By Mark Kodama
Although my brother and I were born a year and half apart, we were often mistaken for brothers. We grew in a small village, near the island city of Hiroshima, divided by the River Ota. Hiroshima, the jewel of the Far East, was known as the City of Peace. It was founded by Mori Motonari on the coast of the Seto Inland Sea. It was once the capital city of Aki, the famous home of the Forty-Seven Ronin.
When I was but a boy my father, a business man, my grandmother and I left Hiroshima to enjoy the bounty of America the land where all dreams can come true. My father’s business venture collapsed in the Great Depression and he had to work on a plantation, cutting sugar cane near Honolulu city in Hawaii. My younger brother Yukio and mother stayed in Japan. His name meant fortunate boy. They were to follow us to Hawaii once we were settled. Though I was particularly close to my only brother, I knew it could not be helped. We knew our separation would not be forever.
Though life was sometimes rough, there was always food enough, in the cornucopia of America. One day, my father, received a letter, that my mother was ill and that he had to return to Japan immediately. Before he left, he said “Be strong. You must endure. I will be back.”
My departing father left me with my grandmother, for he could only obtain a loan for his own return ticket home. One morning, I arose from bed, to find my grandmother dead. I was taken to a Catholic orphanage, where I pledged I would not only survive but would thrive. It could not be helped. In the meantime, I grew very tall for a Japanese man, over six feet.
On December 7, 1941, I watched the Japanese airplanes flying overhead towards the American fleet in Pearl Harbor. I turned 18 a few months later and I left the orphanage and joined the army. Since I spoke Japanese, I was immediately placed in Army intelligence. We were used to to break the Japanese secret code.
Because of my work and the work of others, the Americans knew every move the Japanese were going to make, including their attack on Midway Island. At the Battle of Midway Island, the Americans destroyed four Japanese carriers. We saved many lives.
As I followed the news of our victories and the bombing of Japan, I could not help but have mixed feelings. Japan had started the war and its brutal methods shocked and horried me. But I worried about my family. I feared my brother Yukio must have been drafted. When I learned about the atomic bomb being dropped on Hiroshima I worried about the fate of my family.
After the war, I was sent to Japan for six months to serve as an interpreter. I was surprised at the devastation. I tried to find my family but we were not allowed to travel to the ruins of the city. I knew they must have died. But I thought often of visiting Japan just to see if I could find what happened to them. But life has a way of getting in the way and time slipped away. It could not be helped.
After I was discharged from the Army I left Hawaii, with an army buddy. We pooled our money and moved to Seattle Washington on the mainland. My partner stole our money and disappeared leaving me destitute, living in a hotel on the waterfront by the fish market. But I knew I would endure. It could not be helped.
A Japanese family operated the hotel, formerly a brothel on the waterfront. Sailors occasionally still came to the hotel looking for a lady for the night. I lived for free with the family. I worked as a hotel clerk while I looked for permanent work. I amaried one of the owners daughters Akira, meaning bright and intelligent
Thought I had no training, I could draw well. I was soon working as a draftsman for good pay at an architecture firm in Los Angeles, California. I married Akira and soon moved to the City of Angels. We had a son David who was a world-class swimmer for UCLA and later worked in Hollywood. There was work and family and never enough money.
When I retired at 65, I decided to find my brother and my family in Japan. When I returned to my village, it was no longer a small rural town but part of the city, supplying the Japanese industry with ball bearings. Gone were the wooden buildings and narrow streets of my boyhood. Instead, there were modern factories and apartment buildings.
As I strode through the street, people’s faces turned ashen. They stared at me in disbelief. It was as if they had never seen a Japanese man over six feet before. It was as if I was a kind of freak. They acted as if they had seen a ghost.
When I came to the central square, it was my turn to stare for I saw a large statute of my brother Yukio, the city’s former mayor and owner of the ball bearing factories that dominated the city’s economy. I was my brother’s ghost.
Yukio had only died six months before. But in his lifetime, he raised the city from the ruins of war to the modern city that it is today.