Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Holy Prayers in a Horse's Ear

Holy Prayers in a Horse's Ear: A Japanese American Memoir

Greg Robinson
Elena Tajima Creef
Shirley Geok-lin Lim
Floyd Cheung
Copyright Date: 2008
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 224
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Holy Prayers in a Horse's Ear
    Book Description:

    Originally published in 1932, Kathleen Tamagawa's pioneering Asian American memoir is a sensitive and thoughtful look at the personal and social complexities of growing up racially mixed during the early twentieth century. Born in 1893 to an Irish American mother and a Japanese father and raised in Chicago and Japan, Tamagawa reflects on the difficulty she experienced fitting into either parent's native culture.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-4477-9
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-IV)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. V-VI)
    (pp. VII-VII)
  4. [Illustration]
    (pp. VIII-VIII)
    (pp. IX-X)
    (pp. XI-XXXIV)

    Kathleen Tamagawa’s¹ memoirHoly Prayers in a Horse’s Ear, originally published in 1932, holds a special place in Asian American history. While much less known than the now-celebrated works of the Canadian Eurasian sisters Edith and Winifred Eaton, to which it is inevitably compared,Holy Prayersis the first published autobiographical narrative by a Nisei (American of Japanese descent). In addition to its presence as a landmark early twentieth-century Asian American literature text, its Irish-Japanese author’s complex and quirky record of self-representation makes it a pioneering contribution to the growing field of mixed-race studies. A kind of multiracialbildungsroman, Tamagawa’s...

  7. Holy Prayers in a Horse’s Ear

      (pp. 3-4)
      Kathleen Tamagawa Eldridge

      The writing of this book has been one of the most pleasurable adventures of my life and I cannot relinquish it without a few inadequate words of thanks to Dorothy Scarborough for her patient friendship in piloting me through my first literary channels; to Louis D. Froelich for his belief that this manuscript could be written; to Marietta Neff whose personal charm made my first contact with an editor a delight; to Louis G. Haas, the wizard of Saxonwoods, whose many faceted personality is a constant inspiration; to Berta Darling who talked me out of the kitchen; to my husband...

      (pp. 5-14)

      Trying to write about one’s life is like grabbing at a whirling circle. There doesn’t seem to be any beginning and of course as I’m still “going strong,” there is no proper end. With frantic gesture, I grab at the circle and whichever way I turn I get no-where; from nothingness to the unknown future. But are we not all lured along these same fool tracks of destiny?

      I have been called a “scene of tragedy and intense gaiety,” silly words—unless you think about them, and then you know that there is a point at which things of tragedy...

      (pp. 15-24)

      Someone asked, yesterday, how my autobiography was progressing. I answered, “Oh, it’s coming along—though I’m not born yet.” Yes, here I am running along into four thousand words and not born yet! I am as bad as Tristram Shandy.¹ The worst of it is that I haven’t told a third of my prehistoric tales and seem now to be all tangled up in my grandfather’s generation. I must have inherited the backwards tendencies of the Irishman’s pig, that has to be started for Dublin whenever he is supposed to reach Cork.

      If I’m to write an autobiography, I see...

      (pp. 25-37)

      Disillusionment can be a comedy and a tragedy all rolled into one! I had believed that I was Japanese and that Japan was my home. Why should I have doubted this when no one had ever suggested otherwise, when everyone, in fact, had assured me that it was so?

      Our trip to Seattle remains a sparkling memory, for we crossed in January (1907) and every glance from our train windows fell on pictures of ice and snow. Nothing can be more beautiful than the Rockies, when every shrub and giant tree are coated to their twigs with glistening ice.


      (pp. 38-48)

      The facts were these—in America I was Japanese. In Japan I was American. I had an Oriental father who wished to live like an Occidental and an Irish mother who wished to live like a Japanese. I had a series of eccentric traditions on my Western side and a thousand unknown, silent Tamagawas, buried in their own family cemetery on the other.

      My mother’s friends had thought of me as a decoration, or a gimcrack; and my father’s friends now thought of me as a barbarism and a blemish. I had had an uncle in America who had played...

      (pp. 49-59)

      A terrific earthquake shook us out of Retz Building.

      It occurred one March, about eleven o’clock at night. We had gone to bed and were suddenly waked by the eerie sensation of the sway and rattle which tokens an earthquake. We rushed for the doors, because we had been instructed that the safest place was beneath a doorframe in case of the collapse of a building; the walls were more likely to stand and the frame would prevent things from falling on one’s head.

      Mother and I stood quietly under our door in the pitch dark. Neither of us moved...

      (pp. 60-70)

      On October thirtieth, nineteen hundred eleven, just at dusk, a British consulate sendo¹ came sauntering down our garden path.

      The consulate used sailors as messengers and general utility men. They were the relics of those days when a launch had been provided for the consul to meet battleships as they came into port. Consulate launches were obsolete but the sendos remained,—a crew of tars with a tug. All Japanese, but they wore the British uniform and were part and parcel of the consulate. They ran messages, cleaned the tennis court (which was a feature of the consulate) picked up...

      (pp. 71-84)

      One of the interesting things about life is that chemical compounds are often changed by their contact with other compounds into something new and unexpected.

      This was brought home to me at a dinner given in Yokohama soon after Frank and I returned from our honeymoon at Nikko.¹ We were being served a delicious looking lemon meringue pie, when at the first mouthful, the hostess threw up her hands, and with an expression of horror on her face, halted all our forks in midair.

      “Wait!” she cried…. “Wait!”

      The Japanese cook had made the pie faithfully following the recipe—except...

      (pp. 85-94)

      It was time to go home.

      Spring 1915 and my husband had sent for me. There were many, many things that entered into my feelings about my home-going. I wanted to go. I had never really loved Japan, though I had been really interested. Nevertheless the language, the habits, the Bushido¹ had made a stranger out of me; to Japan I was always a foreigner. Even my husband with his thorough knowledge of Japanese was less a foreigner than I. Indeed, one Japanese had suggested that Frank give up the name Eldridge and allow my father to adopt him, thereby...

      (pp. 95-103)

      The significant part of my life for the next few years was that I became insignificant,—or rather that I became more significant as Mrs. Eldridge than as a curio.

      In 1917 our particular portion of the South became a huge camping ground for the “boys” who were training for service in France. There had been only a small population in town to begin with and the camp doubled the proportion of both whites and negroes. Even with this military inundation, however, the great war still seemed fictional. We could not believe that Wilson,¹ whom we had seen dance before...

      (pp. 104-113)

      It was Mr. Hoover who sent us around the world.

      Frank came home one August night to announce, “I’m to head a party of government officials who are to accompany the Frisco Chamber of Commerce on their survey of the Orient.”

      “But, Frank …”

      “It’s really one of those trade tours. The Department is opening a new office in Bombay. I have to go to India as well.”


      “Only an eight or nine months’ trip. Probably be home in the spring.”

      “The spring! Are you going to leave me here?”

      “I’ve got to go.”

      “But, Frank …”

      “Well, why...

      (pp. 114-122)

      I was not prepared for China.

      I had lived nine years in Japan and had read a great deal about China as my husband’s work had brought home many books that might otherwise have been off my reading list. But I was unprepared for the place itself. The friends of Hell House and, on the other hand, many of our most conservative Government officials had often discussed it in the winter evenings in Washington around my hearth, and yet China itself came as a distinct shock.

      The thing that surprised and impressed me was that before we had reached the...

      (pp. 123-132)

      One night, on a silent, lantern-lit dock our rickshaws threaded their way bumping over heavy ropes, and finally set down their shafts by the gang-planks of theS.S. Ellenga. It was a British India boat bound for Rangoon.

      The San Francisco delegation had left Singapore the week before, waving us farewells from the decks of theEmpire Stateand our Trade Commissioners also had departed, some of them to China and others to the South Seas. It was Mr. Eldridge’s duty to go to India-way and now theEllengastood against that dark mysterious wharf ready to start. She looked...

      (pp. 133-151)

      Several months later when Frank called me to see the Statue of Liberty as we entered New York harbor, on our return from that long trip around the world, I felt that I had been called to view a miracle. She stood moss-green in a grey, misty twilight with her arms flung upward, hand grasping her torch. I have seen a Brahman in India who had held his arm in just that position for so many years that the arm itself had withered. Both our Statue of Liberty and the Brahman symbolized two different worlds of thought…. But the miracle...

      (pp. 152-159)

      My mother never saw my father again. Their meeting which she describes in her letter was their last.

      I said that her presence in our household made us face facts that might otherwise have been buried in our busy lives. When she came to us in 1923 after the earthquake she brought Japan with her. But she could not help bringing with her the tragedy of all that had occurred there and her own personal sorrow and so she renewed my own mental confusion regarding my ancestry without meaning to do so. In fact, her intention was just the opposite,...

      (pp. 160-162)
      F. R. Eldridge

      Ihave the most unique wife in the world. After sixteen years of sober married existence I suddenly learn that she is only half my wife. The other half of her I am not only not married to at all, but it doesn’t exist.

      I admit, however, that the more I explore my wife’s personality the more I become like the Quaker who vouchsafed that “all the world is crazy except me and thee” and that sometimes “thee art a bit queer!” I am beginning to think that certainly those who write laws are queer!

      But enough of this suspense....

  8. A Fit in JAPAN
    (pp. 163-172)

    Toku stood in the doorway of the European drawing room. It was the tea hour in the foreign community of Yokohama, and three Americans, two young women and a man, were grouped before a blazing fire. Christmas decorations filled the room with the breath of dying green. The studded iron kettle sizzled on its tripod, the houseamahpadded back and forth among the three as the firelight fluttered idly about the dark carved furniture and the well-selected curios.

    Toku was a small, yet aloof little Japanese with large dark eyes and a sweet remoteness that clings about some orientals....

    (pp. 173-182)
  10. Back Matter
    (pp. 183-184)