By Clifford Hayashi—Currently, my life’s mission is to identify everyone in every picture from Tule Lake. With that goal in mind, I ventured to the first annual Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) national convention in search of Tule Lake internees. I encountered Larry Ishimoto whose father, Kelly Kazuo Ishimoto (1911-1985), was incarcerated at Tule Lake. After his father passed away, Larry discovered Kelly’s “baseball” autographed by an unknown team. I volunteered to become Larry’s history detective.
Prior to the evacuation, the American born Ishimoto family resided in Del Rey, California and consisted of Kelly, his wife, Kimiye (1917-2009), and their three daughters, Kay Kimiko, Irene Takeko and Shirley Kinuyo. They were sent directly to the Gila River Relocation Center in Arizona where a son, Stanley Yoshiro was born.
They were transferred to Tule Lake where Kelly received the ball. After they departed Tule Lake, Kelly and Kimiye had three more children, Betty, Jordon and Lawrence. The members of the Ishimoto family were farmers who grew vegetables, tree fruits and Thompson grapes for raisins.
Larry e-mailed me a roster of the signatures that I decipher as:
Ham “Coach” Shintani,
Kazuo Shintani “3rd Base”,
Masuo Tanaka, and
I attempted to contact the signers of the spherical document, but could only locate 93-year-old Yoshio Iwamae.
Yoshio Iwamae (born:1918)
In 1942, the Iwamae clan consisted of newlyweds, Yoshio and Sumiko, and Yoshio’s parents, Jennosuki and Nami. They were four of the approximately 105 Los Angeles residents who were sent to the Sacramento (Walerga) Assembly Center. (Sumiko had grown up in Sacramento.) They were then transferred to the Tule Lake Relocation Center where they lived in Block 39, Barrack 13, Room C.
I telephoned the Iwamae household in southern California. Yoshio’s daughter, Susan, answered and connected me to a speakerphone so I could communicate with her parents. After I recited the roster, Yoshio informed me that the team in question was a Block 39 team on which he was the catcher and Masaji Muramoto was the pitcher. He then spewed endless tidbits about the team.
“Herbert” Hiroshi Hoshiko was the oldest member of the team about five [actually thirteen] years older than himself, but played like a young man. His position was roving short on the 10-man team. (Since only softball teams played with ten players, this had to be a softball team. This was verified in a picture from Larry. The words, “SOFT BALL”, albeit upside down, are apparent.)
Kenjiro Ito was a substitute and one of the older players. Tony Yoshio Kusaba played shortstop and was young about 19 to 21 years old [actually 25].
Yoshio Iwamae also mentioned players that were not on the ball. Masuda was a substitute infielder. Nakashima was the first baseman from Lodi. (There is a gentleman wearing a baseball cap in the Tule Lake Block 39 Commemorative Farewell Photo. He has been identified as Nakashima and could be the player who Yoshio spoke of.)
I perused the Tule Lake newspapers (The Daily Tulean Dispatch, Tulean Dispatch and The Newell Star) at the Sacramento State Special Collections and other northern California institutions.
I discover that Iwamae played for a softball team in an old men’s league. Some of the Old Men’s Softball League rules, as they appeared in The Newell Star issue of Friday, May 18, 1945, are:
1. Players must be 26 years old and above. Pitchers must be 28 years old and above.
2. Hardball players may not participate in the leagues. However, non-playing coaches and managers may participate.
To the younger men in camp, old men was simply a synonym for married men.
From The Newell Star issue of Friday, June 29, 1945, Block 39 was crowned the Kami Kaze League champion and would play the Kami Shio
League champion, Block 49, in a best-of-three series.
Later, the Block 39 team would have another chance to distinguish itself. From The Newell Star issue of Friday, September 28, 1945, five members of Block 39 made the North All Star team; no block had more selections on either the North or South. Hiroshi Hoshiko had the additional honor of being a co-manager of the North team. The North would beat the South.
As It turns out, Yoshio Iwamae is the only surviving signer. However, I was able to track down family members of the rest except for Kenjiro Ito, Tsutomu Matsumoto, S. Morimoto who I believe to be Shigeyuki Morimoto and S. Noritake who I believe to be Shingo Noritake.
Kenjiro Ito (1914-1999)
Kenjiro Ito was born in Japan. From Los Angeles, Kenjiro Ito and his Kibei wife, Ayame (1911-2008), went directly to the Colorado River Relocation Center in Arizona before arriving in Tule Lake.
Tsutomu Matsumoto (1914-1992)
Tsutomu Matsumoto was born in Sacramento. He attended Concord Grammar School and Mount Diablo Union High School in Concord, Calif. He also attended the Concord Japanese Language School. Tsutomu was living at 321½ V Street in Sacramento before entering the Sacramento (Walerga) Assembly Center on May 15, 1942 with his parents, Manki and Miyuki. On June 20, 1942, the family entered the Tule Lake Relocation Center where they lived in Block 39, Barrack 3, Room A before moving to Block 39, Barrack 6, Room A.
Tsutomu’s brother, Akira (1913-1991) was serving in the U.S. Army at Camp Phillips in Kansas. (Camp Phillips was a prisoner-of-war camp.)
At camp. Tsutomu was 5 ft. 8 in., 195 pounds and wore glasses.
Shigeyuki Morimoto (1912-1976)
Shigeyuki Morimoto, a Kibei, was born on the island of Kauai in Hawaii. His family consisting of his Kibei wife, Shizue, and two California-born daughters, Junko and Keiko, were living in Los Angeles County when the government shipped them to the Santa Anita Assembly Center and the Rohwer Relocation Center in Arkansas. They eventually came to Tule Lake.
Shingo Gene Noritake (1915-2007)
Shingo Noritake was born in Laguna City, Los Angeles County but went to Japan to study. He returned on April 1, 1930 aboard the Taiyo Maru at San Pedro. Before evacuation, he was living at 2433 E. 4th Street in Los Angeles with his Kibei wife, Kimiye, and their Sansei daughter, Taeko. On May 29, 1942, they directly entered the Colorado River Relocation Center in Arizona where their second daughter, Takako, was born. On his individual record, he listed, “Baseball” on the first line for skills and hobbies.
When they were transferred to Tule Lake, they lived in Block 39, Barrack 5, Room B. At 4 a.m. on February 25, 1946, the Noritake family took a bus to Klamath Falls and then the SP train to Los Angeles on their way to Gardena
Hiroshi Herbert Hoshiko (1905-2000)
Hiroshi Hoshiko was a Nisei who married Nisei Dora Y. Etow (1917-1986). From Isleton, they were sent to the Sacramento (Walerga) Assembly Center with their daughter, Toshie Anne. Their final wartime destination was the Tule Lake Relocation Center where they lived in Block 39, Barrack 2, Room D.
I wrote to Hiroshi’s nephew, Ken, who sent me Hiroshi’s daughter’s address. She is Anne Akabori, author of The Gift of Life, a biography of Chiune Sugihara, the Japanese diplomat in Lithuania who helped thousands of Jews escape the Nazis by issuing them visas to Japan. Anne informed me that her father was involved with athletics his entire life, from Isleton baseball in the Japanese league, to sumo wrestling and arm wrestling. She has saved her father’s sports artifacts in a box and shares them with me.
As I removed Hiroshi’s Kami Kaze League certificate from the frame that has housed it for 60 plus years, a ribbon fell out. The badge portion is translated to Champion, the left ribbon to 1943 Hoshiko and the right ribbon to Tule Lake Sumo Association. Anne tells me her father’s acquaintances used to tell her how much they enjoyed watching this slim sumo wrestler beat his opponents with speed.
Tony Yoshio Kusaba (1920-2007)
Tony Kusaba was born in Stockton, California. He began grammar school in Isleton, California before being sent to Japan. On May 7, 1936, Tony returned to San Francisco aboard the President Hoover. He completed one year at McKinley High School in Berkeley, California before returning to Stockton.
He was evacuated to the Turlock Assembly Center and then to the Gila River Relocation Center in Arizona. While at Gila River, Tony married Sumiko Yoshida (born:1922) who also went to the Turlock Assembly Center. However, Sumiko never visited Japan and came from Solano County with her parents, Totaro Frank and Kiriye.
From Arizona, the couple arrived at Tule Lake and lived in Block 39, Barrack 4, Room D. Their first son, Todd, was born at Tule Lake in 1944.
Tony left Tule Lake on February 22, 1946 at 4:10 p.m. on the OCN to Klamath. He then took the SP to Sacramento and Greyhound to Vacaville.
I phoned Tony’s second son, Richard. He tells me that he would also have been born in Tule Lake had Sumi not left early and gone to Fairfield. Tony and Sumiko later conceived Alan and Doris, their only daughter.
Richard remembers his father being quiet about camp, but always told these two stories:
(1) He was a camp cook and was able to get rice that he took home to make sake.
(2) To the amusement of the Japanese, the guards were unable to start their tanks during a protest march.
Masaji Muramoto (1913-1999)
Masaji Muramoto was born in Laguna, Los Angeles County and attended school in Gardena until 1932. He was living in Compton when he entered the Tulare Assembly Center on May 7, 1942 with his widowed father, Tadahiko (1889-1967), and his brothers, Tetsuo Bill (1920-2002), Kaneo George (1924-2002), and Jimmie (born:1925). On August 21, 1942, the father and four brothers entered the Gila River Relocation Center in Arizona. Jimmie joined the army while Tadahiko, Masaji and Kaneo went to Tule Lake.
Just before leaving Tule Lake, Masaji was living in Block 28, Barrack 7, Room B. Did Masaji live in Block 39 before living in Block 28? We may never know!
On June 21, 1946 at 4:00 a.m., Masaji took the OCN to Klamath and then the SP to Los Angeles. His trip ended with a local bus to Gardena.
I contacted Masaji’s daughter, Ruth. She was ill but told me all of her father’s brothers were deceased except for Jimmie. I traveled from Ruth’s home to meet Jimmie and his wife. However, they were unable to provide me with a photo of Masaji.
Takeo Okamoto (1916-2008)
Takeo Okamoto was born in French Camp and did all of his schooling in the United States. He was living in Stockton with his father, Taketaro, and his brother, Takashi, when they were sent to the Turlock Assembly Center and Gila River Relocation Center in Arizona. They were all transferred to the Tule Lake Segregation Center.
I visited Takeo’s brother, Takashi. He was able to identify Takeo in the Tule Lake Block 39 Commemorative Farewell Photo as well as himself and some members of Takeo’s softball team.
Kazuo Shitani (1918-2003)
Kazuo Shintani was a Nisei. From Watsonville, he was sent to the Salinas Assembly Center with his parents, Torajiro and Ume, his younger brother, Harumi “Ham” Shintani (1921-1994) and younger sisters, Akiye, Ayano and Chitose. From Salinas, the Shintani family went to the Colorado River Relocation Center in Arizona before ending up at the Tule Lake Segregation Center.
In The Newell Star issue of Thursday, August 17, 1944, there is an article entitled, “CURRENT ‘B’ HARDBALL LOOP LEADERS NAMED.” In the Pacific League, K. Shintani is the sixth best batter with a .461 batting average while H. Shintani is the 12th best at .421. Both Shintani brothers played for the Block 39 Kaseis. Harumi was too young to play in the Old Men’s Softball League. Kazuo became eligible in May 1944 and would drop hardball to join the softball team.
Haruko Sakata (born:1924), Kazuo’s future wife, came from Sacramento County to the Sacramento (Walerga) Assembly Center and then to the Tule Lake Relocation Center with her parents, Mitsuhei and Kaga, and siblings, Bob, Ted, Tomiko, Shozo and Fumiko.
I visited Kazuo’s wife with my mother, Effie, who lived in Block 29. Haruko thought she lived in Block 26 next door to Sam Noguchi. (Inukai’s Tule Lake Directory confirmed the Sakata family lived in Block 26, Barrack 5, Rooms A & B while the Noguchi family lived in Room D.) Haruko met Kazuo because he was a friend of one of her brothers. In the Tule Lake Block 39 Commemorative Farewell Photo, Haruko was able to identify her spouse because he is so tall. They wed after departing Tule Lake.
Kazuo’s son, Mark, wrote, “We are very excited to have the copy of the baseball that has my father’s autograph. We know he played ball but not much else. No wonder he was always so flustered when his two sons were not good at the sport.”
Mark also wrote that Haruko’s grandchildren and Effie’s grandchildren simultaneously went to the same grammar school. Haruko’s daughter-in-law would drive Effie’s grandchildren to school and often spoke to Effie.
Hideo Takimoto (1919-2007)
Hideo Takimoto was born in the United States, but completed 10 years of schooling in Japan.
I contacted his wife, Hisayo, who related to me that her husband returned to the United States when he was 18 years and lived with the Okubo family. She told me I should contact Betty Okubo. (I had previously contacted Betty’s husband, Joe Iwata, who helped me identify Tri-State High School pictures from Tule Lake and Lincoln Junior High School pictures from Sacramento.)
Hideo went to the Sacramento (Walerga) Assembly Center and the Tule Lake Relocation Center with the Okubo family consisting of Betty Kiyoko, Isamu, and their parents, Kiyonao and Tsuruko. They lived in Block 39, Barrack 15, Room B.
When I sent Betty the pre-segregation Block 39 softball team photo (see Hiroshi Hoshiko), she confirmed that Okubo is indeed her father. She replied, ”Yes, it’s my Dad!! Never went to see my Dad play so didn’t know who was playing on the team!” She also identified misters Miyahara, Hoshiko and Masuhara.
In June 1945, Hideo Takimoto would have been one month short of his 26th birthday. He was technically not an “old man”.
Betty said that Hideo was discharged from the U.S. military because he couldn’t speak English.
Masuo Tanaka (1920-2011)
Masuo Tanaka was born in Fresno, California. In 1928, he went to Japan where he attended school for eight years. When he returned to the United States, he enrolled at a high school in Los Angeles. Upon graduation at the age of 21, he moved to Fresno. Shortly thereafter, the war broke out. Along with the Okahata family (his mother’s family), he was forced to go to the Fresno Assembly Center and the Jerome Relocation Center in Arkansas. Finally, he alone went to the Tule Lake Segregation Center.
In 1950, Masuo married Nobuko Sugimoto who was also a kibei at Tule Lake. However, they never met at Tule Lake and Nobuko’s route to Tule Lake began at the Pomona Assembly Center and the Heart Mountain Relocation Center in Wyoming. They have four children (in order: Bob, Lester, Grace and Roger) and five grandchildren.
I visited Nobuko and her eldest son, Bob, while in Los Angeles. Masuo recently passed away in June. While at Tule Lake, in addition to playing softball, he actively participated in judo and also learned to play the shakuhachi (Japanese flute). In the Tule Lake Block 39 Commemorative Farewell Photo, there is a Mr. Hyogo who made bamboo flutes. Perhaps, he made Masuo’s flute and initiated his interest.
Akira Tomita (1913-1988)
Akira Tomita was born in Acampo, San Joaquin County, California. In January 1941, he married Yoshiko Hirai, who like himself, was a kibei. Soon after the Pearl Harbor attack, they had twin girls, Yachiyo (Mary) and Michiyo (Nancy). In 1942, the family was evacuated from Solano County, California to the Sacramento (Walerga) Assembly Center and then to the Tule Lake Relocation Center where they resided in Block 39, Barrack 6, Room D. Their third daughter, Hiromi (Donna), was born in camp. On February 25, 1946 (at 4:10 p.m.), the family of five departed for Hood, Sacramento County, California. Akira and Yoshiko eventually had a fourth daughter, Saeko (Stacey).
I contacted Akira’s granddaughter, Rochelle, who put me in touch with her mother, Mary. Mary told me that her father was a very creative and artistic man. While at Tule Lake, he used to carve Mallard ducks from wood. He was very good with his hands and could fix anything. He was a “Jack of all trades.” He died at the age of 75 from lung cancer.
Unlike a crystal ball that allows us to gaze into the future, Ishimoto’s leather ball has permitted us to stare into the past. We are able to envision moments, our parents and grandparents, heretofore, have concealed. The World War II years were an embarrassment to them because they were imprisoned. This simple ball has served as a catalyst to stimulate suppressed memories, so that future generations will know more about their family’s plight at Tule Lake. It seems strange that we find enjoyment in the discovery of new artifacts and information about this disgraceful period of American history!