The second son of Mikisaburo and Suzu Izui, George Izui was born and raised in what he referred to as the Japanese ghetto of Seattle, Washington. Mikisaburo was a pharmacist, self-taught artist, and veteran of the Russo-Japanese War. Suzu was an educated woman, a talented musician who gradually sold off her kimonos to supplement the family’s income. Like his older brother, Victor, George attended Bailey Gatzert Elementary School, which had a majority Nisei student body, and Broadway High School. And like most of his peers, he went to Japanese language school each day after “American” school. Despite the family’s straitened circumstances, George remembered his childhood fondly.
A particular highlight was joining the Seattle Kendo-kai in 1933. He attained the rank of shodan in 1940, but his martial arts studies – along with many other pursuits – were curtailed with the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the US’ entrance into World War II.
Along with other Issei men, Mikisaburo Izui was taken into custody by the FBI, and did not rejoin the family for two years. Suzu, Vic, and George were removed to the Puyallup Assembly Center and then to the Minidoka (Idaho) War Relocation Center. Vic eventually joined the 442nd RCT as a medic, and George – to his everlasting regret – was determined to be medically ineligible to serve in the military. In 1944, once his father was reunited with the family in Minidoka, George left camp for Chicago, with an eye toward studying at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He worked at Curtiss Candy Company’s farm in McHenry County, and later was transferred to the Chicago factory, where Ruby Tashima, another former Minidoka incarceree, worked. One thing led to another, and they were married in 1949 by Rev. Gyodo Kono of the Midwest Buddhist Church.
As Southside parents, George and Ruby brought their children to Sunday School at the Chicago Buddhist Church in Hyde Park. At the urging of Ruth Goya, they joined the Asoka Society and gained lifelong friendships with the other young marrieds in the group. When the church – renamed Buddhist Temple of Chicago – was preparing to relocate to its present Uptown location, George was among the dedicated members who spent their after-work hours cleaning and repairing the building on Leland and Racine.
The study of martial arts gave George both fellowship and a cultural focus. In 1963, he was able to return to kendo at BTC, helped teach children’s kendo, and was part of the team that established the Midwest Kendo Federation. In the 1970s, he and other members of the kendo group began to practice iaido. With Isamu Kuse, George made a point to come to the Temple early each New Year’s morning to conduct their first iaido session of the year.
Although George was associated with other community organizations, such as the Japanese Mutual Aid Society of Chicago, BTC held a central position in his postwar life. He sang in the choir, served on the Temple board, designed T shirts and logos, and coordinated Natsu Matsuri cultural exhibits.
He danced at Bon Odori (fulfilling a promise to Shizuko Inbe), supported BTC sports teams, tried his hand at taiko, and gave awkward Dharma talks when asked. But one suspects his favorite pastime at BTC – other than kendo and iaido – was hanging out in the ministers’ office during Sunday service with old friends like Chic Tsurusaki, George Maruyama, and Tom Ito. They’re all gone now, but we remember them and others of their generation with affection and gratitude.