Nami Shingu (1918–2017)
Nami Shingu, an American citizen born of Japanese parents, arrived in Arkansas as an internee in a World War II relocation camp and left a decade later after her family’s successful farming endeavors allowed them to return to California.
Nami Yoshida was born in San Francisco, California, on January 31, 1918. There is little record of her parents, Japanese natives who had come to the United States seeking new opportunities. The family returned to Japan when Nami was ten years old, but as she grew up, she came to recognize the oppressive nature of the militaristic Japanese government, seeing friends who expressed opposition to its policies suddenly disappear. In the mid-1930s, she met a man living in her village named Shizuo Kosobayashi, a Japanese native who had lived in Washington State but had returned to Japan to find a wife. They soon married. In 1935, she and her new husband returned to the United States, settling in Los Angeles, California. They had a daughter, Mae, and a son, Doug. Shizuo Kosobayashi then fell ill from tubercular meningitis; after a year of hospitalization, he died in 1941.
Living in a room at a hotel owned by a family friend, Nami worked as a maid but worried that her children would be taken away and put in an orphanage. When the Empire of Japan bombed Pearl Harbor in December 1941 and America entered World War II, people of Japanese descent were excluded from the West Coast and relocated to incarceration camps. In the summer of 1942, she was forced to leave her home in Los Angeles and take her two children, now four years old and two and a half, to a temporary assembly center at the Santa Anita racetrack.
Upon their arrival, they learned with some relief that they would be housed in the barracks rather than the stables that, only a month before, had been home to horses but would now be home to thousands of the evacuees. While less than ideal, the situation provided housing, regular meals, and access to medical care, as well as playmates for the children.
The family was then transferred to the Rohwer Relocation Camp in southeastern Arkansas near the Mississippi River, where they stayed for the next three years. At Rohwer, she met a fellow internee, Lloyd Shingu, a single father with a daughter, Marian, who had been sent to the camp from Stockton, California. The two married while still interned at Rohwer. They were married for forty-eight years until Lloyd’s death, and together they had one son, born while they were in Rohwer.
When the couple and their children were released from the camp in the fall of 1945, they did not have enough money to return to California. One of the few families who stayed in Arkansas after being interned, they found a small house not far from the Rohwer camp and began the process of making a living truck farming (producing crops on an extensive scale for shipment to distant markets). This type of farming was not easy, especially in an area that had previously supported only cotton growing, but Lloyd Shingu’s brother-in-law, who was also in the Rohwer camp, had been a farm superintendent in Stockton and developed a way to irrigate their area efficiently while also trying out some innovative ideas. Delivering to the local Kroger markets as well as bigger markets in Little Rock (Pulaski County), the couple developed a prosperous business. Their agricultural practices soon gained the attention of educators at Arkansas’s agricultural colleges. While the exact date is unknown, Nami Shingu remembered an article on their efforts in a Sunday edition of the Arkansas Gazette in the late 1940s that included a photograph of her showing their produce to a local plantation owner. After seven years, they had grown a bumper tomato crop that gave them enough money to allow them to return to California in 1952, settling in Pasadena.
Nami assumed the role of homemaker. Initially, Lloyd supported the family through a gardening business, but he started studying to be an insurance agent and was soon serving as the agent for most of the Japanese-speaking people of the area. When Nami Shingu died on March 21, 2017, at the age of ninety-nine, her family included four children, six grandchildren, and nine great-grandchildren. Her step-daughter Marian Shingu married Frank Sata, who was also interned in Arkansas and whose father J. T. Sata was a noted artist who captured scenes of internment camp life.
For additional information:
Bearden, Russell. “Life Inside Arkansas’s Japanese-American Relocation Centers.” Arkansas Historical Quarterly 48 (Summer 1989): 169–199.
Hettrick, Scott. “Love, Life amidst Japanese Internment.” Arcadia’s Best, December 19, 2016.
Marian Shingu Sata Interview. Densho Digital Archive, Densho Visual History Collection. http://ddr.densho.org/media/ddr-densho-1000/ddr-densho-1000-262-transcript-e291cf5419.htm (accessed July 30, 2020).
William H. Pruden III
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