The Lost Japanese Fishing Community from San Pedro

SAN PEDRO — Beginning in the early 1940s, 3,000 first and second-generation Japanese made their homes in an area of Terminal Island known as East San Pedro. The Japanese Fishing Village was next to Fish Harbor, and many of the locals worked in the fishing industry. When a dozen Japanese fishermen settled on Terminal Island at the turn of the twentieth century, it was still a rural stretch of land with around 200 homes. Originally known as Rattlesnake Island due to the snakes that would gather after torrential storms, it had recently been renamed after its new owner, the Los Angeles Terminal Railway.


Approximately 250 fishing boats were owned and operated by the residents. Most of the local people, not working on the boats, worked in the many fish canneries clustered together on Terminal Island. Because Terminal Island was somewhat isolated, the islanders developed their own culture and even their own dialect. The people called their close community village “Furusato,” which translated to “old village.” An English equivalent would be “hometown,” “native place,” or “home sweet home.”


The village had a Fisherman’s Hall where the Japanese martial arts judo and kendo were taught, a Shinto Shrine, ethnic grocery stores, candy stores, and billiard parlors. Children attended Walizer Elementary School and took the ferry to high school at San Pedro High School.


December 7, 1941, changed Terminal Island forever. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the FBI immediately took all the non-native Japanese fishers and community leaders into custody, and all traffic to and from the island was suspended. Only some men were released; the others were reunited with their families only later, at detention centers. The women and children were left to fend for themselves financially, leaving many families in dire straits for months.


Then, on Feb. 19, 1942, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066. The order sent 120,000 Japanese Americans to internment camps. Of the ethnic Japanese people forced into internment camps, about 62 percent were Nisei and Sansei (2nd and 3rd generation Japanese) and were natural-born American citizens. The other 38 percent were Issei (Japanese immigrants) who were either naturalized American citizens or resident aliens.


In February of 1942, Terminal Island residents were the first Japanese Americans on the West Coast to be forcibly removed from their homes. They were forced to evacuate their homes within 48 hours and had to leave almost all of their possessions behind, including all of their fishing boats and gear. Nevertheless, some were able to sell their furniture, fishing gear, boats, and other items. Unfortunately, since the residents only had 48 hours to complete the transactions, they were often forced to sell at meager prices.


On Feb. 27, 1942, The Daily Breeze reported that all civilians were forced to leave the island as the military took over.


The Japanese Village was stripped of anything of value and flattened by bulldozers, and destroyed. The fishing boats were either taken by the military, repossessed, stolen, or destroyed.


The exclusion order was rescinded on Jan. 2, 1945; internees were released with $25 and a ticket home. They returned home to find nothing; Furusato was gone without a trace. The canneries were still operating, and a few people returned to work. The rest of the former residents were scattered. The former Japanese villagers were worried the memory, culture, and history of Furusato would be lost forever. Nevertheless, they stayed in touch and tried to keep the memories alive.


In 1971, they formed the Terminal Islanders Club. Since its formation, the members have coordinated reunions, golf games, picnics, and other activities. However, now in their 80s, the Nisei worry about the future of the various events for the members. Therefore, in 2002, the surviving second-generation citizens set up a memorial on Terminal Island to honor their Issei parents and to preserve the memory of their Furusato, their “Home Sweet Home.”


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