A History of Japanese Americans in California:
Terminal Island (also known as East San Pedro) was acknowledged in the years before World War II as a "typical Japanese fishing village." Until February 1942 a community of about 3,000 Japanese Americans resided and worked in the area of Terminal Way and Tuna, Cannery, Albacore, and Pilchard streets.
Development of the fishing industry in Southern California resulted from issei pioneering efforts with respect to gathering, drying, and canning abalone at White Point, and fishing for albacore off San Pedro. Mr. Hamashita is credited with being one of the first Japanese to commercially fish off San Pedro. He used the boat Columbia, purchased from a disbanded abalone company at White Point. Subsequently, other Japanese and Italians engaged in fishing at Terminal Island. By the summer of 1907, several hundred Japanese fishermen had moved to Terminal Island. Canning companies began production on the island, and many one-story fisherman's houses were built by the canneries.
In 1916, Fishermen Hall was built, and became the community center. The Baptist Mission was also constructed the same year. Many Japanese students attended the Mildred O. Walizer Grammar School (East San Pedro Public School), established in 1918. Tuna Street was the business center of the Japanese community, with restaurants, grocery stores, pool halls, barber shops, soft drink parlors, a dry goods store, and a meat market.
At first, Terminal Island was an all-male community, but the number of women and children slowly increased. Women worked in the canneries, such as Southern Fish Company and Van Camp. The main language on the island was Japanese; many cultural and sport activities, such as judo, kendo, sumo, and Boy's Day, reflected Japanese influences. Churches also offered Japanese-language schools.
As the fishing industry developed, changes in methods and technology occurred. At first, Hamashita used a fishing rod, then nets. The first boats were rowed, then used 15-horsepower gasoline engines, and eventually changed over to larger 100 to 500-horsepower engines, some using crude oil. By 1929, Yamato Ichihashi reports that there were 900 Japanese fishermen on Terminal Island who caught fish for the canneries on the island.
This community, with a population of approximately 3,000 by 1942, has particular significance with respect to the Japanese American internment during World War II. In February 1942, Terminal Island residents were the first to be forcibly removed from their homes. Many of the men were taken by the FBI in December 1941, even before civilian exclusion orders were issued by Lt. General John DeWitt, commanding officer of the Army's Western Defense Command. Those orders eventually resulted in the internment of more than 120,000 Japanese Americans.
Most of the families stayed in Southern California until the entire West Coast Japanese population was ordered to report for internment. The Japanese never returned to their homes on the island. Former residents still have very strong feelings about internment, and there still exists an organization called the "Terminal Islanders."
Today, there is no trace of the Japanese community that once contributed to development of the fishing industry in Southern California. All of the fishermen's houses and shops have been razed. Possibly the only remaining structure associated with Japanese Americans is the Terminal School, which Japanese school children attended. The building is now used by the U.S. Marine Corps. The former Japanese section of Terminal Island is currently occupied by canneries, oil companies, and warehouses.
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