KOBO Seattle | since 1995

Higo's Five and Dime

July 23, 2020

Higo's Five and Dime

By Lawrence Yutaka Matsuda, Ph.D.


My mother tows me in the red

Radio Flyer to Higo’s in Japantown

when the Smith Tower looms tallest

west of the Mississippi

and the sidewalks on Jackson Street

are knotty planks.

I drop pebbles between the sidewalk cracks.

Imagine them tumbling to China.


Shopkeeper bells chime our arrival.

A silk kimono from “Occupied Japan”

drapes a blond mannequin.

The family dog curls near the cash register

and beside it, wind-up toys.


Back room curtains slide open and Matsuyo,

the family matriarch, emerges wearing an apron.

Her grey hair is pulled into a bun. She

smiles like Eleanor Roosevelt, all teeth.


Kawaii ne, she greets me, “cute” in Japanese.

Opens a box of Tomoe Ame candy,

carefully extracts one square chunk of sweetness

wrapped in translucent rice paper,

hands me the prized morsel.


Before the War, Chiyoko, her second daughter,

succumbs quietly to tuberculosis upstairs.

Matsuyo draws the blinds,

unwraps a bar of Ivory soap, dips

a sponge in warm water,

and bathes her daughter’s body.

She fixes Chiyo’s hair in a French Roll,

dresses her in white for the mortuary.


Sanzo, Matsuyo’s husband, dies after

their return from Minidoka,

when Made in Japan means cheap and shoddy

and Issei are forbidden to become US citizens.


The Japanese community is broken.

Sento bath houses stand silent, toy prizes disappear

from Tomoe Ame boxes and Japanese flee

to suburban split level homes and strip malls.


For decades the family waxes the linoleum floors

and prepares meals in the backroom

next to the family shrine.


Sanzo’s dream of a family business

that mends the community

survives to a time when

Made in Japan means quality,

sidewalks of Jackson Street are concrete,

pebbles stop falling to China.


Green tea leaves steep in the backroom

when Sanzo beckons.

Matsuyo rises, apron in hand –

slides the curtain for the final time.


Shopkeeper bells chime, the sound lingers

then fades. The Higo legacy passes to

Ayako, Kazuichi, Masako,

Paul, and now John and Binko-san.


Five and dime memorabilia

sparkle next to arts and crafts.

Higo evolves into the Kobo Gallery,

magnet for a community dispersed.

It is a vortex where togetherness binds us as family.

I find sanctuary and peace among the hive of memories.

Cup my hands like a child,

Catch and savor the sweet morsels of acceptance.

From A Cold Wind from Idaho, Black Lawrence Press, New York 2010

Read an interview with Lawrence and his new book My Name is Not Viola, on the History News Network, here.

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