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Surviving after father's death

Life changed drastically when my father died. Until then, we had a fairly comfortable life. And so my mother, she was pregnant with her ninth child. My father was 63 and my mother was 39. You can see the age difference. And so, she had to work immediately, but she was pregnant. And she couldn’t speak any English or understand English. So, she thought maybe she could work as a domestic. Usually many women worked on the plantation for the Caucasian families—maids. But, in her condition and with so many children—eight children—she couldn’t work as a maid because she couldn’t speak English. And so she finally took in laundry from the plantation bachelors. And because the Filipino people lived nearby, that was her livelihood. We really owe it to them that we were able to survive.

And it was interesting how the plantation manager, the assistant, when a person became a widow, they would give $15 a month pension. And so, in my mother’s situation, because she had such a large family, a relative who was a supervisor for the irrigation group approached the manager and told him the situation that, “How can Mrs. Oyama, with eight children—and she’s expecting her ninth child—how can she survive with $15 a month?” So the manager, Mr. Lorenge(?), was very compassionate. Was it Mr. Lorenge? Anyway, they gave her $25 a month. And they gave my mother a choice that, “Would you rather have a $1000 to cover expenses for the funeral and immediate expenses to survive, or $25 until the baby whose born would reach a social security age?” So my mother was very wise. She had only a third grade education back in the village. But, she thought it was better to receive the $25 a month. And so, that really helped her with taking laundry and all that. Somehow, we survived.


cleaning families laundry plantations

Date: February 19, 2004

Location: Hawai'i, US

Interviewer: Lisa Itagaki, Krissy Kim

Contributed by: Watase Media Arts Center, Japanese American National Museum.

Interviewee Bio

Barbara Kawakami was born in 1921 in Okkogamura, Kumamoto, Japan, in a feudal farmhouse that had been her family’s home for more than 350 years. She was raised on the Oahu Sugar Plantation in Oahu, Hawai’i, and worked as a dressmaker and homemaker before earning her high school diploma, Bachelor of Science in Textile & Clothing, and Master of Arts in Asian Studies—after the age of 50.

In her senior year, she began to research the clothing that immigrants wore on the plantation for a term paper. Finding there was relatively little academic research in this area, Barbara embarked on a project to document and collect original plantation clothing as well as the stories behind the ingenuity of the makers. Over the course of fifteen years, Barbara recorded more than 250 interviews with aging Issei women and men and their Nisei children. She captured their lives, the struggles of immigration, and conditions working and living on the plantation. Importantly, she documented the stories behind the ingenuity of these Issei women as they slowly adapted their traditions to suit the needs of plantation life. Her knowledge of the Japanese language, having grown up on the plantation, and her extensive background as a noted dressmaker, helped many Issei women feel comfortable about sharing the untold stories of their lives as picture brides. From her extensive research, she published the first book on the topic, Japanese Immigrant Clothing in Hawai‘i 1885-1941 (University of Hawai‘i Press, 1993).

A noted storyteller, author, and historian, Barbara continues to travel to Japan as well as throughout the United States to give lectures regarding plantation life and clothing. She is widely recognized as the foremost authority on Japanese immigrant clothing and has served as a consultant to Hawaii Public Television, Waipahu Cultural Garden Park, Bishop Museum, the Japanese American National Museum, and to the movie production of Picture Bride. (February 19, 2004)

George Ariyoshi
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George Ariyoshi

Spending time with children

(b.1926) Democratic politician and three-term Governor of Hawai'i

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Jean Hayashi Ariyoshi
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Jean Hayashi Ariyoshi

Getting married

Former First Lady of Hawai'i

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Jean Hayashi Ariyoshi
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Jean Hayashi Ariyoshi

Possibility of being adopted by aunt

Former First Lady of Hawai'i

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Kazuo Funai
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Kazuo Funai

First work in America (Japanese)

(1900-2005) Issei businessman

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James Hirabayashi
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James Hirabayashi

Little interaction with parents

(1926 - 2012) Scholar and professor of anthropology. Leader in the establishment of ethnic studies as an academic discipline

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James Hirabayashi
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James Hirabayashi

Gordon's parents' experience in prison

(1926 - 2012) Scholar and professor of anthropology. Leader in the establishment of ethnic studies as an academic discipline

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Haruo Kasahara
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Haruo Kasahara

Sings traditional plantation labor song (ho-le ho-le bushi) in Japanese and Hawaiian

(b.1900) Issei plantation worker in Hawai'i.

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Robert (Bob) Kiyoshi Okasaki
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Robert (Bob) Kiyoshi Okasaki

Wife's family in Japan

(b.1942) Japanese American ceramist, who has lived in Japan for over 30 years.

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Jane Aiko Yamano
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Jane Aiko Yamano

New Year's food

(b.1964) California-born business woman in Japan. A successor of her late grandmother, who started a beauty business in Japan.

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Wayne Shigeto Yokoyama
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Wayne Shigeto Yokoyama

Food growing up

(b.1948) Nikkei from Southern California living in Japan.

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Wally Kaname Yonamine
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Wally Kaname Yonamine

His parents' experience with Japanese resistance toward intermarriage with Okinawans

(b.1925) Nisei of Okinawan descent. Had a 38-year career in Japan as a baseball player, coach, scout, and manager.

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Wally Kaname Yonamine
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Wally Kaname Yonamine

Working in cane fields as teenager to supplement family income

(b.1925) Nisei of Okinawan descent. Had a 38-year career in Japan as a baseball player, coach, scout, and manager.

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Pat Adachi
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Pat Adachi

Relationship with my father

(b. 1920) Incarcerated during World War II. Active member of the Japanese Canadian community

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Kimi Wakabayashi
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Kimi Wakabayashi

Arranged marriage

(b.1912) Japanese Canadian Issei. Immigrated with husband to Canada in 1931

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Shizuko Kadoguchi
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Shizuko Kadoguchi

Marrying Bob against family’s wishes

(b.1920) Japanese Canadian Nisei. Established the Ikenobo Ikebana Society of Toronto

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