Gil Asakawa's Nikkei View | food & dining
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We didn't see many geckoes during our visit, but here's one tiny one we saw next to a sculpture of a gecko, outside Richela's front door.
Friday, Sept. 21 Another big food day. We're eating our way across Oahu. It was also a day of hunting history. We began the day with Richela, who joined us in a drive downtown to the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai'i. It's a very nice facility in a nice building, with a museum, gift shop and research library dedicated to the history of Japanese Americans in Hawaii.

Tamashiro Market, a jam packed shop on a busy street corner. Bill took us there for corn flake cookies, which were, as promised, fantastic.
Thursday, Sept. 20 This was a food and friendship day. We got up and had a leisurely morning, hanging around Richela's condo. Then Erin and I drove past downtown to meet up with Bill Rose, one of the more intriguing people I know. So let me tell you about Bill Rose.

One of the beaches Richela drove us to along the eastern shore of Oahu.
Wednesday, Sept. 19 It was sad leaving Laura and John's in Mililani – it's a beautiful and comfortable home, and they were so gracious and generous, it felt like we've known them all our lives. At the same time, we were looking forward to seeing Erin's friend Richela, who we knew from the Colorado Dragon Boat Festival. She's half Japanese, half Chinese, and she volunteered and helped Erin with the festival's performing arts stage. She moved from Denver to Honolulu several years ago; she's a native of Hawaii who lived in Colorado for over two decades. She now lives in a condo along the marina in an area west of downtown Honolulu called Hawaii Kai, with two cats, Sporty (who looks like a mature, heavier version of our black-and-white, Rufus) and a handsome gray and tan cat named Tokyo. We reserved the day for sightseeing, nothing else. No shopping (!), no family research. Of course, eating was allowed.

Hawaiian specialites at Helena's: (from foregournd, left to right) poi, kahlua pork, a bit of Hawaiian seasoned salt, lau lau, lomi salmon, fried ahi tuna, haupia (with sliced onion, which we ate with the salt), tofu, beef stew and more lau lau.
Tuesday, Sept. 18 We spent the day with Regine, Laura's twin sister, and the evening with Laura and John. She lives just a few minutes away in the older section of Mililani, land of rusty dirt. She came to pick us up but we headed straight back to her house because I needed her son William, an extremely tall (for someone who's 3/4-Asian) handsome lad who speaks flawless Japanese and is some sort of young genius studying Japanese and poli-sci in college, to scan a few pages out of an old yearbook for me. The yearbook is for McKinley High School, the imposing campus right in downtown Honolulu, not far from the state capitol and royal palace grounds. It's the school my oldest aunt attended, and so did some of the Hanzawa family members. Auntie Harriet had borrowed the McKinley yearbook for 1939 from a friend of hers who remembered my Aunt Miki, the one everyone says was "the smart one," and the one who would have attended the University of Hawaii if my grandfather hadn't taken the entire family back to Japan. Miki, or Michiko, shows up on a list of students who were inducted into the National Honor Society. The page with her senior portrait lists her accomplishments: "Asakawa, Michiko – McKinley Government Magazine & Map Chairman; National Honor Society; Torch Society."

We had heavenly shave ice at the Waiola corner grocery, which was just a block from where my grandfather had his home and business. The spot now has a high-rise apartment or condo on it, and the location of the Honolulu Stadium next door is now a park.
Monday, Sept. 17 This day was one of discovery about my family. It began with my cousin Aileen Moriwake guiding us to the apartment of my Aunt Mary Asakawa and my cousin Keith, who's probably around my age. We met Aileen at the Ala Moana Center, a shopping mall in downtown near the Waikiki district, and she led us across a street and down a block to a building tucked away behind a high rise and next to some dilapidated old shacks. Honolulu is full of these juxtapositions of new and fancy with old and rundown. Ramshackle single family homes and low-lying old apartment buildings can often be found shoe-horned into tight spaces between modern developments. I figure this is a side-effect of rapid growth and economic boom times. We had tried calling my Auntie Mary's phone number but got a "no longer in service" message. Some of the Hanzawa and Sakuma cousins had visited with her to get her to attend the reunion but she declined. Aileen had spoken to her from time to time too. I know the Asakawas are a private family – we didn't even know that my Uncle Alex had died some years back. The last time I spoke to Uncle Alex, my dad's brother, was when I tracked him down to tell him my father had died, back in 1992. Aileen decided we should just go to the apartment and see if we could visit with my Aunt Mary. I pressed the buzzer for the apartment, and a man's voice answered. It was my cousin Keith. Unfortunately, my Aunt Mary was out and Keith was about to head to work (for the Transportation Safety Administration), so we had just a brief conversation over the building's intercom. I got their phone number – we had one digit wrong, which was why we got the disconnected message – and I'll call sometime after I get back to Colorado. From the apartment, we returned to the mall and got into Aileen's car. She took us to an older residential area west of downtown, at the corner of Waiola Street and Makahiki Way and pointed to a high-rise apartment building. It's where my grandfather and his family used to live, and where his construction business was based. It's where the old picture I have, with the sign announcing "K. Asakawa Construction," and all the Asakawa kids lined up in front of the building, was taken.


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.

Sunday, September 16, 2007 Yesterday was a long day, and a preview of today's reunion. We started with the relaxed morning of papaya and conversation with Laura, but eventually moved on to the day's work: shopping at Costco and then the Star Market for the ingredients to make our "kakimochi" chips for the party. The chips are a favorite of our friends in Colorado – they're Mexican corn tortillas coated with a JA combination of sugar, butter and soy sauce – and although we figured Hawaiians surely must have this kind of cross-cultural snack all the time, it's relatively easy to make and tasty and we decided to offer to make it for the party anyway. Costco was a revelation. I'd been there, several years ago when I attended the JACL National Convention in Honolulu. But it seemed like they'd expanded their aisle of local goods, and throughout the store was an amazing array of Asian foods and products, from imported Japanese canned tea to spices. The local aisle had a dizzying selection of all things macadamia, as well as shelf after shelf of snack items like picked plums, li hing-flavored mangoes, dried shredded ika (cuttlefish) and dried octopus and squid, both in large jars or individually wrapped. Yummy… these are Asian equivalents of beer nuts at the bar. We wished we could get some of these more "exotic" items in Colorado Costcos, and also marveled that the Hawaiian population, which isn't all Asian by any means (although certainly "haoles," or Caucasians, are in the minority between all the Asian as well as Polynesian ethnicities), all buys this variety of products. Multiculturalism is simply in the air in Hawaii, like the humidity… and the wind.

It's great to feel so welcomed. Erin and I arrived late yesterday afternoon at Honolulu Airport and called up Regine Shimomura, a cousin I'd never met. She's the twin sister of Laura McHugh, who was stuck at a hair appointment. We're staying at Laura's home, so one we got the rental car, we called Regina to get directions from the airport to the suburban town of Mililani, to the northwest of Honolulu. What I remember from my childhood visit to Hawaii is the sun, the clouds and the wind. The clouds are always on the move, with the wind pushing them along. It seems like Hawaii is just always breezy.