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  • The Gift:An Interview with June Hiroko Arakawa
  • Kinuko Maehara Yamazato (bio)

By the 1920s, many first-generation Okinawan immigrants in Hawai'i were faced with the problem of how to provide both a Japanese education and an American one for their Hawai'i-born children. Parents would usually send their children to Japanese-language school in Hawai'i. In addition, some would send one or more of them to Okinawa or mainland Japan for Nihon ryugaku; that is, "studying in Japan." It was also not unusual for many first-generation Okinawan immigrants to send their children for kuchiberashi; that is, "to reduce the number of mouths to feed." In Okinawa, children could live with grandparents inexpensively; parents could remain in Hawai'i meanwhile, working to earn money for their own return.

The Nisei children (whether Japanese or Okinawan) who were educated in Japan and who later returned to Hawai'i were referred to as Kibei Nisei. Often they had problems assimilating back into the community after returning from Japan, especially if they had been sent to Okinawa or mainland Japan at an early age and had lived there for most of their youth. During the 1920s and 1930s, approximately three thousand Okinawan Kibei who had grown up in Okinawa returned to Hawai'i. Many Kibei Nisei who returned to the Islands in the late 1930s and early 1940s-when rumors of war in the Pacific were spreading-were suspected of being pro-Japanese and therefore disloyal to the United States. It was presumed that, during their time in Japan, they had been indoctrinated in the militarism associated with emperor worship.

Some Okinawan Kibei used their experiences living in Okinawa or mainland Japan to help the local Okinawan community develop a sense of pride in its distinct cultural heritage, and bridge differences among the Japanese in Hawai'i.

What follows is a profile of June Hiroko Arakawa, an Okinawan Kibei Nisei who became well known in Hawai'i for her kindness and contributions to the Okinawan community. I met Mrs. Arakawa when I arrived in Hawai'i in 2004 as an Obuchi Scholarship student from Okinawa. She was seventy-nine years old at the time and still an active leader in the Okinawan community. She welcomed me into her home, and I interviewed her several [End Page 149] times over the next few years as I did research for my master's degree in sociology at the University of Hawai'i. Mrs. Arakawa had collected many documents, and she often sent me articles related to my research. Our last conversation was in mid-July 2008, approximately six weeks before she passed away, at age eighty-four. Because she was frail, she asked me to come to her home to conduct the following interview, presented in an edited form. We spoke in both English and Japanese. She seemed to know that she did not have much longer to live and that it was important to preserve the stories of Kibei Nisei like herself for the sake of the community she loved. Having cleared a small space amidst the many piles of books, we sat at a table off the kitchen.

"My name is June Hiroko Arakawa," she began. "My maiden name was Arakaki. I was the second daughter of Kyo and Tsuyo Arakaki. My older sister, the first daughter, died when she was twelve years old, so it seemed that I became the eldest daughter.

"I was born on June 7, 1924, in the middle of Honolulu, where Fort Street is, and raised in that area, where the YMCA is now located.

"My mother's father was an immigrant. He worked for twenty-two years on the island of Maui. He said that when he was ready to go back to Okinawa, he did not have any money to buy omiyage [gifts], so he decided to take one of his grandchildren. And I don't know why, but I was the one he selected. I was only five years old and had entered kindergarten. But I just went with him to Okinawa, where I was cared for by my grandmother and grandfather.

"Soon afterwards, when my aunty from Tokyo came down...


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