Chirio Miyose: Mountain of Sincerity, Eternally Clear
Happy New Year! Because the island of Hawaii remains a stronghold of tradition, many Kona residents woke up feeling groggy on January 1, having been awakened at mid-night by a booming crescendo of popping firecrackers and screeching illegal rockets announcing New Year’s arrival with ear-splitting, smoke-filled, nerve-jangling BOOMS! WHEEEES! and BANGS! Whether our night’s slumber was fractured as well by howling dogs, rampaging pigs, or pestiferous coqui frogs, we woke up grateful to be living beneath sunny skies and not under a blanket of snow. In modern Hawaii, it seems all cultures delight in the official year-end holidays of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s. But, for Kona’s first Japanese immigrants, New Year’s Day has long stood as the most important day of the year, a time to pound mochi, visit friends and neighbors, and celebrate. In honor of this fine tradition, I want to remember a very kind man who recently passed away, Chirio Miyose.
Chirio was born on June 1, 1922, the eldest son of Kahichi and Tane Miyose who came to Hawaii from Kumamoto Ken in Japan. He was born at the sugar camp in Hienaloli in North Kona, halfway up the hill between Kailua Bay and Holualoa town. His father worked as a night watchman for the Kona Development Company, an ambitious sugar plantation complete with mill, railroad, labor camps, mule stables and a communal furo or Japanese bath house. His mother was always busy, working non-stop to raise her family: four girls ~ Yasuno, Harue, Miyeko, and Yoshiko (who died at a young age); and two boys ~ Chirio, and Morito, the youngest member of the family. Miyeko remembers her mother took them on several occasions to Kailua when she went to clean the inside of Hulihe`e Palace. It was a rare opportunity for the Miyose children to play by the ocean and it may be Chirio first learned how to catch fish in Kiope Pond.
Mr. Miyose died in Honolulu in 1928, about the time the KDC went out of business. The family then moved to South Kona where Chirio’s mother went to work as laundry lady for my grandmother, Maud Greenwell, whose husband William Henry Greenwell had died unexpectedly in 1927. Mrs. Greenwell had six children as well, so Mrs. Miyose was always up to her elbows in sudsy water or buckets of bluing, washing sheets and towels, starching table cloths and napkins, and ironing shirts and dresses all day long on a large wooden table set up in a latticed room under the main house. (That is the big white house up on the hill above Greenwell Store, known to some as the King’s Mansion.) Of course, those were the days of wash tubs, scrubbing boards, and old fashioned washing machines with wringers. All the clothes had to be hung up on clotheslines to dry - not a dryer or permanent press label in sight!
The Miyoses settled into a ranch house in nearby Haleki`i where a Portuguese family originally had lived. Chirio told me they found a Portuguese stone oven behind their new home, one of those beehive shaped stone igloos in which Portuguese women baked their delicious bread. Chirio, like all the Miyose children, attended Konawaena School. He used to wait each morning for his good friend, Junji Yamagata, to appear, and together they would walk the uphill mile to school. He graduated from high school there in 1942, endured a brief stint in the U.S. Army, then returned to Kona to live out what would become his 91 years of life.
Chirio lived in that single-walled wooden house for over 50 years. Like so many old Kona homes, it had a corrugated iron roof, round redwood water tank, a small outhouse called a hale li`ili`i, and a ramshackle shed out back for wash tubs, garden tools, fishing poles and burlap bags. Inside the living room, the family’s Buddhist shrine claimed a place of honor in the corner, always decorated with sprays of fresh flowers, offerings of small rice balls and tangerines, and a stick of burning incense. Mrs. Miyose’s parents’ photographs hung on the wall, their unsmiling faces reminding the new generation to work hard.
The breezy split-level kitchen was simple and inviting: a piece of red and white checked oil cloth covered the table and two wooden benches served as seats. Food was stored in an old fashioned wooden safe with screened panels to keep rats and mice at bay, and a small gas refrigerator hummed in a corner. A nice big calendar from Kamigaki Store or, in later years, Teshima’s Restaurant, always hung on the wall. A short flight of stairs from the center of the kitchen led down to another room on the ground level where all the main cooking and washing up took place. At one end there was a long metal sink with a regular garden faucet for a tap. As kids, we were fascinated by the tobacco bag tied around the spout to capture dead bugs. At the mauka end, there was an open hearth, a kudo, where a heavy rice pot simmered over an open fire, its lid merrily clanging when the rice was at full boil. Because the kitchen wall was wooden slats - letting in all the sunshine and fresh air- you could clearly see the garden outside and sneaky mongooses darting in and out of their lava rock dens. Of course, the sink water did not go to waste - it ran out into the back yard to water flowers and coffee trees.
The porch faced mauka with a good view of Hualalai, a favorite spot for Mrs. Miyose to sit at the end of the day, smoke a cigarette and watch the world go by from her front steps. The Rev. Komogata from Daifukuji Soto Mission often dropped by, and the two adults would talk, seated side by side in old wooden rocking chairs. No Japanese home would be complete without a furo, and the Miyoses had a very nice one. Chirio fattened up wild piglets out back in a pen and parked his Jeep, his pride and joy, out front beneath a rather flimsy metal roof. The family created a lovely garden boasting a large cotton bush, beautiful gardenias, camellias, orchids, anthuriums, and one of the first snow bushes in Kona. It burst into a white cloud each December and became a local landmark, much enjoyed by passersby on Mamalahoa Highway. The Miyoses tended a small coffee land and picked, washed, dried and roasted their own beans. The unpainted, uncarpeted, uncomplicated house always smelled Japanese to us as children, a pleasant mixture of incense, mosquito punk, and freshly cooked rice.
Chirio was a meticulous yardman in an era of hand pushed mowers and razor sharp sickles. When he was finished with a garden patch, every ginger stalk and flower bed was weed-free and tidy. He worked for the Wall family for a while and cared for their gardens up at Waihou, feeding cats and dogs at that somewhat remote and spooky place. He worked for our family for decades, a steady, helpful and reliable man, who was eager to assist and always smiling. In the evenings, he drove his family wherever they wanted to be, often to my parents house when Mrs. Miyose was asked to babysit we five Mitchell kids. We always called her “Okasan”, the Japanese word for grandmother.
What did he like to do? Chirio liked coming mauka to help his mother at Pulehua, the W. H. Greenwell mountain house, some 10 miles up hill from Kealakekua. At that often chilly elevation, he woke before dawn to start the fire in the wood burning stove and helped out however he could - splitting wood, feeding pigs, and weeding the garden. He enjoyed driving his Jeep over the rough ranch roads, a favorite jaunt being the all day trip to Umi’s Temple on the cinder flats behind Hualalai. His mother would make us rice balls with bright red ume placed in the middle, that delicious salty pickled plum, and crispy fried chicken. We would sit in the shade of ohia trees, eating our lunch, and getting ready to explore the mysterious lava tube we called Pigeon Cave with our father. Mrs. Miyose would gather ohelo berries, knowing our mother would bake them into delicious ohelo berry pies if she collected enough fruit. On one memorable occasion, Mrs. Miyose spied a band of nene geese and pictured dinner on the table, if only our father got his gun ready in time. She called out to him, “Doctor, more betta hana make!” Of course, my father did not shoot the nene and Mrs. Miyose, much to her disappointment, did not have the pleasure of eating a nice, fat goose that night.
Chirio liked fishing - we are talking bamboo pole fishing from craggy lava cliffs that form much of Kona’s shoreline. Having permission from Mrs. Greenwell to drive makai, Chirio often drove down to Red Hill (Pu`u Ohau) for night fishing at Nawawa with a few friends or family members. His sister Yasuno liked to eat opapalu, deep fat fried, while Chirio preferred menpachi and aweoweo. He hated the prickly, stabbing ala`ihi, which, according to my brother John, he called the “pilau fish!” On one memorable occasion he caught an enormous lobster which was obviously so special it could only be given as a present to one person - Maud Greenwell! Chirio never got over the excitement and thrill of that catch!
Chirio liked children and he enjoyed doing things with them. When my own children were old enough to go fishing at Ke`ei Beach and Napoopoo Wharf, they watched in awe as Chirio mixed a bit of canned tuna with a handful of sand and threw that into the water to attract hagi. Once the boys had caught a bucketful of hagi, Chirio knew how to pull their leathery skins off with his pliers, putting the fish back into the water where they swam about looking like naked pink fishes! He could get hooks out of squirming rock fishes, hinalea and manini in a flash. In fact, sometimes he was so busy baiting hooks, untangling lines and unhooking flapping fishes that Chirio barely had a chance to fish himself. Did he ever complain? Never!
He liked building fires. Kona was a place in those pre-vog days where families set fires every single day to burn rubbish and heat furo water. If you stood at the coastline and looked mauka in the late afternoon, plumes of white smoke spiraled skyward from the tree covered slopes, a fire for every Japanese family who wanted a steaming hot bath. The pleasant smell of burning coffee sticks and guava branches filled the evening air. If Dr. Mitchell was branding cattle up at Hanahou Farm, Chirio happily stoked the fire and carried the red-hot iron brands over to the cowboys. He particularly enjoyed lighting fireworks, fearlessly holding Roman Candles in his bare hands as showers of burning sparks erupted into balmy New Year’s skies.
BEER! Chirio really liked a beer at the end of the day. After one particularly jolly New Year’s Day party, all the men had enjoyed perhaps too many beers. At the sunset hour, Mrs. Miyose telephoned our house to ask my father to come get Chirio out of the outhouse (!) where he had passed out. My father and brother John went to rescue Chirio, hoisted him into bed, and then - oops! - Dr. Mitchell passed out on Mrs. Miyose’s front steps! Chirio loved eating Teshima’s shrimp tempura and Teshoku #3 was his favorite dinner. He devoured Deguchi potato chips! In fact, for a man with a good appetite, it was surprising he never had an ounce of fat on his body.
Every New Year’s Day, the Miyoses honored my parents by inviting our entire family of seven Mitchells to their home for a festive mid-day celebration. From as early as I can remember until I was a grown woman, New Year’s Day was spent at the Miyose house. First, we watched Chirio pound mochi in the back yard, raising the long wooden mallet over his head while his mother or sisters turned the rice after each solid whack. Later, inside the kitchen, we sat mesmerized as the pounded dough was turned into little flat cakes, carefully dusted with rice flour. The living room would be transformed into a dining room with a long, low table so we could all sit on the floor together. There would be all sorts of treats: Chirio would open a bottle of soda for each of us, arranging the pink, orange, cream and root beer sodas at our places. There would be beautifully sliced red sashimi, homemade sushi with eel, a specialty of Okasan’s, fried whale blubber, a whole cooked fish (with a white eye) on a fancy plate, and a steaming skillet filled with chicken hekka, cooked for us at the table. As we got older, treats included sipping sake out of little china cups that whistled. After the meal, there was always time for a few games of Sakura, Chirio amazing us with his rapid and expert shuffling of the small, stiff cards. We had no idea until we were much older how very privileged we were to be included in this wonderful annual feast put on just for us.
Mrs. Greenwell and Mrs. Miyose had an understanding: as long as Mrs. Miyose was alive, the house at Haleki`i was hers to enjoy. Mrs. Greenwell passed away in 1976 with Mrs. Miyose still washing her clothes, a trusted servant to the very end. After Mrs. Miyose died in 1980, the land where the family had lived for over half a century became a much desired piece of real estate. After a few years, the house was torn down, the garden obliterated, and a new McDonald’s restaurant went up in its place. Chirio went to live above the Bank of Hawaii, near his sister Yasuno. Miyeko came to live in a little house built for her in Dr. Mitchell’s new coffee land. Chirio remained a familiar figure in the Haleki`i neighborhood, walking down to McDonald’s each morning to drink coffee with Mr. Kanai and a bunch of his buddies - Junji Yamagata, Takao Ide and Bernard Mochizuki. People waved to him as they drove by, calling out his distinctive name, and he always waved back with an outstretched arm, a bright smile on his face.
Chirio never married. He lived with his mother until her dying day, and he remained a faithful brother to his surviving sister Miyeko until his last breath this past October. His ashes now rest in the columbarium at Daifukuji Soto Mission, the Buddhist temple that has been the center of his spiritual life since boyhood. The grave of his parents, marked by a beautiful black polished stone, stands nearby, poised on the hill behind the temple. Thanks to Reverend Jiko’s care and kindness, Chirio remained a part of his temple community up until the very end of his life. At his funeral service, she announced that his new name would be Segaku Eitetsu Joza - Mountain of Sincerity, Eternally Clear. Born in the shadow of Hualalai, Chirio loved that mountain’s blue crest his entire life. Later he came to know and admire the other summits, Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea, from his adventurous experiences mauka. Although Reverend Jiko did not know of his fondness for Kona’s mountains, she somehow picked the perfect name for him, a name he would appreciate and enjoy.
Chirio’s family and my parents’ family have shared a bond of mutual respect and affection that began in 1928. For as long as I can remember, we have lived our lives side by side with kindness and concern for one another. As the New Year begins, I will regret the lively, smiling man who was Chirio Miyose is no longer with us, but I am grateful this smiling portrait taken by my sister exists to remind me of Chirio’s happy heart. .
Aloha no, e Kona, and Hau`oli Makahiki Hou!
by Maile Melrose