Amakusa – The Island of the Karayuki by Mike Malaghan

Amakusa – The Island of the Karayuki


More than a decade passed after my visit to Sandakan’s karayuki cemetery when I decided to write a novel honoring the American-Japanese soldiers of the 442/100. While conducting the research on their fighting exploits, I started to think, “Their story didn’t start with Pearl Harbor. Didn’t these young men have mothers?”

But what mother? Whoever it was must reveal life in the impoverished Meiji era that drove migration. That’s when the memory of my Sandakan visit triggered the birth of Haru. No place better represents the consequences of Meiji’s rural poverty than Amakusa off the coast of northern Kyushu.


Today, Amakusa is a charming hot springs resort island. My wife, Tomoko found us a ryokan where I could exhibit my multi-tasking resourcefulness by re-reading Sandakan 8 in our outdoor hot springs bath graced with lush greenery. We relaxed in our yukata robes while eating the chef’s choice kaiseki dinner in our room followed by a shiatsu massage — just the preparation needed to energize my muse’s powers to create Haru’s home where we meet her at age thirteen in 1905. A date chosen for this history laden novel because this was when Japan suddenly attacked Russia foretelling another attack thirty-five years later when Picture Bride ends.PA090038

The next morning, while hiking up Amakusa’s tallest breathtaking mountain trail, I thought of how the gods must have been in a sour mood the day they created Amakusa. Where would a farmer plant rice on this rugged topography? Atop the peak, I watched water crash against the rocky coast while chapter one precipice scenes danced in my imagination. Turning around, I could see the majesty of Mt Unzen only smoldering that day, but I envisioned the havoc its acid ash caused to Amakusa’s soil when it irrupted intermittently.

But with all that water, surely islanders could support themselves fishing. Not so I learned. Those treacherous currents push the fish beyond the reach of fisherman of that era.

Next stop – the museum housing Japan’s first printing press. Fortune seem to smile on the Amakusa islands when in 1566 they adopted Christianity in the wake of their local lord’s baptism. The Portuguese not only brought the printing press and trade but the sweet potato, a plant that tolerated Amakusa’s challenging terrain. At the end of 16th century, Japan’s warring period was coming to an end. Lord Nobunaga welcomed Amakusa’s Christian soldiers into his army that unified Japan. Nobunaga became Japan’s first Shogun. Amakusa had backed a winner.

Amakusa’s single generation of prosperity came to a crashing halt in 1600 when their Christian samurai backed the wrong horse in the Battle of Sekigahara that established the Tokugawa shogunate. Amakusa’s daimyo was executed. His replacement imposed onerous taxes. When his chief tax collector begged the lord to ease the tax burden he was ordered to commit seppuku. His successor was more diligent. So diligent, that by the mid 1630’s, a famine fomented rebellion. Stepped up enforcement on the ban of Christianity fueled the flames.

ミゲルAs I stared at the statue of Shiro Amakusa, Amakusa’s sixteen year old Joan of Arc styled rebel, worshiped as “heaven’s messenger” by desperate Amakusans, an “ah-ha” moment revealed how his rebellion impacted Haru. This messianic leader gathered a peasant army of 25,000 and vanquished his lord’s professional army. But not for long. The third shogun, Iemitsu Tokugawa, dispatched 125,000 reinforcements. On April 12, 1638, his soldiers stormed the Hara castle in near-by Shimabara and beheaded 37,000 soldiers and civilians.

The depopulated Amakusa islands became the dumping ground for prisoners and other undesirables. (The population doubled four times over the next century!) The too high taxes assessed in too many rice bags from too many peasants sub-dividing their too small plots to too many sons on unforgiving terrain created the environment for the karayuki phenomenon. Surplus sons might be able look for work on the mainland. But the daughters? During the Tokugawa era of Shunga erotic art and the plethora of bath houses, tea houses, and “Pillow geisha” emporiums of red doors supporting legal prostitution, what choices did these surplus girls have? Their parents have?

Karayuki originally meant going to China. When by the mid-nineteenth century, the Tokugawa Bakafu eased travel restrictions, Amakusans traveled to China to work as laborers or maids. For the women, servant work often evolved into mistresses or prostitution. When the Meiji restoration removed all travel restrictions, the karayuki became prized additions to Asia’s ports. Soon, the Japanese government noticed the hard currency the girls sent back to their parents. The parents converted the remittances to yen bequeathing Japan with the foreign exchange to build their military.

Yukichi Fukuzaki, the face of the 10,000 yen note because of his role in the modernization of feudal Japan, is quoted thus, “Japanese women who want to become prostitutes should go abroad and earn money” After introducing a former karayuki-san who built a home after coming back from abroad, he added, “It is necessary to officially approve their overseas migration to enhance the country’s economy.”

Tomoko and my dinner conversation was more subdued that evening discussing the parents’ dilemma and their daughters’ loyalty to family and country.


The next morning, on to the Gion Bashi. Having read about Japan’s largerst stone bridge built in 1832, I thought the bridge’s town might be Haru’s childhood home. On arrival at the village of Funanoo-machi, I took in the palisades of two story buildings hugging the trickling Machiyamaguchi Kawa. There was the stone bridge!

A transformational vision appeared. I “saw” a famished 13 year old Haru trying to resign herself to the fate her impoverished father has imposed. Once on the bridge, I looked up at the second story of the local temple and the scenario of how Haru escapes her fate appeared.

My trip was finished. Time to write that first chapter.

The Amazing story of John Manjiro by Mike Malaghan


The Amazing story of John Manjiro

How does a fourteen your old Japanese boy beach his wrecked fishing boat on a remote island, survive a Robinson Caruso existence for six months, is rescued by an American whaler, but cannot return to Japan under the penalty of death and yet … twelve years later, greets Captain Matthew Perry as the Shogun’s voice negotiating Japan’s first treaty with a Western nation?


imagesIn early 1841, Nakahama and four friends set sail from a Shikoku village to catch bonito. Caught in a violent storm, they are blown off course. After two weeks drifting mastless, they crashed on tiny Tori-shima, meaning Bird Island, four hundred miles south of Tokyo.

After subsisting on rain water, fish, and the raw meat of albatross for six months, the gaunt survivors were rescued by the whaler, John Howland, captained by William Whitfield. Initially frightened by huge rough looking sailors, the Japanese were soon calmed by Whitfield who provided clothing and rice dishes.

08d968bc9ba3d145179c6a3912df85e3The kindly Whitfield took a liking to the industrious Nakahama, now called John Manjiro, who quickly pitched in harvesting oil and butchering blubber from the landed whales. Over the next half year at sea, the captain, having no son of his own, gave the bright youngster English lessons in his cabin. Little did the teacher or student know that this burgeoning mentoring would have a profound affect on an historical event twelve years hence.

While welcomed warmly upon landing in Honolulu in November 1841, John accepted Whitfield’s invitation to continue on to Massachusetts while his four companions stayed in Hawaii. He lived on the captain’s Fairhaven farm as America’s first Japanese immigrant.

Whitfield convinced the local school teacher to accept Manjiro, who never had seen a classroom, into her one room school house. Try to imagine a fifteen-year-old reading “Jack and Jill went up the hill” with kids half his age. A quick and dedicated learner, not only did Manjiro graduate from an American high school three years later, but the town took to the ambitious stranger in their midst. Friends came easy to Manjiro’s pleasant personality.

With Whitfield’s encouragement, Manjiro next attended navigation school. Upon graduation, Whitfield found a whaler willing to sign on Manjiro. When the captain had a mental breakdown in the Far East, the first officer took over the ship and the second officer moved up requiring a new second officer. The mainly all white rugged sailors voted for the man most likely to help them return safely and profitable … Manjiro. Upon returning from the forty-month voyage in early 1850, he received his $350 crew profit share. ($9-12K in today’s dollars)

Despite American hospitality, Manjiro worried about his widowed mother. He also dreamed of briefing the shogun. If only the shogun knew the reality of America, Japan would drop their fear of foreigners and foreign domination. But would he go back to Japan with its death edict proscribed for returnees? Yes, decided Manjiro with the hubris to brave the risk.

Needing a larger stake, Manjiro headed for California’s gold rush. Panning in the mountains, he added $600 to his nest egg. In October 1850, he worked for his passage to Hawaii where he convinced two of the original survivors to return home with him. Manjiro bought a second hand whale boat for $125. Then he convinced a ship captain plying the China tea trade to carry the boat and drop it, with him on board, near Okinawa. Manjiro knew no foreign ship could dock in Japan whose policy was to confiscate any such ship. He landed on Okinawa in February 21, 1851 and was taken into custody but treated well.

After being integrated in Okinawa, then Nagasaki, and then allowed to return home in October 1852, where he was interrogated again by his daimyo, Manjiro was told not to leave his home town. So much for his aspiration to bring Japan into the modern age.

attachmentThis might have been the end it, but for the arrival Commodore Perry and his black ships entering Tokyo Harbor July 8, 1853. After Perry presented his demands to sign a treaty opening Japan to trade, he left promising to return early the following year for an answer. The Shogunate had no modern navy to challenge Perry’s cannon laden squadron, but ordered harbor defenses to be built.

The panicked shogunate summoned Manjiro to Edo as Tokyo was then called. Manjiro told the Bakufu, the shogun’s military administration, “America greatly hopes to enjoy a deep and abiding friendship with Japan. America does not come with suspicious designs but with a full and open heart.” Over months of debriefing, Manjiro took full advantage of enlightening the Bakufu’s suspicion men of the wonders of the modern world and the benefits of joining it.

attachmentWhen Perry’s ships returned in February 1854, he was greeted by Japan’s new interpreter, Manjiro who had been appointed to the rank of hatatmoto, a two sworded samurai retainer of the shogun. Manjiro soon migrated to the shogun’s diplomatic corps and helped negotiate the Convention of Kanagawa that ended Japan’s two and half centuries of isolation.

Six years later, Manjiro was part of Japan’s first delegation to Washington. In 1870, as the military attaché representing the new Meiji government committed to modernize its army, he observed the Franco-Prussian war. On the way back from Europe, he stopped to pay his respects to Captain Whitfield. One can imagine Whitfield’s pride in the success of the former castaway in whom he had a hunch … that this was man of great potential in need of a mentor to develop it.

220px-Nakahama_John_ManjirōManjiro settled in as a professor at Tokyo’s famed Imperial University where he taught Japan’s first generation of post feudal leaders. At age 71, he passed away on November 12, 1898.

What if there had been no Manjiro? Or suppose Manjiro had not possessed the latent intellect ready to burst under the right tutelage. Or suppose Captain Whitfield had been a stern man raised in slave holding America?

Without Manjiro’s soothing advice, the Shogun would have rebuffed Perry. In that case, Perry had orders to open his cannons. This display of gunboat diplomacy would have forced an unequal treaty under conditions that would fostered the same type of anger the Chinese still feel today over the concessions they made with the smoke of gun powder still in the air.

But there was a Manjiro (And a Captain Whitfield) and history has been the better for it.
Posted on January 14, 2015Leave a comment Edit
Amakusa – The Island of the Karayuki

Kamehameha Welcomes First Issei 1806 by Mike Malaghan

Kamehameha Welcomes First Issei 1806


When stranded, fourteen-year-old fisherman Nakanohama and four of his fellow fishermen were rescued by an American whaler in 1841, they knew their life in Japan was over. Two centuries earlier Tokugawa Iemitsu issued an edict that proclaimed in part, “If any Japanese returns from overseas, he must be put to death.”

So begin the legend of the man history would come to know as John Manjiro, the first Japanese to land in Hawaii and return to Edo in splendor twelve years later on an American warship. But wait. Was he the first “immigrant” as many people believe?


We will get back to Manjiro in the next article. But now, the story of the real first Japanese immigrants to Hawaii.

Sailors again, but the year was 1806.

Captain Niinaya Ginzo, and his crew of seven, left Shimoda, near the tip of the Izu peninsula, famous today for its beaches, tightly jammed with Tokyoites every sweltering August. The ship sailed west across the Enshunada Sea where on a clear day you might behold the snow capped glory of Fuji-summa. But on this day of January 6, 1806 they wouldn’t see Mount Fuji and most likely not even the Aichi coast.

Nor would they ever again.

A snow blizzard descended. Winds buffeted the ship out to sea as driving rain replaced the snow. The following day, Captain Ginzo ordered his men to swing their axes to cut down the Inawaka-maru’s mast to save the rolling ship from capsizing in the typhoon type winds. Then, the ship drifted east.

On January 11, optimism flickered. Two rocky islands appeared in the distance. The crew wiggled the rudder to beach the bobbing vessel on either islet. But without its mast and its attendant sails, the tips of the sea mountain outcrops faded into the horizon. It would be three months before men would see land again. And that land would be Hawaii.

By January 20, they drank the last of ship’s potable water. Then, they relied on the too infrequent rain to quench their thirst and to boil rice, which gave out on February 28.

They must have wondered … not only if they would live or die … but if they did live, could they return to Japan and risk beheading. For this was the time of Sakoku or “chained country.”

Under the edicts of Tokugawa Iemitsu issued from 1633 to 1639, no foreigner could enter not could any Japanese leave the country under the penalty of death. While later Shoguns allowed the Dutch, Chinese, and Koreans to trade through designated ports at Nagasaki, the death proscription for Japanese leaving and then returning to Japan remained.

Further, by the same edicts, Japan’s ships were limited in size to shore-hugging boats. So, the crew must have realized that salvation could only come from a foreign vessel. Proof they had left Japan! One can imagine the grim dialogue of the men drifting on the wide waters day after day, then week after week.

A spark of hope rose when flying fish alighted on the boat. Sashimi for all! Then the cook brewed soup. They used the guts to bait hooks to catch more fish. The fortuitous meal portended their change in luck. Five days later, on March 20, the starving sailors spotted a passing ship. The men jumped atop the deckhouse and begin waving mats. Seemingly to no avail. The ship was passing them.

Then it turned.

Captain Cornelius Sole, commander of the trading vessel Tabour, drew along aside the Inawaka-maru, whose frantic crew alternated between rubbing their stomachs and bowing. Upon boarding and inspecting their empty galley, Captain Sole understood their predicament and took the men aboard. The men ate sparingly for five days, understanding that a full meal might mean death, before sharing the American’s crew thrice-daily meals.

Almost two months later on May 6, the first Japanese landed on Oahu. King Kamehameha, having united Hawaii barely a decade earlier, (And the landing of the New England missionaries twelve years in the future) agreed to look after the sailors in exchange of forty axes from Captain Sole.

The sailors created quite a stir. Here was another Asian race two thirds the size of native Hawaiians. The crowds must have looked at the men like children going to the zoo and seeing elephants and lions for the first time. While Kamehameha’s men cut down trees and women wove thatch roofing to build a hale for the stranded men, the Hawaiians brought the men taro and sweet potato. Once the house was completed, Kamehameha provided a cook for the men. He had to place guards to stop gawkers from wandering into the hale.

While enjoying the Aloha friendship of the islands, the Japanese understood they could not stay. When an American ship offered them passage to Macau, they took it. Five hundred Hawaiians gave them gifts and food and waved good-by to the men who, barely held back their tears. From Macau, they hitched a ride on a Chinese schooner to Dutch ruled Batavia, now Jakarta. After surviving the ordeal at sea, the crew were little match for tropical diseases. Five died.

Despite the death sentence that might await them, the remaining three sailors boarded an American ship flying a Dutch flag to take them to Dutch Nagasaki designated concession on tiny Dejima Island, Japan’s sole window to Western trade goods and technology. The sixth sailor died on arrival June 17, 1807.

As expected, the two survivors were arrested. One committed suicide during interrogation by the Bakufu, the shogun’s feared military styled officials.

Hirahara Zenmatsu, the last survivor was allowed to return to his home village where at the order of his daimyo or lord he recounted his odyssey in a document titled Iban Hyoryu Kikokuroku Zenmatsu. (Yes, you can look it up on Google.) Hirahara did not have much time to savor his celebrity status. He died in the spring of 1808.

It would be another three decades before another lost-at-sea Japanese crew made it to Hawaii. The story of John Manjiro had a happier and far more profound ending.

Yasukuni Shrine – History 1869 – 2015

Yasukuni Shrine 1869-2015 by Mike Malaghan


When in 1906, Picture Bride heroine, Haru gazed in rapture at her emperor’s horseback entrance into Yasukuni Shrine, the war memorial had already evolved into a symbol of his divinity. By design, the Shrine tapped into the spirit of bushido driving Japan’s military supremacy over its Asian neighbors. Of course, no one then had an inkling that this hallowed ground would engender so much vitriol from its neighbors a century later. How did that happen?

2000_513_sThe young Meiji emperor established Yasukuni Shrine in 1869 to honor the 7,751 soldiers who died in Boshin War that overthrew the decaying Tokugawa shogunate the previous year. Another 6,959 soldiers were enshrined eight years later after Meiji forces prevailed again in the Satsuma rebellion led by Saigo Takamori who attempted to restore the rule of the samurai. Thus ended the first of four stages of Japanese militarism.

attachmentA few years later, the Meiji restoration’s dominant intellectual (and the face of today’s ten thousand yen note) Yukichi Fukuzawa coined the phrase fukoky kyohei – “rich country-strong army” that encapsulated stage two. Japan must build its military prowess and modernize its institutions or fall to the Western Powers like China who refused to change its feudal ways.

In 1882, the Tenno Heika consecrated Yasukuni’s Military Exhibition Hall sanctifying the glory of dying on his behalf. The same year, his military begin reciting the “Imperial Precepts to Soldiers and Sailor” that pledged “selfless loyalty to the emperor is the supreme duty of the fighting man” and declared, “Duty is weightier than a mountain, while death is lighter than a feather.”

Japan’s military modernization soon secured it shores from foreign incursion. What next? Continued fortress Japan or Asia’s defender against further Western encroachment?

Neither. On March 16, 1885 Fukuzawa published his “Datsu-A Ron” or “Shedding Asia” manifesto calling on Japan to abandon the medieval governments of China and Korea and join the ranks of Western Nations bringing enlightenment to backward neighbors. Fancy words to announce the third stage of the march to militarism. Rather than trying to stop western colonization of Asia, Japan would join in the hunt.

Japan, seeking acceptance into the club of world powers, noted that all western nations had constitutions. So, in 1889, announced as a gift to his nation, the Meiji Emperor promulgated a Constitution. While a parliament (Diet) was established, sovereignty still resided in the Emperor on the basis of his divine ancestry. Article 3 affirmed, “The emperor is sacred and inviolable.” The emperor was given “supreme Control” over the army and navy.

Stage three in practice commenced with the 1895 China war that acquired Taiwan at the cost of 17,000 lives whose souls were enshrined in Yasukuni. Ten years later, the emperor honored another 78,000 souls to Yasukuni’s rolls as his navy sank the Russian fleet and his army crushed the tsar’s soldiers. The Manchuria railroad concession and half of Sakhalin were added to the empire. Japan now had a free hand in Korea which it annexed in 1910.


The fourth and final stage of Japan’s militarism begin in 1931. Ignoring civilian orders, the army contrived an incident and invaded Manchuria. A few years later, all pretense of civilian oversight ended when General Tojo became Prime Minister destined to be the most famous of the 14 class A war criminals and whose eventual presence in Yasukuni would remind Japan’s neighbors of some very bad days.

At the end of WWII, MacArthur’s staff decided to burn Yasukuni shrine. However Father Bruno Bitter of the Roman Curia convinced them to keep it because “honoring their war dead is the right and duty of citizens everywhere.”

Shortly after I arrived in Japan in the fall of 1978, my home in Kojimachi was but a few blocks from Yasukuni Shrine. I still remember the first time I walked under its massive red Torii gate soaring high over my head. Taking my cue from other visitors, I bowed, and clapped my hands in respect to men who died defending their country. I thought of Arlington.


I knew little of Yasukuni’s history then nor was I aware that Emperor Hirohito, who had continued to visit the shrine after the war, would never do so again. Why he stopped is the source of the Yasukuni controversy today.

Each year, following the war, an annual ceremony honored new souls. The discovery of remains in remote outposts and POW’s dying in Soviet post war work camps kept the numbers up in the late 1940’s. The chief priest was prohibited from enshrining convicted war criminals until the last Class B & C prisoner (Those not directing the war) was released in 1958. Then, the deceased of these two categories were added to Yasukuni’s rolls.

The policy to exclude the 14 Class A prisoners, like war time Prime Minister Tojo and his leading generals, seemed set in stone. However, the year I arrived in Japan, former navel officer Nagayoshi, who had never accepted the war crime verdicts, was appointed Chief Priest. He secretly conducted a Gōshisai to enshrine the infamous 14. The act was not made public until the following year. Even then, polemics were muted.

attachmentPrime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone’s August 15, 1985 official visit outraged China. How could the head of government honor a memorial that enshrined the war’s criminal leadership who had triggered and guided so much death and destruction!

When in 2005, some Diet members proposed transferring the 14 Class A war criminals to another site, the Shinto priests stonewalled. They cited the Japanese Constitution guarantying freedom of religion.

attachmentPrime Minister Koizumi, who owed his election to the LTP’s right wing that have never accepted Japan’s war guilt, promised to visit the shrine every year if elected. To the consternation of China, Korea, and the US State Department, he kept his promise from 2002 through 2007. The current Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited the shrine in December 13, 2013 that set off riots in Korea and China that resulted in destruction of Japanese property and boycott of it goods.

Three years ago, I returned to Yasukuni Shrine to walk the grounds to prepare writing Haru’s emperor gazing scene. Once again, I strolled up the shrine’s steps, pulled the cord to ring the bell, bowed, and clapped my hands in the correct protocol.

Afterwards, I visited the Kamikaze museum on Yasukuni’s grounds. I read the pilots’ last letters (mostly to their moms) translated into English framed underneath the pictures of young men in leather helmets. Their commitment to sacrifice their lives to Hirohito, in a cause that had only had months to run, might have been misplaced, but their nobility of sentiment and their sincerity could not be denied. I knew bowing in their memory a few minutes earlier was the right thing for me to do even I as I have argued it is a horrible thing for a sitting Japanese prime minister to do.

As I left the museum and took a backward look at the Torii gates, I thought of the last words of many of the Kamikaze pilots as they saluted each other astride their planes on the runway of no return, “Until we meet again at Yasukuni.”


The Tears of Sandakan’s Cemetery by Mike Malaghan

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The Tears of Sandakan’s Cemetery

 As I wandered among the weathered tombstones shaped like stunted obelisks, I noticed the ages of death were mostly the early 20’s. A military cemetery? “No,” said my wife looking at a Kanji enscripted grave stone, “These names are all girls. They were are the karayuki, the prostitutes of the Meiji era sent to the ports of Asia.” Little did I suspect this emotional discovery would inspire chapter 1 of a book I didn’t know I would write one day. What would happen, I later asked, if a girl sold to a brothel escaped her fate?

Back in the early 90’s, my wife Tomoko and I lived in Taiwan. I managed a Disney licensee selling English Language materials featuring the Disney characters. While on vacation to near-by Koto Kinabalu in the Northern Borneo province of Sabah, Malaysia, we flew to Sandakan for a day visit to the orangutan preserve. Tomoko wanted to pay her respects at a near by Japanese cemetery. If she had told me the purpose of the cemetery, I had not listened carefully. A fault I still struggle to overcome.

Gnats buzzed around my ear canals and mosquitos feasted on my neck while we sweated up the hill to the tiny graveyard. I admit I wasn’t all that eager to visit the cemetery and the tropical heat gave rise to excuses I wish I had thought of earlier and let Tomoko do the honoring herself. I was not prepared for the date of death images that have stuck with me to this day. I still think of how each girl arrived needing to pay off the debt the procurer paid her parents. Did she dream of sending money home for five or ten years and returning? Or did she know once you entered the trade, you can’t go back? What were these girls last thoughts as they neared premature death?

Brothel madam Kuni Kinoshita originally from Amakusa, an island almost synonymous with karayuki a century ago, opened the hilly memorial in the 1890’s to pray for the souls of the girls who died there. She is buried on top of the hill overlooking the hundreds of women who sacrificed their lives for family and empire.

Surprisingly, the burial grounds, didn’t look as tattered as I anticipated given that no one had been interred there for three generations. Tomoko explained a feminist writer from Japan had heard about this cemetery and used her own funds to spruce it up. I understand from TripAdvisor updates that the cemetery has fallen back into dilapidated times.

That feminist was journalist Tomoko Yamazaki who in the early 70’s found a survivor of Sandakan 8, one 20 Japanese brothels each known by its number. In 1972, she wrote a best selling book, “Sandakan 8” based on her interview with the survivor. The karayuki sex trade had long been a taboo subject in Japan. Yamazaki’s book created a sensation by opening up the topic to lively debates. Two years later, Kei Mumai directed the movie version staring Kinuyo Tanaka.

Upon returning from our holiday, with the help of a new company called, I ordered the English translation of the book and the movie with English sub-titles. They are gut wrenchers.

The story of Saki Yamakawa (a pseudonym ) was typical of the era. Told that it was her patriotic duty, she was acquiescent when her poor parents sold her to an agent when she was ten years old to work as a maid in Sandakan. Upon puberty, she was forced to work in a brothel. A faithful girl to her family, she always sent money home. Karayuki earnings not only helped improvised parents, but after coal and silk was the most important source of foreign exchange, which explained, why Meiji government facilitated the trade.

Saki was lucky. She still had her health when she finally retired. Saki sailed home to live with her brother in the home she had bought for him and his wife.

Now the saddest part. Her brother refused her … after all he couldn’t have a prostitute living in his home could he?

The cemetery visit, the book, and movie were evocative moments in my life. But ones that would surely fade from memory as the years passed. But they didn’t.

It would be a decade before I began to write.

Picture Bride, the first volume of my trilogy, celebrating the Japanese Americans who fought in WWII, focuses on their mothers who arrived in Hawaii or the West Coast with anxiety, hope, and a picture of their husbands. The first question I had to ask was, who would be the novel’s heroin, my Scarlett O’Hara who overcomes all obstacles? Where would she come from?

Some where in this creative process, I wondered what would have happened, if among the tens of thousands of young girls sold overseas, one escaped her fate.

Haru was “born.”

What kind of environment shaped her young life? How would she escape it? To Where? How could she start a new life? What happens to her parents who sold her? What sort of woman would she grow to be? Those questions took me to the island of the karayuki … Amakusa, forty miles south of Nagasaki.

And that’s the story of the next article.