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.
PART VI: REJECTION
Kailua, Hawai‘i, Aug. 19, 1920
Haru stood at the rear railing of the Matson ship pulling away from the Kailua pier moorings and waved to the hundreds of well wishers blinking into the early rays of the sun skimming the ocean’s horizon. She inhaled the rich coffee aromas rising from the ship’s hold. While Kenta, strapped to her back, played with her right earlobe, Haru’s eyes roved about, trying to make contact with the picture brides she and Kame had recruited, all now waving at her. She recognized several husbands, once carousers and gamblers who had been transformed into responsible family men. How fortunate, she reflected, that she had matched up most of the men with wives before Japan had self-imposed a “Ladies Agreement,” banning picture brides. The postwar nativist movement sweeping America had cited picture brides, who worked alongside their husbands, as a sneaky way of circumventing the 1907 Gentleman’s Agreement banning immigration of laborers. Congress dropped efforts to stop all Japanese immigration once Japan had preempted the legislation with its own ban.
Tommy, almost 4 years old, squeezed his mother’s hand. “I miss my friends,” he sobbed.
Haru reached down to pick him up. “Me too, Tommy-chan.” She gave him a squeeze. “Let’s see who will be the first to make a new friend.” Kissing him on the forehead, she eased him down on the deck. “You’re getting too big for Mommy to carry.” From the corner of her moist eyes, she caught 9-year-old Takeshi and 7-year-old Yoshio prancing up the steel-latticed steps to the bridge. She straightened her back and resumed waving at the vanishing crowd. Haru had promised herself that she would not shed another tear, but diamond beads tickled her cheeks.
So many send-offs, so much packing, so little time, she thought. The drama of resolving the strike had barely been settled when she had to switch gears and prepare for a new life at the Fort Street Hongwanji compound in Honolulu, where the tantalizing conveniences of a modern city — electricity, indoor toilets, public transportation and better schools for her children — beckoned. Kenji would be working directly with Bishop Imamura, perhaps being groomed as his successor — an un-Buddhist-like ambition she fantasized about, but would never voice.
She didn’t know. Had she really arrived only 11 years ago as a teenage bride whose honeymoon-night rejection had left her confused and desolate? Since that frightening beginning, she had evolved into a community leader, respected by even the haoles. She had built a hotel, cultivated a garden that supplied vegetables to Oda’s Trading Post, supervised a children’s nursery and been the “mayor” of her strike village. She gave Tommy’s hand a reassuring tug as she thought of how by finding brides and counseling troubled souls she had been able to change people’s lives — and change them for the better. Would Honolulu offer such opportunities?
Haru glanced over at Kenji, chatting with Sam. Sam was excited to soon be realizing a dream shared by so many Nisei: to be sworn in as a United States citizen. Congress had passed a law promising citizenship to “any alien” who served in the United States Army during World War I. Sam was being sworn in at the Army base at Schofield Barracks on O‘ahu in three days and would then return to the Big Island, where he and Kame would continue to manage Haru’s hotel in Waimea.
As the harbor dissolved into an emerald skeleton of the low-slung Kona hills, Haru’s memory drifted to another voyage she had made two weeks earlier. She had visited Ume, who still had one good arm to feed herself. Upon entering Ume’s dimly lit and rancid-smelling room, Haru had swallowed bile to stifle the reflex to retch. Black gauze cloaked Ume’s face. She had fashioned a metal hook around the stump of her right arm.
Haru held a Kodak photo near the window to catch the sun’s narrow rays slipping through drawn curtains so that Ume could see her toothy, well-scrubbed children holding a sign that read “We love you, Okaasan (mother).” Haru waited a bit before saying in a soft voice, “Irie’s new wife is a good mother.”
“The food is better,” reported Ume in a constricted voice. “We always have a doctor now. I’m moving up the kokua (help) chain. I might have three more years where I can take care of friends and myself. We love each other.”
As the outline of Kona’s hills disappeared, Taka’s voice brought his mother back to the present. “Okaasan, Okaasan, the captain wants us to steer the ship. Can we? Can we?”
Haru looked up at the face of the smiling Hawaiian captain. A glance told her that he was a happy family man who welcomed her youngsters’ enthusiasm. “Well, if he needs help, you’d better hurry up.”
Taka and Yoshio each grabbed one of Tommy’s hands and half-ran towards the steps leading to the bridge. Kenji left Sam and sauntered over to join Haru at the railing. Watching his children climb the steps, he said, “The sense of loss over our departure seems to have lasted about as long as it takes to prepare dinner rice.” He turned his gaze to Haru and, for the umpteenth time in the past six weeks, said, “I wonder what Bishop Imamura has in mind for me.”
Haru answered for the umpteenth time, “You have built a successful mission, Otoosan (father). You might be assigned to help O‘ahu priests develop their missions as you did Waimea.”
By noon, the ship was passing through the Ka‘iwi Channel to within eyeshot of Honolulu’s skyline. From their elevated position on the upper deck, Haru and Kenji watched the bustling city draw closer. At the first bump against the row of tires, Haru pointed at the pier. “Look, it’s Bishop Imamura.” She waved her hand to get his attention as the ship settled into Berth 13. Minutes later, Kenji and his family walked down the gangplank to meet Bishop Imamura, waiting for them at the bottom.
“Welcome home, Takayama-san. And welcome to your new home, Haru-san.”
Haru bowed deeply. “What a great honor that you came to meet us.”
The bishop gave a slight head bow. “It seems as if we have all done this before. But the last time, I remember a shy bride taking her first step on American soil. Now you come back to us as a model for mission wives. “
“We have 21 cartons following us, Bishop,” said Kenji. “Hopefully, they will be delivered to the Hongwanji by tomorrow.”
“That’s another reason, I am here. Your household items need to be delivered elsewhere . . .”
To be continued . . .