Hawaii Travelogue: A Japan away from Japan [Ch.17: Culture and Societal Notes]

By | July 7, 2017

This article is a part of series of articles about my 2017 trip to Hawaii. Please see the table of contents that contains links to other chapters.

Culture and Societal Notes

Just by spending a week in Hawaii mostly on touristy areas in Oahu it’s difficult to really get a good feel for Hawaii’s culture. However, we did learn a few things little by little through personal observation and our conversations with locals.

Even before our trip, we had the feeling that living in Hawaii was expensive, and during the trip we gathered more data to support that conclusion. For example, one Taxi driver said that housing is generally 3 times more than in the continental US, and another person said that it’s one of the most expensive places to live in the world. I thought Tokyo was #1, but in this 2017 study, Hong Kong was on top and Japan was nowhere to be found. Honolulu was #7, so there was some truth to the Taxi driver’s claim.

We had also heard that the educational system there wasn’t too great, and some people we spoke with backed that up with respect to public schooling, however supposedly the private schools are better ranked in general. For example, the Punahou School that Ex-President Obama attended is supposed to be very highly rated.

We asked a few people what they liked about Hawaii. Several people said–you guessed it–the weather. Another person said that you can save money since you don’t really need multiple sets of clothes (it really never gets too cold), and you also have reduced electric bills because most houses don’t have heating or air conditioning. We heard from another person that there is little discrimination between the races since many people are a mix of multiple racial groups (by the way, the word ‘hapa’ means someone of mixed descent in Hawaiian language), although I have heard at least one story of islanders not getting along great with mainland US people.

The locals seemed to be pretty laid back, though I must admit this is a pretty subjective observation lacking much hard data. I have heard that many of the children surf as a hobby when they are young, dream to become pro surfers one day, and on good wave days they even may skip school to hone their skills in the ocean. But after hearing several stories about the dangers of surfing (波乗り in Japanese), I am not likely to start that hobby any time soon, or recommend it to my son.

One interesting bit of trivia is that gambling is illegal in Hawaii, and we were told that some people jokingly refer to Vegas as the 9th island of Hawaii due to the number of islanders that frequent that gambling mecca.

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2 thoughts on “Hawaii Travelogue: A Japan away from Japan [Ch.17: Culture and Societal Notes]

  1. locksleyu Post author

    This is a comment from one of my readers (thanks Kurt) which I received via email. I am putting it here since he had some trouble with this website:

    Tokyo is definitely not #1. Moving here from San Francisco, and growing up in Hawaii, those two places far outdistance Tokyo as far as cost of living. (Although some things are relative, like size of apartments, the volume or lack thereof of dishes in Tokyo restaurants, etc.)

    Public education system is indeed not great, though surprise surprise it also depends on what area or neighborhood you’re talking about. Punahou is indeed considered a top private school, and indeed most people on the outside (including myself as a child) hate it or anyone who goes there 😉 Trivia: I used to have a paper route that included the school, and delivered newspapers to teachers who lived on campus. Though of course I had no clue at the time, this was the exact time Obama was a student there.

    Air-conditioning is a rarity — my parents had one in their bedroom, which was probably used about once a year if that.

    The whole skip school and go surfing — I gotta call “urban myth” or some Hawaii 5-0/Magnum PI ドラマ nonsense on that one. I’m sure it happens, but it’s not “a thing”, for sure.

    The Las Vegas thing seems like some bad stereotype but the connection between Hawaii and Vegas is deep. I had the best mac(aroni) salad outside of Hawaii at the restaurant in Sam’s in Vegas, and there was plenty of other stuff to cater to “locals” (eg. tourists from Hawaii) like spam musubi or loco moco. Google “A Hawaiian island in the Las Vegas desert” for a good article that goes into all of it.


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