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  • Emily Pan

Oral History by Kofuji Eto Fukunaga

Updated: Dec 26, 2021

Kofuji Eto Fukunaga and Nephew Michael Shibata

This is a summary of the oral history by Kofuji Eto Fukunaga, about her father's life story. Her father, Tameji Eto, was born and raised in Japan and at the age of 18, went to Hawaii to work in the cane fields. After three years, he arrived in San Francisco and then traveled south to settle down in Arroyo Grande. There, he worked as a railroad foreman and on a farm in order to accumulate enough money to purchase a farm himself. Back in Japan, her grandfather would walk to the nearby school every day where several girls were learning how to leave, and he was trying to find a bride for his son in America. The girl her grandfather chose was Take Yanahara, the mother of Fukunaga. She arrived in Seattle and eventually made her way to Arroyo Grande.

Her father was offered a job growing flower seeds and with his savings from the job, was able to buy a buggy. Until then, life was a struggle for the family, as his father had to walk from Arroyo Grande to the grocery store in Oceano. Fukunaga says "Mama said she'll never forget the time Papa scolded her for forgetting to put the rice on the buying list. He had to go back for it again, all the way from Arroyo Grande to Oceano".

Meanwhile, as a child, Fukunaga went to school in Pismo Beach on horseback, before the first concrete road was created in 1913. In 1916, her father leased 25 acres of land in Morro Bay to grow green peas and flower seed. In 1920, her father saw a need for a telephone as he still maintained connections with growers in Pismo Beach and Morro Bay, but the company refused to grant him telephone service. This rejection would continue for him as the Great Depression and World War II ensued. But he was a strong man who always fought for what he knew to be right and he tried to help other Japanese people understand what America really is.

For example, during the Great Depression, he organized the Southern Central Japanese Agricultural Association to protect produce prices. After World War II, during which time he was moved from concentration camp to concentration camp, he returned to Los Osos but was unable to purchase land under the new Alien anti-land laws which forced many people to lose property. According to Fukunaga, "Because Japanese were denied right to buy land, he bought his land under the form of a corporation, with other peoples names...[and] when Oriental cases were brought before the court, Papa was determined to fight with many others. At the United States Supreme Court the case was won because the land law was against the


In 1946, there was a shortage of farm laborers as a result of many immigrants returning to their home countries. In response, her father contributed his efforts to the Japanese Supplementary Workers Council which established training programs to encourage more boys to come to the United States from Japan. Fukunaga says about the program and her father's efforts,

"It is a wonderful opportunity for young boys to understand America better and our way of life here. We are proud that his efforts as a pioneer producer and his service to the community was recognized in the history books of San Luis Obispo County written by our former senator Chris Jesperson in 1939. The City of San Luis Obispo honored him by giving one of its streets, his name, but it is regretful, his name was removed during World War II. He took keen interest in community welfare and always was one of the organizers of various Japanese Associations. And every opportunity he found, he gave his time to promote better understanding of America in Japan. His efforts were recognized by the Japanese Government and he was awarded the Ucral Medal in 1954. In 1953, his lifelong wish was finally granted; he became an American citizen."

Works Cited

Fukunaga, Kofuji. Oral history on master tape #3 transcript. History Center of San Luis Obispo County, 17 April 1964.

Image Source

Photo Courtesy of History Center of San Luis Obispo County

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