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https://www.discovernikkei.org/en/interviews/clips/270/

First day of school

So, first day of school, my mother, who couldn’t understand or speak any English, put her laundry aside to take me to school. And so, she didn’t know what class to enroll me in. So, even if the teacher says something, she didn’t understand. So, finally, she was so frustrated and she put me in one class—and we had only benches in those days, wooden benches—and she sat me in front. And so, sitting down there, the kids of other ethnic groups, they couldn’t speak English either—Filipino kids, you know, all them. They spoke their parent’s native tongue.

So we just looked at each other, stared at each other. And then, here in walked a huge lady, you know. And to me, she looked like a giant because I’m only 7 years old. And she had gray, wiry hair and blue eyes, and she was so fair. And that’s the first time I’ve ever seen a Caucasian on the plantation because we lived in segregated camps. And so, when she approached me, and she must’ve asked me what is your name? And because I didn’t understand English, and when she bent over me, I thought she was going to devour me. And I shrieked, "Obake! Obake!," you know. I just screamed at the top of my voice, and I ran out to the front and I clung to the pillow in the front. And she ran after me, and she tried to hug me. And the more she tried to hug me, the more I screamed. So that was my orientation into the American school.


education 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

Teacher who helped with lisp

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

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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

Politics in ethnic studies

(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

Center for Japanese American Studies in community

(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

Involvement with ethnic studies

(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

Testing assumptions of Japanese scholars

(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

Grandmother's influence on decision to go to Japan

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

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Wally Kaname Yonamine
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Wally Kaname Yonamine

Training for football by carrying 100-lb bags of grass over mountains

(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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Richard Kosaki
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Richard Kosaki

Teaching at the military language school during World War II

(b. 1924) Political scientist, educator, and administrator from Hawai`i

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Richard Kosaki
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Richard Kosaki

Lesson learned from community college faculty

(b. 1924) Political scientist, educator, and administrator from Hawai`i

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Richard Kosaki
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Richard Kosaki

Rewards of teaching

(b. 1924) Political scientist, educator, and administrator from Hawai`i

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Mitsuo Ito
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Mitsuo Ito

Japanese school

(b.1924) Japanese Canadian Nisei. Interpreter for British Army in Japan after WWII. Active in Japanese Canadian community

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Shizuko Kadoguchi
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Shizuko Kadoguchi

Strict school policy of separating boys and girls in Japan

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

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Sam Naito
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Sam Naito

Growing up outside of Portland’s Japanese community

(b. 1921) Nisei businessman. Established "Made in Oregon" retail stores

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