CELEBRATING THANKSGIVING EVERY DAY
by Hikoshin Toguchi (Kadena, Okinawa)
Earlier this year, Mr. Hikoshin Toguchi visited the Hawaii Okinawa Center and presented HUOA President Albert Miyasato a monetary gift as a token of his appreciation for the chimugukuru (gifts of the heart) Hawaii Uchinanchu extended to him and other Okinawans while imprisoned in Hawaii during World War II. He delivered the followingcomments at a reception he hosted at the Hawaii Okinawa Center. They have been edited slightly for clarity.
Hawaii is a very special place for me and a place I consider in my heart as my second home. The reason for this is because I was sent to Hawaii as a prisoner during World War II. That was where I began to consider the true meaning of life in earnest. Eventually, Hawaii became the place of awakening the true natural way of living as a human being for me. In those days, the Okinawan people living in Hawaii gave all the prisoners hope and also showed us the true meaning of life. You all aided my life.
In retrospect, we survived that terrible war and were fortunate to be taken as prisoners. We were sent to Yaka Prisoners Camp. Then, without any information, Okinawan military servicemen and civilians were loaded onto trucks, flown to Kadena, and then transported on a huge military ship to Hawaii. Even though we were prepared for death, we couldn’t stop the feeling of how miserable we were to be thrown into the sea. After the 21-day trip, we arrived at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. We were sent to an army-controlled prisoners camp and started our days of detention.
From July 1945 to December 1946, prisoners couldn’t get any information about the safety of their families. Also, we had little hope of being sent back to Okinawa again. Agonizing days were slowly passing. During those sad times in our lives, the people from Okinawa living in Hawaii came to visit us with gifts. While working outside in the sun, they gave us some food or cigarettes. This certainly encouraged us both openly and secretly. You showed us the light to live again. On the other hand, during this time, “Remember Pearl Harbor” was hanging as a watchword and a hatred of Japan was swelling among the American people there. Specifically during those difficulties, your warm kindness and brotherly love were given to us. We could only thank you for that and took our hats off to you at that time.
Christmas Eve, December 24, 1946. I left Hawaii for Okinawa while still cherishing the complex memories I had. Many Okinawans living in Hawaii came to the pier, disregarding the traveling distance, to see me off. Even though 54 years have passed, it still seems as though it was yesterday and deep emotions still cross my mind when thinking about it.
September 1981, a group of 45 people headed by Mr. Hosaburo Akamine visited, and I had the opportunity to visit Hawaii and to say “thank you” to my old friends here. We first visited Punchbowl National Cemetery, where they held a service for the spirits of the soldiers who died during the Pacific war and Vietnam war. Then we went to Sand Island, (where) the prisoners camp (was located); Hickam Air Base, where we cut grass as a duty; and Tripler Army Hospital, which was still under construction in those days. We were all filled with deep emotions and had to bite our lips as we stood there once again.
During our visit, chairperson Mr. Hokama, Mr. Ken Kyan, Mr. Peter Iha, Mr. Masaru Nakama and Mr. Bob Kinjo organized an executive committee for accepting us in Hawaii. The Governor and Japanese Consul General attended the welcoming party held at Kanraku Teahouse. I remembered we had 180 people attending the party for us. We couldn’t have expressed our gratitude with only a word.
On the Big Island, there was also a prisoners camp where about 50 Okinawans were detained. When we visited Hilo the president of the association of the people from Okinawa Prefecture; Ms. Fumie Nakaishi; Hawaii County Mayor Herbert Matayoshi; president of the Hilo Times, Mr. Okubo, and other kind people welcomed our visit heartily. We will never forget it . . . . After this official visit, luckily I had a chance to visit my second home twice.
Now I’m taking this anniversary . . . to express my appreciation to you. I pray for your association to surely make a wonderful advance and to have prosperity (in) the 100th year of immigration anniversary from Okinawa.
Hikoshin Toguch with HUOA President Albert Miyasato earlier this year.