Arrival of picture brides(1909)Angel Island, California. Courtesy of California State Parks
Picture Brides

While many Issei men traveled back to Japan to find a bride, some resorted to the “picture bride” system. By 1920, over 20,000 Japanese women crossed the ocean to marry men they had seen only in photographs. The men saved the trouble and cost of traveling back to Japan by arranging long-distance proxy marriages. Because their prospects were not good in impoverished Japan, young women made the long journey to America. Unfortunately for many of the brides, the men who met them at West Coast ports were years older than their photographs, and their fortunes were often not as great as they had said. Some women refused to marry and returned home or ran away. Thousands of others made the best of the situation, and set about raising families and working hard alongside their husbands to make a living in the new country.

 

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Arrival of picture brides(1909)
Angel Island, California
Courtesy of California State Parks

Excerpt from Densho Archive


It was a thirteen-day trip across the ocean. As they were landing in Seattle, there were sixty other photo brides on the boat. My grandmother described how they all ran to the front of the boat and they all had the photographs of their future husbands, that of course they had never met, and how they were pointing to each other, trying to identify their husbands down below. And the husbands had their photographs of the wives, and they were doing the same thing from down below. She did admit that she was somewhat disappointed, but also said that within a very short time period she changed her opinion of him, and he turned out to be the most wonderful person that she could ever have imagined.

Roger Shimomura

Sansei artist, grandson of Toku Shimomura, a popular midwife in Seattle