Jodie Chiemi Ching
“I have three mothers and three fathers — I feel grateful,” said 91-year-old Isamu Manago who is the second youngest of Kinzo and Osame Manago’s seven children. Kinzo and Osame founded the Manago Hotel in Kona on Hawai‘i Island in 1917, now owned and managed by sansei Dwight Manago and his wife Cheryl.
Many stories have been written about the Manago family and the Manago Hotel. But, not many know the story of Kinzo and Osame’s youngest son, Isamu, and how he was left in Fukuoka Japan at seven months old to be raised by his grandparents and aunt and uncle.
Born Osame Nagata, on April 26, 1895 in Fukuoka-ken, Japan, Osame was raised on a farm with her four sisters. They planted and harvested rice and carried out chores traditionally assigned to sons.
Osame was one of about 14,000 picture brides that immigrated to Hawai‘i between 1907 and 1923. She met her husband, Kinzo Manago, at the immigration station when she arrived in Hawai‘i in 1913, and they were married at Izumo Taishakyo Mission of Hawaii.
Kinzo brought Osame to Kona where he worked for the Wallace family as a cook. Osame did a variety of jobs, including sorting coffee beans for the Captain Cook Coffee Mill and embroidering linens.
Shortly after their first son was born in 1915, Kinzo and Osame opened a coffee shop specializing in homemade bread and udon noodles. The coffee shop eventually became the Manago Hotel. The loyalty of order-takers from wholesale companies during the 1930s, and the soldiers during World War II enabled the hotel to stay in business.
In 1929, when Isamu was just seven months old, the family went to Japan to visit Osame’s parents, Tsurukichi and Moyo Nagata in Fukuoka, Japan.
Documented in “HANAHANA: An Oral History Anthology of Hawaii’s Working People,” — compiled and edited by Michi Kodama-Nishimoto, Warren S. Nishimoto and Cynthia Oshiro and published in 1984 — is Osame’s personal account of what happened on this visit.
In the anthology, Osame’s interview is translated by Kodama-Nishimoto: “My father sent me a letter saying he wanted to see our children. So I told my husband about it and he said it would be a good idea, that we would get some help for the hotel, although it was busy. Mr. Yonekura, who was with the Hawaii Hochi, offered to watch over the management. We hired cooks. We asked our friend Ishida-san, who was a teacher at Napoopoo School to become manager…. Since we would be gone during April, May and June, we had to take both winter and summer clothes. We took three trunks and a suitcase…. My eldest was 14, and the youngest of the six children [that were traveling], a seven-month-old, I carried.
“Kyushu is [an island] detached from Honshu, and in those day there was a steamboat transport between the two islands. In order to get to Kyushu, we had to get on this steamboat. And after we crossed the sea, we took a train. There were lots of people waiting to greet us at the station. They praised us for our determined effort to bring the children back home…. As for my father, he was so excited about receiving my husband in his home for the first time that he had readied my husband’s Japanese-style formal wear and a set of kimono for me. My father said that seeing the children was worth more than a house filled with gold, and he cried, even though he was a man.
“Although we planned to stay three months, a month or so after our happy arrival, I received letters from Hawai‘i telling us that there was a hotel being built next to ours. Our friends wrote, warning that we must get back home as soon as we could…. And I thought my father was satisfied now that he had seen all our children, although we’d been there only a month.
“But they’d had a small family, just my parents and my sister and her husband, with no child. When the eight of us came, their house was cheerful and full of people. My mother said to me that she wouldn’t know what to do when we were gone, that it would be like a typhoon had gone by. She begged me to stay, asking if I really had to go….
“Before we left my parents, we had a farewell dinner at my sister’s house. After we got back from my sister’s, we noticed something was going on in the main room of my father’s house. We heard singing and wondered what was happening. It was my parents singing for my little one. They had a pair of zori, or sandals, made for my little one by an 80-year-old man, who by custom symbolized longevity. It was a ceremony to wish [him] a long life. My father and mother were glad that the ceremony was conducted, and they said that the child would live long.
“… My sister said my mother would feel so sad when we left that Mother would go crazy or become sick. And she took my baby and carried [him] away into a nearby shrine. I felt then that I shouldn’t have come back if I’d known that I should have to leave my baby behind. I didn’t know what to do.
“But I realized how sad my mother was, and understood how she felt about my children. After all, I had many children; I thought I could leave one child with her. I told myself it would be okay. Since we had to hurry, we left for Kurume Station. My sisters came along with us to Kyoto. They came because they thought I would be lonely, leaving my baby behind. In Kyoto, when my milk dripped through my thin kimono, my sisters cried, saying that the baby must be hungry. They were so sorry for the baby and me, my sister called home to check on the baby. My mother apparently told my sister that the baby had drunk milk and was sleeping soundly. When my sister told me the baby was doing okay, I thought, as long as [he] was drinking milk, [he] should be all right.
“After staying in Kyoto for a week, we went to Yokohama, where we were to get on a ship. When we were about to leave for Hawaii, my sisters asked me whether my sister’s husband should bring the baby to Yokohama. I told them I was sure that the baby was going to be cared for very well since the baby was the only child in the house…. I was very sad, but I also thought of the time I left my mother many years ago to come to Hawaii. I owed her for that, and I had to pay her back.
“Once in a while, though, I thought of the child, and imagined how [he] was doing; and I felt I shouldn’t have gone to Japan. They often sent me pictures of the child, telling me how well [he] was growing, thanks to my parents and sisters.”
According to Isamu, Osame knew her mother had no boys, so she left little Isamu to be raised by Moyo and his aunt, Umeyo. To him, they were all Otösan and Okäsan.
“I have no regret. They took good care of me. I was a spoiled child,” said Isamu with a smile. Isamu, made a lot of friends at school and when he got to middle school, he started to play basketball.
In 1940, 12-year-old Isamu and his grandparents went to Kona to visit Kinzo, Osame and his brothers and sister: Masakazu, Mildred, Harold, Takashi, Jay and Pentson. Isamu said for two months, he stayed at the Manago Hotel having fun with his siblings teasing and chasing the chickens and pigs. That’s also when he learned to slaughter a chicken. When Osame saw how shocked Isamu was, she scolded him saying, “You’re a boy,” and that boys should know how to slaughter a chicken.
World War II
About a year after Isamu returned to Fukuoka, Japan, on Dec. 7 1941, The Japanese Imperial navy attacked the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor on O‘ahu.
The police came to Isamu’s home and asked him if he wanted to go “home” to Hawai‘i because the war was about to start. There was one last opportunity for him to catch a boat headed for Hawai‘i. But, to Isamu “home” was Fukuoka, so he declined and stayed with the family who raised him.
However, because Isamu was not a citizen of Japan, he could not get ration coupons given out by the Japanese government. By the village officer’s suggestion, his grandparents adopted him temporarily, by completing some paperwork, so he could receive food rations for the family.
Close to where Isamu lived was Kurume City. He said, “Kurume City was bombed day and night, [as the] planes flew above.”
Isamu and some of his classmates worked in the densha, or electric train, garage. One day, an American plane attacked a travelling densha, and they brought it into the garage. With his hands up, Isamu described what he saw, “Inside, meat hanging from the ceilings.” All the passengers had been slaughtered by the attack.
On Sep. 2, 1945, aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay, the Japanese instrument of surrender was signed, ending World War II.
Post-war life in Honolulu
Isamu and his classmates went back to middle school for one year to receive their diplomas and went on to graduate from high school.
In 1947, Isamu left for Honolulu and stayed with his sister, Mildred, in Kaimukï. He promised his Japan “otösan” and “okäsan” that he would return in four years.
During his time in Honolulu, Isamu took English language classes at Olivet Baptist Church in Makiki. There he met Amy Mito, his bride-to-be, who lived with her sister, Shizue, in Pälolo. On most days, Isamu would catch the bus home after class. But, in 1948, buses temporarily stopped running, because from Sept. 3 to Oct. 8 transit workers went on strike unsuccessfully against Honolulu Rapid Transit.
Lucky for Isamu, this was an opportunity for him to walk Amy to her home in Pälolo on his way to Kaimukï. Isamu learned that while he spent his childhood in Fukuoka, Amy spent hers in Yamaguchi, Japan. Amy was born in Kapoho, Hawai‘i but after her mother passed away while she was still an infant, a doctor adopted her and took her to Japan.
Amy also saw a lot of bloodshed during the war. As a middle school student, she was conscripted to be a messenger for the Japanese Imperial Army. When the war ended her brother, Richard Masayuki Mito, brought Amy to Hawai‘i. Amy and Isamu bonded over memories of the war in Japan and learned that they moved to Honolulu the same year.
Isamu and Amy had much in common and enjoyed each other’s company conversing as they walked from Makiki to Pälolo. Their friendship turned into love and they “tied the knot” on Aug. 10, 1954.
In 1955, the couple moved to Fukuoka, but after a couple of years, decided that they wanted to plant their roots in Hawai‘i and raise a family. Isamu is a retired electronic technician from Sears Service Center and Amy is a retired seamstress from Tori Richards. Their son Ralph works in computers in Honolulu and their daughter Joyce is a housewife in Massachusetts. Joyce has one son, Liam, who is 19 years old.
Today, Isamu and Amy live a peaceful life in Honolulu and try to make the Manago family reunions that take place every other year in Kona. This year the reunion will take place in Las Vegas, so they will skip taking the long flight.