232nd Combat Engineer Company
Family Flower Farm
Monday through Friday: Hichiro attends public school and Japanese-language school then does farm work. Saturday: he spends half-day at Japanese-language school and half-day at the farm. Sunday: he works a full day at the farm.
The cycle of planting, fertilizing, watering, weeding, de-bugging, cutting, and preparing flowers for market, requires the family's labor.
The flower growers association's annual picnic is the highlight of the year.
[The farm was two-and-a-half acres in Kalihi]. Approximate.
You know where that bus terminal is down at Kalihi? From that area, you look toward Diamond Head, it’s about half a mile toward town. We had several farms over there. And the “Antone Joe” dairy, was there, too. [“Antone Joe” was the nickname of Antone Joseph, the owner of a Kalihi dairy.]
We were right next to the dairy, very close. And then you go further up, towards town was Oahu Prison [presently Oahu Community Correctional Center, on Puuhale Road].
I think we did all right, yeah. Always had plenty food on the table. We raised flowers but we raised vegetables, too. So I think the one thing we bought was fish. You know the sakana [fish] man used to come sell with a wagon. And then the meat we had to buy. Pork was bought. Chicken no problem. We used to raise chicken. And eggs no problem ’cause we had a chicken coop around the house.
[The land my father farmed was rented]. From what I gather was the Wilcox family [who owned the land]. I think that was the Kauai Wilcox, you know they had a very prominent family in Kauai, that’s Wilcox. That’s why the road that we lived on was Wilcox Lane.
We had a lot of work [on the family flower farm]. We had to dig up the ground, no equipment then. You get your pick and you dig. And then you cultivate the ground, you plant whatever flower you’re gonna grow.
And that was a continuous thing, from a little baby plant or whatever; we used to call it nae [seedling], then, Japanese-style nae. You work at it, like fertilizer, you pull the weeds, all that.
The flower, it grows up, and you cut it, and send it to the market. After that, you till the soil again. The rose took really a lot of time.
Because what we used to do, the flower families, we call ’em kumiai [association, guild]. And we used to buy it from the Mainland, it comes by the barge, by the ship. And then we used to go down to the pier and pick it up. And so much went to our family.
And then the rose stems, the day it comes in, you plant it and you got to water it. So sometimes, ooh, just about all night. You up from for the first day anyway, at least, to get that rose to get started. And that was a lot of work.
And after it grew up, it start to get leaves, the bugs used to come at night and eat the leaves. Because anytime when you bring the rose to market and then sell it, if the leaves are eaten by the bugs, it’s not worth too much, yeah.
So us kids got to go out in the night with lanterns. We used to either smash ’em with our finger or put a pan underneath the lantern, put kerosene, and then as we pick the bugs, we threw ’em in the container to kill it. And that was, so many nights I worked, we used to do that. That was the rose.
And gladiolas was another thing. You plant it, the bulb, you plant it, it grows up. And if the flower grows sideways, the stalk. . .[i]t goes this way [sideways], no matter what, when the flower blooms, it’s gonna go up straight.
And then to keep it straight, what we had to do was go in the [haole] koa bush next door, and cut stem like this, and stick it in the ground to prop it up to keep it [gladiola stalk] straight. That was plenty work, too.
Every flower need care no matter what. But the roses and the gladiolas took more time, more care.
Irrigation was, we had the water line from the city, plus we lived right near a river. And the thing is, my dad bought a pump. You know, imagine, he bought a pump and we used to get the water from the river.
[W]e had a irrigation system. We used to have a ditch, so wide and so deep, where the water runs through. And every so many, say about fifty feet or whatever, we used to dig a sort of small well. And we used to put a box in there to sort of, where you can shoot that in the can, yeah.
And that took work, too, because every once in a while, the box used to collapse, you got to put a new box in. And the side of that ditch gets limu [algae]. You know what limu is, eh? You got to scrape it off. So, so many jobs we get.
You know the more I’m thinking about it, more work, we used to do. And the kids, our friends, used to come down to our farm and play, see. “What the heck, these kids coming around here.” We’re working and they’re coming around.
They get places like the parks to go. But I guess they run out of games or whatever, eh. So they used to come around. And some kids are good kids. They used to help us.
[M]y mom used to grumble not to them but to us. She say, “Nani, kono? They got nothing to do. What? Go come down here when you guys busy working.” Well, you know how parents are, yeah.
[We worked] All year round. Like, we get five days of work, we get five days that we would get school, English school. About two o’clock, you out of English school so we used to go to Japanese[-language] school. Saturday morning was half-day was Japanese[-language] school. We go home, we got to work in the farm, whereas all our friends, my friends, they at the park. And Sunday, all day we used to work.
Neighboring Farms and Kumiai
Well, had one family, Sakamoto — I don’t know what year was it — the whole family went back to Japan. And another family came in was Maeda. And had one Ohata, had Itaoka. And that’s all I can think of now. Oh, Takami. Was all Japanese people.
[W]e used to call it that Flower Growers Association [Kumiai]. And then, like, I mentioned that we imported the rose stalks from the Mainland. The kumiai would get together and then they order as one. And then when the boat comes in, we used to share, yeah.
The high point for us was that once a year, we used to go picnic on a Sunday. That was a big event for us because all-day play for us, eh. (Chuckles) Oh, you know, when the Japanese people go they bring a lot of bento [boxed lunch], yeah. Boy, that was something. And then at the picnic, get races, get sumo, and all that. And every participant gets something, prize.
Usually we used to come toward this side, Niu Valley side. Those days it was all kiawe [algaroba] bush.
I don’t know [how many families were in the kumiai] because where we stayed, had some. And further, Kalihi Kai had some. And upper Kalihi, had some more, too. So I don’t know exactly how many.
I know had florists in Palama and Liliha, but not way up Liliha. About School Street area, Liliha Street, yeah. And near Aala Park or someplace around there. But all on this side, though, say about fifth district? [For apportionment purposes, the island of Oahu was divided into two voting districts: the fourth and fifth districts.]
[Preparing flowers for market is] hard work, too. You get up a little earlier in the morning, you go out pick the flowers. And you got to tie [i.e. bundle] it up, you know, like that. And then my dad used to bring it to the florist. The early days was horse and buggy. Imagine. And then after about, in the 1920s I think, my dad bought the first car, Model-T Ford. So that was a big deal for us.
Before that it was a horse and buggy, yeah. My dad used tie up the horse to the buggy, strap it up, and we used to put the flowers on the buggy. We used to put ’em out over here. He’d come home and put the horse in the stable. And I was thinking, “Oooh, that horse has a really good job.” After that, he was free for the day already.
Every morning, he pulls the wagon, yeah. My dad comes home, put ’em in the stall. And every day we used to cut grass for feed the horse.
Another thing is, you know the horse make doo-doo, eh. That’s a very good fertilizer. We used to spread that. We used to spread it on our flower plants. So nothing went to waste.
Hichiro Matsumoto's interview reprinted courtesy of the Center for Oral History. Photographs courtesy of Hichiro Matsumoto and GNU Free Documentation License.