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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Something About My Great-Grandmother

Born in 1896, in 1919 my great‐grandmother Sueno Matsunaga (née Motoshima) of Shimomashiki‐gun, Kumamoto prefecture, Japan, immigrated to the U.S. as a picture bride, speaking no English and having never met her new husband. She joined Gunta Matsunaga, who had immigrated in 1906 from nearby Yatsushiro‐gun, Kumamoto prefecture, in farming a grape vineyard in Del Rey, CA, roughly fifteen miles southeast of Fresno.

My Nisei grandfather was born in 1920, the first of four sons. Upon the sudden passing of Gunta in 1935, Sueno transported his cremated remains to the Matsunaga family in Arisa‐machi ...

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Japanese Americans on Chicago’s South Side - Oakland/Kenwood 1940s-1950s - Part 3

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When my husband and I were first married, we lived in a building on the 4300 block of North Kenmore owned by Harry and Martha Tanaka. By the time I was pregnant with our first child, we had moved to a drafty second-floor apartment in the Matsunaga building on South Oakenwald. That winter was so cold that all my houseplants froze. On exceptionally cold days, I would linger at the nearby Walgreens, where elderly ladies from our building also took refuge.

We moved to Fred Yamaguchi’s building at 43rd and Ellis when my brother-in-law was called ...

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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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