Michael G. Malaghan
Special to The Hawai‘i Herald
Editor’s note: We continue Michael G. Malaghan’s serialized historical novel, “Picture Brid —A Family Saga,” 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.
Author Michael Malaghan is a retired businessman who divides his time between Hawai‘i, Florida and Japan.
Most picture brides left the shores of Japan with scant training in language or culture. The typically teenaged hopefuls exchanged glamorized pamphlets extolling Hawai‘i’s exotic shores, read their husband’s embellishments and listened to the village scuttlebutt to fathom their new life. Haru, on the other hand, would always appreciate Kiyoshi’s sending her to the Yokohama temple orientation program.
On their third day in Yokohama, the head priest of the temple greeted Midori and Haru at the gate and gave the usual low bow, laughing off Midori’s modest lodging expectations.
“The wife and daughter of the Fudoin Temple’s master staying in the monks’ guest quarters? I could not bear the thought.” He gave Haru an approving glance. “After lunch, you might want to go directly to our bride’s class. They will be demonstrating how to wear Western clothes.”
Haru put her hand over her mouth the moment the monk brought her into the classroom. There stood a gaijin woman, her fiery red tresses hung loose over a beautiful dress that met the floor in a wide hoop of white linen.
“Irasshai, Haru-san,” welcomed the woman in perfect Japanese. “My name is Judith. We use first names here to get used to the casual Hawaiian ways.” Seeing the uncertainty in Haru’s eyes, the woman gave her a knowing smile. “Yes, probably not what you were expecting. My parents were missionaries from Scotland, which accounts for this wild, red hair. I was born in Japan and schooled there, eventually married a British businessman, and moved to Hawai‘i, where we lived for 10 years before my husband accepted a position with the Silk Board.”
Haru bowed and offered the traditional introduction greeting. “Hajimemashite . . .”
Judith introduced Haru to her five classmates and fellow shipmates. Natsu came first, the best-dressed girl. Haru recalled another Natsu. What would she be doing now if she had left on the ship to Sandakan with her? The thought muddled her concentration. The rest of the names — those she would know for a lifetime — blurred by her.
Natsu scurried to the back of the room, poured two cups of tea, gave one to Haru, and, like a sheepdog, managed to separate her from the others. She rivaled Haru in complexion and the same classical oval face, but topped her in wardrobe and confidence. A famous artist had painted her silk kimono and a talented hairdresser had coifed her hair. Well spoken, she seemed to regard Haru as the one girl who just might be equal to her in status.
“I’m marrying a doctor.” The word “doctor” lingered. “He lives in a big house in Honolulu. He visited my village near Saga last year and the matchmaker introduced us.” The pride in her eyes challenged Haru.
“Whom are you marrying?” asked Natsu.
“I am marrying a priest,” said Haru, softly. Taken aback by the braggadocio, she turned to join the others, but was stopped by Natsu’s restraining hand on her arm.
“What class are you sailing?”
Haru raised her eyebrows and gently removed her arm. “Second class.”
Natsu’s face lit up. Grabbing Haru’s arm with both hands, she enthused, “I knew it. You are the other girl. We are cabinmates. We must have dinner together tonight.”
Wary about making an instant friend with this pushy personality, Haru demurred. “Dömo arigato, but my mother has already made plans.”
Judith clapped her hands and pointed to a table of lumpy contents blanketed with a sheet. With a flourish, she snapped the fabric off the table. The young women gawked at the strange garments. They’d never seen anything like it. Judith dangled a bra. The girls giggled, guessing its purpose. Mouths opened when Judith pulled down the top of her dress. The picture brides had never seen a brassiere — nor breasts, encapsulated as they were, the size of those belonging to Judith, who ignored the gasps and turned around to show the metal clasps holding the contraption in place.
Pulling her dress back up, she explained, “Most Japanese women in Hawai‘i continue to wear their traditional wrap-around undergarments, but some in Honolulu have started wearing Western clothing.” Aiming a hand at the table, she said, “Pick items your size and try them on.” The tittering girls rummaged through brassieres, chemises, girdles and panties while Judith explained each garment’s function. Assured by Judith that no one could enter the classroom, Haru joined the others parading around the display tables.
A half-hour of fun later, Judith announced. “Get dressed, ladies. Let’s have tea in Chinatown.”
“Hai,” said Haru, eager to meet her new classmates.
Natsu wrinkled her nose. “We have the hotel’s early dinner booking.”
The other four girls studied the thongs holding their geta sandals in place.
“Teacher’s treat,” said Judith. The girls clapped their hands and off they marched.
To be continued . . .