Headstone for Japanese Girl Found 45 Years After Theft

Associated Press

A headstone that marked the grave of a 3-year-old girl, the daughter of Japanese immigrants, has been unearthed at a construction site 45 years after it was stolen in the bitter final days of World War II.

The marker, topped with a heart, vanished sometime in the summer of 1945. In August of that year, atomic bombs destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki, ending the war against Japan.

The family of little Yu Natsuhara, who died in 1911 when she was struck by a car on a downtown street, had been interned at camps in California and Idaho during the war.

"I came back right at the end of the war, in September of 1945. I went over to the old Pioneer Cemetery, and the stone was missing," recalled Frank Natsuhara, 79, who was about 5 months old when the child died.

"My older sister knew her and still remembers her," Natsuhara said, referring to Mary Natsuhara Takemura, now in her 80s and living in San Francisco.

"She'll be real happy to hear it's been found."

Their parents were dismayed by the theft, Natsuhara recalled, and his father poured a concrete slab at the grave site, inscribing it with the little girl's name. The desecration troubled some family members for many years.

The stone is inscribed in Japanese on one side and English on the other.

"Miss Iyu Natsuhara, Died Aug. 18, 1911, Age 3 Yrs," it says, though family records all refer to the toddler as "Yu."

The backhoe that unearthed the marker left a few nicks, but "it's a pretty stone," Natsuhara said. "It's still a pretty stone."

The marker will be restored to the grave site, he said--nearly 80 years after his sister's death.

Workers found the gravestone buried about seven feet below the surface after they tore up a driveway to make room for an addition behind Highline High School, built in 1924.

A school gymnasium was completed in 1946, and the vandals who stole Yu's gravestone may have left it in a ditch or trench dug for that project, speculated Jerry Heigh, director of facilities for the Highline School District.

"Or maybe it was left on a pile of dirt somewhere, then got bulldozed in," Height said. "We'll never know."

A check of the local telephone directory led district officials to Frank Natsuhara, who was given the gravestone last week.

He and his sister are among five survivors of the 11 children born to Sen and Chiyokichi (Charley) Natsuhara, who left Japan in the early 1900s for this city about 15 miles south of Seattle, which now has a population of about 32,000.

The family opened a general merchandise and farm supply store in 1916, now the site of Natsuhara's, an Asian import and specialty grocery store owned by Frank Natsuhara.

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