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True to Their School

Six decades after graduating, a group of alumni return to Belmont High School to share and reminisce.
The visiting alumni gathered around Belmont’s iconic “thinking man” sculpture are, from left: Colleen Miyano, Mihoko Takasugi, Roy Imazu, Terry Takasugi, Steve Ogawa, Eva Kuwata (front), Shoji Tanaka, Bill Shishima, Yosh Arima, Sam Tanaka and Yoneo Tsurudome. (Photos by MICHAEL HIRANO CULROSS/Rafu Shimpo)

The visiting alumni gathered around Belmont’s iconic “thinking man” sculpture are, from left: Colleen Miyano, Mihoko Takasugi, Roy Imazu, Terry Takasugi, Steve Ogawa, Eva Kuwata (front), Shoji Tanaka, Bill Shishima, Yosh Arima, Sam Tanaka and Yoneo Tsurudome. (Photos by MICHAEL HIRANO CULROSS/Rafu Shimpo)

By MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS

Rafu Staff Writer

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The steps are slower, hair sparkles with considerably more grey, and their campus has changed so drastically, they need a tour guide to find their way around.

Sixty-plus years bring a world of change, both seen and unseen.

On Monday a small group of Belmont High School alumnimostly from the class of 1948–visited the downtown campus for among other reasons, to celebrate the lasting friendships of several students who founded the Kardiacs sports and social club.

Colleen Miyano, a 1968 grad who teaches biology at Belmont, shepherded the alumns through what is now a rather unfamiliar facility. Most of the Belmont lodged in their memories is long gone, including its signature campanile tower. After several earthquakes and inspections, much of the original campus was demolished and rebuilt to code specifications.

“The school is no longer the way it used to be in those days, but my memories growing up were a lot of fun,” said Eva Kuwata, who graduated in 1953.

She’s on campus regularly, working with the Alumni Association and various school events, and she said that Belmont holds a special place in hearts of many who lived in or near Little Tokyo, whether they attended the school or not.

The visit began with a quick stop at the gymnasium and Arima Court, named in 2006 for longtime coach Yosh “Tom” Arima, who was part of Monday’s tour. As four classes of students stretched and performed calisthenics, several youngsters looked in awe as they learned the man whose name is inscribed on the floor and walls was watching from the bleachers.

Terry Takasugi, left, Steve Ogawa and Roy Imazu stroll the hallways of Belmont High, which has changed drastically over the decades.

Terry Takasugi, left, Steve Ogawa and Roy Imazu stroll the hallways of Belmont High, which has changed drastically over the decades.

Walking down the unfamiliar hallways, the former postwar students seemed to be searching for anything familiar. A brief stop at the school auditorium–the original building with its original stage and seats–brought some daydreaming about long ago experiences locked in their memories.

Belmont principal Gary Yoshinobu said that any time alumni visit it’s a notable occasion, but welcoming this group, whose attendance began during World War II and was upended by internment, carried particular importance.

“It speaks volumes about them, for them to have something stopped, then experience what they went through–the camps and their families’ lives being disrupted–and then have the persistence to restart again,” Yoshinobu said. “To come back to a land that basically ostracized them, and come back to an environment where they may not be welcomed was tough enough, but then they had the strength to be students and finish up, and go out to a community where they couldn’t land jobs.”

Bill Shishima was one of the attendees who marveled at some of the old photos that had been gathered for the visit. He, along with Arima, was one of the original members of the Kardiacs baseball team, whose history is the stuff of local legend:

“It’s great, the reminiscing,” Shishima said. “The Kardiacs started here at Belmont, it was really a social and athletic club, softball and basketball. Robert Takasugi was a pitcher, with Yosh Arima catching, it was all really good fun.”

Shishima said his memories of postwar Belmont were mostly positive, eating lunch every day out on the bleachers next to the field, and getting bombed by the seagulls flying overhead.

“I didn’t have any real problems here,” he recalled. “Just before I came to Belmont, I was 14 years old and attending University High, and I was walking home and these two little caucasian kids walked past. The little boy said, ‘Hi, Man!” and I was flattered, until the little girl leaned over and said, “No, he’s not a man, he’s a Jap.’ These kids were only five years old or so, and I was really hurt, because someone had to have taught them that kind of thing.”

Tanaka, left, and Tsurudome look through yearbooks from their days at Belmont.

Tanaka, left, and Tsurudome look through yearbooks from their days at Belmont.

Yoshinobu said that although current Belmont students may have difficulty relating to a time, era and building that no longer exist, they have struggles that in many ways mirror those of the visiting alumni.

“They have issues as well, whether that be family members who are undocumented or situations where they are living in fear of gangs. These are the obstacles they face every day, the violence in the community, it’s not unlike a war front out there, where they’re seeing this every day,” he explained. “The trauma some of these kids see on a daily basis is more than most people will see in a lifetime, if at all.”

Shishima said that he felt accepted at Belmont, which had a broad mix of races and cultures.

“It was really something, because it was just a few years after the end of World War II, so this was a special gathering place. We all felt at home,” he said.

The reunion ended with lunch at the alumns’ former hangout, nearby Tommy’s Hamburgers.

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