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XIII

THE JAPANESE IN HAWAII

S

AID an evangelist in Hawaii: “Two years ago, when I came, there came to this camp also a young man

recently arrived from Japan. He opened his eyes in astonishment, saying, 'I never dreamed that Japanese could come to this !' And yet that very young man is to-day wallowing in the mire as hopelessly as any of them, and that will be the history of every young man that comes, unless we can get a hold of him before he gets dragged down.”

The evangelist was describing the gruesome condition of some of the plantation camps occupied by Japanese hands. It is puzzling, he added, that the people noted, while in their native country, for their orderly habits and artistic tastes could become so utterly indifferent to their surroundings, once they are brought on the plantations.

I can, however, well imagine why some of the Japanese labourers show such deplorable relapse after their arrival in the islands. Poor as they were, most of them lived in roomy, comfortable houses. The Japanese farmhouses with quaint thatch roofs are to the Western eye more picturesque than inviting, yet most of them contain three or four rooms of good size. They have nothing that indicates refined taste, but they are comfortable enough, and with a little care can be kept quite respectable. The floors are fitted with thick well-made mattresses covered with mattings, the interior walls are

plastered and papered, and the rooms are partitioned with fusuma, a peculiar sort of doors of wooden frames covered with thick layers of paper, the surface of which is often embellished with drawings or ideographs.

Having been accustomed to live in such houses, the Japanese labourers, when placed in dismal camps on the plantations, naturally feel a certain sense of disappointment which easily develops into depression and indifference. Most of us know how discouraged we feel when suddenly removed from respectable living-quarters and put into a pretence of a house where putting things in order is hopeless task. Disorderly habit soon takes hold of us, making us callous to untidiness and indecency.

In the earlier days the plantation camps were merely bunk-houses divided into narrow cells, each containing two sleeping places. In those days even married labourers were made to live in such cells, to the detriment of both morals and sanitation. The survivors of such dismal bunk-houses are still to be seen occupied by labourers on some of the plantations. The unhappy habit acquired by Japanese labourers in the days of contract labour could not easily be reformed.

And yet the Japanese plantation hands cannot be said to have been slow in availing themselves of the opportunity offered by the planters of improving their surroundings. That they are naturally inclined to be neat and even fastidious in the upkeep of their premises is shown in the following passage from one of Mr. Ray Stannard Baker's illuminating articles on Hawaii:

“Often the manager permits the working people to use a bit of land around their houses, and it is surprising to see, as at Kohuku and Ewa, with what skill and beauty the Japanese have developed their little yards. Some of the miniature gardens with little rocky pools and fish and many flowers around about, suggest a corner of old Japan. The only other people who have manifested any similar pride in their surroundings are the Portuguese, but their improvements run to the practical rather than the artistic."

The Kohuku and Ewa plantations are on Oahu Island. At Waialua, also on the same island, the manager told me that the Japanese paid far greater attention to their houses and gardens than other people. That was also the view expressed to me by the managers of plantations on Hawaii Island. Since the Japanese strike of 1909 the planters have been building more delectable shelters for the Japanese hands. And along with this the Hawaiian Board have been engaged in a vigorous campaign for the betterment of the camps, distributing trees among the Japanese to be planted around their cottages, and offering prizes for the best grown trees. In 1909, when the Board started a campaign for planting trees, 2,000 trees were distributed. The Japanese took immediate interest in the movement and vied with one another to attain the best results in tree culture. Without any attempt on the part of the Hawaiian Board to continue the movement for a second year, the Japanese labourers have ordered on their own initiative 1,700 trees. Along with the trees came added interest in flowers and fences and hedges. In some camps the improvement has amounted to a transformation.

The Japanese in Hawaii, having mostly come from picturesque villages surrounded by rice fields, know little of communal life in America. When such people are allowed to settle together in their own way the resultant villages, towns, or streets are not in conformity to the plans and ideas on which American villages and towns are established. Of this the Japanese quarters of the city of Hilo, Hawaii Island, furnish a most conspicuous illustration. The buildings in those quarters are as exotic as they are unsightly. True, this peculiarity is not apparent in the stores and shops facing the business streets, but when you explore the mazes back of the streets you begin to wonder if you are in an American city. Here in the small space of ground enclosed by the block buildings the Japanese put up all manner of ramshackle buildings, utilized as restaurants, bath houses, barber shops, and small stores. Their architectural effects, both interior and exterior, are more Japanese than American. Every inch of ground that could be utilized has been utilized for building purposes, leaving but narrow passages which thread through the medley of whimsical structures. The whole atmosphere suggests a corner of a small town in the Sunrise Empire.

As I walked through these so-called “ Japanese alleys I wondered why the municipal authorities should ever have permitted Japanese, or more probably American landowners, to put up such exotic houses in a manner totally contrary to the usual methods of city-building in America. I could not see why there should not be building and sanitary laws which would prevent the appearance of such quarters. Upon inquiry I found out that the Board of Supervisors of the city was composed mostly, almost exclusively, of native Hawaiians, whose sluggishness and inaction are proverbial. As long as local governments are left in the hands of Hawaiians, it is next to impossible to infuse civic pride into the minds of the aliens living under such governments. If one drives through the city of Hilo one realizes that it is no wonder that the Japanese built such strange houses. Rather does he wonder how they avoided establishing

far more outlandish quarters. For the whole city seems to have been built without preconceived plan, letting the streets run where they may, and allowing the houses to rear their roofs where their whimsical builders would have them. Most streets, except those of the business section, have no sidewalks, and even where walks are provided they abruptly degenerate into impassable mudholes and ruts. Save for the pretentious residences occupied by wealthy Americans interested in the sugar industry or banking business, the whole city suggests the Orient rather than the Occident. Small wonder that the Japanese seem to feel perfectly at home in Hilo.

What the Japanese in Hawaii need is the discreet guidance and wise counsel of public-spirited American statesmen, publicists, and moral leaders. Most of all, they need enlightened legislators and efficient officials. Once the way is shown there is no doubt that they will strive to follow it. The Japanese came to Hawaii not on their own initiative but at the urgent solicitation of the interests which made the life of the archipelago what it is. It is, therefore, incumbent upon Hawaii to guide them and assist them towards higher civilization and greater well-being. Instead of giving them this muchneeded guidance, the administrators of Hawaii are permitting the Japanese in some places to build houses and lay thoroughfares in a manner contrary to American ideas. Worse still, they are even leaning upon the Japanese, as in the case of public school buildings, which I have discussed in the preceding chapter. If Hawaii is ever to be Orientalized in the unfortunate sense of the word, much of the blame must be shouldered by those Americans who are at the helm in the administration of the islands.

With all the keen appreciation of what Hawaii has

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