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Pocatello and Kumamoto

April 28, 2013 - Ray Tsuchiyama

As Maui’s population doubled in the last 15 years, there are many residents today who have no family members on Maui or anywhere in Hawai’i, and no parent or grandparents resting forever in the Maui ground or as ashes in urns in temples or columbariums. They are starting a new life in a new place (like my successful Kahului hair stylist and philosopher from Idaho, after encountering hundreds of transplants who came and departed Maui):

See: Maui News Blog Post: The Studs Terkel of Maui

Although these new Mauians have found friends through their workplaces at giant resort hotels or restaurants and sometimes new families by marriage, they often call far-away parents or siblings or former roommates or classmates somewhere on the Mainland, like Seattle or Pocatello or Calgary or Portland or Reno.

Often the Maui-based individual and the Mainland/Canada friend would arrange a time to Skype and they would move the iPads around to view snowy wilderness outside Pocatello or an outdoor grill scene in Kihei, respectively.

Sometimes family members from way east come to visit, as did the mother of a condo neighbor of ours a few weeks ago: she sat comfortably reading a paperback novel by the condo pool, and we talked for a minute, and then the next week she was gone, returned to Montana. I wondered what she thought of her short Maui visit.

In the early 1900s, international phone calling (for a plantation worker) or Internet Email or Skype did not exist during my grandparents’ era. A telegram was the nearest equivalent to a fast message, but very expensive, perhaps a month’s wages. A letter took weeks to arrive to a small Japanese village post office (our family “hometown” was north of the capital of Kumamoto prefecture on the island of Kyushu), then weeks passed to receive a response back at a plantation house in Pu’unene Camp.

I often pass by two people at the Kihei Safeway check-out line who find out that they were from greater Denver or Portland, just a few dozen miles apart; they excitedly talk about local restaurants, sports teams, and schools – back in their home cities.

In 1920s Maui when two Japanese met, say, on a Sunday afternoon shopping in Wailuku, they invariably asked where they came from – Hiroshima, Yamaguchi, Fukuoka, or Kumamoto, or Okinawa. If they discovered they were from the same prefecture, they would slip into the regional dialect (my grandmother still retained her Kumamoto dialect until she passed away, aged 85, in Wailuku – she never returned to Japan once after she arrived on Maui).

The hometown pair on the sidewalk in front of a Wailuku Market Street store selling miso, natto, and soy sauce would quiz each other about events “back home”. If a plantation worker was returning to their hometown (sometimes to meet prospective spouses or to attend the funeral of a parent), friends would hastily compose long letters for the individual to carry in their luggage on a ship to “hand-deliver” to a parent or sibling, perhaps back in our hometown of Tamana, a place not dissimilar to a town in Sicily where the fictional Don Corleone left for New York City (in Mario Puzo's "The Godfather" around the same time as my grandparents left for Maui) or a county in western Ireland, where so many left for new opportunities in the New World.

In the 1920s, if a person from Kumamoto immigrated to Hawai’i, it was as if they had disappeared from the earth, and it was a struggle to communicate, to obtain “news”.

In 2013, the Internet allows for family and friends to “keep up” daily on Facebook photo accounts, and a Haiku resident may know more about the weather and going-ons in San Jose than about Lahaina, a kind of digital inundation of the mundane – yet the Haiku resident may feel lonely while passing a baby luau in Kahului attended by hundreds of happy people related by blood (like a huge “XYZ clan”) or hanai or classmates from the Wailuku Elementary School kindergarten class of 1965, the very definition of “ohana” for many Mauians.

So, these two groups – seemingly very different, separated by nearly a century, arriving from the far west and east to an island in the middle of the Pacific, and in the middle of the Hawaiian archipelago – are related in their “recentness” and loneliness in a new place, coming from somewhere else, and valiantly pushing forward, making new lives, becoming part of Maui, as my late grandother, after many decades working and living on Maui, now resting peacefully in an urn in a Wailuku temple.


Article Comments



Apr-28-13 9:58 PM

What a fabulous post. Very insightful of you to notice the similarities (and differences) of past and present.

Certainly, there are locals that are resentful of these new arrivals. And it is hard to completely blame them as they don't see an improvement of their lifestyle with this doubling of the population. Of course, this was also true in the past- there has always been discrimination.

You point out how these immigrants feel lonely. I certainly understood that about the Chinese and Japanese brought in to work the fields (or to work the fields and be a wife). I had not considered that the new service worker would have similar feelings.

This is a very, very good post. I just became a Maui News member so that I could tell you how much I liked it. Truly outstanding. How is it that you can be so thoughtful and honorable and others can be hateful. What a strange world we live in. Now I'll go read your other posts.


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