How Shinobu Kadome Found Her Hawai‘i ‘Ohana

Dr. Lorraine Yamane Mito
Special to The Hawai‘i Herald

Without the past, there is no present. This is a true story about my mother, Aiko Kusano Yamane, and how her early life unfolded and affected her children’s lives over a century later. This story includes several phases which, at the end, will bring amazing relevance and connectivity to the families. As the saying goes, Embrace the unexpected and let life surprise you which is exactly what happened to us!

Immigration History

On Jan. 1, 1871, in Kumamoto, Japan, in a place called Oshima in the province of Yatsushiro, Yonekichi Iwasaki was born. Yonekichi went on to marry Hatsu Kiyota who was born on March 8, 1880. Together, Yonekichi and Hatsu had two sons, Masao and Masaki. In 1907, at the age of 37, Yonekichi and Hatsu immigrated across the Pacific Ocean to Hawai‘i, leaving Masao and Masaki behind in Japan.

I do not know who raised Masao and Masaki after Yonekichi and Hastu left. Presently, the fate of Masaki is unknown.

Yonekichi and Hatsu eventually settled in Captain Cook, Kona, Hawai‘i, and became coffee farmers. An old document bears the signature of Kinzo Manago (founder of the Manago Hotel) who signed an affidavit as a witness for both Yonekichi and Hatsu Iwasaki. Having left Masao and Masaki in Japan, Yonekichi and Hatsu had no children in Kona.

Meanwhile, on July 17, 1871, in Kumamoto-ken, Tamana-gun, Ohara-mura, Japan, Tokutaro Kusano, my grandfather, was born. At the age of 20, Tokutaro immigrated to Hawai‘i. He left Yokohama, Japan, on the SS Coptic and arrived in Hawai‘i on Jan. 26, 1899, (per the ship’s manifest; Hawai‘i State Archives). Once in Hawai‘i, it is unclear whether he went back to get married to Naka Uchibaru or if both came at the same time. Naka was born on May 13, 1879.  They became coffee farmers, settling in Kealakekua, Kona, Hawai‘i, located close to the Greenwell Ranch.

Tokutaro and Naka had a total of seven children: three girls and four boys. Their first-born daughter, Motomu, died in infancy in 1902. Next came Hakuo or Hiro’o (Jack) born on Aug. 1, 1904. Todomu, a girl, was born on April 29, 1906, but she, too, died in infancy. Motomu and Todomu are buried in the cemetery at the Kona Hongwanji. Next came Yutaka (Paul) born on April 1, 1909, Shigemi (Glen) born on May 22, 1911, Aiko (my mother) born on June 10, 1914, and finally, Arata (Wally) born on April 10, 1916. The boys’ English names are perhaps self-given as they grew up. As my mother was their only surviving daughter, she was given the name “Aiko,” which translated in English means “love child.”

Naka Kusano was a very good seamstress. My mother told me that her father, Tokutaro, housed and fed many fellow immigrants from his home province in Japan when they first arrived in Kona until they were able to establish themselves. Besides being a coffee farmer, my grandfather was also a sumö gyöji, or referee.

Orphan Children

Tragedy struck the Kusano family in 1918 when Naka was stricken with lockjaw, a condition that is easily remedied today with a simple tetanus shot. Back then, my mother recalled that they used a spoon to pry open her mother’s mouth to feed her. Sadly, Naka passed away on July 23, 1918, at the age of 39, when my mother was only 4 years old.

Just a year and a half later, tragedy struck again when Tokutaro attended a friend’s funeral service and caught the Asian Flu. He died on Feb. 29, 1920, at age 49. The five Kusano children became orphans. Before he passed, Tokutaro had asked his good friend, Mr. Uchida, if he could raise the five Kusano children. Mr. Uchida, however, had his own family to care for and could not take any more children. Fortunately, a close family friend, Mr. Sanpei Sato, a bachelor, assumed the responsibility of caring for the Kusano children.

At this point, the two oldest boys, Jack and Paul, set out on their own to seek their fortunes. Glenn, the third son, was adopted by a reverend in Hilo. My mother Aiko, then 6 years old, and her youngest brother, Wally, 4 years old, stayed with Mr. Sato (we called him “Sato Jitchan,” meaning Sato grandfather). Mr. Sato believed that Aiko, a growing girl, needed a mother, so he asked the Araki family to foster or adopt her. They did.  However, after five years, mom was perhaps bullied by the Araki’s son (a few years older than her) and was not happy so Mr. Sato asked Yonekichi and Hatsu Iwasaki to “adopt” mom at age 11.

Life On a Coffee Farm With the Iwasaki Family

Thus began the story of mom living with the Iwasaki family in Captain Cook, Kona, Hawai‘i.  Hatsu Iwasaki was very strict and not particularly nice to Mom. Mom’s education ended in the eighth grade because going to high school required money in those days. Money that she didn’t have.

She began working and boarding at a coffee mill in Näpö‘opo‘o as a coffee sorter. Back then, girls were hired to manually sort and grade the dried coffee beans by size and type. Mom claimed to be the fastest sorter. She would go back to stay at the Iwasaki home on weekends and gave them her entire paycheck. Hatsu (we called her “Baban,” meaning grandmother) would give mom a few dollars as an allowance. Mom always wanted to attend sewing classes but was denied that opportunity. Fortunately, one day, Sato Jitchan bought her a trundle Singer sewing machine (that now resides in my house). Mom became a self-taught seamstress.

Filled with rows of young girls sorting coffee, the coffee mill was the place for single young men to come and “check out” girls. Mom had many potential suitors, but Baban rejected them all, insulting them and calling them crude names. Mom realized then that the only way to leave the Iwasaki home was to get married to someone the Iwasaki’s respected and approved of. She was a hardworking young lady who was not happy about the way she was treated while living with the Iwasakis, especially by Baban.

Love Story

One day, along came Mom’s future husband, Gisaburo Yamane. Gisaburo, my father, was born on Jan. 7, 1909, in Hiroshima-ken, Kabe-machi, Asa-gun, Kameyamamura, Japan. He was the second son of Sadataro and Tane (Kasama) Yamane. His uncle and aunt were childless immigrants to Hawai‘i, living in Kona and so Gisaburo was sent as their adopted son at the age of 13 and had attended school up until the eighth grade. Because he was an Issei from Hiroshima-ken, he spoke and wrote perfect Japanese.

Dad and Mom met a few times and decided to get married. The Iwasakis approved of Gisaburo and they married on Sept. 4, 1938. According to old Japanese tradition, happy occasions should not be celebrated in the months of January, May and September, but Mom felt that the Iwasakis wouldn’t care what month Mom got married in, even if it were in September. Their wedding was a traditional Japanese wedding. Mom wore a kimono and her hair was done in the traditional Japanese nihongami-style.  Dad wore a black Western-style suit.

Growing Up

My parents raised four girls, Nancy Keiko, born Jan. 6, 1940; myself, Lorraine Sachiko, born April 3, 1944; Susan Noriko, born Dec. 8, 1950; and Betty Hiroko, born Nov. 9, 1952. We were raised on a five-acre coffee farm in Kainaliu, Kona, Hawai‘i. Dad worked hard for half of the year picking coffee and enjoyed living off the earnings for the remaining half of the year.  We picked, harvested, dried, packed and sold coffee beans and while raising chickens and feeding a mule named Mele who helped to pack the coffee bags to the grinding shed (jeeps were not available then).

Even though she was not treated well by the Iwasakis, Dad and Mom made it a point to visit the Iwasaki’s at least once a month when it was not coffee season. The Iwasakis lived in a tiny studio-like house.

Iwasaki Jitchan (Yonekichi) was bald with a few strands of hair left atop his head, and we loved to rub his bald head. It would always make him smile. He was a big, hefty man who had a pleasant disposition. Once, he hurt his finger and we had a big laugh when he discovered he had put the band aid on the wrong finger. We often saw him lying on the one and only bed in the house.

Baban slept on her futon (a thick Japanese cotton-filled blanket) on the floor. She was a tiny, skinny lady who was a neat freak, everything was orderly in the kitchen and house. She was often seen rolling her tobacco, licking the edges of the paper wrap, squatting and smoking. She had a negative outlook on matters, but she made the best ohagi or botamochi (mochi rice coated with sweet bean paste on the outside). She grew vegetables in the back of the house and dahlias amongst the a‘a lava rocks.  Mom used to sew her dresses, which had a collar and no waist out of dull colored cotton material, with tiny designs.

The interior of their house was uniquely covered with “wallpaper,” consisting of magazine pages glued to the walls. It might have been the result of “blackouts” during the war when lights inside the house were forbidden to be seen from the outside. My favorite wallpaper page was the one with the Campbell’s Soup boy and girl on it. Back then there was no glue so I imagine they used rice as an adhesive. There was a Butsudan (Buddhist alter) on a table and a folded futon mattress in the corner. The kitchen was a level lower than the main dwelling and consisted of a small dining table, wooden stools, a sink, a stove and a refrigerator. The outhouse greeted you as you walked up toward the house and the ofuro (Japanees bath) was a separate building (more like a shack) located behind the main house.

Iwasaki Jitchan (Yonekichi) died on Jan. 27, 1959, at the age of 88. My father handled and paid for all his funeral arrangements. He was buried at the Kona Hongwanji cemetery. After a few years, my parents replaced his simple wooden grave marker with a small gravestone. Now a widow, Baban (Hatsu) decided that she wanted to move back toŌsaka, Japan, to live with her long lost son, Masao, the son she and Yonekichi left behind. She wrote several poorly written letters to Masao but he seldomly replied.

Meanwhile, knowing that Baban wanted to return to Ōsaka, my father did some research. He found out that she would need a sponsor to return to Japan because she had become a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1959 and because of her age, 80. My father wrote a letter (original copy kept by Shinobu’s father) to Baban’s son, Masao, inquiring if he would sponsor Hatsu and accept responsibility for caring for his mother (original letter was kept by Masao’s youngest son, Tatsuo). Masao must have agreed because in 1961, my father took Baban to Honolulu, bought her a one-way ticket, and put her on a plane to Ōsaka. He gave her $200 as seed money.  We later learned that Baban wrote to one of her friends in Kona and claimed to have never received the money.

Curiosity Connects the Family

Japan-born-and-raised Shinobu Iwasaki Kadome, the great-granddaughter of Yonekichi and Hatsu, wondered about her family roots. She teaches English at Kanazawa University and a local high school. Her husband’s family had an accurate family tree while her family had none. She asked her mother about it, so her mother created a family tree on her side (Ishihara) and the Iwasaki’s. Fast forward to 2017 – Shinobu went to Canada and found Japanese immigrants there. She learned that people used to locate family members. Just out of curiosity, in 2022, she inputted Yonekichi Iwasaki and discovered that he was listed as an immigrant from Kumamoto, Japan, her great-grandfather.

By September 2022, Shinobu began her probe into the ancestry search on the Iwasaki family. Shinobu’s father, Tatsuo (youngest son of Masao), did not look favorably on Shinobu’s research. He still harbored ill feelings about his grandparents who abandoned his father, Masao, to immigrate to Hawai‘i. Nonetheless, Shinobu was steadfast in her quest to dig into the Iwasaki family’s past.

Shinobu had a former classmate who knew a supervisor under whom a Dr. Toru Hirakawa, a professor at the Meiji University in Tökyö, Japan.  Dr. Hirakawa conducted extensive research on the early immigrants to Kona. To accomplish his task, he gathered information from the Buddhist cemeteries and the caretakers of the graves. He took photographs. He sent Shinobu a picture of Yonekichi’s grave and while in Kona, he was introduced to Betty (Yamane) Takeoka at the Kona Hongwanji.

Shinobu emailed Dr. Hirakawa and learned her great-grandfather’s grave was tended to by a woman named Betty (Yamane) Takeoka, an active member of the Kona Hongwanji. Shinobu sent an email to Betty introducing herself and the reason for her communication. Betty shared this email with her sisters. By the time Shinobu’s email arrived, Betty and her husband, Norman, had plans to attend a Buddhist Convention in Kyōto, Japan, in May 2023. Coincidentally, following the convention, they were planning to visit Kanazawa and the northern prefectures before returning home. Betty and Norman arranged to meet Shinobu in Kanazawa.

Prior to meeting Betty and Norman, Shinobu had looked up her great-grandfather’s name in Japanese databases and found, via the 1930 Census Bureau records, that Yonekichi and Hatsu Iwasaki adopted a girl named Aiko Kusano. Shinobu found that Aiko Kusano was no longer listed as a member of the Iwasaki family in the 1940 Census Bureau Report (likely because Mom and Dad were married in 1938).

After searching Japan’s digital archives, Shinobu found an article that mentioned Yonekichi was a coffee farmer in Kona. She also found a church article written in 1955 about Kona Hongwanji’s commemorative ceremony.  Within the article was a list of names, which included the names of Yonekichi and Hatsu Iwasaki. Shinobu found a wedding announcement, written in Japanese, in “The Kona Echo,” a Kona newspaper announcing the wedding of Aiko Kusano and Gisaburo Yamane on Sept. 4, 1938 (copy available). I learned from Shinobu while conducting her research, that in Japan, there was a website called “Find a Grave” (  Fascinating!

Shinobu Comes to Hawai‘i

Shinobu’s extensive research inspired her to come to Hawai‘i to visit her great grandfather’s grave and meet the four daughters of Aiko and Gisaburo Yamane. Her trip became a reality this past July. Shinobu brought with her all documents from her research including original letters written to and from Japan (some turning brown and tattered with age) and carefully secured them in her hand carry bag (not in her suitcase) and took them everywhere she went.

While in Kona, Shinobu felt a deep connection to her roots.  She imagined that the same fields of lava rocks, the same shimmering blue ocean, the same lush greenery she was looking out upon, and the same cool fragrant breezes she was experiencing were the very same ones her great grandparents felt so many years ago. She felt peacefully nostalgic.

She reflected on how the Yamane sisters and their husbands got along with each other while the Iwasakis in Ösaka were constantly engaged in family disputes. She was amazed at our husbands who cooked while her husband could make fried rice and sauteed vegetables. When Shinobu saw the TV set in my sister’s home, she exclaimed, “It’s the size of a tatami mat!” In just a few days, Shinobu grew spiritually, emotionally and mentally. She appreciated all that we did for her, learned about our families’ shared histories and left with a sense of satisfaction and gratitude. I know that she will pursue further research into the Iwasaki’s family history. Shinobu, when translated, means endurance, perseverance and patience, what a perfect name for her.

Welcome to the Family

My sisters and I felt a deep connection with Shinobu and rejoiced because we found a new family member, hoping to nurture our relationship with this bright, wonderful, energetic, gracious, sincere and honest person. In her research process, she found us, Aiko’s descendants, who welcomed her with open arms and shared our hospitality, love and aloha. We unconditionally embraced the unexpected and let life amaze, surprise and astonish us when least expected. Serendipity! We love you Shinobu-san! Welcome to our family!

Dr. Lorraine Yamane Mito was born and raised in Kona. She earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Hawai‘i and her doctorate in education from the University of San Francisco. She taught for 36 years in the DOE and 21 years for the University of Phoenix College of Education evening classes. She was a recipient of the Christa McAuliffe Fellowship and was a Fulbright Teacher to Japan. She has been married to Clifford for 53 years and together they have a daughter and three grandsons.


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