Highlights of The Life of Eiichi ‘Ed” Sakauye
By Beth Wyman
Eiichi Sakauye’s father, Yuwakichi Sakauye, arrived in Santa Clara County in 1900. He hailed from Wakayama-Ken prefecture in Southern Japan. In 1911 Yuwakichi returned to his homeland to claim his 26 year old bride and Eiichii was born on January 25, 1912.
The family first lived on North First Street where California Water Works is presently located. Ed’s father was able to purchase the property in 1907, prior to the 1913 Alien Land Law that prevented Japanese from owning land. He subsequently acquired parcels in Gilroy, Sunnyvale and on the San Jose-Alviso Road in San Jose.
Ed began working in the fields as a toddler. During high school, his Dad picked him up from school, he changed his clothing, and was in the field until dark. Today, Ed still grows a variety of Asian fruits, but takes the most pride in his flowers. He still uses a tractor that he built decades ago, although his farm now sits sandwiched between massive office buildings on the edge of San Jose.
It was my fortune to meet Ed through historical preservation pursuits. He has been active for many years in numerous organizations and committees, serving on the Santa Clara County Historical Heritage Commission for more than 20 years, the Jefferson School Board of Education in the City of Santa Clara, and after a school district was created, as a Trustee for the Santa Clara Unified School District for 9 years. In addition, he has worked closely with the Santa Clara Valley Water District and theCounty Agricultural Commission, and he helped found the City of Milpitas Historical Museum in 1975. Planners were looking for the area now known as “The Golden Triangle” but which was, at that time, mostly farms and orchards. Ed is a life member of the Japanese American Citizen League (JACL). He joined in 1932 and is the only member with such an extensive record. He probably holds a record for membership in the local branch of the California Pioneers as well! In addition, he has always supported the local Santa Clara County Pear Association, as well as the state Association, and the cannery organizations.
Ed published a book about the experiences of the Japanese who were interned during the years of World War II from 1941 – 1945, at Heart Mountain, Wyoming. These included “all persons of Japanese ancestry”, even 1/16 blood. Although cameras were banned, Ed was given permission to use a camera and photograph life in the camp a year later. Obtaining film and supplies and having film processed was difficult – there were no convenient drug stores at Heart Mountain. A special memory of the camp experience was when a Sister from the Maryknoll order visited and asked what was needed. Ed explained to her that the so-called school had no supplies. The next day the Sister appeared with an armful of school supplies. He served as a Weather Bureau Observer, Post Master for blocks 23, 24 and 30, as Assistant Farm Superintendent and a Block Manager.
Edward Seely, a neighbor looked after and protected their ranch, living in their house while they were gone. He was grateful to them for looking after his invalid mother and his property while he as overseas during World War I. Unlike many, Seely turned their property back over to them when they returned from Wyoming.
After his family returned to the valley in 1945, Ed was contacted by Walter Cronkite who wanted to see his camp film footage. Cronkite told Ed, “Looks like you guys had a good time there.” Ed reminded him that camp life had been very harsh. Definitely not pleasant.
As a result, Ed’s images were used as a documentary called Pride and Shame, which was aired on national television. His book,Heart Mountain. A Photo Essay, was published in 2000.
After the camp experience, a group of local historians met at University of Santa Clara and pledged that history of immigrant Japanese would be preserved, an account that would include that of the earliest settlers, the Issei; the second generation, the Neisei; and the third generation, the Sansei. They felt it was important to document the camp experience in order to prevent it from ever happening again. This led to numerous engagements for Ed in many local schools as well a University of California, Davis, Stanford University and in Gardena, CA.
This group also formed the Heart Mountain Foundation with the objective of preserving the site and “telling the story.” After struggling for many years, the Foundation now has federal government support and has established a learning center. Students from Powell High School in Powell, Wyoming, 12 miles east of Heart Mountain, are active participants in the project.
In the 1990’s, Ed owned the historical buildings on the Horn Ranch, then located on North First Street and was instrumental in having the house and the worker cabins saved and moved. In addition, with the help of a preservation group, the redwoods and the weeping willow in the back were also protected. The house is nicely restored on its present site at BEA Systems on North First and Highway 87. Furthermore, in a magnanimous gesture, Ed purchased the building in which the Japanese-American Museum is now located on North Fifth Street in the 1990s and turned over the deed to the nonprofit organization. He was an important contributor to the Japanese-American Museum in Los Angeles. With two partners, Ed formed a business that was called NKS for Nakamura, Kinno and Sakauye.
More recently, Ed has been interviewed by KPIX in 2004 for a couple Evening Magazine features regarding the historic Del Monte Fruit Cocktail in which his famous Bartlett pears were an ingredient. He also provided information about the 1933 Brooke Hart murder and subsequent vigilante hanging of the accused conspirators in St. James Park. One of my own favorite “Ed” stories is the one about the “baby picture contest” that was held at San Joe High School when Ed was a senior. His photo took first prize!