“We stayed six months cumulatively in Point Barrow, Alaska for scientific research,” said an unexpected message from my San Diego Japanese friends.
“In the Barrow research library, we found a Japanese book An Alaskan Tale written by Jiro Nitta about Frank Yasuda. Jujiro Wada (1875-1937) and Frank Yasuda (1868-1958) - all in the same generation. Have you read Jiro Nitta’s book that became a movie?"
Well, I know author Nitta (1912-1980) who wrote the Death March on Mt. Hakkoda, the deadly military exercise in the winter blizzard that resulted in mass deaths of Japanese soldiers, but I haven’t read the book about Alaska in question. So I checked when the first edition was published. It was in 1974. No wonder! I was in the U.S. and not many Japanese books were imported into the U.S. then, different from today. I have to admit that I missed it.
This reminded me of the day of my family reunion. It was at Fairbanks in the early 1960s that my wife almost did not catch her Northwest flight to New York after refueling. She was feeding bottled milk to our daughter of three months while in the airport lounge. She told me she heard the boarding announcement, which happened to be the last call. Good thing since I might have been waiting for their arrival in vain at Idlewild, now Kennedy Airport.
Further research showed that Frank was sent to the U.S. concentration camps during World War II and that’s the area where I can shed some light, later in his life. I'll quickly give you a brief bio. By the way, the book An Alaskan Tale was translated into English and should be available through Amazon.
Frank, aka Kyosuke, his given Japanese name, left Ishinomaki, Miyagi (the area hardest hit in the recent Earthquake and Tsunami) when he lost his parents at the age of 15. His father was a physician and a well off family but he was the third son who felt he had to leave.
Through apprenticeship on a foreign bound ship, he landed in the U.S. and worked as a farmhand. He was luckily hired as a "cabin boy" on the U.S. Coast Guard USS Cutter Bear that took him to Alaska. Their mission was to hunt for whale poachers and guard the sea infested with smugglers. One winter, the Bear got stranded on ice. Frank volunteered alone to trek to Point Barrow to save the crew from a food crisis. Though he collapsed close to Point Barrow, an Inuit rescued him, and he was able to complete his mission.
There he decided to stay in Point Barrow, not returning to the boat. My guess is that he was unable to stand the racial discrimination he faced. His sincerity and tenacity gradually warmed the hearts of the Inuit villagers, including Amaoka, the local Inuit leader. He settled in by marrying Nevelo, Amaoka's daughter. The village, however, was plagued with disease and suffering from decreased whaling that they depended on for their survival. Frank planned to relocate the village from Point Barrow to Beaver* with advice from his later partner-to-be, Thomas Carter. Beaver had to be cohabited with the indigenous Athbascas Indians. He accompanied George Oshima, another Japanese Frank had befriended, who spoke the tribal language. An amicable agreement was made prior to the exodus from Point Barrow. Beaver is about 700 km away, about the same distance between New York and Chicago, but they had to cross the Brooks Range. I read that Frank made quite a few trips to complete the relocation of 200 villagers. This is why he was revered as the Japanese Moses. There’s a happy episode where his wife Nevelo found gold dust by the river. Frank used all the money for the villagers, none for himself.
In 1942 he was ready with one trunk to be deported to the Concentration Camp, via Fairbanks and Anchorage police stations, and perhaps then to Puyallup Assembly Center, in the State of Washington, and then to Crystal City, Texas and on to New Mexico. There were 3 camps in New Mexico - Santa Fe, Ft. Stanton, and Lordsbuy. I cannot specify which one he was sent to, but the records say his friend George Oshima died in a New Mexico camp. Frank was released after the war and returned to Beaver to join his wife and family.
1) Beaver, pop.65, is located on the north bank of the Yukon River, approximately 60 miles southwest of Fort Yukon and 110 miles north of Fairbanks. It lies in the heart of the Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge. The best way to reach it is via kayaking, as suggested by ardent paddlists, starting from White Horse down the Yukon River through Dawson which may take about a month.
2) Photo of Frank Yasuda
3) Alaska Mining Hall of Fame Foundation