Select a primary language to get the most out of our Journal pages:
English 日本語 Español Português

We have made a lot of improvements to our Journal section pages. Please send your feedback to editor@DiscoverNikkei.org!

Peculiar Odyssey: Newsman Jimmie Omura’s Removal from and Regeneration within Nikkei Society, History, and Memory - Part 7 of 7

Read Part 6 >> 

The early 1980s activity had ramifications for Omura, who had been “reborn in Seattle.”1 Hohri invited him to speak in Chicago and there avail himself of research material amassed by NCJAR (for which he, along with other notable wartime resisters like Harry Ueno, became a substantial backer)2 for his in-progress memoir.

San Francisco and Los Angeles vernaculars commissioned Omura to write editorials,3 while UCLA’s Asian American Studies Center wooed his participation in conferences and panels and solicited him to review books for the Amerasia Journal (including Hosokawa’s JACL in Quest of Justice).4

Scholars elsewhere interviewed him for academic projects, documentary films, and museum collections. Radical historian Richard Drinnon included Omura within his Keeper of Concentration Camps dedication for being a Japanese American who had said “no.”5 Even in Colorado, a group calling itself “Making Waves” arranged speaking engagements for him in the Denver region.

Repeatedly, Omura returned to the Pacific Northwest. Hosted in Seattle by Chizu Omori and Frank Abe, among others, he sometimes had Jim Akutsu serve as his chauffeur. His most meaningful return occurred in March 1988 when he participated in the Association for Asian American Studies meeting at Pullman, Washington. Omura presented a paper, as did Frank Emi, at a Frank Chin-moderated panel. After mentioning that since Pearl Harbor the JACL had been “the voice of Japanese American opinion to the press and the voice of Japanese American history,” Chin then mused: “I believe you will agree that Frank Emi of the Heart Mountain Fair Play Committee and James Omura of the Rocky Shimpo are honorable men. They have been written out of history. They should never have been forgotten.”

Meanwhile, Omura had been working diligently to ensure that the label script being prepared by the JACL- and military-dominated Advisory Committee for the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum’s 1987 exhibit, “A More Perfect Union: Japanese Americans and the United States Constitution,” would do the draft resisters justice. Upon traveling to Washington D.C. to see this exhibit, he was convinced it pretty much did.6

Omura tried to set the record straight about another text that to him polluted the truth of the World War II Japanese American historical record—They Call Me Moses Masaoka (1987), written by Mike Masaoka with Bill Hosokawa. The opening salvo of Omura’s Rafu Shimpo review presaged what would follow: “History indeed is infinitely the poorer and literature thereby greatly diminished by publication of this fabricated account of the historic Japanese American episode of World War II.”7 This review’s damage was compounded by the finding in JACL-commissioned researcher Deborah Lim’s 1990 report that, at the JACL’s March 1942 Special Emergency Meeting in San Francisco, Masaoka allegedly had recommended “Japanese be branded and stamped and put under the supervision of the Federal government.”8

In the late 1980s and early 1990s Omura received long-deferred public recognition and acclaim. Biographical encyclopedia and dictionary entries honored him,9 while organizations feted him for his accomplishments. Two tributes meant most to Omura. In 1989, the Asian American Journalists Association (AAJA), meeting in San Francisco, conferred their Lifetime Achievement Award upon him. Frank Abe, then a KIRO Radio (Seattle) reporter and an AAJA board member, was instrumental in Omura’s selection. Abe cited Omura’s courageous journalistic World War II role upholding constitutional principles and contrasted his behavior with the JACL’s capitulation to pragmatic accommodation.

Not expecting an Asian American group to honor him during his lifetime, Omura doubted the award would change public opinion toward him. Then, in 1992, the National Coalition for Redress/Reparations (NCR/R), recognized Omura in a Day of Remembrance candle-lighting ceremony, also in San Francisco, on Executive Order 9066’s fiftieth anniversary. Significant for Omura were the other community benefactors honored (civil rights lawyers Ernest Besig and Wayne Collins, crusading Bainbridge Review editors Walt and Millie Woodward, and the American Friends Service Committee) and his being the sole Japanese American honoree. “I had no expectation that anyone would be thinking of me on the 50th Anniversary of the signing of Executive Order 9066,” Omura wrote Michi Weglyn. “I was wrong”!10

Meanwhile, the JACL was fighting to retain its righteous place in Japanese American history. But since the CWRIC hearings, and especially after the Civil Rights Act of 1988 enacting the Commission’s recommendations, it had been battling a defensive war. Having gained a U.S. government-apology, a growing number of Nikkei demanded a JACL one for its wartime leaders’ community betrayal, a point driven home by the evidence in the Lim Report (which the JACL attempted to suppress).

In Omura’s opinion, a rear-guard JACL action to deflect criticism and restore its dignity was embracing “the glorification of the trio of failed Supreme Court challengers [Gordon Hirabayashi, Fred Korematsu, and Minoru Yasui].” These test cases, argued Omura, had “no relevance to their [Japanese Americans] sufferings and the tragedy of the Japanese American episode,” but instead “sprang out of personal impulses.” What really disturbed Omura was Denver’s Mile Hi JACL chapter’s fund-raising campaign for a city statue to honor Minoru Yasui, “unarguably the [Japanese American community’s] number one informer, or in cultural terms, inu.” The very idea to Omura was a desecration.”11

Denver's Nikkei community disagreed with Omura, believing Yasui a deserving Nisei hero. From 1967 to 1983, he headed the city's commission on community relations, and from the 1970s to his 1986 death he spearheaded the JACL's redress movement. Thus, he was much honored in Denver. In the mid-1990s, a public building in Denver was renamed the Minoru Yasui Plaza. Prominent in its lobby was placed a replica of the Yasui bust sculpted by Tsuyaka Kaneko for the 1990-dedicated Sakura Square located in the heart of Denver's historic Japantown. Then, in 2000, Yasui was one of a very few Denver leaders granted Mayor's Millennial Awards for their extraordinary contributions to the city.12

Bill Hosokawa, another Pacific Northwest native and JACL leader, also had “monuments” created to his memory within his adopted city. Most came after Omura’s death. In 1996 Hosokawa was inducted into the Denver Press Club’s Media Hall of Fame. In 1999 the Japan America Society of Colorado and the Japanese Consulate recognized him as honorary consul general for Japan in Colorado. And in 2000, Hosokawa received the American Civil Liberties Union’s Whitehead Award for “lifetime service on behalf of all who suffer inequality and injustice.”13

But no similar city and state honors were forthcoming for Omura, before or after his death. He thus remains in the region where he lived from 1942 to 1994 as an unrecognized hero of Japanese American and U.S. history. The same general situation still prevails throughout the nation, including the Pacific Northwest. But the winds are blowing the other direction. In his Rafu Shimpo obituary for Omura, “Let Us Now Praise Famous Men,” Frank Chin fittingly eulogized him: “He [Omura] had lived to see the resisters he championed begin to be restored to the community. After 40 years of silence and obscurity, Jimmie began to be rediscovered and his work recognized by Asian America… But Japanese America, Asian America never knew Jimmie well enough.”14

Since Chin’s obituary appeared, not only Japanese America and Asian America have come to know Omura quite well, but even the larger American community has been introduced to him. Chin deepened the first two audiences’ awareness by including a long section on Omura and Heart Mountain draft resisters in his lead essay (“Come All Ye Asian American Writers of the Real and the Fake”) for a 1991 anthology of Chinese and Japanese American literature.15

Moreover, Chin’s 2002 documentary novel, Born in the USA, which valorizes the Heart Mountain draft resistance story and makes Omura a central interpretive voice for the authentic Japanese America legacy, promises to influence a large mainstream population.16 Two documentary films—Nisei Emiko Omori’s Rabbit in the Moon (1999)17 and Frank Abe’s Conscience and the Constitution (2000)18—have already reached this larger audience via national public television.

The first (co-produced by Omori’s sister, Chizu) won major awards, including that by the American Historical Association for the year’s best historical documentary. Abe’s film claimed top honors at film festivals and competitions; and, in 2001, the AAJA recognized it as the year’s best film for Unlimited Subject Matter in Television. Whereas Rabbit in the Moon was dedicated to Omura and praised camp resisters generally, including those challenging the Nisei draft, Conscience and the Constitution focused exclusively on the Heart Mountain draft resistance movement and Omura’s support for it.

Two 2001 books, Resistance19 and Free to Die for Their Country,20 both depict Omura within the larger draft resistance story so as to enhance his historical reputation. William Hohri authored the first of these books, with essays by former Fair Play Committee members Mits Koshiyama, Yosh Kuromiya, Takahashi Hoshizaki, and Frank Emi.

According to Philip Tajitsu Nash’s Washington Journal review of Resistance, “Hohri reminds us of the patriotism of those who chose incarceration, and a subsequent lifetime of ostracism, rather than see the Constitution undermined…[and provides] sometimes gripping accounts of the human cost of standing up for justice.”21

Free to Die for Their Country, by University of North Carolina constitutional law professor Eric Muller, is more mainstream-oriented than Hohri’s book. This is due to its prestigious publisher, the University of Chicago Press, and a Foreword by Senator Daniel K. Inouye, an American as well as a Japanese American icon of patriotism, valor, and justice.

While it will take more time for Omura to gain the iconic stature achieved by Senator Inouye and now almost attained by the draft resisters of conscience, he seems destined to reach this lofty plateau. He had seen and written about fascism’s darkening clouds in the prewar U.S., he had testified, ominously, about the Gestapo coming to America during the war’s early stages, and in the war’s fullness had waged a fearless editorial battle against lawless militarism and for civil, minority, and human rights. At the end of his life, Omura was reliving this past for his own purposes as well as the edification of posterity.

“Jimmie,” noted Frank Chin in his obituary, “was at work on his book when he was struck with a heart attack and died in Denver, at 6:35 a.m., June 20, 1994.”22 That book, his memoir, Omura had been laboring over for more than a decade. Perhaps when it is published, there will be a greater appreciation for why, at the turn of this new millennium, he was honored as Japanese America’s (most) influential journalist of the twentieth century.

 

Notes:

1. See Robert Sadamu Shimabukuro, Born in Seattle: The Campaign for Japanese American Redress (Seattle: University of Washington Press,2001).
2. Omura and Ueno were both NCJAR ronin, signifying minimal donations of one thousand dollars.
3. In San Francisco, the Hokubei Mainichi, and in Los Angeles, the Rafu Shimpo.
4. For Omura’s review of the Hosokawa volume see Amerasia Journal 11 (1984): 97-102; see also his review of Peter Irons, Justice at War: The Story of the Japanese American Internment Cases (New York: Oxford University Press, 1983), Amerasia Journal 10 (1983): 127-29.
5. See Richard Drinnon, Keeper of Concentration Camps: Dillon S. Myer and American Racism (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987).
6. Omura’s involvement in this process was aided by Aiko Yoshinaga-Herzig, a member of both NCJAR and the exhibit’s advisory committee, and his efforts received a critical boost from historian Roger Daniels.
7. James Omura, “Debunking JACL Fallacies,” Rafu Shimpo, 11 April 1989.
8. See Deborah Lim, untitled report, 1991, p. 9. For an unabridged version of the Lim Report, see Frank Abe’s website at www.resisters.com.
9. See J. K. Yamamoto, “Wartime Journalist Recognized,” Hokubei Mainichi 31 July 1993, published when Omura was named to receive the Twentieth Century Award of Achievement by the International Biographical Association of Cambridge, England.
10. Jimmie Omura, letter to Michi and Walter Weglyn, 7 February 1992, James M. Omura Papers.
11. See Jimmie Omura, “Yasui Statue Would Be Undeserved Honor,” Hokubei Mainichi, 15 June 1980.
12. The information relative to Denver’s honoring of Yasui was drawn chiefly from newspaper articles; see Denver Rocky Mountain News, 2 March 1999; and Denver Post, 5 December 1999 and 11 December 2000.
13. For press accounts of Hosokawa’s Denver honors, see the following: Rocky Mountain News, 20 April 1996 and 20 August 1998; Denver Post 13 December 1998, 9 February 1999, 14 February 1999, and 25 October 1999; and Denver Rocky Mountain News, 28 September 2000.
14. Chin, “Let Us Now Praise Famous Men.”
15. Frank Chin, “Come All Ye Asian American Writers of the Real and the Fake,” in Jeffrey Paul Chan, et al., The Big Aiiieeeee! An Anthology of Chinese American and Japanese American Literature (New York: Meridian, 1991), 52-92.
16. Frank Chin, Born in the U.S.A.: A Story of Japanese America, 1889-1947 (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2002).
17. Rabbit in the Moon. Prod. by Emiko and Chizu Omori; Dir. by Emiko Omori, 1999. 60 mins. (New Day Films, c/o Transit Media, 22D Hollywood Ave., Hohokus NJ 07423).
18. Conscience and the Constitution. Prod. by Frank Abe and Shannon Gee; Dir. by Frank Abe, 2000. 60 mins. (Resisters.com Productions, 3811 S. Horton St., Seattle, WA 98144). For a joint review of these two films, see that by Naoko Shibusawa in the Journal of American History 88 (December 2001): 1209-11.
19. William Hohri, Resistance: Challenging America’s Wartime Internment of Japanese-Americans (Los Angeles: The Epistolarian, 2001).
20. Eric L. Muller, Free to Die for Their Country: The Story of the Japanese American Draft Resisters in World War II (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001).
21. Phil Tajitsu Nash, “William Minoru Hohri: Visionary, Writer and Activist for Resisters of Injustice,” Washington Journal, 17-23 August 2001.
22. Chin, “Let Us Now Praise Famous Men.”


* Arthur A. Hansen, “Peculiar Odyssey: Newsman Jimmie Omura’s Removal from and Regeneration within Nikkei Society, History, and Memory” in Louis Fiset and Gail Nomura, eds. Nikkei in the Pacific Northwest: Japanese Americans and Japanese Canadians in the Twentieth Century. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2005, pp. 278-307.

@ 2005 by the University of Washington Press

jacl journalism newspapers pacific citizen redress World War II