Densho Digital Repository
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Ronald Ikejiri Interview
Narrator: Ronald Ikejiri
Interviewer: Tom Ikeda
Location: Los Angeles, California
Date: February 6, 2019
Densho ID: ddr-densho-1000-461-20

[Correct spelling of certain names, words and terms used in this interview have not been verified.]

<Begin Segment 20>

TI: Before we to go the White House, there's something that I also read, and I forget about this in terms of national politics in the White House. They're thinking of Japan, also, the Japanese government, and perhaps perceptions they may have in terms of this issue with the Japanese American community. Did JACL, did you and others in JACL, or people you talked with, whether in Congress, ever discuss what viewpoints Japan might have on redress or how that might play out in terms of any politics? I was just curious because I was reading Jack Svahn's book, and how he said, internally, they were kind of, people against redress were spinning it that, "Well, if we do redress, it might piss off the Japanese government." Did that ever come up?

RI: From my standpoint, from my interaction with the Japanese press, because with the National Press Office, Asahi Shimbun, Yomiuri Shimbun, Mainichi, whatever, they would come in and we would talk. And they were just amazed that Japanese Americans can raise an issue like this and bring it to the forefront of the American politics and have coverage. And so, I think NHK and other programs, we had a series of discussions and interviews and walkthroughs. I remember one time they were following us through the Congress as we went from office to office and tried to get support. And I think, at that time, for Japanese to see the Americans of Japanese ancestry were doing this, and they're doing this all because they were bombed by Japan during World War II.

TI: Right. So that gets a little complicated, right? That's a little complex.

RI: Well, what I like about it is this. Whenever I had visitors from Japan, whether Japanese businesspeople or Japanese politicians or otherwise, at the Smithsonian Institution at the time, they had the...

TI: More Perfect Union?

RI: Yes, and then they had the internment, the barracks. Of course, they were much nicer than anything that would have been in Heart Mountain or Manzanar or anywhere else. And I would show them this, I wouldn't say too much, they understood. And themselves, they're not there to defend Pearl Harbor, they're not defending the judgment of the Japanese Imperial Army or anyone else, but they had to understand that the welcomeness that they enjoy today in America, or they enjoy, after World War II, I can get into it later, but why did Honda, Nissan and Toyota all end up really in the South Bay and Gardena in those areas, is because they found a community that has already been accepted by the American people, Japanese Americans. They worked hard, they keep their nose clean, they raised their children here, and they have all this infrastructure so they were able to come in and they would be successful. Otherwise there would have been Japan-bashing from the get-go, from the very beginning. And so that was alleviated, mitigated in large form. But from a Japanese government, very interesting perspective on Japanese government. The JACL had a number of meetings maybe one every three months with the embassy of Japan, different ministries, whether it's the Educational Ministry, Finance Ministry, Cultural, whatever it may be, to see how we could do more cultural exchanges. I'm sure Japan looked at Japanese Americans as a way in which they can have a greater acceptance.

And so we would have these meetings, and I remember one year we were up in New York City, and we were at the Ambassador Asao, I think he was Ambassador to the United Nations for Japan. And we're there after dinner at his residence, and Frank Sato was there. A couple other Nisei were there, I was the only Sansei. And so at that time they were talking about the U.S.-Japan security agreement where in the event Japan's attacked, America will defend Japan, same thing that we have in effect today. So they'd go around the room, they asked every one of the Nisei what they think about that agreement. And so, you know, typical Nisei, "Oh, good idea, very important." They get to me, well, I was twenty-eight, twenty-nine years old, so then I said, "Well, from my perspective, every country should be able to defend itself." And I said, my example is this, and I said it in partly Japanese, like, "Moshi, in the event that there is a ballistic missile attack from Russia to Tokyo, you have thirty seconds to a minute to decide whether or not you're going to defend yourself."  At that time, Russia was going to attack Washington, D.C, probably we got twenty minutes to decide what we're going to do. I'm the President of United States. By the time I get the message that you've been attacked, Japan is gone. That decision is over. And if I'm President of the United States, I'm going to worry about the United States first, not Japan first. So I said, "I believe every country, every kuni has a responsibility to protect itself." And so I remember the other Nisei looking at me and going... it was just a statement, it's not a big deal. Well, two days later, the counselor for foreign affairs from the embassy of Japan said, "Oh, Ron, let's go to lunch." We go to lunch, he said, "Guess what?" I said, "What?" "Yesterday your name came up at the meeting in Tokyo," I said, "Why?" He says, "You said something in New York City, didn't you?" "I don't know, we all said something." He says, "No, you said that Japan should protect itself, should have primary responsibility to protect itself," and I go, "Oh, yeah, yeah, I said that." He said, "You know something? We all agreed with you, but we can't say that publicly," because have to have this U.S.-Japan security group. But I think that still holds true today, every country needs to be able to defend itself.

TI: Now if you had this discussion with Senator Inouye, he would disagree with you, though, right? I'm mean, I've had this conversation with him and he is a very strong proponent of the agreement.

RI: Well, without a doubt, but did you know the strongest supporter the Jewish state of Israel? Senator Inouye. I asked him why, "Why are you so adamantly in support of Israel?" He said, "Because if we don't protect them, no one else will." He said, "It's that simple, they have to be protected." And so I think in many ways, similarly with Japan, he says, feels the same way.

TI: But for him, too, I think it's more this idea of partnerships, too, right? To not be so... by having these alliances, I think he would say you also have to think about your partner, you have to kind of work things out, and that, he says that process is a good thing, too.

RI: Well, I think in a more peaceful time, when you'd have a reflective time, it's good. When you have times like we have now where there's a lot of, great deal of uncertainty, it's not predictable. I see our, along that line, the national international alliance is realigning, and either going more on their own and making other kinds of alliances. But hopefully this situation that we are currently facing in the United States resolves itself in the next couple of years and we're able to move forward on a different path. But, to me, it's, people like Senator Inouye, it's invaluable. If he were here today in the Senate, things would, I think he would be a strong voice.

TI: Yeah, I agree.

RI: Because at a certain point in time, it's not that you could say what you want to say, but you have the respect to say what you want to say, and that's what's critical.

TI: I agree.

<End Segment 20> - Copyright © 2019 Densho. All Rights Reserved.