SAN FRANCISCO — A memorial celebrating the life of scholar, activist and actor James Hirabayashi will be held next month, according to a San Francisco State University campus memo issued on June 21. The memo reads as follows:

“Emeritus Professor of Anthropology, Ethnic and Asian American Studies and first Dean of Ethnic Studies James Akira Hirabayashi passed away peacefully on May 23. He was 85 years old.

Densho ( did an oral history interview with James Hirabayashi in 2008.

“Hirabayashi was born in 1926 to Issei parents who instilled in him and his siblings values and ethics that would shape their passion for social justice. During his sophomore year in high school, he and his family were forced to move from their Washington state home to a Wartime Civil Control Administration internment camp in Pinedale, Calif., and again to an internment camp at Tule Lake — experiences he later recounted in the documentary ‘Rabbit in the Moon.’

“Hirabayashi earned his bachelor’s (1949) and master’s (1952) degrees in anthropology at the University of Washington while helping his family run a nursing home. He received a Fulbright Scholarship in 1954 and pursued graduate studies at the University of Tokyo and conducted fieldwork in his familial Nagano Prefecture.

“A 1957 scholarship from the John Hay Whitney Foundation enabled Hirabayashi to earn his Ph.D. in anthropology from Harvard University in 1962. In 1959, while earning his Ph.D., he began his teaching career at S.F. State, a distinguished teaching and administrative career that would span 30 years.

“In 1968, Hirabayashi became advisor to the Asian American Political Alliance and subsequently went on strike with other faculty colleagues in support of the Black Student Union and the Third World Liberation Front Movement. This movement led to the creation of the College of Ethnic Studies at S.F. State.

“The following year, he became the chair of Asian American Studies. He became the first dean of the College of Ethnic Studies in 1970, guiding and influencing its development over the next six years. Hirabayashi served as dean of undergraduate studies from 1985 until his retirement in 1988.

“During his retirement, he served as curator, advisor and consultant to the Japanese American National Museum, for which he was honored in 2004. Hirabayashi authored and edited numerous publications in anthropology and Asian American studies. His last project was a book about his brother Gordon’s wartime prison diaries, which he wrote with his son Lane; ‘A Principled Stand: Gordon Hirabayashi vs. The United States’ will be published in 2013 by the University of Washington Press.

“In the 1980s, he launched his acting career, appearing in many stage productions by the Asian American Theater Company in San Francisco and in several films.

“During the 40th anniversary commemoration of the College of Ethnic Studies in 2009, he was awarded the College of Ethnic Studies Lifetime Achievement Award, and the San Francisco State University President’s Medal.

“Hirabayashi was preceded in death by his first wife, Joanne, and his last wife, Christine. He is survived by his sister, Esther Toshiko Furugori, and his children, Lane R. (Marilyn Alquizola), Jan M. (Steve Rice), and Tai-Lan C. Hirabayashi.

“The Jim Hirabayashi Memorial Celebration will be held from 1:30-3:30 p.m. on Saturday, July 28, at the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California, 1840 Sutter St. (between Buchanan and Webster streets), San Francisco.

“In lieu of flowers, the family suggests that donations be made to an S.F. State scholarship fund in his honor or Kimochi (senior service agency). Contact Rosalie Alfonso at Colleagues who wish to share memories of Jim can send their stories to Rosalie to forward to the family.”

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *