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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

THE SEARCH FOR KENJIRO'S GRANDMOTHERS


Tomorrow I continue my quest to search for Kenjiro's grandmothers. The following excerpt is from SIMPLE SOLUTIONS for Planet Earth:
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In 1963, after a short stint in the Army Reserves, while on a trainee assignment to the Kilauea Sugar Company on Kauai, a newsletter noted my arrival. A very old man came up to me one day and said he had known my grandfather. My initial reaction was mild astonishment, as while I knew that my father had been born on Kauai, I don’t recall him talking much about his parents. That individual said my grandfather was involved with the Wainiha Powerhouse and was extraordinary, in that he was very well educated and served as a supervisor. Unfortunately, he died only a few years after arriving and was buried up on the hill above the town. My family knew I was on this island. Why had no one said that I should visit my grandfather’s burial spot, for the culture of even Hawaii Japanese, was to honor the dead. Then again, maybe someone did and I did not pay any attention.

Well, returning to 1963, weeks later, this gentleman came back and said he had found the gravestone, which was outside the cemetery fence, and that he and his friends went on to restore the area. He led me there and took a photo of me with his daughter, two neighbor children and Pearl. I am today, 44 years later, now kicking myself, for I never really expressed my thanks to him. Only as I write this sentence do I appreciate the enormity of what he did, for I recently used this finding as the starting point for my roots search. Also too, I never bothered to ask him for details about my grandfather. I did, though, mail a copy of that photo to my older brother, Stan.

I pretty much forgot about all this until 2005, when I got a sudden urge to search for my roots. At this point, all I had were a few rumors. Yes, there was that encounter on Kauai 42 years previously and my first visit to the grave of my father’s father. Deep in my brain cells were wild thoughts of this grandfather being educated at Columbia University, his grandmother being a female samurai Robin Hood on Hokkaido…but no proof. And I still did not even know what his first name was. So the process of searching for my roots started at a one day workshop held at the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii. This is where I created the family mon as a composite of two classic versions. I colorized this official form into the rainbow version shown above, which then became the cover for SIMPLE SOLUTIONS for Planet Earth. The mon represents a high bridge (Takahashi means high bridge in Japanese) to connect countries and people taking the high road to cooperation. This book hopes to serve this function.

In September of 2005, Pearl and I visited Misa Tamura, the son-in-law of that older gentleman, to find the gravestone on Kauai. Misa, himself, was well into his 80’s by then, and he asked if we also wanted to see my grandfather’s powerhouse, for somehow, the community even then, a century later, referred to the site as Takahashi’s powerhouse. The Wainiha Powerhouse was commissioned in 1906, and today produces 4 MW with essentially the same incoming pipes and generation equipment. Around this time, my brother, Stan, found the earlier photo and sent me a note that the name on the gravestone was Kenjiro Takahashi. Thus, I learned for the first time that I was named after this grandfather, for my middle name is Kenji.

There were still huge doubts on what was real until I had the good fortune to sit next to Elsie and David Ikegami at a 50th year Wedding Anniversary party of a mutual friend. David was born in Utah, was a Mormon, but lived most of his life in Hawaii. At the age of 80, he ran one of those Mormon family centers famous for conducting these root searches. I visited his office and passed on all the information I had, which was not much. Within two weeks his staff found a nine page document signed by the Secretary of the Territory of Hawaii showing that Kenjiro came to Kauai from America, was originally from Hokkaido, Japan, and served as a luna, or supervisor, at the Kilauea Plantation. He fell at the hydro site in 1906 and died in the same year that the powerhouse commenced operations. Well, with most of what I thought was largely made up now turning out to be true, the search was intensified with a trip to Utashinai, his home village, and will continue for Kenjiro’s grandmothers in Akita on Honshu and Otaru, just outside of Sapporo. Even if I find nothing else, there is enough already to write a book, tracing this possible female samurai Robin Hood to me. At this time, this one looms as a novel.
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So tomorrow I'm off to search for Kenjiro's grandmothers in Otaru and Akita. As Japanese kosekis only go back 80 years, and these great-great grandmothers were all born around circa 1825, perhaps church records or folk tales will provide the only clues. As neither Pearl nor I read or communicate in Japanese, Hiromi Hotta, wife of Nihon University Ocean Engineering professor, Kenji Hotta, will be with us. She, too, has roots in Otaru, so she has been looking forward to this combined expedition.
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The Dow Jones Industrials rose 87 to 7609. Except for Australia and Sweden, world markets went up. Gold increased a dollar to $918. The price of oil is now provided on the right.
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1 comment:

Kirk Sorensen said...

This is a heart-warming story. Your grandfather sounds like a remarkable man.