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, Kyūshū, 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
The scream of the air raid siren ripped through Honolulu as it did on the first Saturday of every month. As always, it made Haru shudder. She glanced up at the clock hanging next to the calendar: December 6, 12 noon. Exactly on time. Dutifully, Haru grabbed her gas mask and went to the fridge. She stuffed a half-dozen rice balls covered with seaweed and wrapped in waxed paper into her apron pockets and strolled out of the house. She headed for the designated air raid shelter in the basement of the River Street Methodist Church.
At the next block, she heard a familiar voice call out to her. “Okāsan!” Haru turned to find her young neighbor.
“Dr. Danny,” she called out, teasing the high school senior who had dreamed of becoming a doctor for as long as anyone could remember. “How’s your father?” she asked.
* * *
Danny Inouye’s father was somewhat of a community legend. When Danny was born in 1924, his father was expected to register his newborn son at the Japanese Consulate. Instead, he had marched into the Consulate office and announced that he, his wife and Danny were Americans and demanded that they not be listed on his village records going forward.
The declaration had infuriated the consulate officer. His face had turned scarlet as he hissed and hollered about Mr. Inouye’s patriotic responsibilities. Most Japanese would have buckled under the assault of this authority. But Danny’s father was no cane worker and had stood his ground.
He did enroll Danny in a Japanese language school at age 6, as was the custom. But a few years later when Danny came home from school early one afternoon with welts on his back from a whipping, his father strode into the language school and administered his own beating to the teacher. Danny never returned to the class.
When Kenta challenged his father about the incident, Kenji’s first swear word stopped the dinner conversation.
“The little shit of a teacher deserved the beating. If you had come home with welts, I hope I would have done the same thing,” said Kenji.
While not voicing approval of the vulgar language, especially at the dinner table, Haru was proud of her husband’s answer.
* * *
Haru noticed Danny’s dancing eyes. She waited for the siren blast to pause. “So what’s the good news, Dan-chan?”
“Double good news,” he spouted out, hurrying his cadence and trying to beat the next siren warning. Danny failed, so he raised his voice.
“I received my letter of acceptance to UH in the morning mail. And I just finished my advanced first aid course.”
At 12:30 p.m., the third and last siren blare faded out, signaling the end of the exercise and leaving Haru’s ears ringing.
She strolled by Chen’s fruit and vegetable shop and waved. Mr. Chen, with a wide smile and eyes sparkling, wedged himself between rows of carrots, celery and fat eggplant displays and bowed.
“We will miss you, Haru-san.”
This warm goodbye reminded her that as much as she looked forward to returning to Waimea, she would miss the friendly shopkeepers and the conveniences of Honolulu. She paused to look at the row of multilingual signage jutting over the sidewalk from their second-story floors where most of the shop owners lived: a shoe shop, a laundry, radio repair shop and Tang the butcher. She convinced herself that she would quickly adjust to the limited access to electricity in Waimea and the resulting lack of modern appliances. After enjoying the electrical conveniences of Honolulu, Kenji had insisted on shipping a generator for their apartment annex.
* * *
By 1 o’clock, boisterous UH students had jammed into Haru’s home. Sue was hosting the party. Tommy, who had a weekend pass, and his “little” brother Kenta were the official greeters of fellow fans who walked in without knocking, as had become the custom after the first pregame party.
A couple of haole boys whose fathers served at Pearl popped in with their dates. They were friends of Kenta from his ROTC regiment. A Chinese and a Portuguese student arrived together and a Filipino from the neighborhood joined the gathering. The youngsters identified themselves as the “Queen Emma Street Gang,” rather than by their ethnic groups.
Haru and Kenji mingled with their young guests for a short time and then retired to chairs in their snug backyard. They played gin rummy, a game they had learned from Takeshi. Haru made sure she never won more than half the games. Oh, how she savored the cool trade winds mixing a cocktail of ocean smells with the kitchen aromas of sweet bread and saimin.
Around 1:30, Tommy ducked his head out the back door. “We’re off to catch the bus.” Haru and Kenji rose and walked into the house. Everyone was scurrying about, picking things up, washing out glasses and sweeping the floors.
Life was good. Her children were happy, healthy and well-mannered, and their friends were people of good character. She and Kenji were going back to Waimea for a quiet life. They owned a hotel. All their children had graduated from, or were attending, college. They were living the American dream. In Japan, the equivalent would not have been possible. She tried to push away any negative talk of war or thoughts of Yoshio, her number two son, in Manchuria, but they lurked beneath the placid surface of the day’s carefree diversions.
After the students left for the 3 o’clock game, Haru and Kenji continued their gin rummy while listening to the football game on the radio. UH’s colored All-American halfback and co-captain of the team, Nolle Smith, ran the Willamette University Bearcats ragged, gaining 166 yards and leading UH to a 20-6 victory.
After the game, Haru and Kenji strolled hand-in-hand around the neighborhood for one last look, then stopped at a shop and bought some Chinese food, which they ate on the porch as they watched the light slowly leak out of the day.
They went to bed early that night. “This is the last time we will spend the night in this home or in Honolulu for a long time.” Kenji took the rare hint and moved his hands under Haru’s yukata to gently rub her breast. They made love slowly, languidly. Right after the moment of joyful release, she noticed the two boat tickets resting on her vanity table. She drifted off to sleep, savoring the happiness that awaited them.
— The End
Editor’s note: Later this year, Michael Malaghan will release the second novel in his historical trilogy that follows Haru Takayama from her impoverished life in Amakusa, Kyūshū, to a new life as a picture bride in Hawai‘i and the family she and her husband Kenji raise. The second book is titled “A Question of Loyalty” and focuses primarily on her children’s lives during World War II. It will be published by Legacy Isle Publishing.