Barbara Kawakami

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. 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). 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.

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Japanese American National Museum Magazine

Kasuri to Palaka, Journey from Japanese Villages to Hawaiian Plantations, 1885-1941

When I first began my study, my objective was narrowly defined to describe and to collect samples of work clothing worn by Issei (first-generation Japanese) men and women on the sugarcane and pineapple plantations in Hawaii. I began to interview as many Issei men and women as I could find who had worked in sugarcane or pineapple fields.

As I conducted the interview the scope of my study became broader, my interviews unearthed valuable information about other types of clothing and led to important insights into other aspects of the immigrant experience on the plantations. I soon found that my ...

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