Nineteen-year-old Grace Eto wasn’t expecting a visit from the baishakunin or “marriage broker” for the Japanese American community. She remained clueless when the clouds of dust along the dirt road leading up to the Eto farm marked the arrival of Nobuta Akahoshi and his driver, Yoshimi Shibata. Yoshimi, known as “Shimi,” was equally clueless. He thought that he was only driving a friend from the Bay Area to Los Angeles.
The two men stayed overnight at the ranch. Grace recalled the events that followed for her daughter Naomi Shibata Denny, in her memoir, Bend with the Wind. Here is an extended excerpt, with permission from the author:
“As Grace set the table for breakfast the next morning, Mother asked Grace for her impressions of Yoshimi. Grace answered off-handedly that she had no impressions. Father and Mother received a constant stream of visitors, and Nobuta’s driver was just one among many. Mother waited patiently for Grace’s answer.
“When Grace realized that a response was expected, she stopped, a plate poised in mid-air. No one had ever asked for her opinion of Father and Mother’s guests. Why now? Grace slowly lowered the plate as a thought dawned on her. The introduction to Yoshimi had been arranged. She had been tricked.
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“After breakfast Nobuta suggested that Grace show Yoshimi the local sights. ‘Sights?’ thought Grace. ‘What sights?’ Grace took Yoshimi for a walk along Avila Beach and quickly learned that Yoshimi was a man of few words.
“After multiple unsuccessful attempts to draw him into conversation, Grace challenged Yoshimi to a footrace. A dash along the beach might give her time to think of something new to discuss. Grace started out, laughing and running as fast as she could. Mistake. Yoshimi’s momentary surprise evaporated and he was off like a shot, breezing past Grace and leaving her far behind. Grace slowed to a jog and watched Yoshimi fly along the shoreline, his feet kicking up plumes of wet sand. Interesting. Yoshimi was athletic. And it obviously never occurred to him to let her win the race.
“Yoshimi slowed, made a U-turn, and trotted back to where Grace stood waiting. He had a sheepish grin on his face. Grace smiled back. Yoshimi asked Grace why she thought they had been introduced. Grace turned the question around and asked Yoshimi what he believed the reason to be. Yoshimi smiled again and replied that perhaps both families thought it was time for each of them to marry. Yoshimi saw a flicker of curiosity in Grace’s eyes and realized that she was as unprepared for this introduction as he was. Yoshimi suggested that Grace might want to learn more about him and his family. He invited her to Mt. Eden (his family home and nursery business near Hayward) and she accepted.
“During the drive back to the farm Grace thought about the changes that were about to take place in her life. Grace trusted her parents, and like her siblings, Kofuji, Alice, Masaji, Mary, and Susy, before her, she had total faith in their view of what was best for her.
“If Father and Mother believed that it was time for her to marry, then she would marry. College would wait. Grace took a sidelong look at Yoshimi. His eyes were on the road, and he was quiet once more. I am as much of a surprise to him as he is to me, Grace thought. If Father and Mother believed that Yoshimi was a good man, then she would get to know this soft-spoken flower grower who liked to run on the beach and discuss business with Masaji and her brothers-in-law.”
Grace was resolved to accept matters. But she would have to meet Shimi’s parents.
“Yoshimi, Nobuta, and Grace drove back up to Mt. Eden in the San Francisco Bay Area that same day. The Shibata family was gracious, and if they were surprised by Grace’s sudden visit, they hid their surprise well. Yoshimi had been introduced to many prospective brides over the years. Each time he gave his parents a plausible explanation as to why the time was not right for him to marry. But something was different this time, and Yoshimi kept those differences locked away in the privacy of his own thoughts.”