“Noriko! That is simply not how it’s done. Why can’t you just follow the way we make for you?”
“I do not want your way, I can decide for myself what path to take.”
I do not understand why I cannot be someone of my own. I do not need all of these rules. I can become someone important in my own way.
As I climb out of my bedroom window, I think of how my parents see happiness; very structured; one uniform way of life. I feel differently. I do not want to be like every other Japanese girl. I want to be different. They just don’t understand.
“Watashi o yurushitekudasai,” I spit out without thinking as I look up to whomever I bumped into. A military man. He doesn’t respond. Maybe He does not speak Japanese.
“Pardon me,” he says after a sustained gaze. He briskly continues on his way.
I can’t help, but feel enticed by this man, but he’s gone now.
Having no place else to go, I saunter back home.
“Noriko, time for school.”
All I do is go to school. My parents want me to go to college after I finish schooling here at Kikuka. That is the only thing we agree on.
School is very tough. If you do not do well, your family is looked down upon. I know I will not bring shame to my family. We may not agree on many things, but I do understand what is expected of me.
School goes by in a blur. I will be graduating soon, but I hesitate to look at schools after. It is very stressful and you must be very focused for this, but I am not sure I have the capability. My older sisters have gone to college. My family is very proud of them. My father always told me, “Noriko, you create your own opportunities.”
I always understood him, but in my own way.
Time flew like an arrow and it was already graduation day. My parents were so proud, but I knew the question as to what will I do next will come very soon. I will take my vacation to decide.
I was out with my friends when I saw him again, the military man. It has been sometime, so he must not remember me. My friends catch my gaze and clue in. They are so meddlesome, but I am the oldest, so they do not badger me as much as they do others. I want to talk to the man, but I do believe he does not speak Japanese. Maybe I can try English.
“How do you do?” He looks at me with a bare look on his face. A few moments pass until his face lights up with remembrance.
“Hello. You are the young woman who I crossed paths with not long ago.”
“Yes, yes you remember me?” I ask with a hint of desire.
“Of course. A beautiful woman like yourself would be tough to forget.” I look away feeling a little embarrassed.
“Niko, we must go now.” My friends shout with a frisky tone.
“I must go now. Will I see you again?” He pauses before responding, I am so hopeful he will agree to see me.
“I don’t know how I could miss you,” he grins with an expression of content. I nod in accordance and dance away to my friends. Without even looking at them I know they must have an inquisitive look on their face.
I cannot help but wonder about this man.
Will he stick to his word and find me again? Should I be hopeful to seek him out in town?
It is not long before he finds me. My parents have begin to wonder where I am off to while I am away from home during the day. They surely would disapprove of this.
“I cannot see you any longer,” he says with an infinitesimal amount of emotion. “I believe in respect of you and your family, it would be most appropriate for me to ask permission of your father to take your hand.”
“If you feel it is best.” He looks at me searching for recognition. I am unsure if any was given.
“Well then, shall we pay him a visit?”
We begin our walk home. I am irresolute as to how my father will react to this military man asking to take my hand. I am a little worried that he will not handle this well. I glance at the man a few times; he seems deep in thought. I wonder if he has prepared what he will say to my father.
Does he even speak Japanese? My father will certainly disapprove of this man asking for my hand in English.
Shaking these discouragements from my mind, I cannot help but notice how his umber skin tone, with hints of a copper glow, shimmers in the sunlight. I’ve never seen skin so ravishing.
It is not long before we reach my home.
“Your home is very elegant.” His comment interrupting my train of smiling thoughts, I give a look of gratitude.
I lead him into my home.
“You can wait for my father here,” I instruct as I hastily wander off in search of my father.
I find him sitting at the kotatsu. He seems so peaceful, but I must interrupt.
“Fa,” I quickly stop myself. I have been using english so much that I have become accustomed to speaking to people in it. My father’s English is not very good, encouraging my worry for his visitor.
“Ot?san ni wa h?mon-sha ga imasu.” He nods in accordance and I leave him in peace. I head back to the family room.
“He will be with us shortly.” I sit and we both wait in absolute silence.
When my father appears the man stands and introduces himself.
“Yoiichinichiwo. Watashinonamaeha Joseph Mann soshite, watashi wa anata no musume o mi ni anata no shukufuku o motomete imasu.”
I am shocked, he introduced himself in perfect Japanese. My father looks somewhat pleased.
“Mr. Joseph Mann, I am impressed with your Japanese. I see much dedication in you. However, I do not give you my blessing.” Joe’s face falls into disbelief but quickly switches to understanding.
“I understand sir,” he says as he bows and is shown to the door.
Once he leaves my father and I are alone.
“I do not understand. Why did you deny him your blessing?”
“He is not deserving of it. Nothing of this man will be discussed any further.”
I do not understand what this means. Will Joe not see me without my father’s blessing? My father’s blessings will not stop me from seeing him. I hope he feels the same.
I continue to go out in town to look for Joe. I do not find him the first few visits. However, he does appear after a while.
“Why are you looking for me? Your father denied me his blessing. Does that not mean anything to you?” He seems troubled.
“My father, I love and respect him, but I do know that I am an adult who can make her own decisions.”
Joe thinks for a moment and looks at me once he seems as if he has made up his mind. He gets down on one knee and asks for my hand in marriage.
I think about what I feel is best. “Yes, I will marry you.”
“And you are okay with moving to America with me? You know I do not live here in Mizuho-machi.”
“I will move anywhere to be with you.” He face lights up with complete and utter exuberance as he slides the breathtakingly gorgeous ring onto my finger. “And will we wed? My father will not endow this and I do not have the wherewithal for such desires.” Not expecting a solution for this, he responds with haste.
“The American Embassy, we can wed there.”
The process was very perfunctory; very different from how I imagined traditional weddings, but I am greatly appreciative.
Joe was stationed to San Francisco and I will meet him in about 30 days. I will say goodbye to my family and friends during this time. I will miss them very much, but this is what I want to do. I have made up my mind.
The transition was smooth. Joe took care of everything. All I had to do was follow people at the airport who were waiting for me when I arrived.
It was a long flight from Japan to America. I stopped once in Hawaii. During the last 15 minutes of the flight, I began to worry. Military men are pretty flaky.
What if he is not waiting for me when I land? Then I will return home to Japan.
When I landed, I searched a bit worrisome for his familiar face. Sure enough I found him. I sighed in relief. He took my bag and we walked hand in hand to the car waiting outside.
We went to a home. Our home. I now know in my heart, I made the right choice. I would not have traveled to America if I did not meet him, but I am delighted that I did. I am staying here on an immigration visa, but it will take 7 years to become a citizen.
October 1964, I will never forget this day. The day I first followed through with something I truly, wholeheartedly believed in.
“I know you did not get the chance to go to college, but if you want you can attend or you can find a job here,” Joe says as he hands me information on jobs and schools he thought I would be interested in.
I found a job I liked, ‘dietary aid at King’s Way Arms nursing home.’
I wanted to take a path, my own path and I did. Sometimes, in life you have to prioritize. I had to give up things I never thought I had the heart to. But circumstances change and I fell in love. No matter what happens in life or where I go, I will be home as long as I am with Joe.