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.
Haru fidgeted. She glanced at the clock on the kitchen wall, her heart beating like a taiko drum. Would the SS Lisbon Maru arrive on time? On board were her sisters, now brides with husbands. They were expected yesterday.
As soon as the vote was finished, she and Kenji would drive to Honolulu Harbor to meet the ship. “Hopefully, no later than 9 a.m.,” the YKK agent had said when Haru called. She knew it would take at least another hour for them to clear customs and immigration — maybe longer, given the ship was overcrowded with immigrants sailing to beat the possible prohibition. They had cut it so close with only a day, maybe just hours, to spare.
Why, Haru agonized, had her sisters waited so long to accept the Miho brothers’ offer of marriage? And why had the brothers taken their sweet time sailing to Tökyö to meet their brides?
“The bill in Congress might stop all immigration,” Haru had reminded them . . . again.
“Yes, yes,” said the older brother. “But the consul says nothing will happen until summer, if ever. The Japanese government is really working hard to make a compromise.”
“But if they don’t . . .” said Haru, whose strained voice registered an exasperation she normally suppressed.
Wiping her hands on a kitchen towel, Haru thought of how her premonition had been worse than right. Once the Miho brothers had arrived in Japan, the bureaucracy there grinded slowly, even with the urgency of America’s threatened immigration bill looming. Under Japan’s 1920 volunteer agreement to stop the picture bride program, her twin sisters were not allowed to apply for a passport until they were married. They had finally left Japan on May 19 for the five-day, northern crossing run, which the winter-like rough seas had extended to six days.
Thank Buddha they will be here in hours, thought Haru. Even if the immigration bill passed, and she was certain it would, it was not the law of the land until President Coolidge signed it. With the presidential election only five months away, she was relieved to read that the president would wait a day or two and make the signing a big Rose Garden production.
* * *
Masanao Hanihara, the Japanese ambassador in Washington, was listening to the vote count in the office of Secretary of State Charles Evans Hughes. The voting had reached the states that began with the letter “M.”
“Mr. Secretary,” said Hanihara, “I urge you to advise the president to veto this bill and promise instead to sign a bill that treats the Japanese like the Italians and Jews. Give us a quota. How many of us are here? What’s 2 percent of 200,000? So few.
“Japan is divided between those who support America and those who see a future war,” Hanihara continued. “Don’t make us lose face and turn the half that supports America into an enemy.”
Secretary Hughes ran his long, knobby fingers through his thinning hair. “This is nativist legislation at its worst, Mr. Ambassador. You and I have fought long together to avoid this day.”
Hughes had the diplomatic grace to not mention that the ambassador’s recent interview, warning of “grave consequences” in America-Japan relations if the bill were passed, had created a frenzied media backlash. Proponents of the bill seized on his statement as “a threat from a foreign nation,” and the fallout had undermined Coolidge’s quiet efforts to soften the bill’s anti-Asian prohibition.
“I’m afraid we won’t have a chance to offer an alternative. I’ve been told the president will sign the bill as soon as the vote is final,” Hughes said.
“Yes . . .” Hughes nodded, wearily. “Today.”
* * *
“Look at the crowd!” exclaimed Haru as Kenji parked the car. “Triple, maybe four times the typical crowd on the dock.”
“Everyone knows this docking is the end of an era,” said Kenji, his voice sounding almost forlorn. He couldn’t help but add a frequent refrain.
“When I arrived a quarter of a century ago, we Japanese were recruited by the thousands, tens of thousands. The growers couldn’t bring enough of us over. When Bishop Imamura said the men needed wives to civilize their laborers, the owners encouraged him to bring as many as possible, as soon as possible. What happened? What changed?”
“We stayed . . .” replied Haru.
To be continued . . .