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, which is now available as a printed softcover book, opens 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.
Oki Tama eased onto a cushioned armchair on the porch. Haru and Kenji sat on hardback chairs next to him. Tsutsumi, who had honed his speaking technique shouting over the pounding of Hawai‘i’s surf, placed one hand on the back of Oki Tama’s chair. He waited for the crowd to settle and then lifted his two-foot-long brass megaphone.
“You are going to bed hungry . . . because you want your children to have a better life. You are sleeping on the ground . . . so that after years of toil under the grueling sun, you might buy a farm or a fishing boat or a small shop. You have suffered disease and even the death of loved ones . . . because you are determined to live in Hawai‘i, permanently. In dignity — not as slaves tied to the company store and assigned to homes without running water.”
Haru nodded her head. Tsutsumi, the outsider, had it right. She knew of only two striking families who had returned to Japan. The strike has confirmed that America is our country.
“We are a harmonious people. However, even a dog will bite its master if ill treated. The owners claim they will never recognize our union. But with your will power, recognize it they will!”
Tsutsumi paused, his eyes challenging the crowd. A smattering of voices responded, “Hai!” “Yes!”
“Even the blind can see that fields are vacant.” More “Hai!”
“Even the deaf can hear the silence of sleeping hoes and machetes.” “Hai!” half the crowd repeated.
“In a test of wills, men and women fighting for justice will outlast the money worshippers.” “Hai!” roared the crowd.
Tsutsumi stamped his feet. “The owners drink champagne in their mansions, waiting for you to give up.”
The crowd shouted, “Chigau!” (Never!)
“The lunas call us by a number even as we call their dogs by name. They think they have crushed your dignity. They are waiting for you to crawl back to the same conditions you left.”
“Chigau! Chigau! Chigau!”
Tsutsumi raised his hands, commanding silence. “They. . . do . . . not . . . know . . . your . . . character!” Tsutsumi threw his left fist in the air. “Victory belongs to the stronger will. Victory is ours!”
Shouts of “Banzai!” pierced the air.
Feeling the crowd’s enthusiasm, Haru wondered if her doubts about Tsutsumi had been misplaced. She had to admit Tsutsumi was bolstering the workers’ resolve in ways she and Kenji had not been able to do.
“You are not alone. Our businessmen, our tradesmen, even our maids are donating for your daily bread.” He stood with his feet a little wider apart.
“Our mother country is sending a message supporting you. The cruiser Yakumo is steaming into Honolulu today.”
Haru’s eyebrows rose in alarm. Turning a routine goodwill port call into Japan’s support of the strikers was just what the Advertiser has editorialized about, she worried. Now, Tsutsumi has given them proof. She saw Oki Tama turn his face sharply. He winced in pain as he focused his eyes on Tsutsumi. For a second, Haru thought he was about to jump up in protest, but his pained face resumed its stoic expression.
“We will not go back to work until our demand for a $1.25 daily wage is met.” Tsutsumi’s eyes blazed. “If we do not win, I will make the ultimate sacrifice.” He steered his hand over his stomach in the unmistakable letter L. His seppuku gesture silenced the crowd.
Tsutsumi marched off the stage.
The stunned crowd dispersed into smaller groups. Some of the younger men worked their way to the front, shouting, “Tsutsumi, chigau!” Paniolo and businessmen waved cash. Kenji got up and offered his hat.
“That fool,” hissed Oki Tama.
Haru turned to him.
“He didn’t see Pafko lurking in the back of the crowd.”
Haru’s eyes widened. “I didn’t see him, either
. . .”
“He wore a cowboy hat like a paniolo.”
Minutes later, Tsutsumi, his face aglow in self-satisfaction, walked around behind Oki Tama and leaned over. “Your arrival stirred the crowd, primed them for my message.”
Wearing a stoic, lopsided expression, Oki Tama stood up and turned to face Tsutsumi. “What is this nonsense about the Japanese Navy supporting our strike?”
“Strikers need to know they are not alone,” Tsutsumi replied dismissively.
“Those remarks make us look like we are puppets of a foreign government.”
You sound like a haole,” Tsutsumi said through a harsh laugh. “Flicking his wrist like batting away a mosquito, he added, “The words are just for our people.”
“You didn’t see that Advertiser truth-twister, Pafko?” asked Oki Tama.
Tsutsumi’s face lost its styled smile for just a second. Before he could answer, Oki Tama yanked a folded newspaper from his back pocket and snapped it open. “You have given the haoles the red meat they crave.” Thumbing down Tsutsumi’s Hawaii Mainichi Shimbun, Oki Tama pointed to the editorial: “Parade through the towns holding a red flag saying, ‘Families cannot live on 77 cents a day.”’ And this here: ‘One tiny nation in Asia has overcome the tyranny of a mighty nation. You are part of that nation, the land of the Rising Sun.’”
Oki Tama dropped his hand holding the paper. “March waving red flags? Labeling America a tyranny? Using ‘Rising Sun’ imperial army slogans? Your newspaper is making us look like the Bolshevik wing of Japanese nationalism. How long will it take before the Advertiser quotes this as proof of an imperial conspiracy?”
Tsutsumi flicked his hand again as if swatting at a pesky fly. “The Japanese consul issued a statement claiming they have no connection with the labor union.”
“Your newspaper is reporting the names of strikebreakers to the mayors of the workers’ hometowns in Japan, as if Hawai‘i is a prefecture of Japan,” said Oki Tama.
Through gritted teeth, Tsutsumi’s voice hissed, “I have come here as a guest to give hope to our strikers, not to be lectured to.”
Seeing Tsutsumi tighten his fists around the arms of his chair, Haru decided to enter the discussion. “Excuse me, I am only a woman, but I think it is important we recognize the politics of the issue and how they can be used. Our territorial expansion in Korea, China and Russia is a factor that preys on the haoles’ fears.”
“With all due respect, Takayama-san,” said Tsutsumi, “this is not the issue.”
“For many haoles, it is,” Haru countered. “That Pafko reporter never lets his readers forget about Japan’s supposed ‘Hawai‘i is next’ design.”
Catching inquiring stares of spectators facing the front porch, Tsutsumi forced a lighthearted smile.
“All strikes end,” said Haru. “But if the harmony of our community is torn apart, we will live in a territory where the whites fear us.”
“Enough politics,” said Kenji, who had returned with a hatful of donated Washingtons. “Let’s go inside and eat.”
Tsutsumi rose. “Thank you for your generous offer. I think it best I walk among the workers in your strike city and give them further encouragement. I will sleep in one of the squatter tents tonight.”
To be continued . . .