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Watermark Publishing Blog

  • Japanese Eyes, American Heart: Voices from the Home Front in World War II Hawaii

    JEAH Vol. II“We were awakened by a ‘boom-boom’ sound like that of distant thunder on that Sunday morning.”

    So begin many of the stories in a newly released book by Japanese Americans living in Hawaii on December 7, 1941, when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. Japanese Eyes, American Heart: Voices from the Home Front in World War II Hawaii gathers dozens of deeply personal stories, many of them never before published, that reveal the hardship, sorrow and anguish—as well as the pride, compassion and even joy—experienced by islanders of Japanese ancestry. This second volume of Japanese Eyes, American Heart, chronicling the experiences of those left at home, complements the memoirs of nisei soldiers—men who served with gallantry and distinction on the war front—presented in Japanese Eyes, American Heart: Personal Reflections of Hawaii’s World War II Nisei Soldiers, first published fourteen years ago.

    Everything changed for all residents of the then-Territory of Hawaii as the devastating attack sparked the entry of the United States into World War II. But for Hawaii’s Japanese, who made up some 40 percent of the population, the ensuing war with an enemy who looked like them cast suspicion on aliens and American citizens alike. These stories of quiet strength and enduring resiliency, collected by the Hawaii Nikkei History Editorial Board, give rare insight into the seeds of change that transformed postwar Hawaii and define the legacy of this wartime generation.

    Below is an excerpt from Japanese Eyes, American Heart—Vol. II, a portion of Jane Okamoto Komeiji's recollection of the day of the Pearl Harbor bombing and its aftermath. The book is available for purchase at our website, www.bookshawaii.net, and will be arriving in local bookstores by Christmas.

    Jane Okamoto Komeiji


    December 7, Morning

    Walking on Nuuanu Avenue to Sunday school at Honpa Hongwanji Temple on upper Fort Street, I saw the look of fear and shock on the face of a 12- or 13-year-old boy, as he blurted out the news of war to my friend and me:

    “Eh! War! Honest, for real!”

    My response was, “No try fool me!”

    “Try turn ’round. See da smoke. Get fire ovah deah. Da enemy wen trow bomb.”

    Turning around, we did see smoke in the direction of Liliha Street. But my reaction to the possibility of war was one of disbelief. “Can’t be—but that smoke? Maybe it’s a house on fire.”

    When we got to Sunday school, the usual crowd wasn’t there. Most of the students had been sent home by the priests. “Maybe there really is a war,” I thought. I borrowed the office phone to call Mother, just in case she hadn’t heard. I told her not to leave our living quarters above the store and that I would come home right away.

    That being done, I joined the small group of fellow choir members who were hanging around. Somebody said that there was a fire at nearby Leilehua Lane; another, that he thought he had seen the hinomaru (“red circle,” the rising sun symbol of Japan) on an airplane wing; and still another, that he had heard that Pearl Harbor had been bombed.

    One of the boys asked whether anybody wanted to go to see the fire at Pearl Harbor. He had just gotten his driver’s license the week before and was anxious to show off. It was a rare treat to go for a ride, so we all jumped into his car. He drove us to a peninsula in Kalihi from which “battleship row” at Pearl Harbor was clearly visible.

    Across the water in the harbor, we saw a long, wide curtain of black smoke, interspersed along the waterline with flecks of reds and yellows. Frankly, I was disappointed. I had expected to see roaring flames, brightly colored flames, like those I had seen during a River Street fire. (I found out later that oil burns black.) The black smoke curtain did look ominous. That couldn’t possibly be maneuvers. I guess it is a real war and Japan is the enemy, I thought. But, at the same time, I recalled that the representatives of the Japanese and U.S. governments were still talking. I was puzzled. No, I didn’t want to believe that Japan had bombed Pearl Harbor and that we were at war with her.

    On the way home, we drove on King Street through Kalihi, Palama and on to Aala, where they were to drop me off. The streets and sidewalks were quiet and empty, except for speeding cars, all going in the Pearl Harbor direction. There were no Sunday strollers and no stores open. Aala Park, too, was deserted: no Sunday evangelists at the corner, no games of sipa sipa (a Filipino wicker ball kicking game), no baseball games and no crowd at the bus stop. The Aala Market parking lot was empty.

    Of course, I caught hell when I got home. “Where have you been? You called to tell me not to go out and that you’d come home right away! That was over two hours ago!” Mother yelled. I had never seen her so angry.

    After a quick and silent lunch, we sat around the tabletop radio and listened to the repeated reminders: “This is the real McCoy and not a maneuver.” Intermittent announcements called for all military personnel, police, fire, medical and first aid workers to report for duty. Trucks and drivers were needed at Pearl Harbor.

    The rest of the population were told to remain indoors, not to use the telephone unnecessarily, to fill containers with water, to have evacuation bags ready, and, most importantly, to stay tuned to the radio for further directives. There were to be a curfew and a complete blackout all night from dusk to dawn. The urgency in the announcer’s voice and the constant repetition of the messages increased my anxiety.

    We had an early dinner, wiped ourselves and got ready for the night; we couldn’t take our usual tub baths because the tub was filled with water for emergency use. We lay our futon (bedding), one for each person, on the tatami (straw mat) floor. Our shoes were left at the entrance, ready to quickly slip our feet into. We went to bed, not in our pajamas, but in our street clothes. Our flashlights, one for each person, and our jackets were placed above our heads.

    As nightfall came, my anxieties increased. Mother and I could take care of ourselves, but could my brother, age 11, and sister, 13, do so if we became separated? Would the enemy return tonight? By air? By sea? We lived in the block next to the train depot and only a block away from Piers 15 and 16. We were sitting ducks!

    If they came by air, we should run downstairs into the store and hide under the counters. If they came by sea and landed, they would certainly enter the building through the store on the first floor. Hiding under the counters was not an option then. Perhaps we should hide in the storage areas on the mezzanine and second floors. But what if the building were bombed and collapsed? Thoughts like these repeated themselves in my mind like a broken record, as I lay wide awake, unable to sleep.

    Adding to the eeriness and attendant fear was the quiet outside. The weekly Sunday Filipino program from the Aala Park bandstand featuring the familiar voice of Sally Dacoscos was not heard, even when the windows were opened. All we heard was the sound of high-speed cars or an occasional “Halt! Who goes there?”

    Day 2: December 8

    After breakfast on December 8, Mother went to Aala Market to buy some canned foods for emergency meals. It was there that she learned that two of our neighbor merchants had been taken into custody a few hours after the Pearl Harbor attack. The men had not returned home last night. Both their families and neighbors were asking, “Why were they taken away? Where were they taken? Are they still alive?”

    The two men were successful businessmen and much-respected community leaders. When Mother told us about them, I immediately thought of her. Mother was a successful businesswoman. She had also served as president of her Buddhist temple’s women’s group. Now another fear arose in my mind, a fear that Mother would be taken away and perhaps even killed. What was going to happen to my siblings and me? We had friends, but no relatives on Oahu. Would I have to go to work to support myself and my siblings? Who would hire me, a 16-year- old student? Could I work in the store and get paid? I had been helping in the store when it was busy. I could wait on customers: Show them what they were looking for; measure, cut or wrap the purchases; figure out the cost; punch the cash register and make change. But I couldn’t possibly manage the store as Mother did. If I worked with fewer responsibilities for less pay, would I be able to support myself and my siblings?

    Day 3, Day 4, Day 5: December 9 - 11

    With each passing day the initial shock lessened and we gradually adapted to wartime conditions. We also reluctantly recognized but tried to dispel the suspicion cast over all Japanese, citizens and aliens alike. There was no differentiation made between the Japanese in Hawaii and the Japanese in Japan. “Once a Jap, always a Jap” was heard often. The message was clear. Anything Japanese was frowned upon and looked upon as “un-American.”

    Mother, whose language was Japanese, increasingly interspersed her speech with English words. She, who had always worn a kimono, began wearing dresses hastily made for her. Finding shoes to fit her narrow feet and high arches was another matter. She had to endure wearing ill-fitting shoes.

    Japanese knick-knacks, books, photos taken in Japan were burned, torn or put away. The Shinto shrine and picture of the Emperor and Empress of Japan were taken down from their high perches. Also removed from the walls were Japanese artwork and calligraphy scrolls. However, the Butsudan (Buddhist altar) and the portraits of Father in his grey suit and another of Uncle Eikichi in his kimono and haori (Japanese coat) were kept in place.

    Needless to say, I didn’t speak Japanese outside of our living quarters. However, once we were at home, Japanese was my language when communicating with Mother. It was a necessity.

    Material things could be discarded, but doing away with the Japanese language and customs meant that the issei had to abandon their ancestors and heritage. Nevertheless, they tried. In contrast, the nisei, having been born and educated in America, did not face these acculturation problems to the same degree.

    * * *

    Jane Okamoto Komeiji went on to graduate from the University of Hawaii in 1947 with a degree in psychology. In 1958, she received a professional teaching certificate and in 1971, a M.Ed. from UH-Manoa. She taught in the state’s public school system for 20 years. In 1983, she became the first retired classroom teacher to be appointed as college coordinator for student teachers. An avid researcher and historian of the Japanese in Hawaii, she is the co-author of Okage Sama De: The Japanese in Hawaii, 1885–1985 (1986, updated 2008). She chairs the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii’s Historical Gallery Committee and helped to develop its permanent exhibit, Okage Sama De, a chronicle of the first 100 years of the Japanese in Hawaii, which is currently being updated to include third, fourth and fifth generations of Japanese Americans. She serves on the UH College of Arts and Sciences Committee on Nisei Veterans Endowed Forum Series, and the Hawaii Hiroshima Heritage Study Group, which presents statewide genealogy workshops.

  • We Did Not Go Gentle

    When it is all over
    I will shout so all can hear.

    “We put up a great fight, didn’t we?
    We didn’t just sit back and cower with fear,
    We didn’t just sit back and curse this thief
    As he quietly stole into our lives."

    This final poem in our series of posts to bring attention to National Alzheimer's Awareness and National Family Caregivers' Month is from Mosaic Moon. Author Frances Kakugawa continues her imagery of Alzheimer's as a thief, one to be fought against bravely, and with dignity.

    In addition to the graphic posted below, we created a video to go along with Frances' reading of this poem at a presentation for the Hawaii Child & Family Services organization. To see more videos for Frances' readings, visit our YouTube channel or her blog.

  • Holiday Shopping Events

    We'll be joining other local publishers and vendors at the following fun holiday sale events — come down and see us for some great deals on our most popular titles and our exclusive gift sets you won't find in stores! Shop local this holiday season!

    Saturday, December 1
    Kapiolani Community College Farmers Market

    7:30am - 11:00am
    Find us at the KCC Culinary Department Booth (Row E)

    Saturday, December 8
    Bess Press Warehouse Sale

    8:00 a.m. - 1:00 p.m.
    3565 Harding Avenue (parking available in the municipal lot across the street)
    Other participating local publishers: Bamboo Ridge Press, Bess Press, Belknap Publishing, Bishop Museum Press, Kamehameha Publishing, University of Hawai‘i Press

    Wednesday, December 12
    Downtown Holiday Book Fair

    11:00 a.m. - 2:00 p.m.
    In front of 24-Hour Fitness and Territorial Savings, at the corner of King and Bishop Streets
    Other participating local publishers: Bamboo Ridge Press, Bess Press, Kamehameha Publishing, Slate Ridge Press, University of Hawai‘i Press

    Friday, December 14 - Sunday, December 16
    Honolulu Gift Fair

    3:00pm - 9:00pm (Fri.), 9:00am - 9:00pm (Sat.), 9:00am - 5:00pm (Sun.)
    Find us at Booth #341, at the corner of Tinsel Thoroughfare and Poinsettia Promenade

    Can't make it down in person? Shop online! Place your order by December 14 for guaranteed Christmas delivery. Always free shipping for orders over $25 at our online store!

    Browse our store

    Start with the Gift Section

  • Wordsworth the Poet’s Poe-TREE Contest

    Frances H. Kakugawa, author of the Wordsworth the Poet children’s books, and Watermark Publishing announce the Wordsworth the Poet “Poe-TREE Contest,” open to children in grades kindergarten through 12th grade. (Contest rules follow.)

    In Wordsworth! Stop the Bulldozer! — the newest Wordsworth the Poet adventure released this month — a bulldozer has invaded the little mouse’s special koa grove where he often writes his poems. What should Wordsworth do? His new friend, Akiko, has an idea! Wordsworth, Akiko and their friends, Dylan and Eliot, have all written poems about the special qualities of the trees they see around them — mango trees, coconut trees, kukui trees. Akiko tacks poems to each tree and reminds their neighbors of how important a part of their community the trees really are.

    To enter the Wordsworth the Poet Poe-TREE Contest, kids can follow Wordsworth and his friends’ example and write a poem that celebrates their favorite tree. For an example, see Akiko and Eliot's "Save This Tree" poems (above and below; click on the images to enlarge).

    Six prize packages will be awarded, two per grade division (K-5, 6-8 and 9-12). Each prize package includes a copy of each of the three books in the Wordsworth series, a child’s gardening tool kit and a Koa Legacy Tree from the Hawaiian Legacy Reforestation Initiative, donated by Hawaiian Legacy Hardwoods.

    Send entries ATTN: Wordsworth’s Poe-TREE Contest to wordsworth@bookshawaii.net or to Watermark Publishing, 1088 Bishop St., Ste. 310, Honolulu, HI 96813. Download an entry form here.

    Contest Rules:

    • The contest is open to all children kindergarten through 12th grade residing in the United States.
    • Each entry must include the child’s name, age and grade, school, hometown and parent, guardian or teacher’s contact information and signature. Download an entry form here.
    • Poem must be about the entrant's favorite tree.
    • Winning poems will be selected by the judges, including Frances Kakugawa, based on creativity and poetic merit.
    • Materials submitted will not be returned.
    • Entries must be received by January 15, 2013 DEADLINE EXTENDED: March 1, 2013.
    • Winners will be notified February 1, 2013 April 15, 2013. Winners may be asked to submit a photo of themselves for publicity purposes. Winners' name, hometown and likeness may be used for publicity purposes.

    For those who are ineligible to enter the Poe-TREE Contest, or who aren’t inclined to write poetry, Frances and Wordsworth have another way to celebrate trees: They invite readers far and wide to plant trees in their own communities. “It’s not only about trees being cut down where we live,” Frances writes in the introduction to Wordsworth! Stop the Bulldozer! “Our children and their children must have trees in their future to hug and enjoy and sit under in the shade. Trees also help keep us alive and healthy.”

    Frances has created Wordsworth’s Plant A Tree Society to recognize readers of all ages who plant a tree in Wordsworth’s honor. To receive a membership certificate in the Plant A Tree Society, readers must plant a tree for Wordsworth in their community (in the backyard or at school, for example) and post a photo of themselves with their tree on Wordsworth’s Facebook page. Photo submissions should indicate the variety of the tree and where it was planted. Submissions may also be e-mailed to wordsworth@bookshawaii.net or mailed to Watermark Publishing. Photos will not be returned and will be posted online.

    We understand that not everyone can plant a tree in their own backyard, so we have teamed up with the Hawaiian Legacy Reforestation Initiative to offer a solution: A program to plant Wordsworth Legacy Koa Trees on Hawaiian Legacy Hardwoods’ 1,000 acres of conservation land on the Hamakua Coast of Hawai‘i Island. Groups or individuals may sponsor a Wordsworth Legacy Tree for $60. The purchase also includes a copy of Wordsworth! Stop the Bulldozer!, a certificate bearing the GPS coordinates of the planted tree, and automatic membership in Wordsworth’s Plant A Tree Society. Additionally, $10 of the sponsorship fee will be directed to a fund dedicated to providing Legacy Trees for underprivileged children. Wordsworth Legacy Trees may be purchased at http://legacytrees.org/watermarkpublishing.

    We are very excited to work with the Hawaiian Legacy Reforestation Initiative to help return native growth to the Hamakua Coast! The land set aside by Hawaiian Legacy Hardwoods for this conservation program once belonged to King Kamehameha I, and some original koa trees still remain on the property. HLH uses seeds from these ancient Hawaiian trees to grow the Legacy Trees. Each tree is implanted with an RFID chip which transmits information on the tree's growth, as well as identifying it as the sponsor's tree. What an amazing project!

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