid them in Northern Japanese remote villages. For decades they maintained a system of secret contacts with the Lords of these Japanese villages and small cloistered outlying islands. These Lords were responsible for the care and propagation of the worms and oversaw the collection of the silk threads. Most of the handspun threads were distributed among the village families and created woven cloth. This process provided a steady source of income and prestige for these artesian families. A reputation for paying a fair price encouraged loyalty and preserved the secret. The threat of failure was an ever present as well. Failure, mistakes, or disloyalty were cause for death; death meant not only the individual, but also his family and even the entire village. It was shame to fail. If the Chinese ever discovered the secret silk production, it would mean death and war.
After purchasing and packing the silks and later, brocades, the buyers shipped the fabrics overland or in cargo vessels to their warehouses in Kyoto. There the inventory was sold to clients. The fabric was highly sought after especially for making traditional ceremonial kimonos. Even with the advent of powered looms, they controlled the market because of the high quality of their offerings.
As a young man, her grandfather, Daisaku Uchida, realized the potential profit that could be made from making and selling the actual kimonos, not just the cloth. He expanded the business. Two of her uncles continued to oversee purchasing and transportation of silks from the villages and cities. Grandfather and his oldest son would oversee the accounts and larger orders. Mineko’s father, Kaisho Uchida, was put in charge of kimono sales. Her mother, Hisa Uchida, became an integral part of the business freeing her husband to handle business arrangements and important clients. She made appointments, looked after the orders and hired only the most talented men and women to embroider, paint and sew the garments. Before the acceptance of Western ware, many of the affluent homes purchased the silk material and in their homes, hired workers to cut the pieces and sew them together. The young women of the house would paint their own designs or embroidery dainty designs reflecting their individual artistic style. Now the modern customer wanted pre- assembled kimonos with a minimum of fittings. Under the watchful eye of Daisaku Uchida, the family business adapted and adjusted.
Hisa Uchida included Mineko and her three other daughters in the daily demands and routines of the business. This included supervising lower ranking relatives working. These were the more promising younger men, but she insisted on training women if they showed skill. Under her careful eye, these select members evolved into a group of highly competent, superior and loyal workers. They learned to measure the pieces accurately, cut and sew intricate, tiny stitches and then reverse the entire process when the garments required cleaning or repairing.
Even though her grandfather Uchida stored most of the rolls of silks and other inventory in warehouses, everything needed to make kimonos was available in the front office facing the street. Bolts of fine silks in a wide variety of colors and hand-embroidered designs lined the back of the shop from floor to ceiling. Paints, brushes, spools of thread, bolts of cottons and linens, scissors, cutting knives and patterns were scattered over large wooden tables and in view of those passing by outside.
Mineko and her sisters learned the fine points of the business quickly. Each developed a fine eye for color and an awareness of fabric quality and workmanship, an important skill when arguing quality against cost.
Because of her keen eyesight and even temper, Mineko worked on the more difficult and intricate orders, but eventually her mother realized that her real gift was with numbers. She accurately added, subtracted, multiplied and calculated orders in her head while her fingers flew across the abacus as a check.
At night Mineko would overhear her mother tell her father about her gift. “Lady Kimera was in the store yesterday to pick up her order. Mineko checked the numbers and realized that she had been undercharged several yen. She wrote out the new bill, explaining the difference in cost. Lady Kimera wanted to argue, but her husband was so impressed with Mineko that he paid the bill in full without question.”
Her father responded with an approving mumble, something like, “Her brother could learn from her; too bad she is a girl child.” Silently he was proud and recognized that his youngest daughter was gifted. Her mind was like a piece of flavorless tofu. It absorbed everything. She memorized characters and had mastered Japanese, some Mandarin Chinese, and even a few words of English, which she overheard in the merchant district on her way to temple or running errands to the warehouses. She could read stories, poems, scrolls of official business and rituals. Her calligraphy was remarkable.
However, Uchida knew none of her talents were of any value, at least not in the traditional way. She was female, the youngest of four daughters. Though it might further the family’s interests to keep her in the Uchida home permanently which meant no marriage; he and his father had discussed their options and decided to arrange for a suitable marriage for her instead. With her skills, she might be a valuable asset to a merchant family and more importantly, further the Uchida family’s commercial interests. Natsuhiko, Mineko’s brother, was the value of the family, even though at times, he might appear worthless when compared to Mineko. Natsuhiko would inherit his father’s share of the business and carry on the family name through his own sons. Mineko could only wait her fate. In silence she waited to learn the name of the man she would marry and the reputation of his family.
She learned of that arrangement after an unusual visit from a foreigner; he was one of the big noses with hair covering his face and arms. Mineko was running errands, but her sisters were near the front counter when he entered the shop with their father. They had to suppress their giggles at his clothing and manners. He was dressed in western clothing and wore a strange looking head covering, which he removed when he entered. He removed a pair of heavy looking pointed shoes and replaced them with traditional slippers. Her father politely ushered him and two of her uncles past the office and into the room used to entertain clients and important people. There they shared an array of Japanese delicacy, sake, a fermented rice drink and light conversation.
Meanwhile Mineko returned to the shop and her sisters told her about the American visitor. Something important they thought. Then Unexpectedly Mineko’s mother sent her, not her older sister, to the dining area to remove the eating utensils. She entered silently, opening and closing the hand-painted sliding panels without notice. She was curious to see the visitor and studied him with her peripheral vision as she went about collecting the dishes and placing them on the tray she had brought with her.
The first thing she noticed was his strikingly blue eyes. “Dog eyes,” Honorable Grandmother had told her. “Eyes like that reveal the soul, nothing is hidden. Too dangerous.” She has seen such a man at the harbor with her grandmother on a summer holiday. She took in the Foreigner’s hair. It was sandy like the beach, but matched his pale skin, so strange.
Her father was asking the foreigner about his island home of Hawaii, the big island. She finished collecting and waited for a signal from her father to leave. Instead he signaled her to stay. Surprised she placed the tray down on a small table near the panels, bowed her head in acknowledgement and stood off to her father’s side waiting for his direction.
“This is Mineko,” he offered. “My youngest daughter.” His arm moved in her direction. She bowed toward the foreigner but said nothing. She avoided looking directly into the stranger’s face, but lowered her eyes down at her feet. Surely her father would not marry her off to a foreigner.
“She has been educated in the art of running a proper home. She also understands numbers, calculations, and working an abacus. Such skills can be useful to a merchant husband. She reads and writes Japanese and some Chinese.” He sat back waiting for a reaction from the man.
“It is very nice to meet you, Mineko,” the foreigner turned to face her from his sitting position beside the low traditional table. He extended her a warming smile. She bowed, never darling to look directly into his gaze.
Her father turned to Mineko, “You may leave now. See to the tea and coffee,” he said. She bowed again and closed the screen door behind her wondering if her father could be serious. Was he going to marry her off to a foreigner? She stayed as close as she dared to the room listening for further insights. Her mother arrived to serve tea and coffee and found her listening. “Grandmother needs help. Go to her,” she snapped. She paused and then added, “Wait, Mineko, grandmother forgot the bowl of cream. The foreigner likes cream in his coffee.” She wrinkled her nose remembering the odd taste; the taste was heavy and thick, not delicate like tea. “Hurry.”
Cattle ranches and dairy farms were scarce in Japan. Europeans had introduced beef and milk products but most Japanese disliked the taste and texture of the foods, as did Mineko’s family. Japan also lacked the large open spaces of land needed for grazing cattle and for growing grains for dairy cattle. Land was limited and needed for homes.
Mineko’s grandfather and uncles knew that Europeans, and more recently, Americas, enjoyed these foods and the family had made connections with a small cattle ranching operation near Kobe. With their help they were able to keep and maintain some cattle and a few dairy cows outside the city. This gave them access to beef meat and cream whenever they needed to entertain foreigners. One of her cousins started a small cheese company from the milk from the dairy cattle, which proved to be popular with small group of Japanese culinary adventurers.
Cream, Mineko thought. Such a nasty liquid. The color was repulsive. She bowed to her mother and obediently did as she was told knowing that her fate was forming in that room. By the time she returned with the cream and handed them over to her mother, she heard only polite laughter coming from inside the tearoom.
Her fortune, good or bad, was set.
Several weeks later she stood on the deck of a steamer in the port of Kobe, leaving her home, not knowing any details, only that she was leaving. Not even her mother could be coaxed into telling her any information and her sisters were as ignorant as she was about any details. Now looking down at her father, uncle, and brother on the dock below, she let out a stifled scream. She struggled to catch her balance as the steamer pulled away from its berth. A house servant, a chaperone, stood between her and her second cousin but her body did not prevent Mineko from almost toppling over into a pile of ropes and in the process disrupted nesting dragon flies. They flew into her face as she pulled herself up by grabbing one of the thick wooden ropes nearby and regained her composure. She brushed the insects off her exposed body. The other young women, ten of them, had the same difficulties but they too managed to regain their balance.
She was on her way to an island called Hawaii. There she was to be married to a coffee farmer, Mr. Greenwell. After his visit and the final arrangements finalized, she had been told of the agreement but the details were unclear and only that she needed to prepare to leave. Even her sisters with their well-connected sources of gossip and rumors knew little, if anything, about the agreement. She would have to wait until she arrived in Hawaii.
She knew that many Western men were attracted to Japanese woman, but few actually led to arranged marriages. She knew Grandfather was a shrewd businessman. Something to do with business, she expected. The kimono business was doing well, very well in fact, but she understood that marriage always had something to do with business. The only thing she could think of was Grandfather had been talking more and more about how the younger more modern Japanese were wearing western cotton clothing and less the traditional silks that went into making kimonos. “The day may come when wearing kimonos would be a thing of the past,” he had predicted though few people believed that could ever happen. Mineko had overheard many such conversations among the men. He and her uncles began talking about expanding into new, more promising areas of commerce including American ports and businesses. She had guessed right, it was about business. He had decided on the coffee market. Mineko would be the connection.
Oki Osaka, Husband, Father, Son, Farmer
The steamer had disappeared. Oki Osaka was the last one to get into the car. Mechanically he placed the key into the starter and the 1948 Ford engine banged into motion. He headed for Ka’u-Belt Road, which would take them to Kealakekua and their Kona coffee bean farm. Though he had entrusted the care of the farm to his two capable sons, he wouldn’t rest easy until he was back supervising. He ignored his mother’s droning conversation and his son’s whining in the back seat, disappearing within his own thoughts.
It was already April. In his thoughts, he visualized the small delicate blooms of Kona snow on the coffee plants. The blooms were early this year. He had feared they wouldn’t survive but they were turning into firm green berries. Even though the berries wouldn’t be ready for drying until August, he forced his thoughts to the hoshidana, the drying rack. A couple of the wooden slats on the bottom of the rack had broken and needed repair. Once the first picking began in August, the labor intensive cycle of picking, preparation, drying and milling would continue through second and third pickings, not ending until sometime in January. Once processed they were shipped on steamers. There wouldn’t be time for anything else. Everything had to be ready.
Never too early to make repairs, he thought to himself. Parts are difficult to come by and probably have to be ordered from the mainland. Need to check for those parts. He began mental checklist thinking through each step of the process, searching for potential problems.
Within twenty-four hours of picking, the cherries needed to be run through a pulper, which separated the beans from the pulp. He was reminded to check the pulper and the fermentation tanks where beans were held overnight. Check those tanks for splits. Once out of the fermentation tank, the beans were rinsed and finally, using wooden rakes, the beans were spread on the hoshidana to dry for seven to fourteen days in the warm Hawaiian sun. A rolling roof protected the beans from unpredictable rainfall. He thought of the cracked metal wheels on the covering rack; they needed replacement too. He needed more canvas bags now that the third crop had been picked and processed .The entire year’s crop, including the last and third picking, was in the steamer’s hold on its way to market in Kobe. The only difference was that Mineko was leaving on the same cargo ship.
Feelings of worry, real and supposed, welled up inside him. He would miss her. This would be the first time he’d be separated from Mineko since their marriage in 1925.
Theirs had been an arranged marriage, but from the moment he saw her standing on the deck, he knew that he could not have selected someone more perfect to share his life. If that what love is, then he had found it. He could never imagine a life without her.
First Impressions, 1925
Oki had been waiting for most of the day at the Hilo dock with Father, cousins, and old uncle. Finally without forewarning the steamer appeared out of the misty horizon. As it came closer, he saw eleven young women standing on the deck, their faces solemn and their appearance formal. They stood patiently expecting their fates. He glanced over the group with curiosity. Then he saw her, the first one on the left. She returned his gaze with a hint of a smile. She would be his bride. In that moment he knew she would be his bride. Inside his emotions overflowed and couldn’t be contained. He felt like an unwatched pot of boiling rice in his mother’s kitchen. His emotions spilled over without control, but control them he must.
His father and three other men boarded the steamer first. They spoke with both the captain and the girls’ chaperons; they finished making arrangements and checking contracts. Finally, five women were ready to leave the steamer. His father signaled for the others to come on board and two of his cousins collected her trunk. At his father’s signal, Oki walked up to Mineko standing next to his father. They were introduced and Oki bowed his head toward her. She assumed he was a servant but returned his bow with a slight one, but only as a sign of respect.
“May I take your bag?” he asked her in Japanese.
She was startled at his request. She had been holding onto its hard bamboo handles so tightly that her fingers were frozen tight.
“May I take your bag?” he repeated in halting Japanese.
She bowed, “Please forgive my poor manners.” She handed the finely embroidered bag to him. He was startled at its weight.
“It’s a rice pot,” she answered his questioning glance. The heavy metal rice pot had been a parting gift from her family. It was a sign meant for Mineko’s mother-in-law that her new daughter-in-law had been trained in domestic ways. The significance was lost on Oki Osaka.
The four other brides boarded small skiffs headed for other islands and disappeared into the vast ocean with their new families. The five young women and the chaperone remaining on board waved good-bye. They were bound for Canada.
Mineko followed Oki and his father off the steamer, Oki catching her as she stumbled on the uneven plank that separated her from the mainland. She felt so clumsy. Finally on land again she regained her composure. She immediately recognized Mr. Greenwell. He was dressed all in white, the color of a mourner. Was there something wrong?” she thought. Perhaps someone had died. In Japanese and then in her halting English, she asked Oki why Mr. Greenwell was wearing white, the color of mourning. He laughed when he understood her concern. “It is a tradition in the territories to wear black at funerals, wakes or to show you are grieving, not white. White is a summer color. A good color. American brides wear white clothing at their weddings.” He blushed slightly at the word weddings.
Mr. Greenwell saw Oki and Mineko and walked towards them. “This is my bride, Mr. Greenwell.”
“Yes,” I know he smiled and took off his hat. “We met in Kyoto. Welcome to the big island, Mrs. Osaka.” He repeated the conversation in Japanese.
She was surprised and astounded, having assumed that arrangements had been made to marry the Foreigner. No one had told her that she was to marry this young Japanese man standing next to her. She turned slowly towards him reevaluating him not knowing what to think. He was dressed properly, his clothes clean and carefully pressed, but his clothing was more like what a common worker would wear. His face was proportional and he had all his teeth. His eyes were nice and she could tell from the way he walked that his body was strong and his bones straight. Suddenly her body felt relieved. Oki Osaka was a much better fate than a life with the Foreigner with the strange blue eyes. Perhaps this might work. She was pleased.
She followed Osaka with her eyes as he walked over to a moving machine. She had seen those machines before in Koto. Their firecracker sounds and explosions scared animals and children into hiding and caused everyone else to cover their ears. She was amazed as she watched Oki place her bag inside the machine. Then she saw the others place her trunk in the very back in a tiny space.
“Please get in, Mrs. Osaka.” Mr. Greenwell motioned toward the car. “It’s a long trip and we need to be back before sunset.” Osaka’s father translated into Japanese.
Her eyes opened wide. She was expected to get inside that thing? With much hesitation she squeezed inside with the others in the back seat and closed her eyes. The car sped into motion. She could feel her insides move independently of her skin but when she finally ventured a peek out the window, she decided she liked the speed.
“Do you like coffee?” Mr. Greenwell asked her. Oki repeated the question in Japanese.
She didn’t know how to answer. She didn’t like the bitter taste of coffee but didn’t want to offend him either. “Yes, Mr. Greenwell, I have tasted the drink,” she said to Oki for translation.
She saw the Foreigner look towards a fast approaching box-like structure. The car slowed “It’s a long way back to the ranch. Let’s stop here for some coffee. My treat. Maybe something to eat too. You must be hungry.” He stopped the car in front of the shiny, metal building; everyone got out. Oki offered his hand and helped her out of the car and onto the sand and rock road. She struggled to keep from falling and Oki continued to hold on to her. They both realized her footwear, though proper and of good quality, was unsuitable for this terrain.
The Foreigner spoke to her again. “Here on the big island we grow our own coffee beans. The best in the world. Now you will be a part of that.” Oki translated.
Oki, his father, and Mineko followed Mr. Greenwell up a few steps, through a door and into the strange looking rectangle building. It reminded her of one of their small warehouses in Kyoto but instead of silks and cargo boxes, there was an odd arrangement of seating stools and counters where people sat drinking out of thick cups with handles and eating with metal tools. Mr. Greenwell led the small group away from the entrance towards the back of the room. She followed Oki and his father to a set of tables facing the counter. On either side were high couches upholstered with smooth, heavy material. She was unfamiliar with its texture and composition. Around them were oversized windows, which allowed in the light and color from the sky. Oki called the seating a booth. Here was something new; this was very different from the low tables and mats of Japan. Oki waited for her to sit down and then sat down next to her; She felt Oki’s closeness. Her face warmed in embarrassment.
A woman stopped at their table and the Foreigner met her surprised gaze.
“Coffee,” Mr. Greenwell ordered. “Coffee for all of us.”
“Now, Mr. Greenwell, you know…”
“All of us. I expect you know my meaning.” Mineko didn’t understand the meaning of the exchange.
Scowling she left but returned with cups for everyone and a metal coffee pot. She poured the hot brown liquid into the four cups. Mineko followed Mr. Greenwell’s hand with her eyes as he picked up a small, white pitcher and poured the white fluid into his coffee. Cream.
He spoke to Mineko in halting Japanese while Oki translated into English. “Most of us like to add cream to smooth out the taste. Have you ever had cream in your coffee?”
“No, but many visitors to my home have enjoyed the taste,” she answered politely.
“Cream, and you might like to try a little sugar too. It’s a good taste. I think you’ll like the taste once you get use to it.”
He handed her a square bowl with white cubes. Oki showed her how to take the tiny set of tongs and grab one of the white cubes. “You put the cube in your cup and stir with a spoon.” She followed his motions as he dropped the sugar into his own cup and watched as he stirred until the white cube melted away in his cup of coffee. “The sugar might be too sweet for you, but you can try, if you like.” He broke a cube into smaller pieces; she picked up a piece and put it into her mouth. The sweetness was overpowering. Her mouth puckered and her eyes closed involuntarily. When she opened her eyes, Mr. Greenwell handed her the pitcher.
Bravely, she poured a tiny flow of cream into her cup. It would be impolite to refuse and besides, she wanted to please those around her. Mineko sipped the thick liquid; it slid easily down her throat. Surprisingly the cream didn’t stick to her throat. She took another sip and then a third, finely finishing her cup. The sugar was too sweet but decided the cream would be fine. She actually enjoyed the taste.
“Cream in my coffee, a new taste.” She smiled at her husband. “It is a good taste. A good beginning.”
Ann Marie Bezayiff received her BA and MEd from the University of Washington in Seattle. She is an author, blogger, columnist and speaker. Her columns, “From the Olive Orchard” and “Recycled Recipes from Vintage Boxes”, appear in newspapers, newsletters and on Internet sites. Ann Marie has also demonstrated her recipes on local television. Currently she divides her time between Western Maryland and Texas.