Picture Bride (book)
Creators: Yoshiko Uchida
Book cover. Courtesy of University of Washington Press
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The fictional account of a picture bride , from her arrival in the U.S. to the life she and her husband create for themselves with their daughter, to her experience of incarceration during World War II.
As the novel opens, Hana Omiya is traveling aboard a steamship bound for San Francisco where she will meet her betrothed husband, Taro Takeda, for the first time. She is full of expectation and excitement, and expects a grand life in America. The first part of the novel covers her arrival, meeting Taro, becoming acquainted with the Japanese immigrant community in San Francisco, and getting accustomed to a life far different from what she had anticipated. After some bumps, she and Taro settle into life, along with their daughter Mary. As their daughter grows up, however, she distances herself from her immigrant parents, devastating them when she elopes with a white man and moves to Reno, Nevada.
When Pearl Harbor is attacked, Hana and Taro are shocked, and must deal with the difficulty of selling off their property and belongings and preparing to be taken to Tanforan . Their friends are dispersed far and wide—one, Dr. Kaneda, is immediately arrested by the FBI and taken to Bismarck , North Dakota. Their closest friends, the Todas, are struck by further tragedy: the husband Henry is shot and killed by a drunk neighbor right before they leave for their assembly center . Kiku, the wife, and their two sons, end up in Amache concentration camp, and the boys both enlist in the U.S. Army. When the "loyalty questionnaire" is announced in Topaz , Taro is upset and goes out one night to think; he is shot by sentries and dies soon after. (Taro's death is loosely based on the real-life shooting death of James Hatsuaki Wakasa in Topaz). Kiku requests a transfer from Amache and joins Hana in Topaz—the two picture brides face the end of the war together.
Yoshiko Uchida (1921-1992) was an award-winning Nisei author whose family was incarcerated in Topaz. She published many children's books, all having to do with either Japan or Japanese Americans. She also wrote a memoir, Desert Exile: The Uprooting of a Japanese American Family (1982).
In the opening section, Hana Omiya is described as the daughter of the last samurai and largest landowner of Oki village, near Kyoto. Given the year, 1917, it is unlikely her father was a samurai, since the feudal hierarchy had been abolished by 1871. It is possible her family was shizoku , the designation given to families who were descended from samurai. However, given that her family also owned land in a village, this is highly unlikely, since with some notable exceptions, samurai had been made to move to castletowns in the late 1500s and most did not live in villages or own land.
Hana and Taro are described as engaged but not yet married when Hana arrives. However, her name would have already been entered into the Takeda family registry in Japan, making their marriage complete. Discriminatory immigration laws and policies forbade the immigration of single Japanese women by 1917.
Hana is surprised to learn that Japanese are not welcome in the U.S. While not impossible, this is highly unlikely, especially given her education. News of discrimination against Japanese was frequently reported in Japanese news, and this would have been known to someone like her.
During her first Christian church service, Hana wonders who the Father of Heaven the minister mentions is, suggesting that Japanese were entirely ignorant of basic Christian concepts. Given her education level, this is highly unlikely. In fact, since most schools for girls in Japan were started by missionaries, she probably would have been quite familiar with Christian ideas and rituals.
Kiku requests a transfer, which is granted, allowing her to move to Topaz to be with Hana soon after Taro is buried. Transfers were not given so easily, especially to non-family members.