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. To purchase a copy of the translated book, go to blurb.com/b/10379589-child-of-a-hawaiian-immigrant.
The No. 5 Camp where his father lived was on the high ground beyond the railroad tracks that transported the sugarcane. It was a village of tens of lodgings for the plantation workers.
“When you come to Camp 5, ask for Yamazaki Ogokku (chief cook) and he will lead you to me right away.” As his father instructed him, Yoichi proceeded to Camp 5, where lodgings for the laborers stood in rows. It was just past four o’clock, and there were hardly any people around who had come back from work, so it was very quiet in the workmen’s quarters. He only saw a dog or two moving between the lodgings and a middle-aged woman leaving her house in a hurry to prepare the evening meal.
The lodgings for the plantation laborers actually resembled housing for the lower classes in a Japanese town. To Yoichi, these looked bleaker than the tenement housing in Japan. Although the buildings were painted white on the outside, the low quality paint used made them look painted with white dust mixed with water.
The lodgings were built about four feet above ground and there were steps leading up to the building at three places. The steps and the corridor along the length of the lodgings were all built with odd pieces of lumber, so there were loud noises whenever people walked on them. These areas were stained with the ugly, redcolored dust of Hawai‘i. Yoichi’s orderly sensibility was repulsed by the red stains left in various places from the rainy period. Looked at in this light, the houses of the poor in the downtown areas of Japan had more class. Because these were temporary housing for short-term immigrants, no attempt at decorating the outside of the houses was ever made. There were cartwheel tracks in the bumpy road directly in front of the lodgings. The road was made of the same red soil that Yoichi found disagreeable.
There was no grass, flowers or trees to please the eyes. There were a few trees here and there, but they were unappealing and shapeless. The trees were called kiawe (algaroba, a mesquite) and were plentiful in the plains of Hawai‘i. They were covered with small, curly leaves so they provided no discernible shade. There is nothing so inelegant or awkward and as thorny as the kiawe tree. The local lore was that a French Catholic missionary introduced this tree from Peru where he had spent six months before arriving in Honolulu. He saw the lower plains were barren and had few trees and knew the kiawe thrived with very little water. It may have served the purposes of afforestation or flood prevention, but it made the Hawaiian landscape truly bleak.
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 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.