Picture Bride

Ojiisan (grandfather) came to America in 1904. He was 24 years old and came in the bottom of a boat crowded with no beds, compartments, or privacy. “It was just like a cattle ship,” he said.

He worked on the railroad and saved up enough to buy land. He settled in Hood River, OR, and purchased marginal land he cleared and on which he built a quarter-mile road to using horse, dynamite, and hand tools. He built a rustic house with cracks in the wall and no insulation.

After several years he wrote his mother saying he was ready to marry, and she sent him several pictures of eligible brides. Arranged marriages were the norm and still occur today; one of my friends with whom I went to high school had an arranged marriage. My grandmother, a picture bride, came over on a boat to Seattle with forty other picture brides in 1911.

When we retold this story to my Japanese relatives earlier this year, they assumed it was an arranged marriage. Although it was arranged in a way, the concept of a picture bride was completely foreign to them. Normally, arranged marriages involve formal meetings between the families, and eventually between the prospective bride and groom. Circumstances prevented my grandfather from meeting his intended. He could only view a photograph and rely on his relatives back home to make the arrangements.

Nearly fifty years later, my grandmother’s side of the story came out when she was asked by my father’s mother how she felt about going to a foreign land to marry a stranger. Not surprisingly, she didn’t want to.

Normally she would have no say in the matter; what one’s parents said was the law. But her parents must have been fairly progressive, because they gave her a choice. So why did she come?

My great-grandmother visited my grandmother’s family and asked her go to America to marry her son. She said, “no.” My great-grandmother returned several times, and each time, my grandmother, who by all accounts was a very timid and shy woman, refused. Finally, my great-grandmother got on her knees, cried, and begged her to go to America, and she replied, “oh well, all right, then.” She was 19 years old when she immigrated.


This story and the story of my grandparents’ life in America is included in my mother’s book, Made In Japan and Settled in Oregon. It is currently available only from her, though copies sometimes pop up on Amazon and at other used bookstore locations.

It is my and my brother’s intention to republish the book with more stories and pictures, and make it available through online bookstores. It will take time, but it will happen.


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