Old Pearl City and the Pine Forest

We are all fortunate in that we get to train in a great area, the Momilani Suburb of Pearl City. Today, PC is considered a nice, central area that’s not so far from town, close to many stores, restaurants, theaters, schools, parks and all the amenities families desire. My wife and I have been residents of another great suburb, Mililani, for over thirty years, but we both grew up in PC and consider it our original home neighborhood.

My family moved to PC in 1960, into the brand new tract homes of what was Phase I of Momilani – the rec center where we train at, is actually part of the Phase II development of Momilani, which came up in the late sixties. My wife’s family actually moved to and older part of PC around 1954, when the area below Highlands Intermediate School was constructed. So while we’ve been Mililanians since the late 70’s, we still regard PC as our old stomping grounds – and what changes there have been!

In 1960, the “big” shopping center was the old Foodland (still there!) with ShopRite Drugstore located where the FoodCourt is today. Zippy’s sits where our favorite burger place (Scotty’s) used to be – McDonalds didn’t come in until around 1969. When Lynne and I were dating, I bought her their famous shrimpboat meal and milkshakes there. The bowling alley was a 10-laner further down on Lehua Ave (Leeward Bowl was built around 1968), and my barber shop was also located nearby. There really weren’t that may places to eat…Pearl City Tavern was a nice restaurant (where Cutter Ford is today), famous for its Monkey Bar, where you could order good steak and lobster. The only other close-by choices were the Beacon Restaurant on Kam Hwy (actually closer to PearlRidge) and Shakey’s Pizza, part of a national pizza chain, which pre-dated the Pizza Hut/Papa Johns/Dominos/Little Caesars chains. Needless to say, we didn’t eat out much in those days…there weren’t too many fast food-take outs around, and we didn’t even have the luxury of microwaves then.

To say PC was rural back then, is a very accurate statement…as we would head home over the Red Hill area at night, we would be greeted by only a rather sparce sprinkling of lights on the dark plains and foothills surrounding Pearl Harbor. Today, it’s a vast carpet of lights, dominated by the Stadium on game nights. Back then, the H1/H2/H3 didn’t exist, so you’d drive along either the Kamehameha or Farrington Highways to get around in “the sticks”.

For the first few years that I lived there, looking up towards the hills, PC would actually end only two streets above my house. Everything above was agricultural land, either cane or cattle. I remember the general area where we train today, being cane fields with irrigation ditches that we used to play in (and some crayfish, if memory serves me right). Further up, I’m guessing around where the high school is, there was actually an area within the fields that contained a little grove or copse of tall, wispy pine trees which we knew as “Pine Forest”. We sometimes snuck up there to play and make camp – back then, all of us boys had either bb or pellet guns and we would go “hunting” along the trees, canefields and dusty red trails and roads that lined our homes before the rest of PC gradually filled in. Strangely, one memory that sticks in my mind is that the “Pine Forest” had pines that would make a loud swishing noise whenever the wind blew through – if you’ve ever been around certain kinds trees, you know what that sounds like. It was especially loud when we were within the forest. Long before we ever reached the forest, we could hear it’s unique sound on windy days…it was great, and I can still hear it in 50 year old memories. I suppose such trees and sounds may be common elsewhere in the world – there must be dozens of places on the mainland called Whispering Pines. Here in our Hawaii suburbs however, there aren’t many local areas with these types of trees, much less a “forest” of these swaying and whispering in the background.

So what does this meandering walk down memory lane have to do with karate? For those who don’t know it, our karate style was founded by Master Gichin Funakoshi. Besides being a karate expert, he was a scholar and poet and spent much of his free time writing his poems down via Japanese calligraphy. When doing so, he used a pen name – “Shoto”, which referred to...the sound that pine trees make when the wind comes through. The Master actually never intended to name the karate-do that he taught as anything other than karate; however his students would call his training hall (“kan”) as the place/hall where Shoto teaches….or the Shotokan. It’s significant to note that the very name of our style was inspired by an old master’s love of the sound that the gentle winds made through the pine trees. You and I get to train in an open pavillion where the tradewinds are free to waft through. I think that if the old pine forest were still there, we’d be able to hear it from where we practice our Shotokan today. Makes one think.

Blessings, Wes

P.S. On a side note, another okinawan karate master, Shoshin Nagamine, founded the Matsubayashi Shorin-Ryu style. He named his system in honor of two masters from the 19th century (Bushi Matsumura and Kosaku Matsumora) who taught his own senseis. Hence the Matsu part of the name. Master Nagamine’s nickname as a kid was Gaajuu Maachuu or Chippai Matsu…which means, “tenacious pine tree”. Matsubayashi is okinawan for…”Pine Forest”. It seems to me that there are many such ironies in karate-do.

2 thoughts on “Old Pearl City and the Pine Forest

  1. M – Thanks so much for your kind words, but even more so, for your wonderful old-time memories of Pearl City and pines-karate connection! I am from the “late-comers” to PC who moved to Momilani in 1960, and only rarely get to hear what it was like in “lower Pearl City” (below Kam Hwy) way back. It was truly a close-knit community and my friends from the Muraoka, Kobashigawa and Okano families used to share a little bit about what it was growing up in the area. Your input was insightful and much appreciated.

  2. In the late 50s/early 60s, my grandparents had a small farm below Lehua Elementary (where the tree nursery is now)… pigs, chickens, bananas, and all sorts of vegetables. In 1965, there were 2 monkeys (presumably escapees from Pearl City Tavern) who regularly dined at the farm…they waited in the tall trees for grandma to return to the house and scampered onto the farm to partake of her nasubi (eggplant) and other goodies. In between the Primo Beer breaks, my uncles tried but couldn’t catch them. Since the farm almost bordered Pearl Harbor, we spent a lot of time catching mullet, papio, kaku, omaka, and Samoan/Hawaiian/Haole/Blue crabs, crayfish and swordtails.

    The sound of the wind as it goes through the grand pine trees is truly a unique and memorable experience. It’s almost as if the trees and the winds are saying something. As a retired Soldier, I spent a lot of time playing Army in East Range (Schofield) where there are many stately pine trees. I always took a moment to look up and listen. Looking back, it would be a good place to do zazen.

    Speaking of pines, allow me to add that while Matsubayashi Shorin-ryu pays homage to its “pine forest” and Chinese “Shaolin” roots, others in the Shorin family do too… Shobayashi Shorin-ryu is the “small forest” style, while Kobayashi Shorin-ryu is the “young forest” style. Mahalo Sensei Wes, your thoughts and reflections are inspirational and heart-warming.

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