Dr Haruto Okada

and the Okada Private Japanese Hospital

Hawaii County


a proud part of

Trish Elliott-Kashima,

County Coordinator

Hawaii County Biographies


Provided and Researched by Doreen O'Rie Harunaga-Ewing


Dr. Haruto Okada and the Okada Private Japanese Hospital in Honoka’a


 The Lyman House Memorial Museum in Hilo, Hawaii published  Private Japanese Hospitals by Dr.

Leon H. Bruno, Museum Director in commemoration of the centennial of the Hawaii Kanyaku Imin (Government

contract immigrants from Japan), July 1985.  The book is out of print, but I was able to obtain a copy for my family genealogy research from The Lyman House Memorial Museum.   


The book is the story about private Japanese hospitals that flourished on the Island of Hawaii between the years

1907 to 1960.  These hospitals nor the doctors who ran them got much respect from the mainstream American

Medical Association doctors and hospitals on the other islands, but they provided the majority of the services

that was required on the Island of Hawaii.


The Big Island supported three medical systems, the plantation medical systems, the Parker Ranch medical system and the private Japanese medical doctors and their associated private Japanese hospitals.  The private Japanese medical systems were utilized by those who did not work for the plantations or Parker Ranch.  One other contributing factor to these many private Japanese hospitals was that until 1914 doctors were allowed to take the Territorial medical examination in Japanese.


The author, Dr. Bruno researched 11 hospitals that were established between 1907 and 1960.  5 of the physicians were issei and received their training in Japan and 6 were nisei and received their training in the United States.  There were some common denominators among these hospitals.


The doctors were on call 24-hours a day, 7-days a week and lived within the hospital complex.  The family members were all involved in some capacity in the running of the hospitals to include grounds and buildings maintenance, running errands, assisting the doctor in surgery, cooking and cleaning of the hospitals rooms and more.  


Patients who could not pay cash often gave food products to the doctors.  A Japanese diet was served in the hospitals and in many cases patients supplied their own fresh produce.


There is historical tradition in Japan of what is known as “kagyou”.  “ka” written in Japanese is  means “house” and “gyou” written in Japanese is meaning “business”.  Together “kagyou” means family business (line of work).  It was a tradition that was started by the aristocracy and upper stratum of the warrior class sometime between the 8th and 10th centuries.  (“The Cambridge History of Japan, Volume 4, Early Modern Japan”, pp373-375, Edited by John Whitney Hall, Cambridge University Press,1991).  Initially, it started with the aristocratic clan houses having a “clan business”, but from the late medieval period a society organized around family units each pursuing a hereditary “house occupation” had evolved to encompass all the classes in Japan.  The family business included the family, their extended families like the in-laws and cousins, and employees.  


The “President/CEO” of the “kagyou” was chosen for his ability to successfully lead the family business and may or may not have been related to the family.  The “President/CEO” of the “kagyou” if not related to the family was formally adopted into the family as a “youshi”  meaning “adopted child”.


The Private Japanese Hospitals certainly fit the pattern of the “kagyou”.  The doctor, his family members and employees were all working towards the good of the Private Japanese Hospital.


Following was an example of the early days menu.  For breakfast, they were served miso shiru, rice, umeboshi, pickled vegetables, tea, and fried eggs.  Mid-day meals they were served rice, fish or chicken, tofu, cooked or pickled vegetables and tea.  Evening meals included rice, fish, chicken or stewed meat, cooked or pickled vegetables and tea.  In most instances, the rice was cooked to a soft consistency.  Later the diets became more westernized, but the Japanese condiments remained as a basic ingredient for all meals.


Family members of patients often stayed in the same room helping with the personal needs of the patient.  If there was an extra bed in the room they used it, but more often the family members slept on the floor next to the patient’s bed.


During the depression, at least one doctor offered a 7-bed free ward.  No one was turned away because of inability to pay.


The Japanese physicians were responsible for the operation of their medical practice, the hospital and making house calls.  This did not leave a lot of time for leisure and/or social activities.


World War II created business and social problems for the Japanese doctors operating hospitals.  They often received unannounced visits at night and were interrogated by government agents.


The Lyman House Memorial Museum in Hilo interviewed granduncle Haruto’s widow Harue (Morioka) Okada (1913-1999) for their book.  I was able to find their hospital and home in google maps.  It is now owned by the University of Hawaii Hilo, North Hawaii Education and Research Center.  It was the legacy left by granduncle Haruto’s daughter Esther Emiko Okada to the University of Hawaii when she passed away in 2012.


Following is taken from the book, Paniolo House Stories: From the Kupuna of Waimea, Hawaii Volume 1, published by Friends of the Future.


Non-Parker Ranch families could not use the Parker Ranch doctors and went instead to Kohala or Honokaa for serious emergencies.  The tradition of being cared for by a Japanese doctor began in 1885 when the Japanese government sent a Japanese physician to care for the immigrants who came to the plantations.


The first Japanese hospital on Hawaii Island was established by Dr. Koshiro Tofukuji in Honokaa.  For fourteen years he cared for patients of all nationalities from as far away as Kohala.  He traveled on horseback and sometimes was gone for several days.


When Dr. Tofukuji left for Maui in 1937, Dr. Okada built another hospital which he operated until 1956.  Dr. Okada, an obstetrician, delivered many of Waimea’s babies and cared for many of its children.  He was remembered by many of the women as a tall, handsome man with a good heart.  Like the other doctors, he made frequent house calls that took him away from Honokaa.


Granduncle, Dr. Haruto Okada of Honokaa, Hawaii was born in Paahau, HI on 10 October 1904 to Itoyo (Bessho) (Hada) and Toshitaro Okada.  I met him once at Easter time in 1966 when he invited my host family and I to a brunch at a restaurant in Hilo with his family.


I’m not really sure when the family decided to create a medical doctor, but granduncle Haruto was sent to the “best” schools from his grammar school days.  Depending on which mini-bio that one reads, he graduated from Central Grammar School in Honolulu in 1918 and then was sent to Urbana High School in Urbana, IL graduating in 1921.  He attended the University of Illinois School of Medicine and graduated in 1927 with a medical degree in obstetrics.  


Shizuko (Hada) Harunaga (my grandmother; 1897-17 Feb 1928), granduncle Haruto’s eldest sister died in childbirth and her death seemed to have affected granduncle very deeply.  The NHERC Heritage Center in Honokaa found old, faded photos of Shizuko with notes on the back written in granduncle’s handwriting “my favorite sister”.  


Granduncle Haruto spent a year in Japan (1929-1930) studying surgery.  He came back to Honokaa and worked for Dr. Koshiro Tofukuji at his private Japanese hospital in Honokaa until Dr. Tofukuji left to open a medical practice on Maui in 1937.  Granduncle then built and operated his own 12-bed hospital with an operating room, nursery, laboratory and x-ray room.  The hospital employed a nurse, 5 aids, a cook and a helper.  A nurse, Kikuno Ono came from Hilo in 1935 to work with granduncle Haruto.  She worked for and lived with the Okada household until granduncle retired in 1972.



On 14 Aug 1937, granduncle married Harue Morioka (wedding photo above).  She and her mother-in-law Itoyo did all the cooking, washing and ironing with an assistant Portuguese woman hired to do the daily laundry.


Today, viewing in Google Earth, granduncle Haruto’s resident and attached “hospital”.  I always remember it to be the red-roofed buildings in a sedate neighborhood.  

(street view)

(satellite view)


Granduncle Haruto and his parents Itoyo and Toshitaro Okada helped my grandfather Manki Harunaga to raise my father, Toshio Harunaga and his brother, Yoshiaki Harunaga at the Okada home and hospital above after grandmother Shizuko died in child birth in 1928.  Toshio was 3 and Yoshiaki was 15 when grandmother Shizuko died.  Granduncle and his wife, Harue did not have children of their own and in 1950 they adopted a daughter, Esther Emiko Okada.


In 1954, Toshitaro Okada (1876-1954), granduncle’s dad died in Honokaa.  


Mar 1956, granduncle Haruto closed his hospital in Honokaa and went to work at the Hamakua Infirmary.  


Itoyo Okada (1 Oct 1878-1965), granduncle’s mother died in Honokaa in 1965.


1972, granduncle Haruto retired from practicing medicine.  He died in 1983 at the age of 79.


1987, granduncle’s younger sister, Yoshiko (Okada) Nishimoto died in Los Angeles.


Harue (Morioka) Okada (1913-1999), granduncle’s widow died in 1999 in Honokaa.  His daughter Esther (25 Mar 1950-2012) died in Honolulu in 2012.


According to the University of Hawaii Hilo, NHERC website, there will soon be a Dr. Haruto Okada Memorial Scholarship!





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This page was last updated on -02/06/2016