F Company, 442nd RCT
Ronald grows up in Aiea town. A post office, a bank, several businesses, temples, Japanese-language schools, and theaters are located there.
At nearby rice fields, Ronald and friends catch dojo (loach) to use as fish bait. At McGrew Peninsula, they fish for papio (young crevalle). A reservoir outside of town serves as a swimming hole.
While helping with deliveries from the Santoki and Nagamine Stores, he comes to know the families of Aiea.
Moanalua Road came right through Aiea town. Mauka [inland] of the road, there was the post office and Bank of Hawaii. Aiea Heights Drive came up and on the right side of Aiea Heights Drive was the Star Theater. And that was the only business in that area.
Then as you came down Kauhale Street, which is the main drag, as we go down the hill, on the right side was the Aiea Plantation Store, a big store that the plantation built. [Ching Amona and Ayau] used to run it.
Then below that, there was a river, then below the river was the Santoki Store. And below that was the Filipino store and then there was the Aiea Theater run by the Kaya people.
There was a little lane between the theater and our series of stores. The first one was Oishi Saimin Shop. [Jike Store previously occupied the same site.] And next to them was the Aiea Barber Shop. And next to that was the Tachino Candy Store and then the Kuroda Dry Cleaning and the photography shop [Nakamura Photo Studio]. And there was another small lane and there was a great big yard, was the Dr. [M.] Komu’s estate. He later bought all of Aiea town. You know, Aiea was owned by McCandless estate but Dr. Komu eventually bought all of it and razed all the stores.
Then as you go down the hill, on the left side, was Chung Ching Store and it burned and they had to move out. In those days, it was common knowledge that if your business is not making money, you burn it down and you get your insurance and you go someplace else and build another store. Now, I’m just saying that was the theory about a lot of these stores.
Next to that was billiard parlor. And if you look at my “[A] Journey To [Aiea] Town,” all of this is listed. And then there was this Tabata Store, his son became a dentist. And next to that was the Nagamine Store and then the Yoshimura Ice Store, where they delivered blocks of ice. And in those days, we did not have refrigeration, so they delivered blocks of ice and we put ice on top of the box and we put all the fish and meat on the bottom side and that’s how we kept our perishables safe.
Then there was a little lane and there was the Asato Meat Shop and then there was the Dacosin Store, which is a Filipino men’s store. And there was the Ueoka Store and then there was a row of plantation homes and then there was the Taiheiji [Aiea Soto Mission]. And below Taiheiji was the Kaya Soda Works. And they produced all the sodas those days for all the country people. They were always in bottles.
If you go further down toward Pearl Harbor, there was a rice field run by the Lau family. And the Lau family, one of the girls got married to Pete Shimamoto, who later on moved over here. Pete had a bar behind the stores called Pete’s Place. Yeah, he ran Pete’s Place and also the Pete’s Taxi Service. And then if you go further down the rice field, there was the Onaga Tofu makers and there was the Aoki family, they were fishermen.
Then the Aiea East Loch, where Aiea town is, it’s called the East Loch, there were about seven, eight families: the Onishi family, Nakamura family, Kawamura family. . . and the Onishi family, all of the boys were well known. Shizuo Onishi became district commander of the Lions Club in Hawaii. Katsumi Onishi was a schoolteacher at Aiea Elementary and later worked for the government, commission on aging, I think. And then Masao Onishi was a radio broadcaster, he spoke in Japanese.
Further down toward Waikiki end of East Loch, there was Aiea train station. We had a train track that goes all the way from Iwilei, Oahu Railway, all the way to Aiea, to Pearl City, Waipahu, Waianae, all the way to Waimanalo, you know that? The train went all the way.
The business stopped at the photo shop. After that was all plantation homes and the rice field was by the Lau family and then Onaga family made tofu on the other side.
Across Kam[ehameha] Highway — before, we didn’t have Kam[ehameha] Highway, there was only train track — so below the train track, was these seven families: the Onishi family, Kawamura family, Aoki family, and all these. They were all fisherman.
Below Richardson Park was the Chagami family and they had a fishpond. And toward Aiea side was the Aiea train station.
But the navy, they filled up the fishpond and there’s nothing but debris there. One time, my wife and I went to see where was the pond, we were so interested, looking. When I got there, I was so disappointed, that stupid navy just filled it up with dirt and they used it as a dump. And these fishponds are so valuable, historically. It had so much story to tell. But, that’s the way it was.
The Chagami man was a fisherman. He had a sampan, he would go out Pearl Harbor, mouth of Pearl Harbor and go ocean fishing. He would come back and he would be gone for maybe a couple of weeks and come back.
There were thirteen in the family. They had the twins. And Henry Chagami was my good classmate. He just died last year. He and his older brothers ran a little wagon selling hamburgers, hot dogs, sandwiches. And this started during the war, when the war started. After that, they moved the wagon all the way to Cooper Tract where the Fortyniner Restaurant is. That area used to be called Cooper Tract because, you know where McGrew Camp is? McGrew Peninsula?
That whole McGrew Peninsula had only one family, Dr. John Cooper. He was an orthopedic surgeon. The Ogata family did all the yard work, housecleaning and cooking. Thomas Ogata was my classmate. So we went to Cooper Tract and we would go down to the tip of the peninsula where we would fish for our papio and other kinds of fish. And on the Ewa [in the direction of Ewa] side of Cooper Tract, there was another fishpond, a big fishpond. And there was a teahouse there. The navy, later on, accused the teahouse of harboring Japanese nationals, who they said took data on the currents in Pearl Harbor, where the ships anchored. And Pearl Harbor had a lot of buoys, buoys all over. These round black buoys where the ships are tied up. And then Battleship Row. The Japanese intelligence knew everything about Pearl Harbor.
Because [McGrew Peninsula] juts into Pearl Harbor, the navy took it over. We used to go there all the time, play. Sometimes I get nostalgic, I drive into there, I show my veteran’s pass and then go down. I say I just want to take a look but the roads are on the top. We used to go down, so you cannot see the former shores that we used to walk around and go fishing.
[The rice fields owned by the Lau family were] about three or four acres. Was quite extensive. We used to go in there looking for dojo [loach], you know the dojo, small little slimy ones. We used to use that as bait to go after ulua [crevalle]. So every time we’re in the rice field, man, the Chinese guy would chase us out, we thought he would kill us, oh boy. We were so fast that ditches that we never could jump over before, when he chased us, we would jump over.
Kaya Soda Works
[They had] orange soda, lemon soda, something like Coca-Cola, root beer. I think they had about three, four different flavors. And they come in boxes, wooden box, the soda bottles and they would deliver that like that. It was good, delicious.
Well, as I said, my parents were barbers and it costs only five cents per soda, right. So it was easy for us, but, I hate to say it, the other kids couldn’t buy. The parents made only dollar a day.
In those days, Santoki Store and Nagamine Store, those are the two stores that I went to help, just so that I can have a candy or a piece of pie from them. You know, we were kids. Especially summertime, we didn’t have anything to do, so when we went to Santoki Store, the deliveryman, Tony, would pack all the goods that the people had ordered.
And every store had a person called chumontori [order-taker, salesman] that would go around house-to-house, what can I order for this week and they would order corned beef or — they didn’t have Vienna sausage — but chorizos and all kinds of stuff. Maybe bag of rice, bag of chicken feed and whatnot. We’d stack it on the [truck], and we would take — put all the goods in the morning — and we would take about three-fourths of the day delivering up and down the camp, all the way to Halawa Village, Waimalu Village, Makalapa, Puuloa Camp, Waiau. We would help deliver all that.
At the end of the day, Tony, as little money as he made, he would buy a custard pie. And so custard pie became my favorite. He would give us a slice and that was a big reward for us, too, to have custard pie at the end of the day.
Then, when I went to Nagamine Store to help, they would invite me to the back room where they had a kitchen and all for one and one for all kind. They would bring kim chee [Korean dish of fermented chili peppers and vegetables], they would — oh, the rice in the middle. They would open canned goods here and there. As the workers came to eat, you were there with them and you ate whatever they had. But it was a lot of food.
Eventually, Nagamine Store, when the war started, built a horseshoe-type of counter, with chairs around, yeah. All the sailors from Pearl Harbor, they didn’t have a place to go. They would come walking up to Aiea town and they would go to Nagamine Store, they would sit around the counter, they would order hot dog, hamburgers, tuna sandwich and whatnot.
I always tell this story. This Filipino man, he wanted to make sure that he spoke good English, so he would sit down at the counter and the girl would say, “What do you want?” He would say, “I want ‘tuner’ sandwich.” To him, he was speaking good English.
Then, the next time he would come and the girls would ask, “What do you want?” He said, “How many?” Said, “Yes, how many of what?” He say, “How many.” She finally said, “Are you saying ‘ham and eggs?’” He said, “Yeah, how many.”
But those were the days when the Filipino plantation workers — they’re all single men. Hardly any of them got married, I don’t know why. We had a lot of single men just lying around, sitting around the stores. And every now and then, they would come to the store and order sandwiches and we had so much fun listening to them order (chuckles).
Dacosin was a real entrepreneur. He bought land, he cultivated corn fields. My brother and I used to work for him. We used to cut grass for him, water the corns and all that. And when we have time, we would help him deliver goods because he used to take Filipino food and you know what pantat is? Catfish. People would catch catfish, and they would put it in the tarai [tub], yeah. And the catfish would be there. He would take it to Puuloa Camp, there were a lot of Filipino families there, Makalapa and all the way to Watertown. If I wanted to go see Puuloa, Makalapa and Watertown, I went with the Dacosin truck. So, I used to ride all three trucks to go different places. And Mr. Dacosin used to be a really entrepreneur. He used to buy land, cultivate land, deliver food. He was, I think, the only Filipino store in Aiea.
Aiea Star Theater and Japanese-language Schools
Aiea Star Theater was up Aiea Heights Drive on the right side. And below that was the Dokuritsu Japanese School. Aiea had three Japanese[-language] schools. The Hongwanji, Soto Mission, and those who were dissatisfied and fought the schools formed what they called, Dokuritsu, which means independent school.
Since we had a barbershop, our parents had to send us to three different schools, to keep harmony with the different groups. So, one went to Taiheiji, one went Dokuritsu — I went Dokuritsu [Aiea Independent Japanese-language School] — and my sisters went to Hongwanji.
Aiea Star Theater, it was run by Yokotake family. I remember some of the sisters and brothers. They ran that, and, of course, we didn’t know who the family was, so every time we went, we had to buy a ticket. But the Aiea Theater, which is two doors next to our barbershop, the Kaya lady, fat lady, she would collect tickets and every time she collect tickets, we would slide underneath her arms, see. “Wait, wait, wait.” And we’re already sitting down.
And once in a while, we would ask our parents to give us money for tickets. But I would say three-fourths of the time, we sneaked in to watch the movies. So we saw a lot of free movies.
In the old days, it was black and white. How do you say those Japanese kind where they had the guy who would narrate. Benshi. We used to go see that. And then finally, colored movies came. Talkies came and colored. The first colored movie that was shown in Aiea Theater, in that little lobby, people were crowded tight. They all wanted to get in. And in the rush to get in, one old Filipino lady got trampled and died. I still remember that because that was an uncalled-for kind of stampede where this lady got trampled and died, for the opening of the first color movies in Aiea, at Aiea Theater.
Beyond Aiea Town
And then, above Aiea Elementary School, if you walk up, across from almost where we are, there’s a reservoir called Nomu-ike. And the water was so clear, it came from Halawa pumping station. You know where the Aloha Stadium is? There was a Halawa Village with great big pump station that pumped the water all the way to Nomu-ike. And from Nomu-ike, there was a, oh, about five-feet round pipe, wooden pipe, all tied with straps. Down here, and it came just about here, just came about here and went to Hachiban, and, by the word “hachiban [eighth],” there must have been at least seven reservoirs. And these reservoirs were all on the hillside, top-side, to irrigate the cane field. This entire area was nothing but cane.
Aiea town, if I remember a counting, they had only about three hundred families, including Halawa, Waimalu, and Waiau. In those days we used to know every family, especially when I used to help deliver canned goods and whatnot. We used to swim at Nomu-ike. And this was a dirt road. No highway, just plain dirt track [Aiea Heights Drive].
Then the plantation luna [foreman] would, the story goes that early in the morning, he would get on his horse to go up to check the fields and the horse would stop just around here or further up, he would stop because he saw a ghost. In those days, there was so many ghost stories near by the Kaya Soda Works. And people swear they saw ghosts at one of the houses there. There was a Hawaiian family just about the soda works. And somehow, the ghost would come out.
As we were kids, I never saw it but my neighbors, everybody say, “Oh, did you see the hinotama?” You know, the fireball jumping from roof to roof? My theory is that when people die, the oil from the body rises and sticks together and because it’s hot, it floats. I don’t know how it comes to Aiea town but people used to see these fireballs. Personally, I never saw it. I believe in ghosts but I never saw a ghost yet.
And, you know the Red Hill, if you go down Moanalua Road, before you go up the hill, that road went all the way this way, up the incline, then it would turn around and come back. Then as you reach the hill, it would go like Nuuanu Pali, all the way down Damon Tract where Moanalua Golf Course is. Takeuchi man, who used to go pick up vegetables Downtown about three o’clock in the morning to sell vegetables, swear that he saw ghosts at — he never told anybody.
But [Haruno] Fuyumuro lady, who was a clothes-making teacher, she taught all the young girls in Aiea how to sew clothes, shirts and pants. And she had a big hall where about ten or fifteen girls would be learning how. So therefore, she was able to buy a nice Model-T. She said as she went up Red Hill, she said one day, she said a sailor was sitting in the back of her car. Because people wouldn’t believe it, she asked Takeuchi man, “Do you see ghosts when you go up?”
He said, “Oh yeah, all the time.” They catch a ride because this sailor was trying to catch a ride and fell off a car and got killed. So now the sailor hangs on to peoples’ car. When they go up the hill, he leaves. When they come down the hill, he leaves. Those are the ghost stories that we used to hear.
[Aiea extended from all the way up the mountain, down to East Loch] just like the Hawaiian mahele [land division], from the top of the mountain to the ocean. Except Aiea Honolulu Plantation was from Damon Tract, before the airport, that was all cane field. From Lagoon Drive, all cane field.
Damon Tract was all cane fields and then John Rodgers Airport came and then the [Honolulu] International Airport. All the way up — not Red Hill, because Damon Estate owned all of Red Hill area — up Moanalua, where Moanalua High School is, and then came down to Puuloa camp, Makalapa, Halawa Valley. There was a store in Halawa Village, too. And then it came to Aiea town, and then just before Pearl City, Waiau, our plantation property ended at Waiau. And then after that was Pearl City.
Pearl City people were non-plantation workers. It used to be a small community. Today, they’re bigger than Aiea.
The plantation [provided doctor services]. Dr. Komu actually was a so-called pharmacist. They didn’t have certified pharmacists. When he left the plantation and build the Komu estate, his philosophy was, whatever money you had, you buy land. He bought all of this McCandless estate, Aiea town; he bought Waipahu town, called Ota Tract and then he bought other places. He was multi-millionaire. When he decided to buy stores, he went to Waikiki and bought Gumps. Remember Gumps? He paid $250,000 cash for that store and property, in those days.
And then, at his estate — just below the stores, his estate — below his house, great big house he had, he had a clinic. Plantation people used to go there. Since he had his own clinic, we used to go there. And for every little cold or sniffle, he would use his pestle and bowl and make his own ingredients, and he would put it in a little scrap, fold it this way, fold it this way, you know how they fold the medication in paper, yeah. That’s how we used to bring our medication.
And the thing that I remember the most is, once we were playing behind Nagamine Store, I ran and stepped on a twenty-penny nail on a two-by-four, and it went through my leg, right through, came out. I went to Komu clinic and Dr. Komu, “That’s okay,” he said. He got a Q-tip, a long Q-tip, put it in alcohol and he cleaned it like he was cleaning a rifle barrel.
Yeah. With the alcohol, he went up and down, up and down. I don’t know why I didn’t feel the pain. I went over there and I guess that prevented me from getting tetanus. I still remember that, that he did that.
Then one day, the Tachino boys and we were playing with candles and you know you like to play candle, melt the candle and do that. The guy spilled the whole candle on his leg, on the dorsal part. The mother came and put shoyu right on top of it and that prevented infection. After it healed, you wouldn’t know there was a scar, no scars left. You know shoyu had a lot of salt, yeah? She just poured shoyu on it.
[Dr. Komu was] Japan[-educated]. His daughter, Shizu[e]. . . She became a doctor, she practiced at Kuakini Hospital.
Ronald Oba's interview courtesy of the Center for Oral History. Photographs courtesy of Ronald Oba.