Friday, December 7, 2001


The first graduates of Kuakini Nursing School, then called "Japanese Hospital," in 1929.

How Kuakini became
an ‘American
general hospital’

World War II forced a
change in its focus away
from reflecting Japanese culture

Honoring heroes
Historic day for Bulletin
Pride, sadness at Utah Memorial

By Helen Altonn

Kikue Kimoto, who had just graduated from nursing school at the Japanese Hospital, was doing laundry on her day off outside the dormitory when she saw planes overhead.

"It didn't dawn on me what happened until later, when someone told me war had started," said the Wahiawa woman, recalling Dec. 7, 1941.

The bombing marked the end of the Japanese Hospital, which eventually became the Kuakini Health System.

It began as the First Japanese Charity Hospital, with 38 beds in Kapalama, after Honolulu issei leaders formed the Nihonjin Jizenkai (Japanese Benevolent Society) in 1892.

Three nurses at Kuakini during World War II revisited it recently. They were, from left, Betty M. Ishida, Fukuyo Iwamoto and Dorothy Saito.

The Japanese medical center was founded in 1896 by Drs. Sansaburo Kobayashi, Iga Mori and Matsuji Misawa.

Mori, first superintendent of the hospital, led its expansion and relocation to the present site on Kuakini Street. By 1920 the Japanese Hospital was the second-largest civilian hospital in the territory.

Before World War II, a Hawaii Herald story relates, the hospital "was clearly administered Japanese style. Doctors regularly performed surgeries in their yukata (gown) and geta (clogs). Medical and board minutes were written in Kanji, and nurses were required to speak Nihongo fluently to their patients."
Fading voices: Honoring those
who died on Dec. 7, 1941

Click to enter the special section

When World War II began, the U.S. Army leased part of the hospital at the invitation of new nisei hospital leaders, and "overnight, everything Japanese was purged from memory," the story said.

Two large copper name plates on the building were immediately removed: "Nihonjin Byoin (the Japanese Hospital) and "Onshi Kinenkan," Imperial Gift Memorial Building.

Betty Ishida said her 1940 nursing class was the first to speak English.

The nurses, whose parents had come here from Japan to raise their families as Americans, "felt real bad" about the bombing.

"We felt like we were sometimes embarrassed that Japan got involved in the war," she said.

Ishida was a first-year student nurse on duty at the hospital on that historic day 60 years ago.

"Someone went on the roof to check the planes and found they had the red circle," she said.

Temporary beds were set up in hallways to treat civilians injured in the attack -- many by stray American anti-aircraft shells. Kuakini historian Mark Santoki said there were 23 local Japanese casualties on Dec. 7, including two schoolchildren.

All Jizenkai leaders and Japanese hospital administrators were interned after the attack except for Masaji Marumoto and Dr. Tsuneji Shinkawa. Kensaku Tsunoda, the hospital superintendent, was interned for four years, and Marumoto -- trusted by the FBI and local authorities -- became the superintendent.

Iga Mori was interned at Sand Island, and his son, Dr. Motokazu Mori, and his son's wife were sent to a camp in Texas. The elder Mori was released on Christmas Eve; his son and daughter-in-law were confined until the war ended.

Dr. Victor Mori, son of Motokazu Mori, then was a 17-year-old Punahou student. He said that early in the morning of Dec. 7, he had gone to a filling station to get a flat tire repaired. On the way home, he heard "funny sounds, things up in the sky. The radio was saying, 'This is the real McCoy,' but I didn't know what the real McCoy was."

Mori and three younger siblings lived with their grandparents.

"They were bad times for everybody," he said.

Hospital officials held an emergency meeting that afternoon, and Superintendent Tsunoda issued instructions, starting with: "Be especially polite to foreign patients. Do not beget any groundless rumor."

"There was a deep fear of suspicion, not only on Tsunoda's part, but others as well," Eriko Yamamoto wrote in a dissertation published in 1988 about Kuakini Medical Center's development from an ethnic hospital.

"They were concerned about the society, authority and their 'foreign' patients who might harbor negative feelings toward the Japanese Hospital."

However, Masaji Marumoto, looking back, was reported saying he thought the experience proved Hawaii society's trust in Japanese Americans.

Dorothy Saito, a nursing student undergoing a three-month probationary period, was up early on Dec. 7 studying for an exam.

"Then we were told to report to duty because we were at war. Oh my, we had to grow up fast."

Saito said the nurses were so busy, they didn't think much about what was happening then, but later asked themselves, "Why did Japan attack the United States when so many of us (Japanese) are here?

"We hardly talked about the war until Sept. 11," she added, explaining that the terrorist attack in New York and Washington, D.C., "awoke dead memories" in her mind of Japan's attack 60 years ago.

"I guess maybe I didn't want to have anything like that happen," Kimoto said, "so I blocked it from my mind. I didn't want Japan to be involved. My parents were born in Japan. We had quite a few nurses from Japan, and our culture at the hospital at that time seemed quite Japanese."

Drastic changes followed the bombing: English was spoken, signs were changed from Japanese to English, all medical information was recorded in English, and Japanese customs were abandoned.

The hospital's name was changed Aug. 1, 1942, to Kuakini Hospital, and it began advertising in English and Chinese newspapers for nursing students.

When the Army left the facility in 1944, the old Japanese Hospital was gone, replaced by a multiethnic "American general hospital."

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