Saturday, December 14, 2019

The gift: A medal for Ichiro

ABOVE: Russell Cleary (standing, far right) with a Sea Scout troop at Newport Beach in 1940, viewing a diving helmet and breathing apparatus as part of training for a Veterans of Foreign Wars Bridge of Honor program. To qualify for honors, the boys planned to "descend beneath the sea with the helmet on". (Image, "Santa Ana Sea Scouts to Use Diving Helmet", Santa Ana Register, January 24, 1940)

   He didn't know what else to do. The world was at war. Russell Cleary's childhood friend had been taken from Orange County to a desert camp by the U.S. government, before they'd even had a chance to finish their senior year at Santa Ana High School. The two friends had been looking forward to the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) Citrus Belt League championship track and field competition.

   Cleary only did what made sense to him. He mailed a talisman of hope to his friend, Ichiro "Cheesy" Yoshimi, Block 38, Colorado River Relocation Center, Arizona: a pole vault medal.
RIGHT: Two months before the Yoshimi family and all Japanese Americans were forcibly removed from Orange County in May 1942, childhood friends Russell Cleary and Ichiro Yoshimi competed at the southern California counties track meet in Huntington Beach. Russell competed in high jump and Ichiro in the pole vault competition. Competing at the same meet was James Kanno, who would become in 1957 the first mayor of Fountain Valley (formerly Talbert). Kanno's father, Shuji, was an elder in the Wintersburg Japanese Mission in Wintersburg Village, where the Kanno family were congregants. (Santa Ana Register, March 20, 1942)

   "Dear Cheesy, I got 4th place in the meet with 10'6". I am sending you this medal because you deserve it," wrote Russell of the . "I know you could have done as good or better." 

   Enclosed was a small bronze medal with a yellow ribbon. Ichiro attached it to his watch chain and proudly wore it during his incarceration at Poston.

   The story of the gift was shared in detention center and camp newspapers at Santa Anita and Poston, as well as in the Santa Ana Register by sports columnist Eddie West in his "West Wind: Here and There in Sports" column on August 5, 1942. 

   "A 'Medal for Cheesy' is the title of the little human interest yarn below", wrote West, "which comes from the Poston Press Bulletin by way of Kaz Oshiki of the Santa Anita Pacemaker, which published it as its story-of-the-week."

   "I think you'll like it," added West about the story of the two high school friends, " is young democracy in action and at its best".

LEFT: Ichiro Yoshimi's father, Fred S. Yoshimi, owned the Rose Chop Suey Parlor at 404 West Fourth Street in Santa Ana (also sometimes listed at 402 West Fourth Street). This location is extant and is the 1915 red brick "Lawrence" building on West 4th Street, across the street from the Ronald Reagan Federal Building and United States Courthouse. Chop suey is an American invention and not authentic Chinese cuisine. It first started appearing in the United States in the 1880s and by the 1920s was a popular dish around the country. The advertisement at left was published on Christmas Eve in 1930. (Santa Ana Register, December 24, 1930)

   West's republishing of the "A Medal for Cheesy" story included the back story that the two friends were "both looking forward to the Citrus Belt League Championships when they could match poles with vaulters from other schools. But in May, just before the event, Yoshimi with his family, suddenly became a resident of Poston, Arizona.  Instead of gripping the thin, strong bamboo in his hands, instead of his body agilely soaring through the air, Yoshimi took a firm hold of a paint brush and went to work in the sign department."  

   West already was familiar with Ichiro, who had been reported on in local sports articles and columns for his achievements in track and field. West also was in alignment with the newspaper in which his column was published, The Santa Ana Register

   The Santa Ana Register's publisher R.C. Hoiles stood against the forced removal and incarceration of Japanese Americans, remarking in an opinion piece on October 14, 1942, that "few, if any, people ever believed that the evacuation of the Japanese was constitutional. It was a result of emotion and fright rather than being in harmony with the Constitution and the inherent rights that belong to all citizens...true democracy is always dangerous but it is the safest thing we have. If we are not willing to run any risks and cannot have faith in humanity and regard people innocent until they are proved guilty, we are on the road to losing our democracy."

RIGHT: Like many Japanese American-owned businesses, the Rose Chop Suey Parlor supported community events, such as the 1933 Fiesta del Oro and Rodeo for which the restaurant is listed as one of the "public spirited citizens and business institutions". (Santa Ana Register, July 26, 1933)

   Russell Cleary, who passed in 2005, married his high school sweetheart, Louise Kenyon, before joining the Air Force after graduating from Santa Ana High School. His obituary, published in the Orange County Register (the former Santa Ana Register), notes that Russell operated fishing concessions at Irvine Lake and Anaheim Lakes until his retirement, and that "he lived his life to the fullest with unmatched enthusiasm, tending his fruit trees and grapevines, cooking and canning, eagerly reading anything about the Old West, walking, going to swap meets and farmer's markets..."

   Ichiro Yoshimi, a 1942 alumnus of Santa Ana High School, passed in 1995 at the age of 71, with services held at the Honpa Hong-Wanji Buddhist Temple in Little Tokyo, Los Angeles. He is noted as the "beloved husband of Sachiko, father of Robert, Jon and Richard...". 

   In Poston, he was listed as a member of the camp's Red Cross, along with his father, "Fred" Saishichi (sic) Yoshimi (The First Year, Story of the Red Cross in Poston, September 1, 1943). Ichiro's older sister, Lily Yuriko Yoshimi, had been attending Santa Ana College in 1942 when her college aspirations were interrupted. In 2010, she was one of 22 students listed to whom the college wanted to provide a diploma (after the 2009 California law requiring public college and university systems to retroactively grant an honorary degree "to any student of Japanese American descent, living or deceased, who was forcibly removed and subsequently incarcerated during World War II").

 LEFT: The Santa Ana Register reported high school graduation ceremonies held three weeks after Ichiro Yoshimi and his family arrived at Poston. The article noted that 14 members of the class were already with the armed forces and three were "Japanese students moved to the interior during the recent evacuation." Ichiro Yoshimi was one of the three, along with  Yone Sasaki (Munemitsu) and James Kanno. Not all high schools in Orange County listed the Japanese American students who received their diplomas in absentia. In 1999, the graduating class of Santa Ana High School asked former Fountain Valley mayor James Kanno to walk with them at their commencement ceremony. (Santa Ana Register, June 9, 1942)

   Between 1942 to 1945, the CIF did not hold state meets for track and field, due to World War II. There were restrictions relating to gasoline rationing and no rubber for balls and other sports equipment. The Citrus Belt League competition in 1942 was as far as Orange County athletes would go that year.

   A history of the CIF written by Forrest William Fraasch in 1972 records that in 1942 "discontinuation of the use of the bamboo pole for the pole vault became complete during this period. Bamboo shipments ceased because of the war with Japan." CIF also notes the bamboo pole "really required a science in vaulting" and that the war was a "catalyst in changing the types of poles to the present fibre glass since it was so hard to obtain the bamboo pole..."

RIGHT: Raymond Furuta, son of Charles Mitsuji and Yukiko Yajima Furuta of the Furuta farm at Historic Wintersburg, during a track meet circa 1932. A star athlete who graduated from Huntington Beach High School in 1932, Ray participated in track during the bamboo pole era. (Photograph courtesy of the Furuta family collection) © ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

   In 1945, when Japanese Americans began returning home to California, the CIF Southern Section initially placed restrictions on their participation in high school sports following a letter by the Burbank High School Registrar and Assistant Principal Theo. Kopp to Commissioner Seth Van Patten in November 1945. It was published on the front page of the CIF Southern Section Monthly Bulletin in December 1945 with the title, "Japanese boys create problem". 

   "With the return of a considerable number of Japanese boys to Southern California, it will be necessary for the CIF to come to some decision regarding the eligibility of these boys for next semester," wrote Kopp.  The eligibility requirement was related to credits missed for academic subjects during the fall 1945 semester for which they had not been able to fully participate due to their incarceration. The "problem" was referred to the CIFSS council for their February 1946 meeting (there is no mention of the resolution in subsequent Monthly Bulletins).

   The politics and wartime hysteria that separated Russell Cleary and Ichiro Yoshimi in 1942 were bigger than the two friends, but Russell's tiny gift to Ichiro was noticed by many. The medal for "Cheesy" in Poston was a message from the outside world to hang on. He was not forgotten.

© All rights reserved. No part of the Historic Wintersburg blog may be reproduced or duplicated without prior written permission from the author and publisher, Mary Adams Urashima. 

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Welcoming the Consul General of Japan, present and past

ABOVE: California Senate Majority Leader Robert Hertzberg greeting the new Consul General of Japan Akira Muto at the assumption of post reception. Representatives for Historic Wintersburg were invited guests, along with representatives for the Huntington Beach Sister City Association. Huntington Beach has been a Sister City with Anjo, Japan, since 1992. (Photograph, October 3, 2019, M. Urashima) © ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

    Southern California welcomed a new Consul General of Japan at a recent reception held in Los Angeles. Consul General Akira Muto has served in Washington D.C., and Boston, and was a visiting scholar at Stanford University's Walter H. Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies. The Los Angeles consulate post includes Southern California and Arizona.

LEFT: Consul General Akira Muto speaks at the Assumption of Post reception. The ever gracious consulate staff at right. (Photograph, October 3, 2019, M. Urashima)  © ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

   In his remarks upon the assumption of his new post, Consul General Muto stated, "I am greatly honored to be able to serve as consul general in a region with such deep ties to Japan, and look forward to wonderful new encounters that may differ from those during my time as Consul General of Japan in Boston." 

   Consul General Muto takes his position as the Emperor of Japan Naruhito ascends to the Throne in the new era of Reiwa. Japan also is readying for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic games in July. Surfing will make its debut in the Olympic Games in Tokyo 2020. The shortboard competition will take place at Tsurigasaki Beach, in Chiba

   "Once engaged in war, our nations have overcome those past troubled times to become close allies connected in deep friendship. Japan's solid relationship with Southern California and Arizona exemplifies our strong Japan-U.S. ties, " remarked Consul General Muto. "My utmost duty as Consul General of Japan in Los Angeles will be to further cultivate goodwill between Japan and the U.S."

   Wintersburg Village and Huntington Beach have a long history with Japan, with Japanese pioneers contributing significantly to regional agriculture and development. The growing communities welcomed an important consulate visit in 1912, holding a luncheon at the Huntington Inn for Consul General Matsuzo Nagai, who was stationed in San Francisco. The Consul General arrived at 8:30 a.m. for a meeting at Huntington Beach city hall with Mayor W.D. Seely and then spoke to an assembly of students at Huntington Beach High School, before the luncheon.

RIGHT: A 1917 advertisement from the Santa Ana Register for the Dragon Cafe in Santa Ana, which hosted a banquet for the Consul General of Japan Matsuzo Nagai in May 1912 (with leading Japanese and American citizens of Orange County). The Dragon Cafe hosted many important Orange County events in the 1910s. They advertised heavily for Valentine's Day, offering to deliver heart-shaped cakes, ice cream and chocolate in heart-shaped satin candy boxes. (Advertisement, Santa Ana Register, November 2, 1917)

   The Santa Ana Register reported, "In addition to leading Japanese of this section there will be present 25 American guests. Those from this City will be Mayor W. D. Seely, Principal A.E. Paine of the High School, President T.B. Talbert of the Board of Trade, Louis Paul Hart of the Huntington Beach News, and Rev. E.J. Harlow." Consul General Nagai then spoke at the Talbert Hall in what is now Fountain Valley and then enjoyed a banquet at the famous Dragon Cafe in Santa Ana.  

LEFT: Consul General Matsuzo Nagai, circa 1917, five years after his visit to Orange County. Consul General Nagai would have been enthusiastic about the upcoming Tokyo 2020 Olympics. He served on the governmental committee in Japan charged with preparing for the Tokyo games in 1940 (which were cancelled) and also as a member of the International Olympic Committee until 1950. (Photograph, WikiCommons)

   An activist for the Olympic Games, Consul General Nagai would not have been introduced to surfing during his 1912 visit to "Surf City", as the sport was just beginning to take hold along the southern California coast. Irish Hawaiian George Freeth is considered the first to surf the Huntington Beach pier at its re-dedication in 1914. Delbert "Bud" Higgins, one of the first local surfers, noted that "the first use of boards was about 1912 when they used a piece of 1 by 12 board about 4 feet long and pushed off from 5 foot water. There were no surfboards on the coast except the one belonging to George Freeth of Redondo Beach and it was a very makeshift one made of several boards with cross pieces nailed to hold it together."

   Consul General Nagai undoubtedly would have been delighted that 107 years after his visit to Orange County, surfers from Japan are training near the Huntington Beach pier as they prepare for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. Huntington Beach's Kanoa Igarashi--a two time champion of the U.S. Open of Surfing competition near the Huntington Beach pier--has qualified for the 2020 surfing competition and will join them in Japan.

More about Huntington Beach's long history with Japan: Read about the 1935 reception for Japanese Consul General Tomokazu Hori, Cherry blossoms and poppies: A 1935 banquet with the Japanese Consul in Huntington Beach.

ABOVE: Consul General Matsuzo Nagai, to the left of Mayor W.D. Seely, standing center front, on the steps of the Huntington Inn in Huntington Beach in May 1912 with representatives of the Smeltzer Japanese Association and City leaders. Consul General Nagai's post was in San Francisco. The Smeltzer Japanese Association provided the first fireworks in 1905 for Huntington Beach July 4th celebrations and also supported fundraising for the rebuilding of the Huntington Beach pier in 1912. Charles Furuta, owner of the Furuta farm at Historic Wintersburg, is standing in the front row, second from left. Reverend Barnabus Hisayoshi Teresawa, a founder of the Wintersburg Japanese Mission, to the right of Mayor W.D. Seely. Huntington Beach's first mayor, Ed Manning, is second row, far right in light-color suit.  Another Huntington Beach mayor, Orange County supervisor, and pioneer realtor, Thomas Talbert, is in the second row (on step), fourth from left with hat in hand.  (Photograph courtesy of Wintersburg Church, May 31, 1912) © ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

© All rights reserved.  No part of the Historic Wintersburg blog may be reproduced or duplicated without prior written permission from the author and publisher, M. Adams Urashima.