Oregon’s Fujita Story

A story of reconciliation

In the early hours of September 9, 1942, the Japanese submarine I-25 surfaced off the coast of Oregon. On board was pilot Nobuo Fujita, who was about to embark on a unique and dangerous mission: He had orders to bomb the American mainland.

Black and white photograph of Fujita in pilot gear

Nobuo Fujita, WWII Japanese Pilot

The I-25 at Sea

The I-25 was built unlike any Allied submarine: A water-tight hangar on its deck held a small, collapsible float plane. After surfacing, the plane was quickly assembled on deck and Fujita boarded. He then braced himself as an air-driven catapult launched him into the air. On every mission he flew, Fujita always carried with him his family’s 400-year-old samurai sword, and it sat beside him now as he flew towards the Oregon coast.

Fujita passed the small town of Brookings, Oregon, and dropped incendiary bombs on the nearby forests. But recent Oregon rainfall prevented any serious fire from starting as Fujita and the plane returned to the submarine. The event was largely forgotten as WWII raged on. It would be 20 years before this incident suddenly re-entered Fujita’s life.

 

Two Pilots in the Glen Plane

Black and white photograph of Junior Chamber of Commerce Creed Plaque

Jaycee Plaque 

In 1962, the young men of the Brookings-Harbor Junior Chamber of Commerce (Jaycees) wondered about the man who had bombed the forests just outside their town. They were looking for a project to promote their town, and to fulfill their creed: “The brotherhood of man transcends the sovereignty of nations.” They decided to track down this pilot and invite him and his family to their annual Azalea Festival. It seemed like the perfect project to reflect the growing friendship between the U.S. and Japan in the 1960’s. However, when news of the invitation broke, Brookings was immediately divided between those who supported the visit, and those who did not. The controversy was heated, and soon gained national attention. President John F. Kennedy even lent his voice of support to the debate.

 

Despite the controversy, when the Fujita family arrived in May of 1962, the visit was a success. They were greeted warmly by the people of Brookings and a flurry of journalists who traveled from all over the country to cover the event. Mr. Fujita was so touched by his reception that he presented the people of Brookings with his 400-year-old samurai sword, saying, “It’s in the finest of samurai traditions to pledge peace and friendship by submitting the sword to a former enemy.”

Black and white photograph of Fujita and his family with Mayor Campbell deplaning at PDX.

Fujita and Family Arriving at PDX

Fujita at Azalea Parade in 1990s

This visit would begin a 35-year-long relationship between the Fujita family and the people of Brookings. To reinforce his pledge for peace, Mr. Fujita worked for years to raise enough money to bring three Brookings high school students to Japan for a visit. He then made several more trips to Brookings and planted a redwood “peace tree” at the site of his 1942 bombing. While it stands at the site of his attack, it ultimately stands in symbolism of peace and goodwill between two countries that used to be at war.

Color photograph of the Fujita family and others in the forest at the site of the peace tree.

Mr. Fujita's family and friends visit his redwood peace tree