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Lahaina Plantation Days’ Movie Night to pay homage to Hawaii’s ‘picture brides’

By Staff | Oct 11, 2012

These are the photos that Albert Sadao Watanabe and Amy Ayako Watanabe exchanged.

LAHAINA – When Lahaina Plantation Days kicks off its three days of festivities on Thursday, Oct. 18, the event will feature director Kayo Hatta’s film, “Picture Bride.”

The movie will be shown outdoors next to the historic Pioneer Mill Smokestack along Lahainaluna Road. Gates will open at 6 p.m., and the movie will begin as soon as it gets dark.

The movie will be preceded by a performance by Maui Taiko. Light refreshments will be available for purchase.

“Picture Bride” is a poignant tale that follows 16-year-old Riyo (Youki Kudoh), who leaves Japan and agrees to be a picture bride. She is matched through photos with Matsuji (Akira Takayama), a much older man and a laborer on a sugar plantation in Hawaii.

Although the film portrays lives full of tragedy and hardship, it triumphs in the quiet determination and inner strength of its characters who ultimately persevere.

This film pays homage to the real life “picture brides” on Hawaii’s sugar plantations. The largest influx occurred between 1907 and 1924, when nearly 20,000 Japanese, Korean and Okinawan women arrived in Hawaii as picture brides. Thousands of others also migrated to the U.S. Mainland.

Typically, photos would be sent by immigrant laborers to families and matchmakers outside of the state, who worked together to find the best match for couples.

In Hawaii, this concentrated emigration of typically young Japanese women and the subsequent growth of families changed the composition of sugar plantation communities.

Where single male laborers once dominated, now there was a mix of families and laborers. The wives’ contributions to the home also helped the economic survival of the families.

“These brides and their families played an integral role in Hawaii’s plantation life, and Lahaina Restoration Foundation is honored to be able to present this film during our Movie Night on October 18,” said Event Director Anela Haina.

“Our hope is that by providing a glimpse of Hawaii’s past, that real stories about Hawaii’s picture brides will continue to be shared from one generation to the next.”

Members of the Maui community have their own stories to tell about picture brides.

Mae Fujiwara’s grandmother, Takeo Miura, was a picture bride. She married Fujiwara’s grandfather, Katsuzo Hayashi.

“When he decided to seek a wife, my grandfather put on his best suit and had a photo taken and sent to a matchmaker in Japan. My grandmother was a beautiful lady, and all she had when she arrived on Maui was a picture of my grandfather,” recalled Fujiwara, a leader of the Lahaina-Honolua Senior Citizens Club.

“When she saw her future husband, she was disappointed. But she couldn’t return to Japan – she only had a one-way ticket. It must have worked out though, because they had eight children.

“The family was very fortunate. My grandfather worked for a generous lady, Mrs. Turner, in Haiku. She allowed him to pick out land to build their home on, which made life easier. Today, the property has remained in our family and the house still stands.”

Amy Ayako Watanabe is a picture bride. She exchanged photos with Albert Sadao Watanabe, and they wed in Fukushima, Japan, on April 29, 1959.

“My family lived in Fukushima, and we were very poor farmers. Traditionally in Japan, when girls married, they brought certain items to the husband’s family. Our family could not afford this type of dowry. When I was given the opportunity to marry a man in Hawaii, where no dowry was needed, I decided to become a picture bride. I was 20 years old at the time; my husband 33,” she explained.

Her maiden name was Watanabe, which coincidentally was the same as her future husband, a self-employed carpenter on Maui.

“I first saw my husband when he came to Japan to meet my family. My first thought was he was short and his skin was dark – very unusual compared to fair-skinned Japanese boys. But he was kind and that was important,” she stated.

“Before I left Japan, my father said ‘you work hard,’ and I did. I worked very hard helping with my husband’s carpentry business in Pukalani. Despite the long days, it was a much more privileged lifestyle compared to my Japan roots, where each day, typically, started at 4 a.m. working in the rice fields.

“I’m still married to my husband of 53 years and am the mother of two daughters and grandmother of one. Marriage teaches you a lot. In the end, it all comes down to family.”

Admission to Lahaina Plantation Days is $3 per night or $5 for a three-day pass. For tickets and more information, call LRF at 661-3262 or visit www.LahainaRestoration.org. Tickets will be available at the gate. Parking at the event is free.