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.
“You don’t have to do this for us,” repeated Robert Shivers.
Robert, Corrine and Sachiko — now called “Sue” at her request — stood in the Shivers’ living room, revisiting a discussion from three days earlier. She had surprised them, with her declaration: “I want to expatriate.”
“So you said,” Sue reminded him. “I know . . . I heard you. But expatriation is for me, Papa Shivers. I know all about the treaty guaranteeing my dual citizenship forever. My brothers argued about it all the time.”
Robert Shivers felt a catch in his throat and could do nothing but look at the young girl who had stolen his heart — he admired her patriotism in a way that most Americans could not appreciate.
“All right then . . . if you’re sure.” He flashed a last glance at Corrine, whose eyes shone with pride. “Let’s go.”
The Shivers family hiked up the granite steps of the federal courthouse facing ‘Iolani Palace. Heads no longer turned when Robert and Corinne Shivers appeared in public with a Japanese teenager in tow. Neither did eyebrows rise anymore when Mr. Shivers introduced Sue as his daughter. When gossipers referred to “the girl with two fathers,” most people knew they meant the daughter of the Buddhist priest living with the FBI family.
At the top of the stairs, an Advertiser reporter and photographer ambushed the threesome. Shivers fought to control his temper. The courthouse clerk he had called saying they would arrive near closing time to avoid crowds, must have betrayed him. He glowered at the pair from the paper.
Sue froze in place.
Mrs. Shivers whispered in her husband’s ear, “Didn’t you say the Nisei need to publicize their commitment to America? Then smile.” She turned to the photographer and with her inimitable Southern charm said, “Go ahead, young man. Fire away.”
“Why are you renouncing your Japanese citizenship?” asked the reporter.
“I am proud of my Japanese heritage, so I don’t look at this as a renunciation of anything. But I am an American. I don’t need two countries.”
* * *
Across the street from the courthouse, sitting on a concrete bench dressed in a mu‘umu‘u and wearing a floppy hat, Haru watched her daughter walk up the steps to the courthouse. Earlier in the week, Sue had stopped by to break the news to her mother.
“You’ve always said, ‘Embrace America,’ so that’s what I am doing.” Although Sue had invited Haru to go with her, the tone of the invitation had sounded more obligatory than sincere to Haru’s ears, and she declined. Only at the last minute did she give in to the urge to watch, even if from afar, her daughter renounce her Japanese citizenship.
The words “embrace America” rang in her ears. Haru had used them often over the years. So she could not explain her inner turmoil as Robert Shivers opened the courthouse door for his wife and their “adopted” daughter. It struck her that now Sue was more American than any of her six children — perhaps her greatest patriotic success if she believed her own words. And yet, why did she feel pain amidst her pride? This is what she wanted, right?
An unpleasant twinge, like an electric arc, flashed through her heart. Did Sachiko really have to change her name, too? Western names for Japanese American children were in vogue with children born in the 1930s, as more Japanese converted to Christianity and the first Nisei bore children. When Tomio’s name migrated to become “Tommy,” it had not bothered her. She had found it amusing at first and then just accepted it as what often happened in families when young children couldn’t pronounce a sibling’s name. Was the name change a personal rejection of her, given that this was the name Haru had chosen so carefully? And yet, she felt unmistakable pride watching her daughter entering the courthouse and regretted not accepting her daughter’s invitation.
As Sue disappeared behind the wooden doors, Haru clutched Hiromi’s letter from Tökyö that had been delivered yesterday. How could her two daughters be so different? She reread her troubled daughter’s opening sentence.
“Living in Tökyö has opened my eyes, Okäsan. Japan is fighting only for what the white countries took away from Asia over the last 400 years. Why is it all right for America to go to war against Spain to grab the Philippines, but not for the Japanese to develop Manchukuo? Why is it all right for the navies of America, England and France to force the Chinese to give them concessions, but it is not for our armies to occupy Nanking? White people rule Hong Kong, Singapore, Saigon, Manila, Sandakan, Batavia.”
Hiromi’s letter seemed like a Ministry of Propaganda rehash. Haru knew that writing back and pointing out the difference between Western colonialism and the slaughter of Chinese civilians, with the Nanking Massacre being the worst example, would be a waste of time.
Haru rose, brushed off her mu‘umu‘u’s backside and strolled down to Aloha Tower at Honolulu Harbor. The decades-old port symbol pulled her back to that November day three decades ago when she stood on the upper deck of the Yamashiro Maru, as it neared Honolulu.
America! On its shores waited her husband — the son of her beloved adopted parents. Then came Kenji’s cool reserve and his horrible rejection. For a long time, she wondered what she had done to provoke her new husband that first night and feared she might do something else to trigger another outburst. As the years passed, she came to understand it had not been a flaw in herself, but rather some demon that had wormed its way into Kenji’s psyche. Their marriage had exorcised that devil.
Whatever premarital secrets Kenji kept had been trumped by her own dreadful secret. She contemplated how many marriages she had saved by advising guilt-ridden husbands and wives to keep a past transgression a secret.
Haru wandered over to the row of shops and found a wooden stool and a rickety aluminum table outside a coffee shop. The Japanese waitress’ mouth dropped open when Haru ordered in Japanese. Dressed in her mu‘umu‘u and straw sunhat, she could have passed for Hawaiian. Haru smiled inwardly. While she knew the young Nisei woman’s first language was English, she still liked to conduct her own survey to find out how many could speak Japanese at least well enough in this case to take a coffee order.
Then she reopened Hiromi’s letter, skipped more drivel summarizing Japan’s right to empire-building and went to the end.
“In Japan, I am treated like a human being, not the enemy. In another generation, the Japanese in Hawai‘i will be like the Filipinos, addressing every white person with a deferential ‘sir’ and ‘ma’am.’ You and Daddy should come back home.”
Daddy, thought Haru. Oh, how American you are, child. Do you realize that you prosper in Japan because your un-Japanese ways are a novelty? But you will soon learn that no traditional Japanese man would ever marry such an outspoken woman. It wasn’t until she put the letter down that Haru noticed a faint penciled-in note along the margin. “The Japanese imperial army has drafted Yoshio.”
Her heart raced — denial, despair, anger pumping her blood at a furious pace. Like Haru’s twin sisters, Yoshio floated through life. If only her sisters had moved with more urgency, they would be living in Hawai‘i, raising children with the good husbands she’d chosen. Yoshio, too, had not heeded her admonition: “Get your American passport. Then the Japanese army cannot draft you.”
Like many other Nisei going to school in Japan, he retorted, “I don’t want to bother with all that bureaucratic paperwork. The Japanese won’t draft Americans.”
Haru stared at the words, hoping to glean more from them. Why hadn’t Hiromi taken the time to explain this more thoroughly? Will Yoshio be allowed to finish his last year at Tödai — the University of Tokyo? Will he be sent to China? She bit her lip. Of course, he would — that’s where the fighting is.
Absentmindedly, she nodded her head when the waitress approached her table with a coffee pot asking if she would like a refill. Out of the corner of her eye, she caught a slouching man in a white linen suit walking across the café. Her stomach quivered. Pafko. Andy Pafko. That man was now penning front-page Advertiser columns speculating on the coming war and the need to keep an eye on the 40 percent of the island’s population whose loyalty lay with an emperor who claimed he is a descendant of a god. Dropping her head so she could peek underneath her wide-brimmed straw hat, she watched Pafko sit down at a table occupied by a man wearing a crisp white naval uniform — its shoulders topped off with officer epaulets. Whatever the purpose of the meeting, she was certain it would not be good for the Japanese community. Since the Massie trial, Pafko had lost a cause and his front-page notoriety. The gathering war clouds had given his anti-Japanese rant a resurgent audience.
Haru noticed that the reporter ordered for both of them without asking the officer what he wanted. A minute later, she raised her hand to call for her check. While Haru pushed back her chair, she caught a last glance of the lieutenant pointing at the Honolulu Steel Works.
To be continued . . .