California State University, Long Beach

Terminal Island Issei/Nisei


When the Los Angeles Terminal Railroad connected the city to the coastal communities of Long Beach and San Pedro in the 1890s, Rattlesnake Island, the narrow strip of land in the channel across from San Pedro became linked to Los Angeles and was renamed Terminal Island. A lively recreational area known as Brighton Beach soon developed in one part of the island and thrived until its demise in the late 1910s, when dredging deposits caused the water to recede. A small group of Japanese fishermen had established an abalone cooperative on the island earlier, in 1901, but it was not until 1906-1907 that the Japanese fishing village of Terminal Island took shape. The first twenty houses were built on pilings along the shore of the main channel. Within a year or two, approximately 600 more Japanese arrived. They were mainly men, one-fourth of whom came from Taiji, a small fishing village in Wakayama prefecture. By the 1930s, the Japanese community located in the Fish Harbor area of Terminal Island had grown to over 2,000. Most of the men were fishermen, and many of their wives and daughters worked in the canneries. The residents felt a distinct sense of belonging to a unique community with its own cultural, economic and recreational activities. It was torn asunder, however, at the outbreak of World War II. In February 1942, the community was given forty-eight hours to evacuate and most of its members were placed in concentration camps. During the war, the company housing and commercial buildings which had served the Japanese American community were bulldozed to make way for the expanding canneries. The only remnant of the community was a school building that became part of the Marine Corps Reserve Training Center. The first interviews in this series were conducted with former Terminal Island residents in 1973-1975 by students in an Asian American Studies class, under the supervision of Franklin Odo. Many of the students came from families that had been former residents of Terminal Island. Because the students did not have formal training in oral history, the interviews they conducted are sketchy and scant on personal details. Nevertheless, they provide valuable insights into this unique community. In 1979, two students with oral history training conducted longer, autobiographical interviews. Some were conducted in Japanese with Issei women; others with Nisei were in English. Additionally, one interview was conducted with an Anglo-European woman union organizer who worked in the canneries with the Japanese women. Only the interviews in English are presently available. Two additional, more comprehensive interviews were conducted in November and December of 2001. One was with one of the former 1970s narrators whose initial interview was very brief and suffered from poor audio quality; the other was designed to get more details about growing up as a girl on Terminal Island.

Recent Submissions

  • Katsuyama, Sonoko; Student group interview, interviewer (2020-03-25)
    INTERVIEW DESCRIPTION - This one rather short joint interview with Kisae Sato and Sonoko Katsuyama was done by a group of students in Fanklin Odo's class. It does not provide much personal biographical information about ...
  • Shono, Mas (1929 - ); Fujii, Takashi, interviewer (2020-03-25)
    INTERVIEW DESCRIPTION - This single interview with Mas Shono was recorded as part of the Asian American Studies class project, under the direction of Franklin Odo.
  • Nakai, Mitsuyo (5097 - ); Hanawa, Yukiko, interviewer (2020-03-25)
    INTERVIEW DESCRIPTION - The opening portion of this interview is devoted to a discussion of Nakai's business partnership with her husband and of family roles. The remainder of the interview session (not included here) is ...
  • Nakai, Mitsuyo (5097 - ); Hanawa, Yukiko, interviewer (2020-03-25)
    INTERVIEW DESCRIPTION - The fourth interview with Mitsuyo Nakai covers some of the same material that was covered in earlier interviews, though she provides more detail here. A good portion of the interview session (which ...
  • Nakai, Mitsuyo (5097 - ); Hanawa, Yukiko, interviewer (2020-03-25)
    INTERVIEW DESCRIPTION - The third interview with Mitsuyo Nakai is very brief (only ten minutes) and focuses mainly on her work life, social activities and plans for the future.