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Jon Shirota
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Chronicles of Ojii-Chan

Chapter 1:
Flight from Honolulu
He looked out the window. It was a typical spring morning, the mountains draped with light misty clouds, Diamond Head a clear gray-green, the roof tops of the Aiea homes and Tripler General Hospital sparkling under the morning sun.
He was sitting in economy class next to the window. Passengers, mostly Japanese nationals, were rushing in, scrambling to place their carry-ons in the overhead compartments. They all had leis around their necks, some paper, some flowers, some with freshly woven lauhala hats on their heads.
He pinched off a petal from his lei, brought it up to his nose and inhaled deeply. Ah, the sweet fragrance of ginger flower. It was from the same plant he had planted not long ago. And Carrie, their daughter, had made a hurried lei and placed it around his neck as they got into the car. Then it was Carrie, not her mother, who drove him to the airport. Her mother, as expected, was too busy to come to the airport and see him off.
The seat beside his was still empty. He looked up front at the line of passengers coming in. Who is it going to be? The old lady with armloads of gifts? The old man searching for his seat? Or the big fat haole white man in an oversized aloha shirt. So far nobody. Maybe, the seat will remain empty. And he could have both seats all the way to Tokyo.
A young girl about Carrie’s age approached the seat. She had a carnation lei and a pikake strand around her neck.
She looked at him; then again.
“Professor Yamashiro!” the girl said. Jubilantly.
Oh, Christ, he thought. Must be one of his former students. Now, she’ll be talking all the way to Tokyo. He did not, however, recognize her.
The young attractive college girl placed her carryon under the seat before her.
“Are you going to Japan on a vacation?” the girl asked.
He shook his head. “Were you in one of my classes?”
“I wanted to, last semester. It was filled.”
“The American Lit class?”
The girl nodded. “I should have known better than to wait until the last minute.”
“You’re local?”
The girl shook her head. “From Okinawa. An exchange student.”
That explains her proper English, he told himself. No Hawaiian pidgin accent. She must have spoken English since childhood. Maybe grew up in the States.
The girl stretched her seat belt, leaned back, adjusted her belt and leis.
“Are you lecturing at a university in Tokyo?”
“In Okinawa.”
The girl was overwhelmed again. “At Ryudai.”
He looked at her.
“Ryukyu Daigaku.”
He nodded. “University of the Ryukyus.”
“An American Lit class?”
“Contemporary American Lit class.”
“I’ll have to sign up before it, too, gets filled.”
“A graduate student?”
The girl shook her head. “A senior. I have another semester to go.”
“Do you know Professor Miyazato?”
“Professor Miyazato? It was he who suggested that I apply for the exchange student program at University of Hawaii.”
“Liked it at UH?”
“Yes. I loved it.”
“It was Professor Miyazato’s idea that I apply for a fellowship at Ryukyu Daigaku.”
“You are friends?”
He nodded. “Graduate students at UH way back. Before he went on to UC Davis for his Ph.D; and I went on to UCLA.”
“I heard about you long before school started,” the girl said.
“Everyone in the English department talked about you.”
“Especially when you chose books about Hawaii for your classes. “From Here To Eternity.” “Lucky Come Hawaii.” Michener’s “Hawaii…”
“Ever read any of them?”
Yes. I loved them. Especially “Lucky Come Hawaii” about a Hawaii Uchinanchu family.”
“You’re Uchinanchu?”
“A true Okinawan. Both sides of my family Yamashiro,” she went on. “You could be Uchinanchu or a Yamatunchu from Mainland Japan.”
“Uchinanchu,” he said. “On both sides.”
“Sansei. My grandparents came to Hawaii to work in the cane fields in the early 1900s.”
“Where in Okinawa were they from?”
“Motobu! We’re practically neighbors.”
“My grandparents’ home is in Ie Jima.”
“Iwo Jima?”
“Ie Jima. It’s just a few minutes boat ride from Motobu. You’ve never heard of Ie Jima?”
He shook his head.
The flight attendant came on the speaker. She announced, in her Japanese accent, that all handbags be placed under the seats or placed in the overhead compartments.
This was his first trip on a Japanese airline. It would take approximately seven hours to Tokyo. All his other trips had been eastbound to California on United or Hawaiian.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” the girl now said. “My name is Reiko. Reiko Kinjo.”
“And I’m Chris,” he said.
The girl, Reiko, smiled a warm smile and nodded respectfully.
He nodded back.
The airplane, its jets not quite roaring yet, began rolling backward. The flight attendants, all Japanese, walked up and down the aisle, making sure everyone had his/her seat belt secured.
Chris could now see Hickam Field and Pearl Harbor to the left, the morning traffic on the freeways to and from downtown Honolulu congested as usual. Well, he thought, no more fighting the traffic to UH Manoa. At least not for a year. He had heard that the traffic in Tokyo is worse than in Honolulu. In Okinawa, too? he wondered.
“Where in Okinawa are you staying?” Reiko asked, leaning over slightly, gazing out the window.
“Are you commuting all the way to Ryudai?”
“Is it far?”
“Takashi… Professor Miyazato found an apartment near the monorail. He said it was convenient.”
“It is going to depend where you’ll be staying.”
“Either take the monorail or a bus to the campus,” he said.
“Which monorail station?
“Asato Station.”
“That’s near Kokusai Dori, the main street in Naha,” she said. “He must’ve found you an apartment at Kina Mansion.”
“Kina Mansion?”
“That’s what we call the condos in Okinawa. ‘Mansions.’”
Mansions? He hoped they won’t cost as much as the mansions in Honolulu.
The jet engines were now roaring, ready for takeoff.
The girl, Reiko, leaned back against her seat, her eyes shut. When the plane finally went airborne, she looked over at him, somewhat relieved. “I’ll never get used to the plane roaring off and climbing so fast,” she said.
“You’re okay now?” he asked.
Reiko nodded and inhaled deeply, a warm smile returning to her face.
Not encouraging the girl to keep up a conversation, he reached down into his handbag under the seat before him and brought out a book he had started reading a couple of days ago. “To Reach Eternity.” It was about James Jones, author of “From Here To Eternity.” He had discovered the book while browsing through a used book store in Kaimuki. He was surprised that he had not come across the book much earlier. Since he had lectured on Jones’s “From Here To Eternity,” he wanted to know everything there is to know about Jones. The book was written by Professor George Hendrick of University of Illinois. The campus at UI was in the same area where Jones was born and wrote his classics after his discharge from the Army. Who knows? Professor Hendrick might have known Jones personally. According to the book jacket, there are hundreds of letters that Jones had written over the years. From his combat days in the Pacific through a colorful and impressive writing career. Maybe, he’d use the book for his lectures at Ryudai. “From Here To Eternity” would be a good book for the Okinawan students who knew quite a bit about Hawaii where the story takes place. Adding Jones’ letters would make it even more interesting.
While partly immersed in the book, he thought of Hawaii when he was still a young student at UH. So much to look forward to; the whole world your field of dreams; no makau as the old Hawaiians used to say. Nothing to be afraid of.
And today… Yeah. And today. Taking a sabbatical leave. Getting away from things he once cherished: a good marriage, a wonderful daughter, a tenured professorship at UH. Jesus! How things can change. Without warning. Well, a suspected warning.
Damn that bitch!
And, she had even tried to deny it.
Even when confronted with indisputable evidence.
In a way, it was a good thing this fellowship came along. They both needed time to think things over. Not their marriage. That was all pau. Finished. Down the drain.
It was now how to settle their assets. The house, their stock investments, their IRAs. But not the farm in Kailua. She thought it should be a part of the settlement. Hell, no! That farm was an inheritance from his dad. All his. After buying out his brother Roy’s share.
Damn bitch! Threatening to sue for her right to that property. Her right? She had absolutely no interest in it. Not a penny!
The girl, Reiko, apparently bored and wanting to continue their conversation, turned to him.
“Is it interesting?”
“Huh? Oh, yeah. About a favorite author of mine.”
“James Jones?” she said, looking at the book cover.
“Heard about him?”
“I read several of his books. “Eternity,” “Some Came Running,” “The Pistol.” My favorite, of course, is “Eternity.”
“Mine, too,” he said.
He turned the page of “To Reach Eternity,” hoping to discourage the girl from continuing their conversation.
He, of course, could not tell Carrie the details of her father’s and mother’s pending divorce. Why make it worse for her? Poor kid. Caught in the middle. He didn’t know what her mother had said to her, but he was sure she blamed it all on him. Probably even told her he was involved with some woman.
When she herself was cheating on him!
Jesus! How a wife can twist things around! And really believe it, too. Oh, sure, he was tempted to fool around with a student or two. Especially when the kids came throwing themselves at him. But that’s as far as it went. He never touched any of them. And damnit! They were pretty, too. And sexy. Oh, boy, were they!
The temptation of a college professor, he mourned silently. Always there. In your face. Sometimes, begging him to… He managed to fight it off though. Had to. Get involved once, there’s no end to it.
Look what happened to Greg Singleton? Poor guy. The temptation was too great. Couldn’t let it pass. And the young girl wouldn’t let him forget it. Got called into the President’s office. Resign gracefully or get kicked out disgracefully.
Anyway, he managed to fight off the temptations. Oh, don’t get him wrong. He’s just a man. The temptation was always there. With the same urge as any other man. But…
And so that’s where they are now. Rose and him.
They’ll let their attorney, their same attorney friend, tie up the loose ends of their divorce. They’ll split everything. Except, of course, the Kailua property. .
The girl, Reiko, indicated the book in his hand.
“You’re having difficulty concentrating?” she said.
“Huh? Oh, this book. Must be the plane ride. Going away from home, and all that.”
“Do you have any children?”
“One. A daughter. Got through UH. Now a graduate student there.”
“Her mother, she’s a college professor, too?”
“Nah. A business major. Now, a vice president at Royal Pacific Bank.”
“A vice president?”
He nodded.
Yeah. A vice president. Got there sleeping with the president, he wanted to say.
“You must be proud of her. And your daughter, too.”
He nodded. Carrie, yes. Rose? She can go to hell.

Chapter 2:
The Long Journey
He’s never heard of Ie Jima, she told herself, her ears adjusting to the altitude and the roar of the jet. For most outsiders Okinawa was the only island in the Ryukyu archipelago. When actually there are countless islands in the chain of islands from Japan to Taiwan, some inhabited, some uninhabited.
The professor, most likely, has never heard of Ernie Pyle either, she thought. Why would he? Ernie Pyle was in the Second World War, a war in the distant past. She, of course, knows of Ernie Pyle, a little at least, because of the Ernie Pyle Memorial Park on Ie Jima.
And also because Ojii-chan Grandpa was the caretaker of the park. Ever since she can remember Ojii-chan used to take her to the Memorial Park and have her help water the plants and rake the leaves. Not to mention polishing the Ernie Pyle plaque.
She did not know why Ojii-chan had dedicated his life to the park, nor if Ojii-chan really knew anything about the American, except the American was a war correspondent who landed on Ie Jima with the invading forces.
What little she knew about Ernie Pyle was that Ojii-chan thought highly of the man. Why? She did not know. After going to the park all those years, she began feeling that she had known the man and the man had been a family friend. Especially on April 18 of each year when she joined Ojii-chan burning osenko incense, placing them at the plaque and bowing very solemnly to the words before them.
The professor held his book before him but obviously not reading it. He seemed lost in another world. An absent-minded professor? she thought, laughing to herself. He doesn’t seem old enough to be the father of a graduate student. Most likely married while still going to school. He can’t be much older than forty. Quite good-looking, too. With a warm friendly smile.
She hesitated, then finally asked, “Have you ever heard of Ernie Pyle?”
He looked at her. “Ernie Pyle?”
“You’ve never heard of him?”
He held his head inquiringly.
“He was buried in Ie Jima.”
“Ernie Pyle… Ernie Pyle…” his head still sideways. Finally, “Oh, Ernie Pyle! The war correspondent in the Second World War.”
“He was buried in Ie Jima.”
“Not the same Ernie Pyle we’re talking about,” said the Professor. “He’s buried at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl. In Honolulu.”
“Before that he was buried in Ie Jima,” she said.
“You’re sure?”
“There’s a memorial park named after him.”
“On that island, Ie Jima?
She nodded.
“I know he was killed in Okinawa…”
“In Ie Jima,” she corrected.
“Well, somewhere in Okinawa anyway.”
“Not in Okinawa,” she corrected again. “In Ie Jima.”
He looked at her.
“Okinawa is Okinawa. Ie Jima is Ie Jima.”
He finally gave in. “Yeah. Right.”
“If you want,” she added, “I’ll be glad to take you to Ie Jima, and show you the memorial park.”
“I don’t mean right away. Someday, when you’re settled, and have some time.”
“Sounds good.”
“It’s a beautiful island just a few minutes ferry ride across the bay from Motobu,” she went on. “It’s famous for Gusuku Yama, the only mountain on the island. A lonely pinnacle really, reaching 600 feet straight up into the skies. The island is also known for its warm, friendly people. For its famous play also.”
“It’s put on every year, and people from all over Okinawa come to see it.”
“Must be a great play.”
“It’s a tragedy. Like one of Shakespeare’s.”
“It’s about a love affair between a fisherman shipwrecked on an isolated island and a woman who rescues him. The man goes back to Ie Jima. The woman waits for his return. When he doesn’t, she goes to Ie Jima looking for him. She discovers that the man is already married and has several children. Devastated, she climbs up Gusuku Yama and plunges to her death.”
“End of play?”
She shook her head. “When the man discovers the woman’s body, he is grief stricken with guilt.”
“He commits suicide?”
She shakes her head.
“He lives on?”
She shakes her head again.
“Gonna keep me guessing, huh?”
“The man goes mad. He kills his wife and children. Then, climbs up the mountain and jumps down to his own death.”
“Okinawans, like the Japanese from the Mainland, love romantic tragedies.”
“What’s this one called?”
“I’ll Meet You At Gusuku Yama.”
“I’d like to see it someday,” he said, non-committingly.
“I’ll be glad to take you,” she said.
The professor nodded, then went back to his book.
She thought she’d better leave him alone. She was being overly friendly and taking too much of his time.
Poor man, she thought. He’s already missing his family.
What kind of a woman is his wife? Obviously very intelligent to be the vice president of a bank in Honolulu. And most likely very attractive the best hairdresser, the most elegant cosmetologist, the richest Dior dress shops. Undoubtedly, a socialite in the Honolulu business circle. Must be very exciting married to someone like her.
She felt a grin creeping up her face.
She almost had an exciting relationship in Honolulu. Well, sort of. If you can call it that.
She had really believed that Jimmy Crandal loved her. That he would marry her.
Oh, how foolish she had been!
An innocent Okinawan girl lost in the fast lane. The dazzling auto lights blinding her.
Almost comical now. Yet still painful.
Humiliated would probably best describe it. She did not know whether to laugh or cry.
She and Jimmy, a white haole boy, were taking an Asian Studies class that semester. There were other haoles in the class, but Jimmy was the only one who was proficient in Japanese. He had lived in Okinawa where his father, a colonel, was stationed.
When Jimmy discovered that she, Reiko, was from Okinawa, he began speaking Nihongo to her. She had heard other haoles in Okinawa speaking Nihongo, but Jimmy spoke it with hardly any American accent. He, of course, wanted to know how come she spoke English without a Japanese accent. She explained that her grandfather, on her father’s side, was a Nisei born in Hawaii and had landed with the occupational forces as an interpreter during the Okinawan invasion. Her grandfather stayed on in Okinawa as a civilian worker after his discharge and married grandma, an Okinawan. One of the children was Reiko’s father. He married an Okinawan also. An American citizen, he worked at the Air Force Base which enabled Reiko, also an American citizen, to attend American schools at the base.
“Maybe, you and I had gone to the same school,” said Jimmy.
Maybe, thought Reiko, but not for long. After middle school at the base, Reiko attended a full-time Japanese school. Her mother wanted her to go to the University of the Ryukyus (Ryudai) someday. A university from where she herself had graduated. Which meant Reiko had to keep up her English studies at home.