1399th Engineer Construction Battalion
Toshiyuki attends Kamehameha III School, grades K through 8. He participates in a variety of sports, including basketball, track, and volleyball. He aspires to be a teacher and coach.
He attends Japanese-language school, but does not develop any proficiency in the language.
Toshiyuki holds several offices in student government at Lahainaluna High School where he learns the importance of consensus-building from teacher, Hattie Foster.
Kamehameha III School
[Kamehameha III School] was a pretty big school, we had over a thousand or so kids at our school, K through 8.
I remember the first principal I had was somebody by the name of Miss Couch. She was a very strict principal. Nobody would really want to get into trouble. Because, when you got sent to the principal’s office, in those days, you used to go to school barefooted and in shorts, and she had a big paddle. Boy, she gave you such a whipping in the office, you never went back again. Everybody was so afraid of her. She was very strict in that regard.
I thought had some pretty good elementary teachers who taught me how to read and write and speak and all of that. My sixth-grade teacher wrote me a nice note when I left Kam[ehameha] III. My eighth-grade teacher did the same thing.
Kam[ehameha] III School had a cafeteria. But those days, too, lunch was only five, ten cents.
When you’re in elementary school and you’re in a place like Kam[ehameha] III, they had all kinds of sporting events, [run by] the Maui public school league. We didn’t have a swimming pool. The beach was where we swam and practiced.
I still remember Puunene had Soichi Sakamoto, he was an elementary school teacher at Puunene School before he went to [coach at] University [of Hawaii]. Anyway, at one of the championship meets, they had people like Halo Hirose, Keo Nakama, Bill Smith and a host of other people.
They used to practice in the plantation [irrigation] ditch. Coming down, they used to practice up against the flow of the water. We never practiced, we only swam. And we didn’t have any instruction, we just learn how to swim by ourselves.
I still remember, I think it was our eighth-grade year, when we went to the Maui public school [league] swimming championship that was out in Puunene. Keo Nakama and Halo Hirose folks.
Anyway, in the hundred yards, we struggle all the way to the third lap, when we finish the third lap and going to the last lap, Keo Nakama, Halo Hirose, all the Puunene kids, they all waiting for us. One whole twenty-five yards, we just finish the seventy-five yards, turning around, and those guys are there waiting for us. (Laughs)
And that was how. Sakamoto, at that time, he had what they call a Three-Year Swimming Club or something. And from there, he came to the university. In the meantime, Maui High — Baldwin High School wasn’t there yet — so Maui High, from there Keo Nakama and the people went to Ohio State [University]. I think Keo went to Ohio State. But anyway, when I look back on those days and we talk about that, we all laugh because we never had any specific instruction in swimming.
Lahaina, Kam[ehameha] III had a beach, yeah. So we practiced over there.
I had several [favorite teachers], but the one that I remember is Harold Hirashima, he was our basketball coach. And, he was one of those people that influenced me to go into coaching. Another coach that I had was Peter Sequeira. He was an official in football on Maui at that time. He was an outstanding track man himself and he was an assistant coach in track in Kam[ehameha] III. So he gave me good fundamentals of running and jumping and all of that.
We had an athletic complex in Lahaina called Maluuluole Park. They had a baseball, football and track oval. And they had a tennis court, and the track was dirt track, and we didn’t have any starting blocks. We used to just dig holes in the track. And even jumping into the high jump pit or pole vault pit, we landed in sawdust. Not like today, they land in a nice cushioned area. But our days, no. But anyway, it was a very good learning experience for me in elementary school.
We had the main teachers like Hirashima. I remember him the most because I played basketball and volleyball. The school secretary was Tagawa. He used to teach tennis but I wasn’t that much in tennis. I liked my track and basketball best in Kam[ehameha] III School.
[It was on Front Street] and since my dad was active in Japanese-language school as well as the [Lahaina Methodist] Church, I used to go and work. I used to go clean the church, I used to work in the school yard, and so forth. It was just a matter of doing what my dad said to do, so I used to do all of those things.
The sensei [teacher], the minister sensei, he was a strict person. The minister, his wife, and two other Japanese ladies taught all the grades at the school. He was very strict, but as I say, he didn’t speak English language as well. Just speaking to you in Japanese and teaching you in Japanese was a different kind of experience. You know what I’m saying, eh?
We learned kanji [Chinese characters used in Japanese writing] and hiragana [cursive Japanese writing], the ABCs of the language. And simple sentences, but other than that, it wasn’t that much of an education as far as I was concerned, because they didn’t really prepare you to speak the language or write the language.
Lahainaluna High School
It was no big problem [going on to high school] because you know you’re going to Lahainaluna because that was the only elementary school and high school. The transition was no problem because, except for a few of the boarding department people, all of the kids that went to [Lahainaluna High] School were your former classmates at Kam[ehameha] III. Then of course we had a boarding department of about a hundred kids that came from all over the island.
We had one or two from Makawao. We even had one or two from Oahu and from the Big Island. But I would say 90 percent of our classmates were kids that were born and raised in Lahaina, went to Kam[ehameha] III School together. There was no problem in getting used to school.
The boarders, they had free housing and free food, but they went to work in the morning. I think they put in an hour, hour-and-a-half every morning and every afternoon. They had sleeping quarters and food and everything provided for them.
We had a pretty good vocational program at the auto shop, carpenter’s shop, machine shop and we had a pretty good commercial subsidiary to work with. A lot of people that concentrated on the vocational area, like being a carpenter or working as a mechanic, I think they really had a good program there. I think they used to call it Lahainaluna Technical High School.
But of course, the academic program, I thought was pretty good, too. [Lahainaluna School was started in 1831 by American missionaries. In 1923, it became a public technical high school, serving both boarders and day students of both genders.]
I was going more for academic track. Because like us, we take four years of English, four years of social studies, four years of math, four years of science. I took speech and then another elective. I took typing, too, because those days, we didn’t have computers, only typewriters.
When I was at Kam[ehameha] III, because I was active in athletics, I was also president of the graduating eighth-grade class. When I went to high school and most of my classmates came up from Kam[ehameha] III, so they elected me president.
But when I was there [Lahainaluna] the first year, I kind of suggested to the advisor, “Oh, go find somebody else, the sophomore class president.” I can be a part of the leadership group but find somebody else. So that’s when they had somebody from the boarding department, they elected him as president of the sophomore class.
Again, in junior year, they elected me to be president of the junior class. And then, at the end of my junior class, when they elected the student body president, they elected me again. So, I don’t know. I kind of feel as if it’s all the same group of kids from Kam[ehameha] III who all grew up together, so they look upon me as their leader (laughs).
I didn’t actually seek that position, but they said, oh, Toshi, they wanted me to be president, I said, “Okay.”
When we went to [Lahainaluna] High School, I was the freshman class president, junior class president, student body president, honor society president, and then I played basketball and ran track.
[My brother] Nobu played basketball and he was on the team his sophomore, junior and senior year. He was the president of the so-called Letterman’s Club, the L Club at Lahainaluna. So he was president of that club. He was also president of his freshman class and student body and National Honor Society.
He was number one in his graduating class and when he decided to go to college, I was already at the University [of Hawaii]. I was working part-time, so I hardly saw him. He was staying with one of the doctors on the campus. He used to do some housework or whatever.
I think from the very beginning, my father and my mother always said, you gotta have education, you gotta be educated in order to advance yourself in life.
So, my oldest sister, after she worked in the barbershop and so forth, she became a minister’s wife but she went to college. My second sister, after high school, went to nursing school and got her nursing degree. My third sister, and my fourth sister, and my fifth sister, they were all schoolteachers.
My brother was the only one that didn’t go to college because he opened his own barbershop when the war broke out and he moved to town. Then my sixth sister became a beautician because we had a beauty shop.
I knew from the time I was at Kam[ehameha] III that I was going to college and I was going to become a teacher and that I was going to be a coach. That was something that was planned way in advance.
My youngest sister also became a schoolteacher, too. Nobu was the only one that went to medical school.
Mrs. Hattie Foster
The [teacher] that I respected and regarded as my inspiration was really one of the teachers called Mrs. Hattie Foster. She was also an advisor of the student body [government], my student body [government] advisor.
She taught us English and American Problems [at Lahainaluna]. And the thing that I was really surprised at, was she’ll give you an assignment to write, a composition, in the classroom, and you know, a page, page-and-a-half. And the following day, she’d return it. And you wondered how in the world was she able to correct it? She was very specific in correcting.
So you always had a really high regard for her. Not only me, but I’m sure the rest of us did. So when we had our thirtieth or fortieth class reunion, we sent her a note to say that we’re going to pay for her stay in Hawaii because she had moved back to Utah. And she was going to come, but at the last minute, she had to decline because her husband got sick or something and she couldn’t come.
But, when you talk about a teacher with that much influence, I think our classmates all agree that she was the outstanding teacher. Even when I went into the university, she used to write to me, I used to write back. When I went into the service, we did that too, but by then she moved back to the Mainland.
When I look back on my high school experience, she was, to me, anyway, one of the most inspirational, one of the most caring teachers that I ever came across.
And you know, that makes you want to be like her, yeah?
She was also advisor of the student body [government], so when we got together not only in meetings but in other ways, we talk story, she would also tell me, “Just remember, you are not a dictator. You are the leader of the group. You listen to what they have to say. Come to consensus and agree on things together. Then you will always have a good working effort that will be always productive in a lot of ways.”
And I believed that when I became a coach and I became a principal, you gotta have consensus, you gotta have people supporting each other. I think that experience with her as an advisor really helped me. When we graduated, she wrote a nice note in my annual that says that I have grown in a lot of ways during my high school years, and that she knows I will continue to take the kind of leadership in whatever I do after I go to college.
Toshiyuki Nakasone's interview courtesy of the Center for Oral History. Photographs courtesy of Toshiyuki Nakasone.