Karleen C. Chinen

Okagesama de . . .

For the last month or so, I’ve been searching for the right word to convey what I feel as I sign off and retire as editor of The Hawai‘i Herald. Lucky? Blessed? Fortunate? Yes, all of those, but not quite what I feel.

But, Okagesama de . . . I think that captures what I feel. I have had this career thanks to so many people and forces coming together. It was because of the support of my dad and mom and my siblings. It was timing, it was my education, it was my curious nature and, yes, some hard-headedness. It was stories I couldn’t let go of — stories I wanted everyone to know about. It was the support of our late publisher, Paul Yempuku, who trusted in me as a writer and gave me the opportunity to lead the Herald as editor. It was my belief that you deserved interesting, and informative stories that were well written and edited.

Lots of people say they have the best job in the world. I’m definitely one of them. Despite the lack of financial rewards and, yes, questionable security in retirement, I’ll never regret having lived this life, because of all the stories I got to listen to and because of what my eyes got to see, what my heart got to feel and the people I had the chance to meet — yes, the somebodies in our community, but more importantly, the everyday people who move our community forward with little or no fanfare. We only live once, and with work being something that occupies so much of our lives, I always wanted to be happy with how I spent that time.

The Hawai‘i Herald allowed me to live my two passions: using my journalism education to share stories, and my interest in Japanese American history and my Okinawan heritage.

When I graduated from UH-Mänoa in journalism, my first two jobs were in the news departments of KHON TV and KHVH radio. My class schedule in my last few semesters at UH had been filled with ethnic studies classes. “Our History, Our Way” opened my eyes to the history of Hawai‘i’s working-class people. I saw everyday richness in their stories. They were the stories of people like my parents and grandparents — not highly educated people, but kind and decent people with fascinating and heartwarming stories to share.

I never felt short-changed because I wasn’t practicing journalism at the Honolulu Advertiser or the Honolulu Star-Bulletin. Heck, I was doing it at the newspaper company that Fred Kinzaburo Makino had founded in 1912 and had used as his soapbox to protect the rights of the Japanese community in Hawai‘i. That history was never lost on me.

I often wondered, and I still do, how long the Herald and our sister-publication, the Hawaii Hochi, will last. I have no answer to that question, but that uncertainty made me view the Herald as a documenter, a future storyteller. Fifty years from now, a hundred years from now, I want anyone researching the history of Hawai‘i’s Japanese American community to be able to read through the archived copies and get a sense of what our community was like in the 20th century and the early 21st century.

Hawai‘i is undergoing so much change that I sometimes don’t even recognize it. Sometimes, while driving along Ala Moana Boulevard, I actually lose my sense of where I am. I no longer recognize what were once landmarks. A part of me cries inside at the thought of monstrous rail pillars and huge rail stations destroying the peaceful view of Honolulu’s waterfront.

That thought makes me count my blessings, for I had a chance to see much of old Hawai‘i. And although my life’s end is, hopefully, still many years away, I know I will go peacefully if I remember what my eyes and heart took in, thanks to the Herald. I could not have been more blessed.

I got to sit across crusty old Tom Araki, owner of the four-room Araki Hotel, on the lanai of his home in Waipi‘o Valley, with the sound of the ocean so near and clear. Only a kerosene lantern lit his weathered face. That night, I learned that he wasn’t all that crusty after all. In fact, he was really a nice man with a sense of humor who just acted grumpy and crusty.

I got to sit with Harry Hasegawa, proprietor of the Hasegawa General Store about a month after fire destroyed his family’s iconic store in breathtakingly beautiful Häna in East Maui. I came to understand the meaning of ‘ohana, of family, as I watched the store’s employees all pull together to clean up the site, led by Harry’s son, Neil. With that team, there was no way they would not regroup and reopen.

I got to join a group of 442nd Regimental Combat Team veterans from F Company as they pushed their bedridden Army buddy, Hoxie Nagami, through the streets of downtown Hilo in his wheelchair so that Hoxie could see more than the four walls of his bedroom at home. They never made a big deal of it, but no story made me understand the bonds of brotherhood borne in war than that story. Of that group, only Wataru Kohashi survives.

I came to understand the meaning of “community support.” It began with Hongwanji member Mary Fujitani’s simple suggestion: “You should do a story about the temple bell.” She meant the Makawao Hongwanji temple bell bearing the names of five young Nisei men from Hämäkuapoko in East Maui who died while hiking to Haleakalä when inclement weather set in. They lost their way and froze to death on the mountain. The Pä‘ia-area Japanese chipped in whatever they could to purchase the bell. On a rain-soaked day, perhaps like that day in 1923, Makawao Hongwanji member Yoshio Kijima drove me to Pä‘ia and Makawao and Pukalani and back to Kahului as we tried to recreate the story by collecting the memories of people who remembered that day.

I leave with memories of so many stories that moved me and made this career so meaningful. Finding the old Tule Lake Relocation Center site in Northern California with Iwao Kosaka of the Hawaii Hochi staff, who was imprisoned there during the war . . . of meeting and hearing Fred Korematsu’s story of standing up against the internment of Japanese Americans and going to jail for it . . . of seeing the forests in Bruyeres and Biffontaine, where so many 100th and 442nd soldiers lost their lives in 1944, and the hauntingly beautiful Epinal American Military Cemetery and seeing the grave of Tomosu Hirahara from Hawai‘i, resting peacefully, cared for by the citizens of Bruyeres and Biffontaine like he was their son, their brother . . . of Hilo tsunami survivor Fusayo Ito’s almost unreal story of surviving . . . of learning about the five streets in Lïhu‘e named for five Lihue Plantation employees who were killed in action fighting for their country in World War II . . . of listening to Circuit Judge Shunichi Kimura talk about being raised by his widowed mother and supportive siblings and how that formed his social justice beliefs. I laugh to myself when I think of that interview because I was told I would have an hour to interview him. We left three hours later; by then, it was dark outside the State Office Building in Hilo.

To be honest, I didn’t realize then how fulfilled those stories and countless more would leave me. Today, I believe the stars aligned and all of those forces came together for me.

And you, our readers, how can I thank you enough for allowing me to do this, for supporting me and the Herald for all these years? The editorship, particularly here at the Herald, is a juggling act with lots of balls in the air and not much in resources to catch them all. My success was also the result of those who put their heart and soul into this position so the Herald could continue. Ken Toguchi, Arnold Hiura, Mark Santoki, Gwen Battad Ishikawa and Warren Iwasa . . . thank you.

And to our contributing writers, columnists and cartoonists, especially those who shared their stories with us of late . . . Dan Nakasone, Kevin Kawamoto, Gregg Kakesako, Richard Borreca, Melissa Tanji, Carolyn Morinishi, Frances Kakugawa, Joe Udell, Wayne Muromoto, Ethan Okura, Craig Gima, Arnold Hiura, Patsy Iwasaki, Margaret Shiba, Jackie Kojima, Kristen Nemoto Jay, Alan Suemori, Ryan Tatsumoto, Colin Sewake, Mike Malaghan, Jon J. Murakami, Dennis Fujitake, the Bamboo Ridge writers and poets . . . thank you so much. You helped us fill our pages with interesting stories. It was like we had all of your warm bodies on staff with us.

Now I pass the baton on to Jodie Ching, who has been our staff writer for the past two years. Jodie comes to the editorship with a deep interest in Japanese and Okinawan and local culture as a student and a practitioner. She brings a younger yonsei perspective that will help take the Herald into the future. Please support Jodie as she takes the baton beginning with our April 3 issue.

Thank you also to my “Sen-seeei,” Grant “Masanduu” Murata, our advertising manager, for listening to me even if he is a certified sensei. We are supported by a dedicated crew here: Asami Arai, Izumi Okino, Joanne Villanueva, Duke Duque, Mark Nishioka, Motoko Yamada, Wayne Shinbara, the press crew downstairs and, of course, our president, Taro Yoshida, who always reminds us about hitting that deadline.

Finally, thank you to all of our Japanese American and Okinawan community and cultural organizations and our veterans clubs. Thank you for all the good work you are doing to keep our AJA community alive and thriving for future generations.

And so, once again, “Okagesama de . . .” It was the coming together of forces I could never have imagined, and it is because of you that I leave with memories to last a lifetime. Thank you so very much for your friendship, your faith and support, your kind words and all your aloha. It has meant everything to me.

At this time when the coronavirus has us wrapped in fear, let’s remember that beyond our common Japanese American heritage, we belong to a larger ‘ohana in Hawai‘i and that we all need to help each other get through this crisis. We had good examples in our early history that we should follow. Please stay safe . . . and I hope to see to you again sometime.


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