Seabrook JACL Continues Rich Heritage

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Participants in Seabrook JACL's 2011 Keirokai.

SEABROOK, N.J. — The Seabrook Chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) continued its rich heritage last month by holding an annual Keirokai event, which it has been doing for over 60 years.

The dinner is held to honor the Japanese Americans in the area who are 65 and older.  The oldest male at this year’s event was Hank Furushima, and the oldest female was Mitsuko Omura. A group photo of the attendees is taken each year, and there are photos going back to the late 1940s.

Seabrook is a small town in a farming district of southern New Jersey. Near the end of World War II, Charles F. Seabrook and his sons ran a frozen-food business with 20,000 acres under cultivation, and they faced a labor shortage because of the war. To find workers, they recruited people from the internment camps along with other displaced persons to become crop pickers and workers for their food processing plants. In 1944 and 1945, about 2,500 people of Japanese descent had migrated to Seabrook.

The Japanese Americans in Seabrook adapted well to the surrounding culture and area while maintaining their traditions and heritage. A museum begun by Japanese American residents in 1994, the Seabrook Educational and Cultural Center, helps preserve their identity and provides a platform for telling the Japanese American story. The museum is staffed by volunteers and has been directed by John Fuyuume, who grew up in Pasadena, where his parents grew vegetables and owned a grocery store. His family was incarcerated in 1942 at Gila River in Arizona, where they stayed until relocating to Seabrook in 1944.

Fuyuume with his wife Setsuko, whose family also lived in Seabrook, moved to Philadelphia from Seabrook a few years ago to a retirement area where they joined Setsuko’s sisters- and brothers-in-law, Eiko and Bunji Ikeda, Chizujo Sakata, and Miyoko Wong. They all attended the Keirokai event.


From left: Keirokai chair Linda Ono, Seabrook JACL Co-president Sharon Yoshida, JACL National Executive Director Floyd Mori, and Seabrook JACL Co-president Lenore Wurtzel.

Floyd Mori, national executive director of JACL, and his wife Irene were attending a JACL Eastern District Council meeting at Medford Leas, N.J., when Fuyuume, who is a former Seabrook JACL president, mentioned that the chapter was holding its Keirokai later that day. Fuyuume was representing the chapter since its co-presidents, Sharon Yoshida and Lenore Wurtzel, were busy preparing for the event, which was chaired by Linda Ono.

Floyd and Irene Mori attended the Keirokai, where they talked with former residents of the Gila River, Poston (Ariz.), and Topaz (Utah) camps who had made their homes in Seabrook after the war.

The Keirokai was held at Seabrook Buddhist Temple, which was founded in 1945.  Entertainment was provided by the Minyo Dancers and the Hoh Daiko Drummers. The dance group began in 1975, under the direction of Sunkie Oye, as part of a cultural presentation by members of the Seabrook Japanese American community at the Smithsonian Festival of American Folklife. The taiko group began in 1991.

Door prizes and favors were provided by the chapter board and members as well as local merchants. All attendees received gifts and had a good time, ending the event with bingo.

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