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.
“Otösan, Coach Williams wants me to try out for the baseball team,” said Takeshi to his father. Haru heard the strain in his voice, even though he tried to sound casually enthusiastic. “He thinks I could be the starting first baseman for McKinley,” Takeshi added.
The Sunday brunch table quieted until only the sound of a passing horse-drawn carriage crunching the crushed seashell road outside their home could be heard. The aroma of bacon, pancakes and maple syrup hung unnoticed in the air. Tommy and Yoshi knew what was happening. So did pinched-faced Haru. Even though 4-year-old Kenta had no clue, he picked up on the silence.
Kenji lifted his floral cotton napkin and wiped an imaginary piece of food from his lips. “That’s quite a promise to a young man entering school.”
Takeshi heard the skeptical wariness in his father’s voice. That was better than anger. “I’m tall for a Japanese and am one of two kids who hit over four hundred last summer for our mission team.”
“The time to play baseball is in the summer,” said Kenji. “You played several times a week for our mission team.”
“It’s not the same, Otösan. Every athlete wants to play for his school.”
“You have other responsibilities after school that are more important than practicing baseball,” replied Kenji.
“It’s only a couple months during the spring. I can keep up my JLS (Japanese Language School) lessons in the evening,” said Taka, this time with more forced casualness.
“Let me consider this,” said Kenji.
Taka stared at the set of his father’s jaw. “When you say ‘consider’ and wear that face, it means ‘no.’ That’s not fair. Why can’t I be just like the haole kids, the Hawaiian boys and everyone else at my school?”
“Your father said he would consider it,” admonished Haru. “That’s enough for now. Let’s enjoy our breakfast.”
Taka picked up his plate and then turned it upside down, spilling eggs, pancakes and syrup onto the table. He pushed his chair back so fast it clanged to the ground, but he took no notice. Seconds later, they heard the front door slam and watched out of the picture window as Taka sped off on his bike.
Haru broke the stunned silence. “He is a confused . . .”
“Silence, Okäsan. No excuses for Taka.” Kenji looked stoically at his remaining children. “Please, let us finish our breakfast. We must not allow a foolish outburst to starve us.”
Kenji jabbed his fork into his pancakes as if he were thrusting a trowel digging for turnips. He was thinking not of Taka, but rather of another night long ago when he had cleared the dishes off the table with one sweep of the hand.
Haru forced a bit of scrambled egg into her mouth. She, too, remembered that night and its consequences. Like father, like son. Her mind twisted in turmoil as she fought to think of what needed to be done to restore family harmony. It was time to have a mother’s chat with Taka about holding his temper and honoring his father. He must learn to find some common ground between the language schools and playing sports.
Her family sat still, forks down. “Gochisösama deshita,” Kenji finally said, signaling the end of the meal. He rose and strode over the connecting bridge to the Hongwanji to conduct Sunday services. Although weekly church services were not the Buddhist tradition, Bishop Imamura insisted on regular Sunday services, as well as designing the temple’s interior similar to what he had seen in protestant churches.
Haru forced a smile. “Sachi, I will take care of the kitchen. Why don’t you take Tommy and the girls outside?”
“Hai,” said Sachi, as she started wiping eggs and syrup off Sachiko’s mouth.
Haru turned on the hot water tap to fill the dish tub. There was more on her mind than the outburst between father and son. She feared the California disease.
* * *
Only this morning in the Star-Bulletin, Andy Pafko had reported on a rabid speech given to the Honolulu Rotary Club by V. S. McClatchy, president of the California’s Japanese Exclusion League. He had ended his stop Japanese immigration rant by debunking Okumura’s efforts, to which he had facetiously alluded just moments earlier. “It is impossible for the Japanese to assimilate, and this preacher’s campaign . . . is unnecessary.”
But Haru was cheered when she read further. “This is not San Francisco,” Rotarian Governor Bob Jefferson had challenged. “Have you had any experience with the Hawaiian attempt at Americanization?”
“No, it’s not necessary,” huffed McClatchy.
“No? I beg to differ. Only a fool would promote anti-Japanese sentiment with no firsthand knowledge of the campaign for Americanization.”
Haru felt goose bumps rise as she read, “The Honolulu Rotary Club stood to a man and cheered their own.”
Pafko ended his column by reporting, “Walter Dillingham cancelled a scheduled dinner at his home with McClatchy.”
Pafko’s reporting confirmed what Haru believed — that not every haole was a racist. I only wish I had the answer to the dilemma of how 40 percent of Hawai‘i’s population can maintain its culture while assuring the haoles we are neither a threat to their way of life nor a fifth column for an expanding Japanese empire.
* * *
Haru pushed her musing aside. She needed to focus on the problems she could help alleviate — those being her son, her husband and her sisters.
Shortly after the Cub Scout hike, she had visited a family friend, the Buddhist priest at the plantation where the Miho brothers had lived until they accepted a job with the Ala Wai project.
“They were good husbands,” the priest had attested.
Then, she had met the Miho brothers. They had impressed her as diligent men. “So,” Haru had asked, “why haven’t you remarried one of the Spanish flu widows?”
After the brothers’ hemming and hawing, Haru squeezed out the excuses — wariness of a bigger family a widow would bring to the marriage, plus the comfort the granny they had hired to mind the children, cook and clean made it easy to put off wife-hunting. The younger brother added, “If the Japanese government had not stopped bringing in picture brides, we would have written our parents to send us wives.” Like so many of our men, thought Haru, they don’t want to be involved in the messy business of courtship.
Given the opening, Haru asked, “If you could find a bride in Japan who is a little older than usual, but unmarried, would you be interested in providing your children with a mother?”
“Mothers?” said the older Miho emphasizing the “s.” That was enough of a show of curiosity to encourage Haru to offer Kin and Gin as prospective brides. The men agreed.
She wrote her sisters extolling the history and virtues of the Miho brothers, closing with, “The Miho brothers have done well enough, so they can afford passage back to Japan. You can be married in Hiroshima and come back to Hawai‘i with your husbands.”
When she didn’t hear from them immediately, Haru wrote again, urging Kin and Gin to decide quickly.
“There is a new immigration bill working its way through Congress that might break the 1907 Gentlemen’s Agreement and bar all Japanese immigration.” Still, the two sisters dithered, as if marriage proposals were as abundant as the stars. Frustrated, Haru sent them a telegram. “I promised the Miho brothers to find wives. You are the first choice. Please tell me if I should look elsewhere . . .”
To be continued . . .