By Genpachi “Jūkichi” 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 Yōichi 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 2: Landing in Honolulu

After clearing customs in Hawai‘i, Motoyama-san and Yoichi took a horse-drawn carriage called a “hack” (there were not many automobiles in those days) and acquired lodgings at a ryokan (Japanese inn) called Onomichi-ya. In Hawai‘i, the sun shone in clear, blue skies in mid-June, so it was quite warm outdoors during the day. They were soaked with sweat very quickly. But, quite often, light evening showers cooled the air and breezes from the mountain made the evenings very pleasant. Yoichi’s possessions consisted of a yanagi kori (willow basket trunk) and a handbag, so he was not heavily encumbered. When he stood on the veranda at the back of the ryokan, he saw a beautiful, big rainbow hanging above the edge of a mountain. It seemed rainbows were frequent occurrences in Hawai‘i.

“Let’s take a walk to see what kind of a town Honolulu is,” Motoyama-san said. Motoyama-san had a suit of Western clothes with him and it was the first time he wore it. He tried to knot his tie under the high collar and found it difficult. “Ah, what a bother,” he said. “Let’s go without this thing,” So he started out with a collar but no tie, presenting a somewhat odd appearance. Yoichi did not have Western clothes, so he put on yukata (informal cotton wear) and hakama (formal trouser-like garment) like in Japan and walked on the sidewalk in his niwa geta, its thick supports making loud clackety sounds. Men and women turned around to look at him as they passed by. When he made these sounds on the concrete floor of the Immigration Station, the Immigration Officer shouted at him to buy some slippers to wear.

Chapter 3: Reunion with His Father

Yoichi had not informed his father which ship he would be arriving on in Honolulu. As soon as he got to the ryokan after leaving the Immigration Station, Yoichi wrote a letter telling his father of his arrival in Honolulu and of staying at Onomichi-ya. His father was working on a sugar plantation in a place called Waipahu, about 15 miles from Honolulu. 

When they met, his father said, “So you came. Did you get seasick on board?” With pride in his eyes, Yoichi’s father looked at the son he had not seen in five years. His boy had grown into a well-built young man. Yoichi thought his father looked shabby, dressed in a faded, reddish-black suit in this land of everlasting summer. He expected his father to be younger. His cheeks were deeply furrowed and his hair was half white. He looked battered and worn by the labor he had been subjected to. 

His backbone was slightly bent. Yoichi felt his heart tightening for his father.

Yoichi attended normal school with the money sent by his father. He always thought it was natural for his father to support him. He assumed it was quite easy for his father to make money in Hawai‘i, so it was not a difficult thing for him to send $200 a year to Japan. Although Yoichi did not yet know exactly what his father did on the sugar plantation, he seemed to understand for the first time that his father, who had passed the old age of 50, had been slaving and living frugally to send his beloved son to school.

After dining together at the ryokan, Yoichi and his father sat down in chairs on the veranda where a cool breeze was blowing down from the mountains. He told his father how his mother cried when he left the house, and how she made him promise to return to Japan after three years. Yoichi told his father about his younger sister, Yasuko, who wanted to go to the Girls’ High School next year, and about his uncle (his father’s younger brother) in Yamada Village who died suddenly of heart failure three days before his departure from Japan.

He told his father about Matsunaga-san, the rice merchant with whom his father was closely associated, and how his business went bankrupt, how he sold his house and business, and went to Okayama to start a small bistro. His father seemed engrossed in listening to his narration when he mentioned his neighbor Kiyama-san, in the hanamushiro (bulrush mat with a floral pattern) business, who became a very rich man because of the profitable market in mats in America.

“Kiyama-san was always a lucky man, unlike me…” Yoichi’s father said, laughing in a lonely, wry way, revealing his two missing upper teeth.

“You wrote in your letters that you wanted to study in Hawai‘i. Do you still want to go to school?” asked his father.

“Yes, if possible I would like to graduate from a university,” Yoichi replied.

“That’s fine. You can work your way through school quite easily in Hawai‘i. You can go to school and work for a haole (Caucasian) family. Since schools are closed here during the summer months until September, you can start saving for your school tuition by working in a shop I know in Honolulu,” his father said. However, Yoichi noticed that his father’s heart was not in the words he spoke.

To be continued …

Edgar Genpachi “Jūkichi” 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 Mānoa 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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