By Genpachi “Jūkichi” Tsushima
Translation by Kan Edmund Akatani
Special to The Hawai‘i Herald
“Child of a Hawaiian Immigrant” is a historical novel that conveys the events, social conditions and life of the author’s own immigration and personal experiences while being faithful to historical facts. The main character Yōichi is based on the events of the author’s life in Okayama, Japan, his life as an immigrant sugarcane worker in Waipahu, his educational and professional life experiences, and his World War II internment. It was the first place winner of the United Japanese Society of Hawaii’s novel contest in celebration of the 1968 centennial of Japanese immigration to Hawai‘i. To purchase a copy of the translated book, go to blurb.com/b/10379589-child-of-a-hawaiian-immigrant.
Chapter 9: Picture Marriage (continued)
Around this time, there were hardly any Japanese young women in Hawai‘i, so young bachelors had to obtain their brides from Japan. Because Japan and Hawai‘i were far apart, the men and women could not have omiai, marriage meetings. The relatives at home selected a suitable person for his bride and arranged the marriage. After telling the bachelor what sort of family she came from and what sort of character the woman had, they would send a photograph of the woman to Hawai‘i and asked, “How do you like this woman?”
The men in Hawai‘i would then send a photo of themselves back to Japan as well, explain the kind of work they were doing, and their income, which was shown to the potential bride. If both parties were satisfied, the man arranged to send money for the boat fares to bring his future wife over. That’s how these sorts of marriages came to be called “picture marriages” in Hawai‘i.
Chikasue-san lost both his parents when he was young, so the arrangements were made by his uncle. He would receive Kondo Yoshiko, the daughter of a farmer from the village next to his, as a wife.
It took up to three hours for the immigrants to finish inspection. Chikasue-san remained in the spacious waiting room together with many others who were impatient to pick someone up. He imagined the face and form of the woman ten years younger than himself. In the inside pocket of his coat, he had carefully stored the small photo of his bride that his uncle sent him last month.
There had been a case of dysentery aboard the ship, so physicals and preventative shots were administered. Chikasue-san and the others were concerned. After a long delay, just before 5 p.m., the immigration chief gave his approval. The people in Hawai‘i were called up one by one in alphabetical order. Children and wives were handed over to parents and husbands.
When one of the immigration officers came to the entrance of the waiting room and called out in a big voice, “Suichiro Chikasue,” Chikasue-san felt as if he’d been struck by a cannonball.
“Tell me the name of your picture bride.”
When he replied, “Yoshiko Kondo,” the man said “All right,” went into the back room and brought out a single woman. She looked older than Chikasue-san had imagined. But her face was pale and her cheeks pink, and Chikasue-san found her beautiful. He knew his heart was racing.
She approached Chikasue-san and bowed gracefully. It’s great that Japanese women are so refined, Chikasue-san thought happily.
“Yoroshiku onegai itashimasu,” meaning, “I am glad to meet you.” These were the first words the woman spoke to her groom-to-be, Chikasue-san. She looked down and didn’t even try to look at him.
“How was the boat trip? It must have been awful,” Chikasue-san asked kindly. Then he gathered her luggage from the storage room on the side of the building and loaded it on one of the horse carriages lining the front of the office. “Take us to the Yamashiro Hotel, please,” Chikasue-san told the Japanese driver. Sitting there side by side, Chikasue-san felt for the first time like he had found a wife.
Sitting across from her in the hotel while eating dinner also brought him a feeling of joy he had never experienced.
After dinner he suggested she take a bath.
“Please, you first,” she insisted, so Chikasue-san entered the bath first, and then sent his bride-to-be.
Chikasue-san found his wife even more beautiful when she appeared flushed from the bath and only lightly made up. She must have still felt quite uncomfortable, but Chikasue-san talked a lot, and tried to distract her. He asked her about the boat and the immigration process, and even told her about his own work.
The clock on the wall struck 9 p.m. “Oh, it’s already nine. You must be tired from the long boat trip, so maybe we should get some rest,” Chikasue-san said. His heart raced at his own words.
“Yes …” replied his picture bride quietly, looking down again.
That was when Chikasue-san remembered that in the previous letter from his uncle, he learned that her father had been sick in bed for the past two or three weeks. He was worried that Yoshiko-san would have to postpone her trip, but then the father recovered completely, so she arrived as planned.
“That’s right. How is your father’s illness?” Chikasue-san asked.
She looked up, her face uneasy. “My father … wasn’t sick … “
“But my uncle said he was … “
“Are you sure that wasn’t just some sort of misunderstanding?”
“No, he definitely said so. That he was sick in bed for two or three weeks and then recovered completely.”
“That never happened. My father’s been really healthy since he was born, and he hasn’t gotten sick at all recently.”
“I see … Is that so?” Chikasue-san found this strange. That bit about the illness was definitely in his uncle’s letter.
“You have two older brothers but you’re the only girl. It must have been hard for your parents to let you leave.”
When he said this, his picture bride’s eyes widened, and her face grew even more suspicious.
“My mother died two years ago. Didn’t you know that?” Chikasue san found this peculiar as well.
“Your mother’s gone? That’s not what my uncle said.”
“And I have a younger brother and sister, but no older brothers. You didn’t know that either?”
The young woman’s story didn’t match anything he’d heard before was distressingly bizarre. “But I heard one of your older brothers married my relative, Hashimoto in Natsukawa last year.”
“Where is Natsukawa?”
“Natsukawa is my hometown. In Tsukubo-gun. I’m sorry, but you’re Kondo Yoshiko-san, right?”
“Yes, I’m certainly Kondo Yoshiko.”
“Your father is Kondo Masajiro from Sho-mura (town) in Okayama-ken, right?” He asked this, trying to be specific.
“No. My father is Kondo Kikunosuke. And I’m not from Okayama-ken. I’m from Hiroshima-ken, Nagaoka-mura.”
Chikasue-san couldn’t help feeling that somehow a terrible mistake had occurred. He had taken the wrong picture bride! But this young woman is also Kondo Yoshiko? Oh! There must have been two women with the same name!
“Oh, this is bad. A big mistake has happened. There must have been another woman on the ship with the same name as you.”
“Oh, what should I do?” the woman said nervously and began to cry.
“Let’s go straight back to the Immigration Station. If they check their records, I’m sure they’ll be able to figure it out. Well, let’s get going.” Chikasue-san hurried this “wife.” The woman also hurried and retied the obi of her kimono. They both got on a horse-drawn carriage in front of the hotel and asked to be taken to the Immigration Station. Chikasue-san felt awful for this woman, and didn’t say a thing.
On the day a ship arrives, the Immigration Station is incredibly busy and stays open even at night. There were still ten people whose names were at the end of the alphabet undergoing inspection.
When Chikasue-san entered the office with the wrong bride, a man about his age, and a 24- or 25-year-old woman were sitting on a bench. They looked like the husband and wife of a picture marriage, but both appeared upset.
An immigration officer appeared from the adjoining room and said, “Oh, are you the one who took the wrong Yoshiko Kondo?” He ignored the fact that one of their workers had brought him the wrong woman.
“This woman here is your real picture bride. Now trade and take them somewhere.”
The other couple on the bench stood up, and smiled with relief. Oh, this could have turned into something awful, Chikasue-san thought. Chikasue-san, heaved a sigh of relief.
The author, Edgar Genpachi “Jūkichi” Tsushima was born in Okayama, Japan, and graduated from Okayama Normal School, a school for teachers, at age 19 and came to Hawai‘i as a contract sugarcane worker. After graduating from the University of Hawai‘i at age 36, he worked as a Japanese-language teacher and news reporter for Japanese-language newspaper, Hawaii Hochi. Because of his occupation, he was interned during World War II mostly in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Tsushima died on July 9, 1985, at the age of 88.