Hello, Hawai‘i Herald readers! In the last issue, Kristen Nemoto Jay introduced herself as the Herald’s new editor, and I’m excited (and nervous) to fill her shoes and the many other esteemed women before me as the new staff writer and digital media editor.
A short story long: My name is Summer Nakaishi, and I’m a half Japanese, half Okinawan Yonsei born in Honolulu and raised in Pearl City and Kalihi. After graduating from the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa with a bachelor’s degree in sociology, I was working as an administrative assistant for a federal grant when I decided to move to Chicago with my then-boyfriend (now-husband) with no job and no plans other than “things would just work out.” However, it was in 2007 and my young optimism crashed along with the economy during the historical period now referred to as the Great Recession. During this time of unemployment, I decided it was a good time to pivot and chase my hidden dream to be a writer.
As a child, I could always be found reading a book – in the house, in the dark, in the car, at the park. I’d fill notebooks with ideas for stories I’d half complete and piece together handwritten magazines with my sister. It hadn’t occurred to me to turn my hobby into a career, until the recession freed up some extra time to reexamine my life. I was lucky enough to be accepted into DePaul University and graduated with a master’s degree in writing and publishing.
Back in Hawai‘i, I met Kristen while working as an assistant editor and fashion editor for Morris Visitor Publications, and I’m grateful to once again be working with Kristen and sharing stories about the people of Hawai‘i.
I did some freelance writing on the side, but for a good part of the last decade, I’ve enjoyed being a stay-at-home mom to my two kids. While there were (and still are) fights and spills and pep talks, they were pretty great co-workers. What led me to this position was the opportunity at being better acquainted with Japanese culture.
My kids are a blend of Japanese, Okinawan, Puerto Rican and haole, but the job of teaching them about their Asian culture falls entirely in my hands. I’ve always called myself a “bad Japanese,” mainly because despite four years of high school Japanese language classes, my understanding is very elementary. Gomen nasai. My parents are Sansei, products of post-war Japanese Americans who assimilated into western culture and didn’t pass on the language. My Nisei grandparents died while I was fairly young, when I didn’t think of writing down their stories, when I didn’t think that I would forget.
My memories of our family history is a blend of fading memories and snippets from my parents, captions to stories of pictures never taken.
Your great-grandfather was interned in the second wave of people being sent to camps because he lived on church grounds.
Your great-grandmother was a picture bride from Japan who had 10 kids, but she was the most patient person I knew.
Your grandma traveled to and from Hawai‘i and Okinawa by boat.
I remember Misora Hibari on the TV, Japanese folk singing walking down the aisles in Marukai, mochi pounding and kadomatsu before New Year’s, summer parties with my paternal grandma’s Okinawan club, Musunde Hiraite. I can still hear the theme song to my Dad’s favorite Miyamoto Musashi TV show in my head. I remember abunai, kiotsukete, urusai, (and not coincidentally, these are the Japanese words woven into my husband and kids’ vocabulary, too). I learned a taiko drum dance routine in my junior year of high school for extra credit for Japanese class. But as a fourth-generation Japanese American to Hawai‘i, I identified more as a kama‘aina American with a few sprinkles of Japanese.
When my first child was born, my husband and I purposefully tried to infuse more Japanese and Okinawan traditions. We went to Daijingu Temple of Hawaii every new year to read our omikuji, slid our quarters down the slot machine, tying our bad fortunes to the tree and pocketing the good ones. I’m training my taste buds to enjoy goya champuru (I’m close!) We spent pre-COVID summer weekends at bon dances, watching our son mimic the hand motions of the dancers in the inner circle. While I wonder if I’ll ever truly feel Japanese enough, I want to give my kids a chance to understand and appreciate their roots and to continue to learn what it means to be a Japanese American in Hawai‘i, together. The Hawai‘i Herald beautifully honors this multi-cultural tradition, and it is a privilege to be a part of telling these stories. To my kids, my parents and grandparents, and all of you, I promise I won’t forget to write things down.