Sansei cop urges revival of traditional Japanese values

Good, old Japanese values are dying out in Japan but still thrive outside the country, says a former Los Angeles police detective who led an international probe into a 1981 murder case widely known here as “L.A. suspicion.”

Jimmy Sakoda, 62, a sansei, or third-generation American of Japanese ancestry, visited Tokyo last month to attend a convention for descendants of Japanese emigrants, or “nikkei-jin,” living overseas. “I’ve found out (by attending the convention) that nikkei-jin throughout the world (represent) very, very old Japan. The characteristics of ‘gaman’ (patience) and ‘giri’ (obligation) are still very much alive in nikkei-jin,” he said in an interview.

Sakoda was born in Seattle in 1935. Like other Americans of Japanese descent, he was confined to an internment camp following the outbreak of World War II. There he learned the morals and values of the country of his ancestors as well as the Japanese language. His childhood experiences in the camp, he says, have strongly affected his way of thinking and the formation of his identity.

“Gaman and giri are (characteristics) I was taught in Japanese school when I was in the camp and by my parents at home,” Sakoda says. “I had to practice (them) because during the time I was growing up, right after the war, if I didn’t (practice) gaman, I got into a lot of fights.”

Sakoda gained fame in the country of his ancestors for the pivotal role he played in the investigation of the murder of a young Japanese woman in Los Angeles. In November 1981, Kazuyoshi Miura and his wife, Kazumi, were in Los Angeles on holiday when, on one of the city’s streets, Kazumi received a critical gunshot to the head while her husband was shot in the leg. After the attack, Miura returned to Japan, where he appealed for support through the media, saying he and his beloved wife were tragic victims of the widespread use of guns in U.S. society. Kazumi was later flown back to Tokyo, where she died one year after the attack. Miura won public sympathy as well as a 150 million yen insurance payment on her death.

At the time of the incident, Sakoda was leading the L.A. Police Department’s Asian Task Force. Because the case fell under his jurisdiction, he began investigating, and his suspicions placed Miura as a prime suspect. His efforts to prosecute, however, did not run smoothly, partly because of the LAPD’s reluctance to investigate the case in the first place. The murder was considered nothing more than one of hundreds of such happenings in L.A. every year. No U.S. citizens were involved, and the insurance money was paid by a Japanese company.

“Because of the case, and because of the way things went with my own police department and the problems I had, there were a lot of times that I had to (practice) gaman,” Sakoda says. Because of his persistence, Sakoda earned the nickname “samurai detective,” refusing to give up the investigation despite the lack of interest among his colleagues. He quit the LAPD in 1984 and made a direct appeal to the L.A. County District Attorney’s Office, where he was made an investigator the following year.

After seven years of tenacious efforts by Japanese and U.S. investigators, Miura was served an arrest warrant in Tokyo in 1988 over the murder of his wife and sentenced to life imprisonment in 1994. The case is now being appealed by the defendant. Sakoda says that the whole process of investigating the Miura case was a practice of his Japanese values.