“I thought if there was a way to walk across the ocean (back) to Japan, I would have done so.” This is how Haruno Tazawa remembers her early experience as a “picture bride” — the name for the more than 20,000 women who, during the period of restricted immigration between 1908 and 1924, left Japan to marry Japanese men mainly in Hawaii after only seeing them in photographs.
In “Picture Bride Stories,” Barbara F. Kawakami interviews 16 of these women who sailed to Hawaii, including Tazawa. A rich tapestry of immigrant lives, the book is narrated with generous sweep and great anthropological detail. A recurring theme is the hardships many of the women endured on the sugar plantations where they worked. Often lacking any English skills, many brides traded their family homes for makeshift shacks and their full lifestyles for social isolation. On top of chores and child rearing, most women joined their husbands in the cane fields, learning that cutting cane in tropical heat was different from farm work in rural Japan.