Picture Bride Stories by Barbara F. Kawakami (review)
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Reviewed by
Hiromi Monobe, Associate Professor
Picture Bride Stories. By Barbara F. Kawakami. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2016. xxi + 298 pp. Glossary. Illustrated. Index. $39.99 cloth

Barbara F. Kawakami's new book recounts 16 life stories of Japanese immigrant women who arrived in Hawai'i between 1909 and 1923 as young picture brides. Similar to her highly acclaimed previous work, Japanese Immigrant Clothing in Hawaii 1885–1941 (1993), Kawakami has adopted the oral history method; this book is the fruit of her extensive interviews with Issei women and their family members conducted during the 1970s and the following decades. These women came from Hiroshima, Yamaguchi, Kumamoto, Fukuoka, Fukushima, and Okinawa, prefectures known for sending large numbers of immigrants to Hawai'i and the continental United States.

Some episodes of their accounts mesh neatly with and reinforce the established discourse of Japanese picture brides in Hawai'i: lives of continuous struggles and perseverance. Indeed, these Issei women literally worked day and night. In addition to laboring in the fields the same hours as men, they took care of housework and burned the midnight oil doing laundry and needlework to earn extra money. Their husbands exercised patriarchal authority and expected them to be devoted, obedient wives. These women's lives also revolved around continual pregnancies, childbirth, and child rearing. Some brides unexpectedly became widows, and then became breadwinners for their families. To be dutiful to their in-laws, many picture brides continued to send remittances to Japan for years. Though such experiences may not have [End Page 194] been unusual for Issei women in those days, their narratives describing such experiences are incomparably vivid and powerful.

Some stories go beyond the picture brides' everyday lives to shed new light on the larger canvas of Hawai'i Nikkei history. For example, the book reveals local Japanese involvement in independent farming and small businesses, including pineapple cultivation, hog raising, poultry raising, and laundry and owner-driven taxi businesses, occupations that have been less documented than their experiences on the sugar plantations. Hawai'i's Nikkei sought a niche on the edges of the Islands' larger economy, which was controlled by the Big Five conglomerates. Such women achieved a certain degree of economic autonomy in and outside their ethnic community even before World War II.

One of the most fascinating examples of small private businesses led by Issei in the pre-war years is the case of Shizu Kaigo, a bridal consultant. Shizu's clients were young Nisei women who were eager to have traditional Japanese costume weddings. During a temporary return to Hiroshima during the early 1930s, Shizu was professionally trained to dress brides in decorative kimono and set their hair in authentic Japanese style. Unlike many other Issei men, her husband Tomeji was fully supportive of her new career. She states, "he gave me the freedom to pursue whatever interest or goal I had, as long as I kept up with my domestic duties" (p. 183). Shizu's business thrived in Hawai'i because her expertise fulfilled the demands not only of Nisei brides but also of their immigrant parents, who had been unable to afford a fancy wedding for themselves, but then became financially comfortable enough to host one for their children. As Shizu's story suggests, this book illuminates how pre-war local Japanese, regardless of whether they were of the immigrant generation or American-born, benefitted from cultural capital brought from Japan as they settled down in Hawai'i and began to enjoy social and economic advancement.

Interestingly, this book presents a picture of rather amicable and cooperative interracial/interethnic relations in prewar Hawai'i that differs from many previous studies of local ethnic history. For instance, we learn that Kikuyo Fujimoto's Issei husband served as a steward to Queen Lili'uokalani at Washington Place, and that, after the queen's death, the Fujimoto family lived in her summer cottage in Waikīkī for nearly 30 years, thanks to the courtesy of Mr. Curtis Iaukea, who also served Hawai'i's royal family. Taga Toki's husband was a Hawai'i-born Nisei who had many Native Hawaiian friends throughout his life. Similarly, some picture brides...


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