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Japanese American National Museum Store Online

Kapoho: Memoir of a Modern Pompeii - Frances H. Kakugawa

Mount Vesuvius, Krakatoa, Mount St. Helens—these are the names that come to mind when most of us think of volcanoes. In her most recent book, Kapoho, Memoir of a Modern Pompeii, Frances Kakugawa makes readers outside of Hawaii aware of another volcano—Kilauea—and shares her recollections of Kapoho, Hawaii, the place of her birth and the town ultimately destroyed by Kilauea. Through her writing, Ms. Kakugawa succeeds in keeping alive the most important thing that could be salvaged from the destructive path of the volcano—cherished memories of Kapoho.

Kapoho, Memoir of a Modern Pompeii is a collection of stories, vignettes that revolve around her childhood in Kapoho, including descriptions of life during World War II and narratives involving her family and friends. Through these stories, Ms. Kakugawa characterizes the unique qualities of being Hawaiian—the superstitions, the customs, and “pidgin” English. The last story in the book provides moving details of the days surrounding the eruption of Kilauea. As the lava flows, the residents of Kapoho save what they can and then evacuate. Although her family’s house is left standing, Kapoho is gone, buried under lava. The author recalls vivid, poignant details of the event, conveying the losses—both physical and emotional—of Kapoho residents.

The process of writing Kapoho, Memoir of a Modern Pompeii began after Frances Kakugawa moved to California. After telling one of the stories to a friend, he urged her to write the story down. Other stories followed. According to the author, “I wrote [the stories] without having any book in mind. It was just fun writing. After a year or so, I had a collection and offered them to the publisher. He suggested one more story about Kapoho being destroyed by lava since no one had told that story. In the meantime, I sent off some of these stories to writing contests and each of the three won awards, so it was a good testing ground for the collection.”

Although she initially set out to tell a story rather than preserve history, Frances Kakugawa cannot deny that Kapoho, Memoir of a Modern Pompeii has, in fact, done both. The responses of her readers confirm this. As she revealed, “I wrote this for pure enjoyment, and I thought readers would enjoy a good story. Readers have taken it further than sheer enjoyment. Former residents of Kapoho thank me for preserving for them, their lives in Kapoho. A month ago, a 95-year-old woman got in touch with me saying she was a first grade teacher in Kapoho in 1941. She had her own stories to tell; many confirmed my own memories. She thanked me for remembering for her. We plan to meet in November.”

Frances Kakugawa is an award-winning author of ten books, encompassing a diverse range of subjects—caregiving guides, children’s stories, poetry, and personal and teaching memoirs. When asked whether she has a common purpose in these writings, Ms. Kakugawa shared, “This may be a strange thing to say, but each of these books came to me to be written. The events in my life generated these books.” Her poetry books were written during the Vietnam War when the author says, “I was trying to find myself as a woman.” Her books about caregiving resulted from her experiences as a caregiver to her mother suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. After her retirement from teaching, she wrote Teacher, You Look Like a Horse, to preserve stories from her classroom. “The result became helpful tools for others, in knowing how children best learn. I knew on my first day as a teacher that I would someday write a book on teaching because the children were magnificent. I kept little snippets of anecdotes in my head.” Her children’s book series, Wordsworth the Poet, began with a contest. “I used some poems I had written years ago and wrote a story around those poems. It won an award, and 30 years later it was published by Watermark Publishing.”

Her writings have garnered her numerous honors. Kapoho: Memoir of a Modern Pompeii received the Northern California Publishers / Authors Best Non-Fiction Award; two of her children’s books received Best Children’s Book of the Year awards. Ms. Kakugawa was recognized in Living Legacy, Outstanding Japanese Women of the 20th Century in Hawaii and received the Hawai‘i - Pacific Gerontology Society Award for her work with the elderly. Her work as a writer and teacher is ongoing. She currently facilitates two writing support groups for caregivers and a memoir-writing group in Sacramento.

As Wordsworth! Stop the Bulldozer, the third book in her Wordworth the Poet series, is set for release in October, Frances Kakugawa continues to draw from her own experiences to live out the dream she has had since she was six years old—being a writer. She remains grateful that she has remained a poet. “This has made all the difference in the world because even the most negative or devastating experiences become a rich source for writing.”

A poet teacher
A poet caregiver
A poet Japanese
A poet.                     (Frances Kakugawa)

Kakugawa will be at the Japanese American National Museum on Saturday, September 29, 2012 at 2:00 pm to discuss Kapoho: Memoir of a Modern PompeiiThe book is available from the Japanese American National Museum Store.

© 2012 Japanese American National Museum

author Frances Kakugawa hawaii Kapoho kilauea poet volcano

About this series

The award-winning Museum Store of the Japanese American National Museum features distinctive Asian American merchandise for all occasions and generations. Their unique product line represents the essence of the Japanese American experience, while also promoting an appreciation of America’s ethnic and cultural diversity. All proceeds from the Museum Store support Museum programs and exhibitions.

The articles in this series were originally written for the Japanese American National Museum’s online store [janmstore.com]  to give a deeper understanding of the authors, artists, and traditions featured in the store.