A Picture Speaks Volumes

“A picture can speak louder than words” or has a greater impact than any spoken or written word. Or “this speaks volumes” which is some hyperbole for the impact of a thing, its ability to express something so completely. I recently finished reading a non-fiction book Picture Bride Stories by Barbara F. Kawakami about Japanese Picture Brides in Hawaiiย  who came to Hawaii from Japan and Okinawa during the 1885-1924 Immigration of Japanese laborers. The author immigrated to Hawaii with her parents from Japan as a baby and lived near the pineapple plantations. In her book she documents her interviews with sixteen women who were picture brides*. There were more that 20,000 of these women. On the publication of this book in 2016 the author was 94 years old. This book recounts the tremendous struggles and hardships these women faced in a place they thought would be paradise.ย Sometimes the men used younger photos of themselves or a photo of a more handsome friend to obtain their bride.ย  On first meeting their husbands some women wanted to return to Japan, others had no choice but to make the best of it. These women labored long hours in the fields of the sugar and pineapple plantations with their husbands along with raising their children, and yet they were able to gaman, (persevere and endure). In this case the photos of the Picture Brides did not speak louder than their own words faithfully recorded by this author. Their poignant stories are an important part of the history of immigrants to our country.

In modern times many couples meet on internet dating sites. Their images are posted and become part of the selection process. The difference in this process to that of the “picture brides” is that the people go on to meet in person before making a permanent commitment.

Would you like to marry someone based on a picture and move to another country often never seeing your friends or families again?


* A practice of arranged marriage where the picture of the woman was exchanged with a picture of the man between the families. The bride and groom usually never met each other in person before agreeing to the marriage. The women who were married in this way were called “picture brides.”

This post is my contribution to Stream of Consciousness Saturday hosted by Linda G Hill. The prompt for today is “vol.” Featured image of Traditional Japanese Woman and Mountain from Public Domain Pictures.net

29 thoughts on “A Picture Speaks Volumes

    1. Deborah Drucker Post author

      I know other cultures still practice arranged marriages and we do have match making online where photos are exchanged. At least they sent you a realistic image and not photo shopped. ๐Ÿ™‚ It would be very hard to accept someone only through a photo but this is how is was done over many years and cultures. I am reading another book about “mail order brides” here on the US mainland. The early settlers and later the men who went out west needed women to come out and marry them. Many of the Japanese picture brides and mail order brides did have good marriages. Thanks, Jacquie. ๐Ÿ™‚

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  1. Maggie Wilson

    “Would you like to marry someone based on a picture and move to another country often never seeing your friends or families again?”

    Maybe? If I were desperate and vulnerable to marketing hype… I can imagine the appeal…

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    1. Deborah Drucker Post author

      Many of the Japanese picture brides say that saw it as an opportunity and adventure to travel to a beautiful paradise. They had heard stories of people making a lot of money. But it did turn out in most cases not to be true. Some of the brides in the book did have the chance to visit their families again but many did not. And in these stories sometimes the parents or families were already dead when they returned to Japan. One woman had never written to her mother because she did not want her mother to know how bad it really was. Her mother died before she got to see her again. I thought that was so sad. But the women in this book did survive and many lived to very old ages and were content in their retirement years. ๐Ÿ™‚

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  2. Dan Antion

    This made me think of the song by 10,000 Maniacs, “Goldrush Brides”.

    I don’t think I could marry based on a picture. My paternal grandparents married in haste while preparing to immigrate to America, but at least they met each other in person.

    I’m glad someone has told this story. Thanks fir ringing it to us, Deborah.

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    1. Deborah Drucker Post author

      It would be nice if the man was handsome but I wouldn’t know what kind of person he was from a picture. So they were taking a risk, although the families had a go between who did know something about the groom. The women were shocked when they saw where they would be living. The little houses on the plantations were not even as nice as their homes on farms back in Japan. Somehow they all made a go of it. Your grandparents had to have faith that it would work out because even though they met they probably did not know each other very well. These immigrant stories are amazing. Thanks, Dan. ๐Ÿ™‚

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    1. Deborah Drucker Post author

      Yes many immigrants have these stories. I do not think these picture brides loved their future husbands other than having hopes that they would. They had never seen them in person and carried the picture in their kimonos when they came off the boat to help identify them. Thanks, J-Dub. ๐Ÿ™‚

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  3. joey

    It’s fascinating. In our modern world, we don’t think much of these things, not knowing any personally. I don’t think I would want to marry a stranger based on a photo. Now, if I were open to arrangement at all, I think I’d prefer the matchmaker sort, heavy on astrology and similar family values and customs.
    But then, also, how bad is my life? That has to be a factor. If a scary stranger is less scary than my environment, maybe I’d prefer it…
    Great post. Thought-provoking.

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    1. Deborah Drucker Post author

      There was a go between who approached the family but these women knew very little about these men. I think they thought their lives would be easier than it turned out. They thought it would be an adventure. I think when we are young we are bigger risk takers. Their stories were compelling. They must have been pretty strong. Many of them lived to old ages too. Some over 100 years. Thank you, Joey. ๐Ÿ™‚

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    1. Deborah Drucker Post author

      These women had a tough time because they had to work very hard. A few of the husbands turned out bad too. Out of these 16 women most of the marriages did last though. It just makes me think how many people in this world have dreams and then end up struggling, poignant. My grandparents had a hard time in their lives. Both sets of my grandparents came here from other countries. Thanks, Jill. ๐Ÿ™‚

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      1. Capt Jill

        Yes, it is an interesting story. I think most women, all over the world, all throughout history have had had lives. We are very lucky now, even to be able to choose who to marry, or if we want to marry at all.

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      2. Deborah Drucker Post author

        There is a long history of arranged marriages in the world and to this day. In early US history and into post Civil War times women were recruited to be brides to settlers and miners. After the Civil War because of the shortage of men due to the war women chose to travel to the western states to find husbands. Women in depressed economic areas wanted a chance to better their opportunities. They could make better money and better themselves in the West and find husbands. So Women were taking some risks but were making a choice to take a chance on bettering their situations. ๐Ÿ™‚

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      3. Capt Jill

        Yes, women have not had much chance of opportunity in life up until fairly recently. Still not many options open to women in large parts of the world. All so many of them can do is HOPE to find a decent husband. That’s sad, really sad.

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  4. JoAnna

    Things would have had to be downright hellish for me to take that kind of risk based on a picture. Your post helps me be more thankful for things I take for granted. I’m glad most of the women were happy in their old age and wonder what they were happy about – family, an easier life, or was it more internal happiness.

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    1. Deborah Drucker Post author

      Different times and those women had more limited choices. They were happy about their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren and they were content with their little retirement houses and with things like going to the Senior Center for classes and to their Buddhist temple activities.

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