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.