Hana Omiya, the protagonist of the story, is a twenty-year-old woman who is leaving Japan for the United States in the early twentieth century. Just prior to her departure, she lives in Oka Village with her mother, older sister, and brother-inlaw. Life in Oka has seemed oppressive for her ever since she graduated from Women’s High School in the city of Kyoto, an accomplishment that makes her a well-educated woman for her era. This education has led her to resist the traditional ideal of Japanese marriage that her family wants her to fulfill. Her family has a high-class background because her father was a samurai member of the traditional Japanese elite, but their finances have declined since his death. Hana would like to move to Tokyo to pursue a career as a teacher, but her mother finds the idea of her going to live in a city alone unacceptable. Hana compromises with her family by agreeing to be promised in marriage to Taro Takeda. She hopes her life in the United States will be prosperous and adventurous, but during her ocean voyage to San Francisco, she begins to experience doubts. She is proud but polite. When she meets Taro, who is not in his appearance the man she expects, she tries to hide her shock. The end of the story implies that she is resolving to make the best of her situation, maintaining her individuality while also complying with her promise to marry Taro.
Hana Omiya’s Brother-in-law
The husband of Hana’s eldest sister exemplifies the traditional Japanese husband. He wants the home he lives in (once the home of Hana’s father) to be traditional. Hana, who has refused until now to marry, does not fit into such a home. He considers her to be ‘‘the spirited younger sister who stirred up his placid life with what he considered radical ideas about life and the role of women.’’ He encourages Hana to marry Taro as a way of getting her out of his household.
Hana Omiya’s Mother
Hana’s mother wants what she sees as best for her daughter: a marriage that will offer her stability and a chance for a good life. She has experienced a class decline in her own life. She went from being the wife of the ‘‘largest landholder of the village’’ to a woman without servants and money. Thus, she encourages Hana to marry in order to secure a comfortable life while she can, just as she has done for Hana’s three older sisters. But Hana shows little interest in the men her mother suggests, which her mother finds ‘‘embarrassing.’’ Because her daughter’s future seems so risky to her, Hana’s mother agrees to try to match Hana with Taro even though she doesn’t want her daughter to go to the United States.
Hana Omiya’s Sisters
Hana has three older sisters, each of whom has the kind of dutiful, restrictive marriages that Hana wishes to avoid. Her eldest sister lives in the home she grew up in with her husband, and has what the narrator describes as a duty to ‘‘perpetuate the homestead.’’ Hana notices that this oldest sister speaks of the possibility of a life in America with ‘‘a longing ordinarily concealed behind her quiet, obedient face.’’ She has also noticed that her other two sisters, married to merchants in larger cities, seem to have ‘‘loveless’’ marriages. Her sisters provide examples of the kind of relationships that Hana does not want for herself.
Hana Omiya’s Uncle
Hana’s uncle introduces Hana to the possibility of becoming a picture bride. He is the brother of Hana’s mother. He is also a friend of Taro Takeda’s father, which is why he is trying to find a Japanese woman who will travel to the United States to marry Taro. Though it is Hana’s idea, not his, to consider her as a match, he accepts it enthusiastically because he believes she might lead a better life there. He acts as the intermediary between the two families as the marriage is arranged, securing the agreement of everyone to the proposal.
Taro Takeda is the man whom Hana has promised to marry. He is a thirty-year-old Japaneseborn man who has lived in the United States for almost ten years. He owns a store in Oakland, California, that sells dry goods and Asian-style foods. Hana believes that he is prosperous; she cannot tell much more about him from his ‘‘brief and proper’’ letters, which comply with cultural expectations of modesty. Though he has been described as prosperous by his father, when Hana first sees him, she is surprised that he is ‘‘slight,’’ with a ‘‘sallow and pale’’ face. He seems older and less striking than she expects, but she also learns that he is gentle and kind.
Sara Constantakis – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 31, Yoshiko Uchida, Published by Gale Group, 2010