Please view the main text area of the page by skipping the main menu.

Son of Japanese American who tailored for Gen. MacArthur shares dad's conflicted feelings

Satoshi Yoshiyama, left, looks down over the city of Hiroshima in the aftermath of the atomic bombing. He was interpreting for the British Commonwealth forces in 1946, when the picture was possibly taken. (Photo courtesy of Hiroyuki Yoshiyama)

TOKYO -- Hiroyuki Yoshiyama, 74, who has long run American Tailor in the Toranomon district of Tokyo, hopped on a shinkansen bullet train bound for Hiroshima one day in December 2021, with a bag containing several old photos in his hand.

    One of the photos captured two men on the rooftop of a building overlooking the city of Hiroshima, reduced to ashes by the atomic bomb that was dropped on Aug. 6, 1945. One of the men is in an Allied occupation forces uniform, half-sitting on a railing wall, while the other, in a suit with a deep-color felt hat on, is Yoshiyama's father, Satoshi.

    Satoshi was born in California in 1918 as a second-generation Japanese American. He moved to Japan in his teens and received Japanese-language education at the former Sanyo commercial school (present-day Sanyo High School) in the city of Hiroshima, where his father's parents' home was.

    It appears that many Japanese emigrants from Hiroshima at that time wished to educate their children in their hometown. The school Satoshi attended even had a Japanese language course for students of Japanese descent.

    Satoshi Yoshiyama, fifth from left in the back row, is seen at the Santa Fe internment camp in New Mexico in February 1945, where more freedom was allowed than at the Tule Lake camp. (Photo courtesy of Hiroyuki Yoshiyama)

    Satoshi eventually returned to the U.S. in 1937, four years before the outbreak of the Pacific War. On Feb. 19, 1942, then President Franklin Roosevelt signed an executive order resulting in the incarceration of Japanese Americans. Approximately 120,000 Japanese Americans were considered as "enemy aliens," and Satoshi was also interned.

    Just before his graduation from the University of San Francisco, Satoshi was pressed to decide which side he was to be on, Japan or the U.S., according to documents including his diary at that time and his letters with a lawyer. He was faced with an allegiance test of whether he had the will to fight as an American soldier and whether he would pledge allegiance to the United States and vow to disobey the orders of the Emperor and the Japanese government. Many Japanese Americans who replied "yes" to the questions complied with conscription and were deployed to Europe and elsewhere as American soldiers. Those who answered "no" and their families -- totaling some 12,000 people -- were sent to the Tule Lake internment camp in California, staffed with armed police. Satoshi was one of those detained there.

    The treatment of internees at the Tule Lake camp was very poor, and conflicts between the inmates and police officers came to a head in November 1943. The facility went on full alert and Japanese Americans who were deemed agitators were put in a prison attached to the camp without undergoing formal judicial procedures. Satoshi was imprisoned there in the same month. He went on a hunger strike for over a month as he was banned from even meeting and corresponding with outsiders.

    Satoshi eventually renounced his American citizenship. He found himself in the Santa Fe internment camp in New Mexico when the war ended in August 1945. He was repatriated to Japan by ship in November that year.

    -- Tule Lake internment caused emotional conflict

    Satoshi arrived in Japan in December 1945. He was interviewed by an Associated Press reporter at the Uraga repatriation relief bureau, which assisted with those who returned to Japan after the war and conducted quarantine. Satoshi was proud of and loved the U.S. as a democratic country, but his experience at the Tule Lake camp caused him emotional conflict. When asked about his renunciation of his American citizenship, Satoshi answered that he was pressured to do so. He revealed that he had a really tough time being treated in an undemocratic manner even though he was a good American citizen. When the reporter asked what he would do if the U.S. was to let him in again, he reportedly replied, with a little wistful look, that he wanted to go back to the U.S.

    On June 8, 1946, Satoshi's name appeared in an AP article again, this time datelined Hiroshima. He was living at his parents' home in the city along with wife Hisako, now 102, who he married at the Tule Lake camp. Their house, located about 5 kilometers from the hypocenter, had escaped damage from the atomic bombing, and all his siblings, except for his younger brother who died in action in the Philippines, were safe. He told the news agency that he wanted to be of help to Japanese people in building democracy on their own. His comment provides a glimpse of his positive change of mind for living in Japan.

    -- Sepia-toned photos telling untold stories

    Gen. Douglas MacArthur is seen in this 1945 photo provided by the U.S. Department of Defense.

    After briefly living in Fukuoka Prefecture -- his wife's home prefecture -- in southwestern Japan, Satoshi adopted three war orphans, probably because he saw his own past of being left at the mercy of the war in those children.

    In 1948, he and his family moved to Tokyo. In November the following year, Satoshi opened a tailor shop at Matsuya department store's Ginza main shop, which was confiscated by the Allied occupation forces as a post exchange (PX). The tailor shop's customer list included Gen. Douglas MacArthur, the supreme commander of the Allied occupation forces, and No. 2 Lt. Gen. Robert Eichelberger.

    After the derequisition of the department store in 1952, Satoshi relocated the tailor shop to Toranomon, close to the U.S. Embassy in Japan. However, he developed cancer, possibly due to his long years of overwork, and died eight years later at age 42.

    Satoshi Yoshiyama, center clad in a suit, is pictured with his employees at a tailor shop that he opened at a PX of the Allied occupation forces in November 1949. (Photo courtesy of Hiroyuki Yoshiyama)

    Satoshi's son, Hiroyuki, took over the shop after entering adulthood. About 20 years ago, he was sorting out items at his home and found photos of his father when he was in internment camps. Those sepia-toned photos rekindled his memory of what his father had told him in bits and pieces about those days, and gave him a more realistic picture of his dad's life.

    Along with the photos, a notebook was also found containing a long list of contact information of business partners, but the names of his father's friends from Hiroshima, whom he spent his youth together, were nowhere to be found. "He may have lost his friends to the atomic bomb. I assume he was shocked at the sight of the war's aftermath."

    As time passed and he himself got older, Hiroyuki made up his mind to pass down the tumultuous lives that many Japanese Americans had gone through to younger generations. The aim of his December 2021 shinkansen trip to Hiroshima was to donate the photos left by his father to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum.

    -- What the photos have to say

    Satoshi never returned to the U.S. after the end of the war, but he nicknamed a young Hiroyuki as "David" in case he ever had the chance to live in the U.S.

    Hiroyuki Yoshiyama shows his father's photos shot in Hiroshima, in this photo taken in the city's Naka Ward on Dec. 1, 2021. (Mainichi/Isamu Gari)

    His father was incarcerated in his homeland -- the U.S. -- and was rejected by the country. In addition, Satoshi's other hometown was burned to ashes by the atomic bomb. Nevertheless, he tailored uniforms for the top officers of the Allied occupation forces after the war. Today, there seems to be no way to know how his father felt about what had all transpired in his life.

    "Though he never spoke of it, my father may have had lingering affections with the U.S. I have many things I wanted to ask him if he were alive," Hiroyuki said. Just because he couldn't directly ask those questions and cannot pass down his father's memories, he hopes that people in generations to come will take away his father's thoughts from those photos.

    (Japanese original by Isamu Gari, Digital News Center)

    Also in The Mainichi

    The Mainichi on social media