Authors: Patricia Kiyono
by Patricia Kiyono
Published by Astraea Press
This is a work of fiction. Names, places, characters, and events are fictitious in every regard. Any similarities to actual events and persons, living or dead, are purely coincidental. Any trademarks, service marks, product names, or named features are assumed to be the property of their respective owners, and are used only for reference. There is no implied endorsement if any of these terms are used. Except for review purposes, the reproduction of this book in whole or part, electronically or mechanically, constitutes a copyright violation.
Copyright Â© 2011 PATRICIA KIYONO
Cover Art Designed By Elaina Lee
Edited By Stephanie Taylor
To Dad, who taught us the Code of the Bushido through the way you lived. You were a true samurai. I miss you every day.
“Are you reading those ridiculous comic books again? Honestly, you're a college graduate. Aren't you a little old for those?”
“Dad, they're called
. They're different. They're illustrated Japanese stories.” Leigh Becker closed her book and stood. Even as the words left her mouth, she knew correcting her stepfather was useless.
“I don't care what they're called. They're not exactly serious literature. You spend half your free time reading those silly things when you should be helping out around the house. Come over here and help me get dinner ready. Your mother will be home soon.”
However, as soon as Leigh stepped into the kitchen, Frank Becker left for his study.
“You do a better job of cooking than I do. I'd just get in the way,” he muttered.
Leigh didn't mind having the kitchen to herself. Life was more peaceful when her stepfather wasn't around. He hadn't been the same since his company folded. The man who was once larger than life had shrunk physically and spiritually. He spent hours in his home office, staring idly at his computer. He had sent hundreds of letters out, but no one wanted to hire a fifty-year-old former businessman. Lately, he'd been drinking a lot more. Leigh sympathized, but didn't know how to comfort him.
The family wasn't struggling financially. Leigh's mother was a well-known attorney, and Leigh had just started to work for the local newspaper. They hadn't lived lavishly or spent foolishly, so the adjustments they had had to make were relatively minor. Still, it had been difficult for Frank to accept the fact his wife was now the breadwinner. For a short time, he had tried to help around the house, but now he left more and more of it to his stepdaughter.
As Leigh pulled vegetables from the refrigerator, a buzz sounded from her pocket. She pulled out her phone and checked. It was a message from her best friend, Andy Tanaka.
“Found something cool. Can you come?” Andy wasn't one for extra words.
“After supper,” she typed back.
“OK,” came the quick reply.
She smiled as she prepared the meal. At least she had something more interesting to look forward to this evening. She always enjoyed spending time with Andy and his family.
* * * *
Seated at his desk in his home office, Frank Becker turned on his computer. While waiting for it to boot up, he poured himself a stiff drink. He stared at the screen, his mind blank. What was the use of sending out his resume to more places? No one was going to hire him.
Nobody wanted him. Even his wife didn't want him. She found excuses to be out of town, even out of the country, whenever she could. No errand was too small or too out of the way for Kirsten Becker. Twenty years ago, her ambition was what had attracted him to her. She could do anythingâwin a case in court, come home and fix a gourmet meal, and then go out and party. It had been such a boost to his ego when she had agreed to marry him. Her cute little five year old had come with her. And now the daughter was looking more and more like her mother. Like her mother had looked.
Except without the
Leigh was a softer, gentler version of her mother.
Too bad he couldn't have waited to marry the daughter instead.
* * * *
Three hours later, Leigh knocked on the front door of the Tanaka home. The tidy two-story Victorian on the outskirts of town had been a second home to her for most of her life. Since her mother had always worked, Leigh had spent many afternoons and evenings here. Unlike the modern ranch homes in the Beckers' neighborhood, this house had a cozy charm and echoed with the laughter of several generations of Tanakas. On all sides of the house, and in the fields surrounding it, fragrant blossoms grew. Tanaka Farms was one of the largest suppliers of cut flowers in northern California.
She barely had time to lower her hand when the door swung open and a tiny pair of arms encircled her waist.
“Leigh, how nice to see you! Come in, come in.” Andy's mom, Lily, stood barely five feet tall, but even at fifty-something she was full of energy and always exuded a warm welcome.
The petite woman took Leigh's hand and led her in. Leigh loved this house. Beautiful blossoms adorned every surface, and the furniture was well worn and comfortable. The entire family was involved in the business, begun by Andy's great-great grandfather at the turn of the century. Andy had worked there since junior high, working his way up from stocking the retail store to driving delivery trucks. Now that he was a CPA, he spent his time in the corporate offices.
Andy had told her another branch of the Tanaka family ran a similar business in Japan. Every few years, he and his siblings and cousins would go overseas to visit their relatives. She envied him that connection with extended family. The Beckers were not close-knit. They got together at Christmas timeâfor weddings and funeralsâbut she barely knew her cousins.
Lily led her to the kitchen. “Would you like something to drink? A snack?”
“Oh no, thank you,” Leigh replied. “I just had dinner. Andy told me he wanted to show me something.”
“Sure. Go on back.” Lily waved toward the back door. “You know the way.”
Leigh nodded her thanks and walked outside. Though Andy spent much of his free time with his family in the main house, he lived in what used to be the caretaker's cottage. He had remodeled it to suit his needsâa bedroom, a small kitchen, a bathroom, and a weight room. But she couldn't find him anywhere.
“Andy? Where are you?” The cottage wasn't that large. Where would he be?
“Over here.” His voice came from behind the wall. “In the storage shed.”
The storage shed was attached to the back of the cottage, but she had never been inside. She retraced her steps and walked around. Andy had left the door open, and she stepped through. She curled her nose at the musty smell hitting her as soon as soon as she entered.
She blinked, adjusting her eyes to the relative darkness. A single bare bulb in the ceiling provided the only light. All around her were dusty old file cabinets. These must contain the older records for Tanaka Farms, she thought. At the back, she finally located her friend, kneeling on the floor, hunched over an old wooden crate. He was still dressed in his work clothesâkhakis, a tucked-in polo shirt, and loafersâand Leigh briefly wondered how he managed to keep himself looking so clean and crisp, even inside the dusty shed. He turned toward her, excitement lighting his face.
He motioned for her to join him. Andy didn't speak when a look or a gesture would suffice. It wasn't that he couldn't talk. He had managed to deliver an eloquent, though brief, valedictory address when they graduated from high school. But he said only what he needed to say.
Leigh made her way to him. The crate looked different from anything she had ever seen. It was black, inlaid with delicate gold flowers. Though it was covered with a thick layer of dust, she could tell it was a treasure. Inside were some old Japanese clothes, a scroll, and two swords, one long and ornately decorated, the other shorter and plainer.
“I wonder how your family got these.”
“Dad says we had a samurai ancestor.”
“It would have been over a hundred and forty years ago. The samurai were outlawed in 1870.”
Andy's hands stopped. He sat up and stared at his friend. A single raised brow communicated his question.
She shrugged. “I read about it.”
His eyes crinkled and his lips curved. “Your manga?”
Andy was the only person who didn't tease or belittle her about her passion for the manga comics. “Yeah, I guess so. They teach a lot of history.”
They looked back at the items in the crate. “This stuff is super old.” Leigh mused. “Seems kind of a waste to have it rotting out here. Let's bring it in the house so we can look at it closer in better light and show it to the rest of the family.”
They replaced the items in the box and hauled it to the main house. As they put it on the kitchen table, Lily came in, staring curiously.
“I thought I heard a lot of bumping and thumping coming from out here. What have you got?”
Andy simply gestured toward the wooden box.
“It's a cool chest Andy found way in the back of the shed.” Leigh often finished Andy's explanations. Maybe it was because they had spent so much time together, but she felt they knew each other as well as they knew themselves.
She fingered one of the gold flowers on the lid. “This looks like a family crest.”
Lily grabbed a dishtowel and wiped at the dust. “I think you're right. It could very well be the Tanaka family crest. I've seen it on old documents, as well as some of the traditional ceremonial clothing we have stored upstairs.”
Leigh opened the crate and took out the faded scroll. “This probably explains everything, but we can't read it.”
His mother opened the scroll and peered at the document. “I can't either. I recognize some of the characters, but I don't know enough of them to make any sense of it.”
She looked up at Andy. “Your dad knows even less than I do. Why don't you take this upstairs to your grandfather? He's spent a lot of time in Japan, so maybe he can read enough to tell you what it says.”
* * * *
Ten minutes later, Kenjiro Tanaka removed his glasses and rubbed his eyes. He sat back in his easy chair. His rooms on the second story of the house were furnished with comfortable old furniture that suited him. Pictures of his family, past and present, covered the walls. Several shelves housed his collection of books. Grandpa Tanaka was a well-read man who had once harbored a dream of studying English literature.
“I'm sorry, Andy and Leigh, but I can't read this.” He set his glasses down on the side table and sighed. “My parents spoke Japanese to us, but my brothers and I went to American schools so our main focus was learning to read and write in English. I know just enough to get around when I go to Japan, but a lot of these characters I'm not familiar with. Why don't we go and see Mr. Kimura? He should still be awake.”
* * * *
“Kimura-san,” as his acquaintances called him, was a close friend of the Tanaka family. He had come to America from Japan in the late 1960s as an instructor of
, the art of Japanese flower arranging. He quickly became close to the Tanaka family through their mutual work with flowers. Even now, Andy's family included him in their holiday gatherings. Mr. Kimura lived in a retirement home close by.
âgood evening, Tanaka-san. Andy, what a nice surprise. And Leigh, too. What brings you out here this evening?”
, Kimura-san.” Kenjiro, Andy and Leigh bowed and offered the traditional Japanese greeting.
Leigh eagerly gave the explanation for their visit. “Andy found an old chest in his parents' storage shed. This scroll was inside, and we wondered if you could translate it for us.”
“I will try. It has been so long since I have done any reading in Japanese, I have probably forgotten many characters. Let me find my reading glasses, and I will see what I can do.”
Leigh helped the older man find his glasses and Andy set Mr. Kimura's wheelchair next to a table lamp. He started to read, but fussed about the lighting, so Andy brought another lamp over and plugged it in. The reading was laborious, and more than once he consulted an old Japanese character dictionary. Finally, the man set the scroll down.
“This is a letter from a man named Hiromasa TanakaâI'm assuming he's an ancestor of yoursâto his son, Yasahiro. It is a moving letter. I'm not sure of some of the characters, since the letter is faded from age, and it's written in an old style of the language. You may have to check with a linguist to get the exact meaning of some phrases. But I will tell you what I know.”
Kenjiro sat in an upholstered chair. Andy and Leigh settled on the floor in front of the old man and waited eagerly for his story. Mr. Kimura regarded each of them solemnly, and then focused his attention on Kenjiro.
“Hiromasa Tanaka was a samurai soldier. He came from a family of samurai. It says here he always knew he disliked fighting, and at the end of the samurai age, he was actually relieved, even though he didn't know what he would do. It wasn't until he met his wife in the far north, that he knew what he wanted to do with his life. He became a farmer, and established a successful flower farm.
“He had been raised with the samurai code of honor known as the
, and he believed it was this code that helped him to prosper as a farmer and a businessman. He raised his sons with the same ethics. Apparently his eldest son, Yasahiro, came to live in America. He must have been the Tanaka who established Tanaka Farms in California.”
Kenjiro nodded in agreement. “Yes, Yasahiro was my grandfather.”
Kimura-san continued the story. “Hiromasa was, of course, sad to see his son leave the country, but on the other hand was proud of him for his bravery in going to a new land. Hiromasa had other sons who continued Tanaka Farms in Japan, but he observed the accomplishments of his son in America with great pride.
“The letter says Hiromasa realized he was growing old, and feared he wouldn't have much longer to live. He wanted to give his eldest son his swords and other treasures of his life as a samurai, which Yasahiro was to pass down to his sons when they proved they were true keepers of the samurai code, or the
Leigh's breath caught. What a beautiful legacy! But she saw Andy's grandfather frown. Was something wrong?
“So this would have been passed down from Yasahiro to his son Ichiro, my father,” Kenjiro mused. “And Father would have passed it down to my older brother, Michio. But Michio was killed in World War II. I was in college then, and my family was in the relocation center at Camp Amache in Colorado. I wonder when it was put away in the storage shed?”
“It is hard to say,” Kimura-san replied. “Perhaps it was stored there before the family went to the camp, and later, in his sorrow, Ichiro didn't think to pass the legacy to you, his second son. It is rightfully yours now.”
Kenjiro nodded. “It would seem so.”
“Grandpa, are you angry that your father didn't give these to you?” Andy's question echoed Leigh's thoughts.
Kenjiro turned to him, seemingly surprised. “No, of course not. My father was devastated when Michio died. We all were. I can understand why he didn't think to pass them on to me. I'm just sad this is mine because of my brother's death.” He took a deep breath, and let it out. “But it is an honor to have it.” He looked at Andy again. “This will be yours someday. You are the eldest son of my eldest son.”
Andy's chest swelled with pride. But then he had a thought.
“Grandpa, I hope it's not mine for a long, long time.” At his grandfather's puzzled look, Andy explained. “It becomes mine when both you and Dad are gone. I don't look forward to that.”