Memoirs of Shigeo Kikuchi

[The Kikuchis, like the rest of their neighbors, were shocked at the news of Japan's De cember 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor. Shigeo Kikuchi recalled the events of that night in her memoirs.]

At midnight, someone knocked at the door. My husband got up to answer the knock and found a Hawaiian police officer friend standing at the door. “Rev. Kikuchi, I want you to come to the office for a minute.” My husband left with him but soon after returned home. The policeman told him “I want you to go to Volcano [a military camp on the island of Hawai'i] and because it was cold there you should take come warm clothing. You may have to stay there two or three days.” I borrowed the policeman's flashlight [the military had ordered a blackout] and in the darkness, gathered some warm clothing and put them into a bag. After changing his clothes, he picked up the “Shinshu Seiten” from the bookcase and put it into his pocket. As he left he said, “There is nothing to worry about, I will return in two or three days. But I want you to inform the resident Japanese that we are now in an unexpected situation. Because we are governed by the United States everyone must respect and obey the law of the government and continue to work earnestly. Whatever happens, be patient, control yourself, and never argue or fight with people of other ethnic groups. As for me, nothing to worry about because I have done nothing wrong. After this investigation is over, I will come home.” Then he disappeared into the darkness with the officer.

The war had changed our friendly climate overnight. We were now considered enemies. It cause me great pain to face members from other ethnic groups.

As soon as the investigation was over, I had hoped that my husband would be home, but I waited a week, then two weeks, and yet he did not return. Perhaps by Christmas, I thought. Maybe by New Year's. My hopes and expectations were in vain. I received no word from him.

As an enemy alien, my bank savings account and my checking accounts were frozen, and I suffered a great deal.

[Over the weeks that followed, U.S. soldiers increased in numbers while those worshipping at the Buddhist temple declined. There were rumors of arrests, and of FBI searches of homes. As a result, Japanese Americans lived in fear.]

Since my arrival in Hawaii, I had continued to keep diaries but now I burned these also. I burned the record books of names of donors who had contributed for [in Japan] the Kanto earthquake relief fund and for flood victims' relief fund. I later realized how foolish it was for me to do so, but at the time I was in a panic-stricken state. The local police supervisors were very strict and kept a close watch

on us. While the temple was a gathering place for people before the war, no one would come anymore because of the fear of the F.B.I. It was only natural for them to feel this way, but it left me with an empty and sad feeling.

In this way the new year of 1942 passed. One day in February, an unexpected news was released saying, the internees will be allowed to see their families. The members of the families were very excited and happy and began preparing favorite foods day and night, for their fathers, husbands or brothers. On that day there were people who had left their homes before dawn with carloads of children to travel a hundred miles to visit their loved ones. As usual I had a ride with Mrs. Suzuki's family. As I got down from the car and walked together with a large crowd across a spacious area, a building surrounded by wire mesh fence became visible. As I approached closer to the wire-fence, I could see the internees' faces fastened to the fence as they eagerly awaited the arrival of their family members. “Mrs. Kikuchi, sensei is here,” I heard a voice. After three months of insecurity and a feeling of uneasiness due to our separation, we were finally allowed to see each other. Holding each other's hands there was no word necessary to express the joy of reunion.

Through the kindness of the officer-in-charge, the internees' families were relaxed and they spread out their homemade lunch on the lawn and enjoyed eating, chatting, and laughing. There was no end to their conversation. The MP's showed no sign of concern in the families' conversations and furthermore they even over-looked the time limit in the visiting hours. They were very generous and friendly. The first thing I handed out to my husband was a letter that I brought with me from Akira. For my husband, that letter from his son was his greatest concern. In this letter, Akira says, “I am always with Buddha so please do not worry about me. Although you do not send me money I'll work as a school boy and study.” Reading Akira's letter my husband was relieved and extremely happy.

Finally, the time of departure arrived. Volcano towards the evening is rather chilly. We do not know when we will be able to meet again. Perhaps this might be the last time! Those remaining, those leaving, both said reluctant farewells to each other. There was a scene where a little child waved his hand crying, “Daddy bye-bye.” There were other scenes of mothers or wives, with tears in their eyes, waving their hands, loathing to part. I can still see these scenes vividly before my mind's eye. This moment of farewell was very, very sad indeed.

[On January 18, 1943, the Pahala Hongwanji temple and language school was burned to the ground. No one knew the cause of the fire, but the military was at the time occupying the language school building.]

The people who gathered to watch the fire together with the Caucasian soldiers who were there suggested that the school building which was aflame should be destroyed in order to keep the fire from spreading to the temple. For some unknown reason the plantation manager failed to heed that suggestion. The temple, which might have been saved, also burned to the ground.

[Chikokyu Kikuchi returned from internment camps on the U.S. continent on November 13, 1945. Shigeo Kikuchi remembered that moment or reunion.]

Seeing my husband at first glimpse, I was surprised at seeing him so thin, but he had a happy smile on his face and he exchanged greetings in high spirits. I was relieved. I took a deep breath. How grateful I felt to see him once again. We paid homage together at Hilo Betsuin [Buddhist temple] then, at Hilo Inn, twenty to thirty people welcomed us. Mr. Shirakawa, Mr. Hamada, Mr. Fujioka, Mr. Takaki, and Mr. Miyahara were together in one car. As we approached Pahala, members of the temple turned out to welcome my husband who had returned after four years of absence. As soon as we arrived there my husband kneeled down in front of the temporary altar of Amida Buddha, reciting nembutsu as he shed his tears.

After the four years of absence, there were many urgent matters waiting for my husband that had to be accomplished right away. Among them were the reopening of the Japanese Language School and the rebuilding of the Pahala Hongwanji Temple. This had to be rushed by all means. During the war, Naalehu Japanese language school had been taken over by the Army, therefore, the minister's residence was used as the classroom. Because no school building remained in Pahala the minister's home had to be used as a classroom when we reopened our Japanese Language School in 1946.

Compared to the enrollment before the war, the attendance of pupils was very small. With such minimal income, a teacher could not be hired, and so only my husband and I taught them. Since the outbreak of the war, the Japanese language had not been in use, so we had to start the teaching of Japanese from scratch. It was very difficult to try to return to a normal pre-war level.

[The Kikuchis retired, and moved to Honolulu where they lived until their deaths. In closing, Shigeo Kikuchi expressed gratitude for her life and the “many people who helped me in so many ways.”]

Presently, my body has become weaker. I am now living at the nursing home, but many people come and visit me and I am overwhelmed. Besides, I am at ease because my only son Akira stays with me everyday.

My day is getting closer to return to the Pure Land and I have asked Reverend Kawaji for a favor about this book. After ninety odd years in this world, I owe many thanks to many people who helped me in so many ways. I would like to dedicate this book to everybody, with many thanks.

Source: Kikuchi, Shigeo. Memoirs of a Buddhist Woman Missionary in Hawaii. Buddhist Study Center, 1991, pp. 35, 36, 37, 40, 43, 44, 51, 68, 69, 72.