By Genpachi “Jükichi” 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 main character Yöichi 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. 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. To purchase a copy of the translated book, go to blurb.com/b/10379589-child-of-a-hawaiian-immigrant.
His mother’s letter asking him to return soon struck Yöichi’s heart with great force. He could sympathize with his mother’s loneliness at losing her husband. When he thought of his mother, he wanted to go home at once and make her happy. He could clearly imagine her sad face with tears of pain as he had seen when leaving home eight months ago.
But he could not go home right away. It would not be possible to open the shop his father talked about with the money his father had saved. He wanted to go home with about $400 after working hard for three years or so. If he did so, he would be able to open a small pawn shop in Okayama, although he did not care much about such a profession. He might be able to obtain a job more to his liking. As his father had said, he should save $2,500, so he could live off the interest from a bank, Yöichi thought.
However, with a day laborer’s pay, only a little money remained after expenses. He thought of looking for a better paying job on the plantation.
There was a position called hapai ko among the hard labor jobs at the plantation. In the Hawaiian language hapai means to carry and ko refers to the bundle of cut sugar cane, so the job was to carry the cut sugarcane and put it onto cane boxcars. This work was given exclusively to young men with energy or to middle-aged men who wanted extra money. Since it was heavy labor, the wages were twice or three times that of the ordinary laborers. The wages were not paid on an hourly or monthly basis as it was in contractual labor. The laborers were paid on the amount of work they performed. Thus, the more cane was loaded, the more they were paid. Everyone, therefore, was motivated to work as hard as possible. When they worked hapai ko in the cane fields, it was like watching firemen hustling at a fire.
Yöichi remembered there was a man named Makino who was a friend of his father and came from the same prefecture, who was a hapai ko and who lived in the next camp. He thought, “Yes, I will ask Makino-san to ask the company to give me a job as a hapai ko. In this way I would be able to make a substantial sum of money a little sooner and return home.” Yöichi thought he could make his mother happy in this way and he took encouragement from the thought.
One day after he returned from work, took his bath and ate his dinner, Yöichi went to see Makino-san. He had accompanied his father to call on Makino-san when he first came to the plantation. So he was able to find Makino-san’s cottage right away.
Makino-san was married and had a son about 10 years old, thus his living quarters were twice the size of the bachelor quarters like Yöichi’s. The bedroom was separate from the living room, and there was a kitchen in the back for cooking.
“Good evening,” Yöichi said, entering from the half-open doorway.
“Yes, good evening,” Makino-san replied in his gruff voice, looking in Yöichi’s direction.
“Ah, you are Shimazu-san’s son, please come in,” Makino-san said in a sociable tone of voice.
His wife appeared from the kitchen. “Is that you, Shimazu-san? The place is dirty, but won’t you come in? We heard that your father died. It must be lonely for you. Your father was a good man. We miss him a lot. It’s a pity he died so young.” She said these words in a warm-hearted manner.
Makino-san had finished his dinner, and since he liked to drink, he was sipping his sake with enjoyment.
“Are you getting used to the plantation work?” he asked, savoring his sake and looking at Yöichi’s face that had gradually acquired a typical Hawaiian tan.
Makino-san came to work on the sugar plantation 15 years ago, so his face and arms were burned a coppery red, and since he was a big-bodied man with a ferocious expression, he could have been mistaken for a kanaka (a native Hawaiian).
“Ojisan (Uncle – not a relative but a term of familiarity), I came today to ask for a favor.” Yöichi had decided to mention his request right away.
“What is this request you have of me?” Makino-san asked.
“It is frustrating to be a dollar a day laborer, so I would like to be a hapai ko like you.”
Makino-san replied, “You, a hapai ko? I wonder if you could be one. The work is the hardest on the plantation, you know?”
Yöichi answered, “Yes, I am aware of that. I have not done it yet, but I would like to try.”
“I think it will be a little too hard for you,” Makino-san warned. “The hapai ko’s work is like that of a miner in Japan and is very difficult. I worked as a farmer in Japan, so I am used to hard work. I can do it. But for a young man like you who has only been a student, I think the work may be too much to bear. I have been working as a hapai ko for six years now, and I am quite tired when I come back from the field every night. I only recover my spirits and regain my strength to go back to work by drinking sake each night like this,” he said, refilling his sake cup.
“Nevertheless, I would like to try it. I may have to give up, but I would give it my best effort. Ojisan, since you know the luna at the office, would you mind asking him on my behalf?” Yöichi asked, showing his determination in his face.
“I still feel it will be too much for you, Yöichi-san. But if you insist, you may as well try it. If you think your body cannot take it you can quit,” Makino-san said, and promised Yöichi he would recommend him to the luna for the job of hapai ko.
Makino-san was well-known to the luna of the hapai ko and he was influential at the Waipahu plantation. So, when Makino-san put in a word for him, Yöichi was able to get the work of hapai ko immediately.
Two days later, Yöichi was moved to the hapai ko section from the day laborer section and he joined the hapai ko group to which Makino-san belonged.
“Since you are not familiar with the work at first, I will teach you,” Makino-san said, and through his thoughtful kindness, Yöichi was taken under Makino-san’s wing.
Makino-san had instructed him the previous day how to avoid and minimize the pain of the cane fields. Following his advice, Yöichi bought in a downtown store a thick cotton shirt, thick-soled cotton jikatabi, thick Western-style gloves and a thick towel to wrap around his neck and went to the cane fields with Makino-san. This field was in a different direction from the field he worked hoehana. It was a section of the plantation close to the Pearl Harbor coast. The plantation had undergone kachi ken the day before, so before him were wide, wide fields as far as the eyes could see, with the cane all cut to the ground, and some blackened cane leaves standing in the foreground, leaving the impression of a site after a fire.
“At first, you naturally will not be able to hapai ko like the rest of us. Don’t try to outdo the others, but do as much as your strength allows. By and by, you will become an expert at the job, and you will be able to do it quickly.” In this way Makino-san encouraged Yöichi.
In the fields, a train appeared pulling about 20 boxcars that would haul the sugarcane out. About 24 to 25 hapai ko lined up in front of the boxcars. Each worker was assigned a boxcar as his own. They were built to conform to the length of the cut cane, about 12 feet in length.
All the hapai ko had the thick towels wound around their cheeks. This was done to prevent their cheeks and ears from being cut by the sugarcane leaves. Yöichi brought a length of thick rope about 10-feet long that Makino-san had given him the night before. The cut cane was gathered into bunches and rope was used to bundle them together so he could carry the load to the cars on his shoulder.
“Just look at how I do it. It’s done like this.” Makino-san showed Yöichi by example. The scooping of the cut cane into bundles using the rope, carrying off the bundles to the cars, and dropping the cane in the cars, were done smoothly and quickly.
Yöichi, copying Makino-san, attempted to bundle the cane and put it on his shoulder, but it was not easy. Half the cane in the bundle would fall off. As he worked, Yöichi slowly became capable of successfully carrying some bundles. A board about two feet wide and 20 feet long was placed on the side of the car, to about half the height of the car, and served as a ramp. The cane was thrown into the car from the shoulder. This was not easy work by any means. It was difficult to maintain one’s balance with the weight of the cane on one’s shoulder, and Yöichi fell off twice carrying the cane on his shoulder. Since there was only the field, the cane below and no stones, he did not suffer any injury, but the hapai ko laborers next to him teased him and laughed loudly.
“Take it easy. If you do half the work I do, it will be adequate,” Makino-san said, consoling him. Around 10:00 or 11:00 the sun began to blaze down, and sweat began to pour like a waterfall. After wiping one’s face of sweat, work continued. The water brought by the water boy was drunk hastily.
After four hours of work it was lunchtime. Makino-san loaded seven cars but three cars were all that Yöichi managed. When the whistle blew at 4:00 to stop work, Yöichi had barely loaded six cars. Makino-san and others each had loaded 13 to 14 cars.
When he returned to camp with his face blackened by the burnt cane leaves, Yamazaki Obasan of the cookhouse, looking at Yöichi said, “Shimazu-san, you must have done hapai ko. Hard work, isn’t it?”
Coming out of his bath, Yöichi felt pain in his left ear. Touching it, he felt the skin peel off. Yöichi put a bandage on it. His shoulders hurt as if they would break. Yöichi was dead tired and went to bed early.
Though hapai ko was very hard work for him, Yöichi stood the hardships with stoical fortitude. When he became used to the work, he worked with greater efficiency, and was able to avoid falling off the board. But it was hard work, nevertheless. When he felt like giving up, Yöichi thought of his mother and sister at home and tightened his resolve to return to them as soon as possible by saving up enough money.
He continued in his work as a hapai ko for a month, barring Sundays. His wages for the month that he received on pay day were a little over $35. Yöichi was thrilled. His wages before had been $26 more or less, so there was a great difference. Yöichi paid Yamazaki Obasan $10 dollars for his food and put $5 for pocket money in his wallet, and sent $20 immediately to his mother by mail. Knowing that would convert to ¥40 in Japan, he was gratified and thought the hard work was worthwhile.
One month then another passed. The people at the sugar plantation marveled that Yöichi, who had finished normal school just short while ago, continued working as a hapai ko, the hardest labor there was on a plantation. Although Yöichi had a good physique because he played tennis and did judo at school, this labor was intense for Yöichi. But Yöichi burned with the desire to get home as soon as possible to give joy to his mother, so he endured the hard labor.
Yöichi was pleased that now he was able to send home $20 a month. When he was a regular laborer he could only send $10 a month.
“I was able to get a good job, and I can send you more money,” he wrote in his letter to his mother. Of course, he did not tell her he was doing hard labor as a hapai ko. The letters from his mother always seemed to have been composed with tears in her eyes.
“I cannot help but be worried about you living alone in a far off land. Since it is now not necessary to save all that much money, I would like you to come home by the end of next year,” his mother wrote in a recent letter. In the next letter she wrote that the arrangements for the wedding of his sister, Yasuko, that his father had been working on, were successfully completed. Shortly thereafter, his mother wrote about Yasuko’s wedding ceremony to Koichi Mori. His mother added that he had a bicycle shop in the same neighboring town of Niwase and was 10 years older than Yasuko. He was a kind man and Yöichi’s mother was pleased with his sister’s marriage because he was also a man of strong character with a kind nature.
Mori-san’s house was only three kilometers away from the Shimazu home, and Yöichi’s mother was living with Mori and Yasuko at his invitation. She felt fortunate because her son-in-law was very gentle to her, she wrote.
“But I feel constrained living with an in-law. I would like to live with you soon,” Yöichi’s mother added.
Yöichi felt this latter thought was his mother’s true state of mind. He felt sorry for her. He thought he would be willing to do anything for his mother. He would not mind sacrificing himself for her. He began to believe that this act of sacrifice was the greatest of virtues.
Chapter 9: Picture Marriage
It was the morning of the first Monday in May. As Yöichi was preparing to go to work after his breakfast at the cookhouse, he bumped into Chikasue-san, a nearby neighbor. He was dressed, not in his work clothes, but properly dressed in a coat and even wearing a necktie.
“Hi, Chikasue-san, aren’t you going to work today? Where are you off to so early in the morning all dressed up?” Yöichi asked.
“Today…” Chikasue-san began smiling awkwardly, “as a matter of fact, my bride is coming from Japan, and I have to go and meet her in Honolulu,” he said shyly.
“Your bride? I didn’t know anything about it. But congratulations.”
Chikasue-san said, “The ship is coming at 8:00, so I’m going to catch the first train at 7 a.m.”
“It’s truly a happy occasion,” Yöichi repeated his congratulations.
Chikasue-san seemed uncomfortable in his Sunday suit and fingering his stiff collar said, “Well, I’ll be going now,” and shuffled off in the direction of the railway station.
Yöichi did not have many intimate friends at the camp, but Chikasue-san had a straightforward character and was a good person. Yöichi had been drawn to him and often conversed with him.
Yöichi recalled Chikasue-san telling him that, thanks to his relative’s introduction, he may be inviting a bride to come from Japan in the near future. It’s a picture marriage, he explained to Yöichi. Aha, this is where the term “picture bride” comes from, Yöichi concluded.
Yöichi looked at his friend, thinking that he must be imagining a pretty bride and bursting with pride so Yöichi congratulated him heartily. For Chikasue-san, who was five or six years over 30, this was his first marriage.
It was past 8 a.m. when Chikasue-san left for Honolulu Harbor. The Korea Maru was already docked at Pier 9. On the second floor of the pier there were scores of people who had come to welcome the newcomers and were already waving to or shouting in loud voices to the many passengers who had congregated on the deck, 20 or 30 feet away.
From the welcoming crowd, Chikasue-san was craning his neck trying to find his bride among the new arrivals. This was quite a difficult task. There were a number of young women and since they were dressed alike and about the same age, it was difficult to tell them apart. Since he had only seen a photo of his bride and had not met in person, this was only natural. The young man standing next to Chikasue-san took a photo of his bride from his pocket and was comparing the photo with the women on the deck. The passengers soon disembarked, and were taken by bus to the Immigration Station. By the time Chikasue-san reached the Immigration Station, the immigrants were being physically checked, their passports examined, and undergoing other procedures. Chikasue-san’s prospective bride was among their number.
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.