Henry Miyatake was a high school student during World War II. In this clip, he describes an essay he wrote for a high school civics class at Minidoka titled "American Democracy and What It Means to Me." His teacher would not accept the essay unless Henry rewrote it, which he refused to do. This resulted in a failing grade and he was unable to graduate from high school in camp. Henry Miyatake's full interview is available in the Densho Digital Archive.
View the Archive Spotlight interview excerpt
Wednesday, October 8, 2014
Tuesday, October 7, 2014
In 1987, in the midst of the movement for redress and reparations for the forced removal and incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II, the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History debuted an exhibition titled A More Perfect Union: Japanese Americans & the U.S. Constitution as part of the commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the constitution. Reinforcing the conclusions of the congressionally mandated Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians four years earlier, A More Perfect Union presented an unambiguous example of the constitution gone wrong in the country's official history museum, where no doubt millions learned about this history in the seventeen years the exhibition was up. A new article by Abbie Salyers Grubb on A More Perfect Union highlights the new articles this month.
While many of us who are old enough remember A More Perfect Union, I suspect a lot of us don't know about a remarkable exhibition centered on the Japanese American incarceration that was on display at the Japanese equivalent of the Smithsonian, the National Museum of Japanese History (commonly referred to as Rekihaku) in 2010–11. Titled Japanese Immigrants in the United States and the War Era, this exhibition takes a very different view of the incarceration as viewed from the Japanese perspective, as described in the new article by Kaori Akiyama, a Japanese graduate student studying museum exhibitions in Japan and the U.S. There will be many more articles on these exhibitions coming shortly.
Other new articles also preview more of what's to come: Greg Robinson's pieces on the Fujii v. California alien land law case and mine on Esther Takei Nishio, the first "regular" Japanese American allowed to return to California in 1944 preview many more to come from the early postwar period. Patricia Wakida's on Nikki Sawada Bridges Flynn is one of many she is working on on Japanese American writers and artists strongly influenced by their incarceration experience. There are a few articles on the War Relocation Authority community analysts up already, but many more will be coming, including the newly posted one on John Radamaker, the analyst at Amache in 1943–44 that I collaborated with Cherstin Lyon on. (Rademaker was one of three Community Analysis Section staffers who ended up at the University of Hawaii after the war.) Finally, Stan Yogi contributes pieces on lawyers who worked on the either the wartime cases or coram nobis cases—Lorriane Bannai, Peter Irons, Dale Minami, and James Purcell—with more to come.
Saturday, September 27, 2014
In the last decade and a half or so, there have been a lot of novels published that involve the wartime incarceration of Japanese Americans as part of their plots. The same can be said for plays, movies and TV shows, documentary films, and other storytelling media. I'll save ruminating on the reasons for this for another time and instead focus on another issue: that of historical accuracy/dramatic license and its importance.
What brings me to this topic is a recent novel, published last year, titled Garden of Stones by Sophie Littlefield. Published by Harlequin, the book and author seem to have quite a following, and positive reviews abound.
At the same time, Alisa Lynch of the Manzanar National Historic Site pointed us at Densho to a review by Terry Hong of the Smithsonian's Asian Pacific American Center. While Hong found the book well written and gripping, she was troubled by the dramatic liberties taken by the author, in particular the depiction of widespread sexual abuse of women and children at Manzanar by white staff members, something there is no documentation for. "Fiction though Garden of Stones clearly is, that Littlefield chose a historical event, a real-life location and experiences (including actual staff positions!), surely requires accurate depictions," Hong writes.
Thursday, September 4, 2014
Giro Nakagawa was working for the New Washington Oyster Company in South Bend, Washington, before World War II. In this clip, he describes a visit from the FBI while he was out on a station house, a building on stilts out in the water, where he lived and worked during the oyster harvesting season. Giro Nakagawa's full interview is available in the Densho Digital Archive.
View the Archive Spotlight interview excerpt
View the Archive Spotlight interview excerpt
Wednesday, September 3, 2014
New to the encyclopedia this month are articles on writers and artists, Nisei soldiers during World War II, and a little known INS detention camp, among other topics.
Patricia Wakida, one of the encyclopedia's associate editors, has been interested in Japanese American writers and artists—and is one herself—and will be contributing many articles on this area in the weeks to come. New this month are her pieces on Los Angeles based Nisei sisters Louise and Julia Suski, the former a writer and editor and first English language editor of the Rafu Shimpo newspaper, the latter a well-known artist and musician, as well as Albert Saijo, whose exposure to Zen Buddhist at Heart Mountain eventually led him to become a key figure in the Beat Movement of the 1950s.
Abbie Grubb is contributing a number of articles on movies and exhibitions that tell the story of the wartime incarceration as well as pieces on Japanese Americans in the military during World War II. This month, she contributes pieces on the 522nd Field Artillery Battalion and the 1399th Engineer Construction Battalion. Laura W. Ng has contributed an article on the East Boston Detention Station, where a handful of enemy aliens were held during World War II. I have also added pieces on pioneering Issei lawyer Takuji Yamashita; the Chandler Committee, one of several federal or state legislative bodies to investigate administration of the concentration camps during the war; wartime senator and governor of the state of Washington Monrad C. Wallgren; and the JACL's early postwar lobbying arm, the Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC).
Wednesday, August 6, 2014
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.
I thought of this when I recently viewed two episodes of dramatic TV shows largely devoted to plot lines that take place in American concentration camps during World War II. 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.
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.