A dramatic change from a sheltered childhood, and eventful life in America
Narachiyo Sekine, vice president of the Seattle Nikkei Society, leads busy days through volunteering and gardening. In Japan, she was a “young lady” brought up in a Catholic school. “This life was better than becoming a sister,” said Narachiyo. Here, we follow her life path.
Convent or Marriage
Narachiyo was born in Den-en-chōfu. Her father, who studied in America before the war managed a ranch. The sprawling idyllic landscape of the then-undeveloped Den-en-chōfu was hard to imagine today. Narachiyo attended Yokohama Kuran School for Girls (now called Yokohama Futaba Schools), receiving a 10-year Catholic education from her elementary years to her upper-level courses. After the war, she entered the English Language Department of The Sacred Heart School (Fuyo Ryou, Seishin Joshi Gakuin), of which was newly recovered from the air-raid that had taken place. Her life within the school as well as her communication with the sisters was almost entirely in English. After her graduation, she began working for the school as a kindergarten teacher, but she ended up helping her father who had gone on to open a camera stand at the Etajima American naval base. It was there where she met Pete Rutledge, a military man who was close with her father. “I thought I was going to enter a convent, so I definitely was not thinking of marriage. I only ever went to church.”
Before long, Narachiyo began to go out together with Pete on boats and bicycles. It was a place without much, but the scenery was beautiful. Her father said he did not have any objection to his daughter’s marriage with Pete. “At that time, there was nothing in Japan and it was a difficult era, you know? My father was familiar with America, so it seemed like he thought I’d have a future there.” However, Narachiyo, who had just been proposed to, was torn between becoming a nun and getting married. When she consulted with her godmother (one who becomes a person’s guardian by witnessing their contract with God performed at a Catholic baptism), she received some advice “You’ll have greater troubles getting married than you will by entering a convent, so you will enrich your life.” “‘Ah, I wonder if she’s right’ I thought to myself. It’s true that if I entered the convent, I wouldn’t have anything to worry about. It would be easy to simply pray, right?”
In 1950, they got married at the U.S. Consulate General of Kobe and conceived their oldest son, Ray the following year. She was required to go to the American military hospital to give birth to the child, but they had not made it in time to be admitted and ended up having the baby in Etajima. In March of 1952, Narachiyo, with her newborn son, Ray, in tow, set off for America with Pete on a naval ship from Yokohama.
Tribulating Journey by Boat
“About 350 war brides were on that ship. Except me and about three other women, the majority of them were alone without their husbands.” Most people aboard the ship were women who had been called by their new military husbands later on after they had already returned to America. Narachiyo and her husband were in separate cabins. As somebody who’s life had been confined within a Catholic school, this 14-day journey aboard a ship was quite harsh. “It was because I was separated from my parents for the first time. There were people who were raised in many different environments and I was startled by their rough way of speaking. There were also infants aboard, so we had to wash their diapers while getting seasick…… Without my husband, I felt hopeless.”
The ship arrived in Seattle. “Everyone was given a train ticket. Then, the next day, we set off. Many of them didn’t understand the language. So, even though they were given tickets, I don’t know if they had any idea how to get where they needed to go. I think many of them were in trouble.” For Narachiyo, Pete bought a car and they headed for his mother’s home in California. However, Narachiyo recounts that for those other women, that was the beginning of a difficult journey. “There may have been some who unfortunately did not meet their husbands safely.”
Days in America
In 1952, she moved to Alaska and met her first Japanese friend, with whom she is still close, Miki Haider. “It was my first time meeting a Japanese person. I was so happy,” Narachiyo recollects. Before long, her second son, Roy, was born. “We didn’t have any Japanese things, so it was difficult. There were times where we ordered tofu from Uwajimaya in Seattle. However, it was shaken up on the plane, so when we opened it, it was all smashed up! We couldn’t help but laugh!” Sometime later, she met another war bride, nicknamed Katie. Together, the three of us attended school, got our citizenship, took turns practicing driving and eventually got our driver’s licenses. With much commotion between them, they spent pleasant days together. At that time, in the recently developed Alaska, there was the law called the Homestead Act, which allowed those to receive the land that they settled on after 99 years. Because of this, Narachiyo and Miki still hold the deed, she told us. “If we live to 120, what do you say we go to Alaska together!” joked Narachiyo when chattering with Miki. (Annotation: The Homestead Act in and of itself, holds the requirement to develop and settle on the land).
The first time she returned to Japan with her children was in 1959. “I believe it was when I was in Los Angeles. It took 36 hours on a propeller plane and we had to stop for gas on an island on the way. That was a long trip!”
In 1978, Narachiyo and Pete got divorced after their many years together as husband and wife. After she began working at Safeway, she made her living as a cashier and served out her time there until retirement. “That was my most profitable job at the time. I was even working on Sundays.”
Narachiyo felt that she made the right decision for her own life. “If I were in Japan, I think I would not be doing all these things. For 13 years, the idea of ‘having patience through it all,’ was instilled into me by the sisters’ education. Because that was in my head, I thought ‘no matter what happens, I will endure, for it is God’s will.’ Because of that, I feel like I didn’t go through many hardships,” Narachiyo laughs. “If I were to enter a convent, I wouldn’t have been able to make the friends I have now and would have lived life without knowing any of this.” Overcoming the ups and downs in her life, Narachiyo now lives out her days with Miki and her other friends with a smile.