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.
Since he was told to ask for Yamazaki, the chief cook for Camp 5, in order to find his father, Yöichi asked a 17- or 18-year-old girl coming from the edge of the camp where Yamazaki cookhouse was. The girls, wearing a short, cotton, one-piece dress with a green floral design, said, “It’s the blue house in back, near the middle.” She spoke in beautiful Japanese for a Hawai‘i-born.
The cookhouse was the place where single laborers living in camp were served morning and evening meals, usually prepared by the wife of one of the married laborers. The box lunches the laborers ate in either the field or mill were also made at the cookhouse. Living expenses were cheap in those days, so three meals a day for a month cost only $10.
Yamazaki cookhouse was located in the center of the identical looking to the workers’ living quarters. Half of the cookhouse consisted of a dining room and the rest was the living quarters of Yamazaki-san and his family. Although it was crude in appearance, it was still built like a family cottage, with flowering plants in front and large, yellow hibiscus flowers bloomed on the hedge.
For the first time since coming to the plantation, this looked like a proper house for a family. Yöichi learned later these cookhouses were usually run by families of workers who were considered senior among the laborers, like a luna (overseer of field workers in Hawaiian), a head carpenter or a sugar mill foreman.
Yöichi, standing in front of the cottage, said, “Hello,” when a dark complexioned, fortyish looking woman appeared. Yöichi asked, “Is there a Shimazu-san living nearby?”
The woman looked at Yöichi ’s face and, touched by something, smiled and said, “You must be Shimazu-san’s boy. Shimazu-san was saying his son had arrived from Japan, and you must be that boy.
Shimazu-san’s room is in Bldg No. 7 facing the road. You’ll see it right away because the number is written clearly on the front.”
“Thank you very much,” said Yöichi. He was about to leave when the woman said, “Shimazu-san does not return until half past five. So why don’t you come in to rest a while?”
Yöichi thought this woman must be from Hiroshima because he recognized the dialect. Yöichi was visiting this house for the first time and having a shy disposition he said, “Since it’s only 10 more minutes until five-thirty, I’ll go to Bldg. No. 7 and wait there,” and then left.
Two girls, around 11- or 12-years-old, came out of the house and looked curiously at Yöichi. Perhaps there was something different in this youth from Japan compared to the local boys.
Yöichi went around to the front and up the steps of Bldg 7 at the farthest end of the camp facing the road. The threshold was covered with red mud and the white walls dirtied with red mud again bothered Yöichi.
Walking along the building veranda streaked with red mud, Yöichi found his father’s Room 7 right away. Yöichi sat down on a bench stained by red mud in front of the room.
A young girl in a one-piece dress with a floral design awkwardly carried a big paper bag with what looked like groceries under her right arm. She passed in front of the house slipping off her slippers. She went up the front steps of the building and entered the room with number 8 hung above it. Yöichi remembered it was the girl he had asked about Yamazaki cookhouse.
KAAN, the plantation train’s bell rang, and he heard the sound of escaping steam. Between the kiawe trees, a gray locomotive, with its funnel-shaped smoke stack belching black exhaust into the red sunset sky, came into view. Yöichi realized that the train carrying the laborers back from the cane fields had returned. He heard voices and he saw groups of laborers who had gotten off the train returning to the camp.
“Tomorrow’s Sunday, where are you going?”
“I’m going to my aikane (Hawaiian for friend) in Ewa.”
“Are you? Then I’ll call Kimura to join our hanafuda (Japanese card game).”
These two men, talking cheerfully, were walking from the side toward the back of the camp. Their shirts, trousers and straw hats were covered with reddish-brown dust, but the joy of having finished a week’s work and anticipating Sunday’s rest was seen in their faces. Groups of fives and eights followed. Most were middleaged, but none looked like especially strong laborers. To Yöichi they seemed to be men broken by hard labor and somewhat pathetic.
When the groups of laborers hurrying home were temporarily interrupted, a smallish man walked into view with a faltering step. He wore a crumpled straw hat, ahina (denim in Hawaiian) trousers, jikatabi (rubber-soled, split-toe Japanese outdoor footwear) and carried a lunchbox in his right hand. Yöichi was taken aback. This was his father.
The author, Edgar Genpachi “Jükichi” Tsushima was born in Okayama, Japan and graduated from Okayama Normal School, a school for teachers, at age 19 and came to Hawai‘i as a contract sugarcane worker. After graduating from the University of Hawai‘i at age 36, he worked as a Japanese-language teacher and news reporter for Japanese-language newspaper, Hawaii Hochi. Because of his occupation, he was interned during World War II mostly in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Tsushima died on July 9, 1985, at the age of 88.