Koji Ariyoshi lived a remarkable life at the center of events that transformed Hawai‘i, America, China, and the world. Born on a Kona coffee plantation in 1914, he worked as a stevedore in Honolulu while attending the University of Hawai‘i. He was employed on the San Francisco docks when World War II broke out, and soon found himself at Manzanar internment camp for American citizens and aliens of Japanese ancestry. When he enlisted in the US Army, his language skills led to an assignment which ultimately carried him to Yenan, China where he observed Communist re-education camps for Japanese POWs, and worked closely with several of China’s future leaders, including Mao Zedung. After returning to Hawai‘i Ariyoshi became involved in union activities, and soon was editing the Honolulu Record, the voice of labor during the turbulent conflicts between unions and Hawai‘i’s ruling elites. In August, 1951, Koji Ariyoshi was one of the activists arrested and charged with being Communists—a small group that became known as the Hawai‘i Seven. Eventually acquitted, he later became a founder and champion for the University of Hawai‘i’s Ethnic Studies and Oral History programs, and for state historic preservation.
An eyewitness to and a participant in many of the major American and Hawai‘i historical events of the twentieth century, Koji Ariyoshi was perhaps the most prolific and insightful of all of the pro-labor and progressive commentators of the late 1940s and 1950s in Hawai‘i. His passionate contempt for injustice, his awareness of social inequities on a local and a global level, and his indefatigable struggle to confront these problems, even at the expense of his happiness, his livelihood, and for a time his freedom, shows that his commitment to what is right, and what is due to all people, is a constant source of inspiration and action. His life also raises some critical issues about the distinction between ethics and politics, or philosophy and sedition. At what point does social critique become treason? This was the question posed by the Smith Act Trials, which proceeded on the assumption that to discuss social problems in terms of class, and to hope for a redistribution of the society's wealth, was synonymous with advocating the violent overthrow of the United States government.
Biography Hawai‘i: Koji Ariyoshi is a production of the Center for Labor Education and Research, University of Hawai‘i West-Oahu, in affiliation with the Center for Biographical Research, University of Hawai`i at Mānoa, with funding from the Hawai‘i Council for the Humanities, the Gerbode Foundation, the Kukui Foundation, The Arthur A. Rutledge Endowment in Labor Studies, and Stephen T. Sawyer.