Former picture brides’ oral histories enlightens




By Barbara F. Kawakami (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2016, 408 pp., $39.99, cloth)

“Soto Kimura’s story is typical of the stories of early Issei women. They arrived in Hawai’i unprepared for the harsh realities that confronted them. The majority of them came with only a fourth-grade education from rural villages. Yet no matter what the situation was, somehow they had the physical strength and moral courage to survive under tremendous adversity, and the ingenuity to learn new skills in adapting to a new environment. They labored beside their husbands and raised their children as best as they could within the framework of their traditional beliefs and values”? (71).

The experiences of Soto Kimura, along with 15 other picture brides who ended up in Hawai’i, are presented eloquently in Barbara F. Kawakami’s “Picture Bride Stories,”? a collection of oral histories from a selection of former picture brides who immigrated to Hawai’i before 1924. “Picture Bride Stories”? pulls from past work of Kawakami’s scholarship on Issei plantation work clothing by providing the reader with the rich oral histories from that project. The individual picture brides’ stories revealed the survival, hardships, and joys of living in a foreign Hawai’i away from their families in Japan. Specifically, Kawakami reveals interesting anecdotes about her interviewees’ experiences, such as the memories of leaving their family back in Japan, immigration restrictions imposed on Japan in the early 20th century, creating networks and friendships, and finding the hidden beauty or silver lining during difficult times. This book is a great addition to Japanese American history because it focuses on a specific segment of picture brides, those that settled in Hawai’i rather than the U.S. mainland.

The popular representations on picture brides in Hawai’i have been located in the realm of cultural and literary productions such as director Kayo Hatta’s independent film “Picture Bride”? (1995) or part of a larger historical narrative by Japanese American historians such as Ronald Takaki’s “Pau Hana”? (1983), Roland Kotani’s “The Japanese in Hawaii”? (1985) and Franklin Odo’s “Voices from the Canefields: Folksongs from Japanese Immigrant Workers in Hawai’i”? (2013).

For more mainstream representations of picture bride experiences on the U.S. mainland, Yoshiko Uchida’s “Picture Bride”? (1987) and Julie Otsuka’s “The Buddha in the Attic”? (2011) are by far the most recognizable novels on the experiences of a Picture Bride but from California.

Recently, author Kei Tanaka has begun exploring picture brides through the relationship between Hawai’i and the U.S. mainland. However by emphasizing and centering the picture brides and their voices from Hawai’i, “Picture Bride Stories”? provides a needed historical account of the actual voices of picture brides from Hawai’i that highlighted their agency and contributions to the Japanese American community in Hawai’i.

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