Thursday, May 21, 2015

Photo Essay: Honoring Fallen WWII Japanese American Soldiers

Between 1942 and 1945, thousands of soldiers of Japanese descent served in the US armed forces. In less than two years, one of their best known units—the 100th Battalion/442nd Regimental Combat Team—compiled an astonishing combat record. However, this segregated unit, which was almost entirely comprised of Japanese Americans, suffered an equally remarkable number with about 800 men killed or missing in action.

The sacrifices of the men who gave their lives in the war effort have been recognized with honor rolls, memorials to the fallen, monuments to the units, and living memorials, though it took decades for nationally visible monuments to emerge in the United States.

This photo essay explores how fallen soldiers were honored, both during the war and in its aftermath.

1. American soldiers of Japanese descent of the 2nd Battalion, 442nd Infantry Regiment, bow their heads in prayer for their departed comrades who gave their lives in combat, Battalion Headquarters area near Cecina, Italy, 1944. Seattle Nisei Veterans Committee Collection.

2.  Memorial service for Amache servicemen killed in action, 1942-45. George Ochikubo Collection.

3.  Memorial service for Amache servicemen killed in action, 1942-45. George Ochikubo Collection.

4. Mrs. Shizuko Kina receives the Silver Star Medal posthumously awarded to her brother, Pfc. Tomaki Shimabukuro, during a ceremony in Honolulu. The presentation, by Chaplain Corwin H. Olds, CPBC, was made for gallantry in action with the 2nd Bn., 442nd Reg. Combat Team, near Bruyeres, France. August 1945. Seattle Nisei Veterans Committee Collection.


5. Service at the Tacoma Buddhist Church, 1949. Seattle Nisei Veterans Committee Collection.

6. A Nisei soldier gives the flag to a grieving mother, 1948. Seattle Nisei Veterans Committee Collection.

7. Nisei veterans at memorial site, 1948. Seattle Nisei Veterans Committee Collection.

8. Memorial Day parade, 1949. Seattle Nisei Veterans Committee Collection.

9. Memorial service at Lake View Cemetery, 1953. Seattle Nisei Veterans Committee Collection.

10. Nisei War Memorial at Lakeview Cemetery, 1956. Seattle Nisei Veterans Committee Collection.

Enlistment in WWII was a difficult decision for many Japanese American citizens, one that was often laden with competing personal, familial, and community obligations and desires. Here, Tosh Yasutake discusses his conflicted views about joining the military. Watch more interviews about Japanese American WWII military service here.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Japanese American WWII Incarceration: A Digital History

Do you want to know more about the circumstances surrounding Japanese American World War II incarceration? These five videos will give you a brief overview of the events leading up to incarceration, life in the camps, and the movement to resist and demand redress for the government's unconstitutional actions.

If you're participating in the #APAEverywhere challenge, select at least one video to watch and record the code when it appears onscreen.

1. A Community Grows, Despite Racism

2. Looking Like the Enemy

3. American Concentration Camps

4. Japanese American Responses to Incarceration

5. Righting a Wrong

Learn more about Japanese American history at

Monday, May 18, 2015

The Living Legacy of Tamie Tsuchiyama

Today marks the 100th birthday of Dr. Tamie Tsuchiyama--the only Japanese American woman to work full-time for the Japanese American Evacuation and Resettlement Study (JERS) Although she never published anything on mass incarceration, Tsuchiyama kept an extensive "sociological journal," and generated a series of short ethnographic reports that have been utilized by later generations of scholars. Here, Dr. Lane Hirabayashi, who wrote a critical biography about Dr. Tsuchiyama, highlights her involvement in wartime research and argues that her experience illustrates how race, class, and gender operated in terms of the traditional relationship between a Euro-American professor and researcher, and an aspiring person of color who was hired as an assistant.

Born in Hawai’i, the late Dr. Tamie Tsuchiyama was an unusual Nisei, or second generation Japanese American. While still a doctoral student at U.C. Berkeley, she became the only Japanese American woman who was hired as a full-time field worker by anthropologist Dorothy S. Thomas for the Japanese American Evacuation and Resettlement Study (JERS). Although she could have returned home to Hawaii, Tsuchiyama decided to let herself be incarcerated in Poston, partly with the idea of studying first-hand what was going on. 

For the next year, Tsuchiyama did extensive fieldwork in Poston's Unit I; kept a wide-ranging sociological journal; and composed a number of topically-specific ethnographic reports for Dorothy Thomas. Because she wanted to avoid being labeled as a spy for the government or the WRA, she kept her research activities a secret. Despite her constant level of data production, by 1943 Tsuchiyama's letters to Thomas began to delineate the tremendous stress that she was experiencing as a clandestine fieldworker in Unit I. Tsuchiyama began to complain about the intolerable Poston heat, the pressures of getting access to inside information, and having to write high-quality reports. Eventually, the pressure became too much. Tsuchiyama sent in her letter of resignation in July 1944, and sought release from Poston in order to join the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps [WAAC].

She returned to Berkeley in 1947 and within a year completed her doctoral dissertation--the first sustained study of Athabascan folklore. In doing so, Tsuchiyama became the first Japanese and Asian American to earn a PhD in Anthropology from U.C. Berkeley. Unable to find a job in this discipline, however, she returned to Cal to earn yet another degree, this time in Library Science, and subsequently worked as a librarian at the University of Texas until she retired.

In 1999, I published The Politics of Fieldwork: Research in an American Concentration Camp, a book that that detailed Tsuchiyama’s trajectory led her to the WCCA camp at Santa Anita, and then to the WRA camp at Poston (the so-called “Colorado River Relocation Center” in Arizona). Here, I would like to articulate the reasons why I worked on Tsuchiyama’s biography and why it seems like a worthwhile effort more than a decade and a half later.

The Politics of Fieldwork
is actually a product of an ongoing set of conversations I had with the late Yuji Ichioka, a path-breaking scholar in Japanese American studies. In the mid-1980s, Yuji indicated that since almost nothing was known about the only Issei who was employed as a researcher in Thomas’s JERS project, Richard S. Nishimoto, I should redress this and detail Nishimoto’s background and his specific contributions to JERS. Hoping to put Nishimoto’s biography and his vast collection of JERS field notes, reports, and letters into the wider context of the project, I worked on this task, on-and-off, for a decade.

Once published, my book on Nishimoto and his JERS research—titled Inside an American Concentration Camp (1995)—naturally led to Tamie Tsuchiyama. Tsuchiyama had, in fact, brought Nishimoto to Thomas’s attention and for a while he worked with Tsuchiyama doing research in Poston. As it turned out, Tsuchiyama’s life after the war was even more mysterious than Nishimoto’s. By the late 1990s, however, a revelation presented itself. Tsuchiyama’s story was a perfect example of how exploitation and resentment results when a student of color takes risks to collect data for a senior European or Euro-American scholar, who then subsequently “drops” the student as if they were a recalcitrant employee. Specifically, discovering that Thomas professionally threatened Tsuchiyama when the latter objected to the pressures she was being subject to in Poston both surprised and shocked me. 

Now, fifteen years after writing about this sad and problematic history, what has changed?  For one, Tsuchiyama’s name and accomplishments have been reinscribed on the historical record. Resources such as her JERS field notes about Santa Anita, Poston, and fieldwork in American-style concentration camps have recently been put on line via the Calsphere web site, which will certainly encourage their further use. 

Perhaps most gratifying is that accounts of Tsuchiyama’s experiences have now been reported in the literature on the ethics and politics of fieldwork. Books with substantive passages include David H. Price’s Anthropological Intelligence (2008). Research articles citing Tsuchiyama’s work for JERS include E. Guerrier’s “Anthropology in the Interests of the State” (2007), and T. Middleton and J. Cons’ “Coming to Terms: Reinserting Research Assistants into Ethnographies Past and Present” (2014), which introduces an entire special issue on this topic in the scholarly journal Ethnography.  Tsuchiyama’s story even appears as a case study in widely utilized introductory textbooks such as Cultural Anthropology: Asking Questions About Humanity.

So on her 100th birthday,  I am grateful to Yuji Ichioka for suggesting that the Japanese American fieldworkers for JERS were worthy of sustained study. I am grateful to my colleagues who have foregrounded Tsuchiyama’s story in their own work. Most of all, I am grateful to Dr. Tamie Tsuchiyama. She may be gone, and never have gotten what she deserved as a scholar, but we can still learn from her travails, both before and after the war.


Lane Ryo Hirabayashi is a full professor in the Department of Asian American Studies at UCLA, where he is also the inaugural "George & Sakaye Aratani Chair in Japanese American Incarceration, Redress, and Community” (2006 to date).
In addition to authoring numerous books, he is a regular contributor to the Densho Encyclopedia. 

Read more about Tamie Tsuchiyama in the Densho Encyclopedia.  

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Apology Politics: From Redress to Comfort Women

Guest post by Brian Niiya, Densho Content Director

The recent visit of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to the U.S. and his invitation to address the U.S. Congress has brought renewed attention to the issue of the so-called “comfort women,” and the Abe administration's continued efforts to downplay that issue both in Japan and internationally. Two well-publicized reactions to Abe's visit and the "comfort women" issue mentioned the Japanese American World War II incarceration, citing it as an example of the importance of acknowledging historical wrongdoings.

The story of the "comfort women" has become well known in recent decades, at least in broad outline. During World War II, the Japanese military directly or indirectly forced tens of thousands of young girls and women from Korea, China, and other areas it conquered to serve as sexual slaves for the pleasure of Japanese soldiers. Though prior Japanese administrations have acknowledged Japanese responsibility for these abuses—most notably the 1993 Kono Statement, named after Yohei Kono, then the chief cabinet secretary of Japan—Abe's administrations have attempted to dial back such statements. During his first administration in 2006-07, he claimed that there was no evidence that the women had been coerced or that the government—as opposed to private entities—had been the ones to set up the "comfort women" system. In his current administration, he has appealed (unsuccessfully) to the U.N. to water down their 1996 report that called on Japan to apologize and to pay reparations.

The first mention of Japanese American incarceration in response to Abe’s politicking came in a speech and statement by Congressman Mike Honda, one of the harshest American critics of Japanese equivocation on the "comfort women" issue. As a member of the California State Assembly, he authored a 1999 resolution calling on Japan to acknowledge, apologize, and accept responsibility for the "comfort women," and upon his election to Congress, got the house to pass the similar House Resolution 121 in 2007.

Yong Soo Lee, 86, is visiting Washington from South Korea to speak out about her experience as one of the “comfort women” for the Japanese military during World War II. (Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post)

Honda brought surviving Korean “comfort woman” Yong Soo Lee as a guest to Abe's address before a joint session of Congress. Honda had called on Abe to apologize for this episode in Japanese history during his Congressional speech, but Abe declined to do so. In making his case, Honda cited the Japanese American incarceration as an example of why "governments must not be ignorant of their pasts."

Honda went on to write:

"Our government made a mistake, but they apologized for it, and healed many wounds as a result. Japan must now do the same. It must show the maturity of a democratic country, apologize for its mistake, and thereby gain the trust of her sister Asian nations."

The second mention came in the May 5 "Open Letter in Support of Historians in Japan" that was signed by 187 American and Canadian historians of Japan, issued after Abe's visit and his failure to address the "comfort women" issue. The letter notes that the "comfort woman" issue "has become so distorted by nationalist invective in Japan as well as in Korea and China that many scholars, along with journalists and politicians, have lost sight of the fundamental goal of historical inquiry, which should be to understand the human condition and aspire to improve it." Given this, it makes it clear that whatever disagreement and uncertainties there may be about the details, that "the 'comfort women' system was distinguished by its large scale and systematic management under the military, and by its exploitation of young, poor, and vulnerable women in areas colonized or occupied by Japan." The historians call for a "just history" that "must resist national and gender bias, and be free from government manipulation, censorship, and private intimidation."

Though primarily aimed at scholarship, the historians also write that the Japanese government has an opportunity "to show leadership by addressing Japan's history of colonial rule and wartime aggression in both words and action." In doing so, it acknowledges that "[m]any countries still struggle to acknowledge past injustices," citing specifically that "[i]t took over forty years for the United States government to compensate Japanese-Americans for their internment during World War II."

Densho supports the crux of what both Congressman Honda and the historian signatories have to say. As with the historians, we too believe in the goal of a "just history," whether of the "comfort women" or any other contested historical topic, and we provide the resources that we do towards that aim. We also stand with Congressman Honda in calling for Japan to accept responsibility for their actions and to apologize while a few of the women victims are still alive. The comparison with our redress movement is an apt one: the apology would not only help to heal wounds of the past, but would make it less likely that anything similar can ever happen again.


Thursday, May 7, 2015

Photo Essay: Ten Portraits of Mothering in WWII Japanese American Concentration Camps

This Sunday, families across the United States will celebrate Mother's Day. In honor of the holiday we've compiled a set of photographs that attest to the remarkable strength and tenderness that Japanese American mothers displayed under the harsh conditions of WWII incarceration.

1. A young mother of Japanese ancestry arrives at Assembly center with 21-day-old baby. May 19, 1942. Stockton, California. Dorothea Lange Collection.

2. Families of two Shinto priests who were interned on December 8, 1942, immediately upon declaration of war. The mother at right has nine American born children and has been in the United States ten years. The mother on the left has been in this country two years, and neither speak English. April 25, 1942. San Francisco, California. Dorothea Lange Collection. 

3. Knitting warm woolen clothing for her children against the coming winter, this Japanese mother, at the Topaz Relocation Center, takes advantage of the warm Utah sun. October 17, 1942. Topaz, Utah. National Archives and Records Administration Collection.

4. Mother and child in the Rohwer concentration camp, Arkansas. 1943. Kuroishi Family Collection.

5. This family of Japanese ancestry has just arrived in the center this morning. The mother and the children are waiting at the door of the room in the barracks to which they have been assigned. The father is at the baggage depot where their bedding and clothing are unloaded and inspected for contraband. May 19, 1942. Stockton, California. Dorothea Lange Collection.

6. Hide Yasutake, her children May and Joe, and a Nisei soldier. Their barracks are in Block 4, Apartment C at the Mindoka concentration camp, Idaho. 1943. Yasutake Collection.

7. Mother and baby await evacuation bus. Posted on wall are schedules listing names of families, buses to which they are assigned, and times of departure. May 9, 1942. Centerville, California. Dorothea Lange Collection.

8. Mother and son in camp graveyard. This photo was taken at the Minidoka concentration camp's graveyard. The rocks in the background were probably used for grave markers. The tombstone shown here was more elaborate than most. 1944. Bain Collection.

9. Mother and two daughters (Kara and Amy) at Heart Mountain concentration camp, Wyoming. 1943. Kondo Collection.

10. Shigeko Kitamoto and her children (left to right): Frances, Jane, Frank, and Lilly Kitamoto in front of their barracks at the Minidoka concentration camp, Idaho. 1944. Bainbridge Island Japanese American Community Collection.


To learn more about mothering in the camps, watch this segment from an interview with Fumiko Hayashida, whose evacuation photograph is perhaps the most widely recognized image of mothering from the WWII incarceration era.


Thursday, April 30, 2015

Classic Movie Review: The Steel Helmet (1951)

The Steel Helmet—a 1951, low-budget film by Samuel Fuller—features one of the first popular culture reference to Japanese American incarceration. In this post, Densho's Content Director, Brian Niiya, presents a film history and analysis.

I’ve been a big fan of the acclaimed B-movie director Samuel Fuller since seeing his 1960s films Shock Corridor and The Naked Kiss many years ago. I became an even bigger fan after seeing his remarkable The Crimson Kimono (1959), a murder mystery/love story starring James Shigeta as an LA cop and set in Little Tokyo during Nisei Week. His movies tackle provocative themes and often feature interracial casts; as B-movies, they also follow genre conventions in being fast moving, action packed and sometimes crass and exploitative as well. They are never dull.

He was also something of an Asia-phile with no less than four of his movies either set in Asia or Asian America. Besides Crimson Kimono, there was House of Bamboo (1955), set in occupied Japan and starring “Shirley Yamaguchi” (aka Ri Koran and Yoshiko Otaka); China Gate (1957), the first Hollywood film set in Vietnam; and the subject of this essay, The Steel Helmet (1951), the first Hollywood film to depict the Korean War.

(I’m also fascinated by Yamaguchi, whose various incarnations include Nisei pin-up girl, superstar singer, Japanese propagandist in occupied China, wife of Isamu Noguchi (and with him, part of the model "Nisei" couple), American movie star; and postwar Japanese politician, among other things. But we’ll leave her for another time.)

Samuel Fuller was born in Worcester, Massachusetts in 1912 and moved to New York with his family after his father died when he was eleven. As a young teenager, he began to sell newspapers, which led to his becoming a copy boy, then a crime reporter for the New York Evening Graphic, a notorious scandal sheet, at age 17. Intrigued by California, he headed west in the mid 1930s and eventually broke into Hollywood ghostwriting screenplays for established screenwriters. After serving in World War II—including landing on Omaha Beach on D-Day—he established himself as a screenwriter in Hollywood under his own name. Independent producer Robert Lippert gave him a chance to direct his own screenplays in 1948, beginning with I Shot Jesse James.

The Steel Helmet was his third movie for Lippert and proved to be a turning point for his career. As with his other early movies, it was shot quickly and on a low budget, with Griffith Park in Los Angeles standing in for Korea. Filmed over the course of ten days in October of 1950, the movie’s budget was just $104,000.

The movie centers on a grizzled World War II veteran named Zack, played by newcomer Gene Evans. As the movie begins, he is the lone survivor when his platoon is slaughtered by the enemy; shot in the head, the bullet pierced his helmet but rattled around inside, leaving him unharmed. He is discovered and unbound by a South Korean orphan boy (William Chun) of around twelve who follows him despite Zack's discouragement. The pair come across another lone soldier, an African American medic, before coming across a lost unit assigned to set up a surveillance post in a Buddhist temple. The group eventually finds the temple and a lone North Korean soldier is discovered in it after he kills one of the Americans. When the boy—whom Zack and men become attached to despite themselves—is shot by an attacker, the captured soldier—now a potentially valuable POW—makes a sarcastic remark about a note the boy had written wishing he could get Zack to like him. Zack impetuously shoots and kills the prisoner. The soldiers subsequently repel an enemy attack, though only four survive.

It is a familiar trope in war movies, westerns, and other genres: the diverse group of misfits and survivors thrown together by chance who overcome their personal differences to band together and successfully achieve their mission. The group here is particularly diverse; as one contemporary reviewer sardonically observed, "... the infantry has assembled in brotherhood a group of men representing every American type except the anti-vivisectionist."

Two are racial minorities: Corporal Thompson, the African American medic played by James Edwards, and Sergeant Tanaka, a Nisei character played by Richard Loo. (Loo, a Chinese American actor born in Maui, was best known for playing Japanese enemy figures in movies during and about World War II and had a role in the infamous Little Tokyo U.S.A.) Both are portrayed as exceedingly competent and cool under fire in contrast to many of the other men. As a seasoned World War II vet like Zack, Tanaka stoically repels a sniper attack while the other men run for cover. Later, when a cowardly lieutenant accidentally pulls the pin from a grenade and panics, Tanaka cooly resets it.

The Steel Helmet (1951)

Both are also targeted by the Communist POW played by Harold Fong. When guarded by each, the POW points out the discrimination each faces in the U.S. in the attempt to covert them to his side or at least to discourage them. The dialogue with Tanaka is worth quoting in full:

POW: You got the same kind of eyes I have.

Tanaka: Umm?

POW: You got the same…

Tanaka: I heard you. So what?

POW: They hate us because of our eyes

Tanaka: Major—you got a long hike ahead of you in the morning. You better get some shut eye

POW: Doesn't it make you feel like a traitor?

Tanaka: For a little guy with a lot of combat time, major, you surprise me. Don't you guys know when you're licked?

POW: I surprise you? They threw Japanese Americans into prison camps during the last war, didn't they? Perhaps even your parents. Perhaps even you.

Tanaka: (pause) You rang the bell that time. They did.

POW: (smile) And some of you had to pass for Filipinos to get a job. I know.

Tanaka: Major, you're getting sloppy as a con artist.

POW: Con? What is con?

Tanaka: I was. Strictly for the birds. That's you majordomo, strictly for the birds

POW: Jaa, you Niseis are incredible. You make no sense.

Tanaka: If I wasn't in the army and you weren't a POW, I'd…. ahh, in our country we have rules, even about war.

POW: (chuckles): Were you one of those idiots who fought in Europe for "your" country?

Tanaka: 442nd Combat Team. And you know what? Over 3,000 of us idiots got the Purple Heart. You can't figure that out, major, can you?

POW: No. That's what I don't understand. They call you dirty Jap rats and yet you fight for them. Why?

Tanaka: I've got some hot infantry news for you: I'm not a dirty Jap rat, I'm an American, and if we get pushed around back home, well that's our business. But we don't like it when we get pushed around by… ah, knock off before I forget the articles of war and slap those rabbit teeth of yours out one at a time.

This is likely the first disapproving mention of Japanese American incarceration in a mainstream movie and comes in the context of the rapidly changing mainstream portrayal of Japanese Americans that took place in the decade after the end of World War II. The Steel Helmet wouldn’t even be the only mainstream movie released that year to portray Japanese Americans in a positive light: just a few months later, Go for Broke!, which centers on the exploits of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, would be released.

There are many reasons for the rapidly changing view of Japanese Americans during this time period, but the setting of The Steel Helmet highlights one of the main ones: the Cold War/anti-Communist tenor of the times. In the battle for the hearts and minds of the Third World, racial discrimination undermined the Western cause. The patriotic war veteran Fuller portrayed an American military united across racial lines that comes together to achieve their mission. But unlike many others, he is also willing to point out the racism that still infected American society, explicitly and literally illustrating how it could be used by the enemy to criticize the American way and maybe even to disrupt American unity.

The film opened on January 11, 1951  and there were two somewhat unexpected outcomes. One is that some observers—most notably the anti-Communist New York Daily Mirror columnist Victor Riesel—accused the film and the proudly patriotic Fuller of promoting Communism. In interviews and in his autobiography, Fuller recounts being called to the Pentagon and grilled over the content of his film. The key objections were that the soldiers were not portrayed in a heroic fashion—many were portrayed as cowardly or incompetent—that the main character shoots the POW and goes unpunished for doing so, and that U.S. racial discrimination is criticized. The other is that the low budget film was a substantial financial success. Because Fuller worked for a share of the profits, the film ended up making him a wealthy man (in his autobiography, he reports clearing $2 million after taxes), which no doubt contributed to his ability to keep making idiosyncratic and personal films for the next two decades.

As for Sergeant Tanaka, we know he survives the movie, but we don’t know much else about him or his background—we don’t even know his first name—except that he or his family went to camp and that he presumably served in the 442nd. But we can credit him with being one of the first to expose America’s concentration camps and the exploits of Nisei soldiers to movie audiences, and for that, he should be remembered.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Crafting Beauty: Dissent by Design in Japanese American Concentration Camps

Following the Rago Arts auction debacle that unfolded earlier this month, new questions emerged about how and why Japanese American incarcerates were producing artwork from within the confines of WWII concentration camps. Here we feature an excerpt from the Densho Encyclopedia that illustrates the importance of crafting and art exhibits in the camps.

Excerpted from the Densho Encyclopedia entry, Arts and Crafts in Camp
Jane E. Dusselier, Iowa State University

In their efforts to create physical comfort, detainees laid the groundwork for remaking mental and physical landscapes of survival by using art to decorate their living quarters. Stripped of their personal possessions, detainees demonstrated their commitment to survival by inhabiting their living units with art in the form of kobu, wood-carvings, ikebana, embroidered wall hangings, and paper flowers. Camp-made crafts articulated fluid, shifting, and multiple stances against oppressive living conditions. By filling their living units with art, detainees made their surroundings look and feel less like spaces of incarceration, an important consideration for parents who struggled to establish even limited amounts of normalcy for their children. Through and with art, detainees spoke loudly voicing commitments to survival by improving their material lots in life and remaking both physical and mental landscapes. In this way art aided detainees in developing understandings of themselves as agents of their own lives. By remaking inside places of imprisonment, detainees identified with each other on the basis of survival and comfort.

Making artificial flowers in the Art School, Jun. 30, 1942, Manzanar concentration camp, California. Courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration, Ctrl. #: NWDNS-210-G-C900; NARA ARC #: 538182; WRA; Photographer Dorothea Lange.
Artificial flowers were one popular way to make living quarters more hospitable. Careful to save colorful pages from catalogs and magazines, women transformed the paper into flowers and then sewed them onto muslin covered balls stuffed with wadded paper, sewing scraps, or discarded bedding materials. Measuring approximately six inches in diameter, these artificial flower arrangements were hung from ceilings and walls of living units. Other women created similarly flowered art forms from silk scraps.[19] Women imprisoned at Poston made artificial chrysanthemums, gardenias, irises, sweetpeas, cherry blossoms, lilacs, and carnations from colored paper that once lined apple and orange crates. Miwako Oano described her friend's flowers as "so beautiful and so realistic that when I come home every day, my first impulse is to inhale the sweet fragrance one would expect to find emanating from such loveliness."[20]
Ikebana was an important art form in all ten concentration camps, lining shelves and resting on tables in the living quarters of detainees. At risk of over simplifying this complex and deeply theoretical art form, ikebana is grounded in the belief that the lives of flowers and the lives of humans are inseparable, with the style, size, shape, texture, and color of both arrangements and containers carrying great meaning. In addition to using empty space to communicate ideas, ikebana artists attach significance to the location of arrangements and the occasions for which they are created. Along with flowers, a great diversity of materials are used including, but not limited to: branches, vines, leaves, grasses, berries, fruit, seeds, and dried or wilted plants, each conveying meaning of their own. Imprisoned Japanese Americans demonstrated great skill adapting traditional forms of ikebana to their concentration camp landscapes.[21]
Many detainees sustained and created new bonds among themselves by exhibiting their artwork. Serving as webs of collectivities, the exhibits best demonstrated the diversity of art created by imprisoned Japanese Americans. In these display spaces, they gathered to participate in complicated, colorful, and rich visual conversations that revealed inhuman treatments, economic exploitations, and dislocations encompassed by Executive Order 9066. Displaying wide variations in terms of interests, form, materials used, and expressive style, these works of art provoked ideas, resistive practices, and strategies for improving both physical and mental conditions. Here, detainees connected and formed attachments with the purpose of improving their lots in life. Embedded in these artifacts were subversions, with detainees speaking about the control exerted on their lives. For people confined in barren and monochromatic environments, art shows also offered counter landscapes, adding vibrancy and color to camp palates dominated by shades of tan. 

Densho's Content Director, Brian Niiya, adds that "exhibitions of the type that Dr. Allen H. Eaton intended did in fact take place, even if his planned exhibition did not. Perhaps Eaton and others who wanted to facilitate incorporating Japanese Americans into mainstream American communities saw art as a relatively benign way to introduce Japanese Americans to the places where they were being encouraged to resettle, possibly drawing on existing stereotypes of Asian/Japanese proclivity for the arts.
A number exhibitions that included inmate art—both individual shows by the likes of Henry Sugimoto and MinĂ© Okubo and group shows—toured the country in the resettlement and early postwar period. I describe this briefly in the Museum Exhibitions encyclopedia article, but it is an understudied topic."


Visit the Densho Encyclopedia to learn about other commonly produced artworks, art classes, and more.