Four Monuments that Honor the First Japanese in Hawai‘i
Jodie Chiemi Ching
Fifty years ago, the centennial anniversary of the arrival of the first immigrants from Japan was marked with the unveiling of several monuments around the state. The monuments were meant to honor the Gannenmono, the “First-year People” from Japan, and to remind their descendants and future generations of their connection to Japan and of their immigrant roots.
In 1927, the last two surviving Gannenmono in Hawaii — Sentarö Ishii, 94 at the time, and Hanzo Tanagawa, then 89 — participated in the unveiling of what was probably the first monument honoring the “First-Year People” at Makiki Cemetery. A group known as Japanese Friends of Hawaii led the effort to erect the organic rock monument. The inscription on the monument reads:
“Since the arrival of these pioneers, an intimate relationship has grown between Hawaii and Japan, with the increase of the Japanese population in the islands which number 130,000 today. We who are interested in the work of the Japanese pioneers, therefore erect this monument as a lasting tribute to our Japanese pioneers, to keep awakened in citizens of Japanese ancestry an appreciation of the pioneering spirit of their forefathers and a sense of obligation towards Hawaii Nei.”
Tanagawa died a year later. In announcing his passing, the Japanese-language newspaper Nippu Jiji noted that Sentarö Ishii was now the sole survivor of the Gannenmono who remained in Hawai‘i.
The newspaper also stated: “During his long residence in Hawaii, Tanagawa saw much change take place in local affairs. He saw the fall of the Hawaiian monarchy, the establishment of a republic and finally annexation of the Islands to the United States.”
Today, Hawai‘i’s Buddhist and Shinto communities gather annually at Makiki Cemetery during the obon season for an interfaith ceremony that pays tribute to the Meiji-era pioneers — the Gannenmono, the Kanyaku Imin (the first large group of Japanese immigrants who arrived in 1885) and the 16 sailors from Japan’s imperial navy who fell ill and died while in Hawaii. Each group is honored with its own distinct monument.
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