A Living Legacy of Nisei Soldiers in Maizuru
Lawrence M.G. Enomoto
Special to The Hawai‘i Herald
Sixty-eight years ago, a Nisei soldier from Hawai‘i arranged for the planting of 100 cherry tree saplings on a hill overlooking the war-torn Japanese port town of Maizuru in Kyöto Prefecture. As the trees began to blossom in their pink splendor recently, a group of Japanese citizens gathered to celebrate Takaki’s simple gesture of aloha.
That soldier, Fujio “Wymo” Takaki from Mokulë‘ia, O‘ahu, had been assigned to interview Japanese soldiers who were being repatriated from Soviet custody at Maizuru. One of them turned out to be his kid brother. To help the people of Maizuru recover from the devastation, Takaki ordered 100 cherry tree seedlings and arranged for them to be given to city officials.
Before the seedlings arrived, however, he was assigned to another area of operations, so he wasn’t able to witness their arrival and planting. He saw them for the first time in 1994 when the people of Maizuru invited Takaki and his wife to the city to participate in their cherry blossom festival.
The trees were planted on a hill in Kyoraku Park. Today, a monument there explains the origin of the “Aloha Sakura,” as they are known, as a symbol of friendship between the people of the United States and Japan.
I learned recently that Wymo Takaki and my father, Gulstan N. “Toshi” Enomoto from Maui, studied Japanese language together in the February 1944 class at the Military Intelligence Service Language School in Camp Savage, Minn. Both served in Japan during the occupation — Wymo at Maizuru in Central Japan, and my father at Hakodate in Northern Japan. However, unlike Wymo, who remained with the Army’s Counterintelligence Corps in Japan until the start of the Korean War in 1950, my father was discharged at the end of 1945 and returned to Maui.
In January of this year, a woman named Noriko Noguchi — nicknamed “Aloha Liko” — visited Hawai‘i. She introduced herself as the president of the Aloha Sakura Preservation Society, which she had formed just a month earlier (December 2017). Noguchi-san came to invite the Nisei veterans and their families to participate in the Aloha Sakura tree planting re-enactment ceremony that would be held in Maizuru’s Kyoraku Park on Saturday, March 10.
A gung-ho group of 20 Japanese and non-Japanese volunteers known as B Company, 100th Infantry Battalion/442nd RCT Reenactment Group had actually planted the trees. They were led by Petty Officer 1st Class Hidenori Koda, who serves on the operational staff of the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force’s JS Mashu, a supply ship home-ported at Maizuru Base.
As the president of the Military Intelligence Service Veterans Club of Hawaii, I felt that I should represent our members at the ceremony. My son, Stephen, kindly offered to escort me on this short trip. I had notified all of the MIS club members about this event, but probably because of the advanced age of the veterans — most are in their mid-90s — only one MIS veteran, Glen Arakaki, expressed interest in attending the ceremony. Glen was stationed in Maizuru and knew Wymo. He and his grandson, Reed Kamimura, decided to travel with us to Maizuru.
We flew to Ösaka and stayed at the Hotel Nikko Kansai Airport. During the day, we traveled to the Higashi Maizuru Station on comfortable JR limited express trains. We changed trains only once each way at Kyöto Station, arriving and departing on opposite sides of the same platform for easy transfers between trains.
The 100th Infantry Battalion Veterans had announced the event in its Puka Puka Parade newsletter. The announcement prompted five others to join us in Maizuru: Ann Kabasawa, her husband Clyde Sugimoto, Isami Yoshihara, Donna Teshima and her daughter, Kelly Teshima, an English teacher at a Japanese high school in Tökyö.
We all arrived in Maizuru at about noon on March 9. We were met by Koda-san with his van and another van driven by his colleague, Kenji Goto. They drove us first to lunch at a ramen shop in Higashi Maizuru. Koda-san and Goto-san then took us on two tours: first, to the Japanese Navy Memorial Museum located on the grounds of the Headquarters, Maizuru District MSDF; and then to Koda-san’s supply ship, JS Mashu, docked at Maizuru Base.
At the museum, we learned about the history of the Japanese Imperial Navy; the role of Maizuru Base; and the exploits of Adm. Heihachiro Togo, who defeated most of Russia’s fleet at the Battle of Tsushima, the decisive battle in the Russo-Japanese war of 1904-05. Before leaving, we saw a memorial plaque near the museum. Inscribed in the corners were the words: “In Memory of Comrades Who Died in All Wars” along with “Army,” “Navy,” “Marines” and “Air Force.”
Koda-san’s department officer gave us a tour of the Mashu. We learned that the JS Mashu delivers, fuel, food and ammunition to other Maritime Self-Defense Force ships. We also got to see its medical suite, which is equipped to care for patients in its medical ward and even to perform surgeries.
After leaving the ship, we were driven to the Hotel Amabile Maizuru, where we all checked in and then prepared for dinner with our hosts at a nearby restaurant, Kirakuya-maru.
We were welcomed at the restaurant by our hosts, Koda-san, Goto-san and Noguchi-san. Joining them were Yoshihiko Nakamura (landscaper/arborist), Gokoh Hosokawa (sakura tree botanist), Hiroyuki Matsugen Matsumoto (producer/director) and David Krigbaum (U.S. Navy-U.S. Fleet Activities Sasebo, Public Affairs/B Co., 100 Bn. Re-enactor). We enjoyed the leisurely, sit-on-the-floor, kaiseki multicourse Japanese dinner and got acquainted with our hosts and each other. At the end of evening, we bid our hosts farewell and walked back to our hotel. After a full day of traveling, touring and eating, we were asleep in no time.
Saturday morning, March 10, began with a tour of the World Brick Museum, which the former Navy built in 1903 as a torpedo warehouse. It now displays bricks samples from the four great civilizations of the world — ancient Mesopotamia, Egypt, China and Greece, as well as bricks from England and Japan. We learned about brick-making around the world, how brick-making developed in Japan and how bricks are used throughout Japan. From the museum, we took the short drive to Kyoraku Park, where the original Aloha Sakura trees were planted in 1950 and where our tree planting re-enactment ceremony was being held.
By noon the weather had cleared and the temperature had warmed a bit. About 50 attendees, including our group from Hawai‘i, the re-enactors and their families, local residents and media representatives, participated in the tree planting re-enactment ceremony. Koda-san, coordinator for the event, officially welcomed our group from Hawai‘i as representing all Nisei MIS veterans who had served in Maizuru immediately after World War II.
I responded by thanking everyone who was involved in organizing and preparing for this re-enactment ceremony. I especially acknowledged the 20 members of B Company, 100th Infantry Battalion/442nd RCT Reenactment Group, who were standing in formation in front of me, dressed in authentic U.S. Army uniforms from World War II. They were portraying MIS soldiers who had served in Maizuru. After my remarks, they stood at attention and honored me with a salute. I was wearing my MIS Veterans Club shirt and cap, so I proudly returned their salute.
The last speaker was Noguchi-san — “Aloha Liko-san” — who explained in detail why Wymo Takaki wanted to plant new cherry trees in Maizuru. She repeated what she had told me in Hawai‘i about raising funds to produce this ceremony by crowdfunding on the internet (she raised about $5,000). Noguchi-san thanked our group from Hawai‘i for coming for this special ceremony and acknowledged the tremendous support Koda-san’s B Co. 100 Bn. Reenactment Group had provided the Aloha Sakura Preservation Society.
After the speeches, the Reenactment Group members demonstrated great team work under the guidance of landscaper/arborist Nakamura-san in planting the last four of 10 cherry tree saplings of two different varieties — the first six had been planted the day before. Everyone was given the chance to shovel some dirt onto the newly planted tree, so it was completed fairly quickly.
During my remarks, I had introduced World War II MIS veteran Glen Arakaki, who had served in Maizuru during the occupation period. Immediately after the ceremony, the Japanese news reporters bombarded Glen, now 92, with questions.
After taking many group photos, most of the attendees drove over to the Naka Maizuru Community Center nearby for a bentö lunch that had been prepared by our hosts. Koda-san explained that the Nisei soldiers had occasionally played baseball with Maizuru residents in the adjacent athletic field. He displayed two items that are believed to have been used by the Nisei soldiers: a leather fielder’s glove and a wooden baseball bat.
Among those sitting at my table were a couple with two small children — the husband was a native of France and his wife was Japanese. I was surprised to learn that he, too, was part of the Reenactment Group. I also met Anne Hosokawa Shirai, a Hawai‘i native who has lived in Ösaka for several decades now with her Japanese husband. Anne’s father was a 100th Battalion veteran.
By this time, it was almost the middle of the afternoon, but our hosts had scheduled more tours for us before a farewell dinner at our hotel. First, we stopped at the Maizuru Repatriation Museum on the hill above Taira Bay. We watched a short film about the repatriation process. A Japanese docent then told us about the total numbers of Japanese military and civilian repatriates who returned from Southeast Asia, China and Soviet Russia, and the numbers who were processed at the 18 Japanese ports in Hokkaidö, Honshu and Kyüshü. As he talked with the docent, Glen Arakaki appeared to be giving him some new details about interviewing Japanese prisoner of war repatriates from USSR camps.
Our second tour was to the pier on Taira Bay, which was the entry facility for 346 ships carrying about 660,000 repatriates to Maizuru from 1945 to 1958. Although other Japanese ports had stopped receiving repatriates from Australia, Southeast Asia and China by the end of 1947, Maizuru was the only port that continued receiving Japanese POWs repatriated from USSR camps through 1958. Glen again shared his memories of interviewing Japanese POWs who were repatriated from these USSR camps at this facility.
Our final tour was to the Goro Sky Tower at the peak of Goro Dake Park near Nishi Maizuru. From its observatory — almost 1,000 feet above sea level — we enjoyed a panoramic view of Maizuru City and its inlets and islands as the sun began to set. We returned to our hotel to prepare for another special Japanese kaiseki dinner, in our hotel dining room, which normally does not serve dinner to its guests.
Attendees at this farewell dinner included all 20 re-enactors, our hosts Noguchi-san, Koda-san and his wife, Mika, and our group from Hawai‘i. That day also happened to be Koda-san’s and Mika-san’s wedding anniversary, so they received special gifts. Between courses, the Japanese and American attendees mingled freely, exchanging stories, meishi name cards or contact information with each other, which definitely reflected Wymo Takaki’s wish for friendship and peace between the people of Hawai‘i and Japan. The dinner was the perfect ending to a day that had been full of sights, sounds and activities focused on the tree planting re-enactment ceremony.
Two thoughts greatly impressed me during our short trip to Maizuru: First, the B Co. 100 Bn Reenactment Group, which was comprised almost entirely of Japanese citizens, were so enthusiastic about the legacy of the Nisei soldiers from Hawai‘i who had served in Europe, throughout the Pacific and in Japan that they have been voluntarily spending their time, money and energy to portray the Nisei soldiers at numerous battle re-enactments around Japan for the past 15 years.
In the conclusion of Fujio “Wymo” Takaki’s essay in the book, “Japanese Eyes . . . American Heart: Personal Reflections of Hawaii’s World War II Nisei Soldiers,” he wrote: “In the years after the war, I had never told anyone about my involvement in the planting of the cherry blossom trees, for I wasn’t looking for recognition. I wanted only to help bring a smile to the faces of the good people of Maizuru City and to share with them a gesture of peace and aloha.” That, he did.
And, finally, the Aloha Sakura Preservation Society, established just last December and comprised entirely of Japanese citizens, are so captivated by Wymo Takaki’s story that they, too, are willing to spend their time, money and energy to maintain and promote Wymo’s legacy of Aloha Sakura for many generations to come!
I wonder whether sons, like me, and daughters, grandsons and granddaughters of the Nisei veterans can show the same level of interest and enthusiasm in Hawai‘i as these Japanese citizens do in Japan to maintain the legacies of the Nisei veterans who fought and died for America — not for Japan. Let’s not allow these Japanese supporters of Aloha Sakura put us to shame!
For more about the Aloha Sakura Preservation Society, visit: https://www.facebook.com/NiseiSakura/
For more information about B Co. 100 Bn., visit:
Lawrence “Larry” Enomoto, retired from the U.S. Air Force after serving 22 years at bases in Japan, Korea, Vietnam and the U.S. mainland. He earned his J.D. degree from the UH William S. Richardson School of Law 1980 and a degree in Japanese law from the University of Washington law school. Enomoto served U.S. Foreign Service tours at the State Department in Washington, D.C., and at the U.S. Consulate-General in Naha, Okinawa. He retired from the U.S. Civil Service after 13 years as international relations advisor in Maryland.