New findings on ‘Honokaa Hero’ Katsu Goto revealed

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HONOKAA — In 1889, Katsu Goto, sugar cane plantation labor advocate and “Honokaa Hero,” was killed by hanging in Honokaa town.

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HONOKAA — In 1889, Katsu Goto, sugar cane plantation labor advocate and “Honokaa Hero,” was killed by hanging in Honokaa town.

At 10 a.m. this Sunday, new details about Goto’s life will be revealed in a special presentation at the Honokaa Hongwanji Social Hall in a free community event.

Erika Hori, the foremost expert on Goto in Japan, will present new information about Goto, based on recently-discovered letters from Goto himself. Her talk, “Ambitious Spirit: Discovering the Letters of Katsu Goto,” will be followed by two film clips from “Honokaa Hero: The Story of Katsu Goto,” a documentary presented by its filmmaker, Danny Miller.

Goto was aboard the first ship of Japanese immigrants in 1885 to work for Soper, Wright &Co. sugar plantation in Ookala. When his contract was satisfied, he opened a store of his own. The store’s success and Goto’s advocacy of labor led to animosity and eventual conflict with plantation staff and others.

At the age of only 27, his body was found hanging from a telephone pole in Honokaa. Four men were prosecuted and jailed; two of them escaped; one was pardoned; and one served four years. A memorial in his honor stands near the Honokaa Library on Mamane Street.

The letters, written by Goto in Yokohama before coming to Hawaii, provide new information and background on his fascinating character. Among the many exciting details discovered was Goto’s vocation as editor and writer for “The Yokohama Daily Trade Report,” a publication covering economy and commerce. Another interesting point was Goto’s possible involvement with democracy advocates influenced by Western philosophy.

The documentary began as a labor of love by UH-Hilo professor and filmmaker Patsy Iwasaki, who wrote the graphic novel, “Hamakua Hero, A True Plantation Story,” illustrated by Avery Berido. In 2011, she was contacted by a curator at Bishop Museum about including Goto’s story in a special exhibit, which led to creating two videos for the museum with filmmaker Danny Miller.

From there, the documentary concept grew, with financial support from the Hawaii State Legislature, County of Hawaii, Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawaii, YWCA, University of Hawaii Hilo Humanities Division and others. Two new film clips will be presented Sunday.

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One, focused on the courtroom trial, includes interviews with Columbia University Professor and author Gary Okihiro, Historic Honokaa Town Project coordinators Ross Stephenson and Wendy Tolleson, as well as re-enactments with the UH-Hilo Department of Performing Arts, organized by Jackie Johnson. The second features and discusses Goto’s time in Oiso and Yokohama during the increased westernization of the Meiji Period.

To learn more about the Katsu Goto film, and to make a donation, visit www.katsugotomovie.org. For more information, text Miles Okumura at 640-4602 or email misterokumura@yahoo.com.

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