Patsy Y. Iwasaki

Special to The Hawai‘i Herald

The more I learn about Katsu Goto, the more determined I am to share the fascinating story of his short life with others. I have been pursuing this quest for nearly half my life and I sometimes wonder why this early Japanese immigrant has so captured my heart and mind.

There is much about Goto’s story that is typical of the Japanese American immigrant experience in Hawai‘i: After arriving in Hawai‘i in 1885 aboard the City of Tokio, the first ship that brought kanyaku imin (contract immigrants) to the Islands, Goto endured a three-year contract of hard labor at the Soper, Wright & Co. sugar plantation along Hawai‘i Island’s Hamakua Coast. Goto opened a general store in Honoka‘a, became a community leader and was moving along on a path of success.

However, there were also aspects of Goto’s life that were different. For example, Goto was not from the rural, southern Japan prefectures from which most of Hawai‘i’s Japanese immigrants hailed. In Japan, he had worked for the government — first in his hometown of Oiso in Kanagawa Prefecture, and later, in the thriving port city of Yokohama. He could read, write and speak English.

Goto’s immigrant experience was also different in that he died violently, by lynching, just four years after arriving in Hawai‘i. Goto’s body was found hanging from a telephone pole in Honoka‘a in 1889. He is believed to have been murdered for standing up for and helping a group of Japanese immigrants who had been accused of setting fire to the sugarcane fields in the area. Four men were convicted of varying degrees of manslaughter following a well-publicized trial.

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