Harry Kitano

Name Harry H.L. Kitano
Born February 14 1926
Died October 19 2002
Generational Identifier


Nisei scholar, professor, musician, and author. During Harry H.L. Kitano's (1926–2002) tenure at UCLA, Kitano pioneered research in the social sciences, publishing books, articles, and reports that specifically addressed issues in the growing Asian Pacific American community. A teenager at the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor , Kitano devoted much of his academic career to writing about the impact of the incarceration on the Japanese American community.

Before the War

Harry H.L. Kitano was born on February 14, 1926, the youngest of seven children to Motoji and Kou Kitano, both Japanese immigrants. Kou had been a picture bride , passing through Angel Island and arriving in San Francisco in 1914. Motoji owned a hotel on Clay Street in San Francisco's Chinatown, where he rented rooms to a diverse group of low-income tenants. Kitano and his elder brother and sisters grew up at the hotel. At the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor, Kitano was a student at Galileo High School.

Attack on Pearl Harbor, Imprisonment

On December 7, 1941, Kitano was at a movie at the Embassy Theater on Market Street in San Francisco when it was announced that the Japanese had attacked America. In January 1942, Kitano's father, Motoji, an active community member and at the time the president of the local Japanese Association , was arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and sent to a Department of Justice camp in North Dakota.

At the beginning of April 1942, families of Japanese ancestry in the Bay Area were forcibly removed from their homes and sent to "assembly centers." Kitano, sixteen at the time, took with him a phonograph, his favorite record (Count Basie's "One O'Clock Jump"), and an old trombone he had inherited when he joined the Japanese Association band. First imprisoned at Santa Anita race track in Arcadia, California, Kitano and his mother and brother lived in one horse stall, his sisters in another. He played sports with the other adolescents and joined the "Starlight Serenaders," a dance band made up of musicians who had brought their instruments with them.

In October 1942, the family was again moved, this time to Topaz incarceration camp in Utah. Kitano attended Topaz High School where he was a member of the student council, student social committee, the Topaz High band, and played starting fullback for the football team. In his senior year, he served as senior class president, was voted "most popular boy," and was a commencement speaker at graduation. Years later, at a faculty lecture at UCLA in 1963, Kitano recalled parts of this speech:

Although I have difficulty in remembering the exact words of the address (for which I am thankful) I do recall declaring with all of the dramatic power that a naive high school youngster can: 'I don't know why we're here, I don't know where we're going, but I'm sure that things will work out.'... The question of where we were going was the crucial question. How could anybody have really guessed? [1]

Music Career

In 1944, at the age of eighteen, Kitano received governmental clearance to leave Topaz. The War Relocation Authority (WRA) found him a job making silos in Port Washington, Wisconsin. It was there that he answered several ads in Down Beat magazine and found a job playing trombone for a dance band in Worthington, Minnesota. He spent the next few years as a musician traveling through Minnesota, Iowa, and the Dakotas. Wary of lingering hostility toward Japanese Americans, he changed his name to Harry Lee. Of this time, he wrote:

One of the bands that I played with hired me as a replacement for a black musician (who turned out to be Oscar Pettiford, probably one of the best musicians of that era); there were also heated discussions about Jews. I remember one member of our brass section arguing that Harry James, the famed trumpeter could not be Jewish because he played so well. In terms of acceptance, it appeared that I was less of a threat than blacks or Jews. I enjoyed life as a musician—it was fun to play with professional musicians of varying quality—to travel from town to town on one-nighters, especially after having been cooped up in a camp for several years—to eat out at restaurants with big steaks, and to live an independent and carefree life. [2]

Though several bands in Chicago offered him opportunities, Kitano ultimately felt his ancestry would stand in the way of his role as a bandleader. He returned to California in 1946 and enrolled at the University of California at Berkeley. While a student, he led his own band, "Harry Lee and his Orchestra," an all-black group that played local gigs around the Bay Area.

Academic Career

Kitano earned a B.A. in psychology in 1948, a master's degree in social welfare (M.S.W.) in 1951, and a Ph.D. in psychology in 1958, all from the University of California at Berkeley. In 1958, UCLA hired him as a faculty member in the Departments of Social Welfare and Sociology. He was the first Japanese American professor in the social sciences to receive tenure, and would spend the rest of his academic career at UCLA.

Kitano pioneered research in the social sciences pertaining to the Japanese American experience. His first book, Japanese Americans: The Evolution of a Subculture (1969), provided the first sociological study of Japanese Americans. It includes analysis of family dynamics, social and community structures, and calls special attention to the incarceration camps and events before, during, and after World War II. Kitano's other research projects included studies of interracial marriage, juvenile delinquency, mental health, and alcohol abuse among the diverse Asian Pacific American population.

In his 36 years at UCLA, Kitano published over 150 articles, books, and reports. He served as co-director of the Alcohol Research Center at UCLA, and twice as acting director of the Asian American Studies Center. He held visiting professorships at the University of Hawai'i, the International Christian University in Tokyo, the University of Bristol, Whittier College, and Yamaguchi University. In 1990, he was the inaugural recipient of the Endowed Chair in Japanese American Studies at UCLA, the only academic chair of its kind in American higher education.

At UCLA, Kitano, along with the historian Roger Daniels, sponsored a conference commemorating the 25th anniversary of the incarceration. It was the first conference of its kind held at a major university. In 1992, for the 50th anniversary of the incarceration, UCLA hosted a year-long conference that included art shows, plays, seminars, and lectures. Kitano gave the address at the opening ceremony. Of this event he wrote, "I felt proud that I had survived the camps, and had experienced a unique event in American history. I was also proud to be associated with a university that recognized the enormity of the event, and was willing to assume sponsorship." [3]

In 1999, along with Mitchell T. Maki and S. Megan Berthold, Kitano published Achieving the Impossible Dream: How Japanese Americans Obtained Redress , a comprehensive study that analyzes the policy decisions that led to redress for Japanese Americans forcibly removed during World War II. The book won a 2000 Myers Outstanding Book Award from the Gustavus Myers Center for the Study of Bigotry and Human Rights in North America.

Kitano retired in 1994, but remained active in the University and the community, serving on the advisory boards of the Japanese American National Museum , the Los Angeles Police Department, and the Skirball Institute of American Values, among others. At the time of his passing, he was working on the sixth edition of Race Relations . He died of a stroke on October 19, 2002.

Authored by Dennis M. Ogawa , University of Hawai'i and Christine Kitano , Texas Tech University

For More Information

Daniels, Roger, Sandra Taylor and Harry H.L. Kitano, eds. Japanese Americans: From Relocation to Redress . Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1991.

Finding Aid to the Harry H.L. Kitano Papers. UCLA. http://www.oac.cdlib.org/findaid/ark:/13030/kt9h4nd5h8/ .

Kitano, Harry H.L. Japanese-Americans: The Evolution of a Subculture . Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1976.

———. Generations and Identity: The Japanese American . 2nd ed. Needham Heights, MA: Ginn Press, 1993.

———. Race Relations . 5th ed. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1997.

Maki, Mitchell, Harry H.L. Kitano, and S. Megan Berthold. Achieving the Impossible Dream: How Japanese Americans Obtained Redress . Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1999.


  1. Harry H.L. Kitano, Japanese Americans: The Evolution of a Subculture (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.:Prentice-Hall, 1976), 187.
  2. Harry H.L. Kitano, Generations and Identity: The Japanese American , 2nd ed. (Needham Heights, MA: Ginn Press, 1993), 70.
  3. Kitano, Generations and Identity , 206-207.

Last updated May 21, 2024, 1:52 a.m..