Fumiko took the bowl of pork noodles from Myoshi, the cook at the restaurant, who handed it to her from the window that separated the kitchen from the diner hall at Jun’s Favorite Noodle Café. The waitress carried the bowl to the middle-aged man who sat alone at one of the six four-seat tables. Two other customers sat solitary at tables opposite each other. These were the stragglers—as they were referred to in the cafe business—the diners who most often sat and ate unaccompanied, and they could be expected to arrive for their midday meal anytime between twelve and three. Today, they were early birds arriving a few minutes before noon.

Just as Fumiko placed the bowl of noodles on the table in front of the customer, the vessel began to tremble so slightly, and her eyes came wide open and her mouth fell agape. Instantly, the entire table began to shake, and she became momentarily stunned.

“Gishe,” someone shouted out from the kitchen: “Earthquake.”

“Get under the tables and cover your eyes,” another voice called out from the kitchen.

“Get away from the windows,” the first voice yelled out again.

Fumiko leaped quickly and slid under the table next to the one that she had served the customer, covering her eyes and lying face down. She heard window glass breaking, chairs falling over, utensils and plates falling, clanging, and shattering in the kitchen. She heard the others diving for cover under the tables.

“Goddddamn!” a male voice screamed out.

“I’ve broken my leg,” a female yelled.

The front door blew open with a crash. It sounded as if objects were flying and falling all around the diner hall and back in the kitchen as well.

Fumiko was terrified and near a state of hyperventilation.

“Help us. Help us.”

“Ohhh, my God.”

“Please God, stop this. Stop this.”

She smelled gas. She smelled smoke. She saw flames at a distance through the shattered window at the moment when she dared to look up.

And suddenly the deafening clamor stopped as quickly as it started. How long had it gone on? One minute, two minutes, three minutes? The top of a felled tree blocked the view of the only other window on the left side of the diner. Sirens were squalling out from several directions outside on the streets.

The owner of the café stood, and breathing heavily, he spoke, “No doubt it’s a living hell out there, but out there is all of our destinations. I’ve got to take my wife to the hospital. I suggest each one of you goes home to check on your families. May God be with you.”

They went single file out the door, giving each other their best wishes, and the owner was successful in locking the door behind him.

Fumiko walked in the direction of Shinjuku, witnessing the devastation along the way: ramshackle wooden houses ablaze here and there, people of all ages traumatized, startled, spooked, speechless, walking, loping, running in the streets. A storm blew in and the rain started lashing down, and she took off running the three blocks to her parents’ apartment, terrified, suddenly thirsty, stepping over miscellaneous debris on the asphalt street, people on the sidewalks were trying to break into stores and shops to steal anything of value, anything that they could get their hands on or load in a cart. Roofs partially ripped off from the frames of houses, tree branches broken and scattered on lawns and against the sides of houses.

She came to her parents’ apartment building and Kiku was gazing trance-like out the second story window and she scurried out of the flat and down the stairs to meet her daughter. Thank God she was standing on her two feet, Kiku thought.

“Fumiko, Fumiko. You are safe. Oh, praise heaven you are safe.”

She wrapped her arms around her wet shoulders and hair and led her up the flight of stairs and into the open door of the sanctuary of the apartment. They sat on the futon, Kiku grasping Fumiko’s arms, tears streaming from both of their eyes.

“I have some soup and steamed buns if you are hungry, Fumiko,” she said, and picked up a towel and wiped the rain from her skin.

“I’m not hungry, just scared,” she said, and her shoulders and arms began to shiver slightly, so Kiku took a blanket folded at the bottom of the futon and spread it over her shoulders. “I’ve never been so scared in all my life.”

“Lie down and rest, Fumiko,” her mother said, and lowered her torso and head down into a reclining position.

“Stay here with me, Mother. Please don’t leave me alone,” Fumiko said in a feeble voice.

“I won’t leave you, Fumiko,” Kiku said, and lowered her body down so she was lying beside her daughter, and she began stroking her damp hair and dabbing at her tears with a silk handkerchief. “Would you like a cup of tea?” she asked.

“No. I just want to sleep,” Fumiko said, closed her eyes, and fell calmly and gradually into a deep sleep.


“Mother, mother,” Fumiko cried out.

“Fumiko, you’re okay. You’re okay. I think perhaps you were having a bad dream,” Kiku said, patting her daughter’s shoulder lightly.

“Yes, yes. How long did I sleep? Is the storm over?” she asked, rubbing her knuckles over her eyes.

“Yes, the worst of the storm is over. It’s only sprinkling now. You slept for about two hours,” Kiku answered. “Do you feel better now?”

“Yes. Where’s Father?” Fumiko asked.

“He went to Onomichi to buy some pottery for resale,” her mother told her.

“We need to walk down to your apartment and check what condition it is in,” Kiku said, “To see if it’s still standing or not.”

“Yes, we need to do that,” Fumiko said; images from her horrible dream were still flaring up in her mind.

Kiku went to her charcoal cook stove, but she saw that the bricks were still wet.

“I can’t even make us a cup of tea. This situation is absolutely horrible,” she said, and put her face in her hands.

“What should we do, Mother?” Fumiko asked.

“Put on your lightweight jacket and take your umbrella. We’re going to your apartment,” she said.

“Now?” Fumiko asked, still groggy from sleep.

“Yes, right away. There’s no reason to tarry,” her mother said.

Fumiko went to the closet and took out a thin, waterproof parka from a hanger and slipped it over her shoulders. She took a black umbrella from the corner of the closet. “Okay, I’m ready,” she said.

She followed her mother directly out the door, down the flight of stairs and out on the street, where storm survivors were scattered here and there. A few small flames were still burning, some smoldering, but nothing dangerous, and workmen were dousing some of the small fires with buckets of water. Other workmen were dragging tree branches or picking up debris from the street.

“Don’t say anything to anyone. Just keep walking, eyes straight ahead, until we come to your apartment,” Kiku commanded, and they pushed on straight ahead without as much as a single word passing between them.

When they came within a block of Fumiko’s apartment, they saw a solitary figure sitting on the steps who appeared to be a female. They both spotted the person at the same time and raised their brows at each other, indicating they were unsure about who the person was. As they approached the sidewalk a female looked up and called out her name.

“Fumiko, it’s me,” she said.

“Is that you, Sachiko?” Fumiko called back.

“Yes, I’m Sachiko,” she said in a voice that appeared relieved to communicate with another human. “I’m sorry to intrude, but my home was blown away by the goddamn storm.”

“You’re not serious. Mother, this is my friend Sachiko. How long have you been sitting here, girl?” she asked her friend, who was wearing a kimono without a sash, and her hair was mussed, although it had been pulled back off her forehead with a comb.

“Almost an hour. I’m sorry, Fumiko, but I had no other place to go,” she said, tears welling in her eyes.

“Well, everything looks intact out here; let’s go inside,” Fumiko said, eyeing the porch posts and the extended eaves, and she held out her arm, and Sachiko wrapped her arm around Fumiko’s in a gesture showing their friendship.

“I knew I could count on you, Fumiko,” Sachiko said, as Fumiko fished her keys from her jacket pocket and unlocked the apartment door.

“Well, everything looks normal to me,” Fumiko said, turning her gaze from left to right, and then she went directly to her small sink and turned on the faucet. “Water’s working,” she added.

She took a teacup from the cabinet and let it fill up halfway, then took a sip.

“I think it’s okay. Doesn’t have an iron taste,” she reported. “Very well, then, I’ll make us a cup of tea, and you two can have a seat at the table, as there are only two chairs.”

The guests obeyed her command, and Fumiko put a small chunk of charcoal into her little cook stove, poured some gas over it, struck a kitchen match on its rough iron side, and lit the gray-black brick. Finally, she slid the lid on the stove, filled the kettle with water, and placed it on top of the stove to boil. She took three cups and saucers from the cabinet above the sink and spooned a generous portion of tea from a canister into each cup.

“How bad is your room, Sachiko? Unlivable?” Fumiko asked.

“Unlivable. The ceiling collapsed,” she answered.

“Oh, you poor thing. You weren’t inside when it collapsed, I hope,” Kiku said.

“No, I wasn’t. I came home from work and discovered it in that condition,” she answered.

Kiku handed Sachiko a cotton handkerchief, and she wiped her face and her brow.

“Do you still have your job?” Fumiko asked.

“No, the pub was damaged very badly as well. It’s a wreck,” she answered, “so I’m homeless and jobless as well.”

“The water is boiling, Fumiko,” Kiku said.

“Well, I’ve got two extra mats if we need to bed down here tonight. Tea will be ready in a minute or two. Have you had anything to eat, Sachiko?” Fumiko asked her.

“No, I haven’t. Not since breakfast,” she answered.

“I have some boiled eggs, bread, and bananas. I’ll prepare a plate for you,” Funiko said, taking a dish from the cabinet.

Fumiko took two boiled eggs from a bowl and put them on the plate, then took a knife from a drawer and cut a thick piece of bread from the loaf.

“I also have some wonton soup if you want me to heat it up,” she said.

“Yes, I’d like some soup. You are so kind. I really appreciate this,” Sachiko said, and took the plate Fumiko handed to her.

“You are very welcome, Sachiko.”

“Here’s your tea, young lady,” Kiku said, and placed the cup and saucer next to the plate on the table.

As soon as Kiku sat at the table, Sachiko peeled her egg and devoured it in a few bites and repeated her actions on the second egg, eating half of the thick piece of bread as well, perhaps saving the other half to eat with the soup.

“The soup’s hot. Are you ready for it?” Fumiko asked.

“Yes, please,” Sachiko answered.

Kiku spoke up, “You know I can’t eat, but only drink when I’m agitated about something, and in this case I have a good reason to be agitated. No one was expecting that horrible earthquake. No one gave the Japanese people any warning that it was coming. Seems like the weather people should have known something about it,” she said.

“Well, do you think you still have your job in the noodle café, Fumiko?” Sachiko asked.

“I don’t know. I heard a lot of things breaking in the kitchen, but I don’t know what it was or how bad it was. The boss said his wife injured her leg, and she thought it was broken. So I don’t know,” Fumiko replied.

“Well, I’m going to contact my brother in Osaka tomorrow, and I might just be moving on. You want to go with me if I leave, Fumiko?” Sachiko asked her.

“What are you going to do, Mother?” Fumiko asked.

“I’ll have to go down to Onomichi to join your father selling pottery, I suppose,” Kiku said, “there’s not going to be much going on here for some time.”

“Yes, that’s for sure,” Fumiko said, wringing her fingers together.

Just then the rain started again, coming down steadier and stronger, blown by the wind and splattering on the pane of the single window in the apartment.

“Well, it looks like we’ll all be sleeping here tonight,” Fumiko said.


Sachiko’s brother Kenji welcomed his sister and her friend Fumiko to Osaka and permitted them to use his living room as their sleeping area by placing their mats on the plain wooden floor. He was a little shorter than the average Japanese man, thin in frame, with his hair combed straight back, a trimmed moustache, and round spectacles. He wore a plain blue kimono with a gray sash and brown sandals. His voice was a little loud and shrill, and he began his Marxian theorizing almost immediately after greeting his guests.

“The effects of the earthquake will have the result in the bourgeoise profiting from a natural disaster, a human tragedy of gigantic proportion. The cities will be rebuilt by bank loans to the bourgeoise and the sweat and back-breaking labor of the proletariat. The hedonistic owning-class individualists shall enjoy their rich foods, alcoholic drinks, and the flesh of the young peasant girls as they have the capital to live an immoral life at the expense of others, while the poor go hungry or steal for their daily sustenance. The proletariat will be lucky to have a small fish to eat with his bowl of rice, or a glass of sake. These are his wages, and this will be the rebuilding scenario in the Great City of Tokyo. Resist, resist, I say. Resist the bourgeoise ways and join the resistance against the owning class. We must rise up in rebellion,” Kenji worked himself up to a rant.

Sachiko just listened to her brother and stared at him in disbelief, while Fumiko stared out the window hoping how soon Kenji would shut up. She didn’t care about the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. She needed to find a way to earn enough sen so she could eat each day.

“I hope you don’t bombast your students with this malarkey,” Sachiko said to her brother.

“No, I’m required to read from a prepared text by the head of the political science department. Pure propaganda,” Kenji declared and drained the last of the sake from his glass.

“Let’s have some more sake,” Sachiko said. “Do you want some more sake, Fumiko?”

“Yes,” Fumiko answered, staring into her empty glass, thinking of her mother in Onomichi.

“Here, I have a little money,” Kenji said, reaching into his pockets and pulling out some coins.

“Oh, pity the poor proletariat,” Sachiko said, and fished in her own pockets for some sen, and looked to Fumiko, who was doing the same.

“Do not mock the ideology of the great Karl Marx,” Kenji said, and handed the money to his sister, and added, “there’s a store on the corner of this avenue.”

The next morning, Sachiko and Fumiko rose from their blankets and mats, bathed and dressed, took the train to the shipyards, and went to the somewhat shabby taverns and diners on the dark gray docks, looking for work. By noon, they had both found jobs at different drinking houses, although they tried in vain to find a single place that would hire them both.

“Fifty sen an hour and tips,” the owners all said, apparently this was the going pay-rate for waitresses on the docks, “two short meal breaks, twelve to twelve shifts, and start right away.”

They were both given an apron, a table-cleaning cloth, a hand towel, and they were gainfully employed once again. The pair went together to their jobs—a few doors apart—and returned home at the same time; and if one finished her shift before the other, she would wait until her friend was done, or help clean up if necessary. The inevitable question one posed to the other was always, “How were your tips today?”

There was a tacit rule in the taverns on the docks: One never touches a waitress, and if he so foolishly does, he risks the chance of being thrown out and banned from all the bars surrounding the shipyards. If your mate is in his cups, one should keep him under control lest the whole table of drinkers are permanently banned. The salty sailor talk was all right, but it was never to be directed at the ladies personally. “All ye sailors mind ye manners around all the ladies,” the saying went. And one could expect this rule to be enforced.

Sometimes they went to the public bath together after work to wash the scent of beer, sake, whiskey, and the prawns, clams, squid, and seaweed from their skin, and to soothe aching bones and muscles. In addition, by going to the bath they would avoid Kenji, who might still be awake and waiting to enlighten them on into the morning hours with sake and his latest Marxist musings. No thanks, Fumiko thought. She didn’t need political polemics. She needed to feed herself.

Sachiko even talked about them getting their own place, but after three-and-a-half weeks in Osaka, Fumiko got a tersely written letter from Kiku in Onomichi saying her father was ill, and she desperately needed her help as soon as possible. So once again, Fumiko tearfully boarded a train leaving her good friend Sachiko, bound for Onomichi. Another page in Fumiko’s diary of a 19-year-old vagabond, another tale of moving on, yet again.