Hawai‘i’s Consul General of Japan Shares Memories of His Father with MIS Veterans
Published with Permission
Editor’s note: Since his posting in Hawai‘i in mid-2015 as Consulate General of Japan in Honolulu, Yasushi Misawa has delivered dozens of greetings and remarks, even kampai toasts, and been involved in countless ceremonial presentations around town. This is expected of all consuls general. All of them stick pretty close to their ceremonial agenda, rarely revealing what they, personally, are thinking or feeling.
So I was pleasantly surprised and impressed to hear the reflective comments of Consul General Misawa at the MIS Veterans Club of Hawaii shinnen enkai at Natsunoya Tea House on Feb. 26. When he returned to his seat after speaking, I complimented him on his talk and asked him for permission to share his text with our Hawai‘i Herald readers. He modestly explained that he feels a special closeness to the Japanese American World War II veterans in Hawai‘i, for his own father, if he were alive, would be about the same age as the Nisei veterans. He told me of the comfort he feels when talking with someone like former Hawai‘i Gov. George Ariyoshi, who was born just a few years after his father.
A few days later, Consul General Misawa consented to sharing his text with all of you. We are grateful to him for that.
Good afternoon and Aloha!
Thank you for inviting me to join all of you at this New Year’s luncheon. I am very honored to be given this opportunity to say a few words. There are many things that I would like to share with you concerning the history between Japan and Hawai‘i, but please allow me to begin with a little personal story.
I was born and raised in Kyöto and studied political science and modern history at the University of Kyoto. Since entering the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1985, this is my first time to be assigned in the United States and my first time ever to come to Hawai‘i.
When I first came here, I did not know much about the history of Hawai‘i and the Japanese community in Hawai‘i. Each time I learn more about the Nisei veterans, it reminds me of my late father. His experience was quite different from that of the MIS veterans, of course. He was Japanese, he lived in Kyöto and he studied in Tökyö. But he was the closest person to me in the Nisei veterans’ generation and he was my best resource to personally learn from about the history of that period.
My father was born in 1922. In December 1943, when he was 21 years old and a junior in college, he was called to serve in the army. But I knew almost nothing about his experiences during the war before I began working as a diplomat.
The relationship between my father and me was pretty good. Driving with the family to the mountains and the ocean and going fishing were his most favorite hobbies. When I was a child, he brought me everywhere he went on the weekends and holidays. He talked a lot about fishing, baseball and other sports. He also told me what nice and kind people the Vietnamese were and how delicious the tropical fruits in Vietnam were. But my father never talked about his experiences on the battlefield, even though I had asked several times. I only knew that after being summoned into the army, he was dispatched to the Philippines and Vietnam. I knew also that he enjoyed very much attending the annual veterans gathering after he retired from his company. That was all I knew at that time.
One day, he handed a newsletter to me and said, “Read it!” — in Japanese, “Yonde-miro-ya!” — without any additional explanation. It was an old-fashioned newsletter, edited by my father himself. My mother explained to me that he became the editor of the veterans group’s newsletter, which was to be distributed to its members every year at the annual gathering in August. He would finish his editorial work in time for my annual return to my hometown, Kyöto, during Obon season in August. He would hand the newsletter to me to read every year for 15 years. The last newsletter, the 15th version, was completed just two months before he passed away 14 years ago, written with a very old type of kanji.
This newsletter was created for his regimental comrades, and he also wrote and contributed some articles and essays every year. It was through these that I finally came to know some of what he had experienced during the war.
In the fall of 1943, when the position of the Japanese military had further deteriorated, all university students studying social science were automatically called up to join the military. My father was one of these students. After one year of training, my father departed for the Philippines to join the army regiment there and was responsible for weather observation. Just before his arrival at Manila Bay, about half of the regiment personnel there were killed by the bombardment and torpedoes. Even after his arrival at Manila, the regiment continued to sustain attacks, and many, many lives were lost. They tried to flee Manila twice in vain and finally succeeded and departed for Vietnam. While in Vietnam, the war ended. My father was allowed to return home in May 1946, nine months after the end of the war. He could not believe that he was actually able to return home. That is his history.
I brought the 15 newsletters to Honolulu with me and read them again and again even now. They are really a treasure to me. I had no opportunities to discuss history and politics with my father while he was alive, but I can almost feel that I am having a dialogue with him in reading his essays and reliving the history of that time through them.
Of course, I am not your son, and I don’t know much about any of the MIS veterans so well. I cannot fully understand what Nisei veterans and their families felt and I can never know the history of the last century the way you do. But I know how important and how meaningful it is to share your experiences with your family, your community, and also with the many others who really want to know about Hawai‘i and who want peace in the world. I truly believe that this in itself is a treasure to all of them.
This is why I want to thank each and every one of you very much for all of your efforts to convey your stories and pass on your legacies to the next generation. I think the crucial moment is now for all of us to cooperate and support this most important undertaking.
Last year was a milestone year as we commemorated the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. In December, there was a solemn moment for all American and Japanese citizens to remember what happened 75 years ago. At the same time, we were reminded of just how far we have come since then. I think that Prime Minister Abe’s visit to the Arizona Memorial with President Obama successfully demonstrated to us the power of reconciliation. It was also a true testament to the strong partnership and friendship that currently exists between Japan and the United States.
I think that this message seemed to reach many people, here in Hawai‘i and also in Japan. In fact, we heard from our friends at the National Park Service that the number of Japanese visitors to the Visitor Center and the Arizona Memorial doubled from the beginning of this year, which is very good news for me. I have been wanting more Japanese people to learn about the history of Hawai‘i and, in particular, the history of the Nikkei community. With this in mind, I have been closely cooperating with the Japanese community and, in particular, with the Nisei Veterans Legacy and we have been planning several small projects.
The first one is to build a Japanese version of the Nisei veterans photo exhibit at the Honolulu Airport. As you know, the photo exhibit of the Nisei veterans was newly launched last year at the interisland terminal and the old photo exhibit at the International Terminal was going to be terminated. But in cooperation with the Nisei Veterans Legacy, the Japan-Hawaii Travel Association and the Honolulu International Airport, we will now try to set up a similar exhibit in Japanese so that students coming from Japan for school excursions can learn about the history of the Nisei veterans while they wait at the airport.
The second project is the Japan tour of the Nisei veterans and Nikkei history photo exhibition in which Bishop Ara of the Tendai Mission of Hawaii and the Nisei Veterans Legacy are planning to visit Fukushima, Yokohama and Hiroshima during the latter half of this year.
The third project is another photo exhibit — small one — that would be on display at the Hawai‘i Convention Center during the Honolulu Festival this March (just completed). It will be cosponsored by the Hawaii Senior Life Enrichment Society and the Nisei Veterans Legacy.
This year, 2017, a new administration has begun in the United States. The international political and economic backdrops are fast changing and we are starting a new chapter in the history of U.S.-Japan relations. I remain convinced, however, that this partnership can be strengthened and developed further based on the foundation that had been put into place in the past decades by our many predecessors.
Two thousand eighteen marks the 150th anniversary of the arrival of the first immigrants from Japan, the Gannenmono. The Consulate General of Japan is now cooperating with our many friends and colleagues in the Japanese community to plan events to commemorate the historical journey of the Japanese immigrants during the last 150 years, in hopes of promoting the further development of the Japan-Hawai‘i friendship. In asking for your support of such activities in the coming years, I would like to conclude my remarks.
Thank you very much.