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, Georgia and Japan.
Part VIII – Suspicion
Honolulu, December 1, 1937
The thunder of artillery punctuated the static-crackled voice coming from the Motorola.
“This is Lowell Thomas . . . reporting from Nanking, the capital of the Republic of China. Japanese troops are advancing south toward this city, drenched in rumor and despair.”
Haru hurriedly rinsed the last of the lunch dishes. She pushed back the faucet handles, shutting off the gurgling cascade competing with the 1 o’clock NBC News. Six time zones ahead, East Coast listeners were preparing for dinner.
“Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, reeling from the loss of Shanghai to Japanese imperial forces, is rumored to be moving his Nanking government to Wuhan, deep inside of China. This morning, the general, staying behind to defend the city, promised ‘to fight to the death.’”
Haru picked up a jelly jar containing some furniture polish — her own concoction of lemon juice and mineral oil — and grabbed a rag. On the balls of her feet, she quick-stepped her way into the dining room, set the jar atop the Motorola set, bent over and tweaked the radio dial to improve the quality of the signal.
“Secretary of State Cordell Hull issued another ‘grave concern’ statement condemning continued Japanese aggression. Senator Cabot Lodge scolded FDR, ‘You must do something.’”
Resigned to the uneven reception, Haru dribbled a few drops of the furniture polish onto the rag and began massaging the sides of the radio’s walnut console. Susano, her latest calico cat, nuzzled up against Haru’s legs.
Lowell Thomas reminded his listeners: “Last year, Japan withdrew from the League of Nations after protesting that the Geneva-based body was interfering in its internal affairs.”
Haru lifted the family photo from the top of the console with one hand and began buffing the console with the other.
“Earlier today in Tökyö, the foreign ministry issued a warning over congressional calls for sanctions. ‘We would consider such action a declaration of war.’”
Fear snaked its way into Haru’s gut. She gazed at the innocent smiles of her four young sons, now at, or near, military age. Haru’s neck tilted up to study the faces of the two portraits hanging on the wall like sentinels guarding the radio: A vibrant Franklin Roosevelt with his famously wide grin, his teeth clenching a cigarette holder, waving from the back seat of a top-down roadster. To his right, a stern, military-uniformed Hirohito sat imperially on a white stallion. Fear drove her hand down to her thumping heart as she thought of her boys, so full of life.
Storm clouds slipping over the mountains burst. The rustling wind blowing through the windows and raindrops pinging on the rooftop drowned out Thomas’ voice. Haru’s thoughts drifted from her living room back to another time and place. She plopped down on a dining room chair; Susano quickly jumped onto her lap. Haru scratched idly under the cat’s chin as she recalled that fateful morning in June 1905.
She had watched the Meiji emperor trot into Tökyö’s Yasukuni Shrine to honor her brother and the other 78,000 men who had died fighting the Russians. In that instant, the memory of her naïve vow to birth sons to fight for the emperor made her shudder. She thought of Japanese mothers of every generation since the Meiji Restoration sending their sons to fight foreign wars — against the Chinese in 1895, against the Russians in 1905, putting down the recurring Korean uprisings after the 1910 annexation, capturing the German-Chinese concession in 1914 and now pouring troops into China again. She imagined Japan and America as two mythical giants sloshing across the Pacific Ocean, each with a sword held high in one hand and chains swirling in the other — huge angry-eyed, fire-breathing warriors stomping toward one another in slow, menacing steps. She twisted her hands as she contemplated the two inevitabilities — war between Japan and America and her four sons in combat fatigues, toting rifles and marching resolutely into battle, all too ready to die proving their loyalty to the Stars and Stripes.
She looked back at the family photo, zeroing in on her eldest child, Takeshi, her only son with long hair — well-groomed and parted at the top of his head. He had recently returned from Boston after graduating from Harvard Law School. His mentor, Hung Wai Ching, had found him a spot on Hawai‘i’s legal team, petitioning for statehood. From Oct. 6 to 22, 1937, a joint congressional committee of seven senators and 12 House members had held hearings in Hawai‘i to debate the issue of statehood.
Haru was sitting in the visitors’ area on the last day of the hearings when one of the senators nodded to Gov. Joseph Poindexter and said, “Expect a positive recommendation to Congress.” Later, Haru’s chest swelled with pride when she overheard the governor tell her son, “Be prepared to be appointed secretary to the planning committee for the referendum.”
After the hearing, Takeshi had splurged by taking his mother to the Natsunoya Tea House on Alewa Heights overlooking Pearl Harbor. “My treat,” he said, squeezing her hand.
Her eyes delighted at the sight of well-groomed bonsai trees and freshly raked rock gardens. Orchid plants crawled among the bigger rocks while brisk mountain breezes freshened the air. Seated comfortably at a wrought-iron table overlooking the distant battleship-filled harbor, Haru turned to Takeshi, “I heard what Governor Poindexter said to you.”
“It would be an honor to receive the appointment, but my real mission will be working with Hung Wai Ching on his committee to prevent the internment of Hawai‘i’s Japanese community . . . when war breaks out between America and Japan.”
Haru felt the blood drain from her face. Despite her light-headedness, she forced a swallow. Worse than his words was her son’s casual tone, as if he were discussing a certain change of weather.
As Haru drifted back from that memory, the rain erupted into a roof-hammering downpour. The wind banged a living room shutter closed. When the electricity blinked, powering off the radio, her eyes shifted to Yoshio, her second son, standing next to Taka in the family photo. Yoshi’s close-cropped hair was military-ready. Right after Christmas, he would sail for Tökyö to enroll at Tödai — the prestigious Tökyö University. Until classes started in March, he would live with Midori in Hiroshima to improve his Japanese. When Kiyoshi died a year after the Massie trial, Midori had been given a small cottage as a sinecure on the Fudöin Temple grounds.
Next, Haru smiled at Tommy’s toothy grin and bushy crew-cut. As the family storyteller and University of Hawai‘i freshman, he had embraced Christianity last year after proclaiming, “The path to acceptance is to be more American than the Americans.” Haru had laughed to herself when his defiant proclamation at the dinner table had been met with a “Please pass the rice” from his father. After ladling a generous scoop onto his plate, Kenji had said matter-of-factly to the tense table gathering, “Many of our young men have embraced Christianity. Christ and Buddha would approve a switch between them either way. They both preach love and tolerance above all.”
Only Haru’s eldest daughter, Hiromi, a high school sophomore, had given Tommy her best withering look. “Those big-nosed haoles love to spout off about Christian love. Words! Nothing but words without meaning! Look how they treat us Japanese!” Glaring at her third brother, she had stabbed a piece of broccoli with a vengeance. “I would never accept such a hypocritical faith.”
Haru’s youngest son, Kenta, president of his high school senior class and lettering in three sports, had showed once again why he was the family’s resident peacemaker. “We have a good life. Mother has cooked a delicious meal. Father supports both your decisions.” Broadening his smile and extending the palms of his hands over his dinner plate, he had asked, “What’s the problem?”
As Kenta bobbed his head to encourage harmony, Haru could not help but stare at his cowlick — it was just like Irie’s, Kenta birth father with Haru’s fellow picture bride Ume, who had been banished to Kalaupapa. How Kenta became her son remained Haru’s secret, even after all these years. Whenever her eyes settled on Kenta’s cowlick, she worried that someone would one day make the connection. She wished he favored a crew-cut.
The radio sprang back to life just as Lowell Thomas shouted into his faraway microphone. “I’m looking at a single-engine Zero fighter, its sleek fuselage emblazoned with what has become the icon of terror — the blood-red rising sun.”
Haru exhaled after an image flashed across her mind: Takeshi in fatigues, aiming his rifle at the plane. She knew this image would come back to haunt her dreams. She pushed Susano off her lap and strode over to the Motorola.
“Enough war news,” she muttered and twisted the dial to “OFF” —but not before Thomas had a chance to add, “The Chinese have asked me, ‘Why can’t the Americans stop this?’”
Haru shook her head at the now-quiet radio. “I must not let this war news darken my 28th wedding anniversary.” As Haru arose to prepare dinner, something moving directed her attention to the rain-spotted window facing the street. Her youngest daughter, 15-year-old Sachiko, was skipping up the damp wooden steps without a care in the world.
To be continued . . .