Picture Bride


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.

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11 thoughts on “Picture Bride

  1. Gentle Reader

    Wow, thanks for this post! One of my good friends grew up in Hawaii, and I believe one of her grandmothers was a picture bride. I’m going to send her the link to this post. I wonder if she’s read the book or seen the movie…

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  2. Anonymous

    What an interesting story and picture of the Picture Brides and an interesting part of B’s family history. It reminded me of a book we read and discussed in our reading group: WHEN THE EMPEROR WAS DIVINE. The book was written by Julia Otsuka telling about Japanese Americans during World War Two. We all know how the Japamese Americans on the West Coast were evacuated to other parts of the United States. One family’s poignant experience in being relocated from Berkeley, California to Topaz, Utah. Topaz was an encampment in a desert location outside of Delta, Utah. some 8000 thousand Japanese Americans lived in crowded, miserable conditions and suffered the terible cold of winter and the intense summer heat. Topaz has a museum now and has recently been made a National Shrine. I’m not clear what it has finally been named. We know that it was Eleanor Roosevelt who finally convinced President Roosevelt to allow the Japanese Americans to return to their homes. It’s a shameful story in our American History.
    I can imagine the Picture Brides had many amazing stories to tell.
    lc

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  3. tanabata

    This sounds very interesting- thanks for the review. And how nice to get a bit of insight into your husband’s family.

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  4. Robin

    Gentle Reader, I’d be interested in what you find out from your friend in Hawaii. The stories are fascinating.

    LC, you know how much I’ve always like Eleanor Roosevelt, and this adds one more thing to my list of things I admire about her. I didn’t know she was instrumental in ending the internment camps.

    Tanabata, there’s so much I don’t know about this story, even though it’s part of our family history. I need to do a lot more reading/research and find out more. The book was a nice start, and it really sticks with you after you finish it.

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  5. Anonymous

    It is always nice to hear someone speak of Kayo Hatta and PICTURE BRIDE . She was a lifelong friend, and I was her assistant on the film.

    Your photo of the women in the field could have been a continuity still from the end of a long shooting day; in writing the film script (an original story) Kayo and her sister Mari worked with local experts to get the period detail right.

    Congratulations on finding that treasure trove of photos and especially your efforts to preserve the memory of your husband’s Grandmother.

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  6. Robin

    Anonymous, thank you so much for your kind words. My husband and I were both deeply saddened when we heard about Kayo. Her film means so much to us personally. It was a true labor of love by all involved. We were captured by Kayo’s talent and potential, but most particularly by her heart.

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  7. Carl V.

    Wow, that is so interesting about your great grandmother. I had never heard the term ‘picture bride’ before. History, especially that which touches us intimately, is so fascinating.

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  8. Robin

    Thanks, Jenclair and Carl! It really is an amazing story and unknown part of our history. Carl, she was my husband’s grandmother, so it’s even closer in time than we realize!

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  9. booklogged

    What an interesting story about your husband’s grandmother. And a stroke of luck to find the book, Picture Bride. Sounds like an interesting book.

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  10. Robin

    Booklogged, thanks for visiting and reading my different posts. I did enjoy this book because it helped me to understand better this interesting piece of family history. I highly recommend the DVD, too, which is a lovely piece of filmmaking and closer to the story of my grandmother-in-law (the sugar cane plantations in Hawaii, rather than the Oakland, CA, and relocation to Topaz experiences of the book).

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