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.
“Do you plan to live a long time in Hawai‘i and get a steady job here?” His father did not know of Yōichi’s hopes and plans for his future. This was only natural because when Yōichi wrote to his father saying he wished to go to Hawai‘i, and that was all he wrote. The first time he told his father of his wish to return to school was when Yōichi met his father at the ryokan on his arrival.
“Yes, if you want to live permanently in Hawai‘i you will have to get an education at an English language school. Then you don’t plan to go back to Japan after making money for four or five years? Your mother wanted you to return to Japan after three years or so, as she said when you left the country. Your mother always said so in her recent letters.”
His father immediately agreed when Yōichi wrote he wanted to go to Hawai‘i because he thought that after they worked three to five years and saved some money, they would return home. So when Yōichi said he wanted to study, Yōichi could see his father’s disappointment, although he never said a word against it.
Yōichi never thought for a moment of working as a laborer on a sugar plantation like an ordinary immigrant, and after making a little money by manual labor, he would return to Japan. His departure from normal school just before graduation to go to Hawai‘i would be meaningless. What his father said was too far removed from what Yōichi had in mind for his future.
His father continued, “I’ve been thinking since you came. If the two of us worked for the next three years, we would save $1,000 over and above what I send to your mother. In Japanese money it will be ¥2,000. Since I have ¥3,000 saved in the past 10 years in a Japanese bank that would total ¥5,000. One can live quite comfortably on the bank’s interest on ¥5,000. If you went to an English language school for four or five years and studied, it doesn’t mean you’ll find a good job. You’ll be competing with Nisei boys who are good at English so it won’t be easy finding employment. It would be better if we saved $2,000 to $3,000 and went home. We could live the rest of our lives in comfort. I’m thinking of going to Okayama and with the money, open a pawnshop. Running a pawnshop is easy and a good business. Kishimoto-san, who started a pawnshop in Okayama when he returned home last year, wrote to me about it in his recent letter. I will have enough capital to open a pawnshop that included a small general merchandise store. What do you think?” His father spoke enthusiastically of these plans for the future that he had been working on recently. Yōichi looked at the thick furrow on his father’s brow.
These ideas were far removed from Yōichi’s ambition of becoming an entrepreneur in Hawai‘i or university professor. There was nothing to interest young Yōichi in the thought of starting a pawnshop or small store in Japan. Yōichi wanted to go to a university, something he could not do in Japan.
“And then…” his father continued, “It’s hard on your mother. Because I came to Hawai‘i, your mother had to live a lonely life for 10 years, taking care of the home. And now with you gone, it must be extremely harder on her. If you wish to study and make your fortune in Hawai‘i, it will be unbearable for her, because she will think she will never see you again.” His father was beginning to show signs of wanting to convince Yōichi of his hopes and plans to return home after working together for the next three years. His father’s words, about his mother, struck a chord in Yōichi more than the mundane economic argument that preceded it.
Yōichi recalled his mother’s almost pleading expression when she said, “Must you go to Hawai‘i? Couldn’t you reconsider your decision?” Yōichi saw his mother’s face as she said these words, as she pleaded in this manner. When he was finally leaving the house, his mother summoned him back, “Show me your face one more time.” His mother’s face with tears shining in her eyes appeared before him. He remembered he felt like laughing at how melodramatic she seemed. But his mother must have felt a deep and hurting sorrow in her heart. Yōichi understood his mother’s sorrow for the first time now.
The letters from his mother after he came to Hawai‘i always said, “Please take care of yourself and don’t get sick.” Recently Yōichi felt these words were not just empty words of greeting, but words written from concern for her child, full of apprehension for the health of her son. Because of his separation from her, he understood for the first time how much his mother thought about him, and Yōichi also began to feel a longing for her.
He remembered writing to his mother, “Tonight, an almost full moon is shining above the palm trees. When I think of you, Mother, and Yasuko looking at the same moon, my heart is full with longing for my home.” His mother wrote back that she showed the letter to Auntie Kojima next door and together cried over it.
Yōichi realized what a selfish person he had been thinking only of himself when he came to Hawai‘i, without considering his mother, his sister or his father. He understood he made his mother miserable because of his desire, and it gave his aging father more trouble. His sense of self-recrimination intensified after he came to this plantation and noticed his aging father ravished by labor and living in shabby living quarters. When he was in this mood, his father’s words, “It must be hard on mother,” struck Yōichi with force. Knowing the sorrow he caused his mother and having ignored the sacrifice of his father, he could not thoughtlessly go off to school. It would be too cruel of him to follow his own desire without considering the unhappiness of others. Even if he succeeded in achieving his goal, would Yōichi reach the happiness he sought?
“Happiness cannot be reached by acquiring culture and by gaining social position. Real happiness is not something so materialistic,” he thought. “Isn’t real happiness living in harmony with those around you? Yes, I am blessed with good fortune and I will stop thinking of going to school. I will work with my father for three years and after making $2,000 to $3,000, return to Japan. How happy mother would be. I would be bathed in happiness by just looking at her joyful face. “Yes, I will work with my father.” Yōichi firmly made up his mind.
“Father, I will give up the idea of studies. I will work with you in the fields and we will return to Japan soon,” Yōichi said in a firm voice.
“Is that so? I know you wanted to study, but I am getting on in years,” father said in reply, half joyfully and half seeming to say he was sorry for Yōichi.
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.