That is our homeland, Little One

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Day 15 Reading Page 1
*Chapter 7

“That is our homeland, Little One.” Mother pointed from the ship to where the island floated in the deep morning fog. Miles of soft hills linked together.

We had been three days crossing the rough Korean Strait, and at last we were entering the Japanese zone of Tsushima Strait. In spite of seasickness I was excited. We would be landing in our own country, welcomed and safe. Our grandparents would feed us and give us fine beds. I leaned on the guardrail and watched the island come closer and closer. I was already carrying my rucksack and wearing my blanket.

When the ship docked at Fukuoka, a Japanese man wearing a white arm band that said “Committee” stood at the foot of the gangplank. Using a megaphone, he was saying something over and over, but I could not understand his southern accent. Mother said he was telling the refugees to find their places. We looked for a large “K”, and soon forty of us stood beneath the sign. A man at a desk, his face blank, took our names and a young committee member told the “K” group to follow him to the refugee camp.

All these years I had dreamed of my beautiful homeland and its cheerful people, and now I was completely taken aback by demolished Fukuoka. Burned fields, wrecked houses and buildings. What trees there were stood painfully without branches and with deep scars of fire. The sky was clear and crisp but I saw not a bird. Isn’t there one bird to sing and welcome us? I thought, searching the sky. Besides, the attitude of the men we had seen seemed to say, “Why did you come? We could do without you.”

“Watch out!” Ko told me. I tripped on the cracked asphalt road and fell.

I got up, and I saw that my left shoe had split open at the toe and had separated from the sole. I had to lift that leg much higher, the sole flapping. The fall wind began to bite me and my shaven head.

We walked for two hours. The refugee camp was the auditorium of a girls’ school, and the hundred who got off the ship were to stay there until we found someplace to go. It was small, and again we were squashed against each other. Mother, Ko, and I found a corner, dropped our burdens on the floor, and rested.

I was hungry, but the committee man who had led us here said we must find our own food. We could cook outdoors and use the school toilets.

There were half-rotten apples and orange peels in my rucksack.

“Wait,” Ko said, “don’t eat them.” She took me outside. “Find some rocks.
In a small circle of rocks she built a fire, but the good part of the apples in small pieces, added water, and cooked them in the two mess kits. She put the fire out carefully when the apples were cooked.

“Our first meal in the homeland,” she said, acting cheerful, as she took the food inside. She poured a large portion into Mother’s wooden rice bowl. “And the first hot meal since we had that roasted corn.” She divided the remainder.

Mother held the bowl and gazed at it for a long time. The apple water steamed. She shook her head gently and shock was in her voice. “These bowls and the few belongings we have here are the only mementos from our beloved home.” Slowly she brought the bowl to her lips.

For the first night in my homeland we spread two blankets beneath us, snuggled together, and covered ourselves with Mother’s large blanket. My blanket, once fleecy white, was gray, dusty, and stained with blood. I knew I could sleep in peace, without the sound of airplanes of the danger of being bombed, or attacked, but often during the night I jerked awake and sat up in fear that someone might attack me or steal our belongings. When I had to go to the toilet I woke Ko, frightened that men were hiding there.

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Mother went alone to the post office next day to wire my grandparents in Aomori that we had arrived. Two days later the message was returned, care of the refugee camp. Unable to deliver.

Mother began to worry. What had happened to her parents? Ko suggested that we leave at once for her hometown, Aomori.

“No, I cannot go without Hideyo,” Mother said. “Now that we are safely here all I think of is Hideyo.” Her voice trembled into tears.

It was strange we did not think more of Father, whom we loved dearly. But he was so far away and probably, we knew, now in the hands of the Russians, who had won the war. We prayed that somewhere he was safe.

Every day we rolled our blankets and, carrying our loads, walked the long distance back to the shipyard to ask if any Korean fishing boats had arrived, and if anyone had seen Hideyo. Over and over Mother described him. Week after week the ship that had brought us came back from Korea with another hundred refugees—but no Hideyo.

It was November. We had been at the refugee camp over a month and we were told that we must leave, to make room for newcomers.

“Please, another week!” Mother begged. “We are waiting for my son.” He might be dead by now, she was told. We were taking needed room.

“Let’s leave today,” said Ko. “I won’t stand such treatment.”

She went alone to the shipyard and left a message at the office to tell Hideyo we were going to Aomori at the northern tip of Honshu. The office gave her three train tickets.

I was surprised to see how much smaller Japanese trains were than the ones I was used to in Korea. We were able to get into third class, but it was packed with refugees and discharge soldiers. The aisles were filled with standees, and young men hung from the sides of the cars. On top of the train people clung together like grapes on the vine.

The train smelled of rotten fish. Ko whispered that many would get off as the train stopped at stations and we would find space to sit. She didn’t think she could stand all the way. But as for me, the thought of meeting my grandparents so excited me that I decided no matter how tired or hungry I became I would not complain.

Then, as the train jolted along, Mother announced that we would get off at Kyoto.

Ko and I cried together, “We’re not going to Grandmother’s?”

“I’ve thought about it over and over,“ said Mother. “You must get back to school and Kyoto is the only town that escaped bombing.”

“No,” Ko protested, “let us go north with you. School can wait. We’ve only missed it for three months and a few more days won’t matter.”

But Mother shook her head. Kyoto was the place where she had received a cultural education when she was young. It had much to offer.

“Is there anyone there we know?” Ko asked. “Where can we stay?”

“We’ll find a place to stay. Your education comes first,” Mother told her. “As soon as I settle you girls I’ll go north and find out what has happened.”

“I don’t want to go to school,” I said. “I want to go with you.” Mother closed her eyes and did not answer.

Instead of many people getting off the train, more got on, and we were pushed and squeezed. Again and again my wounded chest was hurt, and I put my hand over the sore spot automatically to protect it. Ko leaned against the wooden panel of a toilet, Mother leaned on Ko, and Ko leaned on Mother.

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Three days on the train. No food. My stomach ached with emptiness and thirst. There was not even space to take my rucksack from my back. I asked Mother to open the flap and find just anything. She handed me some orange peels, and though they were dry they had a sweet, tart taste. I chewed and chewed and swallowed. Mother and Ko did the same.

I thought my legs had turned to a pair of sticks and that I could not stand much more. So when the train pulled into the Kyoto station I moved with vast relief.

In the station we found a spot. Ko scouted and said there was a public well outside the buildings, and she stayed while Mother and I went for a drink. As I scooped water from the well pool, the western sky, fiery red, was reflected in the water. I suddenly thought of Hideyo. Would he ever find us? Or was he really dead? I began to cry.

Mother asked what was wrong. I did not want to mention Hideyo so I said, “I won’t like this city. I want to go with you!”

“You must learn to take likes and dislikes in this world,” Mother told me, drying my wet face. “I will be back and I promise never to leave you alone again.”

We used our usual techniques in the station, finding good spots, taking turns sleeping and watching our belongings. These were now our only possessions in the world.

Ko was at the well, watching and rinsing some clothes, when I woke the next morning. I stepped out of the station to join her and found heavy frost on the ground. I wet my inch-long hair, trying in vain to make it lie down.

“Look!” Ko cried. “A streetcar!”

I had never seen a streetcar, and I stood still in amazement. A few people got off our on the car and then it moved on, bells chiming. The people who had got off were walking briskly into the station. They wore beautiful clothes. They passed by us.

“Going to work, I suppose,” said Ko.

That was a different world. Here in the station there were refugees, beggars, wounded soldiers, pickpockets, and orphans, making this their home. A few feet away people in decent clothes were going peacefully to work, with homes to go back to.

Mother, wearing her national clothes, dusted off her shoes and went to the city hall to inquire about schools. She took the small pouch from her chemise pocket and gave Ko ten yen (about three cents). Three hundred and sixty yen were a dollar. She said that if we saw a man pushing a food cart to buy something to eat. She asked a policeman at the exit for directions and he pointed. She bowed slightly and went.

“Mother is getting terribly thin,” said Ko. “Let’s surprise her with lots of food.”

The Station Hotel stood about four blocks away, and, carrying our lads, we found and alley behind the building. There was cooked rice in the big garbage cans, half-eaten roasted fish, pickles, and seaweed. We packed our mess kits full and hurried back to the station. Mother came back, very tired. We found a bench and opened our kits.

“I have learned about good schools,” Mother said. “I’ll take you there tomorrow.”

“I have no clothes!” I protested. “And look at my shoe, ripped open. I don’t want to go to school!”

I was going to school, she told me, to learn and to become an educated person. I did not need to decorate myself.

Ko was busy the rest of the day. She aired the thin summer trousers and blouse I had worn when I left Nanam. She washed my head, and I tried again to flatten my hair, but it stood up as soon as it dried and I looked like a porcupine. Ko washed my back, reaching under my blouse, at the well. She told me to crawl under the bench and get some sleep, as my day would start early. I went to sleep wearing my overcoat and the soldier’s clothes and wrapped in my blanket, hoping tomorrow would never come and send me to school.

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Mother woke me early, and Ko made me wash and put on my Nanam clothes. Mother did a strange thing. She emptied her big wrapping cloth and took the cloth with her to the toilet. Then she came back and told Ko to put back all the humble items. Ko wished me luck, and Mother and I headed for the streetcar stop.

Though I did not want to go to school, riding on the streetcar fascinated me. I watched the city scene from the window, and Mother pointed out ancient buildings and a castle and explained what they were. “You will like it here,” she assured me.

The two-story Sagano Girls’ School stood at the foot of Atago Mountain, surrounded by camellias and bamboo trees. We crossed the frosty ground. My heart beat loudly as I sat next to Mother in the principal’s office. My head was full of questions. Would they take me? Would the girls like me? Be nice to me? Through a glass door I could see well-dressed girls with bright bags, and then I looked down at my shabby trousers and shoes, the left one tied with a piece of the same rope Mother had used, so long ago, to tie my wrist.

The school clerk, also well-dressed, brought Mother a tea tray and bowed. As she left she glanced at my head and almost smiled. I knew I looked funny, and again I stroked my head to make that hair lie down, in vain.

“Good morning.” A man had come in. “I am Mr. Ishida, the principal.”

Mother and I stood and bowed deeply, and my knees began to shake. Mother introduce us and asked if they school would accept me. “My daughter has been out of school since July.” She handed him my report sheets from Nanam that gave my parents’ names, father’s occupation, family status, and my grades.

The principal studied the sheet. Form somewhere I heard the chorus of “Blue Danube”. If they won’t take me, I though, I can go north with Mother. She wouldn’t leave me at the station alone when Ko was in school. I began to hope they wouldn’t take me.

Suddenly the principal looked at Mother, and then at me.

He said in amazement, “You survived!”

“We did,” Mother’s voice was low.

“And your husband?”

“We do not know. He was in Manchuria for the government when we fled.” I was glad he did not ask about Hideyo because I knew Mother would break down right there.

“We shall be happy to accept your daughter,” the principal said. “I am sure she can catch up. T he tuition is thirty yen a month and you must buy your own books and supplies. You may arrange all that with the clerk.” He sent for a Miss Asada.

Miss Asada was a pretty lady dressed in a dark blue suit and white blouse. She studied my report sheet and nodded. “Our school system is different from Korea’s,” she said. “I would like to give Miss Yoko some tests.” She led me to a desk and gave me paper and a pencil. While Mother talked to the principal I went to work n the papers: mathematics, national language, sentence construction, and a mental test of character.

I saw Mother bowing to the principal. “Don’t go!” I begged.

“I must take your sister to school.” She handed me three yen for carfare.

“I don’t know how to get back!”

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“Take streetcar number three.” She bowed again, opened the office door, and silently closed it. My eyes followed her elegant walk until she disappeared. Suddenly I felt defenseless and abandoned and I could not stop the tears. I made a fist of my left hand and bit my thumb as hard as I could, to fight my loneliness for Mother and Ko.

I made tear spots on the work papers and finished them, sniffing and wiping away tears with my sleeves, as I did not own a handkerchief. I handed the papers to the principal, and Miss Asada came back to look over my work.

“Very good.” She gave me a smile. Both she and Mr. Ishida seemed friendly, and I decided I liked this school. When the principal gave me a student’s handbook I liked him even more. Then Miss Asada and I walked to the classroom.

I could hear the students talking as we went down the hall, but when Miss Asada opened the door there was sudden silence. Thirty girls stared at me. No teacher was in sight.

“Everyone,” said Miss Asada, “This is Miss Kawashima Yoko.” In Japan everyone is officially called by their family name.

I bowed deeply, but instead of return bows everyone began to laugh. The laughter went on. My hair, I thought. I tried to lay it flat.

Miss Asada spoke firmly. “Silence! Miss Kawashima has just returned from Korea. She is a good students and I expect you to be helpful to her as she becomes used to this school.”

She turned to me. “For your cleaning assignment today you will be part of the group that does this room.” Then she placed me in a back seat. I felt desperately unhappy and out of place with these girls in their fine clothes. All had long hair, some in braids.

Then a man teacher came in, a history teacher, it turned out. I had no books, no pencil or paper, but I listened. Loneliness attacked me again and I sniffed back tears. I could not wait for school to be over so that I could get back to the station, where I belonged, with Mother and Ko.

After class, I had to linger for my cleaning assignment. Some of the girls, as they went out, tossed papers into a wastepaper basket. This gave me an idea and I examined the basket. The papers were crumpled, but many had little writing and all were blank on one side. I picked them up and smoothed the wrinkled sheets. I looked for a pencil too, but there was none.

“You want more paper?” a girl asked. She made an airplane with a piece of notebook paper and aimed at me. The others laughed. I bit my lip, but I did not shed tears when it flew, for collecting papers was a lot easier than looking for food in trash cans. Trying to ignore the girls, I unfolded the airplane and smoothed the wrinkles.

There were six of us left to do the cleaning assignment. I had no dust cloth so I asked a girl with a broom if I could sweep, and she shoved the broom at me and walked off. As I swept and came near the girls who were dusting, they scattered, as if I were carrying contagion.

If they had gone through what we had experienced, I thought, they would be compassionate. They just don’t know! Tears came again as I swept. I longed not only for Mother and Ko but for Father and Hideyo.

Then a middle-aged man came in pushing a large cart. He saw the almost empty trash basket. He spoke, stuttering. “N-n-no t-t-trash?”

A girl imitated him. “W-w-we h-h-have a n-n-new t-t-trash girl.” She pointed at me. The girls thought this was very funny.

The man gave me a glance and went away. I rant to the next classroom after him. I remembered Father saying once that he had helped to cure a stuttering classmate by talking very slowly with him. I spoke slowly. “Are you going to burn all these papers?” He nodded. “I need papers badly and some pencils. Please let me go through all the trash.”

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“S-s-sure. C-c-come to the f-f-f-furnace room.”

Again I spoke very slowly. “It is my first day. Where is the furnace room?”

He told me. In the furnace room, waiting to be burned, I found plenty of usable paper, some short pencils, and even erasers. I gathered them all. Honorable Sister would be glad to have these. I thanked the man and at last dashed outdoors toward the streetcar stop.

On the streetcar I wrote down as much as I could remember of the history and geography lessons. If I only had books! I decided to ask Miss Asada to lend me books until I could get my own at some secondhand store.

The familiar Kyoto station came in sight and I jumped off, the bundle of papers in my arms. Mother was on the concrete floor of the station watching our belongings. She smiled at me. “How did it go?”

“The girls were very snobbish, but I liked the lessons.”

“You will find all kinds of people in this world,” she told me. “You will learn to handle them. Just do not lose your good values.”

“Where is Honorable Sister?”

“She’s not home yet. She went to school by herself so I could rest.”

I showed Mother my papers and pencils from the furnace room and she laughed. “Our lives will be better when Father returns,” she told me. “for now we must just endure. We can endure anything now after what we have been through. Right?”

I said, “Right!”

Ko, it turned out, had passed entrance tests and been admitted to the University. She was delighted with my paper and pencils. I asked how her day had gone, thinking bitterly of the laughter and scorn I had experienced.

“Fine,” she said.

“Didn’t they laugh at you?”

“They did.”

“What did you do?”

“Nothing. They have a lot to learn. I showed them how good I am at the academic work.”

We studied that day on the station floor. Mother watched the benches and seized a vacancy when she saw one, calling us to come. So now we had space and food, from the garbage cans, was no problem. Our tuition was paid for six months. Mother said she would take the early train north.

How would she pay for the train, I wondered, for I knew she had little cash and no savings book. Ko wondered too. “I hope you have a plan.” Ko said.

Mother laughed. “No, I brought some cash from Korea. Don’t worry. Just study hard, for me.”

We got up extra early to see her off. She gave Ko some money for school supplies and for a cake of soap and toothbrushes and the streetcar fare, half price for students. “I’ll be back next Friday,” she called as the train pulled out.

Day 16

So Far From the Bamboo Grove

Chapter 7 Questions

Directions: Answer the following questions in complete sentences that restate the question. Spelling and grammar must be accurate to receive credit.
1. What is the name of the Japanese town that Yoko, Ko and Mother arrive in after their three-day trip across the Korean Strait and the Japanese zone of the Tsushima Strait?
2. Who were Yoko, Ko and Mother counting on to help them once they reached Japan?
3. What did the town look like where Yoko, Ko and Mother stayed as refugees?
4. Why do you think there were no birds left in this town?
5. Why were Yoko, Ko and Mother told to leave the refugee camp?
6. What town were they headed for and why?

Day 16

7. Why did Mother change her mind and make the girls step off the train at the town of Kyoto, instead of going all the way north?

8. What thoughts were going through Yoko’s head when she was sitting in the principal’s office at the Sagano Girl’s School?

9. How do people in Japan greet one another?
10. How did the other girls at school treat Yoko?
11. What were Mother’s words of wisdom to Yoko when she complained that the girl’s at her school were snobby and mean to her?

Vocabulary- Match the following words with their definition.

A. abandoned B. camellia C. compassionate D. contagion

E. defenseless F. endure G. inquire H. vain

12. _____ a shrub with shiny evergreen leaves and colorful flowers

13. _____ not receiving a desired outcome

14. _____ to ask or request information

15. _____ to desert, leave behind or give up

16. _____ to carry on or continue, undergo successfully, or tolerate

17. _____ to be sympathetic or have concern about the suffering of others, have mercy

18. _____ disease transmitted by contact

19. _____ unable to protect from danger or harm

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