Japanese Americans Were Forced to Fight Two Battles in World War II

Karleen C. Chinen

On this 75th anniversary of Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, many people are seeking out the newspapers of December 1941 for the valuable point-in-time perspective they present.

The Honolulu Advertiser and the Honolulu Star-Bulletin weren’t the only newspapers publishing on O‘ahu in 1941. There were two Japanese language newspapers — The Hawaii Hochi (publisher of today’s Hawai‘i Herald) and the Nippu Jiji. The Hawaii Hochi was a Monday through Saturday paper, so its first edition after the Pearl Harbor attack was published on Monday, Dec. 8, 1941. At least three of the six-pages were devoted to the Dec. 7 attack. The edition contained only one page of news in Japanese; everything else was published in English, much of it from the United Press Association (forerunner of the United Press International wire service). [ … ]

Hawaii Hochi editor Fred Kinzaburo Makino also penned an editorial titled: “This is Our War.” In it, he wrote: “Regardless of citizenship or race, every inhabitant of Hawaii must regard himself as loyal to the country that is his home and must so conduct himself that no suspicion or odium will fall upon him or the section of the community of which he is a part.”

The Pearl Harbor 75th anniversary commemoration will also honor the veterans who served in the four Japanese American military units in World War II — the 100th Infantry Battalion, 442nd Regimental Combat Team, Military Intelligence Service and the 1399th Engineer Construction Battalion — at a banquet on Monday, Dec. 5, at the Hawai‘i Convention Center. The theme for the banquet is: “Fighting Two Wars: Japanese American Veterans Tribute.”

The organizers could not have selected a more fitting theme for this opportunity to honor the men who proved, with their lives, their loyalty to America as an official Pearl Harbor commemoration event. For most of the men in the 100th Infantry Battalion, that service to their country had begun even before the first bombs fell on O‘ahu. [ … ]

Photo of Varsity Victory Volunteers veterans (from left) Yoshiaki Fujitani, Ted Tsukiyama, Akira Otani and Takashi Kajihara in February 2015 with UH ROTC cadets at a ceremony
Varsity Victory Volunteers veterans (from left) Yoshiaki Fujitani, Ted Tsukiyama, Akira Otani and Takashi Kajihara in February 2015 with UH ROTC cadets at a ceremony honoring the VVV in the Queen Lili‘uokalani Center for Student Services at UH-Mänoa.

Time and time again, the Nisei — even those not yet in the Army — demonstrated their loyalty to America.

On the morning of Dec. 7, Akira Otani was helping his father prepare for the grand opening of their family’s new fish market in Chinatown. As he bustled about, he saw the flames and smoke over Pearl Harbor and the red hinomaru flag of Japan painted on the attacking planes flying overhead. In a February 2012 interview with the Herald, Otani said he remembered “swearing the dickens” at the planes.

He was 21-year-old senior at the time, majoring in business at the University of Hawai‘i. Otani dropped everything and reported to the territorial armory, located at the present site of the State Capitol, to volunteer his services. He’d had two years of ROTC training at UH and wanted to help.

After doing all he could for the day, Otani headed home that evening. He arrived just as his Issei father, Matsujiro Otani, was being led away at gunpoint by two FBI agents. His father was dressed in his evening yukata (cotton kimono).

His mother Kane ran after them, pleading with the agents to let her go with her husband. The agents turned and pointed their guns at her. Otani said his mother ran back into the house, quickly gathered up some clothes, a coat and shoes for her husband and rushed back out. When the agents stopped her from handing him the clothes, she threw them into the car before it sped away.

“I saw my father taken at gunpoint and, in spite of that, the next day I volunteered for this (Hawai‘i Territorial Guard), said Otani, who is president of United Fishing Agency, the company founded by his father. “Some people call me stupid. I felt my country had been attacked and never mind who the enemy was — I go.”

Matsujiro Otani’s only crime was being Japanese — and a successful businessman who dealt with fishermen. He hadn’t committed any crime.

Akira Otani did not see his father again until he used an Army furlough to visit him at the Santa Fe Internment Camp in New Mexico, the first of three Mainland camps in which his father was imprisoned over a period of four years.

To read Author, Karleen Chinen’s, “Personal Connection”, please read the full article by subscribing to The Herald!


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