“All they saw was my skin color”
“My family strongly objected over and over again! But what could be done? That man fell in love with me,” laughed Mari. However, this life was a cycle of harsh experiences.
Born in Yoshino, located in the Nara prefecture, Mari still longs for the cherry blossoms of her hometown. She married her husband, Doug, in 1960. They met when Mari was working in a co-op within the Tachikawa/Sunagawa Airfield, and it was love at first sight. “He would always come to the store. Even people around me would say, “he fancies you, you know?” and I began to think so too! I guess I somewhat admired him. He was just so handsome, and people said he looked a bit like Alain Delon.”
They went on lunch and dinner dates together. “Although I say that, it was just the snack bar in front of the base,” Mari laughed. Before long, they ended up living together, though Mari kept their relationship a secret from her family. Eventually, it had been decided that Doug would return to America. It was then that they were resolved to get married. However, just preparing the documentation took five years, so living separately for that time was unavoidable.
In 1960, Mari took off from Haneda on a Pan American flight and crossed the Pacific. It was headed for the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base where Doug was waiting to meet her. Thereafter, they relocated to Mississippi. “We went to the American South, the heart of racism at the time, so it was quite difficult. Everywhere you went, blacks and whites were segregated, so I wondered where I fit in and what my skin color was. When shopping, there were times when I was told: “There ain’t nothing for your kind here.” Even after we moved to Texas, it was no different. All they saw was my skin color.”
Doug’s position as a unit supply specialist for the army often left him absent, and he was even sent to Vietnam for the war. “I was always by myself.” She felt lonely, but now Mari says she is happy. “Washington is such a nice place. He chose it just for me. Even though he wanted to live on the east coast, close to his home state of South Carolina,” Mari said with tears in her eyes. Doug is currently suffering from a disease and is under medical care. “He has always been good to me. He really is a 100%, no a 110% good person. He was there for me through all the hard times, and I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for him. I want him to be well for as long as possible, even for just a day, so I want to do anything I can for him, as he has done for me.”
The Japanese Ladies Who Came to America as War Brides
From 1945 up until the ratification of the Treaty of San Francisco in 1952, many military personnel came to Japan as occupation troops. The Japanese women who married these men and immigrated to the US, were, on average, 23 to 24 years old, putting them in their 80s and 90s today. These were international marriages that overcame opposition from their families and prejudice from the people around them in an era when memories of war remained fresh in people’s minds.
Even after coming to America, they faced much adversity from the likes of racial discrimination and those around them who still saw Japan as the enemy. Through all of this, these women stood strong as they raised children and led the way for post-war Japan-America friendships on a grassroots level. One-sided journalism from Japan was also present, propagating a misleading stereotype of “Military Prostitutes.” However, in recent years, efforts to pursue the true nature of these relationships are increasing.
The first time “War Brides” were allowed entry into Seattle was in 1947. Afterwards, they gradually began taking up residence at Fort Lewis and Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. In the same region, home to an already well-established Nikkei community, these women were looked at coldly by second-generation Nikkei and their parents who immigrated before the war. The prejudice spreading in Japan had permeated itself into Nikkei society. Furthermore, even though they all shared Japanese blood, there was a cultural divide between the first generation Nikkei who came to America from the farmlands in the Meiji era, and the women who were brought up in the more urban areas during the Taisho and Showa eras.
Accounts still remain of the 1954 “War Brides’ Meeting” held in the Seattle Nikkei Community Center, of which approximately 20 “War Brides” attended with children in tow. In the late ’60s, further and more proactive involvement in the Nikkei community led to the founding of a group known as the “Kisaragikai.” Gradually, these women were beginning to be relied upon by the pre-war Nikkei community as “The young Japanese-speaking generation.”
- Ito, Kazuo. “Issei: a History of Japanese Immigrants in North America.” Seattle Japanese Community Service (1973).
- Yasutomi, Shigeyoshi. “アメリカ本土の戦争花嫁と日系コミュニティー (War Brides and Nikkei community in America).” Japanese Overseas Migration Museum (2011)
- Tolbert, Kathryn. “Untold Stories of Japanese War Brides.” Washington post (2016).