VOICES OF THE NIKKEI COMMUNITY: Ame Kobayashi — The Aftermath of the Hiroshima Atomic Bomb

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The Hamada family in 1924. Left to right: Kuniko, Chiye, Junko, Ame, Kimi, Junji, Harry (not shown: Kenneth, born in 1941). (Photo courtesy Ame Kobayashi)

Introduction by ARTHUR KOBAYASHI

The first section of this two-part article introduces Ame Kobayashi and her family history.

The second part features an excerpt from a family memoir written by Ame, where she recalls some of her experiences in Japan during World War II, including a return to Hiroshima shortly after the city was destroyed by an atomic bomb.

A Nisei in Idaho

Growing up on a farm in Idaho, Ame Kobayashi could scarcely have imagined that she would become one of the thousands of Nisei stranded in Japan during the war.

Ame Kobayashi

She was born Ame Hamada in 1921, in American Falls, Idaho. Her parents, Junji and Kuniko Hamada, named her “Ame” after the first three letters in American Falls. The fourth of six children, she grew up in a farming community, working in the fields, swimming in the canals, and enjoying the occasional trip into town for shopping, movies, or the library.

Because there were few Japanese families in the area, each of the daughters was sent to Japan after graduating high school to study Japanese language and culture for two years. Ame’s turn came in early 1940, but her two-year study trip turned into a nearly seven-year ordeal.

A Road to Success

Ame’s father, Junji Hamada, was born in 1890 in Hiroshima. The Hamada family grew rice and operated a hotel out of their home residence. In spite of being the only boy out of three children, Junji left Japan and boarded a ship for America when he was only 16. After enduring a terrible bout of seasickness during the voyage, he arrived in San Francisco in 1906.

He made his way up to Seattle and found a job working on the railroad in Wyoming and Idaho. According to family historians Teresa Tamura and Virginia Baxter, Junji worked on the railroad for “10 cents an hour, ten hours a day, for ten years.” By 1916 he had saved enough money to return in Japan to look for a wife.

After several months, he met Kuniko Nakatani through a matchmaker. Kuniko was born in Hiroshima in 1898, the youngest of three daughters out of eight children. Her parents, Tsunezo and Tatsu Nakatani, ran a tofu shop in Kure. Junji and Kuniko were soon married and settled in Idaho.

Initially, the Hamadas farmed in eastern Idaho as sharecroppers. Junji was a successful farmer and was particularly good at growing onions. They later moved to Caldwell in southwestern Idaho, where they continued to farm as sharecroppers and also on leased land. Junji earned extra income as a produce broker, buying and selling produce in Utah and Idaho.

They finally were able to purchase their own farm in 1957. Junji’s continued success and his willingness to share his knowledge with other farmers in the area earned him the nickname “the Onion King.”

Raising a Nisei Family

Junji and Kuniko had six children over a span of 25 years — four girls and two boys. In addition to helping with the farm, Kuniko ran the household and even sewed all of their clothes. She once remarked that she thought she’d live “like a queen” in America, but ended up having to work hard and overcome many hardships.

All of the children attended the local schools and also worked on the farm or in the household. In 1936, Junko, the eldest daughter, went to Japan for her two-year Japanese education. The second-eldest daughter, Kimi, went in 1938, and Ame left in 1940. Then the war began and Ame found herself trapped in Japan for the duration of the war.

Harry, Ame’s older brother, was not sent to Japan due to concerns that he would be inducted into the Japanese Army because of his dual citizenship. Instead, when the war began, Harry volunteered for the U.S. Army and served with the 442nd Regimental Combat Team in Europe. He was wounded in combat on two occasions, and was awarded the Purple Heart with Oak Cluster for his service.

Ame’s youngest brother, Kenneth, also enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1968, following completion of dental school in Seattle.

After the war ended, Ame was finally able to return to the U.S. in 1946. She found work in Southern California, where she met her husband, Sam Kobayashi. They were married and raised their three children in Montebello, near Los Angeles. Ame was active with the local church, worked part-time in various local businesses, and became an accomplished painter and art instructor.

Recognition from Japan

Because of his accomplishments and community involvement, the Japanese Consulate awarded Junji a Kunsho medal, 6th Order of the Sacred Treasure, in 1973. These medals are conferred by the Japanese Consulate on behalf of the Japanese government to “influential Japanese community members.”

Junji remained active on his farm until he was 90 years old. He and Kuniko moved to California to live with family until he passed away in 1984 at the age of 94. Kuniko went on to live with family in Idaho and Seattle, until she passed in 1990 at the age of 92.

Thanks to their hard work and sacrifice, today there are now five generations of descendants of Junji and Kuniko Hamada living in the U.S. and abroad.

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