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 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.
Haru grabbed hold of the seat of the carriage with both her hands as Sam turned the horses sharply onto the main thoroughfare. The aroma of roasted pig drifted with the trade winds to the buckboard. As they approached the town square, Haru’s eyes locked on the musicians’ tower, which stood higher than the swaying trees surrounding the park. A string of dangling Japanese lanterns outlined a pair of men wearing headbands, their drums strapped to their bodies and resting on their bellies. They whirled their arms to pound out a steady beat.
As Sam slowed the coach, Haru clapped in rhythm to the drums, feasting her eyes on three concentric circles of dancers, the middle circle dancing in the opposite direction of the outer and inner circles. They two-stepped to the beat while pantomiming the planting, weeding and harvesting of rice. The men wore blue cotton hapi jackets and white cotton breeches; the women’s indigo yukata featured competing white patterns. Those not dancing crowded around sake barrels and food stands offering fried noodles and yakitori — wooden skewers of thinly sliced chicken.
At the first shouts of “Irasshaimase,” welcoming them, some of the dancers broke ranks to surround the carriage, while others gestured for the new arrivals to join them.
Caught in the moment, Haru elbowed Kenji, “Can you feel the music?” He surprised her by saying, “Let’s dance with our new parishioners.”
Kame tugged at Sam’s arm. “I’ll do my best,” said Sam, his voice betraying his uncertainty.
The crowd buzzed as the newlyweds strolled toward the musicians’ tower. A pair of roughhands handed Kenji a square wooden cup spilling over with sake that he quickly downed. After dancing around the tower twice, Kenji and Haru ambled over to the food stands.
A short, wrinkled-faced woman in a frayed yukata put a small plate of gyoza into Haru’s hands. She bit into the thinly rolled piece of dough. “Pork?” she asked. “Hai,” the toothless woman replied.
Carter, who had changed into a tawny leather shirt, clean trousers and dress cowboy boots, strolled over to Kenji and offered him another cup of sake. The only other white person at the festival, dressed in a black Geneva gown similar to a judge’s robe over a white cassock, made his way over to Kenji. He bowed. “Hajimemashite . . .”
“Good evening, Father John,” said Carter. He turned to Kenji. “Reverend Adams is the Presbyterian minister, the pastor of our only church in Waimea.”
Kenji offered his hand. At that instant he remembered Bishop Imamura’s instructions: “Don’t shake hands with a haole like you would with an Asian. Grab firmly as an equal, not as a supplicant.”
Adams paused for a fraction of a second, then shook Kenji’s hand, wincing slightly from Kenji’s firm grip.
“And his lovely wife, Haru,” Carter added. The reverend bowed slightly. Haru returned the courtesy with a deeper, more respectful bow.
“Welcome to Waimea,” said Rev. Adams, focusing on Kenji. “I have been looking after your community. I must say it has been a challenge.” He let his words linger, and then added, “Or, at least those your shaman hasn’t seduced.”
“Arigato, Reverend Adams,” said Kenji, deciding to ignore the shaman goad. “You are right; it is time we share the burden. Let’s be partners with the goal of nurturing the good character of our flocks. Is it not true that we Buddhists and Christians share the same values?”
Rev. Adams drew his shoulders back and raised his eyebrows. Kenji kept quiet, thinking haoles have a tough time with silence and would keep talking to fill the void.
“We Christians offer eternal salvation. You Buddhists offer rebirth.”
“While our understanding of what happens after death may differ,” said Kenji, “our means are the same — to treat others as you would like to be treated.” He did not correct Rev. Adams’ misconception that all Buddhists believe in rebirth or even an afterlife, but focused instead on enlightenment in this life.
Carter widened his grin. “You both have it right. What’s important is to help those in our community lead lives of honor.”
“Kampai!” said Kenji, lifting his sake cup in a toast. Carter and Adams joined in. A woman in the crowd dressed all in black caught their eyes. A frown creased each man’s face.
Shika, still in her ninja-impersonating all-black attire, ignored the disapproving glances of Carter and Adams as she walked over to another group of sake drinkers. She had taken measure of the new Buddhist priest, tipsy with sake, and his young, no doubt pitiably naïve wife. She could hardly wait to tell Uno that his worries about the Buddhist mission were for nothing.
She had mingled in the crowd for an hour. It was time to go, but she spotted a group of mostly men making space for her. She hunched down on her back legs and accepted a cup of sake. After polite greetings, she hand-motioned them closer.
“Tomorrow is the night of the Ina gumi.” She held their knowing gaze, then stood up and sashayed into the night. Slowly. Satisfied. She could feel the eyes on her. Yes, the crowd had come to welcome the new priest, but she knew the night belonged to her. Tomorrow night, the Buddhist mission would end before it began.
As the last of the buckboards pulled away, taking revelers, including Kame and Sam, home, Haru and Kenji strolled to theirs. Although she had not matched Kenji’s sake intake, Haru had imbibed a bit too much herself. Her eyes glowed.
“Did I hear a few people call you Haru-Sensei?”
“Yes,” she sighed. “That Kame must have talked to everyone about the English classes.”
“I am very proud of what you did.”
Haru blushed at the compliment. “Almost everyone I talked to ended their conversation with, ‘Send us picture brides,’ like I could order a dozen from the Shirokiya.”
In the distance, a dog barked.
Kenji stopped and turned to Haru. “Maybe you can.” He raised his eyebrows.
“You’re getting close,” said Kenji.
“Think about it, Okasan.”
Because her eyes were on Kenji’s face and not the path, Haru tripped over a tree branch she had not seen. Kenji caught her, drawing her close. They shared a laugh, their faces flushed. Kenji released his grip and they resumed walking. But as they strode side by side, the back of his hand brushed against Haru’s.
“I wonder who that ninja lady was,” she asked.
“I asked Sam, but he just said, ‘Enjoy the evening,’ and changed the subject.”
Haru’s eyes narrowed; a furrow between them ran halfway up her forehead. “Every time I got close to her, she would somehow manage to keep her distance, like she was watching me.”
“Ah, so desu ka,” said Kenji, offering a polite “Is that so?”
They had reached the front of their house. Kenji touched Haru’s elbow. “A new life, Okasan . . .”
Inside the house, Kenji lit a lamp, while Haru called out, “I will heat some water for the bath, Otosan.”
Continued in next issue