Stanley Masaharu Akita
100th Infantry Battalion

Early Adulthood

After graduating from Hilo High School, Stanley decides he wants to be an electrician.

He moves to Honolulu, where he stays with his aunt and uncle. He is struck by the difference in lifestyle, especially the fighting and gambling activities of some young men.

Stanley attends Honolulu Vocational School.

He works part-time as a dishwasher at Smile Cafe.

Aspirations

I had no idea what I wanted to be while in high school. After high school, graduating, I thought, chee, I don't mind being an electrician. Because you see, my dad was the type that whatever he did, always used to teach me how things work or how things was done or made. Like when he used to connect pipes around the house, he got me to help him thread the pipe.

Not many people know how to thread the pipe today. Especially the young generation. But my dad taught me how to thread the pipe, how to connect wires. But that's about all. He'll do some carpentry work but he was a shop teacher in Hakalau School. So he used to tell me how to saw wood, what you should be careful for and all that kind of stuff. He was very helpful. I think I learned a lot from him.

Honolulu

So right after high school in 1941, I came out to Honolulu. I had an uncle [Walter Takahashi] that was a head timekeeper at Hawaiian Pine[apple Company]. So the last two years, when I was seventeen, all my cousins and I had to do was come out to Honolulu and the next working day, we'd be working. He'd just bring us in and we'd be working. We were earning thirty-seven-and-a-half cents an hour, which was a damn good pay at that time. So I did that for two years.

My uncle was a health nut. So every morning, we'd walk from Houghtailing [Street] near Kam[ehameha] School all the way to Hawaiian Pine. We'd walk, go down Houghtailing, go Vineyard [Boulevard], take a left through Vineyard, all the way to Akepo Lane, Palama. Go across the side street and cross over Dillingham [Boulevard] to go into Hawaiian Pine. Doing the same thing coming back.

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[Honolulu was a] scary place. To me, the way our age group boys acted, I thought, chee, they were really something else. They were readily willing to gamble. Have you heard of tossing coins? They bet. They make a mark on the ground and whoever want to play, maybe five cents, ten cents and a quarter. So they say, "Okay, all quarters." Then you toss the coin to the target. The guy who gets closest to the target picks up all the coins, he's the winner.

And while waiting for a job and they're all waiting at the entrance of Hawaiian Pine for the timekeeper to call who's going to be hired for the day, whiling the time, they're just gambling. I think, chee, how much money they spend gambling. That's something that never occurred to me that they'd be doing. Coming from a place like Honomu, quarter, betting quarters, that's big bucks.

Altogether different lifestyle. They're willing to fight all the time. That's a real city lifestyle, I guess.

I thought I was treated pretty good because I never did interfere with anything. I was more scared of them than anything else so I keep away from that kind of guys. And the working, working people are real nice. All they come from Farrington [High School], McKinley [High School], those days.

Honolulu Vocational School

I decided to go to [Honolulu] Vocational School, which was not too far from where my aunty lived up in Houghtailing Street. Go straight down, go Liliha Street, and the Vocational School was right there by Hawaiian Pine.

[The classes were] very interesting. The first thing the teacher taught us was to rewind the motor. We all rewound the motor and we tested to see how good we did it. It looks so easy that I was one of the first to finish but it was grounded all over, it was no good. It went too fast. At that school, we had carpentry, auto mechanic, electrician and a woodwork shop and a girls' sewing class.

Well, I just envisioned becoming an electrician to wire houses. They were teaching us how to wire houses. And this olden day style of "knob and tubing" they called that. Nothing like today's where they have that flexible thing where it can just pass through any place and bend it all around the place. But the knob and tubing, they have to have the piece of porcelain where the wire goes through.

That's a real old style. You see a lot of that knob and tubing type of electrical work in old plantation homes. I don't think they do that anymore today.

Activities

One weekend, the teacher said, "Oh, we're going to form a band." So while we were playing Ping-Pong in that girls' sewing class during lunch break, the orchestra was practicing on the stage there. They needed somebody to play the drums. So nobody could play the drums, so the teacher said, "Who can play the drum here?"

I looked around, nobody raise their hand, so I said, "I can." I didn't know beans about playing the drum. But I like music too. So, I went up. One of the guys wanted to play the "Song of India." So he taught me how the drums should sound. I practiced and we went out all right. Everybody enjoyed.

Performed in front of the whole school. But it wasn't that big of a school. Maybe a couple of hundred guys at the most. Fifty at electrician, fifty at auto mechanic, that type of thing.

Smile Cafe

After my senior year [of high school], after graduation, working for Hawaiian Pine that summer, my dad came out and found me a job through his friend at a restaurant called Smile Cafe.

Smile Cafe, Kalakaua Avenue, Honolulu, Hawaii

Smile Cafe was where Fort DeRussy is now. The owner was from my next-door plantation, Pepeekeo. Sam Uyehara. He and my dad was pretty good friends, so Sam says, "Okay, I'll hire your son, five dollars a day." So every Saturday, I'd grab my apron and go down to Smile Cafe early, work eight hours washing dishes. Saturday, Sunday. I'd get ten dollars. Enough for my going to school at Honolulu Vocational School.

My main job was washing dishes. During the early stage - you see, that Cafe is run by family. The dishwasher, my partner, was the youngest brother. One of the sisters was a head waitress kind. The cousin was a chef. Of course, Sam [Uyehara] is not around because he's the boss. But I was surprised when I had to wash all the dishes. Piles of 'em. After you scrape all the food off the dish, as much as you can, you put 'em on the rack and there's like a steam bath. You push 'em in and with steam, it washes off the rest of the food stuff. Then it dries 'em up, ready to be used again.

Smile Cafe, Uyehara brothers, Honolulu, Hawaii

But one day, early part, this waitress comes in and says, "Cannibal sandwich." So I said, what the heck she talking about, cannibal sandwich? So I asked what the cannibal sandwich was. There was one guy who comes in every week to eat raw hamburger sandwich. All just grounded. So they named that sandwich "cannibal sandwich."

And when in early part, when it's time to eat, the chef tell me, "What you want to eat?" What are you going to tell him? Lobster? So I tell him, "Oh, hamburger good enough." The cheapest thing, I thought. "Oh, what the hell you want to eat hamburger for?" He put a big steak on the stove for me. I had a big steak by myself. Something that I hardly ate earlier. But they were a real nice family though.

[Sam Uyehara] wasn't a boss that's there to tell you what to do. It's more the brother who's in charge of washing dishes that's telling me what to do. So I just follow what he asked to do. And one instance, this brother gives me two napkins. Our chore was, you go from the back of the kitchen, he and I on the next aisle, we chasing the flies out of the kitchen back. Flies by the thousands in there.

They were so frugal that - you know when you fry the meat and all this oily stuff? If you notice, they scrape that oil down a trough. The trough goes down and falls in a bucket. They take that oil and the father of that Uyehara is outside making the fire to make soap. So whatever soap we used, is what we used to call, after the war, GI soap. It's kind of the grayish strong soap. He used to make that kind of soap and that's what we used to wash the dishes. They used to make their own soap with all that fat that's accumulating. Very frugal.

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

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