Karleen C. Chinen
Sometimes we grow numb to the numbers and forget the individual lives that were affected by Executive Order 9066. And then comes along a new work that jolts us back to that reality.
Tatsumi Hayashi’s translated work, “Haisho Tenten: An Internment Odyssey,” on the internment experiences of Kumaji “Suikei” Furuya is an excellent reminder of the human experience of the World War II internment. The Tökyö-born Hayashi enjoyed a 40-year career with Japan Airlines, retiring as the president and CEO of JAL subsidiaries the Ihilani Resort & Spa and Ko Olina Golf Club. After relaxing for a while, Hayashi began volunteering at the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai‘i, making use of his Japanese language skills in the production of two earlier JCCH publications, “Life behind Barbed Wire” and “Family Torn Apart: The Internment Story of the Otokichi Muin Ozaki Family.”
Between 1961 and 1963, The Hawaii Times Japanese-language newspaper had published 196 articles by Furuya on his internment experience. Furuya had written them in his pen name, Suikei Furuya. The Times subsequently added more of Furuya’s poems and published the collection as the book, “Haisho Tenten.” Roughly translated, haisho tenten means “transiting imprisonment.”
Hayashi’s work on “Life behind Barbed Wire” and “Family Torn Apart: The Internment Story of the Otokichi Muin Ozaki Family” — and his growing personal interest in Hawai‘i’s internment story — led him to take on the translation of “Haisho Tenten.” He worked tirelessly on the translation for 10 years — refining it over and over again until it was ready to turn over to an English-language editor.
“Haisho Tenten” is an apt title for the book given that Furuya’s nearly four years of imprisonment — from Dec. 7, 1941, to Nov. 13, 1945, with other Issei men, mostly from Hawai‘i — had taken him to eight different camps.
Furuya was arrested within hours of the attack on Pearl Harbor, most likely because of his Japanese business ties and his active involvement in the Japanese community. His arrest marked the beginning of a true odyssey that took him from the Sand Island Internment Camp across Honolulu Harbor to Angel Island in San Francisco Bay, then to Camp McCoy, Wis.; Camp Forrest, Tenn.; Camp Livingston, La.; Fort Missoula, Mont.; Santa Fe, NM; and finally, the Seamen’s Club in Seattle, before finally being cleared to return home to Hawai‘i in November 1945. A map of the various locales is included in the well-documented 368-page book. It gives the reader a good idea of what it must have been like for Furuya and his cohorts to be crisscrossing the country, never knowing how long their stay at each camp would be and, oftentimes, where they were headed next.
In some places, such as the Immigration and Naturalization Services Station in Honolulu, Furuya’s stay was as short as three days; in other places, like the U.S. Justice Department’s camp at Santa Fe, NM, he was imprisoned for 572 days, nearly two years.
Furuya takes the reader along on his internment odyssey, thanks to his meticulous recording of details — you feel like you are right beside him. You feel the entire gamut of emotions Furuya and his fellow internees felt — their fear, uncertainty, indignity and humiliation. And yet, you see how they managed to make the best of the hand life had dealt them, in spite of its injustice, trying to create a semblance of normalcy in a life that was anything but normal. They organized committees that were responsible for delivering news “broadcasts,” formed softball teams, organized entertainment and special religious programs and even held funerals.
Furuya may have found solace in his writing. His haiku poems seemed to have consoled him as he dealt with the loss of control over his own life.
According to the Rev. Joei Oi, a Buddhist priest and Japanese language school teacher who was imprisoned with Furuya at Sand Island, the following poem may have been the first Furuya wrote while being held at the INS Station in Honolulu on the night of Dec. 7, 1941.
In the pitch darkness
We have all been captured.
After being held for more than two months at the INS Station and the Sand Island camp, Furuya’s group was shipped to the continental U.S., sailing first to the Bay Area, where they were housed at the old immigration facility on Angel Island for six days. At the turn of the 20th century, t he facility had housed arriving Chinese immigrants.
There, Furuya penned these poems, among many others — and would continue to document his incarceration in this valuable collection.
AT ANGEL ISLAND
Nine days across the ocean without sun,
A frightful life in a convoy ship’s hold
Pitching and rolling, we finally reach
Cold San Francisco in the early spring
Seagulls and plovers cry as the evening fog
Rolls into golden gate bay
Thinking of dear Hawaii, my family there,
Despair envelopes me.
A large crimson moon rises.
On Angel Island:
Birds are free and sing at dawn
We feel only envy
En route to Camp McCoy, Wis.:
Passing through desolate fields
For how many days
Have we traveled on this continent
Over the desolate fields
Nothing but the faraway horizon
At Camp McCoy:
A cold wind blows across the American and Canadian border
And the moon shines on Camp McCoy.
The moonlight never changes,
Through we are forced from camp to camp.
Every time I watch the moon,
I recall my wife and children.
My soul is torn apart,
And I shed tears in spite of myself.
At Fort Missoula in Montana:
Mail arrives this morning
The scent of lilac fills the air
“Haisho Tenten: An Internment Odyssey” will be officially introduced at a public program on Saturday, Feb. 18, at 11 a.m. at the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai‘i. It will feature a panel discussion featuring “Haisho Tenten” translator Tatsumi Hayashi, editors Sheila Chun and Brian Niiya, historian Gary Okihiro and a member of the Furuya family. “Haisho Tenten: An Internment Odyssey” will also be available for purchase in the JCCH gift shop.