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 (continued…)

On June 1, 1916, three days before his classmates were to graduate from normal school, the young, 19-year-old Yoichi finally left his house to join his father in Hawai‘i. Since he was leaving home at 10 a.m. to go to the railway station at Niwase, a number of his relatives, neighbors and classmates from his elementary school came to see him off. His 16-year-old younger sister, Yasuko, said she would go to the station while his mother said she would see him off at the house because it would be heartbreaking to see him go off on the train. His mother looked sad the entire morning.

For his later than usual breakfast, his mother prepared sekihan (glutinous rice cooked with red beans for auspicious occasions) and served a small, broiled bream in celebration of his new adventure. She gave Yoichi a talisman of Kishimojin (Hariti), Goddess of Children, in whom she believed. Almost as an afterthought she said, “Please wear this next to your skin at all times.” There was a long string attached to the omamori (amulet) so it could be worn around his neck. Yoichi was educated in modern ways and though he did not care for such superstition-steeped objects, his mother’s love touched his heart and he gladly accepted the talisman, hanging it from his neck.

His mother could hardly keep her eyes off her frail looking son on the threshold of his manhood, dressed in kasuri (dyed patterned fabric) kimono with haori (half coat), the student’s hakama and wearing niwa geta (wooden clogs for garden) with thick clog supports. “You mustn’t go to dangerous places,” she said, adjusting the collar of Yoichi’s haori. He noticed her eyes glistened with tears when she spoke. Yoichi felt sad for a moment, but the young man, starting out full of hope on his life’s journey, soon recovered his normal composure. Thinking of the long train journey and the 11-day trip on a big ship shook him back into excited anticipation.

Half past nine … It was time to leave home. “Mother, I am leaving.” When he said his formal farewell, his mother, who had been standing by the entrance, said, “Take care of yourself, and say your farewell once again to your ancestors.” The last part of her sentence was said in a teary voice. Yoichi went to the butsudan (Buddhist house altar) and bowed respectfully. His mother was still crouched near the entrance.

Yoichi said, “I am going now.” He turned his back to his mother and was leaving, when his mother called, “Yoichi, wait a minute.” Thinking she had forgotten to tell him something, he took five or six steps back. Putting her hands on both of his arms, his mother said, “Let me see your face once more.” Yoichi thought it all a little too melodramatic, but he understood for the first time how hard this separation was for his mother. His mother was concerned this would be their last meeting on Earth, the foreboding she felt at the time. Yoichi did not have a sense of such foreboding but in actual fact, it was to be the last time his mother saw Yoichi.

Yoichi boarded the Shinyo Maru of the Toyo Kisen Kaisha at Kobe. He was first affected by the enormous size of the ship. He was also stirred by the greatness of Japan possessing such a ship. Genpachi’s passport and the ship’s passenger list attest to this departure from Kobe on the SS Shinyo Maru on June 7, 1916.

Every day during the voyage, Yoichi studied the English conversation book he bought in a bookstore in Okayama, as though memorizing its contents. The literature loving Yoichi also whiled away the tedium of the voyage by reading the newly acquired novels of Tanizaki Jun‘ichiro and Suzuki Miekichi.

One day, Yoichi was seated on the quarterdeck reading Kuwanomi (Mulberry) by Suzuki when someone behind him shouted without warning, “You are you going to America? To Hawai‘i?”

“I am going to Hawai‘i,” Yoichi replied.

He replied, “So you are going to Hawai‘i. I am going there, too. Oh, so you like to read the works of Miekichi. Stop reading such unproductive stuff. Literature is useless in the country of the dollar. You should be studying English instead.”

After they introduced themselves and exchanged information about each other, Yoichi learned his name was Motoyama, a graduate of Hiroshima Normal School. He was an elementary school teacher for the past three years, and he was invited to teach at one of the Japanese language schools in Honolulu. Yoichi thought Motoyama­san’s language and behavior were somewhat coarse for a schoolteacher. “I am an un-teacher-like teacher,” Motoyama-san said. He was a brash character.

The beds in the third-class quarters were four-decked, like silkworm racks, in the deepest part of the ship’s hold. It was dark, poorly ventilated and strangely malodorous. Third-class passengers were packed like cargo.

But the first-class cabins and dining room were almost palatial in their magnificence. Once, when Motoyama-san and Yoichi went to the ship’s doctor for their regular physical checkups, they went through a corridor along the side of the first-class dining room. Nowhere in the world was the difference money made as clearly manifested as aboard a ship, Yoichi thought.

“Look at these first-class accommodations. They are as far removed from our quarters as heaven is from hell. Despite the fact the ship is Japanese owned, there are only two or three Japanese people in first-class, the rest are foreigners. This is confounding. When we return to Japan, let us go home proudly in first-class.” As he said this, Motoyama-san angrily launched a big mouthful of spit onto the dark blue waters of the Pacific Ocean.

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 she 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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