Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Making It Worse

Photo courtesy of MTV and Viacom International Inc.

By Densho's Content Director Brian Niiya

Japanese Americans often object when journalists, screenwriters, or others minimize or distort some aspect of the wartime incarceration. But should we also object when the incarceration is depicted in a way that makes it worse than it was? This question has come up most recently in criticisms leveled at the musical play Allegiance, most notably by filmmaker Frank Abe on his invaluable resisters.com website and blog. 

The first is an episode of Hawaii Five-0 titled "Ho'onani Makuakane" (Honor thy Father) that aired last December. The plot involves an elderly Sansei man named David Toriyama who is caught trying to shoot an even older World War II veteran. It turns out that Toriyama believes that the old man killed his father while the family was interned at the Honouliuli camp in central Oahu. The rest of the episode sees the police officers investigate and ultimately solve the crime, with frequent flashbacks of internment at Honouliuli in recreating the crime scene.

The second is an episode of the MTV drama Teen Wolf titled "The Fox and the Wolf" that first aired a couple of months ago. The show is about a typical teenager at a suburban California high school who also happens to be a werewolf. A major subplot of the series' third season is the apparent possession of key character by a nogitsune, a type of malicious Japanese fox spirit. This episode explains the origins of the nogitsune, which turns out to involve a secret Japanese American concentration camp and the mother of a newly arrived Japanese American student. As with the Hawaii Five-0 episode, we get numerous flashback scenes that take place at this camp.

New Densho Encyclopedia Articles, July 2014

By Densho's Content Director Brian Niiya

One of the neglected areas of Japanese American history is the story of Japanese Americans in Japan just before and during the war between the U.S. and Japan. Generally, this includes two broad groups: Nisei/Kibei who were in Japan prior to the outbreak of war, whether for employment, study, or to visit family and those who returned during the war on one of the exchange ships that also brought Americans in Japanese custody back home.* Members of the first group were referred to as "strandees" at the time, and I think that remains a useful term. I don't think there is a name for the second group. (I should note that my mother and her siblings are members of this group.)

A tragic subset of this population were those who were in Hiroshima and Nagasaki when the atomic bombs fell. Because Hiroshima was one of the prefectures that sent the largest number of immigrants to the Kingdom of Hawai'i and the U.S., a particularly large number of Nisei and Kibei had been sent back to family there and were thus killed in the bombing. But a substantial number were also hibakusha—survivors of the atomic bomb.

One of the new encyclopedia articles is Naoko Wake's on these "Japanese American hibakusha." A native of Japan who is an assistant professor of history at Michigan State University, Naoko has spent the last several years doing research on these hibakusha, having interviewed more than a hundred, and will soon release a new book on the topic. We hope to work with her in the coming years to make these interviews available online, adding to the handful of such interviews we already have.

Other new articles include Alexandra Wood's on the California and Washington Civil Liberties Public Education Programs, both now defunct, but both of which helped to fund many projects, including a number of Densho's, that have brought greater attention to the wartime incarceration of Japanese Americans. Alexandra, currently a visiting assistant professor of International Education at New York University, also has authored an article on K–12 Education on WWII Incarceration, based on her 2013 doctoral dissertation. Also new: Cherstin Lyon's pieces on the Denaturalization Act of 1944/Public Law 78-405 and the group of draft resisters imprisoned at the Tucson Federal Prison Camp who self-identified as the Tucsonians; articles by Stan Yogi on Ernest Besig, Edward L. Parsons, and Marilyn Hall Patel, the first of several he will be contributing on figures involved in the Japanese American wartime cases and the coram nobis cases of the 1980s; and my piece on the so-called Lim Report.


* Depending on how one defines "Japanese American," there were also many Nisei who were taken "back" to Japan as children by Issei who chose to return permanently to Japan from the United States prior to the war and who were subsequently raised as Japanese.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Ruby Inouye: Treating Issei Patients

Ruby Inouye was a longtime family physician in Seattle after World War II. In this clip, she talks about her ability to speak directly to her Issei patients without an interpreter. Ruby Inouye's full interview is available in the Densho Digital Archive.

View the Archive Spotlight interview excerpt

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Shosuke Sasaki: "Escape" from Camp


Shosuke Sasaki was incarcerated at the Minidoka concentration camp, Idaho, during World War II. In this clip, he remembers a humorous incident in which he cut through the camp's barbed wire fence. Shosuke Sasaki's full interview is available in the Densho Digital Archive.

View the Archive Spotlight interview excerpt

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Loni Ding Collection

We are very pleased to have recently received a collection from the family of acclaimed filmmaker Loni Ding of the raw materials used to make her influential documentaries Nisei Soldier: Standard Bearer for an Exiled People (1983) and The Color of Honor: The Japanese American Soldier in WW II (1987). The large collection includes 738 pieces of media and will be processed over time and added to the Densho Digital Repository.

These two films are among the earliest, most decorated, and most influential cinematic accounts of the Japanese American World War II experience. A sociologist, television producer, and independent filmmaker based in the San Francisco Bay Area, Ding was inspired to do the film after attending the hearings of the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians (CWRIC) in 1981. Supported by grants from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, the California Public Broadcasting Commission, California Council for the Humanities, Washington Council for the Humanities, and National Endowment for the Humanities, Ding embarked on what would become a five plus year project.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Yuri Kochiyama: Changing Perspectives on Racism and Prejudice

Civil rights activist Yuri Kochiyama was working for a USO office in Mississippi in 1944. Later, while working at a restaurant in New York, she talked to her black co-workers and became more aware of the racist climate facing African Americans. Yuri Kochiyama's full interview is available in the Densho Digital Archive.

View the Archive Spotlight interview excerpt

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

New Densho Encyclopedia Articles, May 17 to June 2

One of the often repeated stories that Sansei who grew up the '50s and '60s tell is of learning about the wartime removal and incarceration of their families during World War II in college or through reading a book or seeing a documentary film—and not by hearing about it from parents or other family members. Perhaps as a result, many of us have redoubled efforts to tell this story to children, whether our own or to groups of children in schools or on field trips. One of the tools we have to do this are books for children and young adults. Once few in number, we have seen a tremendous upsurge in titles on the incarceration, such that even those of us who pay attention to this subject can lose track.

Over the past year or so, Jan Kamiya, a young adult librarian here in Honolulu, has been reading the dozens of new and old children's books on some aspect of the incarceration story and has produced an excellent encyclopedia article on these books: Children's and young adults' books on incarceration. In addition to the narrative overview in the article, she has also worked to create as comprehensive a list of children's/young adult books as possible, divided into several categories. (There is one category of books that is missing, at least for now: the many that are published outside of mainstream publishing houses, a group Jan is calling the independent/e-book/self-published category. We'll be adding list of these books to the article later on.)

If you are at all interested in these books, take a look at the article and list. Are there any other books you know about that are missing? Jan will be adding separate articles that include more information on many of these books in the weeks to come.

Other newly added articles address other legacies of the camps, starting with one of the most popular fictional accounts of the incarceration, Jamie Ford's novel The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. The Nisei Student Relocation Commemorative Fund is an organization formed by Nisei who were able to leave camp and go to college with the help of many good samaritans and who have chosen to honor their benefactors by helping young people today. Adding to his contributions on key postwar legal cases, Greg Robinson writes about Oyama v. California, the Supreme Court case that effectively ended the power of the alien land laws. Finally, we've added two new articles by UC Berkeley Ph.D. student Jeffrey Yamashita on Fort Snelling, the second home of the Military Intelligence Service Language School, and on Frank "Foo" Fujita, a Nisei soldier who was a prisoner of war of the Japanese Imperial Army.