Michael G. Malaghan
Special to The Hawai‘i Herald
Editor’s note: We continue Michael G. Malaghan’s serialized historical novel, “Picture Bride — A Family Saga,” based on the Japanese immigrant experience. Malaghan’s trilogy takes readers from turn-of-the-20th-century-Japan to Hawai‘i in the picture bride era; the Islands during World War II, highlighted by the exploits of the Nisei soldiers; and beyond.
The novel, which is now available as a printed softcover book, opens with 12-year-old Haru-chan, fleeing her home in Amakusa, Kyüshü, for Hiroshima, where she becomes the picture bride of a Buddhist priest in Hawai‘i.
Author Michael Malaghan is a retired businessman who divides his time between Hawai‘i, Florida and Japan.
As Bishop Imamura drove the Takayama family up Bishop Street toward the Fort Street Hongwanji, they did not notice a thin, bat-eared man strutting up a set of fire stairs on the side of the two-story granite Bishop National Bank building. The Rev. Takie Okumura was the formidable 56-year-old descendant of a long line of samurai warriors who had converted to Christianity during his activist days in Tökyö in the 1880s. Hitting each steel step with purpose, Okumura wasn’t looking at the passing cars and missed his chance to see his new adversaries.
Okumura’s baptism had led him to the ministry. Imbued with the zeal of a convert, he chose Hawai‘i for his missionary work and arrived in Honolulu in 1894 to eradicate Buddhism in Hawai‘i with the same zeal as the Boston missionaries who were determined to stamp out Hawaiian paganism a century earlier.
Despite anti-Asian immigration laws dating back to 1790, Okumura never wavered in his promise to Japanese immigrants that America’s prejudice would be swept aside if only they would abandon Buddhism and Shintoism and embrace Christ, stop sending their children to the Japanese language schools and quit labor agitating. Never mind that sugar barons like John Waterhouse and Walter Dillingham, who encouraged Okumura’s Christian advocacy and were grateful for his anti-strike and anti-school stances, had never granted an Asian — Christian or otherwise — membership in the Pacific Club.
After 25 years of Okumura’s proselytizing, most Japanese remained Buddhist. Okumura blamed the poor conversion rate, at least in part, on “the two great betrayals” — Imamura and labor agitator Fred Makino.
Okumura started Honolulu’s first Japanese language school with 30 students in 1896. It was modeled after the terakoya, or temple school, of Japan’s pre-1868 Tokugawa Era. However, Okumura eschewed mixing religion with his teaching of Japanese writing and reading. To assure the mostly Buddhist parents of the secular nature of the school, he conducted classes at the Nikkei Community Center instead of on the church grounds. The Japanese Ministry of Education supplied his textbooks, the same ones used throughout Japan. Classes began with a pledge of loyalty to the emperor.
In the late 1890s, Okumura and Imamura had joined forces in their efforts to stamp out Japanese prostitution and gambling. According to Okumura, this collaboration led to an agreement to keep any schools established by either of them as secular. Since most Japanese were Buddhists, Okumura feared that given a choice between a Christian-oriented and a Buddhist-run school, parents would flock to their own kind. When Okumura’s school registration reached 200, the Fort Street Hongwanji started a Japanese language school on its temple grounds. Attendance at Okumura’s school plummeted to 70 students.
A decade later, strike leader Fred Makino was sentenced to a jail term after the 1909 strike for “conspiring to hinder plantation operations.” Okumura used his considerable influence with the haole leadership to obtain pardons for him and three other imprisoned strike leaders after having served only four months. How did Makino appreciate this Christian gesture? He established a newspaper attacking the white ruling structure, agitated for another sugar strike and defended the Buddhist language schools, which Okumura insisted must be abolished for Japanese assimilation into America.
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