Wednesday, December 25, 2019


Some things recede beneath the waves, never to be found again.  Years ago I heard a short story on The Moth called "1919."  Narrated by a Japanese woman, it was the story of a young woman among many young women coming from Japan to America as "picture brides" in cheap steerage 1919, to be wives for male Japanese immigrants in Hawaii and California.  The program had been set up by Japanese societies for moral improvement in America, as the men were gambling away their money and visiting prostitutes. In most places, they were not allowed to marry white women.

The radio show announced at the time that the story was part of a book in progress.  The author, who had a female relative who had been a picture bride (I don't think her mother - more likely a grandmother or great-aunt), wrote engagingly about the insecurity the girls had felt, how the poorer girls from the provinces were looked down upon by the girls from Tokyo, and those poorer bonded together; and how one of their number who had been married but quickly widowed was constantly asked to explain how they were supposed to behave when it came time for sex, because none of them had the slightest idea. Eyes open, eyes closed?  Knees up, knees down?

I have checked in from time to time for the book, as I think my wife would like it, and I was able to at least trace reference to the radio hour story, stretching back into dimmer and dimmer archives. Now, at last, it has vanished with no trace.  I imagine I could, with great effort, find some reference to it, and someone, somewhere still has the 15 year old recording, but that is not actually what I wanted.  I want the book, and the book has never existed.


RichardJohnson said...

Try this. Julie Otsuka Talks About New Novel, The Buddha in the Attic.
Her exquisitely crafted and resonant new novel is much less autobiographical, she says. The Buddha in the Attic follows a group of Japanese “picture brides” who sail to San Francisco in 1919 to marry men they only know through exchanging photographs. “There were no picture brides in my family, but it’s a very common first generation story. It’s how thousands of Japanese women came to this country before Asians were excluded altogether in 1924.”

This second novel, she says, entailed “tons of research.”

“I read a lot of oral histories and history books, and old newspapers. I had to learn about two worlds: the old Japan from which the picture brides came, and the America of the 1920s and 1930s which they immigrated to. I kept many notebooks filled with detailed notes about everything.”

Assistant Village Idiot said...

That looks like it! Thanks

David Foster said...

Tom Russell refers to *Irish* picture bridge in his song Mary Clare Malloy:

I haven't been able to find any references as to whether this was really a thing.