Erik Matsunaga

Erik Matsunaga is a Chicago-born fourth generation Nikkei American of Japanese and German descent. In addition to regular contributions to Discover Nikkei, his extensive research into Chicago’s Japanese American community has been most recently featured on WBEZ Chicago Public Radio’s The Afternoon Shift and the Alphawood Gallery’s exhibit, Then They Came for Me. A former graphic designer and small press publisher, he currently works in the manufacturing sector, rides BMX, and manages Ravenswood Shorin-ryu Karate Dojo. He resides with his wife and children on Chicago’s North Side.

Updated November 2017

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Japanese Americans on Chicago’s South Side - Oakland/Kenwood 1940s-1950s - Part 2

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Dad was a Kibei, born in Hawaii, came to the States to teach Japanese. He was put into Tule Lake War Relocation Center. When the Camps began releasing prisoners he chose Chicago as he heard there were job opportunities. Mom and Dad met while in Camp. She followed Dad to Chicago. Mom’s parents and siblings followed Mom to Chicago; they were originally from Tacoma, WA. Mom and Dad lived with the Kushida Family in their boarding house on Berkeley Avenue.

“Michiye-chan, it was just like today…maybe worse. It was snowing. You could hardly see the ...

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Japanese Americans on Chicago’s South Side - Oakland/Kenwood 1940s-1950s - Part 1

Fred Yamaguchi: That was like Japantown. 43rd and Ellis.
Karen Kanemoto: But now, I don’t think there are any Japanese Americans down there.
Yamaguchi: I don’t think so.
Kanemoto: It’s kind of like a lost history, and I think it’s important to document it.

—Excerpt from an interview of Fred Yamaguchi by Karen Kanemoto


As a result of Executive Order 9066, in 1942 some 120,000 persons of Japanese ancestry—two-thirds of whom were American citizens by birth—were forcibly removed from their homes on the West Coast and incarcerated in various concentration camps across the ...

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Saying Goodbye

Gaining early educational release from incarceration at Gila River War Relocation Center in 1943, my Nisei grandparents moved to St. Paul, MN, where my grandfather enrolled in welding school. With a certified trade and some experience under his belt, in 1945 they moved—along with my infant father—to Chicago for its wealth of industrial opportunities. Initially renting a room in the recently-formed Japanese district at Clark and Division from another Matsunaga family they’d priorly known from the West Coast, they found more permanent lodgings in a tenement-style apartment on Halsted Street near Webster Avenue in the Lincoln Park ...

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30 Years of Lakeview: Chicago’s Japanese American Community 1960s-1990s - Part 2

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“Growing up in Lakeview during the 1960s, where there were so many Japanese American relocatees, provided a unique childhood experience. Because there were so many families that knew each other in some way or another, there was a sense of safety in that there was always someone, some neighbor or friend of the family, who lived nearby. Like many Nisei, my father had a business in the neighborhood and knew many Issei and Nisei, including the owners of the businesses on a long strip of North Clark Street. Everyone seemed to know everyone else. This also provided ...

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30 Years of Lakeview: Chicago’s Japanese American Community 1960s-1990s - Part 1

During and immediately following World War II, Americans of Japanese ancestry flooded Chicago for work and school as they were either released from incarceration at one of ten U.S. War Relocation Authority concentration camps, or discharged from military service. Prior to WWII, Chicago’s ethnic Japanese population numbered roughly four hundred; by 1945 there were twenty-thousand.

Instructed by the government to not congregate back into the “Japantowns” they’d left behind, programs were instituted to assist relocatees in assimilating to the greater population. With such mass migration, however, the community naturally began building its own support networks in order ...

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