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Caution Grows in Little Tokyo : Anniversary: Guardian Angels patrol as Pearl Harbor Day nears. Japanese-Americans plan to keep low profile Saturday.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Mary Uchida was smiling broadly as she stood reading a flyer that had just been handed to her in Little Tokyo in downtown Los Angeles.

“This is great,” she said, nodding toward the dozen or so young men in white T-shirts and red berets who were fanning out in small groups, distributing leaflets.

“A lot of people hate us,” said Uchida, 67, who was interned for two years along with her family during World War II. “This will make this place safer.”

Uchida was referring to a contingent of Guardian Angels, the multiracial group of mostly young men who have been hailed by some as citizen crime fighters and dismissed by others as well-meaning vigilantes.

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But no one was dismissing them in Little Tokyo on Thursday morning as they strolled through the shopping plaza two days before the nation recognizes the 50th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

The Angels’ local leader, Weston Conwell, had just announced that teams of members would patrol the business and shopping district around the clock from Thursday evening until Sunday afternoon to prevent anyone from making Little Tokyo a target of anti-Japan sentiment.

Business owners and nearby service organizations said no one had threatened to make trouble in the district, but many were happy to see the Angels just the same.

“There has been something about Pearl Harbor on television every single night this week,” said Jimmy Tokeshi of the Japanese American Citizens League. “It’s causing some in our community to revisit what happened 50 years ago, in terms of their being blamed.”

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Neither Japanese-American organizations nor Los Angeles police have planned any organized reaction to possible trouble, but small precautions are being taken.

Tokeshi’s organization, for instance, has provided the LAPD with the names and locations of Japanese community centers and Buddhist temples throughout the city, so that the department will know where to go in case extra security becomes necessary, said Sgt. Howard Yamamoto.

In addition, the group’s offices in Little Tokyo will be open on Saturday--Pearl Harbor Day--in case trouble occurs or to take calls from anxious members of the Japanese-American community.

Anxiety may be especially great among those who remember the hatred directed toward Japanese-Americans after Pearl Harbor was bombed by Japan’s warplanes.

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“The second generation experienced (that hostility) firsthand for themselves and there is a hidden fear that it will come up again,” said Naomi Hirahara, an editor of Rafu Shimpo, a newspaper published in English and Japanese in Little Tokyo.

Steven Clemons, executive director of the Japan America Society of Southern California, said nearly all of his Japanese-American and Japanese friends hope to avoid trouble Saturday simply by staying home.

“I’ve been asking people if they want to do something, and across the board they are saying they are just not going out,” he said.


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