Monday, August 30, 2004

Cherry Blossoms Falling at Oka-san's Tamagawa

I think this needs to be printed in green..only because when I think of Tamagawa I remember the beautiful greenery growing in tiers along the mountainside.  The pictures above are of my son, Kenji, at three months, then again on his visit to his Oba-chan when he was fifteen.  As you can see from the picture, Katsuko-san (Oka-san) was a little bit of a woman, but man was she made of steel.

Katsuko-san was born outside of Tokyo in l903. Women of those years had very little to say about their future.  She was born into a good family and they were eager to marry her to someone with a bit of standing in the community.  Things were not looking too bright however, because although she had tremendous grace, humility, gentleness, alas she was not born to beauty.  So the young years passed and still no marriage proposal...her parents were beside themselves.

Break away to several thousand miles away, in cold Canada, a young Japanese businessman, Enji-san, is trying to learn the family business...which includes the lumber business.  Being young, being male..and being free in a foreign country, he finds himself over indulging in certain areas of enjoyment, much to the consternation of his family.

Well, what is to be done?  The man's family decided to give him an ultimatum...agree to marry a woman of their choice or he would be outcast by the family.  As he was only a third or fourth son...he knew they were serious.  He was to return to Tokyo at once. 

Meanwhile, one Uncle of Katsuko-san knew someone in this young man's he proposed to the man's family that Katsuko-san would make an excellent wife for Enji-san.  Now mind you, neither of them had a say in the matter.

So it came upon a day that Katsuko-san & Enji-san were married...and established a home in Tamagawa=gakuen.  A home built on the side of a mountain, overlooking a huge row of cherry trees, with tremendous mounds of azaleas ablaze with every color.

Takashi (Tom) was born in 1933, his mother doted on him.  Although theirs was not a love relationship, they grew to respect one another and both had tremendous love for their son.  For the first 6 years of his life Tom thrilled at doing things with his dad.  Years later he would tell me the stories that his father had told him.  About discoveries yet to come, like the fact that he knew that television would come into everyone's life the way it has....Tom telling me the story would shake his head saying "all those years ago, how did he know?"  I think, as I told Tom, that his father was a dreamer and sometimes dreamers get a real glimpse of the future - look at Michaelangelino.

Everything changed. War does that.  And not in good ways.  Enji-san was called, because he was a chemist, to join the army and ship out to Korea. What went through their minds I cannot say, the older Japanese were trained to honor their Emperor, to die for him - so if told to go - they went.

Katsuko-san and Takashi were left to themselves at Tamagawa.  She was resilient and resourceful, she planted every type of vegetable seed she could get her hands on.  I think, she knew in her heart, just how bad things would get.  Tom would tell me years later that they survived on yams and daikon to the point that he never wanted those foods on the table. 

One of the first things that Oka-san showed me when I visited Tamagawa for the first time was a huge cave that had been cut into the mountainside, it sat directly behind her house. The opening was covered with cobwebs, being the unbrave soul that I am, I declined to enter that dark place.  But she and Tom had spent many a day hiding in there because of the B-52 bombers that were doing the strafing runs over Tokyo.  This was a place that had protected them, I was at a loss for words to say.

Katsuko-san did not have it easy, every day was a struggle for survival for her and her son.  In 1943, when Tom turned ten, they learned Enji-san had fallen ill and died from the illness in Korea. His ashes were brought home for burial with Shinto rites.  So, no matter which way the war went, they were on their own.  Enji-san's family would not offer help during this period, so this little lady of steel decided to sell some of the Tamagawa property....there were alot of acres.

Katsuko-san sold a small piece, held onto her own, sent her son to a good grade school, then onto college..all the time she was learning to invest, buy houses, apartments...stocks.  She knew what it meant to do without and she was making darn sure it wasn't happening again.

She passed in 2000 at the age of ninety-eight. I'm sure, if heaven exists...she's there tending her garden.

I can close my eyes and I'm back at Tamagawa overlooking from the hill a row of cherry trees in full blossom...the wind was blowing the little pink blossoms as if they were snow - such a beautiful sight.  It's in my memory forever and I just have to smile.







aiibrat said...

Sometimes, the meeker the looks, the stronger the steel.  And I bet, she never laid into the family that didn't help her but still graciously welcomed them to her home.

From what I heard, those were rough times for everyone on that side of the world.

dornbrau said...

My grandparents were born in Okinawa and when they were just teens ( 13 and 14) a marriage was arranged between their families.  My grandfather was the first to be moved to Hawaii.  My grandmother followed a short while later, not knowing her future husband.  Once they were both in Hawaii they were married.  Their marriage grew into something even deeper than love, to say that they loved each other seems inadequate.  But they were so right for each other.  A more perfect match I have never seen.  There's something to be said for tradition and culture.... I'm just not sure yet what.

sdoscher458 said... hit it right on...she welcomed his relatives with tremendous grace,especially when they came to check out the gaijin (me)!

kathleenggoode said...

I love Cherry Trees, they are beautiful, and I am proud of the trees Japan gave Washington D.C.  She sounds like a very strong woman.  Your son looks like a fine man.

flfiremansgirl said...

Nice pics!  I really enjoyed reading!!

kimbellina1957 said...


demandnlilchit said...

I loved this sotry.......Just loved it! Thank you!

sighlemaccaba said...

I just saw "The Makioka Sisters" the other week,maybe the most beautiful movie I've ever seen.  Your Cherry Blossom memories made me think of it.

I am enjoying your journal, Ms. Doscher.  Thank you.
I went through grade school with a boy named Joseph Doscher.  Not a common name.  Bronx, NY.  Any relation?

One more - if I keep scrolling back into your past, will I Learn how you came to be in Japan?

maxsox5 said...

I have weeping cherry trees out my front door I will  think of this lovely(albeit) sad story when they bloom.
Thanks for sharing.