Looking Back: A Japanese American Soldier Returns Home
Image: Sgt. Moffet Ishikawa at his camp site in the South Pacific during WWII. Photo courtesy of Moffet Ishikawa.
In October of 2007, I interviewed 88-year-old Moffet Ishikawa, the younger brother of San Jose Japantown historian Dr. Tokio “Tok” Ishikawa. Moffet told of his life growing up in Japantown in the 1920s and 1930s, the wartime evacuation of Japanese Americans from Santa Clara Valley, his experience with the Army during WWII, and finally settling down and raising a family after returning from military service.
Moffet was a engaging person, who spoke with warmth and sincerity. One of his more poignant stories was that of his return to San Jose after the war. In relating the experience, Moffet began by explaining that from a very young age, whenever he returned home from school or play, he would enter the house calling out, “Tadaima” meaning “I’m home” in Japanese. His mother would invariably respond with, “Okairi” meaning “Welcome home.”
During WWII, Moffet served in the U.S. Army’s Military Intelligence Service, and interrogated Japanese prisoners. Following the war, he spent time in occupied Korea. After having served for four years, he received word that he could finally return home. After being discharged at Camp Beale near Marysville, Moffet began his journey home. He hitched a ride to Oakland, and then took the train to San Jose.
Image: Sgt. Moffet Ishikawa interrogating a Japanese prisoner. Photo courtesy of Moffet Ishikawa.
From the San Jose train station, Moffet decided to take a cab the remainder of the way home. When he reached Japantown, he asked to be dropped off on the corner of 6th and Jackson which was near the family store and home. As Moffet stepped out of the cab, he noticed an elderly lady walking towards him. As she came closer, he realized that it was his mother. When she was very near, he stepped up to her and said softly, “Hi Mama, tadaima.” His mother looked up at him for a moment, and then finally recognizing him replied, “Okairi.” Welcome home.
Image: Artist Tammy Dong depicts Moffet reuniting with his mother following the Japanese Internment and years of military service. Collection of Ralph Pearce.
Further reading in the California Room:
- San Jose Japantown: A Journey by Curt Fukuda and Ralph M. Pearce
- Beginnings, Japanese Americans in San Jose : 8 oral histories, Stephen Misawa ed.
- Japanese Legacy by Timothy J. Lukes and Gary Y. Okihiro
- California Room Index: Japanese Americans