A Philadelphia Story

December 15, 2017 • Feature, Homepage Feature, In-depth

Three generations of the Uyehara family include (from left) Hiroshi, Grayce, son Paul and grandson Kaz. (Photo: Mary Yee)

Following the conclusion of WWII, many Japanese Americans re-established roots in Philadelphia, helping to grow the community into a vibrant and thriving city that continues to celebrate that history today.

By Rob Buscher, Contributor

While much has been written on the events leading to and during the mass incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II and the Redress movement, historians have barely scratched the surface of the resettlement that took place after. While much of what has been written has focused on the West Coast experience as families and individuals endeavored to rebuild their lives, the stories of those who journeyed east is also inspiring.

There were many hopeful Issei and Nisei who worked together to establish the new Japanese American community in Philadelphia and its surrounding suburbs. Favoring the moderate California climate and densely populated Japanese ethnic enclave communities in farm towns and Japantown sections in West Coast cities, few Japanese migrants journeyed east before the Immigration Act of 1924 stemmed the tide of Asian immigrants. While there was a community of Japanese in Philadelphia before WWII, it was exceptionally small by comparison to most municipalities on the West Coast and amounted to a couple dozen families before the war.

Hiroshi Uyehara and Fuku Yokoyama at Independence Hall. (Photo: WRA)

Founding JACL Philadelphia member and chapter historian Hiroshi Uyehara wrote in his brief history of the chapter, “In contrast to the West Coast experience, the Issei who graduated from University of Pennsylvania with degrees in engineering, architecture, medicine and dentistry were able to secure professional employment or establish their own practices or businesses within the community-at-large.” Despite their small numbers, several noteworthy individuals left an impact on the larger society. From the 1890s onward, there were several Issei-owned Japanese import shops located in Philadelphia, the best known being Okamoto Bros., operated by Yosaburo and Tokizo Okamoto. At two locations in center city Philadelphia, they sold Japanese art goods, silks and other items from about 1915 until the attack on Pearl Harbor made their merchandise undesirable.

Another Issei named Yosuke W. Nakano left a major impact on the landscape of Philadelphia through his work as an architect. After graduating from Penn, Nakano was employed as chief engineer at the firm of Wark and Co. There, he worked on many significant projects such as the Sun Oil Building, Presbyterian Hospital, Bell Telephone Building, Lankenau Hospital in Wynnewood and the iconic Jefferson Hospital main building.

Tadafumi Mikuriya

Another Issei Penn graduate and contemporary of Nakano’s was Tadafumi Mikuriya, who earned his degree in civil engineering and worked for Baldwin Locomotive Works before starting his own business, the Tada Engineering Co. in 1948. Although his company was based in Trenton, Mikuriya remained involved with the Philadelphia community throughout his life, serving on the chapter board of JACL along with Nakano in the 1950s.

As one might expect with the commencement of hostilities between the U.S. and Japan, the lives of Philadelphia Issei changed dramatically. While certainly to a lesser degree than those who were forced to evacuate their homes on the West Coast, the Issei community outside of the Exclusion Zone was subject to a curfew, had their assets frozen and were restricted from traveling more than five miles from their home without express permission from the FBI.

Mary I. Watanabe, a JACL Philadelphia member and founding president of the Friends of the Japanese House & Garden, wrote of the Philadelphia Issei, “Some businessmen who had profitable gift shops selling art objects and novelties from Japan suddenly found themselves without a means of livelihood and were forced to work as bakers’ helpers or domestic servants.”

Others like Nakano were able to weather the storm due to their technical expertise and deep roots within the community-at-large.

Watanabe continued, “There were demands, increasing after Pearl Harbor, that Nakano be removed from jobs his firm had undertaken or had bid on. Wark executives resisted such demands by countering that without Nakano’s services, the firm would have to withdraw.”

As the war progressed and it became clear that Japanese Americans posed no military threat to national security, the War Relocation Authority began establishing regional branch offices in cities outside of the Exclusion Zone to aid in the resettlement of citizens and aliens who had proven their loyalty through the questionnaire.

In the 1940s, Philadelphia was the third-largest city in the U.S. after New York and Chicago, so it made sense that a sizeable portion of the resettlers would consider moving there. More important to realizing this, however, was the sustained lobbying efforts by WRA personnel from the Philadelphia branch office, National Japanese American Student Relocation Council and American Friends Service Committee (a Quaker organization that promotes lasting peace with justice, as a practical expression of faith in action) to encourage incarcerated individuals to consider relocating to Philadelphia.

At a time when it was political suicide to be seen as a “Jap sympathizer,” the Quakers of Philadelphia went out of their way to support the resettlement of Japanese Americans into their community.

Even before the incarceration began, AFSC had opposed the forced removal of persons of Japanese ancestry from Military Zone 1 as a gross infraction of civil rights. At the behest of AFSC, the WRA agreed to allow the creation of the NJASRC in May 1942, which began working immediately to resettle the more than 2,500 Japanese American students whose college and high school education were interrupted by the incarceration orders.

Unsurprisingly, one of the first East Coast institutions to accept and actively recruit Japanese American university students was Swarthmore College, a small liberal arts school founded by Quakers in the Philadelphia suburbs.

The Inouye family on the steps of the Philadelphia Hostel. (Photo: WRA)

College President John Nason was a Quaker and AFSC member who was appointed national chair of the NJASRC and pledged to lead by example, welcoming the university’s first JA students in fall 1942. Overall, about a dozen or so students of Japanese descent attended Swarthmore as a direct result of this program, including three Nisei siblings: William, George and Miyoko Inouye, whose parents would later be instrumental in assisting with the resettlement of the larger community in Philadelphia.

Naomi Nakano (Photo: WRA)

Not all Philadelphia schools would be as welcoming, as Nakano’s daughter would find out in the spring of 1944. Despite already being enrolled as an undergraduate student of philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania, Naomi Nakano would be excluded from graduate studies at her father’s alma mater due to a racially restrictive policy that forbid new enrollments from Japanese students, regardless of their citizenship.

In a June 1944 edition of the Topaz Times, Naomi Nakano is quoted as experiencing “great disappointment at not being allowed to continue graduate study at the university where I spent four very pleasant years. The principle of discrimination upset me very much. This is the first time – the only time it has touched me.”

In the wake of Penn’s decision, Bryn Mawr College (another Quaker institution) offered her a graduate fellowship in sociology.

The Philadelphia WRA office opened in July 1943 after the U.S. Military cleared the East Coast for resettlement of Japanese Americans. It was operated under the direction of Henry Patterson, a Quaker from Swarthmore who had already shown himself to be a vocal civil rights advocate for both the African-American and Japanese American communities.

This connection between the Quakers and Philadelphia WRA office would prove instrumental in relocating the community in a more integrated manner than many of the other areas selected for resettlement. Reporting the early successes of WRA resettlement in Philadelphia, Tad Tomita wrote in the September 1943 edition of the Tulean Dispatch, “More than 200 Japanese Americans have found a haven in Philadelphia during the last two months. And all, without exception, agreed they had received a friendly welcome and fair treatment from Philadelphians.”

In the same article, WRA Philadelphia Director Henry Patterson is quoted, “As far as Philadelphia is concerned, the Japanese Americans need have no fears, for we have yet to hear of a single case in which one was mistreated here, and all are still in the jobs in which we placed them.”

Another major factor in the resettlement effort was the Philadelphia Hostel, a dormitory-style facility that welcomed individuals and families seeking permanent housing and employment in the city or surrounding areas. Funded by a coalition of faith-based organizations and private citizens, the hostel was initially operated by a Quaker psychologist named Victor E. Goertzel, who had previously served as a high school and junior high school guidance counselor in the Topaz Relocation Center. After a few months, the responsibility of managing the hostel was turned over to an Issei couple – Saburo and Michiyo Inouye, who had previously worked at the Cincinnati Friends Hostel. The Philadelphia Hostel entry in the Densho Archive explains, “A trained dietician, Michiyo handled the shopping and cooking (of both ‘American and Oriental’ meals, according to hostel publicity), while Saburo took care of building maintenance and gardening and also met new arrivals at the railroad station.” The Philadelphia Hostel was both one of the longest-running and most populous of the Japanese American hostels, thanks largely to the family-like hospitality afforded to new arrivals. A 1944 Pacific Citizen article described the couple thusly, “Mr. and Mrs. Inouye are anxious that all the resettlers in the city should feel that the hostel is a home for them.” The article continued, “‘I like to feed them when they come,’ said Mrs. Inouye, who prepares the hostel’s sukiyaki dinners. ‘It is important that they enjoy this place from the first time they visit here.’”

Nisei Herb Horikawa reflects on his experience during this period: “We arrived in Philadelphia on or about Jan. 6, 1944. I was 11 years old and had only a vague idea of the changes about to take place in our lives. We were fortunate to have friends in Philadelphia who encouraged us to make this move. The person who was most instrumental was Mrs. Abiko, who arranged a scholarship for my older brother at the Westtown School. As you may have guessed, she was a Quaker. There were very few JAs when we arrived. We met and became friends of virtually all members of the JA community here. Most notable were the Inouye (Hostel), Nakano (Wark) and Higuchi families.”

By December 1944, it became clear that a U.S. victory over Japan would come in a matter of time, and the incarceration camps were scheduled to close by end of the following year. As resettlement in Philadelphia and elsewhere became more normalized, the Nikkei gained further acceptance within the larger community of Philadelphia, opening businesses and finding employment opportunities in a variety of fields.

The April 1945 edition of the Manzanar Free Press wrote, “To Mrs. Miyo Tachihara Ota goes the credit for starting the first evacuee-owned business in this city. The beauty shop, which she opened early in January, has been keeping her so busy that she has not had enough free time to accept an offer to teach beauty culture at one of Philadelphia’s biggest beauty schools.” Another entrepreneur was Issei Jimmy Kikushima, whose Oriental Restaurant was one of the first Japanese eating establishments in Philadelphia and a favorite gathering place for many Nisei college students.

George Wada found employment as a physician at the Stetson Hospital in North Philadelphia. (Photo: WRA)

Several of the resettlers found employment in the medical industry amongst Philadelphia’s many research hospitals. Dr. George Wada became a resident physician at Stetson Hospital in North Philadelphia, Harold Arase a lab technician at Lankenau Hospital (designed by architect Nakano), Rose Utsunomiya a pharmacologist at Jefferson Hospital and Mack Tsujimoto an orderly at Philadelphia Women’s Hospital.

There were also many Issei and Nisei who found work in Philadelphia’s manufacturing industry such as Percy Fukushima, who worked at the James G. Biddle Co., or Shojiro Horikawa, who found work as a printer at the Message Publishing Co.

Shojiro Horikawa at work at as a printer at the Message Publishing Co. (Photo: WRA)

“Dad had his own printing shop in downtown San Francisco, so this would be different for him,” Herb Horikawa, Shojiro’s son, remembers. “My mother became a dressmaker working at home. Her clients were largely women referred by her Quaker friends.”

Another influential family among the resettlers was the Kaneda’s, whose daughter, Grayce, would become instrumental in founding the Philadelphia JACL chapter along with her future husband, Hiroshi Uyehara.

Grayce’s father, Tsunayoshi “George” Kaneda, provided for his family of eight by working as second chef in the busy kitchen of Quaker-owned Hotel Whittier.

Others like prolific woodworker and architect George Nakashima found solace in the quieter surroundings of the Philadelphia suburbs, building his workshop on the grounds of a small farm in New Hope, where he would live and work for the next 40 years.

By November 1945, about a thousand Japanese Americans had chosen Philadelphia as their new home in addition to many others who resided there temporarily before accepting employment opportunities in

Rose Utsunomiya found employment as a pharmacologist at Jefferson Hospital. (Photo: WRA)

Southern New Jersey or elsewhere in the surrounding suburbs. The Newell Star reported, “The WRA opened its Philadelphia District Office in July 1943, and since then, 3,704 resettlers have passed through its doors. Approximately 1,700 resettlers now are living at Seabrook Farms in New Jersey, and most of the remainder in the district have taken up residence in metropolitan Philadelphia. Philadelphia, with more than 75 percent of its resettlers in complete family groups, has been the city with the highest family relocation in the nation.”

Farming would continue to be a major source of employment for many of the community members, particularly at Seabrook Farms — one of the largest producers of canned, frozen and dehydrated vegetables; the company also provided troop rations for the U.S. military throughout WWII.

Reflecting on her father’s role in establishing the relationship with Seabrook, Nisei Miiko Horikawa wrote, “In 1943, a committee of three, including my father, Fuju Sasaki, also known as ‘Mayor,’ volunteered from the Jerome Concentration Camp to explore the possibilities of working for Seabrook Farms. Workers were sorely needed, and housing was to be subsidized by the Federal Housing Authority. The committee’s report was made available to other camps, and consequently, 2,500 detainees moved to Seabrook.”

The majority of farm workers established positive relationships with their employers and local community, particularly at Seabrook and the smaller farms closer to Philadelphia. In November 1945, Rocky Shimpo announced, “Takashi Moriuchi has just purchased a 100-acre vegetable farm in Moorestown, N.J., 10 miles from the center of Philadelphia.”

Having relocated to Philadelphia in February 1944, Moriuchi had worked as a foreman on the farm of Lewis Barton in Haddonfield, N.J., alongside other Nisei resettlers, some of whom he would later employ on his own farm. Moriuchi was also among the Nisei leaders who organized the Philadelphia Nisei Council along with Grayce Kaneda (later Uyehara) and several others to acquaint local resettlers with community services and promote better integration into the existing community. By the end of WWII, the community of Japanese Americans in the Greater Philadelphia area had expanded from a mere handful of families to encompass a sizeable minority population that extended across all industries and age groups. The community members came from disparate socioeconomic classes and regions across the U.S., each coming to Philadelphia under very different circumstances. Perhaps the only commonality was that the Quakers had, in some way, touched each of their lives and would continue to pave the way for their peaceful coexistence in the postwar years.

“The extent to which Quakers lent a helping hand to Nisei and Issei is pretty deep,” said Russ Endo, editor of the JACL Philadelphia newsletter. “For instance, a volunteer Quaker at AFSC, Harriet Russell, saw my mom and sister’s living situation, and she hired my mom to be a nurse for her ailing father as an additional job. Out of gratitude, my mother both converted to Quakerism from Buddhism and also named me, her first-born son, after Harriet’s last name.” Eventually, about half of the Japanese Americans who were resettled in the Philadelphia area decided to return home to the West Coast, but those who stayed became deeply entrenched in their local communities and also began interacting with the community that had predated WWII. As the resettlement community began increasing their engagement with prewar community leaders like Nakano and Mikuriya, the Philadelphia Nisei Council was looking to establish a more permanent organization in which to continue its work — this led to the formation of the Philadelphia chapter of the JACL.

Hiroshi Uyehara wrote, “On March 25, 1947, the chapter was chartered with the help of Mas Satow and Mike Masaoka. Tetsuo Iwasaki was elected to be the chapter’s first president and Hiroshi Uyehara became the chapter’s official delegate to JACL’s National Convention. Iwasaki would eventually be succeeded by Jack Ozawa in 1948 and ’49, who is the namesake of our local scholarship fund. The impact of the Philadelphia Chapter on the national organization is much greater than might be expected from its relatively small numbers.”

During his 2013 Day of Remembrance address to the Philadelphia Chapter, Grant Ujifusa called Philadelphia “a city that I think was the epicenter of Japanese American redress. Why? Because Grayce Uyehara once lived here, and Grayce Uyehara was the heart and soul of redress.”

The Philadelphia chapter was also one of the top fundraisers for the redress effort, which helped pay for Uyehara’s modest salary as executive director of the Legislative Education Committee, a separate lobbying group established in 1985 by members of the JACL to advocate for the enactment of HR 442, better known as the “Redress bill.”

Another JACL Philadelphia member who had a profound impact on redress was Judge William Marutani, who was the only Japanese American appointed to serve on the congressional Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians.

Marutani settled in Philadelphia after graduating from law school when he accepted a position with the firm of MacCoy, Evans and Lewis in 1953. He also served as JACL National’s legal counsel from 1962-70 and became highly engaged with his local Philadelphia chapter. As JACL counsel, Marutani was the first person of Japanese ancestry to speak before the Supreme Court when he presented an amicus brief in support of interracial marriages in 1967 during the landmark Loving v. Virginia case, which struck down anti-miscegenation laws. He also spent time working as a pro bono voting rights attorney in the Jim Crow South, where his office was destroyed by a pipe bomb.

Marutani would eventually become senior partner at the law firm before being appointed by Pennsylvania Gov. Milton Shapp as a judge of the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia in 1975. Two years later, he successfully ran for re-election and was appointed for an additional 10-year term.

Past JACL Philadelphia President Teresa Maebori wrote about the Marutani campaign, “Bill was the first Asian American to serve on the bench in Philadelphia, and first Japanese American judge east of California. When he was running, the Philadelphia JACL was mobilized to work on his campaign, and they did with gusto.”

Marutani recounted his experience as a CWRIC committee member: “For me, it’s a mixture of anger and grief, of rage and frustration. Having the Issei testify how the uprooting affected them, how their dignity was destroyed. Several times when I was sitting on the commission, I wished I didn’t know what they were telling me was true because it wouldn’t hit me in the gut as hard as it did. I was also outraged at some of the steps the politicians took, the way they toyed with our people.”

Marutani further expanded his point by suggesting that despite overwhelming evidence that Japanese Americans posed no threat to national security, the government delayed the closing of the camps until after President Roosevelt had won his fourth-term re-election.

Suffice it to say, Marutani was a powerful voice amongst the CWRIC commissioners and one of the lead authors of “Personal Justice Denied,” the 1983 committee report that officially recommended a formal apology and monetary compensation in the amount of $25,000 to each living person directly impacted by Executive Order 9066. In making the recommendation, Marutani recused himself from receiving any reparations payment.

It would still be another five years before the Redress bill was finally signed into law by President Ronald Reagan, a final victory that is widely attributed to Uyehara. Referring to her genuine approach, Maebori wrote, “Grayce framed the Redress movement as not a Japanese American issue but as an American issue. She impressed people for her dedication to right the wrong of the incarceration. Once Grayce identified you as one who could help, you could not say no to her.”

Past Chapter President Ed Nakawatase offers the following praise, “I can attest to her ability to focus on the work at hand and not worry about who got credit.” JACL Philadelphia Treasurer Jamie Kawano adds, “Grayce’s achievements should also be viewed as pivotal for the promotion of women to leadership positions in JACL.”

Endo fondly recalls Uyehara: “I remember seeing Grayce arriving from usually D.C. dressed up carrying her briefcase, a ball of fire with energy. The usually quiet Nisei were very proud of Grayce for her savvy, persistence and energy in doing this big thing, which had a deep meaning of rightness — that’s probably why the Philadelphia chapter was one of the biggest donors to the Reparations Movement. Grayce could not have made it without husband Hiro, who fully supported her in a way quite unusual for the time, I think.”

Their son, Paul Uyehara, confirms his father’s supportive attitude. “Dad would drive her to Wilmington, where she caught the Amtrak, and she’d work in D.C. three days a week, staying at a hotel at night. She commuted weekly for about three years,” he said.

In addition to establishing relationships with hundreds of legislators on Capitol Hill, Uyehara also distributed sample form letters, lobbying advice and “action alerts” scoring the position on redress of every member of Congress to JACL members in each of their respective districts. By 1987, more than 200 organizations, including veterans groups and state legislators, had endorsed monetary redress.

Endo offers his opinion on how things transpired. “Given the history of the Redress Movement — first, Relocation findings, then, Reparations Movement — I wouldn’t put it beyond Bill Marutani to have helped mastermind it all,” he said. “Bill thought like a lawyer as well as a politician; first find and correct the facts, then leverage them using the new Asian American politicians, some of whom came out of camps.”

However, Endo also recognizes that Marutani was far too humble to take credit for something that was hard fought by his entire generation.

“It was the coming of age of the Nisei in self-awareness, conviction and also politically,” Endo concluded.

Given the political will of theNisei generation,redress was bound to occur at some point. The manner in which it did, and the extent to which it accomplished the goals of the movement, are directly attributable to the incredible foresight and political clout of Marutani, the tireless organizational work of Grayce Uyehara and support — both monetary and emotional — from the Philadelphia JACL chapter.

Alas, no generation is immune to the passage of time, and as the Nisei generation fades, very little record of their great accomplishments outside of our local community histories remains.

Marutani passed away in 2004, followed by Grayce Uyehara in 2014. There are now fewer than two dozen of the Nisei left in our local community.

Yet, even in their twilight years, the Nisei remain a solid bedrock of this community, congregated around Medford Leas, a retirement community established by Tak Moriuchi after his farm grew into one of the most profitable apple farms in the region.

He, too, is gone now, but his daughter, Chiyo — currently a board member at the retirement home and lifelong Quaker — keeps his memory alive through her work. It is there that JACL Philadelphia celebrates the annual New Year’s Party with the last of our greatest generation, celebrating its storied past with a hopeful eye toward the future.

Judge William Marutani, third from left, was the sole Japanese American to serve on the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians. (Photo: Densho)

The 2018 JACL National Convention will be held in Philadelphia in July. More details regarding the event will be available in the coming months.

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