39th Annual San Jose Day of Remembrance

By Will Kaku

The 39th Annual San Jose Day of Remembrance event will be held on February 17, 2019

The 39th Annual San Jose Day of Remembrance event commemorates the 77th anniversary of the signing of Executive Order 9066. The order led to the forced removal and incarceration of 120,000 people of Japanese descent during World War II. Hundreds of people will gather together at this annual event not only to remember that great civil liberties tragedy but to also reflect on what that event means to all of us today.

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Remembering Jimi Yamaichi

Jimi Yamaichi cuts the symbolic barbed wire to  officially open the Japanese American Museum of San Jose (JAMsj) in 2010. Pictured are Evan Yoshino (Applegate Construction), Mayor Chuck Reed, Jimi Yamaichi, Pam Yoshida (MBA Architects), Hiroshi Inomata (Consulate General of Japan), Aggie Idemoto (2010 JAMsj President). Photo courtesy of Andy Frazer.

Remembering Jimi Yamaichi
By Will Kaku

The day after I heard that Jimi Yamaichi passed away, I didn’t know what to do with myself. I felt a deep sorrow and emptiness. I viewed Jimi as a great mentor, a role model, an inspiration, and a friend.

Jimi Yamaichi. Photo courtesy of Andy Frazer.

Although I did not sign up to be a docent at JAMsj on that day, I felt that it would be better for me if I came into the Museum that afternoon. I had hoped to find solace with others who knew Jimi, but I also desperately wanted to remain connected with Jimi’s presence.  Jimi put his entire heart and soul into the Museum and I can still feel his boundless energy, optimism, dreams, and passion in that space.

Jimi’s relentless drive and determination are well-known by those who know him. We all have our Jimi stories on this topic. I remember one time when we were working at the Museum construction site when I found him lying face down by the quonset huts. He insisted that he was fine and that he “would get up in a few minutes after resting.” I performed a first-aid inspection on him and asked if he could feel me touching his arms and legs. He said that he didn’t and I immediately called for an ambulance. This was just several days before he was to lead tours at the Tule Lake Pilgrimage. I called a friend of mine who was on the Pilgrimage planning committee and told her that Jimi would unfortunately not be attending because of his hospitalization. To my great surprise, Jimi still attended the event, leading tours and giving presentations with two black eyes!

Jimi and his wife, Eiko. Photo courtesy of Kristin Okimoto.

Jimi was a very caring person.  This is also true about his wife, Eiko, and the rest of the Yamaichi family. Since Jimi’s passing, I have heard numerous stories about how Jimi and Eiko took people under their wing, especially those that lost loved ones or individuals who were new to the community.

I remember when I first met Jimi at my first Tule Lake Pilgrimage. I was new in the community and I didn’t know anybody as I sat by myself in the auditorium. Jimi came by and sat next to me. He immediately struck up a conversation and gave me some historical items that he had collected. Jimi made me feel very special.  Jimi did that with everyone.

Jimi was a runway model at the JAMsj Fashion Show in 2010.He forgot his belt and he feared that his pants would fall down during the show. I gave him mine but I had to keep holding my pants up while I struggled to take photos.

I asked Jimi many questions about the Tule Lake concentration camp, the “No-No Boys”, renunciation, resistance, and dissent in the camps. Those are difficult issues that I still struggle with today.  My family’s past actions do not fall into the overpowering, inspirational, and often repeated narrative of Japanese Americans who overcame their unjust incarceration through their great military valor, heroism, and patriotism. I had nobody who could explain at a deeply personal level why someone would take these controversial positions as my relatives were deceased, suffering from dementia, or were extremely reticent to talk about their past actions.

Jimi understood my conflict.  He thoughtfully explained to me the tortuous personal journey that he took in protesting his confinement.  To my surprise, he later told me that he stood with my uncle in a Eureka courtroom where the Tule Lake resisters told the judge their side of the story. Through these conversations with Jimi, I began to understand that Jimi, my family and other dissidents did not hate this country and were not cowards, as some have called them. They  simply wanted this country to uphold its very values, beliefs, and laws under the Constitution.

Jimi Yamaichi helps Ruth Ishizaki light a candle for the Rohwer concentration camp at the 2008 Tule Lake Pilgrimage. Jimi created the remarkable camp display which has been used in ceremonies at the Tule Lake Pilgrimage and the San Jose Day of Remembrance. Photo by Will Kaku.

One of my last memories of Jimi was at this year’s Day of Remembrance program, an event that I help organize every year.  I came to his home the day before the event to pick up the beautiful candle lighting display that he created for the ceremony that honors Japanese Americans who were incarcerated during World War II.  Jimi had just come home from the hospital after an illness. I told him that it would be better if  he didn’t come to the event so he could fully recuperate.  The next evening,  I was shocked to see Jimi at the event. Somehow he willed his frail body to attend the program. His son, George, told me that Jimi felt that the event was very important to him and he insisted that George drive him to the event. I realize how physically strenuous it was for Jimi to make  — what I now know– his final trip to the event.  That really means a lot to me.

Jimi at the grand opening of the JAMsj agricultural exhibit. Photo by Will Kaku.

On the day after his passing, it was somewhat difficult for me to give museum tours that day since I always have several Jimi stories that I incorporate into my narrative.  I had to pause or slow down a bit after I became a bit emotional. I still get teary-eyed as I tell those stories but I also know that Jimi’s spirit, vision, and dreams live on here at the Museum, in San Jose Japantown,  at Tule Lake, and most importantly, within all of us.

Jimi not only explained our history, he was also a teacher of life. Photos courtesy of Andy Frazer.


Jimi Yamaichi revisits Uchida Hall at San Jose State University in 2015, 73 years after he entered the same gymnasium to get processed prior to his imprisonment in a Japanese American concentration camp

May Matsuzaki, Aggie Idemoto, Leila Kubesh, Jimi Yamaichi, and myself during a presentation of the 120,000 Tassel Tapestry display created by Leila Kubesh and her students.

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The Power of Words: Internment Camp or Concentration Camp?

By Will Kaku

“They were concentration camps. They called it relocation, but they put them in concentration camps, and I was against it.

— President Harry S. Truman, in an interview with Merle Miller, 1961

“Crowded into cars like cattle, these hapless people were hurried away to hastily
constructed and thoroughly inadequate concentration camps, with soldiers with
nervous muskets on guard, in the great American desert. We gave the fancy name of
‘relocation centers’ to these dust bowls, but they were concentration camps

— Interior Secretary Harold L. Ickes


Phrasing and word usage are very important in shaping our attitudes about people, events, products, issues, and policies. For example, according to a CNBC 2013 poll,  more people were opposed to President Obama’s signature health care law when it was referred to as “Obamacare” rather than its official name, The Affordable Care Act. Similarly, in a 2017 IPSOS/NPR poll, more people felt that a particular tax should be abolished when it was referred to the “Death Tax” rather than the “Estate Tax,” which were common terms used during policy discussions.

In my recent post about my visit to the Heart Mountain Interpretive Center, I referred to the Heart Mountain camp as a “concentration camp.” Some people feel uncomfortable with that terminology and believe that designation is reserved for the camps of the Holocaust. The following commentary is extracted from a display at the Heart Mountain Interpretative Center.



Additional information:

JACL Power of Words handbook
Manzanar Committee Member Joyce Okazaki: “Yes, It Was A Concentration Camp”
“Do Words Matter?” Densho Encyclopedia

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Return to Heart Mountain


My mother holds a photo of my father on the grounds of the Heart Mountain camp. Heart Mountain juts out in the background.

By Will Kaku

The Heart Mountain concentration camp has always represented a critical turning point for my father’s family. As I had written in previous articles and speeches (links to some of these are below), Heart Mountain was the place where my father and his brothers struggled and debated as to how they were going to answer the infamous Questions 27 and 28. Heart Mountain was the location where my Uncle Tak decided that he was going to resist the draft. Heart Mountain was where my Aunt Itsu made a dramatic transformation from an innocent, acquiescent, and naive young women to one who became more aware of her dire situation and more vocal about racial discrimination and the violation of her civil rights.


Local artist, Jack Matsuoka, states, “Discussion and debate on the questionnaire issue grew heated and not infrequently led to quarrels and fights. ” From Matsuoka’s book Poston, Camp II, Block 211.

Despite that significance in my family’s history, I could never find the time to make the journey to the Heart Mountain Interpretative Center. During the fall, my mother told me she wanted to visit Yellowstone National Park, so I decided that I could finally combine that trip with a visit to the old camp site which is just an hour drive from the park.

The Heart Mountain Interpretative Center opened in 2011, just a year after we completed the major renovation of JAMsj. Because I assisted in providing content for the JAMsj camp exhibit, I was fully aware of space, cost, and vision constraints that had to be considered in exhibit design. I was keenly interested in how the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation (HWMF) presented the Japanese American incarceration story to the public in their facility.

One major aspect of the HWMF presentation, the first-person narrative, is extremely effective in bringing out an emotional connection to an infamous event in our nation’s history from over 75 years ago. After a short museum overview, my mom and I were encouraged to view the short film, All We Could Carry, by Oscar-winning filmmaker, Steven Okazaki. All We Could Carry powerfully captures the devastating impact of incarceration at Heart Mountain through the voices of former inmates.

we_example.tbSeveral kiosks in the museum also incorporate moving first-person accounts. Exhibit placards continuously reinforce the first-person point of view by utilizing the inclusive pronoun “we”. We felt that we were also making our own journey through the great civil liberties and human rights tragedy from WW II.

The 11,000 square feet of space also enables exhibit images and artifacts to extend out into the floor space, providing a fully immersive experience to the visitor.

Every square foot of the museum is used to transport you back into the diverse and complex Japanese American incarceration experience. Even the reflective restroom toilet stalls convey the feeling of embarrassment and the loss of privacy that many former inmates experienced in the camps.

Importantly, the museum exhibits challenge visitors with questions that are pertinent to our lives and political discourse today. One display asks us about what we think about the 14th Amendment and birthright citizenship. Another asks us if there are any circumstances under which the curtailment of civil liberties by the government is justified.

It took us a long time to explore the many museum displays and my mother became tired. We came back the next morning and wandered around the self-guided walking tour next to the museum. We saw the locations of the Heart Mountain hospital where my father worked for a short time, the school that he attended, and the train station where my father boarded a train that transferred him to the Tule Lake camp. We walked solemnly during that quiet, cool morning and we reflected on his life.


My mother holds up a photo of my father and his brothers who became political prisoners of this country for protesting their confinement.


My father, Shogo “Bill” Kaku, at the Heart Mountain camp.


A plaque honoring the memory of Eiichi Sakauye, who was also a founder of JAMsj, is displayed outside the Heart Mountain Interpretive Center.


Related articles by Will Kaku:

Lost Words

The Secret of Tule Lake

Living History

Power of Words: Internment Camp or Concentration Camp



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36th Annual San Jose Day of Remembrance: Memories of Leaving San Jose

“He put his head against my father’s shoulder and cried. He said, ‘Mr. Yamaichi, my boss told me that they were going to put all of you into camps.’”

By Will Kaku

Jimi Yamaichi revisits Uchida Hall in 2015, 73 years after he entered the same gymnasium prior to his imprisonment in a Japanese American internment camp

Jimi Yamaichi revisits Uchida Hall in 2015, 73 years after he entered the same gymnasium prior to his imprisonment in a Japanese American internment camp

The 36th Annual San Jose Day of Remembrance will take place on February 14, 2016, at a historically significant venue, Yoshihiro Uchida Hall at San Jose State University. The hall is the same location where Japanese Americans were processed before they were forcibly sent to detention centers at the end of May, 1942. The Day of Remembrance program will start at Morris Dailey Auditorium and the program will conclude with a solemn candlelight procession to Uchida Hall. Inside the Uchida Hall, JAMsj curator, Jimi Yamaichi, will recount what happened in the hall’s gymnasium 74 years ago and the tumultuous events that surrounded the forced removal of several thousand Japanese Americans in the San Jose area.

Jimi recalled, “On Sunday night (the evening of the Pearl Harbor attack), we were visited by Ted Myers who was a buyer of our farm produce and a family friend. He said that he got a call from the main office in Los Angeles telling him to go down there for an urgent meeting.”

On Wednesday afternoon, Myers came back to see the Yamaichi family. “I can still remember how his face looked,” Jimi remembered. “He put his head against my father’s shoulder and cried. He said, ‘Mr. Yamaichi, my boss told me that there were going to put all of you into camps.’”

Jimi trusted Myers’ information in the context of the racially-charged times. “For many years, they tried to get us out of California. You have to understand that although Japanese only made up 2% of the population, we controlled a majority of the vegetable market. The Farm Bureau, the California State Grange, the American Legion, and the Sons and Daughters of the Golden West, were among many anti-Japanese groups and they were lobbying hard to get rid of us. This was their opportunity to finally break our backs and decimate the Japanese farmer.”

A few months later, signs were posted on telephone poles that specified that all people of Japanese descent would be removed from the San Jose area by 12 p.m. on Saturday, May 30, 1942. Family representatives were told to report to the men’s gymnasium at San Jose State College (now renamed Yoshihiro Uchida Hall at San Jose State University). On May 23 and May 24, the gymnasium served as a registration center that processed 2,847 people of Japanese descent before they were incarcerated. Because Jimi’s father could not read or write English, Jimi represented his family.

Many Japanese Americans were notified by this poster that all persons of Japanese ancestry must report to the Civil Control Station located at the men’s gymnasium at San Jose State College, now called Yoshihiro Uchida Hall at San Jose State University.

Many decisions had to be made in a short amount of time. “We sold our cars, tractors, and other major stuff at a big discount,” Jimi remembered. “We also looked at leasing our property. Our insurance agent said, ‘I’ll take care of it. I don’t need a Power of Attorney agreement. I’ll collect the rent and put it in the bank.” Jimi’s second cousin was not so lucky. “He gave the full Power of Attorney to a friend. He had 24 acres. When he came back, his friend said, ‘it is not your property; it’s mine.’”

The San Jose State College men's gymnasium served as a registration center that processed 2,847 people of Japanese descent before they were incarcerated

The San Jose State College men’s gymnasium served as a registration center that processed 2,847 people of Japanese descent before they were incarcerated. San Jose Mercury.

On May 30, 1942, Jimi and his large family were driven by their insurance agent friend and a grammar school principle to the departure point near the railway station at San Pedro Street. Many of the San Jose residents were sent to the thoroughbred racetrack in Arcadia, California which was converted into the Santa Anita Assembly Center. That center filled up so they sent Jimi and his family to the detention center in Pomona, California. Jimi and his family would not return to the San Jose area until 1946.


36th Annual San Jose Day of Remembrance
February 14, 2016
5:30 p.m – 7:30 p.m.
Morris Dailey Auditorium
San Jose State University

The San Jose Day of Remembrance will be held on February 14, 2016. Photo courtesy of Andy Frazer.

The San Jose Day of Remembrance will be held on February 14, 2016. Photo courtesy of Andy Frazer.

The 2016 San Jose Day of Remembrance commemorates the signing of Executive Order 9066, which led to the forced incarceration of 120,000 people of Japanese descent, two-thirds of whom were American citizens.

The theme of the 2016 event is “Wartime Hysteria.” In the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, the U.S government acknowledged that “a great injustice was done to both citizens and permanent resident aliens of Japanese ancestry” and that the acts were “motivated largely by racial prejudice, wartime hysteria, and a failure of political leadership.” The 2016 Day of Remembrance theme warns against the rise of wartime hysteria, as well as racial and religious discrimination, in today’s politically volatile, emotionally-charged environment as the nation confronts the issues of war, refugees, and terrorism.

A featured speaker will be Jimi Yamaichi, a prominent leader in the San Jose Japantown community, who will recount his memories of being processed at the gymnasium and forcibly uprooted from his home during those traumatic days of 1942.

San Jose Day of Remembrance brings multiple communities together to build trust, respect, and understanding. Photo courtesy of Andy Frazer.

San Jose Day of Remembrance brings multiple communities together to build trust, respect, and understanding. Photo courtesy of Andy Frazer.

Other speakers include Congressman Mike Honda, who was incarcerated at the Amache internment camp,  Japanese American Museum of San Jose president and SJSU alumnus, Aggie Idemoto, poet Ann Muto, and other members from the community. The annual event will also include a performance by the internationally acclaimed, San Jose Taiko, and a special candlelight procession to Yoshihiro Uchida Hall, the same location where Japanese Americans were processed before they were forcibly removed from the San Jose area.

The event will be held on February 14, 2016, from 5:30-7:30 p.m, in the Morris Dailey Auditorium. A post-event reception will take place in nearby Uchida Hall. The event is free and open to the public (campus parking garages charge a fee).

For more information, email info@sjnoc.org.
Website: www.sjnoc.org

Map to Morris Dailey Auditorium at San Jose State University.



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The Importance of Japanese American Traditions

By  Susan Nakamura

One of the goals of the Japanese American Museum of San Jose (JAMsj) is to preserve the unique history of our ancestors for future generations and to share their accomplishments and hardships with others. Japanese Americans can trace their roots to Japan. But their immigration to America, farming experience, and incarceration during World War II have combined to create Japanese American identity and culture.

As a young girl, I recall my mother pointing out my grandfather as an example of gaman: persevering through difficult times with hard work and without complaining. Through his example I should learn these virtues. Because my grandfather was born in Oahu, Hawaii, at that time a U.S. territory, he was a dual citizen of the United States and Japan. The family came stateside in 1906, the year of the San Francisco earthquake. They were forced to move every four years because the California Alien Land Law of 1913 prohibited Japanese from owning land or possessing leases for more than three years.

My grandmother was a picture bride from Kumamoto, a province on the island of Kyushu in Japan. Initially, my grandmother and her father were reluctant to have her travel to a ‘foreign’ country and unknown land. Her father later changed his mind. He told my grandmother that if she went to America and married my grandfather, they would   return to Japan in three years. As it turned out, they never returned to Japan.

My Grandmother Kajiu changed her name to Yoso, because Kajiu was also the name of my grandfather’s mother. And two Kajius in America would be too confusing. She took the name Yoso, her older sister’s name, who died earlier from a brain hemorrhage after working in the rice fields.

According to papers, my grandparents were married in 1919, but my grandmother did not make her journey to America until 1920. She sailed out of the port of Nagasaki on the SS Persia Maru, the last ship for picture brides from Japan.   The journey to California took 27 days, with a stop in Hawaii to let off other picture brides.

Like many Japanese immigrants in Santa Clara valley, they worked as farmers. They grew strawberries and vegetables in Sunnyvale, San Jose, and Campbell while they raised their growing family. In about 1940, the family of seven children moved back to Campbell, where they lived in a tar-paper house with an outdoor furo (bath) and latrine (outhouse). The location of the property was on Union Avenue, not too far from the Pruneyard shopping center, which at that time was a prune orchard.

During WWII, the family was incarcerated in the Heart Mountain Relocation Center in Wyoming. The family members traveled there by train with the blinds drawn down; they were not allowed to look out the window. Then they were transported in military trucks to the barracks. They saw their first snow ever, and to these Californians it was very cold.   Their barracks had a pot belly coal stove in the middle and army cots for beds. The mess hall, bathroom, and washroom were in another building. There were blizzards in the winter and thunderstorms in the summer.

After the war ended in 1945, my grandparents’ family members returned to Campbell. They were fortunate that their landlord, Mr. Whipple, had watched their house and belongings. But they had to start from scratch to get on their feet and earn a living. They picked prunes, prunes, and more prunes, because it was a family job, one in which everyone worked together. Later they became sharecroppers, growing strawberries with other white farmers.

Growing up in Santa Clara Valley, our extended family traditions included mochitsuki, obon, and hinamatsuri. It is amazing that these traditions could survive through all the hardships of life in America.

At JAMsj, these traditions are being carried forward so that future generations and the community can learn about their roots or the roots of their friends. Strong personal virtues and a sense of one’s roots can help develop your own identity and define who you are. And that is why we at JAMsj feel it is important to have programs and events to celebrate, commemorate, and uphold these traditions.

For more information about internment camps and to view a replica of a camp barrack, visit JAMsj at 535 North Fifth Street in San Jose. Completely run and operated by community volunteers, JAMsj is open from Thursday through Sunday, 12 noon to 4 p.m. The admission fee is $5 for adults; $3 for seniors and students; and free to members, children under 12, and active military. We would love to see you.

Please join JAMsj on March 1 for our annual hinamatsuri festivities. Children and their parents will be able to create items with paper, glue, and other crafting supplies. Hinamatsuri activities are fun, social, and open to the public. Adult helpers will be on hand to supervise these fun art activities.

(I credit my aunt, June Takata, who was the unofficial family historian, for the many details included here. I also picked prunes.)

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35th Annual San Jose Day of Remembrance: Stories from the Past, Lessons for Today.

Kent Carson and Terry Terakawa

JAMsj docent, Kent Carson, stands before a portrait of his grandfather, Terry Terakawa, in the new JAMsj exhibit “Twice Heroes.” Carson will present his grandfather’s story at the 2015 San Jose Day of Remembrance event.

The 2015 San Jose Day of Remembrance that will take place on February 15, 2015, commemorates the signing of Executive Order 9066, which occurred on February 19, 1942. This executive order led to the incarceration of more than 100,000 Japanese Americans during WW II.

The theme for the 35th San Jose Day of Remembrance event is “Stories from the Past,  Lessons for Today.” During the program, personal stories about  the Japanese American incarceration will be told by descendants of those whose lives were deeply affected by Executive Order 9066.



Former JAMsj board member, Terry Terakawa

Former JAMsj board member, Terry Terakawa

Kent Carson, a volunteer docent with the Japanese American Museum of San Jose (JAMsj), will be one of our  speakers. He will recount the story of his grandfather, Terry Terakawa, who is also an active volunteer and a former board member of JAMsj.

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A New World: The Story of Japanese Migration

By Pam Yoshida, co-owner of Nikkei Traditions

An on-line order from Japan to Nikkei Traditions (NT) several years ago caught my attention. The customer, Shigeru Kojima, was the curator and researcher of the Japanese Overseas Migration Museum (JOMM) of Yokohama, Japan — the largest museum in Japan devoted to overseas migration.

In 2013, I visited the JOMM with an armload of programs and posters from San Jose Japantown that illustrated the activities and vitality of one of the three remaining Japantowns left in the United States. This led to Kojima-san’s interest in the history of San Jose’s Japantown and will result in his research visit in March 2014. A week of interviews with Japantown merchants, walking tours through Japantown, visits to areas of significance to highlight the contributions from the San Jose-Okayama sister city relationship as well as local Japanese contributions in the abalone industry in Monterey and the produce industry in Salinas are included in the visit.

On March 8, 7:00 pm, Kojima-san will make a presentation at the Japanese American Museum of San Jose (JAMsj) to discuss the Japanese migration to North and South America. The question,”Where are you from?” will have a different meaning after the presentation by Kojimasan. He has devoted many years of study to this topic.

For hundreds of years, Japan’s “closed door” policy led to isolation. In fact, it was not until the 1880s that Japanese were even allowed to leave. Why were Japanese from areas such as Kumamoto, Yamaguchi, Fukuoka and Hiroshima among the largest groups to leave Japan? What were the conditions in Japan at that time to make leaving to an unknown future so attractive? When they left, where did they go? How did they leave Japan? How many returned? Under what conditions did they return? How was migration to South America different than to
North America? What is the current status of migration from Japan, and who is now returning to Japan?

Appreciation of and curiosity about the Issei generation and other early pioneers will grow after learning how and why the first Japanese came to America through Kojima-san’s research and exhibits at JOMM.

This presentation is co-sponsored by JAMsj and Nikkei Traditions of San Jose Japantown. Nikkei Tradition’s mission is to preserve and further Japanese American heritage and culture through their support of products that are created by third and fourth generation Japanese and Asian Americans.

While there is no fee for this presentation, donations to JAMsj will be appreciated. RSVP
required. Reserve your spot by contacting PublicPrograms@jamsj.org or calling (408) 294-3138.
For more information, please email PublicPrograms@JAMsj.org or call the JAMsj office
at (408) 294-3138.

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34th Annual San Jose Day of Remembrance: Joe Yasutake

The 2014 San Jose Day of Remembrance will be held on February 16, 2014. This year’s event features speakers: Dale Minami, the lead attorney on the legal team that overturned the conviction against Fred Korematsu, who defied the World War II Japanese American mass incarceration order which led to the controversial United States Supreme Court case, Korematsu v. United States; Congressman Mike Honda, and JAMsj former president and current board member, Joe Yasutake.

34th Annual San Jose Day of Remembrance 

Featured Speaker: Joe Yasutake

By Will Kaku

9 year old Joe Yasutake leaves the Puyallup Assembly Center for camp in Minidoka, Idaho

9-year old Joe Yasutake leaves the Puyallup Assembly Center for the camp in Minidoka, Idaho

Joe Yasutake has been one of the key contributors in shaping the vision of the Japanese American Museum of San Jose (JAMsj) and San Jose Japantown. Although Joe and his family were incarcerated in Japanese American internment camps during WWII, only relatively recently has Joe became involved in telling his story, as well as the stories of other Japanese Americans.

“I don’t ever remember talking about the camps,” Joe recalled. “It never came up. When I left camp and returned to school, I didn’t interact with the other Japanese American students who tried to recruit me into their Nisei clubs. Now looking back on it, I think subconsciously I was in denial.”

It wasn’t until Joe moved to San Jose did he revisit his past. Ken Iwagaki, a JAMsj founder, asked Joe if he could speak to a high school class about his internment experience. “I didn’t know anything about it,” Joe recalled. “I never thought about it so I had to do a quick study.  It was during that time I really got interested.”

Joe Yasutake will be a featured speaker at the 34th Annual San Jose Day of Remembrance

Joe Yasutake will be a featured speaker at the 34th Annual San Jose Day of Remembrance

Joe has a special story to tell since his father, Jack Yasutake, was a first-generation Japanese immigrant (Issei) who served as an interpreter for the U.S. government’s immigration department at the time of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Jack was taken into custody immediately after the attack. “He must have been one of the first Issei men who were picked up,” Joe stated. “Through the Freedom of Information Act, we obtained a file that is about a foot thick. It was clear that the government had been tracking him since about 1936.”


Day of Remembrance candlelighting ceremony

Day of Remembrance candlelight ceremony honors internees, war veterans and people who were displaced by EO 9066

Joe was 9 years old when the FBI came to imprison his father, and he clearly remembers that day. “It was a Sunday, and we (the children) had just come back home from church while my mother had stayed back to do something. This could not have been more than a few hours after Pearl Harbor. Four large men came to our door, and we told the FBI men that my father was at a poetry reading event. Two men left to go there, and the other two searched our house. My mother then came home and was alarmed. She started to speak Japanese, and they kept yelling at her, ‘Speak English. Don’t speak Japanese!’”

The visit by the FBI was a very frightening experience for young Joe. “It was very traumatic,” Joe remembered. “We used to have a great big console radio, and they took that away because it had a short-wave band on it. I remember that because all of a sudden I lost my communication with the Lone Ranger, Jack Armstrong, and all of those people.”

Joe’s father was taken into custody at the poetry reading event. Ironically, he was detained in a cell in the same immigration building where he used to work. His coworkers tried to help him. “In fact, my name Joseph came from one of my dad’s colleagues. They really stuck up for him from the very beginning. They would let my mother know exactly what was going on almost on a daily basis. We saw the letters that they wrote on my father’s behalf to try to get him out.”

Jack Yasutake was eventually incarcerated in various Department of Justice camps. Because of his English communication skills, he would become the spokesman for the other inmates at all of the camps. Ironically, he also wrote letters for the illiterate camp guards to their families.

Joe, his mother, and his three older siblings were also incarcerated in the Puyallup Assembly Center in western Washington and in the Minidoka War Relocation Authority camp in Idaho. Since their father was imprisoned separately in higher-security camps, communication with him was difficult. Joe recalled, “We used to get letters that were about three paragraphs long, and everything was blacked out. You couldn’t see anything but the signature of the sender. There was definitely heavy censorship going on.”

While Joe was in the Minidoka camp, his older siblings engaged in many serious discussions about their family’s future. Joe overheard some of their secretive discussions when they thought he was sleeping. Joe’s oldest brother and sister planned to leave the camp to attend school near Cincinnati, Ohio, while his other brother joined the famed 442nd Regimental Combat Team in Europe. Young Joe heard that his older brother decided to join the U.S. Army, thinking that his action would help gain their father’s release. “Unfortunately and fortunately, he was wounded in battle,” Joe remarked. “He was wounded a week or two before the famous ‘Lost Battalion’ battle, but he was in the hospital. His replacement and most of his unit were killed.”

Joe and his mother were finally able to reunite with their father when they transferred to the Crystal City Department of Justice camp in Texas. Towards the end of the war, Joe and his parents were released. They moved to Chicago, where Jack would eventually become the executive director of the Chicago Resettlers Committee, an agency that assisted former Japanese American internees to restart their lives.

San Jose Day of Remembrance brings multiple communities together to build trust, respect, and understanding. Photo courtesy of Andy Frazer.

San Jose Day of Remembrance brings multiple communities together to build trust, respect, and understanding. Photo courtesy of Andy Frazer.

Although Joe didn’t feel the need to talk about his wartime experience in earlier years, now he feels compelled to tell his story. “We really need to keep aware of this because of the state of our country,” Joe said. “There are things that are going on today that are just as relevant as seventy years ago. It is very important that people do not forget what happened.”


Joe Yasutake has been a past president of JAMsj and is currently serving as a board member. Previously, he held several leadership positions within San Jose Japantown, including the first president of the Japantown Community Congress (JCCsj) and chair of the Council of Ministries at Wesley United Methodist Church. Additionally, he has spearheaded the development of many historical landmarks seen throughout Japantown. In his professional life, , Joe earned a Ph.D in Industrial Psychology from Ohio State University and spent most of his professional career as a psychologist and manager for the U.S. Air Force. Joe finished up his career working on a joint Japan-U.S. research program on reducing human errors in electric and nuclear power plant operations.

dor2014flyer.tbThe San Jose Day of Remembrance event will be held on Sunday, February 16, 2014 from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the San Jose Buddhist Church Betsuin, located at 640 N. Fifth Street, San Jose, California 95112 . For more information about the San Jose Day of Remembrance, visit www.sjnoc.org

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Ai-Love Japan 2014: Visiting Tohoku After the Quake

Visiting Tohoku After the Quake

by Michael Sera

After the “Tohoku Insights 2013” event at JAMsj last year, I was inspired to visit the Tohoku area and see the aftermath first hand.  My journey was made richer because I was able to visit the region with professional photographer and journalist Darrell Miho, a, a co-founder of Ai Love Japan.  Because the mission of Ai-Love Japan is to document survivor stories and provide direct aid to the people most affected by the earthquake, Miho has visited the Tohoku area more than a dozen times since the disaster of March 2011.  We made the trip the weekend of May 24, 2013, and visited the cities of Matsushima, Nagatsura, Ishinomaki, and Minamisanriku.  During our travels, we met many locals who surprised me with their positive energy and enthusiasm.

Our first stop was Matsushima, Miyagi Prefecture, one of the three most scenic spots in Japan.  The area is surrounded by hundreds of tiny islands (shima) covered in pine trees (matsu), hence the name Matsushima.  This area was protected by the many tiny islands that acted as breakers for the massive tsunami.  We had lunch at a restaurant that had been previously covered in mud; but because the entire inside had been refurbished, it was like new.  It was apparent that the number of visitors to the area was definitely at a low when we were there.

Our next stop was to the north at Nagatsura, where we met Yasukichi Takeyama and Tomomi Ogawa in front of what remained of the Okawa Shogakko (elementary school).  This school and its students were overcome by the tsunami.  The teachers never thought the tsunami would reach them until it was too late.  Of the 108 students enrolled at the school, 74 students lost their lives. Caught by the tsunami, half of the students tried to escape but instead were pushed up against the mountain side.  The students who went home early that day survived, as well as  one student who didn’t listen to the teachers and climbed the mountain.  There were eleven teachers in total, but only one survived.  The principal, who was at his son’s graduation, also survived.

Takeyama and Ogawa showed us around the area.  Because most of the area was overcome by sea water, all of the farming was wiped out.  Ogawa works at an oyster farm.  Her home is still standing, but because none of the utilities (electricity, water, and sewer) are functional, her home has been condemned.  In total, 418 people lost their lives, with 38 people still unaccounted for.  Both Takeyama and Ogawa go to Okawa Shogakko every day to maintain the make-shift memorial, water the plants, and explain the situation to visitors.  The locals want the school to be demolished, since the very sight of it only brings back bad memories.  Those who want to preserve it are in general from the government and not from the area.

The next day we visited the city of Ishinomaki, site of  the highest number of causalities due to  the population density of that area.  This use to be a large fishing town and  is now being slowly rebuilt.  We met Takatoshi Hayashi and his wife, who own a kimono shop.  The shop was covered in mud but is now cleaned up and open for business.

We then traveled to the next town of Minamisanriku.  Three quarters of the city is gone, and nobody is allowed to live in the low-lying areas in case of another tsunami.  Only shops and businesses are allowed in these areas.  We stopped for lunch at Sansa Café, where Tomotaka Uchida, the 35-year-owner, makes a spicy katsukare (pork cutlet and curry over rice).  We also met Jun Suzuki, who works at Sansa Café.  He was nice enough to take Darrell and I to a beautiful coastal area called Kamiwarizaki.  The name comes from an old story in which two towns are fighting over their borders.  Then a whale comes ashore and they both try to claim it.  Later that night, the people hear a loud explosion and in the morning the whale and rock are both split in half by the gods and so the issue was resolved.

Suzuki was living with his parents in temporary government housing, but because the place was too small, he moved out and is now living in a trailer next to the café.  When we spoke to him, he indicated that the number of volunteers to the area had greatly decreased.  Suzuki now wants more visitors to come and just spend time enjoying the region, as it is important for the people of Minamisanriku to have interaction with others.

We then joined a children’s play group formed by a group from Tokyo.  The members of this group meet once a month on thefourth Saturday of the month in Minamisanriku.  On this particular Saturday, we met Nishimura from Tokyo.  He is in the music distribution business and is also a pop rock vocalist.  We also met Kiyomi Suzuki, a local resident, who was supporting the community even before the tsunami.  He now spends time coordinating school visits to the area, aligning them with volunteer activities.  In a recent interview with him, he said the hardest thing is to match skills with what is currently needed.  Rather than trying to force volunteers to do laborious tasks, he just wants them to come see the area firsthand.

On our last day, we visited a festival that was being held nearby.  There we met many locals, as well as many volunteers from the Tokyo area helping at the various concessions and booths.  We ran into the Yes Kobo team here and found out about the Minamisanriku mascot, octopus-kun. In Japanese, to place something is to “oku” and when you take a test you hope to “pasu” or pass.  If you string it all together, you would say “oku to pasu” or octopus, which translates “to place something to pass.”  So the octopus paperweight was created and has become the Minamisanriku mascot.  The Minamisanriku region is also famous for catching Octopus.

In 1990, Chile gifted an original moai statue from Easter Island to Minamisanriku in honor of the tsunami that hit the Chilean coast after the 1960 earthquake.  Unforunately, the March 11 earthquake and  tsunami destroyed the moai statue.  But on May 25, 2013, Chile donated a new statue, made of stone, to the city.

Seeing the aftermath firsthand and having a chance to meet and talk to many of the survivors was an incredible experience.  Even through the devastation, they are all very friendly and upbeat.  To me, they are an inspiration to everyone:  the ability to experience such a hardship and to bounce back is nothing short of incredible.  As I like to tell students who visit JAMsj, the Japanese are like bamboo because no matter how tough the situation, they bounce right back.

JAMsj will be hosting another Tohoku event on February 22, 2014, “Ai Love Japan–Tohoku Update 2014,” to provide an update on how the people in the area are now doing.  Ai Love co-founder Miho will provide a pictorial and video update from his many visits to Tohoku.  We will then place Skype video calls to the people we met during our visit.  This will give participants a chance to interact with and hear directly from the people who were most affected.

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