F Company, 442nd RCT
Ronald Masami Oba
Ronald Masami Oba is born in 1922 in Aiea, Hawaii. He is the second of seven children (four boys and three girls) born to Hamataro and Asayo Oba, both from Fukuoka-ken.
The Obas own and operate Aiea Barber Shop where they charge customers, most of whom are workers at the Honolulu Plantation Company, twenty-five cents a haircut.
The family lives in a two-story, two-bedroom home in back of the barbershop.
I was born in Aiea but on the birth certificate, they always put Honolulu, County of Honolulu. I was born 1922 to parents Hamataro and Asayo Oba.
I have three brothers and three sisters, seven altogether. I’m the second and the oldest son in the family.
I know very little [about my parents] because we didn’t speak Japanese and they didn’t speak English. But we were able to communicate in pidgin — half Japanese, half English. A lot of Hawaiian words which I’ve already forgotten. Chinese, Filipino words, that was the pidgin English we spoke when we were growing up.
My mother came from Omuta, Fukuoka [prefecture], which is a coal-producing town. And my father, he didn’t speak very much so all I know is that he came from Fukuoka.
It wasn’t a picture bride but somehow [my father] sent for [my mother] and she came when she was sixteen. And then they got married in Hawaii and then they had all the children.
[My father] worked at the Honolulu Plantation Mill, which is what we called the Aiea Plantation. He was a foreman there. And in those days, they had a lot of plantation strikes because of poor wages, physical abuse and things like that. So he joined the strike. As a result, they fired him.
Aiea Barber Shop
It was a blessing in disguise because then he learned how to cut people’s hair and he became a barber.
If I remember those days, the charge for a haircut was twenty-five cents. If you cut four, you get a dollar, which is the average wage at the plantation. And my mother also cut hair. We were in the main drag in Aiea town, which is the Kauhale Drive, all the way down where the present post office is. And so we had a barbershop there. My classmates considered us to be rich (chuckles).
[Aiea Barber Shop was also called Oba Barber Shop by Aiea residents.]
It was about a two-car garage with three chairs. We were one of the first to have a telephone. And in those days, there were only ten Obas in the telephone book. And we had a Victrola because when customers came, he would play the music. And then we had a radio.
We hired a lady, her name was Miss [Shizuka] Nitahara. Her family moved back to Japan and she worked for us since she was sixteen. She lived with us almost all her life until she got married to one of the boys up Mill Camp, the Koizumi family.
She continued to cut hair [after she got married].
The usual, you cut hair, you wash their hair, you clean their nostrils. And those days, the barbers never did massage the shoulders and all that. Some barbers, they do that now. But it was plain barbering.
Plantation people usually cut their hair. When it got too long and they look terrible, they would come to the barbershops and have their hair cut. Our customers were mostly Japanese, a few plantation supervisors.
Mr. Clarence Dyson, principal of Aiea Elementary School, used to come. At Aiea Elementary School, I was his favorite. Whenever I had fights, we would be sent to the principal’s office but he would ignore me and scold the other kids.
I have a feeling that young children [haircuts] were like fifteen cents and adults twenty-five cents. Of course later on, it went up, up, up. Now, I pay about fifteen dollars for a haircut.
[People socialized] just outside the barbershop — our bunch of stores were the first ones with concrete sidewalks. And in front of the barbershop, we had this round pole with all the red, white and blue circular. And just outside the barbershop there was a long bench.
My father was, I would say he was [lackadaisical]. He always played shogi [Japanese chess]. So my mother used to do all the haircutting, while all day long he would play shogi. And then go [Japanese checkers], the big one, take all day. And that’s what they did all day long.
So my mother and Shi-chan [Shizuka Nitahara] did most of the haircutting. Of course, Shi-chan got about 70 percent. She lived with us all her life. People in Aiea thought she was my older sister because she lived with us since sixteen.
Yoshimura Ice Company
Yoshimura Ice Company [owned the land the barbershop was on]. The Yoshimuras, besides selling ice blocks, had all of that property below the Kaya theater, Aiea Theater and all the way back. And today that high-rise apartment next to the post office, that’s just about where all the stores were. After they demolished all these stores where Aiea Barber Shop was, he built this high-rise.
There was one other, the Fujimoto barbershop. He used to be a truck driver on the plantation but he started very, very late, after he retired. So, I’m bragging but Aiea [Oba] Barber Shop was more popular (laughs).
After Yoshimura demolished all the stores and built the high-rise, my mother moved up to Moanalua Road — and there’s an Aiea Barber Shop there — she practiced there for a while and then she finally sold it.
[We lived] in the back. My father built a two-bedroom, upstairs facility with stairs going up. He built it above the kitchen. And by that time, we had another girl as a barber. Her name was also Koizumi. She married Ronald, the other Koizumi boy. She started a barbershop in Up Camp. But she used to live with us, so there was eleven of us living in two bedrooms. Shoulder to shoulder, we were living. So every morning we had to put the futon [bedquilt] away, roll it up and whatnot.
I think my friends also had the same kind of situation. They had a one- or two-bedroom with their whole family. Put futon down on the floor. We all had outhouses, you know, we didn’t have flushing toilets. But we had sinks, running water.
We had a garbage can outside the kitchen window. All the garbage would go in there and the piggery man would come and pick it up and transfer to his barrel. They would come once a week and by the time he came, full of maggots in the garbage can.
My father used to make beer. Those days, you could make four-hundred gallons of beer a year. Wine, too, but he was more beer. He would brew some beer with yeast and whatnot and we used to have this little thing where you cap it. You put the bottle and you cap it. So we helped him cap it and he would put it all over the house. As we go down the stairs, there’s a little shelf with all the beer. Middle of the night, it would go, “pop-pop-pop-pop-pop,” you know, the beer would all burst. So the next morning we had to walk through all this beer foam and whatnot going down the stairs.
Ronald Oba's interview courtesy of the Center for Oral History. Photographs courtesy of Ronald Oba.