A Brief History

The Philadelphia Chapter of the JACL (Japanese American Citizens League) was established as a consequence of the diaspora of Nikkei (Japanese Americans) from the West Coast of the United States as a result of events triggere. In Philadelphia, the Nikkei were a small group in a large urban area of non-Asian Pacific Americans, and its members worked to nurture Nikkei heritage and family traditions and to share them with others. Despite the chapter’s small size, it has proudly contributed to the leadership and funding of the national JACL.

Pre World War II
Prior to WWII, there were about 100 Japanese living in the Philadelphia area. These were persons who came to study at the area’s elite colleges and universities and to establish themselves in Japanese art goods, the silk trade, and to fill the need for domestic workers in the estates along the Main Line.

Of those who came to Philadelphia in the latter part of the 19th century, three attained international fame: Inazo Nitobe, scholar; Hideyo Noguchi, scientist; and Ume Tsuda, educator and founder of Tsuda College for Women.

In contrast to the West Coast experience, the Issei who graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with degrees in engineering, architecture, medicine, and dentistry were able to secure professional employment or establish their own practices or businesses within the community-at-large.

Two men of note were Yosuke W. Nakano from Yamaguchi who studied architecture at the University of Pennsylvania and Tadafumi Mikuriya from Kumamoto who earned his civil engineering degree from the Univerity of Pennsylvania. Both men worked for major firms in the Philadelphia area.

Nakano was responsible for the design of some important buildings in Philadelphia, including Thomas Jefferson Hospital. Mikuriya established his own firm specializing in structural engineering. Both Nakano and Mikuriya became naturalized citizens after passage of the Walter-McCarron Act of 1952 and served on the board of the Philadelphia Chapter of the JACL.

The War Years
President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 that removed over 115,000 aliens and American citizens of Japanese ancestry from their West Coast homes. Most were interned for years in concentration camps located around the United States. As conditions in the camps deteriorated, the War Relocation Authority (WRA) committed itself to a program of agricultural and student leave, and resettlement.

The Philadelphia WRA office opened in late 1943 when the Eastern Defense Command opened the East Coast for resettlement. This office operated under the direction of Henry Patterson, a Quaker from Swarthmore. The office helped relocate the second wave of Japanese Americans in Philadelphia and the eventual establishment of a chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League in the City of Brotherly Love and the Greater Delaware Valley.

The Nisei (second generation Japanese Americans) met and held social activities at the International Institute (later renamed the Nationalities Service Center). For the recently resettled Japanese Americans, the International Institute became their second home and a place to get together, away from their cramped apartment and the isolation of a strange, new city. Without a doubt, the International Institute served an important supporting role for the newcomers trying to get their footing in starting a new life.

Grayce K. Uyehara worked at the International Institute as a community group worker and Mary D. Murakami served as its bookkeeper. Hiroshi Uyehara, who was then chairman of the Philadelphia Nisei Council, served on the Institute’s advisory committee.

Chapter Beginnings
When Nikkei were finally permitted to return to the West Coast, their numbers in Philadelphia decreased. Eventually, nearly half of the Japanese Americans who had initially resettled on the East Coast from the camps decided to return to more familiar surroundings. Those that stayed began to establish more permanent roots, prompting the pre-War Nikkei in the area to begin socializing with the newer arrivals.

It was in this climate that Tesua Iwasaki initiated the movement to transform the Philadelphia Nisei Council to become the Philadelphia Chapter of the JACL. On March 25, 1947 the chapter was chartered with the help of Mas Satow and Mike Masaoka. Iwasaki was elected to be the chapter’s first president and Hiroshi Uyehara became the chapter’s official delegate to the JACL’s national convention. Jack Ozawa would eventually succeed Iwasaki in 1948 and 1949.

At its peak, the Philadelphia Chapter had 250 members. In subsequent years, membership fell to as low as 145, but recently it has been experiencing a resurgence and now has more than 175 members.

Involvement in Local Activities

For many years, the Philadelphia Chapter JACL was a major participant in the International Institute’s Folk Fair, held at the old Philadelphia Convention Center. The chapter derived funds from the sale of food and gift items to sustain its activities. Delicious sushi, chirashi, teriyaki, and sukiyaki were typical offerings. Wonderful performances were produced for the Folk Fair by Hatsumi Harada, who taught young Sansei (third generation Japanese Americans) traditional Japanese folk dances, sewed their colorful kimonos, and created fabulous hanagasa and other dance props. In time, the International Institute reluctantly discontinued the Folk Fair as participation by immigrant groups declined.

The chapter then moved on to participate in the City’s Super Sunday event, held in October on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, near the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Super Sunday, a giant block party, was an extravaganza of ethnic foods and crafts, along with local popular personalities and performing groups. Initially, the event was meant to celebrate the museums along the Parkway. The chapter sold teriyaki, shish kebobs, nori maki, and inari sushi.

For many years, a major annual fund raising project for the chapter has been the preparation and selling of obento (box lunches) at the June summer Festival of the Japanese House and Garden in Fairmount Park. Preparing the obentos was a fun event that brought together many of our members, their family and friends and gave the Sansei an opportunity to learn how to prepare Japanese dishes like chirashi zushi and chicken teriyaki.

The chapter also cooperates with other Philadelphia based Asian Pacific American organizations on mutually beneficial projects. Chapter members serve on various boards and provide program support to advance Japanese culture and US-Japan relationships for organizations such as the Friends of the Japanese House and Garden (FJH&G), the Nationalities Service Center, the Balch Institute of Ethnic Studies, the Japan America Society of Greater Philadelphia (JASGP), the OCA of Greater Philadelphia, Ikebana International, and Asian Americans United.

The founder and first president of the FJH&G was the late Mary I. Watanabe. Mary was an active member of the chapter as were Reiko Gaspar, Hiroshi Uyehara, and Steve Yanai, all of whom also served as president of the FJH&G. Mary also served on the board of the JASGP as did Grayce Uyehara and her son, Paul. These two organizations are at the forefront of presenting the culture and appreciation of Japan to the Philadelphia community.

District and National Activities

The impact of the Philadelphia Chapter on the national organization was much greater than might be expected from its numbers. Kaz Horita, Teresa Maebori, William Marutani, Tom Tamaki, Hiroshi and Grayce Uyehara, Mary and Warren Watanabe have all chaired major programs at the district and national levels during the chapter’s over 55 year partnership with the national organization.

The Philadelphia Chapter was tops in raising funds to support the Redress Campaign, and exemplary leadership was provided by William Marutani as the only Nikkei member appointed by President Jimmy Carter to serve on the Commission of Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians (CWRIC). In the mid-1980’s, Grayce Uyehara served as Executive Director of the JACL Legislative Education Committee (JACL-LEC).

Additionally, the Philadelphia Chapter took on the larger quota of the Legacy Fund campaign to help out the JACL Eastern District Council and then raised the highest amount per member among JACL’s 112 chapters.

A Chapter in Transition

The JACL has much to celebrate in remembering the triumphs of the Nikkei community as reflected in the words of General Joseph Stilwell about JA GI’s, “You’re damn right those Nisei boys have a place in our hearts, now and forever. We cannot allow a single injustice to be done to the Nisei without defeating the purposes for which we stand.”

The JACL looks forward. Now, in the 21st century, we face a new world in which our civil and human rights are under attack in ways that few of us have experienced. The Founding Fathers of this nation sought to establish a “more perfect union” and the JACL, in order to grow and develop, will need to continue to meet that challenge head on. The JACL was created and exists to tackle the continual problems of racial prejudice and injustice in this country.

To Philadelphia JACL Members and Friends

Unfortunately we have decided to cancel the Installation Luncheon, as it appears unlikely that public health officials will give us the all clear by April 18 when our event was originally scheduled. I am hopeful we will be able to reschedule for a date later this year but for now the situation with COVID-19 is too unpredictable for us to choose a new date at this time. Since we were unable to host our Membership Meeting to conduct the chapter board election, our current board has agreed to continue serving until a time when it is safe to reconvene the chapter membership.
In addition to the public health crisis, there has been a spike in hate crimes targeting the Asian American community. JACL National has made a public statement that you can read here:
As president, I have been participating in a number of conversations related to the local response against anti-Asian bias in the time of COVID-19, which I am happy to say the Philadelphia city officials are taking quite seriously. Here is a short news piece that 6ABC did on the issues Asian Americans are facing in Philadelphia: https://6abc.com/chinatown-philadelphia-how-many-people-have-died-from-coronavirus-to-prepare-for/6028955/
Here is a statement from the City’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, co-authored by JACL Philly chapter member Romana Lee-Akiyama: https://www.phila.gov/2020-03-24-hate-crimes-based-on-ethnicity-and-fear-of-coronavirus-are-illegal/
In other news, Tsuru For Solidarity has made the decision to postpone the June 5-7 march on Washington until a later date. Spring 2021 has been proposed as an alternative, but nothing is confirmed yet. You can read the full statement here:
In lieu of in-person convenings, there are a number of remote actions taking place that are related to the immigrant rights movement. Detention Watch Network is currently in the midst of its week of action that many Japanese Americans are participating in nationwide, which you can read more about here: http://bit.ly/FreeThemAllAction
JACL National is also considering postponing or canceling the 2020 National Convention that is currently scheduled for June 24-28. We will notify the chapter if that decision is made, and whether there might be an online alternative that members could participate in remotely.
Rob Buscher
Chapter President
Philadelphia JACL

JACL Vehemently Objects to Executive Order on Immigration

The Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) vehemently objects to the recent executive orders related to immigration. Whether they concern building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, threatening to increase deportations by the granting of additional powers to immigration enforcement officials and the targeting of sanctuary cities, or banning refugees and immigrants from entering the country, we stand with our organizational partners in rejecting these xenophobic, fear-mongering tactics.
Last week, the White House issued executive orders titled “Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements,” “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States,” and “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States.” This is not the first time we have seen security used as a rationale to discriminate against specific communities. In 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 that prescribed military areas from which individuals could be removed. During World War II, the experience of Japanese Americans went beyond being forced from their homes and being detained without due process. Japanese Americans were vilified and targeted because of their race. Our country abandoned them with some being subjected to deportation. Their abandonment by our government left many with a psychological trauma that for some would last a lifetime.
During World War II, racism and wartime fears caused political leaders to enforce discriminatory policies they knew to be unwarranted and unnecessary. A narrative of historical facts has thoroughly repudiated the governmental actions that flowed from Executive Order 9066. Although the threat of terrorism is real, we must learn from our history and not allow our fears to overwhelm our values.
The United States has always served as a sanctuary for those fleeing oppression and provided opportunities to anyone seeking a better life. JACL continues to support the resettlement of refugees and the rights of immigrants. We are deeply troubled by policies born out of race-based slogans; policies that are mean-spirited and excessive in the treatment of immigrant families; policies that fail to honor the values of our diverse nation. As with Executive Order 9066, these recent measures do nothing to enhance America’s standing as an enduring symbol of democracy.
Contact Bill Yoshino, JACL Interim Executive Director, byoshino@jacl.org
Jeffrey Moy, JACL VP Public Affairs, jmoy@jacl.org

JACL and Muslim Americans

In the wake of the recent rise in physical attacks and verbal assaults on Muslim Americans, JACL National released the following statement.

JACL Condemns Dangerous Anti-Muslim Rhetoric
December 9, 2015
PRESS RELEASE
Contact: Priscilla Ouchida, Executive Director, pouchida@jacl.org
Jeff Moy, Vice President for Public Affairs, jmoy@jacl.org

“The Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) condemns the dangerous and irresponsible Islamophobic and anti-immigrant rhetoric being used to vilify and demonize Muslim and Arab communities. Several public figures have stoked simmering fears around national security as justification for blatantly racist statements and anti-Muslim policy proposals. Just this week, recent statements recommended that the U.S. halt all Muslim immigration in a proposal akin to the anti-Asian exclusion acts of the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.

Although it may be tempting to dismiss these statements as extremist political posturing, our country’s own history has proven that hateful racist rhetoric can lead to destructive and sometimes fatal consequences for the scapegoated communities. The WWII incarceration of Japanese Americans was a culmination of decades of anti-Asian and anti-Japanese sentiment that festered along the west coast.

“We expect the nation’s leader to uphold our nation’s values and ideals. These statements are guilty of the same mistakes that led to one of the most shameful episodes in U.S. history, one that destroyed livelihoods, entire communities, and an ethnic culture,” said JACL’s Executive Director Priscilla Ouchida. “Leaders should not emulate the lowest points of our history, but strive to provide direction that reflects the best of our democracy.”

Escalated fears around national security after Japan’s attack at Pearl Harbor and the U.S.’s entry into WWII led to President Franklin D. Roosevelt signing Executive Order 9066, which gave the U.S. Army the authority to remove civilians from military zones established in the states of Washington, Oregon, and California. Soon thereafter, the U.S. government forcibly removed and imprisoned some 120,000 Japanese Americans without due process. No Japanese American was ever charged, much less convicted, of espionage or sabotage against the United States. Yet they were targeted, rounded up, and imprisoned for years, simply for “looking like the enemy.”

In 1983, the federal Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians fully investigated the facts and circumstances surrounding the issuance of Roosevelt’s executive order and determined the incarceration was caused by race prejudice, wartime hysteria, and a failure of political leadership. Their findings led to a government apology for this unconscionable and unjustified act.

JACL reiterates the need to defend the country’s values and ideals during times of crisis, even when the nation is threatened. The organization continues to support the President’s policy to admit Syrian refugees, and to administer the nation’s policies without discrimination based on race, nationality, religion, gender, sexual orientation, age, or physical characteristics.”

JACL Philadelphia echoes National’s sentiments and calls for greater support from our members and other non-Muslims to stand with our Muslim neighbors throughout this increasingly difficult time.

On the morning of Monday, December 7th an unidentified person in a red pickup truck threw a severed pig’s head at the door of Al-Aqsa Mosque in North Philadelphia. With hate crimes like these taking place in the city of Philadelphia, it is more important than ever to make our voices heard and stand in solidarity with our Muslim neighbors.

Dr. Tom Tamaki

It is sad to see our early leaders of the JACL, our Nisei pioneers, leave this life. Dr. Tom Tamaki of the Philadelphia Chapter passed away at his home in Plymouth Meeting, PA. He served the JACL well and is credited with establishing the Mike M. Masaoka Fellowship. He deserves a huge thank you.

Mike Masaoka was the Washington, D.C. Rep for the JACL for many years. He was the only administrative staff member of the JACL when World War II began, and he served in the 442 during the war. Mike is credited with most of the civil rights achievements of the JACL in its earliest years and after the war was over. He worked tirelessly to change laws and gain rights for his fellow Japanese Americans and their immigrant parents.

Being a close friend and supporter of Mike Masaoka and realizing his great contributions to the JACL and the Japanese American community, Dr. Tamaki had a vision for the JACL to provide a fellowship named for Mike Masaoka to a deserving college graduate to provide the experience of working on Capitol Hill. He and other friends of Mike were able to establish the longest running fellowship of the JACL in honor of their friend. They donated and collected funds to begin offering a young person the unique opportunity to work in the Washington, D.C. office of a member of Congress.

The description of the Fellowship reads on the JACL website:  The Mike M. Masaoka Fellowship Fund was established in 1988 to honor Mike M. Masaoka (1915-1991) for a lifetime of outstanding public service in promoting justice, civil rights, and human dignity. The purpose of the Fund is to develop leaders for public service by providing opportunities for recently graduated students (of undergraduate, graduate, and professional programs) and young professionals to work for a member of Congress. The Fellows’ assignments include a variety of tasks where they will be exposed to all facets of the work of the Representative or Senator and his/her staff.

After the Masaoka Fellowship Fund was established, Dr. Tamaki ran the program (with the help of a committee to select the recipients of the Fellowships) for twenty years. He was regularly seen at JACL Conventions announcing and introducing the Masaoka Fellows. At about the age of ninety, he turned the operation of the Masaoka Fellowship over to the JACL DC Office. His service and dedication to the Masaoka Fellowship and to the development of young leaders within the JACL are commendable and should be greatly appreciated.

Dr. Tamaki was born in Eatonville, WA on October 7, 1917. He was 97 when he passed on July 3, 2015. He is survived by his wife of over 60 years, Marion Miyazaki Tamaki, four children, nine grandchildren, and a brother and a sister.  Condolences to the family.

by S. Floyd Mori
JACL, Executive Director Emeritus

“Scenes Behind the Scenes” by Grant Ujifusa

(Delivered on February 23, 2013 at the Philadelphia JACL Day of Remembrance Event, Main Line Unitarian Church, Devon, PA)

I am very happy to be with you today in Philadelphia, a city that I think was the epicenter of Japanese American redress.  Why?  Because Grayce Uyehara once lived here and Grayce Uyehara was the heart and soul of redress (note: Grayce currently resides in a suburb of Philadelphia).

As we know, the success of Japanese American redress is a tribute to the thousands, maybe tens of thousands, of people who worked on the effort.  But today I want to talk about just eight of them, beginning with Grayce.  And then I want to talk about Mike Masaoka, Spark Matsunaga, Dan Inouye, Bob Matsui, Cherry Kinoshita, Denny Yasuhara, and Tom Kometani.

For them, redress was isshou kenmei  Japanese for all in, full throttle and non-stop. Continue reading “Scenes Behind the Scenes” by Grant Ujifusa