Nobujiro Hakoda Of Kona

Nobujiro Hakoda Of Kona

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Issei Pioneer’s Life Remembered in “Aloha ‘Äina” Collection

Dr. Momi Naughton
(With the late Milton Hakoda, and Kenneth and Pat Hakoda)

Nobujiro Hakoda was born in Fukuoka Prefecture in Japan, on the southern island of Kyüshü on July 7, 1883. At the age of 18, he made the decision to go to the islands of Hawai‘i, paying for the trip out of his own pocket. Nobujiro was put on a boat filled with contract laborers bound for a sugar plantation in Kahuku on the island of O‘ahu. Speaking only Japanese, he could not make the lunas (bosses) understand that he was not a contract laborer and that he was headed for Kona on the island of Hawai‘i to work for his uncle, who owned a store. For three days, the lunas would beat Nobujiro and send him out to work in the cane fields. One day, he was so exhausted from the beatings and the long, hard work that he fell asleep during the lunch break in the middle of the cane field. When he awoke, everyone was gone. Nobujiro thought that this was his chance to escape.

Issei Pioneer=Aloha Aina2 Cover

He figured that if he followed the shoreline, he would eventually get to Honolulu. After walking for a night and a day without food or water, he saw who he thought was a Hawaiian man with a fish net over his shoulder. The man turned out to be a Japanese fisherman, so Nobujiro was able to tell him his story. The fisherman warned him not to walk along the shore because that’s where the plantation lunas would be looking for him. Instead, the fisherman pointed to two mango trees up the side of the mountain, where a Japanese couple would feed him and hide him for the night. Like an “underground railroad,” Japanese runaways would be directed from house to house until they got to Honolulu.

When Nobujiro got to Honolulu, he stayed at a Japanese hotel. (He had stuffed $10 into his pocket before going to work in the fields, but all his other worldly possessions were still at the plantation in Kahuku.)

In Honolulu, Nobujiro overheard a man who spoke the same dialect. Nobujiro approached this man, telling him his story, and asked him what he should do. The man said the first thing he should do is get rid of his hakama (Japanese clothes) and buy a Western shirt and pants. So, he gave the man some money and he bought a pair of pants, a shirt and shoes for Nobujiro. The cost was about five dollars and whatever change there was, the man kept.

Nobujiro had already bought a ticket in Japan for the trip from Honolulu to Kona, so he was able to catch a boat bound for Kona. (The name of the boat was either the Humu‘ula or the Hualalai.) He knew his uncle would be at the dock because he always picked up supplies from the incoming boats. And, sure enough, his uncle was there, with his riding horse and two mules to carry the provisions. Nobujiro walked up the hill, following his uncle the five miles to his store in Wai‘aha.

Besides working at his uncle’s store, Nobujiro was responsible for buying merchandise from American Factors in Kailua town and hauling the goods on mules to sell to the mauka (hill, or mountainside) families. He worked hard for a few years and saved enough money to lease land and a building from George Koike, to establish his own store in Hölualoa.

Nobujiro had an arranged marriage with Chiyo Arakawa from his home prefecture of Fukuoka. Together they had eight children, with the boys having names associated with Hawai‘i:

No. 2: Konao (named for Kona, literally ”Kona boy”),
No. 3: Shimao (shima = island, so “island boy”),
No. 4 : Nobuya (named after child’s father),
No. 5: Kusuo (literally, “Kyüshü boy,” where parents originated),
No. 7: Tatsumi (translation: rising dragon, Milton) and
No. 8: Yooji (Japanese for “Pacific”).

Nobujiro’s N. Hakoda Store was run like a plantation store, whereby people would get credit and pay their bills on “pay day” or when the coffee was harvested. The store carried general merchandise such as canned goods, rice, dried fish from Japan, cigarettes, candy, etc. He also had 26 acres of coffee land, which was cared for by his four sons and three live-in Filipino workers. For a period of time, Nobujiro did quite well. But the price of coffee went down and the stock market crashed and he had to sell part of his land. There were also many people who could not pay their bills. One man paid his bill by turning over his land to Nobujiro, but this brought more misery because there was a lien on the property and Nobujiro had to pay the government $10,000. But Nobujiro never gave up on his store, which barely broke even each month. His goal was to keep the store open for 50 years, and in 1956, having reached his goal, he closed the doors to his store for the last time. He retired and moved to Honolulu. He traveled to Japan, but on his return, suffered a heart attack. He quietly passed away in 1959.

Having had a fair amount of education in Japan, Nobujiro would help people read letters from Japan and also write letters for them. He loved to read, especially science books, and learned about the basics of child delivery.

He delivered two of his sister’s children.

Nobujiro was a well-respected member of the community. He was asked to do baishaku-nin (matchmaking) and arranged the marriages for as many as fifty couples in Kona (not to be confused with the “picture brides” from Japan). He was also a trustee of the Holualoa Japanese School and a community leader in local affairs. When Pearl Harbor was bombed in 1941, he was not picked up by the FBI as were some other Japanese leaders, because he was a cousin of Baron Goto, a politically influential man.

During World War II, many families in Kona sold lauhala products to supplement their income. Nobujiro helped his wife, who did excellent weaving, making placemats, bags and purses. He experimented with the color of the lauhala by bleaching the leaves in big tubs of detergent, milk of magnesia and Clorox. He would then have to strip off the thorns on the sides of the leaves, cut and size, then roll the leaves to dry. A wholesaler named Mrs. Finlayson used to say, “Hakoda-san, your lauhala is the whitest and I’ll take all you can make.” (Pat Hakoda, Nobujiro’s daughter-in-law, has a set of placemats made in 1955. They’re not as white now, more of a cream color, but still useable.)

Nobujiro was a reserved individual, never raising his voice. Every evening before dinner, he would drink one kabin (1/2 cup) of sake and eat püpü, which was his main dish. This was followed by a bowl of hot rice. He used to say, ”I wish I had more children to fill the void in the home.”

He was proud of his children who grew up to be fine citizens.

Konao graduated from the University of Hawai‘i and became office manager for Kobatake Contractors, then office manager for Kodak Hawaii. Shimao (Dan) became a department manager for Sears, receiving many awards for creative and innovative advertising. Nobuya (Herbert) was the only son to remain in Kona, eventually working his way up to a managerial position at the Kona Hukilau Hotel. Kusuo (Gilbert) opened his own retail store, selling radios, TVs and other electronic products in Kainaliu and later in Kailua-Kona. Masae (May) became a Singer Sewing teacher and saleswoman. Tatsumi (Milton), after graduation from the UH, worked with the state Employment Service and was manager of the state Vocational Division. Finally, he was appointed as Hawai‘i County’s director of Parks and Recreation. Yooji (Kenneth), also a UH graduate, became a bank examiner for the state of Hawai‘i. Shizue (Elsie) died just before Pearl Harbor from a severe illness.

When the grandchildren from Hilo and Kona came to visit him in Honolulu, he would sing:

Gusuri Baba-jo
Baba ga suuta kome wa,
Ishiga atte kamaren
Gatto kue

The Hakodas belonged to the Kona Daifukuji, but this was in upper Keauhou and too far for the elderly to commute to on Sundays. So, Nobujiro started a group of about fifteen elders at his home to read the Seicho-no-ie (Buddhist) scriptures every Sunday.

Grandpa Hakoda will always be remembered for his quiet, but effective leadership, his love, and duty to his family and community.

This is just one story from a valuable collection — “Aloha ‘Äina, Volume II: More Big Island Memories” — which was edited by Hilo resident and retired librarian Gloria Kobayashi. The book can be purchased in Hilo at Basically Books, the Lyman Museum and at EHCC/Hawai‘i Museum of Contemporary Art; at Kona Stories in the Keauhou Shopping Center; and at Book Ends in Kailua, O‘ahu.

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