By RYOKO OHNISHI
RAFU STAFF WRITER
“Akemashite Omedeto!” Nikkei Terminal Islanders celebrated their 40th annual New Year’s party last Sunday at The Centre at Sycamore Plaza in Lakewood. It was the first celebration of the season among the Nikkei Kenjinkai, or associations of people from the same prefecture.
The president of the Terminal Islanders, Yuki Tatsumi, 90, has been leading the group for the past 27 years, and welcomed the participants. He said, “Happy New Year. We still remember our prewar community, our furusato (hometown). Let’s have a good time together, you-ra me-ra (dialect of the island meaning plural of “you” and “me,” a hybrid of Wakayama dialect).” Approximately 130 people gathered, including 100 Nisei Islanders. Tatsumi’s first part-time job was to deliver the Rafu Shimpo on the island in the evenings when he was 10 years old.
Known as East San Pedro, Terminal Island is an artificial island located on Long Beach Bay and is 3.5 miles long from east to west and three-fourths of a mile wide. At the beginning of the 20th century, Issei fishermen from Japan started living on the island. More than half of the early immigrants were from Wakayama Prefecture.
Taking advantage of the skilled fishermen’s community, various American seafood companies began operating canneries and provided housing for the fishermen and their families. The Japanese population grew to nearly 3,000 and before World War II the island was well-known in addition to Little Tokyo as a Japanese enclave.
However, after the Pacific War broke out, Terminal Islanders were suspected as spies because the location of the island was considered “strategic.” Tatsumi says, “We had poles to dry mackerels and sardines. They said even those poles were antennas to communicate with the Japanese navy.”
On Feb. 9, 1942, fishermen who had fishing licenses were all arrested and 10 days later, the Islanders were ordered to evacuate within 48 hours. “I remember the whole island fell into a panic. In our home, unknown Caucasians came to buy our assets. We sold a brand new typewriter for $5,” Tatsumi recalls.
The beginning of the war was the end of the community. Terminal Island as a Japanese community was banished in early1942.
After nearly 30 years, the first Islanders’ reunion was held in 1971. When it started, 1,200 Islanders, including the Issei, were members. However, every year, it is obvious that the number of the participants is getting smaller. Tatsumi worries, “We used to have 400 people gathered. Today, there are no longer Issei around and now even our Nisei generation who were born and raised on the island are in their late 80s and older. It might be hard for this to be taken over by the next generation.”
At the party, various groups participated, including Aloha Hula Friends from Huntington Beach. Michael Harada’s mother, the late Michiko Iwasaki, was a Terminal Islander. His wife, Kathy, along with four other dancers performed 10 Hawaiian songs. A karaoke group sang various Japanese songs. In addition, Kenji Yamamoto played the harmonica.
Thsi month, L.A. Tokyo Kai is holding its New Year’s party on Jan. 15, the Wakayama Kenjinkai is hosting a New Year’s party at Miyako Hybrid Hotel in Torrance next weekend on Jan. 16. Showa-kai and Miyagi Kenjinkai will also hold their New Year’s parties on Jan. 16. Esumi Sonjinkai (Esumi Village Group) will be on Jan. 23 at the same place. Seinan Senior Citizen’s Club will be on Jan. 29.