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Karl Ichiro Akiya Papers

Call Number



1921-2002, inclusive
; 1949-1998, bulk


Akiya, Karl Ichiro, 1909-2001
Chestnut, Elizabeth Akiya (Role: Donor)
Akiya, Frederick (Role: Donor)


10 Linear Feet
in 7 record cartons, 2 manuscript boxes, 3 oversized flat boxes, and 1 oversize folder.

Language of Materials

Materials are primarily in English, with some materials in Japanese.


Karl Ichiro Akiya (1909-2001) was an activist in the labor and Japanese community both in the United States and Japan. Incarcerated at the Topaz War Relocation Center in Topaz, Utah, he was released to serve as a language instructor in the U.S. Army's Japanese language school at the University of Michigan. Akiya was member of the Japanese American Citizens League, the Furniture Workers Union and the Communist Party of the U.S.A. He wrote for the Japanese American Hokubei Shimpo and literary magazine the New York Bungei. The collection contains subject files documenting Akiya's life and work in the United States and Japan; his writings, including articles published in Hokubei Shimpo newspaper and The New York Bungei, essays, short novels, and an autobiography; notebooks and address books; artwork and photographs.

Biographical Note

Labor and community activist Karl Ichiro Akiya (1909-2001) was born in San Francisco but at the age of six, sent to be educated in Japan. In 1927 he entered Kwansei Gakuin University (also known as Kansei Gakuin Daigaku), a Methodist school, for preparation in secondary school teaching where he studied Japanese and English language literature. During these years, Akiya fully immersed himself in extracurricular student life. He converted to the Methodist faith, was elected class chairman and participated in the movements opposing compulsory military training for college students and the increasing militarization of Japan. His political activities brought him into association with the union movement and the Japanese Socialist and Communist Parties. He became a member of the Communist Party and changed his first name to Karl after Karl Marx.

After graduating college in 1932, Akiya returned to the United States to avoid being drafted into the Japanese Army. Having moved to San Francisco, where is father operated a hotel, Akiya landed his first job as a staff writer for the Japanese North American daily Nichibei Times. He later worked for the San Francisco branch of the Sumitomo Bank. In his spare hours, Akiya continued his activist work, joining the Japanese American Citizens League, which was becoming active in the fight against racial discrimination. In the late 1930s, he worked at recruiting Asian Americans as an organizer for the Congress of Industrial Organizations and National Maritime Union. He also joined the U.S. Communist Party.

Following Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor, Akiya was incarcerated at the Topaz War Relocation Center in Topaz, Utah. He was released shortly thereafter and recruited to serve as a language instructor at the University of Michigan's Japanese language school run by the U.S. Army. In 1944, he married fellow instructor Satoko Murakami.

In 1946, the Akiyas, with daughter Elizabeth in tow, settled in New York's Lower East Side. There, on February 20, 1947, the couple's second child Fred was born. In New York, Akiya pursued a profession as a furniture finisher and also joined the Furniture Workers Union. From 1954 until 1980, Akiya worked for the Bank of Tokyo in New York City. In addition to his communist-affiliated activities, Akiya was extremely active in the civil rights, peace, and anti-nuclear movements. In 1987, his efforts were formally recognized when he was honored as recipient of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Award for Community Organizing for his work with African American youths in Harlem and Chinese and Korean immigrant workers.

In addition to community work, Akiya wrote prolifically. His writings include articles published in Hokubei Shimpo newspaper and The New York Bungei, a literary magazine he helped found in 1959; essays; short novels, and an autobiography.


Arranged alphabetically.

The files are grouped into 5 series:

  1. Subject Files, 1937-2002
  2. Writings, 1921-1999
  3. Notebooks, 1942-1997
  4. Artwork and Photographs, 1942-1990
  5. Oversize and Ephemera, 1949-1987

Scope and Content Note

Series I: Subject Files, 1937-2002 contains correspondence, manuscript material and newspaper clippings documenting Akiya's life and work both in the United States and Japan. Materials describing his education at Kwansei Gakuin University, his incarceration at Camp Topaz, and his work in World War II for the United States government at the University of Michigan and with the Office of Strategic Services are present. His political work in the civil rights and anti-war movement is documented, as is his involvement in the campaign for nuclear disarmament and his efforts to commemorate the victims of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Also present are materials relating to Akiya's work in the Japanese American Redress movement. Materials documenting Akiya's ongoing interest in Japanese and Japanese American language and literature, including correspondence with Japanese and Japanese American artists, writers and politicians are also included. Also present are materials related to his work for Japanese American newspapers the Nichibei Times, New York Bungei and Hokubei Shimpo. Also included in this series are files relating to his family (wife and children), including correspondence and personal records.

Series II: Writings, 1921-1999includes Akiya's 1994 autobiography (in Japanese and English), a weekly journal written in elementary school, college essays on religion, short novels written in the 1950s, some for the Hokubei Shimpo; an essay on his incarceration at the Topaz War Relocation Center, a concentration camp euphemistically referred to as an relocation or internment camp, and miscellaneous essays on linguistics and the labor and student movements. A draft of his novel "The Little Champion" is also included.

Series III: Notebooks, 1942-1997contains address books and small notebooks containing contact information, notes and lists. Also included are Akiya's diaries from 1942 and 1994 through 1998. The bank savings books of Akiya and his family are also present.

Series IV: Artwork and Photographs, 1942-1990includes artwork, photographic prints and negatives relating to the movement to ban the atomic bomb, the Topaz concentration camp, and Kwansei Gakuin University. Examples of Akiya's calligraphy are also included, as are his drawings from a correspondence class with the Washington School of Art. Also present is a color photocopy of a photo album documenting Akiya's work at the University of Michigan's Japanese Language School.

Series V: Oversize and Ephemera, 1949-1987includes realia, memorabilia, oversize photographs and three videos. The bulk of this series consists of memorabilia from Kwansei Gakuin University, including banners, spoons, and awards. Other items include oversize photographs from the Bank of Tokyo Christmas Party and Annual Picnic, as well as Akiya's wallet and identification cards. Of particular significance is a box containing broken glass and rock from the "Peekskill Riots" of 1949 and a Roger Hargrave Scrapbook from the Spanish Civil War.


Conditions Governing Access

Materials are open without restrictions.

Conditions Governing Use

Any rights (including copyright and related rights to publicity and privacy) held by Karl Ichiro Akiya were transferred to New York University in 2003 by Elizabeth Akiya Chestnut and Frederick Akiya. Permission to publish or reproduce materials in this collection must be secured from the Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archive. Please contact

Preferred Citation

Identification of item, date; Karl Ichiro Akiya Papers; TAM 236; box number; folder number; Tamiment Library/Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives, New York University.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The Karl Ichiro Akiya Papers were given to the Tamiment Library by Elizabeth Chestnut Akiya and Frederick Akiya in 2002. The accession numbers associated with these gifts are 2002.007 and 2017.074.

Audiovisual Access Policies and Procedures

Audiovisual materials have not been preserved and may not be available to researchers. Materials not yet digitized will need to have access copies made before they can be used. To request an access copy, or if you are unsure if an item has been digitized, please contact with the collection name, collection number, and a description of the item(s) requested. A staff member will respond to you with further information.

Separated Materials

About one hundred books and serials have separated to the Fales Library from the collection.

Related Material at the Tamiment Library/Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives

Roger Hargrave Scrapbooks (ALBA 245)

Collection processed by

Tamiment Staff, 2004

About this Guide

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on 2024-02-06 14:02:30 -0500.
Language: Description is in English.

Processing Information

In 2021, narrative description was edited to more accurately describe the forced removal and incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II.

Researchers can access previous versions of the finding aid in our GitHub repository at

Revisions to this Guide

December 2017: Updated by Jacqueline Rider to include materials integrated from accession number 2017.074.
January 2021: Edited by Amy C. Vo to change legacy description about the forced removal and incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II
June 2021: Edited by Anna Björnsson McCormick to reflect the rehousing of materials

Edition of this Guide

Akiya, Karl Tam 236


Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives
Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives
Elmer Holmes Bobst Library
70 Washington Square South
2nd Floor
New York, NY 10012