Cover Story – “Picture Bride Stories” Historian Barbara Kawakami’s Long-Awaited Book is...

Cover Story – “Picture Bride Stories” Historian Barbara Kawakami’s Long-Awaited Book is a Treasure

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Photo of Ishikawa grandsons attended July book launch of their grandmother's, Barbara Kawakami, story.

Karleen C. Chinen

Thirty. “Thirty” is a number that comes up often in conversations about Barbara F. Kawakami’s long-awaited book, “Picture Bride Stories.” That is how long the methodical Kawakami has been working on this treasure of a book. Published by University of Hawai‘i Press in late July, “Picture Bride Stories” brings to life the hardscrabble lives of the 21,000 young women (plus 1,000 from Korea) who left their small village homes in Japan and Okinawa and ventured across the Pacific Ocean to become the wives of men they knew only through a photograph.

It is the kind of book that college students hope their professors will assign them to read — it’s informative, relevant, inspiring, heartwarming . . . meaningful. Kawakami, who turned 95 in August, was moved to see the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai‘i’s Manoa Grand Ballroom packed with people who yearned to hear the stories of the picture brides at the book’s July launch.

Ironically, Kawakami never set out to capture their stories. In 1979, during her senior year at the University of Hawai‘i at Mänoa, she began interviewing Issei women for a fashion design and merchandising class project on Japanese immigrant clothing in Hawai‘i. Having spent the first half of her life growing up on an O‘ahu sugar plantation and working as a seamstress, it was a subject she was comfortable researching. She was confident that her interview subjects would readily share information about their clothing in tape-recorded interviews. Because of her plantation background, she was familiar with the various prefectural dialects the women spoke, as well as the pidgin they had picked up over the years.

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Old photo of Picture bride Ushi Tamashiro was only 39 years old when her husband Jintaro died

Picture bride Ushi Tamashiro was only 39 years old when her husband Jintaro died, leaving her to singlehandedly raise their seven children. (Photo from “Picture Bride Stories”)

“Picture Bride Stories” author Barbara Kawakami with her supportive children

“Picture Bride Stories” author Barbara Kawakami with her supportive children — daughter Fay Toyama and sons Steve (left) and Gary.

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