Hawaii and Japan: A Rich Cultural and Historical Connection

  • November 19, 2018      Friendly Borders Staff

Honolulu – Hawaii shines with a rainbow of various cultures brought by different ethnicities who have found their way to the islands throughout generations. What started as a journey for some people to work on sugar plantations ended up with them settling in the island and creating their distinct communities. By contrast, others thought of finding a relaxing life in a tropical land but later ended up working in huge plantations. These were the first Japanese immigrants of Hawaii.

Expedition To Residence

When Japanese men started immigrating to Hawaii, they had to overcome a number of challenges before fully understanding the extent of their journey. Many of them had to work long hours in the sugar plantations in Oahu with almost all of them unfamiliar with English, which was the language spoken by the natives. Aside from English, the Japanese immigrants also had to learn to speak Hawaiian.

Nevertheless, the language barrier never became too much of a burden; instead, learning English and Hawaiian provided the Japanese immigrants another opportunity to build a culture distinct from both Japan and Hawaii. Most of the Japanese men were able to marry Hawaiian women who later had children and gradually blended in well with the Hawaiian lifestyle.

The Japanese is one of the ethnic groups that can be identified by generation. Their travels from 1885 to 1924 were significant because this movement ceased with the Federal Immigration Act of 1924. The Japanese are also known for their connections with their home nation. The first generation of Japanese immigrants, especially, maintained their strong connection to Japan. Many of them planned to return to their home country someday. Then there were the second-generation immigrants affected by World War II. They observed great patriotism such that they did not want to have the face of the enemy (i.e., foreign ethnicities). By contrast, the third-generation immigrants are the ones far removed from Japanese culture. They are what we now recognize as the Hawaiian–Japanese, who grew up speaking only English but are trying to revisit their almost-forgotten Japanese roots.

Hawaiian–Japanese Culture

A strong bond remains between the Japanese and Hawaiian people. Intermarriages are still common and there are even notable people who are results of these intermarriages, such as Patsy Mink (the first Asian-American elected to Congress), Ellison Onizuka (the first Asian-American to reach space), and Daniel K. Inouye (the highest-ranking US politician in history).

Roadside signs with Japanese references, such as Shige’s Garage, Nambu Courtyard, Takata Store, and so on, are a common sight. Hawaiian and Japanese cultures have intertwined, but this has not divided the Hawaiian people. Instead, this fusion instilled more appreciation of each culture’s unique roots, identity, custom, and lifestyle. There may be a lot of Japanese customs and traditions that seem extraordinary for new residents in Hawaii, but Hawaiians who have shared their land with the Japanese can share a lot of colorful insights, interesting family stories, and a clear glimpse of the history of their ethnicities. As people try to understand their own culture, they come closer to understanding other cultures.

Image from piha.roselani, https://www.instagram.com/p/Bkd4dIIAu_4/