Editor’s note: We continue Michael G. Malaghan’s serialized historical novel, “Picture Bride,” based on the Japanese immigrant experience. Malaghan’s trilogy takes 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.
Haru, still barefoot, sprinted out of the temple grounds and looked both ways. She caught a glimpse of a familiar school uniform fleeing around the corner and dashed after the culprit, oblivious to the woman she bumped into, scattering her sack of vegetables and eggs.
Haru spun around the corner and again caught sight of Ko. In her wooden geta clogs, Ko was no match for the well-conditioned and barefooted Haru.
“Ko!” she yelled.
Ko stopped, pivoted and flashed a vicious look that Haru had never seen from the girl she thought was her friend.
“You have everything, Haru. You don’t need the money, and I do. Besides, I was going to pay you back.”
Haru charged at her friend and yanked the cord around Ko’s neck. It held her kinchaku tucked inside her kimono. The purse popped out. Haru released the cord and grabbed at the dangling purse. Ko shoved Haru, who continued to hold on tightly to the purse. A crowd gathered as both girls fell to the ground.
“Help! She’s stealing my purse!” Ko screamed.
A strong pair of arms hauled Haru to her feet.
Ko jumped up and spurted down the street without a backward glance.
“Don’t let her get away!” Haru yelled. “She’s the thief! That’s my purse!” she said, trying to wiggle free from the arms of the man holding her.
From the crowd’s confused murmurs, one voice emerged. “Haru, what happened?” Another woman’s voice rose. “That’s Kiyoshi-Sensei’s daughter.” The man holding Haru dropped his hands in embarrassment and bowed low. “Gomen nasai,” he apologized. “Gomen nasai.”
Haru glanced down the street, where Ko had escaped. Her shoulders slumped. It had taken her two years to save that money. And, Ko had been her best friend. Now she had lost both.
The crowd parted, allowing Kiyoshi to step forward. “Haru-chan, are you all right?”
Haru bowed. “Hai. Please, take me home, Otosan.”
Around the irori, Kiyoshi and Midori listened to Haru’s story.
“What can I do, Otosan?”
“Let’s not do anything for now. Let Ko think about what she did. If she and her surrogate parents do not come here tonight to return the money, I will visit them tomorrow.”
At that very moment, Ko was stoking her uncle’s hatred.
“Uncle, Haru told me to take some money to buy movie tickets. That’s why I ran ahead.” He stared at her, but before he could question her further, Ko appealed to her uncle’s prejudices. Too often, she had suffered through his impassioned stories about the indignities Shintö priests had suffered under state-supported Buddhism before the restoration.
“Haru asked me if I believed Tennö Heika (Emperor) is really a god.”
“What?!” he asked impatiently.
Ko flaunted her best indignant expression. “She said the government made it all up to control the people.”
“Blasphemy! I told you to stay away from that girl. Her father has poisoned her. That Buddhist apostate has never accepted the Tennö as a deity. He must be made an example.”
“You are right, Honorable Uncle,” said Ko, feigning contrition. “I should have listened.”
There was no more talk about movie money. Ko held back a smirk.
At 9 o’clock that evening, the porch bell clanged. Kiyoshi found two stern-faced men on his doorstep. He knew them both. Hondo-san, from the Ministry of Interior’s Divine Office, wore his Shintö robes. He was a tall, narrow-faced man with his chrome hair plastered straight back. His official role restricted him to the education and assignment of Shintö priests as well as the payment of their salaries from the state’s coffers. However, the Shintö priesthood used this proscribed mandate to anoint themselves the spiritual protectors of the Empire.
The other man, short and stocky, looking less forbidding in his rumpled Western apparel, was Fujita-san, the local chief of police. At Kiyoshi’s surprised expression, he took off his fedora, revealing a bald head, rimmed by short-cropped white hair. He bowed. “Excuse the late hour, Takayama-san.”
“Daijoubu, Fujita-san. Please come in.” Kiyoshi bowed in return, stepped aside and directed them to the irori. The robed men exchanged icy smiles.
At the back of the living room, Haru stood in front of an open kitchen door panel, ready to serve tea and biscuits. Kiyoshi’s shake of his head warned her off. The two visitors missed this exchange as they wiggled off their shoes.
The three men sat around the irori. Kiyoshi feigned a calm he did not feel.
“What brings such distinguished visitors to my home at this hour?”
He surmised it must have something to do with the incident between Haru and Ko, but wondered why the Divine Office would have an interest in an altercation between teenagers.
Fujita cleared his throat. “It seems we have a delicate police matter as a result of this afternoon’s confrontation between Haru and her classmate.”
“Surely you don’t believe Haru is a thief.” Kiyoshi’s chest tightened as he caught the Shintö priest’s lips curve upward. It was not quite a smirk — more like a cat waiting for the mouse to poke its head out of the hole.
“We are not here tonight to deal with the mix-up over a few coins,” said Hondo, harshly. Then he leaned forward and slapped the floor. “Your servant blasphemed the Emperor.”
Kiyoshi froze. He resisted the urge to order the priest to leave. He sensed the man had just raised the stakes in a dangerous game. “You are twice mistaken, Hondo-sama. My daughter Haru loves the Emperor. She has won many awards in Rescript recitation contests. Her brother gave his life in the Russian war.”
“Merely a subterfuge to hide her true beliefs.” With that, Hondo-san withdrew a sheet of parchment with a set of seals pressed in wax at the bottom. “This is Ko’s official statement.” The Shintö priest read parts of the girl’s twisted version of the attic conversation incriminating Haru, who had attacked the Emperor’s divinity.
Kiyoshi did not attempt to interrupt him. When his adversary thumped the statement on the floor like a lawyer in a trial, he let the silence linger for a moment and then spoke.
“Is that all? Some girl pilfers money, gets caught and then accuses the victim of slandering the Emperor? Surely you have something better to do with your time.”
“I told the esteemed minister the same thing, Takayama-san. That’s why I insisted we visit your home this very night to talk to Haru — before rumors start. She can deny it and the story ends.”
Kiyoshi trusted the police captain. They had known each other for years. But neither he nor Fujita appreciated Ko’s cunning; she knew Haru believed Buddha would not approve of her telling anything but the whole truth under any circumstances. Enough truth to validate Ko’s embellishment.
Kiyoshi summoned Haru, who lived up to Ko’s expectations. She repeated what she said. Her recapitulation was innocent enough, but the retelling confirmed much of what Ko had accused, including the damning remark that Japan needs a god to make people obey its laws. She ended by saying, “You see, I love the Tennö and was only trying to help Ko understand . . .”
Hondo slapped the floor again. “Enough!” He looked at the police captain. “She admits everything, but tries to twist it to her advantage. How many more student minds has she tried to poison?”
He turned to Kiyoshi. “This challenge to the State — coming from the Fudoin Temple, as it does — undermines the Empire.”
Kiyoshi’s face lost its color, but his Buddhist discipline maintained his equanimity.
“Thank you, Haru. Please go to your room.”
“This is a very serious matter, Takayama-san,” said the police captain. He turned to the Shintö priest. “You did right bringing this to my attention, Hondo-sama. Now I must investigate this charge . . . starting with the interrogation of Takayama-san. You may leave knowing the police will take the appropriate action.”
The priest tightened his jaws.
The priest stood up. Kiyoshi started to stand, but the priest waved him away. “You needn’t bother to see me out.”
Kiyoshi watched his adversary walk in measured steps, slip into his shoes and enter the night. He turned to Fujita.
“I think we need something stronger than tea, Takayama-san,” said Fujita.
Kiyoshi clapped his hands. Midori fluttered in from the kitchen with a bottle of Jack Daniels Black Label, a pitcher of water and two glasses. She had anticipated their request. These two old friends had taken up this new-style Western drinking shortly after the war. She knelt down and mixed their first two drinks and then left the men to conduct their business.
“Muzukashii,” said Kiyoshi, his furrowed forehead pinched deep.
“More than difficult, Takayama-san. If I don’t show enough vigor in this case, I might find myself the police captain in some fishing village in the Kuril Islands.”
“Haru is clearly innocent of any wrongdoing.”
Fujita took a deep swallow of his mizuwari. “Most likely, but she should never have said anything, Takayama-san. Ko is a troublemaker from a family of troublemakers. She is under suspicion at her school for pilfering. We know her guardians all too well. They love to accuse neighbors of unpatriotic behavior.”
Kiyoshi freshened up their drinks. “Stealing is the crime in this case, Fujita-san, not girlish gossip.”
“Ko’s guardians have arranged for her to marry one of our pioneers in Manchuria. What about Haru? She is beautiful, respectful and the daughter of a famous priest. This little scandal might be a deterrent to arranging a marriage in Hiroshima, but not overseas.”
Kiyoshi twirled his glass. “Send her away? To Manchuria?”
“Manchuria, Brazil, Hawaii . . . Our Japanese men need wives. The Empire needs sons. She’s the age. You and Midori-san took in an orphan. You made her your daughter. Surely, you didn’t expect to keep her much past 18.”
Kiyoshi drank slowly. “Wakarimashita.”
Fujita put his hands on the table and pushed himself up. His smile revealed embarrassment. “I am not as nimble as I once was, old friend.”
He gave Kiyoshi a hard stare. “You say you understand. It is important that you do, Takayama-san. It is best to end this quickly. I will come by in the morning before I report to work and must confront that nasty fart Hondo.”