Confidential Stories at Honouliuli (excerpts)

by Jack Tasaka

(English translation of original handwritten Japanese text)


Life in detention
(pages 5-6, from “Tokkuri Miso” section)
Tokkuri Miso [bean paste in a sake bottle] - This was a self-mocking term used by so-called hostile Japanese Americans incarcerated in the camp during the war. Its true meaning was that you could stuff miso all the way into a large Tokkuri, similar to a gallon size bottle of Takara Masamune fine sake, and shake the bottle upside down. Although a trace of miso may drop, most of the miso will stay firmly inside the bottle. This was the word internees used to describe themselves in a self-pitying fashion about their sad plight; enclosed by barbed wire [“tetsujomo”], unable to escape from the detention camp to the world outside, not even able to take one step out.

Depending on how we viewed it, our internee life would have been a paradise in the physical sense. If we could ignore our mental anguish, we could eat without working, live sluggishly in idleness. On the contrary, Japanese people in the outside world were looked coldly upon as “enemy aliens” or “Jap” under the constant dread of being incarcerated at any moment.

At any rate, we are just Tokkuri Miso,
The tide will eventually turn,
Until that time,
No need to worry,
If we live here for a long time,
This will become our paradise.

(page 19, from “Changing personnel” section)
I remember, when I was a child, my mother used to cut the nails of my hands and feet, saying, “Kugami Rakuzume.” I was told its meaning was, “Our hair grows quick in hard life, while our nails grow quick in easy life.”

In our camp life, everybody experienced mental anguish, worrying about this and that, which caused our hair to grow, it seemed. On the other hand, we did not do much work all day, lived in idleness without experiencing much physical hardship, and it seemed our nails grew quickly.

(pages 21-22, from “Naked Friendship” section)
Honouliuli internment camp was a requisitioned sugar plantation, located at the bottom of a valley. It did not rain much nor did it get much in the way of breezes. We were afflicted with a scorching, intense heat throughout the year. Under this boiling heat, internees were naked all the time, wearing only short pants. We seldom wore shirts. The army gave us long-legged khaki pants, and we cut them to make short pants. Our footwear was geta [Japanese wooden clogs], which we made from scrap pieces of 2 x 4 or 2 x 6 board, making a scene by walking with a loud clatter wherever we went.

It is often said that someone had a “naked friendship” with his friend. Well, our internees lived under the same roof, became bosom friends, sharing our feelings, and wearing only short pants all the time. We literally had a naked friendship in our daily life. He might have been a “big shot” (a man of position and means) in the Japanese community or a “small potato” (a man of modest means) in the outside world. Once he became an internee with no privileges, he must submit himself to a collective life, restraining his own ego for the sake of impartiality, irrespective of his age and social rank….

At the camp, our entire movements, from getting up in the morning to going to bed, were dictated by the sound of a bugle in the military fashion: getting up by bugle at six o’clock, going bed by bugle around nine o’clock.  What I hated most was roll call in the morning and evening. We assembled at the sound of the bugle, and one hundred and several tens of internees lined up in two rows to attend roll call. When the guard in charge was dumb, the numbers never matched no matter how many times we were counted. Any failure called for another roll, while we were kept standing under the scorching sun.

After a successful roll call, shabby looking not so young internees, dressed in short pants and wearing geta, lined up in two rows in front of the gate like kindergarten children, clattering aluminum cups. As soon as we saw a ready signal for a meal at mess hall, we ran there, crossing over the bridge. If wives and children of the internees saw, they surely would have been bitterly disillusioned.

(pages 25-26, from “Tranquilizers” section)
Our daily life in the camp was monotonous and empty; eat and sleep, eat and sleep….
…It was rumored that the authority, without telling us, added tranquilizer powder to our coffee, lemon water, and soup, which we consumed daily….

According to the authorities, when hundreds of hot-blooded men were confined in one place, they would eventually become excited and mentally deranged, acting violently, becoming prone to causing unfortunate accidents leading to bloodshed or suicides. It seemed that they wanted to quiet our sexual urges by giving us sedative drugs.

(pages 29-30, from “Ham-can Guitar” section)
There were many music lovers among the internees, and quite a few of them were blessed with superior talent as singers or players. Music really consoled my fellows and me during those prosaic days. However, it was very difficult to obtain the necessary music instruments.

One day, we heard strange music sounds from the next barrack. They told us it was a handmade guitar constructed from an empty boiled ham can. An Armour brand boiled ham, which was shaped like a large rice ball, was taken out of the can, and they devised a way to use the empty can, attaching a rod, and strung wires on it. The resulting instrument was a type of hybrid ukulele, guitar, and Ryukyu [Okinawa] Jabisen [Okinawan 3-stringed guitar], making a strange tone that made the listeners homesick. 

Families and visitors
(page 12, from “Family Visiting Day” section)
The internees were divided into two groups, and each was allowed to have one visiting day per month to see their families or friends. Internees mailed a visitor pass as provided by the office to families or friends of their choice.

Visitors with the passes waited for a chartered bus going to the camp at a designated time and location. Most of the time, it was Sunday afternoon. Some internees intentionally avoided seeing their families lest increasing a lingering attachment. Some, even though they missed their families and friends, suppressed their desire to see them, for they were afraid visitors might be arrested one after another upon their visits. Some [families] could not come, for they had a hard time in making ends meet while their breadwinners were detained in the camp. There were many different cases.

It was especially sad and pitiful to watch newlywed wives leading lonely lives after their husbands were detained, or young wives holding their child’s hand or carrying a suckling baby. As portrayed in a “Kankin Kouta” [Detention Song]:

A long awaited visiting day,
A million things to talk about, time flies,
“Father, let’s go home together,” child begging,
Patting child on the head, with tearful eyes.

This was exactly the scene that happened in the camp. Those children who did not understand the meaning of detention, after their joyful meeting, implored their fathers, “Father, let’s go home together.” It was a very sad sight that brought tears to our eyes for those of us watching, and we all felt sympathy for them.

For what reason, those who had committed no crime had to endure such treatment, having father separated from mother. I had deep sympathy and burned with righteous indignation about such unjust treatment.

“Nasake wa hito no tame narazu” [kindness is never lost, it brings its own reward] - We must reap what we have sown. There should be retribution to this kind of treatment, and I really harbor resentment against the authority that sanctioned this type of situation.

(pages 21-22, from “Naked Friendship” section)
Quite a few families found it difficult to make a living when breadwinners of the family were incarcerated. Some of the families received aid from the Red Cross. At the same time, those breadwinner internees, upon applying at the office, were given paid jobs. Although the wages were not that much, some of them sent their earnings home. Paid jobs such as carpenter, barber, tailor, medical doctor, and chef earned 10 cents per hour, for a maximum limit of 16 dollars per month. Adding allowances from the military government, ten cents every ten days, three dollars per month, some internees sent that money to their families in the outside world.

Internees were very kind to those poor families, getting together to lend a helping hand in various ways.

(page 27, from “Loyalty to nation, Filial to Parents” section)

Parent is internee, son is volunteer soldier,
Is America land of the free?

Mr. Bolo Shirakata worried about the health condition of his sick father [who was incarcerated as an enemy alien]. Hoping for the release of his father, he volunteered for the Japanese Volunteer Corps at the time of its formation. He came to see his father in the camp, bidding him farewell just before he was sent to the US mainland to receive basic training.
It was not certain if they would be able to see each other again. The meeting of father and son moved those of us who were fully aware of the situation to tears of indignation and sympathy….
After receiving hard training on the US mainland for a year, Mr. Bolo Shirakata, as a member of the 442nd Japanese American Combat Team, went to fight in Italy and France. When the war was over, he returned to Hawai‘i in triumph, but his father was gone: the built-up anxiety and illness shortened his life; otherwise, he would have lived longer.  

Poems from camp
(pages 30-33, from “Kankin Kouta [Detention Song]” section)

Moon night at Sand Island  [written by Kenpu Kawazoe]

Isolated from the world outside, on this Sand Island,
Tonight watching moon over palm trees,
Though our outside world forgotten,
The longer I watch, the more I feel depressed.

I miss my old life,
With my wife and children at our backyard,
Watching moon with our joy,
Now, I am very alone watching.

I am a son of immigrants,
Built our foundation in paradise Hawaii,
It took us two generations,
Why, why am  I detained.

Moon at the Camp [written by Hiroshi Honda]

Sun went down, moon is up,
Illuminated by moon light,
Remembering beloved wife and children,
Filled with tears, stars in the sky,
Not enough time to enjoy talking,
A bugle sounding “Lights out,”
Bed of five shaku,* straw mattress,
This is our dreamland.

My thoughts never end as night advances,
Dreaming about beloved wife and children,
When awoken, it is my lonely life,
Shedding a teardrop in spite of myself.

*[Japanese unit of measurement]

Farewell song [written by Toru Nishikawa]*

Gulping down our tears, many months,
We, innocent, at Sand Island,
Detained. But if this is for our country,**
We shall endure our life on the island.

Embracing same thoughts,
Encouraging each other, day and night,
Old and young, being one in spirit,
Who knows our hardship?

Moon is bright, tonight,
Beloved wife and children, here,
Our childhood friends, there,
Where are they watching this blue moon?

Detained on the island of foreign country,
Our grief sustained by our spirits,
Our connected mind, at ragged beach,
Sea breeze at our farewell, pierced with grief.

Plover whispering at beach,
Like it is reluctant to leave tomorrow,
Sobbing on and off,
Telling its farewell to the waves.

* [this poem was written for fellow internees being moved to mainland camps]
**[meaning Japan]

Farewell!!!  [written by Yoshio Fujita]

Tomorrow, I sail,
In the morning, I leave,
Don’t cry,
I am a man,
Especially of Yamato [Japan],
I am a man.

Even a migratory bird,
Has its home,
I will leave for the continent tomorrow,
Across the ocean,
Will it be in spring?
Will it be in winter?

Farewell for a while,
To Aloha island,
I just alone, quietly,
Whom shall I send to?
Aloha ‘Oe.

Alas! My dear friend is leaving  [written by Jack Tasaka]*

You are leaving, not by your choice,
My mind is disturbed and broken,
Looking up an evening sky with tears in my eyes,
Lingering moon on top of a cloudy peak.

Day at Higan** of fragrant cherry blossoms,
My dear friend will become a migratory bird,
Even separated far apart over an ocean and mountains,
Our mind is one as moon is one.

Finding no place for yourself,
Without knowing tomorrow on your journey,
Full of tears in America,
However, do not weep, you are a man.

* [written for a friend being moved to a mainland camp]
* [Japanese Buddhist celebration day]


(page 9, from “Remembering Honouliuli” section)
While those who lost their family members in the attack on Pearl Harbor were shouting, “Remember Pearl Harbor!”, I wanted to shout, “Remember Honouliuli!”  Honouliuli camp has been a monument in my mind, filled with memories of joy and sorrow, pain and comfort, which I wanted to forget but was unable to forget. Only very few people know about the existence of the camp in Honolulu.

SourceConfidential stories at Honouliuli internment camp, by Jack Y. Tasaka
Publication:  Unpublished manuscript, 1980
Note:  Page number references refer to the page number in the spiral-bound manuscript with the English translation of the original Japanese text.
English translation by:  Ari Uchida, JCCH translator
Call No. in JCCH Resource Center:  SP H 940.5317 TAS

MLA citation:  Tasaka, Jack Y. Confidential Stories at Honouliuli Internment Camp. Trans. Ari Uchida. [Honolulu], 1980. MS.  Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai‘i. The Untold Story: The Internment of Japanese Americans in Hawai‘i. Web. [date of access]