Telling the picture bride story

LIHUE — What do Hisa Kawakami of Hanapepe, Soto Kimura of Kilauea and Shizu Kaigo of Lihue have in common?

These were just three Kauai women who arrived in Hawaii as picture brides. Hisa was married to Fukutaro Kawakami in the Wahiawa Camp in 1909, said Gerald Hirata of the Kauai Soto Zen Temple in Hanapepe.

Kimura arrived in 1911 as part of a group of 865 women from Japan coming to Hawaii, and Kaigo in 1916. According to a news story published in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin in 1913 about Japanese women arriving at the port of Honolulu, 1,282 women arrived in 1908, 755 being picture brides. By 1915, the total number of women arriving had reached 13,693, with 8,028 picture brides. The number of men arriving during the same time span totaled 5,890.

The public can learn about “Picture Bride Stories and Songs from the Canefield” on Wednesday starting at 6 p.m. at the Lihue Public Library. The event is free and open to the public.

There will be displays, discussions and more. Two video clips on the picture bride project from the West Oahu College, Center for Labor Education and Research, will be available for viewing. A discussion of Hole Hole Bushi, including audio recordings from Issei, or first-generation Japanese women, also will be part of the presentation.

Nearly 20,000 Japanese, Okinawan and Korean women moved to an unknown land and married someone based on a photo and limited information. The phenomenon was called shasin hanayome, or picture brides.

Arranged marriages were common in Japan, and the addition of pictures enhanced the exchange of information. In Japan, some marriages were done without the groom, the wife’s name being entered into the husband’s koseki and making the marriage official under Japanese law.

Most women married their husbands immediately on arrival in Hawaii where a marriage license was required as part of the U.S. Territory. It was not uncommon to have mass marriage ceremonies performed on the wharf, or a nearby immigration building.

Most of the brides, although initially unhappy, disappointed or lonely, eventually settled into their marriages and simply accepted their fates so as to not shame their families. They endured the hardships and worked in the plantations, earning additional income by providing domestic services such as cooking, cleaning and laundry for the many single men in the community.

By 1920, the Japanese government stopped issuing passports to picture brides, and in 1924, the Immigration Act established quotas based on national origins that discriminated against southern and eastern Europeans and essentially excluded all Asians.

Hirata said most picture bride marriages were successes and contributed to stabilizing the work force of single men with spouses and families.

The plantation communities prospered and provided the colorful ethnic mix of Hawaii’s diverse population that is seen today.

“At the Kauai Soto Zen Temple, our theme for this year’s bon dance coming up July 28 and 29 is Celebrating Our Roots,” said Hirata, the temple president. “In the spirit of bon, we will honor the pioneering Issei women who arrived in Hawaii between 1885 and 1924.”

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