Suo-oshima is the island located in the southwest part of Yamaguchi Prefecture.
This island is famous for its warm and mild climate and the production of mikan orange (it has the greatest amount of production in Yamaguchi).
There are palm trees on the seaside and a “Hula Saturday” event is held every Saturday night in summer.
Suo-Oshima is called “Hawaii in Setouchi,” but do you know the reason for it?
So, we came to “Museum of Japanese Emigration to Hawaii” in order to search for the reason.
Literally, this place contains the history of people from Suo-oshima who emigrated to Hawaii.
“Museum of Japanese Emigration to Hawaii” in Suo-oshima
The museum building is a magnificent old Japanese house which was built almost 100 years ago.
Maybe you will be surprised at the beauty of fittings such as ranma (transom windows) or the detailed engravings on the window glass in the open corridor.
That’s because this palatious residence was built by an entrepreneur who made a fortune in San Francisco and came back to this town with three-hundred million yen (as it would be valued presently).
The exquisite balance blending Japanese and Western styles
There are several spaces where you can see the nice fusion of Western style from Hawaii and Japanese style.
There are documents related to Japanese emigration to Hawaii in this room.
The population of Suo-oshima increased so rapidly during the middle of the Edo period (around the 18th century), and traditionally carpenters, masons, and sailors often went to work away from home.
Some residents in the island couldn’t make their living on the limited land, and went to Hawaii to seek a new world.
305 people went across the sea to Hawaii as government sponsored emigrants for the first time.
All told, about 5,400 residents of Suo-Oshima took passages to Hawaii during the Meiji and Taisho periods (the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century).
Many emigrants endured hard work at the sugarcane plantations every day, from early in the morning to the sunset.
You can see the actual equipment and daily commodities used at that time in the museum, and they allow you to catch a glimpse of their lives in Hawaii and how hard they were.
A trip to look for your roots in Suo-oshima
Actually, the number of people visiting this museum to look for their roots is increasing these days.
There is a computer where you can search the data for almost 30,000 emigrants at the initial stage of government sponsored emigration.
Moreover, you also can look at copies of the name lists of those travelling abroad, which you can search for another 100,000 emigrants since 2016.
Also, fourth or fifth-generation Americans of Japanese descent from Hawaii or the mainland of the U.S. keep visiting here.
All information in the museum is also written in English, and an English speaking guide can be made available to attend you if you make a reservation beforehand.
“Of course it is interesting and good for you to find your roots here, but we hope a lot of people come and visit here to learn the history. You will respect and be proud of the emigrants who worked hard in Hawaii, and helped “create” the present Hawaii,” said the director of the museum, Makoto Kimoto.
He visited Hawaii twice as a research team member to research the emigrants before the establishment of Museum of Japanese Emmigration to Hawaii.
You can ask the staff if you cannot find the name you are looking for on the list, and maybe you can find it in other documents.
If you would like to enjoy fully “Hawaii in Setouchi,” this is the spot we would like you to visit.
Museum of Japanese Emmigration to Hawaii
Address／2144, Nishi-yashiro, Suo-oshima-cho, Oshima-gun, Yamaguchi
Closed／Mondays（closed the following day (Tuesday) when Monday is a national holiday）
Admission fee／Adults 400 yen, Elementary school and junior high school students 200 yen
Photographs and text by Nana Takei
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