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Copyright 2005 John A. Broussard
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TO HAWAII WITH LOVE
John A. Broussard
I liked Mrs. Huntington, and I was almost sure she liked me. But, in looking back at it, I think she was being especially nice to all the Japanese-Americans in her class because of what they had been through for almost four years. There hadn’t been any mass transportation to internment camps in Hawaii, the way there had been on the West Coast of the Mainland, but there had been plenty of hard feelings toward us during the war years. It was only a month since the Japanese surrender, and there were still people around who called us “Japs” to our faces. So, because she was really a very nice person, maybe Mrs. Huntington was just trying to make up for all that.
Anyway, she called me aside one day and congratulated me on how well I wrote. Since we were expected to do an essay, all on our own, before Christmas vacation, she wanted to know if I had started on mine.
“I want to be sure you do your very best,” she told me. And when I said I hadn’t done any work on it yet, she asked, “Have you decided what you’re going to write about, Marie? (My Japanese name is Mariko but like most of the Japanese children back then, I went by a Western name.)
I shook my head, and Mrs. Huntington made several suggestions. The one which caught my attention was the one to write about my family. Later, I found out most of the other Japanese students in her class took the same topic. Now, I suspect Mrs. Huntington wanted us to write about the war years, about how we were treated and how it felt to be regarded as enemies when we were actually, all of us, loyal Americans. So maybe what I chose to write about turned out to be a disappointment for her.
I’d heard my grandmother mention one day in passing how she had come to Hawaii as a picture bride. Because I thought my grandfather Nobu was one of the most wonderful men in the world, I decided to write about how they had met. I wasn’t really sure about all the details, but I thought I had the general picture pretty clear in my mind. I didn’t tell anyone what I was writing, not even my parents, and I spent time stolen from my other homework to compose it and to polish it up.
By Thanksgiving I had it just about finished, and I was really proud of what I’d accomplished. It told how my grandfather had written to his brother in Nagasaki asking him to look for a wife for him, and how he sent a photo along to show to the prospects. And I described how my great uncle found the perfect wife for Granddad in one of Nagasaki’s most prominent families. And Mariko (I was named after her) fell in love immediately with my grandfather when she saw the photo with his smiling eyes, even though there were many other Japanese men in Hawaii and Japan who had asked for her hand in marriage. So Mariko’s name was then entered into Granddad’s family register, which was the same as being married, and she spent days getting her clothes, including a rich kimono, packed for the trip.
The big day finally arrived, and Mariko, with her whole family and the families of all the other picture brides, went to the dock where the Seiko Maru (Seiko means “success”)a beautiful all-white ocean liner which must have had a name like successwas waiting for its passengers. There was a large band there with many drums to give them a wonderful send-off, and with paper streamers filling the air.
The voyage was marvelous. Mariko drank in the ocean air and watched every day over the blue sea for the islands of Hawaii. And all the women used to gather to talk about the wonderful days ahead in their new homeland. The sailing was so pleasant Mariko was almost sad to see the islands, but she was happy too, knowing Nobuyoshi Ushijima would be there to meet her.
And he was!
Even from the dock they recognized each other and waved. He was carrying Mariko’s photo in a lovely gilt frame. He met her as she came down the gangplank wearing her finest kimono, and he placed a lei around her neck before they hugged and kissed. Then they drove off in his carriage to his beautiful home in Honolulu only a few blocks from the successful grocery store he owned. Almost a year to the day, my mother was born, and then came Uncle Yasutaro and, finally, Uncle Kosai.
I was so proud of what I had written I decided I would show the essay to my mother before turning it in to class. I copied it all over again on some beautiful, pale-rose writing paper, making sure there were no mistakes so I wouldn’t have to cross out or erase anything. I knew Mama would be pleased.
While she was reading it, I watched her face. Mama has the ability to hide her feelings, so it was hard to tell how she was reacting. But, somehow, I became convinced she was amused. When she finished it, she said it was very well done, then added, “Don’t you think you should talk to oba-san before you turn it in to Mrs. Huntington?”
I really wasn’t too pleased with the idea. In fact, I was afraid Grandma would want me to change one or two things, and I felt the essay was perfect the way it was. But, back then, children obeyed their elders. So I took my composition over to the store, where Grandma still waited on customers, though she was now very old. I was hesitant to show it to her, remembering the amusement I was now sure Mama had felt on reading it. So, instead, I told Grandma I was writing something for school about Japanese picture brides.
When she heard what I was doing, she called to Grandpa Nobu to mind the store and took me off to the back room. She sat me down and said she was going to tell me about what it was like when she came over from Japan. Since I knew what it was like already, I wasn’t really eager to hear her story. Mostly, I wanted to get back home so I could put my composition into a folder and draw a nice picture of the Seiko Maru on the cover.
“Mariko,” she said, as she sat me down, speaking half in Japanese and half in English, “I never wanted to come to Hawaii. But my parents had no boys, only five girls, and we were very poor. I won’t tell you what happened to poor girls in Japan back then, but when Uncle Kinzaburo came by and told me there were Japanese men in Hawaii who wanted wives, I decided it would be a better life for me here than back there. I told my uncle I didn’t mind being a yobiyosea picture brideso we went to a photographer and had my photo taken and sent it off to a matchmaker in Hilo.
“Only one man wrote back, and I knew nothing about him except he was much older than me. And he didn’t send a photo, so I didn’t even know what he looked like. I talked to Papa about it and he said if I wanted to go he would find the passage money somewhere. I really didn’t want to go, but I knew I couldn’t stay, so Papa made all the arrangements. Since both my mother and father had to work every day in the rice fields, I had to go into Nagasaki by myself, with the one bundle of clothes I owned. I was terribly frightened and afraid I’d lose my way, but I finally found the docks and the ship. I couldn’t read the name, because it was written in Korean characters. The ship itself looked old and rusty, and I remember one of the dockworkers shaking his head when he saw me and a few other Japanese women going aboard.
“We sailed that night, and the sea was terribly rough. I was sick from the very beginning, eating only some udon noodles when I thought I could keep them down, and I never did get better until we reached Hawaii. Even then, for days afterwards, I could feel the land rising and dipping under my feet.
“And the ship was terrible. It was so old the gaps in the railings used to open and close, especially when we hit one of the many storms we ran into during the crossing. It was too windy and wet to stay outside, while the smell inside was almost more than I could bear. But the worst of the trip was feeling so much alone. Most of the other women were from Okinawa, and I could barely comprehend what they were saying. The rest of the women were from way up north, from Aomori province, and they spoke a dialect I couldn’t understand much better.
“By the second day out, the boat began to leak badly, and all the men passengers in third class had to help with the pumps. And, during one bad storm even the second class passengers, who were very wealthy, had to help too. Water washed over the decks, and there were many hours when I was sure we would never arrive. And we almost didn’t. When we could just make out the islands in the distance, two weeks after leaving Japan, the engines stopped and it wasn’t until the next morning a grey military vessel found us and towed us into Pearl Harbor.
“The worst part was the actual landing. All my clothes, except for the old dress I was wearing, had been stolen. I was terribly ashamed as I came down the gangplank.
“A lot of men were there looking for their brides, but I saw no indication anyone was seeking me out. I was almost the last one left standing, when a young man, waving a photo, came running down the dock. He came up to me and introduced himself, showing me the photo which was all creased and worn from being carried around, but he wasn’t the man I was supposed to meet. Quickly, he explained how the luna (the plantation boss) had made the man work that day and the man had asked himhe introduced himself as Nobuyoshi Ushijimato pick up his bride.
“We were talking there on the pier in the middle of the crowd when a tall Westerner came out of the immigration station and said something I couldn’t understand, since I didn’t know even ‘yes’ and ‘no’ in English back then. Nobu said we were all being told to go and stand together in the immigration compound for a ceremony to welcome newcomers to Hawaii. I wondered at the time why all the men and women paired off while the tall man read something from a black book. And Nobu took my hand in his, which embarrassed me terribly since men and women weren’t supposed to touch each other in public. But then I thought it must be an American custom, so I didn’t say a word. It was only later I found out we’d gone through a “wharf marriage” and I was now legallyby American lawmarried to Nobu.
“On the way to the cane fields in the back of a farm wagon, he told me what had really happened and assured me the man I was supposed to marry was a no-good, and I was much better off with him.
“I didn’t know what to think. But Nobu was younger than the man I had come to Hawaii to marry, and I liked the mischievous look in his eyes even back then. But I didn’t expect to end up in a pole hut with a grass roof that barely kept out the wind and rain. We both had to work in the cane fieldsten hours a dayNobu for fifty cents a day and me for thirty cents. And your mother came along the very first year. Two days after she was born, I was back in the fields carrying cane stalks, with her strapped to my back. Your Uncle Yasutaro was premature and I went into labor right there out among the cane and gave birth to him with only the other women workers to help.
“But we kept on working, Nobu and I, from sunrise to sunset. We saved what we could and borrowed enough from the hui partnership, he and other Japanese cane workers had formed, to open a small store. When I look back at those days in the cane fields, I remember wondering many times if I wouldn’t have been much better off to have stayed in Japan.”
When Grandma finished, I thought a lot about what she had told me. But, I went home, carefully put my essay the way I had written it into a folder, drew a beautiful picture of the Seiko Maru on the cover, and handed it in to Mrs. Huntington the next Monday.
The following day she called me aside and said how much she enjoyed reading my story, and about how much it helped her to understand about the Japanese picture brides who had come to Hawaii.
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