When Barbara Kawakami and Dr. Alice Yun Chai set out to document the lives of the picture brides, they knew they were battling time. Most of the women were in their 80s. For some, the memories of 60 years ago were beginning to fade.
Fortunately, Kawakami had interviewed Ushi Tamashiro, who had come to Hawaii as a picture bride at the age of 20, in response to the calling of her father’s unsettled spirit. Her father had died three years after arriving in Hawaii to work on the plantations. Although his ashes had been returned to Okinawa, Tamashiro’s family believed that his spirit was not at peace. One of the first things she and her new husband Jintaro did in Hawaii was to visit her father’s former home, where she prayed that his spirit could now enter Nirvana.
After reading about Tamashiro, I had wanted to hear more about her life, but she was ill. Sometimes, I laughed at her experiences, other times I cried. After her husband had picked her up at the immigration station, they went through another wedding ceremony, which was performed at a minister’s home. “Our marriage ceremony was brief,” she told Kawakami during an earlier interview. “The minister prayed for us, though we don’t understand what he say. Then he let my husband and me shake hands. Someone take a picture of us shaking hands.”
And then there were the heartbreaking memories. Ushi and Jintaro had settled in Ninole on the Big Island when their first child, a 4-year-old girl named Tsuneko, fell ill with measles and diphtheria. With no doctors in the area, the young mother carried the child on a plantation train to Hilo. However, the various stops along the way slowed the train’s arrival in Hilo. By then, Tsuneko had died.
To read the rest of this article, please subscribe to The Herald!