Searching for Kimiko (Part 2)

Terry Weber with his birth mother Kimiko Roche at his home in North Torrance. “Terry, my boy. Honto, honto ureshii (I’m really, really happy), Don’t go anywhere,” Kimiko said to the son she hadn’t seen in more than 60 years. (JUNKO YOSHIDA/Rafu Shimpo)

Joy and sorrow as a son reunites with his biological mother after more than six decades.

Part 1: Searching for Tetsu

Japanese versions

Part 1: 日米をめぐる家族の物語(第1回)

Part 2: 日米をめぐる家族の物語(第2回):やっと会えた実母、そして別れ



Second of two parts.

To my family both new and old …

Last summer, Terry Weber sat down at the computer in his North Torrance home to write a letter to the family of Kimiko, his birth mother, who gave him up for adoption in Japan when he was two months old.

He writes:

“Now that I know the circumstances of my being adopted, I have no bad feelings for my mother, Kimiko. I only wonder if she is okay.

I would also like her to know that I am okay and I have a beautiful family. I would like to thank her for giving me life! If she doesn’t want to meet me or know me, that’s okay too.”

Terry reunited last spring with cousin Naoko Shimamura, with the help of the Japanese television program “NHK Family History.” Naoko’s tenacious decades-long quest to locate her lost cousin had returned Terry to his Japanese family.

He is Terry Eugene Weber, the adopted son of Joe and Esther Weber, and he is also Tetsu Shimamura, born in Tokyo, the son of Yojiro and Kimiko Shimamura. He was loved by his Japanese parents, but tragic circumstances led to his adoption. Yojiro, an artist and poet, died of tuberculosis at age 37 — what had become of his birth mother Kimiko remained a mystery.

Naoko and NHK helped to answer one lingering, uncomfortable question: why would Terry’s mother leave him at an orphanage? Through their research he came to understand the difficulties his mother, just 20 years old, had faced. Kimiko’s decision was made to protect her young son from the deadly disease that had claimed his father. Joe and Esther Weber offered the hope for a better life in America for little Tetsu.

“She must have gone through so much turmoil with my father being sick, having a newborn son and wanting to protect me from the dreaded TB,” Terry says with newfound appreciation.

More than 60 years later, Kimiko was closer than ever, but she was an enigma, a core part of Terry’s identity that remained hidden.

“What has happened to me the past few months has been life-changing. If I am so lucky to meet Kimiko and her family I would feel like fate has brought us full circle,” Terry says.

Find Your Japanese American Roots

With his wife Sharon’s encouragement, Terry attends a class on genealogy at the Japanese American National Museum last July titled “How to Find Your Japanese Immigrant Ancestors.”

Led by Marisa Louie Lee, the JANM class focused on how genealogists can find records relating to their family in federal government records, including passenger manifests and immigration case files maintained by the National Archives and Records Administration.

“I discussed techniques for using — and how to understand and contextualize records found on that website,” Lee explained.

Terry and Sharon, inspired by meeting with cousin Naoko, start their online search for his birth mother. From his Japanese birth certificate, Terry knew her maiden name, Tazawa, and her date of birth.

During her research in Japan, Naoko discovered that Terry’s mother Kimiko had married an American and moved to the United States in the 1950s. Zushi High School, where Kimiko attended, maintains updated alumni records and yielded a clue to Kimiko’s married name. An employee of the school tells Naoko a name: 君子・ローシュ. Because of the phonetic nature of katakana, the exact English spelling of Kimiko’s married name is unclear.

With these tantalizing bits of information, Terry begins searching immigration lists and passenger manifests for his birth mother.

A 1955 Pan Am manifest shows Kimiko Roche as a passenger to Honolulu.

“I put in ‘Kimiko,’ and kept looking up a bunch of names and passenger manifests from 1952 to 1955, but the birthday didn’t match.”

“I started to give up,” Terry said.

After hours of searching, Terry wearily goes to bed at 2 a.m. His wife Sharon continues the search the next morning.

On a passenger manifest Terry had discovered from Pan Am Airlines on May 24, 1955 there is listed a “Roche Kimiko T.” Could the “T” stand for Tazawa? Sharon does a search on Google.

Excitedly, Sharon wakes Terry up.

“Terry, I found your mother,” she says:

Resources for Finding Your JA Roots

Kimiko Roche

Terry’s mother: Kimiko Tazawa Roche.

“When we put in ‘Kimiko Tazawa Roche,’ her addresses and her kids’ names all popped up,” Terry said.

After Yojiro’s passing, Kimiko eventually married Alvin Roche, an American who ran a furrier business and then a pearl exporting business in Japan. Together, they have two children: Alan and Alana, who spend their formative years in Japan. In 1955, he brings his family to Honolulu, Hawaii for short time before returning to Japan. They finally return to Hawaii where Kimiko and Alvin retired. These passenger manifests are the documents that lead Terry to his birth mother.

But how do you approach the woman who gave you up for adoption six decades ago? A computer search yielded the answers that Terry had sought, but what to do with that information?

One aspect of genealogy goes straight to the nature of family and the secrets we keep: revealing long-kept secrets can be upsetting and life-altering. There was the possibility that Kimiko did not want to be found by her long-lost son.

Terry was initially skeptical and hesitant when NHK first approached him with the surprising news that he had a cousin searching for him in Japan. He had to assume his birth mother and her children would feel the same.