Janet Matsumoto
A Different View

Youth in Molokai

A deckhand, his wife, and the Segawas are the only ones living in Kolo. The Segawas' home is surrounded by kiawe [algarroba].

Seven miles away is Maunaloa, a pineapple plantation town, with a store, a theater, and a post office. Janet and her siblings attend Maunaloa School.

Chores include laundry and house cleaning. The girls make a fire in the yard, boil the clothes in a big tarai (washtub) and scrub them by hand.

There is no electricity in the area.

Move to Molokai

[M]y father used to work for Young Brothers, so they sent him [to Molokai]. The whole family went with him.

Western shores of Molokai

And I tell you, Molokai was — it’s really country compared to Honolulu. And the place where we stayed, no other families lived there. Just one house, just our house. And right in front of the ocean.

Kolo Pier

[It] looked like a haunted house to me (laughs). It was a big house but. I think they had only about one big bedroom and one small bedroom and kitchen and bath and then living room. And then the bath, we had our own furo [Japanese-style bath], my father made the furo. And around us was all kiawe [algarroba] trees. It’s a lonely place, though.

When we first moved there, every room that my mother goes, we used to follow her because we were so afraid. Was an old house and all that, so.

During the summer, it was all right because that’s when the plantation gets busy with pineapple — from Honolulu, they used to send some men to drive the truck to transport the pineapple from Libby, [McNeill & Libby] plantation to Kolo. That’s where we lived, Kolo. Right in front — it’s Kolo Pier [a.k.a., Kolo Wharf], they called that.

Besides my father, had a deckhand helper. A Filipino couple. They didn’t have any children, so they lived in another house. So only the two families used to live [there].

Maunaloa

[T]he nearest camp was Maunaloa and that’s where we went to school. It’s about seven miles away. We went to school there and the stores and movie theater [were] all over there. And every day, my father had to drive us to the school, come home. Then in the afternoon, he goes back, and then pick us up and come home.

[Maunaloa town is] a [pineapple] plantation camp. They had Filipino camp and Japanese camp. And they had only one store, one movie theater, one post office. [The movie theater] had cowboy shows and all that, double features.

There’s no houses, it’s just one road, and all kiawe trees. So when we were little, we get tired and we just fall asleep coming home.

Maunaloa, Molokai, Hawaii

Driving Home

My father, he let me drive from a young age. He’s on the driver’s seat but I’m on the side, I have to hold the steering wheel and, going to school, coming home. Maybe because of that, it was easy for me to start driving.

Chee, I must have been, maybe about seventh grade, I think. No need shift. Because it’s all downhill, yeah, coming home. Going time, usually he drives but coming home time, he used to let me hold the steering wheel.

It was the old kind [of car], those olden days. Model-T, they call that. You know, the canvas top. And then when it rains, you got to get the plastic stuff [tarp] and attach ’em to the side. Later on, we got the regular sedan kind.

1927 Model T

[H]e just tell me, “Come, you go drive — you go hold the steering.” And he’s on the side. And once, he’s on the side, he has so much confidence in me, that he’s reading newspaper. Then, my sisters and my brothers all in the backseat. Naturally, they’re all falling asleep.

Anyway, one day, I must have fallen asleep and then the next thing I remember, we went into a gulch. And then, those old cars with canvas top, no side, the thing just fell down. And then my father scolded me. I couldn’t help, I fell asleep, you know. But after we reached home, my mother scold my father (chuckles) for reading newspaper.

Activities

[D]uring the summer, we were in the water all day. Because my house was right in front of the ocean, see, and then we used to just wait for the camp people to come down and join us. After we swim, they all used to use our furo to clean up.

My father used to go fishing. And then we used to go to the pier with the pole. Especially when the small fish used to come around, aholehole [young Hawaiian flagtail].

[Y]ou know when those fish come in, then we used to go to the pier and then fish.

[W]e always had good friends. And then, like after Japanese[-language] school gets over, we used to stay at their house until my father comes and picks us up.

I think [my parents] were kind of active [in the Japanese community]. Well, the camp had a, they called it seinenkai [a young men’s association]. All the young people used to gather. We used to have programs like that over there. And then Christmas play. The English school — we used to have nativity programs. And then sometimes, the Japanese, they’d dress us in kimono and then the teacher would teach us some ondo [Japanese dance]. We used to dance like that.

Religion

Chee, I don’t know if they had a church or anything. I wonder if they had a church. I think Filipinos, they used to go to a Catholic church.

We were Buddhist, so. But I don’t remember my parents going to da kine. Because Sundays, they don’t have to go to the camp.

Chores

[W]hile we were living Molokai — when we first moved, was my two sisters and my brother. My brother was only an infant. He was born in March and we moved in June, so he was only about three months. Then after that, two more brothers came up, and then one more sister. So that’s seven of us. Then when we moved to over here, Honolulu, then my kid sister was born, 1942.

I think we three, the first three girls, we did all about the same. Especially me and the one right below me.

[W]e had to help laundry, clean house. You know those days, no more washing machine, everything by hand. And then we had to have — they used to boil the clothes, before. So, outside in the yard, you have to make a fire and have a big tarai [wash tub] inside there, and then put soap, and then we used to boil the clothes, and then bring it out, and then scrub. We do all those things.

[We washed clothes] every day. Because big family, yeah. Well, when we going school, of course, we don’t wash but weekends like that. I guess my mother used to wash every day.

[T]he place where we stayed, no electricity. So we had gas lamp for all the rooms. We had a big refrigerator though, but it was run by kerosene or gas. The stove [and lights] were kerosene, I think.

We had a dog, I know. We had a German Shepherd dog and the only time I go near is when I feed ’em, that’s all. ’Cause he was always tied up, see. I mean that kind place, you need a watchdog. ’Cause no other family around.

Yeah, kind of scary [at nighttime]. But somehow you get used to it. You know, as we grew older, my parents, sometimes they go [Japanese] show, at the camp, at Maunaloa. And only the kids used to stay home. By then, already, we were used to. We didn’t feel scared or anything. But when we first moved there, oh, we were really afraid. I tell you, whenever my mother go to the next room, we all follow her.

Food

[M]ostly my mother used to cook because by the time we come home from school, it’s late already.

[My mother made] Japanese food. When we used to live in Molokai, my father, when the barge comes in — you know there’s one guy on the barge, they call that barge captain. The company would always let him bring some food: poi, canned sausage, canned corned beef, and all that. But he doesn’t eat that. He comes to our house and my mother feeds him other kinds of food.

And then we used to have fish. We used to eat fish so often because my father used to go fishing all the time. We used to get sick of fish.

And sometimes he has that hukilau. You lay the net right in front of our house and when he pulls it in, we all got to help take off the fish from the net. And our fingers get all cut. But I tell you, those days had so much fish. And when he has the hukilau, buckets and buckets of fish. And then somehow, the camp people, they know when he lay the net, yeah, they all come, so my father would give ’em all away. And whatever leftover, he used to bring it to the store and then sell it.

He used to [dry fish]. And he used to go hunting, too. You know, Molokai get deer like that, wild pig. I remember, like deer, he used to dry that every time. And then sometimes he used to go catch lobster and crab. And nighttime when he goes out, he get the kind menpachi [red snapper], yeah. When we were small, we didn’t care for fish.

[V]egetables, you got to go to the market. And we used to grow some, yeah.

For a while, we had pigs and chicken. And we were surrounded by kiawe trees, so you know the pig, we used to pick up all the kiawe beans and feed them.

Janet Matsumoto's interview reprinted courtesy of the Center for Oral History. Photographs courtesy of Akiko Tajima, National Archives, and GNU Free Documentation License.

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