Journey of Stacey: Telling the story of Hawai‘i’s World War II heroes

Now on view is Navigating a Minefield: A Manga Depiction of Japanese Americans in the Second World War. The exhibition highlights hand-drawn sketches from the 2012 manga “Journey of Heroes: The Story of the 100th Infantry Battalion and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team” by writer Stacey Hayashi and comic artist Damon Wong. But is just as much the heartwarming story of Hayashi’s journey getting to know these heroic WWII veterans to make sure their trailblazing acts of subversive patriotism are not forgotten.

Born in Hawai‘i in 1975, Hayashi is a self-proclaimed child of the eighties. “That was a heyday for these veterans,” she says, explaining her entrée to the Go for Broke gang. “Governor Ariyoshi was the first Japanese American governor in the US. Senator Dan Inouye and Congresswoman Patsy Mink were in Washington, DC. So as a kid growing up, I had no idea that this was not what the rest of the country looked like. And in the 80s, everything cool for kids was Japanese.”

Yet she also acknowledges that “it’s human nature to take things for granted. If you don’t know that anything was different, then how can you appreciate it?” And that’s why she wanted to tell the story of the 100th Infantry Battalion and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. As she discovered their history, she realized that many people her age had never heard of them.

While in college, Hayashi saw a play that she loved. “I was really moved and thought it was amazing how art could make you feel this story is yours. That’s what I wanted to do,” she says.

So in 2001, she decided to make a film and in the process met hundreds of veterans, many of them becoming part of her life. She hung out at the aqua midcentury modern “Club 100”—aka the 100th Infantry Battalion Veterans Education Center—across from ‘Iolani School, cooking up kamaboko omelets for her new friends and talking story.

As Hayashi learned how difficult it is to make a feature film, she realized writing a book was a quicker path to depict these soldiers’ story before too many of them were lost. She worked closely with Wong, whom Hayashi describes as spending “hundreds of hours converting my scribbles” into the engaging art you see in on the walls.

Together Hayashi and Wong decided to turn Wong’s original realist characters into chibi—cute, moon-faced figures that make the hard, emotional stories easier to digest. It is a crucial balance that makes Journey of Heroes such a storytelling success. Just as Charles Schulz used adorable Peanuts to grapple with topics such as loneliness, unrequited love and bullying.

“The veterans’ story is so powerful and we wanted the art to be just as powerful,” explains Hayashi.

The chibi guide us through painful episodes, such as the 442nd losing 160 men when they were sent to rescue 211 Texans surrounded by Germans, seeing “kotonks” imprisoned in internment camps, men watching their friends die in battle. And it is told in real words Hayashi recorded from her veteran friends.

And Hayashi did get her film made—Go for Broke: An Origin Story was released in 2017, premiering at the Hawai‘i International Film Festival, where it earned a standing ovation.

See clips from the film, along with military medals from real-life heroes and other memorabilia in the exhibition. Don’t wait too long—the show’s last day is March 19.



•  See Stacey Hayashi and curator Stephen Salel talk about the exhibition on Living808.

•  See the show on Family Sunday presented by Bank of Hawai‘i Foundation, March 19, when the Museum Shop hosts a manga pop-up by Brady Evans. Evans is the manga artist who invited Stacey Hayashi to be in the exhibition Crossing Cultures: The Art of Manga in Hawai‘i in 2013, introducing her to the manga community.