Karleen C. Chinen

In a few weeks, Hawai‘i will bid aloha to Consul General of Japan Yasushi Misawa and his wife Yoko as they end their two and one-half-year posting in the Islands. From warm and sunny Hawai‘i, Misawa-san will head to Berlin to assume the title of deputy chief of mission with the Embassy of Japan in Germany. Mrs. Misawa will return to their home in Kyöto to pack their winter clothes and then join her husband in Berlin. Germany will be a homecoming of sorts for the Misawas, who were posted there twice before.

I don’t think I’m alone in saying that the Misawas will be greatly missed. Hawai‘i doesn’t get to pick its consul general. That’s the job of Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Some previous consuls general engaged more with the golf ball than the AJA community; others interacted mainly with the state’s upper crust. But Hawai‘i struck gold with the Mi-
sawas — actually, with their predecessors, as well. Toyoei and Michiko Shigeeda opened their hearts to Hawai‘i. I still receive emails from the Shigeedas from their current post with the Embassy of Japan in Lithuania.

The Misawas were a different couple. Both were born and raised in Japan’s culture-rich prefecture of Kyöto, so they often arrived at community functions wearing the traditional dress of their home country. I think it was part of their desire to share their culture with us in Hawai‘i.

Two years gave us time to get to know them, and for them to get to know us, the first large community of Nikkei with whom they would interact. They were quick studies.

Misawa-san quickly developed a rapport with Hawai‘i’s Nisei veterans and a genuine respect for their service to America in World War II — even though his country and our country were bitter enemies at the time. Earlier this year, he was asked to speak at the Military Intelligence Service veterans’ shinnenkai.

From where I was seated, almost across from Mi-sawa-san, I quietly observed his interactions with the veterans. He was truly enjoying talking story with them, and he happily joined them in the lunch buffet line.

Later, I complimented him on his speech and asked for permission to publish it in the Herald. He modestly explained the special closeness he feels to Hawai‘i’s World War II veterans, because his own father, if he were alive, would be about their age. So talking with them made him feel as if he were talking with his own father.

Misawa-san’s tenure in Hawai‘i could have been a cakewalk if he had simply followed the social protocol of his office. That alone gave him plenty to do. But this consul general wanted to learn how to play the ‘ukulele with Roy Sakuma. On Tuesday nights when he was free, he walked a few doors down from his residence to the Soto Mission of Hawai‘i to take Okinawan sanshin lessons with Afusoryu shihan (master) Grant “Sandaa” Murata. He spent his non-music nights studying the history of the Japanese in Hawai‘i.

Last year, in his remarks to community organizations, he began mentioning that 2018 will mark the 150th anniversary of the arrival in Hawai‘i of the Gannenmono, the very first group of immigrants from Japan. Unlike the kanyaku imin (contract immigrants) who hailed from southern Japan, the Gannenmono were a mixed group of merchants, tradespeople, even samurai, from Tökyö and Yokohama. Many married Hawaiian women after settling in the Islands. Misawa-san hoped that Hawai‘i’s Japanese community would remember their contributions to our society. I began searching for O.A. Bushnell’s historical novel about the Gannenmono, “The Stone of Kannon.” The novel is out of print, but I managed to find a used copy and gave it to him. A few months later, our paths crossed at an event. He told me that he had finished reading the book and had ordered its sequel, “The Water of Kane,” through Amazon.

Unfortunately, the Misawas will not be here next year to celebrate the Gannenmono anniversary with us. But they will be on our minds for that and for the made-in-Japan aloha they shared with all of us during their stay in the Islands. We wish them all the best and send them off in the language of our island home: Me ke aloha pumehana . . . with fond aloha.


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