Yoshiaki Fujitani
Military Intelligence Service

Youth in Moiliili

When Yoshiaki is about 12 years old, his father is transferred to Moiliili Hongwanji where the family resides amidst a large Japanese community.

New to Honolulu with its many houses, people, and cars, Yoshiaki discovers "a totally different kind of life."

Besides joining the Boy Scouts, he finds adventure on the Ala Wai Canal. He and his friends not only swim across the canal but build a totan (iron sheet) boat to navigate its waters.

Moving from Pauwela to Moiliili

I guess we weren't very happy [about having to move from Pauwela]. But I remember we had to ride, get on this Inter-island [Steam Navigation Co. Ltd.] boat and I remember that we left at night and the whole community came out - the temple community - came out to the wharf and they sang something and it was a sad kind of farewell. I remember that. I was twelve, you know.

[My initial reaction to Honolulu was] "Wow! This is a different kind of place, better get to know it a little bit more." And so it gave us a chance to, again, investigate and experiment and get into trouble and all that. I remember our folks were quite concerned about our making undesirable friends. Friends are people that might get us into trouble. Of course, we didn't have that kind of thinking.

Moiliili District, Honolulu, Hawaii

[I]n Pauwela, we're quite free and the area was large enough to feel free. But once we came out to Moiliili, you have a lot of houses, a lot of people, heavy traffic. It was a totally different kind of life. We were more prone to get into trouble. Where in Pauwela, although we did get into enough. we had a little bit more leeway. In town, we had other things that would cause some problems for us.

Moiliili Hongwanji

[Back then] the temple was facing the other way. It wasn't facing University Avenue. It was facing Kapaakea Lane. And it was a smaller temple. And the house was large enough to handle eight kids.

Moiliili Hongwanji Mission, Hawaii

But there's a small yard in the front, a wall that separated the yard from Kapaakea Lane, the road. And across the road was the Moiliili [Japanese-]language School. I guess that hasn't changed. It was a small, small village temple within this compound.

And what I remember vividly is, you remember the Kanazawa family? Kinji and Kanemi [Kanazawa] and others. Well, the mother used to go out to work every morning and come back in the evening, afternoon. I guess she was doing housework out there someplace. But whenever we saw her pass in front of the temple, we'd see her stop, face towards the temple, bow, and then continue, both ways, going and coming. And that's sort of impressed me, about the devotion of this lady. And I think that sort of rubbed off on the Kanazawa boys. Both of them have served the community very well because of their basic faith and regard for people and so on.

But that's what I picture when I think of that old temple, facing Kapaakea Lane. It was a very small one, small temple.

Parents

Dad was the minister at the Moiliili Hongwanji. And, as a kind of senior minister, he was also like an advisor to the bishop. So although he was at Moiliili, he had some responsibility at the headquarters. And that was from about [19]35 on to [19]41, when the war started. So it was just a continuation of pastoral work. Taking care of the community.

Here, he didn't have that responsibility. Language school was separate. And, so, Mother didn't have any such responsibility either. So just taking care of the temple and being a leader of the women's group [fujinkai].

No, we didn't have any [foster children] like that in [Pauwela]. But we had people staying at the temple. Those attending University [of Hawaii], for instance. So they were permitted to stay, using the place as a lodging.

Just a small room beneath the temple. And so people stayed there one at a time, Yeah, so I'm not too sure. I guess I was just oblivious to what our folks were doing. But I was growing up then, from seventh grade and then on to - from Washington Intermediate to McKinley High School.

[My father] didn't even suggest [minister-type responsibilities], I'd be helping with the temple or anything like that. I remember my friend Roland Tatsuguchi at the Shinshu Kyokai. He wanted his son to be the minister. So he took him around to all kinds of things. They did things together. But the son finally rebelled (chuckles) and he just refused to do that. So Roland was all by himself. But I think Roland himself joined his father in learning about the temple and so on. But in my case, I was completely left alone. So there was no such expectation.

Community

[The community was] mostly Japanese but there were some Chinese. Right next to the temple was a Chinese family that used to have kalua pig [pig cooked in a ground oven] almost every Sunday. So, very early in the morning, they'd be burning oil, heating the rocks. And then during the day, they stuff it and then by evening it's ready for their party. They always used to have a party there. That was right next to the temple. But Moiliili is generally a Japanese town.

Activities

Then, there's some kids living around that area that we grew up with on Hausten Street, which is next to Kapaakea Lane. In between was the language school. We grew up with many of them. There was a Nekota Store and then there was a Yamada Barbershop and the Suehiro - I guess it was a jewelry shop. Upstairs was a dentist. In the next building was the Watanabe Store and then the street, Hausten. And so these places were very familiar to me. And so we did a lot of things in that area but also in the temple area, too.

And one thing that I can't forget is, it was some Sunday evening, they were having a service upstairs and a couple of us had built a tent next door, next to this temple and the wall on the other side, a fence on the other side. We had it covered and we were playing with fire. And then it got out of control and then there was a big fire and a lot of commotion because the service was going upstairs and everybody came running down.

And that's when I was told, "You have to watch, what kind of friends you have because these guys are going to get into trouble." Well, I wasn't thinking about that. I mean, we were good friends and we're enjoying a campout. So I think I was about twelve years old then, just having come out from the country. So I continued in this kind of experimentation, growing up. But we had a lot of fun.

A couple of streets over was Coolidge Street and further down was a Chinese taro patch and we used to go visit the taro patch just to take a shortcut. And whenever the Chinese farmer was there, he'd chase us away yelling something in Chinese and swinging his hoe and all that.

There was a lot of water, it seems, around in that area. You know Willows [Restaurant], which is on Hausten. While we were there, I don't know when it was, but suddenly all the water in Willows disappeared. And there it was out in King Street, right where the Kinko's is now, that area, that place used to be a coral bed.

And somehow, I don't know how it was but somebody dug a hole there and found that under there was a pond. The water from Willows had all flowed to there, I mean, they're connected. And there were a lot of fish in there and they were blind. So anyway there's that building by Hausten, it's called Blindfish Tank. Yes, it's named after those blind fish. So anyway, the whole place was connected. There was water underneath this coral bed. And so also further down Coolidge was that kind of water ponds out there, too.

And when we were on Hausten Street, there was a fellow named Kenneth Kato, who was a few years older than us but he was the one who got us to build a totan [galvanized iron sheet], you know that roof, totan boat.

Child in totan (galvanized iron sheet) boat

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We just folded the totan up and nailed the thing and tarred it and it was able to float. Anyway, we took that down to Ala Wai Canal and we got on it and rowed across the canal to Ala Wai Boulevard. But somehow it, we didn't know what to do with it once we got across there. (Chuckles) And so we finally came back and we abandoned that program.

But we wanted to go across the canal and onto Waikiki and go visit the zoo or go swim or whatever. And so the next plan was, "Okay, let's tie up our clothes and put it on our head and then swim across." And so there were three or four of us, so we did that. And then getting onto the other side, put on our clothes, and visit the zoo. It was nothing like, we didn't think it was far but now I don't know whether I'd like to do that. I mean . . .seems to me, it's I guess we had a lot of time. But anyway this Kato fellow, later on, became an engineer. He has that kind of predilection, I guess. And we were younger so we followed him. That was part of growing up in Moiliili.

I remember it was rather late [learning to swim] because in Pauwela we tried swimming in ponds but there wasn't really enough space to swim in these small ponds. So I wasn't sure whether I was able to swim or not. But when we came out to Honolulu, I remember very clearly how I learned how to float. We went out to where Ilikai is now. There was nothing there. There was a pier going out, a concrete pier. And around there was all very shallow. And I thought I'd learn how to swim then to be sure that I knew what I was doing. So I just put my face down, my whole body down in the water and I sank all the way, I mean, it's not too deep, yet. And then gradually I began to float up. And that's when I decided, "Wow! I can float." And then beyond that was just, moving your arms and splashing your legs. It was then that I realized I could swim.

That's how we - of course, it's dog fashion, pants and shirt tied on our head.

I guess I was twelve then, so I was old enough to join the Boy Scouts Troop 2. And I think my scoutmaster is still living, yet. He's a year short of a hundred. His name is Harry Yoshimura. He's ninety-nine. But anyway, he was my scoutmaster and we used to meet at Mother Rice Park.

Yoshiaki Fujitani as a boy scout

Troop 2. And so I had more friends there. And I remember I wasn't happy with some of these older fellows who were supposed to be teaching us things and examining us and so on. It sort of showed how unfair I was. I expected to pass these tests even without knowing enough. And so the fellow would ask questions and I would answer and it's all wrong. And I get angry because of that. But I guess that was part of growing up, too. But things had to be my way, kind of, which I had to abandon after a while.

At the same time there was bunch of people at the temple who were members of the YBA. And they were people that we got to know very well. I was twelve. I remember, I don't know whether you remember the name Margaret Makino. Margaret Makino used to be the secretary of the YBA. But she was seven years older than me, I remember. I was twelve, she would have been nineteen. She became, later on, Spark Matsunaga's secretary in Washington. But she was the secretary so I remember we never, she never talked about age. She never liked to talk about age. But I figured out she was seven years older, so she was nineteen.

But we had people like Mr. Yokota. And his nickname was "Yokota Fat." But anyway, he used to be a salesman at Hub's [a clothing store]. Anyway, he had a couple of daughters and a son. But he was also a baseball player and he'd always be the catcher. A very good player. And the Kanazawa boys were also in the YBA. Yeah, I wish I could remember more of these names.

There was a very strong Japanese community in Moiliili, but it was a pretty tough area. And we used to have a couple of boxers fighting. Now one was a fellow named Horie. There was another guy named Wakida. But they were amateur fighters, and one was, you might remember Mark Murakami.

He was the insurance man. Anyway, that was earlier because later on he went on to the Mainland to go to school and he was caught there when the war started. So he was put into an internment camp there. Mark was also an amateur fighter.

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And there was a Toshimasa Tando. I don't know whether you know, "Toya," he was called. He used to be a fighter. He was a south-paw.

Our community bred that kind of culture, you might say, because it was a pretty tough area. So during those days, we used to have words like the Moiliili gang, Kakaako gang, Kalihi gang, Palama gang. I mean these were these guys that hung around together and in some cases caused problems.

[I]t was nice having come from Moiliili. It was a strong Japanese community. And another thing I remember about Moiliili was the quarry.

While we were growing up, the quarry was constantly running, all day, all night. Gata, gata, gata, gata, gata, you know that kind of sound. And there'd be this cloud of dust over Moiliili all the time. And so our trees, our kiawe [algaroba] trees would be all white, yeah. And so they used the word "quarry dust." That was the name of the newsletter of the Moiliili Community Center, The Quarry Dust. Yeah, it was always present. And then, of course, they closed it down and now it's something else.

Moiliili Quarry, Honolulu, Hawaii, 1923

I'm not sure who worked there. But there was certainly a lot of Japanese businesses along King Street, the Nakamura Garage, for instance, Kunimune Store [now Kuni Dry Goods]. Well, I forget these names.

Makoto and I were classmates, but I don't know who runs the Kuni Dry Goods. No Kuni Dry Goods is somebody else, I think. I think the sister's family.

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

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