Mas Odoi: 1921 – 2013

Mukilteo, Washington

July 12, 1921 – July 28, 2013

Mas Odoi attended Haiku Northwest meetings only occasionally, but was a longtime member. He bridged Japanese- and English-language communities through his involvement not only with haiku but his abiding love for history, especially his hometown of Mukilteo, Washington. Despite being interned at the Minidoka relocation camp at the start of World War II, he remained a staunch defender of both his country and of civil rights throughout his life, and was a decorated combat veteran. This page celebrates Mas Odoi’s life with a family obituary and two feature stories about his life from local newspapers. The following poem by Mas Odoi appeared in No Longer Strangers, Haiku Northwest’s 25th anniversary anthology, published in 2014.

hope for world peace—

the sun and moon

of the West and East

The following obituary, by Mas Odoi’s niece, Nori Odoi, was posted to the website on September 9, 2013. A shorter obituary also appeared in the Seattle Times, September 6–8, 2013. See also “A Place of Happiness and Peace” (about the historic Japanese Gulch region of Mas Odoi’s hometown of Mukilteo, Washington) and “War Takes Innocence from Japanese Gulch” (about Mas Odoi’s wartime experience, and his return to Mukilteo). See also “Japanese American WWII Veterans Receive Nation's Highest Civilian Honor” and “Monument in Remembrance of Mukilteo’s Early Japanese Community.”

Mas Odoi

Masaru Harvey Odoi, 92, passed away July 28, 2013. Born to George Teichi and Chikaye Odoi, July 12, 1921, in Mukilteo, Washington, he and twin brother Hiroshi were joint valedictorians graduating from Ilwaco High School in 1939. Masaru completed two years of college at the University of Washington before he and his family were interned at the Minidoka Internment Camp in Idaho during World War II. From the camp, he joined the Japanese-American 442nd Regimental Combat Team. He was awarded both a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart and participated in the presentation of the Congressional Gold Medal to the 442nd RCT, MIS, and the 100th Infantry Battalion in 2011. In 2008, Masaru was awarded an honorary degree from the University of Washington with other Japanese American students forced to drop out because of internment.

After the war, Masaru married Frances Abe in Chicago, Illinois, and had two sons, Gary and Richard. Pursuing careers ranging from haberdashery to electronics, he was also active in community affairs, the Japanese American Citizens League, Mukilteo Historical Society, Nisei Veterans Committee, and more. He was an outspoken contributor to local newspapers and newsletters as well as a poet, contributing the haiku that will be posted in the Mukilteo Pioneer Cemetery by the graves of Japanese Immigrants. He was instrumental in the creation of the Mukilteo Japanese Heritage Monument. Masaru was Mukilteo’s Pioneer of the Year in 2008 and twice a Mukilteo Lighthouse Festival Parade Grand Marshal. A profoundly devout Christian, he was active in his church the Japanese Presbyterian Church of Seattle.

Mas was predeceased by his twin brother Hiroshi, brother Roy, and sisters Sue and Miriam. He is survived by wife Frances and two sons Gary; and Richard (wife Yukie); and granddaughter Anna.

The following obituary appeared in the Everett Daily Herald (Everett, Washington) on September 2, 2013, and also appears on HeraldNet.

Mukilteo Pioneer ‘Mas’ Odoi Dies at 92

By Rikki King, Herald Writer

MUKILTEO, WASHINGTON — Masaru “Mas” Odoi, a World War II veteran and Mukilteo pioneer, died in July at 92.

Odoi, who was Japanese American, was born in Mukilteo in 1921. He volunteered to fight for the U.S. forces while he, his parents and his siblings were held in an internment camp after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. He served in combat in Europe and earned a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star.

For the first years of his life, Odoi lived in Japanese Gulch, at a time when Japanese sawmill workers were learning how to fit into the larger Mukilteo community.

Later, he became an active member of the Mukilteo Historical Society. He helped push for the city’s monument on Fifth Street to the Japanese men and women who once resided in the village at Japanese Gulch. The sculpture, a bronze origami-style crane, represents peace.

In 2008, Odoi was named Mukilteo’s Pioneer of the Year, said longtime historical society volunteer Ann Collier.

“What we all appreciated about him so much was his enthusiasm about Mukilteo,” she said last week. “He just had so many ideas of ways of making Mukilteo better and of recognizing Mukilteo as an outstanding town that he had grown up in.”

Throughout the years, Odoi drove to Mukilteo for historical society events and meetings, even in bad weather, said Tude Richter, another volunteer who grew up in town.

Odoi loved to talk about his childhood, she said.

“He was a dear, dear man. I just loved him,” she said. “And he loved Mukilteo with all his heart.”

Odoi’s life story was chronicled in a two-part series in The Herald in 2006 called “A Place of Happiness and Peace. The first part shared his memories of growing up in the gulch. The second part, “War Takes Innocence from Japanese Gulch,” detailed his military service, and the road he followed back to his childhood home.

Odoi was buried with full military honors at Tahoma National Cemetery in Kent.

He worked hard throughout his life, said his son, Gary Odoi. When he had time off, he’d take his wife, Frances, and the children traveling and camping.

As Mas Odoi got older, it was important to him to stay independent, and to care for himself and his wife, Gary Odoi said. His father’s best quality was that he stayed calm in chaos.

It’s a skill his son still tries to emulate.

In the war, when a mortar blast cut open Mas Odoi’s neck, he pressed his thumb against the bleeding, as he’d been trained. He passed out.

When he woke up, and he was still alive, he figured he’d better trudge back to base for medical treatment, Gary Odoi said.

“He had this amazing capacity to stay unflappable and keep his wits about him whenever he was in a life-threatening situation,” he said. “That’s something I’ve always admired him for.”

Mas Odoi’s favorite poem was “If” by Rudyard Kipling, which talks about a son becoming a man. The poem begins, “If you can keep your head when all about you / Are losing theirs and blaming it on you . . .”

Odoi wrote poetry, too, with a special love for haiku, said his niece, Nori Odoi.

Her favorite of his was a passage about life being brief, but the journey being long, she said.

It went:

After a thousand mile

Journey of the soul

A brief white cap frolics.

Odoi was deeply religious, and his favorite part of the Bible was the Sermon on the Mount, especially the Beatitudes, his son said. His father also gave presentations at schools about the war, to teach children about the past.

From his own childhood, Odoi fondly remembered the Japanese women in Mukilteo trying to learn English, and making American-style food, Gary Odoi said. His father always said he was grateful to others in Mukilteo who were kind to the Japanese in those days.

The historical society plans to post another of Odoi’s haiku near the graves of Japanese sawmill workers buried at Pioneer Cemetery in town, Collier said.

The poem goes:

Thanks to kind strangers

Who sanctify the grave of

A long lost brother.

The following obituary appeared in the Mukilteo Beacon (Mukilteo, Washington) on August 21, 2013, and also appears on

Masaru “Mas” Odoi: 1921–2013

Mas Odoi opened his eyes for the first time on July 12, 1921 within a small three-room home in Mukilteo’s Japanese Gulch.

His father, Teichi Odoi, had come to Mukilteo in 1907 to work for the Crown Lumber Co. Teichi later returned to Japan to marry Mas’s mother, Chikaye Kobayashi, as arranged by their families.

Teichi returned with his new bride to Mukilteo in 1917, and they were blessed with five children: Mas and his twin brother Hiroshi, brother Saburo (Roy), and their sisters, Hisako and Miriam (born in Ilwaco in1937).

Mas only lived in Mukilteo until 1931, but that first decade of his life left a lasting impression on him, and he spoke ever afterward about his idyllic childhood.

Seventy years later, Mas worked with the Mukilteo Historical Society and the city of Mukilteo to create a monument in honor of the harmonious relations between Mukilteo residents and the Japanese immigrants of the early 1900s.

The Mukilteo Japanese Memorial monument, erected in 2000 in Centennial Park on Fifth Street, is something of a personal homage by Mas to his childhood in Mukilteo, a community he often described as a “place of happiness and peace.”

After the Crown Lumber Co. closed in 1930, the Odoi family moved to the Ilwaco area to find work in oyster farming. The early education of Mas and Hiro in Mukilteo’s Rosehill School enabled them to excel in Ilwaco High School, where they graduated as co-valedictorians.

All their future plans, including education at the University of Washington, were dashed in 1942 when the Odoi family was moved into an internment camp near Minidoka, Idaho.

The shock of this treatment was profound, but Mas never lost faith in his adopted country. He and Hiro volunteered as soon as possible for the U.S. Army and both served with great distinction in Europe as members of the highly decorated 442nd Regiment.

Deeply wounded by the internment and seriously injured in the war, the spirit and patriotism of Mas Odoi would remain, nonetheless, undaunted for the rest of his life.

He always expressed gratitude for the recognition, medals, presidential apology and official payment, and even an honorary degree from UW, that were eventually bestowed upon him.

But what he always talked about the most was his pride in a country that had the courage to admit a mistake and to reaffirm to its ideals.

After marriage, family, and a career that took him from Chicago to southern California, Mas and his wife, Frances, returned to the Puget Sound area in 1990.

He was named the Mukilteo Pioneer of the Year in 2008, and remained active in the Mukilteo Historical Society almost to the end.

Mas died on July 28, 2013, and was buried with military honors at the Tahoma National Cemetery [in Covington, Washington]. He is survived by his wife, Frances, and his two sons, Gary and Richard.

A few years ago, Mas was inspired to write a poem when he learned that the residents of Mukilteo have continued to take care of the graves of three Japanese workers who were buried in Pioneer Cemetery a century ago.

An interpretive sign, soon to be placed at the cemetery, concludes with the haiku poetry of Mas Odoi:

Thanks to kind strangers

Who sanctify the grave of

A long lost brother