My Grandparents' Arranged Marriage

Click on photos to see larger version. - Glossary of Japanese terms

Obaasan, my grandmother, was a "picture bride." Many Japanese women who came to America in the early 1900s met their husbands for the first time when they got off the boat, having only seen photographs of the men they had married by proxy in Japan. Most Japanese men had originally come to the U.S. planning to make their fortunes and return to Japan to buy a farm or start businesses, but even as they saved money, the price of land in Japan increased. After a time many decided to settle in the U.S. instead. Then they would write home and ask their families to find them a wife. (Marriage was a matter to be better arranged by families, not the individuals involved.)

Ojiisan, my grandfather, was the second son in his family. His older brother, Kichitaro, would inherit the Takaki family farm in Kawairi Village, Okayama-ken. Ojiisan originally planned to earn enough money to buy land in Japan by working on the railroad in US. He ended up buying land in Hood River, Oregon. I don't know exactly when or how he decided to stay in the U.S. but by 1917 he had decided to send for a wife. (As a side note on his World War I draft registration card, signed June 5, 1917, Ojiisan stated he was single and had no reason for exemption from the draft. A family friend told Harry that he had talked Ojiisan out of volunteering for the U.S. Army.)

A baishakunin or marriage broker named Shojiro Asanuma helped to bring the two families together. Harry met him once after the war and remembers him talking about going back and forth between the Takaki and Yamasaki homes. (Harry had thought that the baishakunin was a neighbor of the Takakis, but then he identified the man's photo in our collection, and the label said "Nishida, Japan," which was Obaasan's family's village in Okayama.)

"Takagi" & "Takaki"
My grandfather spelled his family name "Takagi" in English while other relatives used "Takaki."

photo #L8_37

My grandparents, George and Hisae Takagi, in Seattle in 1918

This was not the first marriage that had been proposed for my grandmother. In later years Obaasan told Margaret that a go-between had brought an offer from a man living in Manchuria, but her mother Sato Yamasaki (or grandmother, Tane?) went to the astrologer or fortune teller who said this would not be a good match. Although most Japanese women got married at a younger age (17 or 18 years), Obaasan's grandmother had told her not to get married too young, because life is too hard, and her family didn't start looking for a husband for her until she was about 20.

Ojiisan sent two photos of himself - one showing him younger and fuller in face and one showing how he looked at the time after he had lost weight working hard. Obaasan's family thought that was a sign of his integrity and honesty. (A fuller face was more ideal, a sign that the person was better off, well-fed, etc.) Some men only sent their prospective brides photos of themselves when they were much younger or even photos of handsomer friends. Uncle Harry thought that Ojiisan also sent a photo showing his farm with an auto in front. (I don't know if this is that photo.)

Obaasan once told Harry that Ojiisan's good looks in his photo was one factor in making up her mind. Bob remembers Obaasan telling him that her father lined up the photos of prospective grooms and asked her which one she wanted, and she picked Ojiisan because he was the best looking!

Ojiisan and Obaasan were married by proxy in Japan. [I'm not sure what that entailed - someone may have stood in for the groom.] Margaret thinks this happened in 1917 because Obaasan then lived with Ojiisan's family for a year before coming to US. Obaasan's father, Daikichi Yamasaki, had been to the States so that the thought of her travelling to a far-off place was not strange to them. Her uncle Sogoro Yamasaki, her father's younger brother, also lived in the U.S. as did a number of people from her village. Her father-in-law, Keijiro Takaki, brought her to Seattle in October 1918.

I don't know much about their trip from Japan to the U.S. They traveled on the Africa Maru [for about 2 weeks probably], and Harry remembers hearing that Keijiro got seasick and Obaasan had to take care of him. Margaret remembers Obaasan saying that she had never eaten butter before that trip and found it strange.

Margaret says Ojiisan looked like his picture so Obaasan recognized him. He had western clothes for her that he had bought. (There may have been someone advising bachelors what to buy or even selling trousseau kits.) I suspect that the photos on this page were taken in Seattle soon after her arrival.

George, Hisae, and Keijiro Takagi in front row, 1918
photo #L8_40

Front row (L-R):
George Ikujiro Takagi (Ojiisan)
Hisae Takagi (Obaasan)
Keijiro Takaki (George's father)

Back row (L-R):
Itaro Takaki (George's cousin)
probably Takisaburo Takaki (Itaro's father)
Itaro's father's brother or uncle? (Flo's identification) or possibly an Inukai (Harry wasn't sure)

I suspect this photo was taken at the same time as the one above, because Ojiisan and Obaasan are wearing the same outfits, including Ojiisan's lapel pin and the pen at the same angle in his breast pocket.

My grandparents' naturalization papers (1953) give their marriage date as the day that Hisae arrived in Seattle, but her record as a passenger on the ship Africa Maru lists her as the wife of Ikujiro Takagi. I think it was fairly common for a couple to marry by proxy in Japan so the woman could get permission to come to the U.S. and then have a second American ceremony when she arrived here.

Under the "Gentlemen's Agreement" (1907-08), the Japanese government only issued passports to laborers returning to the U.S. and to their wives, children, and parents. So Obaasan could only come to the U.S. after she had married. (And apparently Ojiisan, who came to the U.S. via Canada in 1907, just slipped in before that door was closed.)

"Picture brides" were common until the "Ladies Agreement" (1921) when the Japanese government stopped issuing passports to them (in response to anti-Asian sentiment in California). The Immigration Act of 1924 stopped Japanese (and most Asians as "aliens ineligible for citizenship") from immigrating to the U.S. Ojiisan and Obaasan did not travel to Japan until the 1950s, after the McCarran-Walter Act (1952) allowed them to become U.S. citizens.

I don't know how they traveled from Seattle back to Ojiisan's farm in Hood River, but Keijiro probably went with them. Given the cost of the trip from Japan to the US, he probably stayed for awhile, and we have a photo showing the three of them standing an apple orchard full of spring blossoms.

Takagi & Yamasaki Family
1909 Photo | c. 1916 Photo | 1918 Photo
Oak Grove School photos, Hood River, Oregon

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This page updated 6 June 2001

Copyright 2001 C. M. Brady