OBITUARY: Art Shibayama, Fighter for Japanese Latin American Redress

Isamu Carlos “Art” Shibayama testified on March 21, 2017 before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in Washington, D.C. about being forcibly removed from Peru with his family during World War II and being incarcerated in a Department of Justice camp in Texas. (Photo by Martha Nakagawa)

By MARTHA NAKAGAWA, Rafu Contributor

Isamu Carlos Arturo “Art” Shibayama, who was among the more than 2,264 Japanese Latin Americans (JLA) kidnapped during World War II by the U.S. government to be used in hostage exchanges with Japan, passed away July 31. He was 88.

He was the oldest of eight children born to Yuzo and Tatsue Ishibashi Shibayama, both from Fukuoka.

Shibayama was born in 1930 and given the birth name of Isamu, but when he was baptized in a Catholic church, the name Carlos Arturo was added. He attended a private school in Lima that taught classes in Japanese and Spanish.

His father ran a successful business importing textiles. During his summer vacations, Shibayama went over to Callao, where his maternal grandparents had a successful department store.

On Dec. 7, 1941, when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, Shibayama, his father and his friends were on an overnight fishing excursion, but one of the employees came looking for them and suggested that they go home.

Art Shibayama

Shortly after the U.S. entered the war, a number of Issei in Peru were arrested and detained. Shibayama’s maternal grandparents were taken away in early 1942 and imprisoned in the Seagoville Department of Justice camp in Texas. They were later used in a civilian hostage exchange between the U.S. and Japan, in which Japanese Peruvians such as Shibayama’s grandparents were exchanged for U.S. civilians who found themselves stranded in Japan at the outbreak of war. Shibayama would never see his grandparents again.

Word spread about the arrests of the Issei, and prominent men, such as Shibayama’s father, went into hiding each time word came that a U.S. transport had landed in the port of Callao.

The police visited the Shibayama household several times in search of the father, but when they could not find him, they finally arrested the mother. Shibayama’s 11-year-old sister accompanied the mother so that she would not have to spend time in jail alone. The two were not released until Shibayama’s father turned himself in to the police.

About a week later, the entire family was rounded up and placed aboard a U.S. Army ship called the Cuba in March 1944.

On the ship, the women and children were placed into cabins on the deck, while the men were forced below. Shibayama was considered older at 13 and was put down below with the men. The men were allowed to go up on deck only twice a day for ten minutes.

The ship departed from Callao and went through the Panama Canal to New Orleans. Shibayama recalled that not only were they heavily guarded by U.S. military personnel, but the ship itself was flanked by destroyers and submarines.

Arriving in America

Once the ship landed in New Orleans, the women and children were ushered into a warehouse, told to strip naked and then sprayed with an insecticide. They were then told to shower and put their clothes back on and were placed onto a train. The men were put through the same process.

The train trip from New Orleans to the Crystal City DOJ camp in Texas took two days. Once the train stopped, they were loaded onto busses and driven to camp. The Shibayama family was assigned two rooms in a barrack.

Art Shibayama participates in a Day of Remembrance program in San Francisco in 2016. (Photo by Kahn Yamada)

Shibayama started attending school at Crystal City. In Peru, he had been in the eighth grade but at Crystal City, he and other JLAs were placed into the fifth or sixth grade because classes at Crystal City were held in English or Japanese, and Shibayama and the others did not speak English and their Japanese was poor because they had been taught in Spanish for the last three years.

While attending school, Shibayama found work delivering mail to the Crystal City residents. During his free time, he joined a baseball team organized by the inmates. Once the war ended, Shibayama learned to drive a truck and found another job delivering ice in camp.