Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month – Bill Naito, Public Transit Advocate

As a longtime businessman and civic leader in the city of Portland in Oregon, Bill Naito became a strong champion of public transportation initiatives in that part of the world. He was born in Portland on September 16, 1925, to Hide and Fukiye Naito, who had immigrated to the United States from Japan in 1912.

Following Japan’s attack at Pearl Harbor in 1941 and the United States’ entry in World War II on the side of the Allies, the Portland area was designated as an “exclusion zone” under Executive Order 9066. This meant that the area was among those on the Pacific coast where Japanese Americans were to be removed from their homes and incarcerated. In order to avoid this forced relocation to an internment camp, the Naito family moved to Salt Lake City, Utah, to live with relatives there. Bill Naito was a 16-year-old high school sophomore at the time.

After graduating from high school in Utah in 1944, Naito joined the U.S. Army and served in the 442nd Infantry Regiment. This infantry regiment, which has the distinction of being the most decorated military unit in U.S. history, was composed primarily of second-generation American soldiers of Japanese descent. Most of these soldiers fought in the European Theatre. During the post-war Allied occupation of Japan, Naito served in a military intelligence capacity as a translator. He was honorably discharged from the Army in 1946.

Naito subsequently made his way back to Portland and attended Reed College there. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa from that educational institution in 1949 with a bachelor’s degree in economics. Naito then continued his education at the University of Chicago, graduating from there in 1951 with a master’s degree in economics.

The following year, Naito returned to Portland. Over the next few decades, he became significantly engaged in a wide range of key entrepreneurial efforts in that city. These efforts included helping to operate a family-owned import business that was incorporated as Norcrest China Company in 1958.

A major touchstone of Naito’s long-term contributions to the quality of life in his hometown involved his high-profile advocacy for both private and public investment for transit options. He became an early and staunch proponent of a Portland-area light rail system, which was ultimately completed and inaugurated as the Metropolitan Area Express (MAX) in 1986.

Naito played a lead role as well in pushing for various other transit-oriented endeavors that likewise eventually became full-fledged realities. These services include the Portland Transit Mall, a 1.2-mile (1.8-kilometer)-long public transit corridor that courses north-south in the downtown section of the city; and the Portland Streetcar, a 3.9-mile (6.3-kilometer)-long streetcar line running between the northwestern part of Portland and the high-rise district known as the South Waterfront.

Another one of Naito’s successful activities with a significant transportation tie-in was his championing the city’s acquisition and preservation of historic Portland Union Station, a train station that had been built in 1896. Naito’s transportation-centered initiatives also extended to the world of aviation; in 1975, Norcrest launched its subsidiary Made in Oregon (a gift retailer specializing in Oregon-made products) with the opening of a store at Portland International Airport.

Naito died in Portland on May 8, 1996, at the age of 70. “He took parts of town that many of us had overlooked, and infused them with his sense of life, his energy, his vision of a renewed and more vibrant city,” said Vera Katz, mayor of Portland, at the time of Naito’s death. A month after his passing, the Portland City Council renamed a major thoroughfare in his memory. Naito Parkway runs 3.2 miles (5.1 kilometers) along the eastern edge of downtown Portland.

Photo Credit: Steve Morgan (licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license at

For more information on Bill Naito, please check out

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