Sunday, October 25, 2015

Portrait: Sharon Osaki Wong

I met Sharon Osaki Wong in August, 2015 at her home in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Photo by Andy Frazer

Sharon's parents moved to the U.S. from Hiroshima, Japan in the early 1920's. In 1938 they purchased an 80-acre plum and pear farm in Newcastle, CA about 25 miles from Sacramento. In May 1942, they were forcibly evacuated from their homes and sent to the Arboga (Marysville) Assembly Camp. One month later they were sent to the Tule Lake Internment Camp in northern California. In May 1943 they were moved to the Jerome Internment Camp 2,200 miles away in Arkansas.

Sharon was born in the Jerome camp on May 4, 1944. When Sharon was one month old, the Jerome camp was closed. Her family was moved again to the Gila River Internment Camp in Arizona. In May 1945, her family was released. They returned to their ranch in Newcastle, CA.

In 2014 Sharon and her husband attended the annual reunion for Arkansas internees at the Japanese-American Internment Museum in McGehee, Arkansas and spoke about her family to those in attendance:

As in the camps, my parents and sisters practiced "gaman", a Japanese word meaning tolerance, patience, and perseverance. ... I made this trip [to] visit the Jerome and Rohwer internment sites. There are no barracks or people so I could only imagine the thousands of Japanese incarcerated behind barbed wire. Then I realized how fortunate I and others in my family are for my parents and sisters practicing 'gaman', and enduring the unbearable with patience and dignity. Thank you."

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Portrait: Tets Furukawa

I met Tets Furukawa in October, 2014 at the "Return to Heart Mountain: A Celebration of Japanese American Baseball" event hosted by the Japanese-American Museum of San Jose. The event was organized by the Nisei Baseball Research Project.
Photo by Andy Frazer
Tets was born in 1927 in Osso Flaco, CA. His family moved to Guadalupe, CA where he learned to play baseball at the the Guadalupe Grammar School. He continued to play baseball Santa Maria High School. After Executive Order 9066, Tets and his family were forced to relocate to the Tulare Assembly Center, and finally to the Gila River interment camp.

"... when I got to Gila it was really horrible. Because the camp was under construction, the wind was blowing. It was kind of unbelievable that the barracks, 20x100 barracks were all lined up and there is only 20 feet between you and the barracks. And the dust storm is so severe, you couldn't see the next barrack. It was really a horrible time."

As a teenager, Tets was a pitcher for the Gila River Eagles. He also played in the legendary thirteen-game series in 1944 at Heart Mountain. Tets says he remembers winning that series, "as though it were yesterday".

Arizona State University has published a transcript of a lengthy interview with Tets.

Portrait: Kenso Zenimura

Kenso (Howard) Zenimura was born May 16, 1927. He was the son of Kenichi Zenimura who is credited with keeping baseball alive during World War II internment.

Photo by Andy Frazer
At age 15 Kenso's family was forced to move to the Fresno Assembly Center and, eventually, the Gila River interment camp.

"At the Gila River interment camp, his father Kenichi Zenimura constructed a ballpark from camp scraps and community donations. To make the backstop we took the 4x4's out of the barbed wire fence. Every other one we pulled it out, and connected it together to make a frame. It kept us going. What else was there to do?"

Kenso played baseball for the Gila River Eagles. After World War II, Kenso played baseball for Fresno State University, where he was later inducted into the Hall of Fame. He also attended Monterey Military Intelligence (M.I.S.) School.

Kenso is also a founding member of the Nisei Baseball Research Project.

Portrait: Masao “Mas” Iriyama

I met Maso "Mas" Iriyama in October, 2014 at the "Return to Heart Mountain: A Celebration of Japanese American Baseball" event hosted by the Japanese-American Museum of San Jose. The event was organized by the Nisei Baseball Research Project.

"Masao was an all-star on any team in any league. Masao and his brother Noboru were baseball legends in the Guadalupe region. While Masao was batting .400 for his Tule Lake California team in a Detention Camp, his brother was killed in action flying over Tokyo for the Sho-en Koku-Hei"

Photo by Andy Frazer
Mas grew up in the farming community of Guadalupe, CA. In 1939 he attended Santa Maria High School. Since he didn't speak English, he found baseball provided an international language where he was accepted by his peers. After high school, Mas played in the Nikkei League, which was organized by the Young Mens' Buddhist Association (YMBA).

In April 1942, at the age of 20, Mas' family was evacuated to the Tulare Assembly Center, which was built on the Tulare County Fairgrounds. Many of his baseball teammates' families had been evacuated to the same assembly center, where they organized their own softball league.

In October of 1942, Mas' family was moved to the Gila River War Relocation Center. The baseball players at Gila River were organized into ten teams, most were organized around their pre-War lineups. Baseball games were a huge form of entertainment at Gila River. Although teams occasionally practiced during the week, official games were only played on weekends.

Mas was later transferred to the Tule Lake Detention Center for the remainder of the war.