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.
As Haru strolled down Fort Street with Kenta, sleeping, secured to her back, she thought of herself as Alice in Wonderland finding herself in a strange world after falling down a rabbit hole. She marveled at the many cars on the street. It was not just the cars jostling with the trams that made her feel so out of place, but also the men wearing suits, ties and hats of all descriptions who strode purposefully into banks and office buildings made from granite. Not just haoles, but Asian men. Japanese men, too. These were not the cowboys and tradesmen of the Big Island. Japanese ladies wearing more colorful kimono and yukata (summer kimono) hustled in and out of crowded shops. After several people passed her impatiently, nearly bumping her, she changed her pace from a stroll to a walk to keep up with Honolulu’s faster-moving pedestrians.
She turned right at Beretania, wondering how Kenta managed to sleep through all the honking and shouting. The chugs and rumbles of the nearby Honolulu Iron Works filled the air with pride. She knew that the massive factory manufactured sugar refinery equipment for the Caribbean and the Philippines, as well as for local plantations.
Haru replayed Bishop Imamura’s stunning words upon entering his office an hour earlier. “It had been my intention for you to help me at our Fort Street Hongwanji until we needed a head priest at one of the O‘ahu missions,” he had said to Kenji and Haru. “A sudden illness has created exactly that situation. As you know, Takayama-san, the Mö‘ili‘ili mission serves both our University of Hawai‘i students in nearby Mänoa as well as the growing Japanese population in Mö‘ili‘ili’s farming community.”
But that wasn’t the bishop’s only request. Haru recalled how his eyes had focused on her. “If you have the time, you might visit Fred Makino at his pharmacy.”
Haru looked back at him uncertainly. “The same Fred Makino who publishes the Hawaii Hochi?”
“The very one,” smiled Imamura. “The man who led the strike and now defends our schools.”
“I think a Hochi human interest story on the ‘mayor’ of the Waimea strike camp will provide a wonderful introduction to your new parishioners.”
Haru ignored the compliment, puzzled by what Imamura had said about Makino having been the leader of the strike. “But wasn’t Tsutsumi the strike leader?” she asked.
The bishop’s face hardened. “Tsutsumi is a gangster. He was the worst voice we could imagine. In a day or two, he will be arrested for conspiracy for dynamiting the Sakamaki house,” Imamura said, referring to the explosion designed to intimidate cane workers who refused to strike. “When that happened, Makino broke ranks with him.”
Haru remembered the incident and had questioned the newspaper’s claim of Tsutsumi’s involvement. “Of course, plantation owners accuse me,” Tsutsumi had said. “I am leading the strike.” She had been skeptical of Tsutsumi’s denials, but given the diabolical charges each side had slung at each other, she had not pressed the issue.
Imamura’s forceful voice continued. “Without Makino’s fundraising and newspaper support, the strike would have folded much earlier.” Switching to a softer voice, he concluded, “He’s at his pharmacy now. We can keep an eye on your boys.”
Haru looked at Kenji. “You go along,” he said. “I have more business to go over with the bishop.”
Imamura opened a side drawer in his desk and pulled out a hand-drawn map. “I have indicated Makino’s business here,” he said, pointing to a red dot on the map. “It’s not far, about a 15-minute walk.”
At the Fort and Beretania corner, Haru stopped and looked up at the street sign. “Nu‘uanu.” One block up, just as the bishop’s map had indicated. Minutes later, she spotted the Makino Drug Company sign at the corner of Nu‘uanu and Hotel streets. Slowing her pace, Haru’s eyes darted to sunbeams glaring off a polished, four-door Model T Ford sedan — black, of course. “Hawaii Hochi” was stenciled in 3-inch-high white lettering on the door. Haru’s knees wobbled. Why am I nervous? She had met influential people before. On second thought, who else besides Wellington Carter? He had made her feel welcome as a 19-year-old bride. For the most part, her township social circuit was comprised of men and women like herself — small-town people. She stared at the Schwinn bike leaning against the wall and wished she could snatch it and ride away.
Unconsciously taking a deep breath, Haru stepped into the apothecary. A tall, thick-necked man with a rectangular face — not quite Asian, but not Caucasian, either — his head crowned with a Panama hat, was tending to a haole customer. He wore a white suit, a white shirt still holding its starch and a white silk tie. The confident face glanced up at the tinkling sound of the doorbell. His intriguing hazel eyes were set in sockets not quite round or almond and perched over a parrot-beaked nose and a wide smile. At 44, Fred Makino was in the prime of his life on the day Haru walked into his pharmacy. He was the son of an English merchant who died when Fred was only 4 and a Japanese mother who remarried a Japanese businessman.
Makino, the former playboy of Tökyö’s famed Yoshihara red-light district, joined his brother’s general store on the Big Island the year after annexation. Three years later, in 1901, his brother gave him the stake to start a pharmacy in downtown Honolulu.
Haru recognized him from newspaper pictures and introduced herself. “Watashi wa Haru desu,” she said, bowing.
Makino nodded agreeably and returned his eyes to his customer. “Wes,” Makino’s commanding voice assured the man, “take two of these every four hours and you’ll feel like your old self in three days.”
Haru raised her eyebrows. A Japanese addressing a haole on a first-name basis surprised her. And, Haru thought, a man of substance, judging by the man’s tailored pinstriped suit, maple syrup-colored fedora hat and buffed black shoes.
The man took the pills wrapped in cellophane, slipped them into the pocket of his suit jacket and sauntered out. Makino hollered at an assistant who was stocking shelves. “Shinzo, man the counter for a few minutes, please.” The college-age boy bowed his head and stepped over.
“Let’s go upstairs to my law office,” said Makino, whose eyes twinkled at this designation. Taking in Haru’s quizzical expression, he added, “Had breakfast with the bishop this morning and he told me about your posting. What an opportunity — the ‘mayor’ of the Waimea strike village settling in Mö‘ili‘ili.” Makino failed to mention that Imamura had asked him to mentor Haru on the issues facing the Japanese community.
Haru followed Makino up the grated steel steps of the spiral staircase that rose behind the counter. At the top, she squinted into the sunbeams streaking through the large windows facing Nu‘uanu Street. A strange office, thought Haru. There was no desk, only a large family dining table surrounded by sturdy chairs. A pair of four-blade ceiling fans spun languidly over the table laden with open books, their pages kept in place with polished stones lodged on their edges. Floor-to-ceiling bookcases, crammed with tomes of all sizes, occupied the other two walls. More books were stacked haphazardly on the floor under the windows.
“Is this an office or a library?” asked Haru.
“Welcome to my law office,” said Makino, his voice warm, rich and inviting. “Have a seat while I prepare us tea.” Makino stepped over to a Korean medical chest serving as a kitchen countertop. “When I moved to Honolulu 20 years ago, there were no Japanese lawyers.” He picked up the teakettle from the electric hot plate and carefully poured hot water into a Chinese dragon-decorated teapot with one hand while he wagged a forefinger with the other. “But lawyers were needed to handle marital matters, immigration processing and run-ins with the police. While knowing nothing about the law, I started buying the collection you see here. I became a layman advocate and taught myself how to navigate the American-Hawaiian legal system while also learning, I might add, about pills and potions.” Makino carried the teapot and two empty cups to the table. “At 23, I felt there were no mountains too high to climb.” He sat down across from Haru and poured tea. “Then, a few years later, when tensions built up between Japanese cane workers and planters, I stuck my rather long nose into the budding conflict.” Makino brought his cup to his mouth, inhaled the aroma like a man preparing to drink a vintage wine and sipped his tea. “Let’s see . . . 1909 . . . I believe, that was when you arrived.”
“Hai, just after the strike was settled,” said Haru, taking a sip of her tea. “Delicious . . .”
“One futile negotiation led to another. By spring, Fred the pharmacist-lawyer had become Fred the strike leader.” Makino spread his arms in a gesture that suggested, “How did that happen to me?” and then continued. “The strike ended without resolution. But just like this recent strike, the owners quietly agreed to increase wages ‘voluntarily’ a few months later.” He downed a generous swallow of tea. “Then, two years later, not knowing anything about the newspaper business, I launched the Hawaii Hochi, the fourth Japanese daily newspaper. Do you know why?”
Taken off guard, Haru hazarded a guess, “The other Japanese newspapers supported the plantation owners?”
“Exactly.” Makino pursed his lips in surprised approval. “Our community needed a voice that fought for our rights.”
Thinking of what Imamura had said earlier in the day, Haru added, “When the strikers this year needed a voice, you gave it to them, again.”
A little feigned humility is in order, thought Makino. “Arigato. We tried our best.” His voice turned serious. “The strike is over. Now the battle for our schools has begun.”
Makino watched the cloud of uncertainty envelop Haru’s face.
Good, he thought. Given her husband’s sponsorship of a language school in Waimea, she is not new to the issue. She is, however, naïve to the coming struggle, the bigger arena. “Before I describe the battle we face, tell me about your days leading your strike village. I want to introduce you to my readership before we cross swords with Okumura and the Legislature.”
For the next hour, Makino encouraged a reluctant Haru to tell her story — the evolution of a Japanese activist-wife, a rarity in their community. Makino drew out her history: establishing the kindergarten, the evolution of the family garden to a commercial enterprise and the building of the hotel; then the awful episode of the nightriders who killed Mayo and her child, followed by the strike; her cooperation with the Shintö and Presbyterian priests to create tent cities; the Spanish flu outbreak; Oki Tama’s scarred face and his inspirational leadership and Tsutsumi’s disturbing speech.
“This is a story worthy of a Sunday feature series,” said Makino, shuffling his sheaf of notes.
“I am not sure if . . .”
While Haru struggled for words, Makino said, “My job is to sell newspapers and give our readers hope. The two goals are best served together, like rice and sashimi in sushi. But there is another reason. You are a woman of accomplishment. You need an introduction. Mö‘ili‘ili is the home of the new Japanese.” Haru nodded her head as Makino added, “The most ambitious sugar cane workers have been leaving the plantations, many to settle in Mö‘ili‘ili. A whole new community coexisting with the Chinese and Hawaiians. And your mission is the heart of that community.”
“But there are also college students,” added Haru. “I don’t have that type of education.”
“Our students do not need a professor at your mission; they need a mother,” smiled Makino. “Let’s stroll back to the Hongwanji while I fill you in on Reverend Okumura and the school battle we face.”
Outside the pharmacy, Makino patted his Ford. “This one’s a charm. Has the new ignition system. Don’t have to crank it to start.”
Walking in the opposite direction from the Hongwanji, towards the harbor, he pointed to a second-story sign: Nakamura & Nakamura, Attorneys at Law. “Now we have real attorneys. The Nakamura brothers are University of California graduates. To the horror of the haoles, they are constitutional specialists, even though their daily bread comes from small business clients.”
Makino pointed out restaurants, notion shops, vegetable grocers, household goods and farm supply stores, all Japanese-owned. Haru noticed a signboard in Japanese, “The Pacific Photo Shop,” and made a mental note to bring Kenji and the children there. It had been years since she had sent Midori and Kiyoshi a family photo. “I’d heard that we were opening businesses in Honolulu, but this is . . .”
“Amazing,” said Makino, breaking into her pause. “When I opened my pharmacy, I owned one of the very few Japanese businesses — one of the few Asian businesses, for that matter. The Chinese had their restaurants and laundries, but that was about it. Americans rejected us, but we didn’t reject America. If you’re willing to work hard, save a little money and accept that you might fail, but try anyhow; the American dream is open to all races. The banks like my money as much as that of the Dillinghams.”
Haru struggled to attune her ears to his voice competing with trolley bells, car honks and engine noises.
Makino laughed and then stopped suddenly, forcing Haru to look back at him. “Well, that’s not exactly true. The haole banks were slow to offer banking services to us early Japanese — poor folks, cane workers. They had no idea of our fanatic saving habits. So the Yokohama Specie Bank set up a branch in the 1880s.” He pointed to a four-story, L-shaped, brick-and-steel façade across the street.
Makino resumed walking. “Enough about banks and lawyers. Let me tell you about Reverend Takie Okumura,” he said in an animated voice. “A most dangerous person because of the absolute sincerity of his calling. He is a man of impeccable character. I wish he were on our side. I do not believe he prays every night to split our community, but that’s the result of his misguided efforts. His twin pillars of assimilation — that we accept Jesus Christ as our savior and also that we shut down our language schools — undercut our efforts to unite and press for fair wages and to retain our culture, language and religion. He confuses assimilation with acceptance and thinks they are the same. He claims our children cannot assimilate except on his terms.”
Makino’s walking pace increased as if his legs were trying to match the urgency in his voice. Given her shorter stature, Haru had to almost double-step to keep up with him, although she tried to appear unhurried.
“We can deal directly with the Pafkos and the haole newspapers, the Bilkertons and the legislators, the sugar barons . . . that is, if we are united.” Noticing Haru’s increased breathing, he slowed down. “Okumura, however, is another story. He has made the haoles’ hostile attitude toward us more acceptable.”
Makino put his hand out across Haru’s arm as she started to cross the street. He pointed to the policeman in the middle of the street directing traffic, indicating they should wait. “Okumura spoke out against the strike, yet almost all Japanese plantation workers struck, anyway. Perhaps worse for him is that, despite 25 years of proselytizing, maybe 10 percent of Japanese have converted to various Christian congregations, including his Makiki church with 400 parishioners. But I freely admit his influence far exceeds the number of attendees at his church.”
The policeman dropped his hand and Makino stepped over the curb. “Tell me, has your husband ever given a sermon attacking Christianity?”
“Never,” Haru said, her tone betraying her shock at such a notion.
“Christians quote Christ as saying things like, ‘He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone,’ and then attack us as heathens who are destined to spend eternity in the fires of hell.”
He let the thought linger and then switched subjects again. “There is a fellow named Ozawa petitioning the Supreme Court for citizenship. He was adopted and raised a Christian in a white man’s home in South Dakota, is a college graduate and fought in the trenches in the Great War. I hope he wins his case, but American law says Asian immigrants cannot become citizens. It’s been that way since 1790. By birth, our Nisei are American citizens. Many angry whites clamor to take away that right.”
Makino sidestepped a fishmonger balancing the day’s catch in buckets on two poles. The pause gave Haru a chance to speak. “We have a friend who served in the Army who will be sworn in as a citizen tomorrow.”
“Yes, but will it stick?” asked Makino. “Right behind Judge Vaughn, a Justice Department lawyer will file a claim that the judge is in error.” They stopped at the curb to wait for a break in passing cars at Beretania. Makino nodded at the Hongwanji ahead. “There’s not much we can do about citizenship requirements and immigration. There’re federal issues. But we can and must fight for our schools.”
As they hurried across the street, Haru debated on whether to express her own reservations about the language school curriculum. She did not want to argue with such an important man, but he was soliciting her help. “Sometimes, I think the haoles have some legitimate . . . reservations about our schools. We not only teach language and values, but also still glorify our military heroes and recite the Imperial Rescript on Education pledging loyalty to the emperor.” She held her breath.
Makino stopped again. Looking into her eyes, he nodded his head. “You are right. We missed an opportunity to change our textbooks. The script is a habit best dropped. But I wonder if that would have changed the haoles’ objections. They should be cheering the time we spend teaching our children values, the same values America holds dear. No matter how we change the curriculum, or even if we closed our schools, we still look Asian; we will still be Japanese. We’re fighting so our children can have the same pride in their heritage as the descendants of the Mayflower have in theirs. If we lose this fight, we lose who we are, our very soul.”
A burst of cheers erupted from the baseball game being played across from the Hongwanji. Realizing their chat was almost over, Haru asked, “What can I do?”
“Okumura is establishing a Christian Community Center in Mö‘ili‘ili, offering English classes, providing technical training and sponsoring a baseball team.”
They stopped in front of the Fort Street Hongwanji. Haru looked across the street and strained to see if her boys were still watching the ballgame and then returned to the task at hand. “Are you saying the Mö‘ili‘ili Hongwanji doesn’t?”
“You have a lot of work to do, Haru-san.” Makino bowed. “Tell the bishop hello. I’m going to enjoy writing the first article about the ‘mayor’ of Waimea’s mission village.”
“Arigato,” Haru said, bowing deeply.
Makino returned the courtesy, turned and charged down the street.
Haru stood watching his retreat, all the while thinking, What have I walked into? Then she took a long look across the street and spotted her boys. Tommy saw her first, elbowed Takashi and pointed. In seconds, all three came running to the street.
To be continued . . .