JAPANESE AMERICANS, WORLD WAR II INTERNMENT AND OVERSEAS JAPANESE

JAPANESE AMERICANS AND OVERSEAS JAPANESE

A 2007 Web-based survey by the Nomura Research Institute revealed a growing reluctance to live overseas among younger Japanese. While 33 percent of men and 23.9 percent of women in their 60s and older said they would have some aversion to either themselves or their spouses going to work overseas, the share of people with that sentiment reached 42.9 percent and 38.9 percent respectively for people in their 20s. In a 1996 Gallup survey 20 percent of the Japanese asked said they would like to leave Japan. About 25 percent of these said they wanted to go to the United States, Britain or Australia. [Source: Kumiko Makihara, New York Times, July 7, 2010]

Foreigners descended from Japanese as far back as three generations can live and work in Japan. The idea is they can assimilate better than other foreigners and not cause crimes.

There are large numbers of ethnic Japanese in Brazil and Peru and some in Mexico. A few are in Russia. A Japanese man who was stranded on Russia's Sakhalin Island after World War II returned home to Japan for the first time in 67 years in July 2006.

Japanese businessmen are sometimes the targets of kidnaps attempt in Latin America.

There are lots of Japanese and Japanese-Americans in Hawaii, in West Coast cities like Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles, in the Detroit area and the south, where many Japanese companies have set up factories. There are over 26,000 Japanese living in New York City. Los Angeles has a Little Tokyo.

Intersec, a Japanese company based in Santa Monica, California, charges Japanese parents $3,000 a year to make sure their children, who are studying in America, get good grades, go to class, and don't hang around with the wrong crowd and party too much. Students living in Los Angles are given a photocopied map that shows where the bad neighborhoods are, told to keep a cellular phone with them in case of an emergency, and are briefed on drunk driving laws, AIDS prevention and the difference between a felony and misdemeanor. [Source: Wall Street Journal]

See University Students Under Education

Good Websites and Sources: Association of Nikkei and Japanese Abroad jadesas.or.jp ; Japanese American National Museum janm.org ; Wikipedia article on Japanese Americans Wikipedia ; Japan-America Societies us-japan.org ; Japan Society IN New York japansociety.org ; The Japan Society of the U.K. japansociety.org ; French-Language Association Japon & Culture japon-culture.com ; Wikipedia article on Japanese American Internment Wikipedia ; Densho, Japanese American Legacy Project densho.org ; Japanese American Relocation Digital Archives calisphere.universityofcalifornia.edu ; Children of the Camps, a Documentary About Interned Children pbs.org/childofcamp

Links in this Website: FOREIGNERS IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; RACISM IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; TOURISM AND JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan

History of Japanese in the United States

Japanese began migrating to the United States in 1864, two years after Chinese were barred. Initially they worked mostly in the Hawaiian sugar industry, then they worked on railway gangs and logging crews and in canneries in the West

The number of Japanese expanded from 2,000 in 1890 to more than 24,000 in 1910. In the early 1900s the state of California prevented Japanese from attending schools for whites.

As was true with the Chinese before them Japanese were subject to racist campaigns. In San Francisco, for example a drive by the Asian Exclusion League, forced Japanese children to attend Chinese schools. Believers of the “Yellow Peril” conspiracy they argued that Japanese were spies and secret shock troops that aimed to claim the west coast of the United States for Asia.

Japanese gardeners were once a fixture of Californian suburbs. They were famous for meticulously tending gardens and lawns and picking them clean of every weed, twig, dead leaf and pebble. After World War II gardening was often the only work Japanese -Americans could get. At that time Japanese-Americans had a reputation for making things grow better-known than anyone else. In some places the Japanese were successful strawberry farmers.

Japanese-American Internees in World War II

Just two months after Pearl Harbor, Franklin Roosevelt made what many consider his worst decision. On February 19, 1942, he signed Executive order 9066, authorizing the forcible removal all Japanese-Americans from the Pacific coast for internment for the duration of the war. The decision was judged a “military necessity” based on the assumption that the Japanese-American community was filled with “spies and saboteurs.”

When Japanese Americans were detained during World War II there were few public or congressional complaints at the time about their human rights. Executive Order 9066 called for the creation of military areas “from which any or all persons may be excluded, and with respect to which, the right of any person to enter, remain in, or leave shall be subject to whatever restrictions the Secretary of War or appropriate Military Commander may impose on his discretion.” Other laws banned people of Japanese descent from becoming citizens and owning agricultural land.

Nearly 120,000 Japanese and Japanese-Americans, the majority born in America, were told to leave their homes. They were rounded up, sometimes at bayonet point, and packed on trains and taken between 1942 to 1945 to 10 camps in California, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Idaho, Utah and Wyoming. In some cases Japanese had one day to sell their possessions before they were boarded onto buses and taken to camps. In many cases they were forced to sell farms, houses, cars and other valuable property for next to nothing. While the camps were prepared for them some of then lived in a fairground parking lot and a livestock pavilion.

The camps were hastily built on government land in the middle of nowhere. Resembled prisons, they had barbed-wire fences, guard towers, searchlights, armed military guards. Baseball bats, cameras and even popguns were confiscated. The Japanese language was banned. Mess halls served mutton and potatoes which many, used to rice and vegetables, found indigestible. One internee told the U.S. News and World Report, “There were MPs all over with guns. What could you do but obey them?”

Once the decision was made Roosevelt seemed to have few regrets. At a press conference in 1944, after he had won re-election he told reporters, “A good deal of progress has been made in scattering [Japanese-Americans] throughout the country.”

People of Japanese descent were also interned in Latin American countries. Some 1,800 Japanese-American businessmen and community leaders and were abducted from 13 Latin American countries and placed in a detention center in Texas. At the end of the war only 100 were allowed to return to their homes. The remainder were given the choice of becoming American citizens or going to Japan. Americans of German and Italian descent were not interned nor were Japanese-Americans living in Hawaii.

Interned Japanese-Americans in World War II

Two thirds of the internees were Nisei (second generation U.S. citizens of Japanese descent). The remainder were people or descendants of people who were refused American citizenship between 1922 and 1952. None of them were charged with any crime. First generation Japanese experienced their share of discrimination. They were not allowed to become citizens or own land.

There was a camp near Yellowstone National Park and two in Arkansas. More than 13,000 Japanese-Americans were interned at the Minidoka Relocation Center in the desolate wastelands around Hunt, Idaho. They were taken there in trains with armed guards and shuddered windows and not told where they were going. They lived behind barbed wire fences in wooden barracks that were cold in the winter in the harsh winter and sweltering in the summer heat.

More than 10,000 were placed in the Manzanar camp in the Mojave Desert near Death Valley in California. The Japanese-Americans there were trucked in and forced to live in military-style barracks and use latrines that had no dividers for privacy. Some worked as cooks, teachers and doctors but were paid only $16 a month, As bad as thing were some Japanese-Americans said they felt safer in the camps than they did on the streets of American cities, where they were called “Jap,” harassed and occasionally attacked.

The Japanese endured the best they could. Internees built schools and auditoriums, put out newspapers and formed marching bands. At Manzanar there was even a tofu facory. At the same time the internees were humiliated and taken advantage of, forced to renounce any ties to Japan, forced to take a loyalty test and then forced to work in arms factories and fight in suicidal combat missions in Europe.

Why the Japanese-Americans Were Interred in World War II

Why were the Japanese-Americans were interred? Worries about a Japanese invasion were at their peak when the decision to intern them was made. Most those interned lived on the West Coast of the United States, where their were fears of a Japanese attack and a widespread belief that people of Japanese decent could not be trusted.

Japanese in the United States were referred to as “the enemy race” by one top general. All the governments in the western states were pushing for an “evacuation.” One popular newspaper columnist wrote in January 1942, “I’m for the immediate removal of every Japanese on the West Coast to a point deep in the interior. I don’t mean a nice place of the interior either. Herd “em up, pack “em off and give “em the inside room of the badlands...let “em be pinched, hurt, hungry...let us have no patience with the enemy or with anyone who carries his blood. Personally, I hate the Japanese.” Another columnist wrote, “Of making 1,000,000 innocent Japanese uncomfortable would prevent one scheming Japanese from costing the life of an American boy, then let 1,000,000 Japanese suffer.”

Neal Katyal wrote in the Washington Post: After the Pearl Harbor bombing on Dec. 7, 1941, Army Lt. Gen. John DeWitt deemed the Pacific Coast vulnerable to attack, leading the government to prohibit people of Japanese ancestry (including U.S. citizens) from being anywhere near the coastline. At the time, the attack on Pearl Harbor was fresh in the public consciousness, and the West Coast in particular was in the grip of anti-Japanese sentiment. The Los Angeles Times heartily endorsed internment of the “Japs,” then-California Attorney General Earl Warren came out in support of the plan.

One the reasons for internment was to prevent espionage or sabotage even though there was little evidence that any Japanese-Americans took part in such activities. No American of Japanese descent was ever convicted of sabotage during the war. American military leaders worried that Japan might "succeed in combining most of the Asiatic people against the whites." The FBI kept its eyes out for Japanese conspiracy to turn the black population against the U.S. government.

Japanese-Americans fought and died in Europe. About 30,000 Japanese-American served in the all-Nisei 442nd Regimental Combat Team and the 100th Battalion . The 442nd Regimental Combat was a unit of 13,000 Japanese-Americans volunteers, most of them recruited form internment camps, who fought bravely in Europe, suffering 9,500 casualties. Ironically, the United States probably could have anticipated Pearl Harbor had more intelligence workers learned Japanese and they hired more Japanese-American workers to interpret the large volume of coded messages.

The government argued that internment was justified by military necessity, Katyal wrote. The nation was at war, and it needed to keep Japanese Americans away from the coasts, to prevent espionage and for the safety of the country. In making its successful case, however, the government chose not to share with the court a key report that flatly contradicted this argument: a January 1942 report, written by naval intelligence, concluded that only a small percentage of Japanese Americans posed a potential threat and that the most dangerous were already in custody or already known. The report concluded that “the entire “Japanese Problem” has been magnified out of its true proportion, largely because of the physical characteristics of the people” and that “it should be handled on the basis of the individual, regardless of citizenship, and not on a racial basis.”

Compensation for Interred Japanese-Americans

The first internees were released in January 1945, several months before the war ended. They were given $25 and bus ticket to anywhere in the United States. Most had nowhere to go because their homes and property was seized and stayed in the camps until they were kicked out after the war.

About $28 million was paid to Japanese-Americans as part of the 1948 American Evacuations Claims Act. The event was largely forgotten. It wasn’t until 1983 that a congressional commission recognized the detention as “unjust and motivated by racism.”

In 1988 Congress approved legislation that apologized to the internees and distributed $1.6 billion in reparations, blaming the campaign on “race prejudice, war hysteria and a failure of political leadership.” Between 1988 and 1998, the U.S. Department of Justice's Office of Redress Administration (ORA) awarded payments of $20,000 or more to 81,800 Japanese-Americans. Each payment was accompanied by an official letter of apology from the United States president, something that was much more important to many of the victims than the money. In 2006, $38 million was authorized to preserve the internment camps.

“Because of their own experiences as internees in the U.S. in World War II, Japanese-American have been among the most vocal and passionate supporters of Muslims that have been discriminated against after the September 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center . Rep. Michael M. Honda from California has been outspoken in his support for Muslim and his condemnation of the profiling of Arabs and Muslim to catch potential terrorists. [Ibid]

Gordon Hirabayashi’s Fight Against Internment

Neal Katyal wrote in the Washington Post: Seventy years ago, a young University of Washington senior refused to report to an Army internment camp. Gordon Hirabayashi, like more than 100,000 other Americans of Japanese descent, had been ordered to be interned based on nothing more than the country where his parents were born. Instead of reporting to the Army, he turned himself in to the FBI, and in so doing, changed history. [Source: Neal Katyal, Washington Post, January 6, 2012]

Hirabayashi was born in Seattle and grew up 20 miles south of the city, in a suburb where his father ran a fruit stand. But instead of fleeing to Canada or moving inland, he openly defied the order. He wanted to challenge the system from within. After a trial in federal court, Hirabayashi was convicted of violating the evacuation order. When he was told that the government had no funds to send him to the work camp in Arizona where he was to serve his sentence, he offered to get himself there. So he hitchhiked. When he arrived, the U.S. Marshals office could not find his paperwork and told Hirabayashi he was free to go. He once again refused, and served his sentence.

When he refused evacuation in 1942, no end to World War II was in sight; he faced the prospect of indefinite separation from his family members, who were being sent to the internment camp. Hirabayashi’s roommate, who originally planned to defy the evacuation order with him, eventually yielded to family entreaties to go along with it. Hirabayashi did not.

When his case arrived at the high court’s doors, the justices refused to help. His conviction was left intact in 1943 by a unanimous Supreme Court. Part of the blame may rest with the justices, but part must rest with the United States government, and with the way its lawyer, the solicitor general, conducted the case. Even the ACLU refused to support Hirabayashi’s case until it reached the Supreme Court.

Justice Department lawyer, Edward Ennis, told Solicitor General Charles Fahy: “I think we should consider very carefully whether we do not have a duty to advise the Court of the existence of the Ringle memorandum and of the fact that this represents the view of the Office of Naval Intelligence. It occurs to me that any other course of conduct might approximate the suppression of evidence.” Fahy refused. Instead, he told the court that the detention of all Japanese Americans was necessary. The court agreed---and in the end, it is not hard to see why. The nine justices were not experts in military necessity, and when the solicitor general says something is necessary for the war effort, it is very difficult to disagree.

In the 1980s, when a federal court of appeals learned that the solicitor general had suppressed evidence in his case, it overturned his conviction---more than 40 years after the Supreme Court upheld it.

Interned Japanese-American Gets Justice After a Long Fight

Fred Korematsu, a young Japanese-American man at the time World War II broke out, refused let himself to be hauled away and was arrested. He took his case to the U.S. Supreme Court and lost. Later he was vindicated and given a U.S. a Medal of Freedom. Six years after his death 2005 a California holiday---Fred T. Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties--- was declared in his honor. [Source: Maria L. La Ganga, Los Angeles Times, January 31, 2011]

Maria L. La Ganga wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “Korematsu, then 22, was with his girlfriend in the hills above San Francisco Bay when the music on his car radio stopped and his world changed. The Japanese had just bombed Pearl Harbor. He had already faced discrimination because of his ancestry, a union that kicked him out, restaurants that wouldn't serve him, barbers who wouldn't cut his hair. He'd tried to enlist twice but was turned away by a military that changed his draft status to "4C"---enemy alien---even though he had been born and raised in Oakland. [Ibid]

Four months after Pearl Harbor, Korematsu's family was sent to Tanforan Racetrack, where they awaited transfer to an internment camp. Korematsu refused to go. Instead, he changed his name to Clyde Sarah, got minor plastic surgery on his eyes so he wouldn't look so Japanese, said he was of Spanish and Hawaiian descent. He and his girlfriend, who was white, would move to Nevada, he figured, outside of the coastal military zone where Japanese residents were banned. They would be safe. [Ibid]

He was, after all, an American citizen, and "I didn't think the government would go as far as to include American citizens to be interned without a hearing," he recounted in a 2000 documentary. But on May 30, 1942, Korematsu was arrested on a street corner in San Leandro and sent to jail in San Francisco. He was found guilty of violating military orders and sent to Tanforan to await internment, and he ended up at a camp in Utah. "The horse stalls that we stayed in were made for horses, not human beings," he would tell a judge nearly 40 years later, describing the "shame" and "embarrassment" of "all Japanese American citizens who were escorted to concentration camps.” [Ibid]

Fred Korematsu’s Long Road to Justice

Maria L. La Ganga wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “With the help of the Northern California ACLU, Korematsu appealed his case to the U.S. Supreme Court---and lost, 6 to 3, in 1944. The government argued that internment was not based on racism and that the Army had proof that Japanese residents were signaling enemy ships and prone to disloyalty. But in an angry dissent, Justice Robert Jackson said the government's evidence was lacking and declared that "the Court for all time has validated the principle of racial discrimination." [Source: Maria L. La Ganga, Los Angeles Times, January 31, 2011]

Korematsu became a structural draftsman and “never told his children about the internment camps and the court cases. With a conviction on his record---misdemeanor or no---he had trouble getting work. He never shook the shame. Peter Irons, historian and lawyer, decided in 1981 to write a book about three cases that stemmed from Japanese internment and went to the Supreme Court. Korematsu's was the most famous. Irons had planned a "standard academic book," he said recently, which would explain how the Supreme Court "made such terrible decisions in this case, especially when so many of the justices were so liberal."After he found the Department of Justice records on the cases, the first document he looked at, he said, was "the smoking gun.” [Ibid]

To prosecute Korematsu, Irons said, the Department of Justice had relied upon a report by Gen. John DeWitt, who had carried out the evacuation of Japanese residents in big swaths of the West. It declared that they "had committed acts of espionage and sabotage." But Edward Ennis, a Justice Department lawyer, was suspicious and contacted the FBI, the Federal Communications Commission and military intelligence. They told him that there was no evidence of such acts. Ennis laid it all out in a memo, which was ignored. With that memo and another document discovered by researcher Aiko Herzig-Yoshinaga, Irons contacted San Francisco lawyer Dale Minami, co-founder of the Asian Law Caucus. They put together a team of young, largely sansei attorneys and offered to represent Korematsu for free. [Ibid]

At one point, Department of Justice lawyers offered Korematsu a pardon if he would drop his suit against the government. "It meant that you admit the guilt of your actions, but we'll remove any penalties," Minami said. The Korematsus said, "'We're not going to take a pardon from the government. We should be the ones pardoning the government.' " On Nov. 10, 1983, in front of federal court Judge Marilyn Hall Patel, Minami argued that Korematsu's case before the Supreme Court had been based on fraud and racism. [Ibid]

In the case Korematsu told the court: "According to the Supreme Court decision regarding my case, being an American citizen was not enough. They say you have to look like one; otherwise they say you can't tell the difference between a loyal and a disloyal American...I thought that this decision was wrong, and I still feel that way. As long as my record stands in federal court, any American citizen can be held in prison or concentration camps without a trial or a hearing. That is, if they look like the enemy of our country.” [Ibid]

The 1944 Supreme Court decision, though discredited, still stands, but Patel overturned Korematsu's conviction that very day. Korematsu spent his final years as a civil rights activist, his main goal to teach and remind. Not long after his death, San Diego County Superior Court Judge Lillian Y. Lim began worrying that his legacy "was disappearing in our national conscience.” So she created a committee, enlisted her law students and pushed for a holiday. Co-sponsored by Assemblymen Warren Furutani (D-Gardena) and Marty Block (D-San Diego), it passed the state Legislature unanimously. [Ibid]

Japanese Perceptions of the United States

Many Japanese view the United States as a dangerous, crime-ridden place with lax gun-control laws where people spend much of their time shooting each other, taking drugs, eating too much, getting AIDS and performing unnecessary nuclear tests. There are urban legend stories about Japanese women living in the United States who disappeared for a couple days and then reappeared, saying they were kidnapped, drugged and raped by black men.

Describing an episode of Japanese television show called Double Kitchen, about a Japanese family that takes a trip to Hawaii, T.R Reid wrote in the Washington Post: "In the course of the five day vacation, this typical Japanese family was assaulted by a black bellboy who didn't like his tip, robbed at gunpoint in their hotel room, robbed at knife point in the street and arrested by overzealous police on false charges of cocaine possession."

Many Japanese take a dim view of the aggressive foreign policy of the United States. Once a Japanese high school student asked his American counterpart, "What I'd respectfully like to ask is why you Americans go around the world talking about human rights in other countries, but in your own country you are murdering so many humans?"

Many Japanese see Americans as lazy. Former Japanese foreign minister Kabin Muto said in 1992 that he had been told nobody should buy an American car built on Friday or Monday because U.S. factory workers are too sloppy on the job just before and just after the weekend.

Freeze Murder of Japanese Kid in America

Gun laws in the United States became front page news in Japan after the fatal shooting of a 16-year-old Japanese boy who was looking for Halloween party in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. On October 17, 1992 the boy and a friend approached a house, which had Halloween decorations on the door, thinking it was the location of party. The two boys rang the door bell and the woman who answered the door thought the boys were acting strangely so she told her husband who got out his .44-caliber magnum revolver. The man went to the carport, where the boys were headed, and shouted "freeze," a term which the Japanese boy was not familiar with, and shot the boy when he walked towards the man.

The man who shot the boy was first acquitted of manslaughter charges by a jury, which outraged Japanese, but later he was ordered to pay $650,000 in damages and funeral cost to the Japanese boy's family in a civil case without a jury. The judge who decided that case said there was "no justification whatsoever" for killing the boy.

Another incident that received a lot of publicity in Japan was the slaying of two Japanese college students during a car jacking in Los Angeles. Japanese fear of American crime was fueled further by the sensationalist expose called "Yellow cab," about a young women who fell into debauchery in the United States.

Japanese Americans

There around 800,000 Japanese Americans in the United States. Around 200,000 of them are in Southern California. Only about 5,000 Japanese emigrate to the United States every year.

Many Japanese Americans communities are shrinking. This is because of declining birth rate and assimilation into neighborhoods outside Japanese American communities. Most Japanese Americans can not speak any Japanese. They marry non-Japanese Americans about 65 percent of the time.

Famous Japanese-Americans include Sen. Daniel K. Inouye from Hawaii, a member of the Watergate Committee who was considered as a vice president candidate under Hubert Humphrey in 1968. He served the United States in World War II and lost his right arm in Italy. U.S. President Lyndon Johnson reportedly urged U.S. presidential candidate Hubert Humphrey to pick Inouye as his running mate.

Hawaii-born Japanese-American Gen. Eric Shinseki was appointed as head of the Veterans Affairs Department by U.S. President Barack Obama. Gen. Shinseki first drew attention before the Iraq war when he said it was foolhardy for the United States to invade Iraq without having hundreds of thousands of soldiers ready to maintain order after the initial fighting was over. He was sharply criticized by Cheney and Rumsfeld at the time he said it but turned out to be right.

Japanese-American Actors

The Japanese-American actor Mako (1933-2006) was nominated for an Academy Award for his role opposite Steve McQueen in The Sand Pebbles. He also appeared in Seven Years in Tibet and Memoirs of a Geisha and did type-caste roles on shows like McHale’s Navy and 77 Sunset Strip. He also distinguished himself on the stage, winning a Tony for his leading role in Pacific Overtures. Mako was born in Kobe and moved to New York with his family when he young.

Miyoshi Umeki (1930-2008) won an Academy Award for best supporting actress for her performance as the doomed wife on an American serviceman in the film Sayonara “the film version of a best-selling James Michener novel?in 1957. She also starred in the Broadway musical Flower Drum. She was the first Asian performer to win an Oscar.

Oddjob was the Japanese villain in the 1964 James Bond film Goldfinger who used his steel-rimmed derby with deadly efficient weapon. The role was played Harold Sakata.

Pat Morita is a Japanese-American best known for his roll as Mr. Miyagi in Karate Kid, and the diner owner in the television series Happy Days. He was born Noriyuki Morita to migrant farm workers and was sent to an internment camp in Arizona during World War II. He played Chinese and Koreans as well as stereotype Japanese roles on shows like McHale’s Navy. For a while in the 60s, he worked as a comedian, calling himself “the Hip Nip.” Morita was nominated for an Academy Award for his role in Karate Kid. He is remembered for his habit of trying to catch flies with chopsticks and his “wax on, wax off” training methods and his grasshopper karate stances.

George Takei is a Japanese-American actor who played Mr. Sulu on Star Trek. Known as “Mr. Kato--- in Japan, he lived at a Japanese immigration camp from age 8 and made news in 2005 when he came out and revealed he was gay. In May 2008, at the age of 71, after California overturned its ban on gay marriage, he announced his plans to wed his long-time partner 54-year-old Brad Altman.

Japanese-American Politicians

In November 2012, Jiji Press reported: “Democrat Mazie Hirono won the U.S. Senate race in Hawaii to become the first Japanese-American female member of the upper chamber of Congress. Hirono, 65, won the Senate seat after serving her third term as a House of Representatives member. Born in 1947 in Fukushima Prefecture, she traveled to the United States in her childhood with her mother after living a poor life. She has served as a member of the Hawaii State House of Representatives and lieutenant governor of Hawaii. [Ibid]

In the November 2012 U.S. congressional elections, fresh Democratic candidate Mark Takano, also a Japanese-American, won a House seat from California. Three incumbent Japanese-American Representatives of the Democratic Party retained their seats, including Mike Honda, who led the House adoption in 2007 of a resolution against Japan over so-called comfort women for Japanese soldiers during World War II. The number of Japanese-American members of Congress, including Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), totaled six in December 2012.

Daniel Inouye, Hawaii’s Quiet Voice of Conscience in Senate

The best-known Japanese-American politician was Senator Daniel K. Inouye of Hawaii. Robert D. McFadden wrote in the New York Times, “Inouye, who went to Washington at the birth of his state in 1959, dominated public life in the Hawaiian islands for more than 50 years and became a quiet voice of national conscience during the Watergate scandal and the Iran-contra affair. A hero of World War II who lost his right arm in combat in Europe, Mr. Inouye, a Democrat, served two terms in the House of Representatives early in his career and was first elected to the Senate in 1962. He was the first Japanese-American elected to both the House and the Senate. [Source: Robert D. McFadden, New York Times, December 17, 2012]

After the death of his West Virginia colleague Robert C. Byrd in June 2010, Mr. Inouye became the Senate’s senior member, with a tenure nearing 48 years, and president pro tempore, making him third in the line of presidential succession, after the vice president and speaker of the House. Mr. Byrd’s death also made him the highest-ranking public official of Asian descent in United States history. Months later, he was elected by another overwhelming margin to his ninth consecutive six-year term. [Ibid]

The courtly, soft-spoken Senator Inouye (pronounced in-NO-ay) often deferred publicly to his outspoken and ambitious colleagues, seemingly content behind the scenes to champion Hawaii’s interests. He funneled billions of dollars to strengthen the state’s economy, promote jobs and protect natural resources. But as crises arose from time to time, he was called upon to take center stage. In 1973, as a member of the Senate Watergate committee, which investigated illegal activities in President Richard M. Nixon’s 1972 re-election campaign, he won wide admiration for patient but persistent questioning of the former attorney general John N. Mitchell and the White House aides H. R. Haldeman, John D. Ehrlichman and John Dean. [Ibid]

When the nationally televised hearings ended in 1974, a Gallup poll found that Mr. Inouye had an 84 percent favorable rating, even higher than the committee’s folksy chairman, Senator Sam Ervin, Democrat of North Carolina. Months later, Nixon, facing certain impeachment in the House and conviction in the Senate, resigned. Many of his closest aides went to prison for their roles in the conspiracy. [Ibid] In 1976, after revelations of abuse of power by the C.I.A., the F.B.I. and other agencies, Mr. Byrd, the majority leader, appointed Mr. Inouye chairman of the Senate Committee on Intelligence, which was established to come up with reforms and monitor clandestine operations. Mr. Byrd hoped Mr. Inouye could win the confidence of a skeptical public and a demoralized intelligence community. Mr. Inouye largely succeeded. His panel wrote a new intelligence charter, which protected American citizens’ rights, established rules for counterintelligence operations inside the United States, barred the use of journalists and clergymen as covert agents, and required the president to certify that covert actions were necessary for national security. President Jimmy Carter praised his “professionalism and competence.” [Ibid]

Senator Inouye’s reputation for integrity made him an ideal choice as chairman of the Senate committee that investigated the Iran-contra affair in 1987. The committee confirmed that high-ranking American officials, acting in violation of President Ronald Reagan’s policies and the will of Congress, had secretly sold weapons to Iran and used the profits to support rebels fighting the left-wing Sandinista government in Nicaragua. In nationally televised hearings, a joint Senate-House panel, to avoid seeming prosecutorial, gave wide latitude to witnesses, including Lt. Col. Oliver North and Rear Adm. John M. Poindexter. The beribboned former national security officials used that latitude to portray themselves as patriots and their illegal actions as necessary for national survival in a dangerous world. [Ibid]

“That is an excuse for autocracy, not policy,” an indignant Mr. Inouye said. “Vigilance abroad does not require us to abandon our ideals or the rule of law at home. On the contrary, without our principles and without our ideals, we have little that is special or worthy to defend.” He said Colonel North and Admiral Poindexter had deceived Congress and the American people, and were advocating “a shadow government” with its own military forces, “free from all checks and balances and free from the law itself.” [Ibid]

Life of Daniel Inouye

Robert D. McFadden wrote in the New York Times, “Daniel Ken Inouye was born in Honolulu on Sept. 7, 1924, the oldest of four children of Hyotaro and Kame Imanaga Inouye, who had immigrated from Japan. He graduated from McKinley High School, enrolled in premedical studies at the University of Hawaii and was a medical volunteer at Pearl Harbor when the Japanese attacked in 1941. [Source: Robert D. McFadden, New York Times, December 17, 2012]

In 1943, when the United States Army lifted its ban on Japanese-Americans, Mr. Inouye joined the new 442nd Regimental Combat Team, the first all-nisei volunteer unit. It became the most decorated unit in American military history. In 1944, fighting in Italy and France, he won a battlefield commission to second lieutenant. He was shot in the chest, but the bullet was stopped by two silver dollars in his pocket. [Ibid] On April 21, 1945, weeks before the end of the war in Europe, he led an assault near San Terenzo, Italy. His platoon was pinned down by three machine guns. Although shot in the stomach, he ran forward and destroyed one emplacement with a hand grenade and another with his submachine gun. He was crawling toward the third when enemy fire nearly severed his right arm, leaving a grenade, in his words, “clenched in a fist that suddenly didn’t belong to me anymore.” He pried it loose, threw it with his left hand and destroyed the bunker. Stumbling forward, he silenced resistance with gun bursts before being hit in the leg and collapsing unconscious. [Ibid]

His mutilated right arm was amputated in a field hospital. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, which was upgraded to the Medal of Honor, America’s highest military award, by President Bill Clinton in 2000. (Members of the 442nd were believed to have been denied proper recognition because of their race.) He spent two years in Army hospitals, including one in Michigan where he met Bob Dole and Philip Hart, wounded veterans who would also become senators. Mr. Inouye was discharged as a captain in 1947. [Ibid]

He married Margaret Shinobu Awamura in 1949, and they had a son, Daniel Ken Jr. She died in 2006. In 2008 he married Irene Hirano, who is president of the U.S.-Japan Council, a nonprofit group in Washington. She and his son survive, as do a stepdaughter, Jennifer Hirano, and a granddaughter. [Ibid]

Mr. Inouye graduated from the University of Hawaii in 1950 and received his law degree from George Washington University in 1952. He plunged into politics in Honolulu and was elected to the Territorial House of Representatives in 1954 and to the Territorial Senate in 1958. When Hawaii became a state in 1959, he won the islands’ first Congressional seat and became a protégé of Speaker Sam Rayburn and a celebrity in Washington. In 1967 he published a book about his early life, “Journey to Washington,” written with Lawrence Elliott. [Ibid]

In the Senate in 1963 Mr. Inouye forged a bond with the Democratic majority leader, Mike Mansfield. He supported the social and civil rights programs of Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson. He also supported the Vietnam War, although he later turned against American involvement in Vietnam. He delivered the keynote address to the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in 1968, and was mentioned as a possible future vice-presidential candidate. [Ibid]

Senator Inouye’s voting record was moderate to liberal, favoring organized labor, consumer protections, abortion rights, education and environmental protections, but also military appropriations. In 1984, he opposed reparations for Japanese-Americans interned in the West during World War II because of suspect loyalties. “It would be almost impossible to place a price tag on reparations,” he said. “It would be insulting even to try to do so.”

Obama: Inouye Was "My Earliest Political Inspiration"

Inouye died in December 2012 in Bethesda, Md. He was 88. A statement by his Washington office said he had died of respiratory complications at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. His last word was “aloha,” the statement said. [Source: Robert D. McFadden, New York Times, December 17, 2012]

U.S. President Barrack Obama flew to Hawaii for the funeral. CBC News reported: “At a funeral service for Inouye, President Obama honored his friend and former colleague by recounting a boyhood memory of watching Inouye on television during the Watergate hearings - saying Inouye, who "was not a central cast when it came to what you'd think a Senator might look like at the time," showed him, a boy with a white mother and a black father, "what might be possible in my own life." Mr. Obama described watching the hearings at night during a family vacation across the country and cited the experience of witnessing Inouye's leadership and the democratic process at work as one reason he was influenced to embark on a political career. [Source: CBS News, December 21, 2012]

"He was a proud Democrat, but most importantly, he was a proud American," Mr. Obama said, "And were it not for those two insights planted in my head, at the age of 11, in between Disneyland and a trip to Yellowstone, I might never have considered a career in public service. I might not be standing here today. I think it's fair to say that Danny Inouye was perhaps my earliest political inspiration." Vice President Joe Biden, Former President Bill Clinton, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Secretary of Veterans Affairs General Eric Shinseki were among the others to honor Inouye. [Ibid]

Biden paid tribute by saying he wished he could emulate Inouye, and that he wished he had as much integrity and moral courage as the senator did. "With the exception of my father, and there are great men and women in this chamber right now, with the exception of my father, there are few people I've ever looked at and said I wish I could be more like that man, he's a better man than I am," Biden said. Biden said that was a sentiment that, 35 years ago, he also expressed to his sons. He told them that, they too, should want to be as great of a man as Inouye. [Ibid]

Former President Clinton spoke of Inouye as "courageous without being sanctimonious," and someone who could be "friends across the aisle." He wanted every American to be grateful for the service of the senator. "They blew his arm off in World War II, but they never laid a finger on his heart or his mind," Mr. Clinton said, "That he gave to us, for 50 years, and that, every single citizen should celebrate.” [Ibid]

Japan-Born Businessman Tries to Run for Czech Presidency

In November 2012, Takashi Kida wrote in the Asahi Shimbun: “A 40-year-old man born in Tokyo to a Japanese father and a Czech mother is to run as a candidate in a presidential election in the Czech Republic in January. Businessman Tomio Okamura filed papers Nov. 6 for what will be the nation's first direct presidential election. Until now, the Czech parliament has chosen the president. [Source: Takashi Kida, Asahi Shimbun, November 8, 2012]

Okamura is a popular television personality in Prague and his candidacy is drawing much media attention there. He moved to the then-socialist Czechoslovakia when he was in elementary school. In his professional life, he has served as a representative of a tourism industry organization and made frequent TV appearances, winning broad popularity with his outspoken style. In an election in October 2012, Okamura won a seat in the senate. He immediately announced his intention to run for president. [Ibid]

A few weeks later the Czech Interior Ministry said that it has disqualified Okamura as a candidate in the Czech Republic’s nation's presidential election in January due to his failure to collect the required number of valid signatures. Jiji Press reported: “After winning a seat in the Czech Senate in October, Okamura, 40, announced his bid to run in the election pledging to sweep away political corruption. He later submitted to the ministry signatures of some 62,000 voters supporting his candidacy, far exceeding the 50,000-signature requirement. But the ministry said only 36,000 signatures have proved valid and, thus, he cannot be qualified to run in the election. [Ibid]

Okamura is widely known for his success in the tourism industry and the Japanese food business in the Czech Republic. In the latest public opinion survey on prospective presidential candidates, Okamura enjoyed an approval rating of 10 percent, the third-highest rating after 28.1 percent for former Czech Prime Minister Jan Fischer and 19.4 percent for another former Prime Minister Milos Zelman. [Ibid]

Gaijin may denote non-Japanese and in practice usually refers to white Westerners. The word often has a negative connotation.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Daily Yomiuri, Times of London, Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO), National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

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© 2009 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated January 2013

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