Chapter Eight


Corn Husks

That day my husband was working at a mountain three ri away (about seven miles). We women had finished washing clothes at the river at the bottom of the hill, and were on our way back when I saw a group of Korean men digging about. They were close to the spot where I buried some of our money. From the window at our sleeping area, our money was hidden beside a far rock, next to the third deciduous tree. But now a man in a hunting cap came up the hill, and as he dug here and there with a small shovel, he approached that tree.

Mrs. Daichi who was standing nearby said to me, “Okusan (Ma’am), he’s about to dig up your money!”

I shushed her to be quiet and held my breath. That man dug around the roots of a tree below my tree. He stepped closer to my ‘safe’. I couldn’t help myself and let out a small cry, “Ahh.” He stopped, rested his arm on his shovel, and looked up at us. At the same time, there was a loud noise from nearby, and a large rock came rolling down. Underneath that rock, a small can appeared. “Oh, no. Someone’s money’s been discovered,” we all knew.

The man with the hunting cap shifted his body and turned around to look. Maybe he thought that newly discovered place was more promising. In any case, he rushed over to that area, away from my ‘safe’. Several men focused their attention on that rock and began digging around its former resting place. They were obviously thieves but there was nothing we could do about it. We were just refugees, and could only helplessly watch.

Then a whistling sound drifted up from below. Somebody from the Hoantai, the local Korean police, came up the hill on a horse. Thank goodness. The thieves quickly disappeared. But Mrs. Sakiyama’s money was gone. In our group, she was probably the worst off or close to it. Her husband never returned, she was pregnant, and she had two young boys to care for. Of course, I hoped that wasn’t all of her money. I assumed she did what we all did. Divide the money into at least three parts before hiding it. Mrs. Sakiyama was usually morose but it was still terrible to see how she tried to hide her anguish. She refused to be comforted as she stood alone in her pain. I was relieved my money was still safe. I glanced at Mrs. Daichi and thought, “Wait a minute! How did she know my money was hidden there?”

I asked her, “Mrs. Daichi, how did you know my money was there?”

She smiled and said, “Oh, I’m not the only one. Everyone knows.”

The morning my husband and I hid our money, the fog was thick. We did it at mealtime when everyone was eating, I went to my room and was the lookout while my husband went to bury the money. I didn’t notice anyone outside of the house. “How did everyone know where our money was?” Now I was frightened.

I quickly ran to the bushes, dug up the spot, and checked our ‘safe.’ Although it stunk of dirt, none of the money was missing. It was wrapped in paper and tucked inside the bottom of the hango. I had carried it with my husband’s meal sitting on top and felt safe.
I sat staring at the hango, until my husband got home that night. Hiding the money in the house was dangerous. But hiding the money outside was dangerous, too. What could I do? Sewing a hundred yen bill in the seam of our clothes, in the collars, or inside the obi waist band, was too obvious—everyone knew about those hiding places. My husband and I continued to think about this problem everyday. He was so deep in thought that he no longer chatted with me.

One morning, during breakfast, he stopped eating. He was looking something outside through the window.

I said, “What are you looking at?”

There was only a corn husk someone had thrown away. When he was about to leave to work, he said to me in a low voice, “I figured out a way. I want you to collect as many corn husks as you can, and dry them.”

“What are you going to do?” I said.

“I’m going to make zori sandals tonight,” he said.

He must have some plan, I thought and did as he asked. I collected and dried corn husks all day. From that night, he started making zori sandals. He learned how to make them from Mr. Nagasu, a large, older man who came from a farming family.

Mr. Nagasu was curious. “Mr. Fujiwara, why use corn husks to make zori?” Traditionally, they were made of rice stalks.

“I did some research on this,” my husband said. “Corn husks contain oil and on top of that, they have very strong fibers. They make stronger zori than rice stalks. And did you know that even if they get wet, they won’t get soaked?” Saying such nonsense, my husband managed to deflect Mr. Nagasu’s suspicions. My husband’s first attempts were odd shaped zori, and Mr. and Mrs. Nagasu laughed at him because they looked so strange, but he didn’t seem to mind. It was late when he got to the third pair, working all alone. Each man took a turn as night watch. That night, my husband took the first night shift and worked on his zori sandals. He made four pairs with the corn husks. He hid hundred yen and ten yen notes, folded into tiny strips inside the corn husks—altogether about a thousand yen for emergencies.

I was impressed at his cleverness. “Not bad,” I said to myself.

As he instructed me, I wore those zori, got them dirty and kept them along with the children’s shoes, next to our rucksack.

And there was also my husband’s precious Longines watch. We hid that, too. This was another good idea. I carved a hole in a large bar of laundry soap, then wrapped the watch in paraffin wax and placed it inside the hole. From another bar of soap, I carved out a chunk of soap to seal the hole. After carefully filling in the cracks with soap flakes, I warmed the soap bar. As far as anyone could tell, we had an ordinary bar of laundry soap—with a watch inside! I even dipped it in water and used it a few times to show everyone it was just soap. The corners were all rounded and smooth and I kept it inside a can. In these clever ways, we kept our valuables safe.

After we put these ‘safes’ together, I was relieved. No one seemed to notice what we did.


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