I wrote about the Manago Hotel in Captain Cook a while ago, and it reminded Ken Fujii of his first family road trip from Hilo to Kona back in 1944.
“Our family did not own a car, but my uncle, who had a 1941 Ford he had purchased just before the war started, offered to drive.
“I was a youngster at the time, and we were going on our first sightseeing trip along the Hamakua coastline, through Kohala to Kona, with stops along the way to see Big Island landmarks like Akaka Falls, Laupahoehoe Point, Onomea Arch, Kolekole Gulch and other viewpoints.”
The road at that time was a slow, two-lane highway that made hairpin turns that dipped into every gulch and valley, Fujii said, with none of the current highway bridges spanning the many river valleys that dotted the coast.
“When the new highway was built later on, it bypassed most of the sugar plantation towns, and the mom-and-pop stores suffered economically. Many went out of business.
“One of the first stops was at Akaka Falls, which is still a beautiful prime attraction today. We also stopped to see Onomea Arch, which was an impressive rock arch which framed a large hole in a rugged peninsula which jutted out into the ocean near Papaikou.
“Sadly, about a dozen years later, the arch collapsed after being shaken by an earthquake in 1956.
“I still recall the huge iron railroad trestle bridge that spanned the gulch. The trains carried harvested sugar cane from the fields to the mills where it was processed into raw sugar, and from there to the docks in Hilo for shipping to California to be refined and sold as C&H sugar.
“Two years after our road trip, the 1946 tsunami washed out many of the railroad bridges and railroad tracks along the coastline, bringing an end to rail transport on the Big Island.
“We also stopped along the highway to view Laupahoehoe Point, a flat, sea-level peninsula which housed the Laupahoehoe School and teachers’ cottages. The same tsunami that destroyed the railroad bridges also inundated the point, killing 20 school students and four teachers.
“With so many stops along the way, including one to eat shave ice, to cool us off, it took us till late afternoon to traverse the Hamakua, Kohala and Kamuela areas, and then passing through the grasslands of Parker Ranch, to finally reach Kona.”
For their final sightseeing stop, Fujii said the family visited the City of Refuge in Puuhonua Honaunau.
“It was late afternoon and too late in the day to return to Hilo due to the martial law curfew, which dictated that cars had to be off the roads by 9 p.m. All Japanese were required to be inside by 8 p.m.
“Military rule could be harsh and sometimes arbitrary, so none of us wanted any run-ins with the military.”
Headlights on private automobiles during the war years had to be painted black with only a small wedge of the lower half of the headlight allowed to light the roadway.
In private homes, exterior windows had to be painted black or covered with opaque tar paper to block any light from being viewed from the outside. Even some light bulbs were painted black with only a tiny hole the size of a dime at the bottom to light the room.
It was thought that light from residences and vehicles might serve as beacons for attacking enemy planes.
“One warm, sultry and humid Hilo evening,” Fujii digressed, “my father opened a few windows just a slit in the front and back of our house to let the trades gently waft through the house.
“A few moments later we heard loud footsteps on our porch and banging on our front door. And without waiting, into our living room strode three angry Army military police officers. Their first memorable words, were, ‘Are you folks trying to signal the Japs?’
“And in my innocence at the time, I just pointed to their boots and blurted out, ‘You are not supposed to wear shoes inside our house!’
“My mom was horrified at my impertinence towards the threatening MPs, and quickly put her hand over my mouth, profusely apologizing to them.
“She quickly offered them a conciliatory snack of fresh coffee and some of her homemade yellow cake with coconut frosting. That seemed to defuse the situation a bit, since the men were probably no more than 19 or 20 years old and very hungry. After second servings of coffee and cake, my impertinent protest about shoes in the house was soon forgotten.
“The MPs quietly thanked us and left. My dad quickly closed the windows and gave me a stern reprimand about my backtalk to the MPs.
“Well, anyhow, back in Kona on our road trip, sunset was approaching, and twilight was slowly creeping over the land. We could not take a chance on driving back to Hilo in the evening and running into Army MP patrols, so we checked into the Manago Hotel in Captain Cook, Kona, at a cool 1,350 feet elevation on the western slopes of Mauna Loa.”
The hotel was accommodating to locals of Japanese ancestry during the war years. It was also relatively comfortable and affordable.
“Upon checking in, we were told that dinner was to be served soon at 5 p.m. in the dining room, and we were asked for our menu choices at that time. The dinner menu was posted on a chalkboard near the front desk.
“I chose their famous pork chops, which were well known even in those days. My parents and relatives chose from other selections like fried akule, hamburger steak, liver and onions, Swiss steak and fried ahi. The cost of each choice was less than a dollar. Can you imagine that we had dinner for six for five dollars? What a deal!!
“At dinnertime our family members were seated at a community table along with other guests of the hotel.”
Food was served promptly at 5 o’clock. “Our entree was accompanied by miso soup, rice, a cooked vegetable and also Kona coffee for the adults and milk for the kids. I loved my crispy pan-fried pork chops and recall it with fondness to this day, more than half a century later.
“We had to finish our meal before nightfall,” Fujii continued, “since all lights in the hotel were turned off then. After the lights were turned off, everything was pitch black, inside and outside.
“We all stayed in one room: my mom and dad, my uncle and auntie, my cousin and I, with three double beds lined up in one small room.
“In the middle of the night, I wanted to use the bathroom, but we couldn’t find the community restroom down the hall in the pitch blackness. We did not dare to even use a flashlight.
“So my mom opened the window of our room and told me to pee out the window onto the overhanging roof below. The heavy nighttime rain muffled the sound.
“The next morning at daybreak, we woke and went downstairs for breakfast of half of a papaya, ham and eggs, rice, buttered toast, guava jelly and Kona coffee or milk for 50 cents.
“After breakfast we all piled into my uncle’s Ford, filled up our gas tank for a dollar fifty and were off to Hilo just as the sun was rising over Hualalai mountain east of us.
“I hope to someday return to Kona and stay at the Manago Hotel one more time and enjoy their pork chop dinner,” Fujii concluded. “It is a throwback to an earlier day, like our plantation era, which all island residents should experience at least once in their lifetime.
“Our drive back to Hilo from the heart of Kona went by in a couple of hours as we did not stop for any sightseeing.
“Those memories have lasted over the years and given me many hours of happiness whenever I browse through my album of photos of our family road trip.”
Bob Sigall is the author of the five “The Companies We Keep” books, full of amazing stories of Hawaii people, places and companies. Contact him at Sigall@Yahoo.com.