Kazue Katz blazed trail for thousands
as first Japanese War Bride
She faced centuries of rigid tradition; he, the mighty bureaucracy of the U.S. occupation forces.
But in the end, Kazue Nagai - resplendent in a silk kimono - married young Air Force cryptographer Frederick H. Katz in 1946 in Tokyo. She is said to be the first war bride of a GI in occupied Japan.
The Yokohama native preceded some 72,700 Asian war brides - 46,000 from Japan - who emigrated to the United States between 1947 and 1964.
Another 70,000 war brides came from England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales, as well as other Allied countries, such as Australia and New Zealand.
Like most of these marriages, the union of Katz and Nagai was a love match.
As daughter Linda Romo, of Santa Rosa, tells it, her mother had gone to meet a friend in front of an Army post exchange in Tokyo. When the friend didn't show, she went to a nearby park to eat her lunch.
Katz was walking by and saw her sitting on the grass.
"He said, 'Hi, do you speak English?' " Romo said. "She said, 'A little.' " The pair started talking and soon began dating.
In six months, they were married, though not before Katz sought and obtained 29 endorsements from Army officials, right up to Gen. Douglas MacArthur.
"He was the type of person that if he wanted to do something, nothing would stop him," said Romo. "He was driven. If he wanted her, everyone else would just have to accept her."
The soon-to-be bride's parents were more than startled when their daughter brought Katz home to Yokohama on the train.
So were friends.
"They told her she was making a mistake, marrying one of the enemy," said son Fred Katz Jr., of San Francisco. "She told them the war was over."
Severe societal disapproval
Many war brides faced severe societal disapproval for marrying Americans. Some were even disowned by their families.
"Of course, her parents were very strict, especially when it came to Americans," Romo said.
The Nagais, however, were eventually won over after their daughter insisted that Katz "was the one."
"They accepted him and learned to like him," Romo said.
Once in America, the Katzes became celebrities.
After they settled in San Francisco, The Examiner followed their family events, from Mrs. Katz taking the oath of allegiance when she became a citizen, to her aging parents emigrating to California to live with the family in the Mission District.
"A Love Story Made in Japan," proclaimed one headline. "Japanese War Bride a New Citizen," said another.
"I remember film crews coming over to report her story," said youngest daughter Laurie Morton, of Fremont. "I think she enjoyed telling the media about it."
In fact, Japanese war brides were perhaps the most visible representatives of Japanese American life during the postwar years, according to Caroline Chung Simpson, whose 1998 article in "GenderWatch: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies" examined the societal impact of Japanese war brides in the 1950s.
Appealed to mainstream
Seen as perhaps the earliest examples of the Asian "Model Minority," Japanese war brides appealed to mainstream Americans as wives and mothers "unfettered by the disturbing public history of internment," wrote Simpson, referring to the mass incarceration of 120,000 West Coast Japanese Americans in 1942.
Along with this curiosity, however, came some hostility and racism.
Romo said that when her parents first came to California, they had "a hard time. People didn't accept them. When I was little, people would look at Mom and look at Dad and see the blend of the children. Some of them looked the other way, or they gave a dirty look. So there was prejudice because of the war."
The Katzes, however, weren't fazed.
Fred Katz joined the National Guard, where he retired as a sergeant major. He and his wife raised five children.
While Mrs. Katz was far away from her native Japan, she kept up her many accomplishments in Japanese culture, performing odori or Japanese dance, singing Japanese songs and playing the shamisen, a Japanese stringed instrument.
She was won several awards for flower arranging, or ikebana, and did brush painting. Active in the Japanese American community, Mrs. Katz often entertained seniors at the Hamilton Senior Center.
Also a working wife
She was also a working wife: a typesetter in the Japanese section of the Nichi Bei Times, a daily newspaper in San Francisco. And, for 20 years, she was a waitress at Tokyo Sukiyaki restaurant near Fisherman's Wharf.
"She met a lot of celebrities - Jimmy Durante, Joe DiMaggio, Karl Malden and Michael Douglas," Romo said. "They didn't know who she was because she never made a big deal of it."
Fred Katz died just before their 25th wedding anniversary. His son said the elder Katz had been planning to write a book about "why I married a Japanese girl."
"It was just love, and he was happy," said Fred Katz Jr. "They really felt they were meant for each other."
She is also survived by 13 grandchildren: Mark, Derek and Shelly Casebeer; Greg and Mia Romo; Jennifer and Tracy Katz; Marissa, Ray Jr., Corina and Eric Peņa; and Zach and Max Morton.
- Annie Nakao, OF THE EXAMINER STAFF
Friday, June 2, 2000
SANTA ROSA (KRON) -- A Santa Rosa woman with ties to World War II is making a long journey to Japan this Mother's Day to learn more about her family tree and to meet relatives she has never known. Her mother was the first-ever Japanese war bride.
Linda Romo, her older sister and their children will be traveling throughout Japan as a tribute to their mom this Mother's Day. Both their parents are gone, but their memories live on in amily photos and dozens of newspaper articles, many in english; some in japanese.
Kazue and Frederick Katz made headlines when they tied the knot after World War II and Kazue became the first Japanese war bride, preceding 72,000 warbrides from Asia.
"He was from Philadelphia," Romo says. "One of his friends was from California - he tried also, but because of California not allowing interracial marriages at that time, my father became the first."
But it wasn't easy. Katz had to get 29 endorsements, including one from General MacArthur.
Since then, the Katz' had five children, but Kazue never had a chance to return home. Her husband died after their 25th anniversary, leaving her alone to raise five kids.
"She would say, 'some day,'" Romo recalls, "[but she] never could afford it."
But now, two of her daughters will live out her dream and track her roots.
"Where she grew up, her schools, the house she lived in, if it's still there," Romo says.
And for the first time, they will meet their mother's relatives.
Via the Internet, Linda's been able to communicate with one of at least 30 cousins. He'll guide them around and once Linda puts the pieces of the puzzle together, she plans to write a book about her mom's fascinating life.
"And hopefully the cousins can help us," she says.
Linda Romo leaves for Japan tomorrow afternoon. She hopes to see Tokyo, Yokahama, Kyoto, and Niigata in twelve days.
(Copyright 2003, KRON 4. All rights reserved.)
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