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Reluctant Samurai: Memoirs of an Urban Planner (book)


Memoir by a Nisei man that recounts his agricultural upbringing, his time in American concentration camps, and his postwar career as an urban planner who was a key figure in the redevelopment of downtown Los Angeles.

Yukio Kawaratani was born in 1931, the eighth child of Issei farmers from Wakayama prefecture. The early chapters of Reluctant Samurai describe his parents and siblings and his childhood on family farms in San Juan Capistrano, San Clemente, and Trabuco Canyon, all in Orange County, California. Though the family is poor, they are never hungry, and with the added labor of his older siblings, the family farm begins to do well in the years just prior to the war. But the outbreak of World War II changes the family's fortunes. The middle chapters of the book cover the mass roundup of Japanese Americans and the family's subsequent incarceration at Poston and Tule Lake . At the insistence of his mother, all of the adult family members answer "no-no" on the " loyalty questionnaire ," thinking that this would allow them to stay together. But after they are transferred to the Tule Lake Segregation Center, they are ultimately split up, as Yukio's father and two of his brothers are identified as "troublemakers" and transferred to Justice Department run internment camps, while three other brothers serve in the U.S. Army. The father and the two brothers ultimately choose to go to Japan after the war, while the rest of family stays in the U.S. Yukio never sees his father again.

The postwar chapters detail the family's return to California, where they first live in a trailer park in Long Beach before moving into a government housing project given his brothers' veterans status. The two brothers who are veterans first work as gardeners until they save up enough money to open a nursery in Laguna Beach, overcoming some community opposition to do so. Yukio helps his brothers in both ventures while going to high school and college. Subsequent chapters recount Yukio's years in UC Berkeley, a stint in the army, and going to USC to study planning on the GI Bill. He devotes a chapter to his dating struggles as a young man that end when he meets Lilian Kitagawa, a young Nisei schoolteacher. He goes on to talk about their marriage and their suburban life in Monterey Park with four children, and a subsequent family tragedy. The remaining chapters discuss his thirty-one year career as a planner for the Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) that saw him play a critical role in the redevelopment of downtown Los Angeles, his involvement in community politics in Monterey Park—including spearheading a successful campaign to expand the Monterey Park Library—and his hobbies of skiing and travel.

Kawaratani includes little background on the writing of the memoir except to note that one of his daughters suggested the title and that all of the key family members read the manuscript. He self-published Reluctant Samurai in 2007.

Authored by Brian Niiya , Densho

Might also like My Life with a Thousand Characters by Iwao Takamoto; Starting from Loomis and Other Stories by Hiroshi Kashiwagi; In Search of Hiroshi by Gene Oishi

Media Details
Author Yukio Kawaratani
Pages 292
Publication Date 2007