Memories of Hawai’i Part 1
by David Fujino
the sun in my dark sunglasses
warm tropical breezes swaying
visiting blue Hawai’i
wearing jet stream across its smile
I wrote this before I flew to Hawai’i — my first time, ever. Now I might write: when you travel, you’re there to learn.
But it’s already Friday, August 2nd, back in Toronto, and as I unpack laundry from my suitcase, I inhale the scent of mandarin and lime.
I’m home from Paradise, where I took part in the NAJC’s 2013 Heritage Tour to Hawai’i, focusing on Honolulu and its island of Oahu, from July 25 to August 1st. The tour was not a typical guided tour. Although there was a printed Itinerary that was designed to inform us about the history of Japanese Americans in Hawai’i, this special heritage tour for JCs was also self-directed.
Ken Noma was usually around to point out things about a museum, a cultural centre, or Chinatown, and he’d always encourage us to take the open-sided trolley cars that ran on the red, pink, and green lines to the places we wanted to see (we had 7-day passes). In the case of the museums and aquarium and forts, I remember he’d suggest we explore and learn at our own pace, according to our interests. He didn’t always accompany us.
From July 25 to August 1, 2013, ‘The Group of 12’ — JCs from Toronto, Windsor, and Vancouver — gathered at the Sheraton Princess Ka’iulani Hotel in Honolulu, Hawai’i. We knew we were privileged and lucky to be on this tour in Hawai’i and some of us said so to each other. For the record, the Waikiki Beach area was ‘touristy’, but if you relaxed, and allowed yourself to enjoy the weather and flowed with the crowds, the Hawaiian experience was yours.
We first arrived in Honolulu at 10:30 pm — Hawai’ian time — on July 24, Day 1, and the first impression of the glowing Princess Ka’iulani Hotel, as we disembarked from the van, was that of walking into a welcoming and open-to-the-four-winds style of architecture so typical of Japan and the tropics. Open porches. Why not let the breezes flow through your building? It was a warm tropical evening and we 12 travellers entered the hotel, wearing fresh flower leis around our necks.
But, before going to bed, along with my room mate, I took a walk to a local small store for some food (onigiri with tuna) and a bottle of green tea. There were lots of Japanese kids in the various stores and shops and the nearby buildings were a combination of balconied high rises (like our hotel) and modest village size shops like the quaint and very Brit-looking Kings Village. Many many ABC stores dominate Honolulu — they’re the Hawai’ian 7-11— so believe me, they’re everywhere.
It was pitch dark outside — they really don’t over-illuminate the streets at night — but our senses perked up when the local, powerfully fragrant big ladies strode towards us on the sidewalk in their chunky-heeled white leather boots. Sweet dreams, no thanks, sweet dreams …
Day 2 – July 25: We started the day off at 7:30 am with a multicultural buffet breakfast, which was covered by the tour. Bacon and eggs or sausages with home fries and toast or croissants, or pancakes, and bananas and pineapples — whatever you want — or a Japanese-styled breakfast of steamed rice, grilled salmon, takuwan and miso shiru, was my choice, and my delight. I later had slices of sweet pineapple. It was interesting what people had this morning for breakfast, beyond just coffee and tea. They came back to their tables like dignitaries bearing gifts.
Next, at approximately 8: 45 am, we`re off in a taxi (driven by a beauteous Asian woman) to the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai’i — we weren`t even sure of the address! — where Derrick Iwata promptly greeted us at curb side and immediately complied by taking photos of us — ‘the group of 12’ — with our offered cameras.
As he led us into the center, Derrick transformed into our guide for the exhibit, Okage Sama De: I am what I am, because of you, in the historical gallery. Guests were allowed to handle some of the artifacts while Derrick explained that the first wave of Japanese immigrants to Hawai’i had arrived in the 1880s to work on the sugar plantations, but within three years, the majority returned to Japan, complaining that the work was back-breaking and intolerable. This bitter history is a far cry from the majority position that Japanese and Japanese Americans enjoy in the Hawai`i of today, where everyone, certainly everyone in Honolulu, seems to speak Japanese and English. It seems to be a minimum requirement.
Derrick next led us to the screening room to meet Marilyn Higashide and Betsy Young and view the video, The Untold Story: Internment of Japanese Americans in Hawai’ì. Afterwards, Marilyn and Betsy spoke further about the racial profiling practised in Hawai’ì as early as 1936, when the powers-that-be selectively kept lists of prominent Japanese community leaders, as well as Shinto priests, Buddhist and Christian ministers, and teachers. They could control the Japanese community by rounding up its leaders. It was sobering to hear this. “Life is so tender,” I remember saying to myself in Hawai’i, several times.
Here’s a link to Terry Watada`s article about the last discovered internment camp in Hawai’i — Honouliuli — as well as the story of Sanji Abe. Watada praises the excellent work of the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai’i and its staff. www.torontonajc.ca/2013/05/31/honouliuli-the-last-internment-camp
The 13 values inherited from the Issei were printed on the wall as, Kachikan Values: Koko (Filial Piety), On (Debt of Gratitude), Gaman (Quiet Endurance), Ganbari (Persistence). Shikata-ga-nai (Acceptance with Resignation), Kansha (Gratitude), Chugi (Loyalty), Sekinin (Responsibility), Haji (Shame), Hokori (Pride), Meiyo (Honour), Giri (Sense of Duty), Gisei (Sacrifice).
Think about it: the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai’i succeeded in transmitting core cultural values via text printed onto a wall. Okage Sama De: I am what I am because of you. What a smart exhibit. We left the Center, happy with meeting our Japanese Hawaiian cousins and climbed into a taxi that delivered us to the Honolulu Museum of Art, where a travelling exhibit of samurai armour and the art of Georgia O`Keefe and the photographs of Ansel Adams were the main and significant attractions. Both the O`Keefe and Adams` works had that extra oomph! to them because the subject matter was Hawai`i and here we were in Hawai’i. The work was, as expected, masterful.
For its part, the samurai armour show was well-designed, pleasing to look at, and well-preserved. The explanatory panels were informative and the quality of the objects was very high. A couple of people from the group liked the shows so much they decided to stay the afternoon to see the rest of the museum`s collections. Six or so of us opted for catching a trolley car back to our hotel in the Waikiki Beach area. We ended up getting a bird’s eye tour of the west and south neighbourhoods of Honolulu from the upper deck of the trolley, with the driver providing mellow commentary as we drove by notable buildings and notable neighbourhoods of Honolulu. “Don Ho was born here,” or he’d say, “We’re now entering an area filled with artists and artisans and stores. They sell really good olive oil here.” The group navigator and I agreed that this shopping area looked like Granville Island in Vancouver.
Chinatown — Day 3, July 26. Our walking tour of Honolulu’s Chinatown started inside the Hawai’i Heritage Center at 1040 Smith Street, between Hotel and King Streets. It was a very hot day and the bottles of cold water we received were truly appreciated. The Speaker said with a smile that she’s accepting donations of a million dollars towards building the Heritage Center’s own building. Then they could bring out of storage over 80% of their actual holdings and display them. Outside, Hawai’i State Representative Bert Kobayashi guided us for the afternoon, leading us from the very streets and historical buildings to an old bank, a dim sum factory, where we picked up our lunch, to a place that sold pig snouts.
After admiring the black figurative sculpture of Sun Yat-Sen — considered the father of modern China — we walked on River Street alongside the canal, passed by the rows of homeless and their buggies, then crossed a small white bridge and arrived at a Shinto temple. The group of 12 had an aesthetic moment in front of the temple. We whipped out our cameras. Some of us rang the bell, some of us took our shoes off and entered the temple. All of us were impressed by the huge knot of two rice sheaves hung above the steps to the temple. The refined aesthetics of Shinto-ism and traditional Japan were on grand display.
Bert said that, in the early days, ‘Japanese people, kimonos, and Japanese hotels for the field workers dominated Chinatown. Today, there’s no Japanese business in Chinatown. But, whether any Chinese live and work here, or not, there’ll always be a Chinatown in Honolulu. Chinatown will remain a destination of choice for many new immigrants. Today, the Vietnamese and Filipinos run most of the restaurants and food malls, but this will be changed by successive waves of immigrants who come to Chinatown’, a Chinatown anchored in the mists of time, waiting to be changed by new arrivals.
On Day 4, July 27, we visited Fort deRussy, an incredibly thick brick-walled military museum that’s open to the public by donation. We learned about the 442nd Regiment of Japanese Americans — the ‘Go for broke’ guys — who’ve been heavily decorated for their bravery. And I know one traveller referred to the museum as a “place for boys and their guns” — and I can understand this, but I excited with a renewed appreciation of the soldiers and the contribution they make to their country and society. So it was doubly pleasing to see the extensive displays devoted to the life and military career of the island of Kauai-born, Eric Shinseki, retired Four- Star General and now Secretary of Veteran Affairs in the Obama administration. Shinseki has brought honour to Hawai’i and Hawaiian Japanese Americans. As a Japanese Canadian, I paid my respects.
Day 5 – July 28 – Honolulu Aquarium A visit to the aquarium brought us to the water world and its creatures. I learned that coral reefs are living organisms, while outside, I had a rare animal moment and saw a sea otter bobbing upright in the water. I honestly didn’t feel so good about my flash photography used on the fishes in the wall-sized aquariums, especially on the alluring jellies. Somehow, I turned into a camera-happy tourist. In any case, here’s an example of some jellies I just had to shoot.
PART 2 – next month