Monday, January 16, 2012


A Japanese woman who knew where she was.

Riye Dejima moved from Japan to Guam around the year 1930 with her husband, to try their hand at doing retail business.  She was a widow by the time the Japanese invaded Guam in 1941.  The bombing started on the morning of December 8, but the Japanese did not occupy the island until the morning of December 10.  For those two days, all the Japanese civilians on Guam, including Mrs. Dejima, were rounded up by the Americans and put in the Hagåtña jail.

Once released by the Japanese, Mrs. Dejima helped as an interpreter between the Japanese military and Chamorros.  Then, she was ordered by the military to re-open her retail business.  All throughout the war, Mrs. Dejima walked carefully the fine line between not alienating the Chamorros of her adopted island, and upsetting her fellow Japanese who now wielded power.  She quietly helped Chamorros, when able, to avoid problems during the war.  She told Agueda Johnston to keep her feelings in her heart, and not on her lips.  "This is war," she said.

When the Americans invaded, she went north, as ordered by the Japanese and ended up in Yigo.  The Japanese military was ordering all Japanese, even the civilians like Mrs. Dejima, to commit suicide.  Instead, Mrs. Dejima was found by U.S. troops and confined in the stockade for captured Japanese at Agaña Heights.

When she was released, Mrs. Dejima was fortunate to have something to rebuild on.  At some early point, before the Japanese had ordered everyone to turn in their American dollars, Mrs. Dejima had buried her American cash in the ground.  After the war, the money was found, safe and sound.

She opened a store and lived a long life.  Her store became known as a place for fishing supplies, and for betelnut scissors.  She died in 1997 at the age of 93.

Though Japanese, she knew that her life was here, among the Chamorros, and she played her cards right.  She advised and helped the Chamorros as much as she could, and stayed out of trouble.

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