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ISLAND HISTORY: The Japanese picture brides of Hawai‘i

During the early 20th century, Japanese matchmakers would arrange marriages between single women in Japan seeking husbands in Hawai‘i, and Japanese bachelors in Hawai‘i who desired to marry and raise a family in Hawai‘i.

In Japan, a matchmaker was found on the man’s side of the family, and a prospective bride was located in the man’s village or in surrounding villages.

Then photographs were exchanged between the couples, so those who had never met would have some idea of who they were about to marry.

At that time, Japanese men in Hawai‘i were legally allowed to bring their parents, wives, and other family members to Hawai‘i from Japan.

Therefore, family registers were changed in Japan to indicate that the couple were married.

Then the bride would be issued a passport, and sometimes a marriage ceremony would take place at the immigration office in Honolulu.

Women who entered Hawai‘i in this way became known as “picture brides,” or hashin hanayome.

The over 15,000 Japanese picture brides that immigrated to Hawai‘i between 1907 and 1924 made up the majority of Japanese immigrants during that time.

For many, becoming a picture bride was a chance to fulfill the traditional Japanese obligation of marriage, to escape a life of poverty in Japan, or to take advantage of an opportunity to send money to their impoverished families in Japan.

Although initially unhappy, disappointed, or lonely, most picture brides eventually settled into successful marriages.

But, there were difficulties.

Nearly all could not speak or read English, and many were shocked to discover that their husbands were actually much older than they appeared in their photographs.

And, because their husbands were poorer than they’d anticipated, they were often compelled to become domestic servants as cooks, maids and laundresses, while others labored in the sugar fields.

Some husbands were abusive and had problems with gambling or drinking, so there were picture brides who divorced their husbands immediately, or deserted them in order to marry another man, or returned to their families in Japan.

Sadly, some picture brides, unable to afford passage back to Japan, became trapped in a life of degradation.
Source: The Garden Island

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