NAJC Heritage Tour of Oahu

October 18, 2013 at 4:30 am

Hawaii

Chuck Tasaka

In my younger days, I came to Wakiki for the sun, beaches and bikinis. Now that I am a senior citizen, my attraction for Hawaii has turned a complete 180 degrees. What drew me to the NAJC’s Tour of Hawaii was to learn about the Japanese-Hawaiian and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team’s history. I was not disappointed. It was the most informative tour that I have been on!

The first day of our tour, we visited the Japanese-Hawaiian Cultural Center. I learned that King Kalakaua visited Japan personally in 1881 to recruit labourers to work on the sugar plantation. In 1868, the attempt to keep workers from Japan failed somewhat, however, by 1885, most immigrants came from Hiroshima and Yamaguchi prefectures. Life was tough working on the plantation and they were given numbers (bango) instead of name tags. Eventually, Japanese became the largest minority in Hawaii. The museum was well-displayed and the talk by Derrick Iwata was an eye-opener for me. On the last day, some of us visited the Bishop Museum, where the whole second floor is devoted to Japanese immigration history. The timeline on the immigration was very interesting. That really complemented and completed the Japanese-Hawaiian history tour.

Fort DeRussy was another fantastic museum and it was by donation. The 442nd Regimental Combat Team was featured in two rooms, and Four-star general Eric Shinseki was commemorated with his own display room. As you view the 21 Medal of Honor and 33 Distinguished Service Cross recipients of Japanese-Hawaiians on the second floor, it will bring tears to your eyes. I found out that Korean and Vietnam War veterans were also honoured. It’s a must-see museum for those who are inspired by the determined, brave and intelligent Nikkei soldiers who fought and died for their country, the USA. Close to 9500 Purple Hearts and over 18,000 other medals were awarded to the 100th, 442nd, 522nd and Military Intelligence Service. The Japanese-Hawaiian combat teams were the most highly decorated unit in the US military!

As a bonus, the tour took us to Chinatown, the Waikiki Aquarium, Honolulu Museum of Art and the island tour of Byodo-in temple, Akebono’s hometown, and the famous Matsumoto Shave Ice shop in Haleiwa. The side-trip to Pearl Harbour and the Honolulu Swap Meet at the Aloha Stadium added to our many activities in Oahu. I would recommend this tour to anyone who is interested in the history of the Japanese-Hawaiians. It has indeed inspired me! Here are some interesting facts:

1. The famed, colourful Hawaiian shirts came to be when the local Hawaiians saw the Japanese ladies in their brightly designed kimono for their formal wear. The Hawaiians then used their own indigenous flowers for their design. The Hawaiian shirts were born!

2. After many hard-fought battles in France and Italy, the 442nd were given R&R in places like Nice, France. They were given a fresh supply of army outfits. Since they were small in stature, the US Military sent the nisei soldiers WAC (women army corp) uniforms! To make matters worse, instead of boxer’s shorts, they were sent women’s panties with ‘frou-frou’! (Source: Pierre Moulin, The American Samurai in Europe).

Post-script: When I got off the plane at YVR, I was two weeks behind in any Nikkei news. The day after was Powell Street Festival so here I was volunteering and helping my sister, “Kikko”, at the Tonari Gumi booth. When I arrived back home in Nanaimo, the first thing I picked up was the JCCA Bulletin magazine, and to my surprise I found out that my uncle Judo Tasaka’s fishing boat, ‘Nishga Girl’ was not being shipped back west! Thanks to the NAJC and President Ken Noma who worked diligently to make the museum curator aware of what he was displacing: West Coast Fishing Industry, First Nations Nisga’a Treaty, and BC’s Nikkei Fishermen. What better way to showcase BC’s West Coast! There is now relief and closure for the Gosnell, Nyce and Tasaka families that they are not forgotten.