Arrests at the Desert Hotel

Sumi Yoshida and Joe Okamoto thought that December 7, 1941 was supposed a day that would live forever—in celebration. It was on that day the Japanese-American couple planned their wedding at the Desert Hotel, now the site of the Davenport Towers. The ceremony went off without a hitch, but the reception was marred by some unexpected guests. A squad of police and FBI agents cut the event short and arrested two guests. Earlier that day, Imperial Japan attacked the American fleet at Pearl Harbor killing more than 2,500 people. The two nations were at war.

For American citizens of Japanese descent, known as Nikkei, WWII ushered in an era of hardships few other Americans have experienced. Labelled as enemy aliens by the U.S. government, Japanese-Americans were made outsiders in the nation they called home.

With most of Spokane’s Japanese community celebrating the Okamoto’s nuptials at the Desert Hotel, government officials saw an opportunity. Two prominent leaders of Spokane’s Japanese community, Umenosuke “Hugh” Kasai and Kazuma “Frank” Hirata, were whisked away from their families and their community. Dubbed the "Mayor” of Spokane’s Japanese, Kasai was well known within the community, often acting as the community’s spokesman. Hirata was president of the local chapter of the Japanese Association, and like Kasai, was instrumental in building up a community where local Japanese could meet, and connect with others in the area. Their arrest the night of December 7, 1941 marked a dark new wartime era within the community.

In the following weeks, the local Japanese-American community was subject to heightened scrutiny. A curfew requiring all Nikkei to remain in their homes between 8pm and 6am was enforced, and restricted zones were set up throughout the city. According to a Spokesman-Review article on December 8th, 1942, the “the city’s Japanese population of 250 was carefully checked” by Spokane’s police, who searched for anything and everything that could be interpreted as potentially subversive. With the threat of imprisonment and fines hanging over their heads, the Japanese community had a choice: adapt or face severe consequences.

Unlike their friends on the West Coast, Japanese-Americans in Spokane were not forced into internment camps. For the remainder of the war, Japanese-Americans like the Okamotos stayed close to their community, avoiding interactions that could be considered suspicious.

Images

1940s Postcard of Regional Hotels

1940s Postcard of Regional Hotels

This postcard features the Desert Hotel in Coeur d'Alene, the Pacific Hotel in Spokane, and the Oasis Restaurant of Spokane's Desert Hotel, where the Okamoto wedding was held. | Source: Digital Commonwealth, Massachusetts Collections Online View File Details Page

Sumi Okamoto's Wedding Dress

Sumi Okamoto's Wedding Dress

In a 2007 interview Okamoto described her wedding as "a traditionally western ceremony...Everything was just American." The dress you see here is held with the Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture. | Source: Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture "NW Japanese-Americans Reflect on WWII Internment." Tri States Public Radio. http://www.publicbroadcastin.net/wium/news.newsmain/article/0/0/1047583/Emphasis/NW.Japanese-Americans.Reflect.On.WWII.Internment View File Details Page

Wedding Certificate

Wedding Certificate

The wedding certificate of the Okamotos. | Source: Washington State Archives, Digital Archives View File Details Page

1938 Spokane Japanese Banquet

1938 Spokane Japanese Banquet

A group prominent Spokane Japanese meeting in the Roundup Room of the Desert Hotel. | Source: Image L87-1.13402-38 Courtesy of the Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture View File Details Page

Kazuma "Frank" Hirata and Jun Hirata c. 1910s

Kazuma "Frank" Hirata and Jun Hirata c. 1910s

An undated photograph of Frank Hirata and his wife Jun. Hirata was one of the men arrested at the Okamoto wedding. | Creator: Msc 202 Hirata Family Papers, courtesy of the Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture. View File Details Page

Hirata Letter,  February 11, 1942

Hirata Letter, February 11, 1942

During his internment, Hirata wrote letters to his family, which can be found at the Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture. | Source: Msc 202, Hirata Family Papers courtesy of the Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Anna Harbine, “Arrests at the Desert Hotel,” Spokane Historical, accessed June 24, 2017, http://spokanehistorical.org/items/show/562.
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