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.
“I think I see it,” said Kenji, pointing to a dot on the northwest horizon.
Haru shaded her eyes with her hand, straining to see what Kenji saw. Nothing. It wasn’t the first time she thought she might need eyeglasses. “Maybe . . . I am not sure.”
Others finger-pointing soon confirmed the appearance of the SS Lisbon Maru.
“They made it!” sighed Haru.
“Only barely,” added Kenji.
In minutes, the outline of the ship clearly marked the horizon. The beaming sun highlighted the slow-moving vessel like a theater spotlight. The coffee and food kiosk owners, who had the foresight to bring along battery-powered radios, enjoyed the lion’s share of the day’s snack business.
Suddenly, as if a host of bees had descended on the broadcasting kiosks, the hovering listeners appeared agitated. Then, just as quickly, they seemed to freeze, their faces mirroring disbelief, horror, and then pain.
“Something’s happening,” said Kenji, who began striding to the nearest kiosk.
“I hope a plane or train hasn’t crashed,” said Haru, fast-stepping in Kenji’s wake.
“No, it’s worse,” said a man at the edge of the crowded kiosk. “Coolidge signed the bill.”
A plaintive voice bellowed, “The people on the boat!”
“No, don’t worry, they are already on American soil,” argued a man like a teacher who enjoys correcting his charges.
“What soil?” bellowed out the man. “They are on a boat!” He didn’t add “stupid” to the end of his answer, but his voice implied it.
Tugboats guided the SS Lisbon Maru closer to the pier.
“This really is the last group of immigrants,” said Haru sadly, backing away from the agitated group. While the passengers were not yet on American “soil,” she thought to herself, they had passed into American territorial waters before President Coolidge had signed the bill into law.
Kenji noticed uniformed immigration officers rushing from their own coffee-drinking kiosk. A feeling of unease swept over him and only increased when he saw the official car of the Japanese Consulate drive up. Within seconds, the consul general stepped out from the back seat with a grim face. He hurried toward the immigration office and then quickly disappeared inside.
“This is not good,” whispered Haru, more to herself than to Kenji. Her anxious face joined an army of other anxious faces.
“Good morning, Takayama-san,” said the familiar voice of Bishop Imamura. Both Kenji and Haru turned around.
“Maybe not so good,” said Kenji.
“The consul called me 10 minutes before the radio announcement. Secretary Hughes informed our ambassador that a White House signing ceremony would take place within an hour of the Senate passing the bill.”
“But, surely the people on this boat . . .” said Haru. “I mean . . . they are already here in American territory.” She looked at the ship edging toward the pier in slow motion. “Someone needs to call Judge Vaughn,” she said, thinking of the federal judge with immigration powers and with his known sympathy for the Japanese.
“That might have worked 30 minutes ago,” said Imamura, shaking his head. “The bill removed federal judges from the immigration process. Immigration is now solely under the jurisdiction of the expanded Bureau of Immigration.” Pointing to the building the consul had just entered, Imamura added, “Those men inside now have full authority.”
As if on cue, Hawai‘i’s newly empowered director of immigration was striding over the tarmac toward the immigration office like a man approaching the pay window at the Kentucky Derby. His steely, self-satisfied face told everyone which side of this unfolding drama he stood. Haru remembered him from Sam’s swearing-in ceremony. As he had portended, the Supreme Court was soon expected to rule that Asian veterans, except Filipinos, were not entitled to citizenship.
The ship bumped into the dock. Passengers carrying suitcases queued at the gangway as deckhands began lowering the gangplank. Two immigration officers dressed in white uniforms trotted out from the back of their building, arms gesturing wildly, their meaning clear. The gangplank was pulled back up.
Minutes later, the grim-faced Japanese consul emerged from the building. The slump of his shoulders foreboded ill tidings. A swarm of people quickly surrounded him.
“Immigrants will not be allowed off the ship.” He glanced over at the gathering swell of stevedores hovering at the cargo bay. “As soon as they unload the freight, the ship will return to Japan. You will be permitted to send packages and letters to the ship.” He could see that his circling audience wanted more of an explanation. “We tried our best.” He bowed and with as much dignity as he could muster, walked back to his limousine.
“I must write a letter,” said Haru. “Otösan, please go to the bank and bring back $200.”
“That’s half of our account!” protested Kenji, taking a startled step back.
“We cannot allow my sisters to return to the Hiroshima mission,” said Haru in her seldom-used “This is not something we can argue about” voice. “Our parents are old. They are retiring to small quarters on the mission compound this year. The sisters must start their own lives.”
“Maybe their husbands would join them in Japan?” Kenji said half-heartedly.
Haru shook her head, all the while thinking, How naïve my husband can be.
Stunned by the urgency of the matter and not wanting to seem less concerned about his wife’s parents, Kenji managed a “hai.” While his instincts urged for more deliberation, the time allotted demanded action.
Haru maneuvered through the dismayed crowd to the roped barrier, a railroad-car length from the ship. She tilted her head to gaze at the upper deck, searching for the Miho brothers among the forlorn-looking passengers looking down, their hands gripping the rail of the ship.
Haru had a recent picture of her twin sisters, but knew it would be easier to recognize their spouses. She spotted them at the front of the open deck and waved frantically before realizing that everyone on the pier was waving frantically. After what seemed an eternity, the younger Miho brother spotted her. Haru and her sisters then exchanged waves. She mimicked one hand holding a pen writing over the palm of her other hand and retreated from the crowd.
Haru was angry — angry with Congress, angry with the mean-spirited chief immigration officer who could have cleared the ship if he had wanted to, she reasoned. Mostly, however, she was angry with her sisters and the Miho brothers. She had warned them, told them to hurry. What had they been thinking?!
Where to get paper? She should have told Kenji to bring some. Then she eyed a new crowd forming around the Chinese youngster who normally sold newspapers at the docks. He was now selling paper and envelopes. She paid the outrageous sum of five cents for two pieces of stationery and an envelope.
It took every ounce of her Buddhist compassion to keep her angry “why couldn’t you have hurried” thoughts from spilling over onto the paper. Instead, she poured out her heart with empathy and then closed with a set of directive words that do not come easy to Japanese.
“You must start a new life. With $200 you can buy land, start a small shop, even purchase a couple of apartments to rent in a small town.” She resisted adding, “You must leave the mission.” Even the most obtuse, she assured herself, would understand that this was the real message.
Convinced the ship had control of its passengers, immigration officers signaled the lowering of the gangplank. As soon as the steel footbridge touched the pier, half a dozen immigration officers climbed aboard, two steps at a time, to separate, Haru surmised, returning citizens and other properly documented returnees from those who, just moments ago, thought they were the newest immigrants. The stunned Miho brothers were among the last passengers to leave.
Haru had already handed a ship’s officer her letter with the cash; he had put it into a bag with other last-minute letters and offered a sympathetic, “If it were up to me, everybody would go ashore.”
“So sorry, so very sorry, Miho-san,” said Haru, as she greeted the brothers exiting from customs. She resolved to keep any recriminations to herself. Then the older brother stunned her.
“We have been married for two weeks. Our marriages have been consummated.”
And maybe spawning fatherless children, thought Haru, understanding the implication. “Wakarimashita . . .”
To be continued . . .