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Issei Pioneers - Hawaii and the Mainland 1885-1924 - Part 7

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One of the earliest enterprises to start on the plantations was the public bath house (ofuro). The bath house operators charged the workers a monthly fee while the plantations supplied the fuel, water, and building.

Each camp had an ogokku (chief cook) or a couple, who prepared meals for 20 to 30 men at a monthly fee. Kosuke Teruya remembered “There weren’t any tasty foods” when he worked at Waipahu. Meals consisted of “udon (noodles), and tsukemono koko (pickled vegetables), things like that.” Teruya and other workers paid $6.00 to $7.00 a month our of their slender wages for the cook and the laundryman.1

In addition to their labor in the fields, many women did washing, mending, and ironing for the large population of single men. Industrious workers grew vegetables to barter or sell while others raised chickens and hogs. Some made bean curd (tofu), noodles, fish cakes, and other Japanese foods. Midwives and barbers served the plantation community along with carpenters and blacksmiths who worked after hours.

When their contracts expired, many workers left the plantations in search of higher wages, improved conditions, and a better life. There were immigrants like Benya Mine, who worked at many different jobs—a cook, a barber, and a carpenter—before securing a niche for himself as a mason.

By the turn of the century, the movement from plantation camp, to plantation town, to urban centers in Hilo and Honolulu was well under way. Some workers stayed in plantation towns, catering to the needs of the plantation workers, while others moved to Hilo or Honolulu to start businesses with the money they had saved.

I hate hole hole work
Lets finish cutting cane
And go to Honolulu
                           —from a hole hole bushi

Getting started was difficult. Since Japanese immigrants had limited access to banks, many Issei relied on the tanomoshi-ko, a mutual finance association. In a tanomoshi-ko, a group of individuals, oftentimes members of the same prefectural group (ken), contributed a certain amount of money to a pool. Each member received the pool once, usually by bidding, by need, or by chance.

Tokushin Nakamoto explained how a tanomoshi helped him. “You know, when I first came here, I wasn’t paid for the first month. I borrowed ten dollars from a friend and joined a seven-man tanomoshi. The month I joined, the tanomoshi had just started and in the third month I got the money. I sent back $70 to Okinawa in three months after coming to Hawaii! The tanomoshi ended after the seventh month. In the eighth month, I gathered ten men together to start a new tanomoshi.”2

Blacksmith Teiji Kamimura started his business based on the skills he has learned on the plantations. Kamimura, who had come to Hawaii in 1920, first started working for the Olaa Sugar Company as a apprentice blacksmith before opening his own shop in Hilo on Kamehameha Avenue.

At eighty-nine years old, Kamimura rises at six o’clock each morning to go work. “He is proud of his cane knife,” said his daughter Leiko. “Nobody can surpass it in the state of Hawaii.” Renowned throughout the Islands for the quality of his knives, he receives orders from plantations in Maui, Lanai, Molokai, and the Big Island. His trademark is the shape of the cane knife handle made of Philippine mahogany. The special process he uses to pound, straightened, and temper the steel is “a secret he’ll tell not a soul,” says his son-in-law Vincent.3

Osame Manago told how the family’s coffee shop evolved into the Manago Hotel. “One bench was all there was,” she said of the coffee shop. “So on one end somebody drank coffee, and on the other end, somebody else ate udon (noodles)…People used to come to Kona to sell all sorts of things, but the drivers for these people couldn’t stay with them (at the Paris Hotel). And since they didn’t have any place to stay, they asked me if they could stay at stay at our shop for a cheap price. So we bought a couple of small single beds and put them in the extra space we had, and we started letting these drivers stay.”4

By 1900, there were more than 100 Japanese stores in the Hawaiian Islands. Most of these were in Honolulu, the center of business in the Islands, but Hilo had at least 18 Japanese managed shops.


The pineapple and coffee industries, commercial fishing and rice farming offered other avenues of employment and investment for the Issei. By the 1900’s the pineapple industry was emerging as Hawaii’s number two industry. Yasuke Teshima of Fukuoka prefecture was one of the first Japanese to grow pineapples. He started on leased land in Wahiawa, Oahu in 1901. By 1913, the capital invested by Issei in the pineapple cultivation amounted to approximately $700,000 with 6,000 acres on Oahu alone.

In 1930, over 3,000 Japanese were employed in the industry. According to Kikuji Ujiie, “the pay at the pineapple factory was better than at the (sugar) plantation,” but the work was not steady.5 With the worldwide economic depression of the 1930’s, the independent growers were hardest hit and many were forced to return to the security of the sugar plantation.

Rice cultivation offered some opportunities for Japanese farmers on a limited basis as did coffee growing. In 1900, when world coffee prices plummeted, many white farmers gave up coffee growing. This opened up opportunities for the Issei who were leaving the sugar plantations. A number of Japanese made their way to Kona. By 1914, they produced over 80 percent of Hawaii’s coffee crop on more than 3,780 acres in the Kona district.6

When their plantation contracts expired, the skilled Issei fishermen from the coastal prefectures of Wakayama and Yamaguchi ventured into fishing. With the increasing numbers of the fish-eating Japanese, the demand exceeded the supply.

In 1899, Gorokichi Nakasuji revolutionized the fishing industry. He built a boat, 32 foot long and 5.8 foot wide, especially equipped to catch tuna in deep-sea waters. The installation of gasoline engines in his vessels greatly widened the area of operation. Usaburo Katamoto recalled during his father’s time “around ten fishermen (would) get together and scrape up enough cash to buy the boat engine. Because the engine cost more than the boat.”7

In 1913, 300 Japanese fishermen rode the seas in gasoline-powered wooden fishing boats. By 1930, approximately 1000 Japanese were engaged in the fishing industry that yielded more than $2,000,000 annually. During World War II, however, all Japanese commercial fishing operations were suspended.

Part 8 >>

1. Kosuke Teruya oral history, Uchinanchu, p. 523.
2. Tokushin Nakamoto oral history, Uchinanchu, p. 394.
3. Personal interview with Teiji Kamimura, Leiko and Vincent Strilcic, July 18, 1990, Hilo Hawaii, Teiji Kamimura passed away on June 27, 1991.
4. Osame Manago oral history interview, November 24, 1980, Ethnic Studies Oral History Project (ESOHP), Tape Bi. 9-19-1-80 TR.
5. Kikuji Ujiie oral history, ESOHP, interviewers Haruo Yamamoto and Warren Nishimoto, October 4, 1979, pp. 626-627.
6. See Baron Goto, “Ethnic Groups and the Coffee Industry in Hawaii,” Hawaii Journal of History, 16, 1982.
7. Michi Kodama-Nishimoto, Warren S. Nishimoto, and Cynthia A. Oshiro (eds.), Hanahana (Honolulu, 1984) pp. 62-63.

* Issei Pioneers: Hawai‘i and the Mainland, 1885-1924 is the catalogue accompanying the National Museum’s inaugural exhibition. Using artifacts from the National Museum’s collection to tell the story of the courageous “Issei Pioneers,” the catalogue focuses on the early immigration and settlement years. To order the catalogue >>

© 1992 Japanese American National Museum

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