KAHULUI - A thousand-stitch decorated cloth belt saved Arthur Kurahara's life during World War II.
That's "the reason why I'm here today," the 91-year-old veteran says in a film about nisei veterans in Hawaii.
The Kahului resident and a member of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and 100th Infantry Battalion recalls that instead of hitting his body, shrapnel hit his metal canteen during battle in Italy.
Maui nisei veterans Kunio Kikuta (from left), Arthur Kurahara, Tom Yamada, Ed Watanabe, Meyer Ueoka, Hiroshi Arisumi and Stanley Izumigawa pose in front of the garden feature dedicated Saturday at Kepaniwai Heritage Gardens.
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
But instead of thanking his canteen, Kurahara attributes the good fortune to his senninbari, or a thousand-stitch belt. The belt is decorated with 1,000 stitches, traditionally with each stitch made by a different woman. It was an amulet given to soldiers for good luck.
Kurahara thanked his mother for his belt.
His recollections of war and life are among those by several veterans featured in the film "Go for Broke - Memories of Hawai'i Japanese Nisei." The film, which made its debut at the Maui Film Festival in June and garnered finalist accolades, was shown at the Kahului Hongwanji Mission temple Saturday.
The film's producer is first-time filmmaker Hiroyuki Matsumoto of Kamakura, Japan. He said that the movie is meant to honor the nisei veterans in Hawaii as well as benefit the Kansha Preschool, which is located at the Nisei Veterans Memorial Center at the border of Kahului and Wailuku.
The film's showing was one of two events Saturday presented by the Japanese Cultural Society of Maui and the Maui's Sons and Daughters of the Nisei Veterans.
Saturday morning, the two groups dedicated a karesansui, or dry stream garden, to the nisei veterans of the 100th Infantry Battalion, 442nd Regimental Combat Team and Military Intelligence Service.
The two groups built the garden with the help of the community and Maui County.
An estimated 25,000 nisei soldiers engaged in some of the fiercest combat of WWII and were among the most highly decorated troops in the nation's history.
The plaque at the dry stream garden at Kepaniwai Park in Iao Valley says that the karesansui was built on a debt of gratitude that the Japanese community owes to the nisei veterans.
There are three large stones in the garden that symbolize being strong and steadfast, while the "gentle flowing curves" represent the attributes that made the veterans' lives so special.
The beauty around the garden symbolizes the families and community that flourished as veterans planted their roots back home on Maui, according to wording on the plaque.
Brian Nagami, president of the Japanese Cultural Society of Maui, said: "These rocks are not rare specimens flown in from the shores of Italy, nor have they been chiseled into immaculate works of art. Like the veterans who stand with us here today, they seem simple and common when compared to their surroundings. However, as demonstrated by their actions during World War II, it is not what we find on the outside that counts most. When the weather changes and these surrounding plants wilt, these rocks will still stand."
Like the new dry steam garden, Matsumoto said, his film "is an honor that is given to the nisei veterans."
Through translator Tokie Sidney, a board member of the JCS of Maui, Matsumoto told the audience of at least 80 people that he had interviewed 34 veterans from Hawaii, including those from Maui, and has more than 60 hours of interviews.
He said he plans to put into a book those interviews that were not used in the film.
Matsumoto told the audience that when helping a friend with a calligraphy project on Maui, he was so thankful for the help they received from Mauians that he wanted to repay them by helping Kansha Preschool.
While Matsumoto did not mention it Saturday, the preschool features a program in which pre-schoolers interact with seniors at the Maui Adult Day Care Center next door. The two programs are both housed in the veterans center.
Matsumoto said that in order to raise funds for the preschool he wanted to make a movie to educate those in Japan about the nisei veterans and about the Japanese in Hawaii and their history.
He told The Maui News that all the veterans he interviewed held traditional values such as making sacrifices, which he said is being lost in modern-day Japan.
The 47-year-old said he's "not satisfied" yet with his film as he needs to correct some subtitles and some noise problems.
The 98-minute movie took about three years to make. It also has clips from the 1951 Hollywood film "Go for Broke," along with clips from various military camps as well as photos and footage from historic and modern-day Hawaii.
The film explores a gamut of issues, such as the conflicts between Mainland and Hawaii soldiers, conflicts between the Japanese and Okinawan communities, interracial marriage, the internment camps as well as the immigration experience and plantation life.
The film has also been shown on Oahu and the Big Island.
Matsumoto plans to bring the film back to Maui in the future and said that a DVD of it will be sold in Hawaii in the fall. He will also take the film to various places in Japan where the nisei veterans' families originated from.
Matsumoto said that he brought the movie to Hawaii first because he knew the veterans were aging and some of them had died before the film was finished.
Veteran Tom Yamada, also in the film, said that "in a way" the film brought back some memories.
Yamada, a member of the MIS, was one of the translators for Gen. Hideki Tojo, the Japanese wartime leader who was hospitalized after he tried to commit suicide when the American military was pursuing him as a war criminal after Japan's unconditional surrender in 1945.
Yamada was at Tojo's bedside one night at Sugamo Prison and served as a translator between Tojo and American nurses.
The 97-year-old Wailuku resident said Tojo didn't share any secrets.
"He was in no condition to talk," Yamada said.
But Yamada did ask Tojo if he could have some of the fruit that was brought for him.
Tojo told him, " 'Here, go ahead.' "
Tojo was later found guilty of war crimes and executed.
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at email@example.com.