On a recent trip to the Oregon Coast, my family and I stopped by Brookings to visit the secret beach there, cleverly called Secret Beach.
While we were at the gas station, I overheard a fellow traveler asking the cashier about things to see while in town. I wasn’t close enough to hear a lot as I was across the store, trying to find my favorite flavor of Bang Energy Drink (Sour Heads).
All I heard were the phrases “ninja sword” and “city library”, which was enough to get my attention. I got back to the car, told the family about it, and they agreed we’d check it out.
Do you know why Brookings, Oregon has the state’s only ninja sword, who Nubuo Fujita was, or why it’s on display in the library? Well, I didn’t a month ago but I do now! Here’s how it went down.
Who was Nubujo Fujita?
I don’t know if you’re a history buff but I think most Americans are familiar with the events at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii and the Japanese bombings of the Aleutian Islands in Alaska.
However, one thing I certainly never learned about in history class was that Japanese soldiers did actually bomb part of the 48 contiguous United States.
Near the city of Brookings, a float plane operated by Japanese Navel Airman Nubujo Fujita dropped two incendiary bombs, with the intention of starting a massive forest fire that would divert the US military’s attention away from the fight in the Pacific Theatre.
Fujita himself had come up with the strategy and after it was approved by his superiors, made his first attack on September 9th, 1942. The first bomb was dropped on Mount Emily’s Wheeler Ridge.
Despite the bomb’s weight of over 170 pounds, it only left a one-foot crater on the mountain. The smoke was seen by the fire lookout patrolman, Howard Gardner, who hiked up and put out the small fire.
The second bomb, although reported as dropped by the Japanese military records, was never found and was not believed to have caused any damage.
Why Didn’t Fujita’s Plan Work?
Two main factors prevented the attack from successfully starting a wildfire or three if you count the fact that the second bomb was never found and probably didn’t go off (although it might not have mattered).
First, there had been a rainstorm the night before that left the forest too wet for the fire to spread very far.
Second, even if it hadn’t rained, the bombing took place in the early morning, when the colder temperatures and overnight dew would also have prevented the fire from taking place.
Fujita came back two weeks later and dropped another pair of bombs nearby but they too were unsuccessful, despite Japanese state media reports that thousands had been killed and Americans were in panic.
In reality, most Americans didn’t even know about the bombings at the time, as it had been decided by the US military to wait until the war was over to report the event, in order to prevent the panic Japan was seeking with the attack.
Where Does The Sword Come In?
20 years after the September 1942 event later known as the Lookout Air Raids, Fujita was invited to Brookings by the city’s Junior Chamber of Commerce, as “a gesture of peace and international goodwill”.
He was invited to be the Grand Marshall of that year’s Azalea Festival, which was not without controversy, as several townspeople voiced their complaints in a newspaper ad that ran shortly before his arrival.
Fujita was hesitant at first, but after the Japanese government had been assured that the United States would not prosecute him for war crimes, he agreed to make the trip.
However, he brought with him his 400-year-old katana, the sword of a Japanese warrior (also known as a ninja). It had been passed down in his family for generations and he carried it with him during the war, including in the cockpit of the floatplane.
According to statements later made by Fujita’s daughter, he was ashamed of his actions and expected the townspeople to throw eggs (or worse) at him.
Had he received the hostile reaction he was expecting, Fujita had planned to use his katana to commit seppuku, the Japanese ritual disembowelment that was often used by warriors to avoid disgrace or as the ultimate outward symbol of atonement.
Fujita’s Reception and Legacy
Thankfully, the people of Brookings greeted him well, and rather than use the sword to commit ritual suicide, he gave it to the city as a gesture of peace, where it remained for several years in the town’s city hall.
Various churches and businesses in the city had raised $3,000 to pay for his travel and in response, he promised that when he could afford to do so, he would pay for a few of the high school students to visit Japan.
He operated a small factory in Japan that created wires. Although it went out of business, he kept the promise to Brookings and three local high school students were flown out to Japan at his expense.
Over the rest of his life, Fujita returned to southern Oregon on multiple occasions. On several of them, he planted trees at the bombing site. On another, he and his employers donated thousands of dollars to the Chetco Community Public Library in town.
According to the mayor at the time, he wanted the city to have many books about Japan, in hopes that there would never be another war between the countries ever again.
Two US Presidents weighed in on the story, with John F. Kennedy congratulating Brookings on their gesture of goodwill by inviting Fujita and Ronald Reagan thanking him after fulfilling his promise of paying for the three high school students to visit Japan.
In late September 1997, he was made an honorary citizen of Brookings. Unfortunately, several days later, he died of cancer at a hospital near his home in Japan. A year later, his daughter came to town to spread his ashes at the bomb site.
Visitor Information – Brooking, Oregon’s Library Sword
Visitors to Brookings can see Nobuo Fujita’s katana on display at the library at 704 Alder Street, where he placed it himself as part of the ceremony that moved it officially from city hall.
There is also a commemorative marker on display at the city’s botanical gardens at the North Bank Chetco River Road and Route 101.
Visitors who would like to visit the actual bombing site are welcome to do so, although you should be prepared for a rather strenuous hike on uneven ground in order to get there and see the coastal redwood tree that Fujita planted in the bomb’s crater.
The site also features a display explaining the events and Fujita’s impact on the city for years after the unsuccessful Lookout Air Raids took place.
Whether you’re up for the difficult three-hour-long hike or just want to see the sword and marker in town, you won’t want to miss this exciting opportunity to view a remarkable piece of history and symbol of international goodwill on your next trip to the Oregon Coast!