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Japanese War Brides:Telling a Mother's Story


Japanese War Brides: Telling a Mother’s Story
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Japanese War Brides: Telling a Mother’s Story

Kathryn Tolbert is a journalist, and also one of the directors of the film, ‘Fall Seven Times, Get Up Eight: the Japanese War Brides.’ It’s a subject she knows well, as Tolbert’s mother, Hiroko Furu-kawa, is a native of Japan. A daughter of privilege, Hiroko became a Japanese war bride, marrying an American stationed in Japan.

“My mother married my American father, who was a U.S. soldier. She barely knew him, yet she moved from Tokyo to her in-laws’ chicken farm outside of Elmira, New York,” Tolbert says.

Tolbert says her mom worked at the family egg farm and ran a small grocery store with her father. Tolbert says her father was happy, but her mother was stoic and determined.

“Mother raised us not with warmth or expressions of love. It was one of hard work, studying and getting ahead,” says Tolbert.

Hiroko Furu-kawa Tolbert
Hiroko Furu-kawa Tolbert

Tolbert says her mother didn’t speak or teach Japanese to her children, believing that she was duty bound to integrate as an American.

After college, Tolbert became a journalist, working for the Associated Press in Tokyo.

“Being in Japan in the mid-70s right after graduating from Vassar College was wonderful. I was the first woman that AP had as a reporter there,” Tolbert says.

In the 1990s, Tolbert worked for the Washington Post, and did a number of stories about Japanese women.

“My parents divorced after 30 years of marriage and she continued running the grocery store and turned it into a great success,” says Tolbert. She was known in the community. And I thought it was interesting but I didn't fully understand her story. I mean when you grow up with somebody that you're close to. And in one sense you know a lot about them, but I once wrote this little essay about what it was like having her as a mother and the problems with her English and what we couldn't understand what other people couldn't understand. And how she pushed us. How education was so important to her. But I didn't understand it,” says Tolbert. I didn't understand the context.”

But context would arrive in the form of the film, “Fall Seven Times, Get Up Eight: the Japanese War Brides,” which Kathryn Tolbert produced with fellow journalists Karen Kasmauski and Lucy Craft, who are also daughters of Japanese war brides.

Kathryn Tolbert and Hiroko Tolbert
Kathryn Tolbert and Hiroko Tolbert

“While there is a bit of difference in our stories, they are also similar,” says Tolbert.

In addition to the film, Tolbert has created an oral history archive of Japanese war brides. To date, she has done over 30 stories and continues to record interviews for it. She plans also to use the material for material for a book.

“Traveling around the country and interviewing other families taught me a huge amount and then I understood her (my mother’s) story Because there were great outcomes and terrible outcomes. Of these marriages. There were a lot of them. I can tell their stories and some of them mirrors my own experience.”

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