Mrs. Dora Rice Isenberg recalls first Japanese on Kauai

Born in Lihue, the child of Hannah Maria Rice, who was the daughter of missionaries William Harrison and Mary Sophia Hyde Rice, and Lihue Plantation manager Paul Isenberg, and the wife of the Rev. Hans Isenberg, the pastor of Lihue Lutheran Church, Mrs. Dora Rice Isenberg (1862-1949) recalled, in 1935, the arrival of the first Japanese on Kauai in 1868.

“I remember vividly the arrival of the first Japanese at Lihue Plantation. We had very few events in those days, so the arrival of this group of people made a very strong impression on us.”

She said that her father had contracted several Japanese in Honolulu as plantation laborers from among a group of 153 that had immigrated to Hawaii from Japan in 1868.

Of these, she best recollected Bunkichi Murata (1844-1925), Yonkichi Sakuma (1840-1927) and another man named Ishii who moved to Maui.

Bunkichi Murata was at first a field laborer, but was promoted to supervisor, the first Japanese to attain that position at Lihue Plantation.

He then became a cook at several locations: the Isenberg home at Koamalu; at Hale Nani, William Hyde Rice’s house in Lihue; at the Lihue Hotel and the Lihue Dispensary, and finally at George Norton Wilcox’s beach house at Papalinahoa.

Murata changed his name to Arai Bungo and in 1879 he married Lucy Kahalekai Hanapi, a cousin of King Lunalilo.

They would have four children: Virginia, Mrs. Elizabeth Ewaliko, Mrs. Lily Hugher, and George Bungo.

Arai Bungo also served as a Japanese interpreter at the old Lihue Courthouse, where Kauai High School now stands.

Yonekichi “Johnnie” Sakuma worked at Lihue Plantation prior to also becoming a cook for George Norton Wilcox at Papalinahoa and at Grove Farm.

His first wife was Pupuka Kolia and they had three children: James and Yoneji, and Mrs. Malia T. Lutz.

With his second wife, Tsuna Omoto, he was the father of two children: Mrs. Fuyu Kondo and Yasohachi Sakuma.

When Sakuma retired, George Norton Wilcox pensioned him and built him a retirement cottage next to his house at Papalinahoa.

  1. Nick Galante April 8, 2018 11:34 am Reply

    My good friend is a distant relative of Arai Bungo. I have visited his grave in Anahola where the headstone says he was the first Japanese immigrant to Kauai. There is a very interesting story about how he ended up in Hawaii.

  2. No_They_Didn't April 9, 2018 11:52 am Reply

    They wanted a better life. So they moved to Hawai’i. There was no development in Hawai’i then. So I would assume Meijing dynasty was a form of communism or command economy in Japan 1868.

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