Day 23 Reading Page 1
During the ten day New Year’s vacation Ko finished my overcoat made from the solders’ uniforms. Its lining was nothing but patches, but to me it was the most gorgeous things I had ever owned. I was very happy. I wore my red overcoat now as a jacket in the house.
Even when it snowed heavily on Saturday we went to Maizuru and stayed there all day, replacing Hideyo’s name papers and selling our items. Snow went into my slapping shoes and I lost feeling in my toes.
When school began again we learned that tuition would go up fifteen yen a month. Mother had paid up to April, so I owed the school forty-five yen. How could I earn all that? With snow on the ground I couldn’t see any cans lying about. Maybe if I worked hard helping Ko make some of the little things, and sold them, I could earn fifteen yen a month.
When I told Ko about the increase in tuition she said this was an absolute necessity and the time had come to use Mother’s wrapping cloth money. She took out a hundred yen, changed it into smaller bills at the bank, and gave me what I needed. I asked if her university tuition had bone up. It would go up in April, she said, and she would take a break from school and work somewhere until I left school. But until April she was going to enjoy every moment of her school days.
“Don’t your classmates abuse you at all?” I asked.
“They did at first,” Ko said, “but they learned that I can sew a white silk-lined kimono with colored thread and it doesn’t show. They were so amazed they stopped abusing me.”
“Why did you use colored thread on white silk?”
“Someone hid my white thread just before testing began.” Even with the shoe shining her hands always remained smooth.
No matter how hard I tried to sell Ko’s little items, I did not do well in January. My left shoe, like an angry wild animal’s mother, stayed open, and even though I tied it with rope it came apart as I walked. I knew Ko would get me a pair of shoes if I complained of being cold and numb, but I wanted to hang on to the money left in the wrapping cloth.
Ko was always figuring out what she had earned by polishing shoes, what to buy for our meals, and how far the money could be stretched. I never told her I had seen her at the shrine.
“We may have to use some of Mother’s money for food this winter,” she said. “I hate to touch it.”
I suggested we look in the garbage bins behind the hotel.
“I won’t let you do that anymore,” she told me.
“We’re fortunate. We have a place to live, free, and a place to cook what little we buy.”
Deep inside I wondered how we were going to manage until spring. Everyone was wearing boots now and surely Ko did not have many customers.
All I can do, I thought, is spend long hours after school selling Ko’s handcrafts on the street or from door to door.
On morning I decided to walk to school along the tracks, the shortest way, I Passed five stations, each with a bench to sit on, and I was relieved that no schoolgirls sat waiting for the streetcar. At the sixth station, scattered newspapers flapped in the January wind. I picked some up. They would make fuel for Ko and me to warm our hands, even if there was nothing to eat.
I enjoyed discovering something we could use. Then, as I smoothed out the newspapers on the bench, I saw a headline—“Essay Contest.”
I sat on the bench to read it, and I checked how old the paper was. It was the Asahi, the morning paper, of that day! I became more interested, and read it as I walked toward the school.
Day 23 Reading Page 2
Group 1 University
Group 2 Boys’ and Girls’ Schools
Group 3 Elementary Schools
LENGTH: NO MORE THAN 50 PAGES OF MANUSCRIPT PAPER
FIRST PLACE ¥10,000
SECOND PLACE ¥5,000
THIRD PLACE ¥1,000
CLOSING DAY: END OF FEBRUARY
A streetcar was coming, and I stepped aside and keep on reading. My thoughts were filled with prize money. If I could win at least third prize Ko and I could buy food for a couple of weeks.
The streetcar passed with a roar, leaving sparkles between wheels and rails. A girl yelled from a broken window, “Rag Doll!” I bit my lip, feeling anger I could not control and wanting to smack that girl, whoever she was. I stamped the ties and pretended I was stamping on her.
Going home I walked the tracks again, but instead of stamping I was thinking about what I could write to win the prize. Money! For food, hot food in our stomachs.
Day after day I walked the tracks and day after day I created sentences. They wanted fifty pages of manuscript paper, and each manuscript sheet had four hundred one-centimeter blocks. So I must fill out twenty thousand letters in those blocks.
I had no money to buy manuscript paper, So I made my own by drawing four hundred blocks lightly on the back of papers from the trash. I carefully filled each block. On the last day of the month I did not go to school but walked all the way to Sanjo Street, looking for the Asahi Newspaper Company, Kyoto Division. I tossed my manuscript into the large box at the entrance because I did not have money to mail it.
The paper had said the winners would be announced in two weeks; so when that time came I went to the school library. Could I, could I have won? But the librarian said the principal was reading the morning paper. I was deeply disappointed. Yet I could not go to the principal’s office to ask to see the paper, so I had to wait until the next day.
Next morning, walking to school, I was very nervous. I wanted so much to win.
Our classroom was noisier than usual. I took my seat and suddenly all was quiet. The entire class was looking at me. I did not understand it, but I took out my English reader. English was my favorite subject and our teacher, Mr. Yoshida, always asked me to read a whole chapter. I thought he would do so today and I did not want to stumble.
A girl came and tossed a newspaper on top of my English book. What manners, I thought. I gave one glance at the paper, then I looked again. Then I picked it up and read it.
“From Group 2, Sagano Girls’ School Student Sweeps Field,” said the headline. There was my name, printed large and clear, with the title of my essay, “Understanding.”
In my heart I laughed and laughed with joy. I made fists, for I could not shout there. Then I shed tears, thinking of how happy Ko would be and how we could both go to the grocery store for rice, miso, even tofu! We could have a feast! This was the second time I had won an essay contest. When I was in first grade in Korea I wrote a story, “Canary Bird” that was published in a newspaper. I began reading my own essay.
In it I had criticized the Sagano Girls’ School students for snobbish behavior, but this made little difference in the way my classmates treated me. Perhaps they were not so mean and sarcastic in the days that followed, but they were very cold. I was sure they had not liked my essay. Not a single teacher mentioned the prize. Obviously the school was not pleased.
Day 23 Reading Page 3
The newspaper gave a banquet for the contest winners. Ko took tucks in her school uniform for me to wear, but I had to be accompanied by a guardian. In Japan all guardians must be parents or must be male even if the male is a baby brother. I had no one, but I desperately wanted to go to the banquet.
Then I thought of Mr. Naido, and he was delighted. Of course he would go with me. No one asked who he was. I would have said he was my uncle. He did not even stutter very much.
I had not eaten such food, or so much food, for months. I slipped half into the newspaper I had brought, for Ko.
And I received my ten thousand yen. But I did not buy shoes even though Ko wanted me to. That prize money would feed us for many weeks and we would not have to use more of the money in the wrapping cloth. The wrapping cloth money was our security.
A week later I was called to the office by the principal. I had been afraid that sooner or later I would be sent for and suspended because of my essay, but I had that prize money, the difference between eating and starving for Ko and me. I had decided I could take suspension.
“Sit down, Miss Kawashima,” ordered the bald headed principal. I sat. “Do you know a man by the name of Matsumura?”
I thought for a moment. “I knew Corporal Matsumura in Korea.”
The principal showed me a square white envelop. “This letter came addressed to you in care of the school. I opened it.”
The letter couldn’t have come from the Corporal. He belonged to my past. He didn’t know where I was. My heart began to pound. Then I suddenly remembered that Father had forbidden his children to open each other’s mail, and first things first.
“Sir,” I said, “you shouldn’t have done that.”
“I feel responsible for you. You are a very young maiden.”
Stubbornness forced me on. “You should have given it to me first. I would have shown it to you, sir,”
He handed me the envelope without replying, and I took out the letter. A self-addressed postcard was enclosed and the letter was on the paper of Kyoto’s Sanjo Hotel. I read:
To Miss Kawashima Yoko,
I am not sure I am writing to the right young lady. Your name character, Yoko, struck me after I read your essay in the newspaper. The only Yoko I know using this character lived in Nanam, Korea, a little girl who came to see me when I was in the hospital. If you are the same person please reply. I enclose a postcard.
Halfway through his letter I began shedding tears, and they rolled down both cheeks to my chin and dropped on the letter paper. Ah! Corporal Matsumura! He had lived through the dangerous war. He must have crawled under the showers of bombs and fire. I looked at the principal, sobbing, and said brokenly, “Sir, Mr. Matsumura is a friend of our family.”
“Then the letter is yours.”
Day 23 Reading Page 4
I could not wait for school to end that day. I ran and skipped along the rail ties and excitedly showed the letter to Ko. She read it over and over, not able to believe, and she shed tears of gladness too, to hear from him and know he had been spared.
“What is he doing in this city?” she wondered.
In very small characters I wrote on the postcard that I was the one he was looking for, and that I was studying hard even thought we had almost starved, and that Mother had died at the train station in November. We were like two orphans, I told him, for we were separated from Father and Hideyo. I added, “My thoughts often go back to the happy days, but someday I trust good fortune will come my way again.”
I walked to the small post office next to the general store and mailed it right away, hoping he would receive it before he left the city.
How I wanted to see the Corporal! How I wanted to go to the Sanjo Hotel. But such a visit was strictly prohibited by our customs; no maiden should ever visit a man. For Ko and me it was even worse, for we had no guardian. I had not told the principal that Mother had been dead for three and a half months, for the school did not accept students without an established guardian.
As we sipped miso soup I told Ko I wished she were married. Her husband would be my guardian and he would take me to see the Corporal.
“At least he is alive and well,” Ko reminded me. “We will meet him someday.”
I even thought of calling the hotel, but I felt it was awkward.
Such a mean world! “Nothing goes right for me!” I complained. “It’s been terrible!”
“Let’s hope there will never be war again as long as we live,” said Ko.
Strong north winds shook the warehouse that night and drafts came in from everywhere. We were cold. Ko doubled our mattress, using the extra futon. She put all the covers on us and we snuggled together for warmth.
It was two days after I had mailed the postcard and our class was doing a silkworm experiment in the laboratory during the last period, when Mr. Naido came in and spoke to Mr. Iwai, the biology teacher.
“Miss Kawashima,” called the teacher, “report to the principal’s office.”
Why did the principal want me again? The only thing I had done wrong was that I had not told him about Mother. I was going to tell him when my tuition ran out and I could not go to school anymore. Was my appearance so bad that he didn’t want me in the school? Or could it be, even now, that essay?
My heart beat loudly as I stood at the office door. I combed through my two-inch-long hair with my fingers. I opened the door quietly and bowed to the principal.
“Here she is!” he said.
A man wearing a dark blue pinstripe suit turned.
“Oh!” I exclaimed. That scarred face…and familiar smile! “Oh, Corporal Ma—“ I ran toward him and threw myself into his arms and sobbed. How safe I felt in his arms.
The Corporal held me with one arm, stroking my porcupine hair, his tears falling on my head.
“Little One, Little One!” he said. “I had to see you before I left the city. When does your sister get home?”
“About six.” I was still crying.
Day 23 Reading Page 5
“Take me to your place. We have so much to talk about.”
I returned to the laboratory, gathered my belongings, and rushed back. The principal and Corporal Matsumura were talking in low voices, and I sat and waited. I had sat on this chair when Mother and I first came to the school, I remembered.
How joyous it was to ride the streetcar with Corporal all the way to our warehouse. I led him upstairs. There was no cushion to welcome my important guest so I folded my blanket four times and asked him to sit on it.
The Corporal met with Mother’s urn, He bowed deeply, his eyes closed. Then I heard Ko and rushed downstairs to take her hand and bring her up quickly to meet our honorable guest.
Ko tired hard not to show tears when she met the Corporal, but she pulled out her handkerchief, barely able to say, “Welcome!”
He was in the city on business. As we ate our humble supper and after we had told our story, he told us that he had left Nanam the day after we fled. He was assigned to the Niigata Army Hospital in the homeland, but as his ship crossed the Sea of Japan it was attacked by American bombers. He had floated, holding on to a log, for four days until he was rescued by a Japanese fishing boat. Then the atomic bombs had been dropped, the war had ended, and he had returned to his hometown, Morioka, a castle town where long ago Lord Taira had lived and governed the district. The Corporal had taken over his father’s silk thread and textile business, which had been passed down from ancestors who had woven materials for the lord of the castle and his family.
“Oh, that was why you felt my costume at the hospital!” I exclaimed.
“Right,” he said. “I could feel the quality of the materials.”
Hi marriage had been arranged upon his return to his hometown, and now he and his wife were expecting a baby. He gazed at me and he said lovingly, “If it is a girl I shall name her Yoko.”
“By the way,” he continued, “I kept your calligraphy, Bu Un Cho Kyu, in my uniform pocket. It was soaked, but I framed it and it hangs in my office. It has brought me good luck.”
Corporal Matsumura wanted to buy me a pair of shoes but the stores were already closed. He also wanted to help us with our daily expenses, but we told him we had enough money for now. He gave us his address and made us promise to wire him collect when we did need something—anything. We would hear from his soon, he said.
He was taking the midnight express, and Ko and I went to the station to see him off. Mother had left me at this station, and now the Corporal was leaving too. Loneliness attacked me and once more sobs wracked my body.
“Here,” said the Corporal, taking off his wrist watch. “I noticed you have no clock.” Keep this and give it to your brother as a welcome. No more tears Little One. Keep up your good work.”
A station bell’s sound burst in the air, warning that the train was leaving. The Corporal jumped on and took his seat. He waved at us through the window and Ko and I bowed to him deeply for this friendship. I held his wristwatch tightly.
The train began moving. He waved to us again. I put the watch to my good ear and it was ticking and warm. I read his lips. “We’ll keep in touch.” The train increased speed. Ko and I watched until we could no longer see the red taillight.
So Far From the Bamboo Grove
Chapter 10 Questions
Directions: Answer the following questions in complete sentences that restate the question. Spelling and grammar must be accurate to receive credit.
1. What does Yoko decide to enter as a way to make money?
2. Who accompanies Yoko to the banquet where she receives her prize money?
3. Why do the students and teachers treat Yoko coldly after she wins the contest?
4. Who writes to Yoko from her past?
5. Why did Corporal remember Yoko after all this time and is willing to help her now?
6. Write a detailed summary of the chapter on the back of this page.