The Story of Japanese in Southern Jersey (aka JACL Seabrook) by Floyd Mori

June 1, 2011 at 9:06 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Seabrook is a small town in a farming district of southern New Jersey. Near the end of World War II, Charles F. Seabrook and his sons ran a frozen food business with 20,000 acres under cultivation, and they faced a labor shortage because of the war. To find workers, they recruited people from the camps along with other displaced persons to become crop pickers and workers for their food processing plants. In 1944 and 1945, about 2,500 people of Japanese descend had migrated to Seabrook. Thus, the birth of the JACL Seabrook Chapter.

The Seabrook Chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) continues its rich heritage by holding an annual Keirokai event, which they have been doing for over sixty years. The dinner is held to honor the Japanese Americans in the area who are 65 years and older. The oldest male at this year’s event was Mr. Hank Furushima, and the oldest female was Mrs. Mitsuko Omura. They take a group photo of the attendees each year and have photos going back to the late 1940’s.

The Japanese Americans in Seabrook adapted well to the surrounding culture and area while maintaining their traditions and heritage. A museum begun by Japanese American residents in 1994, the Seabrook Educational and Cultural Center, helps preserve their identity and provides a platform for telling the Japanese American story. The museum is staffed by volunteers and has been directed by John Fuyuume, who grew up in Pasadena, California, where his parents grew vegetables and owned a family grocery store. His family was incarcerated in 1942 at Gila River, Arizona, where they stayed until relocating to Seabrook in 1944.

Fuyuume with his wife Setsuko, whose family also lived in Seabrook, moved to Philadelphia from Seabrook a few years ago to a retirement area where they joined Setsuko’s sisters and brother in law, Eiko and Bunji Ikeda, Chizujo Sakata, and Miyoko Wong. They all attended the Keirokai event.

Floyd Mori, National Executive Director of the JACL, and his wife Irene were attending a JACL Eastern District Council meeting at Medford Leas, New Jersey, when John Fuyuume, who is a former Seabrook Chapter President, mentioned that the Seabrook Chapter would hold their Keirokai later that day. Fuyuume was representing Seabrook Chapter since the chapter co-presidents, Sharon Yoshida and Lenore Wurtzel, were busy preparing for the event of which Linda Ono was chair. Floyd and Irene Mori attended the Keirokai where they talked with former residents of the Poston, Gila River, and Topaz camps who had made those homes in Seabrook after the war.

The Keirokai is held at the Seabrook Buddhist Temple, which was founded in 1945. Entertainment was provided by the Minyo (folk) Dancers and the Hoh Daiko Drummers taiko group. The Minyo dance group began in 1975 under the direction of Sunkie Oye. They were formed as part of a cultural presentation by members of the Seabrook Japanese American community at the 1975 Smithsonian Festival of American Folklife. The taiko group in Seabrook began in 1991.

Door prizes and favors were provided by the Seabrook JACL chapter board and members as well as local merchants. All the attendees received gifts and had a good time, ending the event with Bingo.

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