Editor’s note: As of this writing, my staff writer (friend and cheerleader) for the last year and a half, Ida Yoshinaga is already off to Atlanta, Georgia on a new adventure as an assistant professor in science fiction film at the Georgia Institute of Technology’s School of Literature, Media and Communications.
In April of 2020, Ida and I started our new Herald chapter together. I was a new editor and she was the Herald’s new writer. Her enthusiasm for the Herald and Grant Murata’s Okinawan dishes was infectious. I will remember how she enjoyed his goya champuru (an Okinawan bitter melon dish made with bitter melon, meat and tofu) with wide eyes saying, “Mmm, this is amazing!” At the Herald, Ida’s most notable work revealed the unique issues that exist in Hawai‘i when it came to mental health, social justice and politics. I also learned a lot from her expertise in film and literature. Ida always strived to elevate The Hawai‘i Herald with solid facts, responsibility, wisdom and integrity.
She is also an amazing mentor. Thanks to Ida we have a new structured internship program for high school or college students who want to get their feet wet in journalism at the Herald. After Ida is done settling in to her new home in Georgia, we hope her writing will make the occasional appearance in the Herald. I have already pitched her a story idea about what new adventures await her in the Peach State. Mahalo nui loa Ida, I send you lots of aloha on your amazing new adventure. Come back and visit. Grant’s champuru will be waiting for you.
From the first day I strolled into the Hawaii Hochi’s worn but cheery Kalihi-Pälama offices in late April 2020 to begin my duties, I saw that working as staff writer of The Hawai‘i Herald: The Japanese American Journal was going to be confusing, edifying and just plain fun. Sales manager Grant Murata, known in the local Okinawan community as Masanduu- (formerly Sandaa-) Sensei for his vibrant uta-sanshin instruction as well as his memorable musical acts, barked out a makeshift lecture in perfect Nihongo across the room, aimed at one of the Hawaii Hochi’s many Japanese-national staff. His deep, professionally trained performer’s voice echoed throughout our open-plan offices, not only filling the small, four-desk, English-language Hawai‘i Herald section of this historic two-paper press but also penetrating the larger, Hawaii Hochi section of Japanese-language editors, reporters, translators and layout staff next door. The staff person who was his makeshift audience, our Herald-Hochi ad-layout artist, nodded her aizuchi (oral acknowledgements of what the other person has said) while listening intently, as if to a master orator.
As far as I could tell, Grant was explaining to that Hochi Japanese staff the fine difference between noro and yuta. He was rattling off distinctions between these two varieties of Okinawan female spiritual practitioners who had served as village or neighborhood leaders in his grandparents’ Ryukyuan homeland. To exemplify his points, he told a couple of folkloric tales and shared a few sayings in Okinawan, mixed in with his flawless Japanese. It felt like listening to a professional cultural expert at a university give an elaborate presentation as an invited scholar, except this was performed on the fly.
I was even more surprised when back then, last spring, on her way out as the Herald’s decades-long editor-in-chief, Karleen Chinen had shared with me that her dear friend Masanduu-Sensei, while highly knowledgeable about Okinawan culture and deeply networked within the local Uchinanchu community, was not formally trained in these areas of expertise — the folklore, social history and religious practice of the Ryükyüs (except perhaps in musical performance). But regardless, she viewed him as a scholar, just as much as my professorial peers with doctorates at the University of Hawai‘i-Mänoa could be considered credible academics. When I got to know Grant, I realized that he had earned his knowledge by sheer persistence in listening to community elders, issei long in the Hawaiian islands as well as those back in the Ryükyüs and in Japan proper, all of his life.
So when I think back on the 15-odd months I spent at the Herald — a surprising pandemic employment I was not expecting to get — I realize that I have learned so many things I found both meaningful and fascinating, as a scholar of ethnic media. For example: What does it mean when community members critically study their culture’s artistic practices (such as sanshin); governance patterns (such as group, city and state leadership) or information-dissemination history (i.e., cultural communication, including not only books, newspapers and newsletters, but also social media and podcasting); then collectively author their own cultural or political history?
At the Herald, I learned the answers to these questions, by working not only alongside Grant, but with the fine, if diverse, members of our core editorial and production team. Like the uta-sanshin expert, many Herald staff had similarly picked up areas of cultural expertise and sociopolitical knowledge through years of unpaid community labor, bringing tremendous technical skillsets as well as spiritual and moral guidance to our paper.
You may have noticed a subtle re-invention of the Herald over this pandemic year, as it is now an ethnic paper of not just strong Japanese/American content (thanks to the long legacy of Karleen Chinen as well as of Arnold Hiura, Mark Santoki and other Japanese/Okinawan editors), but of increasingly vibrant visual artistry as well. This gradual shift in our look was accomplished by literary writer Jodie Chiemi Ching, our new editor this past year and former Herald staff writer, whose vision has shepherded us through a time in which many people might have felt despair over the very future of the community and of the once-crucial role played by its cultural newspapers. Jodie made sure that, while we initially could not physically travel to Hawai‘i Japanese and Okinawan organizations’ events due to the coronavirus pandemic, we had kept our readers in the community nourished — with local recipes as substitute Bulletin Board entries rather than this section’s regular face-to-face event listings, then with the eye-catching In Our Community photo section that Jodie included more frequently within the Herald’s look, to nudge readers to re-imagine places and scenes that we perhaps have taken for granted. For example: Japanese ethnic fabrics stores; neighborhood playgrounds; people creating facemasks to support others in the community; fundraising drive-thrus of cultural groups; non-AJA but definitely local scenarios such as the celebration of King Kamehameha Day.
Jodie was aided by staff photographer Wayne Shinbara (who shoots our IOC images with love) as well as Herald layout artist Asami Arai, a creative spirit from the Korean Japanese community of Kobe, Japan, who lent her sophisticated visual style to the paper. You may have noticed that though sometimes it looked like we offered fewer pages than we were able to before the pandemic (a temporary casualty of COVID-19-era budgeting), the range of Herald content seems as rich and varied as ever. This is due to Asami-san’s fabulous ability to fit so many words and images into the page in aesthetically pleasing ways without making them difficult to read or view.
Jodie also has a magazine editor’s eye for Herald covers, selecting images that are often surprising, subtextual (with many hidden/layered symbols of what it means to be Japanese and to be local in Hawai‘i), and just plain refreshing when you get your issue at the end of a long two weeks without the Herald. Trained through the Bamboo Ridge study group’s networks of pidgin writers, she thinks like an artist and sees worlds in worlds and images.
There are, of course, a few regrets: That I did not get to author my long-put-off AJA LGBTQ+ article which I have been trying to write ever since Mark Santoki was editor in the mid-1990s. Or to write a “Native Hawaiian Nikkei” mixed-race identities piece. (The latter is an article that not only Herald oldtimers such as Colin Sewake, but also journalists new to regular writing for our paper — including my replacement staff writer Kristen Nemoto Jay and recently hired freelancer Nick Kurosawa — are far more knowledgeable to report and reflect on, than me!)
But 15 months is such a short time. As my issei grandmother used to say, “Jinsei wa benkyo (life is to be learned).” And there has been so much learning I was able to do in these wonderful editorial offices, okage sama de.
Minna, iro iro arigato gozaimashita!