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Arriving on Maui

October 10, 2011 - Ray Tsuchiyama

In early September my wife C. and I completed a barely 30-minute flight from Honolulu to Kahului Airport to begin a new phase in our lives. The second-largest Hawaiian island is a new adventure for us, very different from our recent lives and sense of place and people.

This blog shall describe our adjustment, frustrations, happiness, and awakenings – much like many recent transplants to Maui, from Oahu, California, Washington, Idaho, British Columbia*, and even Europe and other regions. Walking in the red dust alongside cane fields, I feel like a newcomer yet simultaneously connected genetically to Maui, as our family’s history goes back more than a century on this beautiful island.

For the last 20 years we lived in an enormous mega-tropolis of Tokyo, a city of about 15 million people, plus adjoining Yokohama, with another 4 million citizens – in the center of the Kanto region (a sprawling plain where 45 million Japanese live, hemmed in by the mountain ranges running up and down the main island of Honshu). We lived in Minato Ward, one of 23 wards or “micro-cities” that comprise Tokyo metropolitan prefecture. Minato Ward has an official area of eight square miles -- compared to Kahului town with 16 square miles or double the area. Compared to Minato Ward’s population of 220,000 though, the entire population of Maui County is now about 160,000 (Kahului itself is at 28,000).

Population numbers figure significantly in my family’s story, as Maui had waves of different peoples, different cultures during the past two centuries. Although I had never lived on Maui (I visited Maui in the 1960s as a child and have vivid, happy memories, hence the word in the Blog Title), my grandparents – on my father’s side – arrived in Kahului in 1907, just six years after the Waikiki flagship Moana Hotel opened its doors to America’s social elite, four years before the end of the Meiji Era (and beginning of Taisho), the year the solidly-built Wailuku Courthouse was dedicated and when best-selling author Jack London toured a rugged, wild Haleakala.

1907 was after the Japanese triumph in the Russo-Japanese War, and my father, born in Kahului in 1915, was given his first name the same Chinese character (kanji) as the Japanese Army general Maresuke Nogi, the “hero” of Japanese battles against Russian forces. My grandparents must have followed the war in Japanese newspapers avidly before departing for Maui, and whenever a Japanese newspaper arrived on Maui, they must have read it from cover to cover: neither Internet nor Email back then.

The turn of the century seems so long ago, a world of dusty sepia photographs and jumpy silent movies, but to show how “relative” time and events are, in the same year that my grandparents immigrated to Maui (1907), Nobel Prize winner Albert Einstein introduced the principle of equivalence of gravitation and inertia and used it to predict the gravitational redshift – probably physics ideas challenging and utterly remote to well-educated people living today in the high tech Microsoft/Google world of 2011.

1907 was also barely 15 years after the Overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom in 1893 by rebellious American citizens living in the Kingdom – (energetic, some would say aggressive) sugar planters who would transform Maui’s central plains and also increase the population dramatically by contracting thousands of sugar field laborers (and bringing their families). In the 1920s and into 1930s many Japanese, like my grandparents, would settle into various plantation camps, and the population would jump to 20,000 before World War II. Yet the Hawaiian population numbered probably twice that figure in the early 19th century in pre-Western contact Maui of sustainable fishponds, taro fields, coconuts, and breadfruit (ulu) – and no infectious diseases such as smallpox and tuberculosis. One can discover in the past for a utopian sustainable society and environment that so many Mauians “vision” for Maui’s future.

During the past two decades the new voter registrations in Kihei, Up-Country, the “West Side” (Lahaina, Kapalua) – outside of the traditional voter concentration in Central Maui -- reflect the surge of new-comers with “visions” about Maui (this includes many historical figures – hence, that word in my blog title). They chose this island for a new lifestyle, a world away from cold rainy Seattle or Spokane or Vancouver or even hectic, concrete Oahu (with nearly 950,000 hurtling each Monday morning on H-1 and back again, with crowded weekend teriyaki BBQs at Ala Moana Park). Yet, in the post-World War II years and into the early 1960s Maui experienced emigration of its young, ambitious individuals to the bright lights and air-conditioned office jobs on Oahu or more recently to Clark County, Nevada (>60,000 former Hawaii residents live in the desert economic wonder, now beset by jobs loss and real estate downturn).

As one friend – based on years of seeing people arrive on Maui (and many departing) -- said: “ . . . Although many choose Maui to live, only Maui decides who shall stay and who shall depart”. . . . A very spiritual Maui saying.

Upon reflection my wife C. and I hope that we can stay – in a sense, we accelerated our return back to Hawaii after the Great Eastern Japan Earthquake on March 11, and Maui welcomed us to heal amidst the natural beauty and tranquility. We have no Grand Plan, other than we arrived on Maui from afar and we hope that we can make friends and contribute to Maui in a positive way, and to extend insights on our life journey, in a 100-year circle recalling my grandparents on a ship from Yokohama to Kahului, viewing the sharply-etched green mountains and wispy white clouds for the first time.

*I was startled by a “Canadian cigarettes sold here” sign at a Kihei mall shop: evidence of sharp segment-focused marketing by a Mauian retailer.


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