Herbert Isonaga

Herbert Isonaga

Herbert Isonaga is born in 1921 in Koloa, Kauai.

His mother, Kazuyo, is from Hiroshima-ken; his father, Tokuichi, is from Yamaguchi-ken. Tokuichi’s relatives, the Motoshiges, arrange their marriage.

During his early years on Oahu, Tokuichi is employed by the Motoshiges, who own and operate Motoshige Shoten in Honolulu. Later, the Motoshiges finance the opening of Isonaga Store in Koloa

I was born 1921 on Koloa, Kauai.

Kukuiula Harbor, looking toward Koloa
Kukuiula Harbor, Koloa, Hawaii

When I was born, there were three of us. My brother and a sister. And later on, a younger sister came.


My mother’s name was Kazuyo.

My mother’s from Hiroshima-ken and she lived right in the city. It’s not too clear in my mind but she must have come to Hawaii when she was about her early twenties.

My mother had at least a high-school education. And I think for that time, that was a pretty good education for women.

My understanding is that my mother came from a merchant family, fairly wealthy. They had a large estate and we still have the photo of the estate in our Kauai home. They were involved in sake and they manufactured a dye, the famous Japanese dye, the aizuo or something like that [aizome, Japanese indigo dye].

However, by the time my mother came to Hawaii, the eldest son, who was the heir to the family fortune, dissipated it and the family estate, etcetera, just crumbled.


My father’s name was Tokuichi.

I think my father had, at the most, elementary school education. So he was fully literate in the language.

I know very little about my father’s family. One thing I know is that they were very poor. However, they had good relations, relatives, who were able to help with the family and bring him to Hawaii. That’s how he got to Hawaii.

Isonaga Family
Isonaga Family

Motoshige Family

The Motoshige family is related to my father. They were at least second cousins. And because of the hardships faced by the Isonaga family in Yamaguchi, Japan, Mr. Motoshige arranged for him to come to Hawaii to work in his store, the Motoshige Shoten.

Motoshige Family and Isonaga Family
Motoshige Family and Isonaga Family

My father constantly reminds us that he came to Hawaii when he was only sixteen years old to make it out on his own.

I cannot recall him mentioning too much about the work he did. All I know is that eventually, the [Motoshige] Shoten financed him to open a store in Koloa.


[Marriage] was, I think, arranged through the Motoshige family. Somehow — I don’t know how it occurred — but the Motoshige family found out about my mother’s availability and arranged for her to come to Hawaii.

[My mother] never complained about [coming to Hawaii] and always felt that it was a great opportunity for her to raise a family in Hawaii.

Herbert Isonaga's interview courtesy of the Center for Oral History. Photographs courtesy of Herbert Isonaga and Hawaii State Archives.

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