The Post World War II Relief Effort that Cemented a Relationship
Special to The Hawai‘i Herald
It was noon on Sept. 27, 1948, when the USS John Owen made landfall at White Beach, the U.S. naval facility on the eastern coast of Okinawa island, near the tip of Katsuren peninsula. Onboard the ship was a precious cargo of 536 pigs that had survived the arduous 6,000-mile crossing from Portland, Ore. The pigs were a gift from Hawai‘i to help restart Okinawa’s pig farms, which had been decimated in the Battle of Okinawa in World War II.
More than five decades later, a musical — “Pigs from the Sea” (“Umi Kara Buta ga Yatte Kita”) — about the seven Hawai‘i men who made the journey to Okinawa with the pigs was staged at the Blaisdell Concert Hall.
This September marks the 70th anniversary of the voyage of the seafaring swine, so it’s a fitting time to delve into the entire Okinawa relief movement and share our findings to the following questions:
• Who was in charge and how were the relief supplies distributed in Okinawa?
• Were the most needed prioritized?
• Did the relief effort serve its intended purpose?
I took on this research project with Chizu Inoue, chief editor of Okinawa’s Momoto magazine. We were assisted by Hiroaki Hara, a librarian with the Okinawa Prefectural Library who recently arrived in Hawai‘i to begin his two-year tenure as an East-West Center Obuchi fellow. We hoped to find answers to these questions and write what I felt was the missing “last chapter” to this compelling story.
ORIGINS OF THE RELIEF EFFORT
After having served in Europe with the 100th Infantry Battalion, Pfc. Thomas Taro Higa, a Kibei-Nisei of Okinawan ancestry, was sent home in 1945 after having been injured twice. Higa decided to return to military service, this time as a volunteer interpreter in the Battle of Okinawa. The ravages of war had left the civilian survivors in a dire situation. Because Higa could speak the native language, he understood the people and their urgent need for food, clothing and shelter.
After returning to Hawai‘i, Higa attended a meeting of roughly forty Okinawan businessmen in Honolulu on Sept. 16, 1945. They came to hear his appeal for help. Higa told of leaflets being dropped by the thousands from U.S. planes ordering civilians to surrender. The leaflets instructed the men to surrender wearing only their loincloths or shorts and for the women to come out in whatever they were wearing. Higa’s testimony made a clothing drive the priority.
The businessmen agreed unanimously to support the effort. They were faced with two challenges, however: 1) Discrimination against Japanese people would inhibit support at the scale that was needed; and 2) They would need the U.S. Navy’s approval to ship relief supplies to Okinawa.
The solution was to appeal to religious organizations whose principles of humanity did not discriminate between enemies and friends. They reached out to Dr. Gilbert Bowles, a Quaker who had lived in Japan for 40 years. Bowles agreed to help and sought the assistance of the Honolulu Council of Churches. The first organizational meeting was held Oct. 29, 1945. A month later, on Nov. 29, the Okinawa Clothing Relief Drive Committee was formally organized with members Dr. Theodore Richards, the paternal grandfather of the late Hawai‘i Island rancher Herbert “Monty” Richards; Dr. Gilbert Bowles; the Rev. Edward Whitmore and insuranceman Sadao Asato.
Dr. Bowles, Rev. Whitmore and Taro Higa appealed to the Navy for transportation assistance. Capt. W.F. Jennings, chief of the Navy’s Mid-Pacific Department of Civil Affairs, committed the Navy’s cooperation in transporting and supervising the distribution of the relief supplies upon arrival in Okinawa.
On Feb. 5, 1946, roughly two months after the committee was organized, 151 tons of clothing (1,769 boxes) was shipped to Okinawa.
“Dr. Bowles and I went around asking for donations,” wrote Sadao Asato in the Ginowan Shijin Kai 80th anniversary booklet. “On O‘ahu, not only the Okinawans, but people of other prefectures and even people of other ethnic groups donated a lot of clothing, and people of the other islands donated likewise.”
The U.S. military provided the Okinawan Civil Administration with two warehouses near White Beach where all of the relief supplies were received and inventoried.
In April of 1946, OCA conducted a comprehensive survey before beginning to distribute the clothing. Those surveyed also included evacuees who had fled to Kyüshü prior to the start of the battle on April 1, 1945. The survey detailed children who had just one set of clothes, those with two sets and others with no clothes. Orphanages, senior homes and three Hansen’s Disease settlements were given priority. OCA then distributed the clothing supplies to those on the relief roll. Clothing for Okinawa’s neighbor islands was distributed by the U.S. military.
Yoshinae Majikina-Sensei was a young girl when she evacuated to Oita Prefecture with her father, Yuko Majikina-Sensei, a cultural treasure in Okinawan folk dance. Yoshinae recalled that people in the performing arts community implored her father’s doctor to falsify a medical report that would allow him to evacuate to mainland Japan. At age 50, they feared he would be conscripted to serve in a battle he probably would not survive, leaving a void in the cultural community. In 1972, the Governnment of Japan designated Yuko Majikina a national living treasure of Japan.
After returning to Okinawa after the Battle of Okinawa, Yoshinae received a set of clothing from Hawai‘i. “We helped to unpack boxes of clothes and there was an overwhelming feeling of gratefulness,” she said.
Some Hawai‘i families sent clothing and other supplies directly to family members in Okinawa, among them Ginowan Shijin Kai member John Tasato. In 2012, Tasato and his sister, Betty Uyehara, visited family members in Okinawa. “My sister, for the first time meeting cousins, was a touching scene with tears. They were in their late 70s. One of the cousins said to my sister that after receiving dresses from her, she didn’t wash the dresses for weeks, wanting to keep the scent and touch from cousins in Hawai‘i not be washed away.”
In July 1946, Misa Yamashiro, Hawai‘i insurancewoman Chiyeko Takushi and others formed the group Reputa Kai, whose members were largely housewives who had pledged to donate their small change after grocery shopping. By the time they disbanded in 1949, they had sent three shipments of items such as clothing, shoes, books, school supplies, sewing machines, oil lanterns, bicycles and other goods. One of those shipments contained seven tons of “miscellaneous supplies” that were received in Okinawa on Jan. 7, 1948.
After the supplies had been collected, Reputa Kai turned them over to the United Association of Christian Churches in Okinawa to be distributed by local churches. The sewing machines were mounted on a trailer that had been loaned by the U.S. military and taken around to the villages, where people were allowed to use them to repair and alter the relief clothing. Fabric was also provided for free. Each person utilizing the machine and fabric for their own family was also required to make a piece of clothing for an orphan or a handicapped person.
During the Battle of Okinawa, Kiyo Kaneda, then 12 years old, was living on Akajima in the Kerama Islands, located southwest of Okinawa island. “We wrote with stones in the dirt for our schoolwork. Later, we had scraps of paper cut from empty bags that flour came in as provisions from the U.S. military.” Kaneda, now in her 80s and still living in Akajima, said that when the school supplies arrived from Hawai‘i, she and her fellow students and their teacher were “elated to receive paper tablets and pencils.”
UNIVERSITY OF RYUKYUS
In 1947, Hawai‘i Okinawans started a fund drive to build a university to provide higher education opportunities for young Okinawans, which did not exist prior to the war. The U.S. military supported the initiative and carried the project through to completion.
OKINAWA MEDICAL RELIEF LEAGUE
In January 1948, the Okinawa Medical League was established by Dr. Matsuju Yamashiro, Dr. Seiyei Inamine and others in Hawai‘i. By March, they had shipped $10,000 worth of medical supplies to Okinawa. The supplies were given top priority for distribution.
“PIGS FROM THE SEA”
Pork was — and still is — a staple in the Okinawan diet. Prewar records show that there were roughly 100,000 pigs across the islands of Okinawa. By the end of the war, that number had dwindled to 7,731, according to the Ryukyu government’s 1946 records.
By 1947, however, a hog cholera epidemic had nearly decimated Okinawa’s pig population.
On Nov. 12, 1947, Kameji Kakazu and Katsumi Hokama formed the United Okinawa Assistance Association. Within six months, they had collected $47,196 to purchase 550 pigs. But the pigs needed to be transported to Okinawa. After several requests to the Pentagon by the Honolulu Council of Churches, Gen. Douglas MacArthur finally authorized the request.
With the transportation secured, Dr. Yoshio Yamashiro, a veterinarian, went to F.A. Wellman & Sons, a livestock market in Omaha, Neb., where he hand-selected 550 pigs. The pigs were then transported to Portland. In August 1948, Dr. Yamashiro, along with Ryoshin Agena, Heisho Miyasato, Ushikichi Nakama, Shinyei Shimabukuro, Genbi Tonaki and Yasuo Uezu, set sail for Okinawa with the pigs and the crew of the USS Owen.
Two days into the journey, however, they encountered a severe storm that destroyed the ship’s makeshift pens. Some pigs were washed over-board. The men risked their own lives by tying themselves to ship’s rails in order to avoid losing more pigs.
The ship returned to Portland and the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers helped to repair the pens. On Sept. 4, the Owen returned to sea again.
The Oct. 29, 1948, edition of Okinawa’s Uruma Shimpo listed in detail how the 521 pigs were distributed throughout Okinawa. Fifteen pigs were sick and had to be sent to the quarantine station.
After Dr. Yamashiro had returned to Hawai‘i, the U.S. military sent out an emergency radio request for 100,000 cc of hog cholera serum. The serum was immediately shipped by commercial airliner on Oct. 10, 1948, paid for by Dr. Yamashiro and his associates.
We spoke with 94-year old Seiko Komesu, one of 15 farmers from Ginowan who had entered a lottery to receive a pig. Komesu-san got a pregnant Chester White sow that bore 10 piglets. A designated veterinarian assessed the litter and determined a price for each piglet. Komesu-san was allowed to keep his Chester White, but was required to sell the litter to other farmers on a waiting list for half price.
“Chester was number one quality,” he told us. In time, he built a successful business from that first Chester White sow. “I was the first in my village to build a big cement house,” he said. Komesu-san and his wife raised six children in that house.
Through a carefully managed distribution and breeding program, the number of pigs swelled and the hog farming industry in Okinawa was revitalized. It helped to solve food shortages and contribute to the postwar recovery.
MILK GOAT BRIGADE
In those postwar years, food shortages and malnourishment were prevalent throughout Okinawa and there was a need for milk for infants and young children. From Hawai‘i, the Seventh-Day Adventist Church, the Okinawa Fukko Renmei and the Christian Relief Group sent 750 milking goats in two shipments. Unfortunately, we were not able to find any documentation on how the goats were distributed.
I was struck by three themes while researching this story:
• A March 1942 public opinion poll found that 93 percent of Americans believed that the U.S. government was right to intern people of Japanese ancestry living on the West Coast. Discrimination was still widespread across the country right after the war. The fact that other races and ethnicities donated clothing to help people that others may have considered the enemy is a testament to Hawai‘i’s aloha identity.
• Many older children in Hawai‘i took jobs to help their families make ends meet. Ninety-year-old Dorothy (Shiroma) Hoe was one them. “My father made my older sisters, who were 12 and 13, wear makeup so they would look older. He wanted them to get waitress jobs at restaurants, which they did, to help support our family.” Hoe said her father “would slaughter a pig and sell the pork. All we ate was the nakami (intestines). I never knew what pork tasted liked.” Despite financial hardships, families like Hoe’s were compelled to give. It speaks to our Issei’s kizuna (ties) to their beloved place of birth — like an umbilical cord to the motherland, never to be severed. It is our responsibility to keep that bond alive in their honor.
• As a producer/researcher for the PBS (Public Broadcasting System) television series, “Family Ingredients,” I helped to produce an episode on Okinawa in 2015. In it, we featured segments about the pigs being transported to Okinawa. In one of the segments, we interviewed Zensho Arakaki, then 85 years old, at White Beach. When the pigs were unloaded at White Beach in 1948, Arakaki-san was 17 years old. At the end of our “Family Ingredients” interview, he turned and faced the ocean, looking out at the remnants of the pier where the pigs were unloaded. With tears streaming down his face, he quietly said, “I can see the pigs now.”
Throughout our interviews with individuals who received the relief goods and supplies, we felt a strong sense of gratitude on their part. To them, the items were much more precious than their material value. A set of clothing showed that people in Hawai‘i cared. I came away knowing that Hawai‘i gave the people hope, and that played an eternal role in the postwar recovery of Okinawa.
Dan Nakasone is a Sansei Uchinanchu from Wahiawa. He is a marketing and advertising professional and most recently served as a producer/researcher for PBS’ award-winning food and culture series, “Family Ingredients,” which is based in Hawai‘i and hosted by Chef Ed Kenney.