Traditions and Transitions Exhibit at Bishop Museum

After four hours at the museum I managed to get over to the Castle exhibit hall to see the “Traditions and Transitions” exhibit.  If you have read any of my blogs on the sugar industry here in Hawaii you would enjoy seeing these photos and artifacts from the Japanese collection.

The Japanese arrived with much hope and expectation having no real idea what back breaking work they would be expected to do.

Double click on the above photo to see wages earned by the Japanese sugar cane workers

As you look at these outfits that the women wore you can find them quite ingenious. I wonder if they made their own shoes? Of course they were wearing natural fabrics then, so at least they would breath. But all those layers must have been horrendous in our 80 and 90 degree weather as you worked in the open fields.

along with hopes and dreams came practicality. Here is a little shirt that was made from the rice sack. I remember several years back when this was a fad to have shirts and shorts made from them. Now you can’t even find them since it all rice only comes in paper sacks now.

I’ve read and seen movies about picture brides and as I looked at these beautiful Kimonos I wondered how many women were drawn in by exaggeration and false photos to think that when they arrived in Hawaii they would have occasion to wear such elaborate dress.

In Japan, Education was and still is very important. Those that had children set up schools for them. No that isn’t a computer screen but a chalk board. This is one of the traditions they brought with them.

These are some of the traditional books, tools clothing and toys they might have used

The tradition of Kendo was carried on as the a prefecture in Japan sent a Kendo master to teach discipline to the young children

As traditions became transitions some Japanese manage to scrape and save enough money from their meager earnings to set up their own store

a model of the inside of what one of those stores would have looked like

and like many immigrants who set up their own business they might have had living quarters like this above or behind the store.

I can still remember Musashiya’s fabric store from the 1960’s where I bought all of my fabric. It has been a part of Hawaii for over 100 years. I am not sure if the founder was a sugarcane worker but I’m sure he was an immigrant. If you’d like to read a charming piece on him you can go to

Another store that transitioned from the fields to an important part of Hawaii life was Arakawas. It had everything you needed, a Japanese Woolworth so to speak. This is where you would find the Palaka print shirts that became an everyday site on the Hawaii scene.

Life on the sugarcane field eventually became more bearable and many things were added to help the workers live better lives. I will be doing a short blog on that in the near future as I cover the restored plantation houses in Ewa. Meanwhile try to get to the Bishop Museum to see this wonderful exhibit. You will get a good sense of what hard work and perseverance can accomplish.


8 comments on “Traditions and Transitions Exhibit at Bishop Museum

  1. megtraveling says:

    This looks like a fascinating exhibit – thanks for sharing this information Karen!


    • Actually Meg I didn’t think it would be as interesting as it was. I do need to go back when I have more time and read it all. It was a very controversial time in Hawaii and there is so much more to that era that affected Hawaii’s place in the world. Thank you for taking the time to read the post.


  2. Helen Dano says:

    Thank you so much, Karen for this entry and for your blog site! You have excellent astute and insightful powers of observation, an engaging writing style, and wonderful photographic abilities. I wish I could be able to go to this exhbit but your blog entry is a powerful consolation.
    I highly recommend to you and your readers Barbara Kawakami’s book IMMIGRANT CLOTHING where she does discuss those cloth shoes and a book which I think the Museum’s exhibit is based on, as well as her clothing collection. I also recommend the movie PICTURE BRIDE which brings to life another classic book: Ronald Takaki’s PAU HANA.
    You so lucky you live in Hawaii!
    Mahalo nui loa, Helen


    • Helen, I thought about you when I photographed this exhibit. Yes Ms. Kawakami is responsible for the exhibit. I’ve not read Pau Hana, I may have to look for it at a later time. I’m very happy you liked the post and thank you for such encouraging words.


  3. I can’t go there, but I have seen a lot and learned a lot now. Didn’t know about the japanese working in Hawaii, Karen.


    • There is so much here in the islands that people have not heard of. When I first moved here from San Francisco I did not realize what a melting pot it was. Nor did I even know there had once been a King and Queen that were overthrown by the Americans. There is so much to learn here. Thank you for taking the time to look in and leaving a comment.


  4. Sartenada says:

    Wonderful presentation and gorgeous photos. I was inspired from the photo Kendo. Although I have not practiced martial arts, my son and daughter have. For example my son bought from Florida Nunchakus and was in Paris to learn to use them. This happened about in the mid of 1970.


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