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.
Across town, Haru’s eldest son Takeshi sat quietly in the back of the Throne Room in ‘Iolani Palace, scribbling notes as the Hawaiian Statehood Committee wrapped up its meeting. Seven United States senators and 12 members of the U.S. House of Representatives were reading their final remarks after two weeks of hearings.
An hour later, Taka took his usual spot in the Cabinet Room of Washington Place. Still clutching his pad and pen, the committee’s official scribe was struggling to keep up with territorial Gov. Poindexter’s fiery address to his statehood delegation.
“Despite their rum-tongued promises at the reception last night, the congressional committee punted. Today, the hung-over, back-peddling chairman pontificated, ‘You have fulfilled every requirement for statehood. Conduct a referendum and we will consider statehood.’”
Poindexter spat out the word “consider.” “I am too mad to consider . . . a response to their retreat from a promised ‘recommendation’ for statehood.”
Shigeo Yoshida, renowned orator, school principal and son of a samurai warrior who had spoken eloquently in support of statehood at the hearings, ran a hand over his wavy hair. “This back-stepping is all about whose side we . . .” — he paused to look at his two fellow Japanese on the committee — “will support when war breaks out. It would be better if Japan declared war today and we settled the loyalty question once and for all.”
Sitting across from Yoshida, Charles Hemenway, chairman of the University of Hawai‘i Regents, tilted his head. “A bit dramatic, Shigeo, but I grant you: The loyalty issue is at the heart of the matter.”
“Did you watch the indignant eyes of the Southern delegates looking at us colored folks? Elect a Jap to Congress?” Giving a poor imitation of a Southern drawl, Yoshida continued, “No sah, we mustn’t allow such an abomination.”
Minutes later, when Poindexter closed the meeting, Takeshi turned his gaze to his mentor. “Wai Ching, when do you want today’s transcript?”
“Since your mother was good enough to invite Elsie and me to share in the celebration of your parents’ wedding anniversary tonight, you can give me your notes then.”
Takeshi looked at his watch. Wai Ching had just spoiled his surfing plans. Still, he forced a smile. “I’ll have them ready by the time you arrive.”
Thanks to Hiromi playing the Victrola at its highest decibel level, the Takayama home rocked with Count Basie’s “One O’Clock Jump,” followed by the equally ear-blasting “The Lady is a Tramp” by Sophie Tucker. Haru would have chosen a Crosby tune, but if it took jazz to motivate Hiromi and Sachiko to set the dinner table, she could stand the noise.
Born only a year apart and often mistaken for twins, Haru’s daughters could not have turned out more different from each other. Pictures of Clark Gable and Errol Flynn smiled from the pastel-blue wall above Sachiko’s desk. On the other side of the room, a butsudan — a miniature wooden Buddhist altar — rested on a shelf over Hiromi’s desk.
Outside, Tommy and Kenta were carting bags of ice and salt from Kamada’s corner store to the utility shed behind the house. After picking mangoes from the backyard tree, they dusted off spider webs crisscrossing the wooden ice cream churner.
While Tommy and Kenta took turns churning the ice cream, their arms weary, Yoshio burst through the front door carrying a brown bag stenciled “Otani Fish Market.” As he slipped off his Buster Browns, Yoshio bellowed, “Mr. Otani held back choice slices of toro, sake and ika for us.” Rather than have Mr. Otani cut the slabs of raw fish into sashimi slices, Yoshio bought foot-long slabs, each finger-length wide and knuckle high. He took pride in his filleting skills with his nine-and-a-half-inch Tadafusa sashimi knife.
* * *
As the sun slipped behind Pearl Harbor, Wai Ching and his wife Elsie walked up the steps of the Takayama home. Takeshi, typing the last page of the statehood meeting minutes, rose to open the door. When Haru walked in from the kitchen, Wai Ching bowed and handed her a red envelope, held by fingertips from both outstretched arms. “You might want to open it now.”
Haru wiped her hands on her apron and thumb-nailed the flap, careful not to tear it so she could reuse the gift envelope. She shook out a batch of movie theater tickets. When she read the top one, Haru’s eyes lit up like two fireflies. “How did you know?”
“Two days ago, I told Takeshi how much Elsie and I enjoyed ‘The Life of Emile Zola’ at the Waikiki Theater. He mentioned that you wanted to see it.”
“Oh, I do! I have heard about Zola, how he brought back the wrongly accused Captain Dreyfus from Devil’s Island and how he stood up to anti-Semitism. We Asians need a Zola.” Her eyes dropped to her handful of tickets. “But eight tickets — that is too much.”
“In your next life, have fewer children,” laughed Wai Ching.
Later, as the daughters began clearing the table, Wai Ching said, “Can we older folks retire to the tatami room for tea? I have something interesting to share.” Turning to Takeshi, he added, “You might want to join us.”
Haru looked into Wai Ching’s eyes. They were not the gay eyes that had just asked the children to share their favorite mom-and-dad memory, but rather cold eyes. A feeling of foreboding swept over her. Still, she brightened. How distressing could the news be if she and Elsie were included?
Once Hiromi had set down a plate of pineapple chunks, poured tea for everyone and closed the shoji doors upon leaving, Wai Ching pulled out a bundle of papers tied with string from his coat jacket. As she watched Wai Ching smooth out each sheet, Haru realized that the almost-gossamer sheaves were carbon copies and by the gray, faded print, maybe the fourth or fifth copies. Wai Ching turned the pages upside down and laid them on the table so that everyone could read the line typed in capital letters on the top sheet. The typist had obviously hammered the keys hard to give the phrase the feeling of a newspaper headline.
PLAN: INITIAL SEIZURE OF
Lt. Col. George S. Patton,
Head of Army’s G-2
“This document was delivered to Poindexter after our meeting today. He agreed I could share it with people I trust. Col. Patton arrived in 1935 with a mission to evaluate . . .” he paused for effect, “. . . the loyalty question.”
“He’s a dynamic man,” said Haru as Wai Ching lit a Camel. “I met him at a social function to which Buddhist priests and their wives had been invited. He was overly polite to me — the way men are when they think they are better than you.”
Wai Ching’s voice took on an ominous cadence.
“Patton forecasts that an ‘alien orange race’ will pose a fifth column danger to its host country. He specifies how a hypothetical army must respond to a hypothetical threat from a hypothetical disloyal race in a hypothetical war . . . against the homeland of the hypothetical resident aliens.”
“In other words, don’t trust the Japs,” snapped Takeshi.
Wai Ching ignored the interruption, picked up the report and started scanning the document. Between puffs, he stopped to read various points.
“‘In the event of a war with an Orange country, the Army should arrest and intern certain persons of the Orange race. . . . It would be desirable to hold as hostages leaders of the Orange race . . . confiscate amateur radio sets . . . close harbors to Orange race fishing vessels . . . seize all Orange-owned banks in Hawai‘i . . . close down Orange travel agencies . . . place Orange-owned hotels under military control . . . remove all Orange house servants and personnel from military bases . . . close all Orange language schools . . . confiscate all Orange-owned cars . . . strip the Orange community of its leadership . . . proclaim martial law.’”
Silence chilled the room.
Haru thought of the years of internment, concentration camps and prison rumors that had hopscotched among the Issei gossipmongers. Most conversations ended with “. . . but this is America. They would never do that.” Now here was an official Army report recommending that this country of laws, not men, was planning to do exactly what she believed was impossible. Another thought brought a wave of nausea: The Americans are planning a war with Japan.
Wai Ching flipped through the report’s back pages. “These are the names, addresses and phone numbers of the Japanese to be arrested.” He pointed to Kenji’s name. “As a Buddhist priest, you are on the list.” Wai Ching nudged his cigarette against the ashtray.
“So we just wait until the soldiers come?” asked Haru, anger in her voice rising.
“Haru-san,” said Wai Ching, his voice a blend of silk and steel, “you know me well enough. It is not my nature to wait for events to unfold, nor would I use the auspicious occasion of your wedding anniversary just to sound an alarm.” His eyes turned to the two men — father and son. “Takeshi, Kenji . . . I have a plan. I need both of you to help me.”
The ring of the living room telephone drifted through the closed doors. Moments later, the hurried patter of feet approached the room. The shoji doors flew open.
“Irie is dead!” cried Hiromi. “Teiko’s on the phone.”
To be continued . . .