Courage and Compassion: Student Biographies

Biographical information on the 40 Japanese American students who studied at Oberlin during World War II has been compiled below.


Teruko “Terry” Akagi (Brooks) ‘45

1922 – 1992?
Hometown: Seattle, Washington
Incarcerated at: Minidoka, Idaho

Born in 1922 in Seattle, Washington, Teruko (Terry) Akagi began playing the violin when she was just in kindergarten. In 1941, she was a first-year student at the University of Washington majoring in musical studies. When her family was forced to relocate to the Minidoka incarceration camp, Akagi almost left behind her violin. But she brought it with her and at Minidoka she became an assistant teacher of music in the high school. With the help of the National Japanese American Student Relocation Council, Akagi won a musical scholarship and was admitted to the Oberlin Conservatory in the fall of 1943. By studying through the summers, she managed to finish up in two years and graduate from Oberlin in 1945.

After graduation, Akagi moved to Chicago where her family had relocated after being released from Minidoka. She wanted to pursue a career as a musician but feared that there “was no place in this country for a Japanese-American girl musician.” [From “Career Born in Kindergarten,” Chicago Sun Times, July 18, 1951] But legendary Chicago violin teacher George Perlman encouraged Akagi to keep playing. By 1949, she had earned a seat in the Kansas Symphony Orchestra. Over the course of her career, she played in the Grant Park Chicago Orchestra, the National Woman’s Symphony in Chicago, the Virginia Symphony Orchestra, and the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, where she met her husband Joseph Brooks. The two retired to Texas before she passed away.

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Ray Masaki Egashira

1927 – 2003?
Hometown: Klickitat, Washington
Incarcerated at: Heart Mountain, Wyoming

Ray Egashira was born in Oregon in 1927. In 1940, he lived in Klickitat, Washington with his parents and his two older brothers. Information on Egashira has been hard to find, but we know that Ray Egashira and his family were incarcerated at the Heart Mountain camp. His two older brothers appear on the “Heart Mountain Honor Roll” that recognizes Nisei who left the camps to fight in the U.S. army. We know that Egashira entered Oberlin as a first-year student in the fall of 1945 and that he appears again in college records in 1949, but that he did not graduate from Oberlin. Like many of the male students, his studies may have been disrupted if he was inducted into the military. It is possible that Oberlin’s Ray Egashira is the same one who died in Seattle in 2003 after having retired from his position with the Burlington Northern Railroad.

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Renso Y. Enkoji

b. 1927
Hometown: Portland, Oregon
Incarcerated at: Minidoka, Idaho

Renso Enkoji, a native of Portland, Oregon born in 1927, was only fourteen when his family was removed to a temporary center and then incarcerated at the Minidoka camp in Idaho. As a high school student, Enkoji was involved with sports, debate, and book club. He served as president of his senior class at the high school in Minidoka. Enkoji applied to Oberlin in February 1945 because he understood it to be “a friendly and a liberal school.” In 1946, Enkoji was inducted into the army. In 1948, he married Mabel Jingu and the couple moved to Salt Lake City, Utah before eventually settling in California with their three daughters. In the 1960s and 70s, Enkoji worked for the Los Angeles County Probation Department. He and his artist wife also travelled the world and produced a documentary film (“Spirit Women of Clay”) about a potter family from the San Ildefonso Pueblo in New Mexico. Enkoji resides today in Whittier, California.

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Victor Tadahuru Fujiu ‘47

1920 – 1992
Hometown: Los Angeles, California
Incarcerated at: Granada (Camp Amache), Colorado

Victor Fujiu was a student at Pacific College in Los Angeles when he and his family were forcibly removed to the Granada incarceration camp in Colorado. He transferred to Asbury College in 1944, where he majored in philosophy and religion. He came to Oberlin, probably in 1945, to study at the school of theology, and went on to become a minister for the United Methodist Church in Chicago. In the 1955 Oberlin Alumni Magazine, Fujiu described his church as “ a Nisei congregation, made up largely of “re- locatees’ moved about during and after the war. We are planning a church building of our own and dream of building eventually an interracial church.” He and his wife, Kiyoko, had three children. He retired from the ministry in 1988. He passed away in 1992.

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Lily Yuriko Fukuhara

1926 – ?
Hometown: Southern California
Incarcerated at: Manzanar, California

Lily Yuriko Fukuhara was born in 1926 in southern California.  She and her family were incarcerated at Manzanar, where she graduated high school in the summer of 1942 with 195 other students from around the state who were also held there. She began studies at Oberlin in 1944, but little information beyond that is available.

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Soichi Fukui

1921 – 1981
Hometown: Los Angeles, California
Incarcerated at: Heart Mountain, Wyoming

Soichi Fukui was a third-generation Japanese American (a Sansei) born in Los Angeles, California in 1921. As a teenager he became an Eagle Scout and toured the United States as the captain of the drum section of the troop’s drum and bugle corp. In 1939, he enrolled at the University of California, Berkeley to study chemistry. In 1942, he was relocated to Santa Anita and then to the Heart Mountain incarceration camp. He began corresponding with the National Japanese American Student Relocation Council soon after he was forcibly evacuated to Heart Mountain. While waiting to leave the camp, Fukui served as the District Commissioner for the Heart Mountain District Boy Scouts and as a Sunday school teacher for the community church.

He transferred to Oberlin in 1942 and soon lived in a dormitory hall that included Bill Makino, Kenji Okuda, and Sammy Oi. From 1944 to 1946, Fukui served as a translator as part of the US Army’s Military Intelligence Service. After graduating Fukui returned to Los Angeles and took over the family mortuary business, becoming president of Fukui Mortuary Inc. He and his wife Ruth Tanako raised a son and two daughters; he passed away in 1981.

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Itsue “Sue” Hisanaga (Yamaguchi) ‘43

b. 1922
Hometown: Hilo, Hawaii

Itsue (Sue) Hisanaga grew up in Hilo, Hawaii, where the Japanese American population was not incarcerated during the war. But when Executive Order 9066 was issued, Hisanaga was a student at Pomona College in California and she was forbidden to return to her home in Hawaii. In April 1942, just days before all Japanese Americans were required to leave the restricted zone, Pomona President E. Wilson Lyons arranged for her to transfer to Oberlin. The next day, Lyons, the Pomona dean, and a group of students went with her and her older brother, Kazuo “Casey” Hisanaga, to the train station where a college band played in their honor. Itsue’s Pomona professors mailed her finals to her at Oberlin so she could finish her spring semester junior year classes. Itsue’s brother, Kazuo Hisanaga, was allowed to graduate from Pomona that May despite being forced to leave campus in April. He accompanied Itsue to Oberlin and enrolled in summer school at the college; he met his future wife, Nisei student Ichiko Mukai, while studying at Oberlin. Another older Hisanaga brother had already graduated from Pomona by 1942; he served in the segregated Japanese American 100th Infantry Battalion during the war.

Itsue Hisanaga accelerated her studies in order to graduate by the end of fall semester 1943. Oberlin cooperated with Pomona to allow her to receive a Pomona degree in absentia at Oberlin’s commencement ceremony.

After graduation, Hisanaga spent a semester working for the Director of the Allen Art Museum before heading to graduate school in New York. In 1946, she married Harry Yamaguchi, the Oberlin student who had helped President Wilkins select the first group of Nisei transfer students. The couple settled in Bloomington, Indiana, where Harry taught Psychology at the University of Indiana. Harry died in 2002; Sue lives in Bloomington, Indiana.

archival document

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Grace Imamoto (Noda)

b. 1920
Hometown: Southern California
Incarcerated at: Santa Anita, California; Jerome, Arkansas

Grace Imamoto was born in 1920 and raised in southern California. Her father worked as the secretary of the Farmer’s Association of Norwalk and the principal of a local Japanese language school, where her mother also taught. Shortly after the Pearl Harbor attack, Grace’s mother was arrested and held for three months, while her father was imprisoned in Los Angeles and then in Santa Fe. Grace, a senior at Berkeley in 1942, came home to take care of her three younger sisters. She and her sisters were removed to a confinement center at the Santa Anita racetrack, where their mother eventually joined them. The family lived in a stable for ten months before being forcibly removed to an incarceration camp in Jerome, Arkansas. Her father joined his family in Jerome after spending eleven months in prison.

While incarcerated at Jerome, Grace—who had studied cello and piano--briefly taught music classes to the children. But Quaker benefactors soon arranged for her to leave the camp to accept a live-in position with a family in Minnesota. She tried to enroll at the University of Minnesota so she could finish her degree, but she was denied admission.

When her younger sister, Alice, was granted permission to leave the Jerome camp to enter the Conservatory at Oberlin in 1943, Grace accompanied her to Ohio. While working in the dorms as an assistant cook, she finished her last three remaining college credits. But she refused to accept a degree from Oberlin on principle, believing that her diploma should come from Berkeley. She waited until after the war when she could physically return to Berkeley to accept her degree.

Grace and Alice’s parents weren’t released from the camps until 1946. They had lost everything, having only $41 to their name by the time of their release. Because her father now had a criminal record, he could only find work as a housecleaner. Her mother took work as a cook.

After the war, Grace returned to California and began working at an elementary school in Richmond. There she met her husband, Grant Noda, a Nisei who had also been interned during the war and was now working as a research scientist at Berkeley. The couple moved to UC Davis in 1958 when Grant took a job managing labs for the botany department and began building a business in real estate. Grace raised the couple’s two daughters and became involved in local activist politics. She protested nuclear weapons and organized against the Vietnam War. She and her husband also worked to commemorate the wartime incarceration experience. Grace successfully lobbied to have an elementary school in Davis named for Fred Korematsu, the man who had challenged his conviction for refusing to follow the relocation order all the way to the Supreme Court. She also established a scholarship fund in her father’s name to honor the work of the National Japanese American Student Relocation Council. The couple pushed for the creation of a mural commemorating the internment experience at Grant’s alma mater of Earlham. The Noda family are also philanthropists; in 2008, they gave $1 million to UC Davis to build a new recital hall. It is the largest contribution to the music department in its history.

Childhood was spent in a closely-knitted family unit. Reared under parents who devoted most of their time with child psychology, discipline, and […] development. My three sisters and I were given music lessons in piano, violin and cello. Music was developed not only for ourselves but also to play at various organizations. Through this work I became attached to the church by playing for church services. I joined the first organization – W.W.G. – World Wide Guild. A group interested in helping the youth of other countries of the world who needed some assistance. I became aware of the existing conditions through the messages actively brought back to us by the missionaries. I devoted all my free time, outside of my homework, piano practice, to collecting unwanted toys, postcards and other useable material for my club.

I had difficulties in my adolescence, causing much grief to myself. My parents couldn’t understand me nor I-them. I didn’t realize that we had such a phase in our lives. I began [to] wonder about many things such as adolescence, behavior, moods, inner thinking. In speaking with my freshmen counselor in high school, she told me some of the doubting (?) problems. I took courses in high school to prepare myself for college. I stayed the later two years of my high school working in a private home so that I might become acquainted with the ways others lived too. I was extremely fond of people, meeting friends at the club meetings, churches, and parties.

However college was a sudden new world opened to me. I attended a university of 15,000 pupils and I didn’t realize how insignificant I became. One had to do exceptionally well in his works to be recognized by any of his professors. I had some trying times not knowing a sa(?) and lacking that person to person relationship with my instructors. I wanted to study for social welfare major but being extremely interested in behavior, ideas, reactions and activities, I decided to research into psychology. I wanted to study the personality of people – the basis of our society and the social world. In trying to make up my mind what specific field of psychology, I began taking many of them to compare them.

My actual desire to become a social worker penetrated my heart after the evacuation of Japanese aliens and citizens from the Western Coast. The lack of social worker was suspiciously noticed. I felt so helpless not knowing too much about social welfare. (I helped in the school teaching) Many proud mothers would not come to the social science office for assistance despite the desperate need of assistance. Children were poorly clothed, families were dissatisfied and broken-up having been uprooted from their normal ways of life. Ministers were only available social workers but they too lacked adequate training. I would like to study this summer and finish my A.B. degree and continue into some Social Studies School in order to meet the call which will be great after this war has ceased.

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Alice Imamoto (Takemoto)

b. 1926
Hometown: Southern California
Incarcerated at: Santa Anita, California; Jerome, Arkansas

Alice Setsuko Imamoto was born in Garden Grove, California in 1926, the youngest of four children of James Imamoto and Yoshiko Iwamasa.  A childhood piano prodigy, Alice spent her youth performing in southern California from the age of eight.  After the Pearl Harbor attack, her parents, who ran a Japanese language school in Norwalk, were arrested and taken away, leaving fifteen year-old Alice alone at home with one older sister. Eventually all four sisters were reunited with their mother three months later at the Santa Anita “assembly center” where they had been forcibly relocated, and a year later, their father joined them at the incarceration camp in Jerome, Arkansas. Alice soon began working towards leaving camp to begin college and, having heard of Kenji Okuda’s presidency of the student body at Oberlin, applied to the Conservatory. With assistance from the Southern Baptist Convention, Alice entered the Conservatory in the fall of 1943, at age sixteen.

Alice was accompanied here by her sister Grace, who came down from Minnesota where she had been working after having to suspend her studies at U.C. Berkeley.  After Grace returned to the west coast, Alice remained in Oberlin to complete her piano degree, working as a domestic or in a factory throughout the time to support her studies. Younger than most of her fellow students, and separated from her family, Alice worked hard to do well in school, support herself, and keep her parents free of worry. After suffering from severe dust allergies in her residence, where she was working for room and board, the Worcesters, a local dairy family, invited Alice to come live with them at their home on Vine St. They treated her as one of their family, supporting her and including her in a cross country family road trip.

In 1947, Alice received her Oberlin degree in piano and joined her parents in the Washington DC area.  The following year, while working at the Library of Congress, she met Ken Takemoto. They were married in 1951 and had two children. Alice taught piano for many years and after her children were grown, resumed performing, giving concerts at the National Gallery of Art, the Renwick Art Gallery, and the Corcoran Gallery of Art. She still resides in the Washington area and continues to play music on a regular basis.

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Yuriko Ito (Takenaka)

b. 1924
Hometown: Los Angeles, California
Incarcerated at: Heart Mountain, Wyoming

Yuriko Ito was born in Los Angeles in 1924. She was one of about 200 hundred Nisei students enrolled at UCLA at the time of the evacuation order. A freshman in 1941-42, she was incarcerated at the camp at Heart Mountain in Wyoming in 1942. “It wasn’t right, but you couldn’t fight it because there was no leadership. The Nisei were too young and weren’t really aware of civil rights,” she explained in 2010 (Nichei Bei, May 27, 2010). She spent two years at Heart Mountain before being granted permission to attend Oberlin. After the war ended, she returned to California and studied nursing at Stanford University. She worked for several years at Stanford University Hospital before returning to UCLA in 1959 to earn a certificate in public health. In 2010, she and 47 other Japanese American students returned to UCLA to receive honorary degrees in a special graduation ceremony. She has lived in Laguna Niguel, California since 1972.

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Myra Iwagami ‘47

b. 1925
Hometown: Chicago, Illinois

Myra Iwagami was an Oberlin legacy. Her mother, Cecilia Allen, had graduated from Oberlin. She was born in 1925 and grew up in Chicago with her mother and her father, Echirow Yama Iwagami, an electrical engineer. She chose Oberlin because of its “co-educational uniquely liberal & cosmopolitan features.” At Oberlin she earned a BA in English and worked on the student newspaper. After graduating, Iwagami embarked on a career in writing and publishing. She served as the syllabi editor at University of Chicago Press, a production associate at a research institution, and an Assistant Copy Chief for the midwestern department store chain, Carson’s (formerly Carson Pirie Scott & Co). Today she resides in Hyde Park Chicago.

From her application essay

In 1936, the family decided it was high time that I saw something of the country besides my provincial surroundings. We visited New York City and Washington D.C. On our way home we stopped for a few days in Oberlin. Seeing photographs are very convincing, but seeing the real thing adds stability to one’s convictions and impressions.

On Good Friday evening, 1937, I became a member of the First Presbyterian Church of Chicago. It was a step which I have never regretted in the least. The church has been my second home.

During the first part of the same year, I joined the Camp Fire Girls. That summer I won a week at Camp Nawaka (near S. Haven, Mich.); the family sent me for a second. […] During spring vacations our group used to rent a Y. Farm house (near Desplain Illinois) for three days. We were on our own then, cooking and everything! It also is an experience that I think every young girl should have. […]

Nineteen thirty-nine was a red letter year for me; after eight years of elementary study, I received my first “White Paper” – (no comment).*

From then on I think I lived a dual life; one for school and one for church. Those first two years in high school were rather hard. […] It wasn’t until my third year that I decided perhaps if the school and I didn’t get along, maybe it was because I had not done my part. So all of a sudden-out of the blue- I joined the annual staff as a minor staff member. Now after two semesters of hard work, I was promoted to editor of the production staff. Right now my official school day ends at twelve-thirty and my annual day begins then and ends at five o’clock. If I do say so, I think we have a grand book and incidently this is our fiftieth year.

The same year I was eligible for membership in the Junior English Honor Club. […] I was elected vice-president the second semester. The teacher who had the honor class was also my English teacher. In my first two years, I had three English teachers – all of which did next to nothing for my English. Miss Buchanan was my last hope. All the English grammar I know today is due to her. Here to fore teachers had been people you see forty minutes each school day. She was the first teacher I ever took an interest in. I think perhaps she has done more to enrich my appreciation of the “Arts” than anyone else. Her death was not only a loss to the school, but a private one to me; I felt as if she were one of the family. But then people like her don’t die; they live on back there with the people and things you never forget.

Someone said she was of the old school because she had taught for forty years. But goodness, if the old school was the school that provided you with a thorough general knowledge of English grammar and literature – then I’m all for the old school.

Now in m senior year, I belong to the Senior English Honor Class.

When I have time, which is rarely because of the annual, I attend Forum, a discussion of current affairs. Sometimes we have guest speakers. […]

As I said before m church has played a major part in my life. Every year at the end of school, our department (Senior High School – all four years) rents some camp for a week. Our minister (Dr. H.L. Bowman) and his wife and some of the church staff go along. During the week we have discussions and other activities – and in general get to know each other. During Christmas vacation we go to the Y farm house for two or three day of general fellowship.


When it comes to memorable occasions, I know that the summer of my junior year will always be a bright star. It was my first year at Geneva (Lake Geneva, Williams Bay, Wisconsin). I attended the Central Regional Planning Conference of the united Christian Youth Movement. I met the finest young people you could meet anywhere. There were thirty two states represented and sixteen denominations. [Myra then quotes Ann Elliot’s poem ‘Camp Again’ to describe her impressions of the conference.]

During the summer (1942) on Tuesdays and Fridays I read to the blind. At the beginning of the summer mother had promised to keep up my allowance and having no outside obligations to fill I thought I might like to do something. So I became a member of the Blind Service Club (a volunteer member). I read to students who were attending summer school in college. The young man I read to on Tuesdays had just graduated from Wilson Junior College and my Friday students had just graduated from the University of Chicago. I read for two hours on each day. Now in the beginning, if my intentions had been to do some “good deed” for someone else, it was a humble person who came away. […]

Last summer while at Geneva, I became interested in the Japanese relocation problem. Since then I have sent a number of boxes and have another load to go now. Before Christmas when they were trying to get Christmas presents for the children, I spoke before two or three groups of young people – acquainting them with the problem.

Through one of the young people I became a Tuesday afternoon volunteer worker for the American Friends Service Committee (located in the downtown district of Chicago). […] Their offices are small and their staff smaller yet and so it is only through volunteer workers that a lot of the unglamorous but important work is done. Tuesday is one of the joys of week.

Well there you have it; “Past Imperfect”.

Now what are my likes, hobbies, etc.?

I have collected stamps and do now when my financial status permits me to do so. Just in the last few months I’ve taken up working cross-word puzzles. Why? Well I work them for a relaxation, a past time, but most of all because I hope they’ll do something for my vocabulary – and I think perhaps they are in their meager way. I love music, that is both the masters and popular – excluding jazz. [She talks about her favorite composers and writers] Incidently, although I have several past times, my main one is reading. It seems like I read constantly; I usually do one book a week. Everyone has moments of let down – so for such times I collect cartoons. It’s great fun to open the book and have an hour or so of good laughs. I’m a great fan of the movies, but I hate Westerns and most mysteries. I think one of the best pictures I ever [saw] was “Rebecca,” and two of the worst were “This Above All” and “Now Voyager”. My biggest theatrical thrill was Macbeth with Evans and Anderson.

That just about covers the past and present.

About the future – who knows? I would like to indulge in some part of the field of journalism. I like to write and I think I have some imagination. I think I would like to try to write because I’d like to try and give others the feeling of satisfaction that I have when I finish a good book – anyway, there are fewer limitations on writers.

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June Kimura

1925 – 2008
Hometown: San Jose, California
Incarcerated at: Heart Mountain, Wyoming

June Kimura was born in in 1925 in San Jose, California. She was a high school student when the war began. In 1942, she and her family were sent to the Heart Mountain incarceration camp in Wyoming. She managed to leave the camp and come to Oberlin; in 1945, when her family relocated to Modesto, California, she returned home and finished her degree at San Jose State. But the incarceration experience affected her family deeply. Her father, Toshio, died of a stroke a month after returning to California. “He had heart trouble and a stroke, but I think what he really died of was a broken heart,” Kimura explained (quoted in Cecila Tsu, Garden of the World; Asian American Immigrants and the Making of Agriculture). Her mother, Midori, had to become a domestic worker to support the family. Midori Kimura became one of four plaintiffs in San Jose involved in the lawsuit that went to the Supreme Court demanding redress for wartime incarceration.

June Kimura spent the rest of her life in San Jose and served as the organist at Wesley Methodist Church before passing away in 2008.

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Esther Matsu Kinoshita (Ujifusa)

1923 – 2013
Hometown: Los Angeles, California

Born in Los Angeles in 1923, Esther Kinoshita managed to escape forced relocation in 1942 and make her way to Oberlin (according to her daughter). She graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in 1946. She married William Ujifusa in 1956. She passed away in 2013.

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Mai Kitazawa (Arbegast) ’45

1922 – 2012
Hometown: San Jose, California
Incarcerated at: Heart Mountain, Wyoming

Mai Kitazawa was born in San Jose, California in 1922. Her father and uncle started the Kitazawa Seed Company, specializing in seeds for Asian vegetables, in 1917. The company became the main source of seeds for Japanese tenant farmers in Oregon and California. Kitazawa was a student at San Jose State College at the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor. In 1942, she and her family were forcibly removed to the Heart Mountain incarceration camp in Wyoming. Her family eventually found a sponsor who helped them move to Michigan for the duration of the war while Mai transferred to Oberlin to continue her studies in botany and ecology. Her sister, June, joined Mai at Oberlin a year later.

After graduating from Oberlin in 1945, Kitazawa earned an MS in Ornamental Horticulture at Cornell University in 1949 and an MS in Landscape Architecture from the University of California, Berkeley in 1953. She taught in the Department of Landscape Architecture at Berkeley from 1953 through 1967. In 1967, she left teaching to devote herself full-time to her professional practice in landscape and planting design. She worked on many projects, including the Hearst Castle planting restoration, the UC Davis Arboretum, the California Palace of the Legion of Honor renovation, and the Oakland Museum renovation. In 2002, she received a Distinguished Alumni Award from the Berkeley College of Environmental Design.

Kitazawa  married landscape architect David Elwood Arbegast. The couple had four children. She passed away in California in 2012 at the age of 90.

The Kitazawa Seed Company was forced to close from 1942-1945, but the family restarted the company after the war and owned it until the 2000s. Today it is still a thriving business in 2017 under new ownership.

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June Kitazawa (Barr) ‘46

1925 – ?
Hometown: San Jose, California
Incarcerated at: Heart Mountain, Wyoming

June Kitazawa was born in San Jose, California in 1925, one of six children. In 1917, Her father and uncle started the Kitazawa Seed Company, which specialized in seeds for Asian vegetables. The family was incarcerated at Heart Mountain in Wyoming after the relocation order. She arrived at Oberlin a year after her older sister, Mai, and graduated in 1946. We know little about June’s later life.

The Kitazawa Seed Company was forced to close from 1942-1945, but the family restarted the company after the war and owned it until the 2000s. Today it is still a thriving business in 2017 under new ownership.

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Shizuko Koda (Kitaoka)

1921 – ?
Hometown: Whittier, CA
Incarcerated at: Rohwer, Arkansas

Shizuko Koda was born in California in 1921 and grew up in Whittier, CA with her parents and her brother. After the forced removal of Japanese Americans from the west coast, Koda and her family were sent to the temporary relocation center at Santa Anita and then the Rowher incarceration camp in Arkansas. She was in her second year of college at the time of her evacuation. She came to Oberlin in 1942 and became a member of the Oberlin College Class of 1946 (it is unclear if she graduated with her class). Updates she sent to the Oberlin Alumni magazine document that she and her husband Hiroo Kitaoka had a son in 1946 and that they moved to a house in Euclid, Ohio in 1953. They eventually had five children and moved to Minnesota. She predeceased her husband, who passed away at age 94 in 2014.

“Hard Work”

They were days of hard work and not much social life. Except for one semester at May Cottage, while not in class, practicing, or studying, I spent the rest of the time working for my room and board at the “Graduate House” (the present-day Mallory House). Mrs. Mallory was most kind, and I have some fond memories of the residents there and the few classmates with whom I had contact.

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Arthur Shuntetsu Kodama

1923 – 2009?
Hometown: Hawaii

Arthur Shuntetsu Kodama was born in Hawaii around 1923. He arrived in Oberlin in fall 1942 as a freshman and also attended Oberlin during the 1943-1944 school year. He did not graduate from Oberlin. We know little about his later life; he may have died in Honolulu in 2009.

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Ruth Sachie Kono (Machara)

Hometown: unknown

We unfortunately know very little about Ruth Sachie Kono. She studied at Oberlin during the 1942-43 school year. She was in the class of 1946, but did not graduate from Oberlin. She married Edward Machara.

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William (Bill) Tokio Makino

1921 – 1994
Hometown: Seattle, Washington
Incarcerated at: Puyallup (Camp Harmony), Washington

Bill Makino was born in Seattle, Washington in 1921. At the time of the Pearl Harbor attack, he was enrolled at the University of Washington and was friends with other Nisei students like Kenji Okuda and Gordon Hirabayashi. When government authorities initially instituted a curfew and travel ban for Japanese Americans, Makino and Hirabayashi refused to comply. They made trips back and forth to the Puyallup “assembly center” (also known as “Camp Harmony”) to bring supplies to Japanese Americans who were already confined there. When Makino was ordered to register for evacuation, he initially considered resisting, but as an only child, he felt he needed to accompany his aging parents to Puyallup. Hirabayashi became the only Japanese American to refuse to register for evacuation; he would challenge the relocation order all the way to the Supreme Court.

In June 1942, while confined at Puyallup, Makino was inducted into the Alpha Kappa Delta sociology honor society in absentia at the University of Washington. That summer, Robert O’Brien of the University of Washington wrote Oberlin urging authorities to work quickly to obtain evidence of community support so that Makino could begin his studies at the college by the beginning of the fall semester. Makino was one of the seventeen Nisei students who started at Oberlin in fall 1942. He left Oberlin in 1943 after being inducted into the US Army, where he served with the Military Intelligence Service.

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Mitsuko “Mitsi” Matsuno (Yanagawa) ‘43

1919 – 2011
Hometown: Hilo, Hawaii

Mitsuko Matsuno, a native of Hilo, Hawaii, began her studies at Oberlin Conservatory in 1939 and lived in a boarding house with fellow Nisei, Ichiko Mukai. One of only four Japanese American students enrolled in the college when the war began, Matsuno graduated in 1943 with a degree in music education. She continued her education at Teacher’s College of Columbia, earning a MA there in 1944. In 1946, Matsuno married high school friend Yoshio Yanagawa, who served in the army during the war. They returned to Hawaii and had two children. Matsuno Yanagawa worked for the Hawaii State Department of Education as a teacher and school administrator. She served as vice principal of the Kaiolani School and later started her own business, Kelden Enterprise. She passed away in 2011.

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Michiko Matsushima (Fujimoto)

1922 – ?
Hometown: Seattle, Washington
Incarcerated at: Puyallup (Camp Harmony), Washington; Minidoka, Idaho

Michiko Matsushima was one of the 450 Japanese American students forced to abandon their studies at the University of Washington after they were ordered to evacuate the area. Born in Seattle in 1922, Matsushima was confined with her family first at the Puyallup “assembly center” and then at the Minidoka incarceration camp. She attended Oberlin from 1944-1946, although did not graduate. In 1947, she married Thomas Fujimoto and settled in Cleveland. She predeceased her husband, who died in 2005, but her exact date of death is unknown. In 2008, the University of Washington presented all of the evacuated students with honorary degrees, although many like Michiko were no longer alive to receive their degrees.

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Hisayo Morinaga

1920 – ?
Hometown: Washington State
Incarcerated at: Tule Lake, California

Hisayo Morinaga was born in Washington State in 1920. At the time of the Pearl Harbor attack, she was a student at the University of Washington. Forcibly relocated with her family to the Tule Lake incarceration camp, Hisayo came to Oberlin in the fall of 1942 at the same time as her younger sister, Yoshie.

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Yoshie Morinaga

1924 – ?
Hometown: Washington State
Incarcerated at: Tule Lake, California

Yoshie Morinaga was born in Washington State in 1924 and removed to the Tule Lake incarceration camp after the relocation order. She and her older sister, Hisayo, came to Oberlin together in the fall of 1942.

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Jean Mieko Morisuye (Conklin) ‘48

1926 – 2010
Hometown: Sharon, Pennsylvania

Jean Mieko Morisuye was born in Sharon, Pennsylvania in 1926. Although her family was not forced to relocate because they lived outside of the restriction zone, the police came to their house and removed the short-wave radio and all Japanese language materials. Her father, an electrical engineer who worked for Westinghouse, had his salary frozen for the duration of the war. The family also had to seek permission to travel more than five miles from Sharon, which they did every time they drove Jean to Oberlin.

Morisuye applied to Oberlin in 1944, choosing the school because it did not have fraternities and sororities and because one of her neighbors had gone there. She graduated in 1948 with a degree in zoology and went on to get a MA in biology from Brown University. She worked as a teaching or research assistant in Brown’s Zoology Department, the Department of Anatomy at Yale University, and Barnard’s Zoology Department.

While working at Yale, Morisuye met anthropologist Harold Conklin and the two married in 1954. They had three children and spent several years living in the Philippines as part of Conklin’s research. In 2002, Morisuye Conklin published the book An Ifugao Notebook chronicling a year she and her family spent in Luzon in 1968-69. Morisuye Conklin held many positions at Yale, including serving as the executive assistant to the director of athletics, to the director of human resources, and to the general counsel. She passed away in 2010.

“We Asked Permission from the Police Department”

Ours was the only Japanese family in Sharon, Pennsylvania where my father since 1925 was an electrical engineer at the Westinghouse plant. I was born in Sharon. Except for the week following Pearl Harbor while he was being investigated, my father continued to work at the plant. The only restriction was that the sections of the plant that were working on war-related things were off-limits to him. His salary was also frozen during the war years resulting in a comparatively low salary for the last half of his service at Westinghouse. The people at the plant, and, in fact, any who knew us in town, continued to be supportive and friendly.

The police did come to the house and removed our short-wave radio and any books or magazines written in Japanese. Everything was returned at a later date. We were restricted in travel to a distance of 5 miles from Sharon, but if we asked permission from the police department for a travel outside this zone, it was granted and they always offered to watch the house while we were gone. We used this privilege mainly when my parents drove me to or from Oberlin at the beginning or end of the school year. For holidays a lot of us traveled by bus because of gas rationing.

I entered Oberlin in the fall of 1944 and graduated in 1948. I considered only two colleges, Ohio Wesleyan and Oberlin, and chose the latter because it had no sororities or fraternities. Also, someone in Sharon was a graduate of Oberlin and she visited our home to assure us that it was a great place to go to school. My high school grades were good but not super-exceptional. I applied and was accepted, probably because the school was anxious to do its part in accepting Japanese students.

To my knowledge, the Nisei students were treated very well on campus and in town. It is possible that I was given a single room, albeit a very tiny one, my freshman year because they were not sure of a roommate’s reaction. But my room became a gathering point and I made many life-long friends that year.

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Ichiko Mukai (Hisanaga) ‘43

1921 – 2016
Hometown: Laupahoehoe, Hawaii

Ichiko Mukai was born in Laupahoehoe, Hawaii in 1921 and came to study at Oberlin in 1939. She was one of the four Japanese American students enrolled at Oberlin before the attack on Pearl Harbor. A junior by the time the war began, she graduated in 1943. In 1946, she married Kazuo (Casey) Hisanaga (Itsue Hisanaga’s older brother), who attended summer school in Oberlin in 1942 after graduating from Pomona. The couple returned to Hawaii and Ichiko became a music teacher. She passed away in 2016.

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Roy Nakata

1924 – 2013
Hometown: Alameda, California
Incarcerated at: Heart Mountain, Wyoming

Born in Alameda, California in 1924, Roy Nakata was a Boy Scout who enjoyed the outdoors. After his father lost his job as a ferryman, the family moved to Los Altos and then Palo Alto in search of work and quality schools for their children. Nearly done with high school on the eve of the forced relocation of Japanese Americans, a teacher gave him extra work so that he could graduate before he was forced to move with his family to the Santa Anita racetrack and then to the Heart Mountain incarceration camp in Wyoming. While confined at Santa Anita, his parents’ employer, Alice Sinclair Dodge, and the American Friends Service Committee helped Nakata apply to Oberlin. Dodge wrote to a dean at Oberlin on his behalf and she helped the family protect their savings--$2,000—so it could be used to send Nakata to school. Both Nakata and his parents were committed to his continuing his education rather than, as Nakata wrote in his autobiography, “being sent to an internment camp and wasting away what little knowledge I have gained thus far.” (Okihiri, Storied Lives).

Nakata was admitted to Oberlin and began his studies here in the fall of 1942; Dodge continued to support him by sending him funds to help cover his living expenses. Nakata joined the math club and the Cosmopolitan Club. He was inducted into the US army in the fall of 1944. After his honorable discharge, he finished his studies at San Jose State University, earning a BA in chemical engineering and then an MS in electrical engineering from Stanford. Nakata spent most of his career as an electrical engineer for General Electric, where he became the manager of the high-voltage laboratory in Pittsfield, MA and was granted twenty patents for his work on the design of power systems.

Nakata married Hiroko Sakamoto, whose family had been incarcerated at Poston; the couple had two sons. He passed away in 2013.

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Calvin Ninomiya

1927? – 2014
Hometown: Seattle, Washington
Incarcerated at: Jerome, Arkansas

Calvin Ninomiya was born in Seattle, Washington, in 1927 or 1928. Forced to relocate to the Jerome incarceration camp with his family, Ninomiya graduated from high school there. His older brother was killed in action in France in 1944 and was awarded a Purple Heart. Calvin came to Oberlin in 1944 but was soon inducted in the army. After being honorably discharged in 1946, he finished his degree at the University of Washington, graduating in 1949. He went to earn a law degree from the University of Chicago in 1952. Ninomiya served for many years as the chief counsel of the Treasury Department’s Bureau of the Public Debt. From 1995 until 2013, he worked as a consultant to the Treasury Office around the world. Ninomiya also worked actively on the behalf of Japanese American veterans. He served as acting chair of the National Japanese American Veterans Council and was general counsel and an executive council member of the Japanese Americans Veterans Association. He passed away in 2014.

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John Minori Nishiyama

1922 – 2007
Hometown: Puente, California
Incarcerated at: Possibly Heart Mountain, Wyoming

John Nishiyama was born in Puente, California in 1922. At the time of Pearl Harbor, he was a junior at Occidental College in Los Angeles. Historical records are sketchy; it appears that Nishiyama’s family was incarcerated at Heart Mountain but that he may have gone to Chicago before he was forced to relocate. By April 1942, he was in Chicago and looking to transfer to a new college. Occidental President Remsen Bird sent Nishimaya with a letter of introduction that vouched for his “integrity, his loyalty, his patriotism, and the readiness on his part to do whatever he may do for his country.” (Remsen Bird letter, April 21, 1942)

Nishiyama arrived at Oberlin in late May 1942. In a letter thanking President Bird for his assistance, he reported that his transition to Oberlin had gone smoothly. “…[E]veryone readily accepted me without question,” he wrote. “This provincial outpost is certainly a safe haven for me, and I believe that everything will go well for me from here on out.” [Nishimaya letter to Dr. Remsen Bird, May 28, 1942].

Nishiyama likely graduated in spring 1943 and returned to Chicago, although it appears his formal degree came from Occidental College. He was inducted into the army in March 1944. He served with the Military Intelligence Service as a linguist and translator.

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Midori Satomi (Odo)

Hometown: unknown

Unfortunately, there are no public records on Midori Satomi (Odo) and besides from a brief reference in an Oberlin yearbook, we can find no further information on her.

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Sammy Junsuke Oi

1922 – 2000
Hometown: Los Angeles, California
Incarcerated at: Granada (Camp Amache), Colorado

Sammy Oi was born in Los Angeles in 1922 and began his studies at UCLA in 1939. After Pearl Harbor, he and his family were removed to the Santa Anita “assembly center” and then to Granada incarceration camp in southeast Colorado. In 1942, he transferred to Oberlin where he became friends with Kenji Okuda, Dave Okada, and Bill Makino. We know little of his later life. He passed away in 2000.

His Oberlin admissions essay

I was born on March 1, 1922. My early childhood days were spent in that section of Los Angeles a little northwest of the central business district. I only seem able to recall the many hills and a park near our home where often I played with my mother and sister.

We moved to the southwestern part of town when I was about four years old and soon after I entered kindergarten. I graduated from elementary school in 1933 and then attended Forshay Junior High School. It was about this time that I joined the Boy Scouts and during the next few summers many enjoyable days were spent hiking and camping at the beaches and in the mountains near Los Angeles. Many friends were made during this period whom I cherish to this day.

I entered senior high school in September, 1936. Up to this time my future was very undecided. What was I to do upon graduation? Yes, I would like to go on to college but going to college without a purpose, I thought, was useless. My father had a successful market business which I could continue if I so chose. Somehow I felt that this was not to be my lot. To be a true success, I thought, one should love his work. It was my intention to live as full a life as possible. I had made the acquaintance of two fellow students and many enjoyable and profitable hours were spent with them, discussing the question, “What are we living for?” I decided that perhaps college would help me to solve this problem.

In my second year in high school, I studied chemistry under Miss Willson, an elderly, crippled lady. Often I had spoken with her after class and in the course of one of these talks, she encouraged me to major in chemistry when I went to college. College, she said, was a place where one should learn to think. Chemistry is the subject which will help you most to think.

I entered U.C.L.A. in the fall of 1939. Soon after school started, my father became ill and was bedridden for over four months. I was forced to look after his business, and this with my studies occupied nearly all of my time.

It was in the summer of 1940, when I spent my most pleasant vacation. With two friends, I spent a week in the interior of Yosemite. There, we hiked among tall pines and rugged granite mountains and swam in cool Lake Tenaya. There, I learned to appreciate nature.

This year when evacuation orders were issued, I dropped out of school. Now I am confined in a relocation center. My immediate plan is to finish school. I would like to go on in chemistry until I have a master’s degree and if possible a doctor’s. Perhaps I may be able to secure a position as a chemist in some plant or maybe teach in college.

At present I am hoping and praying with all my heart that the war will end soon and that men can live decently in a peaceful world.

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Dave Masato Okada ‘44

1914 – 1958
Hometown: Sacramento, California
Incarcerated at: Tule Lake, California

Dave Masato Okada had a particularly circuitous path to Oberlin. Born in Sacramento, California in 1914, Okada had to take over the care of his four younger brothers after his parents died when he was just seventeen. He took on full-time work and also enrolled in junior college, completing two years of study. In 1937, he passed an accounting course at a commercial school and secured a civil service position with the state of California. But in 1942, after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Okada was fired and sent to incarceration camps. Okada and his brothers were confined at Tule Lake. He described his dismay at the forced evacuation in the essay he wrote seeking admission to Oberlin in 1942:

“….after five years of what I considered my best efforts [working as civil servant], the present war resulted in my dismissal together with all other Japanese-American workers on charges questioning my loyalty to the country of my birth which had given me all the opportunities to make myself independent and self-supporting and to appreciate the democratic foundation of my country. Today, as a consequence of the war, I have entered a new phase of my life confined (physically) for the moment within the bounds of an internment camp. The future at best is uncertain and I do not know what great changes, both social and economic, will come about as the aftermath of this war to affect the lives of us American citizens of Japanese extraction.”

Okada was admitted to Oberlin as a junior in the fall of 1942 and graduated from the college with a degree in Sociology in 1944. While at Oberlin, he became good friends with Kenji Okuda and often joined Okuda in giving public talks about wartime incarceration. In one 1943 talk in Finney Chapel, Okada told the audience that incarceration stemmed from racial prejudice and old animus towards the Japanese on the west coast, not military necessity.

After graduating from Oberlin summa cum laude, Okada went on to study sociology at the University of Chicago where he won a Julius Rosenwald Fund fellowship to study the racial attitudes of Nisei, especially their views of African Americans. In 1948, he was hired as an assistant professor of sociology by Carleton College; Okada was the first person of color to receive a regular appointment to the faculty at Carleton. In 1955, he, his wife May (whom he had married while incarcerated at Tule Lake) and their two children spent a year at Waseda University in Tokyo where Okada had a Fulbright fellowship.

Okada died of a heart attack in 1958, when he was only 44 years old. In 1972, Carleton College established the Dave Okada Memorial Prize in the Social Sciences, which is awarded annually “to the social sciences major who has demonstrated the most remarkable intellectual achievement in his or her studies.”

The month of August, 1914 is to the world the beginning of World War I. For the purpose of this brief autobiography, August, 1914 should probably be more significant as the time of my birth.

The family life of an immigrant Japanese home in California was not too conducive to what might be termed the ideal rearing of a child. My father, before claiming my mother as his picture bride, has incurred debts and obligations in starting a barber shop. As long as I can remember, those debts and obligations continued to harass him, bringing in its wake a certain amount of strain within the family circle due to financial difficulties. Since both of my parents were thoroughly occupied in raising a family of five boys, I was left pretty much alone to amuse myself in games improvised through my own imagination or through various sports such as baseball and football which I played with the neighborhood children.

Yet in all her busy hours, clothing and feeding my brothers and me, and helping in the barber shop in her spare time, my mother still utilized every opportunity to counsel me and to direct my thinking toward consideration of others and helping people who were less fortunate than we. Although I was little impressed by this advice and prompting in my early adolescent years, its subsequent effect on my way of thinking and attitude toward life has been more than beneficial.

Very early in my childhood, I was fortunate in being taken to a Sunday School operated under the auspices of the Baptist denomination. The influence that I received in the many years that I attended the Sunday School faithfully and in which I eventually became a teacher and superintendent has, I believe, contributed invaluably to any claim of character and person integrity which I may hold today.

As to my education, I was not an exceptional pupil in my grammar and high school years, although my grades were better than average. A vivid recollection which comes to me in connection with my early school years (and which hindered my full development) is the fact that I was very shy with people and unable to express myself clearly before my classmates, teachers, and strangers and people with whom I was not acquainted.

Fortunately for me, during my last year in high school, through attendance at the Baptist young people’s meetings and participation in its varied activities, I developed an interest in singing and speaking in public. Through a process which required great physical and mental effort in overcoming fear and nervousness before groups of people, I was able to become an active participant and eventually a leader in young people’s activities, both religious and secular. Probably the one person who helped me more than any single individual was a white American worker in our church who devoted much time and effort toward the development of my Christian life and full and proper use of my limited talents in the service of others. To her and my mother, I owe my deepest debts of gratitude for anything of value which I may have done to date.

When I was seventeen, I lost both of my parents and as a result, I had to support myself through two years of junior college as well as contribute toward a large portion of the maintenance of a home for my four younger brothers. Fortunately, during the first two or three years, insurance money provided sufficient means of support to help me finish junior college. However, soon after I graduated, it was necessary for me to devote all of my time to the support of my brothers. But I was unable to find a job which paid enough, and moreover, I developed a permanent heart condition which has restricted my physical ever since. The privations which we had to endure seemed almost unbearable at times, but through the assistance of friends and some aid from the welfare department of the State, we managed to struggle along.

In 1937, after finishing a course in accounting in a local commercial school, I took and passed an examination for a State civil service position. Through hard work and through conscientious effort, I received two promotions leading to a position requiring the acceptance of many responsibilities, which included for a period of two years immediately preceding my termination of State service the privilege and responsibility of directing the work of a large group of other civil service employees. But after five years of what I considered my best efforts, the present war resulted in my dismissal in my dismissal together with all other Japanese-American workers on charges questioning my loyalty to the country of my birth which had given me all the opportunities to make myself independent and self-supporting and to appreciate the democratic foundation of my country. Today, as a consequence of the war, I have entered a new phase of my life confined (physically) for the moment within the bounds of an internment camp. The future at best is uncertain and I do not know what great changes, both social and economic, will come about as the aftermath of this war to affect the lives of us American citizens of Japanese extraction.

The anticipation of new experiences hitherto uncharted and the knowledge of sharing these experiences with my bride of a little more than a week convey to me the thought that I am starting life anew beginning with World War II. Whatever lies ahead, I have implicit faith in a Divine Providence, a personal God who will direct me into proper avenue of service by which I can render myself useful to my fellow men.

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Kenji Okuda

1922 – 2011
Hometown: Seattle, Washington
Incarcerated at: Puyallup (Camp Harmony), Washington; Granada (Camp Amache), Colorado

Kenji Okuda was born in 1922 in Seattle to a well-known family in the Japanese community. After graduating from high school, he spent a gap year in Japan before returning to begin his studies at University of Washington in 1940. At UW, he studied economics and became a leader in the campus YMCA. On the evening of December 7, immediately after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the FBI arrested Okuda’s father Henry, a leading businessman, on the grounds that he was "the most dangerous Japanese propagandist in the Seattle Area." Henry Okuda was sent to Missoula, Montana and confined there for months before being allowed to rejoin his family.

After the evacuation order was handed down in February 1942, Okuda served as a student representative on University of Washington’s committee dealing with student evacuation and relocation issues. In April, he arrived at the Puyallup Fair Grounds—dubbed “Camp Harmony” by military authorities—to help prepare the site of the evacuation of the rest of Seattle’s Japanese American community there the following month. As part of this “advance team,” Okuda worked long hours getting the camp ready for human habitation. In a 1995 interview, Okuda recalled the “chaos of that early period”:

“[W]e were working 15-20 hours a day, unloading people's luggage and other materials into the rooms they were assigned. And eating 3 or 4 times a day. Usually we'd eat at 5 and start at 6. Then we'd have another meal before noon and finally another at dinner, then another late at night. Eating Vienna sausages. That's all they served us for two weeks. I cannot look a Vienna sausage in the face to this day.”

In letters written to his friend, Norio Higano, he raged about what he saw as the hypocrisy of a democracy interning its own citizens. He soon resigned his job as a camp information officer as a form of protest against a twice daily roll call of all the inmates. He also helped organize a vote of no-confidence in the internal camp administration created by the Japanese American Citizen’s League. A pacifist who belonged to the Fellowship of Reconciliation, Okuda registered as a conscientious objector while confined at Puyallup. All of these actions made him suspect in the eyes of the US military authorities, and led to him and his family being sent to the Granada incarceration camp in Colorado (the rest of the people at Puyallup were eventually sent to the Minidoka camp in Idaho. Okuda and other “agitators” were deliberately separated from their community and sent to different camps.

At Granada, Okuda served on the camp church council and worked to establish a Granada Christian Church. He also was given permission to occasionally leave camp to give talks on behalf of the YMCA. But mainly he waited for permission to leave camp to continue his education.

Okuda had been admitted to Oberlin very quickly after the evacuation order. On the recommendation of Oberlin student Harry Yamaguchi, Oberlin President Ernest Wilkins quickly offered spaces to Okuda and three other Nisei students from the University of Washington. Okuda recalled that “Oberlin asked me to send whatever credentials I could. And within a week or two, they had accepted me.” But it would take nine months for Okuda to reach Oberlin since the army initially refused to give him security clearance to leave Granada, both because of his political activities and because he faced greater scrutiny since he had spent a year in Japan following his high school graduation.

Okuda arrived at Oberlin at the beginning of the spring semester in 1943. He quickly became involved on campus and within only a few months, he had been elected student body president, running on a platform encouraging student debate about key issues and the need for a more active student government. He also embraced what he saw as his duty to be an emissary communicating the "problems of the Japanese and Japanese Americans" to the broader community and soon began giving talks around the campus and the local region. Soon the NJASRC began recommending him as a speaker and during his years at Oberlin, he travelled the country to talk about the future of Japanese Americans in the United States.

Okuda left Oberlin in January 1945 while still a few credits shy of graduation. He briefly returned to Seattle before beginning graduate studies in economics. He earned an MA at Harvard and a PhD at Washington State University. Okuda taught at Franklin and Marshall, Bard College, and the University of Puerto Rico, Washington State University, and several South Asian universities before settling into a career teaching economics at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada in 1966. Okuda researched economic development and worked on development issues in Pakistan, Nepal, and several African countries. Okuda retired from Simon Fraser in 1987 and passed away in 2011.

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Sadayoshi (Sada) Omoto ‘49

1922 – 2013
Hometown: Bainbridge Island, Washington
Incarcerated at: Manzanar, California

Sadayoshi (Sada) Omoto was born on Bainbridge Island off the coast of Seattle, Washington in 1922. He had started his freshman year at the University of Washington and was commuting from home to school at the time of the Pearl Harbor attack. Omoto describes how soon after the attack, the FBI came to the island and began searching the homes of those of Japanese descent. Agents “swooped down and hit every single family so that we couldn't communicate with one another if we had the ability to do that.” Japanese American residents of Bainbridge Island were the first people subject to the evacuation order issued by President Roosevelt in early 1942. They were given only six days to prepare before being rounded up by armed soldiers on March 30th and put on army trucks to the ferry to Seattle. From there, the 200 island residents took a train to Los Angeles, and then were bused to the Manzanar incarceration camp in southern California. They became some of the first residents at the camp.

Omoto immediately began working at the camp, first by bringing food to those who could not come to the mess hall to get food themselves, and then in the camp hospital. But he also began applying to schools outside the evacuation zone with the help of the National Japanese American Student Relocation Council. In 2008, he told an interviewer that he didn’t really know “how I happened to get to Oberlin,” but he began studying there in the fall of 1943. He had been on campus only a semester when he was drafted into the US army; Omoto trained at Fort Snelling and served in the Military Intelligence Service, working as a Japanese language translator, from 1944 through 1946. In 1946, he returned to Oberlin and graduated with a degree in Art History in 1949.

Omoto earned an MA in Art History from Michigan State and a PhD in Art History with a specialty in American art from The Ohio State University. He taught art history at Bradley College in Illinois and Wayne State University in Detroit before joining the faculty at Michigan State University in 1964. Omoto taught at MSU for over thirty years, becoming a full professor and serving as chair of the Art History department.

Although a specialist in American art history, Omoto was also interested in Asian art and occasionally taught Asian art history. Towards the end of his career, he began teaching about art related to the wartime incarceration of Japanese Americans, including art that had been created in the camps during the war and art made later about the experience. After he retired in the mid-1990s, he moved to Leland, Michigan and helped create an art group at a local community center. He also began doing his own paintings about his experiences with evacuation and incarceration (one of his paintings is featured in this exhibit). He wanted, he recalled in a 2008 interview:

…to make something that is going to be an expression of this incarceration. And so I made a series of little paintings, one leaving the island, one coming home, one we did in the camps and so forth, kind of a conglomeration of things that I experienced. I wanted to put that down before it got away from me, because it's too easy to say, oh well, someone else did it, and I still have that. It’s not gonna be a great piece of art, but it’s kind of a document of what I viewed.

Omoto had three children and was active in his community until his death in 2013. His widow, Kathryn Omoto, generously loaned one of his paintings to the college for use in the exhibit.

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Mineko “Minnie” Sasahara (Avery) ‘47

b. 1926
Hometown: Fresno, California
Incarcerated at: Manzanar, California

Minnie Sasahara was born in 1926 and grew up in Fresno, California until her family was forcibly relocated to the Manzanar incarceration camp when she was 16. A talented pianist, Sasahara came to Oberlin from Manzanar in 1943 and graduated from the Conservatory in 1947. She went on to earn an MFA in musicology and piano from Carnegie Mellon University and a law degree from the University of Pittsburgh. She married fellow Obie Bob Avery ’48 in 1954 and the couple settled in Pittsburgh, where Avery taught Sociology at the University of Pittsburgh. The couple had two children.

Over the course of her career, Sasahara Avery worked as a music teacher, a concert performer, and as a lawyer. She served as a staff attorney for the nonprofit Legal Aid for Children and was recognized as one of the “Real Pittsburghers Who Made a Difference” by Pittsburgh Magazine in 1988.

Sasahara Avery described what being incarcerated at Manzanar did to her family, and especially to her father. “My father, a skilled mechanic, was just coming out of the Depression when the camps were opened. His dreams, whatever they were, were destroyed.” Wartime incarceration “trampled on” human rights, she told the Pittsburgh Gazette in 1996. “The camps were one early example of how an ethnic group can be done in.” (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, December 15, 1996). Sasahara Avery lives in Brookline, Massachusetts.

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Willard Glenn Sueoka

1924? – 2005
Hometown: Hawaii

Willard Sueoka was born in Hawaii, probably in 1924. He came to Oberlin in 1941, becoming one of only four Japanese American students who were enrolled in the college at the start of the war (the others were sophomore Harry Yamaguchi and juniors Mitsuko Matsuno and Ichiko Mukai). At some point during his tenure at Oberlin, he began training at the Military Intelligence Service Language School, which recruited Nisei to serve in the military as Japanese language linguists and interpreters. He graduated from his training program at Fort Snelling in Minnesota in February 1945. He died in 2005 and is buried in Maui Veterans Cemetery.

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Yoshie Takagi (Ohata) ’46

b. 1924
Hometown: New Jersey

Yoshie Takagi grew up in New Jersey in the only Japanese American family in her community. Her parents were both born in Japan, but brought up their three children to speak only English and to see themselves as Americans. The FBI searched their home after Pearl Harbor, but as they were living outside the relocation zone, the family was not evacuated. Takagi chose Oberlin because her parents knew several missionaries who had graduated from the college and believed it would be a safe place for her to be while the country was at war. She earned a BA in Psychology from Oberlin in 1946 and then attended the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania, earning her MD there. In 1955, Takagi began working as a physician in Honolulu, Hawaii. In 1956, she married Harold Ohata; the couple had four children. Takagi Ohata worked for many years as a staff physician and then as Medical Director of the Maluhia Long Term Health Center in Honolulu. She is 93 and currently lives in Hilo, Hawaii.

I was born in New Jersey and was raised in Dumont and Englewood.

My family was the only Japanese family in those two communities. My Issei businessman father wanted his three children to be totally American and felt that this was the only way we should be brought up. My Issei mother was a Kobe College graduate. Both parents spoke to their children only in English, so today we cannot speak or understand Japanese.

I was a senior at Dwight Morrow High School in Englewood on December 7, 1941. That day was the first time I saw my father cry.

Although I applied and was accepted by colleges on the East Coast, my father felt I should go to Oberlin as he was aware of what happened on the West Coast. Our family was never evacuated, but the FBI did search our home.

The President of Kobe College and some of my mother’s Caucasian missionary teachers were Oberlin College graduates. This is the reason I applied and, I believe, was accepted by Oberlin.

I never felt different from anyone else growing up until the war years. Our family was accepted in the community, and the community was supported during the war years. The same type of acceptance continued at Oberlin except for derogatory remarks from some of the V-12 men stationed on campus.

If it weren’t for the war years, I most likely would have attended another college. However, I’m glad I’m an Oberlin graduate, as it provided me with a well-rounded background and a social consciousness that has been an asset as a wife, mother, and physician.

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Paul Kazumi Ushijima

? – 2011
Hometown: Casper, Wyoming

Very little is known about Paul Kazumi Ushijima. He was born in Wyoming and attended Oberlin at some point during the war years. By 1952 he was studying for a BA in marketing at UCLA. He was 86 when he died in Los Angeles in 2011.

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Eugene S. Uyeki ‘48

1926 – 2014
Hometown: Seattle, Washington
Incarcerated at: Puyallup (Camp Harmony), Washington; Minidoka, Idaho

Born in 1926 in Washington State, Eugene Uyeki was forcibly removed with his family to the Puyallup “assembly center” and then to the Minidoka incarceration camp. In 1945, he transferred from the University of Utah in Salt Lake City to Oberlin. He explained that he wanted to transfer to Oberlin because “I feel that I can better prepare myself for my future work at Oberlin than here at the University of Utah. I wish to attend Oberlin because all the people whom I have asked about concerning Oberlin are very high in its praise… The most striking thing about Oberlin which influences me was its emphasis on a liberal education with preparatory works towards graduate study.” He graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Oberlin in 1948, earning a BA in Political Science. He continued his studies at the University of Chicago, earning a PhD in 1953. His PhD thesis focused on the adjustment patterns of Nisei to Chicago.

Uyeki began his career as an Institutional Assistant, Associate Professor of Sociology at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio in 1953. He served in the US army from 1954-1955 and returned to his position at Case, where in his 44-year career, he served as chair of the Department of Sociology, director of the “Science, Technology, and Public Policy” program, and Provost for Social and Behavioral Sciences.

Uyeki married Martha Ono, a medical social worker, in 1956, and the couple had two sons. He passed away in 2014.

Uyeki’s admissions essay

My Autobiography

I am an American of Japanese ancestry. I was born in the city of Seattle in the state of Washington. All of my grade school training and my two years of high school were spent in the schools in Seattle. I made excellent grades and was considered numerous times for double promotions. However, my health as a child was not very good, and after numerous consultations with my parents, it was always decided that because of my poor health it would be inadvisable to take on extra work. Since then my health has improved considerably and I haven’t missed many days of school.

The days went merrily along. Heedless of the gathering storm clouds, most of us were busily engrossed in our play. Then the storm broke with all its fury, and our nation was plunged into the world holocaust. From that day since, like millions of other Americans, my life has not been the same.

Along with thousands of other Nisei, I was evacuated in the spring of 1942 to relocation centers in the barren deserts of the inland states. Evacuation was a very severe blow to my pride and shattered many of my pre-conceived notions of democracy. Even to the last day that I was to be evacuated, I felt that somehow the evacuation order would be rescinded. Maybe it was a blind faith in America, but it was faith.

With the passage of the great healer of all wounds–time– much of my bitterness passed away, and I put myself whole-heartedly into school studies and extra-curricular activities. My efforts were not unrewarded as witness the following positions which I held: President of the Debate Club, vice-president of the Senior Class, business manager of the Yearbook, vice-president of the Pen Club, besides numerous other lesser positions. My most thrilling experience was delivering the farewell address at our commencement exercises last June. I thought that maybe my grades would suffer for the lack of any time after engaging in so many extra-curricular activities, but they still remained just as good. Even if I had gotten lower grades, the good that I profited from these activities would more than compensate for them. Not only was I having lots of fun, but it gave me a sense of doing something for the good of the school and the community. I was constantly meeting people, always on the go, and assuming new responsibilities–doing things which would be of much value in later life.

I met many fine people in camp–both Caucasian and Nisei. The friendships I made there, friendships under a time of strain, were very enjoyable and profitable. I came to appreciate many of the things which I had taken for granted before. The monotony of regimented life in the centers, community dining halls, bath houses, and the like were abhorring to me.

Up to the time of evacuation, I was pretty set on going into one of the physical sciences as a profession. But because of evacuation and from the many influences arising out of friendships made while at the center, I have radically changed my mind, and I am very sure now that I am going into one of the social sciences. One person who has influenced me very much towards that end is Reverend Joseph M. Kitagawa of Hunt, Idaho. He is an Episcopalian minister, young as most reverends go. He is very much interested in the younger generation, and I was very fortunate in being able to help him out during the summer vacation. Just from being around him, I have to come to appreciate the good that a person trained in the social sciences can do. Another person who has influenced me a great deal is Mr. Elmer R. Smith, professor of Anthropology at the University of Utah, now on leave to the WRA at Hunt, Idaho. He was acting as community analyst at Hunt, and I spent many evenings with him discussing a variety of topics. His utter sincerity and ever-ready helpfulness in helping the Nisei who were being scored by almost everybody was like a shaft of beam in a dark room– a hope of something better to come.

I have always been an avid reader of literature of all kinds. I like to read the newspapers and news magazines for I wish to know what is going on in this complex world of ours. Lately, my taste for books has been diverted mostly towards non-fiction such as biographies and books of the times such as Sumner Welles’s “The Time for Decision.” I find a great deal of satisfaction and enjoyment out of reading these kinds of books.

My plans for the future are always subject to change. At the present time, I am very much interested in majoring in Political Science, or entering the field of law. I am quite sure that I want to do graduate work in either field. Because of what we have gone through, I feel that I can add a little to the sum total of American culture.

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Harry Goichi Yamaguchi ‘43

1921 – 2002
Hometown: Seattle, Washington

Harry Yamaguchi grew up in Seattle, Washington. He became one of the first Japanese American students to attend Oberlin when he arrived on campus in 1939. He initially planned to study theology, but soon switched his major to Psychology. In early 1942, when the president of the University of Washington asked Oberlin President Ernest Wilkins to take some of UW’s Nisei students, Wilkins asked Yamaguchi to recommend students he thought would be a good fit. Yamaguchi recommend several students to Wilkins, including Kenji Okuda.

Yamaguchi graduated from Oberlin in 1943. Three years later, he married Itsue Hisanaga; she had been an early transfer to Oberlin in April 1942 when she was forced to leave Pomona. The couple had two children. Yamaguchi served in the US Army before earning a PhD in Psychology from Yale University in 1949. Two years later, he accepted a position in the Psychology Department at Indiana University where he specialized in child and adolescent development. During his long career, Yamaguchi served as President of the Asian American Psychological Association and on the Board of Ethnic Minority Affairs of the American Psychological Association. Yamaguchi retired in 1987; he passed away in 2002.

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Margaret Yokota (Matsunaga) ‘48

b. 1923
Hometown: Los Angeles, California
Incarcerated at: Santa Anita, California; Heart Mountain, Wyoming

Margaret Yokota was born in Los Angeles in 1923. Both her mother and father taught at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church Japanese school. In 1942, she and her family were forcibly removed to the Santa Anita “assembly center” and then were incarcerated at Heart Mountain. She came to Oberlin in 1944 to study music education and became a public school music teacher in Colorado. She currently resides in Colorado.

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