RAYMOND YOSHIHIRO AKA / 1915-2006
Linguist boosted relations between U.S. and Japan
Raymond Yoshihiro Aka, who was honored by the Japanese emperor for his work strengthening U.S.-Japanese relations, will be buried Friday at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl.
Aka was 90 when he died Jan. 5 in Walnut Creek, Calif. The son of Japanese immigrants, Aka was born in Wailuku in 1915 but spent much of his childhood in Okinawa. He graduated from McKinley High School in 1939.
In September 1941, a few months before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Aka was drafted while he was a student at the University of Hawaii. He served in the Military Intelligence Service during World War II and then as a warrant officer in the Japanese Liaison Office in Gen. Douglas MacArthur's Tokyo headquarters after the war.
After his honorable discharge in 1947, he became a civilian employee of the U.S. Department of the Army during Japan's postwar reconstruction and was involved in the drafting of the Japanese Constitution, civil service, election reform and the establishment of the police reserves.
"He had a unique talent," said retired Col. Harry Fukuhara, who became friends with Aka in 1942 at military intelligence language school and now lives in San Jose, Calif.
"He was one of the best linguists they had. He did a lot of things behind the scenes. He got to be a sort of an expert and consultant for both sides."
Aka spent the rest of his career at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo, working with the Japanese Defense Agency. In 1986 the emperor of Japan awarded him a rare honor -- the Order of the Rising Sun, Golden Rays -- for his contributions to U.S.-Japanese friendship.
"He's probably the one person that stands out among Japanese and Americans combined for his dedication," Fukuhara said. "There's a lot of people that did good work. They were there for three or five years, but he stayed there for 40-something years."
Aka retired in 1989 and moved to Walnut Creek. He suffered a stroke in October while playing mah-jongg and never recovered.
He is survived by his wife of 62 years, Shizu; sisters Bernice Hashimoto and Janice Okudara; brothers David, Roy and Roichi Aka; five nephews and four nieces.
A military service will be held at Punchbowl at 10:30 a.m. Friday.