A Childhood Changed Forever (excerpt)

by Jean Ariyoshi

The former first lady of Hawai‘i describes the impact of World War II on her family as well as her uncle’s (Dan Toru Nishikawa) experience at the Honouliuli internment camp.

My childhood changed forever on Sunday, December 7, 1941. Hawai‘i and the world changed that day. It was a lovely morning in Wahiawā and I was walking up California Avenue to a tiny Christian church presided over by Reverend Shimamura. It was a fifteen-minute walk. I turned left on Westervelt Street, unaware of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor until I got to church and the adults were herding all the children into the back of the sanctuary. We stayed there for hours.

We were at war. Military personnel began pouring into Hawai‘i. Wahiawā, being next to Wheeler Air Force Base and Schofield Barracks, suddenly became a boom town. Soldiers, afraid they would never make it back from the war in the Pacific, stood in line in front of my father’s studio to have their pictures taken to send home to parents and sweethearts. My father moved his studio to a more prominent location on Kamehameha Highway in the center of Wahiawā, next to Galloway Drug Store. My oldest sister, Helen, had to forgo her college education to take over and manage my father’s business, since my father, a Japanese alien, was not allowed to own a business during wartime. He and Helen worked long hours, six days a week. They ate dinners at the studio, meals my mother prepared and packed in a jubako (layered lacquer box). My father lived in constant fear of being sent to a concentration camp, as my Uncle Toru Nishikawa had been. Uncle Toru, born in Hawai‘i, was deemed a threat to national security because he was a reporter for a Japanese language newspaper in Honolulu. He was locked up on Sand Island and later moved to Honouliuli Internment Camp on O’ahu. His bank account was frozen and his wife’s sewing school forced to close, so Uncle Toru’s wife and son, my Auntie Grace and cousin Albert, moved in with us. This is the family who had offered to adopt me when I was born. Uncle Toru sent me rings to wear, made out of melted plastic toothbrush handles. He also sent me seashells, sanded flat and sewn on grosgrain ribbon. He did drawings of camp life and kept himself busy with artistic pursuits. We all looked forward to his gifts and sketches.

Because the photography business was so successful, our family didn’t suffer the hardships many Japanese Americans endured during World War II.

SourceWashington Place: A First Lady’s Story, by Jean Ariyoshi
Publication:  Honolulu: Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai‘i, c2004
Page #:  25
Call No. in JCCH Resource Center:  H B Ariyoshi

MLA citation:  Ariyoshi, Jean M. Washington Place: A First Lady's Story. Honolulu: Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai‘i, 2004. The Untold Story: The Internment of Japanese Americans in Hawai‘i.  Web. [date of access]