Picture Brides

The picture bride system was extremely important to the Japanese immigrants during the early 1900’s. It was a system that allowed Japanese men in the United States to find wives from overseas in order to start families. Japanese bachelors would mail their self portraits to a matchmaker in Japan who then matches the picture with other potential brides. Once the matchmaker finds a suitable match, they are married and the bride is sent over on a one-way trip to the United States. Quite often, the only photo that the men had access to were portraits of them when they were much younger. Most often the women in Japan were duped into thinking that their future husband in America is as young as they were in the picture; however this was not the case. The brides later found out as soon as they meet their husband for the first time that they are much older than and not as attractive as they once were. In the portraits the bachelors were young, however in reality they have aged from the laborious work of agriculture and the psychological stress of social marginalization. One would assume that the bride could easily just go back home to Japan but because they lacked the funds for a ride back and also because of their culture, it is important to have pride and “save face” and deal with the circumstances on their own in order to prevent shaming the family. Picture brides gave the Japanese in America social mobility and family formation all due to the enacting of the Gentlemen’s agreement which allowed for Japan to issue passports to the wives in Japan. The picture bride system and the Gentlemen’s agreement were a way to maneuver around the strict anti-immigration laws against Asians.

Japan’s goal for the Picture Bride system was to prevent the vices of the bachelor society from manipulating the Japanese and therefore to create a positive image of the Japanese people who are looked upon as the representatives of Japan. The Japanese government wanted the bachelors to find wives and form families and therefore develop a filial piety relationship which composes positive role models for other Japanese. Picture brides became popularized among the Japanese Americans in the United States because it changed the Japanese and Asian image of devious primitive aliens to an image of a low-maintenance model minority group (Shirley Lim). Because the nationhood is place on the bodies of the Japanese, it was absolutely important that their image upheld the nation state as a supreme candidate for social acceptance by the Americans leading to the recognition that Japan is in fact a supreme nation. Family formations along with good citizenship status helped posit the positive image of the Japanese as worthy of being Americans. The Japanese sense of belonging helped motivate them to become model citizens in an effort to gain acceptance by the Americans as well as cultural citizenship.


  1. Great description, thanks, I came upon your site because I was looking at http://www.archive.org/stream/annualreportofco00unit#page/16/mode/2up 1910 Japanese immigration and it was the only group to have a net outmigration and I was wondering why?

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  3. Hi this is really good information and I would like to cite your blog post for a university paper if thats okay. May I know the Day, Month and Year of when this was electronically published?