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.
Midori glided down the hallway when she heard the front door close. Kiyoshi’s grim face increased her anxiety.
“Let’s take a walk,” he said.
They each grabbed a tanzen, a short wool jacket, off the peg and stepped into the brisk night air. As they meandered along the temple’s paths, Kiyoshi narrated his conversation with Fujita.
Midori withdrew a letter from the fold of her yukata. “Maybe the great Buddha is sending a message. For weeks, we have discussed Kenji’s letter.” She pointed to the letter, worn from many readings. She recited a passage seared in her memory. “‘Life on the plantations is tough. The workers look to me to ease their pain.’ You see, Otosan?” She waved the letter. “The Great Buddha has granted our Kenji a purpose — to build a mission in Hawaii.”
Kiyoshi strode ahead, his quickened steps betraying his frustration.
“Slow down,” begged Midori. “You walk too fast when you are angry.”
“As though there is nothing to be angry about. I will never see my son again. Our adopted daughter must leave Hiroshima or our temple will be hounded by those Shinto zealots.”
Midori grabbed Kiyoshi’s sleeve. “We must talk to Haru, Otosan.”
“But . . . do you think Kenji will accept her?”
Midori sucked her teeth. “Kenji asked me to send a ‘Hiroshima wife’ — and underlined ‘Hiroshima.’”
“It is his way of rebuffing Haru, Okasan.”
“Maybe. But he didn’t say, ‘Don’t send Haru,’ either. And he finished his letter saying, ‘I trust you, Okasan.’ Go pray in the temple. I will bring Haru. In the presence of the Buddha, we will make the right decision.”
Inside the Golden Pavilion, the image of the ancient wooden Buddha Yakushi, the Physician of Souls, smiled from an elevated altar smudged from a millennium of fumes. Hundreds of candles flickered. In the comforting womb of their faith, the three discussed, dissected and discarded their options all night. At dawn, they acknowledged that their predicament dictated but one choice: Haru must leave or she would be charged with defaming the Emperor and the Fudoin Temple would come under the severest scrutiny. The letter from Kenji offered an escape.
A decision made, Kiyoshi took charge. “Okasan, go to the train station and buy two first-class tickets to Yokohama for the noon departure, then send a telegram to Kenji.
“Haru . . . prepare breakfast. Empty two wicker chests from the attic and pack while the rice is cooking. I need to ask one of the monks to take Kenji’s place in the ceremony.”
Spotting Maki sweeping as he walked down the path, Kiyoshi stopped and after the usual greetings said, “Maki-san, we are conducting a wedding ceremony for Haru. I want you to stand in for Kenji. Come by in about an hour dressed in your best robes. You can have breakfast with us.”
Quickly turning back toward the house, he failed to see the slumping shoulders and look of dismay on his young disciple’s face.
Back in the house, he busied himself, getting vestments ready and looking at scrolls to choose the right quotes. This was only the second wedding he had conducted. By custom, Shinto priests performed the rights of celebration, like weddings and house blessings, leaving the Buddhist priests the afterlife rites of funerals and honoring one’s ancestors during Obon season. However, Buddhist priest families married with Buddhist rites.
Almost an hour passed when he heard the familiar “Tadaima . . .” from Midori, announcing that she was back. He joined her at the irori, where Haru had laid out rice, eggs, a lettuce and tomato salad and broiled fish.
Midori showed Kiyoshi the tickets and placed them on the tatami mat. “Only eight and half hours to Köbe and then another 17 hours to Yokohama. Unbelievable!”
Kiyoshi thanked Haru for freshening his tea. “Maki will stand in for Kenji,” he said.
Midori put her hand to her mouth and Haru blushed.
“What’s wrong? Has Maki done something?”
“Worse, Otosan,” said Midori. “He is sweet on Haru. He is shy, but anyone with two eyes could see he hoped that one day . . .”
“Nobody tells me anything. Whom do you suggest?”
At that moment, Maki announced himself and entered wearing dress robes and a sad smile. He dropped to his knees, looked at Haru and bowed to the floor. “Congratulations, Haru-san. You will make a wonderful missionary’s wife.”
At 8:30, Haru married Kenji Takayama by proxy.
Police Chief Fujita, dropping by to hear of Kiyoshi’s decision, arrived in time to celebrate the solution to his problem. As soon as Kiyoshi finished the exchange of vows, a relieved Fujita accompanied him and Haru to the city hall’s registry office to update the family koseki.
Kiyoshi entered the marriage details in the family register on behalf of Kenji below the last entry, Haru’s adoption. He then reached into his kimono and withdrew his son’s inkan case holding Kenji’s hanko, the circular rubber stamp the size of a small coin used to enter into contracts, validate wills and, in this case, to register a marriage. Kiyoshi chopped the Hiroshima city hall’s koseki on behalf of his son and then motioned Haru to press down her hanko next to Kenji’s. She held it in place to punctuate her commitment. At that instant, the government of Japan recognized her marriage.
Next, the trio scurried over to the passport window in the same records office. The normal waiting period for a picture bride’s passport had been increased to cut down on the number of prostitutes posing as brides. The same government clerk who happily witnessed the hanko stamping turned unsmilingly bureaucratic. “You must wait six months, Takayama-san.”
Taken aback by the use of her married name, Haru hesitated in her protest. Kiyoshi stepped forward. Before he could speak, the clerk, giving an eye-check to the chief of police, said in his firmest voice, “I am sorry, Takayama-Sensei, but even the daughter of such a distinguished personage . . .”
“Sumimasen!” Fujita pressed into the tiny group.
Startled by his sharp tone, the clerk turned his attention to the police chief.
Fujita pressed his face to the grill separating the clerk from the public. “The reason I am here is not to check on your diligence, but to tell you that it is in the national interest of Japan to issue Haru-san a passport NOW.”
The clerk’s demeanor melted to subservience. He pulled open a draw and withdrew a blank passport.
“We will wait.” Fujita turned to Haru. “Give him your school picture.”
Midori joined them, having walked over from the nearby telegram office. “An amazing world, Otosan,” she said. “The telegram clerk promised me that Kenji would receive the good news by morning that his prayer for a wife had been answered.”
Minutes later, the clerk handed Haru her passport.
Fujita bestowed a fatherly smile on a fatigued Haru and then locked his eyes onto Kiyoshi’s. “I will handle Hondo. I wish you could be there to see the expression on his face when I tell him the case has been resolved.”
They bowed their good-byes.
To be continued . . .