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Local Japanese-Americans Faced Suspicion and Hardship After Pearl Harbor Attack

The 1940 Census showed roughly one out of three local residents were of Japanese ancestry.


Pearl Harbor attack

Photo: WWII Valor in the Pacific


In 1941, any “loud popping noise coming from the sky” meant antiaircraft practice. So Roland Tatsuguchi, then age 11, scrambled to the rooftop of his minister father’s Buddhist temple. He saw black smoke rising from Pearl Harbor, but didn’t realize it was from a real-life attack. Suddenly, two low-flying, single-wing planes appeared and he saw the Red Sun emblem of Japan. “Then I heard a big explosion in the McCully area,” recalls Roland, now 86. Later, he learned American antiaircraft fire caused the explosion at the corner of McCully and King streets.


The Tatsuguchi family’s Japan-born father was a leader in the McCully-Mō‘ili‘ili Japanese community and rushed out carrying offertory rice from the temple to an emergency shelter at the McCully Japanese language school where he taught. He joined a volunteer team to clear the bombed area, where Chef Mavro now stands. 


That evening, in keeping with Japanese custom, the six Tatsuguchi children, ages 11 years to 6 months, waited with their mother for their father to return to share a family meal together. Before he could sit down, a knock on the temple door took him away.


“I peeked outside to see Father being lifted under his arms by two soldiers and carried away,” remembers eldest daughter Cordelia (now Larson). The family did not see him again for four years. He was sent to five different internment camps on the Mainland. “Mother chose to stay instead of joining him in camp,” says Lois (Suzuki), then age 6. “She kept our family together and the temple running for the community.” 


The Rev. Goki Tatsuguchi was one of some 200 Japanese-American community leaders taken on Dec. 7. He returned on Nov. 23, 1945—one of the last Hawai‘i men finally allowed to return home.


Want to attend Pearl Harbor anniversary events this week? Check out our guide to commemorating Pearl Harbor’s 75th anniversary. 


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Honolulu Magazine September 2018
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