Julie Otsuka wrote the book The Buddha in the Attic to portray the struggles of young girls and women in Japan who were promised a better life in America if they were willing to marry a man in the States. The ones who agreed to marry a man would be brought over on a ship. The particular ship in this novel has girls and women on board between the ages of 12 and 37 from different cities all over Japan. There were very few women in the United States in the 1880s, which caused major issues. One of the most prominent issues was the inability to create families and have kids. In order to draw women to the States, men embellished the truth through letters and pictures they were sending to Japan in hopes of finding wives. When the girls arrived, most of them had never even met their husbands. Arranged marriages were popular in Japanese culture, so why would fathers marry their daughter off to a poor farmer in Japan when they could ship her off to a “better” man in the U.S.? These girls were being torn between their born reality and a choice of change. Moving to the States was a glorified idea that many women came to regret upon their arrival because their fantasies were shattered.
In the 1880s, picture brides were all the rage. Men were sending pictures of themselves and romantic letters to women and girls from Japan in hopes of convincing them to move to the United States so that they could marry and start a family. Women and girls were being brought over on ships to live a life of luxury. The wives on the ship were filled with angst and delight at the promise of a different future. Otsuka explained the sick feelings of being on the boat:
“Our first few days on the boat we were seasick, and could not keep down our food, and had to make repeated trips to the railing. Some of us were so dizzy we could not even walk, and lay in our berths in a dull stupor, unable to remember our own names, not to mention those of our new husbands. Remind me one more time, I’m Mrs. Who? Some of us clutched our stomachs and prayed out loud to Kannon, the goddess of mercy – Where are you? – while others of us preferred to turn silently green.
Many of these women were promised better lives. They would dream of the grandiose houses with never-ending bright green yards that they would be living in while they were on the ship; they were looking forward to the beautiful little babies they were going to make with their attractive future husbands; they were going to become citizens and start living the life their parents always hoped for them. They were going to be living the dream….or so they thought.
As it turns out, everything these women had been wishing for was a pile of lies. The men had paid poets to write the romantic letters they had been sending; the pictures were of the men in their prime years; the green yards they were promised were different shades of brown; the houses were actually shacks. These women left their home, left their families and friends, left every bit of familiarity they had to start living a life of disappointment. Most of them had very little to no belongings that they brought with them; some of them did not even speak English. They left every aspect of their lives to live with a complete stranger who they thought would be their knight in shining armor.