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 4: Working in a Store
Yoichi began to work as a clerk at Abe Shoten (store), a wholesaler that specialized in Japanese and American foods on River Street. His main assignments were packing orders received from retailers into boxes for delivery. He worked delivering merchandise with a man in his 30s named Murakoshi, who was already an employee of the store when Yoichi started.
Murakoshi-san had come to Hawai‘i six years earlier and could manage simple English conversation. Yoichi admired the easy way in which he understood the haole when they spoke to him. But after a while Yoichi discovered Murakoshi-san’s English was extremely inaccurate, with many grammatical mistakes and very limited vocabulary.
In Japan, when he studied English conversation with a Christian minister by the name of Wilson, Yoichi became known as “English Shimazu” for his proficiency, so he was quite confident his knowledge of English was considerable. But, he still could not decipher what the haole said at all, and they could not understand the English he spoke. They kept asking him to repeat what he was saying. It was a great disappointment to Yoichi that the haole he addressed did not understand his English, so he was discouraged.
Pastor William Albert Wilson (1864-1951) was a Methodist missionary who taught English in Okayama and Hiroshima for 40 years (1890-1930).
Murakoshi-san said, “Shimazu-kun, you pronounce English in the Japanese way so that is why the haole does not understand you.” Yoichi was disheartened the English he thought he spoke quite well was not understood. He realized his confidence in English was not well-founded.
“When I first came to Hawai‘i, I went to elementary school for two to three years, studied as a regular pupil alongside small children, and went to night school. It was not easy to become conversant in the language. Are you thinking of going to school too, Shimazu kun?” Murakoshi-san asked.
“Yes, I am thinking of finishing high school at least,” Yoichi replied. Yoichi intended to go to a university.
One evening, as he walked home to his rented room after work, he recalled he was out of matches for lighting his cigarettes. He entered a small store managed by a middle-aged Chinese man who looked like a second-generation Chinese-American.
He told the balding shop owner, “Give me a macchi.”
The shop owner replied, “What did you say? What is it you want?”
“Give me a macchi,” Yoichi said in a louder voice.
“A what?” the shop owner still did not seem to understand.
“A macchi!” Yoichi repeated with irritation in his voice. Still, the shop owner could not understand. Yoichi, walking around the shop, found some matches on a shelf, so he yelled, “This!”
“Oh, you want a match, eh?” the Chinese-American shop owner smiled almost derisively.
When Yoichi mentioned this incident to Murakoshi-san the next day, he explained, “The shop owner probably did not understand you because you pronounced the word in the Japanese way. The American pronunciation was closer to match.” Yoichi felt deep chagrin for being unable to pronounce a simple word like match.
Murakoshi-san said very seriously, “When I first came to Hawai‘i, I also wanted to finish high school and worked very hard at it. No matter how much I tried, I couldn’t get beyond fifth and sixth grade level. So I quit school and began working in this store. But you studied English at normal school, so you should be able to learn much quicker. For someone coming from Japan with no background in English, this is a greater hurdle.” Yoichi, too, experienced the same difficulty in learning English, especially English conversation.
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.