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Honoring Japanese-American WWII internment hero, Jimi Yamaichi

National Archives
Japanese-Americans board a bus bound for internment camps during WWII.

Correspondent Tom Wilmer interviewed San Jose, California resident, Jimi Yamaichi in February 2017. Yamaichi passed away May 12, 2018.

In commemoration of the 80th anniversary of a dark day in America when President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 forcing the relocation and internment of all Japanese Americans residing in California’s coastal region we are re-sharing Yamaichi’s poignant conversation.

Japantown, located in downtown San Jose has been a vital part of Santa Clara Valley’s history since the 1890s. The insular Japantown neighborhood provided the Japanese with a safe-harbor place to shop and socialize.

Within two months of the onset of WWII, Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066 forced all Japanese to pack their bags and relocate to internment camps far from the Pacific Coast.

Wilmer met with Jimi Yamaichi, when he was 94 years-old, in San Jose’s Japantown.

Yamaichi recalls the life of Japanese Americans in California dating back to the 1880s and most poignantly the time when he and his family were ordered to report to the San Jose State University Gymnasium and life in the internment camp.

National Archives
Japanese American youth gaze out across barbed wire fence at Manzinar Internment camp in the Eastern Sierras near Independence, California.

The Yamaichi family boarded a train for Southern California, where they and the rest of San Jose’s Japantown community were processed and sent to various internment camps such as Manzanar, Tule Lake, and Heart Mountain.

National Archives
Japanese Americans en route to internment camps in 1942 following President Roosevelt's executive order 9066

When Yamaichi returned to San Jose in 1946 from Tule Lake internment camp, a brutal struggle to secure a union carpenter’s-card ensued. He eventually went to work in the building trades as the first Asian carpenter accepted by the local union hiring hall.

15 years after World War II, Yamaichi was still confronting racism. In 1960, when he tried to purchase a home in San Jose, his offer was flatly refused solely because he was of Japanese ancestry.

Tom Wilmer
Jimi Yamaichi February 2017

Jimi Yamaichi's conversation was selected for repost as a curated Best-of-the-Best Journeys of Discovery travel broadcast.

You are invited to subscribe to the Lowell Thomas Award-winning podcast travel show, Journeys of Discovery with Tom Wilmer, featured on the NPR Podcast DirectoryiHeartRadioApple Podcast

Tom Wilmer produces on-air content for Issues & Ideas airing over KCBX and is producer and host of the six-time Lowell Thomas award-winning NPR podcast Journeys of Discovery with Tom Wilmer. Recorded live on-location across America and around the world, the podcasts feature the arts, culture, music, nature, history, science, wine & spirits, brewpubs, and the culinary arts--everything from baseball to exploring South Pacific atolls to interviewing the real Santa Claus in the Arctic.