By Hiroo Sato
Special to The Hawai‘i Herald
Editor’s note: This story about the first known Issei to be interred at the Pahoa Japanese Cemetery was originally published in the May 20, 2005, edition of the Herald. We do not know whether her grave was spared in the lava flow that entered the cemetery a week ago. The author of this piece, Hiroo Sato, was a lifelong resident of Pähoa. He retired from Puna Sugar Company as a harvesting supervisor. Sato-san spent much of his free time marking the gravesites in the cemetery and charting them on a map of the cemetery (probably the map mentioned in Molly Solomon’s story). He loved researching and documenting the history of Pähoa Japanese community. Much of his research ended up in a book he authored and self-published, titled “Pahoa Yesterday.” Typical of Hiroo Sato, he donated the proceeds from the sale of the book to the Big Island’s Hawaii Japanese Center. Sato-san passed on in March 2006.
From the year 1900, many Japanese immigrants began arriving in Pähoa to work for the sugar plantation. These immigrants encountered many hardships, but they persevered, worked hard and built Pähoa into a thriving community. After a few years, some of them returned to Japan while others remained in Pähoa. Sadly, most, if not all of the early immigrants, have passed on, and many are buried at the Pahoa Japanese Cemetery.
Upon checking each of the headstones, it was discovered that the first known Japanese immigrant interred at the Pahoa Japanese Cemetery was Mrs. Shitsu Hashimoto, who died on July 21, 1905 (Meiji 38), soon after giving birth to a baby girl. Mrs. Hashimoto was only 33 years old when she died.
The Nisei and the younger generations owe much to the early Japanese immigrants. In appreciation and as a tribute to these pioneers, the Pahoa Nikkei Jin Kai held a graveside 100th anniversary memorial service for Mrs. Hashimoto last July 5. (Out of respect for the deceased, Buddhists observe the memorial year from the year leading up to the date of death rather than from the actual date of death.)
It was a clear and sunny Monday afternoon. I opened the program with an introductory message. Pähoa resident Glenn Watarida then presented a brief biographical sketch on Shitsu and Tahachi Hashimoto, followed by a floral bouquet presentation by Robert Sugihara, president of the Pahoa Nikkei Jin Kai. Okyo (chanting of sacred texts) by the five reverends who had come from Buddhist temples in Puna and Hilo followed, with the offering of oshoko (incense) by those present.
Although there is much we do not know about Tahachi and Shitsu Hashimoto, we do know that they were both from Etajima-mura (village), Aki-gun (district), Hiroshima-ken (prefecture). Tahachi Hashimoto was born in February 1879 (Meiji 12), and arrived in Hawai‘i in August 1899 (Meiji 32). We weren’t able to determine when Shitsu Hashimoto arrived in the Islands.
The Hashimotos’ infant daughter was named Kimiyo. She was taken to Japan a few months after birth and raised in Hiroshima by her grandparents. Kimiyo’s father, Tahachi Hashimoto, returned to Japan in April 1921 (Taisho 10), some 16 years later.
Kimiyo grew up and eventually married Riki Imai of Hiroshima. The couple was blessed with two daughters, Michiko and Tomoe. Quite some time ago, Kimiyo Imai, now deceased, and her two daughters came to Hilo to visit her mother’s grave. Unfortunately, they were not able to locate the grave.
Recently, a member of the Pahoa Nikkei Jin Kai checked the kakocho (death register) of the Puna Hongwanji and the other Buddhist temples in Puna and Hilo and learned that Shitsu Hashimoto’s death had never been recorded.
The Imai sisters — Michiko and Tomoe — were scheduled to attend our memorial service for their grandmother. Unfortunately, one of the sisters fractured her leg, so they canceled their planned trip to Hawai‘i.
The Pahoa Nikkei Jin Kai wanted to obtain some information on the Hashimoto family, so we enlisted the assistance of my cousin in Hiroshima City, Sonoko Tokuno, who contacted all of the Hashimotos in Etajima. No one knew the Tahachi Hashimoto family, which is understandable as this story goes back more than one hundred years. The older people have passed on and the younger generations know nothing of the Hashimoto family.
We were also helped by Dr. Masafumi Honda, a professor of Japanese Studies at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo, who did extensive research to locate the Hashimoto family descendants. Through him, we learned that Michiko and Tomoe Imai, granddaughters of Shitsu and Tahachi, reside in Hiroshima City. Dr. Honda also managed to obtain and enlarge a photo of Shitsu Hashimoto, which was placed at her gravesite during the 100th anniversary memorial service.
Although we never knew her, more than forty Pahoa Nikkei Jin Kai members and friends attended her memorial service. It was a historic day at the Pahoa Japanese Cemetery — a day that left all of us with good feelings for having been part of a special 100th anniversary service to honor the memory of an Issei pioneer.
Hiroo Sato was a charter member of the Hawaii Shima Hiroshima Kenjin Kai and a member of the Pahoa Nikkei Jin Kai. According to Sato, nearly half of the immigrants who settled in Pähoa were originally from Hiroshima.
Sato’s remains were interred at the Pahoa Japanese Cemetery. His gravesite narrowly escaped the Oct. 26 lava flow and remains standing.