Katsugo Miho
522nd Field Artillery, 442nd RCT

Kahului, Maui

Kahului is a port town. The life of the community is dependent on stevedoring, with sugar and pineapples transported to port by train.

William Walsh, manager of Kahului Railroad Company, is “absolute boss” of the town.

The major social division is between Caucasians and non-Caucasians. White-collar jobs are available to Caucasians only.

Merchants and their families constitute “town,” while stevedores and their families constitute “camp.”

Life was dependent on the stevedoring business completely, especially in Kahului. Of course, the railroading was part of stevedoring because sugar had to be transported from Puunene, Paia, even from Lahaina because the Lahaina port was not big enough to unload and load sugar.

Waialeale, Inter-Island Steamship. Pier 2. Kahului, Maui.
Waialeale, Inter-Island Steamship. Pier 2. Kahului, Maui.

So Kahului, basically, was the port town where the railroad had to haul in the pineapple, haul in the sugar to the port. Maui Pineapple [Co., Ltd.] was located right in the heart of Kahului. And from the mountains of Makawao, up there where the pineapple [crops were] — pineapple has to be grown three thousand feet high, elevation — [the harvest was transported]. So it required a lot of hauling.

The railroad existed for this hauling until just before World War II, then trucking became into vogue. It took a lot of years before they completely took over the transportation business. But until then, the railroad was an integral part.

For instance, until I started to go to high school, my brothers and sisters had to commute from Kahului to Hamakua Poko, which was about twelve miles away from Kahului, by train. They commuted by train. There was no bus system at that time. My time when I started to go to high school, the buses took over. So until my time, people went to Hamakua Poko, especially from central Maui — Wailuku and Kahului and Puunene — we all commuted to high school by train.


The merchants group, like my parents, we were most town people versus camp people. Camp people were all the stevedoring families, except there were a few independent fishermen. I remember, for a while there was a cotton mill in Kahului. But that went out of business very early. I don’t remember how long it lasted, but I remember it was a cotton-milling business run by a Japanese family.

But independent business in Kahului: I would say, if I sat down and counted, there were just a handful of businesses — a tailor shop, the watchmaker, the barbershop, the pharmacy was Toda Drug [Store], grocery store was [T.] Ah Fook, and small little independent businesses run by individual families. As compared to one big store, it was known as the Puunene Store, which was at that time, considered a big store.

Kahului, Maui. Puunene Store, left. Kahului Railroad Station and post office, right. Circa 1930s.
Kahului, Maui. Puunene Store, left. Kahului Railroad Station and post office, right. Circa 1930s.

Then there was another store known as the Kahului Store, which was run by the railroad. And this was like a wholesale furniture, fixtures, appliances [store]. And so [those were] businesses in Kahului, until Haleakala Dairy started a meat-processing plant in Kahului, which was not railroad connected. And of course, the Japanese[-language] school was not connected. The Shinto or Buddhist churches were not connected. And we had the banks, which are Bishop [National Bank of Hawaii]. Even today I think First Hawaiian Bank is there. It was known back then as Bishop Bank. And I cannot recall any independent big business.

I can say this is the first indication of a independency was a market started by [K.] Ooka. What Mr. Ooka did was a brand new idea. What he did was he built a complex where he would lease out subleases to different merchants within his building. I think this was the first concept that started out this, like a GEM [Government Employees Mutual] Store. But Mr. Ooka did this in Kahului. Mr. Ooka built this building within which he had his grocery store, a fishmarket, a coffee shop, flower shop, and couple of others.

Of course, there were a few independent insurance salesmen. Mr. Kagawa, L.T. Kagawa’s brother, started an insurance business in Kahului. [There was also] Mr. Hatanaka, but he lived in Wailuku. Other than that, I don’t recall anybody that’s living in Kahului not connected with the railroad.

William Walsh and the Kahului Railroad Company

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I remember that I had to deliver — those days, basically it was, a gallon of sake is what was being delivered to Mr. William Walsh’s home, prior to every new year.

Japanese style, your big boss or whatever, you have to bring gifts and annual end-of-the-year gifts to beginning-of-the year gifts. Everybody had to listen to whatever orders that came down from the manager of the railroad company and the stevedoring company, which was Mr. Walsh.

To give you an example, when I was working as a movie usher, our manager, Mr. [Felix] of the theater, would get completely excited when he was told that Mr. and Mrs. Walsh would come in and take in a movie on a Saturday night. And he would be so uppity and he would get after us ushers and, “Now, one of you get out on the road and look down,” because you could see [down] the road where the Walshes lived. “See if they’re coming out.” Then, by the time that they [arrived] — completely nervous.

First car Katugo Miho learned to drive.
First car Katugo Miho learned to drive.

And yet, the theater wasn’t owned by Kahului Railroad [Company]. It was owned by [Maui Amusement Company.] But the manager was completely out of his mind when the Walshes would come in to attend a movie. That’s the kind of life it was, probably like, comparable to the old plantation life in the South where the boss, the landlord, was the absolute boss.

Well, Mr. Walsh was the absolute boss of Kahului.

And I can understand, if you were doing business and the owner of the land let you do business on a month-to-month lease, how dominant that figure was in your daily life. But that was the system.

Kahului Railroad Company and, I guess, stevedoring was under the railroad as well as under the complete ownership of A&B [Alexander & Baldwin]. [Hawaiian Commercial and Sugar Co.] was completely separate. [A&B] owned that. But the stevedoring business, I think, and railroading, was completely a distinct operation.

That was primarily what it was until the end of World War II, when they decided to sell the land to individual owners. When Kahului was developed as what they call “Dream City,” the first thing they did was to sell lands. Whole bunch of these plantation homes were destroyed, and people had to buy their own homes and Dream City was available for them to become landowners and homeowners in Maui.


We referred to the stevedoring homes “camp” because, number one, all the sugar plantations had ethnic camps: Japanese camp where all of the workers were Japanese; Portuguese camp where most of the tenants were Portuguese; Filipino camp was a common usage. To differentiate Puunene or where, what camp, in McGerrow Camp, or Japanese camp. Kahului, I guess we just, did follow the same thing by calling those who were not merchant families as camp people because there were a couple of — Onishi Camp, some of the workers from Onishi Store lived in Onishi-Store-owned housing. Kobayashi Camp [occupied by workers from M. Kobayashi Store].

Miho Family. Onishi Camp in Kahului, Maui, 1928.
Miho Family. Onishi Camp in Kahului, Maui, 1928.

A camp person [was called that] because basically they were tied in with the stevedoring, as the family, the parents were connected as stevedoring or as the trucking industry of Kahului, which gradually grew bigger and bigger. Beginning, it was railroad. The railroad and then you had stevedoring, which was the bulk of them, and you had townspeople were connected with the retailing store aspect. You have barbershops, you have a jewelry shop, you had a grocery store, you had a garage. We had a couple of garages. Kahului Kimizuka Garage and Standard Garage, were the two main service stations in Kahului. Most of the people who were connected with stevedoring lived in the camps.

Filipino Camp

In Kahului, the bulk of the camp people was AJAs. Immediately behind my house was the Filipino camp. Alongside the Filipino camp was a small group, as far as I was concerned, they were within the haole race category. But they happened to be Portuguese and Spanish but they were not considered the white color category.

[The stevedores were] mostly AJA. A sprinkling of Filipinos. The Filipino immigration came in right after World War II. Before that, it was a very small working force. Even in the plantations, the Filipinos were minority of plantation workers when I was growing up.

Working in the Sugar Cane Fields

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The last year that I worked in [sugar] cane fields, I had to cut cane. Cut cane means you go in there and harvest the canes that were burnt. This was really an adult job. But that was the year of the Filipino strike. Filipino group that struck and the non-Filipino group continued working.

Sugar cane harvest, Maui.
Sugar cane harvest, Maui.

The high school level kids, even from Kahului, we were gathered to work in the cane fields and we would work on the jobs that normally were done by the Filipinos and the regular Japanese. But because there was a shortage, the fourteen-year-olds and fifteen-year-olds were all inducted into working the cane fields. When we were working, we had armed guards around us to protect us just in case any kind of happenings would occur while we were working.

This was 1937 [in] Puunene.

[I was absolutely not aware that I was being a strikebreaker.] We were wondering what was going on.

The only place where the Filipino workers would gather for their meetings was on one of our playgrounds in Kahului. Because they were not plantation. But I remember that they were allowed to gather at one of our baseball fields right across from the Japanese[-language] school. They had a couple of rallies in Kahului that I observed while being a strikebreaker.

Prior to that, for two years I had been working in the cane fields. The very beginning was just cutting weeds. At that time, if I earned one dollar for that day, it was a big deal. It was cutting weeds and your pay was determined by the number of feet that you worked cutting, getting rid of the weeds. They would measure the distance that you worked, and then you would be paid accordingly.

One dollar was the, more or less, the goal for the day. Lunch is probably about five cents worth that was made at home. But we brought always home lunch and then we get up two, three o’clock in the mornings and then get to work. Then by two o’clock [in the afternoon] you were finished and you went home. But if you made one dollar out of this, what we call contract work, it was contract by the individual worker.

[I was paid] by the plantation. Contract meant [we] weren’t being only paid by the hour. Contract was depending on how many yards of weeds that you cleaned.

I enjoyed my working because this was the summertime, and we had more fun playing than actually working. We actually did cut [weeds]. It was quite obvious that the luna [foreman] can always tell whether you did your job or not. But the girls were always working with us. It was boys and girls. I think some of the girls worked harder than we did. Like everything else (chuckles) the girls worked a little bit harder, my recollection. They were more sincere and more earnest than we were.

[First year, I weeded.] Ho hana they call it. [Second year, I did] what we call pulapula. Pulapula was to cut the top of the cane stalks. I think the stalks were used for planting. We did the cleaning of the ditches. We didn’t do planting. And [we did] a little bit of what we used to call hapai ko. That was after the canes were cut, you had to haul these canes into the transporting baggage trains. You would have to pick it up from the fields and then you carried ’em, we hapai. Ko means [sugar cane]. Take it over into this cane loading [train] and that was a very, very hard, dirty, tedious job. But at age fourteen, we were doing that kind of a job.

I forgot what [we got paid]. Although, as I understand it, in the plantations, those jobs were done by certain families. Families would be allowed to have a family work on a load and it was their family income. So if you had more kids to help you out in the plantations, this was the incentive to have more kids in the plantations.

There were no expectations [to bring in money] on my level or my family consideration because it was more of a support of a community effort. The plantation needed workers. The plantation families, in of itself, was not enough. So the call was made out to get this cheap labor, which was because we were thirteen years old. Twelve or thirteen. Nowadays, you have the minimum work age, but at twelve or thirteen we started to go out to work because they needed the help to do the job. Because for the adults, it was too menial. For the adults it was, I guess, a waste of labor for their kind of work to do that basic job that needed to be done.

Naichi vs. Okinawan

We had a subtle — I don’t remember it being distinct now, but when you reflect back on it, there was a subtle difference between camp [stevedores] and town [merchants]. I hate to say this, but I think there were certain discriminations within the Japanese society.

Number one, I did not feel this or know about this growing up in Maui. I don’t think we had this difference between what we call naichi Japanese [from the main islands of Japan] and Okinawan prefectural people because the Okinawan community in Maui was big. They had lot of Okinawans in Maui in the plantation. I don’t know if it’s because of my family or my parents, but I never was brought up with the feeling of looking down upon the Okinawan people. I think this is due to my parents who were both very liberal-minded, looking back from the cultural aspect.

Well also, for many years while growing up, I never knew there was a Jewish religion or Jewish people. I always thought of it as an adjective. This is true. Until I graduated and saw what I saw in Dachau, I did not realize the significance of the Jewish people or the existence of the Jewish people. When I started to go to law school, I was further indoctrinated into the so-called anti-Semitism that prevails, prevailed in the U.S. at that point of history.

[I hardly felt any of the naichi prejudice against the Okinawan people]. But basically, in the cultural upbringing at that time was white against non-white.

The whole community was based on whether you were a hakujin, or haole [Caucasian], or a non-haole, non-haole being everybody else was put into one category of non-haole. Even economy-wise, all white-collar jobs that’s where I think in Hawaii we have the differentiation and distinct meaning of white-collar jobs. White-collar jobs were those jobs available to only the Caucasian group. The plantation office secretarial jobs and on up was strictly a Caucasian.

There was a breaking of that barrier by my generation because there was one nisei [Sadao Hirata] who was one of the elder nisei who rose to be [accountant in the] office of the Kahului Railroad. My very good friend, George Kondo, quit high school in his senior year because his father passed away. At that early age, he started to work as an office boy at the Kahului Railroad. Started as an office boy and he ended up as being the office manager. So the line was breeched within my generation, that George rose from office boy to become the office manager of Kahului Railroad before he died. All within that one generation. In those days, socially it was white or non-white.

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Let me tell you what I know of why [my father] quit teaching. Earlier I told you something about the Okinawan community and naichi community. Well, as a teacher in the camp [Keahua] Maui, the Maui community Japanese schools always had a contest annually where the outstanding nisei student would be recognized — within the Maui association of Japanese schools you had this recognition once a year.

The year that my dad was still teaching, one of his students he considered exceptionally outstanding, was an Okinawan boy. In the contest he came out second. My dad was so mad about it that he made a real big, big fuss about it, trying to overturn the decision but because the thing had been announced and the winner was declared, he got so disgusted he quit teaching Japanese[-language] school and excused himself from the Japanese teaching. But he still was a member of the education association.

Later on it turned out that his student became a biochemist and he was the biochemist for Kuakini Hospital from the very beginning. And Kuakini Hospital was then known as the Japanese Hospital in Honolulu. But Mr. [Steven] Chinen, longtime employee and biochemist of Kuakini Hospital, was my dad’s student.

He was the boy. So my dad was very liberal-minded and you can, I can relate to that, too, because when my brother Paul got married to Ruth, 1942. Even at that time, an interracial marriage was very unusual. Ruth is of Danish Scot, from Minneapolis, Minnesota. Yeah. So, [my father] was rather forward-minded.

Community Members

[My father was involved in] basically Japanese[-language] school, board of education type [of] activities. Besides that he was a volunteer worker for the consul general in Honolulu and one of his jobs was to keep in touch with the Japanese community. Those days they required the recordation of birth, if you wanted your child to be recorded into the Japanese family record. He was one of those who assisted the Japanese people in this regard. So my task was to drive him around after I got my license, picking him up and going to functions; and then later on, picking him up from the place.

[Other men active in the Japanese community included] basically, the townspeople like Mr. Onishi of the Onishi Store [Onishi and Co., Ltd.], Mr. Kinoshita of the [Japanese] Mercantile Company. Father and son combination of the [M.] Kobayashi Store.

Mr. [Robert] Toda who was the leading philanthropist and he was more or less the leader of the Kahului group in more ways than just being financial. He spoke English and his pharmacy [Toda Drug Store] was THE pharmacy of Maui at that time because he supplied all the drugs and the paraphernalia to Kula Sanatorium. Kula Sanatorium was the big, big hospital in Maui. Besides the plantation had a Puunene Plantation hospital. I don’t know if Lahaina had any hospitals, but the big hospital in Maui was the Kula Sanatorium.

Private residence of Toda drugstore family.
Private residence of Toda drugstore family.

I understood that he was considered the wealthy member of the Kahului merchant group. So many of the functions and whatnot, he was — not the financier but in charge of the financial aspects. So you had Bon-odori [Bon festival dances], you had all kinds of Japanese festivals. Somehow, he was always involved. Together, not only with the merchant family and group but with the camp, they always had some other person representing the camp.

I think the camp group basically was represented by Mr. [Takashige] Sado who was a newspaper representative for Hawaii Hochi or Nippu Jiji at that time. He lived in the camp. So, although he was a newspaperman, he kind of represented the camp group. He was a ex-sumo-tori [sumo wrestler] from Japan. I don’t know if he was professional but he was the man that I related and connected with my background of Japanese sumo. He was one of the leaders, not only in Maui.

Sumo at a picnic on Maui. Katsugo Miho on left. Kihei, Hawaii. August 18, 1935.
Sumo at a picnic on Maui. Katsugo Miho on left. Kihei, Hawaii. August 18, 1935.

Maui was one of the leading participants of Japanese sumo before the war. We used to have [territorywide] tournaments, sumo tournaments in Maui, and he was always in charge. Sumo was very prevalent before the war. We had rankings, there were grand champions and there was ozeki [sumo wrestlers of the second highest rank], all these different levels of sumo-tori in Hawaii. They used to have tournaments in Kahului.

Community Activities

All of the community activity would involve the celebration of the Emperor’s Birthday, Tenchosetsu, Boys’ Day celebration, Girls’ Day celebration, within the community of Kahului or within the island of Maui. Sometimes you had an islandwide affair. Then most of the time maybe just limited to Kahului.

Hiroshima Kenjinkai

In Maui, Hiroshima kenjinkai [prefectural club] was a big organization.

One of the primary functions in that generation was to get involved with funerals. For many years after World War II in Honolulu, if you were a member of the Hiroshima kenjinkai, the kenjinkai people basically handle the funeral arrangements for especially first-generation people. Not only gatherings in picnics or annual dinner but funeral arrangements. The first-generation people, especially, was strong ties with the people who came from [that area].

So Hiroshima kenjinkai in Honolulu after World War II, you had a very strong [club]. Within the Hiroshima [kenjinkai], you had subgroups like I used to belong to the Fujisaki group, which was my [area] in Hiroshima. There were five [areas] in Hiroshima where most of the Hiroshima immigrants came from. So these five different subgroups also had a sub kenjinkai and I used to be active in the Fujisaki kenjinkai.

You also had the fujinkai. Women’s group was strong. The women’s group did not involve too many of the camp ladies, was more the merchant level groups.

My dad was a member of the — I don’t know what they used to call it, hotel association made up of all the hotel people in Maui, which was Hamada across the street from us, and Wailuku had Kutsunai, and then the leaders of this group was Yamashiro Hotel and Kobayashi Hotel from Honolulu. Nakamura Hotel. So my dad was a member of this strong hotel association. Besides the Japanese educational associations, which was [territorywide] as well as islandwide.

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

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