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.
Unconsciously, Haru rubbed her swelling belly, which soon would be noticeable, even under a loose-fitting yukata. She looked at the calendar: Dec. 1. She had put off visiting the Christian Community Center, always finding one reason or another to postpone a visit: like registering the children for school, meeting the new parishioners or chairing the ladies’ auxiliary meetings . . . there was always some reason. And, yet, almost every day, her errands, usually done on her bike, took her past Okumura’s center. She noticed that their facility sported a half-court outdoor basketball tarmac. A neatly framed signboard near the edge of the dirt road promoted classes in sewing, bookkeeping, English and carpentry. She thought of Yoshi. Haru prayed that a little goodwill diplomacy with Okumura would ease some of the tension.
* * *
Since her arrival on O‘ahu, the conflict over the Japanese language schools had turned vicious. Pafko had moved over to the stridently anti-Japanese Star-Bulletin and was pounding the drums, demanding that Gov. William McCarthy call a special session of the Legislature to prohibit Japanese language schools. “Why pay the federal government to conduct an education assessment of Hawai‘i and then ignore its recommendations?” wrote Pafko.
The governor, well known for his anti-Asian views, duly called the Legislature into session. McCarthy also savaged the Big Five in private conversations. “You cannot see beyond the next harvest. You have imported a labor force whose children will outnumber yours and, by their vote, eventually rule us.”
In an about-face, the Advertiser offered a lonely voice arguing against the bill. Its writers attacked the Washington report and proposed legislation as “un-American, devoid of the spirit of freedom and inexcusably tyrannical to make it a penal offense for a man to teach his own child his own language.”
While Pafko wrote and the governor postured, Okumura and his son visited 70 plantations, preaching his version of assimilation.
The territorial Legislature passed the Language School Bill on Nov. 24. The regulations would force the shutdown of the schools, effective July of the following year.
* * *
Today is the day, thought Haru as she biked past the Moiliili Center. She spotted Okumura’s Studebaker Big Six Touring Car, which, according to the bamboo telegraph, had been donated to his ministry by Walter Dillingham. Haru was dressed in her shopping yukata. Her bicycle basket brimmed over with that morning’s fresh vegetables and fruits.
At home, she pulled out her chest of kimono. She didn’t want one that looked too gay, as if she were attending a wedding, but neither did she want a funeral black one. She settled on a blue kimono with a single crane in full flight on the back, complemented by a formation of smaller cranes in front.
The stroll to Okumura’s center took only 12 minutes — so short a distance for such a wide gap in outlook. Haru did not feel the same nervousness she felt when she first met Makino. Her early months in Mö‘ili‘ili had been heartening. The Hochi’s feature stories had given her credibility without overdoing it. She and Kenji were enjoying what the Americans called a “honeymoon period” within their community. The parishioners welcomed Kenji’s sermons, which reinforced Buddha’s guide to a fulfilling life without delivering drinking and gambling admonitions. Kenji’s approach was simple: If you want folks to give up bad habits, keep them busy with good activities. He organized festivals, potluck dinners and sumö exhibitions. Takeshi convinced him to sponsor a baseball team.
As Haru entered the foyer, the young receptionist looked up in surprise, stood up and bowed. Before she could utter a greeting, a male voice from an open side door spoke in deep, rich tones. “Irasshaimase, Haru-san. Welcome to our center.”
Haru turned and bowed in proper Japanese form when addressing an older man of eminence. “Good morning, Reverend Okumura.” She took in his unlined face and straight-back hair, more black than grey with the scent and shine of Brilliantine. “I have heard so many nice things about your center. And I saw your car . . .”
“Let me show you around,” said Okumura, a wary politeness infecting his voice.
Haru couldn’t help but be impressed by what she saw: the outdoor shed featuring a vast array of carpentry tools; the classrooms — one with stacks of English textbooks and another with countless accounting and business books. When they entered the sewing room, Haru’s eyes brightened at the sight of a half-dozen of the latest electric Model 99 Singer sewing machines. On impulse, she sat down in front of the nearest black Singer stenciled with its signature gold lettering. Okumura noticed her fumbling for the switch for the tiny bulb hovering over the needle and reached down and flipped it on. The little light flooded the needle-stitching surface.
“This is astonishing,” breathed Haru, thinking of her years of sewing in Waimea, where she had been dependent on sunshine and flickering oil lamps. Her enthusiasm drained the tension between them.
“I was thinking of starting a sewing class,” she said. “But I don’t think I can compete with this. And why should I? Maybe it’s best that we each offer something the other doesn’t.”
Okumura’s temporary geniality turned condescending. “We welcome all students, but your regular temple attendees will not enter this building.”
Haru stood up to look the man in the eye. “The strike is over, Reverend. Perhaps it is time to move on.”
“Ah, if that were the only issue, Haru-san. Despite your Buddha’s call for tolerance under the principle of enlightenment, not only will most of your parishioners refuse to attend our classes; they also will disapprove of those who do.”
“There must be other ways we can cooperate.”
“I suspect not,” said Okumura, his voice hardening and his eyebrows pinching his forehead. “Your Hongwanji undermines the future of the Japanese in Hawai‘i and America. Only the spirit of aloha keeps the worst of California’s Yellow Peril hysteria from spreading to Hawai‘i. The failed strike was an enemy of peace. Look what’s happened since then: The plantation owners are importing Filipinos to replace Japanese workers, leaving them mostly helpless. That strike has lost us many friends here. Your schools are losing the rest. We are guests in America, Haru-san. You cannot expect America to adapt to us; we must adapt, assimilate and become part of our new country. Your Hongwanji’s so-called ‘language school’ is a blight on our future.”
Haru ignored the man’s strident tone. This was the Okumura her parishioners called “an American dog.” There had to be a middle way, as the Buddha taught. “You might be surprised to know that I share some of your reservations. Our textbooks need to be modernized.” Her face brightened hopefully.
Okumura waved his hand dismissively. “You claim you teach Americanization to your students. But you do not.” His next words were spoken in an ominous growl. “Those who will not embrace America should return to their mother country.” Then, suddenly, his smile returned — a hard smile, a satisfied smile. “The governor has signed the bill regulating the schools. The people have spoken.”
“Yes, they have.” Haru’s voice bristled, its polite tone gone. “Requiring only English-speaking teachers certified by the Department of Education. Limiting our classes to five hours a week. These and other regulations will effectively close down our schools.” Haru forced a friendly tone. “But there are those, including the Advertiser, who say the bill is neither fair nor constitutional.”
“A misguided minority. We must expunge everything that differentiates us from our hosts. Other immigrant groups keep their racial identity, but only we Japanese make a fetish of it. Who else has language schools?”
Still striving for common ground, Haru nodded. “You are right. We must respect the law of the land. However, in America, when people disagree about a law, they take their dispute to court. The court decides the correct interpretation. What makes America great is that its people accept its court rulings, not just laws passed by shortsighted legislatures.”
“That’s the problem with Makino and his lawyers’ gang. But it is not about court decisions and who’s legally right. It’s about assimilation. It’s about proving to Americans that we are one of them.” He paused, his face twisted in righteous indignation. “Your Buddhism is the greatest obstacle to assimilation.”
“Surely you cannot ask us to give up our culture, our religion.”
“Yes, I am asking that you do exactly that. Our kama‘äina forefathers built this Hawai‘i. They Christianized a heathen land and brought prosperity. We volunteered to work in America, not bend America to our way of life. Assimilate or leave.” With an exaggerated sigh, he gave a perfunctory bow. “Please excuse me. I must get back to Honolulu.”
Okumura turned and strode out the door, leaving Haru stunned at his ill manners and wrong-headed righteousness. If she had been tentative about the fight ahead, that ambivalence had vanished.
As she walked home, Haru made a point of keeping her shoulders straight and her head high. She thought of additional arguments: There was a synagogue in Honolulu — Jews kept their faith; no one accused them of being un-American. As she approached her home, Haru realized that an appeal to reason would only fall on deaf ears with Okumura. With him, there was no middle way, no compromise.
Walking through the door, she found Kenji sitting in his favorite chair, reading a newspaper. He looked up at his wife. “Okaasan, we must join Makino and fight this school law in the courts.”
Haru replied, “Let me tell you about my visit with Okumura . . .”
To be continued . . .