Katsugo Miho
522nd Field Artillery, 442nd RCT

Miho Hotel

In the 1930s, the Mihos purchase rights to the Kahului Hotel building and operate the business on a month-to-month lease.

Ayano and two helpers prepare meals and do the housekeeping; Katsuichi runs the front end of the Miho Hotel.

Katsugo helps by heating the bathwater. He also drives his father to and from community functions.

Regular guests include Japanese salesmen from Honolulu and carnival sideshow performers employed by E.K. Fernandez.

Most of my childhood days was living in Onishi Store. Around the time I was starting to go to high school we started to operate the hotel.

The hotel was small family-run hotel with about thirteen or fourteen rooms.

I have absolutely no idea who [was operating the hotel before my parents took over]. It was known as the Kahului Hotel at that time. And when we took over, it became known as the Miho Hotel.

Kahului, Maui. Miho Hotel with pillars on right. Circa 1930s.
Kahului, Maui. Miho Hotel with pillars on right. Circa 1930s.

I do recall that my parents owned the building. They bought out the rights to the building from the previous owner. But they were on a month-to-month lease. I don’t know if you can realize the significance of a month-to-month lease and trying to do business as a hotel.

Home

We lived in backside [of the hotel].

In the front of the hotel, in the very beginning, we had a hat store. We sold hats for a while. There was an office and then a corridor. The kitchen was next to the corridor. Then we have a kind of an open space where we had orchids and all kinds of plants. That was our so-called agricultural spot. Past the kitchen was the living quarters, and we had a bathhouse, a big ofuro, where in the beginning we used to burn wood.

Kahului, Maui. Miho Hotel on left. Circa 1930s.
Kahului, Maui. Miho Hotel on left. Circa 1930s.

One of my jobs was to make the water hot every day for the people to take a bath. We had a shower and a big concrete — no, in the beginning it was wood, regular ofuro, where three or four people could take a bath at one time easily.

Then the living quarters was in the back. The living quarters had tatami [straw matting]. You had to step up into the tatami. The tatami was probably eight-tatami room. That’s where our living room was.

There was one small storeroom in the back, one small studying room for my older brother Katsuro. He used to have a special room for his studying over there.

Parents

As far as I know, [my mother] was always busy because most of my recollection is during the years when we were running the hotel and she was the full-time cook. Not only did she do the cooking, although she had one or two helpers. There was one live-in housekeeper and then there was another helper who helped in the kitchen doing the cooking. So basically there were three people doing the cooking, housekeeping.

My dad was more or less involved with the front end of the hotel, which was the store. We had a hat store for a little while. Then he was involved with so many other community activities. When I first got a driver’s license, when I was fifteen, my job was to take him around and pick him up from all kinds of different functions that he was involved in, community affairs.

My mother was involved in a lot of other activities. Unfortunately, I cannot tell you whether it was teaching floral arrangement, or whether it was dressmaking, or whether it was handicraft, but she did a lot of that. I remember on Maui there were a lot of times visiting teachers from Japan or from Honolulu who would come and teach and then invariably it would be coordinated by my mother or my father.

But usually my mother worked for these dressmaking or floral arrangement. There was no tea ceremony teacher or floral arrangement teacher full-time. This was basically done on a part-time basis and on a more or less piecemeal basis of when a certain occasion arise and you have a gathering, and then invariably my mother would be involved one way or the other.

[She taught mostly yofuku, Western dressmaking. She taught flower arrangement and tea ceremony to] most of the wives from the community of Kahului, which is made up of ladies from the camp and ladies from the town.

One of the things that I recall, our next-door neighbor was a Chinese family, Ah Fook grocery store. The matron of that family was around the same age as my mother. But both of them hardly spoke any English. But one of the sights that I enjoyed so much was, I would come back from work, and then Mrs. Ah Fook, she would invariably be visiting my mother by the kitchen or by the living room that we had. Just listening to both of them trying to carry on a conversation was hilarious. It was such a joy to observe, you know, this first-generation Chinese lady and the first-generation Japanese lady, who hardly spoke any English, trying to carry on an intelligent conversation between the two of them. But they did, almost every night. Yeah. That was a wonderful relationship.

Both of them kept each other company. I think Mrs. Ah Fook went out of her way to keep my mother company. After the work was done for the evening and she would just walk over back and keep my mother company.

Meals Served at the Hotel

My dad and I, we two go harvesting, picking sea cucumbers, down at the breakwater. The Pier 1 breakwater had — and I don’t know how he found out about it but these things have to have clear water. So I used to go picking with him. And then my mother started to feed special guests the namako [sea cucumber].

Not to everybody. But then it started to get to everybody want to get a taste of the namako and became [popular].

The other thing that my dad also introduced was that, out in Paia, where the wind surfing is now very popular, that beach. Hookipa.

There’s a spot over there that, I don’t know how my dad discovered, but nori [laver] grows on that rough wind-blown [rocky area], where strong waves [come in]. A combination of fresh water, underground river fresh water that mixes with the salt water and certain conditions allow for this Japan-type nori to grow on the rocks. But to get there is a scary thing because I used to go and you have to scrape off the nori from the rocks with a scraper.

Usually we used to go before New Year because it was an additive for the ozoni, this fresh nori. In Japan, how they would cultivate it, the nori would grow on the strings and you just scrape it off the strings. But that grew in Hookipa, in that area. Only one spot on Maui, as far as I know. Unfortunately, a whole bunch of other people found out about it years later. I don’t know if today there’s still nori over there because overcultivated. But it was really good nori.

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Basically [the meals served at the hotel] was Hiroshima dishes because my mother was from Hiroshima. I don’t know how they were able to get the ingredients, but that’s where these so-called salesmen from Honolulu would come to sell to the Maui merchants like Onishi Store and whatnot, Kobayashi Store. Sumida [and Co.], Fujii Junichi [Shoten, Ltd.] were Japanese products. Those days the basic Japanese ingredients were from these stores.

Wholesale Salesmen

We had regular guests. Honolulu wholesalers would send their salesmen out to the neighbor islands to take orders once a month: Union Supply, Sumida Shoten, Fujii Junichi [Shoten]. And they would stay at the most one week in the neighbor islands. So we had a group of wholesale salesmen coming in every month. And Japanese style, they had three meals a day. My mother had to cook for all the customers that would stay at the hotel.

[The salesmen stayed] sometimes one week, sometimes three or four days. Different groups. But at the most, these customers were [at the hotel] about two or two and a half weeks because they had to come in early and get the orders and come back to Honolulu.

These were all Japanese merchants from Honolulu. If others came, they didn’t stay at our hotel. In Wailuku there was a hotel called Grand Hotel. That’s where most of the Caucasian customers and business people used to stay. And Kahului, we had two hotels, our hotel and the hotel right across the street from us — it used to be [operated by] Tomoeda and then it was sold out to [I.] Hamada. And so, we had two hotels who catered to these wholesale salesmen.

[There were a few non-Japanese clients.] Some of them came from Hana because from Hana, those days, it was almost impossible to come into town and then go back the same day. It was such a long trip. It wasn’t a three-hour drive like it is today. Those days it was an overnight affair. So a lot of the Hana people used to stay at our house, different nationalities: Hawaiian people, there’s Filipino people.

E.K. Fernandez

E.K. Fernandez, who did all these shows, when the carnival business was good, he would be staying at the Waikiki [i.e., Wailuku] Grand Hotel. But certain years, the carnival business wasn’t so hot, then he would stay at our place.

So I got to know Mr. Fernandez and even the son. Now, the family, the younger generation, has taken over. But I used to know THE E.K. Fernandez.

When the Maui Fair [was on in Kahului], it kind of interrupted [business] with our regular clientele. The main attraction people would stay at Grand Hotel. But the [carnival] sideshow people would stay at our hotel.

The World’s Tallest Man, he stayed at our hotel. The one that I remember the most and I got along with really well was this, he was supposed to be the Egyptian, Haji Ali. He and another man, I don’t know what the other man would [perform], but all the time that they would have free time, they would play dominoes. That’s when I first got exposed to dominoes. Every free time they had, the two would be involved in dominoes.

[Haji Ali] had double stomach. He was one of those that would swallow certain things, marbles, and then you want the black marble, red marble, he would spit out different colored ones and he takes all kinds of things into the stomach and get it out. It was quite a thing.

He used to come for several years as a sideshow attraction. One year, I remember distinctly that he had caught a cold or something so I had to take him to Dr. [K.] Izumi and got him taken cared of. I remember years later, that the doctor told me, he said, “You know the man that you send us over there, he’s strange.” I say, “Why?” He said, “The X-ray shows that I think he has two stomachs.” (Laughs)

But we had all these sideshow people living and staying at my place so I got a free show of these, the lady with the most beard, you know, things like that, and believe that had the monkey man, I recall. Who else? The trapeze actors and things, some of them. So I got exposed to all these carnival people.

My recollection is that I always had a wonderful relationship with these people. I felt like I was their pet project. They took so good care of me, and in some cases they would take me along for short walks and whatnot. But my recollection with different individuals have always been pleasant memories of getting to know these so-called odd people who were enough to be members of the sideshow attractions of E.K. Fernandez.

There was this [clown named] Freckles. Just before World War II, Freckles was a very popular clown. My recollection is that even after World War II, he still was performing with E.K. Fernandez. One time, years later, I met him and he still remembered me. Yeah. He became a businessman in Honolulu.

[The carnival guests] were very important guests. My mother went out of her way to take care of, to treat them very kindly and make them feel at home. We had a kind of a veranda area where we had this garden and whatnot. It was pleasant for them to sit around the card tables and relax because they basically had no place — they couldn’t go out because they were so-called freaks. Whether Bearded [Wo]man or the World’s Tallest Man, you couldn’t go out and give the people a free show. So they have to stay indoors.

Finances

We just barely survived, I think. We just barely survived because my brother Katsuro had already — you see, he left for Utah out of high school. So his expenses was heavy on my parents. He had to work his way through Utah, too, and law school, all that. But he left rather early.

So Tsukie worked as a secretary for Maui Soda Works after high school, and then left Hawaii to go live in Japan. Then Fumiye started to go to University of Hawaii. So there was this outside-of-the-island expenses. Katsuro was still in school. Fumiye followed him. Paul was then on a high school level. So it was rather difficult.

I don’t know how my parents were able to do it, but I do know that in those days, tanomoshi[ko] [mutual financing association] was a very important part of the financial involvement. I used to remember that my mother always used to say that well, there was a tanomoshi day was coming or going or whatever. I got to know what it was all about or realize what it was all about, the significance of tanomoshi. In my early years, I did not have any idea. But as I grew up, I became aware that financing at that time, tanomoshi was a integral part of family financing.

I don’t know the particulars but I would assume basically [the people in the group] was town, different merchants. Within the merchants, they had their own. Camp people [mostly stevedores] had their own, I think. But I don’t remember the camp people being too involved with tanomoshi. Basically, it was the town people.

Katsugo Miho's interview courtesy of the Center for Oral History. Photographs courtesy of Katsugo Miho.

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