Mine Okubo: Citizen 13660

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Sansei (second-generation) Japanese American Artist, Mine Okubo, is most famous for her drawings depicting life in America’s internment camps during WWII.

Born in Riverside, California on June 12, 1912, Mine was the daughter of Japanese-born parents who arrived in the United States in 1904 to represent Japan at the St. Louis Exposition of Arts and Crafts. Her father was a scholar and her mother was a calligrapher who had graduated from the Tokyo Art Institute. A busy housewife, Mine’s mother did not have time to practice her art, but she earnestly encouraged her daughter to pursue her interest in art.

Mine attended the University of California, Berkley on a scholarship and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Art in 1935. After obtaining her undergraduate degree, she continued her education at Berkeley earning a Master of Arts degree in Art and Anthropology the following year. She was a hard worker and held a series of odd jobs while simultaneously pursuing her education; including that of a seamstress, maid, farm laborer, and tutor.

In 1938, Mine received the Bertha Taussig Traveling Art Fellowship which enabled her to travel, study, and paint in Europe for a two-year period. She traveled to Paris to study under the tutelage of artist Fernand Léger, but when war broke out in Europe in September of 1939, just six months shy of the conclusion of her fellowship, Mine was forced to return to the United States.

After returning to the United States, she worked with the Works Progress Administration’s Federal Art Project where she produced a number of murals. She also curated two exhibitions at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, which showcased the artwork that she produced while studying in Europe.

When President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 in 1942, in retaliation for the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Mine and her family were forced to vacate their home and were separated for relocation. Mine and her brother were sent to the Tanforan Relocation Center, a former racetrack, in San Bruno, California. They shared a 20’ x 9’ horse stall that smelled of manure, and they were forced to sleep on sacks made of hay. They were later transferred to the Topaz Internment Camp in Utah.

The living conditions at Topaz were arduous, but Mine continued to pursue her art. Along with Berkeley art professor, Chiura Obata, who was also detained, Mine helped establish the Tanforan Art School and later the Topaz Art School. At both schools, she taught art to children, adults, and senior citizens. She also worked as an illustrator for the Topaz Times, the mimeographed newspaper published daily at the Topaz Internment Camp from September 17, 1942 until March 30, 1945. A literary magazine called Trek was also produced at Topaz and Mine was responsible for providing the magazine’s cover design.

In 1944, Fortune magazine approached Mine and asked her to travel to New York City to work as one of their illustrators. She accepted their offer and was allowed to leave the internment camp to take up residence in New York City. At the time, certain Japanese and Japanese American internees were permitted to leave the camps early to pursue work, as long as they did not return to the West Coast. Mine’s first assignment for Fortune was to provide the illustration for an article they were writing on Japan.


While Mine was interned, she produced over 2,000 drawings in charcoal, watercolor, pen, and ink, depicting her everyday experiences. In 1946, after the war had ended, she published 206 of these drawings in a book entitled, Citizen 13660. The title of the book refers to the number that was assigned to her by the U.S. government during her internment. In 1984, Citizen 13660 received the American Book Award. She continued to work as a commercial and free-lance artist until 1951, after which she became a full-time painter. She also worked as an art lecturer at the University of California, Berkley from 1951-1952.

In 1981, when the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians was created, Mine testified before the committee. She never married and continued painting until her death in 2001. When asked why she chose to remain single, she responded that she did not want to spend her life washing a man’s socks. (1)

(1) Tatsuya Sudo, Shuka, No. 12 (1999).


James Saburo Shigeta – Renown Sansei Japanese American Actor, Singer, and Musician

Once regarded as one of the “Most Inspiring Asian-Americans Of All Time,” Hawaiian-born James Saburo Shigeta was a trailblazer in the U.S. film industry and the biggest East Asian star the country had ever known. Born in Honolulu in 1929, Shigeta was one of six children born to a second-generation Japanese American plumber. After graduating from high school in 1947, he entered and won first prize on Ted Mack’s television talent show, The Original Amateur Hour. From there, he embarked on a singing career performing in supper clubs under the non-ethnic sounding stage name of Guy Brion with his partner, Charles K.L. Davis, who performed under the name, Charles Durand.

With the start of the Korean War, Shigeta enlisted with the United States Marines. As he was being shipped to Korea, a ceasefire was declared and Shigeta was sent to Japan. After his discharge from the Marines, he obtained a job in the theatrical division of Toho Studios. Founded in August of 1932 as the Tokyo-Takarazuka Theater Company, Toho Studios competed with the influx of Hollywood films and boosted the Japanese film industry by focusing on new directors such as Akira Kurosawa, Kon Ichikawa, Keisuke Kinoshita, and Kaneto Shindo.

Toho Studios made Shigeta a musical star under his real name and he went on to enjoy a great deal of success in nearly every aspect of the entertainment industry including: radio, television, stage, supper clubs, and films. His handsome looks and charismatic demeanor earned him the nickname, “The Frank Sinatra of Japan.”

In 1958, Shigeta toured Australia as the male lead in Nichigeki Theatre’s Cherry Blossom Show. When he returned to the United States in 1959, he appeared on The Dinah Shore Show and later became the star of the Shirley MacLaine-Steve Parker production of Holiday in Japan. His first screen role soon followed where he portrayed Detective Joe Kojaku in The Crimson Kimono, a detective story which featured an interracial love triangle between Kojaku, his partner Charlie Bancroft, and Christine Downes. Shigeta was cast in several movie roles after that including that of a young Chinese man, Cheng Lu, in Paramount’s 1960 release, Walk Like A Dragon.

In 1960, Shigeta shared the Golden Globe Award for Most Promising Male Newcomer with actors George Hamilton, Troy Donahue, and Barry Coe.

In 1961, he was cast in the role of Hidenari Terasaki opposite Carroll Baker in the biographical film, Bridge to the Sun. A rarity for its time, the movie told the true story of a racially mixed marriage set against the background of the war between the United States and Japan.

In 2006, Shigeta was among several actors, producers, and directors interviewed in the documentary, The Slanted Screen. The film directed by Jeff Adachi, deals with the representation of Asian and Asian American men in Hollywood. Although Shigeta’s breakthrough in film gradually helped eliminate the practice of using Caucasian actors to portray Japanese characters with embarrassingly crude results, he was often called upon to play Japanese, Chinese, Filipino, and Polynesian characters, with the general assumption that audiences could not tell the difference.

Despite having enjoyed unprecedented success as a Japanese American actor, James Shigeta remained humble about his fame. He was quoted as saying, “I have never personally referred to myself as a star. When asked I always say, ‘I’m an actor, a working actor.’ I think the term ‘star’ is a vastly overused expression. That term has been used in reference to me but it is not of my own choice.”

Shigeta died in his sleep on July 28, 2014 at the age of 85 in Beverly Hills. He was interred in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu.

Steven Toll Okazaki: Sansei Japanese American Filmmaker

“When I graduated from film school in 1976, I had everything I needed–except the money and connections–to be a documentary filmmaker: I had a rent-controlled apartment and a paperback copy of Lenny Lipton’s Independent Film Making.”

– Steven Okazaki, Making Lenny Lipton Proud: Learning to Be a Truly Independent Filmmaker

Back in 1976, Okazaki regarded Lipton’s Independent Film Making as his bible. He opened it daily and prayed for a job. Today, he is an Academy Award winning filmmaker who has received four Academy Award nominations, a Primetime Emmy, the George Foster Peabody Award, the International Film Festival of the Art of Cinematography Camerimage “Outstanding Achievement Award,” and the City of Hiroshima’s “Honorary Citizen Award.” His films explore a wide range of topics by tracing the lives of ordinary citizens ensnarled in dramatic historical events and/or distressing social issues.

Born in Venice, California in 1952, Okazaki is a Sansei (third generation) Japanese American. He graduated from San Francisco State University’s film program in 1976 and went to work for Churchill Films where he produced narrative and documentary short films. Six years later, he produced a documentary short film for WGBH Boston entitled, “Survivors,” about the hibakusha (atomic bomb survivors) of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In 1985, he received his first Academy Award nomination for “Unfinished Business,” a film about three Nisei (second generation) Japanese Americans, Gordon Hirabayashi, Fred Korematsu, and Minoru Yasui, who challenged the legality of the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. In 1987, with a fellowship from the American Film Institute, he wrote and directed the independent film, “Living on Tokyo Time,“ which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival competition and was theatrically released by Skouras Pictures. In 1991, he won the Academy Award for Best Documentary (Short Subject) for “Days of Waiting,” a film about Estelle Ishigo, a Caucasian artist who accompanied her Japanese American husband to a World War II internment camp. In 2006, he received his third Oscar nomination for “The Mushroom Club,” a personal documentary about his journey to Japan to interview atomic bomb survivors on the 60th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima. In 2008, Okazaki received the Exceptional Merit in Nonfiction Filmmaking Primetime Emmy Award for “White Light/Black Rain: The Destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki,” and his fourth Oscar nomination in 2009, for the documentary short film “The Conscience of Nhem En.”  The 2009 movie tells the story of three survivors of the Tuol Sleng Prison (also known as S-21) where 17,000 Cambodians were imprisoned and killed in the late 1970s. The film follows a 16 year-old soldier responsible for taking the ID photos of 6,000 men, women, and children before they were tortured and murdered by the Khmer Rouge.

Although Okazaki is primarily known for his documentaries about the Japanese and Japanese-American experiences, he has taken a slight departure over the years with the release of  “The Conscience of Nhem En”  and “Heroin: Cape Cod, USA,” a film about drug addiction, rehab, and living life with HIV. As a filmmaker, he continues to tackle topics that other filmmakers are reluctant to attempt.

Okazaki’s work includes:

Mifune: The Last Samurai Screenwriter 2016
Heroin: Cape Cod, USA Producer Director 2015
Giap’s Last Day at the Ironing Board Factory Producer 2015
Approximately Nels Cline Screenwriter Director Producer 2013
The Conscience of Nhem En Director Producer 2008
Toyo’s Camera Actor 2008
White Light/Black Rain: The Destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki Director Screenwriter Producer 2007
Rehab Director Producer 2005
Black Tar Heroin: The Dark End of the Street Director Producer Screenwriter 2000
Days of Waiting Producer Screenwriter Director 1991
Living on Tokyo Time Screenwriter Director 1987
Unfinished Business Director Screenwriter 1986

Steven Okazaki lives in Berkeley, California where his film-production company, Farallon Films, is located. He is married to writer, Peggy Orenstein. The couple have a sixteen year old daughter, Daisy Tomoko.  Orenstein humorously documented her problems with fertility and conceiving a child in a book entitled, “Waiting For Daisy: A Tale of Two Continents, Three Religions, Five Infertility Doctors, an Oscar, an Atomic Bomb, a Romantic Night and One Woman’s Quest to Become a Mother.”

Japanese Author Toshiyuki Kajiyama

199964260_6b1dfa46-ec1c-4a6e-840a-76126167e214Toshiyuki Kajiyama was one of Japan’s most prolific and popular writers, yet little is known about him in the West. This is where I come in, my job is to introduce you to obscure facts about Japan and Japanese culture.

Born in Keijo (modern day Seoul) in Japanese-occupied Korea on Jan 2, 1930, Toshiyuki was the son of a civil engineer. The Kajiyama family was repatriated to Hiroshima Prefecture at the end of World War II. At the end of the war, over six million Japanese were scattered throughout the islands in the Western Pacific and on the Asiatic mainland.  Early in September 1945, a large number of these displaced persons flocked to ports in southern Honshu and Kyushu to be repatriated.

Toshiyuki graduated from the Hiroshima Koto-shihangakko (Hiroshima Higher Normal School, one of five schools that were the forerunners of the Hiroshima University School of Education). The school, which was established in 1902, was one of the nation’s key schools for training secondary school teachers. Following his graduation, Toshiyuki found a job as an investigative reporter and submitted short stories and articles to various literary magazines.

Unfortunately, he contracted tuberculosis in 1961 and had to be hospitalized for three months. Unshaken, he went on to publish his first novel, Kuro no shisosha (“The Black Test Model”) in 1962. The book became a bestseller and started the genre of industrial espionage in Japan. That same year, Kuro no shisosha was made into a motion picture by the Daiei Motion Picture Company. It was so successful that Daiei subsequently released ten more films with similar themes, each using the word kuro (black) in its title. In 1963, Toshiyuki was nominated for the Naoki Prize for his work entitled Richo zanei (Shadows of the Yi Dynasty; the Korean Imperial Household). Although he did not win the prize, his novel became the basis of a highly acclaimed film made in Korea in 1967. Disappointed, Toshiyuki focused his attention on writing for profit. In the following years, he penned a number of bestsellers, including a series of police woman novels, which were serialized in the Shukan Shincho magazine in 1966. By 1969, Toshiyuki Kajiyama was one of the highest paid authors in Japan.

In 1972, his tuberculosis returned forcing the author to retire to his villa in Izu. He continued to write and he participated in various activities sponsored by the Japanese chapter of PEN (Poets, Essayists, Novelists) International.

He traveled to Hong Kong in 1975 where it was said that he was researching materials for a new book. He was found dead in his hotel room on May 11, 1975. The cause was determined to be cirrhosis of the liver. Some say he died while he was making love. Toshiyuki was just 45 years old.

The body of Toshiyuki Kajiyama’s work primarily consists of mysteries and erotica. He is celebrated for his crisp, fast-paced style and incisive analysis. Many attribute his success to his finely tuned sense of what many Japanese felt, but could not articulate: the feeling of irreplaceable loss that lay beneath post-World War II Japan’s highly successful economic recovery.

(Footnote: Following his death, Toshiyuki’s personal library of over 7,000 titles was donated to the University of Hawaii at Manoa. The collection consists of works which pertain to Korea, Japanese emigration documents covering North and South America, Hawaii and Southeast Asia, materials documenting Japanese colonization activities in Manchuria, Taiwan and Southeast Asia/Pacific, historical, political and economic books on Japan from the Edo to post-World War II period, and Kajiyama’s own works with his source materials)


Bone Chilling Stories for Hot Japanese Summer Nights: Mujina

DmbV4ngW0AEQbBFJapan is known for its hot, sweltering summer temperatures and like so many countries struggling with extremely hot, humid weather, Japan has mastered the art of summer survival. One unique way the Japanese seek relief from muggy summer nights is by sharing bone chilling tales about ghosts or yurei, as they are called in Japan. Most Japanese believe in the supernatural and they have done so for centuries. Ancient Japanese folktales talk about an earth filled with supernatural energy where the living are surrounded by spirits and other magical creatures. Fascinated by this mysterious world, the Japanese have been telling ghost stories as far back as the early eighth century.

The Edo period (1603-1868) was a period of peace and prosperity, and also the Golden Age of ghost stories. Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai  or a Gathering of One Hundred Supernatural Tales, was one of the most popular parlor games during that time. Players would gather at night, light one hundred paper lanterns, and place a mirror on top of a small table. They would then go to the next room and sit in a circle, with the light from the lanterns shining through the thin paper shoji. Taking turns, each player would tell a ghost story. After finishing the tale, the storyteller would go to the other room, extinguish one paper lantern and look in the mirror. With each story, the room would grow darker and darker. As they drew closer to the 100th story, many players would stop in fear of the spirits they had been summoning.

hearn_1891_1212Patrick Lafcadio Hearn (also known by his Japanese name, Koizumi Yakumo) was a writer, best known for his books about Japan, particularly his collections of Japanese legends and ghost stories, such as Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things. Included in Kwaidan, is a short story entitled, “Mujina.”

Mujina (貉), is an old Japanese word referring primarily to a badger. In some regions, the term refers to a raccoon dog or tanuki. In Japanese folklore, badgers, like the fox, are frequently depicted as yokai that shapeshift in order to deceive human beings. The mujina often take the form of an attractive woman with a promiscuous nature and are known for creating havoc for their lovers.

In Hearn’s story, an old merchant was traveling on the Akasaka Road late one night. On the Akasaka Road, there is a slope called Kii no kunizaka which translates to the Slope of the Province of Kii. On one side of this slope, there is an ancient moat. On the other side of the slope, the long and lofty walls of the imperial palace run alongside the road. Travelers usually avoided this area after the sun went down because the mujina were known to roam there.

As the old merchant was hurrying up the slope, he encountered a woman crouching by the moat, alone, and weeping bitterly. Fearing that she intended to drown herself, he stopped to offer assistance. He called out to her, but she continued to weep – hiding her face with the sleeve of her kimono. He continued to implore her and she finally rose up slowly, her back turned to him, as she continued to sob and moan. He put his hand on her shoulder and the woman turned around. She dropped her sleeve and stroked her face with her hand. She had no eyes, nose, or mouth! Upon seeing this, the old merchant screamed and ran away.

He continued to run frantically, never daring to look back. In the distance, he spotted the gleam of a lantern and ran toward it. It proved to be the lantern of a roadside soba noodle stand. Frightened and happy to see another human being, the old merchant flung himself at the soba seller’s feet.

              “Kore! Kore!” roughly exclaimed the soba-man. “Here! what is the matter with you? Anybody hurt you?”

 “No— nobody hurt me,” panted the other,— “only… Aa!— aa!”…

              “— Only scared you?” queried the peddler, unsympathetically. “Robbers?”

              “Not robbers,— not robbers,” gasped the terrified man… “I saw… I saw a woman— by the moat;— and she showed me… Aa! I cannot tell you what she showed me!”…

 “He! Was it anything like THIS that she showed you?” cried the soba-man, stroking his own face— which therewith became like unto an Egg… And, simultaneously, the light went out.1


1 https://www.trussel.com/hearn/mujina.htm



Kiyoshi Okubo – The Man Who Tried To Become A Bridge Between Hawaii and Japan

Photo By Rod Thompson, Star-Bulletin

The recipient of the Japanese Community Association of Hawaii’s first “Living Treasure” award, reporter, publisher, radio commentator, teacher, and museum curator, Kiyoshi Okubo,  worked tirelessly to become a bridge between Hawaii and Japan.

Born in Niigata on Nov. 27, 1905, Okubo relocated to Tokyo at the age of fourteen. He was still a student when an earthquake devastated Tokyo, the port city of Yokohama, and the surrounding prefectures of Chiba, Kanagawa, and Shizuoka in 1923. With his prospects diminished in the damaged city, he accepted an invitation from his brother and traveled to Hawaii on April 9, 1924. At the time, Okubo was just six months shy of being conscripted. Had he tried to immigrate from Japan to Hawaii just three months later in 1924, he would have been blocked by a new U.S. law. The Immigration Act of 1924, also known as the Johnson-Reid Act, ended further immigration from Japan, while restricting the number of immigrants to the U.S. from southern and eastern Europe. Shortly after the new law was enacted, the New York Times published a statement by twenty-nine prominent university presidents nationwide condemning the law.

Okubo had graduated from the Seijo First Senior High School in Tokyo, but he attended the Iolani School in Hawaii for two years where he learned to speak English. In 1925, he began his career in journalism with Hawaii Shinpo, a Japanese-language daily newspaper in Honolulu. In 1928, he moved to Kona and worked as a Japanese-language instructor. Okubo moved to Hilo in 1932 and continued his career as a reporter with the Hawaii Hochi. He also taught at Japanese-language schools and headed the Japanese department of radio station KHBC in 1936.

When the attack on Pearl Harbor took place, the Japanese living in Hilo thought it was a U.S. government drill. When Okubo listened to a radio report broadcast from Los Angeles, he realized that the Japanese living in the U.S. were going to be interned. He put on a suit and tie and waited at home for police to arrest him. They arrived at midnight. He spent 39 days at the Kilauea Military Camp before being released with the intervention of Fred Makino, the Irish-Japanese publisher of the Hawaii Hochi. A large majority of the Japanese in Hawaii were unable to understand English; therefore, the U.S. Army needed the Japanese-language newspapers to communicate its frequent directives. Okubo’s journalistic skills were in high demand.

During World War II, the authorities ordered people of Japanese ancestry to destroy all Japanese cultural items in their possession. Okubo sold one-and-a-half tons of books for just $14 to a paper mill for pulp.

In 1955, Okubo founded his own newspaper, the Hilo Times, which he operated until his retirement in 1991.

In the 1960s, he opened the Hawaii Shima (Island) Japanese Immigrant Museum in Hilo. The museum held a huge collection of Japanese-language books, newspapers, phonograph records, and other items that belonged to early immigrants to Hawaii. The museum was housed in the Japanese Immigrant’s Assembly Hall, originally constructed as a church around 1889 by Jiro Okabe, a Christian minister. Throughout its life, the structure served as a church, an assembly hall for local Japanese Christians, and a warehouse for a Hilo-based English newspaper called Tribune Herald. When it became a warehouse, the building was dramatically remodeled with the addition of a second floor.

When the building was moved to Meiji Mura in Aichi, Japan in 1969, it was restored to its original state based on old photos of the original building. The white picket fence encircling the structure and the small arch bridge leading to the front door were also reconstructed. It is now a simple, single-story rectangular building with only one room, resembling a church. To the left of the building there is a bell that was once rung to wake up the Japanese laborers at 4:30 AM, to start work at 6 AM, to signal a 30-min. lunch break, and to end the 10-hour working day at 4:30 PM.

Meiji Mura, Inuyama, Aichi, Japan : The Japanese Immigrant’s Assembly Hall, a building moved from Hilo, Hawaii to Meiji Mura Open Air Museum.

In 1973, Okubo published a 667-page book detailing the history of Japanese immigration to Hawaii. The book covered 100 years of immigration and included the names, occupations, and home prefectures of the nearly 35,000 Japanese immigrants who settled on the Big Island.

Okubo was deeply devoted to the community and he sacrificed a great deal of time to help the community in various ways. He worked tirelessly to improve U.S.-Japan relations and in 1989, he was awarded the Order of the Rising Sun by the Emperor of Japan.

Kiyoshi Okubo passed away on Dec. 10, 2001 at the Hilo Medical Center. He was 96. In an interview he had given prior to his passing he jokingly claimed that his motto was, “Mo’ makule, mo’ pupule.” (The older I get, the crazier I get.)


Source:  Tatsuya Sudo (Interviews from September 1996/ March 1998)

Wartime Propaganda: Kiyonao Ichiki and The Battle of the Tenaru

0cf2-fyqefvw5314814 (2)During times of war, the propaganda machine works overtime drumming up public support for the military leaders and the forces out on the battle lines. Every country is guilty of engaging in wartime propaganda and Japan certainly is no exception. During World War II, the Japanese propaganda machine proliferated the country with news about the successes of the Japanese forces, leaving little doubt in the minds of its citizens that Japan was winning the war. However, quite often the reality was very different than what was reported to the public. The lack of cooperation between Japan’s military units, the selfishness of its zealous military leaders, and the tendency of the General Staff to find scapegoats rather than admit poor planning and strategic decisions brought about Japan’s downfall during the Pacific War.

One clear example of scapegoating took place during the Guadalcanal Campaign in what became known as Battle of the Tenaru.  The battle involving the Japanese forces under the command of Colonel Kiyanao Ichiki and the U.S. Marines under the command of Major General Alexander Vandegrift took place on August 21, 1942 and resulted in the obliteration of Ichiki’s unit. The Japanese propaganda machine claimed that Colonel Ichiki was personally reckless and at fault. The Colonel’s fight ended when he died during the battle, but his family’s fight back home in Japan had just begun. Ichiki’s wife and children were shunned and for many years, his eldest daughter refused to talk about the circumstances of her father’s death and concealed the fact that she was his daughter.

Kiyanao Ichiki was born in Shizuoka Prefecture in 1892 and graduated from the Imperial Japanese Army Academy in 1916. Promoted to major in 1934, he was assigned to the China Garrison Army (the Tianjin Garrison) as a battalion commander in 1936. After he ordered an unwarranted attack on Wanping, precipitating the first real battle of the Second Sino-Japanese War, he was recalled to Japan and served as a military instructor from 1938 to 1940. With the start of the Pacific War in 1941, Ichiki was promoted to colonel and given command of the Imperial Japanese Infantry Regiment consisting of 3,000 troops. The regiment was ordered to launch an assault on Midway Island in an attempt to capture and occupy the unincorporated U.S. territory. However, when the Japanese naval forces suffered a crippling defeat during the Battle of Midway in June 1942, the attack was called off. In August 1942, the Colonel and his regiment were transferred to Truk (Chuuk) in the Caroline Islands, approximately 1,100 miles north-east of New Guinea. When the Allied forces landed on Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands and captured the unfinished Henderson Airfield, Ichiki was ordered to take a portion of his regiment and recapture the airfield and drive the Allies off the island.

On August 12, the Japanese conducted an aerial reconnaissance of the U.S. Marine positions on Guadalcanal. After having sighted just a few U.S. troops in the open and no large ships in the waters nearby, they were convinced that the Allies had withdrawn the majority of their troops. Consequently, Imperial Army General Harukichi Hyakutake issued orders to send an advance troop to the island to attack and occupy. In order to succeed with their plans, the Imperial Japanese Army enlisted the help of the Imperial Japanese Navy. Previously staunchly opposed to one another, the Army and the Navy agreed to cooperate and on August 19, six Japanese destroyers delivered Ichiki and his troops to Guadalcanal. Unknown to Ichiki, the U.S. Marines were heavily entrenched in Laguna Perimeter which encompassed Henderson Airfield. The Allies had 11,000 troops at the time and Ichiki’s unit only consisted of 916 soldiers.

The commander of the destroyers that had delivered Ichiki and his men to Guadalcanal received news of the presence of U.S. carriers near San Cristobal Island just 40 miles (64 km) southeast of Guadalcanal. Having lost a previous naval battle to the U.S., he abandoned Ichiki and his men on Guadalcanal in pursuit of revenge against the Americans. With no naval support, no air support, and poor intelligence, Ichiki sent a scouting patrol of 38 men, led by his communications officer, to reconnoiter Allied troop positions and establish a forward communications base. The Allies were aware of the Japanese landing and they too sent out a patrol unit. Around midnight on August 19, the Allied patrol spotted and ambushed the Japanese patrol, killing all but five of its members.

Vastly outnumbered, Ichiki followed orders and sent the first wave of soldiers to attack from the east bank of Alligator Creek on August 21st under the cover of darkness. His men were surprised when they encountered the Marine positions so far away from the airfield. The Marine machine gun fire and canister rounds from the 37mm cannons were no match for the 100 Imperial Army soldiers. A majority were killed instantly as they crossed the sandbar. Still, a few of the soldiers reached the Marine positions, engaged in hand-to-hand combat with the defenders, and captured a few Marine front-line emplacements. At 2:30 in the morning, a second wave of approximately 150 to 200 Japanese troops attacked across the sandbar and met the same fate as the first wave. Ichiki regrouped and ordered another wave of attacks around 5:00 AM. This time, the Japanese soldiers waded through the ocean surf and attempted to approach the Marine positions from the beach into the west bank area. The Marines responded with heavy machine gun and artillery fire causing heavy casualties among Ichiki’s attacking troops. At daybreak on August 21, the Marines decided to launch a counterattack. They crossed Alligator Creek and enveloped Ichiki’s remaining troops from the south and east, cutting off any avenue for retreat. Aircraft from Henderson Field bombarded Japanese soldiers who attempted to escape and later that afternoon, five Marine M3 Stuart tanks attacked across the sandbar. The tanks swept the area with machine gun and canister cannon fire. They rolled over the bodies of Japanese soldiers, both dead and alive. By 5:00 PM on August 21, the Japanese resistance had ended. All but 128 of the original 917 of Ichiki’s regiment lost their lives. Colonel Ichiki was either killed during the final stages of the battle, or committed suicide shortly thereafter, depending on the account.

For the General Staff who placed Ichiki in a suicidal, no win situation, it is convenient to say that he committed suicide out of shame for the failed mission. There is also speculation that the General Staff preferred to send Ichiki into battle directly after the aborted Midway operation with the intent to prevent the detachment from returning to Japan and thus preserving the secret of the failure at Midway.

America’s Atomic Veterans

tumbler-snapper1August 6 and August 9, 1945, are two dates that are firmly etched in the minds of millions around the world. For some, these dates denote victory for the Allies and an end to World War II. For others, they represent humanity’s darkest period in history when an estimated 129,000 to 226,000 people, many of whom were innocent civilians, lost their lives. Seventy-four years have passed since the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and each year as various ceremonies are held to memorialize those who lost their lives, focus is placed not only on the dead, but also the living.

Despite the enormous death toll, a considerable number of people managed to survive the atomic bombings in Japan. The Japanese name for these survivors is hibakusha, meaning people affected by the bomb. The people categorized as hibakusha include: those who were living within a few kilometers of the hypo-centers, those who were exposed to radiation from the fallout, and those who were in utero when the bombs were dropped. The Japanese government has officially recognized 650,000 people as hibakusha. As of March 31, 2018, 154,859 were still alive.

But, Japan is not the only country to have a population of hibakusha. There are people living in the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, France, China, Korea, and Russia who were similarly exposed. A majority of these individuals were servicemen who were exposed to radiation while present at the site of a nuclear explosion. Some were sent to the impacted cities to gather data and assist with the cleanup, or they were part of the Occupation forces in and around Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Others were held as POWs in or near those cities. These individuals are known as atomic veterans.

Even before the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, scientists were aware of the dangers of nuclear weapons. The U.S. began its nuclear weapons testing program on July 16, 1945, as part of the Manhattan Project. In the aftermath of World War II and during the height of the Cold War – between 1946 and 1962 – the U.S. detonated more than 200 above-ground and undersea nuclear bombs. The first post-war nuclear test was known as Operation Crossroads and it was conducted at Bikini Atoll in 1946.

The atomic testing program included a wide range of experiments and exposures. Thousands of service members were on ships in the Pacific. Thousands more stood or crouched in trenches carved into the Nevada desert. Pilots and their crews flew planes into mushroom clouds. Others were underwater in the ocean as blasts were detonated, swimming as frogmen or in submarines. Some parachuted into blast sites soon after the explosions.

In the years following the nuclear testing, many individuals – both military and civilian – who worked in connection with the nuclear testing program reported severe health problems. For example, residents who lived downwind from the Nevada tests reported thyroid problems, central nervous system tumors, and multiple cancers.

Lincoln Grahlfs, who enlisted in the Navy in 1942, was one of these atomic veterans. He later surveyed 376 veterans who participated in atomic tests for his doctoral dissertation and published his findings in a book titled, “Voices from Ground Zero.”

Grahlfs enlisted in the United States Navy just two months shy of his 20th birthday. He was stationed in San Francisco when World War II ended and was ordered to the Marshall Islands where he participated in Operation Crossroads. Originally, the Navy had asked for volunteers, but when too few volunteers stepped up, Grahlfs and others were recruited. Lincoln Grahlfs was the helmsman of a wooden-hulled tug boat that was sent toward an atomic blast that took place on the morning of July 1, 1946. When the countdown started, he and his crew were told to cover their eyes, they were not issued special glasses or protective clothing.55-30b

In 1995, Kenneth Robbins, professor in the Theater department at Louisiana Tech University, penned a play called “Atomic Fields.” Atomic Fields tells the story of a veteran named Howie Long, who passes away from lung cancer. Following his death, his family discovers that not only had he been stationed in Nagasaki after the atomic bombing, but he was also part of the post-war nuclear testing program. Robbins has a special connection to the atomic bombs dropped over Japan. His father was a member of the cleanup crew and died at the age of 65 from cancer resulting from his exposure to the radiation from the bomb blast. Robbins said, “I had a picture of him; he was in the epicenter of where the bomb exploded.”

Interestingly, Louisiana Tech’s Stone Theatre was named after Arthur W. Stone. Stone was a navigator aboard the observation plane when the B-29 bomber, Bockscar, dropped the second atomic bomb over Nagasaki. Stone’s plane was airborne to document the explosion.

Reference: Sudo, Tatsuya. “Atomic Field.”  Gunshuku-mondai shiryo , September 1999.




Terminal Island’s Lost Japanese Community


Connected to the mainland by four bridges, Terminal Island was once home to a vibrant community of nearly 3,000 first- and second- generation Japanese residents. The community had grown out of a small Japanese fishing village whose settlers helped launch a booming industry for canned tuna.

Located between the cities of Los Angeles and Long Beach, Terminal Island (1891) was the result of the engineered union of two smaller islands, Rattlesnake Island and Deadman’s Island.  Rattlesnake Island, which was nothing more than a sand bar, derived its name from the abundance of rattlesnakes that were encountered there by early explorers. The island was originally called Isla Raza de Buena Gente. Deadman’s Island was just that, the burial grounds for Indians and lost mariners.

The first Japanese to settle in the San Pedro Bay area of Los Angeles in 1899 were abalone and lobster fisherman. Abalone and lobster fishing was a lucrative venture, but short-lived due to local anti-Japanese sentiment and the 1905 state law which prohibited Japanese from fishing for abalone. With no other choice, the fisherman turned to fishing for sardines and tuna in 1910. They relocated to East San Pedro on the western end of Terminal Island and formed a small community consisting of 200 houses. The Japanese fishing community reached its peak of approximately 3,000 settlers in the 1930s. Insulated from the mainland, the community had a homogeneous culture where its residents ate Japanese food, celebrated traditional Japanese holidays, and spoke Japanese with greater ease than English.


By the late 1930s, however, the tuna populations off the coast of California dwindled forcing the fisherman to venture far from home to make their fishing quotas. The fisherman used powerful high-seas tuna clippers sailing as far as South America and returning home with a bounty of fish to be sold in the U.S. markets. In fact, it was the Issei’s accessibility to such vessels which led to the incarceration of the Terminal Islanders following the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.

On February 9, 1942, all of the adult Issei (first-generation Japanese) men on Terminal Island were incarcerated by the FBI. Their homes were searched for contraband like radios, cameras, pictures of Japan, and even kitchen knives. Immediately after the signing of Executive Order 9066 on February 19, 1942, the remainder of the inhabitants were given just 48 hours to evacuate their homes. They were subsequently sent to internment camps, and the entire neighborhood was razed. The Japanese community on Terminal Island was the first to be evacuated and interned en masse. The majority were sent to the Manzanar Internment Camp.

Sadly, after the war ended and the detainees were released from the internment camps, they continued to experience hardships. Fishing was the only occupation that many knew, but it was out of the question for any Issei resident after the war. Before the war, the California Fish and Game Commission issued commercial licenses annually for a nominal fee but the law changed in 1943 prohibiting licenses to be issued to “Japanese aliens.” Concerned that such explicit terminology would only invite legal scrutiny, the legislature altered the wording in 1945 to “aliens ineligible for citizenship.”

The Terminal Islanders were forced to settle elsewhere after the war and today the land is used entirely for industrial and port-related activities. The Federal Correctional Institution of Terminal Island began operating in 1938 and houses more than 900 low security federal prisoners.

In 1971, the former community members formed the Terminal Islanders Club. A memorial was erected in 2002 by the surviving second-generation community members to honor their Issei parents.


Terminal Island is accessible from the San Pedro neighborhood of Los Angeles via the Vincent Thomas Bridge, the fourth longest suspension bridge in California. From downtown Long Beach, visitors can access the island via the Gerald Desmond Bridge. The Commodore Schuyler F. Heim Bridge joins Terminal Island with the Los Angeles neighborhood of Wilmington to the north. Adjacent to the Heim Bridge is a rail bridge called the Henry Ford Bridge, or the Badger Avenue Bridge.

Excerpt: “The Sun Will Rise Again” Soviet Invasion of the Kuril Islands

Soviet military units display captured Japanese flags after having seized the Kuril Islands in 1945

Although Japan officially surrendered on August 15, 1945, marking the end of the Pacific War, Japanese forces were driven to battle the invading Soviet forces between August 18 and September 1, 1945 during what became known as the Invasion of the Kuril Islands.

The Kuril Islands are a chain of 56 islands in the Russian Far East, located directly to the north of Japan and east of Sakhalin Island. The Ainu, the indigenous people of Japan, were early inhabitants of the islands. Japan first took nominal control of the islands during the Edo period (1603–1868).

During the Tehran and Yalta Conferences in 1943 and 1945 respectively, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin had secretly reached an agreement with the Allies to declare war on Japan.  As a result, the United States began aiding the Soviets by transferring ships and aircraft to the Soviet armed forces. In the spring and summer of 1945, the United States transferred 149 ships and aircraft, mostly escort vessels, landing craft, and minesweepers to the Soviet Navy in a covert operation known as Project Hula.

On April 5, 1945, the Soviet Union informed Japan that the Soviet-Japanese Neutrality Pact of 1941 would not be renewed. On August 9, 1945, just six months short of the natural expiration of the neutrality pact and the day when the United States dropped an atomic bomb over Nagasaki, the Soviet Union officially declared war on Japan. In the days that ensued, Soviet troops marched into Manchuria, the Japanese prefecture of Karafuto (South Sakhalin), and the northern half of Korea, in what became known as the Manchurian Strategic Offensive. The Japanese northernmost island of Hokkaido was initially included in the invasion plans, but since Japan had surrendered, paving the way for the Allied Occupation, the Soviet forces could not mount their invasion as planned.

During the occupation, however, the Soviet Union repeatedly demanded that Hokkaido be administered by Soviet forces independent of the Supreme Commander of Allied Powers. General Douglas MacArthur was sternly opposed to the idea and threatened the Soviets with military action should they set foot on the island.

There were over 400,000 people living in Karafuto at the time. The majority of these residents were of Japanese or Korean extraction. Japan began evacuating people from Karafuto and the Kuriles to Hokkaido just before the invasion began. Approximately 6,000 civilians had been evacuated from the area when the Soviet forces began a fierce naval bombardment and artillery strikes against the civilians who were still awaiting evacuation. On August 10, nearly 1,000 civilians were killed by machine-gun fire.

Despite this, there were twelve telephone operators in Karafuto who decided to stay behind and maintain contact with mainland Japan. By August 23, the Japanese forces had agreed to a ceasefire.  Upon learning of Japan’s surrender and fearing that they would be raped by the Soviet troops, nine of the twelve operators committed suicide by ingesting cyanide capsules. Three of the operators were saved by the intervention of their male colleagues.

Karafuto prefecture was formally abolished as a legal entity on June 1, 1949. Japan renounced its rights to Sakhalin in 1951 with the signing of the Treaty of San Francisco, but did not formally acknowledge Russian sovereignty over the island.  To date, no final peace treaty has been signed between Japan and Russia and the status of the neighboring Kuril Islands remains disputed.

Copyright © 2016 Kristine Ohkubo




“The Sun Will Rise Again” is available from Amazon, Kindle, Barnes and Noble, and other major book retailers online.