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.
Haru’s concern for Yoshio was misplaced. Miserable as he was, her second son would never see a battlefield. He wore the emperor’s uniform at a Mitsubishi coal mine in Manchukuo, far from the frontline battles, where he was supposedly protecting Chinese miners from Mao’s Red guerillas. In reality, however, Yoshio was a prison guard who was responsible for preventing conscripted Chinese coal miners from escaping their slave-like working conditions.
“Hey, you Yank,” bellowed his sake-besotted sergeant.
The sergeant called Okinawans “pig eaters” and “sugar suckers.” He called his Tökyö-born underlings “city wimps.” He had a derogatory handle for everyone. Underlying his mean streak was the Japanese military system’s abuse of its enlisted men, the sergeant’s anger at being relegated to guard duty far away from the front line and his own failed resolve to stop drinking every morning when he awoke to a screaming headache. His morning sake eased the pain and mellowed him for an hour after rising. But by midday, steady nipping had turned mellow into nasty and, by evening, into vicious.
“Hey you Yank!” shouted the sergeant a second time, only louder and angrier this time.
Yoshio shivered at the sound of the rough voice. It was late in the day, the time of the day when the uglies got worse. He pretended not to hear the man. That was a mistake. The sergeant stomped over to Yoshio, lifted his rifle butt and struck the conscript in the mouth.
Yoshio’s head snapped back and his knees buckled, but he stood his ground.
“You Yanks are stupid, disloyal and lazy, but not deaf!”
Yoshio spit out a tooth.
The sergeant, who had lost more than one tooth in his early army days, grinned maliciously. “Count the workers coming out. If the number is short, send them back for half a shift.”
“What about their supper?”
The sergeant jammed his rifle butt into Yoshio’s gut, forcing Yoshio to double over with pain.
“Go outside the gate and sell it, stupid. Keep 10 percent commission and give me the rest.” He fixed his malevolent eyes on Yoshio. “And don’t try to cheat me.”
Yoshio nodded his head in compliance. As he watched his nemesis march back to the NCO barracks, he turned his anger on himself for what seemed like the millionth time: Why hadn’t he heeded his mother’s pleas to obtain an American passport? To save a few hours of time filing paperwork and obtaining a passport picture, he would be spending years in Manchuria distrusted and abused as a Yank.
* * *
In Tökyö, Hiromi watched the angry demonstrators parade through Ginza from her tenth-floor cubicle. Some held pictures of Roosevelt turned upside down with an evil grin on his face. Small pockets of protesters stopped to burn American flags. She could not make out the words of the parade leader’s chants, but the crowd’s angry “banzai!” refrain carried stridently through her open window.
She returned to her desk and resumed translating advertising copy for Dial soap into Japanese for Collier’s magazine. As a copywriter for the American products section of the Sumitomo Boueki Gaisha, or trading company, she spent her days enticing the Japanese to covet the American lifestyle. But now she feared for her job.
How could the stupid American government impose an oil embargo? The Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan’s most-read national newspaper, had called for a boycott of all things American, which, until recently, had been popular status symbols.
As if reading her mind, her boss, a squat, beefy man who spoke enough broken English to garner his buchö management title for Sumitomo’s international section, stepped into her cubicle.
“You are very lucky, Hiromi,” he said in Japanese, which Hiromi spoke almost perfectly, if with a Hiroshima dialect. “The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has a job for you as a translator.”
“I don’t want to work for the government. I am happy here.”
The buchö smirked. “You don’t read newspapers, listen to street demonstrations outside the window? The American products section is being closed down. Today.”
“I don’t want to work for the government,” she repeated, more urgently this time. “I can stay here at half-pay and just teach the English classes.”
The buchö leaned over her desk and hissed through his clenched teeth. “There will be no more classes teaching the language of the enemy.”
Hiromi thought of two kibei friends who had been “invited” to work at the Ministry of Trade and Industry. The one who had resisted had been questioned all night at the Tökyö police headquarters about her spying activities. The next morning, she had reported to work.
“Let me clear my personal items from my desk.”
The buchö smiled in triumph.
To be continued . . .