Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Edward K. Honda Interview
Narrator: Edward K. Honda
Interviewer: Megan Asaka
Location: Honolulu, Hawaii
Date: June 2, 2009
Densho ID: denshovh-hedward-01

<Begin Segment 1>

MA: Okay. So today is June 2, 2009, and I'm here with Edward Honda in Honolulu, Hawaii. And thank you so much for coming in and doing this interview.

EH: Oh, thank you for doing this, you know. Like I said earlier, a lot of people forget what happened during the war, and I think it's something that people should never forget.

MA: So I wanted to start just with a basic question. Where and when were you born?

EH: I was born July 7, 1945, in Tule Lake, California.

MA: And tell me a little bit about your parents, like what their names were and where they were born.

EH: Yes. I'm gonna have to go back and forth between my birth father and my stepfather, 'cause my birth father actually is Hiroshi Honda, born in (Maui), Hawaii. He was educated in Japan. And I'm not sure which university, but apparently what happened is when he graduated from university, being one of those at that time that carried dual citizenship, he was drafted into the Japan air force, became a fighter pilot in the Sino-Japan War. He did see combat, he got shot down once. At which time, my grandma, from what I understand, flew to Japan, proceeded to chastise the government for drafting him for one thing, then bringing him back to Hawaii. [Laughs] I can just picture that as I'm laughing. I come from a family of very feisty people. [Laughs]

MA: So then your father was a Kibei, right?

EH: Correct.

MA: So he was born in Hawaii and then educated in Japan?

EH: Educated in Japan.

MA: And then he was drafted in the army, and so shot down during the Sino-Japanese War.

EH: Correct, correct.

MA: And then what about your mother?

EH: My mom was born in Papaikou, Hawaii, on the Big Island. She was just -- well, I shouldn't say "just" -- but she was trained as a seamstress. She did go to school, and I thought she was pretty good at... as an example, she could see a picture in a magazine, look at it, draft a pattern, and make a dress for my sister. She was that good. And, you know, she used to draft these patterns out of newspaper, that was funny. But I thought she was pretty good. She could sew a shirt in one night, you know, from scratch. And I thought she was pretty terrific.

MA: And what about her parents or your grandparents? What do you know about them?

EH: My grandparents, very, very, very little. On my father's side, Grandpa Honda, I never met him. He had passed away. Grandma Honda lived in Honolulu, and we lived in Hilo, so I didn't see her that often, too. Grandma Hashida, my mother's side, I never met her either because she had passed away (before) I was born. Grandpa Hashida, very little, too, because for some reason, my mom and he didn't really get along, so we hardly saw them. But both of them were Issei, so both parents are Nisei and I'm Sansei.

MA: But it sounds like you have some fond memories of your dad's mom, of your grandmother?

EH: Yeah, she was, she was like an entertainer, you know, like parties and stuff. She would dance (and sing). She was trained to dance. [Laughs] At times, I thought maybe she was trained as a geisha -- not. [Laughs] But she was very entertaining. She was a barber, actually.

MA: Your grandmother was a barber?

EH: Yeah, on my father's side. She had a barber shop in Kalihi. Got robbed every other week because of the area, if you know Kalihi. [Laughs] Kalihi is kind of an immigrant area, so it's not a classy place or anything. But a lot of -- today, a lot of drug dealings and stuff going on in Kalihi. It's not a really desirable area, but it was inexpensive.

MA: And she did this after the war? Sort of post-World War II?

EH: I think it was before and after. My Grandma Honda never got interned or anything like that.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

MA: So what did your father do when he came back to Hawaii from Japan, his occupation?

EH: Actually, he wanted to be an artist. But I think when he got picked up December 7th, he was a Japanese school principal, I guess with the church, yeah? At that time, a lot of the churches had Japanese language schools. So that's about the extent of what I know, what I know about my birth father, not much.

MA: So, but your, so your birth father was Hiroshi Honda?

EH: Correct.

MA: Okay. And he was... so it sounds like he was, you said he was the principal of the language school?

EH: Right.

MA: And then what happens to him after Pearl Harbor?

EH: Well, all I could, all my mother would tell me is he went out that morning, he came back, his shirt being all bloody, and military came and took him away. This was in Hilo. They didn't see him again probably for about another month when she found out he was at Sand Island. Flew to Honolulu and went to see him at Sand Island. Sand Island in those days was not accessible by car, you had to boat over. I don't know if you know where Sand Island is, down by the airport. And I just found out or discovered maybe three weeks ago that he was actually interned at Honouliuli also, because his name shows up on a list of Honouliuli internees.

MA: Did your mother talk to you about that visit or anything?

EH: Not at all. She did not want to talk anything about the war. To the day she died, she was very bitter about the American government for what had happened. I don't know if I told you this, but she was not really one of those that were supposed to be interned. The only reason she... she, I guess, what they called self interned herself so she could be with her husband. When they boarded the ship to be shipped to the mainland, apparently just before the ship was to sail, they took my father off again and said they were gonna hold him back for further questioning. She proceeded to pack up all the things to get off with him, they said, "No, you go." So she ended up in Jerome, Arkansas.

MA: And this was, then, alone? She was separate from your father?

EH: Yeah, not with my father at all.

MA: What other, do you know what other family members were with her? Was she alone?

EH: No. Her sister also self interned herself. She was an RN, a nurse, and because my grandfather got interned also, my mother's father.

MA: In Sand Island?

EH: Well, actually, he did end up in Jerome, Arkansas, too, which, I guess... I don't know the whole story about how that happened or what happened or whatever, but apparently they were in Jerome together. My birth dad, I don't know, there's a big gap. And some of the things that I kind of learned about him is only because when he did his paintings, many of 'em he dated, and many of them he indicated location, yeah. As I had indicated earlier, there's a whole bunch that's identified as Camp McCoy. The only Camp McCoy I know in Wisconsin -- and he does say Camp McCoy, Wisconsin -- was the initial language school for the MIS, Military Intelligence people before they went down to Mississippi, or whatever. And the only thing I can guess is they probably sent him there to be an instructor because he had a background in language education. But that's just guessing, too, because I really don't have any idea. And my mom would never, my mom never told me. In fact, I don't know if my mom even knew what he was doing in McCoy. 'Cause once I did ask her about Camp McCoy, she doesn't know anything.

MA: That's interesting, though, that your father, so he went on to be a famous artist and he was --

EH: No.

MA: No?

EH: He became famous only recently. [Laughs]

MA: Oh, only recently. So after --

EH: Only because I found a lot of his paintings when my mom passed away in the house. And rather than just dump it, I took it to the Academy because I had some people who knew, George Ellis at the Academy at that time. They expressed an interest in keeping it. So I just donated to them because... fifty-something pieces, not too many people have that much wall space, for one thing. And think about framing fifty-something pieces of artwork, that can cost you a small fortune.

MA: So he was painting, then, throughout his life.

EH: Yeah, pretty much, and I guess he did more in camp. Nothing else to do.

MA: And then, you... so that's interesting, though, that you kind of pieced together his wartime experience from those paintings.

EH: Because my mom would never talk about it. And some of the stuff I learned was through a good friend of hers who also did pass away, who was in camp with her.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

MA: But you know that they, your father and mother reunited at some point, is that correct?

EH: Yes.

MA: In camp? Was it in Jerome?

EH: No. I'm guessing someplace, sometime around 1943 in Tule Lake. And my understanding is they were sent to Tule Lake and got reunited because they were on a list to be shipped to Japan on a prisoner exchange type of situation. My mom -- bless her heart -- was an activist. She really gave the government a hard time because she refused to sign the "loyalty oath" thing. Her attitude was, "I'm an American citizen, I don't have to sign this. If you require every American citizen to sign this, I'll sign it. Otherwise I don't have to, I'm an American citizen." And I guess because of that, she was branded or labeled or whatever.

MA: And so she was going to be sent to Japan?

EH: Yeah, sent to Japan.

MA: And then your father was somehow gonna join her?

EH: No. They were gonna get shipped from Tule Lake to Japan, from what I understand.

MA: Okay, so this was in Tule Lake.

EH: Yeah. And as far as accuracy is concerned, I'm not sure, too, because this is hearsay. There's nothing concrete or anything, but -- [coughs] excuse me -- people know that they were putting together a prisoner exchange type of thing. When it happened, not too many people know, and who was on that list, not too many people know. But for some reason, they knew that my parents were on that list, and they weren't gonna send 'em without her kids. I would have been, like, one year old at that time and my sister two and my brother four.

MA: And so... what stopped them from...

EH: The war ended.

MA: Oh, the war ended, okay.

EH: [Laughs] So I keep joking with my friends, if it went on for maybe another six months, I may not have been here. I would have been growing up in Japan.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

MA: And so the war ended, and so then where did your family end up? Where did they go after?

EH: Apparently, for some reason, we were not allowed to return to Hawaii right away. So because of my father's interest in painting, they ended up in New York City, Greenwich Village, and I guess he proceeded to do his thing.

MA: Do you have a -- I mean, you were, what, one or two at that point. Do you have any memories of New York City?

EH: Some. Seeing Central Park, riding the subway, stuff like that, I kind of remember. But, you know, as you get older, lose it. [Laughs] But yeah, I guess certain things I do remember, even the bad stuff.

MA: And your father, as you said -- excuse me -- went to New York to sort of pursue painting?

EH: Yeah, his artistic inclinations. I also understood later on that he also did study in France. Before or after the war, I'm not sure. I would guess after the war because they were already in New York. And I think he may have gone to France for about a year to study under, I guess, one of the masters at that time, and then came back.

MA: And then how long were you in New York City?

EH: Came back to Hawaii, I believe I was, like, five years old. Four to five years.

MA: And then at that point it was your mother and you and your siblings, right? Your father stayed?

EH: My brothers, sisters, one brother, one sister.

MA: And then your father stayed behind. You told me he stayed...

EH: Yeah, he stayed behind. He came back for maybe a couple weeks, then he disappeared again. And this is -- I'm guessing, too -- but I guess I tell people, you kind of have to understand artistic people, and they're very eccentric. And I've heard from more than one person that being in camp, my father was really frustrated. He couldn't do what he wanted to do, and he couldn't do anything to support his family. So obviously he was really frustrated. So I guess when he was released from camp and free, he just did his own thing.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

MA: And when you -- so when you and your brother, sister and mother moved back to Hawaii, I mean, where did you move back to?

EH: My mother's parents' home in Papaikou.

MA: And then home and possessions that your parents left behind? Was there anything...

EH: No. [Laughs]

MA: No.

EH: My parents, my mother's side, before the war, were pretty well-to-do. They owned a hundred-acre plot of land on which they grew sugar cane. That hundred acres of land somehow ended up with a plantation. I really don't know details, but I know they lost it. If you go to Hilo, the main highway, I understood they owned the land from the main highway all the way to the ocean. And there's a small plot right next to the family home, that the Hongwanji church, it sits on. So I also understand they donated that land to the church. So I said, lucky they donated the land before government took it away.

MA: And the time when your, so you said your father came back briefly to Hawaii, right, after you moved back from New York?

EH: Uh-huh.

MA: What kind of work did he do? Was he still pursuing art?

EH: Yeah, he didn't work. And that's... [laughs] -- I shouldn't tell you guys this -- but that's part of the reason why my mom came back to Hawaii. Because he couldn't find work in New York, and I guess, being a Japanese after the war, he couldn't even sell his artwork. Which today, if you ask people, is very good, and apparently would bring a pretty good price. But he couldn't sell his artwork and couldn't find a job. So my mom got fed up having to support him, too, so she just brought us back to Hawaii and lived, I guess, in her parents' home.

MA: And that's where you grew up, was in your grandparents'...

EH: Yeah, initially. That didn't last too long either. Not only, maybe even a year. But she did move out on her own with the three kids.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

MA: And you mentioned that your mom, your mother was very angry about what had happened to her during the war.

EH: Oh, yeah.

MA: So what did you, what did she share with you about camp? Anything growing up, or was it something that you found out on your own?

EH: No, bits and pieces from other people, this and that. But I can distinctly remember when she got the twenty thousand dollar check from the government.

MA: The redress?

EH: The reparations. She made a comment like, "What? Government think they can buy my loyalty for twenty thousand dollars?" [Laughs] She was going to throw away the check. I said, "Mom, you throw away the check, government win, you know." So she divided among the church and whatever charity. She said, "I don't even want penny of their money." I said, "Mom, give it me." "No." [Laughs] But she refused to even take one penny.

MA: So growing up, so you were born in Tule Lake. Was that something that you felt, I mean, when people would ask you where you were born, what would you say? Or did you know?

EH: Yeah, after the war, it was kind of... I shouldn't say really embarrassing, but you were pretty embarrassed that you were born in a camp. And kids being kids, "Hey, you, prisoner of war camp," this and that, right? So I distinctly remember when people asked me where I was born, I would say, "California. Newell, California." Never mentioned Tule Lake at all. "Where's Newell?" "Oh, about fifty miles from Oregon border." I don't think I ever mentioned Tule Lake at all.

MA: Because also, I think that in Hawaii, right, not everyone was, there wasn't the mass internment.

EH: Yeah, very little. In fact, I think from Hawaii, there may have been couple thousand at best that were shipped out.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

MA: And so, I guess, let's talk a little about your childhood and upbringing and where you went to elementary school and high school.

EH: Oh, okay. But let me back up a little bit.

MA: Sure.

EH: Anyway, I told you my mom went out to go live by herself. And apparently -- well, at that time, my birth father's younger brother, my uncle, who had served with 442, came home, and he worked for the Hilo Electric Light Company before he went in. So he got his job back. And I guess him being a good person, he saw my mom with three kids struggling, so he used to, I remember he used to come over take us to the movies, take us to the beach. He kind of really did help my mother a lot, you know. I even remember Christmases and stuff like that, him bringing the presents and stuff. What was really funny was he was always Uncle Bob, Uncle Bob. And one day my mom said, "You don't have to call him uncle anymore, call him dad." [Laughs] So he became Dad. So my stepfather is actually my uncle.

MA: And this was your birth father's younger brother?

EH: Younger brother. And I guess, like I said, because he had just come back from the war in Europe, he didn't have anybody.

MA: And did you ever talk to him about his experiences during the war with the 442nd?

EH: A little. And I guess a lot of it I've picked up, they would meet regularly, his bunch.

MA: The Nisei veterans?

EH: Well, F Company was his company, so those people, there were quite a few of them in Hilo at that time, from F Company. And they would get together at least once every couple months or so. So I used to just hear from them. In fact, one of the F Company guys who was my father's platoon sergeant, was one of those who received his Medal of Honor not too long ago.

MA: Seems like in Hawaii there's a strong legacy of the Nisei 100th and 442nd here.

EH: Yeah. And I think, too, because when you go to war, you see all your buddies dying, so you develop this bond that I don't think you would develop otherwise. Friends are friends, but when you're dying for your friend and your friend dies for you and you're living and your friend is dead, I think it's a different type of situation.

MA: And your mother, you mentioned earlier that she worked as a seamstress. Is that something she continued when you were growing up?

EH: Uh-huh. She worked for Kamehameha Garments in Hilo, which was... I think it was Crown Industries. But I know, those days, no such thing as hourly wages. It was all what they call by piece. How many, they got paid by how many pieces they sold, that they owe or whatever. She worked hard.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

MA: And... what high school did you attend?

EH: Oh, I went to Hilo High School. Actually, Hilo High School at that time was the only high school in Hilo. There was also a Catholic high school which was a private school. That was a church school. But Hilo High School was the only public high school in Hilo.

MA: And was your -- I'm just curious, your high school class, what was the ethnic breakdown? Was it mostly Japanese?

EH: Mostly Asians. And I wouldn't say... yeah, predominately Japanese but mostly Asians, lot of Hawaiians, Polynesians. But in those days, I have a hard time distinguishing Japanese from Chinese, from Korean, we're just Asians. So if you ask me, I'm sure there were more Japanese than any other ethnic group. But hard to say.

MA: That's interesting, because on the mainland, we're so separate.

EH: Yeah.

MA: We know exactly, you know, Japanese American, Chinese American, Korean, Filipino, it's so distinct. That's interesting, in Hawaii, it's...

EH: Some of these guys I grew up with, I didn't know they were Korean until not too long ago, just by their last name. "Oh, that guy was Korean." [Laughs]

MA: What about, so it seems like the Asians were sort of together, but what about the relationship between the Asians and the Hawaiians?

EH: I had a very good relationship with them, I'm just speaking for myself now. But my best friend actually was Filipino Hawaiian. And I was best man at his wedding. I got married in Vegas, so he wasn't there. [Laughs] And, you know, to me, I think I was in a different situation, too, because my circle of friends mostly revolved around athletics. Because I was what they call a jock, my immediate friends really were, my close friends were also athletically inclined. I also did have a bunch of friends that were scholastically inclined. I was one of the few jocks who made it both ways, academically and athletically. [Laughs]

MA: What sports did you play?

EH: Football, track, little baseball, little basketball. But I joke about this to friends, too, like I was a halfback, but I could play every back position. I was just one of four people on our team that played both offense and defense. And the reason was not that I was good, I was okay, but lot of these guys couldn't remember the plays. [Laughs] But I could remember the plays, I knew the plays, so for every position, defense and offense. So that increased my playing time.

MA: And when you were in high school, did you -- because you ended up going to the University of Hawaii, was college something that you always wanted to...

EH: Well, initially I would say it was because of my parents. I guess if you know Oriental families in those days, education was really stressed with the kids. "You're good for nothing if you don't have education." "Education is important," this and that, this and that. But one of the impetus initially for me to go to college was we were in the middle of the Vietnam War, and I didn't want to go to war. Then I flunked out my first year in college. [Laughs] So I had to go, I told myself, if I'm going to Vietnam, I want to get the best training I can get. So I went down to join, volunteer for the Marines. I couldn't pass the physical. So I went to the Army and the Navy, I still couldn't pass the physical. So I was so happy. They gave me what they call at that time a 1-Y designation, which was the temporary medical deferment. I was so happy, the next day I was on a plane flying to L.A. Played for two years, drinking, racing cars and gambling, that's all I did, three years. [Laughs]

MA: I guess in high school and in college, do you remember learning about the internment? Was that something that...

EH: No, no. I've never seen it on any curriculum when I was going to school.

MA: And what did you after you graduated from college? You said you worked for the state?

EH: Yeah, I worked for the state government as a budget analyst for eight years or so, then I went private, worked for the local oil company as a compensation analyst, then I went into business for myself. I opened up a video arcade and a pool hall, and I had fun for sixteen years until I had to go get a real job again. [Laughs]

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

MA: So I'm curious to hear more about your birth father and finding his paintings and that story.

EH: Oh, the first batch that I found, I was home and my mom was going to just dump it. Said, "Hey, Mom, don't throw that away, give it to me, you don't want it." So I just, you know, kept it on the side. When I went to college, I think I took it with me. Then the second bunch I found when my mom passed away, when I was trying to clean out some of her stuff. And because there were so many of 'em from internment camp, I had a friend who knew the executive director at the Art Academy. So we kind of informally talked to him, "Will you guys be interested?" He said, "Yes." Interestingly enough, at that time, I don't know if you heard of the traveling "View from Within" show that they had. It was in town, so at the same time they did my showing of what he had done. It went over well, but I'm trying to kind of get it back from them now, because it's just sitting in a basement in storage. And I was thinking, if they have this, you know, like someplace like here, if they have space, they could do it as a permanent display or whatever. Because I shouldn't say, but among some people, they said the thing worth lot of money. Lot of money. But the academy just has it in storage now, because they can't, I guess, keep it on permanent display.

MA: And had you, after your father left when you were young, did you hear from him at all?

EH: No.

MA: So you found these paintings and that was, you had the paintings and that was kind of what you had from him.

EH: I also befriended this lady who was interested in doing history and stuff like that, she wrote the history of Wahiawa and stuff like that. She went online and found some of his paintings for sale on eBay. Got in touch with one of the art dealers that my (father) had, found out that he had passed away, and actually, all I'm trying to do right now, too, is find out where he's buried or what happened to the guy. Because when my mom was alive and my stepdad was alive, I really didn't want to because I know they would not approve of me trying to find him. But I know he had passed away because I have friends in D.C., too. And when reparations was being handed out, I know he never applied for his. So I figured the only way that would happen is if he had passed away.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

MA: Looking back, I guess, you were born in camp, how do you feel the internment impacted your life?

EH: Made me a better person. [Laughs] I'm going to fight for world peace. My whole life is going to be dedicated for world peace.

MA: But do you feel like it impacted your life?

EH: It had to have.

MA: Or even, like, you know, it obviously impacted your mother and the way that she...

EH: Well, yeah. Well, having had such an impact on my mom had an impact on me. I agree with her. Government think they can buy us back for twenty thousand dollars? It's crazy. You know, what they lost, when you think in terms of monetary value, not even a drop in the bucket. They came home, they found their house totally empty. All appliances gone, all furniture gone, they lost their hundred acres of farmland. I don't know, how can you justify that?

MA: Do you feel like the public in Hawaii is generally aware of what happened?

EH: No, because they weren't impacted as such. Sure, they did send some people to Honouliuli, there's no doubt about it. But in all fairness to the people in Hawaii, too, if they locked up everybody, Hawaii would have died. They ran the bakeries, they ran the stores, they ran the distribution, they ran the, you know, the Japanese were involved with construction, Japanese were involved with everything. So if they locked up all the Japanese in Hawaii, the state would have died. And I think that was one of the considerations why they did it. And they felt -- I'm just guessing -- they felt that Hawaii, being an island state, was easy to monitor and control. But yeah, if they did to the Japanese in Hawaii what they did on the mainland, they would have regretted it to this day.

MA: Do people... do you think people are generally aware of, like, the mainland internment story?

EH: No, because they never were exposed to it. Which is one reason why I agreed to do this for you. Because although they were not exposed to it, they still gotta know about it. It's a big deal, man. You know, when I run into people and they say, "What? You mean people were locked up during the war?" "You didn't know?" "Oh, my, that's terrible." This person's a schoolteacher. I wanted to, "Wake up, girl."

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

MA: What is something that you would like, I mean, with this interview, people to know about your family's story or to remember, to take away?

EH: Yeah, it's not too much my family's story, but like we were just talking, people gotta be aware that these things did happen, and don't let it happen again. Like they said there was not even one hint of sabotage or disloyalty or whatever by the entire Japanese community. People gotta know. I'll give you, I want to tell you another story about my dad. I shouldn't say it, but when he was in camp, you see some of his intricate work, he used to send greeting card designs to Hallmark and they would reject everything he sent. Then my mom would say year later they'd find same design on the market. And I don't know if you remember, but quite a few years back, maybe ten years or so, the artists in Monterey were running into the same type of situation with Hallmark, and I said, "These guys, they never change." That they were kind of stealing designs from these freelance artists in Monterey. To me, what it is is Hallmark's so big, you try and go up against them, you're going to lose. They're going to outlast you, out-attorney you, out-everything. 'Cause they have the resources for it, you're going to lose. 'Cause somebody did say, "Oh, you should try to see if you can do something about it now, legally." No sense, you're going to lose. To the day she died, she refused to buy a card from Hallmark. So I said, "Mom, me too. I'm not going to buy." [Laughs]

MA: So is there anything else that you'd like to share about your story, your family?

EH: I don't know. I shared too much, maybe. [Laughs]

MA: No, this was great.

EH: Huh?

MA: This was great.

EH: But maybe some things I shouldn't say. Mom, forgive me. [Laughs]

MA: Well, thank you very much for coming in and doing this interview. We really appreciate it.

EH: Well, thank you for doing what you guys are trying to do.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.