JaHa Bank has been a consistent fixture in this community for many, many years and has served us proudly and amicably. You of course realize that “JaHa Bank” is just a pseudonym; I don’t know if I would actually get in trouble for using the banks real name, but why take the risk? JaHa Bank is good enough for you to get the picture.
I am the only nighttime janitor at this location. The building is the original bank office building that was built over a hundred years ago when Toshiro Matsunaga started it to help the Kanyaku Imin, immigrant workers from Japan here to work in the many plantations on the island. Over the years the bank flourished and branches began to pop up all over this island and soon thereafter on the outer islands as well.
Today, JaHa Bank is headquartered downtown in gargantuan building that I’m sure Mr. Matsunaga couldn’t have come close to fathoming. It employs an army of janitors at night, all busy vacuuming and window-washing, scurrying around frantically cleaning up the remnants of the days business. But not so here.
There are 11 people at this location- two less than when it was first utilized by Mr. Matsunaga and his sons- and I make 12. I don’t need to vacuum because there is no carpet; the original Koa floors are still intact. And there are precisely 4 waste paper baskets.
Other than the one large room in which a few desks and chairs are strategically situated, there is a enclosed office on one end directly across from the front entrance. It is relatively modest compared to the downtown behemoth, but I love being there, alone, in the quiet of the night with the precious thought that I am sweeping the very same floors where Toshiro would walk all those years ago.
He was a great man with a great vision born out of helping those who left everything behind in Japan to find good, honest, hard work and build a better future for their descendants. Traveling alone or with their family for months over the Pacific in small, cramped quarters on what one could barely call a floating vessel, and then finally reaching these islands, thus sealing the fate of any hope that they would ever see their beloved homeland again.
Toshiro was one of many Japanese children who were called “Nissei”; second generation children born here in Hawaii, or any land other than Japan, of the “Issei” (first generation) immigrants from the old country. While he attended school, his father, mother and grandmother worked in the sugarcane fields of Wailua everyday to buy food and to save money so that Toshiro could attend the College of Hawai’i now known as the University of Hawai’i.
When he graduated, his family and a few of his friends pooled their money together, built this building and started JaHa Bank. That was 1914.
One of the duties I have here at night is to dust the hanging pictures and glass display cases which hold memorabilia of JaHa Bank’s rich history. In one of the glass cases, to the right of the office door, sits an open ledger book. The top line reads as follows:
Date: Friday, 3 September, 1915
Name: Matsunaga, Kyoko
Amt: 750.00 dollars
Beside the ledger is picture of Toshiro’s mother, Kyoko, and a battered, black, lacquered bento box in which she would tuck away any extra money with the hope that she would one day save enough to buy a house of their own. One that she and her husband could hand down to their son and his family. Every night she would take one or two of the coins she received for gathering, bundling and carrying sugar cane to the mill and she would place them softly in the bento box and slide it safely under her bed.
She was JaHa Bank’s first customer.
Though Toshiro had planned to open on Monday, September 6, his mother insisted that he take her down to the bank that Friday and open her account before anyone else was able to open theirs.
I looked up from my broom and imagined him opening the door for her, bowing low as she glided gracefully past, clutching the bento box to her kimono.
I smile, in awe of the past.
In awe of unrelenting goodness.
In awe of unexpected answers in unbridled hope.
In awe of the power of one simple thought
to change the unchangeable and move the immovable.
I smile, in awe, that I still have a chance.