15th Anniversary of Terminal Island Memorial Celebrated

The Terminal Island Japanese Fishing Village Memorial, dedicated in 2003, includes statues of two Issei fishermen and a replica of the Terminal Island torii.

By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer

The 15th anniversary of the Terminal Island Japanese Fishing Village Memorial in San Pedro was celebrated April 15 with speeches, the placing of a time capsule, and a new exhibition at the Los Angeles Maritime Museum.

The memorial includes a statue of two Issei fishermen, a torii (gateway of a Shinto shrine), and panels giving the history of Terminal Island.

Terminal Islanders President June Miyamoto Donovan was recognized by Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn.

The program, which was attended by many former Terminal Islanders and their descendants, opened with a performance by Kokoro Taiko; presentation of colors by the Long Beach Polytechnic High School ROTC; the Pledge of Allegiance, led by Midori Sanchez; the national anthem, sung by Kelsey Kwong; and an invocation by Rev. Jonas Mark Hayes of Grace First Presbyterian Church.

“Terminal Island … is very special to the Hara family,” said the emcee, former LAPD Deputy Chief Terry Hara. “We’re from Terminal island. I’m third generation. My grandfather, Otoji Hara, was a superintendent at the fishery cannery company on Terminal Island … He was an individual that people had gone to to either seek help, advice or even employment … I think everybody who is here today can think of a family member, a relative, a friend that has a relationship here at Terminal Island.”

Terminal Islanders President June Miyamoto Donovan said that the time capsule will be opened on Feb. 27, 2042, 100 years after Terminal Islanders were forcibly evacuated by the government.

Norman Arikawa, assistant director of trade development for the Port of Los Angeles, recalled, “This project was really something that I was directly involved with. When this site was being looked at as the site for the memorial … I had to sign off on it, and I’m so glad … to be here on the 15-year anniversary …

“The Japanese immigrants and the families who made up the Terminal Islander village were a really important part of the history of the Port of Los Angeles. This is an important way for us to recognize that and keep that historical perspective in mind.”

Rudy Lara seals a time capsule in the vault of the memorial. The capsule will be opened in 2042, a century after Terminal Island’s forced evacuation.

“An Utterly Unique Place”

“Terminal Island was an utterly unique place,” said Naomi Hirahara, co-author (with Geraldine Knatz) of “Terminal Island: Lost Communities of Los Angeles Harbor.” “There were Japanese Americans involved in fishing in other areas of California such as Monterey and San Diego, but none of those places had a Shinto shrine or a torii … and I think it just shows you how special Terminal Island was.

“It was a harsh place at times … 2,000 people crammed in a five-block area. It was overcrowded. Fishing, as most of you know, still remains one of the most dangerous professions. And in spite of all that, certain politicians wanted to prevent Japanese immigrants from participating in fishing. So it was the responsibility of the Japanese Americans in Fish Harbor to send someone to Sacramento every year to fight against any prohibition.

“Yet for all the barriers that were out there, there was this thriving cultural community, and all of you are evidence of this … Terminal Island suffered probably one of the worst experiences in terms of the Japanese Americans being forcibly removed from their homes. On Feb. 2, 1942, all Issei or Japanese immigrant fisherman were taken into custody and questioned, and most of them were sent off to faraway places … very cold areas very far from the sea.

“After that, in late February, every resident of Terminal Island was informed they had to leave the island. Just imagine — all the men, the patriarchs, are gone. There’s the women, the wives, the mothers responsible for multiple children and they had to find a place to go on the mainland to stay. [That same year] all Japanese Americans from the West Coast had to move into camps or into the interior of the U.S. …

Attendees gathered to witness the sealing of the time capsule.

“But this event itself is a testimony of the strength of the people of Terminal Island, their will not only to survive, but to overcome, to take care of each other … It’s been an honor to work to preserve your history.”

Consul General Akira Chiba also discussed hardships that the Terminal Islanders faced: “The story of Terminal Island tells us of many great heroes, those who held on to their dignity and defended their rightful place of Japanese Americans in the United States while being unjustly detained … We are reminded of the veterans that fought in the 442nd, 100th and other notable combat units. There were other shows of heroism in the community too. Those who demanded and fought for their constitutional rights … were also as American as those who chose to serve in spite of adverse conditions …

“Thanks to … the Issei, who did not complain, who exercised gaman and gently whispered, ‘Shikata ga nai,’ who convinced America that redress was an honorable request by honorable people. So who are the heroes? … It is the Japanese American community as a whole that added an undeniable legacy to America.”

“We Can Never Forget”

Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn of the 4th District noted, “I have a very special relationship with the Japanese people. My own mother, Ramona, was born in Tokyo in 1924 and lived there for 11 years, and my two uncles have started, and it still remains today, a Christian university in Ibaraki.”

“We can never forget the dark history that made this memorial so necessary,” she said. “Seventy-six years ago, 3,000 Japanese American men, women and children who called Terminal Island home became the first victims of one of the greatest injustices in American history … They were forced out of jobs, stripped of everything they owned, taken from their homes and robbed of their livelihoods for years … They lived in camps deprived of the most basic freedoms, and even as the U.S. government derided Japanese Americans as threats to our national security, brave young Japanese American men served in our armed forces and fought and died for their country.

Michael Enomoto of Gruen Associates Architecture Planning recounts how the memorial was designed and built.