Michael G. Malaghan
Special to The Hawai‘i Herald
Editor’s note: “A Question of Loyalty” is the second historical novel in Michael Malaghan’s trilogy on the Japanese American experience in Hawai‘i. L ast year, the Herald concluded chapter-by-chapter publication of his first novel, “Picture Bride,” which chronicled Haru Takayama’s escape from Japan to begin a new life in Hawai‘i as the picture bride wife of Kenji Takayama, a Buddhist priest.
In the second novel, we follow Haru’s and Kenji’s children through the World War II years.
“A Question of Loyalty” will be released shortly.
Malaghan is a retired businessman who divides his time between Hawai‘i Georgia and Japan.
“I hate Tökyö Decembers,” murmured Hiromi, surprising even herself that she had spoken up. It was just an hour after lunch, but already the amber sun had begun fading into broken patches of orange glow peeking between Marunouchi’s skyscrapers. Her co-worker’s furtive glance at her declaration lasted but a second. Hiromi’s head slumped over a Remington typewriter in the middle table in a row of 16 cramped, unvarnished wooden desks. Her Propaganda Section of the Foreign Affairs office, or Gaimusho, had donated their steel desks to the War Ministry to smelt into steel for tanks and shells for the never-ending China war — a war for which she wrote “news stories” of predictable victories for the English-language press.
Six months ago, Hiromi had been an employee of Dentsu, Japan’s most prestigious public relations firm, where she translated advertising copy for Procter and Gamble soaps and cosmetics. When she turned down the offer to leave Dentsu to work for the Gaimusho, she learned that the alternative to refusing was receiving a visit from the Kempeitai, the dreaded military police.
“Besides,” reasoned her boss at Dentsu, “the drying up of American imports means your job is disappearing.”
Hiromi’s stomach churned and her neck ached, as if her body parts were determined to punish her for the latest drivel she had typed today. She glanced at the wall clock. Time to submit. As habit prescribed, she read her copy with a whisper one more time to test its cadence and feel the flow of the words.
December 8, 1941. Once again, the devil without a tail, Cordell Hull, the nefarious Secretary of State for the world’s most arrogant country, has issued his latest demeaning ultimatum under the guise of negotiations. “Get out of China, or else.” Never mind about American colonies in Guam, the Philippines, and Hawai‘i, or the British, Dutch and French occupiers . . .
“Much better,” intoned the flat voice of Takashiro Murakami, the buchö, or section head. Hiromi hadn’t noticed the soft-heeled approach of the stiff-backed veteran of the Russian war. His well-manicured fingers picked up the “news” release. Hiromi, seething inwardly, raised her head and smiled. Murakami enjoyed her expression all the more because of its insincerity.
Before lunch, Hiromi had written a much more balanced version of the current negotiations, although still very much slanted toward the Japanese position.
“No more tofu writing, Hiromi,” Murakami had smirked through gapped teeth. She had controlled the urge to wrinkle her nose at his lack of dental hygiene, which induced invisible clouds of halitosis over her desk. “We need the hot pepper sauce perspective.”
Now as he read her “correct” interpretation of the exchange of diplomatic letters between Japan and America, Hiromi thought of her decision to flee Hawai‘i, where “I am treated as a second-class citizen,” she had often said, and subsequent letters to her mother validating her decision. “Here, I am treated as an equal,” she wrote home, but no matter how perfect her Japanese grammar was, or the depth of her vocabulary, her accent always revealed that she was gaijin, a foreigner.
Hiromi thought of Haru’s latest letter with its usual plea to “come home before war is declared.” Yes, Hiromi thought, war might well come. America was squeezing Japan in a vain attempt to end her China war. Anyone reading the newspapers knew of Tökyö’s military plan to deploy rifles and ships to replace the lost oil and steel from America. Indonesia’s oil wells or Malaya’s rubber trees loomed as obvious targets for the Imperial army. Rice rationing had started six months ago. What choice did Roosevelt’s embargo leave Japan?
Hiromi had begun to admit to herself that the Imperial democracy she had migrated to three years ago had morphed into a military dictatorship. The Kempeitai, sitting in newspaper offices, guaranteed that the “news” reflected the government line. She knew her neighbors had been interviewed about her, “the American.” More than once, she had spotted a man in a black suit furtively following her after work.
Oh, how stubborn I have been, she thought. I will get on the next ship to Hawai‘i. But now that the Kempeitai is watching me, I will have to leave home with nothing but my purse.
“Good. Good,” said Murakami, snapping Hiromi back to the here and now. “Send this as is to the Japan Times-Advertiser with the usual suggestion that they might want to publish it in tomorrow’s paper. Dispatch it to Reuters, as well.”
The sounds of boots closing in broke her reverie. Her gaze snapped to the front door where the lead man in an ill-fitting Western suit, followed by two others outfitted in olive-green uniforms, were marching straight toward her. The silly train conductor caps worn by the soldiers didn’t seem so silly now. As they approached her desk, Hiromi stood up.
The man in the suit addressed her. “Takayama Hiromi!”
“Hai,” she said, almost at attention.
“You must come with us.”
“I am a Japanese citizen,” she blurted out. Under terms of a Japan-America treaty, any Nisei born before 1924 was automatically deemed a dual citizen of the two countries. Later, she wondered whether she should have said, “I am an American citizen. I want to talk to my embassy.” But she knew it would not have made any difference.
“Do not worry. Come with me. We need to ask you some questions.”
The two uniformed men took a step forward.
“Hai.” Hiromi picked up her purse and followed the men.
In the hallway, she heard shouts of “Banzai!” By the time the elevator reached street level, a cacophony of discordant honking cars filled the street.
Hiromi turned around. Murakami stood triumphantly at the entrance to his office. He had addressed her honorifically. She had never seen him smile so widely.
“We just sank your Pacific Fleet.”
The man in the black suit grabbed her upper arm from behind and led her toward a stout, four-door Mazda that matched the color of his jacket and trousers. One of the green-uniformed men at the side of the idling car opened the back door. Hiromi felt the hard press of a hand pushing her head down.
Ducking, Hiromi thought of her mother. War meant the cessation of postal services and letters from home. It might be years before my mother hears from me again. If ever. She stopped like her feet had been nailed to the ground.
Does this mean I have lost my American citizenship? And what about Yoshio? Would he lose his citizenship, too?
To be continued . . .