Dr. Michael Chun (Courtesy Kamehameha Schools/Bishop Estate)
Dr. Michael Chun
(Courtesy Kamehameha Schools/Bishop Estate)

“Two Cultures, One People”

Michael Chun, Ph.D.
Published with Permission

Aloha mai käkou!

Being a part of today’s symposium commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Gannenmono’s arrival in Hawai‘i is both a great honor and deeply humbling. Mahalo nui loa.

With the arrival of the Gannenmono in Hawai‘i in 1868, a new journey was launched — a journey that would connect two vastly different cultures and create a common kinship built on mutual respect and appreciation for the values, traditions and languages of each. As island nations, Hawai‘i and Japan shared similar views of the world. The Gannenmono reflected these views and became an instrumental thread that helped weave the social fabric of contemporary Hawai‘i.

The creation of this kinship is told by many different stories passed on by generations of both Japanese and Hawaiian — stories of adventure and courage; hardship and resilience; joy and sadness. All tell of the close cultural connections between these island people, of the experiences that helped make them who they are and of the relationships that enriched their lives.


This afternoon I share the stories of three people that describe a kinship to which I feel personally connected, a kinship with the Gannenmono and the Japanese culture. These stories are set at different times, in different places and under different circumstances in Hawai‘i’s history. All, however, are connected by a common thread that involves an estate and a school that were created by the great-granddaughter of the ali‘i (royal chief) who united the islands of Hawai‘i under one rule. Her name is Bernice Pauahi Bishop, and his name is Kamehameha. The estate is the Bishop Estate and the school is The Kamehameha Schools.

As the largest private landowner in the state of Hawai‘i with an endowment valued at over $9 billion, the Bishop Estate supports The Kamehameha Schools, the only educational institution in the world solely dedicated to the education of Native Hawaiian children. Both have had significant and transformative impacts on the lives of Hawai‘i’s citizens and beyond.

My connection to both institutions is as a student, alumnus and president of The Kamehameha Schools, spanning a period of nearly seven decades.

Isaac Harbottle
Isaac Harbottle

Isaac Harbottle

King Kaläkaua, Hawai‘i’s reigning monarch from 1874 to 1891, fostered a keen interest in international and global affairs and was the first Hawaiian monarch to circumnavigate the globe. He saw the Hawaiian nation as an engaged member of the international community and established formal relationships with countries throughout the world. He also believed that educating young Hawaiians who showed promise of leadership would be a great service to the Kingdom of Hawai‘i, and in 1880, created a program to send Hawaiian youth abroad to be educated.

From 1880 to 1887, 17 males and one female were sent to six countries in Europe, Asia and North America. Two were sent to Japan. Each demonstrated a commitment to excellence as described by the Hawaiian proverb — külia i ka nu‘u.

So, why did King Kaläkaua include Japan as one of the countries where these young Hawaiians would be educated? As Dr. Dennis Ogawa has often shared, Kaläkaua was overwhelmed by the warm and sincere welcome extended by the emperor and the Japanese people. It was clear he and Hawai‘i were received as equals. But I believe the Gannenmono had also impressed Kaläkaua with their resilience, courage, determination, diligence, adaptability and loyalty — values that would also serve his people well as they faced the storms of change that were threatening their island kingdom. Leadership inspired by these values is the kind of leadership Kaläkaua’s struggling nation direly needed.

The two sent to Japan were brothers of ali‘i lineage, ages 10 and 11 — James Hakuole and Isaac Harbottle. Educated at Kuwazoku Gakko, Isaac and James excelled in their studies and became deeply immersed in Japanese culture, learning to speak fluently and, according to their mentor, with “perfect pronunciation.” Their intellectual and social development were impressive and they readily adapted to Japanese society and culture, so much so that one was recommended for consideration to the Imperial Japanese Military University and the other to the Imperial Japanese Naval College.

Unfortunately, this study abroad program ended before Isaac and James were age-eligible to attend these academies, and in 1887, both returned to Hawai‘i where they later served as Japanese interpreters in the Customs Service, Tax Office and Circuit Court. Fluent in ‘ölelo Hawai‘i (Hawaiian language), Japanese and English, both were excellent linguists who not only served their nation with distinction, but shared their adopted culture, as well.

After returning to Hawai‘i from Japan in 1887, Isaac Harbottle enrolled in and graduated from The Kamehameha School for Boys in 1893. One grandson — Kahu (the Reverend) Billy Mitchell, a personal friend and prominent religious leader on the island of Hawai‘i, graduated from The Kamehameha School for Boys in 1963. Another grandson — Myron “Pinky” Thompson, a prominent civic leader in Hawai‘i, served on the Board of Trustees of the Bishop Estate that appointed me president of The Kamehameha Schools in 1988. And a great-grandson — Nainoa Thompson, the world-renowned navigator who recently circumnavigated the globe in Hawai‘i’s double-hulled canoe, Höküle‘a, served as Bishop Estate trustee during my tenure as president. These direct descendants of our young ambassador to Japan continue the tradition of excellence valued by both nations.

Hisao Kimura

Thirty years after the Gannenmono arrived in Hawai‘i, another group of contract laborers made their way to our shores. Among them was Masajiro Kimura from Hiroshima. Masajiro and his wife, Hisamu, were assigned to Kohala Sugar Plantation on the island of Hawai‘i.

Plantation life was difficult and the work hard. And, like the Gannenmono, Masajiro quickly realized that plantation work would not provide the financial stability he sought for his growing family. Moreover, the plantation was racially segregated and was run by haole, or Caucasians, with little opportunity for advancement. Whatever his reasons, Masajiro left the sugar plantation for cattle ranching, which was seen as being distinctly Hawaiian, with cowboys and ranch hands overwhelmingly Native Hawaiian. Together with Hisamu, they raised nine children on Parker Ranch in Waimea on the island of Hawai‘i, at one time the largest privately owned cattle ranch in the United States. The Kimura ‘ohana, or family, gained notoriety as expert cattle ranchers and horsemen. Among the nine was son Hisao Kimura, a bright, inquisitive and open-minded young man, and the subject of my second story.

Although Waimea and Parker Ranch were predominantly Hawaiian, where families lived, worked and played together, the Japanese strongly discouraged and vehemently opposed mixed marriages. So, when Hisao fell in love with a beautiful hapa-Hawaiian girl, Elizabeth Lindsey, the relationship was greatly frowned upon by not only the Japanese community, but some of his own siblings, as well. Hisao and Elizabeth could not ignore this opposition, but they were deeply in love and totally committed to each other. After four years of courtship, they married with only mother Hisamu and brother Yutaka attending the wedding.

Hisao embraced the traditions of the Hawaiian people, describing Hawaiian love as different and deep, unlike any he experienced with others with whom he lived and worked. He looked forward to visiting his Hawaiian friends and families because they accepted people for who they are, not what they do. Out of this respect and admiration came a profound and unbending determination to assure that his children knew, understood and embraced the cultures of both their worlds — Japanese and Hawaiian. As a result, all four of his children were sent to The Kamehameha Schools in Honolulu, where they boarded and eventually graduated. One was my classmate, Leila Kimura Staniec. Another became a preeminent and renowned Hawaiian language scholar known throughout the world, Dr. Larry Kimura. All four are respected leaders in our community who built their lives on the strong foundation laid by Hisao and Elizabeth — a foundation of “ganbare a me ke aloha.”

Matsuo Takabuki

My final story is about a great leader in Hawai‘i’s history and a beloved mentor to many, including myself — Matsuo “Matsy” Takabuki.

Like other children of all contract laborers from Japan, Matsy was part of the Gannenmono legacy through his own parents, who had come to Hawai‘i as contract laborers to work at Waialua Sugar Plantation on the island of O‘ahu. I am not sure when his parents arrived. However, were it not for the 50 or so Gannenmono who remained in Hawai‘i after their contracts had been completed, the stage would not have been set for others to follow. These 50 brave and resilient laborers laid the foundation for those who followed, as well as for their descendants who became key contributors to the transformation of Hawai‘i over the past 150 years.

Along with all other Japanese living in Hawai‘i on that day, Matsy’s life was forever changed on December 7, 1941. Leaving plantation life behind, Matsy became a member of the famed and highly decorated 442nd Regimental Combat Team and fought bravely in the European campaign of World War II. Never considering himself a hero, those of us who knew him know better!

The lessons he learned in battle were never forgotten and served him well after returning to Hawai‘i to take up a different struggle — a struggle for equality and access for all people — which is so poignantly described in his memoir, “An Unlikely Revolutionary.” The “revolution” in which Matsy and others were engaged was to change the socioeconomic structure of the Hawai‘i of the 20th century through political action, an endeavor that was not only highly successful, but enduring as well.

His strong sense of justice brought Matsy recognition and respect as a skillful politician. However, that was not his only genius — his was a brilliant financial mind, as well. And this is where my story about Matsy Takabuki actually begins.

Matsy Takabuki was appointed to the Board of Trustees of the Bishop Estate in 1971. Land-rich and cash-poor, the estate was a financially strapped major landowner that was selling its lands to help support The Kamehameha Schools, which then consisted of one campus in Honolulu. By the time he retired in 1993, the Bishop Estate was a multibillion-dollar player in the world of international finance and investment and had become an endowment known and respected for its sound investment strategies and astute business judgment. More importantly, the estate was positioned to expand Kamehameha Schools into the community with educational programs and campuses throughout Hawai‘i and beyond. The principal architect of this remarkable transformation from “surviving to thriving” was Matsy Takabuki.

As much as he was honored and respected for his superior financial stewardship as trustee when he retired, Matsy was even more admired and beloved by students, teachers, staff, parents, alumni and other stakeholders of Kamehameha Schools for his devotion to our haumana, or students. He made education a factor in every business decision; he made our beneficiaries the highest priority in every transaction; and he inspired our students to never step away from any one or any challenge standing in the way of their aspirations.

However, there is another part of Matsy Takabuki’s story that must be told.

Matsy’s appointment to the Board of Trustees of Bishop Estate in 1971 was met with intense opposition from Kamehameha alumni and stakeholders. For most of its history, the estate was led by haole, and there was a strong sentiment for a Kanaka Maoli — a native Hawaiian — to be appointed. Alumni took to the streets in protest, including prominent civic leaders and clergy, expressing vehement opposition to his appointment. And for all to hear their opposition throughout the city, the bells of Kawaiaha‘o Church rang in protest.

With courage that matched that of the Gannenmono, Matsy remained silent and made Bishop Estate and Kamehameha Schools his own personal ministry. His was service to the Hawaiian people that few have and will ever match. While his life’s accomplishments spanned a range of endeavors, it was his service to the Hawaiian people through the Bishop Estate and Kamehameha Schools that defined Matsy and put him in a place of honor and esteem that few have enjoyed. From that place, though, Matsy pointed to and credited those who came before and those who shared his journey — “okage sama de” — for making him who he was.

At his passing in 2017, the bells of Kawaiaha‘o Church tolled once again. However, this time, the bells rang in deep sorrow and heartfelt sadness — for a man who shared two legacies — that of the Gannenmono and the Japanese people, and that of Bishop Estate/Kamehameha Schools and the Hawaiian people.

Closing Thoughts

The stories I shared today illustrate how two cultures, vastly different in many ways yet closely aligned in others, became intertwined to help create a social fabric that stands as a model from which the world can learn. While traditions, language and customs may have differed, the values honored by both cultures come together to bind Japanese and Hawaiians into one.

• Isaac Harbottle embraced the pursuit of excellence — Külia i ka nu‘u — to strive for the summit.

• Matsy Takabuki understood that what he became was because of others — Okage sama de — I am what I am because of you.

• Hisao Kimura held both cultures close, forging a marriage of love and commitment — Ganbare a me ke aloha — steadfast with love.

The Japanese have been an integral part of Hawai‘i as we know it today. Japanese values, traditions and culture have added so much to the lives of those who make Hawai‘i our home and have enriched the lives of all who live here. Many of the descendants of those who immigrated to Hawai‘i have been, and continue to be, leaders in communities throughout the islands, helping to transform our island home to what it is today.

Two cultures, one people. And it all began with the Gannenmono.

Dr. Michael Chun served as president of The Kamehameha Schools from 1988 until his retirement in 2012. The 1961 Kamehameha Schools alumnus was also the headmaster of the school’s Kapälama campus from 2000 until his retirement. Dr. Chun is now engaged in corporate and charitable leadership throughout Hawai‘i, serving on the boards of the Partners in Development Foundation, the Hawai‘i Association of Independent Schools, HMSA and as a trustee of Hawai‘i Pacific University. He is also a director of Alexander & Baldwin, Inc., Matson Navigation Company and Bank of Hawaii.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here