Yuki Kitaoka
A Different View

Youth

Yuki's father, principal of Lihue Japanese-language School, teaches older students while his wife teaches younger ones. For Yuki and her siblings, attendance is mandatory and proper behavior, expected.

Like most students at their school, the Miwas are members of a Christian church.

Haruie Miwa helps with Japanese consular matters and writes editorials in the Nippu Jiji.

The Miwas, including Yuki, have little contact with Caucasians.

Lihue

[My family moved from Manoa to Lihue.]

My brother, myself and my kid sister, who came about ten years later [were born in Lihue]. We used to kid her and say, “You’re the ratoon crop.” (Laughs)

[My father] was a principal of Lihue Japanese[-language] School. And my mother taught Japanese with him.

Lihue Japanese-language School

[The school was] about maybe a mile or two from our place. And the building was constructed by one of the big plantation holders. I mean he must have been the head of the plantation because I think the house was built and rented by this family, Isenberg family. I still remember. They were one of the rich plantation owners.

As I recall, I was told that the rental was one dollar a year. They just helped the Japanese community at that point. It was a nice big building. I don’t know how many students, must have been in the hundreds by then. Because Lihue was a pretty big plantation town.

Up to twelve [grades at the school]. But as I understand, they could continue, but I don’t remember if they really had a continuation of the twelfth grade.

I’m sure [my father] must have [had teaching duties]. I don’t know. He took care of the older kids. But my mother was mostly for kindergarten, small [kids].

Mrs. Yukimura and Miss Ishi. Those are the two [other] teachers I only remember.

[The students at the school were] all the [children of] plantation workers, mostly. There were very few of us who lived out of the plantation. Mostly office workers for the plantation heads and people like that. But they all came and I think they must have paid a monthly fee. And I don’t know for sure, so I can’t say how much it is. But they came and paid a monthly fee per child.

I remember going to Japanese[-language] school, while I was there, until my high school graduation.

I don’t remember too much, but I do remember the school opening right after the other, English school. We all have to stand in front of the school and sing the Japanese anthem, Kimigayo.

We were taught to speak Japanese, but I don’t think we were too interested. It was almost a forced situation. The parents, you know, “You got to go.” And, of course, being that both my parents taught there, we had to go. But we weren’t interested in learning how to speak or write. I think we went as part of a habit.

Americanism

But as I recall, he [my father] did a few things with the Japanese embassy. But I don’t know the depths of his interests in it because I never heard him say anything about being faithful to Japan. It was always, “You’re in America. You do what you’re supposed to do.”

I think I was always raised as an American citizen so I don’t know my connection with Japan. But I guess that’s the way [my father] felt because he himself wanted to learn English. And yet, he was a devout Japanese — but never to the point some Japanese were. You know, they felt that they owed loyalty to Japan.

Discipline

Oh, [school was] very, very strict. I remember one incident where — I think about it now because you think of all the trouble that the kids give parents now. [My father] was not a big man. He was average height. And once I remember there was a hoodlum faction even in the English school.

One of the hoodlums was getting out of hand, doing something. I remember my father grabbing him by the shirt and shaking him. I don’t know what he said, but I remember that scene and I said to myself, here’s this small man getting hold of a big teenager and telling him, “You behave or else.”

That, I recall, because I said to myself, you know the kids now are just haywire. They don’t have too much respect, I mean they’re hoodlums. They would have beaten my father quite badly if he did something like that to them now.

[These kids] were not actually hoodlums but they’re undisciplined. Like I remember when I was a child attending grammar school, I was sent to the principal’s office because I threw a wet mop at one of the rough kids. I was mopping the school veranda and he was bothering me and doing all kinds of things. So I must have told him, “You get out of my way or else!” And he kept on doing it so I got mad and threw the mop at him. And we both get sent to the principal’s office. I remember that very well, and I said to myself, these kids, they just want to do pranks. Nothing serious like things happening now.

So, the discipline was pretty strict. Even at home, we always had to sit down to dinner. You don’t get up until your father and mother leave the table.

I always got it in the back of my head from my neighborhood kids, “You’re the principal’s child. You’re not supposed to act like that,” all the time when I was small. I still remember being very resentful of the fact that I couldn’t do things because I was the principal’s daughter.

One thing I remember when I was a child, I had a date with a lot of my friends to go to a show on a Saturday morning and my sister got sick. My folks had to go to teach or something. Nobody was home to take care of her.

This is my father talking to me, “I know you have a date to go to the show. But you have a sister at home sick. Now, if you were sick, you would want to have somebody home with you, wouldn’t you?” I said, “Yeah.”

He said, “Well, it’s up to you. If you want to go, you go. But I think your sister is going to appreciate the fact that you stay home and take care of her.” I stayed home.

Now, you know, discipline is a little different. I remember staying home — grumbling and staying home, but I stayed home.

[My father] was not very strict, too strict, with the kids. But he did say things like that to us. I don’t know what we did in school, but there was no discipline problem in school.

Home

As far as I was concerned, [money] was always no problem. We had a nice home. We had our big yard. And I say “big” at that time because it was big. But I went to visit it ten years ago, maybe, and it was a tiny yard. (Laughs)

And there was a railroad track behind us. But I always figured it was far away because the train used to come by and go rumbling down. But when I went back ten years ago, it’s right there next to the house. (Laughs)

My two sisters were older than I am. As I recall, they must have done housework and things like that. But I don’t remember doing very much housework when I was a child or when I was even going to college. We used to go back during the summer. And I don’t remember doing all kinds of chores. Maybe I refused to, I don’t know.

But we lived comfortably. My father put four of us through university. I don’t know where they got the money but we went.

I remember my parents saying, “You are in college because of Mr. [Takaichi] Miyamoto.” That’s where I found out. “Mr. Miyamoto is the one who helped you. And when you graduate college, you are going to pay him.” I remember, first few years, I had to pay him back. But he was very, very nice. I remember him giving me little trinkets, necklaces and things like that.

[We lived] right out of the plantation camp. You know plantation camps were all houses, all clustered around. We were outside of that community and there were only about five Japanese families there. All professional people.

Community

[My father was active in the Japanese community at Lihue.] I remember the years that the big strike, plantation strike came on. Big, big ruckus because the workers were so adamant in trying to better themselves and this big strike came on.

Sugar Plantation Workers Strike, Kauai, 1924

I understand my father was at a threshold because he couldn’t go against the big guys, the Isenbergs and the Rices and Sloggetts and the Cases, yet he was sympathetic toward the Japanese community.

But I understand there were meetings. I remember those meetings at my place between the pros and cons of the strike. I know [my father] was very troubled because he was running the Japanese[-language] school through Isenbergs who had control of the rental and all that. And they never raised the rent or anything. They just let my father run the school. So, I really don’t know what part he had in the settlement or whatever it is, but I know he had very troubled times there. But he came out all right.

[My father] was taking care of the dual citizenship and things like that [for the Japanese consulate]. He wrote the editorial for the Japanese Nippu Jiji for quite some time. I don’t remember when he started, but up till the war he was writing every week. We don’t appreciate whatever we had at those times. We should have learned Japanese and read his editorial and things like that. Then he got himself into writing this book on Myles Fukunaga [who kidnapped and killed the son of a prominent businessman].

[My father] also wrote about the war. You know when war broke out, he was writing a book. I remember seeing him writing, constantly writing. He retired before the war, you see, and he was writing just because he wanted to do it. And he got himself this manuscript, I still see that paper, scattered [across] the room.

And I was telling you that [my father] was very good friends with [Shichiro] Watanabe. He was a faculty member of the University of Hawaii at that time, doing something. I don’t remember but I remember his name, Watanabe. He always associated with my father. And [my father] wrote this manuscript and Watanabe sent it to Japan, as I understand it.

Because my father wrote quite a bit about the war -- in the blackout he was writing -- it must have ruffled the feathers of the Japanese officials or American officials [and] they confiscated the book. And I never heard of it since.

[This was in the post-war period. My father] lived until he was seventy-five.

Christianity

[My parents were] very good members of the Lihue Japanese church. Mr. [Furuta] used to be the minister. And we were told to go to church every Sunday. We had to walk about three or four miles to get to church. Every Sunday we went there. But it was a good training for us though. I know the books of the Bible.

My father went every Sunday with my mother. But they went nighttime. We went during the day. But I remember dressing up and going every Sunday. And no excuses, we had to go.

We had Sunday school and we did all the studying of the Bible. I remember that. Church was a part of our life until I graduated high school. Then I go to university and I get involved with [Takashi Kitaoka] and he goes to church every Sunday. We baptized all the kids. I got baptized when I was a little kid.

We went to all the picnics and everything that the church had to have. They had a nice church over by the town. It was part of our life, I guess.

There was a Buddhist Japanese[-language] school in the valley over there, too. So there was always the battle between parents, as I understand it. “Should I send them to Christian school? Should I send them to a Buddhist school?” But I don’t know of any conflict or anything between the two schools.

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Most of the people, the kids, that went to my father’s school all went to Christian church because his school was considered Christian. And the Buddhist children all went to Buddhist school. So we had more association with the Christian side. I mean, it was a community of people.

Ethnic Relations

The haole community was all made up of plantation bosses. Children all went to Punahou. I think there was only one haole family that went to grammar school with us. And he was one of the specialists in the plantation, in the company. Nice haole kids. One of them was in my class and I enjoyed her, but that was the only contact we had with haole kids. But I never had the feeling that they were something different. It was just something I just took it for granted that the rich ones went to Punahou. I never resented it or anything — I just thought it was part of life that all the rich haole kids would go. And we had no contact with them at all.

[My father did not have much contact with haoles.] We were all a Japanese community.

I don’t remember having the distinction at all [of Filipino, Chinese, Portugese]. We never thought about it, I guess. I never thought about it. The rest of us were part of the community. We took them as nothing different. But haoles always by themselves. We don’t associate with them and we never resented them, but we felt that life was like that.

Activities

That’s what I say to myself, “I don’t know what I did [for fun as a kid.]" Maybe that’s why I say, “I’m going to stay home with [my] kids.” Because we were not supervised.

We were the latchkey kids of now. My parents were working. We went to Japanese[-language] school, but we got out about four o’clock. Nothing to do.

I recall my sister telling me, I was a very avid reader. I would read everything in the library. I don’t remember that very much. But I guess my recreation was reading. And being a tomboy, I was always into mischief. I understand my neighbor, every time she sees me, she says, “Oh, here she comes.”

I think kids needed supervision just as much as kids do now. But latchkey kids are always behind closed doors and they’re supposed to stay home and wait for the parents to come home and keep themselves busy. Well, we had nothing like that. We don’t have that kind of supervision. We can do whatever we want to do. So I remember going fishing in the river that passed by our house. We used to play simple games like marbles and things like that.

I don’t know where I picked [up sewing and other skills], whether I did it when I was a small kid or what. But I must say that I never went to school to learn but I learned myself. I can knit, I can tat, I can cook. All those things I learned on my own. They said, “Did you go to sewing school?”

“No, never did.” But I knew these skills before I got married, though. I must have picked them up when we had nothing to do. I can knit sweaters. I used to go to McInerny [store] and look at their shirts, clothes, go home and try to sew the same thing. And as far as I can remember, I sewed aloha shirts for my kids until they were yelling for something better. (Laughs)

I learned how to cut their hair. I remember the first time I cut one of the boys’ hair, he refused to go to school.

Yuki Kitaoka's interview courtesy of the Center for Oral History. Photographs courtesy of Hawaii State Archives.

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