My husband’s grandmother was a “picture bride” from Japan. His grandfather, a plantation worker in Hawaii, very likely chose her from a photograph, and a marriage was arranged. According to the Japanese American National Museum: between 1908 and 1924, over 20,000 Asian women crossed the Pacific Ocean to marry Japanese plantation workers in Hawaii. B’s grandmother was one of those young women.
Unfortunately, we don’t know many of the details. But recently, when we were in the process of moving my mother-in-law to an Alzheimer’s care facility, we found a drawer full of photographs in the family home–a drawer full of treasures that we’ve been busy scanning! The photograph above was in the collection, and we think it must have been taken in the mid 1920s. It shows a group of women, B’s grandmother among them, dressed in their work garb on a sugar cane plantation.
While in the library last week, I ran across a book called Picture Bride, written by Yoshiko Uchida, who also wrote the young adult novel, Journey to Topaz. I was delighted with the discovery, and immediately snatched it off the shelf. I just finished reading it, and found it a quick and interesting novel. The story begins with a young Japanese woman, Hana Omiya, agreeing to an arranged marriage to Taro Takeda, a man 13 years older who is living in Oakland, California. The story follows Hana and Taro through their life together until 1943, and we see her experiences of arriving and meeting her husband-to-be, their marriage, starting their family, and their constant struggle to survive in an environment of prejudice and discrimination toward Asians during that time period. It ends with their experiences in the Topaz Relocation Camp. It was a very moving story.
The experience of Hana was different from the experience of B’s grandmother in Hawaii. However, as I read the book, I realized that the emotions and struggles described must have been very similar for all picture brides. It was a book that helped me to understand better the emotional history and background of my husband’s family.
I recommend this book as one way to learn more about this interesting part of history. I also highly recommend the lovely independent film, Picture Bride, which is a tender tribute to the courage and strength of these women:
“Made over a five-year period, PICTURE BRIDE was a labor of love for Hawaii-born filmmaker Kayo Hatta and her crew. Many of the cast members and extras included in the film were Japanese Americans whose grandmothers or great-grandmothers were picture brides.“