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.
Taka took his usual seat at the hushed dinner table. Everyone, except Haru, studied his or her empty dinner plate as if some hidden script could be read of the design bordering the edges. Haru looked into Taka’s eyes, willing him to follow up on their beach conversation.
“Otösan, the preservation of our Japanese culture is more important than a baseball game. I apologize for losing my temper this morning. I will accept any punishment you give me without complaint.”
The children’s furtive eyes peeked at their father, as did Haru’s. Kenji’s stoic face hid the hurt he felt as he accepted his son’s apology. As the family began scooping rice out of the bowl in the middle of the table, Kenji feared this was not the end of his son’s rebellion. At his core, he believed that Taka’s assertiveness was the downside of America culture. Kenji’s self-assurance in the righteous cause of the language schools made it almost impossible for him to see his son’s point of view, to understand his frustration. Kenji had not played sports in school. The idea that somehow this game of baseball could be important was foreign to him.
That night, as Haru pulled back the sheet to get into bed, she asked, “Now that Taka has apologized, isn’t there some way he could be excused from some of the classes for a few months?”
Kenji tightened his grip around the book he was reading — “Babbitt,” the Sinclair Lewis book that Bishop Imamura had insisted he read to “get an insight into America.” Kenji avoided Haru’s eyes.
“Our son has done the right thing. I have accepted his unconditional apology. He promised to attend the classes without objection.”
“He did, and he meant it,” said Haru. “But who sponsors a mission team that gives the highly talented an opportunity to show how good they are and then denies them a chance to move to the next level?”
Kenji’s face hardened. “Maybe another time. But our schools are under attack. Taka is my son. We have joined with Makino to press the district court to overrule the territorial Legislature. How could I let my own son skip school? What example would that set?”
“Wakarimashita . . . I understand,” said Haru. The discussion was closed.
* * *
Haru sat in Coach Williams’ office, perched uncomfortably on a folding chair across an empty desk. The stench of the locker room wafted into the coach’s office, reminding her of the ship captain’s breath when she had fled Amakusa. Basketballs, soccer balls, volleyballs, badminton nets and scuffed-up baseball bats cluttered the cramped pigeonhole. A single wooden-louvered window let in an occasional whiff of fresh air and the shouts of a touch football game.
Haru felt humiliated at having to plead her son’s case to Coach Williams. It is not our nature to ask for something where a positive answer is doubtful, she mused. But to not even try only guaranteed failure. If it had only been Taka, she would have let it pass. But almost half of McKinley’s students were Japanese. Surely, the coach wanted to field his best team.
A mangled “Ohayo gozaimasu” boomed behind her.
Haru turned and stood, craning her neck at the giant coach who stood two heads above her. She had made up her mind earlier that she would not bow.
“Oh,” said Haru, smiling widely. “You speak Japanese.”
“Only ‘Good morning’ and ‘Thank you,’ Mrs. Takayama,” said Coach Williams as he worked himself around the desk and sat down.
“Your boys are natural athletes. Takeshi has what we call a sweet swing.”
“That’s why I am here. Taka speaks so highly of you.” Haru paused, thinking of how haoles like to get to the point. “Coach Williams, is there any chance Taka could practice on Saturdays during the lunch period, or during physical education period?” She made a point of looking behind him at the football game in progress. “It’s not just Taka; there are so many Japanese boys who are good players.”
“Mrs. Takayama, perhaps if the Legislature, the court cases . . .” Coach Williams paused, as if looking for the right words. “If the current environment was not so . . . difficult. It’s not the time to work around the problem. Besides, some Japanese parents have given their sons permission to take a break from your schools on practice days.”
She knew he was right. Haru admitted to herself that some boys — with their parents’ permission — skipped language classes to play high school football, basketball or baseball. Not many, but enough to make the case for Coach Williams. In addition, at the urging of the Rev. Takie Okumura, many Japanese Christian congregations had closed their language schools, thus freeing up close to 20 percent of Japanese children for school sports.
“Thank you, Coach Williams. This is a difficult position for you to handle. You have been very understanding.”
Will this ever end? wondered Haru as she biked home.
To be continued . . .