Barbara Kawakami

An expert researcher and scholar on Japanese immigrant clothing.

Going back to Hawaii 1920 labor strike Picture brides and karifufu Racial make-up of plantation camps Clothes of plantation workers Surviving after father's death Washing for Filipino bachelors Kids working hard Bombing of Pearl Harbor Helping soldiers Brother leaves for war, survival Okinawan discrimination First day of school Doing chores Eating cold rice

Transcripts available in the following languages:

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)

family hawaii immigration migration labor strike sugar plantation karifufu picture brides plantation plantation camps segregation laundry education sugar cane Pearl Harbor World War II discrimination okinawan racism meals gohan rice

Itadakimasu 2! Another Taste of Nikkei Culture

Read the Itadakimasu 2! stories >>

Get updates

Sign up for email updates

Journal feed
Events feed
Comments feed

Support this project

Discover Nikkei

Discover Nikkei is a place to connect with others and share the Nikkei experience. To continue to sustain and grow this project, we need your help!

Ways to help >>

A project of the Japanese American National Museum

Major support by The Nippon Foundation