By Shōson Nagahara
Some 87 years ago, Japanese American writer Shōson Nagahara serialized a novel, “A Tale of Osato,” in the pages of The Rafu Shimpo. Now, for the first time ever, Nagahara’s writings have been translated into English and published by Kaya Press in a collection called “Lament in the Night.” To commemorate, The Rafu has once again serialized Nagahara’s work, translated by Andrew Leong. The following excerpt is the last installment of the book’s first chapter. To read more about the life of Osato-san, buy the book here.
The passport inspection was nothing like what Osato had expected. The immigration officer just asked Ryōsaku two or three questions, then signed the backs of their passports.
Osato and Ryōsaku felt as though they were floating on air. There was nothing left to worry about now.
They returned to their cabins to pick up their luggage. Between the two of them, they only had two suitcases and a small handbag, but since they were in a hurry, even this seemed like an enormous burden.
After a while, Osato and Ryōsaku went back up to the deck.
Osato was not used to wearing Western clothing, and she fidgeted nervously in her strange new outfit. As for Ryōsaku, no matter how generously he tried to look at her, he found Osato’s new appearance to be far from elegant. Since he had picked out all of her clothes himself, he was faced with the embarrassing realization that he had a very undeveloped eye for value and lacked the skill to select suitable clothing. He couldn’t help thinking that Japanese clothing definitely suited Osato best. He supposed that as she got used to Western clothes, they would probably suit her better.
And so, aided by this spirit of resignation, Ryōsaku looked back at Osato and smiled. Besides, she was already bursting with happiness. An enormous smile lit up her whole face as she clung to his arm.
It was finally time to leave the ship. Osato suddenly felt a wave of loneliness. She was sad to leave behind the Seiyō Maru. After all, it had safely carried them across four thousand miles of open sea to this foreign harbor.
Ryōsaku and Osato started to walk down the steps. At that moment, Osato saw the young woman who had slept below her. The young woman was, of course, standing next to her husband.
“We’re the first ones off the boat. Congratulations!” The young woman smiled as she clasped Osato’s hands.
Osato was caught by surprise and didn’t quite know what to say.
“I guess we are…” she replied. And as she stared into the other woman’s face, she began to laugh.
Osato gathered her determination and stepped firmly onto the pier. It felt so good to set foot on land again that she felt as if her wobbling legs were about to go numb. Beneath the leather shoes that she still hadn’t gotten used to wearing, the land of promise was smiling up at her. This thought sent a shiver of delight through her entire body.
Osato thought to herself, “I’ll just leave everything up to the gods. In this promised land, as long as I work as hard as I possibly can, the gods will watch over us.”
She clung even more tightly to Ryōsaku’s arm.
The customs inspection also passed without incident.
Osato felt as happy as a little bird about to try its wings. In front of the customs office, a line of automobiles that had been dispatched from San Francisco’s Japanese hostels were waiting to pick up their guests.
Not two minutes had passed before a tall, lanky Japanese man with deep-set eyes and a dark tan walked up to Ryōsaku and Osato.
“Great! You’re early, much earlier than expected. Just the two of you, right?” The man glanced in Osato’s direction and shook Ryōsaku’s hand.
“Of course we’re early. We tried to come back as quickly as we could!” Ryōsaku laughed cheerfully.
“How was the trip?”
“Glad to hear it.”
Thinking that Ryōsaku and the tanned man were good acquaintances, Osato decided it would be appropriate to greet him formally.
“It is a pleasure to meet you.” She bowed her head.
These were the very first words she had uttered to a countryman in this foreign land. The thought of it sent a little thrill through Osato’s heart.
“This is my wife,” Ryōsaku said, introducing Osato to the dark-complexioned man.
“I see. That’s great,” the man said as he looked Osato over. “I’m the bōsu of the ‘T’ Hostel. I am responsible for all of Noda’s esteemed clients.” He bowed.
“My husband has talked about you many times.” Osato returned his formal greetings.
Truth be told, Osato didn’t know the least thing about the dark-complexioned man. Ryōsaku had never talked about the bōsu of the “T” Hostel. Osato didn’t even know what the word “boss” meant. She had greeted him without having the faintest idea who he was.
Ryōsaku and the boss were still talking when they reached the car.
“All right, please step inside and make yourselves comfortable,” the boss said to them.
“I still have to see to the other guests waiting to be picked up, so please let me go find them. I’ll be back in a moment.”
Not long afterwards, the other couple arrived, and the car pulled away from the customs office, plunging into the streets of the exotic city. What chaotic streets! Countless swarms of automobiles rushed to and fro, passing and weaving! Dozens of streetcars clogged the wide avenues. Crowds of men and women dressed for the mid-autumn weather streamed along the sidewalks.
Osato could only stare in amazement at the strange and dazzling scene in front of her.
Osato was bewildered by the sights and sounds around her. Exhausted from the long sea journey, she collapsed on to the bed beneath the hostel window. Through the window, an endless mid-autumn sky stretched out above her. The spire of a Catholic cathedral soared majestically into the air, surrounded by the countless roofs of enormous buildings. The sounds of the city boiled up from the street: cars rushing past, streetcars shrieking by, the echoing patter of countless shoes striking the sidewalks.
Osato stood up.
Ryōsaku hadn’t come back yet. Where was he? What was he doing? More than two hours had passed since he’d left… He had gone out with people from the hostel and still hadn’t returned.
Osato felt uneasy. If he was going out, then why didn’t he take me along? There’s so much I want to see. How could he be so inconsiderate? While we were having that late lunch at the Chinese restaurant with the manager of the hostel, I overheard the two of them saying chi-i-na-ta-u-n or something like that over and over again. Chi-i-na, ta-u-n? What on earth does that mean? Is Chiina Taun some kind of place? Maybe it’s the name of some hairy Westerner they know… It seemed like something really serious, like an urgent matter. They didn’t let me in on what was going on at all. They just stashed me away here in this little hostel room… How could they be so mean?
Osato started to weep.
And why shouldn’t she? Her husband had completely ignored the fact that this was her very first day in America. Osato had been filled with hope that he would show her the sights around town. Besides, the sooner she got used to this new land, the sooner she would stop being the woman everybody pointed at when she walked down the street. She didn’t have a single day to waste in her quest to improve herself.
Everything was falling apart. Even though Ryōsaku was her husband, she couldn’t help feeling angry and resentful. The more she realized what a careless and inconsiderate person he was, the angrier she became. Her previous willingness to believe in Ryōsaku’s good faith had been shattered.
If he’s going to act this way, maybe we’ll split up. Maybe I should just leave him.
Just as she thought this, the door opened without a sound. It was Ryōsaku.
Relieved that Ryōsaku had returned, Osato leapt from her chair. She sat next to her husband on the tall bed, trying to smile.
“So… where did you go?” Osato had intended to ask him as nicely as she could, but from Ryōsaku’s perspective, she might as well have driven a five-inch nail into his chest. He was taken aback.
“Really, where were you?” Osato continued. “Here I was, all alone… Weren’t you going to take me out so we could go sightseeing or something?”
Ryōsaku trembled nervously, but didn’t say a word.
“Well?” Osato closed in on him.
He lost whatever nerve he had left. Realizing that it would be worse for him if he said nothing, Ryōsaku decided to mutter some excuses rather than stay silent.
“The thing is, well… There’s this guy who lends money who was in the neighborhood, and he came by to see the manager of the inn, which turned out to be a great opportunity…” Ryōsaku said in one breath.
“How much did you borrow?” Osato couldn’t help feeling as though he was hiding something, so she asked him again, more forcefully:
“Well…just a little over fifty dollars.” And Ryōsaku pulled out five ten-dollar bills from his front pocket and a few fifty-cent silver coins from his back pocket. He placed them in Osato’s outstretched hand.
“Really? When do we have to pay him back?”
“Probably by the end of the year.”
“The end of the year?
Ryōsaku seemed to find something unexpectedly funny and started to giggle.
Osato felt her suspicions returning.
“By the way, who is Chaina Taun?”
“What do you mean? At lunch didn’t you keep saying Chaina Taun, Chaina Taun over and over again?”
“What do you mean, ‘who with’? You know what I’m talking about.”
“You mean with the manager?”
“Aah… that Chaina Taun. I’m pretty sure even you can figure this one out. Chinatown isn’t the name of a person, it’s a place.”
“What kind of place is it?”
“Don’t be silly. You’ll figure it out.” Ryōsaku burst into laughter.
Ryōsaku’s strange reply only served to deepen Osato’s suspicions.
Why wouldn’t Ryōsaku just come out with a clear explanation? Truth be told, Osato didn’t know very much about Ryōsaku’s past. All she knew about him was what people who had been close to him as a child had told her. Nobody really knew anything about his life after he turned eighteen and left his hometown for America. So, of course, Osato knew nothing about that part of his life either. Their family all agreed that he was gentler and shyer than most, and that he had to be a good, industrious man since he had spent ten long years making his living in America. Hearing this from everyone, Osato couldn’t help but believe it to be the truth. As a result, she had agreed to marry Ryōsaku without any reservations—no, she was thrilled at the prospect of marrying him and coming to America.
However, Osato now felt a deep sense of doubt. No matter how hard she tried to think of Ryōsaku as a good, virtuous man, clouds of misgivings boiled up in her mind. As she began to see the flaws in her husband’s character, she couldn’t help feeling a strange, anxious trembling in her heart.
This was no mere passing doubt that she could just ignore or try to brush away. The more she realized this, the lonelier she felt. It was as if she had no one to lean on. At the same time, she was struck yet again by a sense of longing lodged deep in her heart, a desolate sadness that came from having no one left to rely upon.
End of chapter 1