Monthly Archives: December 2011
Frances Kakugawa enjoyed a Kapoho reunion of sorts at her Honolulu book events for her newest title, Kapoho: Memoir of a Modern Pompeii. At her book launch, held at Native Books at Ward Warehouse, a gentleman of 90+ years attended (photo, right) , brought by his son who ’d spotted Kapoho at the store the previous day. Born in Kapoho, both recognized each other’s family names; when Frances was a girl she and her siblings used to swim on his family’s property at Pohoiki Beach.
A few days later, at Barnes & Noble at Kahala Mall, Frances’ family came out to join her…and so did several members of the Nakamura family. The Nakamuras owned the buildings that are seen on the cover of Kapoho —places that Frances calls “the heart of Kapoho”—Nakamura Store, their pool hall, theater and the family’s residence.
For recaps of the two events in Frances’ own words, as well as photo slideshows, read her blog posts:
The Enemy Wore My Face
Under the rising sun,
The enemy came
Wearing my face.
My face changed forever that Sunday afternoon. It seemed a same-same Sunday. My parents were at a neighbor’s birthday party, and I was home with my brothers and sister. There were comics on the floor, dishes in the sink and the sense of nothing to do that usually came on the weekends.
Home was Kapoho, a little plantation village near the eastern tip of the Big Island of Hawai’i. Our town was built on the east rift zone of Kilauea, the island’s most active volcano. Radios ran on batteries, telephones were almost nonexistent and few of us read the only newspaper on the island, the Hilo Tribune Herald. News of the outside world came weeks late through the five-minute newsreels shown before each movie at our generator-run theater. So whatever news caught up with us couldn’t be of much consequence. We were always seeing yesterday’s news today. When we heard of Joe DiMaggio’s 50-game hitting streak, he was already on his 56th. When we heard of Nazi Germany’s invasion of Norway and Denmark on April 9, the Germans were already in Belgium and Luxembourg on May 10. That particular Sunday, however, changed everything. Mr. Ito was listening to his radio.
“Japan bombed Pearl Harbor!” he shouted at anyone he saw along the road. “Japan bombed Pearl Harbor!” he shouted at the birthday guests as he rushed on to spread the news. The party immediately broke up, and everyone hurried home.
My father rushed into the house, followed by his neighbors.
“Turn the radio on. Turn the radio on!” Everyone stood in front of the radio, shouting above the crackling voice of the announcer.
“Are you sure he said Japan?”
“Where’s Pearl Harbor?”
“This means trouble. This means trouble.”
“This means war.”
“Are you sure he said Japan?”
I knew something was wrong when no one went into the kitchen to prepare lunch. I was hungry, but no one paid any attention to me. All I heard were arguments and loud voices. That was the day I learned to be afraid. That was the day I learned that there was an enemy, an enemy who would wear my face, an enemy who would not be forgotten or forgiven in the years to come. Shame, humiliation and a host of confused thoughts would now become my shadow. I would hear “Jap” for the first time. We were Americans, I knew that. We were fighting the same enemy, I knew that, too. The face I saw in the mirror looked American to me, and I’d had no reason to believe, up to then, that anyone else saw anything different. The day Mr. Ito went running around the village with the news was the day my face no longer belonged to me.
All of us quickly found out that anything Japanese raised suspicion.
“I’m Japanese?” I asked my mother one day. “I’m not haole?” Such wishful thinking from a five-year-old. The language school was shut down, so I couldn’t learn Japanese after school, as my older brother and sister did before the bombing. I attended Kapoho Elementary School, three miles from my house. The army barracks were across from our school. Soldiers, tanks and trucks would come and go, and war seemed always close at hand. The soldiers didn’t trouble us, except for the MPs, but neighbors and friends were a problem.
A year after Pearl Harbor, I walked the three miles to school with my head down whenever I passed certain homes. My half-running steps could not escape the “Eh, Jap!” taunts that came from children and adults who wore a different face.
It claws my spine,
It enters my body
To devour who I am.
I spit it out! Bull’s eye!
So what do you do
With “Eh, Jap!”
On your face?
Mistrust was everywhere in the village air. We, too, harbored our own suspicions. “Be careful of the Filipinos. They carry knives,” we were warned by our families. Later I would hear from my Filipino friends. “We were so happy after Pearl Harbor,” they confessed. “Until then, the Filipinos were at the bottom of the ladder. Now, the Japanese were at the bottom.”
Change came along with blackouts. We spoke in whispers after the sun went down. Our nights were spent huddled around a little wooden box covered with a piece of black-dyed old sheet. Inside the box, a flickering kerosene lamp was the only light in the house. Any glimmer of light outside would give us away. Except for the occasional cry from my baby brother, the house was silent as I sat there in the dark, too scared to say much. The baby, born nine days after December 7, spent most of his time asleep in my mother’s arms.
Frances Kakugawa reads “The Enemy Wore My Face” from Kapoho at Native Books: