Sakae Takahashi


Name Sakae Takahashi
Born December 8 1919
Died April 16 2001
Birth Location Makaweli, Kaua‘i
Generational Identifier

Nisei

Hawai'i Nisei veteran who was instrumental in the Revolution of 1954. Sakae Takahashi (1919-2001) served in a number of political and business positions to increase opportunities for Japanese Americans in the Islands.

Background

Sakae Takahashi was born in Makaweli, Kaua'i, on December 8, 1919, to immigrants from Niigata, Japan, and graduated from Waimea High School in 1937. He then attended the University of Hawai'i where he was a member of the Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) when war broke out. Although his parents were Japanese immigrants, Takahashi always felt loyalty to America. According to Takahashi, "My father told me, 'You are an American citizen. This is your country. In fact, this is my country, too, because I've been a resident for almost all my life . . . do the best you can for your country. But don't bring shame, that's all.'"[1] To Takahashi, his father's attitude was "typical of the Japanese ethic" and made it easy for him to join the U.S. Army after the Pearl Harbor attack.

World War II Experiences

During World War II, Takahashi served in the 100th Infantry Battalion and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team where he rose from the rank of 1st Lieutenant to Captain of Company B. President of Club 100, Stanley Akita, stated that Takahashi was a "brilliant tactician, outmaneuvering his enemies. He was one of the most well-liked members of the Club 100, always willing to help."[2] During the war, Takahashi demonstrated his bravery numerous times and in the battle for Monte Cassino in Italy, he was one of only forty-six men out of an original 190 to survive unscathed. Takahashi would receive the Bronze Star, Purple Heart, and Combat Infantry Badge for his actions during the war.

Post War Political Activities

After the war, Takahashi attended Rutgers University in New Jersey where he earned a law degree. In New York City, he met a "blond Danish beauty" on a blind date named Elizabeth "Bette" who was an aspiring opera singer.[3] When he married in 1946, Daniel Inouye, another veteran from the 442nd, was Takahashi's best man and the Takahashis had two daughters, Karen and Kathryn, and two sons, Mark and Brian. When Takahashi returned to Hawai'i he was the deputy attorney for the City and County of Honolulu from 1949 to 1950. However, he had a vision of transforming Hawaiian society to make it more equitable for all and weaken the domination of the Caucasian elite. "We ought to use this war," Takahashi stated. "We ought to make it into an opportunity. The only chance we have to turn Hawaiian society around is after the war when we come back with our war service behind us. After the war, we ought to use the 100th to pull together some political organization. If we don’t, going to the front and risking our lives doesn't mean anything."[4] Capitalizing on the large Japanese American voting population in the Islands, Takahashi was elected to the Board of Supervisors of the City and County of Honolulu in 1950 and soon became the first Japanese American to serve on the territorial government cabinet when Governor Oren Long appointed him treasurer. Takahashi became part of the Revolution of 1954 that saw Democratic majorities in both the house and senate for the first time, upending decades of Republican rule. Takahashi would serve as a territorial senator from 1954 to 1959 and was elected as a state senator from 1959 to 1974. In reflecting back on his political career, Takahashi stated: "Well, I'm very pleased and, oh, the fact that I've had twenty years of service and I feel that during those twenty years, I was able to at least contribute something to the benefit of the people of Hawai'i."[5] Even after Takahashi retired from the state senate he served as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention in 1968.

Other Career Accomplishments

In addition to his political activism, Takahashi also tried to improve the banking situation in the Islands. The two major banks at the time, Bishop Bank—now First Hawaiian Bank—and Bank of Hawaii controlled the money supply and it was difficult for those without financial clout or credit to secure a loan. To address this problem, Takahashi along with several Japanese Americans including former veterans, raised approximately $2 million in 1953 to establish Central Pacific Bank. For the first time, many Japanese Americans could take advantage of the postwar boom and began new business endeavors that helped to diversify Hawai'i's economy. Along with serving as the chairman of Central Pacific Bank, Takahashi also served on the board of Security Title Corp., Investors Equity Life Insurance Co., Cooke Trust, the Hawaii Islanders minor league baseball team, and Hawaiian Airlines. He was also active in the Hawaii Army Museum Society, the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai'i, and Club 100. For his service to the community, the government of Japan honored him with the Order of the Rising Sun in 1993. Takahashi died on April 16, 2001 and was described as "a leader through battle in both war and politics."[6]

Authored by Kelli Y. Nakamura, University of Hawai'i

For More Information

Coffman, Tom. Catch a Wave: Hawaii’s New Politics. Honolulu: Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 1972.

———. The Island Edge of America: A Political History of Hawai'i. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2003.

From Bullets to Ballots. VHS tape. Directed by Robert A. Nakamura. Los Angeles: Japanese American National Museum, 1997.

Fuchs, Lawrence H. Hawaii Pono: A Social History. New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1961.

Footnotes

  1. Hawaii Nikkei History Editorial Board, Japanese Eyes, American Heart: Personal Reflections of Hawaii's World War II Nisei Soldiers (Honolulu: Tendai Educational Foundation, 1998), 187.
  2. Honolulu Advertiser, Apr. 18, 2001, accessed on April 7, 2016 at http://the.honoluluadvertiser.com/article/2001/Apr/18/ln/ln24a.html.
  3. Bob Jones, "Meet Three Remarkable Ladies," Midweek, 24 August 2011, http://archives.midweek.com/content/columns/justthoughts_article/meet_three_remarkable_ladies_Betty_Ho_Bette_Takahashi_Iris_Hallaran/; Elizabeth Ann Victorino, "Elizabeth 'Bette' Takahashi," Honolulu Star-Advertiser June 7, 2015, http://obits.staradvertiser.com/2015/06/07/elizabeth-bette-takahashi/, both accessed on April 20, 2016.
  4. Masayo Umezawa Duus, Unlikely Liberators: The Men of the 100th and the 442nd (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1987), 45.
  5. Center of Oral History Social Science Research Institute University of Hawai'i at Mānoa, Hawaiʻi Political History Documentation Project Vol. I (Honolulu: Center for Oral History, Social Science Research Institute, University of Hawai'i at Mānoa, 1996), 234.
  6. Richard Borreca, "Sakae Takahashi, war hero, dies," Honolulu Star-Bulletin, April 18 2001, accessed on April 7, 2016 at http://archives.starbulletin.com/2001/04/18/news/story5.html.