|On June 3, 1942, the Capitol Journal printed
a photograph of a large gathering of Japanese-Americans, waving
goodbye from the Salem railroad depot. As the paper described,
High Spirits and Cheery Farewells to their white American
friends marked the departure from Salem last night of 244 American-born
and alien Japanese of the Willamette valley area for their new
homes in Tulelake, (Cal.) evacuation settlement for the duration
of the war. The Oregon Statesman described their destination:
At their new home, approximately 35 miles south of Klamath
Falls, the erstwhile Willamette Valley folk will find federal
together with the opportunity to turn their
ingenuity as agriculturalists into making the desert bloom.
These cheerful reports masked the true nature of the Japanese-Americans
destination, as well as the reason for their removal from
Salem. Tulelake was an isolated, dry lake bottom, where temperatures
often reached 104 degrees. In their federal housing
units, the Japanese were provided with metal cots and
hay for mattresses. Reverend Hideo Hashimoto, former pastor
of the Japanese Christian Church and teacher at the Salem
Japanese language school, described Tulelake as similar to
a P.O.W. camp. If youve seen Stalag 17 or Hogans
Heroes, it was just like that.
Throughout the western U. S., Japanese were incarcerated
from 1942 to 1946. Of the 4,000 removed from Oregon, only
half returned to the state after the war. Only two, from Salems
Japanese community of 250, returned to Salem immediately after
being released from internment. They, and those who came back
later, found a community that was irreparably changed. The
thriving Japanese community that had existed for four decades
was no more.
Japanese immigrants first came to the Northwest in the late
1880s, filling the gap when Chinese immigration was banned
in 1882. One of the first Japanese to settle in Salem was
Roy Fukuda, who arrived in 1905. He came to make his
fortune and go back, but he got a wife and stayed, described
his son, Frank Fukuda, who still lives in the Salem area.
Fukuda settled near Lake Labish, northeast of Keizer, where
he transformed the beaver marshes into profitable
farmland. His success attracted other Japanese to the area.
Eventually, there were close to 50 Japanese families farming
small, 10 to 30 acre plots around Lake Labish. They also farmed
in Keizer and Independence, and owned businesses in Salem.
Many of these early settlers are now buried in the Salem Pioneer
Cemetery, where headstones featuring Japanese characters and
names such as Nishimura, Yoshida, and Furukawa differentiate
them from the other memorials.
The Japanese formed a closely-knit community, centered in
Lake Labish, and worked together to maintain their cultural
traditions. One major community celebration was Japanese New
Year, when they played traditional Japanese musical instruments
and ate fish, lobster, and shushumi. Many families installed
traditional hot tubs in their houses. Japanese language classes
for their childrenmany of whom grew up speaking English
better than Japanesewere held at the Ogura Hall on Lakeside
Drive. In 1923 a group of Japanese Christians began meeting
in the home of Suyekichi Watanabe; by 1936, they had purchased
the Bretheren Hazelgreen Church, which became the Japanese
While they maintained a distinct cultural identity, the Japanese
also embraced American culture. In the summers, they held
picnics as American as hot dogs and apple pie.
Some of the Issei, or immigrant Japanese, still practiced
Buddhism, but they encouraged their children, the Nisei, to
attend Christian Sunday school. Im Japanese,
one parent said. Buddhism is a Japanese religion. But
my children are American. Christianity is an American religion.
My children should be Christian.
The Nisei occupied a difficult place, caught between two
cultures. Rev. Hashimoto remembered that most children were
English speakers, and rebelled against attending Japanese
language school. They had no interest in things Japanese,
he said. Ethnically, they were American. I know, I taught
them. Most Nisei attended public schools and graduated
from Salem High School. They found acceptance at school; in
the late 1930s, Taul Watanabe was elected student body president.
Tatsuro Tats Yada was a football star at Salem
High and then at Willamette University. The Issei were proud
of their childrens achievements. Every year they held
a graduation banquet at Tokio Sukiyaki House, at 222-1/2 Commercial
Street N. in downtown Salem.
With the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, everything
changed. You found out who your friends were,
said Henry Tanaka. While there was no outward violence in
Salem, some Chinese-American residents felt the need to wear
buttons announcing, Im Chinese, fearing
they would be mistaken for Japanese. Francis Tanaka, who had
owned Tokio Sukiyaki for eight years and been the chef at
the Marion Hotel for 18 years before that, saw his loyal customers
trickle away in the months following Pearl Harbor. Vandals
broke the restaurants neon sign, then its windows. It
finally closed in February 1942. Other businesses, such as
the Tsukamoto familys Japanese hand Laundry, were forced
to close by military law, which prohibited any Japanese-owned
business to be located within 1-1/2 miles of water and power
Shortly after Pearl Harbor, 2000 Japanese nationwide were
rounded up and imprisoned. Roy Fukuda, who had farmed in Lake
Labish since 1905, was one of them. Although he wan not a
leader of any Japanese organization, the FBI apparently thought
Fukuda was suspicious, and sent him to a detention center
in Missoula, Montana.
On February 19, 1942, President Roosevelt signed Executive
Order 9006, which authorized the evacuation of
Japanese-Americans to barbed-wire internment camps. At first,
only older Japanese were evacuated. Many young men, like George
Takeyama, avoided internment by volunteering for the military,
and served bravely in WWII. Others were later drafted out
of the internment camps.
Finally, on June 1, 1942, the remaining 244 Japanese-Americans
in the Salem area were taken to the Tulelake internment camp.
There was a feeling this shouldnt happen, but
you couldnt say very much. In those days you just followed
orders, said Tats Yada.
Yada was one of the few Japanese who returned to farm at
Lake Labish after the war. He discovered that his familys
home had burned to the ground. Tats and his wife Masako reclaimed
their land and farmed there for many years. Other Japanese
eventually returned to Salem; Tom and Georgette Yoshakai,
who met at a dance in the Tulelake camp, raised their daughter
in Salem and remain active members of the community. Alice
Yoshakai became a respected schoolteacher; Yoshakai Elementary
School was named in her honor. The school is located in northeast
Salem, near the rich farmlands of Lake Labish where the Japanese
community once thrived.
Written by Virginia Green
"Love of Land Survives WWII Camp." Statesman Journal,
Apr. 19, 1996.
Mazano, Phil. "Salem's Japanese: How a Small Community
Vanished." Statesman Journal, Feb. 15, 1981. pp. 1A,