Yoshiaki Fujitani
Military Intelligence Service

Japanese-Language School

Yoshiaki attends Japanese-language school in Pauwela. After the family moves to Oahu, he continues his studies in Honolulu.

At the Japanese-language schools, he is taught shushin, or ethics. From stories about George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, he learns about honesty and perseverance; from stories about Ninomiya Kinjiro, he learns about diligence. He is also taught kuni no on, or gratitude to one's country, and that his country is America.

Japanese-Language School in Pauwela

I remember a couple of things [about Japanese Language School]. One is the - I must have been very young because I was scolded when we had an engeikai. I don't know how you translate that, engeikai. It's a program, entertainment program that the children put on. And when the curtain closed and we were waiting for the next program, I remember getting up on the stage and trying to attract attention. And of course, I was not supposed to be there, so I was scolded. That was kind of painful.

Pauwela Nihongo Gakko, Hawaii

The other is, there was a person named Teruko Kawabe. She was not only our babysitter when we were small but she was also our Japanese language-school teacher. She was devoted to people, to education, the kids and so on. And so she ended up [not marrying]. She didn't get a chance to develop that kind of opportunities to get married. She was a local girl, learned Japanese and she taught Japanese later.

The language school then was mainly the Hongwanji language school because the other one existed up in Haiku. But the community being Hongwanji or Buddhist, they supported the Hongwanji Buddhist language school much more. The one up in Haiku was a smaller one. And so we had all kinds of things like that, engeikai, undokai [athletic meets]. There was a rather large yard and so we had races and things like that. In a way, it's very much like the way schools were in Japan. The culture was just brought wholesale to this small community.

I don't remember [mother teaching me in the school]. Maybe I just wanted to forget that. (Chuckles) Yeah, but she spoke English. She spoke Japanese. She played the piano. She was multi-talented.

[Pressure of being the minister's son] wasn't among our peers. Actually, the problem was with the older people, the parents, who expected us to be maybe different or whatever. And so in school or even in language school, it didn't matter. It's just out there that the older folks made a lot of fuss over us.

Lessons Learned

I'm not sure [which I enjoyed more]. I guess there a lot of things going on in English school like the May Day program for instance. There were activities and they were right in our vicinity. I mean, you have the temple here, the school is over there, Japanese[-language] school is over here and so just like it's within our family circle.

And on Sundays, the older people come make a lot of fuss about preparing food and things like that for occasions. I remember it as a very happy kind of atmosphere within school, language school or temple.

But, you know, I've had this in my mind for so long, a very negative thing that I think has played some role in my life. And that is, it must have been in about fifth, sixth grade level, when we had an art contest and I had found an earlier student's work in our house, somehow it was there. And so I copied that and submitted it as mine. And so the teacher was very impressed and she wanted me to continue in the art program and she asked me to paint or draw something else and I couldn't because I really (chuckles) didn't have any talent.

So I cheated and that cheating caused me to feel, not only bad but sort of immobilized. I really don't have any talent kind of feeling. And that's been bothering me all my life, since those early days. Yeah, having cheated on an occasion that has bugged me all the time. So anyway, that belongs to that period in Pauwela.

I would say as a student who studies, I wasn't very good. I didn't like to study but I was able to get along, when you can get along without applying yourself. That's debilitating actually (chuckles) because the only way you can go is down. You can get along and so you're doing minimum work and so on.

So I always feel that, "I wish I had studied a little harder," you know that kind of thing. But all along, maybe because of that art thing, I kind of felt, "Oh, chee, I can't do it anyway," that kind of negative feeling. It was kind of interesting thinking about it.

I guess I fared fairly [in Japanese language studies]. Yeah, I guess I could have learned more if I had applied myself a little bit more but I got along. I just got along.

We had that shushin [morals, ethics] pounded in our heads, yeah. So we remember quite well reading stories about Abraham Lincoln and his perseverance and [George] Washington's honesty and so on.

And so I think what we might call moral training now or values training and stuff, that's kind of important I think. But again, some people are against that sort of thing because they feel it leads to brainwashing and nationalism and other things that would get us into trouble. But I don't know, the values are, I think, very important.

Washington and Lincoln appear in the shushin books, alongside people like Ninomiya Kinjiro and so on, Japanese heroes. But in our public schools, also, we had values training, I guess, maybe more Christian stuff.

Yeah, we questioned some [of those values], as we go along we experience life and, well, what is important? Even in questions like the abortion problem or the same-gender issue or stuff, there's no clear-cut answer.

Even this Terri Schiavo incident, for instance. And so in a way, in my case, I think it's more a kind of relativism rather than black and white thing. But I think with some thought, there can be some kind of acceptable solution for problems. But I think thinking about these things are important.

So I think it's good that we do have some thought given to values. You know, we talk about courage, bravery, loyalty, and being a good samurai, for instance. Well I guess that kind of emphasis would change as we move along.

But during our upbringing, those values were very important. The stoicism, patience. These might seem kind of strange nowadays but young people don't think that way.

[Terms like gaman (patience, perseverance) and shikata ga nai (it can't be helped)] were present. How do we pass on these traits, these values, to young people? Is it through words or concepts or behavior or whatever? But when we were growing up, we were told that a lot.

The community, the village took care of everyone. Actually it was so that if you messed up in school, for instance, you got scolding from the teacher, the principal, and then when you got home, then, you got it from your folks again.

In other words, everybody was looking after you. But nowadays, you don't have that. So we were taught not only through precepts but actually by example and the involvement of many people. Nowadays, we're sort of isolated, I think.

Japanese-Language School in Honolulu

[W]e went to Japanese-language school. And, of course, that was in the afternoon. And from McKinley, we used to take the jitney. It's an elongated bus that carried a few of us. And I think it cost us five cents a piece or something like that. So we rode from McKinley to the Hongwanji on Fort Street, at that time.

Ours was called the Hawaii Chugakko, the Hawaii Japanese-language school. Literally, is middle school but they call it Japanese High School.

The first year I was there, the chugakko ichinensei, I was in chu ichi - no, ichi, the first group. Because, I think the teachers felt that since I was a minister's son, that I was a good student. But lo and behold, by the end of the year, I had flunked quite a bit. I mean, failed a lot of places.

And so the second year, ninensei, chugakko ninensei, I was put into the nikumi, the second grade. I was no longer with the elite. And so I look back and I remember people like Noboru Ogami, Kazuo Watanabe, Henry Yokoyama. These are all my classmates and they were all in the ichikumi, the first. That, of course, woke me up and made me study a little bit more. Maybe my father did. After all, it's so embarrassing to have a son failing.

And so the third year, I went back up to the first. So I saved face a little bit, for all of us. But I guess we learned quite a bit too because the teachers were very good.

There was a Wakukawa-sensei [Ernest Wakukawa]. And Wakukawa-sensei appeared to be like a nisei. He was bilingual, so he spoke English and Japanese very well. And he had a moustache and looked very modern. But he was, I think, our translation teacher. So we would learn English-Japanese translation.

There was Yosemori-sensei [Chiro Yosemori], the father of our present bishop [Chikai Yosemori]. And I remember his mannerism. When he's thinking, he would bunch up his mouth and he'd say, "Mmmmm." And he has a moustache so it sort of pops up. I used to remember that.

The principal was Tatsutani-sensei. Anyway, there were some women teachers, too. There was a Miyasaka-sensei. There was a classmate of mine, was George Miyasaka, his mother was a teacher there. And Tanaka-sensei, and others.

Language school was segregated. We had girls on one side and boys on the other. But, of course, we got to know each other. And recently, I met a few of them. And I nicknamed them mukashi no ojo-san. And they think it's funny, they take it with humor. You know what mukashi no ojo-san is? Young ladies of the past. (Chuckles) In other words, they're old already.

There was no question in my mind that it was good for us. For one thing, my dad didn't speak very much English. He had a few words. But Mother, on the [other] hand, was bilingual. And so we gravitated towards her and we spoke English a lot. But since Dad didn't speak English, we had to try our best and well, we felt we'd just better learn the Japanese language.

[T]here wasn't much of a difference [between McKinley and Japanese-language school]. To us it was part of our life.

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Our nickname was "black coat boys" because we had to wear tie and black coat to go to the language school. Normally with shoes, of course. But on a rainy day, you'd see us carrying our shoes with coat, and like that, with our barefeet. That kind of incongruous sight. But anyway, we all had to wear coats to, I guess, instill in us gentlemanly behavior.

But the teachers there didn't show any intention of questioning our loyalty. That after all, we are Americans, that there's no question about that. And so there was no attempt to try to make us Japanese.

Buddhism teaches that we all, we have four gratitudes. One is oya no on, our gratitude to our parents; shujo no on, gratitude to all beings; kimi no on, or kuni no on, our gratitude to our country; and the fourth would be our gratitude to the Buddha. In Buddhism, these four ons are taught.

And so in it, it says kuni no on. In other words, you are indebted to your country. And even in language school, we were taught that our country is America. And so there was no conflict at all, we were Americans.

That's why, you know, when World War II started, there was no question that our loyalty was with America, not with Japan. Those with that hard decision to make might have been kibei's, who spend a lot of time in Japan. And, well, we could understand that. But we didn't know Japan that well, we just knew from school.

[T]he Japanese[-language] school had these so-called martial arts. And so at that time, I took kendo and there was a Takeda-sensei who was a kendo teacher. Later on, [in Honolulu] I moved on to the Hongwanji. And there, I took judo. Again, I didn't last very long. I guess, maybe a year or two.

Kendo, the martial art of Japanese fencing


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I remember in the shushin book - I picture a picture of Abraham Lincoln and George Washington. So even in these Japanese books, these American heroes were cited. Abraham Lincoln was an example of perseverance, that he studied by burning log light. George Washington stands for honesty, about the cherry tree, that kind of story. But there were some Japanese people like Ninomiya Kinjiro, and so on, about studying hard and working hard.

So that kind of value is important for anyone. These are universal values. Well, even in those questionable ones like courage and loyalty, they became problematic because if you're on the other side, it seems to be saying you're going to be loyal to some other country, then "that's not what we want" kind of thing.

I think even today, the question is always, "Whose value are we talking about?" We were talking about it, we were [recently] with that [community and University of Hawaii] nisei forum on universal values. But that seems to be in the back of our minds all the time. Whose values are we trying to push? So anyway, we sort of generalize and say "universal values."

Even yesterday, there was a discussion about bringing in some of the stuff that are taught in ROTC. How about these values? And [University of Hawaii professor] Dick Dubonoski said, "We are concerned with universal values, not any small," I mean, "limited values." And so the committee agrees on that. We were thinking in terms of larger kinds of values.

But still, the question is, "Whose values are we talking about" kind of thing. Especially now, with this religious emphasis. Some people are not able to accept certain Christian values, for instance. Others cannot accept Muslim values, for example. So anyway, I guess this will always be a muddy kind of situation.

I suppose in school, we learned certain principles like that. You know, about loyalty and perseverance and love, compassion, stuff like that. But I think we learned a lot just among our peers.

Even going to the war, for instance, a lot of people might have had a lot of bravado in saying, "Well, I'm a loyal American, and therefore I chose to volunteer," and so on. But others might have had a little bit of a motivation that they didn't really want to talk about, like, "Well, if my friend is going, I guess I better go" kind of thing. "What would my friend say if I don't go." I think we mold our lives based on that kind of peer pressure, also.

Yoshiaki Fujitani's interview reprinted courtesy of the Center for Oral History. Photographs courtesy of Yoshiaki Fujitani.

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