A boy is born; only inside he knows that he is not a male but rather a female. He cannot understand this, nor can he explain it to his parents or to others. So he grows to up suffering and only after he attains the independence of adulthood can he live the life he had always known he was meant to live. This tale has been told thousands of times, here and in many other places, and is experienced by tens of thousands of people around the world at any given moment. Fortunately, in our time, hormone replacement therapy and surgery allow the fulfillment of the desired transition and there is a growing acceptance of it by the community. However, in other societies and at other times this was not so.
The following tale takes place in Japan in the 1880’s, during the rule of the Emperor Meiji. This was a heady time, when Japan abandoned its policy of isolation from the rest of the world and plunged into an intensive program of industrialization and modernization which led to it becoming a world-class industrial and military power by the first decade of the 20th century. Tens of thousands of Japanese were sent to study abroad, and tens of thousands of Europeans and Americans were brought to Japan to teach and train future generations in western science and technology. The result was an immense cultural shock and reorientation, in which the fulfillment of all dreams seemed possible.
CHAPTER 1. THE INN
My name is Hatsue, and I manage the Blossoming Willow Inn. “Hatsue” is not the name I was born with, for it is a woman’s name, and I was born a boy. Nonetheless, it is the name I use and the name by which I have been known ever since I ran away from my parents’ home and chose to live my life as a woman. I will not burden you with the tale of how I managed to do that, nor do I care to remember it, for it is a hard and heart-breaking story, full of suffering, sacrifice, and, finally, some lucky breaks.
The openness of Japan to the rest of the world under our Emperor Meiji has, paradoxically, made life for women like me all the more difficult, for it has brought with it the “modern” outlook of Victorian England and Europe towards sexual roles, which is far more rigid and restrictive than that of traditional Japan. Paradoxically, in the name of “modernity”, acceptance — or at least toleration — of people like me seems to be disappearing from Japanese society.
The inn that I manage is not a large one. It has eight guest rooms in all, together with a dining room which also serves as a public restaurant. It is in Japanese style but caters mainly to foreigners who wish to live a bit exotically while they are here. Of course, I had to make some adjustments to fit them. At one end of the corridor on which the guest rooms are located is a Japanese-style toilet and hot tub, but at the other is a European-style WC and shower stall. While the rooms are all furnished in Japanese style, I do have a supply of western-style beds in the storage room, which the guests can request. In one corner of the dining room, there is one western-style table and chairs, for guests who cannot eat at low Japanese tables, and there are even sets of western-style cutlery available for those who request them. I cannot understand how people can eat with those barbaric utensils, but one must accommodate one’s guests as best one can, especially paying guests.
Why did I choose to work primarily with foreigners? I am good enough in the role of a woman that most Japanese people accept me as a one, though some look at me in a questioning manner because of my hands and feet which seem a bit too large, and my voice which is not quite as feminine as it should be. Most of them pity me for being so ugly, rather than question what I might have between my legs. Foreigners, on the other hand, are less discriminating or perhaps less observant, in this respect. They do not see the nuances which we Japanese see. If I am dressed as a woman, they take me for one unquestioningly. I am more comfortable among them.
Two of the guest rooms are currently being used by long-term boarders. The others are occupied by businessmen or travelers who come and go after a few days. One of the long-term boarders is Japanese — a retired court official by the name of Mr. Nakayama — who is 70 years old. His wife died last year and his only son is studying in France for the next six months. He prefers not to be alone in his home. He is very quiet and rarely bothers anybody.
The other long-term boarder is an American, a huge red-headed giant by the name of Edward Springfield Throckmorton. That name is totally unpronounceable in Japanese, and so everybody calls him “Moto-san”. I will call him that too. Moto-san is an expert on the construction and maintenance of locomotives and comes from California in the United States of America. He has been in Japan for three years now, and speaks passable Japanese (though his accent is terrible). He moved into my inn last month, and plans to stay here until his contract expires, in a few months.
When Moto-san goes to the railway yard, where he trains Japanese engineers, he wears western-style overalls sewn of a crude blue cloth which he had made for him especially by a tailor in his native San Francisco by the name of Levi Strauss. He is very proud of them and says that they are the best work clothes in the world, but I find them hard to look at. He predicts that one day everyone in the world, even women, will wear them all of the time, but I find that idea totally fantastic. Still, who knows what changes in fashion our exposure to the rest of the world will bring.
Around the inn, Moto-san prefers to dress in Japanese style, and wears a cotton yukata, which he also had to have tailored for him especially, to fit his great height. (He says he is six feet and eight inches tall, in his way of measuring things; by that same system of measurement, I am five feet and one inch tall.) He is surprisingly supple and has no trouble sitting cross-legged at a Japanese-style table and eating his food with sticks, at which he is surprisingly adept. He is obviously very strong but is able to channel his strength into delicate and precise movements, if necessary. I suppose that engineers have to be that way. Somebody who saw him at work says that at one moment he might be wrestling with all of his strength to turn a huge wheel which controls the flow of steam from a boiler, and at the next he might have to delicately calibrate a valve to the nearest thousandth of an inch.
This combination of strength and delicacy reminds me of the ideal of a samurai warrior.
He is very interested in Japanese culture. Indeed, every day he spends at least one hour with Mr. Nakayama, who is teaching him Japanese calligraphy. He writes beautifully.
One day, a few weeks after he moved into our inn, Moto-san asked me if I would be so kind as to show him the best areas in our area to view the cherry blossoms, which had begun to bloom. We agreed to an outing the next day. When he came to my room the following morning, I was surprised to see that he was dressed in a formal and fancy kimono, like a very proper Japanese gentleman, and he behaved quite properly as one too. We drove down to the river bank in a carriage which he had hired especially for the day, and spent a wonderful day looking at the cherry blossoms. I had brought along a book of poems appropriate for the occasion, and recited them, while he seemed profoundly moved. It was a lot of fun, though I must admit that, walking next to this huge and gentle man, I felt like a little girl walking with her father or big brother. It was a most wonderful experience.
CHAPTER 2. LOVE AND DISASTER
I am clearly falling in love with Moto-san. I say this to myself, and do my best not to reveal it to him. Being built the way I am, I know that I could never have a real relationship with a man, but being the girl that I am, I can still dream. Sometimes I daydream about what it would be like if I were a girl physically as well as emotionally. One of the servant girls had seen Moto-san naked after coming out of the hot tub, and said that he is HUGE. I can only imagine. And yet I think of him as gentle, and not as a brute. I constantly fantasize being held in his huge arms and making love to him.
No matter how well Moto-san learns to speak Japanese, to write Japanese, to act and behave like a Japanese gentleman, or even to think in the Japanese manner, he can never be fully Japanese — his body will forever keep him apart. Perhaps he is like me in that regard, for I know that no matter how well I act as a woman, or am even taken for a woman by others, I know that I can never fully be a woman — my body too, keeps me apart.
Moto-san apparently likes my company as much as I like his. Whenever he is free, he suggests that we go on a trip to the beach or to the woods or some other place. He is always very correct and has never forced himself on me, though one time he did take my hand and I did not pull it away, so now he does it frequently. His body exuded warmth and kindness. I wonder what he thinks of mine.
He tells me a lot about his childhood. His father went to California to look for gold, but ended up starting a small machine-shop to make mechanical devices for the miners. The shop prospered and the family became quite well-off. As Moto-san says, in California it is much easier and more profitable to extract gold from the pockets of the miners than it is from the streams. Later his father’s workshop began building and repairing steam engines and then, as it grew, entire locomotives. Moto-san learned his mechanical skills working in his father’s workshop. Later, he went to a technical school and became trained as a mechanical engineer.
San Francisco, as he describes it, is much like Japan. There are hills and woods and beaches nearby. Also, as in Japan, the ground sometimes quakes and rumbles, and many lives are lost. He says that many people from Japan have come to live in San Francisco and that he had even learned the rudiments of the Japanese language when he was a child, from some of his playmates. He had been fascinated by the stories of Japan and, when a representative of the Japan railroads came to San Francisco looking for people to help train locomotive engineers, he jumped at the chance.
As I said, I often lie on my futon dreaming of what it would be like to have Moto-san with me, to be in his arms, and to be loved by him as a woman. Sometimes I can feel him entering me and impregnating me with his seed. How can I feel what I have never experienced and am not equipped physically to ever experience? Well how can a man without legs experience the sensation of running, or a blind man experience the colors of the cherry blossom? Sometimes our soul can feel what the body cannot. Perhaps this is what the monks mean, when they pose their riddle about the sound of one hand clapping?
I was in the midst of one such reverie when, all of a sudden, I felt the room shaking about me. For a split second I thought that my dreams had taken hold of reality, until I realized that it was the earth, and the room, which were moving. I hurriedly tried to get to my feet to run out of doors, when suddenly the ceiling caved in and I lost consciousness. When I came to, after several minutes, I found that I could not move. The main roof beam had fallen directly across my chest and I was pinned under it. All around me, I could hear people shouting and running about, while I was trapped. I could also smell fire, somewhere beyond my plane of vision. I could not move or even cry out for help.
And suddenly he was there — Moto-san came through the ruins, pushing the remains of walls aside and calling my name. When he saw me lying there, he bent his huge body over the beam and, with the strength of an elephant and the determination of a lion, pushed it aside and pulled me out from under the rubble. I was naked and so he grabbed a length of fabric which was lying in the room (and from which I intended to sew some clothes for myself), wrapped me in it, and carried me to safety.
CHAPTER 3. REVELATIONS
Moto-san had carried me to a grassy knoll not far from the inn, safe and away from the multitudes of people who had run into the streets when the quake hit, and from the fire which was destroying the restaurant area of my inn. He set me down gently and then sat cross-legged next to me, stroking my hair tenderly. At first I was in shock but then, when the sequence of events slowly replayed itself in my mind, I burst out crying. Moto-san cradled my head with his arm and asked if I was in pain. I replied that, more than I was in pain, I was covered with shame. He had seen me naked and therefore had seen the secret of my body. How could I possibly go on living after that? His rescue was in vain, for it would be my duty now to take my own life.
Moto-san held me tightly. “Hatsue, all I saw then, and all I see now, is a beautiful person who is a woman-by-choice. All I see now and all I will ever see is someone who has managed to be what she needs to be. A person who has managed to do that has everything to live for.” He then told me that in San Francisco he had met several women-by-choice. While some narrow-minded or no-minded people give them trouble, others accept them for what they want to be and even applaud them for having the courage to master the physical difficulties and live the way their souls told them they must live.
He then looked directly into my eyes. “Hatsue, I have been trying to find the words to say something to you for a long time, and now I think it is best if I say it directly. I love you, Hatsue, and would like very much to marry you. Could you possibly consider marrying a barbaric gaijin?”
“Even after what you have seen?” I asked.
“Yes, even after what I have seen, for it shows that you have a truly feminine soul and heart. I have known all too many women who have a feminine body but a soul and heart of a stone, of a bird, or of a fish.”
“But the authorities here will not let me marry a man,” I said, “and I doubt if they will do so in your country either.”
“That is true,” he replied, “but every problem has a solution, and engineers are trained to find them. Under international law, the captain of a ship on the high seas is empowered to perform marriages, which are then considered valid in all countries. I have already booked my return passage to San Francisco next month, on the Star of the West, the captain of which is my old friend Nathaniel Cooper from Oakland, across the Bay from San Francisco. I am sure that he would marry us based solely on my word, and without asking for the usual documentation. That is, of course, if you accept my proposal.”
“Yes, yes, yes!” I replied. “Yes, I accept, for there is nothing more I could wish for in the whole world than to be your bride.”
Moto-san hugged me tightly and kissed me on the lips, for the first of many many times. Finally, he said “Of course, there is one more major difficulty, but we have a month to try and overcome it.” I asked him what it was, and he replied with a smile, “I will have to teach you how to correctly pronounce your new name, ‘Throckmorton’. A woman who cannot even pronounce her surname correctly would be most unseemly.”
Ed Throckmorton and his new bride returned to San Francisco, where he found a job with the Central Pacific Railway, quickly rising to the rank of Head of Rolling Stock Maintenance for the entire system and later to Corporate Vice-President. He and his wife (who soon anglicized her name to “Sue”) adopted four children — two of European stock and two of Japanese stock — and purchased a home on Nob Hill. Sue Throckmorton became a patron of the San Francisco Opera and a well-know society hostess. One of her sons, Hideyuki Throckmorton, later followed in his father’s footsteps and became a professor of mechanical engineering at the University of California in Berkeley.
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