My childhood on Bainbridge Island included friends from many backgrounds. People came here from Europe, Japan, and the Philippines. Our next door neighbors, the Munros, came from Scotland, while my own family came from Scandinavian countries. During that time, a Japanese family lived up the road, and I knew them well.
I started school at Pleasant Beach in 1935, making many new friends including three more Japanese American children – Ted, Toshiko, and Norio Harui. Our school had only four rooms, with about 24 students in each room. First and second graders shared a room, third and fourth graders shared another room, fifth and sixth graders shared the third room, and the fourth room was for music. Few people were moving to the island in those days, so the combination of students in each grade pretty much stayed the same, and we became like a large family. The games we played together were a great blend of childhood adventures and sports. Georgie Ebira was my closest friend on Crystal Springs. We fished off the pier for days on end, camped on the beach, and played in the greenhouses Georgie’s family operated.
At school, playground equipment entertained us, but by today’s standards, it would be considered dangerous. We had a teeter-totter that went up to six feet off the ground, the swings were made out of chains, and there was a hard dirt basketball court. Playing basketball in the mud was quite a challenge. There was also a ball field, and I loved playing softball the most, and when I got into the upper grades, I was a star pitcher and outfielder on the baseball team
The most important feature of our play ground was the Big Rock. It was so much fun to climb, but only sixth graders could eat their lunch on it. Status depended on grade and age, never race. It now is the only thing left of my early school years, and still stands across from the movie theater in Lynwood Center, a silent testimony to the golden days of childhood.
It was a simple life. We didn’t have cell phones, internet, or television, but we did have a radio. While we weren’t often told of events happening in the world, I clearly remember when Pearl Harbor was attacked. I came home to find my parents solemnly listening to our radio, so I joined them. It never occurred to me to make any connection between the Pearl Harbor attack and my Japanese friends on the island.
At first, nothing seemed to change at school. But big changes were coming. On March 30th, all the Japanese Americans were taken to Taylor Avenue to board the ferry. No one knew where they were going, not even the Japanese Americans. At the time, only our high school kids were allowed to go see their friends off on the ferry, but because I wasn’t yet in high school, I did not get to say goodbye to my friends. A silent but emotional Japanese American Exclusion Memorial stands there, today.
It seems strange now, but at that time, we didn’t question what was happening. My parents didn’t talk about it, and I don’t remember discussing it in school. We just knew our friends were missing and hoped they’d return soon.
Eventually, some of our friends did return – those whose families still owned land, particularly the strawberry field owners. Other island Japanese Americans, who found that their land had been taken from them, moved to other places. Again, we weren’t told anything; it was just the way it was. My friend Georgie, never did return. Forty years later, I was finally able to reach him by phone, but he passed away before we were able to meet in person again.
Many people in the United States didn’t learn the truth about the exclusion of Japanese Americans. Years later, Frank Kitimoto was instrumental in making the film “After Silence”. This movie made people of aware of the internment, and people began to speak more and more about it. It wasn’t until “After Silence” came out that people who were interned actually talked openly about the experience. The Bainbridge Island Historical Museum documents this injustice with a film, a large section of which is devoted to the exclusion of Japanese Americans. I’ve also shared some of my past experiences with students at the Sakai school when they study a program called “Leaving Our Island”. The Japanese American community on the island was instrumental in building the Memorial Wall at Taylor Avenue, the site where the Japanese were forced to leave our island. This has now become a national monument maintained by the National Park Service.
I’m 92 years old now and so much has changed in my lifetime. I’m grateful to my parents for my childhood, for my friends, and for my family. I’m also grateful that I have been able to maintain enduring friendships within the Japanese American community, and they are still an important part of my life.
JOIN THIS VIRTUAL EVENT HOSTED BY BAINBRIDGE ISLAND JAPANESE AMERICAN COMMUNITY: SEP 23. GET TICKETS HERE.