WAIMEA — As recently as a few decades ago, a Tokyo university’s oral history
of how Japanese immigrants to Kaua’i live peaceably in a multi-cultural society
would probably not have been allowed by Japan’s single-culture government
While the native Ainu people of northern Japan still experience
some discrimination in their own country, the mono-cultural mood of most in
Japan has mostly melted away, according to a sociology professor who led a team
of student interviewers on an 11-day study at the Waimea Higashi
Japan today is in an “era of multinationalization. There is
valuable information here to allow Japanese to learn multiculturalism,” said
Dr. Hayato Yamanaka, professor of sociology at Tokyo’s Chuo
Kaua’i’s plantation style of life meant immigrants from
Portugal, Japan, China, the Philippines, Europe, mainland America and elsewhere
worked and lived together. They still, largely in peace and harmony, as the
Japan students and their sensei (teacher) found during their second of three
visits to conduct oral histories.
“The Japan community,” Yamanaka said,
“needs to learn of the experiences of Japanese in Kaua’i and Hawai’i: How they
communicate with different cultural groups in daily life, how they develop
trustful relations and relationships in the community.”
The study found “a
positive example of how Kaua’i has mixed races in peace,” he said.
brought 14 students along on his sociology seminar entitled “Kaua’i Oral
History Project: Life in Kaua’i’s Sugar Plantations.”
The students are
sociology or anthropology majors.
On Kaua’i and in Hawai’i, collaborators
in the project are the Rev. Noriaki Fujimori, of the Waimea Higashi Hongwanji;
and Junko Obayashi, a graduate student in the Center for Pacific Island Studies
at University of Hawai’i-Manoa.
Oral histories of Issei (first-generation
Japanese immigrants to Kaua’i) and Nisei (second generation), done last year in
Japanese, have been committed to CD-ROM. An English version is still to
Yamanaka said there are many English-written oral history projects on
the Nisei, and he is collecting a Japanese-language history. It is, for the
Japanese Kauaians, “a good occasion to remember the Japanese language,” he
But, he said, the language is kept alive on Kaua’i in several
households and by several generations.
The Issei speak Japanese as their
first language, and the following generations speak it as a first or, more
often, second language to English. Issei is from the Japanese words is, meaning
“first,” and sei, meaning “generation.”
The Issei are 90 years of age and
older. Nisei are 70 and older, with the third generation called Sansei (ages 40
to 69), and the fourth generation known as Yonsei (ages up to 39).
knows this could be the last chance to interview the remaining Kaua’i Issei in
their first language.
On Kaua’i since Sept. 1, the group left Sept. 12.
During their stay, Yamanaka hoped they would conduct as many as 40 interviews,
recording the conversations on video and audio.
The students worked in
pairs on one interview subject at a time. Last year, 20 interviews were
completed, including Masa Nonaka and others in his family.
and sensei stayed at the Hongwanji here, and often had the
80-something-year-old ladies they interviewed drive them to their homes for
interviews, then drive them back to the Hongwanji for more talks.
ladies seemed to love the attention the students paid them. The students in
return got an education about how Kaua’i had changed since the Isseis arrived
around 1920—and about how life was on Kaua’i, particularly during World War
II, when Japanese church ministers, teachers, even a postmaster, were taken
away from their families and communities by U.S. military officials and
interred for some or all of the war just because of their national
The uncle of former state senator George Toyofuku was a Japanese
School instructor at Kekaha and on O’ahu, and was interred, said Lillian
Yamasaki, 86, of Kekaha.
Yamasaki was one of the Nisei interviewed by the
students. They spent a pair of two-hour sessions with her and were planning to
do more taping. Not surprisingly, Yamasaki, who retired from Grayline as a tour
driver in 1969, is known among her friends to be a talker.
Her father and
grandfather worked for Kekaha Sugar Co., and she recalled a time when its own
train system hauled cane from the fields to the mill.
included Hisako Nitta and Hajime Masumoto, 79, also of Kekaha.
plans to return next year to complete the project. The Waimea Higashi Hongwanji
is celebrating its 100th year on Kaua’i, and the oral history project is part
of that celebration.
Yamanaka said he may return to conduct oral histories
of the subsequent generations, probably in English. Maybe about half of his
students on this latest trip speak English well, he said.
Yamanaka observed, offered employment opportunities to people from all over the
world, and plantation camps provided places to meet, socialize, worship, shop
and generally get along.
Two of the group’s graduate students, Misato
Sekita and Megumi Tsuruta, both 23, said sociology majors in Japan sometimes
find jobs in journalism, broadcasting and public relations.
Sekita wants to
work for the United Nations.
The economy in Japan, they said, is still
floundering, so jobs are hard to find for recent college
Staff writer Paul C. Curtis can be reached at 245-3681
(ext. 224) and email@example.com