Twenty-one-year-old Hana Omiya, the protagonist of Uchida’s Picture Bride, is on the ship that is taking her from Japan to the California coast as this story begins. It is some time in November of 1917, and Hana has decided to leave her village of Oka for a new life in the United States. She is heading toward Taro Takeda, whom she has promised to marry although she has never met him. Taro lives in Oakland. Their marriage has been arranged through Taro’s uncle and Hana’s parents. Hana encouraged this union so she might escape the drudgeries of becoming a Japanese farmer’s wife. Taro is ten years older than Hana and allegedly the owner of a thriving business.
When Hana first hears of Taro Takeda, she imagines that a life as his wife might be less confining than her prospects in an arranged marriage in her own small village. So she decides to take advantage of this unknown man’s need for a wife. She ventures out alone for the first time in her life and endures the long ocean journey. As she spends the cold days on the ship, she fantasizes about her future life as the wife of a merchant. She is hopeful that her life will be leisurely, with simple luxuries. At the end of the trip, she is eager to begin her new life.
Waiting for her is Taro Takeda, the first of many disappointments that diminish Hana’s dreams. Taro is much older than he appears in the picture he sent her, and Hana begins to wonder, upon meeting him, if she has made a mistake. Taro takes Hana to his friends, Kiku and Henry Toda. Hana will stay with the Todas until the wedding. Kiku is also a picture bride and completely understands the challenges that lay ahead for Hana.
With Kiku Hana begins to realize how much she must change in order to fit into the American culture. Hana’s clothes are all wrong, she notices. She has nothing but kimonos to wear. Even her shoes must be changed. Kiku helps Hana make these fashion transitions by offering her some of her clothing. Kiku’s warm personality makes Hana feel more relaxed. Hana also relishes the idea of privacy, when Kiku offers Hana a separate bedroom to use. It is the first time that Hana has ever slept alone. Kiku explains that Americans consider privacy a necessity, which stands in stark contrast to the overall communal atmosphere of Japanese life.
On the following Sunday, Taro takes Hana to his church. Taro is a Christian and very much involved in the Japanese church they attend. Reverend Okada is the head of this church and a friend of Taro’s. During the sermon, Reverend Okada mentions the challenges the Japanese congregation must face in this new land, a place that is not always welcoming to Japanese faces. Hana is surprised to hear this. After the service, Taro introduces Hana to some of his other friends, including Dr. Sojiro Kaneda and Kiyoshi Yamaka, a man close to Hana’s age who shows immediate interest in Hana. Hana is flattered by Kiyoshi’s attention and finds that she too is attracted to him.
After lunch, Kiyoshi drives Hana and Taro to Taro’s shop. Hana is shocked by the shabbiness of the store, another one of her disappointments. After eating dinner with the Todas, Hana exposes her disappointment to Kiku. Kiku tells Hana not to build her dreams so big. They are living in a country that does not trust or like them, Kiku tells Hana. She then reminds Hana that she has come to make Taro happy and that Hana should make the best of it. Kiku worries about Hana and also notices the attraction between Hana and Kiyoshi. Kiku works to make Hana’s wedding beautiful and to hurry its occurrence. The wedding is scheduled to take place in two weeks.
Hana reluctantly adjusts to married life. She also becomes active in Taro’s business, giving it the so-called woman’s touch, which means that she cleans and organizes the place. She also learns to deal with customers as Taro prepares her to take care of the store while he is away on business. Before he leaves for a trip to the countryside with Dr. Kaneda and Reverend Okada, Taro asks Kiyoshi to stop by the shop to check on Hana while he is gone. Hana and Kiyoshi’s relationship blossoms during the visit. They are unafraid of showing interest in each other. Hana even cries and admits that she wishes she and Kiyoshi had met under different circumstances. “If only we had met in Japan,” Hana laments. They agree that they cannot allow the relationship to develop into a sexual one, but they will enjoy one another’s friendship. Hana admits that Kiyoshi makes her feel happy and alive for the first time since she has come to the States. When she tells Kiyoshi that she wants him to be her friend for as long as she lives, she realizes that “for that brief moment, Taro did not even seem to exist.”
On New Year’s Day of 1918, Hana prepares a Japanese feast. She dresses in her kimono and is complimented by her guests for her cooking as well as for her looks. During the meal, Kiyoshi touches his hand to her thigh. Henry Toda notices the flirtation between Kiyoshi and Hana and remarks on it. Later, after the guests are gone, Taro reminds Hana that she is married to him and must pay special attention only to him. That night, he tells Hana that he wants a child.
A few weeks later, Taro again leaves Oakland with Dr. Kaneda and the minister to visit Japanese farmers and to take them needed merchandise. While Taro is gone, Kiyoshi visits with Hana, who invites him up to her apartment for lunch. Kiyoshi kisses Hana, and she almost succumbs to her passion but finally tells Kiyoshi that they cannot do this to Taro. When Taro returns, a customer comments on the fact that the store was closed at noon while Taro was away. Taro suspects the worst of Hana and Kiyoshi, despite Hana’s denial. By autumn of that year, Hana is pregnant by Taro. She hopes the baby is a boy, a gift to Taro to make up for Hana’s lack of love for her husband.
The great influenza epidemic has infected the city. Because Hana is pregnant, she cannot join other church members who are caring for the sick. But when she hears that Kiyoshi has caught the flu, she rushes to the clinic to see him. The next day, Dr. Kaneda tells Hana that Kiyoshi has died. A few days later, Hana comes down with the flu. In her weakness, she loses the baby.
It is now 1920, and Hana and Taro have had a baby girl, Mary, who is six months old. Taro has been looking for a better place for them to live and raise a child and brings the news that he has found a house for them to rent. The narrator declares that Hana has become familiar with the racial prejudice against Japanese people, and although she does not understand why this hatred exists, she asks Taro to confirm that the people in the neighborhood he has chosen will accept them. He assures her, even though he is not certain.
Shortly after Hana and Taro move into their new home, four men appear at their door, and they suggest that Hana and Taro are not welcomed in the neighborhood. Taro stands up to the men, and Hana feels proud of her husband, realizing what a good man he is.
Kiku shows up, surprising Hana with the news that Henry is planning on moving to the country to become a farmer. Kiku is distressed. She does not think of herself as a country woman and is not looking forward to the prospects of all the hard work that a farm would require. But Henry has lost his job, and he is attracted to the idea of being his own boss. Kiku admits that she has decided to go with her husband and to try to make a good life with him. Hana is sad to see Kiku leave.
After Kiku leaves, Hana becomes more involved in Taro’s church. She becomes the treasurer of the Women’s Society. One day, the superintendent of the Sunday school comes to her and asks for a loan. Believing that the loan will go to pay for the Sunday school, Hana lends him the money without question. Later, she learns that the superintendent has taken his wife and gone back to Japan, using the money to pay for their tickets. Kenji Nishima, a young seminary student and assistant to the superintendent, takes full responsibility for this theft and promises to donate his personal savings to repay the loan. Hana also wants to help, so she calls Kiku’s old employer, Mrs. Ellen Davis, to ask for a job as a cleaning woman. Ellen is the wife of a surgeon, who has also lost a son. She is very nice to Hana and appreciates Hana’s work.
Taro hears that Kenji...
(The entire section is 3476 words.)