The Story of Chieko Fravel

This is a translation of excerpt from a series of articles titled "War Brides in the U.S.A." in the Chugoku Shimbun in March and April 1989, with a permission for reproduction in Parkway. We introduced a woman from Kure.

Chieko Fravel was born in 1923 and was raised in Kure. When she was eight years old, her father took her to a coffee shop on Nakadori and asked her what she wanted most. She answered, "A shoe bag." Her father muttered sadly, "This is the last time you can see me." On the following day he disappeared.  She did not know what had happened to him but people told her that he might have gone to Mongolia  on the mission of secret service because of his good command of English and Chinese. After her father's disappearance she was brought up under the control of her grand-father. She had a dream to become a doctor or a pilot after graduation from Kure Prefectural Girls' high school but she had to give it up. She was persuaded to go to a dressmaking school by her grandfather.


Just before World War II she married a teacher and had a baby boy in 1944. The situation of war got worse and worse and Kure became a dangerous place to live. She had to move to Nobori-machi in Hiroshima where her aunt lived. After they moved to Hiroshima, Kure was attacked by B29s on the first of July in 1945. Her house was totally burned down.


On the morning of 6th of August in 1945, she was sitting before a mirror with her son in her arms. She lost consciousness with a flash of magnesium in her eyes. When she came to she found herself under the debris. Her cousin pulled her and her mother out but they couldn't rescue her son Shinichiro. She wandered for four days searching for shelter with pieces of glass in her flesh and a wire pierced through her cheek to her throat. One of her acquaintances offered her shelter and there she heard the Emperor's voice on the radio. It was unbelievable for her to learn of the Japanese surrender.


 Several days later her husband visited her but she didn't want to expose her ugly face to him. She refused to see him. She was told that her husband blamed her for not having rescued Shinichiro. She was divorced from her husband the next year.


As she was suffering from severe after-effects of the Atomic Bomb, her cousin advised her to have treatment at Kyoto University Hospital. After she got well she settled down at one of her relatives' in Kure at the end of 1946.


It took a long time for Chieko to recover physically and mentally. In 1947 she started to work for the Occupation Army as an operator. As she worked she found her hostility melting away little by little. After a while she married an American from Pennsylvania. When she was expecting a baby, he received orders to return home. He went home leaving Chieko and his unborn child in Japan. She could not go with him because his mother hated Japanese. Not a letter reached her from him. She had a baby boy in 1949. She named him Shinichi.


She had to earn her own living. She dcided to go to Yohohama with her son counting on her kind friend for help. She was able to find a job at a business firm. In the meanwhile the Korean War broke out. She became acquainted with an American Army soldier. His name was Ray Fravel. This time she was very careful, but she began to trust him after several dates. They got married in 1951 and the next year, in 1952, they left Yokohama for Missouri with their one-year-old daughter. In his hometown his parents welcomed them.


What happened to Shinichi? Chieko and Ray had a big secret from his parents. It was not until twelve years later that they confessed about Shinichi.


Unexpectedly, she received a letter from Kure that her father was discharged from the Japanese Army and died lonely in Kure. 

Parkway Vol.3 No. 6 December 1989

It is painful for Chieko to tell why she went to America, leaving Shinichi alone in Japan. When Ray received orders to return home, she was at a loss and made a hasty decision to leave Shinichi in the care of Elizabeth Sanders Home (an orphanage) despite Ray's kind offer to bring him with them. She feared that the child of another man would not be welcome in America.


On a rainy day, just the day before they left Japan, Chieko took Shinichi to the home. The more she stayed there with her son, the harder it became to separate. So the director, Miki Sawada, urged her to leave as soon as possible when he went to the toilet. She promised Miki Sawada to come back for Shinichi someday.


It was twelve years later that she received a letter form Miki Sawada which notified that Shinichi was old enought to determine his way, either to emigrate to Brazil or to go to America. Chieko and Ray decided to call him to America. On the twentiedth anniversary of the end of World War II, Chieko welcomed her son at Los Angeles airport. They hugged each other tightly in a shower of tears. Chieko said to her son, "Let it out and wash Japan away with your tears. From now on you are an American." When she took him to her house in Missouri, Ray and his parents welcomed him as a family member. Now Shinichi is thirty nine years old and is living with his own family in Georgia.


The Fravel's house stands in the countryside near Springfield, Missouri. It is a "Castle" for Chieko. It was not a castle gained in a day. Chieko and Ray started their life in a rented house near Ray's parents'. Ray was discharged from the army and worked for a railroad company. Though Ray was reluctant to allow her to work outside, she found a job at a school meal service center. It was beyond imagination to give birth every year or two to seven babies in the middle of her busiest time. She had no time to rest from morning till night. It was not because she couldn't manage to make their living by Ray's salary alone but  because she wanted more money to buy land and a house of their own. She couldn't feel herself a real American without any land. It was the first gap she felt between them. "Americans don't stick to land so strong as Japanese." She persuaded Ray and purchased her first four hectares of land for 1,500 dollars after ten years in their new life in America. They purchased more land with their savings and it is now twenty-five hectares large. "I want to give full marks to our marriage," Chieko says proudly. But when she looks back on her life, it was not always an even road. She injured her health due to overwork. Every time when she felt lonely and weak, her mother-in-law supported her and encouraged her. Chieko thanks her mother-in-law who passed away five years ago, "I couldn't have built the present situation without her back-up, " she says.


All of her children have grown up and have their own families in America. She is now released from the responsibility for raising children, so she can devote herself to community activities more enthusiastically than before.


Nowadays she visits her granddaughter's elementary school to teach origami. When her children were small kids, she used to visit schools to talk about the Atomic Bomb and told her experience as a 'hibakusha.' if she was asked to talk on radio or television she always accepted the offer willingly. "In Missouri, where the people can get little information about Japan from few Japanese, I feel myself as a representative of Japan. People see Japan through a Japanese,"she told somewhat like an ambassador. Her smile 

has never waned during her thirty-eight years' life in America. That's the reason why she is loved by her friends and called "Sunshine Chieko."


Chieko ended the interview with a Chugoku-Shimbun editor by saying, "No matter what circumstances you may be in and no matter where you may live, you must not loose your pride. Then, you can overcome any racial differences and differences between nationalities. This is what I've learned living in two countries.

 Parkway Vol.4 No.1 February 1990 














チエコさんが身体的、精神的に回復するまでには長い時間がかかった。 1947年、電話交換手として占領軍の仕事を始めた。仕事をするうちに、徐々に憎しみも薄らいでいくのが分かった。しばらくして、ペンシルベニア州出身のアメリカ人と結婚した。赤ん坊を身ごもったとき、夫に帰国命令が出た。チエコさんとまだ生まれぬ赤ちゃんを残して夫は帰国した。母親が日本人を嫌っていたので、一緒に行くことができなかった。夫からの手紙は一通も届かなかった。1949年赤ちゃんが産まれ、真一と名づけた。




真一ちゃんはどうなったか?チエコさんとレイさんには両親に大きな秘密を持つことになった。 12年経って初めて、真一ちゃんについて打ち明ける。




チエコさんが真一ちゃんを日本に残してアメリカに行った理由を話すのは辛いことである。レイさんに帰国命令が出たときチエコさんは途方にくれ、レイさんが真一ちゃんを連れて行こうと言ってくれたにも関わらず、すぐに、エリザベス・サンダーズ・ホーム(孤児院)に預けることに決めた。 連れ子などアメリカでは歓迎されないだろうと思っていたのだ。






フラベル家はミズーリ州スプリングフィールド近くの田舎にある。そこはチエコさんの「城」だ。一日で築いた城ではない。チエコさんとレイさんは、レイさんの両親の近くにある賃貸住宅で生活を始めた。 レイは軍隊を退役し、鉄道会社に勤めた。 レイさんはチエコさんが外で働くことを嫌がっていたが、学校給食サービスセンターで職を見つけた。最も忙しい時期に1年か2年おきに7人の赤ちゃんを産むことは想像以上のものだった。チエコさんは朝から夜まで休む時間はなかった。レイさん一人の給料で生活ができなかったからではなく、自分たちの土地と家を買うお金が欲しかったのだ。土地なくして真のアメリカ人と感じることはできなかった。これが、二人の間にできた最初の溝だった。 「アメリカ人は日本人ほど土地に執着しない」チエコさんはレイさんを説得し、アメリカでの新生活から10年後、最初の4ヘクタールの土地を1,500ドルで購入した。二人は貯めたお金でさらに多くの土地を購入した。現在は25ヘクタールある。 「私達の結婚に満点をつけたい」とチエコさんは誇らしげに言う。しかし、人生を振り返ってみると、必ずしも平坦な道のりではなかった。過労のために健康を損なうこともあった。孤独で弱気になるたびに、義母がチエコさんを支えてくれ励ましてくれた。チエコさんは5年前に亡くなった義母に感謝する。「彼女の支えなしには今の生活はありませんでした。」とチエコさんは言う。 




現在、孫娘の小学校で折り紙を教えている。 子供たちが小さかったとき、チエコさんは学校に行って原爆について話をし、「被爆者」としての経験を語った。 ラジオやテレビで話すように依頼があったときには、喜んで引き受けた。「ミズーリ州では、日本人は少なく、日本の情報もあまりない。自分が日本人の代表だと思っています。人はそこに住む日本人を通して日本を見るのです。」と彼女は大使であるかのように語った。 アメリカでの38年間の生活の中でチエコさんは笑顔を絶やすことはなかった。 チエコさんが友人に愛され、「サンシャインチエコ」と呼ばれる理由だ。


チエコさんは中国新聞編集長とのインタビューで、「どんな状況にあっても、どこに住んでいても、プライドを失ってはいけない。そうすれば国籍や人種の違いは乗り越えられる。 これが私が2つの国に生きて得た教訓です。」と語る。