HORSE’S MOUTH: The ‘Hotfoot’ Incident

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By GEORGE YOSHINAGA

I don’t always expect a response from readers on the subject matters I may write about in my column. However, I do get readers who want to express their opinion or story about the subject or issue.

Recently I wrote about Gen. Douglas MacArthur and his relationship with Japan’s Emperor Hirohito.

Needless to say, I didn’t expect anyone to respond to the column, but reader K. W. Sein wrote the following:

“I read The Rafu and your column when I see something you write about Japan in the early (or) mid-’50s, like Rikidozan, the pro wrestler for whom you worked in Tokyo.

“And, today’s story about Gen. Douglas MacArthur and the late Emperor Hirohito was of special interest to me personally in a very unusual and peculiar way.

“In 1955, I was a Japanese government-invited States Scholar from Burma (now Myanmar) studying international law at the University of Tokyo Law School. Just a handful of foreign students at that time — ten years after the end of World War II.

“Burma was the first country to sign a treaty of peace and friendship and war reparations. In that treaty was a clause for Japan to invite and open the higher institutions of education to Burmese students and scholars. So I was one of the first Burmese sent to Japan under that treaty …

“Yokota Kisaburo was the dean of Tokyo University Law School and professor of international law. He soon after became the chief justice of the Japanese Supreme Court. From the very first day of being his student, he kept telling me and his staff and law school assistants that the new Burmese students, educated through the medium of English, must be assigned the special law school project to conduct research with permission of the Ministry of Education and the GHQ, MacArthur’s command post in Tokyo, focused on the events and the inner working within the Allies culminating in the preservation of the Emperor and the Peace Constitution imposed on Japan.

“Prof. Yokota and the academics at the law school were consumed with wanting to know … the actual deliberations, the dissensions and the conflicts that transpired within the alliance and how and why MacArthur practically overruled the rest and imposed his will based on (his) evaluations and historical justifications …

“Before commenting on your column, let me just mention that MacArthur, after his infamous defeat in the Philippines, buried himself in the study of Japanese history, accepting that one cannot defeat the enemy you don’t know. He was determined to not only know but to fully understand and appreciate where the Japanese were coming from.

“Historical events since then have proven that he achieved that goal with flying colors. He was perhaps the only one in the entire alliance who realized and came to the conclusion, even before, during and after the invasion of the Japanese mainland islands, that without the Emperor it would be an impossible task to occupy, pacify and govern the proud Japanese people.

“Prolonged colonization was against all American principles and definitely unworkable.

“When MacArthur took command of the GHQ in Tokyo, the Allies wasted no time in presenting to him the proposal to declare Hirohito … (as a) war criminal to be tried along the same lines as the Neuremberg Court. Some of the documents indicate that some Allies wanted to remove Hirohito and his immediate family to some undisclosed location so the Japanese people would not be able to rally around the imperial family for  resistance.

“Now the readers will be surprised and interested to know MacArthur’s mindset was quite far from these matters of war and victor’s prerogatives. His main concern at that time was the lowly private GI ‘who is going to get lost in a devastated Tokyo without any road sign in English.’

“So, the first order issued by MacArthur was to change all road names and signs into English, simple enough for a ‘private GI’ to understand and follow. Starting from A-Z and then A1-Z1 and so on.

“Here was a man whose main concern was the welfare of his common soldier — not to rush with what must be done to the Emperor. He ordered that the Emperor stay put and remain in his palace and his well-being taken care of. He was rumored to have stated that his ‘barging into the Imperial Palace was out of the question.’

“He also ordered that should there be a need to communicate with the Emperor, the established Japanese protocol must be followed. He expressed to his immediate staff that ‘to humiliate someone in defeat’ is not what Americans do.

“So, when the time came to meet Hirohito face-to-face, the Allies and the protocol people at GHQ made so much fuss, which to MacArthur was simply to humiliate Hirohito — until recently a living god. The Allies and the protocol people proposed that MacArthur receive the defeated Emperor in his office, seated, and have the Emperor come up to his desk. The general rejected all of that and said he would do no such thing.

“In fact, he first wanted to call on the Emperor but the Allies were distraught. He compromised and agreed to receive him, in his own way. He said to his staff, ‘The man is coming to see me and the least I can do is to meet him at the doorsteps of the building and escort him to my office.’ And that was how he received Hirohito.

“Even at the last moment, he was prevented from opening the door of the Emperor’s car. There was a photo taken at the steps in most history books. So, it was not at the embassy but at the GHQ.

“Another note of interest was that while Hirohito and MacArthur were getting acquainted, there was a ‘peeping Tom’ behind the curtain of the general’s desk. That was Mrs. MacArthur, given special permission by MacArthur to witness history in the making.

“Unfortunately, the general ended his impeccable military career with a blemish, but to the Japanese people, especially the imperial family and women, he was a true gift from the Sun Goddess.”

Thanks to reader Sein for his story. I’m sure many who read it will find much of the information revealed in it to be something they never knew regarding how MacArthur’s attitude about the Emperor quickened the solidifying of the relationship between the U.S. and Japan.

Another letter from a reader. This is a very short one from Aileen Tanida, who recently asked me about a new Japanese restaurant that I wrote about a few months ago:

“Hi George. You have a terrific memory. I did a Google search on Hokkaido Seafood Buffet in West Los Angeles. I located it in the Westwood Pavilion on Pico Boulevard and Westwood Boulevard. It is similar to Todai Buffet in Torrance. Hokkaido is both Japanese and Chinese.

“With your great help I will dine there in September on my hubby’s 90th birthday, who won’t turn down a teppan yaki. The cost is $17.99 on weekends and I hear good things about the place. And they accept large groups. Thank you again for the information.”

Thank you for your response to my article. Wish your husband a happy 90th birthday.

Supervisor Mike Antonovich also wears the title “Mayor of Los Angeles County.”

He’s held the supervisor’s title for the 5th District (the largest in Los Angeles County) for over 30 years but because of the term-limit laws, he may be serving his last term.

However, the Board of Supervisors is seeking to overturn that by placing a measure on the November ballot. If the voters approve it, Antonovich could serve another two terms past his current one, which ends in 2016.

In 2004, 64 percent of voters approved a measure that limited supervisors to three consecutive terms.

Antonovich, 72, easily won re-election earlier this year and is one of four supervisors who are currently barred from seeking office again. If the measure passes, Gloria Molina, Don Knabe and Zev Yaroslavsky also could run for office again. All have served at least 15 years.

Needless to say, Los Angeles County has been run at a very high level with these long-serving supervisors at the helm.

When we read about how cities like San Bernardino are filing for bankruptcy and see that the leaders of that city have served only two to three years at most, I can’t see why voters would want to restrict L.A. County supervisors to only short terms.

Why toss out leaders who have served so many years and have kept the county operating so successfully?

I don’t say this just because I can call Mike a personal friend. Just check his record of over 30-plus years in office and you’ll understand what I am saying.

Hope people won’t mind if I toss in another letter. This one is from Osamu “Ham” Miyamoto, who is also a personal friend:

“Thank you for your kind words about my Heart Mountain song.

“I want to inform you that Setsuko Onoda, who wrote to you about the poor maintenance of the Evergreen Cemetery, is not a Nisei or Sansei. She is a Japanese citizen who moved to the United States.

“I commend her for writing to you about the poor upkeep of Evergreen Cemetery, where many of our Issei parents and Japanese American soldiers are buried. Your writing about Setsuko’s letter has alerted others to the shameful care of the cemetery.

“Please write about your findings about the ownership and the reasons for the poor maintenance of the cemetery.

“Take care and keep writing for The Rafu Shimpo so we can continue to learn about our Nikkei community.”

Thanks, Ham. Hope we can get together one of these days and chat about the “good old days.”

I  know I keep mentioning my days at Heart Mountain because I have some fond memories of my days at the camp, and from time to time I get letters from other folks who were interned at the Wyoming camp, which rekindle those memories.

Here is one such letter from John Hayakawa:

“At one of the Heart Mountain Las Vegas reunions, you were the guest speaker. During a break, I approached you and asked if you remembered the ‘hotfoot’ incident at the Heart Mountain Fire Department. You said, ‘Yes.’ Nothing else was said, so I let it go at that.

“I was inducted into the Fire Department in early October 1942. At the time, the ‘kingpin’ of the department was Rufus Tojo.

“You loved to nap and on this occasion you were fast asleep on the upper bunk bed. Rufus wanted to wake you up. He took a book of matches and inserted it between the sole and shoe and lit it. Nothing happened. It did not wake you up. So he took two books of matches and again ignited them. He lit both to full flame.

“It woke you up. Thus you were nicknamed ‘Hotfoot.’

“As the camp settled down, and boys and girls clubs were formed, the so-called gang element took power. They crashed the parties and ate all the refreshments. It was more a nuisance than a problem and the block managers let things ride.

“On one occasion, they made a mistake. One mess hall was serving a meal. When the mess manager (a San Jose fellow) refused the gangs to enter the mess hall, they took his glasses and beat him up. Your big brother (named Kay Yoshinaga) called a special block manager’s meeting to form a vigilante committee. The first meeting was kept a secret.

“On the second meeting, it was organized and acclaimed that at future beatings, it would be reported to the Vigilante Committee. At which time the committee would talk to the elements to cease and desist.

“On my next shift at the firehouse, a youngster approached me and asked, ‘Are you from San Jose?’ I replied, ‘Yes, why?’ He said, ‘Nice place, huh.’

“They were buttering me up. No more beatings, no more crashing parties, etc.

“Well, all that happened 70 years ago, so who cares?

“I was also incarcerated at Santa Anita Assembly Center and ate at the Yellow Mess. I, too, worked on the camouflage project, pulling on the nets as the gals progressed with their weaving.

“I’m a ‘nut’ on collecting documents, this is the first opportunity for me to gain access to stories of the assembly center. I would like to obtain a copy. You were invited to write your experiences while at the assembly center. Your article was included in the anniversary book.

“I would like to obtain a copy. Can you tell me where I can get a copy? Your cooperation would be greatly appreciated.”

Thanks for your letter, John. Boy, I still remember being nicknamed “Hotfoot” by those at the fire station.

In a way it changed my life because I resigned as a fireman and joined the staff of the camp newspaper. So here I am, still pounding away as a writer. A lot better than being a “hotfoot.”

George Yoshinaga writes from Gardena and may be reached via e\mail at [email protected] Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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