Sue Isonaga
A Different View


Sue’s chores include: cleaning house; folding up bedding; helping with breakfast; and seeing that everybody is sent off to school. Doing laundry is also a regular chore.

Sue is responsible for her younger siblings – making sure that their chores are also done.

At the homes of friends, she plays with dolls. At the shore, she picks opihi and pipipi. In town, “fried soup,” crack seed, and movies are special treats.


We all had specific duties. We all had to do whatever was there to do.

I had to sweep and clean the house and then fold the bedding because we had futon [thick bedquilt], eh. We had a big bed, too, but we weren’t on the bed. My brothers slept on the bed, I think. But, put the futon away and then get ready, help with the breakfast, and clean up the breakfast, and see that everybody was fed and clothed and sent to school.

My one brother had job to sweep the yard and one had to feed the chickens and one was to taku [heat] the furo [bath].

We all had specific [chores]. Then I had to be sure that they did it, otherwise, I’d get it. But we all worked together. Everybody did their share, we all worked together and got along fine. If we ever said something, and if my brother said, “Why don’t you go and do this?” and if I mumble, he’d go, “What did you just say?” You know, “Nothing.”

My mother was very strict, too, but not overly. She was more understanding.

[I had to make sure my brothers and sister did their chores] because I was the head, oldest daughter. Born an oldest daughter. Usually, the oldest daughter gets to do all those things.

We had five boys. When they work in the field, they come home all muddy and no washing machine, so I had to scrub all their clothes, on the cement or on the board and boil the clothes. The next day, wash and hang it up on the line to dry. Then, whatever needed ironing, I did it with the charcoal iron. Do you remember the iron where you put the charcoal? Every now and then we go and we blow the ashes off.

Free Time

My sister, not too long ago, we were talking and she said, “Sue, did you have a happy childhood?” I said, “Yeah, I did.” You know, I had my friends, we would play kewpie doll, we’d go from house to house to play dolls. So I said, “Yeah, I did have fun.” I said, “Why do you ask?” She said, “Because I always remember you as always working, working, working.”

If I wanted to go to my friend’s place, I had to take all my younger ones along with me, so I just as soon stay at home. (Laughter)

After Japanese[-language] school, we would go to the adjoining field and they had that papyrus plant growing, we would go and take the buds and we would strip it fine and play dolls with that. We did so many things like that. That was such a joy when we played doing things. No toys, of course.

We lived in a place where there was a huge sand pile in the center and around the center, we have all these homes. All the children, they all gathered in this sand pile. [The boys] would play football and they would make tower, by standing up on each other’s shoulders and make bonfire. In the evening, after fire goes down, everybody’s going home for potatoes — that sweet potatoes, Irish potato, to come in and throw in the fire. Then they would have [roasted potatoes] afterwards. There was a Masuda Bakery, right on one of the curbs there. After the day, they had leftover things they would bring it over to all of us and the children ate all the leftover pie, cakes or whatever they had.

So I think we all had a very happy, enjoyable childhood. I can say that much.

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We did go opihi [limpet] and pipipi [small mollusks]. In the evening, when we got through with our work, maybe weekends, we would take the goza [straw mat] and spread it on Kam[ehameha] III School lawn. And we would lie on the grass and then look at all the clouds and we would try to make different figures.

4th grade play
Sue Isonaga in her 4th grade play

And if we got too tired, we would go down to the beach because it’s right across there and we would walk all the way with our pail to pick pipipi shells. You know, all, the whole place was all, up to the Mr. [John T.] Moir, [Jr.], who was the plantation manager, home, so we would gather all this pipipi shells and come home. And my mother would steam it or I would steam it. And we would sit on the floor with paper and we would all sit and eat it. And that was one of the things we really enjoyed doing.

Now, when we go to Kauai, we try to go out gather pipipi shells but there’s nothing left because everybody’s learned to enjoy that, so it’s all gone. But even our children used to go and got a taste of the pipipi shell.

We had to go way up in the hill or in the camps [to pick fruits]. But camps, we don’t go and pick somebody’s food. But if we go way up, above Lahainaluna, you know where it’s thick, they have all kinds of guavas and mountain apples and other fruits.

Stretch Town

Oh yes, all the vegetable stores. All kinds of stores, all lined up [like stretch town]. The bank was there, too. On the other side of the street, they also had some stores. Fish market and this was part of the stretch. You see the ocean, right across from there.

There’s a place, they call it “fried soup.” I don’t know why. But, they’re noted for that. It’s flat noodles, stir-fried in this big wok [round-bottomed pan] with little pork and little bean sprouts and seasoning. So that was so popular and I remember whenever we had a nickel, we went over to get that. They have a rubber paper, you know, paper with a backing, they would roll it up in a cone-shaped thing and he’d put [the noodles in there]. We would take it home. We’d go out eating, but oh, that was so good. That was the biggest treat, I think for us.

It’s really chow fun [Chinese fried noodle and vegetable dish] but they call it “fried soup,” I don’t know why. (Laughs)

That was Amioka Store. You know, when the man died, he didn’t leave the secret with anyone. His special [recipe]. Isn’t that strange? So, my sister-in-law’s aunty took over the store but it was never the same.

[There were candy stores] and we had Chinese stores that sell crack seed [preserved fruit] and lemon peel and all that, also. They had everything, Chinese delicacy. And dry [goods] place where they sold materials and clothing, right in that stretch.

You can buy Popsicle [with a dime]. They used to have “free” on some of the sticks. You can buy that and you can buy peanuts, you can buy see mui [salted plum]. Whenever I had money, I would buy the crack seed. And boy, they pack it up in the package and then afterwards, you just lick all the paper. That was a treat for us, although, it’s not too good. But, that’s what we bought.

The boys usually went and bought the Popsicle because they think they may have a chance of a free stick. And you used to buy the big packages of the small, little peanuts. We’re right by the theater, so people bought that instead of popcorn, peanuts. There was a Chinese store that sold that. That was always good.

[The] movie theater was right next to the big banyan tree, so it’s right next to the post office and the prison. Just an old, dinky theater. Very rarely [saw movies]. I cannot remember.

But every now and then, they’d have Japanese movies and there was an old theater right on our street. The announcer would come on the truck, throwing paper [flyers] advertising the movies. Every now and then, my mother would take us to that, Japanese theater. I saw some pretty good Japanese pictures then.

There were some obake [ghost] kind. I didn’t like that. I wouldn’t go to obake because I had to walk home on the back street. They have all ghost stories saying that the theater is built over Hawaiian graves and every night you can hear the seat go, “Taka-taka-taka-taka.” All kinds of stories that somebody, a man went to the church and had a party and was so drunk he tried walking home on Chapel Street. And when he was walking, the coconut fell in front of him. He tried to kick the coconut, and the coconut rolled right into the theater.

I mean, things like that you hear and of course, it’s exaggerated but that thing was in here, in my mind. So I was always afraid to walk on the back street because of that theater being haunted.

[I enjoyed the English movies] because they had the Three Stooges and all those. It was so funny but now I think, “Gee, I must’ve gotten old, because they’re no longer funny.” (Laughs)

But I still remember seeing one of the stooges. “Go and wash this celery stalk” and he got one washing board and scrub it. I remember I laughed at that. And hanging the thing out to dry. We had our little fun movies.


[Lahaina was like a port city.] When the sailors come in, the place was thick with sailors.

Lahaina, Maui, Territory of Hawaii

[We did not have contact with the sailors] because we were at home anyways, unless we ran into them at the store and then they pretty much went on their way.

Sue Isonaga's interview courtesy of the Center for Oral History. Photographs courtesy of Herbert and Sue Isonaga.

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