Monday, July 13, 2015

This Blog has Moved

Hello! Thank you for visiting the Densho blog. We've migrated to a new location and hope you'll visit us there:

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Eight Essential Japanese American History Books for Young Readers

School is out for the summer, but that doesn't mean the learning has to stop. Jan Kamiya, a young adult librarian in the Hawaii State Public Library System and regular contributor to the Densho Encyclopedia, recommends eight essential books about Japanese American WWII incarceration that will keep the young readers in your life engaged in learning beyond the classroom.

Picture Books

Flowers from Mariko
By Rick Noguchi and Deneen Jenks 
Illustrations by Michelle Reiko Kumata
Ages 5 and up

World War II is over and Mariko and her family are finally allowed to leave the camp. But the transition back into society isn't easy. Mariko's father longs to restart his gardening business, but his truck has been stolen. The family moves to a trailer park, where Mariko sees her parents are worried and their spirits are low. She has an idea to create happiness for her family by bringing gardening back into their lives.

The Bracelet
By Yoshiko Uchida
Age range: 4-8 years

The year is 1942 and America is at war with Japan. All Japanese-Americans are being sent to live in internment camps for the duration of the war, including seven-year-old Emi and her family. Before they go, Emi's friend, Laurie, gives her a gold heart bracelet to remember their friendship. But upon her arrival at the camp, Emi discovers she has lost the bracelet. How will she remember her friend now?

Juvenile Fiction

So Far From the Sea
By Eve Bunting
Illustrations by Chris K. Soentpiet
Age range: 10-12 years

Laura Iwasaki and her family are paying what may be their last visit to Laura's grandfather's grave. The grave is at Manzanar, where thousands of Americans of Japanese heritage were interned during World War II. Among those rounded up and taken to the internment camp were Laura's father, then a small boy, and his parents. Now Laura says goodbye to Grandfather in her own special way, with a gesture that crosses generational lines and bears witness to the patriotism that survived a shameful episode in America's history.

By Cynthia Kadohata
Age range: 10-14 years

When Pearl Harbor is attacked, the lives of a Japanese American girl and her family are thrown into chaos. Sumiko, 12, and her younger brother, Tak-Tak, live with their aunt and uncle, grandfather Jiichan, and adult cousins on a flower farm in Southern California. In the difficult days that follow the bombing, the family members fear for their safety and destroy many of their belongings. When they're moved to the Arizona desert, Sumiko misses the routine of her old life and struggles with despair. New friends help; she grows a garden with her neighbor and develops a tender relationship with a Mohave boy. She learns from him that the camp is on land taken from the Mohave reservation and finds that the tribe's plight parallels that of the incarcerated Japanese Americans. Kadohata brings into play some complex issues, but they realistically dovetail with Sumiko's growth from child to young woman. 

Baseball Saved Us
By Ken Mochizuki
Illustrations by Dom Lee
Age range: 6-11 years

Shorty and his family, along with thousands of Japanese Americans, are sent to an internment camp after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Fighting the heat and dust of the desert, Shorty and his father decide to build a baseball diamond and form a league in order to boost the spirits of the internees. Shorty quickly learns that he is playing not only to win, but to gain dignity and self-respect as well.

Journey to Topaz: A Story of the Japanese American Incarceration
By Yoshiko Uchida
Illustrations by Donald Carrick
Ages 9 and up 

Based on Yoshiko Uchida's personal experiences, this is the moving story of one girl's struggle to remain brave during the Japanese internment of World War II. In a bleak and dusty prison camp, eleven-year-old Yuki and her family experience both true friendship and heart-wrenching tragedy. Journey to Topaz explores the consequences of prejudice and the capacities of the human spirit. First published in 1971, this book is now a much loved and widely read classic.

Young Adult Fiction

Thin Wood Walls
By David Patneaude
Age range: 10-14 years

Eleven-year-old Joe Hanada likes playing basketball with his best friend, Ray, writing plays and stories, and thinking about the upcoming Christmas holiday. But his world falls apart when Japanese planes bomb Pearl Harbor. His country goes to war. The FBI takes his father away. And neighbors and friends in his hometown near Seattle begin to suspect Joe, his family, and all Japanese Americans of spying for the enemy. When the government orders people of Japanese heritage living on the West Coast to move to internment camps, including Joe and his family, Joe turns to the journal his father gave him to record his thoughts and feelings.

Take What You Can Carry 
By Kevin C. Pyle
Age range: 12-18 years

In 1977 suburban Chicago, Kyle runs wild with his friends and learns to shoplift from the local convenience store. In 1941 Berkeley, the Himitsu family is forced to leave their home for a Japanese-American internment camp, and their teenage son must decide how to deal with his new life. But though these boys are growing up in wildly different places and times, their lives intersect in more ways than one, as they discover compassion, learn loyalty, and find renewal in the most surprising of places.


Looking for more ways to teach young people about Japanese American incarceration? Check out our free online course for educators

Monday, July 6, 2015

Digitization Project Internships

Densho is seeking two to three interns to support our Digitizing Photos for Japanese American Oral Histories Project through the following activities: corresponding with narrators and their families to identify and collect materials, digitizing the materials (newspapers, photographs, documents, etc.), editing and performing quality control on digital images, transcribing documents, cataloging, data management in digital repository software, and other duties as needed.

The internships run from September 2015 through December 2015 or January 2016. Interns will be paid $12 per hour, no benefits.

Current students or recent graduates from library and information science or archival studies programs preferred. The ideal candidates are self-directed, detail-oriented, and comfortable with technology. Knowledge of Japanese American history is welcome but not required. The internships are funded by an award from 4Culture.


To apply for the position, please send your resume and cover letter to [email protected] by August 12, 2015. All applications will be held in confidence. All submissions and questions should be sent via email—no phone inquiries please.

About Densho

Densho is a Seattle-based non-profit organization started in 1996, with the initial goal of documenting oral histories from Japanese Americans who were incarcerated during World War II. This evolved into a mission to educate, preserve, collaborate and inspire action for equity. Densho uses digital technology to preserve and make accessible primary source materials on the World War II incarceration of Japanese Americans. We present these materials and related resources for their historic value and as a means of exploring issues of democracy, intolerance, wartime hysteria, civil rights and the responsibilities of citizenship in our increasingly global society.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Why Teach Japanese American WWII History?

Last month, we launched Teaching World War II Japanese American Incarceration with Primary Sources—a free, online course for educators. Lessons and curriculum included in the course are designed to further awareness about the WWII incarceration of 120,000 innocent people of Japanese descent, a chapter of American history that has long been underrepresented in K-12 curriculum.
The course draws upon Densho's extensive digital archives, using historic photographs, documents, newspaper articles, political cartoons, films, and oral interviews to help teachers and students look beyond the most obvious answers and to think critically about social justice and civil rights. 

Why do we think it's important for educators to take this course and teach about this dark chapter in American history? Well, we have lots of reasons, but don't take it from us. Here's what teachers who have completed the course have to say about why they think think it's essential curriculum to incorporate into the classroom:
1. Prevent history from repeating itself.

"It is important for students to learn that fear, racism, personal agendas, and mass hysteria can replace common sense, decency, and democratic ideals. They must understand that the incarceration of Japanese Americans was wrong, that racism is wrong. Students must understand that this sort of hysteria can occur again and they must do their part to make sure that it does not."

"It's important that students learn to think more critically when given facts about the incarceration They should think in groups and alone about how he/she wants to fight for justice and speak "out loud" so that this part of our history is not repeated."

2. It continues to shape our country and our communities. 

"I teach in [name redacted] where there was a significant Japanese population before the war and there are still some Japanese Americans living in the area. I want my students to know the local history and how this issue pertains to their community. Furthermore, I want students to understand how unjust this was and what we can learn from this so it does not happen again."

3. Nurture critical thinking, especially in times of fear and crisis.

"I think it's important for students to understand how race prejudice, war hysteria, and failure of political leadership can lead to grave injustices that violate the laws we live by."   

"It's important that they begin to realize news articles, the internet, etc., are not always factual. Using the thinking routines as a lifetime practice beyond the classroom would be an ultimate goal."

4. Develop empathy and awareness about social injustices.

"It is an extremely important part of our history that is often untold and unspoken. My family was in Topaz and I have had to search for years for details of their experience. This history is also important because, as educators, we can connect it to present day events to assist our students in developing deeper understandings of injustice."

"Teaching about the incarceration of Japanese Americans during WWII provides an opportunity to emphasize understanding of the terrible social injustices that have been inflicted upon others. Implementing it into the curriculum, we can create a thoughtful, deep awareness about our community, our world, and ourselves."
5.  Create socially responsible citizens.

"I think the students need to examine the writing and word choice of primary sources convincing the American citizens that the Japanese Americans posed a threat to the United States during World War II. They need to see the actual documents that did not recommend the internment of Japanese Americans--no military threat was posed by these people. People were following war hysteria. There was not trial or jury to these American citizens."

"We can not judge a person based on physical characteristics or race. It is important to look for the facts and not let the opinions of a few cause us to forget those principles upon which our country was founded. Silence and secrecy need to be avoided.  For too many years, this story was untold. It is an important part of our history." 


So there you have it. Teaching your students about what happened to Japanese Americans during WWII is important for understanding our nation's past, and for helping to shape the citizens who will lead us into a more socially aware future. 

Follow this link to learn about registering for the course and the generous incentives we're offering to those who complete it. 
If you agree that teaching Japanese American incarceration history is important, please help us spread the word about our new online course:
  • Share this blog post on Facebook or Twitter.  
  • Print this flyer and put it in your school break room or some other place where teachers will see it: 
  • Encourage at least two other friends to take the course.
Thank you for your support and for your efforts to help us spread the word about Teaching WWII Japanese American Incarceration with Primary sources!

Additional details: This course is free for everyone and will require 5-6 hours of your time to complete. In addition to offering free content that can be applied toward Professional Development recertification, Densho is offering additional educational resources to the first 1,000 educators who complete the course. This includes two free DVDs--The Legacy of Heart Mountain and Conscience and the Constitution--as well as an educational supplement published in conjunction with The Seattle Times. Read more and register here

On the Loss of Dignity: A Response to Justice Clarence Thomas

  San Francisco residents of Japanese ancestry wait with their baggage for transport to a temporary concentration camp. Photo by Dorothea Lange, April 6, 1942.
In his dissenting opinion in the Supreme Court's same-sex marriage case, Justice Clarence Thomas invoked both slavery and "internment" in his argument that the government cannot cause individuals to lose their dignity:

"Slaves did not lose their dignity (any more than they lost their humanity) because the government allowed them to be enslaved. Those held in internment camps did not lose their dignity because the government confined them. And those denied governmental benefits certainly do not lose their dignity because the government denies them those benefits. The government cannot bestow dignity, and it cannot take it away." 

As stewards of Japanese American incarceration history and as allies to the African American community, Densho denounces Justice Thomas's appropriation of these shameful histories to justify the further denial of civil liberties. 

The question of whether dignity was taken away by these government actions is a personal matter that only the victims themselves can truly determine. The following quotes from former incarcerates show that they—and presumably many others—did indeed experience loss of dignity as a direct result of U.S. Government actions:

"When I arrived at Tule Lake, California, it was in the desert... and I was taken aback to see rows and rows of tarpapered barracks behind barbed wire. When I looked up I saw sentries wearing the same uniform as mine with a machine gun facing inward. That really hit me hard. I then entered the camp. There was a soldier who escorted me to the barracks where my parents were living. When I met my parents and my siblings, we greeted each other with smiles, but inside we were crying. It was very difficult. It was very devastating to find my parents and siblings deprived of their comfortable home, deprived of their rights, deprived of their dignity and placed behind barbed wire." 

--Grant Hirabayashi, former member of MIS and Merrill’s Marauders 

"The strength and character of the 120,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry who were incarcerated during World War II have been tested and proven many times over. They bore the indignity of losing their freedom and their material possessions when the war began. They persevered and endured through the depredations of life in the camps. When they returned to their homes after the war, they still faced an unfriendly, even hostile, world. Despite all this they reassembled their lives and livelihoods. With time, patience, and hard work they became successful professionals, community leaders, and parents. Hard work could overcome the material losses of seized property or the four years lost to camp, but it could not replace the dignity and self-respect lost when someone is ostracized and imprisoned without cause. For more than a generation Americans of Japanese ancestry bore this burden in silence and without remedy."

--Robert Matsui in his foreword to Achieving the Impossible Dream: How Japanese Americans Acheived Redress

"I lost my identity. At that time, I didn't even have a Social Security number, but the WRA gave me an I.D. number. That was my identification. I lost my privacy and dignity."

--Betty Matsuo in testimony before the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians, San Francisco, Aug. 11, 1981, cited in Personal Justice Denied
Works cited: 

Robert Matsui, "Foreword," Achieving the Impossible Dream: How Japanese Americans Obtained Redress, by Mitchell T. Maki, Harry H.L. Kitano, and S. Megan Berthold (Urbana: Univeristy of Illinois Press, 1999),  p. ix.

Betty Matsuo testimony before Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians, San Francisco, Aug. 11, 1981, cited in Personal Justice Denied: Report of the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians (Washington, D.C.: 1982), p. 135.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Book Review: Red Berries, White Clouds, Blue Sky

By Brian Niiya, Densho Content Director

A children's ebook about incarceration is currently available as part of a free summer reading program being offered by OverDrive, a company that provides electronic book services for many libraries across the country. The book—Sandra Dallas's Red Berries, White Clouds, Blue Sky—can be borrowed electronically from libraries around the country until July 9. Chances are, you live near a public library that offers this program. I was able to borrow the book seamlessly through the Hawaii Public Libraries.

Red Berries, White Clouds, Blue Sky—published in 2014 by Sleeping Bear Press—is intended for eight to 11-year-old readers and features a 12-year-old Nisei protagonist named Tomi Itano, who is incarcerated at the fictional Tallgrass camp in Colorado during World War II. The story begins prior to the war, when we meet Tomi, her implausibly Americanized Issei parents Sam and Sumiko, and her brothers, 16-year-old Roy and seven-year-old Hiro. The family lives on a strawberry farm in Southern California, renting the land from a friendly white family, the Lawrences, whose daughter Martha is Tomi's best friend. The coming of the war brings upheaval: Sam is arrested and interned, and the rest of family is forcibly removed first to Santa Anita, then to Tallgrass, which was based on the Amache camp in Colorado. Episodic chapters tell of the family's adjustment to incarceration, their new friends and neighbors, and the unexpected problems that occur when an embittered Sam rejoins the family.

Though the story arc is simple and predictable, it is generally well told and is mostly true to the facts of the incarceration. As such it can serve as a good introduction to the topic for children of the appropriate age. Its strength is in its depiction of women's and girls’ experiences in camp. We see how the incarceration—and the absence of her husband—empower Sumiko, who is forced to take on a more assertive role and ends up teaching sewing and quilting at the camp. We also meet other women who band together to help each other make the best of the bad situation. Tomi herself proves to be a resourceful and optimistic young woman. However, her father's return, along with the grind of continued incarceration, combine to temper her optimism and her attitude darkens before a concerned teacher intervenes.

While the female characters are robust and multidimensional, the male characters are mostly underdeveloped. Sam goes from super patriot to embittered dissident in the blink of an eye and ends up effectively as the villain of the story. Roy is also a bit of a cypher, as we learn little about him beyond his love of music and get little background about his decision to enlist in the army.

As with nearly all fictional accounts of the incarceration, there are various instances of errors/implausibilities/dramatic license, though most are minor in this case. Sam's arrest—seemingly just for having the sorts of Japanese items in the house that just about any Issei woud have—is implausible and his later internment in a California camp couldn't have happened, as there were no Justice Department administered detention camps in the West Coast restricted area. Two of the families living near the Itanos are from San Francisco, which would have made it very unlikely for them to have been in Amache. The floors in the barracks are described as being made of wood, whereas Amache was the only War Relocation Authority concentration camp with brick floors. Two soldiers from Tallgrass who had been wounded and discharged march in a 1944 Fourth of July parade in the camp, which is unlikely given that the earliest volunteers from the camps didn't see battle until May of 1944. Ralph Carr is still governor in the spring of 1945 in the book, whereas in reality he left office in 1942.

Author Sandra Dallas is a long time resident of Colorado and has written about many aspects of the history of American West in her thirteen novels and two children's books. In her blog post on the OverDrive site, she writes that learned much about the history of the West from novels she read as a child, including the multicultural adventures by Florence Crannell Means, whose pioneering camp novel The Moved-Outers (1945) seems like a direct inspiration. Dallas had written a prior adult novel centered on the camp experience titled Tallgrass (2007), which told the story from the perspective of a white teenager and her family who lived in the small town neighboring the camp. In a nice touch, several characters from the earlier book make brief appearances in the current one.

Read the Red Berries, White Clouds, Blue Sky ebook for free through OverDrive and your public library through July 9. 

Monday, June 22, 2015

Searching for LGBT Stories in Japanese American Incarceration History

June is Pride Month--an opportunity to celebrate the LGBT experience and to highlight ongoing struggles for equal rights. While Densho supports and celebrates LGBT individuals and communities, a look through our own archives, Encyclopedia, and other resources shows that these stories are underrepresented. Indeed, this is a common problem for many archives since identifying as a sexual or gender minority has historically been illegal, punishable, and otherwise risky. Despite the challenges of uncovering these stories, scholars are slowly beginning to unearth instances of the LGBT incarceration experience and even finding that "incarceration provided unique opportunities to sexual and gender nonconformists." [1]
In Concentration Camps on the Home Front: Japanese Americans in the House of Jim Crow, John Howard—professor and head of American Studies at King’s College London—argues that "even as the concentration camps foreclosed countless freedoms, they opened up new possibilities for same-sex intimacy." These possibilities included a more densely packed living environment, the breakdown of traditional family units, new social liberties for young adults, sex-segregated clubs, and the placement of unmarried men in same-sex housing units, as seen in "Bachelor's Row" at the Jerome concentration camp. Howard highlights the stories of Masao Asahara and Jack Yamashita, whose September 1943 public drunkenness and sexual encounter at Jerome were discovered and written up by the camp's associate chief C.R. Felker. In order to draw attention away from their illicit same-sex encounter, the two played up their drunkenness and were punished with a night in jail and a small fine [2].

Howard also relays the story of Jiro Onuma—a story that
Tina Takemoto with a portrait of Jiro Onuma
Tina Takemoto, associate professor at the the California College of the Arts, explores in even greater detail. Onuma was  a gay man who migrated to San Francisco from Yokohama in 1923, just before immigration from Japan was officially banned. Takemoto's work on Onuma will be the subject of a new Densho Encyclopedia article to be published later this summer and has appeared previously in GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies [3]:

"Numerous vintage photographs [show] Onuma posing with his elegantly dressed Japanese American male friends and lovers around San Francisco. Amid these cosmopolitan images of prewar San Francisco, two photographs captured my attention. Both were taken while Onuma was imprisoned in the American concentration camp known as Topaz, located in central Utah. The first photograph shows Onuma and other inmate mess hall workers posing for a group portrait. The second displays three men sitting on a dirt mound with a guard tower in the distance. To my surprise, I learned that these might be the only known photographs of an adult gay Japanese American in the US incarceration camps."

Takemoto presented these images and other fascinating details from her research, as well as a performance based on Jiro's story, in a lecture at the California College of the Arts:

Aside from the stories of Masao Asahara, Jack Yamashita, and Jiro Onuma, there are few documented LGBTQ experiences of WWII incarceration. Greg Robinson—an associate editor of and frequent contributor to the Densho Encyclopedia as well as a Professor of History at Université du Québec À Montréal—chronicled the stories of a non-Nikkei lesbian couple who worked at Gila River in this Nichi Bei Weekly series:

"Monika Kehoe, who held the position of adult education director at Gila River and who produced a set of wartime articles on the education of Japanese Americans, had a long and varied career that climaxed in her work as a pioneering gay studies researcher. Karon Kehoe drew on her experience at Gila River in writing the 1946 novel City in the Sun, a notable work that has all but disappeared from the collective memory of Nikkei. It is not only the first full-length adult fiction about the camps to be published, but also stands as an early queer text that raises intriguing questions about alternative camp life."
Sumi Haru and Mako in East West Players’ 1970 production of “Tondemonai — Never Happen” by Soon-Teck Oh. From The Rafu Shimpo
Robinson also contributed a recent article to the Densho Encyclopedia on Tondemonai—Never Happen! (1970)--a play that married incarceration history with LGBT themes:

"A two-act play written and directed by Soon-Tek Oh that premiered in Los Angeles in 1970, is a theatrical drama that portrays the experience of Koji Muyayama, a Nisei who experiences flashbacks to his traumatic wartime experience in the Manzanar camp. Tondemonai is notable not only as the first professionally staged theatrical work to center on the wartime confinement of Japanese Americans, but for its forward-looking discussion of race and sexuality.

Perhaps most remarkable is Tondemonai's treatment of homosexuality. The play's plot revolves around a pair of three-dimensional LGBT protagonists, and there is no suggestion that their sexuality is evil or that they are diseased. This was nothing less than revolutionary in 1970, a time when homosexuality was illegal in California, and mention of it was all but taboo in Japanese American communities."

Although openly identifying as LGBT was once taboo, some of the most famous former Japanese American incarcerates are now drawing public attention to the rights of sexual and gender minorities. George Takei is not only gay himself but also a major advocate for gay rights. Representative Mike Honda (D-Calif.)--incarcerated at the Amache (Granada) Concentration Camp as a child--has also become an outspoken advocate for  transgender rights--first publicly supporting his own granddaughter and, most recently, calling for legislation that would allow transgender troops to serve openly.

Now, too,  it's time to recover the hidden stories of the LGBT incarceration history. Densho will continue developing our collections as information becomes available and we encourage scholars and individuals to contribute what they can to this effort.

1. John Howard, Concentration Camps on the Home Front: Japanese Americans in the House of Jim Crow (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008), 119. 
2. Ibid., pp. 113-119.
2. Tina Takemoto, "Looking for Jiro Onuma: A Queer Meditation on the Incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II," GLQ 20.3 (2014).