By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer
LAKEWOOD — The Terminal Islanders marked their 45th year as an organization during the 2016 Shinnen Enkai on Jan. 10 at The Centre at Sycamore Plaza in Lakewood.
Attendees came from as far away as Texas and ranged in age from little kids to nonagenarians, all with connections to the Japanese fishing village in San Pedro that thrived until World War II, when it was evacuated and razed.
June Miyamoto Donovan, club secretary, noted that the club started in 1971. “They wanted to do a big reunion and it was in Chinatown, downtown L.A., at a big restaurant. People from all over, Illinois and New Jersey, came, and they said it was 900 people. Now we’re down to 150. Hopefully we can bring it up again …
“A few of them got together and decided to form a club so that they could do events throughout the year. There were 28 founders … today we have three of them still here.”
The three were Kisaye Sato, Nori Hiromoto and Yukio Tatsumi, all of whom serve as advisors to the club.
Co-emcee Charlie Hamasaki, one of the club’s vice presidents, introduced special guests and sang the “Terminal Island Yogore Song,” which was written by Minoru Hinoki while interned at Manzanar.
In his president’s message, Min Tonai noted that he will turn 87 next month and expressed hope that the Sansei and Yonsei generations will keep the club going.
“I’m glad to see the old Terminal Islanders, people I knew, people who were born and raised on Terminal Island,” he said. “It’s a wonderful place that we all enjoyed … It was our hometown. We got to do things without having to be worried about prejudice or worried about people not waiting on you or things like that.
“It was a place where you were free … as long as you behaved yourself. The mothers knew what everybody was doing. If you did something wrong, the grapevine told your mother what you had done, so you couldn’t misbehave.”
Although Terminal Island itself is long gone, Tonai said, “You created a great friendship that can never go away.”
Both Tonai and former LAPD Deputy Chief Terry Hara were recognized for receiving the Order of the Rising Sun from the Japanese government last spring and last fall, respectively. Other club members who have received a Kunsho are Tatsumi, the late Bill Nakasaki and the late Tom Kamei. Recipients include those who have contributed to the Japanese American community and promoted U.S.-Japan relations.
Tonai said that he never expected to receive such an honor. “It was a surprise for me … But I know that Terminal Islanders have become more important in the eyes of the community or in Japan too, so I think all of us may not have the ambition of getting a Kunsho, but it helps to be part of this organization.”
Hara, who is an advisor to the club, commented, “Certainly it is an honor to be recognized by the government of Japan. My public service with the LAPD recently ended last year after 35 years … but working for the City of Los Angeles allowed me to … do a lot of work with the community … That includes the Terminal Islanders organization, which has a rich, rich history.”
Stressing the need to preserve Japanese American history, he said, “Everyone here in this room has a family story … something that we can pass on. So be proud of who you are, be proud of where we have come from … and always continue to give to the community and be part of something that is important.”
In observance of the Year of the Monkey, prizes were given to attendees born in 1920 (including Tatsumi), 1932, 1944, 1956 and so on. Prizes were also given to the oldest man and woman in attendance, Kenji Yamamoto, 98, and Kisaye Sato, 95.
The guest speaker was Sandra Tanamachi, formerly of Beaumont, Texas, part of the group that came the farthest to attend. The daughter of a Terminal Islander, she is known for her 12-year campaign to rid three Texas communities of their racially offensive street names, Jap Road in Jefferson and Fort Bend counties and Jap Lane in Orange County. She taught school for 32 years and received numerous teaching awards.
“My mother and sister Diana (Parr) were both born during this Year of the Monkey … I would like to thank each of you members of the Terminal Islanders, as you have given our mother, Kikuko Nakao Tanamachi, many wonderful, joyous, and comforting memories of her childhood growing up in Terminal Island,” Tanamachi said. “She lived on Albacore Street in the Hokkaido section … with her parents, Teizo and Chika Nakao, two brothers, Taira and Sadao, and one sister, Ikuko. Her father passed away in 1940, and because she was the oldest, she had to work to help her family out. She worked at the Terminal Island Van Camp Seafood Company.”
When the war broke out and the family had to leave Terminal Island, her mother’s friend Kikue Furutani, a Japanese language teacher, helped them move to Norwalk. From there they were sent to the Santa Anita Assembly Center, and later to the War Relocation Authority camp in Rohwer, Ark.
“My mother worked in the mess hall,” Tanamachi said. “Then in 1943, she met and married our father, Jerry Jiro Tanamachi. Kikue Furutani was her matron of honor. So you can tell her roots in Terminal Island were very deep.
“I was inspired to work on changing the names of the roads in Texas as a way to thank and honor our Issei and Nisei generations, as they had endured so much for each of us.”
Although the controversial roads were named in honor of the Mayumi family, who farmed in the area, Tanamachi maintained that the names were offensive. “I asked that Jap Road be changed to Japanese Road or to the name of the Japanese farmer, but they refused. That’s when the quest began … I received help from many organizations and numerous wonderful people. The Japanese American Veterans Association was very helpful. They wrote letters and emails to the commissioners, asking them to change the name of the road. So the name was finally changed in 2004.”
Tanamachi also talked about her family’s military ties. “My mother’s brother Taira was in the Military Intelligence Service and served during the occupation of Japan. My mother’s sister’s husband, Happy Kitayama, was in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team as a cadre; he trained replacements for the 442.
“Then our father had four Tanamachi brothers who served in the 442nd … One brother, Saburo, was killed in action in France during the rescue of the Texas Lost Battalion. He died in the arms of his best buddy, George ‘Joe’ Sakato. After our uncle died, George went on a rampage … (As a result of his actions) he was awarded the Medal of Honor. Joe recently passed away in Denver, Colo. on Dec. 2. My sister Diana and I will be traveling to his memorial service next Saturday.”
Tanamachi said her sister has brought their mother to many Terminal Islanders New Year’s celebrations and some of the picnics. “Our mother receives much comfort and happiness when she sees you and she enjoys visiting with her many friends from Terminal Island. We all want to thank you so much for welcoming her and welcoming us … You bring back the warm, secure feelings of Terminal Island that our mother loves so well. When we were growing up she would tell all of the children about all of her experiences in Terminal Island, how she loved everyone.”
Board member Jillian Kwong announced that her family commissioned the centerpieces, which were made by artist Ernie Jane Nishii and her son Matthew Nishii. “They created these ceramic fishing boats … inspired by a picture of their childhood friend in a boat in Terminal Island … They are uniquely crafted and vary in size, shape and color. They can be used for ikebana, you can eat out of them or you can drink out of them.”
Proceeds from the silent auction and sales of the centerpieces went to the club.
Also on display was a time capsule to be opened in 2042. Members were asked to bring documents, photos, diaries and other items to the annual picnic in June for placement in the capsule.
Gary Seko, Noriko Maemoto and Midori Inoue of L.A. Kayo Club performed songs in Japanese, including “Tokyo Rhapsody.”
Board member Kelsey Kwong, a current Nisei Week princess, sang show tunes, including “Some Enchanted Evening” and “I Could Have Danced All Night,” as well as opera selections.
2016 Officers and Board Members
President — Minoru Tonai
Secretary — June Miyamoto Donovan
Treasurers — Diane Yamashita, May Nishiyama
Vice presidents — Charlie Ohei Hamasaki, Itsu Iwasaki, Susumu “Cabby” Iwasaki, Takashi Kushi, Asako Miki
Board members — Donna Cottrell, Amanda Donovan, Barbara Iwasaki, Jillian Kwong, Kelsey Kwong, Rene LaPage, Midori Sanchez
Advisors — Terry Hara, Nori Hiromoto, Toshiro Izumi, Ken Nakagawa, Kisaye Sato, Yukio Tatsumi