Interview by Robynn Takayama
Transcript created June 8, 2005
WHAT WAS YOUR MOTHER’S LIFE LIKE IN JAPAN AND WHY SHE WANTED TO BECOME A PICTURE BRIDE
:42 My mother Sugi Misukami was born in Kumamoto City. It was in the city at the time. It was a prefecture. Kumomoto prefecture and the county was…I forgot. And she was very happy working in a place where there were micro…
5 My mother Sugi Misukami was born in a little village in Kamikai in the province of Watakugun, Kumamoto prefecture. She was the last of three children and the only daughter of Yahichi Misukami and Tojo Misukami. :29 She was sent to the temple to learn sewing for three years and after that, she was employed at a silk worm company where the high school graduates were able to look through the microscope to look for disease in the worms.
And one day her aunt, Kaju received a letter from HI from Sadahiko Sonoda and he was asking for her to be her bride. And she didn’t want to go to HI to marry Sadahiko Sonoda because she was in love with another man whose name was …1:40 but her aunt Kaju said Sugi, if you don’t go to HI and marry Sadahiko Sonoda, we’re going to disown you and we will have to take your name off the family register. And she was very much against it because she didn’t want to be left off the family register, so she reluctantly agreed to come to HI to be Sadahiko Sonoda’s bride.
2:14 I THOUGHT WITH PB, THERE WAS AN EXCHANGE OF LETTERS. WHY DID SHE RECEIVE A LETTER OUT OF THE BLUE THAT WAS A PROPOSAL
2:29 I guess she just decided to marry him because it was a traumatic experience for her not to be considered a member of the family.
NO, NO. HOW DID HE KNOW WHO SHE WAS. WAS THERE AN EXCHANGE OF LETTERS?
3:00 I don’t know that part, whether she replied saying that…She didn’t say that she wrote to him through the intermediary, the aunt Kaju handled it.
DESCRIBE HOW FATHER FOUND OUT ABOUT HER?
3:21 First he wrote a letter to a distant relative of his who lived in Kumamoto and his name was Kogami. He had a beautiful daughter who was 20 years old and Mr. Kogami said you can marry your daughter if you would give me 200 yen, which was the equivalent of $100 in US. But he didn’t have $100 so he said no. I cannot marry your daughter. So he wrote a letter to the Misukami family. And this is what happened. She didn’t want to marry him because she was in love with Kojiro. That was his first name. And so she came to HI.
4:30 SO WAS THERE AN INTERMEDIARY INVOLVED
4:36 In order to send him to HI, he needed a signature from the head of the family. And the head of the family, because he didn’t have parents already, was a brother, Sugi’s brother, Seihachi Misukami. And they tricked him. 5:10 The aunt, Kaju said your aunt is under verge of death and you have to come before she dies. And so he hurried. He was living in Tokyo at that time, her brother, Seijiro Mizukami (my mother’s brother). And so he hurridly came to Kumamoto only to find that his aunt (no not his aunt, oh, it was his aunt who was on the verge of dying) but that was false it was a lie. She was very healthy and so they only tricked him so that he would sign the release papers so Sugi Mizukami could come to HI. 6:10 That’s how she came to HI.
WHAT’S THE SIG OF BEING “WRITTEN OUT OF THE FAMILY REGISTER”
6:20 Just like you’re not any part of the family any more. 6:28 Every family in J has a kosogito or family register. It’s recorded at the municiple office of where you live. And if …like when a girl get married, they take her name. They put a black mark here and then put her name in the family that she gonna marry into. The groom’s family.
Well in her case, if she didn’t marry Sadahiko Sonoda, her name was not going to appear in any register because in HI we didn’t have a kosogito.
BUT WAS SIG?
7:19 That means you’re disowned by the family. If you’re not in the register, you’re disowned by the family. You’re not a member of the family anymore.
7:46 Her mother is already dead, but her mother’s sister, Kaju, was the one that said to come to sign the paper release for his sister to go to HI.
WHAT WAS HER AUNT’S INTEREST IN HAVING HER GO?
8:15 I don’t know why she pressured her so much. My mother never told me that. I don’t think for any financial gain. Like sending money from HI, but he did take care of his mother. He built a little house for her in Kumamoto. And I went to see that house one year when I was a young girl.
SO WHAT HAPPENED AFTER SHE AGREED TO BE MARRIED. DID THEY HAVE A WEDDING IN J?
8:57 No. Just putting her name in the family register signified that he was already married into the Sonoda family. And then when she arrived at Honolulu Harbor…she was married by a Methodist Episcopalian Christian minister in a mass wedding ceremony right at the immigration station.
She was detained three days at the immigration station to take out any toxins or whatever disease they may have brought from J. 9:45 But on the third day, they were released. She said there were 6 families. 6 couples that got married by the Xian minister and I have a beautiful koa framed wedding certificate hanging.
WHAT WAS IT LIKE AT THE DOCKS
[rain]10:18 He sent a picture to her but she didn’t say if she sent him a picture. How did they identify? I don’t know how they identified each other. Out of the 6 brides, I don’t know how he knew that was his bride.
DID SHE HAVE EXPECTATIONS OF LIFE IN HI
10:56 No. They thought HI was a wonderful place to come and work hard and earn money so they can earn enough money to take that money and live comfortably in J.
But in 1925 my whole family went to J, my sister and me and my father and mother to make their livelihood in J. We took a lot of farming equipment, but after 6 months, my parents said this is not the life we want to live. Too hard in J. You can’t…so they were just farmers. My father was just planting rice for 6 months. And so we came back to HI and they spent the rest of their life there. They were happy that they spent the rest of their life in HI.
11:56 WHAT YEAR DID SHE IMMIGRATE
1912 and he came 1906
AND WHAT WAS HIS STORY
12:10 See when he was 15, he had no parents already. He wanted to go and work in the Filipines but he was underage. They didn’t take him. Then, when he was 19, he went to apply to come to HI to work in the plantation. He went to Nagasaki to catch the boat but he didn’t’ pass the eye test.
You know those days, that was very significant that they pass the eye test. He was only 19 and what was wrong with his eyes, I don’t know. But he didn’t pass. So he came back to Kumamoto. Waited a couple of months. This time he went to Kobe to catch the boat to HI. And so he was going to bring his mother. [chimes]
13:46 he came in 1906, he immigrated. Sadahiko immigrated to HI in 1906. And his bride came 1912.
WHEN HE CAME TO HI
14:07 He was sent to the Kahuku plantation which is near the ocean and somehow he said he didn’t like it because he couldn’t sleep at night with the sound of the ocean. And so he after a couple of months only, he went to Punene, Maui to work on the plantation, HC&S Co.
DID HE DESCRIBED THE KIND OF WORK HE DID
14:40 He was he did steam plow. They would plow the cane with the big truck, steam plow. And he was a helper and my mother came. They didn’t have, she didn’t have money to buy material to make clothes for the plantation job. She took off all her J kimono where she hand stitched and she even made the material on the loom herself and THEN she made the kimono. She had to turn that recycle it into working clothes for the plantation: blouse and a long sleeve. You’ve seen pictures.
And so after working 6 months, it was hard work and my father, they would hide in the cane field? Do you know what they were doing? Hush hush. (whispered)Gambling! 15:56 And then a luna would go and check the houses, the barracks, where they were living and they’re gone. So the luna would think these guys went o work already. But no, they’re in the cane fields. 16:15 because they get whipped if they get caught. They were very cruel to the workers, laborers.
16:30 So after 6 months, my mother and father, my father was there already 5 years, but my mother after 6 months, their friend came from Wailuku, Maui to ask if they would like to take over this man and his wife’s job as a house maid and house boy for the William Tate and Robinson family. He was a state island, because it wasn’t a state yet, legislator. And he was also a tax assessor on the island of Maui. 17:09 And so the pay was going to be the same: $18 for the man, for my father and $15 for my mother, but they didn’t have to pay for food. The Robinson family provided housing. Of course plantation housing was free, too. But they had to buy their own food on the plantation. So they came and my father paid off all his debts from working for the Robinsons.
17:46 LET’S GO BACK TO WHEN IT WAS ONLY HIM AND HE MOVED TO PUUNENE. YOU DESCRIBED HOW THEY’D GAMBLE. WAS IT DIFFICULT TO SAVE MONEY? DID HE PAY FOR HIS WIFE’S PASSAGE?
18:12 That part I’m not sure. They were on the contract, so I don’t know if the plantation paid for even his boat fair. 18:34 192something.
THE ACTUAL CONTRACT LABOR WHERE THEY WERE TIED TO THE BUSINESS FOR A NUMBER OF YEARS ENDED
18:53 Some people had the document you know. I wonder if I have that.
DID HE DESCRIBE LIVING CONDITIONS
19:07 Before he got married, I don’t know. See, my mother lived with me 5 years before she went to the nursing home. And so she told me a lot of things so this is true because she described her living conditions, what kind of house she lived in.
[read] 20:28 The room they lived in a barrack where the room was only large enough to put a wooden platform for a bed on which they put a futon to sleep on and a small table and a bench to eat their meals. They used the table to write letters also. There was only 1 window and a door. Their next door neighbor was M&M Takahashi.
There was an out door kitchen with a dirt floor and a room overhead for two families to share. Each couple paid $.30/month for use of the furo bath. The outhouse was alo community outhouse. There was a room for the outhouse and walls between each toilet. There were 6 toilets back to back, a total of 12. Instead of a door for each toilet, there was only a cloth curtain hanging in front. Sometime someone had to stay out and watch, especially in the case of a woman using the toilet. There was a good number of bachelors living in the camp.
As for food, since there were no automobiles, peddlers used to come on horse and buggy on the plantation camps. One whole tuna cost only $.25 and cotton material cost .25 for three yards.
CAN YOU SAY IT BUT NOT READ IT
23:04 You know, I don’t think she was very happy with that kind of condition because in Japan, she didn’t have to work that hard. Yeah, plantation work is very very hard. But you know like old Japanese, yamatadamashi they call it. The spirit of the samurai, although she was a woman, they hide their emotions. They know how to endure to the end. 23:35 And really they sacrificed a great big …they were like the pioneers in the olden days.
So I’m glad they made a choice to live in HI. 23:55
TALK ABOUT THE LABOR SHE DID
24:00 She said she had to hapaiko. They carried the cane that has been cut, carried on the shoulder. They carried the cane that has already been cut and they would haul ‘em on the shoulder and carry it to the train and that’s the work she did for 6 months. 24:36 They had to work like 10 hours.
24:46 CAN YOU COMPARE JAPAN AND HAWAII, THE KIND OF WORK SHE DID
24:56 In Japan, she had an easy job. Going through the silk worms. She had lot of time where she read books because it was not that busy, her work in Japan.
HOW DID SHE ADAPT WHEN SHE CAME TO HI?
25:25 She was only 20 years old. And after 6 months in the plantation, she had to learn to cook American way when she went to live with the Robinson family. Had to learn the language. That wasn’t easy. 26:00
SHE WAS REALLY IN LOVE WITH SOMEONE ELSE.
26:19 Her aunt threatened her saying that if she doesn’t marry Sadahiko Sonoda in HI, we’re going to take your name out of the register, which is the kosekiko, which is a very precious thing. Even my father had a kosechiko in HI.
26:38 WHEN SHE CAME AND MET HER HUSBAND, DID THEY HIT IT OFF?
26:45 Gee. I guess so if she gave birth to 7 children! But she didn’t have any children for 5 years. And then the Robinson family wanted a couple that had no children. So after 5 years, my sister was born and then that’s when my father, he was an entrepreneur. He got some recycled lumber from some place and he built a house with the help of his friends that lived in Wailuku, The house was in Wailuku and he leased the land and he raised vegetables. And Mr. Robinson gave him some cows.
Mr. Robinson also had a dairy so my father learned how to run a dairy. So the rest of his life he always was a diary man.27:55
SO DID YOUR MOM LEARN TO LOVE HER HUSBAND
28:06 One thing she told me. She my father had to amputate 1 leg and they were living in Paulolo. One day out of the clear blue sky he said before he died. He said, please don’t die before I do and thanked her for [crying] taking care of me. He said he really appreciated all the help she gave him because we used to even….he used to like to drink sake, so us kids had to help my mother. She was bootlegging. And it was against the law to make whisky or sake. She had to buy 100 lbs of rice and it smells and we didn’t complain because we were helping our parents. Trying to save money, yeah. I had wonderful parents.
My mother lived to be 98. 29:29 and I’m glad she came to live with me and my husband before she went to the nursing home because she contributed a lot of things in this for my book. 29:50
30:00 They were poor, but so was every body else those days so we didn’t feel like we were the only ones that were poor. All the neighborhood kids wore hand me down clothes. No shoes to go to school. Bare feet. That’s how you have to.
Everybody is important. You have to write the story of your life so that your progenitors know what kind of life their great grand mother. This is the year we came back from Japan. I was 5 years old.
DID THEY LIVE IN A JAPANESE CAMP
30:50 They were a little different. We had a Spanish camp, Chinese camp, Korean, Filipino. But we were at the dairy so our camp was mostly Filipino workers and Japanese. And not a lot of people lived in our camp. There were only 7 houses. So all we played with our next door neighbor kids. We didn’t have a whole camp.
WHEN THEY WORKED FOR THE ROBINSONS, IT WAS STILL ON THE PLANTATION?
No, this was in Wailuku. He was a business man. He owned a lot of land. He had a Portuguese wife. My mother could count the names of the 10 children on her 10 fingers by their nickname. When she came to live with me, I was SURPRISED! This book is only ½ finished, so the picture comes in the other half.
WHEN THEYLIVED ON THE PLANTATION
32:07 they lived among themselves only.
WHAT YEAR DID THEY MOVE TO WAILUKU?
My mother came in 1912 and so 6 months later. 1912 they went to live in Wailuku
DID THEY TALK ABOUT THE STRIKES
32:37 No I don’t think so because. No. There was a strike in the ‘20s.
THOUGHS ABOUT THEM COMING TO HI AND STAYING AND WHAT THAT MEANS TO YOU.
33:09 As a descendent of my hard working parents, I’m so greatful that I’m one of their children and I’ve been blessed with good health all these years. And my mother just lived her children. Ms. TAkaki our dear friend, she said, “Yukichan’s mother, it was such a children loving woman.” She marvels at my mother’s love for her children. She’d do anything for them. Sacrifice.That’s the comment athat Ms. Takaki said. My mother was that way.
34:18 Although they dind’t know each other when they were married, my mother and father all in this book said I’m so happy we chose to live in HI. It’s a good thing they didn’t go back to Japan to live there.
35:55 She didn’t describe how she crossed the ocean to come to HI. No. …36:33 Barbara Kawakami’s book about clothing. And in there she described how my mother’s kimono was ripped because she was too poor to buy material to make work clothes for the plantation job.
37:25 My mother made the material when she turned them into kimono when she started working in the plantation because she didn’t have the money to buy the material to make clothes. And she was a good seamstress so she took apart her kimono, which was hand sewn, and turned them into work clothes. And that’s how they were able to save some money.
OTHER THINGS TO SAVE MONEY
38:00 some other things were after we came into her life, like she would wash the Filipino clothes: pants for .25 or a shirt for .15. I remember. We were already going to high school. And the Wilson, he was the supervisor for Punene diary. He would bring a whole week’s laundry: sheets and towels. Long sleeves men shirt and my sister and I and my mother, every Sunday, we had a big wash day. I HATED it! Because we didn’t have washing machine. Everything was done by hand. We had to boil the clothes in out door galvanized big bucket looking thing. And stir it. And we dind’ thave Cheer detergent. We had to scrape off some bars of soap. Crystal White was the name of the soap. And then make suds and then cook the clothes. It took us all day to do the laundry. And all we got paid was $2. That was SLAVERY. But we endured. We had a hard life! Because we didn’t have spending money. But I’m glad we survived.
40:00 My husband said he’d never forget the time that all the boys went to see the submarine movie in the plantation submarine hall and his father didn’t have a dime. He wsa 10 years old. He couldn’t go. He cried. So I tell my great-grandchildren: think about your grandpa Rick. His father didn’t have a dime to spare to see this movie. So don’t splurge your money.