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Shizuka Mine, sent to Japanese internment camp as young woman, dies at 92

A family portrait shows ShizukNishikawMine (seated second from right with large white collar).  |  Family photo

A family portrait shows Shizuka Nishikawa Mine (seated, second from right, with a large white collar). | Family photo

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Updated: December 30, 2013 12:14PM

Seventy years after her family was sent to a hot, dusty internment camp in Arkansas during World War II, Shizuka Mine still thought about the horse.

Her mother and father had a little strawberry farm in Redondo Beach, Calif., when President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 in 1942. Amid fears of sabotage and espionage, the order was used to force an estimated 120,000 Japanese Americans from their Pacific Coast homes into camps in desolate parts of the middle of the country.

Like many other internees, her family had mere days to relocate. They could take only what they could carry to Jerome, Ark.

Their farm had a beloved horse the family used to help with plowing.

“She was very sad . . . because when they were interned and evacuated, they had to leave all the animals,” said her daughter, Sharon Hidaka. “She said the only thing they could do was leave the gate open and hope that somebody would take care of him.”

Mrs. Mine was “sweet and quiet,” her daughter said. She managed to remain free of bitterness. But as she grew older, she spoke more about her internment memories, wondering aloud what happened to the animal her Japanese-born parents named “Horse.”

She also recalled the camp’s parched climate.

“The wind and the dust would come right up through the floorboards,” Hidaka said. “Sweeping was futile.”

Mrs. Mine remembered the communal bathrooms and their lack of privacy. To maintain a little dignity, she would visit them at odd times when no one else was around.

“She couldn’t go too close to the fence,” her daughter said. Barbed wire and watchtowers surrounded Jerome Relocation Center.

Mrs. Mine died in her Skokie home last month at 92.

After the war, her family migrated to Chicago. She married, raised a family and worked for more than 20 years in sales at Marshall Field’s.

Early life was peaceful for young Shizuka Nishikawa. She graduated from high school in Redondo Beach. On Saturdays, she went to Japanese language school, but she slipped out of her classes to get lost at the movies for only a quarter. “She always loved the movies,” her daughter said.

But after the distrust that followed the attack on Pearl Harbor, life was never the same. Her parents had brought a few treasures from Japan when they immigrated to America.

“I think they had a little Buddha shrine. They had katana swords, because the boys [studied the martial art] kendo,” Hidaka said. “All those things from their homeland were buried in the backyard. . . . They didn’t want people to think they were loyal to Japan.”

As they were being relocated, the family was held temporarily at Santa Anita racetrack, not long after its famed equine resident, Seabiscuit, had rocketed around the turf.

They were sent to Jerome by train — the young Shizuka; her sisters, Miyoko and Rosie; her brothers, Yas and Kit, and their mother and father, Tsutano and Yastaro.

“All the shades were down so she couldn’t peek out,” her daughter said. “They were told, ‘You don’t want to peek out; don’t cause any trouble.’ I think there was fear people would be upset and try and attack the train.”

Her father, who was in his 50s, died in the camp. Her brother, Kit, volunteered for the military and left Jerome.

After the war, Kit Nishikawa settled in Hyde Park, and the rest of the family followed. They joined a Japanese-American community of Issei and Nisei — first and second-generation —that began to cluster in Wrigleyville, because there was nothing to go back to on the West Coast. Their farms were gone — sometimes stolen by neighbors.

Through her brother Kit, she met his friend, Army veteran Kei Mine. They married and moved to Skokie, where they raised their daughter, Sharon, and their son, Ken. Later, they doted on their grandchildren, Remy and Warren Hidaka.

To make ends meet, Kei Mine worked two auto-repair jobs. Mrs. Mine worked at Field’s. After the war, she was able to visit Japan and reconnect with relatives. She traveled to Germany and Hong Kong. Mrs. Mine also enjoyed visiting Hawaii with her husband or sisters.

She didn’t hang on to things. “She liked everything brand new,” her daughter said. “It seemed like she just wanted to forget everything. . . . She kept one thing that was my grandmother’s . . . an obi” — a Japanese sash.

Mrs. Mine still loved her movies, especially anything with Robert Redford or Paul Newman. She also liked the chemistry between the dashing Omar Sharif and the glowing Julie Christie in the snow-sparkled 1965 film “Dr. Zhivago.”

Mrs. Mine proudly pointed out celebrities of Japanese heritage, such as speed-skater Apolo Ohno. She even speculated that the president might be part-Japanese, recalling the name of a harbor town in central Japan: Obama.

Services have been held. Her husband’s ashes are already at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, also known as the “Punchbowl Cemetery,” in Honolulu. Her children plan to bring her ashes there to join him.


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