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Katsu Goto: Slain Honoka’a Hero – Film Sneak Preview and Talk

In 1889 Katsu Goto, one of the very first Japanese immigrants to come to Hawai‘i, was killed for helping plantation laborers. His body was found hanging from a telephone pole in Honoka‘a, not far from where a memorial in his honor stands today.

Katsu Goto memorial

For many years his story was almost unknown, however thanks to a dedicated group of writers, filmmakers and researchers, that is changing.

On Sunday, March 5, at 10 a.m. the Honoka‘a Hongwanji will host a free presentation about Goto, featuring a talk by researcher Dr. Yoshinori Kato from Oiso, Japan, Goto’s hometown, that reveals new information on Goto’s life. In addition UH Hilo professor/filmmaker Patsy Iwasaki will present a preview of the film “Honoka‘a Hero, the Story of Katsu Goto” by Danny Miller, Iwasaki and the Katsu Goto Memorial Committee.

Katsu Goto

The event will be attended by 23 students from Kyushu University in Fukuoka, Japan, as part of the U.S. Japan Council Sen. Inouye Tomodachi Kakehashi exchange program.

Katsu Goto gave up his family name and birthright as eldest son, to sail on the S.S. City of Tokio in 1885 bound for Hawai‘i Island. He went to work on Soper, Wright & Co’s O‘okala Plantation, for $9 a month, and when his three-year contract was fulfilled, he elected to stay and opened a store, selling general merchandise, Japanese products and medicines. Goto’s general store success and advocacy of labor led to animosity and eventual conflict with plantation staff and others.

Researcher Yoshinori Kato Ph.D. translated the inscription on a recently discovered gravestone in memory of  Goto in Oiso that provided new information on him. A resident of Oiso, Kato has a bachelor of engineering degree from Keio University in Tokyo, Japan and a doctoral degree from the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa.

According to Kato, Goto published a business journal in Yokohama and was involved with democracy advocates influenced by the Meiji Restoration of 1868. In Kato’s March 5 talk, entitled “Deciphering the Stone: Revealing the footprints of Katsu Goto through a gravestone inscription,” Kato uses ukiyo-e (Japanese woodblock prints) to help visualize the town of Oiso and Goto’s early years.

In 2010, the 125th anniversary of Katsu Goto’s arrival as a “first boat” immigrant, Goto’s great-nephew, Kiichi Kaya, and daughter, Toyoko Saeki, traveled from Japan to attend the annual memorial service in Honoka‘a. They met Patsy Iwasaki, author of the graphic novel, “Hāmākua Hero, A True Plantation Story,” illustrated by Avery Berido.

Iwasaki, a professor of communication at UH-Hilo, was inspired by Goto’s story. She was also the first recipient of the Goto of Hiroshima Foundation scholarship in 1993, a project of Goto’s adopted niece, Dr. Fumiko Kaya, a hibakusha, or atomic bomb survivor.

In 2011, Iwasaki was contacted by a curator at the Bishop Museum. Her book was included in the exhibit, “Tradition and Transition: Stories of Hawai‘i Immigrants,” alongside Goto’s pocket watch.

Iwasaki met with filmmaker Danny Miller, and they interviewed members of the Hāmākua community to create two videos for the Museum exhibit. From there, the concept of a Goto documentary grew, with financial support from the Hawai‘i State Legislature, YWCA, UH Diversity and Equity Initiative and others. A “living history” documentary, the film will also include reenacted scenes starring students from the UH Hilo Theatre Department, shot in historic locations around the island.

Iwasaki will present a 20-minute preview and behind-the-scenes segment of the documentary on March 5, following Dr. Kato’s talk. Subtitled in English and Japanese, the clip was aired on Nippon Golden Network in Hawai‘i. To learn more about the film, and to make a donation to help complete the film, please visit www.katsugotomovie.org.

The programs are free and presented as a service to the community, and attendees are invited to stay for light refreshments and to talk story with the presenters and the Kyushu students. For more information, contact Miles Okumura by text 808-640-4602, or email misterokumura@yahoo.com.

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