Moriso Teraoka
100th Infantry Battalion

Mother: Miyo Teraoka

Miyo looks after the children, house and garden. She supplements her family’s meager income by taking in laundry.

Moriso has fond memories of her cooking, particularly the sweet potatoes roasted in ashes, her special oshizushi (pressed sushi), the meringue birthday cakes, homemade root beer and the Portuguese sweet bread she learned to make at Wainaku Mill Camp.

Moriso remembers her hands always being busy.

[The following text is excerpted from "Mother's Hands" by Moriso Teraoka.]

I remember my mother’s hands,
because they scrubbed off the oil-smeared
working pants that father wore
every day to Hilo Sugar Mill in Wainaku:

Like all the other families in the mill camp, the oily soiled pants, and denim shirts were rubbed and coated with White King, strong laundry soap, and scrubbed on a washboard to remove the grease and oil. The stubborn adhering smear on the pants was boiled in a cut-off 50-gallon oil drum. The fireplace kudo was fueled with scrap lumber brought home from the sugar mill. The washhouse was a utility concrete-floored shack that was divided into four separate units shared by four families, two families each on one side of the shack. The toilet was located in this building. Ingeniously, fresh water ran under the toilet to carry all human, kitchen, and laundry waste to the sea the entire length of the houses.

Her chubby fingers
gingerly lifted the roasted sweet potatoes
from the ashes of the fire:

After boiling the soiled working clothing, Mother would often bury some sweet potato tubers into the remaining hot ashes. The exterior would turn into a hard shell, but the burnt crust sheltered the purple flesh. Mother would brush away the ashes, exposing the tubers, picking up the sweet potatoes with her fingertips. Splitting it in half, Mother would pass it on to her children as their afternoon snack.

She was forever changing baby’s diapers
washing, and hanging them in our backyard:

My parents raised nine children, four girls and five boys. My eldest sister and brother were left in Japan during their visit about 1918 for their upbringing and education. Such was the cultural practice of the period. Our uncle, Jisaburo, living in a village called Mishomura in Yamaguchi prefecture, raised them. A brother, Yutaka, two years older than me died of diphtheria, which was an epidemic in the late 1920s. With my siblings born about two years apart, the clothesline in the backyard always had diapers hanging for about sixteen years. Those were the days a large family was very desirable, and an average family household consisted of five children.

Studio portrait of the Shikazo Teraoka family. Late 1920s.
Studio portrait of the Shikazo Teraoka family. Late 1920s.

Mother’s hands securely cradled
her newborn baby
while washing the head:

Mother was forever bathing her babies through the 1920s into the early 1930s. Our youngest sister, Fumiko, was born in 1933.

Fumiko Teraoka, born in 1933, standing in a patch of ground cover, possibly at a Hilo beach called 'Three-Mile-Half.'
Fumiko Teraoka, born in 1933, standing in a patch of ground cover, possibly at a Hilo beach called “Three-Mile-Half.”

All of us siblings were delivered at home by a midwife who came from Hilo town. She was called samba-san, midwife in Japanese. During those days nobody went to the hospital to have their babies. The cry of a newborn baby would wake us up. There was the samba-san bathing the addition to our clan.

Her hands would patch
the puka in our pants:

Mother was forever mending clothes, replacing buttons, shortening hand-me-down pants, and ironing school clothes. Those were the days in our plantation camp where all the neighbors children played games called kama-pio and steal stone and water on the graveled camp road.

The equipment to play kama-pio had two components made out of a broom handle. The striker was about fourteen inches long and the bullet was about six inches long with both ends cut to a point. We challenged each other. One person tossed the bullet in the air and attempted to hit the bullet with the striker as far as he could. The challenger would then toss the bullet back to the marked location and try to knock down the striker that was laid on the graveled road saddled over two rocks.

To play steal stone, two rings were scratched on the graveled road, about six feet in diameter and about fifty feet apart. A team of boys and girls were assigned to steal each other’s stones that were placed in the rings without being tagged. Anybody tagged had to bench himself or herself. And those remaining had to guard the nest.

Skinned and bruised knees and legs were a daily occurrence for all of the kids.

Her hands firmly bandaged the cut on my finger
from the sickle that sliced
my middle finger while cutting some
grass for our pet rabbit:

My chore with that of one younger brother Isamu was to cut California grass for our pet rabbit and occasional hono-hono grass to chop and mince to feed the chickens and ducks that roamed the backyard. An occasional sliced finger went with the job. Clean rags and a bottle of mercurochrome were always available from the plantation dispensary.

Her hands made oshizushi
that nobody else could make:

Mother loved to cook, and she was known for her unique sushi called oshizushi. Even today, I haven’t seen the likes of it. Oshu means to press. Thus, oshizushi means sushi that has been created by pressing the rice.

A three-piece wooden box was the container that was needed. This box was not unlike the Spam musubi plastic form that is used for our popular rice snack today. I remember going down to the stream near our camp to cut a banana frond or two and bring it home. Mother ran a knife to cut off the center stem, wash the leaves, stack them and cut the leaves to fit into the wooden box. With the rice cooked, cooled, and seasoned with vinegar, the ingredients for the topping prepared, the oshizushi was ready to be made.

A single layer of banana leaf was placed on the bottom of the box. Next a layer of seasoned rice was laid on the banana leaf and lightly pressed to a thickness of one-half inch, and topped off with thinly sliced and seasoned takenoko, kamaboko, shiitake, thinly-fried eggs cut into three-eighth inch squares, and sprinkled with bits of red kanten. This step was repeated six or seven times to a total height of five to six inches. When the desired layers were made, the wooden cover was placed on top, and a weight was placed over the cover and left for about one hour.

The lid was lifted off the box, removed, and the oshizushi was cut into squares and placed on serving dishes.

Mother was always called upon to make her oshizushi for benefits and community parties.

Her hands could knead the bread dough
to make a beautiful loaf
of sweet bread:

Portuguese stone bread was the staple for the Portuguese in our Wainaku Mill Camp. Almost every Saturday morning the outdoor stone oven was fired and heated for their baking of their staple. As the oven was being heated Mrs. Ventura with her leavened bread dough placed in a wicker basket on her padded head would walk her load to the oven. She would place each bread on a wooden paddle with a long handle and bake each dough in the hot interior and cover the opening.

We could tell that after a little while, Mrs. Ventura would be walking back to her house, this time with hot baked stone bread. The air in the whole camp would smell of the pleasant aroma when the baking would be shortly finished.

My mother learned from Mrs. Ventura to make Portuguese sweet bread. She learned to make the leavening yeast with grated Irish potato as the starting seed obtained from Mrs. Ventura.

Mrs. Ventura’s leavening agent was probably brought to Hawaii from Portugal when the Portuguese migrated to Hawaii as contract workers. She had kept the yeast alive by feeding the seed grated Irish potato and sugar.

Now the leavening agent is dry granular pellets and the inconvenience to maintain the seed is not required.

Her oven was a sheet-metal portable with sheet mica for visibility and was placed on top of our two-burner gas stove for baking purposes.

Can you imagine, a Japanese immigrant baking Portuguese bread?

Her hands could whip the egg white
to fluffy meringue
for my birthday cake:

I still remember the cakes that mother baked for her children on their birthdays. Whipping the egg white into a fluffy meringue was the most enjoyable part of our celebration. We would hold the bowl on the kitchen floor while she whirled the egg white with her trusty eggbeater. The egg white rapidly increased in volume and adding sugar to the mass stiffened, and meringue was made.

Nostalgically, I occasionally reminisce about the meringue - alas, that yesteryear meringue never retained its texture and by morning the next day, the meringue had turned into sweet white syrup. And yet, this too was fine with us siblings.

Her firm but gentle hands fed us
cod-liver oil
whenever we looked sick:

Cod-liver oil was yet to be encapsulated back in my small kid time. But the nutritional values were well known and maybe for its medicinal values, too. That is what we had to swallow whenever mother determined that we needed a dose of the foul smelling oil. “Jiyoo ni narukara. It will be good for you,” she would say.

Her hands would spoon-feed us
when we were sick:

And yet, her hands displayed their gentleness and spoon-fed us the rice gruel called okai when we were sick with fever, and all our energy drained.

Her hands on more pleasant occasions
would tie our shoelaces
for our New Year’s visit
to the Shinto shrine in Hilo
for our yearly blessings:

This practice is a cultural ritual that has been preserved by the Japanese. That is to go to the Shinto shrine to get our New Year blessings.

Yaeko Teraoka  dressed in a kimono standing on steps of Wainaku Mill Camp home. 1933.
Yaeko Teraoka dressed in a kimono standing on steps of Wainaku Mill Camp home. 1933.

The shrine was located across from Wailoa River in Waiakea town. [Unfortunately, this shrine was destroyed by the April tsunami in 1946 that devastated Hilo town.] In our finery and laced shoes, we caught the sampan bus with Father and got our annual good fortune blessing.

Before walking up the steps where the priest was waiting in his white robe and black cap, we all stopped at the wash basin to cleanse our hands. After stepping up to the waiting priest, every one of us dropped an offering into the collection container. We rattled the round brass bell by shaking the braided rope while the priest gave us his blessing. My father was given a paper talisman to take home to post on the family altar and to place at the entrance of our plantation cottage.

This cultural practice is embraced by not only Japanese but by other non-Japanese today as evident by the yearly visit to a Shinto shrine throughout the islands.

A daily school day chore
her hands with practiced nimbleness
made our musubi lunch
to take to school:

Bento wasurena yo. Don’t forget your lunch,” Mother reminded us while we dressed for school. Our school lunch was a ball of rice with ume, a pickled plum buried in the center. Wrapped in nori and okazu of fried eggs, Vienna sausage, or takuwan, our musubi and condiments were wrapped in wax paper and newspaper. We seldom were able to afford school lunch. Dutifully, mother cooking our morning rice for our musubi lunch lasted throughout the 1930s and 1940s.

Her hands would gently shake us awake
in the summer morning:

How we endured. At age twelve, we got up at 5 o’clock in the morning to eat breakfast and go to work hoeing weeds in the cane field all summer long. Our tired bodies would protest as mother shook us to get up and prepare ourselves for our day’s work under the summer heat.

I was joined by Haruichi Hamasaki, Yukio Naguwa, Yorio Shimooka, and David Ventura for our first summer in the cane field. We gathered at the entrance to our plantation camp where the truck took us to Wainaku Camp II, the central base for field work. We joined the boys and girls from that camp. I did three summers of hoe hana in the cane field. The year I became fifteen years old and with my buddies, we went to Lanai to pick pineapple. I worked on Lanai for three summers. We all persevered with the tough summer jobs because it was expected of us from our parents.

Her hands pushed
a baby carriage
full of fresh laundries
to haole in Puueo:

My mother supplemented the family’s meager income and did laundering for several haole families living in Puueo. Every Saturday morning, she pushed the converted baby carriage full of clean ironed clothes and returned with soiled clothes for washing. She was proud of the starched and ironed dress shirts worn by the husbands of the family. I used to see the principal of Hilo High School, Mr. Crawford, wearing Mother’s ironed white shirt at school.

Kaa-san okata
o tataki masho,
Mother dear,
please let me pound your shoulders:

After the day’s chores were done and a hot bath was taken, Mother would sit on the floor and rub her aching shoulders.

As kids, we use to sing a nursery ditty in Japanese as we were taught at our Japanese language school in Wainaku, pounding her shoulders with our tiny hand “Kaa-san okata o tataki masho, tan ton, tan ton, tan ton ton. Mother dear let me pound your shoulders, tan ton, tan ton, tan ton ton,” Repeating this nursery rhythm over and over, our tiny hands tried to soothe her soreness from her stiffened shoulders. Our hands were no substitute for her hands.

Her hands gathered
the freshly laid eggs
the chickens
crackling in protest:

Every family in our plantation community had a chicken coop in the back yard. The chicken provided our okazu, holiday fried chicken, and chicken stew. We used to save our eggs during Easter for our Easter egg fight. We boiled the eggs with onion skin for a rich dark red brownish color.

The chicken provided chicken manure for our vegetable garden. Of course, the job of removing the chicken waste was our responsibility.

As we grew older, killing and dressing the chicken also became our job. I used to put the selected chicken in a burlap bag with a slit in the bottom of the bag. The chicken neck was passed through this hole, the neck slit and the chicken left to bleed to death. The carcass was dipped in hot water, and the feathers plucked. Removing the innards completed our chore and the chicken was taken to the kitchen for cooking.

Mother saved the breast feathers for our pillows.

Her hands found time,
and tended
the vegetable garden
by the sugar cane flume:

Nearly every family was able to find an empty patch of land to raise vegetables for their dining table. Our garden was across the flume that fed the sugar mill from the northern side of the plantation. The property was big enough to be shared by the Uyeharas and our family. Mother planted her araimo, daikon, pole beans, makina, and nebuka. We all helped with the weeding and digging the soil and fertilizing with chicken manure.

Her right hand
was pierced
with a sewing needle,
her loud itai
still rings in my ears:

I still remember the afternoon. Mother was washing the mop at the wash-house. She cried itai. A needle lodged in the mop had pierced her and was imbedded in the palm of her right hand.

She rode the sampan bus to Matayoshi Hospital in Hilo, and the needle was surgically removed. This incident was one of the few times that her hands were idle.

Her hands were the practitioners
of the ancient art of yaito
to cure bed wetting,
naughtiness, and crying:

Most of the Issei from Japan brought with them the practice of heating the various pressure points of the body to cure or correct certain body deficiencies. If a child excessively wet his mattress while sleeping, the parent treated this with yaito. This ancient practice was thought to cure bed-wetting, crying, naughtiness and other childhood behaviors.

When she thought that we needed a dose of yaito, she commanded us to lie on our stomach with our bare backs exposed. On a precise location on our spines she placed a piece of a spongy material called mogusa. Burning this mogusa is called okyuu. The word yaito encompasses the whole procedure. To be effective we had to endure about six yaito each time.

Crying and childhood naughtiness was probably cured in one session, but I think I still have scars on my spine from the yaito treatment of long ago. I don’t think I was ever naughty after that treatment.

Her hands pulled out boxes of empty beer bottles,
ketchup bottles
from underneath the house.
Fourth of July is approaching.
Root beer must be made:

Fourth of July was always a big event to celebrate in Hilo. This was the day to see the parade in Hilo town. From our Wainaku camp, Father walked us to Hilo along the railroad track, crossing the Wailuku River over the train track bridge. Father bought us kids a balloon and tied the string to our wrist. After the parade we all went to Mooheau Park because the circus made its annual visit. We rode the merry-go-round and ferris wheel, and then walked back to Wainaku for our fried chicken, watermelon, and root beer.

A month before, Mother had pulled the boxes of empty beer and ketchup bottles from underneath the house and placed the bottles in the washhouse. We had to scrub and rinse the bottles for our homemade root beer. Mother bought Hires Root Beer concentrate, and yeast from Kuwahara Store and made the soda in a five-gallon earthen crock with the yeast. She helped us pour the soda in the bottles that we had washed. We placed a cap on each bottle and crimped the cap firmly over the mouth of the bottle. The root beer was stored in a cool place to age and the gas to build up.

Fourth of July was always homemade root beer time in Wainaku.

Her willing, gentle hands,
her thoughtful persevering hands,
her firm caressing hands,
her legacy of her hands,
will forever support my soul.


"Mother's Hands" was reprinted with the permission of Moriso Teraoka. Excerpts of Moriso Teraoka's oral history transcript are courtesy of the Go For Broke National Education Center. Photographs courtesy of Moriso Teraoka.

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