It was 1913, two years from his birth. He sat watching his mother, Ume Murakami Higaki, packing his bags so he could leave Canada with his older brother and younger sister. They would go to Japan to live in his grandfather's house. He would leave Swansons' Bay, British Columbia, his birthplace, to live with complete strangers. His father, Katsunoshin Higaki, was probably in the logging camp or fishing. Tsutomu would not see his father for many years.
Ume Higaki took her daughter and two sons to Japan to live with their grandmother and grandfather so that they could be educated in the Japanese way. They, of course, spoke Japanese and were Buddhist. In Japan, they were considered middle-class because they were land-owners. Katsunoshin and Ume Higaki were adventuresome people. Not many Japanese left Japan to emigrate to another country.
After a long voyage, his mother and her three children arrived in Vanai, a small farming and fishing village near Hiroshima. There he would live and go to school. His early years in Japan were very happy. His mother and grandparents spoiled him. His mother stayed with him and his brothers and sister for two years. She then returned to Canada to be with her husband. He missed her desperately, but enjoyed living with his grandparents in their wooden house by the sea.
He quickened his steps so he could see his school, Ihonosho Jinjo Koto Gogakko. School, how nice it was to be taught by his favorite teacher, Wakimura-san, and be at the top of the class. Perhaps today he would not have to go to his worst class, singing! Perhaps he would go to reading, his favorite subject. He had read and re-read the books he had received as gifts, and the only place he could get new ones was at school.
He noticed his cousin and best friend Isamu Karasoe running to school. "Oh no, I'm late!" he thought. He began to run and his kimono flapped around his legs.
Tsutomu Higaki enjoyed school and was an honours student in grades four, five and six. One day in grade six, he and another student accused a teacher of favoritism. They were punished by being forced to stand in the hallway, holding a shot put ball in each hand for hours on end. Not only was he punished at school, but his sister told on him and further discipline awaited him at home!
He liked sports almost as much as he liked school. He played tennis and did kendo, and he fished and swam. He got many awards for his skill at kendo, the Japanese martial art of fencing with bamboo rods.
When Tsutomu was thirteen, his mother and father returned to Japan with another brother and sister, to make five children in all. His mother missed Canada, she missed the equality women had there. She hated walking behind her husband as was expected in Japan. She gave them a taste of Canada by making porridge and pancakes. "Breakfast food in Canada, " she would say. Tsutomu loved porridge because he could have it with milk, an exotic treat.
His father worked on the rice paddy that had belonged to the Higaki family for generations. Katsunoshin Higaki had some hired hands and some of his sons, including Tsutomu, working with him.
Tsutomu had a few pets, but none that lasted very long. He once hid a dog in their shed for three months, feeding it scraps from the table. When the dog was discovered, he was allowed to keep it. He had it for less than a week when he had to give it away because it chased his grandmother's chickens. He also caught wild green birds which he taught to sing. These died quickly, and he had to catch more every now and then.
One day his entire seventh grade class walked four miles to see the Prince of Japan pass by on a train. The class was told to bow as the train entered the station. They couldn't raise their heads until their teachers gave them permission. When Tsutomu finally raised his head, he could only see the smoke of the train disappear in the distance.
He pulled his head up to take another breath, his hand pulled down and he felt the water rushing by. He lifted his head again and saw a cousin and classmate, Shige Shimura lift his head and smile encouragingly. Only another half mile.
"After I complete the two mile swim, I'll get another stripe on my swim suit. I'll play kendo and tennis. I'll learn history and get even better on the abacus." He kept thinking good thoughts, just letting his arms pull and fall, pull and fall. Tsutomu completed the two mile swim which everybody had to try after grade eight.
After grade eight, Tsutomu left Ihonosho Jinjo Koto Gogakko. He walked two miles to apply to high school in another town. He did not want to go because he knew he would be bullied. He knew that all the older students would bully the younger students, just as he had done at Ihonosho Jinjo Koto Gogakko. On the day of the entrance exam, he went to a festival with a friend. His father knew he did not write the exam because he got home very late. Of course, he was punished severely.
His aunt, who was visiting the family at the time, offered him a job in their bakery shop, earning absolutely nothing. Tsutomu took the job because he felt he didn't have any choice. Because they had no children, the aunt and uncle wanted to adopt him so that he could carry on the business. Tsutornu worked in the bakery for a year. His aunt did not allow him to associate with the other workers. He did not like this idea and he didn't want to carry on the family business so he left the town of Iwakuni.
He asked a friend and his older brother if they would take him back with them to Nagasaki on Kyushu Island. He wanted to see if he could get a job there. He ended up working as a stockboy, earning 3 yen ($.50) a month plus board. He was then promoted rapidly to delivering food and taking money. By the end of his stay, he was earning 10 yen a month.
While he was in Nagasaki, his mother died while giving birth to his youngest brother. His father remarried after strong family pressure that the baby needed a mother. They even picked out a wife for him.
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