Yuri Kochiyama

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Yuri Kochiyama
Yuri Kochiyama.jpg
Kochiyama at an anti-war demonstration Central Park around 1968.
Born Mary Yuriko Nakahara
(1921-05-19)May 19, 1921
San Pedro, California
Died June 1, 2014(2014-06-01) (aged 93)
Berkeley, California
Occupation Activist

Yuri Kochiyama (河内山 百合 Kōchiyama Yuri?, May 19, 1921 – June 1, 2014) was a Japanese American human rights activist.

Early life[edit]

Mary Yuriko Nakahara was born on May 19, 1921 in San Pedro, California to Japanese immigrants Seiichi Nakahara, a fishmerchant entrepreneur, and Tsuyako Nakahara, a college-educated homemaker and piano teacher. She had a twin brother, Peter, and an older brother, Art. Her family was relatively affluent and she grew up in a predominantly white neighborhood. In her youth she attended church and taught Sunday school. Kochiyama attended San Pedro High School, where she served as the first female student body officer, wrote for the school newspaper, and played on the tennis team. She graduated from high school in 1939. She attended Compton Junior College, where she studied English, journalism, and art. Kochiyama graduated from Compton in 1941.[1] Yuri Kochiyama was a school teacher at the Presbyterian church close to where she resided.

Her life changed on December 7, 1941, when the Japanese Empire bombed Pearl Harbor. She was unaware of this event while she was teaching at church. Soon after the bombings, the Federal Bureau of Investigation,[2] barged through looking for her father. Within a matter of minutes, the three men took her father away as he was considered a "suspect" who could threaten national security. The event happened so quickly she was unable to question their actions. Her father was sick to begin with and he was just released from the hospital when the FBI arrested him. While her father was in federal prison he was denied medical care, and by the time he was released on January 20, 1942, he had become too sick to speak. Her father died the day after his release.[1]

Soon after the death of her father, the United States government ordered Yuri, her mother and brother to leave their home in San Pedro. They were "evacuated" to a converted horse stable at the Santa Anita Assembly Center for several months and then moved again to the War Relocation Authority internment camp at Jerome, Arkansas, where they lived for the next three years. While interned, she met her future husband, Bill Kochiyama, a Nisei soldier fighting for the United States. The couple was married in 1946.[1] They then moved to New York in 1948 and lived in public housing for the next twelve years. Most of their neighbors were African American.[3]

Activist work[edit]

In 1960, Kochiyama and her husband Bill moved to Harlem in New York City and joined the Harlem Parents Committee. She became acquainted with Malcolm X and was a member of his Organization of Afro-American Unity, following his departure from the Nation of Islam. She was present at his assassination on February 21, 1965, at the Audubon Ballroom in Harlem, and held him in her arms as he lay dying.[3][4][5] She was able to form a bond with Malcolm X because she saw that African Americans were being oppressed as well.

In 1977, Kochiyama joined the group of Puerto Ricans that took over the Statue of Liberty to draw attention to the struggle for Puerto Rican independence. Kochiyama and other activists demanded the release of five Puerto Rican nationalists who were jailed in the United States for more than 20 years. According to Kochiyama, despite a strong movement enabling them to occupy the statue for nine hours, they intended to "give up peacefully when the police came." The five Puerto Ricans were eventually released.

Kochiyama also became a mentor during the Asian American movement that grew during and after the Vietnam War protests. Many young activists came to her for help for several of the Asian American protests. Due to her experience and her ability to interrelate African American and Asian American activist issues, Yuri and her husband could secure reparations and government apologies for injustices toward Asian Americans such as the Japanese American internment. President Ronald Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act in 1988 which, among other things, awarded $20,000 to each Japanese American internment survivor. The process of issuing reparation checks is ongoing.

Over the years, Kochiyama had dedicated herself to various causes, such as the rights of political prisoners, working on behalf of Mumia Abu-Jamal, nuclear disarmament, and reparations for the Internment of Japanese Americans.

In 2005, Kochiyama was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize through the “1,000 Women for the Nobel Peace Prize 2005” project.[6]


  • Kochiyama appeared as herself in the TV movie Death of a Prophet — The Last Days of Malcolm X in 1981.
  • Kochiyama appeared in the 12 award winning documentary, "All Power to the People!" (1996), by Chinese-Jamaican-American filmmaker Lee Lew-Lee for ZDF-Arte, broadcast in 21 nations and the U.S. between 1996-2001
  • Kochiyama was the subject of the documentary film, Yuri Kochiyama: Passion for Justice (1999), from Japanese American filmmaker Rea Tajiri and African American filmmaker Pat Saunders.
  • Kochiyama and her husband, Bill Kochiyama, were featured in the documentary, My America...or Honk if You Love Buddha by the Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Renee Tajima-Peña.
  • Kochiyama is the subject of a documentary film with Angela Davis called Mountains That Take Wing[7] (2010) by C.A. Griffith & L.T. Quan.[7][8]
  • Kochiyama's speeches were published in Discover Your Mission: Selected Speeches & Writings of Yuri Kochiyama (1998), by Russell Muranaka.
  • Kochiyama is the subject of a play, Yuri and Malcolm X, by Japanese American playwright, Tim Toyama.
  • Kochiyama is the subject of the play Bits of Paradise by Marlan Warren (showcased at The Marsh Theater, San Francisco, 2008), as well as a documentary currently in production, Bits of Paradise: Missives of Hope which focuses on the letter-writing campaign led by Kochiyama during her internment (Producer: Marlan Warren).
  • Kochiyama is mentioned in the Blue Scholars' album Bayani on the title track and has a track titled in her honor in their 2011 album Cinemetropolis.


  1. ^ a b c Fujino, Diane C. (3 June 2014). "Yuri Kochiyama". Densho Encyclopedia. Retrieved 16 June 2014. 
  2. ^ Fujino, Diane Carol. Heartbeat of Struggle: The Revoluationary Life of Yuri Kochiyama. p. xv. Retrieved 16 December 2014. 
  3. ^ a b Yardley, William. "Yuri Kochiyama, Rights Activist Who Befriended Malcolm X, Dies at 93". nytimes.com. Retrieved 16 December 2014. 
  4. ^ Onishi, Norimitsu. "Immigrants' Daughter Who Embraced Malcolm X Keeps a Radical Flame Alive" (22 September 1996), New York Times.
  5. ^ Wang, Hansi Lo (19 August 2013). "Not Just A 'Black Thing': An Asian-American's Bond With Malcolm X". National Public Radio. Retrieved 1 June 2014. 
  6. ^ Selby, Jenn (June 2, 2014), "Yuri Kochiyama dead: Japanese American human rights activist and close Malcolm X ally dies aged 93", The Independent 
  7. ^ a b "Mountains That Take Wing: Angela Davis & Yuri Kochiyama - A Conversation on Life, Struggles & Liberation (2010)". IMDb. 17 June 2010. 
  8. ^ "WOMEN MAKE MOVIES - Mountains that Take Wing: Angela Davis & Yuri Kochiyama A Conversation on Life, Struggles & Liberation". wmm.com. 

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