He was just 18 when he died accidentally on December 23, 2005, while skin diving for ulua off the southeast tip of O’ahu, a long way out from Sandy Beach, the famed Hawaiian surfing spot. His name was Gen Daniel Enga Fujikawa, but after his death, with the blessing of Gen’s Japanese-American/Hawaiian parents — Linda, who is Buddhist, and Robin, a Christian — the family’s Buddhist minister honored Gen with the name Kikai Genshin. As Linda Fujikawa writes in Gen’s Book: A Guide to A Good Life, the memoir she is assembling to honor her son’s spirit, “Ki means to return. Kai is the ocean. Gen is the source. Shin is sincerity and truth.”
Gen Fujikawa was a hugely popular skin diver, fisher, surfer and good Samaritan on O’ahu, and his mother — a dear friend from college (The School for International Training in Vermont), whom I hadn’t seen in 25 years until last week when I visited O’ahu to pay respects to the family — says at least a thousand people showed up for Gen’s memorial in January; condolences came from as far away as Uzbekhistan and Bulgaria. Gen was known as a humble spirit, but his dedication to fishing and his compassion for others stretched far beyond his hometown.
Gen’s academy was the ocean. It’s where he learned all he needed to know, and it enabled him to feed others.
For many people — fishers, divers, surfers, schoolmates, neighbors and especially a large extended family — Gen embodied pure love, generosity, hard work, and good cheer, even if he did keep a room overflowing with fishing gear and photos. He was and still is a hero to the homeless population along the southwest coast, where Gen frequently distributed fish he caught to people dispossessed by the island’s fast changing economy. Gen believed passionately in sharing and unconditional love; Gen’s parents, his younger brother, Sho, and friends continue to honor that spirit, preparing and delivering food to the homeless and advocating for their well-being.
Most of Gen’s ashes reside in a beautiful koa wood urn masterfully shaped by Grandpa Kahalahoe, who shared Gen’s love of the sea. Family and friends distributed some of Gen’s ashes on the island of Molokai, Gen’s personal paradise; some ashes went to Japan, to Obachan’s house, to Toyama Bay, to Asano River, and to Miyagi, places where Gen grew his love for fishing; Gen’s diving and fishing friends scattered a portion of Gen’s ashes at Kaena Point, which had long been Gen and Sho’s favorite diving and fishing spot, located at the western-most tip of O’ahu. There, friendly spirits protected Gen. Alas, Gen died away from his home territory, in waters where the spirits turned hungry.
Linda wanted me to know her son’s story, starting at the Fujikawas’ humble, warm house in Kapolei, the island’s newly developing “second city,” which is taking over land formerly given over to sugar cane and pineapples. Linda, Robin, Sho, Kupipi (the dog) and Gen’s everlasting spirit (embodied by the altar holding the urn and many offerings) continue to thrive in this “out of the way” location, away from Honolulu, Waikiki Beach and the more stately neighborhoods of the eastern seaboard. Robin and Linda both teach on the east coast, at lovely Kapi’olani Community College overlooking the sea near Diamond Head. Robin, a Professor of Philosophy and Religious Studies, has lived with the effects of polio since age four, yet his gentle manner and sharply inquisitive mind have distinguished him far and wide, on O’ahu and beyond. Linda is an Assistant Professor of Japanese, serving on the faculty of the Honda International Center. Both are highly regarded by their colleagues, embraced by their neighbors, and loved and admired by their huge family. They chose to be teachers, not fishers.
Gen’s academy was the ocean. It’s where he learned all he needed to know, and it enabled him to feed others. Linda drove me around the island to the spots where she and Robin had introduced Gen and Sho to the ocean, from the public-access coves at Ko Olina Beach (site of a Marriott resort development) to Wai’anae, Makaha and Makua along the southwest shore, to Waimea Bay and a beach house on the north shore, where the sand sweeps in a huge arc and green sea turtles are making a comeback, sunning themselves mid-day; to a scenic journey down the lush east coast, with a stop at Kahana Bay, a beautiful tropical park from which Sho derives his middle name; and finally to Sandy Beach itself, the site of Gen’s rescue efforts. As I looked on, Linda delivered freshly made granola to the lifeguards there, to thank them for their efforts at retrieving her son from the ocean.
The ocean claimed Gen’s life gently, quickly and painlessly through Shallow Water Blackout, an all-too-common loss of consciousness among surfacing divers. Gen had been a strong, self-confident diver, well-trained by skilled teachers; he had earned the respect of kupunas (wise elders) around the island. He faced the perils with eyes wide open. He was prepared to die, but lived life so immensely no one imagined the ocean would claim him so soon. Now everyone knows he gave his life doing what he most loved. His is the perfect example of a life well lived.