Kenji Ito, an attorney who was once accused of being a Japanese spy, died on Aug. 10 from Alzheimer’s disease. He was 94.
Ito earned his law degree at the University of Washington in 1935. Once he was admitted to the bar, the school sent him on a yearlong debate tour around the world. When he returned, Ito gave speeches to civic groups about the Sino-Japanese War. He took the rhetorical position in favor of the Japanese invasion of Manchuria, a move that would have unforeseen repercussions years later.
On Dec. 7, 1941, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. The next day, Ito was arrested by the FBI, charged with being a Japanese spy and held on a $25,000 bond. Five months later, Ito was acquitted by an all-white jury. His ordeal was not over, however. Ito and his family were then rounded up, along with 110,000 other Japanese Americans, and placed in detention camps. During his imprisonment, Ito offered free legal assistance to the other detainees.
When the war ended, Ito moved to Los Angeles and became the first Japanese American admitted to the California state bar after World War II. Ito spent 50 years practicing corporate law and helping former detainees reclaim their lost property. He also served five terms as president of the Southern California Japanese Chamber of Commerce.