Witness and Victim

Article excerpt

Yamato Ichihashi was born into a former samurai family n 1878 in Nagoya, Japan, and arrived in the United States on a student visa in 1894. After attending public school in San Francisco and graduating from Lowell High, Ichihashi entered Stanford University. He distinguished himself in his studies, completed his degrees in economics, and joined Phi Beta Kappa, the honor society He later received his doctoral degree in political economy from Harvard, studying with Frederick Jackson Turner, among others.

Although Ichihashi had planned to pursue an academic career in Japan, his mentor, Stanford President David Starr Jordan, and others at the university encouraged him to return to campus and teach subjects related to Japanese studies, then a new field in academia. Jordan was keenly interested in developing ties between Stanford and Asia and believed Ichihashi could develop the relationship. Jordan once wrote Baron Iwasaki, the head of the Mitsubishi Company and one of the wealthiest men in Japan, that Ichihashi was "one of the best students with whom I have ever come in contact" and was well qualified for "a professorship in any university."

Ichihashi assumed a post at Stanford reluctantly, however, since he was not trained as an Asianist and, as importantly, he was sensitive about the anti-Japanese prejudice in America. Federal law barred him and other Japanese aliens from obtaining citizenship. Until 1952, they were categorized as "aliens ineligible to citizenship." Even in the university community, he personally suffered much discrimination. But he decided to give Stanford a try and began teaching in 1913.

During the 1920s and 1930s, Ichihashi regularly wrote and spoke on Japanese history and diplomacy and, in 1928, published The Washington Conference and After, a history of the 1922 Washington Conference which addressed problems of naval armaments and Pacific security. Ichihashi had attended the meeting as the personal aide to the chief Japanese delegate, Baron Tomosaburo Kato, later prime minister of Japan. Ichihashi became a leading authority on Pacific relations and worked to improve U.S.-Japan mutual understanding.

At Stanford, he held the first endowed chair at the university. He served as acting chair of the History Department and actively participated in professional conferences and meetings on Japanese history and international relations throughout the West, including with the Institute of Pacific Relations, later vilified during the anti-communist witchhunts of the 1950s.

At the same time, Ichihashi never relinquished interest in the experience of his fellow Japanese in America. In his early career, he had written frequently about Japanese immigrants and argued against anti-Japanese publicists such as V. S. McClatchy, the powerful newspaper publisher. In 1932, he published Japanese in the United States, a foundational work for today's Asian American studies.

At the start of internment in 1942, Ichihashi was a senior professor at Stanford looking forward to retirement. Even before he left the Stanford campus, however, Ichihashi had decided that he would write a book about his life under internment. He sensed the historic significance of what was about to happen to him and the tens of thousands of other Japanese Americans, and he knew he was uniquely qualified to document that experience. He understood both Japanese and American cultures and ways as few did. He was fluent in Japanese, English, and a number of European languages.

He therefore documented his day-to-day life in internment, from the day he left Stanford until his return three years later. He began his record using Stanford examination "blue books" that he took with him. He also kept carbon-copies of his extensive typewritten correspondence with Stanford colleagues. Moreover, he kept a private diary in which he wrote about his encounters with camp administrators, conversations and meetings with other internees, observations about current events, and the difficulties in his personal life. …