Mitsuko “Mitsi” Matsuno Yanagawa ’43

Mitsi Matsunaga was born on February 16, 1919 to Kamezo Matsuno and Tomoyo Nishimura Matsuno. She was attending Oberlin Conservatory during the Pearl Harbor attack and the start of World War II. Despite growing up in America her whole life, she was questioned by FBI and her room was searched.  She graduated from Oberlin Conservatory in 1943 with a degree in Music Education. She continued her education and received an M.A. at the Teachers College of Columbia University in 1944. Mitsi worked for the State Department of Education as teacher and school administrator in Hawaii, becoming Vice Principal of the Kaiolani School. She also founded and became President of her own business, Kelden Enterprise.

In 1946, three years after graduation, she married Yoshio Yanagawa, who had been stationed in the army at Camp Shelby, Mississippi, and later became manager of Hula Land Travel. They had two children, Peter Nobuo Yanagawa and Lauri Mieko Yanagawa. At 92 years, Mitsi passed away in Honolulu on June 14, 2011. She is survived by her brother, Rex Matsuno, her children, one grandchild, and two great-grandchildren.

December 7, 1941

I was a junior when war started and was very alarmed over the ramifications of it all. Momentarily I wondered about my loyalty: “Which side do I belong?” But I only knew how to be an American! But would the Americans trust me?

My dormitory friends remained true friends, their relationship with me never severed. In fact, they were more sympathetic and especially so when the FBI came to investigate.

I was called down to be questioned while my house mother knitted in the background. I felt the FBI was awfully silly and stupid to spend time asking me questions about Japan, how the war started, and communism. How did I know? I had no secret communications. Reading about the bad relationship between the two countries, everybody should have known something was going to happen!

While I was being questioned, another agent went through my room to search for any suspicious materials. One of my dormitory friends hovered over the agent to make sure he left the place in order. And later she reported to me that nothing was taken out.

Is it laziness or the desire to forget all this as “the past” that I don’t wish to recount all the incidents during this period of my life?


1942, WWII: Oberlin College Welcomes Japanese-American Students

“Oberlin Offers a Friendly Welcome to Seventeen Japanese-American Students”

Oberlin News-Tribune, October 1, 1942

This community will be host during the coming college year to a group of approximately 17 students who, though they are all American citizens, are of Japanese ancestry.  Five of these young people have previously been enrolled here, but the others are new to Oberlin.  Eleven will arrive here this weekend who are evacuees from the Pacific coastal areas and who have been living in the evacuation camps of the West.

True to its best traditions the Oberlin community bids these Japanese Americans a completely friendly welcome.  They were all born in the United States—in California, Oregon, Washington, New Jersey and Hawaii.  They all have excellent records for scholarship, character and citizenship.   They have been excellently recommended by friends of Oberlin, and Oberlin College vouches for them.

Oberlin residents will look upon these students, certainly with unusual interest, but with neither prejudices nor suspicion.  The war situation makes their lot a difficult one.  Oberlin can help by treating them no differently than it treats any of its other 1800 or more student residents.

For an example of how not to act we can take that of Parksville, Missouri.  There in recent weeks, the mayor and city council have been “up in arms” over the prospective arrival of seven Japanese American evacuees as students.  Boasting that they were not as “soft” as the F.B.I., the city officials threatened to run these students out of town.

We do not believe there are any Oberlin citizens who are so lacking in common humanity, or whose patriotism is of such an empty, bombastic variety as would allow them to adopt the attitude of Parksville’s mayor.  If so they surely do not deserve the name of Oberlin, and we wish them elsewhere.

No, in this respect we are still the Oberlin of old.  We wish for these fellow American citizens an entirely happy and intellectually profitable stay in Oberlin.  May their experiences here only serve to strengthen their belief, and our belief, in the democratic way of living.

Mai Haru Kitazawa Arbegast ’45

Landscape architect Mai Haru Kitazawa Arbegast was born in San Francisco, California in 1922, the eldest of six children (June OC ’46, Ernest, Thomas, Rose, Helen), to Mr. Gijiu and Mrs. Kikuno Kitazawa, who owned the Kitazawa Seed Company in San Jose. She attended San Jose State College until WWII, during which the family was relocated and interned in a detention camp at Heart Mountain, WY. From here she was permitted to leave and attend Oberlin College, from which she graduated in 1945.

After Oberlin, she received a Masters in Ornamental Horticulture at Cornell University. Following the end of World War II, she and her family returned to San Jose, and Mai earned a second Masters degree in Landscape Architecture from UC Berkeley in 1953.  (In Cornell’s Department of Horticulture alumni newsletter, Mai noted she was “the only woman around as a graduate student in Horticulture from 1947-49”). After teaching in the UC Berkeley Department of Landscape Architecture from 1953-1967 while maintaining a professional practice, she opened up her own Landscape Architectural office, lecturing, touring, and consulting. She received numerous awards, including a Life Time Achievement Award from UCB and a Horticulturist of the Year award.

Mai married David Elwood Arbegast and they had four children, Deborah, Lisa, Michael, and Katherine, and granddaughters Victoria, Mikayla, and Allison. Mai passed away in April 2012.


Mai’s Berkeley Profile

Oberlin President Ernest Wilkins and some side-stories

About Oberlin President Ernest Hatch Wilkins – from the Oberlin Hi-O-Hi yearbook of 1941:

Realizing that Oberlin should teach its students to accept the social responsibility of good citizenship, President Wilkins this year sponsored a series of lectures on Democracy, Communism, and Fascism. He has also encouraged the growth of such organizations such as the Peace and Public Affairs Forum. Thus we respect our president as a scholar who does not think the problems of a material world beneath his consideration, but rather feels that the keen analytical approach of the scholar is necessary if the problems of the world are to be permanently solved. More than as a scholar, however, we respect our president as a man who will listen to our troubles, help us with our problems, and enjoy the familiar greeting, “Prexy”.

(After combing through the Oberlin Hi-O-Hi yearbook of 1941, I found only three Japanese American students at Oberlin: sophomores  Mitsuko Matsno and Ichiko Mukai, and freshman Harry Yamaguchi. Mitsuko and Ichiko were freshmen in 1940.)

President Wilkins in book of 1942:

The respect and faith which the entire student body feels towards President Wilkins was never more clearly manifested than on that Tuesday after Pearl Harbor, when, with an unparalleled frankness and a moving sincerity he spoke on Oberlin’s role in the war.

Throughout the year he has striven to keep student attention directed on important national and international affairs. Liberal in thought and interested in student activities, he has always been found by students a willing counselor and friend.

In 1942, Willard Glenn Sueoka was an enrolled freshman who joined Harry (soph), Mitsuko, and Ichiko (juniors). They were the only four Japanese-Americans enrolled at the start of the war.

In 1943 Harry Yamaguchi was one of the first Japanese-Americans who attended during the war to graduate from Oberlin. He later earned a Masters and a PhD, and became an assistant professor of psychology at Indiana University.

During the same year, Itsue Hisanaga (who married Harry) and William (Bill) Tokio Makino left Oberlin without graduating.

Yet more names:

  • Ruth Sachie Kono (Mrs. Edward G. Machara) nongrad of class of ’46, attended 1943-4
  • Nishiyama, John Minori 1942-3 nongrad of ’46

Some other interesting names of Japanese students I found in yearbooks were:

  • Hirazawa, Katsumi, ’43 from School of Theology (I have a feeling that this person may not be a Nisei, but from Japan; the only Japanese-American man I’ve seen in this school so far is Victor Tadaharu Fujiu of ’47)
  • Toshio Sadaie from Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan
  • Masaru Nakamura from Okawa, Kagawa, Japan. (So not actually related to my research.

At Oberlin in 1940, Masaru and Toshio were involved in the Cosmopolitan Club:

“Corda Fratres,” a club in which students of all nations are joined together for the purpose of stimulating a greater interest in international and inter-racial understanding and goodwill, and of spreading this interest throughout campus and nation. Twenty-one nationalities and twenty-two countries are represented.”

Many of the other Japanese-Americans who attended Oberlin were involved with this club as well.

Masaru Nakamura’s story is a tragic one. After leaving the Oberlin School of Theology in 1940, he returned to Japan to serve in the Imperial Navy, but was killed.


Masaru Nakamura, son of Taisuke and Tsuyue Nakamura, was born in Kagawa-ken, Japan, June 12, 190. He was graduated from the Theological Department of Doshisha University in Japan in 1932. In 1937 he entered Oberlin Graduate School of Theology and was graduated with the degree of Master of Arts. He returned to Japan in the summer of 1940 and was located in Tokyo. A letter from Michio Kozaki of the Oberlin class of 1917, written November 27, 1945, contained the information that Masaru Nakamura had died December 26, 1943, when the boat on which he was a passenger was hit by a U.S. submarine in the South China Sea. According to Mr. Kozaki’s information he was asked by the Japanese Navy department, in company with four other Japanese Christian pastors, to go on a mission to the south seas. He was survived by his wife and two children.

Later, one of our graduates, Alan Smith, was in Japan and met a Japanese friend of Mr. Nakamura who told him that he was an English language officer in the Japanese navy at the time he lost his life.

“My Life History” Oberlin Admissions Essay by Dave M. Okada ’44

The following is a transcription of the personal essay for admission to the *Junior class of Oberlin College, written by Dave Masato Okada from a Japanese-American internment camp during 1942. In this eloquent account, Dave accounts the hardships of having to work to afford to attend junior college and, once graduating, working full-time at 17 years old to support his four younger brothers after the loss of their parents, which leads him to develop a permanent heart condition. He speaks of the influence of his mother and how he overcame shyness through church work in which he had become a singer, leader, and public speaker. He had just married May Machida in the camp about a week prior.

“My Life History” by Dave M. Okada (photo)

The  month of August, 1914 is to the world the beginning of World War I. For the purpose of this brief autobiography, August, 1914 should probably be more significant as the time of my birth.

The family life of an immigrant Japanese home in California was not too conducive to what might be termed the ideal rearing of a child. My father, before claiming my mother as his picture bride, has incurred debts and obligations in starting a barber shop. As long as I can remember, those debts and obligations continued to harass him, bringing in its wake a certain amount of strain within the family circle due to financial difficulties. Since both of my parents were thoroughly occupied in raising a family of five boys, I was left pretty much alone to amuse myself in games improvised through my own imagination or through various sports such as baseball and football which I played with the neighborhood children.

Yet in all her busy hours, clothing and feeding my brothers and me, and helping in the barber shop in her spare time, my mother still utilized every opportunity to counsel me and to direct my thinking toward consideration of others and helping people who were less fortunate than we. Although I was little impressed by this advice and prompting in my early adolescent yers, its subsequent effect on my way of thinking and attitude toward life has been more than beneficial.

Very early in my childhood, I was fortunate in being taken to a Sunday School operated under the auspices of the Baptist denomination. The influence that I received in the many years that I attended the Sunday School faithfully and in which I eventually became a teacher and superintendent has, I believe, contributed invaluably to any claim of character and person integrity which I may hold today.

As to my education, I was not an exceptional pupil in my grammar and high school years, although my grades were better than average. A vivid recollection which comes to me in connection with my early school years (and which hindered my full development) is the fact that I was very shy with people and unable to express myself clearly before my classmates, teachers, and strangers and people with whom I was not acquainted. Fortunately for me, during my last year in high school, through attendance at the Baptist young people’s meetings and participation in its varied activities, I developed an interest in singing and speaking in public. Through a process which required great physical and mental effort in overcoming fear and nervousness before groups of people, I was able to become an active participant and eventually a leader in young people’s activities, both religious and secular. Probably the one person who helped me more than any single individual was a white American worker in our church who devoted much time and effort toward the development of my Christian life and full and proper use of my limited talents in the service of others. To her and my mother, I owe my deepest debts of gratitude for anything of value which I may have done to date.

When I was seventeen, I lost both of my parents and as a result, I had to support myself through two years of junior college as well as contribute toward a large portion of the maintenance of a home for my four younger brothers. Fortunately, during teh first two or three years,  insurance money provided sufficient means of support to help me finish junior college. However, soon after I graduated, it was necessary for me to devote all of my time to the support of my brothers. But I was unable to find a job which paid enough, and moreover, I developed a permanent heart condition which has restricted my physical ever since. The privations which we had to endure seemed almost unbearable at times, but through the assistance of friends and some aid from the welfare department of the State, we managed to struggle along.

In 1937, after finishing a course in accounting in a local commercial school, I took and passed an examination for a State civil service position. Through hard work and through conscientious effort, I received two promotions leading to a position requiring the acceptance of many responsibilities, which included for a period of two years immediately preceding my termination of State service the privilege and responsibility of directing the work of a large group of other civil service employees. But after five years of what I considered my best efforts, the present war resulted in my dismissal in my dismissal together with all other Japanese-American workers on charges questioning my loyalty to the country of my birth which had given me all the opportunities to make myself independent and self-supporting and to appreciate the democratic foundation of my country. Today, as a consequence of the war, I have entered a new phase of my life confined (physically) for the moment within the bounds of an internment camp. The future at best is uncertain and I do not know what great changes, both social and economic, will come about as the aftermath of this war to affect the lives of us American citizens of Japanese extraction.

The anticipation of new experiences hitherto uncharted and the knowledge of sharing these experiences with my bride of a little more than a week convey to me the thought that I am starting life anew beginning with World War II. Whatever lies ahead, I have implicit faith in a Divine Providence, a personal God who will direct me into proper avenue of service by which I can render myself useful to my fellow men.

In his application, Dave said that “[Oberlin’s] high academic standards, conservatory of music and its willingness to accept students of Japanese extraction” were features or advantages at Oberlin that most influenced him to attend. A “Mrs. William S. Brant” also encouraged him to attend.

Although he spent most time working while in school, he did speak in oratorical contests and before large church groups and conventions.

“I also sang with the McNeill Club, the oldest male chorus in this section of the state.”

Other activities in high school and Jr. College: baseball (V letter), Spanish Honor Society (secretary), book club, music & drama club.

Hobbies: singing, collecting operatic recordings, reading, attending concerts & lectures

On March 2, 1943, while studying at Oberlin, Dave took part in a convocation of Three Short Talks in Finney Chapel concerning Japanese-American Relocation; his portion was entitled “The Antecedents of Evacuation” . Dave appears to have been good friends with Kenji Okuda ’45 (another Nisei who became student body president at Oberlin- a progressive feat during the war) and Sammy J. Oi.

After graduating from Oberlin in 1944, Dave got a MA from University of Chicago in Sociology, for which he won a Julius Rosenwald Fund fellowship for studying the growth of racial attitudes of Nisei in Chicago, particularly towards Negroes. (An article documenting this was published in The New York Times, May 17, 1946). Eventually he rose to be an assistant sociology professor of sociology at Carleton College. In 1955 he was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to study and lecture at Waseda University, to which he was accompanied by his wife May and children Michael and Kimi. Dave sadly passed away in St. Paul, Minnesota at the early age of 44 from a heart attack.