Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
In Defense of Justice

In Defense of Justice: Joseph Kurihara and the Japanese American Struggle for Equality

EILEEN H. TAMURA
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 280
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5406/j.ctt3fh4c6
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    In Defense of Justice
    Book Description:

    As a leading dissident in the World War II concentration camps for Japanese Americans, the controversial figure Joseph Yoshisuke Kurihara stands out as an icon of Japanese American resistance. In this astute biography, Kurihara's life provides a window into the history of Japanese Americans during the first half of the twentieth century. Born in Hawai'i to Japanese parents who immigrated to work on the sugar plantations, Kurihara Kurihara was transformed by the forced removal and incarceration of ethnic Japanese during World War II. As an inmate at Manzanar in California, Kurihara became one of the leaders of a dissident group within the camp and was implicated in the Manzanar incident, a serious civil disturbance that erupted on December 6, 1942. In 1945, after three years and seven months of incarceration, he renounced his U.S. citizenship and boarded a ship for Japan, never to return to the United States. Shedding light on the turmoil within the camps as well as the sensitive and formerly unspoken issue of citizenship renunciation among Japanese Americans, In Defense of Justice explores one man's struggles with the complexities of loyalty and resistance.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09506-1
    Subjects: Sociology, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. FOREWORD
    (pp. ix-x)
    Roger Daniels

    Eileen Tamura, whose earlier book in the Asian American Experience series remains the outstanding study of the Nisei of Hawai‘i, here examines the life and significance of the Hawai‘i Nisei Joseph Yoshisuke Kurihara (1895–1965), who became, for a time, the most notorious Japanese American for his role in fomenting the Manzanar Riot of December 6, 1942, during which American soldiers shot and killed two unarmed incarcerated young men. Although Kurihara’s actions on the fatal day have figured in dozens of accounts of the ordeal of Japanese Americans during World War II, he has remained, until now, a shadowy figure....

  4. PREFACE
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  6. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-8)

    Joseph Yoshisuke Kurihara proclaimed these incendiary words in 1942 while an inmate in Manzanar, one of ten U.S. concentration camps to which Japanese Americans were relegated during World War II.¹ Kurihara, an American citizen who had served in the U.S. Army during World War I and was a member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion, had become one of Manzanar’s leading dissidents.

    His words reflected his stance in the middle of war and contrasted markedly with his attitudes and behavior prior to the war. Though Kurihara had felt the brunt of anti-Japanese hostility, especially in California...

  7. CHAPTER 1 Growing Up American
    (pp. 9-23)

    Joseph Yoshisuke Kurihara was born January 1, 1895, on the island of Kaua‘i in what was called the Republic of Hawai‘i. This was two years after the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy and three years before the U.S. Congress passed a joint resolution that resulted in the occupation of the islands as an American territory.¹

    Kurihara’s father, Kichizo Kurihara, was among the many farmers in southwestern Japan who had been hit hard by the economic transformations brought about by the Meiji government in the last decades of the nineteenth century. Like many others in the Oshima district of the Yamaguchi...

  8. CHAPTER 2 A Yank in France, a Jap in America
    (pp. 24-38)

    While Kurihara was pleased with the education he received at St. Ignatius, the racial atmosphere in San Francisco troubled him. So when a friend suggested a move to Michigan, he responded favorably. “Unexpectedly my friend from Sacramento called and persuaded me to go East,” he later remembered. “He vouched to me that the American people east of Chicago are very friendly and kind. They do not discriminate just because we are Japanese. They will treat us as one of their equal. I could not believe it, but the news was very tempting after experiencing much unpleasantness for two years.” In...

  9. CHAPTER 3 To Manzanar
    (pp. 39-50)

    At the time of Pearl Harbor, Joseph Kurihara was on the high seas navigating the Belle of Portugal, a handsome, state-of-the-art, 130-foot craft, the second largest tuna vessel based in California. The Belle was one of many Portuguese-owned boats, which dominated tuna-fishing out of San Diego. Kurihara spent many months at sea on this craft in search of tuna, venturing as far as the Galapagos Islands, nearly three thousand miles south of San Diego.¹

    Tuna fishing was strenuous work, both physically and mentally. A typical fishing trip lasted seven or eight weeks, covering round-trip distances of six thousand to eight...

  10. CHAPTER 4 Resistance in Manzanar
    (pp. 51-67)

    Kurihara was among the Nikkei assigned to Manzanar, one of ten concentration camps for Nikkei, citizens and alien residents alike. Located at the base of the Sierra Nevada in eastern California, Manzanar was in a desert land of extreme temperatures, high winds, and harsh climate. It was isolated from everything: the nearest town, ironically called Independence, was five miles to the north. Manzanar’s only concession to aesthetics was the majestic Mount Williamson, towering 14,375 feet in the distance.¹

    Situated in the Owens River watershed, the area had been used for centuries by the Paiute and Shoshone Indians. In the late...

  11. CHAPTER 5 Stepping Back
    (pp. 68-80)

    Among the men with whom Kurihara clashed at Manzanar were Tokie (Tokutaro) Nishimura Slocum, Togo Tanaka, and Karl Yoneda. The background of these men and their disagreements with him are part of Kurihara’s story. Like Kurihara, Slocum was a veteran of World War I and a member of the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars. And like Kurihara, he was forty-seven years old when he entered Manzanar with his wife and two children.¹

    Despite the suggestiveness of his surname, Slocum was born in Japan and had arrived in the United States with his parents when he was ten...

  12. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  13. CHAPTER 6 Isolating Citizen Dissidents
    (pp. 81-95)

    After their arrest in the wake of the Manzanar revolt, Kurihara and the other members of the Committee of Five were taken with Ueno to the jail in Bishop, and after a few days, to Lone Pine. Eventually the group at Lone Pine grew from six to sixteen after other dissidents from Manzanar were brought there.¹

    As the men awaited their fate, federal officials explored the possibility of prosecuting them. “Unless the evidence [justified] a fairly long prison term,” wrote Deputy Director E. R. Fryer and Assistant Solicitor Lewis A. Sigler in a memo to the WRA Director Dillon Myer...

  14. CHAPTER 7 Turmoil at Tule
    (pp. 96-114)

    Situated at the northern end of California, thirty-five miles southeast of Klamath Falls, Oregon, and ten miles from the town of Tulelake (named after nearby Tule Lake), the Tule Lake concentration camp was flat, treeless, dusty, and desolate. At four thousand feet above sea level, its long winters were cold, its summers hot and dry. The address for the camp was Newell, the name of the nearby post office, general store, and gas station.¹

    Construction of the camp began in April 1942; in late May, five hundred Japanese American volunteers from the temporary detention camps at Portland and Puyallup arrived...

  15. CHAPTER 8 Renunciation
    (pp. 115-131)

    On July 1, 1944, President Franklin Roosevelt signed Public Law (PL) 405, which amended the Nationality Act of 1940 to allow U.S. citizens living in the United States to renounce their citizenship during wartime. Although not stated explicitly, the law was aimed at dissident Nisei.¹

    As Manzanar Project Director Ralph Merritt remarked of the statute, “This is the first time in the history of a civilized nation that a government has permitted a citizen, during a state of war, to renounce his citizenship.” That such an action had never been taken, he said, was due to a general recognition of...

  16. CHAPTER 9 Japan
    (pp. 132-145)

    Kurihara’s refusal to seek restoration of his citizenship did not mean that he was enthusiastic about the idea of living in Japan. He believed that he understood the daunting implications of doing so. Pointing out to Hankey his frankness and outspoken ways, he sensed that such forthrightness might spell trouble for him in Japan. “[I]f I weren’t in love with Japan I wouldn’t criticize her,” he said. “Yet if I did [it publicly in Japan], I should be thrown in jail.”¹ Such were the prospects of his new life, after years of senseless incarceration in America!

    This anticipated loss of...

  17. AFTERWORD
    (pp. 146-152)

    Three themes coursed through Kurihara’s life: high expectations, his distinctiveness, and a strong sense of justice. These themes, especially the third, help to explain who he was, how he saw himself, and why he did what he did.

    Throughout his life, Kurihara maintained high expectations of himself and his country. This was borne out in his perfect behavior grades at St. Ignatius, for example, and his anger at the U.S. government in its decision to incarcerate innocent people. At times, however, his expectations of himself led him to unrealistic endeavors. As a case in point, upon his arrival to the...

  18. NOTES
    (pp. 153-198)
  19. GLOSSARY
    (pp. 199-200)
  20. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 201-222)
  21. INDEX
    (pp. 223-228)
  22. Back Matter
    (pp. 229-232)