Spanning the Pacific Ocean and two countries, Katsu Goto's compelling story began in Terasaka Kokufu Village in Kanagawa Prefecture in the 1880s. Born in 1862, Katsu Kobayakawa was the first son, the chonan, of three boys and two daughters born to Izaemon and Sayo Kobayakawa. He was to inherit the ancestral home and land.
But young Kobayakawa had other plans. Like many other Japanese, he had caught tobei netsu, “abroad fever.” Poor harvests had caused a severe recession in Japan and bold, eager men looked across the ocean to Hawaii and the Americas for greener pastures. Kobayakawa was an educated man who had studied English. He longed to begin a new life, a new adventure in an exotic land. He worked at the Port of Yokohama, so he learned very early of the kanyaku imin, the Japanese government contract emigrants, who were leaving for Hawaii.
The fever gripped him so much that he even gave up his family name and, accordingly, all rights to the family home and assets. He would not have been allowed to leave Japan as the first son and heir of the Kobayakawa family. Katsu Kobayakawa filed adoption papers with Masugoro and Haru Goto, who were preparing to leave for Hawaii. The Gotos adopted Kobayakawa in name only, but it allowed him, at age 23, to fulfill his dreams.
Thus, Katsu (Kobayakawa) Goto left Japan aboard the crowded City of Tokio. He arrived in Honolulu on Feb. 8, 1885 with the first group of 26 shiploads of kanyaku imin. After 19 days on the open sea, Goto stepped foot upon Hawaiian soil. After several years of degrading, backbreaking labor under difficult conditions at Soper, Wright & Co. at Ookala Plantation along the Hamakua coast of the Big Island, he was finally able to fulfill his dreams.
The astute young man was able to save enough from his meager salary of approximately $9 a month to help send his youngest brother Sekijiro Kobayakawa to a business school in San Francisco, and after serving out his three-year contract, Goto opened up a general merchandise store at the north end of Honokaa, becoming the first Japanese storekeeper in Hawaii.
There was only one other store in the area, owned by Joseph Mills. Goto offered competitive prices and his store thrived. It soon became the commercial and social center of the fledgling Japanese community in Honokaa. Because of his knowledge of English, Goto was an interpreter and liaison between the Japanese laborers and plantation management. Maturity and character led him to become an advocate for improved working conditions and wages for the laborers.
The workers began to see the severe injustices of the system and eventually sowed the seeds of unrest and resistance. Whenever a new rule was unfairly pronounced, workers would tell the luna they were going to discuss it with Goto. The entrepreneur-interpreter soon became a bothersome adversary for plantation management, who wanted the system to remain unchanged since it provided cheap labor and immense profits. Further fueled by jealousy for his successful business, Goto became marked man.
An elaborate plan was devised by several plantation associates and Joseph Mills, a Honokaa community leader and owner of the general store next to Goto's. On the night of Oct. 28, 1889, Goto was ambushed and lynched on his way home from a meeting to try to help a group of Japanese workers accused of setting fire to a cane field. His body was found the next day "hanging to a cross arm on a telephone pole about 100 yards from the Honokaa jail . . . the dead man's hands and legs were pinioned and a genuine hangman's knot under his left ear" (Daily Pacific Commercial Advertiser). Goto was 27 years old.
Although plantation luna Tom Steele and three others were convicted of lynching Goto in a well-documented trial in 1890, two “escaped” from jail and reportedly left the islands for Australia and San Francisco and Mills was pardoned and his civil rights restored by a joint session of the Executive and Advisory Councils of the Republic of Hawaii. Meanwhile, Goto’s younger brother Sekijiro immediately left school in San Francisco and moved to Honokaa to oversee the burial and manage the store.
Sekijiro and his wife Yuki adopted an infant girl named Fumiko in 1913. Her parents Toshiro and Shima Masaki had died soon after her birth. When Fumiko was 5 years old, the Kobayakawas decided to return to Japan so their daughter could receive a Japanese education. They resettled in Kanagawa Prefecture. She did well in school and as high school graduation loomed closer, she was encouraged to continue her education. It was unusual in that day and age for a Japanese woman to be treated that way and Fumiko credited her father’s character and progressive thinking for the strides she made. “He encouraged me to continue my education and to seek out a career. He said a woman has power when she can make her own way,” she remembered.
Fumiko became a physician, married Shigeru Kaya and settled in Hiroshima, Japan. She survived the atom bombing during WWII and became a distinguished community leader and advocate for peace. Upon seeing a commemorative documentary on the 100th anniversary of Japanese immigration to Hawaii in 1985 that discussed her uncle's tragic death, Kaya learned for the first time the truth about her family's history. Her father Sekijiro had never talked about the incident. Instead of responding in anger, Kaya sought to honor the memory of her uncle Katsu Goto, who had tried to create a bridge between Japan and Hawaii. Her goal was to create an organization that would help to improve communication and relations between the two lands.
Kaya established the Goto of Hiroshima Foundation in 1992 to provide scholarships to foster volunteer activities and research designed to contribute to and promote mutual understanding and friendship between the people of Hawaii and Japan. From 1993 to 2007, 15 scholars were awarded the annual grants. After Kaya passed away in 2004 at the age of 92, the Foundation evolved to become a scholarship fund, established in 2008, for students studying U.S. Japan relations at the University of Hawaii at Manoa American Studies department.