Michael G. Malaghan
Special to The Hawai‘i Herald
Editor’s note: We continue Michael G. Malaghan’s serialized historical novel, “Picture Bride,” based on the Japanese immigrant experience. Malaghan’s trilogy will take readers from turn-of-the-20th-century-Japan to Hawai‘i in the picture bride era; the Islands during World War II, highlighted by the exploits of the Nisei soldiers; and beyond.
The novel begins with 12-year-old Haru-chan, fleeing her home in Amakusa, Kyüshü, for Hiroshima, where she becomes the picture bride of a Buddhist priest in Hawai‘i.
Mike Malaghan is a retired businessman who divides his time between Hawai‘i, Florida and Japan. “Picture Bride,” in serialized form, can now be read in every issue of the Herald.
PART ONE: FLIGHT
Hiroshima, Japan – June 1905
On this drizzling June morning in 1905, Haru gazed in awe at Japan’s largest Shintö entrance gate, Daiichi Torii at Yasukuni Shrine. Its thick red columns, cradling an imposing crossbeam of similar color and size, soared into the charcoal heavens. This majestic icon of Bushido Shintoism was but a 10-minute horse ride from Tökyö’s Imperial Palace, where the warrior deity resided.
In 1869, the Meiji Emperor had ordered that the Yasukuni (Peaceful Nation) Shrine be built to honor his soldiers who died in the Boshin War toppling the Tokugawa Shogunate and restoring him to power the year earlier. Ten years later, the Office of State Shintoism (Shintö Kokkyo Shugi) decreed that Yasukuni would be the national shrine immortalizing all the kami, the souls who sacrificed their lives for the Emperor.
The Emperor’s invitation allowed two family members of each martyr to enter. Kiyoshi insisted that Midori accompany Haru. Twenty-six thousand family members crowded the shrine’s grounds to honor the latest 13,000 combatants of the 80,000 men who would sacrifice their lives to expand the empire.
Russia had sued for peace. President Theodore Roosevelt was working with Japanese and Russian diplomats to negotiate how much Siberian land the tsar would cede to the Emperor, in addition to handing over its Manchurian rights. Furthermore, Japan was given a free hand in Korea that led to its annexation five years later.
Although the price of admission was the death of a loved one, Haru soon picked up on the celebratory mood of the crowd. A frenzied mourner, blessed with a booming voice, started reciting the Imperial Rescript on Education that every school child was required to memorize in the second grade from 1890 onwards. Haru joined in the growing chorus.
Know ye, Our Subjects,
Our Imperial ancestors have founded our Empire on a basis broad and everlasting, and subjects ever united in loyalty and filial piety have from generations illustrated the beauty thereof. This is the glory of the fundamental character of Our Empire, and therein also lies the source of Our education. Ye, Our subjects, be filial to your parents, affectionate to your brothers and sisters; as husbands and wives be harmonious, as friends true; bear yourselves in modesty and moderation; extend your benevolence to all; pursue learning and cultivate arts, and thereby develop intellectual faculties and perfect moral powers; furthermore advance public good and promote common interests; always respect the constitution and observe the laws, should emergency arise, offer yourselves courageously to the State; and thus guard and maintain the prosperity of Our Imperial Throne coequal with heaven and earth. So shall be not only ye Our good and faithful subject, but render illustrious the best traditions of your forefathers.
The way here set forth is indeed the teaching bequeathed by Our Imperial Ancestors, to be observed alike by Their Descendants and the subjects, infallible for all ages and true in all places. It is Our wish to lay it to heart in all reverence, in common with you, Our subjects, that we may all attain the same virtue.
When five minutes later the recitation came to a close, a woman dressed in a green silk kimono adorned with cherry blossoms shouted, “I have given one son to our Emperor; I have two more to give.”
A wall of murmurs rose from outside the shrine and grew into a deafening cadence. “Banzai! Banzai! Banzai!” The crowd pulsed with energy. Haru’s faced glowed with rapture.
The Emperor rode straight in the saddle astride a white horse. The deep furrows; wide, penetrating eyes and unsmiling lips revealed the driving character that had transformed a feudal nation into a world power. His long face, framed by a black beard flecked with gray, reassured worshippers of his godly status. The nose had turned red and his girth had widened by his 53rd year. A deep, midnight-blue German-style admiral’s waist jacket was crossed by a silver-trimmed red sash that dazzled the eye with its medallions. Stone-white trousers reached into gleaming, black boots. His stallion trotted at a measured pace.
As one, the crowd bowed low to the waist and were careful to avoid eye contact. Generals and admirals followed on horseback. Hundreds of priests walked on the edges of the pathway, keeping the crowd at bay. The throng fell silent. Some fainted.
Haru mourned for the brother she hardly knew, one who had brought much grief to her parents. But she also realized the way of the gods is mysterious. Her brother had died a glorious death serving the Emperor. She prayed that she would someday produce sons for the Emperor.
The family had agreed to meet at the Zöjöji Temple after the Yasukuni ceremony. Haru and Midori walked the hour journey under clearing skies to Shiba’s ancient Buddhist temple, once the favorite of the Tokugawa family. At the entrance, Haru spotted Kiyoshi sitting under an oak tree and waved. He picked up a bentö box and wiggled it.
“Our temple is more beautiful,” said Haru as she took the lunch box from Kiyoshi.
Kiyoshi smiled. He rested his chopsticks on the bentö box. “When Zöjöji Temple was the Tokugawa family’s favorite, pilgrims came from all Japan to honor the Buddha.”
“We don’t like Tokugawa in Amakusa,” said Haru.
Kiyoshi laughed. “The Shogunate was never popular in Hiroshima, either. We welcomed the Emperor’s restoration. Our Dai Fudoin bet on the wrong side of the Battle of Sekigahara and for 10 generations the Shogun’s Bakufu bureaucrats never let us forget it.”
“Our teachers have told us that Shintö is the way of the gods,” Haru said, her voice registering a hint of skepticism. She missed the nervous look her adopted parents exchanged.
“The Meiji Emperor has made Japan a glorious country,” said Kiyoshi. “He encourages Buddhism. Anyone can donate money to their temple without restriction.”
Haru heard the words, thinking they were telling her something she did not understand. Having saved the pickled cherry in her box lunch, she now put it in her mouth and sucked on it, savoring its tart juices. She spit out the pit from her puckered cheeks.
“Ojisama, how did our Emperor become a god?”
The blood drained from Kiyoshi’s face that morphed from fatherly affection to fear.
To be continued in the Oct. 17, 2014, edition . . .