Japanese American Issei Pioneer Museum
In Honor of the Struggle and Sacrifice of First Generation Japanese in America


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03 - Sleepless Night in Seattle - Ryusuke Kawai

Sleepless Night in Seattle - Ryusuke Kawai - Jun. 2012

After about 40 minutes of ferry riding from Seattle crossing a smooth inland sea, I arrived at Bainbridge Island. Mr. Yoshiaki Takemura was waiting for me and he took me to places of historical significance to the Nikkei, and then to his private museum where he houses items associated with Issei immigrants.

Takemura-san arrived in the US in 1956 as a Nishi Honganji overseas missionary and has associated primarily with immigrants from Japan and other Nikkei in California, Oregon and Washington. His residence that stands on the high bank water front is facing west; the direction to Japan. The surroundings are so quiet that you only hear birds twittering /chirping.

Among the many items, “Nihon Teikoku Kaigai Ryoken” (Imperial Japan Oversea Passport), which was issued to Japanese immigrants during the Meiji and Taisho eras, caught my eyes. They were all original. Two of those were from a couple, and judging from the issue dates, the husband came to America first and wife came some time after. I was able to tell that their marriage was Shashin Kekkon (Picture Marriage) because “Photo Marriage” was stamped in English on the back of these passports. This is a type of marriage often used amongst Japanese immigrants. Since they decided their better half just by the photos, there were very unhappy cases where the photos were unfortunately quite different from reality.

Imagine going to a foreign county by oneself… What were those girls thinking when they chose or had to accept marriage with men they had never met? Maybe, most of them had no choice but to accept the destiny presented to them in order to survive. Moreover, they might not be able to escape the situation when they really wanted to end their marriages.

However, the family and livelihood built upon these difficulties are the foundation of the present Nikkei Americans. By some reports, present Nikkei Americans are some of the most fortunate groups of people you can find. In bygone days, these photo marriages were considered inhumane and criticized by some. Criticism is not unnatural. By all means, if you yourself can examine and choose your own partner, not by the family situation, that would be ideal. But, as the divorce rates in Japan and in the U.S. show, the results from free choice are not necessarily the more favorable ones. It is hinikunamono that sometimes the result from the effort exerted under the huge restriction is superior to the one by free choice. On the second day after leaving Japan, as I had difficulty sleeping at the hotel in Seattle due to the time difference, I began to think about those things because I encountered the fact of photo marriage. (June 19, 2012)

Ryusuke Kawai 川井龍介

Born in Kanagawa-ken, Graduated from Keio University,

Non fiction free-lance journalist June 2012

Translated from original Japanese below:


写真結婚とシアトルの眠れぬ夜      川井龍介


シアトルからフェリーで40 分ほど、穏やかな内海を走りベインブリッジアイランド(Bainbridge Island )に到着する。出迎えてくれた竹村義明さんの車に乗って、日系人ゆかりの地を案内してもらい、その後、彼が集めた日系移民一世などに関する私設の資料館を見せてもらった。

竹村さんは1956 年に西本願寺が海外に布教のために送った「開教使」として渡米、カリフォルニア、オレゴン、ワシントンなどで、主に日本から移民した人たちや日系人と関わってきた。水辺に建つ高台の自宅は、西を向 き、その遥か向こうは日本へとつづくという。周囲からは鳥のさえずる声くらいしか聞こえない。

さまざまな資料の中に明治、大正時代に渡米してきた日本人が携えていた「日本帝国海外旅券」があった。当時のパスポートである。2 枚のパスポートはある夫婦のものであり、その発行の日付から、最初に夫が渡米し、つづいて妻が渡米したことを物語っていた。そして、この二人が写真結婚であることが裏面に記載された「Photo Marriage 」という英語からわかった。当時、日本人移民のなかでしばしば行われていた結婚の形である。互いに相手の写真だけを見て結婚を決めていたが、中には実際とはずいぶんと違った写真を見せられ困惑した例もあったようだ。


しかし、そうした苦労の上に築かれた家族と生活が今日の日系アメリカ人の土台になっている。ある調査によれば、アメリカの日系人は現在もっとも恵まれた状況にあるという。当時アメリカでは、この写真結婚が非人間的だと批判されたことがある。当然だろう。できれば実際に相手を確かめて、そして家庭の事情などではなくて自由意志で結婚するのがいいのに決まっている。しかし、自由に選択した結果が必ずしもうまくいかないことは、日本でもアメリカでも現代の離婚事情が示している。大きな制約のなかで強いられる努力の結果が、ときに自由な意思に基づく行為の結果より勝っていたことがあるのは皮肉なものだ。まだ日本を発って2 日目の夜中、時差ぼけで眠れぬシアトルのホテルで、写真結婚の事実から、そんなことに思い至った。(2012 年6 月19 日)

著者 川井龍介、神奈川県生れ、慶応義塾大学卒、毎日新聞記者、日経ビジネス編集部を経て 現在はノンフィクション中心のフリーランス ジャーナリスト June 2012


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