Sentarö Ishii and his wife Kahele, whom he met on a hillside in Kïpahulu, where the couple made their home. (Photos courtesy Oleanda Ku‘uipo Kanaka‘ole)
Sentarö Ishii and his wife Kahele, whom he met on a hillside in Kïpahulu, where the couple made their home. (Photos courtesy Oleanda Ku‘uipo Kanaka‘ole)

Maui Became Home for Several Gannenmono

Melissa Tanji
Special to the Hawai‘i Herald

Editor’s note: The following story is a re-edited version of Maui News reporter Melissa Tanji’s story on Maui’s Gannenmono commemoration, which was published in the newspaper’s April 29, 2018, edition. Special mahalo to Melissa and Maui News managing editor Lee Imada for allowing us to share this story on Maui’s connection to the Gannenmono with our Hawai‘i Herald readers.

One hundred fifty years ago, Oleanda Ku‘uipo “Ipo” Kanaka‘ole’s great-grandfather was one of the first immigrants to come to Hawai‘i from Japan. The 76-year-old Häna woman’s great-grandfather was Sentarö Ishii, a samurai who became widely known as a Gannenmono, one of the “First-year People” who arrived in Hawai‘i in June of 1868.

Sentaro Ishii, the samurai who became a Gannenmono, is buried in a simple grave in the East Maui community of Kïpahulu.
Sentaro Ishii, the samurai who became a Gannenmono, is buried in a simple grave in the East Maui community of Kïpahulu.

The Gannnenmono were referred to as the “First-year People” because they arrived in Honolulu during the first year of the reign of Emperor Meiji (1868-1912). And, they were the first group of people from Japan to boldly board ships and sail to Hawai‘i to labor in Hawai‘i’s flourishing sugar industry.

As a samurai warrior, Ishii faced a changing Japan had he remained in the land of his birth. Its former rulers, the shogunate — essentially his bosses — had relinquished their power and rule of the country had been returned to the imperial court under the new Meiji Emperor.

The other Gannenmono, including merchants and artisans — all from Yokohama and Edo (Meiji-era name for Tökyö) — were attracted by the $4-a-month wages and the free passage that had been promised to them.

Little did they know then how much their voyage to this strange new land would change the history of Hawai‘i. It paved the way for more Japanese to come to Hawai‘i to work, to put down family roots on sugar plantations across the territory and lead, eventually, to a community that would make its mark on Hawai‘i and America in war and peace.

“If it wasn’t for the Gannenmono, there wouldn’t be any 1885,” said Dr. Dennis Ogawa, professor of American Studies at the University of Hawai‘i at Mänoa. That year, 1885, marked the arrival of the first Kanyaku Imin, or contract immigrants, the first Japanese immigrants to come to work on Hawai‘i’s plantations since the Gannenmono in 1868.

Ogawa recently published a new book, “Who You? Hawai‘i Issei,” which features stories of the Hawai‘i Issei generation.

But before the Kanyaku Imin came the Gannenmono, about 50 of whom made Hawai‘i their final home.

Those immigrants “became living testimony for [King] Kaläkaua” that the Ja-
panese could come to Hawai‘i to live and work, Ogawa said. “He went to Japan and asked the emperor to send Japanese to Hawai‘i.”

Kaläkaua’s voyage to Japan in 1881 set the stage for the migration of 180,000 Ja-
panese to Hawai‘i as Kanyaku Imin between 1885 and 1924.

Groundwork for the Gannenmono’s Departure

The origins of the Gannenmono migration to Hawai‘i date back to 1860, when King Kamehameha IV proposed a friendship treaty between Japan and the Kingdom of Hawai‘i.

In 1865, the Kingdom of Hawai‘i appointed Eugene Van Reed, an American businessman working in Japan as consul general of Hawai‘i in Japan. At about that time, however, the shogun government, a warrior government, was coming to an end in Japan, with rule of the country being returned to the emperor. In 1868, that ruler was the new Emperor Meiji.

Van Reed recruited the first emigrants to work as laborers in Hawai‘i’s sugar cane fields. Most of them were merchants, artisans or samurai with no farming experience. Van Reed had secured permission and even passports for the travelers from the shogunate regime prior to the takeover of Emperor Meiji. That all changed with the installation of the Meiji government, which refused to recognize the documents, saying there was no existing treaty between Japan and the Kingdom of Hawai‘i.

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Melissa Tanji has been a reporter for The Maui News since 2000. The Maui native earned her bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Hawai‘i at Mänoa.

The last two surviving Gannenmono in Hawai‘i — Hanzo Tanagawa (seated left of the monument) and a full-bearded Sentaro Ishii (seated right of the monument) — attended the unveiling of the Makiki Cemetery monument playing homage to the Gannenmono in 1927. (From the book, “A History of the Japanese Immigrants of Hawaii" by United Japanese Society of Hawaii.”)
The last two surviving Gannenmono in Hawai‘i — Hanzo Tanagawa (seated left of the monument) and a full-bearded Sentaro Ishii (seated right of the monument) — attended the unveiling of the Makiki Cemetery monument playing homage to the Gannenmono in 1927. (From the book, “A History of the Japanese Immigrants of Hawaii” by United Japanese Society of Hawaii.”)

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