PORTLAND – Ichiro “George” Azumano, a Japanese-American who was discharged from the Army and confined in an internment camp in World War II and then spent the rest of his life working to improve U.S.-Japanese relations, has died at 95.
Azumano founded a business in 1949 that grew into a regional travel agency and emphasized bringing visitors from Japan and elsewhere to Oregon, even though that wasn’t as lucrative as selling outbound tickets, said Joe D’Alessandro, a former Portland tourism leader and now chief executive of the San Francisco Travel Association.
“What was different about George was that he really did care a lot about the state and about economic development and focused on bringing people into Oregon,” he told the Oregonian.
Born in Portland to Japanese immigrants in 1918, he was serving in the Army in San Francisco when Japanese planes attacked Pearl Harbor. He was discharged two months later because of his heritage, and he and his family were all eventually sent to an internment camp in Idaho, selling the family grocery for 10 cents on the dollar. He was freed in 1944.
Azumano Travel, now run by his son-in-law, is a regional enterprise with 180 employees and annual revenues exceeding $210 million.
Azumano organized a trade delegation to Japan in 1962, when then-Gov. Mark Hatfield led business leaders to Tokyo. Former Gov. Vic Atiyeh said Azumano organized a luncheon for him with Japanese travel agents during a 1979 trade mission that made Oregon a prominent tourist destination.
His agency was instrumental in starting nonstop flights in 1983 between Portland and Tokyo on United Airlines.
In 1982, the Japanese government awarded him the Emperor’s Medal of the 4th Order of the Rising Sun. He had audiences with both Emperor Hirohito, in 1987, and Emperor Akihito, in 1990.
Azumano died on Monday, a vice president of Azumano Travel Nancy Parrott confirmed.