How did your parents meet? Would you call it a coincidence, or fate, or something in between? How did your mother’s parents meet? Your father’s? Tracing your lineage back through time, there are people and places and dates and times that may seem insignificant, but without the specifics of each, you would not exist. Somewhere and sometime, your great-great grandmother and your great-great-grandfather crossed paths, and then intertwined those paths, one with another, and became a family. No family is perfect, and some stories are full of pain, but they are stories of our roots. And our roots help make us. The fact of our exact individual existences is based on the many intricate lives, decisions, directions, and souls who came before us. Who were they?
This is a series including my ancestors, researched by my own two hands, hands that would not be in this time and place without them. Those who came before me; to them, I owe my life.
“…He shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers…” Malachi 4:6, KJV
Tomokichi Miyazaki is my great-great-grandfather: my father’s father’s father's father.
He was born in August of 1876 in Japan. I have yet to find the city or town he was born in, and I have yet to find the names of his parents. But I’m learning more. I learned that something attracted him here, to the United States of America, Hawai'i specifically. He emigrated in 1897 at twenty or twenty-one years old. He most likely came for work, to join the land of agricultural economic opportunities while in his youth. Maybe he signed a contract for work on sugar cane plantations, one of Hawai'i’s main crops at the time, and recruiters sailed to Asian ports looking for those who would emigrate to work. It was the rise of Industrial America, and between 1870 and 1900 almost 12 million people sold what they could, packed their bags, and left their home countries for the U.S. What did Tomokichi pack? I know so little about my Japanese heritage, but there were surely some things from home. Perhaps the equivalent of an embroidered kerchief, something his mother had made. Were there breakables, a vase or porcelain figure? If he was Buddhist, a statue of Buddha or wooden prayer beads? If Shinto, artifacts for a personal shrine? Maybe clothes, a brush, shoes for his feet, a basket or a bag, and a paper ticket with a one-way sailing to a new and different life.
And so he sailed, from an unknown town in Japan to Honolulu, Hawai'i. Hawai'i was, at the time, the Republic of Hawai'i. The next year, 1898, saw the bombing of the USS Maine in Cuba and the start of the Spanish-American War. The United States informally annexed Hawai'i as an American territory, and as a coaling base for an expanding American Navy. This annexation was much to the displeasure and disgust of the native Hawaiians, who held on to the previous and precious Kingdom of Hawai'i ruled by Queen Liliʻuokalani, overthrown in 1893 by American and European businessmen. Tomokichi landed on an island in the throes of political and cultural turmoil. When he walked off the ship, how did he feel? Weary? Optimistic? Nervous? Where did he sleep, that first night? Had he known others who sailed before him, family or friends, and did they take him in? What did he miss most about home? Did he think he would ever return to Japan? Questions that can now only be answered through letters or stories, passed down through generations, some lost along the way.
It may have happened in Waialua, O’ahu, Hawai’i, or it may have occurred during his previous time in Japan - or she may have been a picture bride whose photos were sent to him by a matchmaker in Japan - but at one point or another, he met Chie Murashige, who would become his wife, and the mother of their eleven children. (I have heard that there were twelve children, though currently I only have record of and names for eleven.) Six sons and five daughters came to them from the years 1909 to 1933. The firstborns were twin boys, Takeo and Shoichi. Takeo is my great-grandfather. I can do slightly more than imagine Tomokichi’s combined joy, surprise, and anxiety at learning he was the father of twins; my husband and I went through similar emotions just a few months ago. His twins evidently survived, and ours did not. But I wonder if that is the likes of where that possible twelfth child hides, name not recorded by government records, only in the hearts of the parents who felt the loss.
To support his growing family, Tomokichi worked on a sugar plantation operated by Waialua Agriculture Company. Around this time, this sugar mill produced over 20,000 tons of sugar each year. Sugar cane plantations and sugar mills were difficult and dangerous places to work. Hard physical labor with the near-equatorial island sun at their backs, the plantation workers bent at the waist while they chopped and weeded sugar cane fields, some larger than the entirety of their home towns. (The Library of Congress has a video, here.) Their pay was determined by their ethnicity, with Filipino workers being paid the least, but all workers being paid simple wages, around 90 cents a day, or $20 a month. The lowest paid Caucasian workers were plantation police, called luna, earning around $140 a month. In the fields, at least ten hours a day and twenty-six days in a month, Tomokichi would not have been able to pause to catch his breath or stretch, as the rules were strict and enforced with, well, force.
If he had worked within the actual sugar mill, his labor would not have been much easier. The sugar cane had to be crushed and stripped to access the cane juice, and the workers who fed the cane into the mills could lose finger, limb, or life to the grounding of the mill if they got too close or clumsy. The cane juice was then boiled in huge vats, dangerously hot and sticky. The heat needed to purify and crystallize the cane juice could easily start fires within the mill structures. Whether assigned to mill or field, to top it off, plantation laborers often lived in housing provided by the company, which housing was often unsanitary and very cramped. Food may have been supplied by the company as well, or selections could be made within a plantation store. Tomokichi would not have escaped the strict plantation rules at the end of the day; they would have followed him home. Such rules may have included prohibition of leaving the plantation after work, a set bedtime, and no talking after lights-out.
I don’t know if Tomokichi, along with Chie and their brood of eleven, lived in such an environment as this, but this was common at the time, and whatever work he performed was indeed difficult. He may have hummed along to the Japanese field workers in their song:
Wonderful Hawai'i, or so I heard.
One look and it seems like Hell.
The manager's the Devil and
His luna are demons.
Hawai'i Hawai'i to
Kite mirya Jiyoku
Boshi ga Emma de
Runa ga oni
The laborers keep on coming
Overflowing these Islands
But it's only Inspector Nakayama
Who rakes in the profits.
Dekasegi wa kuru kuru
Hawai'i wa tsumaru
Ai no Nakayama
Kane ga furu
My husband cuts the cane stalks,
And I trim the leaves,
With sweat and tears we both work
For our means.
Kane wa kachiken
Ase to namida no
Despite back-breaking and dangerous work, Tomokichi lived to the older age of 93, and he passed away in 1970. He outlived Chie by twelve years. I like to think that as labor laws and political stability improved, his life did as well. I imagine a saved-up-for return visit to Japan to see family, having his own home (he did, indeed, rent a home later on), and watching his children grow. Census records are in disagreement as to whether he could read and write English, but he could speak the language. On October 26, 1918, 42-years-old, he registered for the WWI draft; he was described as having a medium build and being of medium height, as well as having brown eyes and black hair.
I don’t wish to overly-romanticize a story I know so little of, but I like to think he and Chie were happy, maybe even choosing to be in love. I like to think that he had great pride and joy in his posterity. He saw children either pass away early or marry and have children of their own. Thousands of Japanese plantation laborers returned to Japan, but because he chose to stay, the lives that came after his were forever changed. His children were born American citizens, (called nisei, first generation citizen children of issei, the emigrants) and the culture around them became more accepting of their heritage as time went on. Some of his children worked at the same sugar mill he came to Hawai'i for, and others went a different way, towards car mechanics and housemaids and nannies and tuna companies. In 1950 he received news that his youngest son, Shigeo, 20 years old, was missing in action in North Korea. Three years later, Shigeo was presumed deceased. How did Tomokichi mourn? With tears? With a hard face? Was he angry at Shigeo for going? Or was he proud? And how did he feel when his grandson, Ronald, my father’s father, enlisted in the Air Force? How did he feel, when at 91-years-old, he received news that Ronald, too, was missing in action? By then he had lost Chie to the reality of mortality; did he yearn to be with her once more?
I believe he will be reunited with her. I also believe I will meet them both. We'll have the opportunity to talk about their time here on Earth, time in Japan and time in Hawai'i. I'm so interested to hear what they'll say, and to interact with them and their individual personalities. But I'm not as patient as I may seem, and I plan on living a long life, so I am going to do what I can to learn more about Tomokichi and Chie while I'm Earthside. I think I owe it to them, and I think it brings me closer to them, those who came before me.
Most of this information I have obtained from Census records (1910 through 1940), which are free and considerably easy to navigate. I have also utilized War Draft Registration cards, ship passenger logs, gravestone indexes, and local records for births and christenings. I conducted general research on specific time periods in specific places in order to better understand the environment and background of my ancestors. I truly enjoy doing this; if you want to learn more about those who came before you, and you do not know where to start, contact me! I will do my best to help you learn about your ancestors, and maybe “meet” some new ones along the way.