Arranged marriages were common in Japan at the time, so it was a short leap to “picture brides.” The men in the U.S. would send pictures of themselves to families in Japan, often through a go-between called a nakodo. The families of potential brides studied the pictures and the information provided by the men to see if they would make a good match. The women’s families then sent a photo and description back to the men in the U.S. They would come to an agreement, which was enough for the through-the-mail marriage to be considered legal in Japan. It wasn’t good enough for U.S. authorities, so many Japanese women and their future husbands stood for mass wedding ceremonies when they got to the United States, some of them performed on the docks as they got off the ship.
Several thousand “picture bride” marriages took place.
One such was the marriage of Miyoshi Yokota and Kameji Okamura who were married in Tacoma, Washington in 1914. Days later they traveled to Pocatello, Idaho to start their lives together.
Kameji had experienced the culture shock of coming to a new land and not knowing the language and customs. He knew what it was like to change from a diet of fish eaten with chopsticks to an American diet heavy on meat and potatoes. He hired a tutor to help Miyoshi learn English and a housekeeper to help her learn the chores of a housewife.
Working his rented garden property, Kameji was the first in Pocatello to build a drive-through cellar and the one to introduce the cultivation of jumbo celery to the area. At holiday parades he was known for tossing celery to the kids instead of candy.
The Okamuras had seven children, two boys, and five girls, losing an infant daughter to the 1918 Spanish Flu. In 1930 the family experienced another devastating loss. Kameji was killed in a car accident on his way home from helping a friend extinguish a haystack fire in Fort Hall. He was 43.
Now Miyoshi, 36, had six children and no husband. With generous help from the community, she got through the first few months, then went about the business of running Okamura Gardens. Paul, her oldest son, quit school to help.
Miyoshi hired local youth to help weed the vegetables, providing the first job for many of them. She ran Okamura Gardens until her landlord decided he wanted to put a car lot on the site sometime in the early 1950s.
In 1954, Miyoshi became a U.S. citizen, a proud moment in her life. She was a well-known figure in Pocatello, always ready to greet people on the street and showing surprising energy into her 90s.
There is much more to the Miyoshi Okamura story, but it’s not my place to tell it. Julie Okamura, her great-granddaughter-in-law tells it well here.