A 1922 photo of four Gannenmono who decided to make Hawai‘i their home. From left: Katsusaburö Yoshida, Yonekichi Sakuma, Sentarö Ishii and Hanzo Tanagawa. (Courtesy Bishop Museum Archives)
A 1922 photo of four Gannenmono who decided to make Hawai‘i their home. From left: Katsusaburö Yoshida, Yonekichi Sakuma, Sentarö Ishii and Hanzo Tanagawa. (Courtesy Bishop Museum Archives)

The Gannenmono’s Legacy is Considered 150 Years After Their Arrival

Jodie Chiemi Ching

Insight into the history of one of Hawai‘i’s most visible ethnic groups — the Japanese — took a giant step forward last week with the events commemorating 150 years since the first group of immigrants arrived in Hawai‘i from Japan. The approximately 150 men and women were known as the Gannenmono, or “First-year People,” as they arrived in the first year of Japan’s Meiji era.

The commemoration events were organized by Kizuna Hawaii, a consortium of about 20
Japanese community organizations, in cooperation with the Consulate-General of Japan in Honolulu.

One of the main attractions was a daylong symposium on the Gannenmono’s history and impact on Hawai‘i’s history at the Sheraton Waikiki Hotel. The speakers at the June 7 symposium included scholars, descendants of the Gannenmono, community leaders and students. They provided insight into what life might have been like for the first immigrants who arrived in a strange new land called Hawai‘i on June 19, 1868, and for the roughly 50 that made the Islands their permanent home.

“Their story is an interesting and compelling one, full of surprises, hardships and also joys, but above all, it illustrates their courage and determination, and should serve to inspire us even today,” wrote Dr. Mark McNally, professor of Japanese history at the University of Hawai‘i at Mänoa, in the symposium’s printed program.

Lily Kahele-lani Lyons, a descendant of Gannenmono Tokujiro Sato, opened the program with an oli (chant) and a hula.

Gov. David Ige welcomed the symposium participants, recognizing especially those Nikkei — people of Japanese ancestry born outside of Japan — who had traveled from faraway places like the Philippines, Indonesia, Australia, and North and South America with the Association of Nikkei and Japanese Abroad.

Japan’s imperial couple — Prince Akishino and Princess Kiko —who attended the symposium for a short time, expressed their country’s feelings of deep friendship with Hawai‘i. They also expressed sorrow for those currently being impacted by the eruption of Kïlauea volcano on the Big Island. The couple was kept busy throughout the week, participating in a variety of events.

Additionally, Japan’s minister of foreign affairs Masahisa Sato, delivered a congratulatory message for the Gannenmono celebration on behalf of the Japanese government.

In her keynote address, U.S.-Japan Council president Irene Hirano Inouye spoke of the importance of strengthening the Nikkei community in Hawai‘i and abroad as it moves into the future. Hirano Inouye, also the founding president and CEO of the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles, emphasized the importance of providing opportunities for Nikkei to learn about Japan and their ancestry while also finding ways for people in Japan to understand the Nikkei experience, the importance of being inclusive and collaborative as the community becomes more diverse and to invest in the next generation of Nikkei leaders.

“Like the Gannenmono who took a risk to venture to an unknown part of the world, we can be bold and adventurous as we chart new pathways forward. Let us use today to get to know each other, to learn from each other, to commit to work together and to create new opportunities for those that will follow us in the future,” she said.

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The scholars symposium speakers (from left): Dr. Mark McNally, professor emeritus Masako Iino, Dr. Akemi Kikumura Yano and Dr. Dennis Ogawa (Not pictured: Dr. Michael Chun, who was under the weather and left after delivering his talk)
The scholars symposium speakers (from left): Dr. Mark McNally, professor emeritus Masako Iino, Dr. Akemi Kikumura Yano and Dr. Dennis Ogawa (Not pictured: Dr. Michael Chun, who was under the weather and left after delivering his talk)
Aolani Yukie Silva sings a “Hole Hole Bushi.”
Aolani Yukie Silva sings a “Hole Hole Bushi.”

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