14
ELEANOR
 
Charie Nakagawa graduated from Touhoku University and
was a quite intelligent person. I had heard before that he was
born in 1950, so he is three years older than I am. "Charie"
was not his real name but his nickname in Alaska. This Mr.
Nakagawa, with a moustache, was also in Bethel when I was
there. He was the Japanese top-man in charge of Fuji Marine's
fish business, and he was going back and forth from Japan to
Alaska many times. Even in 1980, the next year I was in Bethel,
I talked to him many times on the telephone.
In 1981, I went to a town called Kenai by Cook Inlet,
Alaska. I had been appointed to process salmon roe there.
This arrangement was made by Mr. Nakagawa.
There was another man in the think-tank of Fuji Marine
besides Mr. Nakagawa, and he had a certain strategy towards
Alaskan fish business. It was as follows:
For a long time, there were many fish processing p]ants,
freezing plants and canneries located as to surround Cook Inlet.
Sea Catch Sea Foods Inc. in Kenai, was one of those processing
and freezing plants. The president of this Sea Catch was a
woman called Doris who was famous for her aggressive and
extraordinary ways of business. She was a big shot in that
area. When the salmon season started, she was always
estimated the main person for manipulating salmon fishermen
prices. Therefore, she was hated by all the Japanese salmon
importers. Although, in 1981, Sea Catch was already in the
state of "Chapter Eleven." Besides Sea Catch, other plants
and canneries had been all closely related financially to
Japanese companies for a long time. Namely, All Alaskan by
Marubeni Seattle; Kenai Packers by Sanyou, a fish trading
subsidiary of Mitsubishi; and many others by Taiyo or Nichiro
which were Japanese factory ship companies. This made it
easy for the Japanese to insist on their intentions in Kenai.
However, Doris' Sea Catch was not among them, so to get rid
of her plant was in the interest of the whole Japanese fish
business. At least, even if Sea Catch survived, the attitudes
and activities should have been checked carefully.
Doris was a large woman. At the beginning of July, she
hadn't yet got her salmon contract for the year. Without a
contract, she couldn't operate the plant as long as she was in
Chapter Eleven. However, Doris didn't look worried at all.
She looked nice in her high-class pret-a-porter and her
daughters enjoyed horse back riding on the beach, which was
a part of her huge private property.
The Japanese major fish companies ignored Sea Catch, but
there were possibilities for some other minor company to join
in the scene and enter Doris' web, which was something they
wished not to happen.
Fuji Marine concluded a contract with Sea Catch for buying
sujiko, but not the fish. Doris accepted the cheap price Fuji
Marine offered. This contract was of big interest to Fuji
Marine, also since it was to buy the final production only, not
the raw material, and it was free for Fuji Marine to reject,
grade severely, or throw away any raw material they didn't
like.
"It's nice to meet you," said Doris to me when I first met
her at the Sea Catch office.
Doris had no contract for the fish yet. No contract for the
fish meant there was no salmon roe to process. Fuji Marine
didn't care. What all the Japanese wished was for nobody to
come and buy fish from Sea Catch. I seemed to be like a
parasite on Sea Catch.
"This is our foreman Dave."
Doris introduced me a macho type, middle aged and G.I.
cut man wearing a short sleeve T-shirt. I imagined this man
choking a chicken for his own meals.
"Nice to meet you," I said and we shook hands. He didn't
squeeze me, though.

I started setting up the egg room. Meanwhile, some
Japanese buyers came to talk with Doris. After talking with
Doris, all of them would make contact with the Japanese in
Kenai. Probably because they received some kind of domina-
tive message of the Japanese fish business world from what
they heard, they all left Kenai without concluding contracts.
Cook Inlet was a good fishing ground for kings, chums,
silvers and reds. But in general, the meat colour of all the
salmon was rather whiter compared to salmon of other fishing
grounds. One reason was based on what they fed upon. But
the more basic reason was that the Cook Inlet salmon were
salmon just before coming up the river for spawning. In
contrast to salmon caught close to their mother rivers at their
stage of spawning, salmon caught at high seas are at their stage
of migration. Although they are the same fish, just different
in catching ground and season, their economic value was quite
different. Salmon in a pre-spawning state are thin and white
in meat colour like the Kenai salmon. In contrast, migratory
salmon are in the state of feeding, so they are energic and red
in meat colour.
In Japan, the problem of salmon slices turning white while
displayed in the shops of retailers was important for how well
the sales would be. It was also an important factor in deter-
mining prices.
Before 1979, when the territorial seas were still 12 miles,
Japanese major factory ship corporations used to catch 300
thousand tons of salmon on high seas. The catch started to
decline after territorial seas were extended from 12 to 200
miles. Although, the Japanese demand for salmon was the
same, so the followings were used as alternatives to fulfil the
decline. That is, 1 Japanese pre-spawning salmon caught in
autumn which have increased in production because of efforts
of stocking in rivers. 2 Ranching salmon: kings, Atlantic
and silver salmon from Europe; Silver salmon from North and
South America, Japan and so on, -- which were all quite red in
meat colour. 3 Alaskan and Canadian wild salmon.
Though small in quantity. imports of Taiwanese, Korean
and Russian salmon made the sum of Japanese salmon
consumption to 400 thousand tons per year, even today.
Japan had never reduced its salmon consumption and had
always searched for good quality salmon, more red in colour.
In the late 1970s, Alaskan salmon were poor in quality no
matter where the fishing ground was. Even in those days, a
Japanese fish dealing pro would say,
"Cook Inlet salmon are no good."
Well, but not all Cook Inlet salmon were bad. Close fishing
grounds were reasons for good freshness. And what made
matters complicated was that some fishermen bought good,
red meated salmon from distant fishing grounds like Kodiak.
These salmon were also processed and sold under a Cook Inlet
origin brand. Blackguard and impostor Japanese dealers used
these especially red meat coloured salmon for samples to sell
the whole production that wasn't totally good. This caused
great confusion in the Japanese fish market.
Just the same as the Japanese confusion, there was no
fisherman in Alaska who believed that the colour of salmon
meat was a problem.
In Kenai, the salmon fishing season was just about to open
and the time seemed to be up for Doris, when a sales manager
of a Japanese trading corporation, Nichimen, which specialized
rather in fields of cotton fabrics trading, came to Sea Catch.
This sales manager seemed to be a typical Japanese business
warrior. Unexpectedly, he made a quick and resolute decision
to buy salmon from Sea Catch.
This sales manager was happy because of accomplishing
his annual sales plan as per the contract. There seemed to be
no further reasons to buy from Sea Catch.
Doris put her hands together and said merrily, "Well, now
we're back to business again."
The Fuji Marine people kicked their own asses hearing
this. Mr. Nakagawa must have twitched his moustache.
Ignoring all karma of this world, Doris told me, "I'll bring
you all the workers you need in the egg room. Choose what
you want. Ask for anything you want."
When the processing started, six women and one man
worker would become necessary in the egg room. Labourers
were a buyer's market. Applicants came one after another.
When this girl named Eleanor first came to the interview I
was holding for applications, I had already decided to employ
her. It was at the first glance. It was no matter if she could
handle salmon roe or not.
Eleanor was a daughter of a German-American family
living in Oregon. She was in Alaska for the summer school of
the Baptist church. Her age was about seventeen or eighteen,
though already fair and elegant. Her eyes were brown like
fruits of the flora of the temperate zone, not ones that ripened
in the cold land full of fish. Her hair was the same colour as
her eyes, and she tied it at her back, which gave her a kind of
motherly tone sufficient to come from a lovely family. She
talked with her mouth slightly stuck out like a cute little baby
would do.
I fell in love with this girl at first sight. I didn't have any
way to express my love, so I just spent my days at Sea Catch,
watching and dreaming of Eleanor's sweet smiles and ways.
The next worker I hired was a girl of a hippie type couple,
who was small and quiet. She seemed to have a habit looking
up and staring at people with her black eyes. Sometimes, you
would think that she was Japanese, but in the next moment,
you would realize that you were wrong -- she looked like that.
At first, her boyfriend worked at the salmon processing line,
but he quit or got fired after a while and he started to just hang
around the place, since they were staying in a tent in the Sea
Catch territory. The hippie girl was good at salmon roe packing
and worked pretty well.
Next, I hired a middle aged married couple. Doris recom-
mended hiring them. There seemed to be no big problems
about them, so I accepted it.
The husband's name was Ken, and he always put himself
in an outfit like Davy Crockett -- Yes! He wore a raccoon cap.
Ken and his wife worked pretty well, but after a while,
Ken asked for a raise. I told him to ask Doris, because Sea
Catch was paying the wages.
Ken actually talked to Doris, but he failed to get a raise.
Besides that, he laid off from the hard work he used to do in
the egg room. He started to act like a foreman, keeping in
good touch between the egg room and the Sea Catch Office.
Consequently, the hard work came to me.

Nichimen's inspector was a man hired for Toubu Bussan
Boueki, a fish trading company which was a customer of
Nichimen. His name was Miwa. He used to be a salesman of
Hokushou, a fish trading company that had gone bankrupt a
year before. That is, 1980.
This bankruptcy was so sensational that all the Japanese
major newspapers used their front pages reporting it.
The bankruptcy happened like this. At the New Year's
sales promotion of herring roe in October 1979, an abnormal
up-rise of herring roe occurred. This was a frame-up picture
drawn by the largest Japanese trading corporation, Mitsubishi
and the association of Hokkaido fishermen, Dougyoren
(Hokkaido Fishery Co-op Alliance). This herring roe price
up-rise led to a consumer boycott in December triggered by a
scandal of fake trading between Mitsubishi, Dougyoren and
Hokushou. Hokushou's bankruptcy finally settled the incident
in January of 1980.
To describe it in short, it was the end of a bubble economy
using herring roe for speculation.
In weekly magazines, articles showed that men who used
to work for Hokushou had been greeted warmly by other fish
trading corporations. Mr. Miwa was also one of them.
There was no connection to the Hokushou bankruptcy and
Mr. Miwa's coming to Sea Catch, but I remember his coming
very well because he was one so highlighted by the news.

I inspected very strictly the salmon roe that came out from
the salmon processing line. I rejected one after another of the
roe I didn't like.
Eleanor, the hippie girl, Ken, Ken's wife and some more
women workers packed salted salmon roe into wooden boxes
in the egg room. They had to grade 6 grades per species of
salmon.
I usually stood by the agitator, sticking my hands in the
salt water once in a while to make sure the salmon roe were
salted well.
The strategy of Fuji Marine was to deliver as much sujiko
as possible within the early stage of the Alaskan salmon season,
before the prices dropped off.
As soon as the sujiko production filled up the 20 foot freezer
container that had been parked inside the area of Sea Catch, I
trucked this to Anchorage Airport and shipped it to Japan. The
sujiko was sold at a pretty good price in Japan.
The first sujiko business that I was put in charge of worked
out alright.
l felt fulfilled after I shipped out the sujiko and I decided
to have a party with all of the egg room workers. I made a
reservation at a Chinese restaurant in town. But I should have
to say that most of all this was because of Eleanor.
We had a good time, but good always didn't last so long.
Sujiko prices in Japan dropped rapidly. The bankruptcy
of Hokushou was one major factor of the drop in prices. The
whole Japanese fish business had lost a strong price leader.
Mr. Nakagawa called me secretly, not to be known to Sea
Catch.
"Get out of that place in a hurry, will you?" said Mr.
Nakagawa.
I didn't quite understand what he wanted to do, so I had to
ask. According to Mr. Nakagawa, the facts, that Doris was
completely back in the game again and the Japanese fish market
prices were dropping, meant that there was no point in my
staying in Sea Catch anymore.
"I want you to tell Doris that we have decided to quit pro-
cessing salmon roe. I ask you to pack up all the production
already made and run away from that plant."
Mr. Nakagawa talked like there were no alternatives: there
must have been orders from higher positions.
I hated that idea of stopping the salmon roe production,
but next day, I went to meet Doris. I told her,
"We want to stop making sujiko."
Doris tilted her head and made a weird expression.
"You can't do that. We have a contract," said Doris after
a while.
That was it. I told the results of the meeting to Mr.
Nakagawa.
After hearing what I said, Mr. Nakagawa said, "Okay, then
get out of Sea Catch quietly, so that the Sea Catch people won't
notice."
"Impossible!" said I.
I couldn't believe Mr. Nakagawa saying such a stupid thing.
Who can get out of a plant with forty tons of sujiko
production without being noticed!?
After this, Doris got nervous and locked up the hold of the
sujiko production. She also called all the trucking companies
in Kenai, and told them not to accept any jobs shipping out
any cargo from Sea Catch.
[ back ]