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Manoa 13.1 (2001) 22-35

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Belated Eulogy: A Family Album

Shuzo Uemoto

I was born in Hiroshima in 1947 and lived in Japan until I was five. In 1953, our family left Hiroshima on the ocean liner called President Cleveland to live in Hawai'i, my mother's birthplace. The war had ended too recently for certain wounds and resentments to have healed, and I was told it was best to stay quiet about the fact that my father had been an officer in the Japanese army. I've kept silent ever since, and only my close friends have known. Now, I'm fifty-three, it's a new millennium, and it feels redemptive to finally acknowledge my father and share openly these photographic memories.

The story could begin with my maternal grandfather, Kamezo Tsujiuchi. Born in Tanomi, Wakayama Prefecture, he had come to Hawai'i in his teens, sent for by his own father. My grandfather became a fisherman, and eventually owned two sampans, which he docked in Kewalo Basin, in Honolulu Harbor. He apparently made a good living fishing for aku (tuna) because in 1940 he was able to send his family back to Japan. Others were doing the same, hoping to protect their sons and daughters from a difficult situation in the event that Japan entered into a war with the United States.

There is a family photo taken in Honolulu in 1940 just before my mother and her siblings left for Japan. My mother is the oldest of seven children. Her brother James--the first-born son--is the gaunt young man on the right in the second row. Everyone except James is looking toward the camera. James appears distant and solemn, as though he's not happy about leaving. But my mother says that was his nature, always solemn. She once told me that he kept lyrics to a Hawaiian song in his wallet. I've often wondered which song it was, if he had it with him in this photograph and later too. I wonder what lyrics and melody were so important as to keep in his wallet, and if he kept them in order to remember some place or someone from the Islands.

Born in Hilo, James was just sixteen years old in the 1940 photograph. He and his family were headed to Japan during a time of fast-changing world events. Within a year, circumstances would put him and countless others--on both sides of the war--in harm's way. What was unusual in James's case was that he was both Japanese and American. He had dual citizenship, [End Page 22] [Begin Page 25] and that's one reason why sending him to Japan did not protect him from the war.

Several years later, just as the war was finishing, James was drafted out of telegraph school into the Japanese army and sent to China. He contracted malaria and ended up in an army hospital. I remember my father telling my mother that he had been in the same vicinity as James but had not known that James was there. Otherwise, Dad could have used his status as an officer to see that James, an enlisted man, had gotten the quinine that would have saved his life. James never left the hospital. He died in August 1945, at the age of twenty. He had been like a younger brother to my father.

There are several photographs of Dad with James. One is a memorable wide-angled shot of the two of them at a shrine at Nachi-san, in Wakayama Prefecture. They are surrounded by immense pine trees, and in the distance stands a torii, a gateway marking the entrance to a sacred shrine. Another is of my mother, James, and Dad together. My father is apparently home on leave from the war in China, enjoying the peace and calm of the shrine, several months or years before James would also go to war.

My father, Toshiharu Uemoto, was born in Hiroshima in 1914 to a family of fishermen. While growing up, he loved to...