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A Japanese closet is different from a western one. It is not a separate piece of furniture in which you hang clothes, but a deep, built-in compartment that runs the length of the room. Most commonly, it is used to store the futon bedding during the day.
Mr. Hashimoto slid one of the doors open. The space within was divided in two by a board running horizontally along the middle. Every inch was packed tight with carefully stored boxes, crates, and canvas and cloth bags. He slid open another door to reveal the same scene. A smell of mustiness and dust filled the room.
First, we got Matt up and rolled the futon out of the way to make space on the tatami. Then, we removed the three doors and stacked them against the far wall. Finally, we began to excavate the closet.
I don’t know if Tanetsugu’s spirit was actually there with us, but, very soon, he filled the room in all his young vitality and energy as we opened and took out of each box and carton the things that his parents had packed, with love, regret and grief so many years before.
His childhood clothes, his toys.
School books and colouring books and comic books.
His fishing gear, his skis.
His judo uniform and his kendo equipment.
Two baseball gloves and five pairs of baseball shoes, each a bigger size than the last, a good illustration of how fast a growing boy does grow.
His chemistry set. A globe of the world and a globe of the night sky. The dumb-bells he had exercised with. A shaving brush. A leather toiletries case containing mirror, razor and comb.
Three pairs of sunglasses. His teenage clothes – flashy shirts, stylish pants, fashionable jackets. A stack of movie magazines.
The cups and trophies he had won, each carefully wrapped up in a furoshiki cloth –
The Aida District High School Marathon,
Okayama Prefecture High School Baseball Tournament.
An Inter-Prefectural Kendo Meet.
Okayama Junior High School Judo Competition.
The closet was almost bare and the tatami around us piled high with the memories of the young man the war had killed somewhere in the escarpments of Okinawa – when Matt, on hands and knees, crawled into the dark recesses and dragged out a wooden crate that had, printed in English along the sides, the words:
Hashimoto Peaches. Succulent in the World.
And inside that crate was what the spirit of Platoon Sergeant Hashimoto, now home at last, wanted to see again.
In the early 1930s, baseball in Japan was very popular and played at high school and university level. A Mr. Shoriki, the president of the Yomiuri newspaper, and the most powerful media mogul in the country at the time, was toying with the idea of establishing a professional league.
He put out feelers to Connie Mack, the manager of the Philadelphia Athletics, and one of the most renowned players, managers and owners in Major League history.
Mr. Shoriki invited Connie Mack to put together a team of his best men, to come over to Japan and to fight the best that Japan could muster from the Big-Six University League. Mr. Mack agreed and collected the cream of Major League players for the tour, in November, 1934.
There was a parade through the streets of Tokyo the day they arrived by ocean liner, and half-a-million Japanese thronged the sidewalks to greet them.
The team played eighteen games in stadiums all over Japan, and they won all eighteen. The results didn’t matter. The Japanese who filled the stadiums and the millions more who listened at home on NHK radio fell in love with Babe Ruth, who hit thirteen home runs. They fell in love with baseball. And they fell in love with America.
The American All-Star team came down to the Osaka/Kobe area and played a game at Koshien Stadium in the second week of November.
Tanetsugu’s father, wealthy peach magnate that he was, managed to procure two of the much-sought-after tickets to it, for himself and his son.
Following the game, the players remained on the pitch to sign autographs, shake hands and pose for photographs with their adoring fans.
The wooden peach box contained Tanetsugu’s memories of that day.
There were photographs, carefully preserved in plastic, of him shaking hands with Babe Ruth and with Lou Gehrig. Posed between Jimmie Foxx and Lefty Gomez. Getting a one-point pitching lesson from Joe Cascarella. Having his throwing arm massaged by Charlie Gehringer.
There was a faded scrapbook into which he had pasted newspaper cuttings of every game, in chronological order. There was an autographed ball and an autographed uniform. There was a brand-new baseball mitt, still in its wrapping; the game’s program and the entrance stubs; a tin box full of baseball cards.