Japanese Hawaiian Connection

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View of Waikiki from Diamond Head

Hello everyone,

I have been away from the blog lately. I got back from my cruise trip to Hawaiian islands two weeks ago, and I was busy readjusting to the life at home since then. From the past trips to Hawaii, I learned a great deal about Hawaii’s close connection to Japan. So, this blog post is about Japan and Hawaii, two places you would love to visit!

Japanese as a nation has a love affair with Hawaii. I am not exaggerating. It’s a dream vacation destination for majority of Japanese citizens. A lot of tours and hotels are catered to Japanese tourists. Japanese visitors can eat familiar Japanese food, and can spend Japanese yen at the shops and restaurants without exchanging to dollar. They never have to step out of their comfort zone while staying in Hawaii, especially to Honolulu. Most Japanese people have reservation about visiting places outside of Japan due to the language barrier, but they almost don’t feel as though Hawaii is a foreign country.

I once stayed on a Waikiki hotel and walked around Waikiki for a week. The language that I tend to catch on the street and at the beach in Waikiki is Japanese. Even more so than English. Once I was sitting near Kuhio beach (part of Waikiki beach) and watching the buses and trolleys drop off and pick up the tourists. I was astonished to hear the bus and trolley drivers who looked Caucasian or Hispanic (clearly not Japanese looking) converse in fluent Japanese with passengers. They can sell tickets, and direct the passengers where to go in Japanese . I think it must be a job requirement to speak conversational Japanese to drive the tourists around in Waikiki. One Caucasian trolley driver in particular was entertaining the tourists by imitating a Japanese comedian and cracking jokes. I felt like I was transported back to Japan. The funny thing is that I never met a bus driver in Japan who acts like a comedian. People are quite serious and quiet in public there.

When I walked into a local Hawaiian restaurant, they greeted me in Japanese. I was not speaking in Japanese when I entered. I suppose that the chances are good that an Asian tourist walking into your business is a Japanese.

In 2015, 1.5 million Japanese visited Hawaii. In the peak time of 2007, 2.2 million Japanese tourists came to Hawaii. Majority (60%) of Japanese tourists are repeaters, meaning they have been to Hawaii in the past. Some of them visit Hawaii multiple times within a year.

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Makapuu Point Lighthouse (Oahu)

Japanese connection to Hawaii started as early as 1868 when a first wave of Japanese immigrants reached Hawaii to work in sugar and pineapple plantations. By late 19th century, surge of Japanese immigrants inhabited in Hawaii as plantation laborers. They were mainly farmers and peasants from Southern Japan. I read in the past that the many of these men were 2nd or 3rd (or later) born sons in the family who had no inheritance privilege from their parents. The family land and fortune all went to the first born son, and younger ones couldn’t make life of their own within the family.

Life in plantation was a harsh one with long hours of backbreaking work and primitive living condition. Their lives were were controlled by the plantation owners who treated them badly.  A lot of these immigrant men married picture brides from Japan to keep on the Japanese heritage and family.

Despite harsh labor conditions, more Japanese immigrants came to Hawaii and stayed. By 1924, 40% of the Hawaiian population was Japanese. Japanese immigrants were able to maintain Japanese cultural traditions in Hawaii, including establishing Buddhist temples and Japanese schools.

I lived in 2 different cultures in my life, Japanese and American. Hawaii is the melting pot of these 2 cultures located in a tropical paradise setting. I can switch back and forth to both languages, English and Japanese, depending on who I am speaking to. I have dark hair and olive skin like most of Hawaiians. May be I can just get lost in the island, and just stay there and become a “Hawaiian”. One can only dream, right?

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One of many Hula performances I saw on Waikiki
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4 thoughts on “Japanese Hawaiian Connection

    1. Oh yes, I love to be immersed in local culture everywhere I visit. The thing about Hawaii was that it was unexpected for me to feel like being back in Japan. I lived in the US over 35 years, and Japan is a faraway place for me any more. It’s like pocket of Japan in the tropical island, and it was very interesting for me since I live between two cultures.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hmm…that’s interesting. We probably cannot fully understand the culture of Japan, so perhaps when we travel we are only seeing the surface of it. And it sometimes amaze us that our Japanese friends (from Japan) crave for this comfort of familiarity when traveling.

        Liked by 1 person

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