Mike 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. Last 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 and Kenji’s children through the World War II years.

“A Question of Loyalty” will be released in the next few months.

Malaghan is a retired businessman who divides his time between Hawai‘i, Georgia and Japan.

Kenji had picked up his suitcase and walked out the door. He stood beside the two agents as straight as his five-foot frame would allow. His Buddhist training told him his son had violated the serenity of his home: Kenta had resorted to violence. But in that moment, the father in him swelled with pride.

Kenta relaxed his threatening posture and casually walked up the steps to his father. As he started to bend over to pick up the suitcase, his stoic father did something he had not done since Kenta’s infancy. He hugged his son, then stood back and grabbed Kenta’s shoulders.

“I am Japanese. I honor the emperor. As an American soldier, you must defend your country. Do not bring shame on your country, yourself or your family. Do your best, even if you must give your life.” The older man’s eyes bore in on his son. “Okäsan and I have already agreed on this.” His voice softened. “All wars end, Ken-chan. I will be okay.”

“I already took the oath to join the Guard, but seeing . . .”

The father gripped his son harder. “No buts. You did right, Kenta.”

The older agent clamped Kenji’s elbow. “We have to go, Mr. Takayama.”

Kenta grabbed the suitcase. With his back straight and head lifted high, Kenji strode to the curb as if he were walking down the aisle of his Mö‘ili‘ili Hongwanji Mission temple.

The son pushed his own shoulders back and walked beside the prisoner, doing his best to emulate the dignity of his father.

Watching the scene from the front door, Haru put her hand to mouth. “Otösan! Your shoulder bag.” The bag held Kenji’s toiletries. “Wait!”

Haru ran back to the bedroom, grabbed the small bag and returned to the front door. The doors of the Ford had already closed and the car was pulling away from the curb. Kenta banged on the rooftop.

“Stop!”

Haru hurriedly cut across the yard at an angle. Running at a speed that astonished Kenta, she reached the car as it started to pick up speed and threw the cloth bag for Kenji through the open window into the back seat.

The FBI sedan taking Kenta’s father away turned the corner and vanished from sight. On the island’s inky western horizon, fires from Pearl Harbor still flickered. At ground level, only the glimmer from an occasional candle seeping out from a carelessly taped window broke the night. Above, a highway of stars glittered. Kenta lifted his arm at an angle so that the face of his watch reflected in the moon’s light. He squinted, barely making out the location of the hands: 8:17 p.m. A little over twelve hours ago his thoughts had been of pancakes and exams. Now he had to comfort his mother and then return to his military unit and prepare to pull the trigger if invasion rumors proved true.

What would it feel like to kill a man? He envisioned a Japanese soldier charging, eyes bulging, teeth grinning. Kenta would shoot to kill. He was certain of it.

He turned and walked back to the front door. The soft rumble of a car stopped him. He pivoted. The starlit silhouette coming his way suggested the FBI had doubled back. Kenta clenched his fists. Now what do these bastards want?

The black car glided to the curb. A haole woman in a blue dress stepped out of the driver’s side.

“Mom Shivers?” Kenta could hardly believe his eyes. Then a horrible thought sunk in the pit of his stomach: Something has happened to Sue. Before he could utter a word, he saw two more heads pop out from the other side of the car. Even in the dark he recognized them.

“Taka? Sue?”

His brother hurried up the walkway to join Corrine Shivers. Taka wore a dark suit with a white shirt open at the collar and a skinny yellow tie, its knot askew. In un-Japanese fashion, the two brothers embraced.

Kenta admired his big brother. The esteemed Hung Wai Ching had personally recruited the family’s first university graduate to serve as secretary to the Committee for Interracial Unity. Kenta and Taka stood back from their embrace.

“Did you see Dad coming up the road?” asked Kenta.

“Well, I saw the government-issued cars. Mrs. Shivers and I suspected he might be in one of them,” said Taka.

“And you couldn’t do anything to stop these men from arresting your own father?!”

“Kenta…” Taka placed his hand on his brother’s shoulder. “Father knew and approved of the committee’s preparations for a war with Japan, even if it meant interning a few to forestall the vultures who want to ship us all to Moloka‘i.” Taka glanced at Corrine. “Mom Shivers’ husband is arresting Japanese leaders: Buddhist priests, school principals, union leaders and the like.

It’s a well-thought-out response designed to avoid the West Coast brand of racial hysteria that screams, ‘Throw the Japs out.’ We know there will be calls for mass internment. We’re doing our best to see that it doesn’t happen here.”

Kenta brushed his brother’s hand off his shoulder and moved closer. “And putting Dad in jail is part of some master plan to keep the rest of us out of prison?”

Taka stepped around his brother and answered Kenta’s strident tone with a warm voice.
“Let’s go inside. Mom doesn’t need to see her two sons arguing just minutes after the FBI took her husband away.” Sheepishly smiling at Corrine, he added, “I’m sorry, Mrs. Shivers.”
“Nothing to apologize for. I can imagine my reaction if my father were arrested.”

“When can we visit him?” asked Sue.

“Let’s go inside,” Taka repeated. As they approached the front door, Taka tapped Kenta’s arm. “Is that a corporal’s patch?”

Kenta nodded, but suppressed a proud grin.

They entered the candlelit gloom. Taka bowed to his mother.

Haru had long ago come to grips with the strange dichotomy that Sachiko — Sue — lived in a haole home where the Shivers family treated her as a daughter, not a servant. Her daughter had renounced her Japanese passport and legally changed her name from Sachiko to Sue to please her second “parents.” Haru was awed by Corrine. Such important people who loved her daughter. She understood that they not only protected her daughter, but she felt in some way that the entire Takayama family would be under some kind of protection if war broke out. Now it had, but under conditions that no one had foreseen.

Haru bowed deeply to Corrine Shivers — so deeply that it embarrassed her three children. Corrine had grown accustomed to the fawning. She understood that her husband’s position, more so than her own power, engendered exaggerated deference. Corinne used her Southern charm to put people at ease.

“I will do what I can to find out where Rev. Takayama will be sent,” she said. Corrine had never figured out what to call a Buddhist priest. She had not heard her husband refer to them as “Father” or “Reverend,” but she had been raised to refer to men of the cloth respectfully. She held law enforcement officials who referred to Japanese as “heathens” in low esteem. Sue and her Nisei friends, while not Christians, certainly were not heathens nor anything else that pejorative implied.

“I will prepare tea,” said Haru.

“Okäsan, we can’t stay,” Taka explained. “I biked over to the Shivers’ home to check on Sue and then planned to bike over to see you and Dad. Mrs. Shivers suggested we take her car.”

“What’s going to happen to us?” asked Kenta.

“Right, I wanted to tell you that the FBI included Dad on the ‘first-day arrest’ list. No one else in our family will be arrested. I just came from a committee meeting chaired by Gen. Short. He vouched for the loyalty of our Japanese community. The military needs the Japanese — the welders, rivet men and machinists — to get those ships raised from the Pearl Harbor muck and sailing again. Short approved Hung Wai’s recommendation that we rename our Committee for Interracial Unity the Morale Committee, since the crucial mission has changed. We need to organize local Japanese support for the war effort.”

Taka turned his attention to Sue. “You should be able to go back to classes by Thursday. And you might want to volunteer with the Red Cross.”

To be continued …

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