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.
Kame turned at the sound of her name being called out across the street.
From the buckboard, the normally reticent Bishop Imamura smiled widely, flashing his uneven teeth. Haru and Mayo hobbled down the teahouse steps in their toe-pinching boots. Unaccustomed to wearing high heels, their ankles gave way and both tumbled onto the wooden sidewalk, where they broke into laughter. On the other side of the street, Kame dropped down from the carriage and dodged her way between two water buffalos being driven by a Chinese boy with a mandarin-cap. As she reached her friends, Kame outstretched both hands and pulled them up.
“We thought . . .” started Mayo.
“Me, too. I was sure I would never see you again. I even thought of committing . . .”
“Don’t say it,” interrupted Haru, hugging her friend. “What happened?”
Kame pointed at Bishop Imamura entering the teashop. “He did it.”
Inside, the waitress pulled over another table and brought a fresh teapot with extra cups. “Let’s introduce our brides to saimin,” Kenji told her, referring to a plantation-inspired concoction of noodles — Japanese udon, Chinese mein, Filipino pancit and, depending on the chef, maybe some Portuguese sausage.
Haru and Mayo bubbled over with questions for Kame. “So, tell us, what happened? How did you escape? How did Bishop Imamura do it? Does your husband know you are free?”
Bishop Imamura silenced the chattering with a clearing of his throat. “For some months now, we have been asking for a review of the trachoma diagnosis. The chief inspector has shown a willingness to consider quarantine rather than send passengers back. Today, I asked him to use Kame as a test case. He agreed. But first, he wanted to look at her eye. When he did, he spotted something in the eye and removed it.”
“Buddha must love you,” said Haru, gazing at Kame. She turned to Imamura. “What about Kame’s husband?”
“He should be at his hotel, a few blocks from yours,” said Imamura. “I talked to the Japanese consulate officer. He will track him down and then contact Reverend Motokawa to perform a wedding ceremony.”
“You’d better leave for the hotel now, Kame,” said Haru.
Kame’s eyes fell on the waiter, balancing bowls of steaming saimin on each arm as he approached. The trade winds carried the enticing new aroma across the table. “I’ll eat fast!”
Imamura slurped his udon soup and then used his chopsticks to pick up the thick noodles. He wiped some dribble from his chin with a paper napkin. He gave Kenji the serious smile signifying an imminent pronouncement: “I understand there is something called ‘Judith’s set’ — a few young women who have grown quite fond of each other. Why don’t we hold a reception for the five couples?”
The three brides clapped their hands and let out little squeals of delight, revealing their teenage enthusiasm. They huddled to make their own plans.
As everyone got up to leave, Kenji turned to Haru. “How would you like to take the tram to Waikïkï to see our famous beach?”
Haru clapped her hands. “Oh, yes, Otosan. The royal family’s beach. You see, I did read your letters.”
As the tram rumbled along the way to Waikïkï, Kenji made a last stab at discouraging Haru from the life of a missionary’s wife. After hearing Kenji’s warning about the primitive bath and toilet facilities in rural postings, she merely laughed. “The bigger the challenge, the greater the glory.”
“Yes,” Kenji smiled, “that is what my mother always said.” He looked at Haru. The sun illuminated her smile. Have I been the foolish one, he wondered.
Haru caught his glimpse at her breasts, which the Western dress emphasized. She felt an unfamiliar warmth surge through her body.
Kenji pointed out the beach “cottages” of the rich and famous — the grand weekend retreats belonging to the Doles, Campbells, Castles, and other sugar or pineapple barons that had replaced the humbler thatched cabanas of Hawai‘i’s royalty. The architectural smorgasbord delighted Haru’s eyes. Doric-columned mansions neighbored Victorian gingerbread castles and four-story colonial replicas. Kenji nodded toward a huge banyan tree whose mighty limbs arched over a Greek-styled portico.
“There is a story where whiskey-loving James Castle at his housewarming party is telling the pineapple king, James Dole, ‘My plantation is so big, it takes me all day to ride my horse across it.’ Dole thinks a minute, scratches his chin, and says, ‘Yes, I had an old nag like that once.’”
As Haru laughed, the tram stopped at the terminus adjacent to the Honolulu Aquarium. They walked across to a boat rental dock on the swamp that was Kapi‘olani Park and then paddled among the scenic network of lakes.
“Normally, by this time of the year, we would have to duck when crossing under the bridges, Haru-san,” Kenji explained, addressing her by name for the first time. “But the trade winds that bring the rain are late this year.” He pointed to the bandstand on Makee Island in the middle of the lake. “Next Sunday, we can return for a concert.”
The boat bumped ashore at the edge of what looked like a racetrack.
“Now for a sunset ride on horseback,” said Kenji. He tied up the boat and helped Haru onto dry land.
Kenji observed the look of uncertainty on Haru’s face and added, “The horses are gentle and are used to first-time riders.”
By the time Haru and Kenji rode on the beach, only a few bathers dressed in their head-to-toe bathing garments, were left. Haru gazed at the orange and red horizon, awed by the sunset. And from the back of a horse! So many first-time experiences in a single day. And tonight, there would be another first.
Kenji stopped at Waikïkï’s only beach structure. “This is the Moana Hotel. Rooms are $3 a night. There’s talk about another hotel. Most of us hope this will be the only one so the beach won’t be spoiled.”
Kenji and Haru returned their horses to the mild rebuke of the man at the rental stable for being late. Haru’s apologetic smile cut short the complaint.
“Such a beautiful island, Kenji.” But a discontented paradise, she thought to herself, recalling Pafko and Fujimoto.
The skyline was dying purple when Kenji and Haru returned to the hotel. As they climbed the steps, Haru smiled at the other honeymooners, who were watching them from rocking chairs on the porch. She looked for Mayo, Kame and Ume, but didn’t see them. As soon as she entered the foyer, those on the porch rose and headed for the dining room.
“Were they waiting for us?” asked Haru in a hushed tone.
“I suspect they were,” Kenji whispered back.
When they entered the dining room, the maître d’ led them to a table full of “Judith’s brides” and their grooms — everyone except for Kame. “There you are,” said Haru happily.
“I hope you don’t mind the presumption,” said Fujimoto, who had replaced his acerbic tone with the cordiality of a sometimes-orator. “But all I hear about is ‘Haru this . . .’ and ‘Haru that . . .’ from this little gang.” He smiled disarmingly at the word “gang.”
“Haru is our teacher, Otosan,” Mayo added.
As soon as the group chorused, “Itadakimasu,” the before-meal offering of thanksgiving, Haru’s eyes savored the dishes before her — thinly sliced mahimahi (dolphinfish), tuna, red snapper sashimi, lightly battered shrimp and mixed vegetable tempura.
“Well, ladies,” started Haru, “does this look as good as the food on the ship?” Easy conversation followed their laughter.
Ume’s husband Irie was the first to raise his warm sake cup with a “Kampai!” toast, wishing everyone good health. “This is Nihei sake from the new Honolulu Sake Brewery, Hawai‘i’s first Japanese brewery,” he added.
“Except for the moonshine on every plantation,” deadpanned Fujimoto.
“Saki, is your hotel room beautiful?” The woman forced a smile and a stoic “Hai.” Her so-called artist-husband Toshi kept his eyes cast down. Clearly, thought Haru, they have not reconciled to a life together. She was grateful when Fujimoto picked up the conversation, but was not prepared for his shocking revelation.
“Reverend, I understand you had two wives attending a funeral last week, both of whom claimed they were married to the deceased.”
The alcohol from the sake, along with the suddenly silent and expectant audience, loosened Kenji’s usually conservative tongue.
“The Mori funeral,” he said, emptying his cup. “Mori arrived just after the haoles deposed the Queen in 1893. A blacksmith by trade. After a few years, he started his own shop and wrote to his mother, asking her to send a bride. She was slow to respond. In the meantime, he met a runaway wife with a child, helped her get a divorce and married her. Before he got around to writing to his mother, she sent a letter saying his bride was on the way. He went to meet the girl, planning to find another husband for her. But she was beautiful, so he married her, as well. He was a clever fellow. Moved into the auto repair business as soon as the first cars arrived and then started a boat-engine repair business on Sand Island. Neither wife had a clue about the other until he had a boating accident and drowned.”
“How did he keep his secret from them?” inquired Fujimoto.
“He had two brothers. Both knew, but he socialized with wife number one with the older brother, and with wife number two with the younger brother.”
The ladies expressed feigned shock as Haru ladled rice onto the plates.
Picking up the cue, Kenji explained, “In the end, it all worked out. Each wife inherited one of the businesses and all the children found out they had half-brothers and sisters.”
“I hope my husband doesn’t tell me he has two missions to tend to,” said Haru to everyone’s laughter.”
The men told stories from work until Fujimoto surprised Haru by asking, “Why don’t you ladies tells us about your crossing?” The animated chatter lasted through a dessert of fresh pineapple when, as if a theater curtain had dropped, a collective hush fell upon the group.
Kenji broke the silence. “If you will excuse us, Gochisösama deshita,” thanking the gods for the delicious dinner.
The four women glanced at each other. Haru knew they were all anxious. She remembered Midori’s advice: “Young men are too self-indulgent to worry about your performance, dear. All they require is acquiescence. Years may pass before they consider the other person has her own needs.”
Haru clicked her eyes to the right and peeked at Kenji. His face stared ahead expressionless, but his hand twitching almost made her laugh. Why, he is as nervous as I am, she thought to herself.
As soon as she entered their room, Haru started filling the bathtub with hot water. The idea of stepping into a tub before soaping away the stench and grime on one’s body bothered her, but Judith had explained that this seemingly barbaric behavior was the way of Western people. She placed a towel and a bar of soap on a small stool and moved it next to the claw-footed tub. She checked the sash of Kenji’s cotton yukata robe to see if it had been placed through all the robe’s hoops. She dipped her finger into the water, turned off the cold-water faucet and waited another minute for more hot water and then tested it once more. Satisfied with the temperature, she closed the tap. Haru opened the door and bowed.
“Your bath is ready, Otosan.”
Haru exchanged nervous smiles with Kenji as he entered the bathroom. She expected him to relax in the tub, as was his father Kiyoshi’s habit, and thus was surprised when he came out after just enough time to lather and rinse himself. Perhaps, she, too, should show eagerness and prepare quickly.
Haru left the door ajar. She sat in the water, savoring the last warm moments with her womanhood intact. She studied the graying porcelain sink with its water-stained copper faucets, the vanity mirror with a ceiling light bulb hanging directly overhead and the white towels hanging from a wooden rack next to the tub. She wanted to remember everything about this special night. She washed her private area a little longer than necessary, enjoying the sensation. Upon alighting from the tub, she donned her yukata and then reached into her toiletry kit for the cologne Judith had given her and dabbed the back of her ears.
Silhouetted by the bathroom’s amber glow, Haru floated into the shadowy bedchamber. As her eyes adjusted to the dim streak of light covering the upper half of the bed, she beheld an inert Kenji, covered from the neck down with a white sheet. His eyes shone like tiny pools of quicksilver. Haru stepped forward, remembered Midori’s suggestion and, emboldened by the sake, let her yukata drop to the floor.
Kenji let out a gasp.
Standing still, she caught Kenji’s hungry gaze staring at her moon-shaped breasts. Warmth surged through her body. Her confidence rose. She felt honored offering herself to the man with whom she would share her life, raise children and build a mission together. She stepped forward to crawl under the sheet. From an impish smile, her vocal cords tightened as throaty words escaped.
“Good evening, Reverend.”
Twisted anger rose on Kenji’s face like a cat surprised by a pit bull.
“Karayuki!” he hissed, calling her that awful name from which she had fled.
Haru fell back, ashamed of her nakedness. She snatched her yukata and ran back into the bathroom.
To be continued . . .