New Year’s in Anahola brings links to the past

ANAHOLA — When World War II broke out, Japanese Americans, sensing anti-Japanese sentiment, wisely sought to protect their possessions.

Sometimes, that meant burying cash in coffee cans in backyards, or, in the case of leaders of the Anahola Japanese Community Association, making arrangements to temporarily donate their land holdings to non-Japanese leaders of large companies, with the written understanding that, after the war, they would get the land back.

It may well be for that reason that the current leaders of the Anahola Japanese Community Association have a hall and land they can call their own.

When WWII broke out, all Japanese aliens’ properties such as Japanese schools and churches were taken by the territorial and county governments on Kaua’i.

But before that could happen at Anahola, community members called a meeting, and voted to give the land to officials at Hawaiian Canneries and American Factors for “safekeeping,” with the understanding that the land would be returned following the war if the Japanese community formed an association.

At the end of WWII, Robert Hamamura and Joseph Esaki approached Bill Fernandes, a state legislator, to help get the land returned to members of the Anahola Japanese community.

Finally, in 1960, the land was returned, and marked the birth of the Anahola Japanese Community Association (AJCA).

Sarah Fujii, AJCA vice president, explained that the Isseis (members of first generations of Japanese immigrant workers) of Anahola wanted their children to learn the Japanese language and culture.

To this end, the group members built the first building in Anahola in 1907.

But the law in the 1900s was that aliens could not buy government property, so Chiyomatsu Hamamura asked a Mr. Takitani, head bookkeeper of the McBryde Sugar Company, to help buy the land for the school, Fujii said.

The original purchase was for 1.5 acres, on a site just mauka of Kuhio Highway that is near what is now the home of the Anahola Baptist Church.

On Aug. 1, 1941, shortly before the start of WWII, the second building, and currently known as “the red church across from the (Anahola) post office,” was constructed, to accommodate more students.

Brothers Osamu and Isao Oshita headed up that construction effort, at a cost of $2,000.

From 1907 through 1941, the Japanese Issei financed the Japanese School, with Hamamura donating much of his time to the school.

Some of the teachers who worked through the school included Mr. Fuke, Mr. Kondo, Mr. Miyamoto, Mr. Nomura, the Rev. Harada, Mr. Ito, Mr. Takeshita, Miss Fujikawa (Mrs. Muraoka), Miss Kobayashi (Mrs. S. Shiraki), Miss Hangi (Mrs. Saiki), and Miss Yanagawa (Mrs. Nishisaka).

Prior to the start of WWII, members of about 70 Japanese families lived in the Anahola area, primarily as farmers. People remember the Anahola watermelon and uri, an ingredient used to make misozuke pickles.

“The red church across from the (Anahola) post office” was ablaze with lights last week.

The normally empty lawn was dotted with cars as people congregated on the porch, and inside they could be seen mingling, awaiting the arrival of the rest of the group.

“It’s the Anahola Japanese Community Association hall,” explained Fujii, vice president for the group that works to keep the link to the past alive.

During the New Year’s get-together, a Japanese tradition among larger community groups, members of the elder community sat alongside one of the hall’s windows, chatting and waiting for the food to be served.

Earl Kashiwagi, the AJCA president, explained that, normally, people know the red building as the Anahola Baptist Church, but church leaders just use the buildings.

The AJCA still owns the building that used to house the Japanese school.

“You have to have the building in use,” Kashiwagi said. “When you don’t use things, they tend to fall apart. So, we let the church use the place, but they cannot change things.”

Kashiwagi pointed out that in the back of the Japanese school that was built in 1941 to replace one the community had outgrown, a residence used to house people who took care of the property.

Porcelain door knobs and the heavy iron lock sets still function on the home’s doorway, and aside from some windows that have been replaced, the original windows adorn the walls.

Kashiwagi noted that some of the rooms have been converted to church classrooms and other utility areas, and one room in the back home is the pastor’s office.

The Japanese school building that is at the front of the property serves as the main hall for the Anahola Baptist Church, and bears the church’s name along with the AJCA Hall moniker.

Fujii provided the historical information about the school that she obtained from Robert Hamamura and Ume Oshita.

Over the years, the AJCA members became very active, maintaining the building, yard, and the Anahola Japanese graveyard located on Kealia Road above the current Kamehameha preschool.

Currently, the AJCA members clean the graveyards three or four times a year, and the members have donated and built a memorial monument there.

Children and grandchildren of the Issei have become members of AJCA, and at present, the membership numbers about 100 members from all parts of the island.

The annual New Year’s party celebrated recently marked the start of the 2006 calendar, which will be punctuated with other social gatherings like the annual picnic in September and the Halloween party for keiki.

Fujii also said that AJCA leaders are planning a 65th anniversary reunion for some time in July.

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