Select a primary language to get the most out of our Journal pages:
English 日本語 Español Português

We have made a lot of improvements to our Journal section pages. Please send your feedback to editor@DiscoverNikkei.org!

The Remembering Tree III - part 2

>> Part 1

Japan Cruise

This past April, my husband and I joined several of our close Hawai‘i friends on a 10-day cruise around Japan. From Yokohama, we traveled along the Pacific Ocean side of Honshu and Shikoku, down to Kyushu, then up along the Japan Sea to Hokodate and down again to Yokohama. We sailed at night, arriving the next morning at large, bustling ports and sometimes, small, delightful ones, too. We would go sightseeing during the day and return to the ship for dinner.

I learned in the early days of the journey that most of the passengers were native Japanese. The Japanese are very polite, but they’re curious and have big ears and eyes that they keep open for various clues. Finally on the third day out, I began talking to some of the middle-aged women. They were astonished that I could speak some Japanese. It certainly was not the Empress’ Japanese, for I do not have an adequate supply of words and idioms in my vocabulary. But they were delighted that they could at least converse with me. They conceded that they had been curious about us.

Nihonjin no yoona kao shiterukedo, nani ka gaikoku no tokotoba shabetteru kara, nandesho ka, to omotte ta no,” (“You have a Japanese face but you were speaking in some kind of foreign language, so we wondered what you were.”) one of the ladies said with a polite giggle.

When I told them my mother was born in Fukuoka and my father in Hakodate, and that my mother-in-law was from Kagawa-ken in Shikoku, and that my father-in-law was from Tokyo, a true Edokko, they were relieved and said, almost in unison, “Ja, moto moto Nihonjin desu ne?” (“Then you are originally Japanese, aren’t you?”)

There’s an old song that goes, “You don’t have to know the language…” Still, I feel it helps to know the language of the places you are visiting to make the trip a lot more interesting and fun.

The travelers we met from Japan understood that although we shared a common ancestry, our lives in America—and in Hawai‘i—made us different.

I detected the Wakayama-ken accent of the woman with whom I had played ping-pong. It was different from the accent of the Osaka lady who was my next partner. We laughed at my ability to detect the differences.

“So many Japanese from various ken (prefectures) settled in America. In our small town in California, there were people from Hiroshima, Yamaguchi, Fukuoka, Kumamoto, Kagoshima, Wakayama, Okayama, Fukushima, and a few from the larger cities like Kobe, Osaka, Kyoto, Yokohama, and other places. The Japanese liked to gather with people from their own ken, and being a curious child, I became familiar with the different way people talked. It was not a dialect as such—call it patois.”

One woman I was talking with from Hawai‘i was somewhat annoyed that some Japanese people commented that she spoke “Meiji jidai (era) Japanese.”

Most of our travel companions had ventured out of their country to North and South America, parts of Europe and Southeast Asia, and were eager to tell me about their adventures. But like all universal wanderers, they concluded that there’s no place like home, be it ever so humble.

Old Tanaka-san and the Two Sweet Girls

The two teenage junior volunteers rose early that morning, cooking five cups of rice which they happily shaped into plastic box full of musubi. They fried slices of Spam with a bit of sugar and shoyu, packed the shoyu chicken they’d cooked the night before along with some yakiniku and hot dogs. Into the cooler went a jar of Big Island takuan and a plastic container filled with cucumber, carrot and celery sticks, and olives. In a separate bag, they packed paper plates, chopsticks, napkins, paper cups, a thermos of green tea, bottles of Coke, and water. Everything for a perfect Island picnic. To top off this great feast—a Ziploc bag full of home-baked chocolate chip cookies for dessert.

Dressed in identical blue jeans, white University of Hawai‘i T-shirts with that familiar green logo, and black rubber slippers, they were headed out the door.

They’d grown attached to the kind, soft-spoken old man who had lived at Kuakini Home for years. In the course of their weekly volunteer work—reading books and newspapers to the residents and playing hanafuda and other card games with them—the girls learned that no one ever came to visit Tanaka-san. Not even relatives. He said he hadn’t been around the island in over 20 years.

“We”ll take you on a picnic!” said the older girl. “My sister and I will drive you through Kaimukī, to Hanauma Bay…but too late to feed the fish. Then we’ll stop at the beach across from Rabbit Island in Waimānalo, eat lunch there, and drive around to Hale‘iwa. We can eat shave ice! Then we’ll go to Wahiawā and eat pineapple, okay?”

Tanaka-san was so happy and excited that he couldn’t sleep that night, even after a deep soak in the big furo at the home. His wrinkled face was full of smiles, the kitchen lady said, thrilled that someone was finally talking him out.

The younger girl, tying her long black hair into a ponytail, helped the old man into the back seat of the green Toyota so he could stretch out comfortably. “Before we come back here, we’ll stop at Boulevard Saimin, okay? Because you said you like saimin. You remind me of the grandpa I had on Kaua‘i when I was little,” she said with a bright smile. Tanaka-san crinkled his eyes and laughed.

The sisters soon completed their UH classes and moved away for graduate school. But Tanaka-san never forgot them and the special day they had spent together.

Sometime later, a new Kuakini Home for the elderly was built, but Tanaka-san was not among those who moved there, for he had gone peacefully to “a blessed country beyond the western skies,” still smiling and remembering.

 

This last story is lovingly dedicated to the late Mieko Kabutan Tsubota who recently passed away and who was the mother of the two great girls who befriended Tanaka-san many years ago. Like their mother, they were sweet and kind, and most helpful in many ways.

Mele Kalikimaka!

* This article was originally published in The Hawai‘i Herald on December 15, 2006.

© 2006 Fuku Y. Tsukiyama

christmas fiction food hawaii holiday holidays language