Michio Kunitani

Name Michio Kunitani
Born April 6 1918
Died July 6 2004
Birth Location California
Generational Identifier


Michio Kunitani was a Nisei community leader who reported on life in Tanforan for the Japanese American Evacuation and Resettlement Study .

Michio Kunitani (often referred to in his younger days as "Mich") was born in California. He was the eldest of three sons of Michitoshi Kunitani, a salesman at local stores, and his wife Tsuya. Kunitani grew up in Boyle Heights and attended Roosevelt High School. Following his graduation in 1936, he enrolled at UC Berkeley, where he completed a BA degree in 1940. During this time, he helped support himself by working as a servant in a private home. In September 1940, he enrolled in a master's degree program at Berkeley. Kunitani took a job as a warehouseman, for which he earned $65 per week.

During the 1930s, Kunitani became politically active as a strong liberal and supporter of President Franklin Roosevelt 's New Deal. In 1936, he took a trip to Japan to visit his paternal grandmother, and was troubled by the militaristic Japanese society he observed. After moving to Berkeley, he became active with the UC Young Democrats. In April 1940, he attended the California Youth Legislature as a representative of the club.

At some point, Kunitani joined the Los Angeles Nisei Democrats. In fall 1940, he became active with the fledgling Oakland Nisei Young Democrats and served on the group's membership committee. In spring 1941, he reported to the group on bills in the state legislature pertaining to the welfare of the Issei and Nisei. Later that fall, Kunitani was elected president of the Young Democrats, and he directed their meetings and activities. During this period, he became involved with a fellow student, Anne Saito, whom he met through their common involvement in anti-fascist activities. The two were married in March 1941.

In February 1942, in the wake of Executive Order 9066 , Kunitani led a delegation from the Oakland Young Democrats that testified before the Tolan Committee , the Congressional committee sent to investigate and advise on mass removal. He and his wife, along with senior member Ernest Satoshi liyama, emphasized the loyalty of the Nisei group, and stressed that their club had been "consistently opposed to Japanese aggression." They pointed out that they had sent Tolan, as their local representative, repeated resolutions calling for an embargo on scrap metals and other war materials then being sent to the Japanese militarists. Kunitani underlined the fact that the Nisei were culturally and psychologically American: "We are Americans not by the technicality of birth, but by all the other forces of sports, amusement, schools and churches which are in our communities and which affect our lives directly. Some of us are Yankee fans; some of us are Dodger fans; some of us like to sip beer; some of us like to go to the Top of the Mark once in a while. We enjoy Jack Benny; we listen to Beethoven. Some of us even go through the Congressional Record." He added on behalf of the group that they would favor evacuation if the military authorities deemed it necessary, but recommended that the Nisei be permitted to participate positively in the defense effort. In later years, Kunitani blamed a left-wing faction of the Nisei Democrats, who favored the Communist Party platform of total support for the war effort, for preventing the group from taking a stronger stand for the rights of American citizens.

In mid-1942, Kunitani was sent to confinement at Tanforan, where he was soon hired by the Employment Service. In May 1942, he presented on the service at a Town Hall for the inmates. At the end of July 1942, he participated in another Town Hall assembly, this time as moderator. During this time, he was hired by the Japanese American Evacuation and Resettlement Study to write on life in camp. He responded with a series of reports. For example, in one report, "Tanforan Politics," Kunitani described the work of house managers in bringing the grievances of the inmates to the administration. "In their daily meetings they discussed almost every aspect of center activity, physical facilities, food, labor problems, morale, education, recreation, housing, dissemination of information, guest visits, morals, center store and many more such problems."

In August 1942, after several weeks at Tanforan, Kunitani was sent to Poston . There he became a close associate of Isamu Noguchi , who was posted as an employee in camp. While in Poston, Kunitani joined a committee formed to discuss the organization of defense training courses in the fields of mechanics and agriculture.

In March 1943, Mitch and Anne Kunitani left camp and resettled in Cleveland, Ohio. Anne took a job as membership secretary for the National Consumers League. After moving to Cleveland, Kunitani began a study of the problems of resettlement, and sent a letter on the subject, with added material, to First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt . On Mrs. Roosevelt's invitation, Kunitani traveled to Washington DC to visit the White House and was granted a thirty-minute meeting with Mrs. Roosevelt to brief her on the challenges facing Nisei as they left camp and the lack of official support they were receiving. The following year, he addressed a meeting of the National Conference on Social Work on the problems of resettlers.

In October 1946, following the end of World War II, Kunitani enlisted in the US Army. The following year, after his discharge, he and his wife returned to the San Francisco Bay area, where he was hired by the California Department of Employment as a labor relations representative and minority group coordinator. In 1963, he was appointed manager of the department's Oakland office, where he handled state unemployment insurance. In a 1975 article he was listed as an "Employment Development Department spokesman." Michio and Anne Kunitani divorced, and in 1972 Michio married Dolores Nugent. He later worked for SamTrans, a local commuter transport service. Kunitani died in Berkeley in 2004.

Authored by Greg Robinson , Université du Québec À Montréal

Last updated Nov. 5, 2020, 11:59 p.m..