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Tag Archives: Japanese American experience

  • Stories from the Home Front in WWII Hawaii

    Seventy years ago today, on June 15, 1944, the 100th Battalion (the “One Puka Puka”), made up of soldiers from Hawai‘i, was assigned to the famed 442nd "Go For Broke" Regimental Combat Team. The stories of their experiences are widely documented.

    Their friends and family left at home, back in Hawai‘i, had their own harrowing war experiences, too. Gathered for the first time in Japanese Eyes, American Heart - Vol. 2: Voices from the Home Front in World War II Hawaii are dozens of deeply personal stories that reveal the hardship, sorrow and anguish—as well as the pride, compassion and even laughter—experienced by Japanese Americans living in Hawaii following the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.


    This week, Japanese Eyes, American Heart - Vol. 2 will be available for Amazon Kindle at a special price of just $1.99. (Regular e-book price: $9.99; regular hardcover price: $24.95) This offer expires June 21. Click the Kindle icon below to purchase.

  • Personal Experiences on Pearl Harbor Day

    Several titles from Watermark Publishing and Legacy Isle Publishing chronicle the personal experiences of those who lived through the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Four selections have been excerpted below from a range of individuals: a young haole-Hawaiian lawyer who would become a U.S. District Court Chief Judge; a Christian minister of Japanese descent arrested after the bombing; a young girl living in a tiny Big Island village; and a Japanese-American ROTC college student who volunteered for service with the 442nd Regimental Combat Team.

    Samuel P. King, Judge Sam King: A Memoir

    Born in China and raised in the Territory of Hawai‘i, Samuel Pailthorpe King was the part-Hawaiian son of the territorial Governor Samuel Wilder King, a grandson of the minister of the interior of the former Republic of Hawai‘i and a great-grandson of a Supreme Court justice of the former kingdom of Hawai‘i. King passed away on December 7, 2010.

    From Chapter Five, “The War Years”:

    When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on the morning of December 7, 1941, I was asleep in Honolulu. I was a relatively new lawyer and was living at the Mānoa home of my Uncle Bill, Dad’s younger brother. My cousin Billy came in my room and said, “Sunny, Sunny. They’re doing maneuvers. Let’s go take a look.” My childhood nickname was “Sunny Bunny,” because of my optimistic nature, I suppose.

    I jumped out of bed and got dressed. That’s when a neighbor yelled, “Turn on your radio! Turn on your radio! The Japanese are attacking!”

    On the radio we heard Webley Edwards say the famous line, “The Rising Sun has been sighted on the wingtips.” The authorities came on and said, “Stay home. Don’t go parading around, making things worse.”

    We could see airplanes from our house, but the attack didn’t last all that long—maybe an hour and a half.

    Norman H. Osumi, Today’s Thought —Rev. Paul S. Osumi: The Man and His Message

    A Christian minister, Rev. Paul Osumi was interned for the remainder of World War II at three different detention and internment camps following the bombing of Pearl Harbor. After his release and return to Hawai‘i, he ministered at several churches throughout the state. For more than 35 years, he inspired generations of readers with his daily newspaper column, “Today’s Thought.” His son, Norman H. Osumi, is a retired banker who has spent the past decade researching his father's life and ministry to complete this book.

    From Chapter Three, “Arrest After Pearl Harbor”:

    It changed my father’s and our family’s lives forever when the United States declared war on Japan following the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. Father talked very little about what happened to him after the war started. I can only imagine what he went through as a 36-year-old Christian minister with a young family.

    The Secretary of War issued a warrant of arrest for Father on the same day Pearl Harbor was attacked. It read:

    YOU ARE HEREBY COMMANDED to take the body of PAUL SUTEKICHI OSUMI alias SUTEKICHI OKADA on suspicion of being an alien enemy of the United States, and to detain said person pending final action by the Commanding General, Hawaiian Department, United States Army. This Warrant of Arrest is issued under the authority of the Secretary of War of the United States by his delegated agent this 7 day of December, 1941.

    Many thoughts go through my mind when I read this. First, Father was never known by the alias “Sutekichi Okada” in any of the documents I have in my possession. Sometimes I wonder if the government arrested the wrong person.

    Frances H. Kakuagwa, Kapoho: Memoir of a Modern Pompeii

    Born and raised in the village of Kapoho on the Big Island of Hawai‘i, Frances H. Kakugawa is an author of ten books who has received numerous awards from literary and family caregiving organizations. A retired educator, she currently gives lectures, workshops and readings to schools and community groups nationwide on the subjects of caregiving, teaching, writing and poetry.

    From Chapter One, “The Enemy Wore My Face”:

    Under the rising sun, / The enemy came / Wearing my face.

    My face changed forever that Sunday afternoon. It seemed a same-same Sunday. My parents were at a neighbor’s birthday party, and I was home with my brothers and sister. There were comics on the floor, dishes in the sink and the sense of nothing to do that usually came on the weekends.

    That particular Sunday, however, changed everything. Mr. Ito was listening to his radio.

    “Japan bombed Pearl Harbor!” he shouted at anyone he saw along the road. “Japan bombed Pearl Harbor!” he shouted at the birthday guests as he rushed on to spread the news. The party immediately broke up, and everyone hurried home.

    My father rushed into the house, followed by his neighbors.

    “Turn the radio on. Turn the radio on!” Everyone stood in front of the radio, shouting above the crackling voice of the announcer.

    “Are you sure he said Japan?”

    “Where’s Pearl Harbor?”

    “This means trouble. This means trouble.”

    “This means war.”

    “Are you sure he said Japan?”

    I knew something was wrong when no one went into the kitchen to prepare lunch. I was hungry, but no one paid any attention to me. All I heard were arguments and loud voices. That was the day I learned to be afraid. That was the day I learned that there was an enemy, an enemy who would wear my face, an enemy who would not be forgotten or forgiven in the years to come. Shame, humiliation and a host of confused thoughts would now become my shadow. I would hear “Jap” for the first time. We were Americans, I knew that. We were fighting the same enemy, I knew that, too. The face I saw in the mirror looked American to me, and I’d had no reason to believe, up to then, that anyone else saw anything different. The day Mr. Ito went running around the village with the news was the day my face no longer belonged to me.

    Ted T. Tsukiyama, contributor, Japanese Eyes, American Heart: Personal Reflections of Hawaii’s World War II Nisei Soldiers

    Born in 1920, Ted Tsukiyama volunteered for the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and became a language specialist with the Military Intelligence Service serving in India and Burma in the Pacific war. A scholar of the Japanese-American experience and the nisei soldiers of World War II, he is the historian for the VVV, the 442nd and MIS in Hawai‘i.

    From Chapter Six, “CHUGI (Loyalty): The Right Person, The Right Time,” “VVV”:

    Sunday, December 7, 1941, 7:55 a.m. will remain etched in my memory forever. I couldn’t sleep because of the constant rumbling of what I thought was thunder. Going outside, I saw the sky black with smoke, punctuated by puffs of white aerial bursts. “They’re sure making this maneuver look real!” I thought. Turning on the radio, I heard the KGU announcer screaming, “Take cover! Get off the streets! We are being attacked by Japanese planes! This is the real McCoy! Take cover!”

    I was stunned with surprise and shock, then with disbelief and denial: This just can’t be happening! When the realization sunk in, I first felt guilt and shame for being Japanese, followed by a dark foreboding of the suffering in store for anyone who was Japanese. I condemned the Japanese attackers: “You stupid, damned fools! Who do you think you are, attacking our great country?” I harbored these feelings of anger, outrage and hatred for our attackers for the rest of the war.

    The night of December 7 was the longest, darkest and wildest night that I can recall. When we finally lay down on the Armory floor, however, physically and emotionally exhausted, sleep would not come. We feared the enemy would attack us again at any time. One of our airplanes flew low over the city, prompting a nearby machine gun to clatter into action. Sudden bursts of occasional gunfire outside were nerve-wracking, where anything that moved was shot at. No enemy appeared, but the next morning dead cattle, dogs and other pets were found around the city.

  • 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.

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