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.
After a morning of grocery shopping at Oda Trading Post, Haru prepared udon soup with noodles, chopped chicken, eggs, tofu and vegetables, just as Midori had taught her. Kenji took his first slurp of his wife’s steaming hot soup. “Ah, oishii!” he exclaimed, turning Haru’s worried face into a happy smile. As Kenji enjoyed the soup, Haru revealed her plan to “know thy enemy.”
“Out of the question!” said Kenji after hearing her out. “You are the wife of a Buddhist priest!”
“It is out of the question for a Buddhist priest, Otosan — but not for a curious 18-year-old newcomer,” said Haru, forgetting her morning resolution to avoid arguments. “Wasn’t it you who wrote about how you and Bishop Imamura walked into Chinatown’s gambling dens?”
Kenji put his chopsticks down and sat upright. “You just arrived in Hawai‘i. We have been in Waimea for only one day! We don’t start our mission by kicking the hornet’s nest.” The more he talked, the angrier his voice became. “It’s been decided,” he said.
Kenji’s stinging rebuke would have shut down most brides’ attempt at assertiveness. Japanese women were brought up to adhere to the wishes of the males in their family. While this was true in most marriages, Haru had witnessed the interplay of partnership between Midori and Kiyoshi and knew that an early “no” did not always mean “no” forever. Haru, herself, had looked fate in the eye twice and successfully escaped. Her peers asked her to teach them. And, in a crisis, whether facing tuberculosis on the ship or explaining Kame’s plight to Imamura-Sensei, she had acted decisively and had made a difference.
Haru looked at Ualani. “How many times a year does Uno drive out evil spirits?”
“Not even once a year. It’s not like everyone is running around, shouting, ‘The devil’s got me!’”
Haru turned back to Kenji. “So, if I don’t see this exorcism tonight, not only will it be a long time before I can see this, but . . .” Haru paused and started over, this time speaking softly to Kenji.
“Otosan, this Uno is very clever. Do you think it’s by chance that he is showing off his power the day after we arrive? He is sending us a message: ‘I am the one to come to for marriages and funerals. My shrine is the place for festival celebrations.’”
Like most people in an argument, Kenji was formulating his rebuttal as Haru spoke. But her words began to make sense. He hesitated, but caught himself growing angry. Why couldn’t he control his temper? After all, it was Uno who was the problem, not Haru.
Haru interpreted Kenji’s hesitation as meaning, “My ‘no’ is not as firm as it was a few minutes ago.” She almost reached for the teapot to refill Kenji’s cup, but held back, worried that her hand might shake. Instead, she said, “Gochisousama deshita,” excusing herself from the table.
After lunch, Haru and Ualani cleaned the kitchen. This time, Ualani prepared the green tea. Sitting at the dining room table, she regaled Haru with stories from Waimea’s past, its recent scandals and shared advice on everything from buying food to how to handle rude haoles.
Haru laughed at Ualani’s stories about a common Japanese problem — mixing up pronunciation of words with R’s and L’s.
Haru suddenly turned serious. “How am I going to visit Uno’s exorcism? I don’t even know where his shrine is.”
Ualani did not know the word “exorcism,” but she understood well Haru’s curiosity. “I wondered when you would get around to that.”
“You know where it is, Obasan (term for aunt or an older woman). We could go together.”
“Ha! I’m too old for that. But I have a suggestion.” Haru listened and agreed. Ualani then walked over to the Parker Ranch offices in Waimea and made a phone call.
The late afternoon had turned cloudy as the plantation workers who had greeted Kenji and Haru earlier began their pilgrimage to the Shinto shrine. In keeping with Japan’s centuries-old tradition, they revered both Shintoism and Buddhism. Uno’s concocted rituals might not pass muster in Tökyö, but after two decades of religious monopoly in Waimea, his twisted interpretations were accepted as authentic by workers recruited from unsophisticated villages in Okayama, Kyüshü and Okinawa.
Skeptical Parker Ranch paniolo debated the entertainment prospects of the promised exorcism versus the usual thrill of gambling and drinking. Many mounted up to give it a look-see. They could roll the dice near the entrance, where surely sake would be served until the shaman began his show.
Earlier, Kenji had reluctantly acquiesced to Haru’s plan of “harmless reconnaissance” once she told him that Sam and Kame would accompany her, and then promised, “No one will notice me.”
Under threatening clouds, an impatient Haru descended from her porch steps as Sam pulled up in his buggy. Grinning, Kame sat next to him. Before Haru had even reached the carriage, thunderous drumbeats began sounding.
“What is that?” Haru called out, raising her voice in order to be heard.
“Uno uses a big war drum to call his flock,” said Sam. He paused, giving Haru and his ebullient wife an amused look. “I told Kame this might be the year’s best entertainment.” He looked up at the sky. “Let’s hope the rain holds off.”
As soon as Haru was in the buggy, Sam snapped his whip over the heads of the horses and they broke into a trot. Sam slowed them at the corner entering the main road. But not quickly enough. As he turned right, the buckboard’s rear right wheel toppled into the culvert. No one was hurt, but the wheel had cracked. The crowd heading toward the shrine stopped to gawk. Several volunteers grunted while lifting the tilted buckboard as Sam, fronting the horses, pulled their harnesses forward. He ignored the few drops of rain hitting his face.
Sam studied the cracked wheel. “Useless. But I have a spare underneath the carriage.”
The same Samaritans hoisted the back of the buckboard as Sam dislodged the broken wheel and began replacing it with the new one.
The beating of the drums had stopped. They would arrive late.
To be continued . . .