522nd Field Artillery, 442nd RCT
Japanese Language and Ethics
Kahului Japanese-language School is a focal point of activities for students and their families.
Afternoons at Japanese-language school afford Katsugo more time to spend with friends.
Shushin, or ethics, are conveyed via storytelling in the classroom or via movie portrayals of historical figures.
To communicate with his parents, Katsugo speaks “broken Japanese,” or relies on his sisters’ command of the language.
I would go to grammar school, Kahului Grammar School, eight o’clock [A.M.] until one-thirty [P.M.].
After one-thirty, I would go to Japanese[-language] school. Japanese[-language] school had three periods — because you couldn’t take all the kids at one time. Most of the afternoon until late in the evening, was at Japanese[-language] school.
I think [my parents] expected us to be [at Japanese-language school]. They never pushed us. I don’t remember any homework or my parents trying to watch over my shoulders. As a matter of fact, even in the English [public] school I don’t recall too much homework.
I don’t remember any kind of a student government or anything like that on the Japanese[-language] school level. There were various school activities, which the English grammar school never had. For instance, the Japanese undokai [athletic meet]. There was nothing like that comparable on the public school level. And you had a lot of productions. When I was a first grader, I danced what was a kewpie dance. Productions was very frequent and more than the English public schools. The Japanese[-language] school had more of these types of social activities, where the entire [Kahului] community participated.
In those days, little pageants were popular, where the schools would sponsor play day or whatever. But our grammar school maybe had once or twice. I can only recall in my eight years that I was in grammar school, a few instances where we had productions. I remember dancing to a Filipino dance when I was about fourth or fifth grade. And younger than that, I remember becoming a tin soldier. We did the routine of marching on, in step and to that famous tin soldier music.
But more than the grammar school, every other facet of social life was Japanese[-language] school.
As a matter of fact, I attended a funeral of my Japanese[-language] school teacher who taught me first grade. Mrs. Takayo Kobayashi was my first-grade teacher and she passed away. Her husband [Torao Kobayashi] is still alive. Both of them taught me for, oh, probably about eight or nine years in Kahului before they moved to Wahiawa. And they started a Japanese[-language] school in Wahiawa.
They were the ones that had a great influence in my life because all social functions, including sports and whatnot, involved the Japanese[-language] school. They were like that because as we grew up and got engaged in all these various sports, the boys especially, we did everything we could to get away from classes. So what we did was, you have to practice baseball when baseball season starts. In our days, we would schedule the practice hours during school hours. So we tell our Japanese[-language] school teacher that, “Oh, you know, today we have to play” — play or practice — “baseball. So can we be excused?” And that would mean all the boys would get out of class. Then it came to basketball season and then do the same. Then football season, we do the same. And these were all excuses.
I enjoyed going to Japanese[-language] school because that’s when I got to play with my friends for a longer period of time. In English [public] school, only one hour you out to phys[ical] ed[ucation], do you get to play. And from eight [A.M.] to one-thirty [P.M.], you have classes, lunch hour. But in Japanese[-language] school, you have only one-hour Japanese class, the rest of the time is play with your friends. We had a lot more freedom and depending on the season, we would be involved with going out to actually practice baseball, football, softball.
It wasn’t 100 percent absentee. You still had all of these periods of instruction or learning. Especially, we had in English school, social studies. A comparable subject in Japanese curriculum was shushin [ethics].
Shushin was the first curriculum subject matter that [General Douglas] MacArthur abolished in the Japanese school system. And according to him or according to the publication, was that shushin emphasized emperor worship, is the reason or one of the reasons why MacArthur ruled out the teaching of shushin. But I think it’s wrong. I don’t recall emperor worship being the subject matter of shushin.
Shushin had more to do with, I think, with Confucianism — Chinese culture of family, importance of family, importance of ancestry, and importance of getting along with the neighbors. And this, to me, was shushin. I cannot go along with the idea that MacArthur’s first, one of the first things was to wipe out shushin. And to this day, I think shushin is not taught, not one of the curriculum in Japan. And I don’t know why — the biggest subject matter of shushin was, you had Ninomiya Kinjiro and you have the stories of Nogi Taisho [General Maresuke Nogi]. You have the stories of Admiral Togo, and their virtue of loyalty to the emperor. Yeah, to that. But it was individual concept of loyalty. Just as much as we learned about the feudal system.
[I learned a] lot of this through movies, not [only] in Japanese[-language] school. Japanese silent movies were very prevalent growing up. We had what we call a benshi [movie “talker” or narrator]. And growing up in a place like Kahului, the movies wasn’t played every day of the week. Once a week or something like that it would come around and we’d know that it was movie day. The way how they notified everybody in camp was there would be truck going by and they would play the drums and then they would throw out leaflets telling what movie is being played, where, what time. Normally, it was an open yard where they put in canvases to block off the entrance and you can control people who are going to come in. And [it] was usually the Buddhist churchyard or the YBA [Young Buddhist Association] yard.
Us kids, when we grew up, we always sneaking, crawling under the canvases. But this was being exposed to Japanese culture just as much as Japanese[ language] school — I recall the story of The Forty-Seven Ronin playing over and over. You go to the English movies, you see Tom Mix and then you see Tarzan. When you go to Japanese movie, you see Chushingura [The Treasury of Loyal Retainers] and you see [portrayals of] Kunisada Chuji, and you see all of these. Because Japanese movies, you play the same thing over and over.
It’s too bad, to me, that in modern Japan that they don’t have this concept of shushin because it was so important in the family life of Japan.
Communicating with Parents
So even today I often wonder, how did I communicate with my parents? Because being the youngest, I don’t remember speaking Japanese to my parents. It was “You ga me ga.” Very basic, broken Japanese. Come to think of it, all communication at my age was through my elder sisters, Fumiye and Tsukie, because they spoke Japanese. That older second generation spoke Japanese pretty well. But my time, I don’t think we spoke more than two, three words of Japanese. So I often wonder how did I communicate with my parents strictly with broken English.
[My parents] could get by without having the command of the English language. But on our level, yes, we spoke English. But with the parents, you could live and do business with Japanese. Strictly Japanese.
I think I understood clearly what [parents said in Japanese]. Even today, the kids can hear and understand, but they cannot speak. I think that was probably the same with me.
Of course, I’m the youngest of the second generation, because my older brothers, my older brother was ten years older, Tsukie was twelve years older, and they spoke Japanese real fluently. But I don’t remember. My Japanese was picked up after the war [World War II] and I started getting involved with high school baseball from Japan and with ozumo [Japanese wrestling]. It was from then on that my Japanese-speaking ability improved.
Buddhist temple and Shinto temple had regular days of different celebrations. New Year’s, basically the whole camp went to the Shinto shrine. Then throughout the year they would have various different ceremonies. All the families went through the ritual of blessing of the child. The Shinto ritual and Buddhist church. Of course, the Buddhist church is religion. Supposedly, Shinto is not as religiously geared as the Buddhism. But they lived side by side. In fact, the Shinto church was right behind Buddhist church. But they had so many different cultural functions going on that it predominated the social life of the AJA [Americans of Japanese Ancestry] community.
In Kahului, the Buddhist church was Buddhist church. Hongwanji was Hongwanji. Japanese[-language] school had its own board of directors, non-Buddhist church. The minister had nothing to do with the Japanese[-language] school. A lot of other communities, the only teachers you had were the Buddhist priests. Like [Honpa] Hongwanji [Mission in] Honolulu, you had the church and then it developed into a Japanese[-language] school because the priests taught Japanese.
I don’t know whether they were fully qualified as teachers. Unlike my father, he was brought up as a schoolteacher. But the priests, I don’t think they were schoolteachers. They were priests, number one.
I know I grew up going to Buddhist church, temple. I used to go to Buddhist. Somehow, like, the process of Americanization is what happens. At a certain age, a lot of us moved over to the Christian church. I think the English [public] schools had a lot of influence in this regard.
This is a story that I use — how you can tell the difference between Kats Miho, Paul Miho, Katsuichi Miho? What does it tell you? Katsugo Miho is either first generation or second generation. Paul Miho is either second or third generation because when my generation started to go to school, all of us were two-names, Japanese name and English name. On the way, the English schoolteachers greatly influenced the kids to pick up [English names], “Oh, you should get an English name.” So a whole lot of second generation started to get their English name, like my brother Paul. Thereafter from us, anybody with an English name you, more or less, can guarantee that they’d be third generation or fourth generation.
I never did get impressed for the need of an English name. I guess my teachers never did try to influence me. I don’t recall being asked to add on. Although sometimes along the way, I was asked or suggested to pick up an English name. But it wasn’t too much of a pressure. They didn’t insist on it. It was merely a suggestion.
Katsugo Miho's interview courtesy of the Center for Oral History. Photographs courtesy of Katsugo Miho.