If you meet Kimiko-san, the first thing you will notice about her is her warm, captivating smile; so serene as to leave the impression that this kimono-clad graceful lady has never known a day of hardship in her life.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Kimiko-san is my aunt. She was born in 1927 in Hinokage, the first child of a hard working couple who ran a pharmacy on the main street in Hinokage town in Miyazaki prefecture, Japan.
Back then, Hinokage was experiencing an economic boom due to the discovery of tin in the nearby Mitate mine at the turn on the 20th century. A center of economic activity, the area was first to have electric power in Miyazaki prefecture in 1911. People came to seek out their fortune from all over; businessmen, British mining engineers, Chinese and Korean laborers, Kabuki artists and entrepreneurs added to the population.
Years went by and the family business prospered. Yuko was born in 1930, Shoko (my mother) in 1932, Noriko in 1936 and Koichi in 1939. Those were happy years. Although Japan was at war in Asia, and there was political turmoil in parts of the country, Hinokage was a peaceful place.
Kimiko-san has fond memories of those years, when age-old traditions filled the daily life, and familiar faces were everywhere.
And then things began to change.
Kimiko-san’s parents died during a typhoid epidemic in 1942; first her father in July – on the same day as Koichi’s 3rd birthday – and then her mother during Obon, one month later. Kimiko-san was still a child of 15, but now she had four younger ones to care for.
The only source of income the family had was the pharmacy on main street. To save the family, Kimiko-san accepted the marriage proposal of a young local pharmacist, who could help her run the business. She was 16 years old.
Many hard years went by. The ravages of war devastated Hinokage. The mine shut down, and many people left town for good.
But eventually happiness returned; the children grew up and business prospered again.
I’d like to think that throughout all the hardships Kimiko-san always knew that what she had to do was work hard and never stop smiling. That is what she did, and that is how she kept the family together.
Today, Kimiko-san still runs the same pharmacy, by herself now, in the same place in Hinokage. She is active in the local business council, takes hula dancing lessons, practices singing and participates in cultural events. She is the matriarch of the family, whom everybody loves and respects.
Time goes by and memories fade. I too will forget many things over time, I’m sure. But one thing I will never forget is Kimiko-san’s beautiful, enchanting smile.