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Abe’s Pearl Harbor visit brings closure for Japanese-Americans

By Ken Moriyasu, Nikkei deputy editor


TOKYO — For many Japanese-Americans, Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, was a traumatic event that left lifelong scars in their hearts. Shortly after the surprise attack, President Franklin Roosevelt ordered the forced relocation and incarceration of Japanese-Americans.


“My late husband Senator Daniel Inouye used to always talk about that experience, of being born in the U.S. but having his own American government labeling him as an enemy alien after Dec. 7,” Irene Hirano Inouye, president of the U.S-Japan Council, told the Nikkei Asian Review on Wednesday while on a visit to Japan.


“So, he would have been extremely pleased that the prime minister is making a visit to Pearl Harbor,” she said of Shinzo Abe’s planned visit to the historic site on Dec. 26-27 with U.S. President Barack Obama. “It closes the question of why the U.S. president has not gone to Hiroshima and why the Japanese prime minister has not gone to Pearl Harbor. There is a sense of closure,” she said.


“It is important that as we end this era of the Obama administration, that we can bring to a close this chapter of our history and continue to move forward.”


During the war, up to 120,000 Japanese-Americans were sent to internment camps, an action for which the U.S. government later officially apologized.


When the U.S. Army dropped its enlistment ban on Japanese Americans in 1943, Daniel Inouye enlisted and volunteered to be part of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, which was made up of second-generation Japanese-Americans, many of them from Hawaii, like himself. He lost his right arm to a grenade wound.


Inouye later served 49 years in the U.S. Senate, including his last three years as president pro tempore of the chamber. “He often talked about what was so great about America was that someone who was at one point an enemy alien could eventually become the third in line to succeed the president,” his wife said.


Irene Inouye is herself a third-generation Japanese-American, whose grandfather was interned with his seven children and his property confiscated. She was president and founding CEO of the Japanese-American National Museum in Los Angeles before marrying Senator Inouye in 2008. After her husband died in 2012, she took over as president of the U.S.-Japan Council, a non-profit educational organization that contributes to strengthening U.S.-Japan relations.


Speaking of the incoming Donald Trump presidency, she said: “People are concerned about what the future might hold, but the ties that have been built between the two countries, at economic, cultural and educational levels, will remain strong regardless of who is the president.”

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