By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer
Attendees saw the first half hour of the documentary, which tells the story of Japanese Americans who fished in the Eastern Sierra while interned at Manzanar. They slipped in and out of camp without the knowledge of the authorities. Fishing gear from that period was displayed.
The Feb. 24 event began with presentation of colors by Boy Scout Troop 683 and opening remarks by Alan Kita, JCI Bridge volunteer.
On behalf of Rep. Maxine Waters, who was unable to attend, Hamilton Cloud presented congressional certificates of recognition to GVJCI Executive Director Allison Kochiyama and “Manzanar Fishing Club” director Cory Shiozaki.
Cloud, who grew up in the Crenshaw area and is married to an Issei from Osaka, said he is “familiar with the story of camp … It’s very personal for me.”
Bruce Embrey, Manzanar Committee co-chair, announced that this year’s Manzanar Pilgrimage will be held on Saturday, April 27, at the Manzanar National Historic Site.
Shiozaki, who attended elementary, junior high and senior high school in Gardena, described the city as “my home stomping grounds.” He added that “JCI has been very special for me as I was growing up” because he was a Boy Scout there.
For the documentary, he interviewed several internees at GVJCI, including Frank Kageyama, who passed away last Dec. 7.
Shiozaki did not learn about Executive Order 9066 until he entered college because “my parents never talked about their incarceration … I made a vow that someday I would do something to inform others.”
One interesting aspect of his family history is that his father was a friend of Minoru Yasui, who deliberately violated a curfew imposed on Japanese Americans in order to test the law’s constitutionality. If the elder Shiozaki had accepted an invitation to join in the act of civil disobedience, he would have become part of constitutional history, as Yasui’s case went all the way to the Supreme Court.
Shiozaki graduated from Cal State Long Beach as a radio/TV/film major and has belonged to the cameramen’s union for 33 years. His film credits include “Back to the Future,” “Training Day” and “Dances with Wolves,” and he now works on Disney sitcoms.
A panel of Manzanar fishermen shared memories of camp days.
Mas Okui – Shiozaki’s history teacher at Gardena High — was 10 when he was sent to Manzanar. He fished in Bairs Creek, which was inside the camp. Although he and his friends were afraid of the guards, he said, one day a soldier tossed them a bag of drop lines. “We tried them — never caught any fish.”
Okui recalled, “We were afraid to go outside. We always had the notion we would be shot. But by 1944 they removed the military police and we could walk out of camp and go to Shepherd Creek. We weren’t very good fishermen. We swam in the reservoir.”
Regarding the lasting impact of the incarceration, Okui, who grew up with five brothers, said, “Our father told us, ‘You have to be proud to be Japanese.’ Some were made to feel ashamed to be Japanese. It was a very pervasive notion … the underlying reason why people didn’t want to talk about it … Those emotional scars are still with us.”
Ray Chomori, who was at Manzanar from ages 15 to 18, remembered places outside the camp that were “full of water, all green … pheasants, quail, occasionally deer … To walk through that area, this made me feel so good.” Among the 10 War Relocation Authority camps, Manzanar had “the most beautiful area outside the camp,” he said, but today that area is “all dried up.”
Using a stick instead of a pole, he fished at George Creek and also went to the Owens River with a work crew.
Chomori had one anecdote: “Heading back to camp, we saw a Manzanar Fire Department truck … heading diagonally toward us. We look behind us and see a plume of dust we had created [by crawling under the fence]. It looks like smoke. The guard had turned on the searchlight … We kind of eased our way back in, tried to be as casual as possible.”
At the age of 10, Sets Tomita was among the youngest people to sneak out of Manzanar when he went fishing with his 14-year-old brother. “My brother took me because he hated to take the fish off the hook,” he said, adding that they tried to keep the location of their fishing hole secret.
Although fishing was a way for some internees to reclaim their freedom and dignity, at least for a while, “I never felt that I had freedom,” Tomita remarked. “I just felt it was something we could do to occupy our time. We couldn’t go very far. There was no sense of freedom.”
In Tomita’s opinion, “Resettlement was worse than internment … We had to live on whatever we could live off of, find whatever jobs were available … No resources, nothing … That’s my horror story.”
He added that his grandfather owned property at King Harbor that was lost as a result of the internment, and that “my uncle had a friend take over his property [during the war] — the friend sold it.”
Danny Hashimoto, who was born in Manzanar, told stories about his father, Amos, who fished on Mt. Williamson, the second-highest peak in California. “Every time they’d go up, he’d wear out a pair of boots. There were no trails; they basically followed the creek … They ordered their fishing equipment through Sears Roebuck.”
The fishermen were looking for golden trout in Mt. Williamson’s lakes, he said, but instead found Colorado cutthroats. The number of trout was “unlimited” and “there was no skill at all involved” in catching them. The fishing expeditions would last about five days.
After the war, Amos Hashimoto, who came from Terminal Island, could not get his boat back but was able to get a job through a friend in Monterey. The family “had to buy their own boat back for $10,000 in 1948,” Danny Hashimoto said.
Amos Hashimoto was friends with Ryozo Kado, the stonemason who built the guard shacks that still stand today at Manzanar. The younger Hashimoto said, “Around 1972, he came to my dad and asked for help with a historical plaque … He built a rock formation to put the historical plaque into … They went out about three weekends. He wanted it to be the same rocks he used during the war … They went out to same location [to find rocks].”
Okui added, “That plaque was the result of Sue Kunitomi Embrey’s efforts … We cannot ever forget that Sue was most responsible, if there’s any one person, for the National Historic Site. Manzanar today is the result of her unflagging efforts. She was unrelenting, adamant, abrasive, but we loved her.”
Michael Nakamura talked about his uncle, Tom Fujimoto, whose childhood friend became a guard at Manzanar. “Jimmy was working his shift at night. He gave a signal to my uncle when the coast was clear. The searchlight panned left to right; the signal was moving it up and down … The day before sneaking out, my uncle dug a depression under the fence and covered it with tumbleweeds … He and a few of his buddies snuck under the barbed wire and went out to the hills two or three days … for fishing, hiking, camping out … When Jimmy was working, they would wait for the ‘coast is clear’ sign [to get back into camp].”
This showed that “childhood relationships can break barriers,” Nakamura said.
Shiozaki thanked Nakamura, an experienced hiker, for taking a camera during a trip to the other side of Mt. Williamson and shooting some “incredible footage.”
During the Q&A session, Janice Mizuhara spoke about her grand-uncle, James Ito, who was one of two internees shot and killed by military police during the Manzanar Riot in December 1942. “That shouldn’t have happened to James,” she said. “He was just the sweetest guy and all he did was raise pigeons … He went to see what was going on.”
Mizuhara said that contrary to news reports at the time, the riot was not a celebration of the first anniversary of Pearl Harbor, and that the two men were shot in the back, but the camp physician was under duress to say they were shot in the front.
Shiozaki said the incident showed there was a very real danger of being shot by guards. He closed by speaking out against the National Defense Authorization Act, which would enable the government to detain U.S. citizens indefinitely without charge or trial.
“The Manzanar Fishing Club” will be screened in its entirety on Saturday, April 13, at 3 p.m. at the San Fernando Valley Japanese American Community Center, 12953 Branford St., Pacoima. For more information, call (818) 899-1989.
It will also be shown on Saturday, April 20, at 2 p.m. at the Japanese American National Museum, 100 N. Central Ave. in Little Tokyo. For more information, call (213) 625-0414.
Photos by J.K. YAMAMOTO/Rafu Shimpo