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A circle complete

Hood River’s Mits Tamiyasu takes unique flag back to Japan, finishing a seven-year salute

November 23, 2005

The Rising Sun has formed a perfect circle, finally, for Mits Tamiyasu and the family of Shokichi Oyazaki.

A Japanese flag bearing the name of Oyazaki and other former Japanese POWs was in Tamiyasu’s possession for seven years until last month, when he carried it to Japan and presented it to Oyazaki’s daughter.

“I think the Japanese people should be proud of that flag. It represents their culture,” said the native Hood Riverite, a retired orchardist and a longtime Hood River Lion.

“I feel relieved,” Tamiyasu said having returned the flag. Kyoto Lions met him at the airport – as did national TV cameras. Tamiyasu remained on national TV during the next day’s luncheon and toasts of sake. There, he turned over the flag, with its signatures by Oyazaki and other Japanese soldiers, to Tazuko Oyazaki.

Shokichi Oyazaki was born on July 27, 1903, and died on Dec. 19, 1960.

Eight years after first trying to return the flag to the appropriate people in Japan, Tamiyasu succeeded in doing so.

In 1998, the Hood River Historical Society was thinning its collection and gave Tamiyasu the flag, which it had received from a veteran of South Pacific combat, now deceased. No one has any idea what island the veteran was on, according to a Sept. 26, 1998, Hood River News article headlined “Japanese POW flag ‘completes the circle.’”

“With something like this, you have this feeling of ‘What am I going to do with it?’” Tamiyasu said. “It needed to go back to Japan.”

Tamiyasu, 83, ventured to Kyoto, Japan, to restore the flag to Tazuko Oyazaki, daughter of Oyazaki, under the auspices of the Lions Club of Kyoto.

In 1998, upon receiving the flag, he planned to work with officials from Hood River’s Sister City, Tsuruta, Japan, and with government agencies and veterans organizations to “shed light on any families remaining,” as reporter Bill Campeau wrote.

But the flag reunion never came off. His efforts in 1998 included sending a photo of the flag to the Japanese Consul of Oregon, but by 2003 nothing ever came of it.

“I was about to give up,” but he tried again, through the Lions International e-mail directory.

He sent e-mails with the help of his friend Bill Lyons. Earlier this year he heard back from Tadeshi Matsuda, Chair of the Council of Governors, International Lions Club of Japan. Matsuda recognized the name Oyazaki from his Prefecture. Matsuda met Tamiyasu at the airport and put the American visitor up in his home and then arranged for the flag presentation.

Junichi Shibatani, International Trade Manager in the Oregon Economic and Community Development Department in Portland, was also instrumental in helping locate Tazuko Oyazaki.

Until she was shown a photo of the flag, Oyazaki had been unaware of its existence, but she recognized her father’s handwriting.

“She believes that the people whose signatures are on the flag are from the Tango area of Kyoto,” according to Lyons.

Oyazaki presented Tamiyasu with a picture of her father, at about age 30, dressed in ceremonial clothing with a placard bearing his name.

Tamiyasu credits Nellie Hjaltalin of the Historical Society and former County Administrator Jim Azumano with help in the odyssey.

Matsuda also brought along his daughter, who went to school in Canada, as an interpreter for Tamiyasu, who said his Japanese was sufficient enough to make him feel like an honored guest in Kyoto.

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