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.
Although Yöichi was struck by the aging figure of his father when they reunited at the ryokan in Honolulu, his father then had been properly groomed in a clean shirt and suit. The figure before him in mud-dirtied work clothes looked 10 to 15 years older. His posture looked slightly bent and gave the appearance of an old man, which made Yöichi sad. He was 55 years old, but had a figure of a man beaten down by hard labor. “So you’ve come,” his father welcomed Yöichi with a smile.
Yöichi thought it was cruel to make his old father work in the cane fields. When he was in school in Japan, he never thought of his father, on the threshold of old age, doing hard labor to support his family. Yöichi thought Hawai‘i was a place where money was easily made, and it was not difficult for his father to send money home to Japan. Yöichi realized he had been really selfish and not sympathetic to the suffering of his father. He felt sorry and apologetic that he had not been thankful to his father for his sacrifice of working under the hot sun in the cane fields and living frugally to send money to him, his mother, and younger sister.
“This is my room,” his father opened the door with the number 7 above it and invited Yöichi to enter. The inside of the room, like the exterior of the building, was bleak and uninviting. Houses, even when they have dreary exteriors, are usually enhanced with various furnishings or decorated to show a human touch. But his father’s room was more like a shed temporarily occupied by a construction worker.
The narrow area near the entrance door was encrusted with red dirt. The floor of the building was raised about three feet above ground, and the entry area was not closed off. In this space, his father’s shoes, geta and zori (flat, thonged, straw slippers) were stuffed unceremoniously because there was no shoe cupboard. On the roughly planed wooden walls, his father’s clean clothes, and towels hung on ordinary metal nails.
His father hung up his battered straw hat and lunchbox on another set of nails and said, “Please wait a while. I’m going to take a bath.” Taking a change of clothes, a hand towel and a soapbox, he left for the common bathhouse for the laborers next to the cookhouse.
Left alone in the darkened room, Yöichi looked around once more. It was too early for nightfall, and he realized the room was dark because light entered the room only through a small glass window cut in the back wall. Yöichi stood up and switched on the light bulb hanging from a long cord from the ceiling. The light did not even have a shade. The bulb was a small one of about 10 watts that cast a forlorn and dim light in the room.
There were no cupboards, tables or chairs. There was only a small 3ft x 3ft low table, with a tray containing a teapot, cups, and rice bowls. The room was not furnished in the Western style. The room was completely covered with the kind of matting found in cheap, Japanese houses. There were no women caring for this house, and his father was not concerned about his living quarters. “These are temporary quarters. I shall be going home to Japan in two or three years. This is just a place to sleep,” his father must have thought. Nevertheless, what cheerless surroundings to live in.
His father returned in a well-washed, dark blue yukata, wearing a three-foot obi (fabric sash) and geta, and carrying his towel and soapbox. In Hawai‘i, most Japanese men wore Western clothes when they went out. But when they finished work and had their bath, they usually wore a yukata. They wanted to enjoy their relaxation in Japanese clothes. In those days many Japanese women still wore kimono and zori when they strolled the sidewalks of mid-town Honolulu, which struck Yöichi as somewhat strange. When Yöichi saw Japanese women wearing silk kimono, a big obi bow and the bottom of their red underskirt showing, he had the illusion he was back in Japan.
His father mopped his warm face with his towel. His hair had turned half-white and began to thin, broadening the bald part of his forehead, that reflected with melancholy in Yöichi’s eyes.
“You haven’t eaten dinner yet, have you? Let’s go to the cookhouse and have dinner together. Half past six is kaukau (food or to eat in Hawaiian pidgin) time,” he said as he picked up his dollar watch. Dollar watches were round nickel watches commonly owned by working class people, and were so called because they could be purchased for one dollar.
“It will be half past six in five minutes,” his father said. There were no wall clocks or desk clocks in the room. His father probably took his dollar watch to the fields, because there was red dust in the rim of the watch and in the watch chain. It seemed the dollar watch was the only luxury Yöichi’s father owned.
Apparently, his father lived extremely frugally since he came to Hawai‘i to make his fortune. When they met at the ryokan in Honolulu, he said he gave up drinking. Among Yöichi’s childhood memories was that of his father having his daily evening drink, and his mother attending to him, warming his sake (Japanese rice wine). His drinking disposition was not good, and Yöichi still remembered his father picking on his mother for no good reason and bawling her out. His father stopped the drinking he loved, sought no other entertainment, and saved everything to send money home. Not knowing any of this, Yöichi had spent money with comparative freedom, played his favorite tennis, went to the movies on Sunday or boated on the Asahi River and lived extravagantly like a rich man’s son. Yöichi truly felt sorry for what he had been doing.
“This is my only pleasure,” his father said and rolled some cut tobacco very deftly in brown paper and smoked the makeshift cigarette. Shortly afterwards, a bell rang KAAN, from the rear of the house. “That’s the kaukau bell. Let’s go,” invited Yöichi’s father and they went to the dining room in the rear.
Although called a dining room, it was just a partitioned off part of a long typical workers’ lodging, where two narrow wooden tables seating eight people facing each other had been placed on the dirt floor. There were two large bowls of beef and green vegetables cooked together on each table, and in front of each seat were a bowl of miso (soybean paste) soup, a small plate with three slices of takuwan (pickled daikon radish), a bowl for rice, a teacup and a pair of red varnished chopsticks. Two rice serving bowls were placed on each table.
There was nothing Western in the food served, everything being pure Japanese-style food. Mrs. Yamazaki, the matron of the cookhouse, carrying a large earthen pot that looked like it contained tea, noticed Yöichi and his father and said, “Shimazu-san, you must be very happy to have your boy come from Japan. Now you feel reassured, don’t you?”
His father bowed and said, “Thank you. Yoroshiku onegai itashimasu. (I kindly ask you to care for him.)”
Finishing their meal in the dim light of a round electric bulb, Yöichi and his father returned to the father’s room. It was getting quite dark outside.
“Since tomorrow is Sunday, I expect you would be staying the night,” his father said, rolling his cigarette.
Yöichi had come expecting to stay overnight. He had been separated from his father for five years. Five years ago his father had returned to Japan and stayed for about a month. Since his father left his mother, himself and his younger sister while he was working in Hawai‘i for the five years preceding that visit, it was as if he had been separated from his father for 10 years.
It seems when people are separated, they can lose their sense of kinship. Yöichi didn’t feel close to his father as a parent, as he felt toward his mother. He was embarrassed for his feelings toward his father that were more liken toward a perfect stranger.
“Yesterday, a letter came from your mother. She is very worried about your health and wondered if you were sick or not. Have you written to her?”
“I am writing to her about every two weeks,” Yöichi answered.
“She said you and I should return in three years. I suppose she is lonely. I don’t blame her.” Yöichi’s father laughed sadly and rolled another cigarette. “Are you still planning to return to school?” his father asked.
Judging from this father’s tone, Yöichi got the impression he was not too supportive of the idea. Yöichi saw his father living in miserable quarters, working himself to the bone in his old age, and felt remorse for using his father’s hard-earned money to continue his studies. His desire for knowledge began to weaken.
“I would like to have a high school education at least, since there is no future here without a high school diploma, otherwise I can’t get a respectable job,” Yöichi said. He had not completely given up the idea of continuing his studies.
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.