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.
“We have the owners on the run and your meddling priest goes to a haole church,” said Tsutsumi, throwing back a jigger of whiskey. The no alcohol rule had gone by the wayside as the strike dragged on. The Honolulu union headquarters had been cleaned up for the visiting union leaders, but tobacco smoke still hugged the ceiling like San Francisco fog.
“Meddling priest?” challenged Oki Tama. “The owners did not offer the new bonus program until the Honolulu churches echoed Adams’ sermon. In a few face-saving months from now, we will have our wages adjusted close to what you called for in your editorials.” He paused and then snorted, “On the run? Sugar production rises weekly.”
“There are things you don’t understand,” said Tsutsumi with another irritating wave of his wrist, signaling he had heard enough.
Oki Tama stood up. “Then maybe you shouldn’t have brought me to Honolulu.” The anger in his voice silenced side conversations. The clinking of glasses stopped. “You shouldn’t have paraded me at all your meetings. I am more than a scarred face whose child and wife were murdered.” He jabbed his finger into his chest. “I have earned my right to speak here.”
Shinseki, a bull-necked Maui union leader, broke the standoff. “Let’s not do the work of the sugar association.” His gravelly voice created the desired calming effect. “We have enough problems. The good rains favor the owners; they don’t need laborers hoeing the irrigation ditches. The Spanish flu ravaged our squatter camps. California passed a referendum forbidding Japanese citizens from owning land. Sugar prices are at an all-time high. The owners publish a daily list of our workers returning to the fields. Korean scabs, angry with us for annexing their country, are cutting cane to spite us. At least the church leaders are trying to keep our community from being torn apart.”
Still standing, Oki Tama splayed his palms in a gesture of peace. “What I suggest is we give a reasoned response. Short, much short of disbanding our union, but something.”
Tsutsumi’s shoulders relaxed. He glanced at the hard men in the room. “Of course, we must respond. I suggest we open up our membership to all workers, not just Japanese.”
Murmurs of approval rippled through the group.
“Furthermore, I suggest we demand mediation.”
The union leader from ‘Ewa Beach gave a little snort. “The owners will never agree.”
“I second the chairman’s motion,” said Oki Tama, understanding the face-saving gesture. He sat down slowly, picked up his whiskey glass and lifted it in salute to Tsutsumi.
A relieved chorus of “Hai!” greeted Tama’s second.
The Japanese consul, Furuya, stood staring down through the second-floor picture window of his office. A meditative frown exaggerated the furrowed lines of his pallid face revealing too little sleep, too much sake and too much time spent indoors. He fixed his eyes on the men walking up the consulate steps. He did not want them here any more than they wanted to meet with him. He was not sure whom he hated more: his fractious countrymen for striking, or the Big Five sugar growers who had twisted the strike into a xenophobic crusade against the so-called “imperial designs of Japan.”
What Japan wanted was a free hand in its own backyard — Korea, China and Eastern Russia. The emperor had no desire to challenge the United States over Hawai‘i. What worth did the sugar cane fields on these small isolated islands have compared to the coalmines and vacant farmland of Manchuria, the trading concessions along the China coast or the cheap labor supplied by Korea? And, have the strikers forgotten the miserable farm villages they left behind?
The stupid haoles blame the emperor’s foreign ambitions for starting the strike and agitating the workers. They accuse me of directing labor unrest. How ironic. Now, here I am, about to do exactly what I have been accused of — tell my nationals what must be done — on behalf of these very same big-nosed landowners.
Furuya heard his aide open the consulate’s double doors and invite the puffed-up troublemakers into the conference room. He had ordered his aide not to serve tea. He would let them fidget for 15 minutes. Those men. Tsutsumi, a self-aggrandizing rabble-rouser from Japan. A nothing. A nobody. He lands in Hawai‘i and appoints himself the savior of his Japanese countrymen. A teacher! And that cane cutter, Fujimoto. The same oaf who barged into my conversation with Takayama after the Armistice Parade. A tragedy, to be sure, losing his child and wife like that, but not enough cause for all this discord — Furuya balled his fist — and unwanted media attention to our just designs in Asia. And now my Tökyö ministry seniors at the Gaimusho demand that I settle this mess after months of ordering me to separate the Japanese government from the strike.
He caught the reflection of the man sitting in his office. Ah, Takayama. I almost forgot the priest.
The consul had initially asked Bishop Imamura to join him for this meeting. The bishop had agreed the strike was undermining his Buddhist mission and threatening his schools, but had politely declined attending. “The dignity of my office requires I cannot directly involve myself,” Imamura said. He suggested Takayama as a substitute and Furuya had readily agreed.
* * *
Fifteen minutes later, Furuya strolled into his conference room carrying a copy of the Advertiser. Tsutsumi and Oki Tama immediately stood in polite deference to the Japanese consul. Kenji Takayama, who had followed behind Furuya, took a seat opposite the two union delegates.
Furuya tossed the paper onto the conference table so that the copy faced the two men. In no mood to sit down, Furuya bent over and stubbed his finger on the headline: “California Bars Jap Ownership.”
Tsutsumi and Oki Tama stared mutely at the two-inch-high bold letters.
“Hawai‘i will be next to forbid our countrymen from owning land,” said Furuya. “But not before the territorial Legislature bans Japanese language schools.”
Tsutsumi looked up, opened his mouth and said, “Our cause . . .”
Furuya’s cold grey eyes challenged Tsutsumi. “Your strike has far more consequences than mere wages. The American Congress is threatening to prohibit immigrants from Japan. The shame of it! You have no idea how our military firebrands, all too eager to undermine civilian control of government, will respond if such a humiliation should be imposed on us.”
“Our cause is just,” insisted Tsutsumi, anger infusing his words.
Furuya sat down, the heat of his own fury mirrored in his eyes, but his voice dropped to an icy-calm pitch. “This is no longer about your cause, Sensei.” He pronounced the word with unmistakable derision. “It’s time to settle.”
“The workers are tired, but they will not settle for what they had before,” said Oki Tama, defiantly.
“They won’t have to,” said Furuya with a wicked smile. “But you won’t get everything you want.”
Tsutsumi shook his head. “We are close to winning. Two or three more weeks, maybe a month, and the owners will cave in.”
Furuya craned his neck toward Tsutsumi. “Pull your head out of the sand. Go down to the harbor. Watch the Filipino workers disembark, eager to work for the wages offered, hoping to replace you permanently.”
“We can take care of those scabs,” said Tsutsumi.
“You have enough blood on your hands,” said Furuya, referring to reported attacks on strikebreakers, including one man being beaten to death. “Your thugs might have kept a few strikebreakers in line, but you’ve only validated haole claims that we are a barbarian race.”
Kenji cleared his throat. “Furuya-san, I believe you have found a way out.”
The consul leaned back. His tense, rigid body relaxed somewhat. “I have negotiated a settlement.”
“You have no right,” sputtered Tsutsumi.
“Hear the man out,” snapped Kenji.
“Waterhouse has the word of the sugar association that the owners will raise your wages from $20 a month to $23 a month, plus award bigger bonuses — but in three or four months, after all this has died down, and only if everyone goes back to work immediately. There will be no contract. No one declares victory. No one has to admit defeat.”
“We fought six months for this?!” protested Tama. “That’s not even a dollar a day.”
Furuya ignored the outburst. “There will be major improvements in housing and sanitation. Running water will be piped into homes. When you add in the new bonuses and the better living conditions, you can see I have negotiated a gentleman’s agreement that gets you almost all that you want.”
Kenji looked at Tama. “You have honored Yumi’s memory with this victory.”
“So you hold a press conference brandishing your coup,” said Tsutsumi.
Furuya held his gaze on Tsutsumi and took a breath to control his emotion. He was angry that his self-interest and that of Japan’s required that he not only stay in the background, but also grant center stage to this Bolshevik across from him. He showed Tsutsumi his best diplomatic smile.
“No one loses face, Tsutsumi-san. As the union leader, you will order the strikers back to work
. . . in the spirit of the minister’s appeal.”
“And if I refuse?”
“Then I will announce the strike is over,” said Tama. “Furuya-san is right. It’s not everything we want, but we should be proud we stuck together all this time. The owners have admitted defeat without actually saying they have. A very Japanese way of ending the strike.”
Two days later, Tsutsumi ordered the strikers back to work — a decision made easier with record sugar prices prompting equally record monthly bonuses paid to cane workers.
“The bishop would like to see you,” said Yukari, Bishop Imamura’s soft-spoken secretary.
Kenji stopped packing and looked at his watch. Four more hours before his ship departed for the Big Island. Two weeks in Honolulu was enough, he thought to himself. The strike had been settled. Tsutsumi had ignored the advice that he and Consul Furuya had given him to take the first ship back to Japan and had been arrested for the murder of a strikebreaker. As Kenji had feared, in the aftermath of the strike and its racial slant, the Legislature had resolved to outlaw the Japanese language schools.
Kenji hurried to the bishop’s office, which he had frequented often during the last two weeks. He was flattered to be the sounding board for Imamura’s broadening campaign to Americanize his Buddhist mission.
He entered the bishop’s office as the sun pierced through the open window louvers. The harsh light deepened the wrinkles of the bishop’s face, making his thinning hair look like wisps of silk and drawing attention to his sagging neck. The unguarded moment stunned him. It was hard to imagine the bishop as anything less than what his usual imposing presence commanded. Before Kenji could dwell on the startling revelation, Imamura looked up. His eyes sparked. Imamura slapped his side, a gesture displayed only when talking to Japanese men he considered his peers.
“Vestments . . .”
“Yes . . .” said Kenji in a tone that sounded more like a question than a statement.
“Your recommendation that we wear priestly vestments like the Catholics, Lutherans and Episcopalians. We are going to do it.”
Kenji’s beaming smile hid a bit of guilt. The idea had actually been Haru’s — he had promised her that he would propose it on her behalf since he did not give it much credence. But the more he understood Imamura’s commitment to make Buddhism accepted as a religion equal to all others in Hawaii, he realized that Haru’s proposal was but another logical step toward this goal. Yesterday, he had let the idea drop as if a flash of insight that had bolted down from the heavens.
“Not only that,” said Imamura. “We will also start conducting Sunday services like the Christians. I like your ideas, Takayama-san. How many times have we discussed and debated the new Buddhism these past weeks and found our combined minds are more of a multiplication than an addition. I need someone with your imagination and courage to challenge me to ensure the future of our mission.”
“Thank you, Sensei. It has been very stimulating for me, working with you. I regret leaving.”
“Then don’t . . .” said the bishop.
Kenji laughed self-deprecatingly. “I am not in your league, Imamura-san, but I am all my poor parishioners have.”
“You are more than that, Takayama-san. You and your wife are the heroes of Waimea.” Imamura swept his arm. “Sit down, good friend.”
An unsettling tension wrapped Kenji. Where was this conversation leading? He looked at his watch as he eased into the chair and immediately regretted the rude gesture.
“Don’t worry about your ship. I will drive you to the dock,” said Imamura.
Kenji relaxed, reassured by the bishop’s warm tone.
“What I’m trying to say, Takayama-san . . . is that I need you in Honolulu. Permanently.”
To be continued . . .