For many years when I was at my Aunty Annie’s (dad’s twin sister) apartment across from Punahou School and went to the bathroom, I used to pass some family pictures that hung on her hallway wall. I would sometimes stop for a moment and look at the pictures and wonder who these people were. After my aunty passed away, copies of those pictures came into my possession.
I took them to my dad to see if he knew who they were. He said the picture below is the Okinawa Inafuku family taken just before my grandmother left Okinawa in 1912 for Hawaii to be with my grandfather. In the picture, she is sitting between the two gentlemen standing. The young gentleman is my grandfather’s younger brother, Uncle Hoso. Uncle Hoso’s wife, Kama, is the young lady on the right. The gentleman with the hat is my great-grandfather.
My dad lived in Okinawa during the early ’20s for 2 1/2 years when he was 8 to 10 years old. My grandmother, Aunty Annie, and my dad left Kauai to go to Okinawa to take back my grandfather’s remains for placement in the Inafuku family tomb in Haneji. My grandfather died from influenza in Waimea, Kauai, two years earlier. During the last years of his life, I spent many hours talking with my dad about that time in Waimea and Okinawa. Below is a picture of my dad when he was about 8 years old, standing in front of the Japanese school in Kekaha, Kauai, I believe. It was taken just before he left for Okinawa.
When my dad arrived in Okinawa, his Inafuku grandfather and grandmother had already passed away, so their house in Oyakawa village in Haneji was empty. But the house was small, big enough only for my grandmother and my Aunty Annie. So my dad lived with Uncle Hoso Inafuku and his wife, Kama, a few houses away. Only two of them lived in there. They had no children.
Uncle Hoso was a veteran of the Russian-Japanese War (1905). He came back a war hero. My dad said he was awarded Japan’s second highest medal, the Gin-shi kan-sho, equivalent to America’s Distinguished Service Cross. Below is a photo of Uncle Hoso Inafuku with his medals. My dad said that Uncle Hoso could not bend his knees, which I believe were broken during the war. When he returned from the war, he was known as “Stiff Legs” in the village. I don’t think the villagers knew of his heroic war deeds.
One day, my dad found the medals when he was snooping in Uncle Hoso’s things. He said he put the medals on his yukata and paraded around in the village, showing them off to the other boys. It was funny, my dad said, that Uncle Hoso didn’t seem to mind. He was never scolded or punished for it. The medal on the far left, in the middle of his chest, is the Gin-shi kan-sho.
I believe in the 2 1/2 years my dad lived with Uncle Hoso and Aunty Kama, he became their son, and I believe they came to love him as a son. My dad said that when it came time for my grandmother, Aunty Annie, and him to return to Hawaii, Aunty Kama made a beautiful kimono for him to take back to Hawaii. My dad said they traveled from Oyakawa village to Naha in a Ford Model-T taxi and spent two days in Naha waiting for the ship’s departure.
My dad said that, after boarding the ship, he was leaning on the ship’s railing on the deck, watching the activity on the dock when the ship started pulling away from the dock. He was really surprised when he saw Uncle Hoso come running to the edge of the dock as fast as his two stiff legs allowed him. He waved to my dad. My dad waved back, shouting, “Uncle! Uncle!”
Uncle Hoso stood as close as he could to the end of the dock. There, watching the ship slowly pull away, he kept waving and calling out, “Goodbye Hozo! Take care! Take care!”
My dad waved back, crying out, “Goodbye Uncle! Goodbye!”
My dad remembers Uncle Hoso waving to him all the while the boat pulled farther away and slowly sailed out of Naha harbor. It was the last time he saw Uncle Hoso.
I asked my dad if he could see the tears in Uncle Hoso’s eyes as he waved. He was surprised at me for asking such a question. “No,” he replied.
I said, “Dad, I can. I can see Uncle Hoso’s face. I can see him waving with tears in his eyes until he can no longer see the ship, until he sees only the ocean and the blue sky.”
Uncle Hoso and Aunty Kama never had children. My dad was their only child.
I believe it was Uncle Hoso who sent my dad, Aunty Annie, and my grandmother back to Hawaii. My guess is that he did not want my dad to grow up in Okinawa where he could be drafted into the Japanese Army. Uncle Hoso knew war. I believe he knew where Japan was heading. I don’t think he wanted my dad to be a part of what was coming.
My dad said that when he returned to Hawaii after living in Okinawa for 2 1/2 years, the only English word he remembered was “pencil.” He could only speak Uchinaaguchi.