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[TIMELINE] Beyond the Barbed Wire, String of Skinny Goldens

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  • madchinaman
    Beyond the barbed wire, a string of skinny goldens By Darrell Kunitomi, Special to The Times Darrell Kunitomi is an avid fly fisherman who lives in Echo Park.
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 26, 2009
      Beyond the barbed wire, a string of skinny goldens
      By Darrell Kunitomi, Special to The Times
      Darrell Kunitomi is an avid fly fisherman who lives in Echo Park.


      Heihachi Ishikawa was 53 when he was interred at Manzanar in 1942, and although he's dead, his exploits live on and should serve as an inspiration to thousands of anglers preparing for Saturday's opening of the Eastern Sierra trout-fishing season.


      The angler in this photograph has no smile and no first name known to us. He's remembered only as Ishikawa, Fisherman ¡ª a sweet and haunting mystery from a dark chapter in U.S. history.

      Toyo Miyatake made this portrait during World War II at the Manzanar War Relocation Center. It is on display at the Eastern California Museum in Independence, Calif., with other images that Miyatake made inside the camp.

      No one knows exactly how Ishikawa slipped away to go fishing. He holds the only evidence of his travels, freedom in a string of trout. His portrait embodies the vibe of Cole Porter's 1944 song "Don't Fence Me In."

      Oh give me land, lots of land, under starry skies above

      Don't fence me in

      Ishikawa had the face of those who "suddenly and deliberately" attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. Within three months, Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 authorizing the internment of Japanese Americans. Two-thirds were American citizens. Manzanar, 220 miles north of Los Angeles, was the first of 10 camps constructed of wood and tar paper. FDR called them concentration camps.

      Manzanar would house 10,000 people and become the biggest city between Los Angeles and Reno for the duration of the war. Ninety percent of its residents came from the Los Angeles area. There were some newlyweds too, Jack and Masa Kunitomi, my parents.

      The curtain of time obscures Ishikawa's full identity. Archie Miyatake, the photographer's son, recalls Ishikawa. "He lived in our block, but I never knew his first name. He fished a lot. He was gone for two weeks at a time."

      The War Relocation Authority recorded 156 Ishikawas throughout the 10 camps; seven men his age, with that name, were at Manzanar. The man in Archie's block had a birth date of 1899, making him around 55 at mid-war. His first name was Heihachi, but we can't be sure he's the fisherman.

      Send me off forever, but I ask you please,

      Don't fence me in

      Ishikawa found himself between a rock (Mt. Whitney, highest point in the Lower 48) and a hard place (Badwater in Death Valley, the lowest). He must have looked at the six-strand barbed-wire fence and dreamed and schemed, finally obsessing. And he left.

      "He must have gone at night," says the younger Miyatake. "That's what we did. But we only went up the stream, Shepherd Creek. We didn't go where he went." Native American guide Richard Stewart says, "No one knows exactly where he went."

      Perhaps a guard dozed when Ishikawa snaked past the machine guns and rifles in the towers, climbed the alluvial fans through scrub brush, then followed an ancient Paiute trail in Shepherd Canyon that eased the nearly vertical pitch of the Sierran escarpment.

      The fine brace he displays are the state fish, the riotously hued golden trout that exist at high elevations. Ishikawa may have fished the lakes at 11,000 feet, where there is but sky and rock, water and ice, where every granitic ledge is as sharp as a 1950s Cadillac fin.

      It is a supremely spare landscape, mind-bending, almost psychedelic in the scarce air. It has the stark beauty of a Zen garden, the perfect retreat for a prisoner of his ancestry. He went a ways to find it: He left the wire behind at 3,900 feet.

      These are trophy-size goldens. They're a species known for overpopulating and having stunted growth. He must be holding lake fish, fish that have wintered over a few years but bear snaky bodies and oversized heads. There isn't much for a fish to eat where Ishikawa explored.

      So he caught a bunch, probably with grasshoppers ¡ª that irresistible trout bait ¡ª then lugged the catch down the mountain and back through the wire. Miyatake then took the photo inside the camp. He also took the memory of Ishikawa's first name with him when he died in 1979.

      Others tell fish tales earned by slipping away from camps like Heart Mountain, hard by the side of the Shoshone River in Wyoming. But no man seems to have gone so far, so high and so alone as Ishikawa, Fisherman.

      Ishikawa must have felt he was on the roof of the world, compared to his government quarters below at Manzanar. I hope he found peace of mind and the happy loneliness common to solitary fishers. Local lore tells of Japanese characters inscribed on rocks up there. Maybe he left us his first name on the rocks of the Sierra.

      I want to ride to the ridge where the West commences,

      Gaze at the moon till I lose my senses

      In my mind's eye I see him sitting by a fire miles above the camp his country forced him into. He's picking at a golden he's cooked, wrapped in grasses, encased in mud, steamed to succulent perfection in the coals. He's using pine twigs as chopsticks.

      His fire lights the boulders around him, and he's made a bed of soft pine boughs and will sleep with only a wool blanket issued by Uncle Sam. Maybe he smiles at the heavens above.

      He's all alone under the Milky Way. He's watching shooting stars. And, as the poet said, he looks up in perfect silence, free.


      "Ishikawa, Fisherman" is on display through Aug. 1 at the Eastern California Museum in Independence, Calif. It's part of a 76-photo exhibition titled "Personal Responsibility: The Camp Photographs of Toyo Miyatake."


      Internment camp detainees risked all to fish
      By Ed Zieralski (Contact) Union-Tribune Staff Writer

      He was known as ¡°Ishikawa Fisherman,¡± a seemingly mythical person who disappeared for weeks at a time and returned with a stringer of trout.

      But Heihachi Ishikawa actually was a legendary and brave Japanese-American who would risk his life and sneak out of the well-guarded Manzanar World War II internment camp north of Lone Pine to go fishing.

      Ishikawa's mini-journeys from the mundane life in the relocation camp took him high into the Sierra where he created his own adventures with handmade fishing gear and caught California's golden trout.
      For 65 years, a photo taken of Ishikawa by fellow Manzanar internee Toyo Miyatake was the only photographic evidence that more than 150 of the Manzanar internees ¡°escaped¡± camp to go fishing. Manzanar was the first of 10 internment camps that housed an estimated 120,000 Japanese-Americans who were forcibly removed from their homes on the West Coast at the start of World War II. From March 31, 1942 to Nov. 21, 1945, Manzanar would hold more than 11,000 internees.

      Ishikawa's incredible story of living off the land in the hard Sierra mountain range for a couple of weeks at a time is one of many incredible stories of survival that make up Cory Shiozaki's work in progress. Shiozaki's partially completed documentary, ¡°From Barbed Wire to Barbed Hooks,¡± will preserve the stories of how Japanese-Americans used their ingenuity and called on their bravery to fish Sierra streams and lakes.

      ¡°The most important message I got after getting all the oral histories and experiences of the internees is how they were able to endure,¡± said Shiozaki, 59, a film maker from Gardena. ¡°The fabric of their character was like bamboo. They bent, but they bounced back and rebounded. There is an expression in Japanese, 'shigataganai,' which loosely translated means, 'it can't be helped.' They embraced that and found a way to live through it. That, more than anything, has inspired me to continue this project and has made me proud of my Japanese-American heritage.¡±

      Shiozaki will display photos, fishing equipment made in the camp and other items from Manzanar at next week's Fred Hall Fishing Tackle and Boat Show which runs Wednesday through Sunday at the Del Mar Fairgrounds. He said he has exhausted a $30,000 grant from the California Civil Liberties Public Education Program that enabled him to begin the project. Now he seeks funding so he can finish it.
      ¡°I'm determined to get this done, one way or the other,¡± Shiozaki said. Even though his parents were in internment camps, Shiozaki didn't learn of the camps until he read about them in a U.S. history class in high school. He later used Manzanar as the subject for his senior film project at Long Beach State.

      ¡°When I first heard about them I was angry because this country took over 120,000 Japanese-Americans out of their homes and businesses without due process,¡± Shiozaki said. ¡°And then after 9-11, it did the same thing to 5,000 Arab Americans, incarcerated them based on their ethnicity. Freedom is not free.¡±

      These days, Shiozaki is a docent at Manzanar. He also developed a lecture, tour and artifacts exhibit about the lives of the Manzanar anglers. This year marks the 40th anniversary of the annual pilgrimage to Manzanar, an event that usually coincides with the Sierra Trout Opener. Shiozaki gives walking tours that weekend and also serves as historian for the Manzanar Committee, a non-profit organization that also is sponsoring his documentary. He said any donation or sponsorship to help him finish his documentary would be tax-deductible.

      Shiozaki has been an avid Eastern Sierra trout angler since 1994. He figures he once spent 50 to 100 days a year in the Sierra. He guided fishermen from 2004 to 2008 and worked at the tackle shop at Crowley Lake.

      ¡°I noticed a whole bunch of Japanese-Americans up there fishing,¡± Shiozaki said. ¡°I'd passed Manzanar over 1,000 times, and I wondered if there was some connection to Manzanar, if somehow some of these fishermen's first experience trout fishing was at Manzanar.¡±
      When Manzanar opened as a National Historical Site in 2004, complete with an interpretive center, Shiozaki began asking if any of the surviving internees had fished. That started his journey. He heard tales of how one internee was shot at while trying to sneak out to fish. Another angler died in a blizzard when he turned the wrong way heading back to camp. They risked their lives because, as one of them, Archie Miyatake of Montebello, son of famous still photographer Toyo Miyatake, said: the air just ¡°smelled better¡± outside the camp when they were fishing.


      Ishikawa Fisherman

      Probably the most remarkable person that I have found during my research of this project was a man who took the challenge that only few men would attempt to do even by todays standards and that is to pursue the "Golden Trout".

      This man's identity has been a mystery for decades and he is only known by his family name of "Ishikawa". This man lived in the same block as the famed photographer Toyo Miyatake who lived in Block 20, Barrack 12, Apartment 4. This man's first name is believed to be "Heihachi" because records show there was a man by that name in the Manzanar registry who was about his age presumably in his mid 50's. This man was known only as "Ishikawa Fisherman" among his fellow internees and became somewhat of a legend in Manzanar because he would leave the camp for weeks at a time carrrying only scarce amount of rations in his trek to go after the "golden trout". It is presumed that he must have had to catch a lot of trout to survive being away from the camp the weeks he was out. There was no way he could carried enough provisions to sustain life without living off the land.

      I could only envision this man fishing in solitude high in elevation over 12,000' and being closer to the heavens then the rest of internees who were stuck within the confines of the barbed wire below. I can also imagine this man having to drop down below the snow line to timberline to cook his trout on an open fire enjoying his brief moments of freedom.

      Archie Miyatake recalls the day that his father Toyo took this photo. Upon returning to camp, Toyo who was a trout fisherman before he was interned saw "Ishikawa Fisherman" with trout that he had never seen before. He was so impressed with its beauty, he detained Mr. Ishikawa while he ran to get his cameras. Not only did he take a phtograph in black and white but he also shot some color Kodachrome photos of his catch. During this time, color film was extremely difficult to come by but Toyo was not going to let a once in a lifetime photo opportunity slip by.

      T¨­y¨­ Miyatake

      T¨­y¨­ Miyatake (ŒmÎä–|Ñó,[1] Miyatake T¨­y¨­; 1896¨C1979) was a Japanese American photographer, best known for his photographs documenting the Japanese American people and the Japanese American internment at Manzanar during WWII.

      Miyatake was born in Kagawa, Shikoku in Japan in 1896. In 1909 he migrated to the United States to join his father. He settled in the Little Tokyo section of Los Angeles, California.

      With an interest in arts - most notably, photography, which he studied under Harry K. Shigeta[2] - Miyatake began associating with the local arts community. In 1923 he bought his photo studio. Miyatake encouraged fellow photographer Edward Weston to exhibit his work and Miyatake is credited as giving Weston his first gallery showing.[citation needed]

      At the time Miyatake met his future wife, it was his brother that was courting her. He began spending time with her under the guise that he was using her as a model. His brother was crushed and it is said that he "died of a broken heart" at an early age.[citation needed]

      Before WWII, Miyatake's photography won awards[citation needed] as he photographed various personalities.

      During WWII Miyatake was interned at Manzanar relocation camp in the Owens Valley. He smuggled a camera lens into the camp and constructed a camera body from wood. The pictures he secretly took at the camp are the only ones that show the plight of US Citizens detained in the camps during the war.[citation needed]

      After the war, the family returned to Los Angeles, where their home had been entrusted to some of their white friends during the internment. Unlike many families who lost their homes, the Miyatakes were able to resume their life and also provided shelter to a few less fortunate internees and their families. In post-war Little Tokyo, many residents were unable to afford Miyatake's services and some opted instead to barter goods to have him photograph weddings and portraits. With his wife Hiro running the front office, she once negotiated his services for a Steinway piano and another time, she negotiated for a litter of poodles.[citation needed]

      After the death of his wife Hiro in 1971, Miyatake moved from his home on Third Street in East Los Angeles to live in neighboring Monterey Park, with his daughter and her family.

      He remained active in the studio throughout this period. In the early morning, Miyatake could be seen walking around Monterey Highlands Elementary School for exercise. The last image he captured on film was taken at this park. The film was discovered and processed after his death.[citation needed]

      Before his death in 1979, Miyatake and Ansel Adams produced a book together called Two Views of Manzanar, a compilation of their photographs during the internment.

      All of Miyatake's children were involved in photography and the family business. Archie, the eldest son, ran the family studio after T¨­y¨­'s death in 1979. Robert Miyatake worked in the studio and later opened his own photographic color lab in South Pasadena, California. Richard (Tabo) worked in the family studio as well and left to work in photographic production. Youngest child and only daughter, Minnie, also worked in the studio performing clerical and business-related duties. A handful of Miyatake's grandchildren continue the tradition to this day.[

      Toyo Miyatake
      The Toyo Miyatake Studio moved in 1985 to San Gabriel, California, where it still operates today. The studio is now managed by grandson, Alan Miyatake.[3]

      One of Miyatake's prized possessions was his white 1957 Ford Thunderbird, which now belongs to his youngest grandson, Mark Takahashi.[citation needed]

      Miyatake was easily recognizable in Little Tokyo, wearing his trademark black beret and bowtie.[citation needed]

      In the TV movie Farewell to Manzanar, Pat Morita portrays Zenahiro, a character based on Miyatake.[citation needed]

      In 2002, Robert A. Nakamura made the film, Toyo Miyatake: Infinite Shades of Gray, documenting the photographer's life and work.

      In 2009, the film, Toyo's Camera was released, documenting the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II through the perspective of the photographer's images. Narrated by George Takei, music by Kitaro. http://www.toyoscamera.com/


      Toyo Miyatake
      Photographer (1895-1979)

      Toyo Miyatake (1895-1979) was a leading figure in the Los Angeles Little Tokyo area and a noted photographic artist. He was born in Kagawa, Japan and immigrated to the United States in 1909 to join his father. At age 21 he took up the study of photography.

      In 1923 Miyatake purchased the Toyo Photo Studio, which coincidentally bore his own name. He became an established photographer, associating with photographers such as Edward Weston and winning prizes in exhibitions including the 1926 London International Photography Exhibition.

      In 1932 he photographed the Olympic Games in Los Angeles for the Asahi Shimbun and eventually started his own studio. During World War II, the Miyatakes were sent to Manzanar concentration camp. After the war, Miyatake reopened his studio in Little Tokyo and worked as a freelance photographer for the Rafu Shimpo newspaper, the largest Japanese American newspaper in the United States.


      For some Manzanar internees, trout fishing symbolized freedom, adventure
      Pete Thomas

      Heihachi Ishikawa was 53 when he was interred at Manzanar in 1942, and although he's dead, his exploits live on and should serve as an inspiration to thousands of anglers preparing for Saturday's opening of the Eastern Sierra trout-fishing season.

      Those are golden trout on Ishikawa's stringer; they were captured in the high country by a determined fisherman who went under the barbed-wire fence and hiked to or beyond the 10,000-foot Sierra crest, and spent days camping and fishing.

      Despite limited funding, Cory Shiozaki is nearing completion of a documentary about the estimated 300 to 400 Manzanar internees who would sneak past guards under the cloak of darkness to fish nearby creeks and far-flung lakes. The project is entitled "From Barbed Wire to Barbed Hooks: Fishing stories from Manzanar."

      I recently spent a day at Manzanar with Cory and three former internees to research a story scheduled to run before Saturday's trout opener. All three gentlemen shared wonderful yarns about what it meant to be on the other side of the wire with homemade fishing poles in hand.

      Said Archie Miyatake, 84, who was 16 when he first went AWOL, or angling without leave: "Once you were out, you feel like you were in a free area. It was quite a nice feeling just to be out, just to know you could sneak out."


      Manzanar: "From Barbed Wire to Barbed Hooks"...fishing stories from Manzanar

      I am compiling information for an exciting project documenting the history of Manzanar internees who snuck out of the Internment camp under the noses of armed military guards to go trout fishing. I want to tell the story of the Japanese American internees -- imprisoned as "enemy aliens" during World War II as a result of Executive Order 9066 (even though they were American citizens) ¨C who sought to experience a feeling of freedom, however brief, as they matched wits with the wily trout of the famed Eastern Sierra fishing grounds.

      On Labor Day Weekend 2009, I am planning my 4th Annual Lecture & Walking Tour at the Manzanar National Historic site & Interpretive Center sharing my research screening an 18 minute video presentation and afterwards leading visitors to fishing spots on a walking tour. For further details contact Visitor Information: 760-878-2194 Ext. 2710

      So far, I have researched archives at the Manzanar National Historic Site & Interpretive Center and interviewed 25 actual survivors, who shared their experiences. The Manzanar Relocation Center was opened March 21, 1942, and with 10,000 internees, was instantly the largest town for 200 miles in any direction. In the early days, there was even the threat of being shot for venturing beyond the barbed wire fences. Nevertheless, for the imprisoned fishermen, it was worth the risks to enjoy brief moments of doing something a free man takes for granted... something like trout fishing

      For the past 16 years I have been an avid trout fisherman, spending between 50-100 days a year at it, mostly in the Eastern Sierra. I concentrate most of my time fishing at Crowley Lake, and for some years now, I've been a seasonal employee at the tackle shop there. A few years ago, I became a licensed and bonded trout fishing guide.

      While working at Crowley, I noticed thousands of Japanese Americans, including Nisei (second generation), Sansei (third generation) and Yonsei (fourth generation), coming annually to fish. On some days, as many as half of the anglers would be of Japanese descent. I already knew that the Manzanar Relocation Camp was nearby -- down in the Owens Valley along Hwy 395 near Independence and on the way to Crowley from L.A. -- and I began to ponder the question, "Did any of Japanese Americans who fish the Eastern Sierra today get their first experience trout fishing while they were interned at Manzanar?"

      I visited the Manzanar National Historic Site & Interpretive Center in 2004 to find out if there were any records or information about its internees leaving the compound to go trout fishing. Ranger Richard Potashin confirmed that, indeed, there were internees who went trout fishing, and there were even some who actually did sneak out when the heaviest security was being enforced. I was on the right track!

      I explained to Ranger Potashin that Manzanar had always been a subject of critical importance to me because of my own Japanese heritage. (In fact, it was the subject of my senior film project while a film student in college.) Because of my interest in this subject, I was invited to become a docent at theHistoric Site & Interpretive Center, and since then, I've developed a lecture, a tour and artifacts exhibit about the Manzanar fishermen. I have already interviewed about a dozen people, including actual survivors who shared their stories. Some of them even donated artifacts like their original fishing gear for the exhibit. I'm continuing my research and am currently compiling an archive of audio and video interviews for the Interpretive Center's historic database. A documentary film is also in the works.

      If anyone reading this knows someone who was sent to Manzanar and went trout fishing while they were interned, please have them contact me so I can ask them to be interviewed for this time sensitvie project.

      This project is based on careful research from interviews, documents, resource information from the Eastern California Museum and the assistance from the Manzanar National Historic Site and Interpretive Center. Any comments, corrections, or additions are welcomed and appreciated.

      In 2008-2009 I was awarded a grant from CCLPEP (California Civil Liberties Public Education Program). This grant was utilized in filming the oral histories of surviving internees who shared their experiences of leaving the barbed wire of the camp just to enjoy brief moments of freedom from their incarceration by going trout fishing. I am committed in completing this compelling documentary film but I am in need of the community's support. If you would like to help, please send your tax deductible donation to:

      The Manzanar Committee
      1566 Curran St.
      Los Angeles, CA 90026

      Please place in the memo bar that it is for the "Barbed Wire to Barbed Hooks" project. The Manzanar Committee is a registered 501 (c)3 non-profit organization and all donations are tax deductible.
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