Michael G. Malaghan
Special to The Hawai‘i Herald
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.
Electric streetcars, introduced only eight years earlier to replace horse-drawn carriages, had revolutionized O‘ahu’s housing and employment markets. Workers were no longer tethered to their factories or offices. Mänoa and Kaimukï became Honolulu’s first “bedroom communities.”
The mustard-yellow streetcar arrived just as Kenji and Haru reached its appointed stop. The newlyweds boarded the open carriage. Haru’s eyes widened as she read the “NO SPITTING” sign posted above the coin box as Kenji handed two nickels to the conductor. She wondered what kind of people have to be told not to spit in a tram.
The streetcar trundled along its narrow-gauge tracks two blocks up, took a gentle left onto Beretania Street and then crossed through Chinatown. Haru covered her nose with a handkerchief as they crossed the slow-moving Nu‘uanu Stream, which was covered with blotches of green scum. From the tram stop on Liliha Street, Kenji led Haru to the New Brides Shop, which was known for outfitting picture brides in Western clothes. As they entered the store, Haru immediately spotted Mayo.
“Mayo, how lucky to find you here!” Haru said. “We can do this together.”
Haru looked at the unhappy face of the man who was trying to explain a brassiere to his wife. She looked at Mayo, who nodded demurely.
“We can help your wife, Otosan,” Haru told the man. “We are familiar with the strange garments of Western women.” Haru peeked at Kenji and saw him smile in gratitude.
Kenji joined Fujimoto, Mayo’s husband, at the teashop next door, where they waited for their wives. There was tension between Kenji and Fujimoto — the result of the recently settled sugar workers’ strike. They found a table, ordered their tea and ignored the other husbands, who were discussing the upcoming American Thanksgiving picnic at the Fort Street temple, wondering if sushi would be served along with the turkey. Long minutes dragged into the longest hour in Kenji’s memory.
Finally, Haru and Mayo entered the teashop, both walking hesitantly in their laced-up, high-heeled boots, the current fashion favored by the younger planters’ wives.
Kenji’s eyes widened.
Haru had untied her piled-up hair, letting it cascade down to her shoulders. Her head was crowned with a snow-white bonnet rimmed with a pink sash, which harmonized with her tulip-red dress, hinting at inviting curves.
All eyes in the teashop turned to Haru. She bowed to Kenji, and although she kept her eyes down as custom dictated, she felt a tingle as she peeked at his approving look.
His throat had gone tight. He swallowed hard and finally managed to say, “You . . . uh . . . look good in that dress.”
Fujimoto mumbled a “You look nice” to Mayo.
After both ladies sat down, the Chinese waitress poured oolong tea for them. Haru asked a polite question to start the conversation — one she would soon regret.
“How is work on the ‘Aiea Plantation, Fujimoto-san? Mayo is very proud you are a foreman.”
The man’s hard-edged voice jolted Haru with his reply. “The strike leaders were fired, Haru-san. I am working over at the McCully taro fields, behind a duck farm in Waikïkï.”
Kenji raised an eyebrow. “But didn’t the strike settlement guarantee everyone would get their jobs back?”
Fujimoto’s face twisted into an angry mask. He pointed a finger. “Name one strike leader who got his job back. You, Imamura-san and the Japanese Consul — all of you sold us out. How could you support haole plantation owners instead of your fellow Japanese? Do you think it’s right that we are paid $18 dollars a month, but the Puerto Ricans and the Filipinos get $22?” Fujimoto slammed his teacup on the table. “For the same work?”
Haru winced. Poor Mayo is married to a rude, angry man who insults a priest in front of his wife.
Fujimoto stood up and leaned over the table, his face just inches from Kenji’s. “We could have won the strike.”
“But this week,” said Kenji, “the plantation owners raised the pay almost equal to that of the Puerto Ricans and the Filipinos.”
“ALMOST! Are we almost as good as the Puerto Ricans?” Fujimoto caught the shocked look on the faces of Mayo and Haru and sat down. “Gomen nasai,” he apologized with a slight head and shoulder bow. “Even in the face of injustice, I should control my emotions.”
“Daijöbu,” responded Haru, saying it was all right, but thinking it really was not.
Regaining his composure, Fujimoto sought out the hostess and was about to wave her over for the check when a passing carriage caught his eye. “That’s strange . . . Bishop Imamura with a young woman.”
Haru and Mayo turned around. In stunned disbelief, they both called out a name.
To be continued . . .