"You have to work hard to offend Christians. By nature, Christians are the most forgiving, understanding, and thoughtful group of people I've ever dealt with. They never assume the worst. They appreciate the importance of having different perspectives. They're slow to anger, quick to forgive, and almost never make rash judgments or act in anything less than a spirit of total love . . . No, wait--I'm thinking of Labrador retrievers!" David Learn, 1998

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Blessed in unexpected ways: The 3 Ms (Part 1)

Posing for the media; Moto at the tiller in the background.
      Two bittersweet blessings that came from our trip back for Mum's ceremony require some back story: Nick Mikami, Moto Fushima, Mickey Suemitsu* were the three Japanese crewmen on the Phoenix. Dad (Skipper) called them "the 3 Ms." They were all members of the Hiroshima Yacht Club and had helped with the building of our boat. (*Niichi Mikami, Motosada Fushima, and Mitsugi Suemitsu.)
     Nick, our first mate, was a stolid man, reliable. He was in his thirties and knew English pretty well.
     The other two were in their twenties. Moto was gentle, quiet, and kept himself in the background. When the Honolulu Star-Bulletin wanted a picture of the Phoenix under sail off Diamond Head, the rest of us lined up along the rails for the photographer on a boat pacing us. Moto (I notice now) stayed in the cockpit steering. That was so typical of him.
     Mickey was different. He spent our whole shakedown cruise from Japan in his bunk seasick (well, it was a rough and scary trip and his bunk--and Moto's--were in the fo'c'sle, which has the roughest ride). When pressed, he finally had Nick tell us he thought it would help if he could have "a little rice gruel like my mother used to make." So Mum, who already made three meals a day--meals for all seven of us with Japanese rice and miso soup for the three Japanese men--set to work to make Mickey rice gruel the way his mother used to make it..
     Mickey didn't like to work (he prided himself on growing his little fingernails out about an inch like Japanese "gentlemen" so he couldn't do much work anyway) although he didn't mind taking credit for it, and he didn't like taking orders. Despite repeated instructions, he'd let other ships approach too close in the middle of the night before waking the skipper to inform him there was a ship in sight.
     Whatever real offenses he may have committed, Mickey became our scapegoat for everything. When our black cat Manuia turned up with a stripe of white paint down her back, I blamed Mickey. (I should have known it was more in the line of my father's type of humor.)
Moto, Mickey, Nick
     The men had arranged with their families to be away three years. The three years were up in 1957 when we were in the Caribbean, with the Panama Canal and the whole Pacific (Galapagos, Marquesas, Hawaii) to go before we'd be back in Japan. But Dad's patience with Mickey was up, too. There was an event off Jamaica, a defiance of authority that amounted to mutiny (Dad never demanded obedience for its own sake but for the safety of the ship and crew) and after a family consultation and a confrontation with Mickey in the presence of the other two, Dad told him we were shipping him home.
     Nick staunchly chose to stay with us. For some reason, Moto chose to be sent home with Mickey. We liked Moto. We liked his cheerful personality and his hard work. Setting sails or mending them, he'd quietly do what needed to be done whether assigned the job or not. We had no issues with Moto and were sad that he chose to leave. We weren't sure whether it was out of loyalty to Mickey, issues with Skipper's authoritarianism, or homesickness.
     Three years later when we reached Japan, Nick became a celebrity, the first Japanese to sail around the world. Toward the end of our trip Nick had taken to wearing a wide wool cummerbund. I wonder now whether he wore it to ease pain because soon after our return to Hiroshima he went in for surgery for stomach cancer and died on the operating table.
     Meanwhile, Moto had settled back into Japanese life and had met the woman he wanted to marry--a hibakusha (nuclear bomb survivor). Most Japanese discriminated against hibakusha and would not consider marrying someone (or arranging a marriage for their grown child with someone) carrying potential mutations that might affect future generations.
     We've never heard what happened to Mickey after he left the Phoenix.

(To be continued)


  1. Just a quick note to let you know how very much I'm enjoying this series of posts about your mom and your trip to Hiroshima! I've read every one and sometimes I'm so excited to read the next entry I come home from work on my lunch break just to see if it's been posted yet! Your mom was an incredible woman and I'm looking forward to visiting her memorial when I go to Hiroshima in the fall.

  2. Thank you, Bryn. I try to schedule my posts to appear at midnight California time. Will you be going to Hiroshima for the Hiroshima Day observance on August 6th? Please consider staying at the World Friendship Center while you are there. You can contact them at worldfriendshipcenter@gmail.com or (082) 503-3191.

    Now I want to get caught up with your posts!