The 1970s Novels Brought Gannenmono History to Life
Special to The Hawai‘i Herald
It was nearly 60 years ago that the late Hawai‘i writer, historian and scientist, O.A. “Ozzie” Bushnell was challenged by his wife, Elizabeth.
As Bushnell’s son Andrew recalled in an interview, a bad play and the ensuing dare launched Bushnell’s literary career.
“They went to a play about Captain Cook and, apparently, he did not like the play and as they walked out he said to my mom, ‘I could write something better than that.’ And my mom said, ‘Well, why don’t you?’ So he did,” Andrew Bushnell said in a phone interview from his home on Kaua‘i.
The boast resulted in Bushnell’s first novel, “The Return of Lono,” which won an Atlantic Monthly fiction award and started the University of Hawai‘i microbiologist on a second career as a novelist. He subsequently published “Kaaawa” about a changing Hawai‘i, and “Molokai,” about the Hansen’s disease settlement at Kalaupapa.
Bushnell, who died in 2002 at the age of 89, comes to mind now because two of his later books, “The Stone of Kannon” and “The Water of Kane,” published in 1979 and 1980, respectively, deal with the first Japanese immigrants to Hawai‘i — the Gannenmono.
Hawai‘i this summer is commemorating 150 years since the first Japanese immigrants, approximately 150 of them, arrived in Hawai‘i in 1868 to work on the Islands’ sugar plantations. The name Gannenmono, meaning “people of the first year,” were given that name because they left Japan during the first year of Japan’s Meiji era.
Attorney David Arakawa, who is involved in a number of Japanese and Okinawan community organizations, was involved in the coordination of last week’s celebration and attended many of the events.
“The migrants included people from various social backgrounds, including artists, hairdressers, cooks and at least one samurai,” he said. “Most of them were not prepared for the rigors of plantation labor,” Arakawa said.
According to the research of University of Hawai‘i at Mänoa professor of Japanese history Dr. Mark McNally, who spoke at the Gannenmono Symposium, reports of mistreatment of the Gannenmono were investigated by the Japanese government. In late 1869, two officials were dispatched to Hawai‘i to interview the Gannenmono. Upon learning that not all of the immigrants felt they were being mistreated, they worked out an agreement with the Kingdom of Hawai‘i, which agreed to pay for the passage back to Japan of the 40 unhappy Gannenmono. According to McNally, three other Japanese castaways who had been living in Hawai‘i prior to the arrival of the Gannenmono joined the 40.
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Richard Borreca is a veteran Honolulu journalist. He has worked for the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, KHVH News Radio, KHON-TV, Honolulu Magazine and The Honolulu Star-Advertiser, for whom he now writes a Sunday column.