[Kurihara] had been an active leader among the Japanese Americans and an active force for Americanization previous to the evacuation. Soon after he came to Manzanar he became strongly anti-American and an active agitator for resistance to the administration. He turned his back on America because he thought America had turned its back on him.
- Dillon S. Myer, Uprooted Americans, The University
of Arizona Press, Tucson, Arizona, ©1971, p. 63
Born on Kauai Island, Hawaii.
His family moved to Honolulu, where he completed elementary school and graduated from a Catholic high school.
Moved to California.
Moved to Michigan, where he enlisted in the U.S. Army.
Honorably discharged after serving in Germany.
Graduated from Southwestern University with a degree in accounting. In the two decades before World War II, he was a partner in a wholesale produce firm, an auditor and manager of a seafood packing company, salesman for a wholesale hardware company, and a navigator on a fishing boat.
Witnessed expulsion of Japanese Americans from Terminal Island.
March 23, 1942
Entered Manzanar with second volunteer contingent.
December 7, 1942
Arrested for being one of the leaders of the Manzanar uprising and sent to Moab and later Leupp.
After applying for expatriation to Japan, transferred to Tule Lake, where he was politically inactive.
Sailed for Japan with the first group of voluntary deportees after being among the first prisoners to renounce his citizenship.
Kurihara, a Hawaiian-born Nisei and a devout Catholic, was in his late 40s when he was imprisoned. Though he had never visited nor had any interest or connection with Japan, he eventually renounced his American citizenship and expatriated to Japan. What follows are excerpts from his manuscripts.
Memories of Hawaii:
We, the boys of conglomerated races, were brought up under the careful guidance of American teachers, strictly following the principle of American Democracy. Let it be white, black, brown, or yellow, we were all treated alike. This glorious Paradise of the Pacific was the true melting pot of human races.
Early experiences of racial discrimination in California (around 1915):
My early experiences in Sacramento were of appalling nature. While walking on K Street from the Depot toward the Japanese district, suddenly a fairly well-dressed person came and kicked me in the stomach for no reason whatever. Luckily it glanced as I instinctively avoided it.
I watched his next move, maneuvering into position to fight it out the best I could. A crowd started to gather but no sooner than it did, another person coming out of a saloon in front of which we were about to tackle, stopped this public show. I went my way feeling terribly hurt.
In this same city of Sacramento, as my friend and I were walking in the residential district, a short distance away from the Japanese center, something came whizzing by, and then another and another. We noticed they were rocks being thrown at us by a number of youngsters. As we went toward them, the boys ran and hid. Feeling perplexed, I asked my friend, "Why do they attack us in such a manner?" He answered, "It's discrimination." No such thing ever happened where I came from. It was disgusting. I felt homesick for my good old native land, Hawaii.
Enlistment in and experiences in American Army of occupation (1917-1919):
While in Michigan I was seized with an intense desire to join the Army. I felt rather ashamed of myself in civilian attire. I had purchased $500 worth of Liberty Bonds to send to my five nieces and nephews in Hawaii, but still not feeling satisfied, I finally went and enlisted. During the training period, I was befriended by many Caucasians. I made several visits to their homes. I felt very happy, I solemnly vowed to fight and die for the U.S. and these good people, whose genuine kindness touched the very bottom of my heart. In California my animosities against the Californians were growing with ever-increasing intensity, but in Michigan, my liking for the American people was getting the best of me.
In the summer of 1918 I was sent to France with a medical corps. After the armistice, I was assigned to Coblenz, Germany, with a medical corps of the army of occupation. During my stay in Coblenz, I found out that the German people were just as human as any other race. I learned to like these people because they were kind and sincere. At every meal time, the little German girls and boys would line the walk to the garbage can for whatever scraps the boys were throwing away. I could not bear to see these little ones suffer, so I always made it my duty to ask for as much as my plate would hold and gave it to them. O Lord my God, so this is the price of War. Why should these innocent children be made to suffer the hardships of war?
Experiences and attitudes immediately following Pearl Harbor:
After a fishing expedition off Mexico, we entered San Diego Bay immediately at daybreak on December 29. In the bay, the boat was stopped and several officers in naval uniform came aboard. They scrutinized the papers, and finding them satisfactory they left, but they took three of us (two Portuguese and myself) along.
We were taken to the naval wharf and waited for orders but none came. Around nine thirty, we again were asked to board the official launch and this time were taken back to our own ship. No sooner when I boarded the ship than a plain clothes man yelled, "Hey! you Jap, I want some information. You better tell me everything, or I'll kick you in the ----." My blood boiled. I felt like clubbing his head off. It was just a hat rack and nothing more.
Another gentleman came aboard, and seeing that I was an Oriental, he said, "I want you to come with me to the Immigration Office."
At the office, I was told to take a seat in plain view of several officers. Noon came, so they went for lunch while I sat there waiting. Three o'clock came, I was feeling hungry and irritated. Finallly I asked one of the officers why they apprehended me and why they were keeping me waiting without lunch. He said the instruction was to bring all Japanese nationals in for questioning.
One of the officers obligingly took out some papers, called me to his side and started to ask the following questions:
"What do you think of the war?"
"Who do you think will win this war?"
"Who knows? God only knows."
"Do you think Japan has the materials she needs to wage this war?"
"I never was there; so your guess is just as good as mine."
"Are you a navigator?"
"Yes, I navigated boats for the last eight years."
"Are you good at it?"
"Never miss my mark."
"Do you know all the bays along the coast?"
"Yes, nearly all the bays and coves along the entire coast from Seattle to Ecuador, South America."
"Have you been a good American citizen?"
"I was and I am."
"Will you fight for this country?"
"If I am needed, I am ready."
"Were you a soldier of any country?"
"Yes, I am Verteran of the Foreign Wars, U.S. Army."
I was released that evening.
Attempts to participate in the war effort:
I went to see the Port Master in San Diego to get a permit to sail the sea. Seeing that I was a Japanese, he said, "No permit for any Jap." We argued awhile. Losing his temper he said, "Get out or I'll throw you out." So I told him, "Say officer I wore that uniform when you were still unborn. I served in the U.S. Army and fought for Democracy. I may be a Jap in feature but I am an American. Understand!" I saw fire in his eyes, but he had no further words to say.
In San Pedro, when I applied at one shipbuilding company, I was told it would be better for me to try elsewhere because I will not enjoy working here. They said the fellow workmen were very antagonistic. They said they had two Japanese boys working as welders, but they did not think they would be here very long because of discrimination of the fellow workers.
The Terminal Island evacuation:
It was really cruel and harsh. To pack and evacuate in forty-eight hours was an impossibility. Seeing mothers completely bewildered with children crying from want and peddlers taking advantage and offering prices next to robbery made me feel like murdering those responsible without the slightest compunction in my heart.
The parents may be aliens but the children are all American citizens. Did the government of the United States intend to ignore their rights regardless oftheir citizenship? Those beautiful furnitures which the parents bought to please their sons and daughters, costing hundreds of dollars were robbed of them at the single command, "Evacuate!" Here my first doubt of American Democracy crept into the far corners of my heart with the sting that I could not forget. Having had absolute confidence in Democracy, I could not believe my very eyes what I had seen that day. America, the standard bearer of Democracy had committed the most heinous crime in its history.
The beginnings of his hatred of JACL leaders and other collaborators in the evacuation procedure:
Truly it was my intention to fight this evacuation. On the night of my return to Los Angeles from San Diego was the second meeting which the Citizens Federation of Southern California [sponsored by JACL] held to discuss evacuation. I attended it with a firm determination to join the committee representing the Nisei and carry the fight to the bitter end. I found the goose was already cooked. The Field Secretary of the JACL instead of reporting what actually transpired at a meeting they had had with General DeWitt just tried to intimidate the Nisei to comply with evacuation by stories of threats he claimed to have received from various parts of the State.
I felt sick at the result. They'd accomplished not a thing. All they did was to meet General DeWitt and be told what to do. These boys claiming to be the leaders of the Nisei were a bunch of spineless Americans. Here I decided to fight them and crush them in whatever camp I happened to find them. I vowed that they would never again be permitted to disgrace the name of the Nisei as long as I was about.
Initial experiences in and reactions to Manzanar:
The desert was bad enough. The mushroom barracks made it worse. The constant cyclonic storms loaded with sand and dust made it worst. After living in well furnished homes with every modern convenience and suddenly forced to live the life of a dog is something which one can not so readily forget. Down in our hearts we cried and cursed this government every time when we were showered with sand. We slept in the dust; we breathed the dust; and we ate the dust. Such abominable existence one could not forget, no matter how much we tried to be patient, understand the situation, and take it bravely. Why did not the government permit us to remain where we were? Was it because the government was unable to give us the protection? I have my doubt. The government could have easily declared Martial Law to protect us. It was not the question of protection. It was because we were Japs! Yes, Japs!
After corralling us like a bunch of sheep in a hellish country, did the government treat us like citizens? No! We were treated like aliens regardless of our rights. Did the government think we were so without pride to work for $16.00 a month when people outside were paid $40.00 to $50.00 a week in the defense plants? Responsible government officials further told us to be loyal and that to enjoy our rights as American citizens we must be ready to die for the country. We must show our loyalty. If such is the case, why are the veterans corralled like the rest of us in the camps? Have they not proven their loyalty already? This matter of proving one's loyalty to enjoy the rights of an American citizen was nothing but a hocus-pocus.
Decision to renounce citizenship:
My American friends... no doubt must have wondered why I renounced my citizenship. This decision was not that of today or yesterday. It dates back the day when General DeWitt ordered evacuation. It was confirmed when he flatly refused to listen even to the voices of the former World War Veterans and it was doubly confirmed when I entered Manzanar. We who already had proven our loyalty by serving in the last World War should have been spared. The veterans asked for special consideration but their requests were denied. They too had to evacuate like the rest of the Japanese people, as if they were aliens.
I did not expect this of the Army. When the Western Defense Command assumed the responsibilities of the West Coast, I expected that at least the Nisei would be allowed to remain. But to General DeWitt, we were all alike. "A Jap's a Jap. Once a Jap, always a Jap." ...I swore to become a Jap 100 percent and never to do another day's work to help this country fight this war. My decision to renounce my citizenship there and then was absolute.
Just before he left for Japan, Kurihara wrote:
It is my sincere desire to get over there as soon as possible to help rebuild Japan politically and economically. The American Democracy with which I was infused in my childhood is still unshaken. My life is dedicated to Japan with Democracy my goal.