My finding a suitable school for Chiyo almost at once was a piece of good fortune. Not far from our house there lived a gifted educator who was interested in modern methods of teaching young children. He and his wife had in their home a small model kindergarten, to which I was given the privilege of sending my little girl. Chiyo could not speak Japanese, but fortunately there were in the class two children of an American missionary, who spoke the language well, so the little Japanese-born Americans became kind interpreters to the little American-born Japanese; thus forming an international combination that resulted, on one side at least, in a lifetime remembrance of grateful friendliness.

But Hanano’s education was a problem. In selecting a school for her the remembrance of my own happy school life in Tokyo naturally influenced me in favour of a mission school; but, after careful examination, I concluded that, although the atmosphere of the mission schools was unquestionably superior, they could not compete with the government schools in scholarship. Therefore I decided upon a public school, the principal of which was reputed to be one of the best in Tokyo, and which, fortunately, was not far from our home. Of this I knew Matsuo’s relatives would approve.

Hanano’s knowledge of the Japanese language was meagre, but of the history, literature, and traditions of Japan, she knew almost as much as other children her age, and so was too advanced for the primary class.

It was a puzzle for the authorities to know what to do with her; for rules in Japan are not flexible. Official life still moves in grooves, and in a minor officer, the old feudal pride in rigid faithfulness is frequently so extreme that to be jostled out of the established line is hopelessly disconcerting. Time and again I heard with a sinking heart that no place could be found for Hanano in any class, but—I did not dare fail! Patiently I persisted, arguing that, since Japan claims her foreign-born children, and also has the rule of compulsory education, surely something could be done.

Well, I had a world of trouble and felt as if the child were being wound closer each day in a red-tape cocoon, but at last she was admitted into the third grade and I given permission to sit in the rear of the room, a silent spectator with a notebook.

I shall never forget those first days. Hanano was naturally quick and observing and already familiar with third-grade stories; but the ideographs were wholly unknown to her, and she could understand very little of the teacher’s explanations. Again and again I would see her face light up with an expression of alert attention, which the next moment would change to a puzzled look and then gradually settle into one of blank hopelessness. Every evening our home was turned into a schoolroom, where I went over each lesson of the day, translating and explaining in English. At odd hours, even during meal-time, we played games in which words were limited to those in common use, and whenever Hanano heard Taki bargaining with vendors at the kitchen door, she was immediately at her elbow. But I think her greatest help from any one thing came from the playground at school. There she was a delightful curiosity. She took part in all games, running, gesticulating, and chattering in English, while the others ran, gesticulated, and chattered in Japanese, all having a good time, and Hanano piling up, by the dozen, unforgettable words which carried their own definitions too clearly to need interpretation.

I was faithful in my reports to Uncle Otani, and, on the whole, rather enjoyed the “investigation visits” of the relatives; but my being required to ask council advice before making a change, however slight, in my programme, was often very trying and useless. Formally to request an opinion regarding which of two studies to select for Hanano, when not a member of the council knew or cared to learn anything of her former school work, and every single member considered both of the suggested studies entirely unnecessary for a girl to waste her time over, was absurd. But I was conscientious to the minutest degree, and as time passed the visits from relatives became less frequent and more friendly; and my requests were mostly returned with orders to use my own judgment.

When Hanano reached the stage where she began to recognize characters on the street signs and to listen intelligently to conversation going on about her, I gave up my visits to the school and turned my attention to home duties. Here I found many problems. Some were seemingly too small to be noticed, and yet, like stinging gnat bites, extremely annoying. I had thought it would be well to keep the children in American clothing. They had a goodly supply, and progressive families were beginning to advocate it for children, except for formal use. As the weather grew colder I put heavy underclothes and woollen stockings on them; for the schoolrooms were heated only with two charcoal fire-boxes in each large room. But, notwithstanding my care, one day Chiyo came home with a cold. The next morning was chilly and damp. I had no heart to keep her from her greatest enjoyment; yet to risk her taking more cold was out of the question. What could I do? Suddenly I had a wicked inspiration. She had a coat of soft woollen goods which covered her dress completely. I put it on, buttoned it up close and, telling her not to take it off, sent her on her way.

Then I sat down to have it out with my conscience. In Japan, when one enters a house, the shoes, wrap, and hat are removed. It was as unpardonable for Chiyo to keep on her wrap in school as if it had been her hat; but I knew that, in the eyes of the teacher, the pretty red coat with its lace collar and cuffs would be only a foreign dress, no more suggesting a wrap than did her usual clothing. And to think that I had taken advantage of the ignorance of the teacher and done this deceitful thing! I thought of Kishibo-jin and wondered if in every mother’s heart is hidden an unborn demon.

Presently, with a sigh, I rose to my feet and prepared to go out. As I approached the mirror to arrange my hair I stopped with a half-ashamed laugh. For one instant a superstitious hesitation had held me back, as if I might see in the reflected face a hint of the deceit in my heart.

I went direct to the nearest shop and purchased material for a hifu—a loose but proper and elegant house-garment, which in winter is padded with the cobwebby cut silk taken from empty cocoons. It is the lightest and warmest garment in Japan. Taki, Sudzu, and I sewed all day, and the next morning Chiyo went happily to school with her hifu over her American dress.

It was this incident that decided me to change the children from American to Japanese clothing.

There is another link, less tragic, in the chain of my memories of growing adaptability. When riding in jinnikishas it is the custom for the honoured person to go first. Therefore a child should follow a parent. But I never felt sure that some unexpected thing might not happen to my active little ones; so I always put them together in one jinrikisha just ahead of me. One day, as we were passing through a busy street, I saw Hanano looking back and waving frantically; almost standing up in her eagerness to have me see a small table and two chairs of bamboo in a shop window. Both children pleaded for me to buy them. It was nonsense to take them to our pretty home; for chair legs ruin the soft mats, and foreign furniture is wholly inartistic in a Japanese room. But the children looked at them so longingly that I made the purchase, ordering thin strips of wood to be fastened on the feet to make a flat foundation that would not injure our floor. They were to be delivered the next day.

Early the following morning I went shopping, returning home about noon. What was my astonishment when I entered the house to see the bamboo table in the centre of the parlour and on each side of it a chair, with Hanano seated on one and Chiyo on the other! They had no books, no toys. Sudzu said they had been there for an hour, occasionally changing places, but otherwise sitting still or talking in low voices.

“What are you doing, children,” I asked, “sitting here so quiet?”

“Oh, just enjoying!” replied Hanano.

After a moment Chiyo said: “Grandma’s chairs are soft, but this one has knobs on the edge. Let’s swap gain, Hanano.”

Then there was the affair of the bedclothes. The pride of a Japanese housewife is to have not only dainty and pretty, but also appropriate, bed cushions. Mother had sent with Taki enough silk and linen for both children’s beds. The pattern for Hanano’s was, for her flower-name, the “Flowers of the Four Seasons,” in which bunches of many-coloured blossoms were scattered loosely over a background of shadowy pink. Chiyo’s—for her name, which means “Long Life”—was a flock of white storks flying across a blue sky with floating clouds. Taki and Sudzu had sewed steadily for several days making the cushions, so, on the night they were finished, and when Sudzu had made up the beds side by side, I told the girls that I would put the children to bed and they could go out to a street fair held on the temple grounds, not far away. In the midst of the undressing some friends came to call and I left the children to finish alone.

My friends stayed late. I heard Taki and Sudzu come in, and a short time later there was a disturbance in the children’s room. Hanano’s voice sounded clear and loud in English, “It isn’t fair! Stop! It isn’t fair!’ Then came a low murmuring in Japanese—sleepy complaints—a soft scrambling—a gentle, “Pardon my disturbing you. Honourable good-night!”—a sliding door, whisperings, and presently—silence.

As soon as the guests had gone I hurried into the children’s room. Both were sleeping quietly. I waited for Sudzu to come in after locking the gate, and then I learned what had happened. Faithful Taki, on her return, had peeped into the children’s room to see that all was safe, and behold! the “Flower in a Strange Land” was asleep beneath the flying storks and the long-life lassie was peacefully reposing beneath the scattered blossoms of the four seasons. Taki’s orderly habits of a lifetime had sprung to the rescue of an upset world. Pulling off the covers with a jerk, she had lifted Hanano in her strong arms, and then, standing the startled child upright, had caught Chiyo and plumped her into Hanano’s bed, muttering constantly, “Ignorant children! Ignorant children!” Paying no attention to Hanano’s indignant protests that they had changed purposely, “just to swap,” she had tossed her back into bed, whirled up the covers, and then, politely bowing good-night, had softly pushed the doors together and retired as gently as if she feared to awake a sleeping child.

“Taki is just like she used to be,” I thought as I lay down on my own bed with a laugh. “People who think Japanese women are always gentle ought to widen their acquaintance.”

But one thing about which I have never laughed was a peep I had into a hidden part of my children’s lives. Hanano always had been brave about bearing silently little troubles that could not be helped, and she seemed so busy and interested in her new life that I did not realize that deep in her heart was a longing for the old home. Our garden had two entrances, one through the house and one through a little brushwood wicket on the path that led from a wooden gate to the kitchen door. One day, just as I reached home, a sudden shower threatened to drench me. So, instead of going around to the big gateway, I slipped through the wooden gate, and ran across the stones of the garden to the porch. Leaving my shoes on the step I was hurrying to my room when I heard the voices of the children.

“This shady place,” said Hanano, “is where Grandma’s chair always was, on the porch. And under this tree is where the hammock was where you took your nap and where Papa almost sat down on you that time. And this is the big stone steps where we always had firecrackers on Fourth of July. And this is the well. And this is the drawbridge. And this is the place where Clara went to feed the chickens. It’s all exactly right, Chiyo, for I drew it myself, and you must not forget again. Don’t tell Mamma, for she would be sorry, and she is our only treasure that we have left. All the rest are gone, Chiyo, and we can never have them again. So it can’t be helped, and we just have to stand it. But you mustn’t forget that all this—for ever—is where our love is. And now, let us sing.”

They stood up, holding hands, and the childish voices rose in a clear, steady “My Country, ’tis of Thee!”

I cried softly as I moved about in the next room and thought of the transplanted morning glories. “Is it right,” I wondered, “to plant a little unasked flower in a garden of love and happiness, from which it must soon be wrenched away, only for another, and a dwarfed, start in strange, new surroundings? The garden had much to give of strength and inspiration, but is it worth the cost? Oh, is it worth the cost?”


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Women's Autobiography Copyright © by dixonk is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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