Mari Okazaki

Name Mari Okazaki
Born January 20 1916
Died March 25 2005
Generational Identifier


Mari Okazaki (1916-2005) was a psychiatric social worker who participated in the Japanese American Evacuation and Resettlement Study (JERS) as a researcher and continued her career in social care in the postwar years.

Early Life and Wartime Incarceration

Mari Okazaki was born on January 20, 1916, in San Francisco, California, to Issei parents Fumio (Frank) and Asano Okazaki. She was the eldest of their six daughters. Her father, Fumio, came to San Francisco in 1907 and worked as a houseboy in Berkeley, where he enrolled at the Berkeley Adult School to learn English. Her mother, Asano, was a high school educated young woman who came to the U.S. to join Fumio through an arranged marriage. The couple worked as servants for various families both in the Bay Area and in the Central Valley. [1]

In 1929, Mari traveled to Fukuoka, Japan, with her pregnant mother and four sisters, and lived with relatives for about a year following the birth of her youngest sister. She attended school in Japan and was proud to receive the highest grade in her class in kimono design and sewing. [2] Since Mari was the eldest daughter in a family with no male heirs, her family wanted her to stay and marry a man who would take the family name and inherit the family land. Mari refused, which resulted in the newborn girl (who was the only sibling who didn't have American citizenship) being left in Japan instead. [3]

After returning to the U.S., Mari graduated from Girls' High School in San Francisco, then attended San Francisco City College before transferring to the University of California, Berkeley, where she was an active member of the campus YWCA and the U.C. Japanese Women's Students Club. While living at home in San Francisco, she took the ferry across the Bay to campus and worked side jobs. Although she initially aspired to become an architect, she found that she lacked the math and science classes required (these were not offered at Girls' High School), and instead, majored in education, with a minor in decorative arts. She graduated in 1939 [4] , but because she was Asian American, no one would hire her as a teacher.

Post-graduation, she worked at the Japan Pavilion at 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition in San Francisco, which she claimed "Cured me of working for Japanese bosses," then attended secretarial school from 1939–40, where she learned stenography and other office skills and encouraged all of her sisters to do the same. In November 1940, Okazaki began volunteering at the International Institute in San Francisco, a private, non-sectarian organization supported by the San Francisco Community Chest that provided information on community resources, meeting health, educational, social, recreational, housing, employment and welfare needs. In addition, it offered assistance on immigration and naturalization problems and consultation on family and personal relationship issues. By April 1941, she had been promoted to a full-time position on a Rosenberg Foundation grant for a citizenship project, working as both a caseworker and assistant to the International Institute's Executive Secretary, Annie Clo Watson. Mari was also appointed to oversee Japanese American issues on the CSDSW Committee on Welfare of the State Council of Defense. [5] When World War II began, Mari was still living in San Francisco and active with various community groups, such as the Japanese Business Girls YWCA group and the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL).

When the West Coast Japanese Americans were ordered incarcerated by Executive Order 9066 Mari was employed by the Wartime Civil Control Administration which administered the relocation of the Japanese Americans. At the time, Mari worked at a number of WCCA stations located in San Francisco, San Mateo, Fresno, Reedley, and other locations along the California coast, interviewing and processing thousands of families.

On May 25, 1942, she wrote to Japanese American Evacuation and Resettlement Study (JERS) Director Dorothy Swaine Thomas asking to join the University of California, Berkeley, based research project. Okazaki would become one of the numerous Japanese American field workers employed by JERS who provided intimate diary entries and letters of her observations and firsthand experiences of the removal and incarceration. [6]

JERS Fieldworker

Okazaki was able to use her connections to Thomas to help transfer her entire family from the temporary prison at Tanforan| to Manzanar , to join her fiancé, Sam Hohri , and where she was assigned to work for JERS. [7] Hohri was a writer, journalist, and former JACL publicity agent whose own admittance to Manzanar was delayed by a need to recover from tuberculosis, a medical condition that would also require early clearance from the concentration camp and re-admittance into a sanitarium. [8]

As for her deliverables to JERS, Okazaki was requested to write up profiles of evacuees, including Issei, Nisei, and Kibei, covering their backgrounds in Japan, reasons for immigration to America and their adjustments to life. In addition, she was to report on Manzanar's Children's Village , the orphanage that was run out of camp, and on different political factions, including reactions to the prisoner uprising and the institution of martial law that occurred at Manzanar in December 1942. She was also asked to write a report on her own family, translations of her mother's letters, and to share letters between herself and Hohri, describing the history of Manzanar and her work with the WCCA. Okazaki kept a regular, detailed journal of her observations of camp life and politics, wrote regular correspondence with Thomas, and collected letters she felt were useful to the project and sent them back to Berkeley. Her resulting collection of diaries, notes, reports, and minutes from various meetings held at Manzanar (she worked in the camp's Education Department as well) are amassed at the University of California Berkeley's Bancroft Library.

However, she didn't stay with the program for long. Okazaki resigned from JERS in February 1943, claiming, "If one could have foreseen the kind of neighborly relationships and heightened interest of everybody in everybody else's use of his time, I should not have taken the responsibility of being one of your field workers nor have submitted you to so much trouble in helping me get my family here with me." She was concerned that her fieldwork has aroused suspicion of her and then outlined ways in which her family was quickly being dispersed, both physically and emotionally, concluding that, "The final effect of this mass evacuation seems not only to be a dispersal of the Japanese population but breaking up of families as well." [9] She even tried to send back some of the stipend checks written to her for her JERS fieldwork, citing that, "Frankly I do not think I have earned the Stipend that has been coming so regularly. The teasing from my family and Sam about being an 'informer' was not meant seriously but it has made me very uncomfortable," [10] but Dr. Thomas returned the three checks to Okazaki in her final correspondence. [11]

Leaving Camp and Postwar Life

According to the Manzanar Final Accountability Roster, Okazaki entered Manzanar on August 2, 1942, and left the camp for Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on February 16, 1943, with her younger sister Emi, although their parents remained imprisoned in camp for three years. In March 1943, the Pacific Citizen newspaper reported that the Okazaki sisters were the first of a group of Nikkei to resettle in the Milwaukee area from one of the WRA camps. Okazaki was employed by the Milwaukee branch of the International Institute, her former employer in San Francisco, while her sister Emi worked in a physician's office. [12] Okazaki was offered the American-Japanese Fellowship to attend the Columbia University School of Social Work (then known as the New York School of Philanthropy), where she earned her master's degree in 1946.

By November 1946, Okazaki had returned to San Francisco, and was back at the International Institute of San Francisco, providing counseling services for individuals and families, and renewing her community work. [13] She married Reverend Frederic Elston Fertig of West Los Angeles on June 21, 1948. Due to anti-miscegenation laws in California, they had to hold the wedding in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Fertig was a progressive priest and pacifist, long associated with Japanese American churches. Throughout the war, he spoke out publicly in support of Japanese Americans, defending their loyalty to the U.S. and working with the American Friends Service Society and as an expert witness for the American Civil Liberties Union , in an effort to close the camps. When Executive Order 9066 passed, Reverend Fertig was the associate pastor of the All People's Christian Church in Los Angeles. He visited Manzanar numerous times to deliver sermons and act as a community liason for families from Southern California. [14]

In August 1948, Okazaki left her job at the International Institute to join Fertig in West Los Angeles, where they became active in the local chapter of the JACL. On May 1, 1949, their only child, Asano, was born at the City of Angels Hospital in North Hollywood. In the postwar years, Okazaki continued building her career as a social worker at numerous institutions such as the Los Angeles VA Clinic and the Camarillo State Mental Hospital. From 1963 until retirement, she worked at the Langley Porter Neuropsychiatric Institute, as the supervising psychiatric social worker, and also for the Japanese Family Service Programs in San Francisco. [15] In retirement, she was an active member of the Loom & Shuttle Weavers' Guild of S.F. She moved to Berkeley to help raise her granddaughter. She died on March 25, 2005, when she was 89 years old.

Authored by Patricia Wakida

For More Information

Park, Yoosun. Facilitating Injustice: The Complicity of Social Workers in the Forced Removal and Incarceration of Japanese Americans, 1941–1946 . New York: Oxford University Press, 2020.

Okazaki, Mari. Correspondence, mostly with Dorothy Thomas , 1942–43. Japanese American Evacuation and Resettlement: A Digital Archive, Bancroft Library, University of California at Berkeley, BANC MSS 67/14 c, folder W 1.30. 68 pages.

———. Diary excerpts, notes and correspondence. Japanese American Evacuation and Resettlement: A Digital Archive, Bancroft Library, University of California at Berkeley, BANC MSS 67/14 c, folder O10.05:1 and BANC MSS 67/14 c, folder O10.05:2 , 113 and 49 pages. [Much of the correspondence is with Annie Clo Watson.]


  1. Interview with Asano Fertig, Nov. 22, 2020.
  2. Interview with Asano Fertig, Nov. 22, 2020.
  3. Interview with Asano Fertig, Nov. 22, 2020.
  4. Letter, Mari Okazaki to Dorothy Swaine Thomas, May 25, 1942, Japanese American Evacuation and Resettlement Records (JAERR), Bancroft Library, University of California at Berkeley, BANC MSS 67/14 c, folder B12.44, accessed on Dec. 31, 2020 at .
  5. Letter, Okazaki to Thomas, May 25, 1942.
  6. Letter, Okazaki to Thomas, May 25, 1942.
  7. Telegraph, Mari Okazaki to Dorothy Swaine Thomas, June 19, 1942, JAERR BANC MSS 67/14 c, folder B12.44, accessed on Dec. 31, 2020 at .
  8. Greg Robinson, "Sam Hohri," Densho Encyclopedia, .
  9. Letter, Mari Okazaki to Dorothy Swaine Thomas, Feb. 10, 1943, JAERR BANC MSS 67/14 c, folder W 1.30, accessed December 31, 2020 at .
  10. Letter, Okazaki to Thomas, Feb. 10, 1943.
  11. Letter, Mari Okazaki to Dorothy Swaine Thomas, Feb. 16, 1943, JAERR BANC MSS 67/14 c, folder W 1.30, accessed December 31, 2020 at .
  12. Pacific Citizen , Mar. 4, 1943, 2.
  13. Pacific Citizen , Nov. 16, 1942, 2.
  14. Letter, Paul H. Kusuda letter to Fred Fertig, May 25, 1942, Japanese American National Museum, Online Archive of California, accessed on Dec. 31, 2020 at .
  15. Obituary, San Francisco Chronicle , Apr. 10, 2005, accessed Dec. 31, 2020 at .

Last updated Jan. 6, 2021, 12:17 a.m..