Stanford Today Edition: November/December, 1996 Section: Features: "We Almost Wept" WWW: "We Almost Wept"
By Gordon H. Chang
WHEN FRIENDS CAME TO check on Professor Yamato Ichihashi and his wife, Kei, on the evening of Dec. 7, 1941, they found his campus home on Salvatierra Street quiet and dark. There seemed to be no one home at the Victorian home where the couple had lived for 20 years. Or perhaps another explanation could be offered, perhaps they preferred the consolation of darkness on a day that had caused them such personal pain.
The next day, Professor Ichihashi - a Stanford alumnus and teacher for 30 years - peered into his classroom and asked apprehensively, "Shall I come in?" The students welcomed him into the room.
Though sympathetic to the people of his homeland, Ichihashi condemned the Japanese military for starting the conflict and began monthly purchases of hundred-dollar U.S. war bonds through the university. And despite the compassion of his students, Ichihashi, feeling betrayed and disgraced by his homeland, was too distraught to continue teaching.
He visited Edgar Eugene Robinson, the chair of the History Department, and talked about what he should do. After the meeting, Robinson wrote in his diary that Ichihashi had been "the gentleman" he always had been and that his longtime friend had seen "the death of all his hopes and his life."
Ichihashi next went to see Stanford President Ray Lyman Wilbur and submitted his resignation. But the supportive and insistent Wilbur convinced Ichihashi to take a leave of absence instead.
As it turned out, by the spring of 1942 the federal government required Yamato and Kei Ichihashi and more than a dozen other Japanese Americans on campus - along with 120,000 other persons of Japanese ancestry throughout the Western states - to move into "relocation centers." The Ichihashis did not return to Stanford until April 1945.
The experience devastated the couple professionally and personally. Ichihashi never resumed his teaching or scholarly writing. He would become estranged from his only child, Woodrow, under the pressures of internment and they would not see each other again until 1963, just months before the father's death.
The materials left from Ichihashi's experiences during the war - his diaries, letters and research essays - leave a record that is far more than a poignant personal tale, though. His documents provide the richest and most complete firsthand account of the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.
YAMATO ICHIHASHI WAS BORN INTO A former samurai family in 1878 in Nagoya, Japan, and arrived in the United States in 1894 to attend public school in San Francisco. He continued his study at Stanford, where he distinguished himself, earning bachelor's and master's degrees in economics and an invitation to join Phi Beta Kappa. He later earned his doctorate in political economy from Harvard.
Ichihashi had planned to pursue an academic career in Japan. But his mentor, David Starr Jordan, and others at Stanford encouraged him to return and teach subjects related to Japanese studies. Jordan was keenly interested in developing ties between Stanford and Asia and he believed Ichihashi could help develop the relationship. Jordan had high regard for the young academic: He once wrote a Japanese industrialist that Ichihashi was "one of the best students with whom I have ever come in contact."
Ichihashi assumed a post at Stanford reluctantly, however. He was not trained as an Asianist and, equally important, was sensitive about the anti-Japanese sentiment in the country. But he decided to give Stanford a try and began teaching in 1913.
One of the important influences on Ichihashi's decision to stay was Payson Treat, Stanford's first Ph.D. in history. Treat was one of the first American specialists in Asian studies. He and Ichihashi developed a close friendship and helped make Stanford a principal center of teaching and research in Asian studies.
In the 1920s and 1930s, Ichihashi regularly wrote and spoke on Japanese history and diplomacy. In 1928 he published The Washington Conference and After, a history of the 1922 naval armaments conference. Ichihashi had attended the meeting as the personal aide to the chief Japanese delegate. David Starr Jordan presented a copy of Ichihashi's book to the Emperor during one of his frequent trips to Japan.
Ichihashi developed a distinguished career at Stanford. He held the university's first endowed chair and served as acting chair of the History Department. Yet he never relinquished interest in the experience of his fellow Japanese in America. In 1932 , the Stanford University Press published Ichihashi's study, The Japanese in the United States, which became a classic work combining demographic, historical and sociological approaches. At the outbreak of war, Ichihashi was one of the most eminent and highly respected Japanese in the United States. He was destined, however, to take on a less enviable honor: He became perhaps the most famous person interned in the camps.
Even before he left Stanford in 1942, Ichihashi had planned to write a book on relocation. He sensed the historic significance of what was about to happen and knew he was uniquely qualified to document that experience. He was a trained social scientist who understood both Japanese and American cultures and was fluent in Japanese and English.
He painstakingly documented his internment experience from the day he left Stanford until his return three years later. (He began his record using Stanford examination "blue books.") He also used his private daily diary and extensive typewritten correspondence with Stanford colleagues - Payson Treat, Edgar Robinson and Ray Lyman Wilbur, to name a few - as further research material. These documents form an account that is unequaled in precision and depth.
But, in the end, Ichihashi did not complete his own account. The strain of relocation had taken its toll and he let his precious research materials languish, never mustering the will and energy to finish the project. In fact, he never published any of his research in the last 20 years of his life. Colleagues remember him as bitter and increasingly reclusive after his return to Stanford. It was a sorry postscript to a distinguished, pioneering early career.
Although Ichihashi was not an easily likable subject - he was arrogant, domineering and contemptuous of those beneath him in social position - much in his life experience resonated with my own. We shared parallel scholarly interests and I found the challenges of his life - facing racial prejudice, his experience as one of the first people of Asian ancestry in American academia - particularly moving.
When I first encountered the Ichihashi manuscript collection in the Special Collections department at Stanford's Green Library, I was immediately intrigued but put it low on my list of priorities because of the demands of other research. But, slowly, I began to learn more about Ichihashi's life and uncovered other documentary material in the papers of his Stanford colleagues. And most important, when Woodrow Ichihashi generously shared 20 years of his father's diaries with me, it brought about a change of heart. I saw that completing a biography and compiling Ichihashi's writing offered a singular opportunity to understand a pivotal moment in American history.
IN MAY 1942, THE ICHIHASHIS - YAMATO WAS 64, Kei was 50 - left Stanford for a strange and uncertain future. The following excerpts are from the first two entries in his "blue book" diaries:
MAY 27 [We] learned of the evacuation announcement Saturday morning (May 23, 1942) at 11:00 a.m. So K and I busied ourselves in packing our luggage and arranging the house which was left in the care of the University. Left the house at 11:00 a.m. Tuesday (May 26).We did not reach San Jose until 2.
The cars composing this train were all old day coaches, dirty and smelly. The train was supposed to reach the destination at 6 or 7 a.m. the following morning. But, alas, it did not reach the Santa Anita Assembly Center till 12:30. It was a most trying trip - hot, dirty, very uncomfortable. . . We were assigned to the Mess Hall in the Main Building. As we approached it, we heard a terrific noise (later found [out it was] the handling of metal plates designed like Stanford Union Blue Plates.) Here thousands [eat] at 3 intervals. For our supper we got cherries compote, a small quantity of baked spaghetti, a small boiled potato, rice and water. Thus far we saw the shed and food, both of which made us feel very sad; it was an awful comedown. . .We slept soundly in this hideous sleeping place, if it is fit to so designate.
MAY 28 The first evacuees reached here 2 months ago; these were given. . .hard army bread and water [to eat]. But the individuals were allowed to prepare and eat foods in their own sheds. The major portion of evacuees are housed in newly constructed barracks (woodsheds), but thousands are housed in stables which retain smells of the animals. A stable which housed a horse now houses 5 to 6 humans. These are not only unsanitary, but mentally and morally depressive; they are bound to produce evil results.
Stanford connections abound in the Ichihashi story. He frequently encountered alumni and former students in the camps. But Stanford is most visible in his correspondence with his colleagues back home. He wrote the following letter from Santa Anita to President Ray Lyman Wilbur:
JULY 3, 1942 Dear Dr. Wilbur: Kei joins me in thanking you for the kind and sympathetic letters. . . [Schooling] is confined to children 16 years and under. Nothing is being done for youth beyond that age group. I need not tell you about the danger of allowing youth to have nothing constructive to do and forced to loaf; youth are in the most dangerous period of life. Numerous cases of pregnancy have been reported to me. . .
Ichihashi's most important correspondence was with Payson Treat. He wrote the following letter after arriving at Amache in southeastern Colorado, where he was sent after spending more than a year at Santa Anita and Tule Lake:
OCT. 31, 1943 Dear Payson: The barracks here are like those of all the centers, although as compared with those of Tule Lake, have a slightly better external appearance. They are 120 x 20 feet, and are subdivided into six "apartments." We occupy one of the middle rooms and have for one of our neighbors a young mother with three little children who cry and make noise aplenty for our benefit day and night.
The ban on outside shopping has been removed since last Monday. We are hoping to take a trip to our nearest town, Lamar, about 10 miles to the west, where, we are informed, we can shop. The food served here is particularly poor; it could not be otherwise, since [they] spend only 32 cents per capita per day. Yet Kei and I have done fairly well so far, and you must not worry about us.
Entries from Ichihashi's personal diary provide a further dimension to the record of his internment. The following excerpt is from 1943, when he was at Amache:
DECEMBER 7 The second anniversary [of Pearl Harbor], but still everything remains uncertain. Nothing can be envisaged even for the immediate future. . . . Received a Christmas card from Kazu Takahashi ['40, MD '49] with a note, telling among other things what Stanford "kids" are doing; most of them have relocated.
In April 1945, almost three years to the day after they left, the Ichihashis returned to their campus home. Yamato wrote about his feelings to a friend he had made in camp:
MAY 30, 1945 Dear Kawashiri san: We took the 8:20 train and reached the familiar Palo Alto Depot an hour later; there we had a cup of coffee. A friend met us there and brought us home, our home, from which we had been absent for three long years; we almost wept. . .
The inside of the house was not in a bad condition. . . but the garden had gone wild with trees overgrown and with weeds covering the entire ground and no help is available. We could almost weep at these awful sights. Thus my wife and I have been laboring like devils since our return; yet we are far from being settled.
The shadow of internment never lifted from the Ichihashis' lives. Even the chair in Japanese studies held by Ichihashi slipped into obscurity and went vacant until 1992, when the University discovered the oversight. The endowment income had been used for other purposes.
Some 50 years after Ichihashi's retirement - 30 years after his death - Stanford, honoring his memory and contributions to the university, renamed the position the Yamato Ichihashi Chair in Japanese History and Civilization. ST