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.
Before Haru could put her arm through the sleeve of her yukata, the sound of fists pounding on the door diverted her attention. It was so loud she thought it was a warning that the hotel was on fire.
“Haru! Open the door! PLEASE!”
“Kame?!” called Haru through the door as she clutched her yukata and hurried into the room.
Kenji sprang from the bed, grabbed his own yukata and dashed into the vacated bathroom.
“Hurry! He is chasing me!” came the voice from the other side of the door.
Haru sprinted to the door and yanked it open. Kame flew inside.
“Stop!” a rough, masculine voice yelled from down the hallway. The sound of heavy steps drew close.
Kame slammed the door. She pressed her shoulder against it and firmly turned the lock.
Haru flipped on the light switch. Horror filled her eyes when she saw the huge purple bruise around Kame’s eye, which was swollen shut. Blood dripped from Kame’s nose. Haru sucked in a deep breath and wrapped her arms around the trembling girl.
“Oh, Kame . . .”
Kenji stepped into the bedroom. Kame’s frightened stare locked on Kenji. He gaped at the sight of her mangled face.
“My husband beat me . . .” Her grey yukata hung loose, its sash tied haphazardly. Kame was barefoot — one foot was bleeding, though she did not seem to know it.
Angry fists assaulted the door. “Okasan, come out or I will break down the door!”
Kenji strode to the door, drew himself upright and opened it.
A wide-eyed man, his face twisted in anger, put his shoulder down and took half a step forward. With his feet firmly planted at the doorway, Kenji folded his arms and leaned into the man.
“I am Reverend Takayama of the Hongwanji Temple. Step back!”
Sounds of turning doorknobs and doors opening filled the corridor. “What’s going on? Call the police,” the voices called out. At least six new grooms tightened the cinches on their blue hotel yukata and quickly formed a loose circle around the would-be intruder.
The man spun around and angrily addressed the voices behind him. The veins in his neck pulsated.
“Yes, call the police! My wife is trying to run away.”
Peering at the ring of grooms behind her husband, Kame stepped into the doorway and pointed to her face.
“Look what he did to me!”
The faces behind her husband changed from shock to anger.
“Out of my way, priest.” The man lunged for Kame. Two grooms grabbed him from behind. The assailant spun around and pulled his fist back, ready to swing. He glared at the determined crowd and then dropped his hand.
At that moment, the hotel manager, accompanied by two assistants, came running down the hall and quickly took control of the situation.
“Sir, come with me,” they ordered. “Now!”
The angry man stepped back from the door in one movement. “I’m leaving!” he snarled at the hotel manager. His eyes were full of malice as he backpedaled and shook his fist. His eyes were full of malice as he sneered at Kame.
“This is not the end. I paid for your passage, paid the matchmaker. You are mine . . .”
“Come in,” Kenji told the hotel manager.
Haru led Kame to the vanity table. “Sit. Let me get a wet towel.”
The manager hurried over, dropped to one knee and studied Kame’s swollen eye. “I’ll get some ice.” As he opened the door to leave, Kenji said, “We will need an extra bed.”
“What happened, Kame?” asked Haru.
All three turned their heads at the knock at the door. It was the manager.
“I have the ice and spare bed.”
Kenji opened the door. The man handed him a chunk of ice wrapped in a towel and some linens. He stepped aside as a worker rolled in a cot. Haru repeated her question when the two men left.
Kame’s words came rushing out. “The bishop took me to the hotel and introduced me to Endo-san, my husband. As soon as he left, Endo-san told me our hotel was nearby. We walked a long time; I had to carry my heavy bag. Our hotel was horrible. Smelly. He didn’t wait. He took off his clothes and yelled at me to do the same. I did what he told me. He watched me like a fox in a chicken yard.”
Kame began crying. “He was rough. It hurt so much.”
“He hit you after that?” asked Haru.
Kame’s sobs increased. “Oh, Haru, you would not believe . . .” Kame dropped her head and covered her face with her hands. “He told me two of his friends were waiting downstairs and they wanted a ‘short-time wife.’ They would pay him a dollar each. He said, ‘This is how we can buy our own land.’”
Haru’s eyes sought Kenji’s. “This can happen in Hawai‘i?”
“It’s disgusting, but yes, it happens,” he replied. “There is a tragic story in almost every shipload of picture brides. Certain men force — or try to force — their wives into prostitution. A few beat them for the slightest infraction. That is why we have set up a dormitory for such women at our temple.”
“Kame’s my friend. We must take care of her,” said Haru.
“I will get her into our shelter, Okasan,” assured Kenji.
Haru stamped her foot. “She is my friend, Otosan.”
Kenji’s eyes locked onto his wife’s angry eyes. She was challenging his authority! Without realizing it, Kenji had clenched his own fist, then caught sight of Kame’s frightened eyes and battered face. What am I doing? He flashed back to his cruel epithet just before Kame came pounding on their door. He wondered to himself: How much different were my vicious words than the physical beating Kame just endured?
Kenji’s stern face relaxed. He smiled at Kame with the warmth of a priest. “Of course, you can stay with us until we sort things out.” Kenji glanced at the folded cot. “I will sleep on this.”
He studied Haru’s relieved but wary face. He wanted to whisper, “I’m sorry.” Instead, he bowed slightly, turned and began preparing the cot.
Kame relived the horrible story again before crying herself to sleep next to Haru.
Mortified, Kenji lay on his side facing the wall. Although he acted as if he was sound sleep, every part of his body was alert. He thought of his mother. He thought of the admonishments he had given to the grooms who had attended his marriage classes. He had demeaned himself and his religious vocation with his ugly outburst and then did not even have the courage to offer Haru a “Gomen nasai” — “I’m sorry.” How could he tell her that the words, “Good night, Reverend,” were knives of shame emanating from his own weakness and wickedness? All his anger toward his mother for sending him an Amakusan karayuki — a prostitute from Amakusa — had nothing to do with her or Haru. The word Amakusa reminded him of his own betrayal of the values his parents had taught him — values he preached and in which he believed.
Kenji remained awake, wallowing in a series of “If only . . .” rationalizations for his hair-trigger outburst. If only he had told Haru to take her bath first so she would have been waiting for him in bed . . . If only she had kept her yukata on when standing before him . . . If only she hadn’t said, “Good evening, Reverend . . .” If only the carriage driver had taken another street — any street but Nu‘uanu . . . If only his false pride had not dwelled on Haru’s being from that ill-fated island known for its karayuki . . . If only . . .
Kenji knew that Haru was more than he deserved. She was a brave young girl who had escaped the karayuki life and had been raised by his mother to be a model wife. He fell into a fitful sleep, dreading the arrival of morning. How could he explain his anger without confessing the reasons for it?
Haru listened to Kenji’s rhythmic breathing. She lay prone, watching him from the edge of the bed. She felt dirty, like Natsu, the karayuki from Amakusa, even though she had never known a man or even touched herself in the way that her one-time friend Ko had once described. Haru had long ago set aside her Amakusan heritage. At school and on the ship, she was the daughter of a kind priest and his caring wife, someone whose appreciation for her good fortune drove her to help others. She thought her bearing was anything but a karayuki, but, somehow, her demeanor had led her husband to accuse her otherwise.
Haru reviewed the day like a movie short on a continuous loop, each time asking herself, “What did I do wrong?” The day had started so wonderfully. She thought back to her walk across the immigration hall to the applause of her shipmates. She recalled Kenji’s adoring eyes when he saw her in the red dress, paddling among the lakes at Kapi‘olani Park, and the horse ride on the beach. She relived the happy dinner with her Judith classmates.
Mostly, she replayed over and over the last seconds before Kame’s interruption. Standing naked. Midori had told her to drop her yukata. Why? Had that triggered Kenji’s angry denunciation? But why? And what would have happened if Kame had not banged on the door? Would we have exchanged angry words, or reconciled, or would I have fled in humiliation from this room and booked passage back to Japan? No, returning to Japan was not an option. Like Hideyoshi, the humble commoner who became a shogun, Haru was determined to persevere. She would not give up.
A shiver ran up Haru’s spine. Their marriage had been sudden. Had she been forced on a reluctant husband? With that question heavy on her mind, Haru drifted off into a fitful sleep, waking several times after dreaming of dropping her yukata as Kenji’s eyes turned from lust to anger. She finally fell into a deep sleep as church bells and the crow of roosters began to awaken the city of Honolulu to a new day.
Kenji woke up ashamed.
The first rays of the morning sun crept around the edges of the drawn window shades. Kenji sat up slowly, hesitating each time the springs of his cot squeaked. He gazed at Haru, lying on her back. Kenji studied her deep breathing. He wanted to reach out and caress her face with the back of his hand.
Kenji’s thoughts returned to his counseling sessions with the husbands. “Swallow your pride, say you are sorry and you will have a happy wife who is eager to please you.” He never understood why so many men just could not humble themselves with those few words.
Now he did. It was so much easier to give advice than to provide a saintly example.
Stealthily, Kenji eased his feet onto the worn grey carpet and stood up. He switched his gaze to the young girl sleeping like a cherub next to his wife. You stopped me from whatever marriage-ending outburst I was about to let loose, he thought to himself. But your problem is bigger than your innocent face can imagine. Most wives go back to their husband. If you do that, you will live your life planning how not to upset your husband, making excuses for your bruises and worrying that one day he will beat you to death.
A horrible thought suddenly entered his mind: Will Haru wonder when he will hiss his next cruel words? Even if I have the courage to say I am sorry, it would not be enough. The wife beaters were the best at apologizing. Some sobbed promises of “Never again.”
I am not like those men, thought Kenji. And yet, I acted like one.
He tiptoed over to the mahogany wardrobe cabinet and took out his clothes. In the bathroom, he turned on the water for his morning bath and turned his attention to what he liked to do best — solve practical problems.
Kame’s case was extremely complicated. Normally, he would encourage her to press charges. It is usually hard to prove, but there were many witnesses to last night’s altercation. Only Kame was not a wife — she was an illegal immigrant. As a consequence of the health inspectors holding her back, Kame had not been married in Honolulu as required by immigration regulations. Motokawa had not been available when Kame was released. He agreed to officiate before the start of the reception for the new brides at the Hongwanji Temple later today. Since Kame was not married, pressing charges would end up with her being deported and her intended husband going free, since his victim would be on a ship sailing back to Japan when the case came to court.
All these issues whirled about in Kenji’s head as he bent over to leave a note under a geta clog outside the bathroom door. He tiptoed out of the room, hurried past the breakfast buffet on the ground floor and strode straight to the Fort Street Hongwanji Temple to discuss Kame’s case with Bishop Imamura.
Freshly brewed oolong tea scented the bishop’s office. The trade winds whistled gently through the half-opened shutters. Kenji sat at the edge of a hardback chair facing Imamura.
The bishop rubbed his chin as he listened. He nodded his head when Kenji paused in his recitation. “Yes, the stout girl with the eye problem. Since we now know what type of fellow her intended husband is, she was lucky she missed Motokawa’s marriage ceremony.”
“But she is here illegally . . .” said Kenji. “She will be deported unless . . .”
“. . . Unless we find her a husband,” said the bishop, completing Kenji’s thought. The hint of a smile on the bishop’s lips told Kenji that Imamura had an idea.
Imamura picked up a letter on his desk. “This was delivered by a Parker Ranch cowboy — a paniolo, as they are called — who escorted their Big Island cattle ship to Honolulu. Read it.”
The letter, written on Parker Ranch letterhead, reminded the bishop of his promise to establish a mission in Waimea. Kenji lingered over the last paragraph.
Labor agitation at nearby cane fields could be greatly ameliorated by sending over a priest as early as possible. For too long, an unscrupulous shaman passing himself off as a Shintö priest has preyed on the rural superstitions of the plantation workers. My Japanese cowboys would surely welcome the attention of a priest. As I promised earlier, a house for the priest will be provided.
Wellington Carter, Manager, Parker Ranch
A P.S. was scribbled at the bottom of the typewritten note. “Our ranch would be honored if your priest brought us a few picture brides.”
“My spring arrival will be most welcomed,” said Kenji.
“Spring? Are we reading the same letter Takayama-san?”
“Well, yes . . . I could leave earlier. What did you have in mind?”
Kenji’s heart hammered as Imamura outlined his “suggested” a way to solve the Kame problem and take advantage of the Parker Ranch opportunity.
To be continued . . .