By Genpachi “Jükichi” Tsushima
Translation by Kan Edmund Akatani
Special to The Hawai‘i Herald

“Child of a Hawaiian Immigrant” is a historical novel that conveys the events, social conditions and life of the author’s own immigration and personal experiences while being faithful to historical facts. The editing team understood that it was the author’s desire to include actual events and people with accurate details. The main character Yöichi is based on the events of the author’s life in Okayama, Japan, his life as an immigrant sugarcane worker in Waipahu, his educational and professional life experiences, and his World War II internment. 

This story comes to us courtesy of Bob Tsushima, son of the late Genpachi Tsushima. It was the first place winner of the United Japanese Society of Hawaii’s novel contest in celebration of the 1968 centennial of Japanese immigration to Hawai‘i. The journey from translating to self-publishing was a family effort. Bob was able to bring us this English version with the help of his brothers Mark and Willie, his wife Jeanne, daughter Kathryn, and son-in-law Dan Keller. 

Chapter 1: Meeting His Father in Hawai‘i

With graduation from Okayama Normal School only two months away, fourth-year students like Yöichi Shimazu began to meet in their rooms in the dormitory after meals. In groups of four or five, they talked animatedly about the town or village of the school where they would teach. Some said since the school was three ri (Japanese length measure: 1 ri = 2.44 miles, therefore about 7.3 miles) from their homes, they would commute by bicycle. Others thought they would find lodgings because their school would be eight ri (20 miles) from their homes.

Still, others said their parents urged them to get married as soon as they found jobs. In short, they were discussing the plans and dreams of what they would do when they moved on from student life to life in real society. The excitement of knowing they would be full-fledged elementary school teachers, despite the fact that their salaries were only 18 yen a month, gave their idle talk an aura of pleasure.

About this time, Yöichi was beginning to feel out of touch with his classmates. Two or three months earlier, he made up his mind to join his father in Hawai‘i following graduation and was waiting for final permission. It was almost a year ago when he was finishing his third year that Yöichi began to think about going to Hawai‘i after graduation. Of course, when he entered the teacher’s college, his uppermost thought was becoming an elementary school teacher. Yöichi, keen on education since his elementary school days, dreamed of going to a university and becoming a scholar. But compared to his friend Yamazaki Tsutomu’s father who was wealthy, Yöichi realized that his family was poor and his father, an ordinary laborer who had emigrated to Hawai‘i, did not have the money to send him beyond middle school and onto normal or high school and university, so he sadly resigned himself to his fate.

His father returned home from Hawai‘i about the time Yöichi was finishing elementary school. His father asked him, “Will you come with me to work in Hawai‘i?” He told his father that he would like to at least finish normal school. When asked, “What do you want to become?” Yöichi always answered, “a scholar,” and never thought beyond that. He actually had no idea of a specific profession he wanted to pursue.

Although there were five or six of his classmates who planned to go to the commercial high school in Ômoto City, Yöichi was not interested in business or in becoming a salaried worker in the business world. When he was thinking of what he should do, his teacher Mr. Tanaka came to mind. Yöichi respected Tanaka-Sensei, who looked after Yöichi more like a son than as a student. Yöichi was frail, comparatively weak-willed, and had a tendency to be indecisive. Tanaka-Sensei encouraged Yöichi, taught him how to play tennis, and built him into a healthy youngster. Yöichi was truly grateful to him. Looking up to him, Yöichi thought the work of a teacher was extremely worthy and worthwhile and that teaching was one of the noblest professions. Yes, he would become a teacher. He entered a normal (teacher training) school. Moreover, in those days, school fees were waived in the normal schools, so the school expenditures were much lower than at middle and commercial schools, which suited Yöichi’s family. Yes, he would go to normal school, Yöichi decided, and told his father of his decision.

“Then I will go back to Hawai‘i, work another five years and send you the money for your school expenses,” said his father. His mother welcomed this decision. Initially, when his father was urging Yöichi to go to Hawai‘i with him, his mother was the first person to oppose the idea.

“If a young man goes to Hawai‘i you do not know what will become of him. Even if we are poor, we will make do somehow,” his mother had said. During the earlier six years, his father had been in Hawai‘i to make money, his mother had lived a lonely life caring for Yöichi and his younger sister Yasuko. She could not bear the thought of Yöichi going to Hawai‘i as well. 

“It’s very good that you decided to go to normal school. A teacher’s profession is a very noble one,” his mother agreed unconditionally to the proposal. 

Yöichi yearned to go to normal school, so after passing the school’s entrance examination, he was very happy to live in the dormitory of the Okayama Prefectural Normal School. Kimono and hakama (loose pleated trousers, worn over kimono, part of Japanese formal attire) was the dress code for an elementary school in those days. So Yöichi, who had never worn Western clothes and shoes, was thrilled when he put on the black uniform made of Kokura-ori (a striped fabric) with gold buttons.

Dormitory life at the normal school was extremely strict but congenial. Yöichi enjoyed studying so school was agreeable. The study of English especially was of great interest to him. The two annual field trips in spring and fall and the two-week study tour to Tökyö and Nikkö at the end of two years of study left deep impressions in the sentimental mind of this young student.

Class of 1916 Okayama Normal School. (Photos courtesy of the Tsushima family)

Yöichi liked tennis, which Tanaka-Sensei taught him in elementary school, so he played tennis from the first year at normal school. Okayama Normal School was known for its prowess in tennis and had been champions in the Six Normal Schools Open Tournament of the Sanyo District. Therefore, tennis was avidly followed. Yöichi became one of the top players in his class in his first year, and in the second year he was accepted as a member of his school team. He played in the intra-city tournaments of normal, commercial and high schools.  

Around the time Yöichi was in his third year, he took an interest in literature, thanks to his roommate Waki. Yöichi read the works of Natsume Söseki, Miekichi Suzuki and Junichirö Tanizaki with relish. For Yöichi, the three fun-filled years of dormitory life at his school passed quickly and were contentedly filled with study, tennis and literature. But around the fourth year, the year of his graduation, Yöichi felt that his life’s goal of becoming an elementary school teacher was rather dull and wearisome. It was meaningful to educate and lead young children but was it work that inspired him to apply all his effort and energy for the rest of his life? Wasn’t this life too mundane, uneventful and insipid? The task of raising children into good and honorable people was worthwhile but before that, he wanted to become honorable himself. He wanted to polish himself, do something big, and become a scholar, writer or even a great entrepreneur.

To be continued …

Edgar Genpachi “Jükichi” Tsushima was born on April 20, 1897 in Okayama, Japan. He graduated from Okayama Normal School, a school for teachers, at age 19. In June 1916, Tsushima came to Hawai‘i as a contract sugarcane worker. To improve his English, he attended Ka‘ahumanu Elementary School in Honolulu for a year and then graduated from President William McKinley High School in 1925. He majored in English at the University of Hawai‘i at Mänoa and graduated in 1930. Tsushima worked as a Japanese-language teacher and news reporter for Japanese-language newspapers. Because of his occupation, he was interned during World War II mostly in Santa Fe, NM. 

Tsushima became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1956, at which time he took on the name Edgar. He taught adult education classes for citizenship at W.R. Farrington High School and was also a radio announcer on KOHO. He was named Hawai‘i’s Outstanding Naturalized Citizen of the Year in 1967 and was honored with the Order of the Rising Sun Medal of the 6th Class by Emperor Hirohito. In 1975, he was named Outstanding Citizen of the Year by the governor of Hawai‘i. Tsushima died on July 9, 1985, at the age of 88. 


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