Professor Masako Iino
Professor Masako Iino

“Gannenmono Spirit and Hawaii-Japan Relations”

Professor Masako Iino
Published with Permission

Hawai‘i is one of the most popular destinations for Japanese tourists. When they fly into Honolulu, the first thing they notice is that the airport has a name: the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport. He was the first Japanese American to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives (1959) and, later, the first in the U.S. Senate (1962). At the airport, tourists also find an exhibit titled “Celebrating Our Local Heroes,” highlighting the accomplishments of Daniel K. Inouye and Wally Yonamine, a legendary Hawai‘i-born baseball player who played in Japan for nearly four decades. This makes the Japanese visitors to Hawai‘i feel quite at home. It also strengthens the positive image of Nikkei in Hawai‘i that they have through media reports and by learning the history of Hawai‘i, including the history of the Gannenmono. Japanese people in Japan are aware of the great contributions Nikkei have made in Hawai‘i, in the U.S. and, consequently, in the world.

In my presentation, I would like to describe how the Nikkei in Hawai‘i, many of whom are descendants of Gannenmono, have contributed to the enhancing of friendly relations between Hawai‘i and Japan and between the U.S. and Japan. Hopefully, it will provide some implications for future U.S.-Japan relations, emphasizing the importance of people-to-people diplomacy and human relationships. There are many instances that show Nikkei contributions to Hawai‘i-Japan relations. I would like to talk about two of those instances: kenjin kai, associations of people from the same prefecture in Japan, and LARA (Licensed Agencies for Relief in Asia) relief supplies.

Kenjin Kai

In 2015, the Japanese Overseas Migration Museum (JOMM) in Yokohama sent out a research team headed by the academic chair of JOMM — me! — to Honolulu and Hilo with the purpose of “promoting closer relations between the Museum (JOMM) and Nikkei communities in Hawai‘i.” Our findings were reported in an article titled, “Strengthening the Relationship Between the Japanese Overseas Migration Museum and Nikkei Communities in Hawaii: Report on the Research Trip Visiting Nikkei Communities in Hawaii” that was published in the Oct. 15-21, 2015, edition of the Journal of the Japanese Overseas Migration Museum. Here, of course, the Museum generally represents Japanese people in Japan. This research trip confirmed that many groups of Nikkei have been trying to promote understanding and friendship between the peoples of Japan and the United States through the special and unique perspective of Hawai‘i. They play important roles in promoting friendship between people in Hawai‘i and their counterparts in Japan, following the tradition of the “Gannenmono spirit.” One good example of these groups are kenjin kai.

As many of you know, Hawai‘i has five sister-states in Japan: Fukuoka, Okinawa, Hiroshima, Ehime and Hokkaidö, the newest prefecture that entered into a sister-state relationship in 2017. For the prefectures that sent large numbers of immigrants to Hawai‘i, starting with the Gannenmono, being connected to the kenjin kai in Hawai‘i is of great importance. The kenjin kai are considered a bridge that connects people in Japan with the Nikkei in Hawai‘i and thus, people in Hawai‘i as a whole.

Hawai‘i and Fukuoka Prefecture have been sister-states since 1981. Although Fukuoka Prefecture did not send as many immigrants to Hawai‘i as Hiroshima, Yamaguchi or Kumamoto (7.5 percent of Kanyaku Imin contract immigrants before 1894 came from Fukuoka), people in Fukuoka are very proud that their prefecture is the ancestral home of U.S. Senator Daniel K. Inouye and Governor George R. Ariyoshi, the first Japanese American governor of Hawai‘i (1974), as well as of Ellison Shoji Onizuka, the first Japanese American astronaut who traveled in space on the space shuttle Discovery.

When the kenjin kai have important events in Hawai‘i, the offices of those prefectures in Japan sends their representatives to participate in the events. And when the prefectures have commemorative ceremonies, they invite people from the kenjin kai in Hawai‘i, so that their ties with the kenjin kai in Hawai‘i can be recognized in their prefecture. Those prefectures believe it is important to have those ties. For example, they sponsor many exchange programs between schools in Hawai‘i and those in their prefecture. They financially contribute to supporting Japanese students who are interested in studying in Hawai‘i, with the assistance of the kenjin kai in Hawai‘i. At the same time, they welcome students from Hawai‘i to stay in their communities.

This all contributes to the globalization of young people. It is said that young Japanese have become so inward-looking that they are not interested in going beyond the “comfort zone” they have established for themselves. The kenjin kai’s work has had a great impact on those young Japanese in moving them out of their “comfort zone” and placing them in a global situation, as well as creating bridges between our two countries.

LARA Relief Supplies and the Nikkei in Hawai‘i

Another example of the Hawai‘i Nikkei’s contributions to the relationship between Hawai‘i and Japan and, consequently, between the United States and Japan, was through “LARA relief supplies” to Japan. There are many instances of the Nikkei in Hawai‘i extending a helping hand to Japan: The most recent case was when we experienced a serious earthquake and tsunami in 2011. We deeply appreciated receiving the great help from the Nikkei in Hawai‘i.

But here I would like to talk about the help from the Nikkei immediately after World War II. The war in the Pacific and World War II resulted in conflicting emotions for many Nikkei, who also suffered from the effects of the war. Some scholars argue that many in the Nikkei population, especially the Nisei, developed a negative self-image and tried to distance themselves from anything Japanese. Still, there were many Nikkei, particularly those in Hawai‘i, who were more concerned about the plight of the Japanese in Japan than their own condition. When the war ended, Japan was completely devastated, as defeated countries always are. The majority of Japanese were experiencing difficulty securing food and clothing to survive. Then some Nikkei tried to find a way to help them. They discovered that they could do so through an organization called Licensed Agencies for Relief in Asia, or LARA, that had been established by civilians in the United States. Twenty percent of the relief supplies sent to Japan by LARA was collected by Nikkei in North America, including Hawai‘i, and South America. It is impressive that the Nikkei in Hawai‘i were very active in helping the Japanese in Japan, who started the war in the Pacific by attacking Pearl Harbor.

The Japanese referred to this aid as “LARA relief supplies” or “LARA materials.” Relief activities continued from November 1946 until 1952. According to government records of the supplies it had received by May 1952 (Ministry of Welfare, “LARA no Seika,” [The Results of LARA] June 1952), the supplies sent to Japan consisted of 16,704 tons of food, clothing, medicine and other goods. Livestock was shipped, as well — 2,036 goats and 45 milk cows. The record noted that “if these supplies could be calculated in terms of the Japanese yen, the value of this aid would be far over forty billion yen.”

In December 1946, LARA relief supplies were delivered at first to infants, school-age children and welfare institutions in the areas that had suffered the most destruction during the war. Due to the severe shortage of goods at the time, the institutions that received the relief supplies were filled with joy and appreciation for such unexpected gifts as milk, sugar, candies and clothing, which were extremely rare at the time.

The value assigned to the LARA aid was reflected in a January 1951 Ministry of Welfare report titled, “LARA Kyuen Busshi ni Tsuite [About LARA Relief Supplies].” “The LARA gift as a symbol of love of neighbor gave hope to the people in desperation and poverty, and they now live each day with hope and appreciation of the love of mankind that reaches beyond the national border shown by LARA. . . . The Emperor and Empress are greatly interested in LARA supplies. Thus the entire nation expresses respect and appreciation for the kindness of LARA.”

The LARA relief supplies saved many people who were suffering from despair and poverty “from hunger, cold, and illness, and gave them hope for tomorrow,” noted the Ministry of Welfare’s 1952 report, “LARA no Seika [The Result of LARA].”

Thirteen American religious, social welfare and labor organizations participated in LARA: The Church World Service, American Friends Service Committee, Catholic War Relief Service, Lutheran World Relief, Mennonite Central Committee, AFL and CIO, Brethren Service Committee, Unitarian Science Committee, Christian Science Service Committee, Girl Scouts of the United States, Salvation Army, YMCA and the YWCA. People wanting to contribute in North America, including Hawai‘i, and South America contacted one of these 13 organizations and contributed relief supplies to it. LARA then sent them to devastated Japan.

Ministry of Welfare information in a 1952 Kaigai Nikkei Shinbun Kyokai article titled “Commemorating LARA” reported that 20 percent of all relief supplies had been contributed by the Nikkei population in the Americas, including Hawai‘i, of course.

In 1952, the Ministry of Welfare requested that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs investigate these activities. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ detailed findings were contained in the “Report on Relief Organizations Established by the Fellow Japanese in North and South America.”

The report said there were 36 Nikkei relief organizations. Some had been established for social purposes, but used the opportunity to participate in relief activities for Japan. Others were formed specifically to send relief supplies to Japan.

The Japanese government also recognized the Nikkei organizations’ efforts to send relief items to Japan early in the postwar period. Its report in 1951 explains LARA as follows: “It is believed that more than one million members from thirteen organizations, including religious, social enterprise, and labor organizations, participate in LARA. Among them are Japanese citizens in North and South America, including Hawaii.”

Hawai‘i’s LARA Committee for Relief of Displaced People in Japan alone consigned $300,000 to the American Friends Service Committee, said the Ministry of Welfare’s January 1951 report, “LARA Kyuen Busshi ni Tsuite (On LARA Relief Supplies).”

The following case shows how the contributions of the Nikkei in Hawai‘i developed.

Hawai‘i had a large Nikkei population, so several relief organizations were formed: LARA Nihon Nanmin Kyusai Iinkai (LARA Committee for the Relief of Displaced People in Japan), Honolulu; Maui Nihon Nanmin Kyusai Iinkai (Maui Committee for the Relief of Displaced People in Japan), Wailuku; Yuai Juji-Kai Hawaii Shibu (Friends Cross Association Hawaii Branch), Honolulu; Sensai Koji Kyusai Club (War Orphans Relief Club), Honolulu; Hawaii Doshikai (Hawaii Comrade Association), Honolulu; and Hakkokai, Honolulu.

The earliest and largest was the Honolulu LARA Committee for the Relief of Displaced People in Japan, which was established in November 1946 by Dr. Gilbert Bowles and others. Only one month after its establishment, between Dec. 13 and 18, it shipped 9,363 pounds of goods worth $94, 050.43, including clothing, medicine, soy sauce, miso paste, shoes, etc. According to Ministry of Foreign Affairs records, great quantities of relief supplies were received by LARA headquarters in Tökyö — 3,249 pounds of clothing, shoes and other items worth $78,881 in 1949. In 1950, 3,777 pounds of clothing, shoes, kombu (seaweed), soy sauce and other items worth $89,923 were collected. Especially impressive among the items sent from Hawai‘i were ingredients enjoyed in Japanese cooking, such as soy sauce, miso paste and kombu.

Following up on the activities of the Honolulu committee, the Maui LARA Committee for the Relief of Displaced People in Japan began its activities in December 1946. One month later, in January 1947, it was “strengthened and rearranged as a cooperative enterprise among Nikkei religious groups” and renamed the Maui Committee for the Relief of Displaced People in Japan. The major groups active in the organization were the Wailuku Jodo-In, Wailuku Hongwanji and Wailuku Shingonshu Temple. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs reported that the Maui groups shipped an estimated 181,000 pounds of relief supplies to Japan in 1,810 boxes in the first six years after the war.

In Hawai‘i, besides assisting displaced people in general, some organizations had more specific goals aimed at actively promoting their own causes. For example, the Hawaii Union Okinawa Relief Society sent 528 pigs to Okinawa in 1948. The Friends Cross Association Hawaii Branch assisted wounded soldiers, and the War Orphans Relief Club assisted war orphans, reported the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

In addition to relief efforts by the Nikkei through LARA and other organizations, there were instances in which soldiers who were stationed in Japan aided the Japanese. In a story published in “Japanese Eyes, American Heart: Personal Reflections of Hawaii’s World War II Nisei Soldiers,” compiled by the Hawaii Nikkei History Editorial Board in 1998, Fujio Takaki, a Hawai‘i-born Nisei serving in the Military Intelligence Service in Japan went to visit his parents. They had returned to Japan before the war. Mr. Takaki found that they “were living in a shabby house in extreme poverty.” He tried to give his savings to his mother to repair their house. But she refused, saying she could not accept such special treatment. She suggested instead that he “utilize the money for the sake of all the people in Japan.”

Later, while stationed in Maizuru in Kyoto, Takaki and his colleagues did just that, proceeding with a plan to plant cherry trees there. He explained that he could not forget seeing the beautiful cherry blossoms, even in a burnt field, upon arriving in Japan. The cherry trees are called “Aloha Sakura” and are considered a symbol of friendship between Hawai‘i and Japan.


The impact of the Nikkei and their 150 years of history in Hawai‘i, contributing to the economy, politics, culture, etc., and cultivating valuable human ties with people in Japan are noteworthy. Their efforts tell us how important it is to embrace mutual understanding between the people of Hawai‘i and those in Japan through people-to-people communication and ties. This is exactly the “Gannenmono spirit” that we greatly value. These close ties and communication based on the “Gannenmono spirit,” which the Nikkei in Hawai‘i have maintained and nurtured, are treasures for us and offer great hope for peaceful and amicable relations in the world.

Professor Masako Iino is the former president of Tsuda University in Tökyö, where she taught American history and immigration studies. Iino chairs the Academic Council of the Japanese Overseas Migration Museum in Yokohama and is also president of the Japan-U.S. Educational Exchange Promotion Foundation (Fulbright Foundation).


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