Carissa's Going to Japan
Monday, March 18, 2002
Suburbia, California 


Carissa is going to Japan!
Is this trip going near where you are from?  

So read the email from Maui that I received this morning from my sister-in-law, Lei, who is married to my brother, DinoCarissa is the younger of their two daughters, who are also my sweetheart nieces. 

>> Carissa and Victoria


From the header, I saw that it was also sent to my step-mother, Leilani/Kazuko, originally from Japan, and that the question was really directed to her. We have three "L-e-i" women in our immediate family, so keeping "the cast" straight can be a challenge here.  This might help: 

  • Lei is short for Leigh, who is my sister-in-law, originally from the Pacific Northwest and mother of my two nieces, Carissa and Victoria.    

  • Leilani/Kazuko, who is my step-mother and my father's widow.  She was originally Kazuko when she came to live in Hawai`i from the Tokyo area, Japan, but when she became a naturalized American citizen, she adopted Leilani as her new name. I refer to my father as Grandpa Andy, who is Carissa's paternal grandfather.

  • Lei is short for my middle name. 

Attached was an itinerary of an Autumn Tour of Kyushu Island, Japan:  Fukuoka, Nagasaki, Peace Park, Sasebo, Kumamoto, Kumamoto Castle, Suizen-ji Garden, Mt. Aso, Beppu, Usuki Stone Buddhas, Yabakei Gorge, Harazuru, and Koishiwara.

"She may not know," I thought, "that she will be visiting the southern Japan homeland of her Great-grandfather Matakatsu (we knew him as O-Jichan -- Honorable Grandfather). In Kumamoto, she will be walking the land of her ancestors."

So excited was I for my niece's good fortune, I replied right away. This is the edited and revised version of that email. I've linked some excellent links for Carissa to peruse at her leisure, with hopes the previews and background info will further enhance her trip anticipation and travel experiences: 

Aloha e 'Ohana (Family),

Did I miss something? How is it that Carissa is going to Japan? School? 

What a fantastic opportunity for Carissa to travel, see more of the world, and get in touch with her roots on her Daddy's side. I've checked the attached itinerary and I was delighted to see that Carissa will be visiting Kumamoto on November 9.

Although we've all visited Japan, none of us, Carissa's aunts or her dad, have been to Kumamoto.  She will be visiting our grandfather's homeland for us.  As for me, Carissa has ignited my interest and curiosity, and I shall be vicariously experiencing her trip via Internet websites.

Most of us are intrigued by our past.  Maybe it's just human nature to want to know where we came from, even if it is learn more about family black sheep, who in our family was Carissa's great-grandfather, or how our family ended up in Hawai`i. 


November is over six months away. That's plenty of time for Carissa to check out where she's going, what she'll be seeing, and what's in store for her. For example, a second's search at instantly brought this up:

"Kumamoto Prefecture extends from the west coast to the center of mainland Kyushu. Once the prosperous stronghold of a powerful feudal lord, its history and tradition are still instilled in Kumamoto's character as a culturally advanced Japanese prefecture."  ~Source

Kumamoto is where Carissa's Great-grandfather Matakatsu was born and raised in the 19th century. He is Grandpa Andy's father. As a callow young fellow, Great-grandfather Matakatsu went gallivanting off to Hawai`i. 


>> Grandpa Andy


"Kumamoto City`s prosperity began when Kiyomasa Kato, one of the most influential of Hideyoshi Toyotomi's generals, had a magnificent castle built here in 1601." 

This excerpt refers to the striking, black-and-white Kumamoto Castle, one of the Three Famous Castles of Japan that Carissa will be seeing with her own eyes. 

>> Maybe Carissa will see the gingko in fall colors?

"The city was later granted by the Tokugawa Shogunate to the feudal lord Tadatoshi Hosokawa. Throughout the Edo Era, Kumamoto prospered under the rule of successive generations of the Hosokawa family." 

Carissa's great .... hmm, without checking the family tree, I don't know how many greats back ... was a high-ranking samurai with the equivalent rank of a military general -- who served under the Hosokawa family.  I think you have a copy of the family tree that was sent to us by Grandpa Andy's family.


"After the Meiji Restoration, when Japan moved toward modernization and democratization, samurai warriors who resisted the new order fought their last battle in Kumamoto." 

In 1876, the Meiji Restoration had cut off pensions to the disbanded and abolished the samurai, "the exalted warrior caste," leaving large numbers of men without livelihoods.

The turn of the century was a rough time for Great-grandfather Matakatsu's family. Stripped of their power, authority and feudal lord (daimyo) support, all they had left was their landholdings, albeit substantial. His family was forced to make a living off their land by leasing parcels to tenant farmers. 

With his family's economic woes already weighing heavily, Great-grandfather Matakatsu also believed that his birth order limited his life options. There were, I believe, (at least) two brothers older than him.  They were the heir and the heir-to-spare. Great-grandfather Matakatsu was relegated to fief collecting duties.  With little, if any, future promise, this sinecure held sparse appeal for him. 

The dispossesed samurai class comprised about 8% of the population. American industrialists were quick to take advantage of the unrest and unemployment in Japan to insure "cheap" labor for their expansion plans. Sugar plantation owners in Hawai`i sent their recruiters to Japan, and Great-grandfather Matakatsu who was itching to strike out on his own was imagining the possibilities of fortune-making in Hawai`i. 

Stubborn, rebellious with an adventuresome streak, and yearning for a new life, he was not about to be talked out of it.  Against his family's wishes, he signed up as a contract laborer to work in Hawai`i's sugar canefields and embarked on an incredible journey that took him to Hawai`i.

He was, thereafter, regarded as his family's black sheep.

>> Dennis Ogawa & Glen Grant: "displaced samurai,,,"
>>  Dennis Ogawa & Glen Grant: Japanese in Hawaii, 1885-1920


Lucky for us, as in Hawai`i, he met Great-grandmother Satsuma (we knew her as O-Bachan -- Honorable Grandmother). She was not a picture bride, but hers, like the picture brides', was a challenging life of struggles, triumphs, injustices, and glories in a strange land, far across the sea.

These doughty diminutive women were international adventuresses and stalwart pioneers, who had to overcome huge obstacles and fight staggering great odds to make a better life for themselves, with hopes that the future generations might attain the American Dream that was denied them.

>> A Picture Bride
>> Holehole Bushi


Great-grandmother Satsuma's family background was diametrically opposite of Great-grandfather Matakatsu's.  She was a priest's daughter. Her family still maintains the family temple in Yamaguchi Ken, and Grandpa Andy's cousin, her nephew, is the priest (otera) there today.  Her ancestors were among the first Christians in Japan, who were so terribly persecuted, they went underground as Kakure Kirishitan (Hidden Christians). Today, her family's faith in Japan is a melange of Christianity, Buddhism, Confucianism and Shintoism.

"Francis Xavier was from Portugal in 1549, taught us Christianity about 400 years ago. It was the first experience of this for the Japanese and Christmas became popular throughout Japan from that time. The first recorded Christmas Mass was celebrated at Yamaguchi Church in 1552. Even today's there are 'KAKURE' (secret Christians), who hide that they are Christians, and they still use Latin when they sing Christmas carols. This style of celebrating Christmas has not changed since the custom began 400 years ago." ~Source: a very interesting read

Grand-grandmother Satsuma was as spiritual, humble, peace-loving, and shy, as her husband was not. They could not have been more different. 

She connected on a spiritual level. Ascetic, hers was not the quasi-faith often seen at Japanese temples/shrines with its bell-bonging, tintinnabulation, and selling of omamori (lucky amulets to ward off evil), but a deeply-rooted, private one.  Giving her inner strength, peace, and guidance to confront each day's hell to pay, it was a quiet, unobtrusive faith that she held to as tightly as a lifeline. 

Five children later, Grandpa Andy came along. And without him, there would be no letter to Carissa today, as there would no Carissa.

At least, not as we know her...

>> Interesting reading on Jesus' in Japan!?
>>  New York Times: Christianity in Japan


"Kumamoto is often called the "forested city." The many trees in every neighborhood of this lovely city help create and maintain its fresh and pleasant atmosphere." 

Coming from a samurai family, overworked, underpaid and unaccustomed to manual labor as a field hand in the cane fields of Pahala in the Ka`u district, Great-grandfather Matakatsu learned the hard way that the respect that he enjoyed in Japan was not echoed once he hit the Hawaiian shores.  

Being treated as a second-class citizen was not his cup of green tea, and he moved away from the plantation as soon as his contract was fulfilled, looking for the opportunity that would make him his fortune. 

He moved to the neighboring district of Puna, which was then densely and vastly forested. He went there to log the 'ohia trees, which were being felled and made into railroad ties that were shipped to California.  

"It's believed that the "golden spike" linking rail lines between the U.S. East and West coasts was driven into a Puna 'ohia log when the two railroads came together in Utah." ~ Source 

Ties in the Union Pacific and Southern Pacific Railways made from `ohia logs from the Puna hinterlands exist to this day . ~Source 

The irony is that Grand-grandfather Matakatsu ended up leaving one inland forest only to arrive at another, the legendary redolent rainforests of Puna. 


As a couple, he and Great-grandmother Satsuma were one of the first six Japanese couples to settle in the logging camp that grew around the mill.  It became the village of Pahoa, which means "dagger," so named because a railroad spur that went to Pahoa was like a dagger cutting into the forest. 

The sugar cane fields came later, and only after the logging industry had stripped the Puna lands of its verdant rainforests. 

Another irony of his Hawai`i (mis)adventure is that his older brothers died prematurely, but because Great-grandfather Matakatsu was in faraway Hawai`i and perhaps too proud to return as the ne'er-do-well, recalcitrant son, he forfeited his primogeniture (right of succession). The stewardship of the family's landholdings passed on to his younger brother.

Knowing what a prideful man his father was, Grandpa Andy thought Great-grandfather Matakatsu had "made up stories about his samurai lineage," as some immigrants were wont to indulge in braggadocio, perhaps as a way to help bear the indignities and discrimination experienced in a hostile land. 

Grandpa Andy remembers, as a boy, discovering two swords, the reverent symbols of the samurai caste, high on a bedroom shelf, but shrugging their significance off.  

"I figured my father won them gambling," he said. "A son of a samurai -- of privilege and rank -- would never have left Japan to labor in the canefields in Hawai`i and be treated like a dog." 

Ironically, in time, Grandpa Andy would grow up and leave Hawai`i to fight for the United States of America as a soldier.  On the frontlines of Europe during World War II, he was an American  "samurai" of honor and valor, buttressed by a deeply-grooved code of honor of his ancestors. 

>>  Grandpa Andy:  The Veteran

>> The Samurai and their Bushido Code of Honor
The Warrior Classes of the East & West
>> For a historical view:  Amazon:  SHOGUN, the book

>>  Amazon:  SHOGUN, 
the movie with Toshiro Mifune & Richard Chamberlain


After the logging industry left Pahoa, Great-grandfather Matakatsu invested his earnings in a homestead and then a car, one of the first in the village. He disliked taking orders and  was determined to be his own boss by owning his own business.

In the Tokugawa/Edo period, 
samurai were ranked highest, 
followed by priests, doctors and teachers;
 farmers; artisans/craftspersons; and merchants,
in that order. 
Source, Source

Because farming "feeds the nation," the Japanese of that era traditionally held farming in esteem; just below the samurai and priest-doctor-teacher classes were the farmers. Great-grandfather Matakatsu felt farming was beneath him, but apparently not beneath his wife and six children. 

It was Great-grandmother Satsuma, without class hang-ups and with a genuine love for gardening and growing plants, who taught herself how to best farm the volcanic land. With her strong faith, fortitude, backbreaking labor, and love for her family, she coaxed beautiful fruit and cultivated prize vegetables out of that rocky soil.  

The family labored hard under Great-grandfather Matakatsu's stern direction. Grandpa Andy remembers him as quite the taskmaster and martinet, and a mightily stubborn one at that.  It is said that once a person from Kumamoto makes up his/her mind, there is no changing it. ~Source

Because of Great-grandfather Matakatsu's willfulness (Kumamoto "mokkosu") and samurai pride (arrogance?), his wife and children were the farmers, who became skilled and productive with time, while he peddled their produce from his Model A Ford.  

He became his own boss, and he took orders from no one. I've wondered, though he found his métier, did he realize that he fell three rungs lower on that old Japanese social hierarchy when he became a peddler, a merchant-on-wheels?  

Great-grandmother Satsuma taught her sons well. With her indomitable spirit and by her own example, she taught them to take pride in their work, however humble, and to work hard with focus. In time, she passed on her green thumb to Grandpa Andy, which lead to his eventual success as a pioneer and founder of Hawai`i's papaya industry and Great-uncle Katsuto (I knew him as Uncle K, a gentle, kindly man like his mother), who pioneered the anthurium industry as a breeder-grower.


Growing up, Grandpa Andy watched his family struggle to eke out a living from the land, and this, after paying Great-grandfather Matakatsu's party bills.  Apparently, he never gave up his extravagant tastes and loved to entertain in grandiloquent  Kumamoto style, whether he could afford it or not.

Years later, when Grandpa Andy visited his father's home in Kumamoto for the first time, he was shocked to learn that his father's claims were all true. The ancestral home was so well-built that it still stands, hundreds of years later.  A large home, especially by Japanese standards, it has since been remodeled and modernized.  

With its glazed blue tiled roof, the house is as impressive today as it was when Great-grandfather Matakatsu once lived in it. 

Today, the stately house is home to Great-grandfather Matakatsu's nephew, who is Grandpa Andy's first cousin, and his family. These days, because land is so scarce and valuable, our relatives in Kumamoto are well-situated in life. 

When his cousin took Grandpa Andy on a tour of the family's land, he got a taste of the life his father once lived. As soon as the tenant farmers learned that Grandpa Andy was a direct descendant of the family, they made obeisance by bowing deeply and repeatedly and addressing him in low, respectful tones. 

Great-grandfather Matakatsu wasn't making up stories, after all.

>>  Bowing (Ojigi) Etiquette


"The prefecture has two extremely scenic national parks of its own. Since ancient days Kumamoto Prefecture has been called the "Land of Fire" because it contains twin-coned volcanic Mt. Aso." 

Great-grandfather Matakatsu went from one "Land of Fire" to another, and that volcanic fire in Hawai`i ended up in his own back yard!

In 1955, a volcanic cone rose out of Great-grandmother Satsuma's cucumber patch in back of their house on Kalapana Road!  Had he rebuilt on that land, he would have had his own onsen, as these days, that cinder cone is now a natural steam bath:

"Steam Vents – Along Hwy. 130, near mile marker 15 you come to a scenic point (on the ocean or “makai” side of the road) following a trail you will find steam vents. Some of the cinder cones have been turned into steam baths with wooden benches to sit on, while you enjoy the warm earth heated air. Caution is advised, you should always have somebody with you." ~Source

>> The 1955 Eruption: The first in lower Puna since 1840

Looking seaward, Carissa's eyes will take in a beautiful view of the Maui coastline; looking mountainward at home on Maui, she can see the grand Hawaiian volcanic mountain, Haleakala. 

When Great-grandfather Matakatsu looked seaward from the windows of his Kalapana Road home, his eyes held the  spectacular vista of the lower Puna coastline; looking mountainward, he looked at the majestic twin peaks of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa.  

How Great-grandfather Matakatsu must have gazed at his adopted island home scenery with nostagic thoughts of Mt. Aso and the striking Kyushu coastline.

He was never to return to his homeland to see them once again. Two years later, in 1957, battling illness and grieving the loss of his home in 1955, followed by the sudden passing of his eldest son, Katsuto, of a rheumatic heart in 1956, Great-grandfather Matakatsu passed on, a broken, disillusioned and disconsolate shadow of the man he once was.  

He never made that fortune that he had sought, and though he gave up his primogeniture and forfeited the family fortunes, I like to think it was not in vain. We came along!

In November, in Japan, Carissa will look seaward and mountainward and take it all in with her eyes, and perhaps thanks her Great-grandfather Matakatsu for us.  

We are in this present time and space because of him.


So, indeed, as she visits the area of Japan that her Great-grandfather Matakatsu hails from, this trip holds great personal and ancestral significance for Carissa. She will experience her roots, first-hand. In person. 

Perhaps, she'll appreciate what it means to be American and a keiki o ka `aina (child of Hawai`i), without forgetting what it means to be Japanese.

I was only five when I last saw Great-grandfather Matakatsu, and I remember him as a lanky, taciturn, yet irascible man with a shock of hoary hair, who gave an impression of distance and seriousness. He was not well. I think of him now, and inscrutable Great-grandfather Matakatsu with his stony mien in life is broadly smiling now, happy to learn that Carissa will be visiting his homeland soon.  

And so is Grandpa Andy (with wide open eyes), who fell in love with his parents' homeland, although he loved his own homeland, Hawai`i, much, much more. Especially the island of Hawai`i, where he lived all his life, except for short stints away, and always with deep Aloha and Mahalo. 

Grandpa Andy, by the way, forgave his father for his difficult, stubborn ways and shortcomings, thanks to Great-grandmother Satsuma who visited him in his dreams and helped father and son make peace with each other.  Just before he crossed over, Great-grandmother Satsuma and Great-grandfather Matakatsu, smiling and happy, came to Grandpa Andy. By bringing him much assurance and comfort, they helped smooth the way Home for their youngest child.

Someday, I will tell you more about that phenomenal woman/beautiful soul who was Great-grandmother Satsuma.  As I go back in time to learn about our ancestors, I realize that every piece of our family heritage is a gift. Although I do not have children, I hope that my nieces and nephews -- and the future generations -- will one day enjoy all the memories I now cherish.

Looking back at our  family's history, I  have discovered an inspiring heritage of struggle and triumph, strength and courage.  It is a legacy that I hope you will also pass on to future generations.

I hope, Carissa, you will remember all three of them -- Great-grandfather Matakatsu, Great-grandmother Satsuma and Grandpa Andy -- by offering some incense to their memories when you are in Japan. They'll really get a kick out of that! 


Hope this helps. 

(To answer your question directed to Leilani/Kazuko: No, Leilani/Kazuko is from the Tokyo area, specifically Kanazawa, which is way up north.)

Me ke Aloha, 
Aunty D

"Life is a Gift."

Me ke Aloha, 
Author Unknown

 "The only gift is a portion of thyself..."
Ralph Waldo Emerson


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