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New Generations at the Manago Hotel

In 1929, Osame Manago took her children to Japan. Her father said, “seeing [them] was worth more than a house filled with gold.”  But the triumphant visit became bittersweet on the day Osame and her family prepared to leave.  Osame’s sister observed that at seven months old, Osame’s baby was “so young that she couldn’t tell who her mother was.” She told Osame to  “leave her with my mother. My sister said that my mother would feel so sad when we left that she would go crazy or become sick.”

Osame could not refuse. “I was very sad, but I also thought of the time I left my mother to come to Hawaii. I owed her for that and I had to pay her back.” [See last week’s post.]

More heartbreak followed.

The American economy fell drastically after 1929, and the hotel, which once brought in $20.00 per day, could no longer support the family. Kinzo took additional work, including washing and ironing laundry late into the night. The children picked coffee. The hotel stayed open.

The year 1941 brought new challenges.  On December 7, Japanese planes attacked Pearl Harbor. Osame and Kinzo’s son Harold immediately enlisted with the Home Guard. Three weeks later, the Army released Harold and other American citizens of Japanese ancestry, questioning their loyalty to the United States. The same day, Kinzo transferred ownership of the hotel to his son. Kinzo belonged to the first generation of Japanese settlers, an Issei who did not hold citizenship. His property was subject to confiscation. Harold was second generation, Nisei, born on American soil.

In 1943 the United States government had a change of heart, and authorized formation of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team as part of the 100th Battalion. Their motto: “Go for Broke,” a term borrowed from gambling. It meant risk everything in the effort to win big. Harold was one of four thousand Nisei from throughout Hawai`i who enlisted. The unit suffered a notably high casualty rate. At war’s end 14,000 men had served. The 442nd was the single most decorated unit for its size and length of service with 9,486 Purple Hearts, 21 Medals of Honor, and 8 Presidential Unit Citations.

During his absence, Harold’s wife Nancy kept the hotel open.  Harold later told West Hawaii Today  “The truth is, for each generation, it’s the women who kept things going.”

Harold secured and expanded his parents’ hotel.  Kinzo leased hotel land.  Harold bought it.  Guessing that business would grow, Harold built a three-story addition, completed 1969.  The hotel was ready for tourists.

Travel writer Robert W. Bone stayed at the Manago Hotel in the late 1980s.  The writer’s six-year-old son pronounced the original structure fronting the roadway with its communal bathrooms “very creepy, ” but Bone thought the Managos had done “a pretty good job.”  The new rooms felt contemporary with their ocean views and en suite bathrooms. Nevertheless, Bone cautioned readers that the Manago Hotel was best suited for those seeking an “authentic atmosphere.”

Harold’s son Dwight carries on the Manago tradition of authenticity and local-style food. So, if your travels take you to the Kona Coast on the Big Island of Hawai`i, stop by the Manago Hotel for a meal or accommodation.  You will find a warm welcome, clean rooms, friendly staff, and a glimpse into Old Hawai`i with its picture brides, coffee farms, and intrepid immigrants.  They and the hotel are an American story.

[Quotations from Eileen Tamura. Americanization, Acculturation, and Ethnic Identity: The Nisei Generation in Hawaii. University of Hawaii Press. 1994.  Robert W. Bone. Maverick Guide to Hawaii, 13th edition. Pelican Publishing Co., 1989, p. 406.  Additional Sources: Anon. “Staying True to Tradition,” West Hawaii Today, November 29, 2006.  Bertil Long, Big Island Trading Post-West Hawaii Edition, April 17, 1985.  Naomi Sodetani, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, February 19, 1985.]

Author Sandra Wagner Wright

Sandra Wagner-Wright holds the doctoral degree in history and taught women’s and global history at the University of Hawai`i. Sandra travels for her research, most recently to Salem, Massachusetts, the setting of her new Salem Stories series. She also enjoys traveling for new experiences. Recent trips include Antarctica and a river cruise on the Rhine from Amsterdam to Basel.

 Sandra particularly likes writing about strong women who make a difference. She lives in Hilo, Hawai`i with her family and writes a blog relating to history, travel, and the idiosyncrasies of life.