Chito Isonaga
A Different View

Radio and the FBI

Newspaper publisher Charlie Fern hires Chito for KTOH radio. She writes ads and news, and announces music, all in Japanese. Reading Chinese characters on air and managing the phone prove difficult.

Before World War II, the Federal Bureau of Investigation interviews influential Japanese people on Kauai. Chito is called on to interpret for them and to translate papers.

She also clerks at the Kauai Police Department and interprets at the courthouse.

I came back to Hawaii [in 1939.] I graduated that year [from Hiroshima Jogakuin].

Chito Isonaga in a kimono. Japan
Chito Isonaga in a kimono. Japan.

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I didn’t do anything for a while [after I got back to Kauai], but I think in 1940 they had census taking and so I applied for that and worked for the census.

KTOH Radio

Charlie [Charles J.] Fern, who was the [publisher] of The Garden Island, was the head of that census taking. One day I rode with him and he started to talk to me. It was at that time that they were going to form that radio station on Kauai, KTOH. He said, “Why don’t you come and work for me?” I sort of hesitated working for that station because I didn’t know what it was going to be. But, I accepted, and I started working at KTOH. [KTOH started in 1938, a few years before Chito became an announcer.]

[I would write the script in Japanese for] the ads, and a little bit of the news, and then announce the music. There was another fellow with me, too. It was a evening show, the Japanese[-language] show was in the evenings. I used to go to work from around five o’clock. I catch the bus and go and work. I used to come back on the bus, but because I was about the only [rider], they used to bring me [directly] home.

I didn’t like the job because every night I came home my mom would criticize my job — the [language] mistakes. Sometimes I’d read the names of the person singing, wrong. [The kanji, or Chinese characters, in a name may be read in different ways. Chito sometimes chose a reading that differed from one used by the bearer of the name.] I’d read it just like it is, but his last name is read completely different (chuckles). I used to make that kind of mistake. I used to get criticisms every night. It was really not a very pleasant job for me.

Before I went to Japan, we didn’t have a phone at our home. The Chungs [our neighbors] had one phone. So, I dreaded when the phone rang. [It was] not call-in [program], but people called [the radio station]. I used to hate to answer the phone because I couldn’t hear, more or less.

FBI

[Prior to the outbreak of World War II, the FBI] were interviewing the influential [Japanese] people on Kauai. [The FBI investigators] asked questions to them and I interpreted [in Japanese and English] when they needed it.

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[I was asked to interpret] simple questions as to what they did, I guess. I don’t quite remember, but they weren’t difficult questions. One of [the people I had to help interview] was a president of some company. And the Buddhist priests, many of them.

I don’t think [the FBI] told me why. I sort of knew [why we were doing this]. Because, you know, the situation between Japan and the United States was getting sort of rough.

[The people] were cordial. They weren’t afraid or anything. They were all — as far as I remember, they were all friendly. [The interviews took place] in their homes.

Some documents they [FBI] had, many of them were consulate agents’ papers like that, I just translated it for them.

[Earlier] I did interpreting for the circuit court — was it the circuit court? — but the court people. When they had cases that they needed interpreting, I did that. I was interpreting what the judge asked. I think through that connection I got involved [with the FBI]. And maybe because I worked at the radio station, too. I was working for the police department, too, Kauai Police Department. I was just a clerk, but in those old days, they didn’t have regular files or anything. I remember taking all those old books and forming a file system with those little cards. That was my main job at the police department. It didn’t last for long.

[This was all] pre-war.

Chito Isonaga's interview courtesy of the Center for Oral History. Photographs courtesy of Chito Isonaga.

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