1/28/12

Final Bow


By Andrea Camarena
     On Wednesday, June 3, [2009] family, friends, students and peers of Sam Imoto (Poston 226-4-CD) gathered to say thank you to the Judo Sensei for his 51 years of teaching the Japanese martial art to young students across the county.
     Imoto, 82, is bowing out of his position as the lead instructor of the judo club at the Visalia YMCA after helping to start it in 1965.
     Imoto is not eager to give up teaching although he admits when the Lindsay Kiwanis Club approached him in 1958 about starting up a club, it seemed a bit ludicrous.
     Once he started teaching, he could not be stopped and at one time he was running Judo clubs in three different cities. Perhaps Imoto's dedication to the sport stems from his personal ties to it.
     "I mean it when I say it, judo saved my life," Imoto said.


Learning in Internment
     Sam Imoto was born and raised along with his nine siblings in the hamlet of Tonyville near Lindsay. The Imotos were farmers by trade and the children all attended Lindsay schools. But upon American involvement in World War II, the Imotos were shipped off to [Poston camp 2] Arizona internment camps with many other local Japanese-American families from the Central Valley and the rest of the State.
It was there that Sam Imoto began his study of the Japanese martial art of judo.
     "Before we went to the camp, Lindsay had a Kendo Club and Samurai training," Imoto said. Sam Imoto's father enrolled him, three brothers and two sisters in the class. "They let us teach judo in the camp but we couldn't do kendo."
     So, began Imoto's judo training. In the evenings, after the schoolwork was done the camp children took judo classes from Kenzo Uyeno.

Sam Imoto
     While the younger Imoto children lived in Arizona [Poston 226-4-CD] with their parents, three of the brothers served in the US military. When one of the Imoto sons was discharged for a murmuring heart in 1945, he brought the family back to Tonyville from the camp.
     By then Sam Imoto had finished his high school studies, he had spent four years away from home. When they returned, there was no warm welcome.


"No Japs Wanted. Japs Get Out."
     Imoto remembers the signs in the store windows, and the bumper stickers on all the passing cars.
     "There was only one grocery store that would sell groceries to my father," Imoto said."It was all over Every car had a bumper sticker. No Japs. Our home was trashed. There was another family living there."
     As the Imoto family settled back in to their Tonyville home, Sam Imoto turned 18 and was drafted into the U.S. Army.


Judo in action
     From the moment Sam Imoto reported for duty, it seemed he was defending himself each time he met someone new or changed locations.
     Among his fellow recruits reporting for basic training in Virginia, Imoto sat on his duffle bag when another recruit pulled a knife on him and told another white recruit that they should cut him up.
     Imoto, remaining calm, diffused the situation with his words. But his words didn't always work in fighting the racist attitude in his post-war companies.
     "Judo saved my life," Imoto said. "Everybody took a turn at me. Every technique in judo is self defense. No one knew what judo was. They didn't know what hit them."
     Today in his judo classes, Imoto teaches his student to always walk away from fights. Imoto believes this practice but in his service in the Army, he could not walk away everytime.
     "Judo is self defense, but we tell the kids to walk away. Sometimes you can't walk away, you have to turn around and fight. In the service, I got tired of walking away," Imoto said.
     Imoto recalls an incident when a 6'2" soldier challenged him. When the soldier attacked him, Imoto used a judo throw and to put him on the ground. Each time the soldier stood up to fight him again, he used the judo throw again until the soldier gave up.
     "He said 'No more Imoto.' Then he made a speech in the Barracks. "You mess with Imoto, you have to come through me.' He became my friend," Imoto said of the incident.
     Every time he transferred the bullying and attacks would start again until he used his martial arts to make a point. He spent two and a half years in Germany surviving the racism.


From Student to Sensei
     After three years away from home, Sam Imoto was discharged from the Army and he returned to Tonyville to work on the family farm.
     In 1958, he was sitting on a tractor in the fields when a member of the Lindsay Kiwanis club approached Imoto. The Kiwanis planned to start a judo club and wanted Imoto to teach. After some persuasion by the club member, Imoto agreed to it only if an instructor from Fresno was brought down to help get things started. It was then, while learning to teach, that Imoto earned his blackbelt from Kano Sensei, student of professor Yamauchi.
     Imoto grew in his judo training as he raised a family with his wife Janis in the house that they have shared since their marriage in 1953. He taught his own children (Vicki, Tobi, Gordon and Sandee) and grandchildren over the years. And as students changed, so did the clubs. From the Lindsay club, Imoto helped to open clubs in Visalia, Dinuba and Corcoran. The Visalia YMCA club began in 1965 and Imoto has been the sensei there since. The program currently holds practices twice a week and competes in weekend tournaments once a month.
     Imoto is now a seventh degree blackbelt and prides himself on the accomplishments of his students. His star pupil Michael Tacata, won the junior and senior national championships in high school and continued to compete at Stanford where he was the Collegiate National Champion. He now teaches Judo part time at the University of Tennessee.
Imoto is also proud of those students who have gone on to teach the sport to local youth.
Robert Ford, Greg Arnold, Janet Hass and Isabelle Negrete and Roger Wong are all assistants at the Visalia Judo Club.

     Imoto himself only attempted to compete in Judo when he first began teaching. "When I first started, I tested myself," Imoto said."├ČBut I was too old. I was competing against kids 17 or 18 years old when I was 30-something."
     Now Imoto is semi-retiring from teaching and handing over the program into the capable hands of Tom Jay a former student and a third degree blackbelt.
     His legacy will continue at the Visalia Judo Club with his former students running the program. For now, Imoto will have more time to relax and spend time with three children, seven grandkids and four great-grandkids.
     "In Kendo and Judo training, I learned to be very confident," Imoto said. "I told myself I'd take care of myself and obey my instructors. I knew to never show off what I learned and knew not to use it if I don't need to use it. I try to instill the same to my students."

Source: http://www.thesungazette.com/articles/2009/06/10/news/sports/sports02.txt

1/18/12

Grace Returns to Grossmont


Foothiller Gets Royal Treatment 70 Years Later
by Ken Stone
Grace (Kaminaka) Tsuida

     Grace Kaminaka Tsuida was among many Japanese-Americans sent to WWII internment camps.
 
     Grace Kaminaka (Poston 330-12-D) was a Foothiller to the soul—just like her four older siblings, all graduates of Grossmont High. But she spent only her freshman year and part of her sophomore term at the school straddling La Mesa and El Cajon.

     Despite having been born in El Cajon, she was expelled in April 1942 by federal order—one of 110,000 American citizens of Japanese descent sent to Western internment camps in the wake of Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor. 
     “I didn’t know why we had to go,” she said Friday. “People [at Grossmont] were good to us.”

     Grace finished [Poston 3] high school at a camp near Poston, AZ—where she would meet her future husband—commercial fisherman Mas Tsuida (Poston 322-1-B), a graduate of San Diego High School. 

      But Grace always regretted never getting her diploma.
      Her niece, Judy Miyamoto of University City, never forgot that.  So when Uncle Mas was invited to Washington, D.C., in November to be awarded a Congressional Gold Medal for his unit’s heroism in Europe during World War II, Miyamoto sprung into action.
      She sent email to Grossmont High School—addressing it to Theresa Kemper.  No longer the principal, Kemper handed it off to Principal Dan Barnes.
      “Sure enough, gosh,”Miyamoto said, Grossmont quickly assented to issuing an honorary diploma for Grace—67 years after the fact.
      But that wasn’t all. Thanks to the Grossmont High School Museum co-directed by Connie Baer, Grace also got her 1941 and 1942 yearbooks and a copy of the 1944 commencement program, provided by a classmate of that year.

      At a November dinner in honor of Mas Tsuida at their daughter Nadine’s home in Falls Church, VA, Grace finally got her diploma.
      “She was in shock—so surprised,” Miyamoto said. Later [Grace] said: ‘Even though [Mas] got his medal, the highlight of the trip was my high school diploma.’ ”
      The school had arranged to have a diploma replicated that included the signatures of then schools Superintendent John Warburton, Principal Walter Barrett and Board of Education president Rexford Hay.
      Last Friday morning, several family members brought Grace to Grossmont for the first time in nearly 70 years.
      Grace, 86, was greeted at the museum by schools Superintendent Ralf Swenson and sisters Connie and Lynn Baer, Hiller alumni and museum directors. Later, Grossmont High School historian and teacher Don Ginn stopped by to chat—telling Grace how some students boycotted class for several days in protest of the banishment of their Japanese friends.
      Grace, a San Diego resident, recalled that her teachers were “sentimental” when they learned she was being sent to Arizona.
      “As soon as you handed them [the paperwork], they knew what it meant,” she said.
      With Grossmont freshman journalist Tim Collins listening respectfully, Grace told of attending “general English,” science and gym classes at Grossmont.
      “It was fun in those days—carefree,” Grace said. “Sweetwater [High School] was our rival.” Her best friend was another Japanese-American girl.
      Grace lived in El Cajon—somewhere “way back east” in an agricultural area that since has given way to subdivisions. But her parents were farmers and commuted to Lemon Grove, so Grace took a bus from Lemon Grove to Grossmont.
      Grace was a homemaker who raised three children—Nadine, Glenn and a son, Mark, who died of kidney cancer ay age 47.  She held down the house while Mas was on his commercial fishing expeditions—until his retirement in the 1970s.
Mas Tsuida
 
      On Nov. 2, Tsuida was among hundreds honored for World War II service in Europe. (The first Congressional Gold Medal medal recipient, in 1776, was George Washington. Others include Neil Armstrong, the Tuskegee Airmen in 2006 and the Native American Code Talkers in 2008. Mas was part of the highly decorated 100th Infantry Battalion, 442nd Regimental Combat Team. )
      “You should have seen the wheelchairs,” Miyamoto said. “All kinds of wheelchairs. My daughter and I looked at each other and said: Aren’t we fortunate.”
      Grace was offered a seat several times during Friday’s visit to the Grossmont High School Museum.
 
      She smiled and politely declined each time.  Instead, at 4 foot 10, she stood proudly as a graduate, possessor of a blue-covered document that read:


Be it known that Grace Kaminaka has completed satisfactorily the Course of Study prescribed for Graduation from this High School and is therefore awarded this Diploma Honorary.

Source: http://lemongrove.patch.com/articles/grace-returns-to-grossmont

1/9/12

Two Greenspring Residents

Two Greenspring residents, Japanese-American World War II veterans, receive congressional gold medals.

By Maya Horowitz/The Connection
George Nakamura
November 30, 2011

     George Nakamura and Yukio Kawamoto, two second-generation Japanese-Americans, or Nisei, served the United States bravely on the battlefield during a time of suspicion towards Asian Americans at home. Their contribution to the war effort was recognized by Congress this November when Nakamura and Kawamoto received Congressional Gold Medals.
      Nakamura and Kawamoto, who both served in the Military Intelligence Service (MIS) during WWII, and were in the same language class, Section 6, at Camp Savage in Minnesota, now live in the same retirement community, Greenspring in Springfield, Virginia.  
        Nakamura was born on Nov 26, 1919 in Reedley, Calif. Kawamoto was born days earlier on Nov. 13, 1919 in Berkeley, Calif. Nakamura was number five of eight siblings. Kawamoto had two sisters who were both sent to live in Japan before he was born. He was raised as an only child.
      Both men were enrolled in college when Pearl Harbor was attacked. Nakamura was studying music with minors in education and art at San Francisco State University. Kawamoto was studying political science at University of California Berkeley.
      NAKAMURA AND KAWAMOTO were both drafted into the military. Nakamura was initially rejected because he only weighed 109 pounds. He later enlisted in the army, to prove his patriotism and passed the physical exam by one pound. Kawamoto was three months from graduating when he was drafted. Berkeley gave him his degree anyway
      Nakamura’s basic training took place at Fort Knox and Kawamoto’s basic training was at Camp Robinson. Both men said they initially had trouble with the latrines, which were marked "White" and "Colored." They weren’t sure which category they fit into. Eventually they were told, "white."
      Nakamura also encountered racial troubles in the bunks at night. The men slept head to toe. The person next to him wrote home to his mother that he had to sleep next to a Japanese man. His mother wrote back, "Don’t turn your back on him. He might stab you in the back."
      Nakamura was left behind as others from his basic training group moved on to different assignments. Eventually, Maj. Dickey came and recruited him for a Japanese language school at Camp Savage. 
Camp Savage Section 6
George Nakamura at Camp Savage, MN
      Kawamoto was also recruited to this school, although not as willingly. He was asked if he would like to go and he replied, "no thanks," but one week later he was on the train to the school anyway.
      It was at Camp Savage, Minn., that Nakamura and Kawamoto met. They were both in the Section 6 language class. Nakamura said they were not friends but acquaintances. They noted how cold Minnesota was, remembering that if they put a Coke bottle outside on the windowsill, it would freeze in less than an hour.
      They shipped out around the same time, but with different assignments. Both went to Fort Snelling and Angel Island before continuing on.
      Nakamura shipped out to Auckland, New Zealand and then Brisbane, Australia. He was with the scanning team of the Allied Translator and Interpreter Section (ATS), scanning captured documents. He requested to go to the front lines and was sent to Goodenough, New Guinea. Using his Japanese language skills, he looked over documents and interrogated prisoners. He said the prisoners all said the same two things at first: "I cannot go back to Japan" and "When are you going to kill me?" He also said he was instructed to ask what had become of Amelia Earheart.
      Nakamura went on to Lingayen Bay to work for the Office of War Information, which was a propaganda outfit that tried to entice Japanese soldiers to surrender. About 22 Japanese soldiers surrendered as a result of Nakamura’s efforts and for this, he was awarded a bronze star.
      Kawamoto, from Angel Island, was sent to New Caledonia, the Solomon Islands, and Bougainville. He assisted the Navy with Japanese translation. He said his skills were particularly useful in the battle for Bougainville. A month before the battle, a disgruntled Japanese soldier deserted his forces and came over to the American side. He warned Kawamoto of the attack. Because of this intelligence, the 37th Infantry Division, which Kawamoto was a part of, was able to bring in reinforcements.

       Kawamoto then went to Lingayen Bay and marched down to Manila. He said the Battle of Manila was "pretty big. I felt like I was in a war." 







      Nakamura and Kawamoto have many of the same awards from the war: Philippine Liberation Ribbon, Occupation of Japan, Victory Medal, Asiatic Theatre Campaign with two bronze stars, American Theatre and a Bronze Star Medal. Nakamura also has an Officer’s Ribbon, for more than 20 years of service, and a good conduct ribbon.
      Nakamura said World War II was different from other wars because it wasn’t political; it was a fight for survival. "I think we would’ve been exterminated if the Japanese won," said Nakamura. "They would’ve considered us traitors." 




      Kawamoto said what made WWII different was the use of the atomic bomb.
      ABOUT THE USE of atomic force to end the war, Nakamura said, "In retrospect it was terrible, but at that time, I had no feelings."
      "I wasn’t happy about it," said Kawamoto, "But there are a lot of things in war you’re not happy about." Kawamoto also noted that Hiroshima was where his parents were from.
      Kawamoto left the military in August 1945, retiring as a technician, third grade. He said his commander general said, "You’ve put 20 months into the Pacific. You’ve done your duty. Go back home and take care of Mama and Papa." He returned immediately to his parents, who had been interred in Topaz, Utah. Kawamoto called it a farce that these camps had towers with guns and sentries so the residents wouldn’t escape.
      Nakamura’s family had also been put into camps. His mother and all of his siblings were in Poston, Arizon block 308. and his father, who was declared a "dangerous enemy alien," because of his involvement in the North America Military Virtues Society, was interred in[Santa Fe]  New Mexico. Nakamura smiled recalling that the family had had to lease their 60-acre orchard and vineyard when they had been put into camps. And ironically, the leasee had been German. (After the war, the Nakamura family got their land back.)

      ”I guess at the time,” he said , ”I thought it was just simply inevitable. What the hell was I going to say? I was young, war was going on, what was I to think? I can’t approve it. That was what the government decided to do. I had no other alternative but to maintain my patriotism.”
      Unlike Kawamoto, Nakamura stayed in the military after the war was over. He visited occupied Japan in September 1945 and encountered discrimination by the British occupation forces. Kawamoto worked for the occupation forces and the federal service until 1979 when he retired from the military as a lieutenant colonel. He worked as a contractor until 2000 when he retired completely.
      Kawamoto took a position at the State Department as an interpreter in 1946. He worked there until the 1970s when he retired.
      Nakamura met his wife, Sylvia, in St. Paul, Minn. They had four daughters, Diana, Joyce, Patricia and Linda.
      Kawamoto met his wife, Sayoko, in Japan. They had four children, Craig, Sharon, Don and Brian.
      Nakamura and Kawamoto met in 1943 but didn’t see each other again until the early 1970s. By chance, they ran into each other in Tokyo. Neither thought much of the meeting.
      Nakamura continued to work in military intelligence as a civilian after his discharge from the Army, rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel in the reserves, and finally ended his service in 2000, at the young age of 81.
     In February 2007, Kawamoto retired to Greenspring in Springfield with his wife. Three years later, when Nakamura was thinking about where he and his wife should retire, he heard through a friend at the Japanese American Veterans Association that Kawamoto was at Greenspring. He said Kawamoto being there didn’t influence his decision, but it worked out nicely. The two now live within walking distance of each other.
     Congress awarded Nakamura and Kawamoto the Congressional Gold Medal for their service during World War II this November.
      Kawamoto said, "If Congress gives it, it must be pretty good." 
      Nakamura said, "It’s an honor to have Congress acknowledge the fact that Japanese-Americans served in the U.S. army honorably and heroically."

Source: http://www.connectionnewspapers.com/articleprint.asp?article=356215&paper=61&cat=104