Takejiro Higa
Military Intelligence Service

Early Adulthood in Hawaii

In 1939, 16-year-old Takejiro returns to Hawaii.

He struggles to learn English, attending Nuuanu Day School, Hawaiian Mission Academy, and Farrington High School.

During the summer, Takejiro, with his brother Warren, stacks cans of pineapple juice at the California Packing Corporation.

Returning to Hawaii

Then, when I became sixteen, I wrote to my sister, "Call me back quick." The reason being, in those days, Japan used to send young people, healthy young people from age sixteen to nineteen, to Manchuria under Manchuria Development Youth Corps. I didn't want to get caught in there, so I wrote my sister.

Takejiro Higa returning to Hawaii from Okinawa onboard the Empress of Japan

[M]y sister was already married at that time. So she and my brother-in-law scraped up enough [money]. And luckily, there was a Mr. Kiyabu from Hawaii - from the same village - based in Okinawa. So, with him, I came back in Hawaii. He was my escort. I was lucky. He went to Okinawa to visit the family for a few months, so he brought me back with him [June or July 1939].

[W]ith my sister, I guess, instant rapport. I call her "Ne-san [Elder sister]." My brother, I don't know, no more close feeling. We never grew up together. So just like a stranger. Ooh, that's my brother, okay. But my sister, I used to write to her all the time, you know. So much, much closer feeling to my sister.

Takejiro Higa onboard the Empress of Japan, enroute from Okinawa to Hawaii

And then, not knowing one word of English, I wanted to go back. In fact, three or four times I think I complained to my sister. "Ne-san, I think I want to go back to Okinawa." Because Uncle told me, "If you don't like Hawaii, come back anytime. I'll treat you like my son. So come back and live with us." I told my sister, "You know, Ne-san, I want to go back Okinawa. Bakarashii koko [Useless here]." Because even young kids insult me and take me cheap. Japan bobora [bumpkin], eh. Japan bobora, bobora. . .

In fact, the first English. . .I learned was "F" words. That's the thing you hear all time when the kids talking. . .below my apartment, eh. So one day, my father's cousin came to visit me just because I came back from Okinawa. So I greeted her with "F" words. She look at me, "What did you say?" I repeat the same thing. So she'd grab my neck. "You know what it means?" I said, "That's hello, or ikaga desu ka [how are you?]." "What?" So she explained to me what it was. Ho, I wanted to hide under the table. And I never used that word again until I went into the army.

[I lived in an apartment on] Vineyard. It's part of the Mayor Wright Housing area now. Little bit toward Kalihi side, and right across. Above the Muranaka Store, grocery store. And not used to sleeping on beds, quite often I fell off from the bed, katonk! (Chuckles) Next morning, when I go Muranaka Store to buy bread. "Yube ochimashita, ne. [Last night, you fell, huh.]" Then she used to laugh at me.

Work

Summer months, I went to CPC [California Packing Corporation] pineapple work with my brother. And so he and I worked in a warehouse stacking cased goods. Cased goods, you know, you get a little more pay and you don't have to know the language. So I worked in the cased goods department. And, I think warukatta. [I think I was naughty.]

Lunchtime, we go to the cafeteria. I steal straws and bring with me to the working area. And I had the small nail, eh. Cased goods juice department. I'd make a puka [hole] (slurps). . .I did it quite often. So somebody who buy the case and then found one can empty.

School

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September, I started going to a special English school taught by Mrs. Suehiro. This school was on Nuuanu Avenue, part of Japanese[-language] school. Nuuanu Day School was right next to what is now Foster Gardens. So eight [A.M.] to twelve [P.M.]. Started off was just like kindergarten.

And in the meantime, I got the job as dishwasher at Nuuanu Y [Young Men's Christian Association] Cafeteria. Twelve [P.M.] until dinnertime. About seven to eight o'clock [P.M.]. And luckily, we had a two-hour period between lunch and dinner preparations, see. I used that period to join Nuuanu YMCA [Young Men's Christian Association], young men's club.

My age group, they don't even bother with me, see. So I play around with the little kids, the smaller kids. And I grabbed one of the kids every day, practice on him what I learned in school. And if he doesn't understand me, next morning, I go back to school and ask my teacher, Mrs. Nash. So I asked Mrs. Nash, "I said this to this kid, he didn't understand me, what did I do wrong?" So she corrects me. So that same afternoon, I grabbed the same kid, repeat what I said, and this time he understood. So after that, I put new one. I repeat that day after day after day, every day. And so I picked up fast.

At the Nuuanu Day School, I skipped the second grade and the fourth grade. So when the December 7 came, I was at the fifth grade already (chuckles). And because it's run by a Japanese lady, school got closed up by the military. So I got stuck. Where am I supposed to go, you know.

Hawaii Mission Academy

Then I found out, Hawaii Mission Academy, run by Seventh-Day Adventist people, had a special school for guys like me, taught by Mr. Gima. So principal told me, "If you can pass the minimum aptitude test, we'll let you in." I get nothing to lose, so I took it. I don't know how I passed, but somehow I passed it. So I was admitted and I was put into ninth grade. Start studying hard. I studied about three, four times harder than the regular student.

Eight grade English class, Hawaiian Mission Academy

One Monday, composition class, I was told to write something what I did over the weekend. See, I couldn't think of anything interesting to write about so I wrote about going to a cowboy movie. I used to go to Roosevelt Theater on Maunakea Street, used to see cowboy picture. See, cowboy pictures you don't have to know English to understand that, by action. So I used to enjoy for another reason, cheap. I think it was only five cents or ten cents admission. Five cents I think it was, [19]39.

So I wrote about the cowboy picture. And I got called in again to principal's office. "I understand you went to movies over the weekend." "Yes." So I said, "Why, is it wrong to go to movies?" He said, "Yes." I said, "Why?" "Jesus Christ. As long as they had any free time, he studied book, Bible, and prayed. He didn't have to go to movies to spend time." So I retorted again, "Well, Mr. Rice, even if he wanted to go, I don't think they had movies those days."

I guess this time, Mr. Rice kind of disgusted with me, too. I was totally disgusted with the school. Not necessarily against the religion, but the way they tried to influence me.

Farrington High School

So, at that time, Farrington principal was Mr. Walter Gordon who happened to be his teacher at Central Intermediate when my brother was going over there. So I asked him, "Eh, ask Mr. Gordon if he can admit me to Farrington." So again, they told me, "If he can pass a minimum test, I'll let you in."

Again, I don't know how I passed it, but I was admitted. So September 1942, I transferred to Farrington. But in between, I've been working right through, yeah, part-time. Admitted Farrington, and then finished Farrington [19]42, [19]43, June. Sophomore. At that time, this nisei volunteer group came out, see, 442nd volunteers stuff came out.

Farrington High School Principal gives farewell speech to AJA boys, 1943

Takejiro Higa's interview courtesy of the Center for Oral History. Photographs courtesy of Takejiro Higa.

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