Here Come the Picture Brides

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I’d like you to meet “Olga.” She is a beautiful Russian girl from a well-to-do family and she wants to meet an American or British gentleman just like you and get married! You can meet “Olga” and thousands of other beautiful girls just like her from all around the world! Thanks to the wonders of the Internet, you can meet and talk with “Olga” before your first date!

Oh, did I forget to mention that “Olga” has been married 18 times? I did? Sorry. Oh yeah, 18 or 19 times, something like that. But hey! Who’s counting when it comes to true love, right?

I’m watching the BBC and they have a special on TV about “Olga." Olga works for a marriage business that gets men from places like Italy or some Balkan states out of their countries and into Russia so that they can avoid the military or to secure a visa to seek their fortunes.

Stuff like this “Olga business” has been going on for quite a long time. Right now this kind of game (and I don’t mean “the game of love”) is going on in the United States, Russia, Japan, and probably lots of other places as people search for a way around the immigration rules to escape their home countries.

Long ago, when Japan was a very poor country, it was on the sending end of this deal. Today, Japan is on the receiving end. From what I hear, lots of people are trying to leave various countries and Japan, Russia, England, France, and to some extent, the USA are destinations of choice. It used to be that everyone wanted to go to America; lots still do, but America’s image has greatly fallen out of favor for many reasons.

In the late 1800’s the Chinese were going all around the world; you name it, they went there. And now many of them are very wealthy and successful in their new countries. The first major restriction on immigration to the United States came under the name of the Chinese Exclusion Act which was passed by the U.S. congress on May 6, 1882.

The curtailing of Chinese immigration lead to an extreme shortage in the United States of cheap, non—English-speaking labor. The exclusion of the Chinese had left many menial and unskilled jobs without takers. At that time, there were a total of fewer than 200 Japanese living in the continental United States. From 1886 to 1924, there was considerable Japanese emigration to Hawaii (238,758) and the United States (196,543).

After the Chinese Exclusion Act, employers began hiring Japanese contract laborers to work mainly the sugar cane plantations in Hawaii, as many Hawaiians took off to California to make their fortunes during the gold rush.

The Japanese came from rural areas in Japan, so Hawaii seemed a suitable choice. Even so, most found conditions on the sugar plantation harsh. They worked from dawn to dusk, unaccustomed to the scorching hot Hawaiian sun. Because they could not understand English, workers were even sometimes bullwhipped. After the Japanese government learned of this, they sent a special investigator to Hawaii to look into charges of cruelty to Japanese workers. Japan threatened to stop sending workers unless something was done to stop this abuse. Frightened by the possibility of termination of the labor source and hoping to satisfy Japan’s concern for Japanese workers in Hawaii, the governments of Hawaii and Japan concluded a free trade and commerce agreement in 1894. By 1898, a full one-third of the population of Hawaii were Japanese; it was in that same year that the United States annexed the Hawaiian Islands.

Most experts on this subject believe that these were the first Japanese to come to the continental United States; but this is not true. Even well before 1800, some Japanese were held as slaves by several Indian tribes in the Northwest even before the arrival of the first Whites. From 1636 to around 1860, the government of Japan at that time, The Tokugawa Shogunate, forbade Japanese to emigrate; they imposed an embargo on emigration in the 17th century, and because of fear of the corrupting influence of the West, had effectively sealed off Japan. But the arrival of Admiral Perry in 1853, and the signing of a peace treaty between the United States and Japan, reversed for a short time Japan’s emigration policy.

The United States, like any other country, has often had a quite xenophobic policy towards immigration. On Nov. 13, 1922 in a case the U.S. Supreme Court called: Takao Ozawa v. U S, 260 U.S. 178; the U.S. courts ruled that Mr. Ozawa could not become a naturalized U.S. citizen because of his skin color. The ruling claims that U.S. law (260 U.S. 178. 192.) reads:

‘the provisions of this title shall apply to aliens being free white persons, …’

Three paragraphs later, it goes on to define what a “free white person” is:

“‘Any alien being a free white person … may be admitted to become a citizen. …’ 1 Stat. 103, c. 3. This was subsequently enlarged to include aliens of African nativity and persons of African descent.”

The reasons that the Chinese were "excluded" are probably very typical of anywhere you go that is full of inexperienced people: Foreigners are welcomed, as long as they stay in their place and as long as they only number in token amounts.

When the numbers of Chinese in America rose, so did the fears of the local Americans and with that, the welcome to the Chinese fell. As with the Chinese, the Japanese welcome began to fade as their numbers began to rise. While the Chinese already had many years head-start on the Japanese, they were able to disperse; the Japanese tended to stick together. I reckon there might be a lot of reasons for this. One might be, to this very day, the Chinese I meet seem better at English than the Japanese do (I have heard that this had to do with Chinese and English grammar being very similar). This would lead to the Japanese not having as good a command of the English language and therefore they would not disperse — I am not being disrespectful to the Japanese here either; Americans I have met all over the world are the very same way: They always stick together wherever I have met them.

You’ve seen tour bus groups of Japanese and other Asians in America, right? Well, you can see those of Americans if you come to Japan or other Asian countries. Of course, in any country, there are always the adventurous types; you know, folks who like to travel by back-pack, etc. Personally, I’m into a bit more comfort, so I don’t really enjoy back-pack trekking. But I really dislike tour-bus traveling even more; I hate tourist “traps."

Anyway, due to the cultural differences between Japanese and Chinese, America began to stereotype Asians into two categories: the Chinese, humble, and subordinate who could be easily tolerated; and the Japanese who were sneaky, and aggressive and required domination to keep them in place.

One of the things that helped to nurture this idea that the Japanese were always “up to something” was one of the first “Picture Bride” operations that grew out of what was referred to as the “Gentlemen’s Agreement” that president Theodore Roosevelt negotiated in 1907. This agreement called for Japan to issue passports to Japanese coming to the continental United States only if they were coming to join a parent, husband, child, or to return to a former home or farm. This opened up a loophole in the law that gave rise to the first “Picture Brides.”

Many young Japanese girls and women in their late teens and early twenties would arrange to marry men in America, Japanese and White, through pre-arranged agreement. In Japan, it was very common to have marriages arranged; it is still done sometimes to this very day (and even royalty in the West do this now).

With one partner being in the US and the other in Japan, things were difficult, allowing only for the exchange of photographs. Many of these Picture Brides were very disappointed when, upon arrival, they had to find out that their husband was significantly older than they were (many men were already well past forty) and did not at all look like their photograph because they had either sent a boyhood photograph of himself or, even worse, that of a good-looking friend.

Many of these Japanese women would then desperately seek ways to get away from their husbands and return to Japan, the more so since life on Hawaiian sugar plantations meant hard work for low wages. Quite often women had to supplement income by doing the laundry of others, and laborers had to put up with living in dirty shacks. An estimated number of 20,000 picture brides immigrated into the US in the period 1908—1924.

But those days are long past. Japan is a rich country and now there are many South-East Asians and Middle Easterners trying to get into this country. No longer do we “do” low-tech and put advertising in cheap newspapers, comic books, or on the back of book-matches. No siree! We have the Internet!

And for only $2.95 (per meeting) and a one-time only member’s fee you can meet “Olga” and thousands of beautiful girls just like her. But hurry! Olga is popular and she might get married soon. So join today. Act now because this offer won’t last long! Serious people only need apply.

… Oh, and by the way, don’t be sending me a picture of your good-looking friend. I’m sick and tired of having to arrange Olga’s divorce papers; she ain’t getting any younger, you know.

Mike (in Tokyo) Rogers [send him mail] was born and raised in the USA and moved to Japan in 1984. He has worked as an independent writer, producer, and personality in the mass media for nearly 30 years.

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