The characters above are carved on a wall on the second floor of the former Angel Island immigration station. On Aug. 7, a group of 16 descendants of Masaru Miyamoto gathered on Angel Island with San Francisco State University Professor Charles Egan to see the inscription in person.
Members of the Hokoda family were joined by Angel Island State Park interpreters Casey Dexter-Lee and Ben Fenkell for this historic occasion. Egan noted that it is the oldest dated inscription within the Angel Island barracks, and as far as he knows, this is the first time that descendants of the inscriber have seen his work in person.
Miyamoto’s descendants gathered in Tiburon for the family’s biannual reunion, traveling from as far away as Seattle and San Diego. They included his grandchildren and great grandchildren, and made a special visit to Angel Island.
The former U.S. Immigration Station at Angel Island is perhaps best known for its Chinese poems carved on its wooden walls, written by immigrants detained during the immigration process who seldom signed their names. What’s less known is that there are also inscriptions in several other languages on the barrack walls, including Japanese, Korean, Urdu and Russian. Many include a name, date, home town, and similar information.
Egan noted that Miyamoto’s inscription was written in the 45th year of the Meiji period, or 1912, and used ship records to note that he was on the island in June of that year.
Miyamoto was only 15 when he arrived in the United States with his mother Mitsuyo in 1912. They had left their home in Hiroshima and were on their way to join his father Chiyokichi in Reedley, Calif. in the Fresno area. Chiyokichi had come to Hawai‘i in 1895 and then later went to the mainland. In 1920, Miyamoto married Kinuyo, another Angel Island immigrant, and they had four children.
The Miyamotos and their children were incarcerated at Gila River, Ariz., and one son was given work release and went to Dayton, Ohio, where the family joined them later. All three sons joined the U.S. military. Many relatives who had remained in Japan died in the atomic blast in Hiroshima in 1945, including Masaru’s sister and Kinuyo’s father.
Egan’s task in finding Miyamoto’s relatives was made more difficult because along the path to immigration to the U.S., the family had to change its name to Hokoda in order to come to the United States.
When Chiyokichi and Mitsuyo decided to immigrate to Hawai‘i in 1895 (they had married the same year), they found that applicants from their village were subject to a waiting period before wives could join their husbands. So Chiyokichi borrowed the name of an acquaintance from a nearby village that did not require a waiting period. Fortunately, Egan figured out the connection and was able to trace some of Miyamoto’s grandchildren and their response to his initial letter was enthusiastic.
The Nichi Bei Foundation will also present the second Nikkei Angel Island Pilgrimage Saturday, Oct. 3, following last year’s historic and unprecedented pilgrimage — which more than 600 people attended. For more information on the Pilgrimage, presented in partnership with the Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation and the National Japanese American Historical Society, visit www.nichibei.org/angel-island-pilgrimage.