The Sound of Freedom

Looking up from my research on my laptop yesterday in a  coffee shop down the valley in Manoa Marketplace, I thought I saw Mommy opening the door and walking in. I was confused but very happy for a second, thinking, how could this be? But then I realized that it was a woman that looked very similar to my mother. It has been strange – but very lovely – for me to get used to seeing so many Japanese people around in a setting that is obviously not Japan. At home, hearing strangers speaking Japanese is so rare that I get pretty excited when it happens, but here, I hear Japanese all the time, all over.

My days here so far have been filled with new experiences, eight hours or more of research work per day, and adventures afterwards. Every single second seemingly has been used, from the moment I wake up, to the moment I hit my pillow at night. I am late to bed and early to rise, and even in my half-jet lagged, still exhausted state, I love the business that is my life right now.

Taking a break from research work, the other day I walked down to the local, brand-new library down the valley. There, I discovered an exhibit on Japanese American internment in Hawai’i, which I had never heard about before. I learned that only one percent of the Japanese-descended population in Hawai’i were interned during the war, but that it had made a significant impact on the community because those who were targeted were leaders of the Japanese community. Thus, like on the mainland, Japanese-descended Americans felt ashamed of their heritage. They did not seek repercussions until even later than the Japanese Americans on the mainland, but the internment camp is well-preserved. I would like to visit it, if I have time, since it is on O’ahu.

After again getting a little lost on the way back from the coffee shop, but safely finding my way back yesterday afternoon, my professor’s family and I hung out on the lanai before my professor, her husband and I left for our first interview. We grabbed some dinner at a local restaurant where I ordered a furikake mahi wrap. Mahi is a kind of white fish, and furikake is a Japanese food that you shake on to white rice to add taste, and often includes dried seaweed and fish. The restaurant was in Ala Moana, so I remembered how the day before, I had visited the Ala Moana mall with Maya and her grandmother. The mall is gigantic and filled to the brim with tourists from all over the world. I ordered a fried banana, which was very sweet and delicious, and then went up to another bakery to get anpan, a Japanese desert bread filled with azuki bean paste. The guy at the counter apparently thought that it was strange that I was ordering anpan and said it was something you ate for breakfast, but I laughed and said it was fine. Anpan was something I rarely was able to have growing up, so I was very excited to eat it then, which he might have thought was weird…

Back at the restaurant, as we waited for our food, we saw a man who we assumed was Black, wearing a Hawaiian shirt, waiting in line. Professor Sharma and I got excited because our research is on Black Hawaiians, or Blacks in Hawai’i, and our research suggests that African Americans, Africans, or mixed race Blacks are rare on the islands. But we did not know how to approach him and ask where he was from and what he was doing in Hawai’i, and perhaps if I were doing an article, it would have been easy to do so, but going up to someone because he was black seemed strange and a bit like racial profiling, so it was very difficult to do. However, we noticed that he had an English accent, which was very interesting. Soon he was even standing right next to me, waiting for his food, as well, so I was in a conflicted state of wanting to start a conversation but feeling too awkward to do so in that bustling restaurant filled with Japanese tourists. Sadly, we left before any of us could get up the nerve to strike up a conversation, so we may never know what his story is…

Then we drove across Honolulu to a sort of shady part of town with strip clubs and not much lighting. We were in search of a tiny drumming studio, where we were meeting our interview subject, so we walked up a long ramp to the roof, where there was a parking lot. It was dark and rainy, and the deserted feeling of the place made me feel as if we were detectives on the chase. It would have been a perfect place to shoot a gun battle. My excitement rose as we crossed a metal, thin bridge over to a row of small, lit up studios which emitted drumming and piano melodies. The light from the studios reminded me of the little rooms on the bath house for spirits in the Japanese anime Spirited Away and it all seemed unreal – a dream.

We soon met the man we came to interview and he set up a makeshift table and shared our dinner with him. I went into a panic because my voice recorder ran out of battery during the interview, and though I brought extra batteries, just in case, by the end of the hour-and-a-half interview, all of my batteries had ceased to provide power. It was extremely unfortunate and I felt like I had failed my professor. When interviewing people for journalism, this had never happened before, so I had been confident that my recorder would work. Thus, it came as a great and awful shock that we had lost parts of his interview because of battery failure…

Since Professor Sharma’s husband, Makaya, is a professional drummer, after the conclusion of the interview, both men took hold of separate drum sets and began to improvise and jam out together. I sat on the ground and moved to the beat, tapping my hands on the ground and closing my eyes to drink in the sound of their music. Makaya had more of a set rhythm and pattern, but the other drummer was all over the place, watching Makaya intently in order to play in sync. They both were playing on drum sets that our interviewee had made himself. The beats were innovative and so full of life that I wished that the drumming could go on forever. I wished that I could get up and dance to it – it was the sound of freedom.

On the drive back to the house Professor Sharma and Makaya showed me Waikiki and Chinatown. I am learning so much about interviewing and how to do anthropological research, and Professor Sharma and Makaya seem to know every single restaurant and event places in Honolulu. I am very impressed and strive to learn even more.

Then we passed by the ocean – my first time seeing the Pacific in Hawai’i – and I stared out at the sliver of the moon reflected on the smooth ocean water – a beautiful, floating light – and I was so thankful for these adventures and learning trials.


  1. Will Cummings says:

    Aloha Zoe, Your research sounds like such a grand adventure!! Have fun and enjoy the opportunity!! I highly recommend boogie boarding, snorkeling, hiking, and try that stand up paddle boarding!!! I always regretted not getting a surfing lesson when Jill and I were in Hawaii. I enjoyed reading your blog, you are an insightful writer. Take Care, ~~Uncle Will

    1. chasingyume says:

      Hi Uncle Will!!! Thank you so much!! I will try to do all of what you suggested, but I think I need to learn how to swim first 😦 I will definitely come back, though, someday. Thanks for reading my blog and I hope everything and everyone is well at home!! 🙂

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