232nd Combat Engineer Company
In 1930, Hirotaro Matsumoto passes away. Hichiro's older brother takes the lead as the family continues farming.
In his free time, Hichiro finds time to swim in the nearby river and catch oopu (goby fish) and opae (shrimp).
He attends Kalihi Waena, Kalakaua Intermediate, and McKinley High schools, graduating in 1937. He also attends Kalihi Japanese-language School.
Father Passes Away
[My father died in 1930 or ’31. I was twelve or thirteen. My family] just continued because my oldest brother was in the twenties already. Say, if I was twelve, he was twenty-two. So he left school after sixth grade.
[W]e took over [the farm], yeah. We just continued without him. No more choice.
Being the Youngest
[T]he only thing I can say [about growing up in a big family] is I was the baby of the family. When I think back, it was pretty good though.
I still remember we used to go to a playground. I think I must have been something about ten. I used to make trouble and then, the other kid beat me up. So I go to my older brother, eh, point, “That’s the guy who wen lick me.”
So now he get good licking. Oh, that’s how it goes with the family before. That’s why you got really advantage to be in a big family.
[As the youngest], the job was lighter job, eh. Like pulling weeds or something like that, anybody can do that. And every night, we used to water the plants. You know, the flowers need water. And we had the five brothers and my dad. And we used to get a rack made of wood, put all our water cans on that, trough sort of. And my can was small because I was small. Yeah, I remember that well.
You know, as far as I can remember, [I worked at the farm] from yochien [kindergarten] days.
When you have a family, within the family, you have fun. You find something to do.
[The river nearby is] where all us kids learned to swim. We used to tail the older guys. What they used to do was just grab you and throw you in the water. That’s where you swim or sink. (Laughs) Yeah, so that’s what we did.
[The river was] shallow. Only at some places was little deeper, yeah. That’s where we used to go swim. And that kid days, what we used to do was, we used to hadaka [naked].
Actually, from home to the river, near, see. Running to the stream, we taking off our clothes already. Because what we used to say was, “The last one in the water was a little baby.”
That’s why everyone used to go fast and dive inside, yeah. And as you grow older, you kind of be sensitive, eh. “Eh, you got to get swimming pants or something.” So what we used to do was old pants, we used to cut it short. No can afford swimming da kine.
[We caught] opae [shrimp], oopu [goby], we used to catch. And I think it’s, we never get sick but you know we used to get this, find old gallon can or five-gallon can. We used to put water to cook, we used to cook a fish in there, then eat. We never did get sick.
[Y]ou can make fire anyplace. You just get stone, eh, put the bucket, whatever. Get wood anyplace.
We used to play alavia. We had a beanbag we used to hit. And we get the peeowee. Yeah and the broomstick. We used to play that. So we never used to get money to buy a football or baseball or things like that.
We used to go to the playground. Then they used to let us have the ball or whatever, we used to play. And then we used to play [with] that [Bull] Durham bag. Yeah, we call alavia.
What we used to put? Grass or something in there. And some guys, they used to put stone inside. Eh, guys, like kolohe [rascal] guys. I tell you.
Yeah, yeah. [Some people put (haole) koa bean inside]. Yeah but that nothing. Kind of sore but nothing. Used to put small stones inside. Sore!
Kalihi Waena School
My whole family went to Kalihi Waena [School], from my oldest brother to me, the last one went Kalihi Waena. And after Kalihi Waena pau, we went Kalakaua Intermediate School.
[W]hen I think those days, the kids were good, I would say very good. No back talk to teachers or whatever. And never, during my school days, never, never did hear or see a parent come to school, talk to a teacher or talk to the principal or something.
What the teacher said was law. And to me, that was very, very good. Today the teachers cannot touch the kids. How can you get discipline like that? I’m pretty sure at home that parents would whack the kid. (Chuckles)
[H]ad strict [teachers] and some lenient ones there but as a whole, they were on the serious side. I was a young kid but that was my thinking.
[Kalihi Waena had] all local kids. Japanese, Chinese, Portuguese, Hawaiians, and I don’t think had one haole kid — oh, had one. Yeah, that time I lived in Gulick Avenue. But those days mezurashi [uncommon], yeah. You get one haole kid, eh, really stand out.
[T]hat’s the first time I experience, you meet a lot of kids from other schools. You know, like Kalihi Waena, right through the same old kids, yeah. Like when you go to Kalakaua, they come from Kalihi Kai, Lanakila, and all the places. It was something. That’s a new experience for us.
And then, it was so common to see after school, kids fighting. But them days the fighting was all right. They fight with only their hands. You get shiner at the most. (Laughs)
[After school] I had to go home, work in the garden. That was my thinking then. When I grow [up], I say, “I’ll never be a farmer.” Because not fair for the wife and for the kids. The man of the house I no care what, he got to work, do something. Farm or whatever. But if you’re a farmer, your wife got to work day and night. And the kids got to work. So that’s one thing, I kept my promise though.
You walk it was about a mile and a half or so [to Japanese-language school]. Well, everything used to be before was walk. No such thing as riding car. Your parents [not] going take you, pick you up, and take you anyplace. Everywhere you went was you walked.
[I went to] Kalihi Japanese[-language] school. It’s, you know where Kalihi Union Church is? Just [Fort] Shafter side of that, on Kam[ehameha] IV Road. Just about a block in from King Street.
Oh, yeah! You cannot beat Japanese[-language] school for discipline. You know that schoolteacher used to get a pointer. Ho, you talk in class, [get hit] over the head. And not one of kids went home, tell their parents that. Because they go home and tell the father that, the old man give ’em another whack.
Yeah. They were strict. So all my friends, today, they say that’s a really good thing because keep them in line.
I wasn’t a very good student. But I never caused any trouble, though. My parents never need to go face the teacher, never did.
Once, this was Kalakaua days, this wahine [girl] go report to the teacher that some boys wen go bother her. And the vice-principal came in our room. She named the people, yeah, the kids who wen bother her. I was one of them. And he call us, the vice-principal call us in front of the class, with a stick. Everybody, bang in the okole [buttocks]. You know how sore, I tell you. That’s the only time I got whacked, and which I never do. The teacher named me, he no care, yeah. I tell you not fair, they no even ask us nothing. Boy, I tell you, you try getting whacked like that. I still can feel ’em.
[T]ook me about, at the most about half an hour to [walk] home. So my parents knew what time I should be home. [No time to play or anything].
For me, that wen sink in after I grew up. Them days I used to think, ah, shushin [morals, ethics] teacher lecturing us again. This and that, this and that. Get kind of sick but the more you think about it, yeah, how true that is.
McKinley High School
I was sort of on the otonashii [quiet] side.
I just took whatever to get by, let’s face it. [My older brother Walter’s] the smart one in the family. No fair. He get all the brains.
[My mother wanted me to go to University of Hawaii]. But I think I sort of made up a little bit. I think I turned out to be a pretty good father. And she [looks at wife, Janet] knows I turned out to be a good husband. Yeah. (Laughs)
No more [plans after graduation]. I wasn’t the ambitious type.
Hichiro Matsumoto's interview reprinted courtesy of the Center for Oral History. Photographs courtesy of Hichiro Matsumoto.