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 much as Haru wanted to help her sisters, the more troubling issue at hand was the tension between Taka and his father. Taka wasn’t the first Nisei teenager to take issue with the daily rush from public school to Japanese language school. But advising mothers on how to address the issue of older children resenting the “boring and meaningless” lessons was much easier than handling it with her own son. As she started to rehearse key points, she saw Taka pedaling up the street.
“Let’s ride over to Waikïkï,” she shouted through the back door. She untied her apron and hung it on the wooden peg next to the vegetable cutting board. Swinging open the screen door, she scampered down the steps to the backyard, where Taka had just pulled up on his bike, his legs on the ground straddling his bike’s chipped, red-painted steel bar. Haru ignored her son’s wary look and stepped under the kitchen overhang to grab her lady’s Schwinn. “Let’s go by Kaläkaua and McCully. We can see how the Ala Wai dredging is progressing. I want to share a special memory with you.”
Relieved that he was not being reprimanded, Taka managed an “OK.”
Haru led the single-file ride — Sunday traffic made riding side-by-side dangerous. Besides, she needed time to gather her thoughts. As they cycled, she couldn’t help but notice how much Mö‘ili‘ili had changed in the four years since the dredging had begun. Until the dredging, the area at Kapi‘olani and McCully had been a vast mosquito-infested marshland. Now, “For Sale” signs marked pegged lots on black soil pushing up lime sprouts of recently seeded grass.
Haru stopped. The canal had taken shape — a surveyor’s straight line from the beach on her right, and then, turning her head left, the canal’s starting point far out on the edge of Kapi‘olani Park. “What a change,” she said loudly as Taka pulled up beside her. She pointed to gurgling pumps on a barge near a monster scoop, dripping mud as it rose out of the water like the head of a Tyrannosaurus Rex, slaking its thirst.
“I wonder if Oki Tama is working today,” said Haru.
This respite on the canal reminded Haru of another day, another tour, a previous life. “Let’s go to the park across from the Moana Hotel and find a bench.” As she biked down Kaläkaua, the memories flooded back. Why hadn’t she done this earlier? Four years in Mö‘ili‘ili and I have never brought the children here, never told them the whole story of my first visit.
Haru’s eyes lolled left and right as she glanced ahead at the sidewalks lining the avenue, where men and women in aloha shirts and muumuus strolled hand-in-hand. On her left, youngsters in swimsuits pranced around concrete tables and blankets with spreads of food. To her right, the mostly white sunbathers lay on the beach with a sprinkling of the new phenomena of brown-skinned native beach boys among single Mainland women seeking to realize their island fantasies — or so the newspapers salaciously hinted.
“Over there, under the palm trees,” said Haru, wanting to avoid direct sunlight. She loved her copper-colored skin, but did not want it turning sunbaked leathery. Regretting that she had not brought something to sit on, she squatted on her back legs while Taka sat cross-legged on the grass, which was still damp from the morning dew.
“Let me tell you about my first visit to Waikïkï.” For the next 30 minutes, Haru relived her honeymoon tour. Her children knew the basics of their mother’s arrival in Hawai‘i, but she had never colored the details.
At 14, Taka was eager to hear her story. Soon forgetting his morning rage, he envisioned his mother’s unsteady steps as she made her way down the ship’s gangway at Honolulu Harbor, searching the faces in the waiting crowds for his father. He heard about the pink eye crisis Haru had solved for Kame and the afternoon “honeymoon” trolley to Waikïkï. “We rode our horses on the beach past the Moana Hotel,” she said, pointing to the surf. “The sun was setting over Pearl like a molten ruby.”
Haru looked over at Taka. He was only a year older than she had been when she had fled Amakusa. Such a different childhood. Was she angry that Taka did not appreciate the good life he enjoyed?
“Your father is a protector of Japanese culture.”
Taka’s eyes of wonderment turned pugnacious.
“Taka-chan, you are the son of a good man.”
Taka’s face softened. “Of course, I know that, but even you were against the schools.”
“Advocating change is not the same as being against them,” Haru corrected. “When you think of Hawai‘i’s best farmers, the best fishermen, and the best coffee growers, whom do you think of?”
“Which group of immigrants has the highest percentage of university students?”
“Us Japanese.” Taka nodded his head. “I understand, Okäsan, but what has that to do with Otösan not allowing me to play baseball?”
“The spirit of being Japanese does not just happen,” Haru replied. “We have our traditions of giri — duty and always repaying a favor with a favor; of gaman — enduring without complaining, no matter the struggle; and meiyo —honor, never bringing shame on one’s family . . .”
“I know the pillars of our nation, Okäsan.” Taka caught his mother’s disapproving look. “Our culture, our identity that transcends nationality. It’s not geography, but our essence — no matter where we might be.”
“Gisei?” asked Haru.
“Sacrifice. We put others, the group, ahead of our desires.” His tone softened.
Haru looked at him expectantly.
“On. A kindness to me is a debt of gratitude that I am obligated to pay back — if not to the person granting me the favor, then something of equal value to another.”
“And chügi?” Haru asked, encouragingly.
Taka’s voice firmed up. “Loyalty. Loyalty to our family. But that is like kö — loyalty or obedience to one’s family.” He caught Haru’s nod. “To one’s . . . to my father.” He paused. “But chügi, to me, means loyalty to my country. To America.” He stared at his mother. “What does it mean to you, Okäsan? I am American. America is the only country I know.”
A beach ball bounced up and hit Haru’s shoulder. She looked up. A little blond girl, maybe 9 years old, reached for it. “Sorry . . .” she said. Haru smiled and tossed the ball at the girl’s feet. “Have fun . . . ”
She noticed that the noise had picked up as more picnickers had spread straw mats on the grass. Haru leaned into her son.
“America will not give us Issei citizenship. We must live and die here as aliens. Thus, we are forced to choose between America and Japan. For myself, in my heart, I am an American. I will not go back to Japan. I have made my decision. This is my country.”
More relaxed, Taka said, “More like gambari . . . persistence.” And then with an impish grin, he added, “But maybe in your case . . . stubbornness.”
“That’s why almost all Japanese parents feel sekinin, or responsibility, to pass on our values and sacrifices . . .”
“An example of gisei,” said Taka.
“Yes. You see how it comes together. When your father arrived in Honolulu, those values had slipped away from the laborers here. One’s values must be reinforced, or you will lose them.”
“Yes, Okäsan, but I think it was more due to picture brides who took the men away from the bars and gambling dens.”
Haru smiled. “We humans need a social environment. But look around, Taka. All cultures have values, but whose values keep families together the best, help their neighbors the most and bestow the highest trust among their own? We are flesh and bone like everyone else. It is the constant struggle to keep our values alive that gives us purpose and makes us persevere when the haoles attack us. Even all those little things, like taking off our shoes when entering a home, bathing frequently, paying back our debts quickly, contribute to who we are. These habits are not accidents.”
“That’s why Otösan directs our mission language school,” said Taka.
“And that is why you must make peace with your father. I will talk to him and Coach Williams to see how everyone can win. Maybe you can play baseball and still attend the mission school most of the time.”
“Maybe it’s best that I apologize and promise to attend school . . . but I’m hoping you will work on Coach Williams and Otösan. I’m not the only one, Okäsan.”
“You’ve learned a good lesson, not just about our values, but also about losing your temper,” said Haru. “It diminishes your negotiating ability. Your behavior, rather than your point of view, becomes the issue. The person who must apologize for bad behavior has lost half the argument. In your weakened position, the other person’s position is more likely to prevail than if you had kept control of yourself.”
To be continued . . .