Category Archives: Fair Play Committee

“Top 5 Unsung Heroes In Japanese American History”

Blogger and filmmaker Koji Steven Sakai at the 8Asians.com site has singled out one of the surviving members of the Heart Mountain Fair Play Committee for his list of unsung heroes. Yosh would be the first to say he’s not a hero, but he does fit under Koji’s criteria of “doing the right thing” at the right time:

Yosh Kuromiya
Much of thYosh Kuromiyae narrative of Japanese American World War II experience has focused on the bravery of the young Japanese American soldiers in the 442nd. Kuromiya’s story strays far from that narrative. At the age of 19, he made the principled decision against fighting for a country that had incarcerated him and his family based only on their ethnic background. He faced not only prison time (he was sentenced to three years) but he was also ostracized both from within the community and from society at large.

A new look for Resisters.com

You’ll notice a new look and feel for Resisters.com. Call it Resisters.com 2.0. You can now post your own comments on these pages, as well as subscribe to email news updates about the resisters in real time.

Use the subscription form in the right sidebar, or the RSS link, and share posts on your Facebook page. The feed fulfills a long-ago request by Kenji Taguma that we have a means of quickly sharing news about the resisters. It’s not quite the magazine of Asian American literary and cultural criticism that Frank Chin insists we must have, but it’s the best I can manage for now.

I promise the posts will be newsworthy and will continue to uncover discoveries about the largest resistance to the WW2 incarceration of Japanese Americans. After 70 years interest in the camps has never been stronger. The difference is that over the past decade, with our film and now the new DVD, the paradigm for that history has widened to include the camp resistance and the JACL collaboration as part of our basic common knowledge alongside the 442, the MIS, and others.

Please leave a comment below to let us know how you like the new site, which uses the sturdier WordPress platform rather than the hand-coded site that we held together with Dreamweaver.

If there is page from the old Resisters.com site you miss and would like to see restored, leave a comment and we will repost it. We’ll soon be adding videos and links to new research, along with catching up with old news updates, reviews, and anything else you’d like to see or hear.

Top 10 Iconic Japanese American Photos

Wyoming courtroom Koji Steven Sakai on the 8Asians.com blog places the courtroom photo of the Heart Mountain Fair Play Committee number five on his list of the “Top 10 Iconic Japanese American Photos” of all time, ahead of the 442 and behind another local icon, the photo of Fumiko Hayashida holding her daughter Natalie while being evicted from their home on Bainbridge Island.

Kenji Taguma’s remembrance for Mits Koshiyama

Kenji Taguma of the Nichi Bei Times captures what was special about Mits Koshiyama:

It is with deep sadness that I report the death of Heart Mountain Nisei draft resister Mits Koshiyama, who passed away on Friday, Feb. 6, at 4 p.m. in his home in Mountain View. He was 84.

His service will be held on Saturday, Feb. 14, 1 p.m. at the Wesley United Methodist Church, 566 North 5th Street in San Jose’s Japantown.

To me, Mits had always represented the emotional core of the resistance, particularly as it pertained to their coming out in the 1990s. He generously spoke at numerous panels, especially in Northern California, telling countless numbers of community members and students about the story of the principled resistance of young Nisei men during World War II.

He was brutally honest in his words, which he didn’t mince, and was unafraid to tell the truth. His voice at times trembled with anger at the treatment of resisters, by both veterans and the Japanese American Citizens League.

He was unapologetic in his telling of the truth, and in some ways, I think his conveyance of the resisters’ story of standing for constitutional principle helped to further validate — and perhaps gave courage to — other resisters to come out to tell their own stories. He was the public face of Nisei resisters in Northern California.

I first met Mits as the resisters story — and my whirlwind involvement in it — started to unfold in about 1992. I had helped put together the Nisei resisters portion of an exhibit on the Japanese American experience, an assignment given to me by my Asian American studies professor, Wayne Maeda — the curator of the landmark exhibit at the Sacramento History Museum. After the exhibit opened, and this new world of knowledge of my own father’s wartime resistance descended upon me, I put together a reunion of the Tucsonians, a name some resisters sentenced to the federal labor camp near Tucson gave themselves.

Granada (Amache) resister Joe Norikane, now deceased, had met Mits at a Tule Lake Pilgrimage, where Mits had spoke of his resistance. We contacted Mits about joining the reunion, and he and three other Heart Mountain resisters from the Bay Area — I believe they were George Nozawa, Tom Kawahara and Dave Kawamoto — joined us at Futami Restaurant in Sacramento. It was the beginning of a lasting camaraderie between the Heart Mountain and the Tucsonian resisters, who were mostly from the Granada camp. We went over to the exhibit after the fellowship, and the story ran in the Sacramento Bee.

Over the years, I’ve kind of served as his agent of sorts. Sometimes I was asked to “find a resister” to do this or that, or a resister for the mainstream press to interview, and Mits was naturally the first one to come to mind. I’ve also helped to place him on many panels, many of which that I had organized myself — a San Francisco Japantown screening of Frank Abe’s “Conscience and the Constitution,” a panel in conjunction with Eric Muller’s book “Free to Die for Their Country: The Story of the Japanese American Draft Resisters in World War II,” and a panel in conjunction with Professor Yukio Morita’s Japanese-language book on Nisei draft resistance. That latter panel, held on Nov. 3, 2007, was actually the last time I had seen Mits and his wife. He was slowing down, but still able to generously and unflinchingly share his story with others.

The first panel I had Mits sit on was actually the first of some two dozen programs I would organize as a student activist at California State University, Sacramento: a Nisei draft resisters forum featuring Mits, Heart Mountain Fair Play Committee leader Frank Emi, writer/historian Frank Chin, and my professor Wayne Maeda. Dr. Clifford Uyeda, a leading human rights activist and supporter of the resisters, attended and spoke from the audience, as did a sympathetic veteran from the Military Intelligence Service. That panel would have a lasting impact, it seems, as also in attendance was Andy Noguchi, a Sansei activist with the Florin JACL. A year later, Andy and I would work together as the Florin JACL honored the local resisters at their Time of Remembrance program, and in 2000 he would go on to spearhead a National JACL effort to finally recognize the principled stand of the resisters, seeking to atone for years of ostracism by JACL leaders. As he explained in the opening of the National JACL’s resisters reconciliation ceremony in 2002, it was that 1993 panel — where Mits shared his story of standing for constitutional rights — that first exposed Andy to the resisters’ story.

I remember one time when Mits was on a panel with former internees in Japantown, and one panelist recalled the pain and shame he endured during the war. In walking with Mits afterward, he was noticeably irritated. He said something to the extent of: “What was that guy crying about? We weren’t all victims!” Brute honesty.

Is was Mits’ honesty that was one of his greatest strengths, I believe. His ability to tell it like it is while clearly articulating his position — not in academic speak, but in laymen’s terms — made his story of resistance accessible. While a landscape gardener at San Jose’s Willow Glen High School in 1989, he was asked by students to write an article for the school newspaper, which was titled “Is the Constitution Just a Piece of Paper?” In it, he wrote: “I really want to blame my internment on racist ‘White America,’ but Japanese Americans were just as guilty. We just didn’t have the courage to fight racism and to fight for our constitutional rights.

“But not all Japanese Americans acted in this manner,” he continued. “Some acted like Americans and fought for their rights. When the government tried to draft the internees into a segregated infantry unit, some had the courage to say that they wouldn’t serve without the return of their constitutional rights. They explained that they couldn’t fight for a free world when their families were interned in a concentration camp.

He was steadfastly critical of the past JACL leaders. “Our leaders branded these resisters as troublemakers and said that they were trying to ruin the ‘proper image’ of the Japanese Americans,” he wrote.

“The reason that I am writing this article is to awaken all minorities to the importance of the Constitution,” he warned. “You must fight for your rights when they are violated. Never, NEVER surrender your rights as citizens of the United States — like we did.”

Mits Koshiyama may have been a simple gardener, but he was also a true epitome of how ordinary people can do extraordinary things under times of duress. In the tradition of Rosa Parks, Mits Koshiyama stood steadfastly against injustice. And while at the time it may have been a lonely undertaking, rest assured, Mits, that your act of heroism will never be lost upon us. You have left us with a lesson that we will always cherish, a lesson that will help us to be continually vigilant, and a legacy that we can be proud of.

— Kenji Taguma

In memoriam: George Nozawa

George Nozawa (right)Sad news from Mountain View, California tonight. George Nozawa was a quiet, thoughtful man who provided a number of the newspaper clippings and primary documents that are seen in our film, including his own draft card! The photo from his collection shows George on the right with his good friend, FPC leader Frank Emi:

From Kenji Taguma of the Nichi Bei Times.

I am saddened to report that George Nozawa, said to be the unofficial historian of the Heart Mountain Fair Play Committee, passed away on Monday, April 21.

Details are still somewhat sketchy, but he’s been in failing health recently. I’ve learned of his death through the Koshiyamas in San Jose, who were informed by George’s daughter (I believe that he also has one son).

George has played a central role in the camaraderie between the Amache (Granada) / Tucsonian resisters and Heart Mountain resisters over the years, during a time when the story of the principled stand of the resisters was rapidly coming to light in the 1990s. I remember inviting him to the two Tucsonian (resisters) reunions in Sacramento that I organized, and his compilation of articles of Amache resisters — and their arrests and trials — are still a fond piece of my collection. I am indebted to him for helping to reclaim a piece of history.

Over the years, he has meticulously clipped resister-related articles and has generously shared them with others, myself included.

Last year, my brother Mark and I visited George and his wife, taking along Professor Yukio Morita of Kanazawa University — whose comprehensive book on Nisei resisters [pdf, 3MB] helped to document for eternity the stories of George, my father and other resisters.

Since George lived about a couple of blocks from my brother in Mountain View, my dad would often visit George when at my brother’s, and share some cherished memories.

I will remember George as someone who was straight and narrow. I will truly miss George, another personal hero who may be gone, yet will not be forgotten.

We’re unsure about any services, but it might be good to check in the San Jose Mercury News in the next couple of days. I hear that George was a member of the Mountain View Buddhist Temple.

— Kenji

Kenji also sent an article in the San Bernardino County Sun about the latest performance of “A Community Divided” on April 23 by Frank Emi, Yosh Kuromiya, Paul Tsuneishi and Momo Yashima, with a great 9-picture photo gallery of the event.

“World, War, Watada” and the Heart Mountain resisters

Amerasia Journal has published a special “wartime edition” that refocuses attention on the Heart Mountain Fair Play Committee, through the lens of the ongoing case involving Lt. Ehren Watada. The issue is titled “World, War, Watada,” and features letters from Heart Mountain resister Mits Koshiyama and supporter Paul Tsuneishi, both of whom are featured in our film. According to the UCLA news release:

Koshiyama, a Heart Mountain World War II draft resister, ends his personal letter to Lt. Ehren Watada, as follows: “Do what your conscience tells you what to do. We got punished by a prejudiced court but in the end, we prevailed.”

Writer Frank Chin contributes “A Call to Resist,” his take on Watada and the World II resisters, which also appears on his blog. Chin asks:

Lt. Ehren Watada, a Hawaiian Japanese Chinese American, exercises the rights the resisters defended, and brings the questions the Nisei heard tossed about in the camp war years, back to the present day. Will Japanese Americans react any differently than they did on their 9/11, Dec. 7, 1941?

There’s also an interview with filmmaker Curtis Choy and the making of “Watada, Resister.” Thanks to editor Russell C. Leong for referencing our film in his introductory editorial, “Is Resistance Your Real Name?,” and bringing some of you to this site.

Book: “American Nikkei Nisei Draft Resistance,” by Prof. Yukio Morita

book coverI paid a visit in August to Mits Koshiyama in San Jose and he was just in receipt of a new book published in Japan about the Nisei draft resisters, America Nikkei Nisei no Chohei Kihi (American Nikkei Nisei Draft Resistance). The author is Professor Yukio Morita.

Mit’s wife translated the cover blurb for me as reading something like: “They were called into the army, but they refused to go!” and on the obi strip: “Voices of the Nikkei who lost their property taken by the government!”

Prof. Morita includes the Guntaro Kubota translation into Japanese of a Fair Play Committee bulletin that is briefly glimpsed in Conscience, along with photos of Mits’ family, Frank Emi, George Nozawa, and a Hawaiian draft resister who wanted to renounce his citizenship.

Kenji Taguma, English Edition Editor of the Nichi Bei Times, wrote a story, “New Book Brings Little-Known Story of Nisei Resistance to Japanese Readers,” and is moderating a book talk with Prof. Morita  (who will be speaking in Japanese) and Nisei draft resisters Ken Yoshida and Mits Koshiyama. Kenji’s personal note tells the story:

This 600+ page book, published by Sairyusha Publishing Co. in Tokyo, is the first original Japanese language book solely dedicated to Nisei draft resistance. The back cover has an image of Frank Emi, and there are historical and contemporary photos interspersed throughout.

Professor Morita started interviewing Nisei resisters about five years ago, and the book includes results of interviews with folks like Frank Emi, Mits Koshiyama, George Nozawa, Jim Akutsu, Poston resisters, and the “Tucsconians” — resisters who were sentenced to the same federal labor camp as Gordon Hirabayashi. This latter group included my father Noboru, Joe Norikane and Susumu Yenokida of Granada (Amache), and Ken Yoshida (Topaz or Central Utah). There’s also a chapter on James Omura. I believe that this is the first book to include Granada and other resisters since Ellen Levine’s A Fence Away From Freedom.

As the son of a Nisei resister, I’m forever grateful to those of you who have helped to bring out this story. Frank Abe’s Conscience and the Constitution, Chizu Omori’s Rabbit in the Moon, and Eric Muller’s Free to Die For Their Country brought the story out to a wide audience. Hopefully, Prof. Morita’s book will bring the story to a new audience, in Japan and to Japanese-speakers here in America.

As you can imagine, his actual paying audience must be rather limited, and the small press probably has no marketing capabilities here. So, if you have any access to any library with a Japanese-language collection, I’m sure it would be appreciated if they are encouraged to purchase a copy. The book costs 7,200 yen, which is about $61 today. I actually have about 15 copies here that the publisher sent on Prof. Morita’s behalf, which Prof. Morita plans to sell at the event. If anyone can make the book event on Nov. 3, I can look into trying to set up some type of meal gathering.

More on “Watada, Resister”

Here’s the link to Lisa Chung’s July 7 column in the San Jose Mercury-News, “War resister’s predecessors stand with him” in which she quotes from Curtis Choy’s film of the phone call from Frank Emi and Yosh Kuromiya to Lt. Ehren Watada, the first commissioned officer to refuse deployment to Iraq:

Besides the usual list of anti-war celebrities and politicians in Watada’s corner, what impresses me most are the members of the Heart Mountain draft resisters. They know all about taking an unpopular stand on principle. These are people like Mits Koshiyama in San Jose, Frank Emi and Yoshi Kuromiya in Los Angeles, and others. They know the personal cost can still resonate and sting, even after 60 years …

Writer Frank Chin sent me a DVD recording of a phone meeting between Watada and Emi, Kuromiya and Paul Tsuneishi, a World War II veteran. Koshiyama, 83, was going to take part until health issues intervened. The elders offered their analyses and support. Kuromiya told the young officer that he might very well go to prison, but it could be the beginning of something new. He has the character for leadership and a role to play.

See Curtis Choy’s “Watada, Resister.”

Ehren Watada and the Heart Mountain resisters

Lt. Ehren Watada, U.S. Military photoIn 1944 U.S. District Court Judge T. Blake Kennedy in Wyoming ruled 63 young Heart Mountain boys could not raise the unconstitutionality of mass incarceration as a defense in their trial for draft resistance. The jury could only rule on whether or not they failed to report for induction, and convicted the lot.

In 2007, although the cases are different, a military judge at Fort Lewis south of Seattle ruled this week that Army 1st Lt. Ehren Watada can not raise the legality of the war in Iraq as a defense for his refusal to deploy there. The Seattle Times article has links to court documents in Watada’s court-martial trial. See also the Seattle P-I.

By the way, did you see the howler on the season premiere of “24” on Jan. 14? Under siege from terrorist attacks, in a terse exchange on the legal precedents for locking up American Muslims in concentration camps, “President Wayne Palmer” bemoaned how “Roosevelt imprisoned over 200,000 Japanese Americans in what most historians consider to be a shameful mistake.” Where were the fact-checkers? S.I. Hayakawa would have cried “semantic inflation.” What was troubling, though, was the next line of dialogue: “Well I would ask those historians how many of those Japanese Americans were thus prevented from perpetrating acts of sabotage in this country?” The answer, of course, is exactly none.