Stanley Masaharu Akita
100th Infantry Battalion

Youth

Stanley and his friends enjoy playing baseball and swimming.

They catch shrimp, goby, limpets and octopus. They pick guavas and mountain apples in season. At night, they catch frogs to eat. They also snack on yellow jacket larvae, flavored witha little sugar and soy sauce.

On Saturdays, they go to the plantation stable to search through the manure pile for maggots, which they take home to feed the chickens.

Fishing / Swimming

I used to run around with all my friends. Those days, our fun was going down to the river or to the seashore to fish or swim. We used to go down the river with a net and we used to catch opae, river shrimp. We'd bring it over, my mother would cook it for us and four or five of us would be in the backyard eating boiled shrimp. [The shrimp] was no bigger than your little finger. So it's a small thing.

And whenever we go swimming, when you hungry - depends on the season, year - if it's guava season, then you know exactly where all the sweet guavas are. You go to a coast, in the plantation, you'll find hundreds of guava trees. But everybody knows which tree bears sweet guava. So as soon as the season comes for guava, we know exactly where to go to pick sweet guava and eat the guava.

Then, later on in the year, the mountain apple season. So when you're swimming or fishing in the river, you know exactly where to go to pick those black [fruit] - it's so ripe it turns black and the skin breaks, swells up. And boy, those were the best mountain apples. Juicy and very sweet.

But that was our lunch. If not chewing on sugar cane. That's why in the olden days, lots of people turned out to have lousy teeth. Because they chew cane too much, they claim, nothing but sweets. They had this Hawaiian cane. It was purplish with yellow stripes. It was so soft that you could grab the skin with your teeth. Just pull the skin off. You didn't need a knife to do that. And then inside, the part that you suck on, was so soft that you could just bite on it and just suck the juices without the residue.

We used to sell the oopu [goby], we used to catch a lot of oopu. Rainbow fish. The Filipinos would gladly buy it. Ten, fifteen cents for a dozen or so. Quarter maybe at the best. It's a good-eating fish, very soft meat.

If you go down to the ocean, opihi [limpets] was our lunch. They were so plentiful, you just pick whatever you want and eat the opihi right there. Sometimes we build a fire and put a piece of tin roof on that and put opihi on the roof. It gets hot and it separates from the shell, yeah. Just pick and eat.

Walking-wise, at the longest, it would take about less than half an hour [to get to the ocean]. And we'd catch tako [octopus]. Sometimes we're lucky to find tako on the shoreline, the rocky shore. Where we live, it's all rocky and rocks, see, so it's hard to find tako. But whenever we catch one, we tear off the leg and just eat the fresh leg right there and then. Real raw tako, sashimi-like.

Catching Frogs

Growing up those days, I'm sorry that today's kids cannot experience that kind of stuff. You take like my grandson, if I show him something, he's afraid to touch it. "Eww," that kind of [reaction] - our days, we just grab. Grabbing a tadpole or a frog. But not today's kids. Not every kid would grab a frog.

We used to have a group of guys, maybe a dozen guys. We separate into groups and each one takes a stream. On Friday night, we go out with a flashlight and a piece of stick and a bag. We go catch frog.

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The way to catch frog is, you wade in the streams and you hear them croaking. So you shine. All you see is two eyes shining in the water. So you just, you sort of blind them with the flashlight and with the stick, bang 'em on the head. Knock 'em out and you just put that frog in the bag. But now the frog is only stunned for a few minutes. So by the time few minutes later on, the frog is jumping in the bag.

And we used to catch, the whole bunch of us, four, five of us, we used to catch close to seventy-five frogs a night. And it was my job to skin the frog and put the meat aside.

You ever tried skinning a frog? It's a very simple thing. All you do is cut right across the head behind the eyes and you can peel it like a banana. And then you cut the four legs off and you have frog legs, together with the body. And Saturday night, we used to cook that and guys used to drink beer and use that as a pupu.

Just fry it with salt. Nothing fancy. But oh, we used to eat a lot of frogs. Oh, taste ono [delicious], of the best-eating meat to me. Taste better than chicken.

Wasps' Nests

And you remember those bee nests? We used to call 'em bee's nests where that thing made out of paper, with all the cells. Yellow jacket nests.

One of our projects was, whenever we see that, we take that. It's usually on the eave like that and the nest used to be real big sometimes. So when the bees are humming in there, you get a piece of stick, grab some newspaper. And then light the newspaper with match. And when it's burning good, you go right under the nest and that fire is so intense, all the wings burn off the bees and the bees all fall to the ground. Then we just pick the nest and every one of us take the larvae out, this white wiggly worm and do you know that we used to eat that? We used to cook 'em in shoyu, sugar and we'd all sit around and eat that.

Bee baby. Baby bees. When you take it off, the nest - they turn into bees while in there, see. So you take the top off, pull the bees out, put 'em in a bowl and you fry 'em with shoyu, sugar, barbecue taste. Chee, our days, I think almost everybody had a taste of that.

I really can't tell what it taste like today, I forgot. But if somebody did that, I'd like to try. I think I have guts enough to try it because I did it once. It's something I did.

Like one day, my wife comes home from the hospital, Kaiser Hospital, there's a lot of Filipino girls. She said, "Look what I brought home for you." I open it up, it was one of those fried cockroach-like, black, you know the black cockroach. I tell her, "What's that?" She said, "Oh, all the girls are eating like candy so I brought it home for you, maybe you want to try?"

I tell her, "No, no, no." If I'm with them together and they eat it, I might try it. But not myself, eating cockroach without knowing what it tastes like. But she said at the hospital they were eating 'em like candy. Like peanuts.

Maggots

One of our chores every Saturday was to go to the plantation stable, where they have dozens of mules in the stalls. And to go back a little, the mules are so smart in a way. They'd come back from the field, all they do is take off all the contraptions from them and just pat 'em on the back and the mules know exactly which stall to go in. Apparently, force of habit. The stable keeper had names for each one.

During the day or during the night, the mule manure is piled up in the mountain. I would say that pile, by the end of two days, would be about three, four feet deep.

Our chore, every Saturday, would be to grab a bucket, go up to the stable and with our bare hands, search in the manure for maggots. The fly would lay the eggs probably by the thousands. You'd just see a bunch of maggots just wiggling in the horse manure. So we'd grab that and put 'em in the bucket. Then and after that was through, the manure is warm. I don't know what they call that, it sort of burns by itself. So we'd jump in the horse manure from the platform and we'd get a lot of fun out of that.

There was about four or five of us that did that almost every Saturday. You know what we used the maggots for? We'd take 'em home after that and just throw 'em in the chicken coop and all the chickens would eat the maggots. So that was part of our routine that we used to do. So I used to tell my grandson about how with my bare hand, we'd just go grab into the horse manure grab all that maggots. All he says, "Aaa," you know.

[We jumped inside] because we just want to fool around and play. Everything is so warm, when your feet goes in the horse manure or whatever. Sometimes you fall off and you get your clothes all full of manure. So I keep telling my wife I can just imagine how we smelled right after that. Going home with manure all over you.

Besides that, nothing much except for the home. Like, in my grandparent's case, because she operates the furo, what the plantation did was, every weekly, bring some firewood for her. They just pile it outside near the road and I used to help my uncle carry down. Then we'd chop it up to firewood size. That's about all.

Other Activities

We played a lot of baseball. In fact, we had, within the plantation town itself, we had all the separate teams. We had the Filipino team, Portuguese team, Japanese team. We used to compete with each other. Those games were always played on a Sunday. We had a real nice ballpark in Honomu.

[My father] tried to get me into baseball but to me, it could be that he realized that sports was not something where you could eat with, those days.

Stanley Akita and sisters, Setsuko and Helen, circa 1927

As a kid, my cousin and I were real close. My mother's older brother's family and our family. In fact, every summer, we'd go over for one month and live with them, my sister and I. Then the second month of the summer vacation, my two cousins would come over and live with us. So I knew a lot of their friends because we used to go swimming and play around together with them at the Papaikou family. When my two cousins come to Honomu, we go out and play with my friends. We got along real well.

Stanley Akita's interview courtesy of the Center for Oral History. Photographs courtesy of Stanley Akita.

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