Stanley Masaharu Akita
100th Infantry Battalion

School

Stanley attends Honomu School up to the 8th grade. The next year he is sent to school in Hilo, where he stays at a Hongwanji dorm. He meets students from many different communities.

After a year, he commutes to Hilo High School from home.

He also attends Japanese-language school, six days a week.

Honomu School

Honomu School was a wooden structure where the community graveyard was right behind the school. At school, we had [a place] where we got to brush our teeth every day.

When you get a little older, to the maybe sixth or seventh grade, you have a garden plot, right behind the school area, next to the graveyard, where you can raise whatever you want to raise. The teacher is there to instruct you what to do. We used to plant beans, beets, cabbage, I remember. It's something where you can take home for your family to use.

Every student had a little plot. A garden plot of each his own, maybe ten-by-ten square feet. So you do what you want to do. When we plant beans, for instance, you need something where beans can climb. So we used to go down to the gulch and pick those bamboo plants. Once the leaves drop off, there's lot of branches on that bamboo, so we just poke the bamboo right near the bean plant, let the beans grow through the branches.

FFA, Future Farmers of America, was very popular. I don't know if that was a club or anything like that but a lot of them participated in that FFA.

Future Farmers of America Exhibit

And we had a teacher, Mr. [Raymond] Torii, who I understand was the principal in someplace in Waianae for a while. [Torii was principal of Waianae High School.] But I used to enjoy his class because he used to sing a lot in his class. We used to sing to all these old songs that which, I don't know if you know, there's The Golden Songbook. Almost everybody had one those days. They have real old songs which we used to sing every day. Mr. Torii would say, "Okay, what next?" All you got to do is mention a title and we all sing that. That was one of the enjoyable times.

I used to enjoy shop. Today, they don't have such a thing as shop in grade school. Where the school had all the tools you want to make whatever you want to make. Guys who were ambitious used to make desks and cabinets like that and chairs. One of the most popular ones was washboard. You know what's a washboard? With all the big grooves? We used to saw part way down, and with chisel, make washboard. Every family needed washboard those days.

Washboard

Nationality-wise, I would say the Japanese were over 50 percent. Then they had a few Portuguese. You know, funny thing in my hometown, we never had Hawaiians. Children-wise. We had old Hawaiian families living around but never children. We had a few Filipino young ones. Only because those days, the Filipinos weren't married. They didn't have picture bride like the Japanese. Although we had a few Spanish families and a few Puerto Ricans. That's about all.

Eighth, the highest group I remember, chee, maybe twenty. Twenty or thirty at the most [in one class].

From among my classmates [from eighth grade at Honomu], I would say maybe half a dozen [went on to Hilo Intermediate]. That's about all. They just start working for the plantation.

Father's View on Education

[My father was a schoolteacher at] Hakalau. Under Capellas.

I don't think [my father] talked too much about how important education was. Of course, he used to tell me. Thinking back, I regret that I didn't try hard enough to be able to go to college. I think he would have been real proud. But otherwise, we never talked about those things.

I remember him once telling me, "You know, I went to Honolulu and I met one of my students in town. He recognized me." He tells me. "He said, 'Hey, Mr. Akita.'" They start talking, he said, "Come on, I'll take you home." So his student took him to the student's home. He said, "Oh, that student had a nice house in Manoa." And he had the gall to tell me, "Yeah, but he wasn't the brightest student in class. But he owns a home and business in Honolulu." But that's the way life goes, I guess. But he was kind of proud that that was his student, though. Being so successful.

Hongwanji Dorm

From Honomu School, which was up to eighth grade, my dad sent me to Hilo to stay at a dorm. Hongwanji dorm in Hilo. And at that dorm, I got to meet guys from all the way from Naalehu, Paauilo, Pahoa. From the young age, I was used to living sort of away from home, meeting different kind of people.

Hongwanji Temple, Honomu, Hawaii

I think Honomu or Hakalau was the last area from the Hamakua Coast. So in other words, Hakalau, Honomu, Pepeekeo and Papaikou and Wainaku, that's right next to town. Then you go to Pahoa, Olaa, and Mountain View, they all went to Hilo High School. So the student body was pretty good. Big, those days, 500 per class.

I didn't feel anything different. I just took it for what it's worth. At the dorms, it's a regular walk to school every day, come back, that type of thing. But at the dorms, one of my classmates from Honomu was in the dorms with me. He was a good friend of mine. His mother was Portuguese, he was Japanese. It's a Tanimoto family. His name was Alvin. About once or twice a week, we'd sneak out of the dorm and walk into Hilo town and go to this malt shop. He and I used to end up drinking malt and eating hot dog for our dinner.

[The courses were] altogether different. It felt like you're definitely going to a higher education because after all, you're in Hilo and not in Honomu. The students were altogether different. They put you in the class depending on your prior grades from your former school. Like they had, 9-X, Y, Z. So the Z was supposed to be the not-so-bright ones. Nine-X was all the so-called "elite" students that prior school grades was terrific kind of thing. So I don't know why I was in Y, in the middle. I should have been in Z. But I was in Y. I got to meet a lot of friends which, until today, we're good friends.

Oh, cost-wise, gee, I'm not too sure because I think the only real big cost was the ride to and from home, to school. They had the regular school bus that went regularly to Hilo High School. Because there's no high school around where we lived, at that time, everybody went to Hilo High School. So I just jump in the same bus and Hilo High School is directly opposite from Hilo Intermediate. Again, there I meet all different friends again.

[I was in the dorm] one year.

The food [at the dorm] wasn't really what I wanted. Strictly church school, so the food was altogether different. Another thing is, every morning we get up, we got to go to the church and pray. Being at the Buddhist church. Then right after church, we rushed out to the cafeteria across the street to have breakfast. And breakfast was, 99 percent of the time, miso soup. That was breakfast. That's why even today, I like my miso soup with that aburage [fried bean curd] in there. Just soak aburage in the miso soup.

Talk about liking something you ate. This is going in advance a little bit but one of the German prisoners, he used to feed me barley soup. Today, every now and then, I use barley in my cooking. Because somehow, I feel there's nourishment from something that I used to like at one time.

Hilo High School

[I] commuted every day from Honomu, which is about eleven miles away. Hilo High School was a little more advanced than the intermediate. Because to me, it wasn't anything. Probably because I didn't take those hard subjects.

I joined the archery club and the rifle club. That's what I liked to do most. Go hunting and fishing. But as far as class, I had a teacher named Mr. Chung that taught financing, accounting, which I kind of like. But otherwise, nothing special.

Japanese-Language School

[I was a bad Buddhist]. Among the worst. The Japanese[-language] school was run by the Buddhist church. The teachers were all priests. So as soon as the public school ends at two o'clock, it's only across the street. We run across the street to the Japanese church. The priests that run the church are the teachers.

Stanley Akita, Japanese-Language School

I wasn't the best Sunday school student either. So somehow, I would like to say that I don't think I really went into Buddhism like some other people. I don't know how many of them went into Buddhism but it wasn't the easiest thing to learn while growing up. Today, they have English-speaking priests, which you can understand what they are trying to say. But when they start talking Japanese and all that, and although we're Japanese and we went to Japanese[-language] school, it's not easy to hear and listen to and understand what they're saying in many cases.

Growing up in a plantation lifestyle, right after public school, going to Japanese school wasn't anything different. It was like a habit. You got to do it. If you don't, you're going to get chewed out by your parents. Then Saturday, automatically it was four hours of school. Plus Sunday you got to go to Sunday school.

Our growing up had a lot to do with going to church and Japanese[-language] school.

I don't think [I was a pretty good student]. As far as a student, I wasn't anything to brag about.

In English school, you learn math, you learn English and you learn history, about George Washington, and all that stuff. But in the Japanese[-language] school, all you learn is - chee, to be honest with you, I forgot what I learned. Because as I told you, I wasn't the best student. Except they called that oyakoko [filial piety]. You know, listening to your parents.

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

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