Photo of Aketo Honda’s home in Kosamachi, Kumamoto.
Aketo Honda’s home in Kosamachi, Kumamoto.

Gail Honda

Gail Honda is a writer in Honolulu. She can be reached at and 808-942-4783.

The following is a progress report Gail Honda wrote during her stay in Japan from July 1991 to January 1993 as a Fulbright Graduate Research Fellow at Hitotsubashi University Institute of Economic Research in Tökyö. She was there to gather data for her Ph.D. dissertation at the University of Chicago on the effects on national health of the industrialization and militarization of the 1910s-1940s, culminating in the Pacific War. The Fulbright grant was administered through the Japan-United States Educational Commission. Honda’s bimonthly report is addressed to then-JUSEC executive director Caroline Matano Yang and covers the period of October and November 1992. In October, she had visited her father’s furusato in Kosamachi, Kumamoto Prefecture, with her parents.

October opened with a visit from my parents (father’s second, mother’s fourth since I’ve been here). November closed with a visit from my aunt (her second) and my mother (her fifth). In between, I feel as though I single-handedly boosted stock in Japan Railway Company, All Nippon Airways, and omiyage shops with trips to Köbe, Ösaka (twice), Oita, Kumamoto and Toyama (second).

Photo of Sadao Honda in front of a family gravestone
Sadao Honda in front of a family gravestone engraved with the names of Honda Kakuzaemon, his grandfather; Honda Seki, his grandmother; and Honda Hajime, his eldest brother, who was born in Hawai‘i, but died at age 4. (Photos courtesy Gail Honda)

My parents and I first traveled to Köbe, where my father was stationed for a year during the Occupation. He recognized very little from 46 years ago. We spent a day with friends in Ösaka and boarded the steamship Sunflower for Beppu on the island of Kyüshü. Upon our arrival in the onsen (hot springs) capital, we rode into Oita City, where Mr. Miyamoto, the education superintendent, had granted me an interview and scheduled a day of sightseeing for us. We were escorted to the prefectural art museum; a mountain temple populated with monkeys and their droppings; and an aquarium, where fish and octopus performed hoop tricks and otters cracked shellfish open on their bellies. On our own, we saw a lot of fat alligators in the 8 Hells hotsprings. A highlight was staying in the teahouse — which must have been a 72-mat room — of an onsen ryokan (inn), which had been arranged for us by Mr. Miyamoto.

From Beppu we took the lumbering local train to Kumamoto City through golden hills bursting with cosmos flowers. I had an interview scheduled with Mr. Oomori, head of the Department of Health and Physical Education at the prefectural Ministry of Education office. In addition, my father’s parents are from the neighboring countryside of Kosamachi and we had been excited about meeting my father’s relatives. Tucked away in my father’s duffel were photographs of his last visit to Kosamachi, when he had been stationed as a GI during the Occupation. Back then, he said, he had been treated royally. He had been allowed to take the first bath (right next to the kitchen, where the women were preparing the meal) and was the only one at the meal given a big fish to eat. Everyone else at the table shared the only other fish. He brought them American canned goods like corned beef hash and pork and beans because Gen. [Douglas] MacArthur had encouraged the Japanese American GIs to visit their relatives in Japan, but told them not to eat their relatives’ food because the Japanese were starving.

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