Please click arrows at the sides for a continuous sliding view
Growing up: Seattle to Tokyo
She was born Eugenia Sumiye Ushiyama in Seattle, Washington in 1921, the first child of one of Japan's earlier entrepreneurs in the West. Unlike most Japanese immigrants arriving on the West Coast of the US in the early 1900's, Ushiyama Masaburo was so quickly discouraged by the discrimination against Japanese and Chinese, that he soon headed inland. Somewhere he hooked up with the Ringling Brothers circus, introducing judo to American audiences. "These 'Oriental' men, whom many Americans had never seen before, asked for volunteer wrestlers from the audience," Ms. Okoshi would explain, "and these short Japanese men would demonstrate their judo on the tall Americans." Pocketing some money, he studied business at Valparaiso University in Indiana. Ushiyama returned to Seattle, and by 1920 had married Ryoko Fukuda. In 1921 Eugenia Sumiye Okoshi was their first-born of four children, all daughters. His occupation is listed on her birth certificate as an importer-exporter. According to ship records, she made her first trip to Japan after her first birthday with her parents. From the French inventor, Georges Claude, in the mid- 1920's Ushiyama obtained the patent rights to neon lights in Japan. "They said, 'He lit up the Ginza,'" Ms. Okoshi would smile quietly and gently laugh. In 1928, the family moved permanently to Tokyo. It was a very comfortable childhood for this family with new money. Sumiye attended the private school, Rikkyo Jogakuin (St. Margaret's Episcopalian School).
Tokyo, World War II; A Young Widow
Sumiye Okoshi was 21 years old when Japan declared war on the US. Shortly before, she had married Toshiaki Okoshi, a journalist for Asahi Shimbun. During the war, he was sent to the Philippines as a war correspondent for the Japanese Army while she lived in the daily air raids on Tokyo, as bombs were dropped all around. For a time she was able to retreat to her family's ancestral home in Nagano, a beautiful mountainous land. Once upon returning to their Tokyo house, her family found it intact but with an unexploded missile lying in the front yard. The destruction of Tokyo and the wondrous nature of Nagano were in sharp contrast --- as well, she was to experience life at its social class extremes.
With the surrender of Japan in 1945, Toshiaki Okoshi was diagnosed with tuberculosis when taken by Americans as a prisoner of war, and then sent back to Japan. Sumiye Okoshi was asked by Asahi Shimbun to make the long trip to visit him in Ohmura, in the Prefecture of Nagasaki. As the train from Tokyo to Ohmura approached Hiroshima, the conductor instructed all passengers to lower the window shades. However, Ms. Okoshi peeked out from her lowered shade to silently gasp, a breath still held in memory 60 years later. Far worse than the years of bombing of Tokyo, after the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, "there was nothing,. Nothing."
Arriving at the medical camp, it was difficult for Ms. Okoshi to find her husband, but as she entered the area where he lay on the ground bedding, he called to her. After the years of separation and the massive world tragedies of war, he joked that she had forgotten who he was. She would recount how she had brought a bag of rice from Tokyo. Food was scarce: each grain was precious. With no coal to cook, she dug a hole in the ground, gathered anything that could burn, and cooked the rice in a mess can she found on the ground for their first meal together in years. After about a year, they returned to Tokyo, where he was in a hospital and later moved to a TB sanitarium in Kiyose. In 1950 he tried returning to work at Asahi Shimbun. The couple had been saving and building a small house in Suginami-ku, Tokyo. Toshiaki died the second night after they moved in.