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Coming to America

Documentary director says her Japanese war bride mother was not ‘warm and loving,’ but ‘strong’

By WITW Staff on September 23, 2016

When an interviewer asked Kathryn Tolbert whether the film she co-directed with Lucy Craft and Karen Kasmauski, Fall Seven Times, Get up Eight: The Japanese War Brides, was a testimonial to loving Japanese mothers, she had to suppress a laugh. “The film, titled after a Japanese proverb, is about strong women, for sure,” wrote Tobert for The Washington Post. “Warm and loving mothers? No.”

Tolbert’s mother, who goes by Susie Tolbert but was born Hiroko Furukawa, was one of tens of thousands of Japanese women to marry American G.I.’s and make new lives in the homes of their former enemies following WWII. Susie, the daughter of an Imperial Japanese Army officer who grew up with maids and dance lessons, moved from Tokyo to a poultry farm outside Elmira, in upstate New York. When Kathryn asked her about why she married her father, there was no mention of romance. Susie spoke “only of her desperation of what she viewed as her hopeless situation in Japan. He was her opportunity.”

Susie’s family didn’t approve of the marriage — her grandmother even warned her with an old proverb. “He’s like the bones of an unknown horse,” she said, citing the necessity of knowing a man’s family and lineage before marrying him. In a culture where lineage played an important role, many Japanese war brides would see their names struck from their family’s ledgers.

The U.S. government didn’t approve either, imposing laws that limited the number of immigrants that could come to the U.S. as part of efforts to dissuade soldiers from bringing home brides. In many states across the U.S. interracial marriages were outright banned — it wasn’t until 1967 that the Supreme Court would declare such laws unconstitutional.

Susie, like many other war brides, was disappointed by the humble circumstances in which she found herself. And her husband too, perhaps, was surprised to realize that the woman he married was not quiet and obedient as advertised, but opinionated and ambitious. And when they eventually divorced, Susie made a decision that her husband never saw coming.

Watch a trailer for the documentary below.

Read the full story at The Washington Post.


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