Rice: Connecting two nations that are natural friends

by Roger Pulvers

Special To The Japan Times

Haruko Harrison tells her story

After Father and Mother went to sleep, I visited George in the shed. He was sitting at the table listening to the radio, a kerosene lamp illuminating his face. I told him that I was of marriageable age and that I wanted to marry him. Believe it or not, two hours later we were on the road to Sacramento in George’s Plymouth, with our two small valises in the back seat.

The rest is somewhat blurred in my mind, Sachiko, but surely you are bored. What, go on? Oh, thank you. You are very kind …

The next thing I knew it was the middle of the night and I heard a loud banging on my hotel room door. I bolted up out of bed and asked who it was. It was Father, yelling at the top of his lungs. I opened the door, but he just continued to yell and holler so loud and fast that I couldn’t understand what he was saying. He was angrier than I had ever seen him in my life. He held his pitchfork over his shoulder and dragged me in my pyjamas to the door of George’s room.

Father banged on the door with the handle of his pitchfork, and when George opened the door a crack, Father forced his leg in, grabbed George by the scruff of his neck and pulled him out into the corridor. Father’s anger had given him the strength of Shoki the Devil Queller, though Father did not have a beard like Shoki.

George was entirely naked. He was cupping his hands over himself. I didn’t know whether I should cover my eyes or not. I was convinced that Father was going to ram the pitchfork into George’s arched back.

Father put the pitchfork against George’s buttocks. This caused George to stand up straight, this time without covering himself. Some of the other guests in the hotel had come out to see what the commotion was all about, but Father shouted at them in Japanese. Terrified, they all turned about and rushed into their rooms, slamming their doors shut.

Father forced George, without a stitch of clothes on, out of the hotel and onto the street. He made George walk down the middle of the street in the direction of the state capital building. All the while, I followed behind Father begging him to let George go. But all Father said was “Omae damare!” (You shut up!).

When we reached the capital building, Father jumped up to the very top step. He held the pitchfork with both hands in the air, waving it about as if it were a halberd, chanting something that I had never heard before and didn’t understand. Then, after some minutes he fell to his knees, laid the pitchfork beside him and said, over and over again, in a normal voice, “Rice rice rice rice rice rice rice rice …” The sun was just coming up, yet there wasn’t a soul in sight, and … and …

I asked the kind nurse for a glass of water. I had forgotten her name again.

Sachiko finishes the story

I gave Mrs. Harrison a glass of water. She appeared to have lost her voice. I should not have let her talk on and on like that … such an old and frail woman. She gestured to me to open her mother’s notebook and read the last page out loud. She stared at me the whole time as I read, tears streaming down her cheeks, as if she could hear her mother’s own voice in mine …

I have been looking after Toshimitsu for 18 months now. He has not recovered his speech, and hasn’t been able to walk since the stroke. He spends half his days in bed, the other half in his wheelchair. The doctor, who has given him many pills, tells us that he could have another stroke at any time, that he must not be allowed to lose his temper over anything. This must be the bitterest pill for Toshimitsu to swallow. Oh, how he so loved to yell and scream at anybody and anything! He once shouted so loud at the neighbor’s dog, an old cocker spaniel, that the dog laid down on the grass patch in front of our house and died.

Toshimitsu is dead. I telephoned Haruko in Los Angeles, where she is living with her husband, Jim, and she took the first train north for the funeral.

We buried Toshimitsu in Sacramento, and believe it or not, hundreds of people from farms as far away as 200 miles came to see him off. A band from the local high school played “Sakura, Sakura,” and I held hands with Haruko, who was pregnant with her first child.

We both noticed him at the same time. It was George Bilson, standing at the back of the crowd. He had lost some of his bushy blond hair … and sitting on his shoulders was a little girl … she couldn’t have been much older than 2. Haruko let go of my hand and bowed her head, staring into the hole in the ground as her father’s coffin was lowered into it.

Haruko left this morning. Back to Los Angeles. I returned to the farm by myself. The new owners, an American family named Bell, are allowing me to stay in the shed until my ship leaves San Francisco for Japan. Some people say that a war will break out between Japan and America, but I don’t think it will, because Toshimitsu often said to me, years ago, that Japan and America are natural friends. “You know why? We both have rice, that’s why. Rice will always be the link between our two countries.” It was one of the only times in our life together that I had actually heard Toshimitsu whisper.

December 1940. I arrive in Kameoka. The rice crop in Japan is good. The rice crop in America is good.

I gave the notebook back to Mrs. Harrison. With arms crossed, she clutched it to her chest.

“Thank you so much for reading my mother’s words for me,” she said, smiling.

That had been the last entry in Mrs. Yokoyama’s notebook.

Some weeks later, Haruko Harrison passed away in the old people’s home. Her sons were contacted, and I think that one of them came to take her body away. I’m not sure which son it was, because I wasn’t on duty that day.

The old Japanese notebook, with its cracked leather cover, had been left on her bedside table, along with a stack of birthday cards. Haruko Harrison had lived in the old people’s home for eight years. She was my first American patient.

Final part of three installments of “Rice,” which was previously published on June 8 and 15. Roger Pulvers has published 40 books in Japanese and English and, in 2008, was awarded the Kenji Miyazawa Prize. He received the Noma Award for the Translation of Japanese Literature in 2013 for his book on Miyazawa, “Strong in the Rain: Selected Poems” (Bloodaxe Books, 2008).