Editor’s note: We continue Michael G. Malaghan’s serialized historical novel, “Picture Bride — 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 began 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.
What Imamura had seen was a beanpole of a man, striding toward him like someone desperate to catch a trolley. A Panama hat cuffed with a black band barely touched the pencil wedged above his right ear. His bony fingers clutched a notebook. Behind him, a chest-heaving man of sizable girth, his own planter’s hat pulled down to his eyebrows, struggled to keep pace. Imamura knew the first man all too well — his nemesis, Andy Pafko, who invariably brought to mind those words spoken by Marc Antony in “Julius Caesar”: “Yone Cassius has a lean and hungry look.”
Pafko’s anti-Japanese rant had grown even more strident since Imamura’s arrival, when both were alarmed at the cane workers’ gambling and drinking. During the strike, Pafko had demonized the strikers. “Yield to his demands and he thinks he is the master and makes new demands; use the strong hand and he recognizes the power to which, from time immemorial, he has abjectly bowed. There is one word that holds the lower classes of a nation in check, and that word is ‘authority.’”
A week later, Pafko coined the word “repaganization” of Hawai‘i in an editorial attack. “A little more than eighty years have passed since the missionaries replaced the Hawaiian false idols and taboo system with the Kingdom of Christ. Now we have a recrudescence of paganism, with so many immigrants steeped in Buddhist habits of thought and loyal to the demands of Shintö. Is Hawai‘i a Christian land, or is it semi-Christian and semi-pagan?” That gem assured him a front-page career with the Pacific Commercial Advertiser.
“You don’t need to be bothered with Pafko on your wedding day,” Imamura said to Kenji under his breath. “Why don’t you take your bride shopping? I will suffer him by myself.”
“Arigato,” said Kenji. But it was too late. As he and Haru turned to leave, Pafko’s sharp voice rose.
“Reverend Takayama, wait.” Kenji stopped. A puzzled frown covered his face.
“This is Joshua Bilkerton,” said Pafko, “the owner of Waimea’s finest sugar plantation. I just told him who you were.” Pafko’s toothy smile turned smirky. “The gentleman is under the impression that your opening a Buddhist mission in his city provides a great benefit.”
Imamura reached out his hand to Bilkerton. “Ah, Mr. Bilkerton, we have exchanged letters.”
Bilkerton shook Imamura’s hand. “Your telegram telling me Reverend Takayama would be coming was welcome news. Welcome news, indeed.”
Bilkerton then offered his hand to Kenji, who reciprocated. Bishop Imamura had instructed him to offer a firm handshake when meeting haoles.
“Don’t mind him,” said Bilkerton, looking at Pafko. “We need a Buddhist priest. All we have is a crazy Shintö shaman stirring up all sorts of trouble.” Bilkerton dropped his voice. “But I am disappointed that you plan to build your temple near our town square . . . far away from your flock . . . when I have generously offered land on my plantation for that purpose.”
Imamura spoke before Kenji could respond. “You are a generous man, Mr. Bilkerton. But we had already accepted the land in town from the Parker Ranch to serve all of Waimea.”
Before Bilkerton could respond, Pafko addressed Imamura. “Are you aware that the sheriff recently arrested five actors for putting on a play inciting workers?” Pafko pulled the pencil from his ear and opened his notebook. “Would you care to comment?”
Imamura smiled graciously. “Ah, the play with two side-by-side stage sets: one revealing the plantation owner’s luxurious living room and the other displaying the squalor of the workers’ quarters. As a reporter, you certainly must cherish that the American Constitution guarantees freedom of speech.”
Pafko snapped his notebook shut. “Always the clever one, Reverend Imamura. You have half the haole population fooled with your Americanization of Buddhism.”
“If you gentlemen will excuse us,” said Imamura, forcing a smile. He turned and walked away, with Kenji and a very confused Haru following.
But Pafko was not finished. “Your real design — to take over Hawai‘i with your Nisei — does not escape me!”
Haru caught only a few words of English, but the reporter’s body language made the point. “Why he is so angry . . .” She hesitated, not used to talking to a husband. “Otosan?”
Kenji summarized the exchange, ending with, “The haoles need our labor, but they fear us.”
“We are their most productive workers, but they are afraid we will never go back to Japan and our American children will vote away their privilege. They wish for our children to follow their parents into the fields and fear we are educating them beyond what the haoles think is necessary to cut cane.”
Imamura nodded supportively. Encouraged, Kenji concluded, “They take Christianity very seriously and look at all other religions as primitive threats to their belief in ‘one true God.’”
“But Bilkerton-san thanked you for opening a mission for his workers,” Haru pointed out.
“He understands Buddhism is a calming religion. Once I am in Waimea, he will expect me to help him mediate labor strife, like we have done on O‘ahu.”
A little simplistic, thought Imamura, but enough politics for today. He called over a carriage. Haru’s eyes swiveled back and forth as they rode up Nu‘uanu Street, lined with warehouses, pubs and ship chandlers. They trotted pass the Hawaiian Stockyard Livery and Boarding Stables, which offered sightseeing tours of Waikïkï and Moanalua Gardens for a dollar. A streetcar tooted and passed them from behind.
To be continued . . .