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.
While waiting for her sons to cross the street, Haru noticed another Model T Ford — not as fancy as Makino’s, but brand-new. Could this possibly be theirs? She and Kenji had planned on shipping their car along with their household goods, until they learned that the price of a new Model T was only $260 — half the price of their car in Waimea, which they bought five years ago. No wonder the streets were packed with cars. Had Kenji moved so fast?
“Okäsan! (Mother!) Okäsan!” Takeshi shouted. “Otösan (Father) bought a new car!” he called out, answering her question.
“Be careful, boys!” Haru yelled back as they prepared to sprint across the road. Behind her, she heard Kenji’s familiar voice. “What do you think?”
What Haru was thinking had nothing to do with cars. The sudden destination switch and Makino’s warning on the developing school war crowded her thoughts. “Very nice,” she managed.
They all climbed into the new car. Kenji drove the same route their honeymoon trolley had taken 11 years ago. But how the landscape had changed! Beach Boulevard, hugging Moana Beach from downtown to Waikïkï, was no longer a rutted dirt road. It was now a paved concrete roadway. At Atkinson, just before Waikïkï’s famed beaches, Kenji hooked a left and drove a quarter-mile up to Kapi‘olani, where horse- and mule-drawn drays and carriages still outnumbered cars. The survey pegs sticking out of the water reminded Haru that sugar baron Walter Dillingham would soon begin dredging the marshy Ala Wai River and its swampy tributaries to convert the meandering waterway into a manmade, 2-mile-long canal.
On the left of Kapi‘olani, she gazed at Mö‘ili‘ili’s waterlogged rice fields, square fishponds, grazing black-and-white Holsteins and copses of banana trees. New wood-framed homes built of Douglas fir imported from Washington state balanced on concrete blocks. Between them, a colorful variety of older edifices vied for Haru’s attention: car repair shops hedging their bets by maintaining blacksmith forges firing horseshoes; joineries fronted with bed frames and cabinets; green grocers with street displays of strawberries, bananas and pineapples resting on ice; bicycle shops; smoky tofu processing works and more. She noticed a children’s clothes shop and made a mental note to herself to buy the boys back-to-school clothes. No time for sewing this year. An enclosed piggery reminded her of something she had read: Raising pigs within Honolulu’s city limits would be banned by the end of the year.
Kenji took a left on University Avenue. “Taka, Yoshio, keep an eye out for Kuliei Street,” he called out. Moments later, the raucous roar of “Kuliei Street, Otösan!” directed Kenji to turn onto the crushed-coral road. Haru’s heart thumped as she spied the decorative top of a pyramid roof on what had to be the Hongwanji temple. Her imagined quiet entry into her new home was gloriously shattered as a crowd of people suddenly appeared.
“Okäsan, look at all those people,” Yoshio shouted into her ear. A crowd of men in black suits, women in silk kimonos and jumping children decked in white school uniforms spilled into the street to greet their new pastor. Haru instinctively waved back. Thoughts of Makino and Okumura and the coming struggle over the language schools faded.
“It appears we are welcomed,” said Kenji, now understanding why Imamura had been insistent about the time they expected to arrive at their new home.
Upon exiting the car, a grey-haired woman wearing a deep purple kimono with a wide, white stripe on the front fold introduced herself and presented Haru a gold-foiled box wrapped in a blue, gossamer cloth. “Let me show you your home.”
The tour of their new home, the attached mission building, and the Moiliili Japanese language school had hardly ended when the greeters echoed each other. “Don’t let the haoles close our schools!”
Kenji gave his stock reply. “We will try out best.”
After an hour of greeting everyone, Haru breathed easier when the grey-haired woman announced, “We are leaving now so you can have private time to move in.”
Haru bowed. “Arigato . . . thank you.” As she raised her body, she spied a woman standing next to a sturdy post, somewhat turned away from her. Although Haru could not see her face well, the curve of her neck and slight hunch of her shoulders seemed familiar. Could it be? When the woman cast a furtive glance at Haru, she noticed eyes that looked as if sandpaper had rubbed the life out of them. The woman turned away as if ashamed, but Haru hurried over.
“Saki, is that you?!”
Slowly, the woman faced Haru, a wary smile on her lips.
“It is you,” said Haru softly. The forlorn look on the woman’s face prompted Haru to extend her hands and grab Saki’s in a gentle grasp. “It is so good to see you.” Deep lines creased Saki’s haggard face, which resembled a crumpled brown-paper bag. Haru released her hands. “The last time you wrote you had a fourth child on the way.”
“Nine. I have nine children now.”
“I just had my fourth,” said Haru, cringing inwardly at the lie. “You have the hips for a large family.”
“That’s the only part of my body that seems to work right,” said Saki, who, at 27, looked closer to 40.
Seeing Kenji saying good-bye to the last of the greeters, Haru said, “Come inside and have tea. I don’t know where everything is, but we will find it.”
“No. No, I can’t. I need to go home. I should not burden you.”
“How far is home?”
“We have a farm on the next street.”
“Oh, good. I have my first friend in Mö‘ili‘ili,” said Haru. “Why don’t you show me? Kenji and the boys can start opening the boxes.”
Haru made eye contact with Kenji, who apparently did not recognize Saki from the group wedding 11 years ago, but his nod told her that he understood she had found her first wounded bird.
Saki led Haru to the back of the adjacent language school compound. “Oh, I see we have a stream,” said Haru, noticing a thin, meandering waterway.
“We all wash our clothes here. The water flows from the marsh on the other side of Beretania.”
After crossing a makeshift bridge of boards stretched across the brook, they turned left at
Hausten Street, a rutted, hard-baked lane in dire need of freshly ground coral. Haru slowed her pace to match the plodding Saki. Just before Date Street, Saki stopped in front of what appeared to be a fence constructed of abandoned construction materials. The bare-planked house showed thin gaps in the wooden walls. Patches of grass, losing the battle against thistle weeds, fought to cover the tiny front yard. Limp marigolds hugged the concrete blocks holding up the house. Along both sides of the house, neat rows of scrawny vegetables struggled to be free of the earth.
Children floated into the front yard like tumbleweeds in the wind. Their hand-me-down clothes were tattered, but clean. Each of the older girls held a baby, one only a month old, Haru guessed. The youthful tribe stared wide-eyed and curious.
“This is the lady who came with me on the boat,” said Saki. “Her husband is our new pastor.” The older children bowed, causing the babies they held to bawl in unison.
From the backyard, an old man appeared, straining to both walk straight and carry a hoe. He smiled, showing gaps between his teeth. “Haru, it is you.” He leaned on his hoe as if it were a third leg.
Haru held back her shock. She remembered Yoshi as the trickster who had sent Saki’s matchmaker a picture of a younger, more handsome man. It was hard to reconcile Yoshi’s swagger of that day with the man standing in front of her.
“Yoshi is a carpenter,” said Saki. “But other than making and maintaining plantation drays, he never had any training. He wanted to go to that Christian priest’s carpentry class, but I warned him to stay clear of the new community center and Okumura, the evil man who stabbed the strikers in the back.”
“Does Reverend Okumura’s community center make the students take religious classes?”
“No,” said Yoshi, quickly.
Saki spat beetle nut juice on the ground. “Oh, that Okumura is a tricky one. Pretending to help us. But you just wait. As soon as people start coming, attending his bookkeeping and sewing classes, he will sneak in Bible lessons. He wants to make haoles out of all of us.”
“I don’t want to be a Christian, just a carpenter who can make a chest people will buy,” said Yoshi, more plaintively this time.
“I understand,” Haru said and looked down. “I’d better get back to help Kenji unpack. Only Buddha knows where he and the boys will put things.”
As Haru walked back home, she vowed to take a look at this community center. Okumura might have two agendas, but a class is a class. Surely, Kenji and Okumura could find some common ground to help the Japanese in Mö‘ili‘ili.
As exhausted as she was at the end of the long day, she welcomed Kenji’s approach to consecrate their new home. Haru hoped her next child would be a girl.
* * *
Two days later, Kenji drove Sam, Haru and the boys to Schofield Army Barracks, where Sam and 23 other Asian veterans, mostly Japanese, took their oath of citizenship from Judge Vaughn.
Also in attendance was District Attorney S. Hubor, who had disputed Judge Vaughn’s judgment and spoiled the event by declaring that he had prepared “bills of cancellation,” claiming that the citizenship was wrongly granted since American law prohibited the naturalization of Asians.
“File what you will, Solicitor,” said Vaughn, sternly. “The law explicitly stipulates naturalization to any alien who volunteered. They did not say just those of European heritage. I am a federal judge charged by statute to determine who qualifies for citizenship.”
Hubor fumed, “Congress would not have singled out Filipino volunteers as eligible for citizenship if they weren’t excluding all other Asians.”
“Noted,” said Vaughn as he walked away.
Haru smiled, again reassured that, in America, the courts, not the politicians, had the final say.
To be continued . . .