During the years of gathering research and thoughts, memory and conversations into some sort of cohesive unit for a book--which would eventually become the forthcoming (Spring 2018 by 2Leaf Press) entitled: Dream of the Water Children: Memory and Mourning in the Black Pacific, I had not thought of a title, or a way to fit all the pieces together for the vast amount of links and connections I wanted to make in relation to world historical archive and a definite anti-colonial stance. Yet another story of a unique person in the world was not my goal, although it would also be taken that way. I wanted to reach those who were concerned with looking at the historical present.
In focusing on my mother and myself, it came one day in a dream. Just as the opening scene in my book presents, I am suddenly woken up in the middle of the night to write: みずこ 水子 ミズコ (mizuko) on a notepad I pull out from the bedside drawer. It puzzled me because, at least consciously, I did not know what this word meant or what it was. Then, the next day, I looked it up on the internet. The term mizuko, was the postwar euphemism for aborted fetus, or dead fetus. An entire religious ceremonial ritual grew out of this when the U.S. Occupation lifted its ban on religious ceremonies in Japan. Many women flooded to the countless shrines and statues to pray for those babies gone. Some were so ashamed, they did it in secret. But most women, even after given “permission,” could now do prayers in the forest and write their babies names or burn their incense in the name of that baby they let go from their bodies.
The term mizuko, was the postwar euphemism for aborted fetus, or dead fetus. An entire religious ceremonial ritual grew out of this when the U.S. Occupation lifted its ban on religious ceremonies in Japan.
But many women did not want anything to do with the babies that they expunged from their bodies. The babies were a memory of rape by a U.S. soldier, or of a time when they were beaten by their father and/or mother for being impregnated by the former enemy, or by their older brother who had to “protect” their family honor. In speaking with some of my mother’s friends about their mizuko, they admitted that they were almost always depressed but carried on, or became resentful. Many of their friends, and my mother’s friends, had committed suicide. Though their babies disappeared from their bodies, they remained present almost eternally, in memory.
The specter of dead mixed-race babies has receded into history, even though the American and Japanese and European tourist and military movements of today would be the carriers of men in far away places who will impregnate the “foreign” and often invisible women. Both in those countries and in the United States, no one cares to know and ignore the liaisons and their results on the far shores of their travels and loneliness. Today, some vets write to me via my blog or Facebook or my videos, asking if I know the whereabouts of a Japanese girl they knew, and the baby that they carried and who may be wandering in Japan somewhere.
The shame of giving birth to an American-fathered baby in the aftermath of being defeated by them, is quite symbolic and fraught with complexities.
In my own immediate family, there was the question of my twin sister whom I never knew. My mother had various stories. But I always thought of the strong possibility of her being aborted. The shame of giving birth to an American-fathered baby in the aftermath of being defeated by them, is quite symbolic and fraught with complexities. The emotional aftermath must also be loaded even more. The moralities of women, controlled by the labels of whore, dragon lady, woman of the night, woman of the enemy, traitor, rebel, and outsider, is too much to bear.
Acknowledging those who had gone before me—who were sacrificed in the name of hiding a country’s shame and violence, a larger reality than just a woman’s body and family--an illusion of protecting a woman’s honor and dignity and survival within a family, community and nation. And perhaps not having that child go through the sufferings that it may need to endure—or it was thought in that way by some.
In thinking through what I knew of my mother, her life, and the lives of the Japanese women that I knew in my childhood, or never knew but were of my mother’s life and condition in Showa era Japan, I was also linking it to my own spiritual practices. Acknowledging those who had gone before me—who were sacrificed in the name of hiding a country’s shame and violence, a larger reality than just a woman’s body and family--an illusion of protecting a woman’s honor and dignity and survival within a family, community and nation. And perhaps not having that child go through the sufferings that it may need to endure—or it was thought in that way by some. Japanese relationship to death is markedly different from modern American and European ones. To speak for the silences and the effects of history that are now visiting us today, in the world’s militaristic struggle, between ethnicities in the hierarchies of nations, of the ignorances that propels humanity—these became the reason that the title of my book came about.
What would my twin sister want of me and Mama and the world? What would the dead and gone want of us? Besides adding a millionth book about a personal life, for what purpose had I been writing down the conversations between my mother and I throughout the years? For what purpose do we have memory? For what purpose do we learn how to write? Is breathing, eating, making love, and walking, acquiring goods, the only actions I am here to partake in? What have I been listening to? In what way must I walk?
With these questions, the mizuko spoke to me. And after my mother’s passing away in 2011, she spoke to me louder after her death. The dream must somehow continue to live.
Featured Image by Edward M. Haugh