Wednesday, April 3, 2019

One Family: Two Countries, Two Lives...

As often happens, I was looking for something else when I ran across an item that caught my attention. This time I was perusing the 1925 visit book of the Grinnell physician, Pearl Somers; the booklet identified patients whom he had visited and treated, and included occasional visits to the college, where on January 7th and again on January 14th he attended to Shizu Yamamoto. Who?
Shizu Yamamoto
(1924 Pathfinder, Burlington High School Yearbook; courtesy of Sam Helmick of Burlington Public Library)
The name jumped out at me. Although I have seen many names from the 1920s at the college and in town, I had never run across a Yamamoto. Who was Shizu Yamamoto? Was she Japanese? I knew that several Chinese students had been enrolled at the college in the 1920s, but since the days of Sen Katayama (1859-1933), who had graduated from Grinnell in 1892, Japanese students at Grinnell had been rare.

I soon discovered that Shizu Yamamoto's story was even more interesting than I had guessed. Born in 1906 (later reported as 1907) in Burlington, Iowa, she was the daughter of Japanese immigrants. A son, Toshitada (or Toshi), was born to this family five years later; like Shizuko, he was an American citizen. These two Japanese American siblings, however, crafted life arcs that soared off in radically different directions. Shizu, after completing high school and abandoning college, spent her entire working life in Washington, DC as an employee of the US federal government. Toshi, on the other hand, after his high school days and college, moved to Japan and by 1938 held an appointment in the diplomatic corps of the Imperial Japanese government. The 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, therefore, erected an immense wall between them: yes, they both belonged to one family, yet the sister and brother found themselves on opposite sides of the globe and aligned with dramatically different political traditions at war with one another. The stories of Shizu and Toshi Yamamoto are the subject of this post.
The beginning of the Yamamotos' story reaches back to the first years of the twentieth century when a wealthy Burlington, Iowa industrialist, Walter B. Eaton (1863-1948), found Raisuke Yamamoto, a Japanese national who was living in Honolulu. Eaton arranged for Yamamoto and his wife, Chito, to travel to Burlington where Raisuke would work as gardener, chauffeur, and house man for Eaton. When the Yamamotos first came to Burlington, Eaton was living at 613 N. 5th Street. The Yamamoto family lived up the street a bit in lovely brick home at 621 N. 5th, a location that kept Raisuke close at hand, the better to tend Eaton's gardens and fulfill his other wishes. 
621 N. 5th Street, Burlington, IA, the Yamamotos' home until the 1920s (2018 photo)
From the beginning, the Yamamotos were a source of wonder in Burlington. When the Burlington Evening Gazette published a 1907 story about a Baptist missionary who gave a talk on Japan at First Baptist Church, the missionary
was assisted by Mrs. [Chito] Yamamoto, the only woman Japanese in Burlington, who had a baby with her. This little one [Shizu] is the first Japanese child born in Iowa and her English name is "Iowa" (October 24, 1907).
Whether in fact Shizu was the first child born to Japanese parents in Iowa is unknown, and what was meant by calling her "Iowa" is also mystifying; perhaps the translation of Chito's remark fell wide of the mark. The newspaper account, however, continued, pointing out that the missionary 
praised the Japanese for their efficient work and stated that Burlington would be benefited by the addition of a hundred or more. Especially are they desired around the house for housework, as they are very polite, clean and do their work thoroughly (ibid.).
This caricature of Japanese must have confronted the Yamamotos often during their years in Burlington, although what they thought about it the record does not preserve.

Clearly life in an Iowa river town presented many challenges to the Yamamotos, and may explain why in 1913 the family returned to Japan "for a lengthy visit." The newspaper account, mistaking Toshi for a second daughter, announced that the Yamamotos would "take their two little daughters born in Burlington, the Misses Toshitada and Shizuko, who will no doubt have some wonderful things to tell their cousins...concerning the great land of America."
Burlington Hawk-Eye, August 27, 1913
The announced plan was to visit Japan for only a year before returning to Burlington. In fact the entire family did return, reaching San Francisco in late April, 1915. Soon thereafter, however, Chito Yamamoto disappeared—whether she died or returned to Japan is unclear; newspaper articles report both fates. However, there can be no doubt that by autumn 1918, when Raisuke registered for the US draft, Chito Yamamoto was gone: on the draft registration form Raisuke listed as his contact person not his wife, Chito, but rather his twelve-year-old daughter, Shizu.
Raisuke Yamamoto's 1918 Registration for Draft
In 1921 Raisuke traveled to Japan again, taking with him 10-year-old Toshi, but leaving Shizu behind. Perhaps this moment determined the different paths for the Yamamoto siblings, Toshi getting his second taste of his parents' homeland while fifteen-year-old Shizu stayed in Burlington, residing at the local YWCA without parents or family nearby. The year-long absence of her Japanese-speaking parents meant, among other things, that Shizu became more deeply immersed in English-speaking American culture than she had been at any previous time.
Extract from passenger list of Taiyo Maru which arrived in San Francisco December 26, 1922
When Raisuke and Toshi set foot again on the American mainland in December 1922 they brought with them Aki Yamamoto, a new wife and mother. Twelve years younger than Raisuke, Aki seems to have had no prior experience with America or with speaking English, making the Burlington home of the Yamamotos determinedly more Japanese than it had been with Chito Yamamoto, who had lived in Burlington for fifteen years or more before she disappeared.

Aki was, of course, completely unknown to Shizu who had spent the last year living largely on her own, without father, mother, or brother. Newspaper notices confirm that Shizu sometimes performed "Japanese dances" for various Burlington groups, but her contact with Japan was much more distant than was anyone else's in the family: her last visit to Japan had been half a lifetime ago. Meantime Shizu had become an active and evidently popular high schooler. At Burlington High School she played soccer, basketball, and volleyball as a sophomore, and was a member of the Hypatian literary society, Blue Triangle club (YWCA), and the class social committees as a junior and senior. She made the school honor roll, participated in the high school "Rooters Club," and in May 1923 attended a "mothers and daughters" banquet at the YWCA not with Aki, her step-mother (who almost certainly spoke no English), but rather with Mrs. J. E. Jamison (Burlington Hawk-Eye Gazette, May 12, 1923). On at least one occasion she overnighted with friends in Fort Madison, further settling into the culture of her teenage American friends. Her high school yearbook offered this small poem in tribute:
She had great fame in B. H. S.
For pep and brilliancy of mind.
In both these qualities, I fear,
She left the rest of us behind.
Unsurprisingly, Shizu gained a place on the commencement honor roll, ready for the next step in a life that had less and less connection to her parents' Japanese ancestry.
Main Hall, ca. 1915 (A Glimpse of the New Quadrangle for Women, Grinnell College, 1915)
Autumn 1924 Shizu enrolled at Grinnell College. How she heard about Grinnell and what brought her to central Iowa for college remain unknown. On arrival, Shizu moved into what was then called the "Central Building" of the women's dormitories on South Campus, now known as Main Hall. Extant records provide slight evidence of Shizu's first year. Only once does her name appear in the Scarlet and Black, reporting that she had substituted for another woman in a game of six-on-six basketball. But apparently Shizu did well in her studies, as she was one of several freshmen who at the end of the 1924-25 academic year won honorable mention for their writing. Whether her work, entitled "Japanese Prints," constituted prose or poetry is not reported.
The Henry York Steiner and Freshman English Awards for Original Writing, 1924-25 
(Grinnell College Special Collections; thanks to Elaine Thut, student assistant in the archives, for locating this material)
But if Shizu did well at college, something unknown moved her to abandon Grinnell after her first year, and she never returned. Perhaps she wanted to be closer to home, because the following year Shizu enrolled at Iowa Wesleyan College. But this, too, proved unsatisfactory, because soon she was back in Burlington, enrolled at the College of Commerce. Founded in 1912 to offer an array of courses suitable to secretaries and beginning businessmen, the college had but four teachers in 1924-25 and an average of about 50 students in the day program and another 20 in night classes.
Advertisement from Burlington Gazette, July 30, 1926
Apparently Shizu did well here, too, because she soon passed the civil service examination and set off for Washington, DC, where in March 1927 she began work as a junior stenographer in the Department of the Navy. What her family thought of this move no records report, but the Burlington newspapers noted that, on the eve of her departure, Mrs. C. W. Woodward hosted at her home a farewell dinner for Shizu and Lelia Penrose, a YWCA official who accompanied Shizu to DC (Burlington Hawk-Eye, March 17, 1927).
Somers House, 1104 M Street NW, Washington, DC (Social Service Review 7[Apr 1918]:16)
Given her history with the Burlington Y, it is no surprise that on arrival in DC Shizu settled into the Elizabeth Somers House at 1104 M Street NW, a YWCA residence. Somers House was designed to welcome women who were new to town and who were taking up work with the government. At some point prior to publication of the 1929 DC city directory Shizu moved to an apartment building on Clifton Terrace NW; the 1929 city directory gives no street number, but reports that Shizu was living in apartment #506; both the 1931 and 1935 city directories have her at 1323 Clifton Terrace, apartment #21.
1323 Clifton Terrace NW, Washington, DC (2009 photo)
When she returned to Burlington for visits, as she did in 1929 and 1930, Shizu enthused about life in DC: "One of the things that I like most about Washington is that the sky is always filled with planes...You just can't imagine how pretty the blimps look up in the sky" (Burlington Hawk-Eye, March 21, 1929). She was especially complimentary about the women with whom she worked and lived in Washington.
I was afraid everyone would be cold and distant as you always hear they are in the east.... But the girls there were the friendliest people I had ever known in my life. I guess it was because we were all away from home and needed each other (Burlington Hawk-Eye, August 17, 1930).
"Almost everybody goes to night school," Shizu told the Burlington newspaper, and she herself attended George Washington University at night, studying French and Spanish, a surprising choice of subjects that might reflect on her earlier academic interests.

In DC Shizu rapidly ascended the civil service ladder. Already in October 1927 she was promoted to senior stenographer, and in November 1933 she transferred to the Agricultural Adjustment Administration where in September 1935 she was promoted to clerk in the budget section. In October 1941 she was appointed junior administrator, the beginning of a series of promotions and pay increases that decorate her entire personnel record.

And then came Pearl Harbor, and with it suspicions about persons of Japanese ancestry. Several government actions, including the notorious Executive Order No. 9066  (February 1942), revealed official anxiety about Japanese nationals and Japanese Americans.  Public Law 135 of the 77th Congress (June 28, 1941) was mainly an appropriation bill for the Departments of State, Commerce, Justice, and the Federal Judiciary, but it, too, worried about citizen loyalty. Tucked into discussion of funding for the Justice Department were a few lines that affected Shizu and everyone else who worked for the government.
$8,750,000, of which at least $100,000 shall be available exclusively to investigate the employees of every department, agency, and independent establishment of the
Federal Government who are members of subversive organizations or advocate the overthrow of the Federal Government...
Her federal personnel file shows that in June 1941—months before Pearl Harbor—Shizu signed a loyalty affidavit, apparently without any problem, and a brief 1942 report from the FBI found nothing with which to suspect Shizu's loyalty. Nevertheless, in December 1941 Shizu filed notice at work of a name change—to Shizu (later Sue) Y. Meushaw—"because of marriage." Although I examined every source I could find to document the marriage, I was never able to identify a spouse or a place or date of marriage. Likewise, Shizu's obituary makes no mention of a spouse having survived her or having died before her. An inquiry to relatives in Hawaii brought no reply, nor did an inquiry to Honolulu's Epiphany Episcopal church where her 1986 funeral was held. Of course, not every record survives, so it may be the case that Shizu did marry and somehow the records were lost. But I have not been able to escape the suspicion that, on the heels of Pearl Harbor and the government's increased interest in Japanese Americans, Shizu simply changed her name to escape notice as Japanese.

This brush with wartime suspicions having passed, Shizu continued her successful career in the Department of Agriculture, regularly receiving pay increases and promotions. In the anti-communist craze of the early 1950s her 1942 loyalty oath was recalled, her supervisor noting in December 1952 "that the employee has been favorably processed under the loyalty program." In February 1958 she gained commendation for "Sustained Outstanding Performance in completing difficult and complex budgetary duties in an exemplary manner," and in 1962 she was rewarded for having provided "expeditious service to top management levels of numerous and realistic estimates of operating costs of programs under legislative consideration."

Finally, in December 1965 Shizu retired with more than 30 years of service to the federal government. There was no reason to return to Iowa, and the District of Columbia had evidently lost its appeal, so she settled in Honolulu where twenty years later "Sue Meushaw" died, her brother and two older sisters surviving her.
Honolulu Star-Advertiser December 31, 1986
Shizu's younger brother, Toshi, followed a different life course. As noted above, by the time he was twelve, he had already visited Japan twice, both stays lasting a year or more. He was, therefore, more familiar with his parents' homeland than was Shizu, and he had become friendly with relatives there. Nevertheless, back in Burlington Toshi seems to have fit in well with small-town Iowa. If a photograph of his eighth-grade class reveals him as the only outlier among all those Caucasian faces, none of this seems to have fazed the young man.
Eighth Grade Class, Perkins School, Burlington, IA (Burlington Gazette May 29, 1926)
Toshi Yamamoto on far left, second row
Even more than his sister, Toshi was attracted to the Burlington Y where he played basketball, swam, and served as an officer in the Hi-Y club. In early summer 1927 he joined a clutch of other Burlington boys to take a Y-sponsored camping trip to northern Minnesota, dispatching enthusiastic reports—on birch bark!—to the Burlington newspaper on the group's adventures.
Burlington Gazette June 14, 1927
Working in the Burlington Y at that time was a young Quaker named George Townsend (1903-1990). Because Townsend later worked for the War Relocation Authority, in 1978 Frank Chin interviewed him about the Japanese internment camps. In that interview Townsend recalled that, prior to his 1942 appointment with the War Relocation Authority, he had had few opportunities to meet Japanese. One exception, he noted, was Toshi Yamamoto,
a Japanese American kid about thirteen or fourteen who hung around the Y a lot. He was the only Japanese in Burlington, Iowa when I was in Y work (Frank Chin, Born in the USA [NY: Rowman and Littlefield, 2002], p. 266).
Newspaper stories in Burlington confirm that Toshi was deeply involved with the local Y: he was part of the membership campaign; he life-guarded, demonstrated life-saving, and taught the breast stroke in the pool; he performed the so-called Monte Cristo trick, escaping from a tied bag under water; and he played Y basketball. Consequently, although Toshi had experiences in Japan that differentiated him from most of his classmates in Burlington, Iowa, he was nevertheless deeply integrated into the local teenage culture.

Like his sister, Toshi graduated from Burlington High School as a member of the honor roll, and, like his sister, decided to attend a liberal arts college. Instead of Grinnell, however, Toshi chose Knox College in Galesburg, IL, enrolling there autumn 1930. As he had in Burlington, Toshi soon became active in extra-curriculars. No later than his sophomore year he was part of the cheerleader squad, and the following year was the group's head. At Knox he also continued to swim, and was known as an ardent fan of Knox athletic teams.
Knox College Swimming Class, 1934; Toshi Yamamoto, front row, far left
(Knox College Special Collections and Archives, Harold E. Way Photograph Collection, J8 #2)
In all this, Toshi could hardly be distinguished from any of his Knox classmates. And when he graduated with honors from Knox in the spring of 1934, he returned to Burlington where he resumed active participation in Y activities. Almost immediately on reaching Iowa, however, Toshi announced his intention to travel to Japan in what would be his third visit (Burlington Hawk-Eye Gazette, June 18, 1934).

For reasons unknown, Toshi did not embark upon this trip until the following April. The newspaper expected that, as had been true of earlier trips, Yamamoto would soon return to the US.
He has no desire to live anywhere except America [the newspaper reported], but [he] said a knowledge of languages, especially Japanese, will be important. While in Japan...he will work at an importing office owned by an uncle, getting practical experience in the work he plans to follow the remainder of his life...On his return to the United States, Yamamoto hopes to become connected with his Tokio [sic] uncle's importing house in San Francisco (Burlington Hawk-Eye Gazette, March 8, 1935).
In short, so far as the local newspaper could imagine, Toshi would follow the same life course as most of his fellows in Burlington, and live out his life in America.

Once in Japan, Toshi sent the Burlington newspaper reports of his life abroad. Apparently at first he lived at Nichibei Home, a dormitory "founded in 1932 specifically for Nisei students coming from Hawaii." Here Nisei could prepare for entrance examinations at Japanese universities (Toyotomi Morimoto, Japanese Americans and Cultural Continuity [NY: Routledge, 2014], p. 93). Yamomoto was not alone in traveling to Japan for more education. It is estimated that in any given year of the 1930s some 40,000 to 50,000 Nisei were living in Japan, although only a fraction expected to return to the lands in which they had been born (Eiichiro Azuma, "'The Pacific Era Has Arrived': Transnational Education among Japanese Americans, 1932-1941," History of Education Quarterly, vol. 43, no 1 [spring 2003]:39).

Burlington newspapers announced that Toshi had begun study at Waseda University, but later notices that Toshi himself filed with the Knox College Alumni Office omit reference to Waseda, reporting instead that he had attended Meiji University law school. After finishing there in 1938, he seems to have moved directly into the diplomatic service of the Japanese Empire, a decision that marked a sharp revision in Toshi's career ambition and presumably also in his identity: joining himself to the Japanese diplomatic corps, he associated himself very visibly with the land of his parents' rather than with the land of his own birth.
Burlington Hawk-Eye Gazette September 9, 1938
No later than September 1938 Yamamoto was in Nanjing, China, serving in the Japanese embassy there. The appointment could hardly have been more difficult, with the Chinese capital still reeling from the Japanese assault characterized as the "Rape of Nanking." George Townsend, the former director of the Burlington Y, told Frank Chin in 1978 that he and Toshi had corresponded often over the years, and it would be fascinating to learn if any of Toshi's letters came from his time in Nanjing. Regrettably, Townsend's heirs know nothing of this body of correspondence, nor has any diary surfaced to give us insight into Toshi's reflections on the subject.
Toshi Yamomoto ca. 1941 (Burlington Hawk-Eye Gazette April 11, 1941)
A November 1938 report from the British consul in Nanjing observed that Yamamoto had been appointed Vice-Consul and that, unlike his co-Vice Consul, Toshi spoke English "perfectly." The same report, however, bemoaned the inability of Japanese diplomats to do anything to restrain military authorities, so it might be that, if Toshi attempted to ameliorate or complain about conditions in Nanjing, he met considerable resistance from Army officers (Suping Lu, ed., A Dark Page in History: The Nanjing Massacre and Post-Massacre Conditions [NY: Rowman and Littlefield, 2018], p. 74).
Burlington Hawk-Eye Gazette December 22, 1941
His superiors found nothing to complain about his diplomatic work, because by 1941 Toshi was promoted to "liaison officer" at Nanjing; as the war in China ground on, Yamomoto moved to the Japanese embassy in Shanghai where he remained until the end of the war. According to records from the Diplomatic Archives of the Foreign Ministry of Japan, in Shanghai Yamomoto worked mainly as a translator, first for the military and then for the trade section. Back in Burlington, Iowa, however, locals were uncertain where Toshi might be. Weeks after Pearl Harbor and the US declaration of war on Japan, people in Burlington, which "has no Japanese residents at present," the newspaper remarked, turned their thoughts to the Yamomoto family, whose head, Raisuke (nicknamed "Moto") had returned to Japan the previous summer. The newspaper observed that it was not known whether Moto, who had worked in Burlington for 37 years, "was ordered home [by the Japanese] or decided of his own volition to return" to Japan. The newspaper's view of Toshi, who, after all, had been born in Burlington, was less suspicious: "Those who knew him here found it difficult to believe he would use his knowledge of this country to its detriment in serving its enemies." Indeed, the newspaper suspected the reverse, wondering whether Yamomoto "might have been demoted or interned for the duration because of his American connections" (Burlington Hawk-Eye Gazette December 22, 1941).

As it happened, it was the Japanese in the western United States who were interned, but no further news of Toshi Yamamoto reached Iowa while the war lasted. A brief article in 1943 wondered whether the hometown boy was related to the architect of the Pearl Harbor attack, Isoroku Yamamoto (1884-1943). As before, Burlington locals doubted that Toshi was "serving in any important capacity in Japanese occupied territory," believing that "Hirohito's government would not trust an American-born Jap with a prominent post in time of war" (Burlington Hawk-Eye Gazette May 22, 1943).

A less confident perspective emerges in an unsigned, June 1945 letter to Knox College's Bessie Hinckley. The unidentified writer, regretting that he could not answer Hinckley's question about the whereabouts of Toshi Yamamoto, reported that four representatives of [US] military intelligence had visited his office since Pearl Harbor, asking the same question. The letter writer recalled that, when last he knew, Toshi had been working for the Japanese government, but the
Bureau of Military Intelligence say that...he did not do that at all. But returned, they are informed, though as yet have not been able to prove it, to the United States where he is a spy for the Japanese (Knox College Special Collections and Archive).
In a 1980 interview, Yamamoto reported rather vaguely that during the war he had been "interned for six months in China, but 'I wasn't treated badly.'" By whom or where he was interned Yamamoto did not say. George Townsend claimed that Toshi had been captured by the Soviets, but, if so, Yamamoto himself never acknowledged it in print.
Toshitada Yamamoto (right) in Tucson, AZ, October 1951 (Arizona Daily Star October 28, 1951)
Once repatriated to Japan in 1946, Yamomoto almost seamlessly resumed his career, despite his service to the Japanese Empire. By his own testimony, he "was asked to sit in on trials [of war crimes in Japan] and identify documents being entered as evidence." But before the trials of Japanese officials were over, Yamamoto was "assigned to Supreme Command, Allied Powers," working in the Economics and Social Section to help remodel defeated Japan. Still later, Yamamoto was evidently a member of the Japanese delegation at the 1951 San Francisco Peace Conference, although my search of documents associated with the negotiations did not yield a single hit for Toshi. In 1950 he and another Foreign Ministry colleague arrived in Los Angeles to establish there an office of the Japanese Overseas Agency, anticipating the consulate that later opened there for post-war Japan (Burlington Hawk-Eye June 5, 1980).
Undated photo of Tokyo Prince Hotel
Recalled to Japan in 1952, Toshi was soon sent to the Japanese embassy in Bangkok, Thailand, where he served until 1956. The following year he was loaned to the United Nations, Toshi and his family moving to New York where he became Chief of the Documents Division in the Conferences Department. In 1972 he retired from the diplomatic corps, leaving the UN and New York but stopping at several US cities (including Burlington) before reaching Japan where he took up a position as Director of Public Relations at the Tokyo Prince Hotel.

The official, published record provides scant insight into the private life of Toshi Yamamoto.  We know that in 1941 Toshi married Mei Sugimoto, presumably while he was home on leave. Whether Mei followed him back to his duties in China is unknown; in his public remarks Toshi never referred to it. The couple had two daughters, Keiko (Gloria), born in 1943, and Shoko (Shirley), born in 1947. The only photo I found of the family comes from much later when all the Yamamotos were flying from New York to Japan on vacation.
Toshi, Mei, Keiko and Shoko Yamamoto (Shin Nichibei June 21, 1961)
How long Toshi and family remained in Japan the record does not explain, but at some point the Yamamotos moved to Honolulu, and it was there that Toshi died in 1994, leaving his wife and daughters behind.
Death Notice for Toshitada Yamamoto, Honolulu Advertiser July 4, 1994
Much remains unknown about how Shizu and Toshi Yamamoto organized their lives. Despite these open spaces, it is easy to see the different attractions of the two cultures this family inhabited. Born to Japanese nationals in the American midriff, Shizu and Toshi as adults each identified themselves with different strands of that background. Probably from her teenage years when she remained in Iowa while the rest of her family went to Japan, Shizu associated herself with a distinctly American destiny. Even when, after Pearl Harbor, American authorities tried to warranty American commitment from federal employees, Shizu signed the oaths demanded of her. Toshi, on the other hand, despite all his connections with the Burlington YMCA and its onetime leader, and with Knox College and his fellow collegians, found his future not in America, but rather in service to his parents' native country. To judge from his sojourn in China, even in the face of the organized cruelty that fellow Japanese had inflicted on Nanjing (and covered up), Toshi put his confidence in his adopted land.

No comments:

Post a Comment