Yokohama, the Home Port of Cosmopolitans
SJC Graduates Flap Their Wings and Leave for the World
Part 4 of a monthly series of articles for Mainichi Shimbun written by Professor Hiroshi Onishi of Ferris University – August 4, 2018 edition (translated by Joji Ozawa ‘64)
Following the postwar recovery of Yokohama, the student body of Saint Joseph College (SJC), a school for foreign children, grew to over 450 by the year 1970. However, the withdrawal of the U.S. military from Yokohama, combined with the birth of new international schools in Tokyo, resulted in the dwindling of SJC enrollment in the following years. Finally, in the late 1990’s, the SJC administration decided to close the school in 2000, ending its 99-year old history. This decision not only shocked the citizens of Yokohama but also caused much sadness among the parents of students, as another old landmark on the Bluff (Yamate) was disappearing. After the school compound was leveled to the ground, many residents on the Bluff (Yamate) held strikes to protest against this wanton land development.
The history of postwar SJC mirrors the history of Yokohama and of Japan itself, with its defeat and restoration from the rubbles. Some notable postwar graduates include E.H. Eric and his younger brother and actor Okada Masumi (Otto Sevaldsen), the personality Mickey Yasukawa, the country & western singer Willy Okiyama, and the English teacher on the NHK program “English for Millions” J.B. Harris. Locally, Motomachi produced some well-known personalities like the entrepreneurs of the established Takarada chinaware shop, the French restaurant Mutekiro, and the pastry shop Kikuya. In Chinatown, SJC graduates succeeded with much aplomb in operating Chinese restaurants like Manchiro, Junkaikaku, Heichinro, and Kaseiro.
Six years ago, in the spring of 2012, I was vacationing in Carmel, California, and happened to spread out a map on a street corner, when an elderly American couple approached me and suddenly started talking to me. I explained that I was visiting from Yokohama and the gentleman replied that he had lived on the Bluff (Yamate) for 40 years. He introduced himself as Donald Baumann (since deceased), that he graduated from SJC in 1952 and that his father and son were also at one time students of SJC.
I advised him that I was doing research on the history of intercultural exchange of Yokohama City. He then introduced me to Ken Suzuki who was a committee member of the SJC Alumni Association/USA Chapter, and living in Los Angeles. Ken is a second generation Japanese-Canadian born in Vancouver, Canada, and whose parents originally came from Yokohama. When the war broke out, his family was forced into an internment camp in Tashme, Canada, together with about 2,600 other Japanese-Canadians at this one particular camp. When the war ended, his family returned to Yokohama where he worked his way through school at a small hotel in Chinatown, then called Yokaro, and now called Yokohama Dai-Sekai, graduating in 1953. He told me that his younger brother was a classmate of Okada Masumi who frequently came to play at their house in Isogo, Yokohama.
Ken, who managed a travel agency in Canada, and later the owner of one in the United States, was able to contact many of the SJC graduates in Canada and the U.S., being one of the key committee members of the USA Chapter of the SJC Alumni Association. In 2012, he introduced me to Tom Haar of Hawaii (class of ’60), of Hungarian ancestry. Tom followed in the footsteps of his famous father Francis as a photographer. His parents who were born in Budapest, moved to Paris in 1937, and became friends with the renowned photographer Robert Capa. Francis also became friends with some famous Japanese such as architect Junzo Sakakura, artist Tsuguharu (Leonard) Fujita, and cultural entrepreneur Hiroshi Kawazoe, who were all working in Paris at that time. When the war in Europe erupted in 1939, Kawazoe invited the Haars to Japan. They first lived in Tokyo, where Tom was born in 1941 and then evacuated to Karuizawa during the war. After the war, the family moved to Kamakura, from where Tom commuted to SJC for an hour and a half each way.
Ken and Tom informed me of the upcoming 2013 SJC Mega-Reunion to be held at the Los Angeles Airport Hilton. To grasp this opportunity to meet as many of their schoolmates as possible, I flew to L.A. and Ken picked me up at the airport. Ken brought along his schoolmate Zufer Majid, who lived in San Francisco (class of ‘55). Zufer, of Turkish ancestry, returned to his homeland after graduating from SJC, and served in their Navy. After fulfilling his required time in the service, he immigrated to the U.S. and worked for Japan Airlines at San Francisco International Airport until retirement. Although he looks completely “gaijin”, he spoke Japanese fluently and loved to sing Enka, traditional Japanese songs, at local karaoke establishments. He showed me some of his old pictures.
Nostalgic pictures of Zufer in the Turkish Navy,in the school soccer squad, and with the famous actor and schoolmate Masumi Okada at an alumni party.
The 2013 SJC Mega-Reunion was attended by 120 alumni and it turned out to be an enjoyable and memorable event. I became acquainted with Willie Da Silva (class of ’55, since deceased), who advised me that his great grandfather came to Yokohama from Portugal in 1860. His grandfather was referred to as “Devil Da Silva” by his fellow stevedores in Yokohama for his short temper. The Da Silva family was well known in the Yokohama foreigner community during the prewar days.
I also met another person by the name of Jimmy Walker (class of ’57) whose Japanese screen name was Osamu Ohkawa. It so happened that I saw him in many movies and TV dramas in Japan in my childhood days. Although he had to act in roles that portrayed a person of strong character, I noticed that his character in real life depicted a person of much gentleness and kindness. He mentioned that he performed together with such famous actors as Shintaro Katsu and Kazuo Hasegawa.
Another person attending the reunion was Cheong Yong Gook (class of ’53), who came all the way from Oregon. He told me that he experienced the great 1944 air raid of Tokyo when attending Fukagawa Elementary School in Tokyo. He also blurted out the tremendous suffering he experienced as a Korean living in Japan during the war and that the teacher he admired most was his elementary school teacher by the name of Kunio Hotta. His strong desire to learn English inspired him to enter SJC, where he graduated from and went on to further his studies in the U.S., becoming an orthodontist and opening his own clinic in Oregon.
As described above, many persons of different cultures had their roots in Yokohama, and they were all the forerunners of the present Japan’s internationalization. It would not be an exaggeration to say that SJC was the home port of these cosmopolitans.
(Next publication to be issued on Sept. 7, 2018)
For details, please refer to the article “People on the Bluff Who Attended International Schools”, published by Quarterly Yokohama, No. 41, July 2013, issued by Kanagawa Shimbun and Yokohama Civic Affairs Bureau.