Wilfred Chomatsu Tsukiyama
Former chief justiceBy Gregg K. Kakesako
a proud, loyal nisei
HE was the first American of Japanese ancestry to seek public office in Hawaii and his career mirrored the rise of fellow Japanese Americans.
But at times, Wilfred Chomatsu Tsukiyama, who became the first chief justice of the Hawaii Supreme Court under statehood, was even criticized by other nisei (second-generation Japanese Americans) because he insisted on learning good English and not speaking pidgin.
Justice Tsukiyama was a Republican and distinguished himself during his colorful career as an attorney, jurist, legislator, community leader and athlete.
He was appointed to a six-year term as chief justice -- the first Asian American in the United States to hold such a position -- in 1959. Popularly known as "Tsuky," he was among those who pushed to prove that locally born Japanese were as loyal as any other Americans. In the 1930s, he was among those who sought a change requiring Japanese with dual citizenship to change their allegiance to one country.
When a Navy admiral at Pearl Harbor pressed Congress to establish a military commission to govern the islands, Tsukiyama, in a speech, said the admiral was wrong and that thousands of Japanese gave up families and business ties to serve the American flag during World War I.
He tried to re-enlist at the outbreak of the Pacific War in 1942, but was turned down because he was too old at 45. In 1946, he successfully ran for the Territorial Senate and was chosen its president -- the first Japanese American to hold that post -- and was re-elected in 1951.