Edward Sui doodled and watched Japanese cartoons Dec. 19 along with students of three combined classes in Japanese language at the Moiliili Language School on South King Street.

Japanese school
marks centennial

The Moiliili Language School also
teaches culture to its 85 students

By Leila Fujimori

In the late 1890s, when his eldest son was old enough for school, Kihachi Kashiwabara, a general contractor, hired a teacher to conduct Japanese-language classes in a Moiliili cottage where Star Market now sits.

The classes grew into the largest Japanese-language school in Hawaii with more than 1,000 students by 1938.

Despite the threat of losing the school property during World War II, when all Japanese-language schools in Hawaii were shut and many teachers interned, the Moiliili Language School survived and celebrated its 100th anniversary earlier this month.

An old photo of the school.

Charles Harada, 83, the student body president in 1936, brought his cherished textbook to the celebration. He said the school provided him a solid foundation in Japanese language, and he went on to work in Japan for the U.S. government.

"I made very good use of it because I could read, write and understand like the Japanese," said Harada, the son of Japanese immigrants.

"I tried to be a good student because my parents worked so hard to pay the $1.50-a-month tuition," he said.

Kashiwabara, one of the first Japanese immigrants to move into Moiliili, set up the original classroom in a cottage near his house.

As Japanese families who trickled into Moiliili sent their children there and word of the school spread to Kapahulu and Waikiki, enrollment swelled.

So Kashiwabara and nine other community members raised the funds to lease a larger parcel on King Street, where they built the school in 1902.

In 1928, the school purchased the property at 2535 S. King St., where it remains today under the auspices of the Moiliili Community Center.

"His aim was to promote and preserve, not only the language, but the Japanese culture," said Sidney Kashiwabara, grandson of the school's founder.

The curriculum later included classes such as flower arrangement for girls and martial arts.

Kashiwabara recalls shushin, "a character-building subject taught in all Japanese schools in Hawaii and Japan." The classes taught perseverance; honesty, loyalty, love and devotion to parents and family; and devotion and respect for one's teachers.

"It really worked, and I personally profited from that, but sadly it's not taught any more," he said.

Today, the school holds six 45-minute classes Monday through Friday. Its 85 students, from kindergarten to sixth grade, study language and learn and participate in cultural activities, such as the festivities of the Japanese New Year.

Although the school was created for children of Japanese immigrants, it now serves a multi-ethnic group.

"A lot of parents want their children to have additional language learning," said Brenda Nakamura, the school's director. She said learning a language at a young age provides a good foundation for language education in middle or high school.

For other students at the school, Japanese is spoken at home. Their parents, who come from Japan, want their children to learn to read and write the language.

But many Japanese-American parents send their children to learn the language they themselves do not speak.

"In this generation, they're not exposed to many things (Japanese), unless you come from a real Japanese home," Nakamura said.

Fourth-generation Taiga Hashimoto, 8, said, "My parents want me to learn Japanese so when we go to Japan, I can talk to the people."

Taiga enjoys the school, in part, because "we have a good teacher," he said with a smile. "She gives us lots of work."

He looks forward to visiting Japan one day, but said: "I might be 25 when I go. My teacher said there's over 2,000 kanji (characters)."

Kinji Kanazawa, 86, said teachers instilled principles of giri (duty), sekinin (responsibility), ninjo (respect for the feelings of others), kansha (appreciation) and arigatami (thankfulness).

They taught not by defining principles, but by example, instructional performance and presentation, he said.

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