Stanley Masaharu Akita
100th Infantry Battalion

Early Childhood

Stanley's grandmother is in charge of the furo (bath house), which is shared by ten families.

She teaches 12-year-old Stanley to roll his own cigarettes using Bull Durham tobacco.

The family store is like an old-time drugstore with a soda fountain. There is also a gas station. Stanley's chores include mopping the floor every morning and pumping gas.

The family lives above the store.


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I remember that camp we lived in - about ten families shared a bath house, furo. My grandmother was in charge of the furo. She'd get up in the morning, go to the furo, drain the furo and scrub all inside, plug it and start filling it up with water. Then, about noon or two o'clock, she'd go to the underneath and - I don't know if you remember there was bagasse, that sugar cane. After they squeeze the sugar out, it turns into a terrific burning item. So you just put a bunch of bagasse over the coal and the thing will smolder for quite a while. So every now and then, my grandmother used to go down to add more bagasse. But she was in charge of the furo there. And everybody used to go.

And those days, that furo was co-ed. Everybody goes in regardless of their age. So I remember bathing with almost everybody in that camp of about ten families.

No separation [of boys and girls]. All the other camps had separation. The girls, women on one side and men on one side but not in the bath room we had. It was everybody for himself in there.

The furo was only about fifty feet [from our house].

The furo group was different. Among that dozen or more, there would be ten of us who went to furo in my grandma's furo. Then beyond that, there was another furo. They had furo all over the Japanese camps.

When they first brought in workers, the plantation was - I don't know if it's smart enough to put all the Japanese in one camp, where they talk Japanese, they cook Japanese and everything Japanese. And the Filipinos in another camp. But when morning comes, they all get together to work together. That's how, I think, the pidgin English started. Because they have to try understand each other.

[My camp was] all Japanese.

I was thinking what camp I lived in but there was no camp [name]. I know we lived right near the Gym Camp. Maybe five houses away, that's where the plantation gym was, where we played all kinds of sports, basketball and all that.

Chicken Coop

My grandparents, everybody had raised chickens, those days. I can still remember when you hear the chicken cackling and getting all excited, we'd run out in our veranda and we'd look at the chicken coop and we can see the mongoose carrying eggs away. It used to run into the coop, scare the herd away, grab an egg. You know, like, you see the cartoon where they're carrying the egg and running with the two back feet? That's exactly how we used to see them scurrying away with the egg in their two hands. Standing up and running.

So my grandfather made a trap and we used to catch one mongoose every day. We put a burlap bag right at the mouth of the trap, pull the door open, the mongoose would run out into the trap. It was our duty to just smash the mongoose on the rocks someplace and got rid of the body.

My grandfather had a grapevine near the chicken coop. When the grape season, grapes started to appear, the birds would come and eat it. So what he did was, hang a bunch of cans and get a rope tied to our veranda. It's close enough that we can pull that and make a lot of noise and the birds would fly away. But no matter what, you lose to the birds. They end up eating three-quarters of the grapes.

We used to eat the grapes but nothing fancy. Not like those that sell in the store. It has a little sour taste to it.

Bull Durham Tobacco

And that fireplace for the furo was where about four or five of us used to hide and smoke in there. At a very young age. We'd get the sweet potato and we'd go down to the fire, throw the sweet potato [to roast] in the hole, [ate sweet potato] and we smoked cigarette.

Those days, it wasn't cigarette, it was Bull Durham [tobacco]. You had to roll your own. I was pretty good at that.

[My grandma] taught me how to smoke, even. Because without saying anything, I roll one for her, then I roll one for myself, she didn't say one word and then we'd light each other's.

I don't think my parents knew what we were doing, actually. If they knew, they would be mad like hell.

In fact, my grandmother had a tabako bon [tobacco tray]. Where there's a little box, with a little ash tray, a bag of Bull Durham, a paper to wrap in, match and whatever other necessary [smoking supplies]. She used to call me, "Go get my tabako bon." So I used to get it for her. And by doing it, you get a piece of paper, roll one cigarette for my grandma and I'd roll one for myself. She and I just sat next to each other, talking away.

Gee, I think I was only about twelve years old. So by the time I went to grade school, I was a real smoker. I hate to say it, but.

Sometimes, what we did was, we had about four good buddies and every friend's father smoked. So we all take turns, "Okay, it's your turn to take the tobacco this time." Then we'd smoke the bag until it's gone and then maybe next, it's my turn. So I steal one from my grandma. But there's one guy whose father smoked Chesterfields. It's already made in the pack. But we just wait for his turn to come, so then we smoke those ready-mades. You don't have to roll your own.

Oh, that was a treat . . .

Japanese Community

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Thinking back, no matter what plantation you go, if it's a Japanese camp, everybody acts and do the same thing. It's no different. It's automatic. Like, for example, you go to Honokaa, which is twenty, thirty miles away. When you enter the house, you take off your slippers, right? And then that's an automatic thing. So, a lot of things we do. And the food, it's just cooked just about the same way.

So it's just like only the little out of your house, just a few steps away from your home, only thing it's twenty miles away. But to me, lifestyle in those days, that's why I keep telling people, when we went to Camp Shelby, guys from Kauai, and Hawaii, Maui, all got together. We sleep next to each other. But the good part about that is, when you think back, we all lived the same lifestyle, no matter in Kauai or Big Island. You took off your slipper, you took a bath every night, you know exactly - you ate sushi, you ate rice.

Everything we did was almost identical. So, automatically, to me, in camp, we got to be like brothers. That's why I think our so-called camaraderie was so strong.

In fact, there's no difference. No matter where you go. Like I said, when you take a bath, in the old days, you go to the furo. It's kind of embarrassing to go to your friend's. So anybody go in, go furo with them. But still, that's the way it is. When you sit down to eat, it's rice, shoyu, and fish. Most likely. If you're a real good guest, then they make sushi for you. To me, I think lifestyles, those days, is very identical.

Family Store

My mother was a very good businesswoman.

Stanley Akita with his parents, Yoshie and Alexander Akita, Honomu, Hawaii

My grandfather was very enterprising. He bought a cane land from a Hawaiian family, seven-acre cane land and he just worked in that portion of the property abutted on the highway that goes around the island. So being that it was sort of in the town of Honomu, they decided to build a store there.

It was more like a country drugstore where she used to sell milk shake and ice cream and drugs. You know, like aspirin and the simple home medications, that type of thing. Although, we had a gas station also, in the front, where we sold gasoline.

We had so-called ice cream fountain - soda fountain, which my mother used to make root beer floats and whatnot. We used to have tourists go to Akaka Falls. See, my hometown Honomu is where Akaka Falls is. That was one of the tourist attractions. So the drivers would stop by for a cold drink and my mother used to serve them Coke, whatever they want. Some kind of cold drink, ice cream cone or something. She was enterprising enough that she used to have soft chocolate and she'd scoop the ice cream with the scooper, put a stick in there and then flip it and then threw the cup out and then she had the ice cream on the tip of the stick and she'd dip it with the chocolate and freeze it. Like a big round [Milk] Nickel [ice cream bar] with the chocolate coating. She used to sell quite a bit of that. I don't know who gave her the idea, probably the chocolate maker gave her the idea.

Akaka Falls State Park, Honomu, Hawaii

A lot of [the customers] were local. It's right on the road that goes to Hilo to around the island, it passes right in front. Belt Road, huh.

I had to pump the gas. You remember the old gas pumps, you don't just hold the nozzle and stick 'em in the car. You have to pump the gasoline into a big tank. Then you take the nozzle, put it in the car and you stop at the five-gallon mark, or whatever gallon you want and then you put the nozzle back. Then after they're gone, I have to pump it up so that the gas fill up to the top again. So it was a real old pump where I had to do a lot of pumping. Every morning, every night, I had to bring the gasoline back in the big tank. We don't leave it in the tank. Then, in the morning, I open up the gas pump and I got to pump. You know, to fill up the visible tank.

Japanese-operated gas stand, Hawaii

I had to mop the floor every morning, clean up the area. But that's about all.

I think [my mom] was strict enough that she made sure everything was in order. She acted like an executive, making sure everything is [in order]. "Did you mop the floor, did you do this?" That type of thing. Typical country lifestyle, you listen to what they say and do what they say. It's not something where you can just jump out and jump in your car and go downtown someplace.

Living above the Store

We had five bedrooms upstairs. Of course, I had my own room. My father had his own room, my mother had her own room and my three sisters slept in one room.

That was in 1929, [19]30, so I must have been seven years old.

Living in a plantation with a family so close with your uncles and grandma, everything was cozy. And now, you live in separate and somehow, you can see it's a different lifestyle where you just have your family.

But luckily, being that my dad was a schoolteacher - a lot of schoolteachers that was transferred from Honolulu to Honomu School - they had that schoolteacher's cottage where they lived. They found out my father also was a schoolteacher so they got to be pretty friendly. They used to come to our house. There was this Chinese couple, husband and wife, moved to Honomu School. It just so happened, he was a good cook. So he said, "Okay, I'm going to bring everything, we're going to do all the cooking at your house." They come over to my house and with all that, just like a party. Two of them cooking all the Chinese food for us. So we went through a couple of teachers like that. That just came to our house to be able to go to our private furo, take a bath and have dinner with us and go back to their cottage. So life was altogether different from the plantation days.

We had our own furo in the back. It was more private and a little more comfortable.

Stanley Akita's interview courtesy of the Center for Oral History. Photographs courtesy of Stanley Akita, Reverend Shugen Komagata, and National Archives.

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