Shingi Nakamura

Name Shingi Nakamura
Born March 29 1892
Died June 29 1979
Birth Location Higashi village, Okinawa
Generational Identifier


Shingi Nakamura was a pre- and postwar Issei leader of the Okinawan immigrant community in Los Angeles. He was part of the circle of radical worker-intellectuals and activists who formed the progressive wing of the prewar Okinawan community and a writer. At the end of the war, he served in the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey and afterwards was one of the founders of the Okinawan relief movement with his close associate Paul Shinsei Kochi . He continued to be active in the Okinawan community to the end of his life.

Shingi Nakamura was born March 29, 1892, in Higashi village in the northern part of Okinawa island. He attended the Kunigami Agricultural School in Okinawa and Morioka Higher Agriculture and Forestry School in mainland Japan. He came to the U.S. in 1919 to study animal husbandry, but settled in Los Angeles where he did gardening and hotel work. Married to Chiyo Miyagi (née Yamaki) in 1934, they had no children.

He was an active member of the progressive group Zaibei Okinawan Seinenkai (Okinawa Young People's Association of America) from 1927 to 1934. As its first president, he presided over its reorganization as a rival Okinawan kenjinkai (prefectural association) when the more conservative Okinawa Kaigai Kyokai (Okinawa Overseas Association) rejected their proposal to unify the politically divided Okinawan community through a merger of the two organizations. His role as an intellectual leader is evident in his 1932 talk to the Seinenkai entitled "The Evolution of American Capitalism" and in his subsequent essays published in the annual journal Ryukyu . Notably, in "Some Thoughts and Hopes Regarding the Kenjinkai" in 1936, he argued that Okinawans overseas should reject the common feeling of cultural shame over Okinawan backwardness, feel proud of their cultural distinctiveness, and recognize their common interest with their fellow Japanese facing racial discrimination and exploitation as immigrant workers under American capitalism. With his close associate Paul Shinsei Kochi, Shingi Nakamura was also active in the 1930s in the Hollywood Gardeners Union and the Southern California Gardeners Federation and contributed as an editor for the bulletin Gadena no Tomo (Gardener's Friend).

After Pearl Harbor, he served on the executive council of the Wartime Measures Council established by the Okinawan community in February 1942. This council issued a public statement in the Japanese vernaculars and the Los Angeles Times declaring its support for the war effort to defeat Japanese militarism and decided to actively cooperate with the Anti-Axis Committee. With the mass removal of Japanese Americans, he and his wife were incarcerated along with others in the Okinawan community in the Santa Anita Assembly Center in May 1942 and transferred to Heart Mountain in Wyoming in August. They were released during the war and moved to New York City where they worked for the Hokubei Shimpo and were active in Japanese American Committee for Democracy (JACD). At the end of the war, in October 1945, he served along with Kochi on the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey, assigned to the Kanto region survey team.

On their return to the U.S., Nakamura and Kochi jointly published a "Report on the Condition of Okinawans in Japan after the War" in the Hokubei Shimpo in New York on March 1, 1946. It appealed to the Okinawan communities in the U.S. to form a national movement to send relief goods to Okinawa , which was under a separate American jurisdiction and excluded from access to the relief goods and donations sent by the Japanese American communities to occupied Japan. They proceeded to establish the first of the Okinawan relief committees in New York on April 15. Then, accompanied by Takeshi Haga of the JACD and with the help of Jesse Shima, an Okinawan Issei living in Washington, D.C. who had extensive contacts in the government, they visited the Navy Department and negotiated arrangements for the shipment of Okinawan relief goods and mail on navy ships. They were able subsequently to get Okinawa included under LARA (Licensed Agencies for Relief in Asia) with distribution of relief managed through the Church World Service, one of its member organizations. Kochi and Nakamura then began a cross-country tour on May 20 to urge Okinawan communities in Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, the San Francisco Bay Area and the Central Valley in California to begin forming local relief committees. They helped establish the Okinawan Relief League of America in Los Angeles on June 23, 1946. Kochi continued organizing on the West Coast while Nakamura and his wife Chiyo worked on Okinawan relief from New York.

By 1949, Shingi and Chiyo Nakamura moved back to Los Angeles. He resumed gardening and continued to be active through 1954 under the renamed Okinawa Reconstruction League as well as the subsequent Okinawa Club of America where he served for nine years as head of the Cultural Department. From 1966 to 1976, he served as chair of the Okinawa Club's Editorial Committee, which compiled the Hokubei Okinawajin Shi (History of Okinawans in North America), published in Japanese in 1981.

In 1961, he was awarded the Mokuhai (Wooden Cup) for his distinguished service by the Japanese Ministry of Education and served to the end of his life in various capacities in both Okinawan and Japanese community organizations, including the Cultural Center of the Southern California Japanese Chamber of Commerce, the Okinawan Folk Music Association, and the Japanese Welfare Rights Organization. Shingi Nakamura died on June 29, 1979, at the age of 87.

Authored by Ben Kobashigawa , Emeritus, Asian American Studies, San Francisco State University

For More Information

Kobashigawa, Ben. "Okinawan Issei Identity: Pride and Shame among the Early Immigrants." In Ronald Y. Nakasone, ed., Reflections on the Okinawan Experience: Essays Commemorating 100 Years of Okinawan Immigration . Fremont, Calif.: Dharma Cloud Publishers, 1996. 29-44.

Okinawa Club of America, comp. History of the Okinawans in North America . Translated by Ben Kobashigawa. Los Angeles: University of California and Okinawa Club of America, 1988.

Last updated Nov. 30, 2020, 8:58 a.m..