Divorce, Abortion, Divorce
This double infanticide and attempted suicide was the nadir of a life that to Fumiko seemed scarred by repeated failures.
Born and raised in Japan, Fumiko was one of six children. Her childhood was normal in most respects. She enjoyed sports and music and especially liked playing the piano. She also made friends easily. However, her family has said that even as a child Fumiko was “prone to self-criticism.”
As a child, she suffered a major trauma when her parents divorced. Her mother remarried but Fumiko did not bond with her stepfather.
As an unmarried teenager, Fumiko suffered another blow when she became pregnant. In a culture that highly values female chastity, an out of wedlock birth threatens disgrace. Fumiko had to feel that she had failed her family by becoming pregnant without being married.
Fumiko had an abortion. While this is hardly the place to discuss the politics of abortion, it is safe to say that while carrying to term may be psychologically devastating or even impossible for some women with problem pregnancies, having an abortion is not without physical and psychological cost.
In 1972, when she was 20, Fumiko traveled to Los Angeles to study music at Glendale Community College. She hoped for an eventual career as a pianist.
She married soon after her arrival in the U.S. The marriage ended in divorce after three years.
In 1980, Fumiko was working as a waitress when she met sushi chef Itsuroku Kimura, also a Japanese immigrant.
Itsuroku had come to America the previous year. He had a passion for painting. Perhaps they were drawn to each other in part because of their shared artistic leanings as well as the bond of being Japanese immigrants to America. They were soon dating regularly and decided to wed.
When Itsuroku and Fumiko married, she quit paid work for fulltime homemaking although she still enjoyed playing her piano. Since Itsuroku was not financially successful with his art, he concentrated on the restaurant business. Soon after their marriage, he became co-owner of a restaurant called Tokyo West.
Fumiko gave birth to son Kazutaka in 1980. Fearing he might hurt himself if he fell against something hard, Fumiko got rid of much of their furniture, including the piano she loved to play.
The well-organized Fumiko wrote a schedule of each day’s planned activities. In that schedule, she designated specific times for domestic chores such as cleaning and cooking as well as maternal activities such as playing with her son.
Daughter Yuri arrived in July 1984. Late in this pregnancy, Fumiko’s mother, Yoshiko Higa, traveled to California to visit the family. She stayed until November 1985.
Yoshiko thought Fumiko became depressed after her second child’s birth. “There was a darkness to her face,” Yoshiko recalled. “Her hair was falling out. I thought it was just because of the birth and she would get better.”
The Los Angeles Times reported, “While nursing her daughter, Fumiko would get up in the middle of the night to eat soup, concerned that she was properly nourishing her baby.”
Although she had made friends easily as a child, the adult Fumiko had few confidants.
Fumiko and Itsuroku kept up Japanese traditions. The family slept on mats rather than beds. Shoes were left by the door. They usually spoke English in public but Japanese at home.
When Fumiko took her children to the pediatrician, both she and little Kazutaka would bow their heads in a traditional Japanese manner of showing respect.
Fumiko did not drive so she and the children made trips by public transit.
Whenever her husband came home, Fumiko washed his feet, again keeping up a Japanese tradition. Even if he came home from the restaurant very late, she would stay up so she could perform this task.
Although shy, Fumiko was no recluse. Neighbors often saw her outdoors with her children. She frequently sat on a bench at the apartment complex playground, holding baby Yuri, while Kazutaka merrily rode his tricycle around the pavement.