"Literary, personal pilgrimage comes to life in new book." Honolulu Star Advertiser, May 10, 2015.
"Roads of Oku: Journeys in the Heartland," by Dennis Kawaharada (Far Roads, $15.95)
Reviewed by Pat Matsueda, editor and publisher of thumbnailreview.com.
Raised in Hawaii, Dennis Kawaharada first traveled to Japan with his family when he was 19. Three decades later he returned with his partner, Karen Ono.
"Between 2004 and 2014, Karen and I made a dozen trips to Japan, to revisit places I went to on my first trip in 1970 and to places related to family and ancestral histories and myths," he writes in "Roads of Oku: Journeys in the Heartland."
In his author's note, Kawaharada calls his two previous books "journeys at home" and says he intended in this new essay collection to explore the connections between Hawaii and Japan, "the ancestral homeland" from which both sets of grandparents emigrated in the early 20th century.
It's also a literary pilgrimage: "Inspired by the travels of the seventeenth-century poets Basho and Sora, we logged over 20,000 miles across the four main islands."
After summarizing how his grandparents settled in the islands, were affected by World War II and influenced the way he grew up, the book alternates between two voices.
The first is Kawaharada's personal voice recounting the trips he made to Japan, each time recovering some part of his family's culture and history. The second is that of a third-person narrator presenting deeply researched accounts of Hawaiian history and Japanese religion, customs, geography and archaeology.
The last three essays in the book are perhaps the most moving and insightful. The title essay recounts the journey by Basho, "possessed by wanderlust," to set out on foot from Edo. "In Snow Country" examines the work of Nobel laureates Yasunari Kawabata and Kenzaburo Oe, among other writers. "Hokule‘a in Yokohama" describes the traditional Hawaiian voyaging canoe's 2007 journey to Japan.
By this time a reader has grown to understand the relationship between the thoughtful, poetic voice of the traveler and the distant, seemingly dispassionate voice of the scholar. The arrangement of the material has a design and an enlarging, enlightening effect. It's a revelation and a pleasure to travel with Kawaharada on his journey from Hawaii to homeland and heartland.