May 7, 2009

ハワイの日系人のお墓:Japanese Tombstones in Hawaii

I spent Easter break in Hawaii.

During the trip, I saw a lot of Japanese gravestones. It's strange that I've been there four times but it never occured to me that Japanese Americans in Hawaii keep that heritage. "When a Japanese American dies, they import a marble stone from Japan and put it on their graveyard," said the bus driver, Jan, on our Big Island tour.


Shortly before the trip, I read a book "Garden Boy" written by Yoshimi Ishikawa in 1994.  In the recollection of Japanese and Japanese Americans he met in 1960s in California, there was this lonesome guy who was born in Hawaii to a immigrant family from Okinawa and couldn't quite fit in either Japanese nor Okinawa community.  He doesn't tell much about himself, but when he met an American who spent most of his childhood in Japan, he felt he finally found someone who had gone through the same struggle, and told his story;

"I was working in a field of sugar cane in Oafu, when Japan dropped bombs on Pearl Harbor.  I never ever imagined Japan would attack us.  When I learned it was Japan....  I found my true destiny defined.  Japanese Army attacked Hawaii where hundreds of thousands of Japanese immigrants lived.  We were abondoned by Japan.  But that didn't automatically make me feel that I'd rather become an American."

If you look carefully at their tombstones, you may realize most of them used English alphabets rather than Japanese characters from 1942 (right after Pearl Harbor attack in Dec. 1941) to early 1960s.


On my way back to airport, the road was a bit jammed on Sunday morning. "Car crush?" I asked.  "No, those are the cars going to the cemetery. They go there every weekend and they're all decorated with fresh flowers," explained our taxi driver who came to Hawaii 20+ years ago from Tokyo suburb.

I told her what I heard from Jan a day before, then she laughed and said, "Japanese tombstones?  They sell them here.  Think how heavy they're! I bet it'd cost a lot of money if you make them shipped from Japan." (Ah, Jan..  I know it's a true story, even if it's not a common practice!)

Having done with joking, she paused a bit and added, "when a Japanese American dies, they put a tombstone facing north.  That's where Japan is."


今回はどうしたわけか行く先々で日本のお墓が目についた。ハワイでは日系の人たちが日本の墓石をそのまま使っているのだ。ハワイは4度目なのに何故これまで気づかなかったんだろう? わしの目は節穴か、と落ち込んでたら、見透かしたかのようにビッグアイランドのバスの運転手ジャンがこうポツンと話した。「ここの日系アメリカ人は死ぬと日本から大理石取り寄せて墓に置くんだよ」







最終日、空港に向かう途中、高速で渋滞に巻き込まれた。日曜の朝から事故? と思ったら、在米20年以上の陽気な日本人の女性運転手が、「いや、お墓参りの渋滞ですよ。ここの人たちは毎週末お墓行くからね。どのお墓もお花きれいでしょ?」 と教えてくれた。

試しに前の日に運転手ジャンから聞いた話をしてみたら、「日本の墓石? ここでも売ってるよ。あんな重いもん日本から取り寄せたら送料だけでえらいこっちゃ。御影石だけどね。アメリカ人に御影石なんて言ったってわかんないだろうし大理石で上等だわなぁ、わっははは」(ああ、ジャン…ま、取り寄せる人の話も本当にあった話なんだろうけど)




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