Posted by: Brad Nixon | October 15, 2018

Furusato, the L.A. Town That Is Not There

Early in the 20th century, commercial fishing was booming in San Pedro Bay, the port of Los Angeles. Shipping and railroads were ramping up to serve the port, providing the infrastructure necessary to carry the catch from a large fleet to markets across the continent. Word spread far, bringing immigrants from fishing communities around the world. The port town of San Pedro, near the mouth of the harbor, grew apace, its growth still evident today.

San Pedro view Brad Nixon 2212 680

The Melting Pot

San Pedro’s population today reflects that influx of people: descendants of Croatians, Serbians and Italians from the Adriatic, and Greeks from farther east on the Aegean. Walk around San Pedro and you’ll see shops, restaurants and community organizations in the port town bearing names from those cultures. The American dream. Click on any photo to enlarge it.

The Fishing Industry Memorial along San Pedro’s Harbor Blvd. near the port’s main channel includes a sculptural tribute to the fishermen of that era.

Fisherman Mem Brad Nixon 9288-2 (476x640)

The Other Immigrants

Another population of traditional fishing people moved there, too. By 1940, a community of approximately 3,000 people of Japanese heritage lived on Terminal Island, across the harbor’s main channel. They owned an estimated 250 fishing boats and provided much of the labor in the large tuna canneries on the island. In addition to their houses, Japanese Americans established shops, community centers, shrines and temples. They called their village Furusato — “Home Town” or, more colloquially American, “Home, Sweet Home.” Here it is in an undated photo from the 1930s.

46082-japaneseoverall San Pedro Bay HS

By 1940, three generations lived in Furusato: Issei — first generation immigrants; Nisei, the second generation; and their children, Sansei. Most were either citizens by birth or naturalized citizens of the U.S. The American dream.

You can visit Terminal Island and walk along Tuna, Cannery and Barracuda Streets. You won’t see Furusato. It disappeared 75 years ago.

Terminal Is Brad Nixon 2183 680

Terminal Is Brad Nixon 2181 680

In February, 1942, U.S. Executive Order 9066 required all residents of Terminal Island to leave within 48 hours. Most male Issei were declared “enemy aliens,” but all persons of Japanese ancestry in a “Wartime Exclusion Zone” — California, Oregon, Washington and Alaska, plus many Issei in Hawaii — were taken into federal custody by the country in which most of them were citizens — men, women, children.

Forced Exodus

Residents sold whatever they could to speculators in the two allotted days at panic prices — fishing boats, houses and belongings — gathered what they could carry and were loaded onto trains and buses. Most of the Furusato residents were taken 300 miles north of Los Angeles to a concentration camp in the Owens Valley: Manzanar War Relocation Center.

Once they were gone, the U.S. Navy bulldozed every house, shop, shrine and school of Furusato, and constructed a shipyard to build ships for the war.

SP warehouses Brad Nixon 1888 680

The shipyard employees did impressive work, building a powerful fleet that helped win the war. I don’t deprecate their accomplishment in any way.

The residents of Terminal Island were the first of more than 110,000 people sent to one of ten concentration camps for the duration of the war.

Manzanar auditorium Brad Nixon 1112 680

Four years later, the “detainees” were released, given $25 and a ride “home” with whatever they could carry. For those who looked, Furusato didn’t exist. Nor does it now.

Terminal Is Brad Nixon 2168 680

Terminal Island Japanese Memorial

In 2001, survivors, descendants and supporters established the Terminal Island Japanese Memorial, squeezed into a narrow area between the old cannery/shipyard works on the main channel and Fish Harbor to the east.

Japanese memorial M Vincent 2137 680

The figures stand under a Torii, a Shinto gate emblem marking the transition from mundane to sacred space.

Japanese memorial Brad Nixon 4097 680

Fishing boats still call the harbor home, in vastly smaller numbers. The primary business of the port is container shipping operations, and the gantry cranes tower in the distance.

Japanese memorial Brad Nixon 2131 280

Aristotle told us that tragedy, enacted, elicits pity and fear and then effects catharsis (viz: relief – purgation – cleansing).

My grasp of rhetoric and dramatic theory suggests that Aristotle’s premise relies on the assumption that tragedy continues to occur, which allows us to identify — recognize it in the events of our own lives. If, that is, anything so dire were ever to happen again.

For some photos and description of Manzanar, see my previous blog post, at this link.

Directions to the Terminal Island Japanese Memorial

The memorial is on Terminal Island in the Port of Los Angeles (map, red flag).

Terminal Island map Google 680

The simplest access is from East-West California Route 47, also called the Seaside Freeway on maps (no one here uses that name), also appearing on some maps (incorrectly) as Interstate 710.

Coming south from Los Angeles on Interstate 110, follow the signs and exit for Route 47/Vincent Thomas Bridge/Terminal Island/Long Beach. You’ll cross the impressive suspension Bridge, headed east. Immediately after the bridge, exit right. A sign indicates the turn to the memorial. The exit ends at Ferry St. Turn left. Follow Ferry St. 1/4 mile and turn right onto Terminal Way. Again, there should be a sign. Terminal is many lanes wide to accommodate truck traffic in and out of the shipping berths. Terminal Way bends left and becomes Seaside Ave.  You’ll be driving past shipyards and other harbor works, which once were Furusato.

The memorial is located at 1124 South Seaside Ave., San Pedro. It’s on the left, and there is ample free parking. There is only the monument and some explanatory graphics — no visitor center.

If you come from the direction of Long Beach, westbound Ocean Blvd. in downtown becomes Route 47 across the harbor. Take the Ferry St. exit. The route bends south and becomes Ferry St. Follow the directions above.

To return, backtrack to Ferry St. To return to Long Beach, turn right just before the bridge to enter eastbound 47. To return to San Pedro and Los Angeles, continue under the bridge until a sign directs you to San Pedro and the Vincent Thomas Bridge. Once across the bridge, you’ll able to enter northbound 110.

© Brad Nixon 2018. One photo © M. Vincent 2018, used by kind permission. Archival photograph of Terminal Island is property of the San Pedro Bay Historical Society, retrieved from The Daily Breeze newpaper. Information for this post from Daily Breeze, September 29, 2010 by Sam Gnerre, retrieved Oct 14, 2018.  San, retrieved Oct. 9, 2018. Map © Google with my emendations.


  1. Thanks for this – I’ll definitely add this to my bucket list of things to see if I ever make it out your way (which I plan to – in the footsteps (?) of this guy who’s cycling the Pacific Coast at the moment:

    This is an episode in US history which feels like it belongs more in the 19th century. It’s like the British putting Boer women & children in concentration camps, but worse. I remember watching Snow Falling on Cedars in my late teens and feeling a) incensed, and b) in awe of what is still probably the most holistically beautiful film I’ve ever seen. I’d probably be disappointed if I saw it again now, but there’s one section that sticks in my head – about 20 minutes of silence, showing the relationship between the American boy and the Japanese girl ebbing and growing without saying a word. Utterly entrancing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • There may be no culture or nation in which one can’t find similar tragedies, and yours is a pertinent one. Thanks for reading and for the thoughtful comment.


  2. What an extraordinary account, thank you Brad! Did other Japanese communities “under Western skies” meet the same faith, or was Furusato an exception, as the land was needed for a shipyard?

    – Verne

    PS: This made me want to reread “The Man in the High Castle”. The sequence of images reminded me of the book’s coexisting universes with different war outcomes!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Verne,
      Thank you. I’m not an expert. Although there were “Japan towns” in several western cities, I don’t know that any others were seized and destroyed wholesale. Many of the people, including in LA’s Little Tokyo, lost significant amounts of their properties and belongings, which proved unrecoverable. Little Tokyo is still there, but considerably reduced.
      There ARE, as reader Shoreacres pointed out, innumerable stories of more sympathetic treatment, not to be overlooked.
      Less dramatic, many Americans of Italian and German descent also were subjected to considerable restraint.
      This isn’t a story that’s unique to America or to those few years, and such pogroms date back throughout history, across cultures. That we did it in strict violation of our own Constitution, is a sore failing.
      I don’t point it out in the article, but some of Terminal Island is still U.S. government property, including the port’s large Coast Guard base, but also a federal prison, a hundred yards from the memorial. The irony at that point exceeds my ability to describe it.
      Philip K. was born the same year as my parents, and grew up in California, so he knew a good deal about what when on during the war, first-hand. I think The Man in the High Castle is probably his masterpiece, and always bears re-reading. I’m off to the Azores with you as soon as I can find time to read it today. Thanks.


      • I’ll read more about this, thanks for pointing me in the right direction!

        Yup, certainly not the first or the last example. Closer to home, Cyprus springs to mind as a very recent (1974) episode of ancestry causing mass forced relocations, severed ties and lost property.

        Liked by 1 person

      • An excellent, dire example.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I bet a lot of young people today don’t even realize that the U.S Government rounded up Japaneese People during the war and put them in detainment camps. I’m sure a lot of it was necessary due to fear that they might cause terrorism. It is an interesting part of history!! Here in Canada the captured Nazi’s were sent to relatively comfortable camps, and 1 pilot escaped to Toronto and stole a plane back to Germany and remarked on how well the Canadians treated them. Interesting pictures you got at the Terminal Island Memorial!!


    • I would not use the word “necessary.” That was the stated justification. No case of espionage was ever proven against any Japanese American. There are similar stories of the generous treatment given German POWs in the U.S. Don’t know that any got away with planes, though!


      • yeah, your probably right, but people were very fearful. Its awful what Trump is doing to those Mexican Refugees crossing the boarder.

        Liked by 1 person

      • And there lies today’s history lesson. Thank you.


  4. Like much (most?) of America, I knew nothing of this particular episode. To say “many Japanese Americans were sent to camps” is one thing. To provide the details brings the episode to life, in an appropriately distressing way.

    Reading your title, I couldn’t help but think of Hughes Mearns’s poem about the man who wasn’t there. This little revision seems appropriate:

    Yesterday, I stood and stared,
    and sought a town that wasn’t there.
    It wasn’t there again today.
    Why did we make it go away?


    • Nor did I know a thing, until I ended up living a few miles away.
      We have many towns and cities that aren’t here, from the outset of European settlement. There were justifications for all of them, according to the justifiers.
      Thanks for the new version of an already haunting poem.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. “If anything so dire were ever to happen again”? You mean like, right now, along our southern border with Mexico?

    Nah, impossible, not here, in the country which stands as a “beacon on the hill” for the whole world to aspire to. Right?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve decided to reply. It clearly is possible. Tens of millions of my fellow citizens actively and vociferously support what’s happening near that southern border. It may be directed by the controlling party, but it’s being carried out by an army of civil (and military, in some cases) servants, endorsed by the will of the people.
      Nothing has changed. We’ve learned nothing, done nothing, and any notion of “progress” is apparently a bankrupt enterprise. We even use the same (or related) rationalizations, just as specious today as they were 75 years ago.


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