I’m Confused. Are You My Cousin?
by Linda Okazaki
Last November, we met Hiroko, Ted’s second cousin. Yesterday she introduced us to her first cousin, Setsuko. The pedigree gets muddled with heir adoptions and marriages among family members. Ted, Hiroko and Setsuko share the same great grandfather, Sasanji Okazaki. But Sasanji’s second son, Namita, married his first cousin (daughter of Sasanji’s sister). Since civil records don’t exist before about 1870, it’s difficult to say how often adoptions and marriage among cousins occurred.
Hiroko and Setsuko took us to the ancestral farm of Namita who was born an Okazaki in the village of Tabara, but adopted into the Kayasuga family in the neighboring village of Katsuo. Second sons are frequently adopted as a means of continuing a surname when there are only daughters, or when the eldest son is unable to continue the line. Namita’s elder brother, Ichimaru, also adopted a “yoshi” from the Maihara family to carry on the Okazaki surname.
Namita had been living and working in California for a few years between about 1914-1918 but returned to Japan with his younger brother who succumbed to Spanish Influenza on that voyage. Namita then married Makio Kayasuga, had a daughter named Matsuko, and then returned to the US where he worked for approximately three years in the laundry business. Namita saved his money and when he came back to his wife and daughter around 1923, he was able to build a beautiful home. His son, Kazumasa was born about 1924 or 1925.
During World War II, while the Okazaki family was interned in the United States, the city of Okayama was nearly obliterated by bombs. The remote mountain villages, however, were spared. Kazumasa recalled many relatives staying in their home. They had space but their farm also provided much needed sustenance at a time when many Japanese were starving.
After the war, the Okazaki’s returned to their ancestral village of Tabara. With no food or money, Namita and the Kayasuga clan helped the Okazaki’s by offering them a bag of rice when they first arrived, something more valuable than money at the time.
Today Kazumasa, son of Namita, lives alone on the farm. Many of the villagers have abandoned their land and homes for economic reasons. But even as an octogenarian, Kazumasa operates his tractor, plants his rice and visits with friends. His daughter, sons and grandchildren visit him often as they all live nearby. The view from the mountaintop is spectacular. Cool breezes provide relief from the humidity. Wildflowers are in full bloom. The fields are ready to be planted with rice. Traveling to Katsuo has really been a step back in time.