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by Judy Kawamoto, edited by Kelsey Owyang
In 2010, nearly 100 years after Japanese immigrants Gonpei and Kane Yanagioka reunited in California, AIISF interviewed the couple’s daughter, Shizue. She recounts her immigrant parents’ challenging – but ultimately joyful – life in the United States.
Although she married Gonpei Yanagioka by picture on October 1, 1912, Kane Tamura was not technically a picture bride. After all, she had known Gonpei as a child in Japan; their fathers had been friends. Nevertheless, at the time of their marriage, Gonpei was the owner of a modest but successful strawberry farm in Los Angeles, while Kane remained in Japan.
On November 10, 1913, Kane finally arrived at the Angel Island Immigration Station to join her husband. But at first, Gonpei was nowhere to be found, relates daughter Shizue Yanagioka Jinbo:
When she landed there with everyone else, she just felt normal. But then as the day went on, all the people she came over with started to leave… she was just about the only one left behind from that bunch. It turned out that when she arrived at Angel Island, they sent a telegram to Dad’s place that she was there. But the person that accepted that message had placed that message up onto the shelf and he had forgotten all about it.
Gonpei hurried to the immigration station a few days later and drove Kane back to her new home in southern California, where they married for a second time under California law. It was the start of “a new life,” recalls Shizue.
The couple raised strawberries, corn, and other fresh vegetables and sold them at a small roadside vegetable stand in Baldwin Park, California. In 1920, they moved to West Covina, California, where Shizue was born. The family, which had grown to include three daughters and one son, enjoyed driving to downtown Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo to get Japanese food.
Unfortunately, that wouldn’t be the last change in residence for the Yanagiokas. Japanese forces attacked Pearl Harbor just a year after Shizue’s high school graduation; along with thousands of other Japanese Americans, the family was forced to relocate. They spent three years at Heart Mountain Internment Camp in Wyoming.
Shizue does not express bitterness over her camp experience; it was during internment that she saw her first snow and found a job waiting tables in the mess hall. Eventually, she even met her husband in camp. He was in the army and had been visiting her neighbor, but ended up marrying Shizue instead!
Following the family’s release from internment, Shizue began work as a telephone switchboard operator. Her husband stayed with the US Department of Defense, which eventually took the family to Yokohama, Japan – the same city from which Kane had departed in 1913. There, the Jinbos were able to host large family gatherings with Kane and their extended family.
Shizue’s love and respect for her parents shone through in her interview. At 87 years old, she still remembered with fondness the couple’s many friends and the way they were “loved” by the community. Shizue’s niece added that her grandmother Kane “was always a very happy person. Very happy. And she never regretted any of the decisions that she had made coming here. And she really loved her family.”
That family today includes Shizue’s “numerous grandkids,” whom she describes as “really swell. Makes you want to cry.”
Judy Kawamoto is a volunteer with AIISF.
Kelsey Owyang is an intern at AIISF and the great-granddaughter of Angel Island immigrants.
Place of Origin
Place of Settlement
Los Angeles, California