Category Archives: Obituaries

In memoriam: Noboru Taguma

I’m very saddened to learn of the passing last week of Noboru “Elmer” Taguma of the Sacramento area. Noboru was one of the early resisters from the American concentration camp at Amache, Colorado, aka the Grenada Relocation Center. He’s also the father of Nichi Bei Weekly editor Kenji Taguma, to whom we send our deepest condolences.

Noboru was a great guy, quick to laugh and always with a sly smile on his face. He provides an impish comment that caps one of the bonus features on our forthcoming DVD. I don’t want to spoil the moment, you will soon be able to see for youself.

Kenji posted more details about his father, along with the photo of him that appears near the end of our film:

TAGUMA, NOBORU, 87, passed away peacefully at his home in West Sacramento, Calif. on March 11, 2011. A native of Broderick, Calif. who was born on April 3, 1923, he retired in the early 1990s after farming tomatoes for 45 years, mostly for Campbell’s Soup, around Clarksburg, Yolo County, Calif.

During World War II, he was one of only 300 young Nisei to resist a military draft imposed behind barbed wire, based upon constitutional principle. He stated he would gladly fight for his country if his family was released from the wartime concentration camps and his citizenship rights were restored. Once shunned by so-called “community leaders,” the resisters today are heralded for the civil rights stand they took….

He is survived by his beloved wife of nearly 53 years, Sakaye (Yoshizawa) Taguma; daughter Masako Carol Yasue of Nagoya, Japan; son Makoto Mark (Alice) Taguma of Mountain View, Calif.; daughters Mariko Sharon (Benjamin Kam) Taguma of Union City, Calif. and Machiko Gail (Andy) Irie of Torrance, Calif.; and son Kenji Glenn Taguma of San Francisco. …

Final Viewing will be held on Thursday, April 7, 6 to 8 p.m., at Sacramento Memorial Lawn, 6100 Stockton Blvd. in Sacramento.

A Memorial Service will be held on Saturday, April 9, 1:30 p.m., at Sacramento Memorial Lawn, with burial to immediately follow. Reception afterwards at the Tenrikyo Sacramento Church, 6361 25th Street (at 47th Avenue) in Sacramento.

In lieu of flowers, donations in his memory can be made to the Nichi Bei Foundation, P.O. Box 15693, San Francisco, CA 94115.

At Frank Emi’s memorial service

Emi family headstoneFrank Emi was buried Friday at Evergreen Cemetery in East Los Angeles. He comes to rest just several hundred yards from the paupers’ grave where the founder of the Heart Mountain Fair Play Committee, Kiyoshi Okamoto, is interrred. Together they made history, and it fitting that their lives and legacies remain intertwined to the end.

Frank goes to his final rest dressed in his white judo gi, a Buddhist ojuzu prayer bracelet wrapped around his left hand and his judo medals set next to him. More than 250 mourners attended his service at Nichiren Buddhist Temple for an hour of sutra chanting (click on the images to see enlarged images).

Frank Chin reads at Emi funeral serviceFor his eulogy, writer Frank Chin announced “Superman is dead!” He then drew chuckles reading an excerpt from his book, Born in the USA. You can follow along, it’s the “Brothers and Sisters” exchange between Frank, brother Art, and sister Kaoru on pages 163 to 166.

Bob Iwasaki from the Hollywood Judo Dojo knew Frank as “Emi-sensei.” Heart Mountain resister Yosh Kuromiya had this:

Frank Seishi Emi was a fighter. The word “retreat” was not in Frank’s vocabulary. He and he alone, would decide when it was time to move on. Sadly, that time has arrived. Read more…

Momo Yashima reading at Frank Emi gravesiteAt the interment service at Evergreen, actress and soon-to-be filmmaker Momo Yashima gave a dramatic reading at the gravesite.

 The Los Angeles Times published a thoughtful and prominent obituary for Frank Emi on page B-1 of their local section, conferring on him the honor he deserves.

Kiyoshi Okamoto marker with photoBefore we left for the reception, a few of us adjourned to the adjacent “Potter’s Field” section of Evergreen Cemetery, where we lit incense at the recently installed marker for FPC founder Kiyoshi Okamoto. Relative Marie Masumoto located Okamoto’s remains last year in a mass grave for paupers from the year 1975, and a ceremony was held to dedicate the new marker. On this day Okamoto’s great-nephew Earnest Masumoto read some new remarks on the occasion of Frank Emi’s passing. And from our discovery of the resisters, we’ve come full circle to the interment of both leaders in the same city, in the same cemetery.

Frank Emi issuing a challenge to JACL

Frank Emi’s funeral will be held on Friday, Dec. 10 at 10:00 am, at the Nichiren Temple, 2801 Fourth Street, in Boyle Heights. Thanks to Martha Nakagawa for the tip. Here’s another video clip from the forthcoming DVD, Frank Emi issuing a challenge to the JACL even as the group apologizes to him and the others for persecuting them during the war.

In memoriam: Frank Emi

These are the words I have long dreaded having to write: Frank Emi died today. We’ve lost a giant. That’s him in the poster above, standing squarely with his arms crossed, defying the government and our own Japanese American leadership, by organizing a movement inside an American concentration camp to refuse to report for draft induction in order to protest mass incarceration based solely on race. It was an honor to know him and to be able to document his story on film. Here’s an outtake from our film of Frank descibing how he and the other Fair Play Committee leaders earned the respect of other inmates and officials inside Leavenworth federal penitentiary in WW2.

Frank Emi was a man 40 years ahead of his time. He was an ordinary young man, but a man of conviction who rose to the occasion when faced with the injustice of the camps. With a wife and two kids he was not even eligible to be drafted out of camp, but he risked his freedom and the welfare of his family to help lead the largest organized resistance inside the camps. It was a classic example of civil disobedience in the American twentieth century, and he and others paid the prce: two years in federal prison.

By his words and his deeds, Frank Emi leaves a legacy for those who seek evidence that Japanese America did not endure the loss of all their rights, and three years in camp, without some kind of protest or resistance.

Martha Nakagawa warned me that Frank had recently been taken to the ICU. She was gracious enough to bring her portable DVD player to the hospital and play Frank this clip and other outtakes from the film. I’m glad he was able to see the work and know that a DVD is soon coming out. Martha said Frank was moved to a hospice last Saturday. It is still sinking in that Frank is gone. Rest in peace Frank, and thanks for marking your place in Japanese American history.

Newspaper obits for William Hohri

William Hohri at Manzanar / Los Angeles Times photo Thirty years ago, William Hohri picked up our Days of Remembrance movement here in Seattle and took us national. William’s memorial service was today in Little Tokyo. Nice of Elaine Woo at the L.A. Times to call and ask for a quote. Martha Nakagawa offers exhaustive coverage of William’s life and times in the Rafu Shimpo, and she still says she feels bad that she wasn’t able to include William’s earlier life in the Shonien and Manzanar’s Children’s Village.

In memoriam: William Hohri

book cover: RESISTANCE by William Hohri et. al. William Hohri passed away Friday after a long illness. William was a seminal figure in changing the way we understand American history and Japanese American history. Like the Heart Mountain resisters he admired and chronicled, William stepped up to organize Japanese America and go to court to challenge the injustice of selective incarceration based solely on race. He was a leader, a lead plaintiff, an author and an artist, and he will be deeply missed.

William got the government’s attention with his lawsuit seeking monetary damages for illegal wartime incarceration. What seemed at first to be a quixotic action helped focus Congress on passing a real redress bill before “Hohri et.al. vs. U.S “ could come to trial in federal court.

After the first successful Days of Remembrance at the Puyallup Fairgrounds and the Portland Expo Center, and the national Open Letter to Hayakawa, we in the Seattle Evacuation Redress Committee were contacted by this guy out of Chicago who wanted to keep the momentum for genuine redress going. At a time when the Nikkei in Congress and national JACL were calling for a commission to study the issue, William said it was time to organize for something better. In that, he shared the same instincts as Harry Ueno, Kiyoshi Okamoto, and Frank Emi.

Day of Remembrance logoThe one footnote I can claim in William’s legend is an edit. William, Shosuke Sasaki, Henry Miyatake and others of us were sitting around the table in our redress “war room,” the conference room in the law offices of Ron Mamiya and Rod Kawakami at 7th and Jackson – the same block where John Okada imagined Ichiro Yamada’s grocery store to be in his novel No No Boy – trying to forge the name for this new national organization that would work around JACL and lobby Congress directly for a redress bill that provided for direct compensation to incarcerees. We spitballed a number of ideas, taking awhile to decide that “Japanese American” should be included in the name, and came around to “National Coalition for Japanese American Redress,” but I thought that sounded too … sixties, and after all here we had progressed to the tail end of the 70’s. I suggested we call it a “National Council” and Shosuke quickly agreed that sounded loftier, and we were on our way. William adopted Frank Fujii’s ichi-ni-san barbed wire logo from the Days of Remembrance for the masthead of his own monthly NCJAR newsletter, keeping the spirit alive.

William Hohri 1981, c. Frank AbeWe were in Washington, DC for the first round of hearings of the Congressional commission in 1981, when as our informal media coordinator William casually told me he had turned down an invitation from ABC News to appear on something called “Nightline,” because it was late and he was tired and he thought it was a local broadcast. I was horrified and chewed him out for the lost opportunity to raise money for what was by then his class-action lawsuit; ABC used JACL district governor Tom Kometani instead. At the hearings where even I wore a suit and tie, William insisted on testifying to Congress in his Frank Fujii ichi-ni-san T-shirt, with the yellow redress button in his lapel.

Like myself, once redress was won and American history had been cured, William turned his attention from holding the government accountable to holding our wartime community leaders accountable and exposing the story of the largest organized resistance to wartime incarceration. Besides his well-known REPAIRING AMERICA: AN ACCOUNT OF THE MOVEMENT FOR JAPANESE AMERICAN REDRESS, William self-published three other books. He compiled and introduced RESISTANCE, a book with first-person accounts from the Heart Mountain Fair Play Committee. He published a bound edition of the notorious LIM REPORT, which chronicled the wartime collaboration of JACL leaders in their own words. He self-published a novel, MANZANAR RITES, that made fiction of the insurgency of Kitchen Workers Union leader Harry Ueno, the riot sparked by unrest at camp conditions and the JACL’s call for drafting the Nisei out of camp, and which climaxes with the Army’s fatal shooting of two young men. Ever the historian, William expresses relief in an end note that he did not have to footnote his sources.

My condolences to Yuriko and their family. The family is planning a celebration of William’s life at the Fukui Mortuary in Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo. Frank Emi and Yosh Kuromiya are being asked to speak. More details as they become available.

In memoriam: Kay Kawasaki

Kay Kawasaki, 1944Grace Kubota Ybarra let us know of the memorial service this Saturday in San Jose for Kiyoto “Kay” Kawasaki, one of the original 63 defendants in the largest mass trial in Wyoming history.

Kay was among those who chose to stay private after the war about their resistance and did not talk much about it with his family. He sat in the front row at the trial and he’s one of those who catches your eye as you scan the photo of the resisters in court. Here is the death notice in the San Jose Mercury-News.

Also catching up on the Japanese American press coverage of the memorial service for Mits Koshiyama, which I was deeply sorry not to be able to attend. Talked to folks on the phone during the reception and sounded like a great reunion of family and friends. Yosh Kuromiya, and Momo Yashima flew up from LA, Frank Chin drove up, and our composer, Alan Koshiyama, Mits’ nephew, came from Sacramento. It is still unbelievable to me that the best, most talented, most qualified person to score our film was the nephew of one of our subjects. Listen again to how his themes frame the story and move it along. Obits appeared in the Hokubei Mainichi and Nichi Bei Times. Thanks to J.K. Yamamoto for quoting this site in his article.

My eulogy for Mits Koshiyama

I regret I cannot be there for Mits Koshiyama’s memorial service. Here is the family memorial notice in the San Jose Mercury-News.

I want to thank my brother Steve for delivering this message today on my behalf at Wesley United Methodist Church:

IN MEMORY OF MITS: Were it not for the work I am doing today to honor Mits and the other Heart Mountain resisters, I would be with you to remember Mits and all the things he stood for.

Mits was the heart and soul of the resistance to our unjust incarceration. He was just a boy when he was called upon to take a stand as a man. He was willing to go to court and risk years in prison to fight for his rights, but he was still able to see the humor when their attorney suggested the 63 boys all cut their hair short so they would all look alike and not be identified in court … or when the prosecutor rocked back and forth in his chair and flipped over backwards. It’s no coincidence that in the iconic photo of the resisters in court, Mits is front and center. He said, “Being young guys, we all sat in the front row, to see what all the action was, y’know?”

Today I am listening to Mits’ words as I edit his stories into extra features for the film to which he contributed, and as I hear his voice, it’s like he’s here in the room with me, remembering the visits from grocer Kozie Sakai or complaining about the JACL putting good publicity over good law. He was unlike any Nisei I have ever known, and he is going to be missed. But we were lucky to have known him, and we will all keep his spirit alive for generations to come, so that all Americans can know and understand his particular brand of principle and courage.