The Japanese Women’s Society Foundation held its annual general membership meeting and luncheon on July 29 at the Waialae Country Club.
President Cathy Iwai said she enjoyed representing JWSF at so many events during the past year. The various events afforded Iwai and all of the members who participated in them an opportunity to learn more about their heritage, Japanese culture and the community. For Iwai, one of the highlights was June’s Gannenmono 150th anniversary commemoration and the opportunity to meet Prince and Princess Akishino at a reception hosted by Gov. David Ige and first lady Dawn Amano-Ige at Washington Place.
Iwai recognized members Melanie Takahashi and Amy Young for their work in promoting JWSF’s cultural cookbook.
She encouraged the members to get involved in JWSF’s various activities. On Oct. 24, JWSF will hold a wine tasting event at Waialae Country Club.
Seven new JWSF members were introduced at the luncheon.
The 2018-2019 officers and standing committee directors were introduced and installed by JWSF member and Honolulu City Council member Ann Kobayashi. The officers are: Cathy Iwai, president; Melanie Takahashi, president-elect; Patty Matsuo, vice president; Staci Yoshihara, treasurer; Sarah Kamida and Susan Hirate, secretaries; Libby Lum and Lori Fujikawa-Casey, historians; and Irene Nakamoto, immediate past president. Kobayashi said the leaders commit a great deal of their own time to working on JWSF projects. “They continually strive to raise funds for the organization and for Kuakini Home,” Kobayashi said.
The Japanese Women’s Society Foundation also presented a check for $10,000 to Kuakini Health System president and CEO Gary Kajiwara for Kuakini Home. Kajiwara thanked JWSF for their generous and continued support for the residents of Kuakini Home and for supporting the mission of Kuakini Health System.
He said Kuakini was fortunate to have hosted a visit by Prince Akishino and Princess Kiko during their time in Hawai‘i for the Gannenmono commemoration events. The imperial couple was introduced to two Kuakini Home residents, both 100 years old. He said they presented gifts to the two women and bowed respectfully to them.
The prince and princess were supposed to have spent only 30 minutes at Kuakini, but they stayed and talked with each and every resident, exceeding their designated time at Kuakini Home. “I could see Consul General Ito getting nervous,” said Kajiwara.
JWSF also recognized 98-year-old member and past president Lillian Yajima for her continued effort to promote the Japanese Women’s Society Foundation through projects such as Adopt a Mom, origami crafts and birthday angel. “Thank you for being such a special ambassador of the Japanese Women’s Society Foundation,” said programs co-director Wendy Abe.
The highlight of the program was a presentation titled, “Legacy of the Gannenmono.” It included the singing of a medley of holehole bushi songs by Leslie Tyson, who studied singing with the late Harry Urata-Sensei. Urata spent decades collecting recordings of holehole bushi as sung by the Issei.
Abe urged the audience members to think of where their ancestors came from, regardless of whether from Japan, Hawai‘i, China, the Philippines or elsewhere, and what they must have felt as they left their native land. She urged them to think about what their ancestors endured to settle in Hawai‘i.
Gannenmono commemoration co-chair and past chair of the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai‘i Christine Kubota said the 150 years since the arrival of the Gannenmono is a relatively short period of time in history. “And look at all we’ve done!” she
She said JCCH’s bringing together descendants of the Gannenmono at the cultural center was “very freaky because no one looked Japanese.”
Kubota said the committee also wanted to leave a legacy of research on the Gannenmono. “It is an amazing, amazing history,” she said.
Kubota then turned the program over to JCCH president and executive director Carole Hayashino, who introduced a film that JCCH produced on the Gannenmono. It included interviews with several Gannenmono descendants who spoke of what the recognition of their ancestors meant to them.
Hayashino noted that research on the Gannenmono was “scattered.” In the JCCH’s own Resource Center, her staff found only a high school paper written by a descendant of Gannenmono Tokujiro Sato. From that one find, JCCH brought together 80 descendants of Tokujiro Sato, many of whom had never met each other. Today, 150 years after the Gannenmono arrived, Tokujiro Sato’s family is now eight generations strong in Hawai‘i. “History came alive through their stories,” Hayashino said.
Hayashino also led a “talk story” discussion with two Gannenmono descendants, Lorrie Ann Santos, a fifth generation descendant of Gannenmono Sentaro Ishii, who was a former samurai, and Keone Cook, a fourth generation descendant of Matsugoro Kuwata, who came to be known as “Umiumi Matsu.”
Santos said she has such an appreciation for her ancestors and what they accomplished. She said her great-great-grandfather could not have foreseen the impact he would leave on the lives of his descendants. “For him, it (coming to Hawai‘i) was an adventure.” Santos said she is determined to pass on the story of her family’s Japanese heritage to her children and grandchildren.
Santos, who works at the Queen’s Medical Center, said she was surprised to learn that two Gannenmono were assigned to work at Queen’s Hospital.
“Even though we know our history, we made so many discoveries,” she said.
Keone Cook said learning about her family’s history was “like peeling an onion” and learning something new with each layer removed.