News Column

The Honolulu Star-Advertiser Christine Donnelly column

June 27, 2014

By Christine Donnelly, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser

June 27--Carole Hayashino's work as president and executive director of the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii is at once deeply personal and tied to the overall history of Hawaii and the United States.

The sansei, or third-generation Japanese-American, brings a lifetime of advocacy to her role here, after a successful career in California.

The Moiliili-based nonprofit she leads shares heritage and culture through educational outreach and numerous other activities, including spearheading the

effort to preserve sites such as the

Honouliuli Internment Camp, the World War II detention facility in Leeward Oahu that was nearly lost to history.

Hayashino has been a tireless advocate for Japanese-Americans for decades, specifically with the National Japanese American Citizens League on its successful campaign for redress for those imprisoned during World War II. The internees included her parents and grandparents. Hayashino, who was associate director of the San Francisco-based group, witnessed President Ronald Reagan sign the national reparations bill in 1988 and assisted the Department of Justice in implementing it.

Before accepting the leadership post at JCCH in 2012, Hayashino worked for 18 years in higher education, first at San Francisco State University, her alma mater, then as a vice president at California State University, Sacramento. She holds a graduate degree in educational administration from the University of San Francisco.

A mother and grandmother, Hayashino is married to banker Kyle Tatsumoto, who is from Kaneohe.

"Hawaii feels like home to me," she said. "We've always had extended family here and visited often, and I'm grateful to be able to live here and return to community service."

Question: Could we start with how the JCCH helped rediscover Honouliuli? ...

Answer: The search for Honouliuli was prompted in 1998 by a telephone call to the JCCH from a local television station asking about Hawaii's internment camps and Honouliuli.

Other than knowing the general vicinity of Honouliuli being in West Oahu, no one knew exactly where it was located. The volunteers in the JCCH Resource Center began making calls, starting with UH-Manoa, historical groups, community historians and individuals who lived or worked in West Oahu. After a series of calls, JCCH volunteer Jane Kurahara spoke to a farmer who was leasing land in Kunia. Larry Jefts offered to look at old photos of Honouliuli Internment Camp and when he saw the photo of Honouliuli, he recognized its location by the aqueduct that ran through the internment camp. ...

Q: And up until that time it had essentially been forgotten?

A: ... Many people weren't even aware that Hawaii had internment camps. ... For a long time after the war, Japanese-Americans who were imprisoned did not talk about it ... Being singled out in your community without cause, ... without any charges, is humiliating and you feel powerless. And there's no one coming to your aid or support. ...

Q: I've heard you describe the internments in Hawaii as selective, yet strategic.

A: Yes, these were people who were leaders in the Japanese community. These were your religious leaders, your Japanese-language teachers, your prominent businessmen. ... It left the Japanese-American community without its leaders, its voice.

Q: Can you tell me a little bit about the physical site?

A: Honouliuli is located in a deep gulch and it's hidden so the outside world doesn't know that the internment camp exists. There's some natural barriers so it's very difficult to escape. So once you're imprisoned in Honouliuli, you are confined, you are out of sight, you are forgotten. ... The government built a facility that was not only large enough to hold the Japanese-American internees, but also prisoners of war.

Q: People not from Hawaii? Captured elsewhere and brought here?

A: Yes. ...

Q: How many Japanese-Americans were interned in Hawaii? I've read anywhere from 300 to 3,000.

A: Today we look at around 2,300.

Q: Not continuously, but at some point during the war?

A: Yes. That's correct.

Q: And once the war was over, ... what was the re-entry like?

A: There is a lot missing about the transition back into regular life. We've worked on documenting the internment experience and also its aftermath. That is ongoing with JCCH -- collecting oral histories, artifacts, records. Obviously, every family's story is unique.

Q: And there also are aspects that are universal? You mentioned your own family's experience ...

A: Yes, my entire family, my parents, my grandparents, my aunts and uncles, everyone, was interned on the mainland. My aunt was born in the internment camp. So I grew up with that history. I know from my own family's experience how difficult it was to re-enter society and to re-establish yourself. And I think it was no different here. ... On the West Coast, there are 100,000 stories. ... . In Hawaii there are more than 2,000 unique family stories. ... I think there's no question that the experience forever changed the course of their lives.

Here's just one example: Sanji Abe, a very prominent man in Hilo. He was a deputy sheriff. He was a World War I veteran. He was elected to serve in the territorial government. He resigned his seat when he was arrested and sent away to camp. He never returned to elected office. ...

Q: ... Lives so unfairly interrupted. It's hard to fathom. As the JCCH undertook this research, collecting oral histories, talking to internees and their families, what was the level of bitterness like?

A: Let me answer that two ways, first personally, because I think that illustrates the broader reaction refecting our deep cultural values.

So, in California, my grandfather was picked up. He was a businessman. Lost his business. He was taken away to Santa Fe, New Mexico. Separated from his wife and children for three years. My father was in his first year into college, the oldest in the family. He packed up the house, escorted the mother and took care of his siblings as they're all sent away to the temporary detention camp and then to the internment camp at Rohwer, Arkansas.

Now, my mother's family: My mother was a young girl, they were agricultural workers, they didn't know what was going to happen to them. There were five children. My grandfather gathered them together, dressed them up, took a family picture and gave one to each child so that they could find each other if they were ever separated.

Q: How heartbreaking.

A: After the war, they left the camps and returned to California ... My father's family could not move back into their home. Their neighbors had moved in. Their business had been sold. They were homeless. ... They lived in the Buddhist church until they could get back on their feet. My father never had the chance to go back to college. I always thought he was a smart guy. Never had the chance. But with all that, they were never bitter.

Q: Wow.

A: And that's not unusual, you hear it over and over again -- they knew what had happened was wrong and unjust, but they were not bitter.

Q: But how?

A: It's our Japanese cultural values. Shikataganai: acceptance of fate -- it can't be helped. It's part of the way our issei leaders faced hardship. You really do try to make the best of it. ... It's also the value of gaman (acceptance of fate with dignity), gambare (perseverance) and other beliefs that helped Japanese-Americans cope and survive their internment and face the challenges of resettling and rebuilding their lives after their release. The Japanese values that guided the internees are the similar values demonstrated by the nisei veterans of the 442nd, 100th and MIS (Military Intelligence Service).

Q: I guess that's all part of the modern lesson?

A: Yes. That's why we want to preserve Honouliuli. It's not just the site. It's the stories of these people ... and so it never happens again. ... No group of people should be demonized. ... We have, I would hope, a shared sense of responsibility to uphold people's civil liberties and constitutional rights.

Q: You said JCCH is still collecting oral histories?

A: Yes. We have many recorded. And we have our documentary film, "The Untold Story: Internment of Japanese Americans in Hawai'i." ... We have a group of volunteers, the Hawaii Internment Education Committee, and they conduct a number of outreach activities. ... So, for example, when the National Park Service recently held the community meetings in Kauai, Maui, the Big Island and Oahu, we were there to listen and meet families who stepped forward to support preserving Honouliuli ...

Q: So even though many of the internees have passed away, their children and grandchildren can help?

A: Yes, definitely. Families today are sharing stories, and also personal possessions, artwork and things that their grandfathers or fathers made in camp. ... Rings made out of toothbrushes, or bird carvings made out of scrap wood. ... Recently, the family of Sanji Abe donated the Go gameboard that he had asked the family to bring to him in camp.

Q: These could be displayed at the monument. Where are we in terms of Honouliuli being designated as a national monument or historic site?

A: The National Park Service recently issued its special resource study; it's a draft report. It will be finalized after July 15. They're inviting the public to comment up until that date (see ... The recommendation is that Honouliuli be designated as a national monument or national historic site and become a unit of the National Park system, preserved for future generations and accessible to the public. ... That's what we're supporting.

Q: So you'll continue to involve the community as the process moves along?

A: Yes. ... We ask everyone to help us keep this history alive. ... People are quite surprised when they hear about Hawaii's internment camp sites -- there actually were 17 throughout the islands; we want to raise awareness about all of them. People know about what happened on the mainland. They've heard of Manzanar and Tule Lake. They don't know it happened in Hawaii, too. Last year, "Hawaii Five-0" had an episode that included a flashback to World War II and Hono-uliuli and that episode has had tremendous impact on educating the public.

Q: How so?

A: People all over saw it. "Hawaii Five-0" fans in France contacted me. They had never heard of this. They were so moved that they took one of our short documentary films that we have online and transcribed it and added French subtitles. They raised money to make a donation to our educational efforts. It's gratifying to be able to share these stories with the world.


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