Hawaiian Eye – Pt. 3 (The Reunion)


Joy and Hiroshi kicked off the reunion with a taiko performance. Joy is the cousin who came up to me at a book signing in San Jose, and dropped the bombshell that I have an entire branch of relatives that I never knew about.

Sunday, Sept. 16

The Hanzawa-Sakuma family reunion was a Sunday brunch, held at a restaurant on Shafter Army Base in Honolulu. Because she was one of the organizing committee members, Laura had to get there early and help set up. We waited a little longer, but had to make a stop on the way to pick up John’s older daughter Kelsey on the way. Kelsey was staying at the watercress farm owned by her mother’s family (John’s ex-wife). John still helps out at the farm, because his father-in-law was an early mentor.

When we arrived at the base, the extended family was still just starting to assemble. There were over a hundred people in the banquet hall when the emcee, my cousin Aileen’s son Isaac, welcomed everyone.

From here, names and faces and relations to the family get fuzzy. I know the immediate families of the cousins who organized the reunion. Isaac, a handsome guy who’s an environmental attorney and president of the board of the local Sierra Club chapter, is Joy’s brother. Joy is the woman who came up to me after a book reading in San Jose, introduced herself to me as a relative and invited me to the reunion. The two have a younger sister, Megumi.

Joy and her husband Hiroshi, who were members of a taiko group in Honolulu before moving to San Jose, played a song to kick off the reunion properly.

After Isaac’s introductions, the restaurant staff opened the doors to the buffet line, and we were amazed at the spread – there were separate buffet for breakfast and lunch items. There were local favorites (Portuguese sausage on the breakfast side! Purple sweet potato pie with a layer of haupia on top for dessert!) as well as food you’d expect at a buffet on the mainland (prime rib, omelets, French toast).

While we ate, a slide show was projected on a large screen, showing family photos of all the branches of the Hanzawa-Sakuma family tree. I had sent a bunch of photos that I had scanned from my mom’s albums, so the Asakawas were represented. The slide show, which was accompanied by Japanese music, was assembled by Laura’s older daughter Jenny, who worked until 3 am finishing the project because a computer problem caused her to inadvertently delete the original slide show she’d created. No one could tell there had been any difficulties with the slide show, because it was smooth and engaging. Jenny will burn DVDs after she adds some photos from the reunion, and the disc will be sent out to all – a terrific memento of the occasion.


The table where we sat during the reunion. Aileen and her husband are on the left; we’re on the right. Next to me is Laura and Regina’s (the twins) sister, my cousin Ida, who’s married to Vic Ho to her right (get it? her name is Ida Ho…).

Various aunties and cousins also scampered during the meal, handing out omiyage (little gifts) for attendees. Auntie Harriet, who’s a wonderful funny lady (she’s actually my second cousin – she’s my dad’s cousin) gave out a bunch of goblets with Hawaiian candies (different types of Mauna Loa chocolate bars with macadamia nuts). My cousin Marian, who lives in Fukushima, Japan, gave us gifts from Fukushima. It looks like we’ll have to buy an extra suitcase just to hold all the gifts we have to take home!

After eating, there were some speakers, including me. Instead of reading from “Being Japanese American,” I read a passage from an essay posted online about my 1994 visit to Japan to discover my father’s family roots, and announced how incredible it is to discover an entire side of my family that I didn’t even know existed, and to be embraced so wholeheartedly by everyone in the room.

After the festivities, family members assembled outside for a group photo. This was a major undertaking, but the photos finally were taken and people started to leave.

Since we drove John and his daughters to the base in our rental car (his Toyota 4Runner had a flat), they rode home to Mililani with Laura, and we spent the next few hours driving around. We took the H-3 highway and admired the beauty of Hawaii’s dramatic, green-covered mountains jutting straight into the sky. (There are only three major freeways that criss-cross Oahu: the H-1 which goes east-west through Honolulu; the H-2 cuts north-south, and the newer H-3 runs diagonally across the southeast corner of Oahu, which is where Honolulu is.) We got lost at the other end of the highway, but after driving around a bit we made our way back to the H-3 and then back to the H-1 and then up the H-2 to Mililani. We got pretty familiar with the main arteries in a short time.

During the reunion, Aileen had mentioned that her son Isaac played in a band and that the band had a gig that night. I originally thought the performance probably runs late at night, but it turned out to be from 6-8 pm, in a restaurant in the Hawaii Kai area of Honolulu.

So after a brief rest, we headed back out from Mililani, not knowing what to expect. The restaurant was the Kona Brewing Company, a typical restaurant/bar that serves microbrews and has a variety of local specialties. I ordered the poke appetizer, since I was still full from the reunion pig-out. Erin ordered a fish dish, which was OK – the best part was the “hapa rice,” a mix of white and brown rice.


After Isaac’s performance: from left, Megumi, Joy, Isaac, Hiroshi and Aileen.

I realized a very cool thing about dining out in Hawaii. I don’t need to say “soy sauce” when I ask a server for some, because everyone, including haoles, know it as the Japanese word “shoyu.”

Isaac’s band turned out to be great. He’s a funky, accomplished bassist with nimble fingers and a string-poppin’ thumb, and the other band members were terrific musicians too. The drummer was one of those guys who do much more than just keep time on a drum set. He kept killer time, rock steady, but he also “talked” with his drums with a light hand, keeping the melody moving without ever being intrusive.

It was like an ongoing rhythmic conversation between all the musicians, with Isaac playing funky runs, and the drums weaving in and out. The guitar player was talented and mostly played chords that filled the place of keyboards but also took off on blistering solos (with his amp turned too far down, as if he was shy about his guitar leads).

The singer was an African American woman (or hapa) who had an incredibly powerful voice and range. She had the ability to meld melodies to suit her, so she wasn’t just copying the music.

The music? Oh yeah, it was R&B from the ’70s and some more recent. Not soul music from the ’60s (although the band could probably tackle that too), and not pop music from the ’70s or ’80s, but funky R&B, often obscure. There were some typical songs, but then they rolled into “Hey Pocky Way,” a traditional New Orleans dance number that I know from the Wild Tchoupitoulas (the Neville Brothers with added musicians).

The band was so well received they played several encores, and it was well after 8:30 when they finally began breaking down their equipment.

It was nice to hang out with Aileen, who paid for our food, and also with Joy, Hiroshi and Megumi, who were there to cheer Isaac on.

We got home late, and we were both so dead-tired that we crashed immediately and slept like babies. What a day!

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