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’s telegram reached Honolulu’s Hongwanji temple as she and Haru were boarding their train.

Due to the foresight of Bishop Imamura, the Fort Street temple occupied prime downtown real estate. The 2-acre temple compound looked like a no-nonsense college with its utilitarian white two-story buildings arced around a field used for sports and festivals. Only the vaulted roof of the central building revealed the compound’s true identity.

The bishop had proven to be adept at matching construction projects with the needs of his congregation. Japanese immigrant workers need to learn English: Construct a classroom building. Battered “picture brides’ need a refuge: Buy lumber, hire contractors and erect apartments. Abandoned children need a home: Raise money for side-by-side, two-story dormitories.

The 33-year-old Imamura had arrived in Hawai‘i in 1899, a year after Hawai‘i’s annexation, to oversee the Buddhist Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawaii. His straight posture and long neck added imaginary inches to his frame. He wore rimless glasses whose metal handles drew unwelcome attention to his oversized ears, while his close-cropped hair gave him a military bearing.

Imamura had been in America a month when an article written by a lanky young reporter changed the direction of his mission. Andy Pafko created a sensation when quoting the territory’s chief immigration officer: “Japan is yet a pagan nation. They are morally mad. There is apparently no sense of responsibility to society or to Deity.”

While the article appalled the small Buddhist mission, Imamura saw it as a challenge to be addressed. He began a process to Americanize the Buddhist mission by emphasizing how the philosophy of the Buddha had much in common with Christianity, and how the Japanese family values of honesty, respect of one’s elders, and hard work shared the same ethics as Washington and Franklin.

Imamura even found common ground with Pafko. Both agreed that the cane workers had descended into a life of gambling, drinking and whoring as a consequence of outnumbering their women 10-to-1. Both berated alcoholism, wife-swapping and dice games. When, in his second month off the boat, Imamura entered a gambling den and asked the Japanese roughnecks to come back to their Buddhist traditions of discipline and honor, they threatened to kill him. Goro Sato, editor of the conservative Hinode Shimbun, which depended on advertising from the low-life establishments, demanded that Imamura be sent back to Japan for agitating the workers.

Imamura helped new immigrants adjust to life in Hawai‘i. He offered free English classes and founded the Young Men’s Buddhist Association, which was modeled after the Young Men’s Christian Association. The deposed Queen Lili‘uokalani encouraged Imamura’s efforts. In May 1902, she engendered an outpouring of goodwill from the non-Japanese community by attending the 730th anniversary celebration of St. Shinran, the founder of Imamura’s Jodo Shinshu sect.
That year, plantation owners started providing land for Buddhist missions after Imamura coaxed strikers back to work by preaching the importance of nonviolence.

While Pafko grudgingly admired Imamura’s attempts at Americanizing Buddhism, he wrote, “Yes, crime is down; yes, the Buddhist clergy speaks out against labor strikes; and yes, their Nisei children are speaking English in our public schools. But afterwards, they attend cultural indoctrination at their Japanese language schools. And why do they send their children on to high school when such an education is bound to be wasted in the cane fields? It defies common sense,” Pafko continued.

“Behind this veneer of Buddhist civilizing, many peasants keep up their belief in ghosts, fireballs and devil-gods. Their shamans communicate with the dead, conduct fortune telling, practice magic and exorcise demons. Look at their women. They dress like they are still in Edo, wrapped in their kimono, accentuating their apartness. You hear the taiko drums at their Fort Street temple pounding in loyalty to THEIR country. They worship a foreign living Emperor as a god. If war were ever to break out, which side do you think they will be on?”

Imamura understood that Pafko spoke for many of the ruling class. He simply resolved to stay on course to harmonize the Japanese into the American culture. Thus he was pleased with his clerk’s news that one of his favorite priests had found a good wife.

Kenji was at the shelter when a messenger came to tell him that a telegram had arrived for him. He was helping a woman with two black eyes and three children: one, a crying baby in her arms, and the other two, scared, runny-nosed toddlers, clutching to the hem of her kimono. Kenji made his excuses and rushed off to the office, another two-story white building. Why, he asked himself, hadn’t the woman left the brute earlier? He would try to find her a new husband on a different island.

Kenji expected that the telegram would be from his mother sending a positive response to his letter. After a year of anxiety and internal debate — “Should I stay, or should I return home?” — he had made a decision. He was happy with his decision and wondered why it had taken him so long to reach this conclusion.

“Congratulations, Kenji,” said the office clerk, flashing a smile that revealed a rack of misshapen teeth. He handed a telegram to the barely 5-foot-tall Kenji. The Fort Street temple received a dozen telegrams a month, mostly death notices, since the new cable service brought Hawai‘i closer to Japan.

Kenji read the telegram . . . and almost wished it had delivered news of a death.

The blood drained from his round face, which had gotten even rounder with the extra serving of rice he enjoyed with each meal and his lack of exercise. His black ambitious eyes migrated from shock to anger. How could his mother do this?!

“Are you all right, Kenji?”

Kenji had forgotten the lingering clerk. “Yes.” Kenji brushed his thick black hair back from his sloping forehead.

“I just need a few moments alone.”

How could his mother ignore his letter? He had underlined “a Hiroshima wife.” For a year, he had read between the lines of his mother’s letters as she exalted the virtues of “sweet” Haru — so charming, so good with animals and doing so well in school. Didn’t his mother realize that he was a priest, a leader in the community? The slightest scandal would undermine his usefulness and any opportunity for advancement. No matter how she described Haru, the fact remained that she was from Amakusa, the island of the karayuki, the prostitutes. No, he could not accept his mother’s judgment. He started to compose a telegram response to head off this impending disaster.

“Kenji . . .” A low, commanding voice pierced the troubled missionary’s reverie. “Your mother has chosen well.”

Damn that clerk, thought Kenji, turning to face the imposing Yemyo Imamura. Kenji fixed a stoic smile on the man who had exchanged letters with his mother since his arrival in Hawai‘i five years earlier.

“Yes, Imamura-Söchö. It’s just that . . . this news surprised me. My mother’s letters gave me the impression that Haru was not the type to risk an adventure in a foreign land.”

Imamura answered with a knowing smile beneath his short mustache. Kenji had grown soft in his administrative duties; he needed a wife to share the burdens of establishing a new parish. Imamaura ignored Kenji’s apparent unease with his mother’s selection.

“Splendid news, Kenji! We need married priests on the Big Island. The priests in Hilo never even visit half the plantations under their care. As we discussed when you first wrote your mother, Waimea cries out for a priest with your organizing skills. When is your wife arriving?”

“The telegram only says on the next available ship.”

“I would like to meet . . .” Imamura left the sentence hanging, his neck stretching forward in silent query.

“Haru . . . her name is Haru, Söchö.”

Kenji hid a flash of anger. He did not know whether his bishop knew of the girl’s origins. While he admired his mother’s compassion, he had not approved of the adoption of the runaway girl sold into prostitution. And now years later, his mother was sending him this, this . . . He could not complete the thought. The bishop’s piercing eyes were staring straight through him.

“Your mother wrote well of her. What an excellent choice. A woman raised in the temple.”

Imamura gave the slightest nod of the head and strolled off, his purposeful stride leaving no doubt the issue was settled.

Kenji was just as certain that it was not settled. He would need some time to work out a plan to avoid a lifetime fate of being whispered about as “the husband of an Amakusan woman.”

To be continued . . .


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