Japan in Hawaii

This is one of the most interesting photos from our recent sojourn in Hawaii over the holidays.  It is my two kids, ages 12 and 9, as they enter the submarine “USS Bowfin” which is parked next to the visitors’ center at Pearl Harbor, and available to tour along with the USS Arizona Memorial and the Battleship Missouri.  When Marc and I were first in Hawaii over thirteen years ago, the Arizona was the only thing to see, so we were glad to be back and see the additional ships.  Showing it to the kids was just magnificent.  When you don’t live in America, there is little reason to be patriotic as an American.  This visit connected the kids to a very important time in their country’s history and it was tangible and real for them.

That being said, every single sign at Pearl Harbor is in Japanese as well as in English.  That is by no means a phenomenon limited to the touristy areas.  All over Honolulu signs, menus, products – all Japanese.  This one struck me particularly because I do not know a lot of Kanji symbols – but I do know the one for “enter” and that’s it right there.  Because we live in Japan, we didn’t notice for a little while that what we were seeing was not usual for a small, American city, but it is.  There’s not another American city, I would bet, with more signs in Japanese than Honolulu.  Even some menus were printed in Japanese as well as in English.  The guidebook to our hotel was in both languages.  One waiter told us that no one could get a job in Honolulu in the restaurant or tourist industries without knowing – or being willing to learn – some basic Japanese.

Just a quick aside: there is an Ugg store right on the main strip in Waikiki.  Why, might you ask, do Hawaiians need Australian sheepskin boots?  It’s not the Hawaiians who need Uggs; it’s the Japanese.  To a man, every single patron in the shop was Japanese.  AND, there was a line out the door to enter the shop (I assume so there was not a fire-code violation) comprised of all Japanese shoppers.  Ugg boots are not for wear in Hawaii where the temperature hovers between 77-82 degrees Fahrenheit year-round.  Ugg boots are for Japanese tourists to buy less expensively than in Tokyo and wear when at home.  This speaks to the buying power of the Japanese tourists and the volume of them vacationing in Hawaii.

So there are the kids, entering a wholly-American experience of a war sub, with Japanese signage.  I think it actually made them comfortable as the meshing of their bi-cultural lives.  Certainly it was interesting for all of us to encounter a place loaded with Japanese people and Japanese signage, where WE are the natives.


My family and I are celebrating Hanukkah in Hawaii this year.   I wrote about it for my monthly contribution to “A Hopeful Sign” and you can read it here.  Here is the text in its entirety:

Celebrating the Miracle of Hanukkah


This year, my husband, the kids and I decided to spend two weeks in Hawaii over Hanukkah instead of heading to the mainland of the U.S. to visit our family. The four of us have had a heck of a year with new jobs, new schools and other events all compressed into short time-frames. A vacation was definitely in order – and so the four of us devised a plan to put the real meaning of Hanukkah into action.

Hanukkah is actually a minor festival on the Jewish calendar, paling in comparison to the “superbowl” of holidays that take place in the autumn or even Passover in the spring. It has gained prominence in Western countries because of its relative proximity to Christmas. Hanukkah celebrates the miracle of the Jews’ victory over the huge Roman army with its small group of ragtag warriors called the Macabees. The word “Hanukkah” means rededication and it is used because after they prevailed, the Jews had to rededicate their Templein Jerusalem after the Romans had run through it, destroying everything. That’s the real miracle of Hanukkah, but the one everyone remembers is the one with the oil. You see, in the ancient Templein Jerusalem, as well as in every synagogue across the globe today, there is a light, called the ner tamid, that burns over the ark, which holds the Torah. When the Jews were cleaning and rededicating their Temple, there was only a tiny bit of oil to light the ner tamid – it would never last the week or so needed to get more oil.  But they didn’t have a choice; they set out to get the oil. The second miracle of Hanukkah is that the light did not go out – it lasted the entire eight days until the search party returned with more oil.  The light over the Torah never dimmed. Thus we celebrate Hanukkah for eight days and eat foods fried in oil, such as potato pancakes and donuts.

Today, the Jews light a menorah, an eight-armed candelabra. We light one candle for each night – one on the first night, two on the second night, on and on for eight nights. Until recently, Jews just gave kids a little bit of money, called gelt, on one of the nights. Now, with the commercialization of our times, kids get elaborate gifts like their non-Jewish counterparts. The irony is that though Hanukkah falls over Christmas this year, as it started on December 20th; some years it comes nowhere near Christmas due to the lunar calendar that Jews still use. The holiday falls on the same day in the Jewish calendar every year, the 25th of Kislev.

Of course there’s a holiday meal – but it can be any food that goes with potato pancakes and donuts. There aren’t cards to send or cookies to bake, or even decorations to put up. Some people might say I’m missing out, but I don’t feel badly about it. We have other traditions like songs and the dreidel game – a game played by children with a four-sided top celebrating the miracles of Hanukkah as the top spells out the words Nes Gadol Haya Sham – a great miracle happened there.

Even here in Hawaii we have a tiny menorah. The four of us sing the blessings that thank God for the miracles of Hanukkah, and perhaps one or two traditional songs. We tell the story. We laugh together. We have been talking about the past year’s antics as we anticipate the new year. In short, we are rededicating ourselves to each other after the long year that has past and gearing up for the challenges ahead. We may not have any miracles on hand today, at least not ones that we can see. But for now, the spirit of the miraculous and the essence of rededication are all the miracle we need.