Friday, December 11, 2009

The Story to the North

Densho is located a few hours from the Canadian border. Hapa speed skater Apolo Ohno is a local hero. So, with the winter Olympics about to descend on Vancouver, British Columbia, we read an article by Greg Robinson with keen interest. An American professor at the l'Université du Québec a Montréal, Robinson investigates differences in racial attitudes towards people of Japanese descent among Canadians divided by British and French heritage. The Discover Nikkei website posted Part 1 and Part 2 of the article this month.

The harsh treatment of Japanese Canadians surpassed that imposed on Japanese Americans: their property was seized and sold off, they were sent to work in former mining towns, and until 1949 they could not return to the West Coast without threat of involuntary deportation to Japan. The displaced population migrated primarily to Montreal, where they encountered more indifference than hostility from French Canadians. But after the war, both Anglo- and Francophone politicians nearly succeeded in passing legislation to strip Japanese Canadians of their citizenship and deport them to Japan. Luckily, public opinion prevented further ethnic cleansing.

Friday, December 4, 2009

KABC news story about Rescue of the Lost Battalion

KABC in Los Angeles did an excellent TV news story about the 65th anniversary reunion of the men who were at the rescue of the Lost Battalion. The 442nd Regimental Combat Team, a segregated infantry unit made up of Japanese Americans, suffered heavy losses to rescue a group of Texas soldiers in France during World War II.

International Lives: The Horiuchi Interviews

"The Nikkei I knew that were involved in the occupation...they were able to work more closely with the Japanese because the Japanese looked upon them as someone that could understand their culture, their history, and their motivation." --Lucius Horiuchi

Last year Densho interviewed Maynard and Lucius Horiuchi in Sonoma, California. With a generous grant from the Tateuchi Foundation, their interviews became the first in the Densho collection to be translated into Japanese. Their bilingual presence in the Digital Archive is utterly appropriate since the couple met in Japan, where Maynard worked for the U.S. embassy and Lucius served in the foreign service after the war. Theirs is an international story in more than one respect.

Read more of this article.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Closed Captioning on Densho's YouTube Channel

Google recently announced new technologies to make Closed Captioning easier on YouTube. The YouTube video player has been able to display Closed Captions for some time but only for those videos that have time-coded transcripts, which are rather tedious to construct from scratch. In their attempt to make this easier, Google developed “auto-time” that will match spoken words with written words to create a time-coded Closed Caption file. It relies on voice recognition technology to match sound to text and generates appropriately sized phrases for display at the bottom of the video frame.

I tried this out on the videos we have on Densho’s YouTube channel and found auto-time to work surprisingly well. The fact that I was able to quickly take advantage of Google’s new auto-time technology is a testament to Densho’s process to transcribe completely every video interview as they are captured. Because we have the full transcription available I could easily use Google’s auto-time to insert the time-coding data.

Auto-time doesn’t do a flawless job but it comes pretty close. Fortunately, YouTube allows you to download the generated time-coded file to make corrections or for use in other ways.
Google also announced “auto-cap” that will generate transcripts automatically. It hasn’t been generally released yet but looks like it may be useful for a rough first-pass approximation. It’s not quite up to the quality standards we aim for with Densho interviews so we’ll no doubt continue with manual transcriptions for some time.

Adding Closed Captions to Densho’s videos makes it possible for us to reach an even wider audience including the hearing impaired and even non-English speakers because Google is also working on automatic translation of Closed Captions to other languages. Just imagine, somewhere off in the not-too-distant future, people in every country will be able to enjoy Densho’s rich collection of stories in their own language.
In the meantime, I invite you to check out the videos on Densho’s YouTube channel, now with Closed Captioning!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Camp Harmony - Author Event

Densho is hosting a book event on December 3 at the Wing Luke Asian Museum in Seattle's Chinatown-International District neighborhood. Join us for a talk at 6:30pm by Louis Fiset as he discusses his latest book, Camp Harmony: Seattle's Japanese Americans and the Puyallup Assembly Center, the first in-depth study of a single "assembly center," or temporary detention camp.

"Camp Harmony" (we wonder who chose that unlikely name) was the destination of some 7,000 Japanese Americans removed from Seattle and other locations, who were then shipped to the Idaho desert to spend years at Minidoka. Fiset is author of Imprisoned Apart: The World War II Correspondence of an Issei Couple, about the nature-loving husband and wife featured in Ken Burns's recent series on the national parks.

Copies of the book will be sold at the museum's gift shop. The event is free, as is admission to the museum that evening. We hope to see you there.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Oral History Workshop - Not How, But Why

Last Saturday, Densho executive director Tom Ikeda, with communications director Patricia Kiyono, led an oral history workshop for 15 participants. Unlike how-to trainings, Tom designed this workshop to examine the uses of oral history after the tape recorder or digital camera stops running. Why record the details of someone's life? How do you store, retrieve, and share your subject's story, whether your subject is important to national history or family history? What are the technical, ethical, legal, archival considerations in collecting personal experiences and emotions for strangers to assess in coming decades?
Tom shared Densho's 14-year evolution from interviews of uneven quality conducted by volunteers to life histories drawn out by professionals. Some decisions made early on, like the choice to fully transcribe every video life history, have increased the value of the collection. As technology evolves, the means of delivery keep increasing: from Densho's website to online exhibitions, FaceBook, YouTube, and the next unidentified application.

The "why" question is easy for Densho to answer. Like oral history projects that captured narratives of ex-slaves, Holocaust survivors, refugees of wars, or civil rights pioneers, the stories of Japanese Americans unjustly incarcerated by their own government are valued by historians and defenders of human rights.

The diverse workshop participants plan to collect oral histories about Hurricane Katrina, interviews with international school children, and the stories of their own parents. Tom urged participants to research first, execute well, and carry through with results that benefit their given audience. For Densho, that means students, teachers, historians, journalists, documentary makers, museum curators, book publishers, and the general public.

Thank you to 4Culture for funding in support of this project. In response to demand, Densho will present future oral history workshops to help people capture their communities' human heritage.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Microsoft Alumni Foundation Gala

For the last two days I have been involved in a flurry of activities around the Microsoft Alumni Foundation’s Integral Fellows award. Although I did not win, I was honored to be a finalist and participate in the inaugural awards ceremony. It was a front row seat to learn about some of the great things that other Microsoft alumni are doing to change the world. It was both humbling and inspiring.

This morning I participated in a panel discussion at Microsoft that was moderated by Bill Drayton, one of the award judges and the founder of Ashoka. His concepts of social entrepreneurship and the nurturing of changemakers to improve the world lifted my spirits to think that people around the world were working together to make positive changes. Thanks to all who sent me congratulations and encouraging words! Below is a short video that was used to introduce me at the event.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Tom Ikeda Nominated for Microsoft Alumni Foundation Integral Fellows Award

Densho's executive director, Tom Ikeda, is honored to be selected as a finalist for the first Microsoft Alumni Foundation Integral Fellows Award. Over 150 Microsoft alumni have started and run non-profit organizations with the dream of using what they learned at Microsoft to make a difference in the world. Of Microsoft alumni around the globe, sixty-five were nominated and six finalists have been chosen for having created something extraordinary, often with limited resources, while embodying the values of the Microsoft Alumni Foundation. An esteemed panel of judges including President Jimmy Carter will select the winners. On November 18, at the Microsoft Alumni Foundation Founders Gala, Bill and Melinda Gates will award the first Integral Fellow Award to up to three individuals who will receive $25,000 for their nonprofits as well as dedicated support from the Microsoft Alumni Foundation. Congratulations to all the finalists.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Profile in Courage: George Sakato and a Belated Medal of Honor

"I'm no hero, but I wear it for the guys that didn't come back." -- George "Joe" Sakato

George T. Sakato is the great-great-great-grandson of a samurai. Perhaps that explains his father's choice of a birth name. Sakato says, "Dad wanted to call me Jyotaro Sakato, after a sword-bearer for Musashi samurai." But when the doctor submitted the vital statistics for the baby, "Jyotaro" became "George." An unassuming man, Densho's interviewee says simply, "All my life I've been called Joe." On October 29, 1944, in the Vosges Mountains of France, Private Joe Sakato's warrior ancestry saw him through a critical juncture in the storied Battle of the Lost Battalion.

Read more of this article.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Incarceration and Reservations: Japanese and Native Americans Intersect

"This country has had a history of forced evacuation and detention of non-white Americans." --Bernie Whitebear, United Indians of All Tribes Foundation

Politically oppressed people of color share storylines in American history. Asian immigrants and their descendants were subjected to legal discrimination designed to diminish them as individuals and economic competitors. African Americans experienced as much and worse. The story of how the first Americans were driven from their lands, traditions, and livelihoods stands as a terrible precursor for the government's treatment of Japanese Americans during World War II. The connection is more direct than some would suspect. Like the Bureau of Indian Affairs, charged with managing the country's displaced Native American population, the War Relocation Authority managed the displaced Japanese American population by penning them in desolate government-controlled territories. The connection does not end there.

Read more of this article.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Auction to Help Densho - Tom Ikeda

For a non-profit, raising money is always challenging. One of the fun things we do is to have a silent auction at our annual Sushi & Sake Fest on Nov 5th. I say fun because we get to spend time looking over an amazing array of items. One item that caused some chuckles is the “Seen on TV” basket with the Magic Bullet, Snuggie, Moving Men, Open It, Underbed, Windowshield Wonder, Pedipaws, Ped Egg and Ove Glove!

Doing an auction is also an excuse to contact old friends for favors. I just heard that my junior high, high school, and college classmate, Kenny G, is generously donating an autographed saxophone. Luckily he is still talking to me after I advised him in high school to give up his music ambitions and stick to business!

Other notable auction items include:

BOSSHIKO live painting at the event

Roger Federer autographed tennis racquet with case

Suite tickets to the Seattle Sounders (this is for my soccer friend fanatics!)

Gerard Tsutakawa sculpture

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Restoring a Lapsed Asian American Initiative

Yesterday at a White House ceremony, President Barack Obama signed an executive order re-establishing an advisory commission "to improve the quality of life of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders through increased participation in Federal programs where they may be underserved (e.g., health, human services, education, housing, labor, transportation, and economic and community development)."

The AAPI initiative was begun under the Clinton administration but expired during the Bush administration. You can read the president's signing remarks and view a video of the ceremony. (photo: Press Trust of India)

During the signing ceremony, Obama recognized Nisei vets in the audience. He rejected the "model minority" myth and pointed out the wide diversity of the AAPI community. In a nice show of cultural diversity, he then lit a diya lamp to observe Diwali, the ''Festival of Lights'' celebrated across faiths in India. This is a first.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Value of Freedom

We've been wondering what Roxana Saberi has been doing since her release from prison in Iran, where she was falsely charged with espionage. This Salt Lake City news article (photo credit: Keith Johnson, Deseret News) reports on a lecture she gave there with veteran newsman Daniel Schorr.

Saberi, a U.S.-born journalist of Iranian and Japanese descent, recounted incidents of censorship preceding her sudden arrest in Tehran. Written from the perspective of a young female Iranian American, the book she was researching promised to be fascinating even before her personal drama heightened the mix.
Saberi told the audience, "I hope you will value the freedoms you have. I didn't realize the value of freedom until I was deprived of it."

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Embargoed Interview: Ehren Watada

This month we announced the addition of what could be a controversial interview to the Densho Digital Archive. In our October eNews, you can preview a video clip of Densho's interview with Ehren Watada, the Army lieutenant who refused deployment to Iraq on the grounds that the war is illegal. You may consider Watada either a hero or a coward, depending on how you feel about the war in Iraq and a soldier's obligation to follow orders. This news article tells how Watada was allowed to resign from the Army after being court-martialed for charges that could have led to six years in prison.

We conducted the interview in 2006 but embargoed it until Lt. Watada's legal situation was resolved. In the featured clip, Watada describes feeling betrayed when he discovered there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The full interview is available with free registration to the archive.

We are curious to know what people think about Ehren Watada's stance. I imagine the veterans and others among our readers could have lively discussion on the subject. Feel free to post a comment. Patricia Kiyono

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Frank Sumida Interview in LA

A couple of weeks ago I was in LA and through an introduction from Barbara Takei of the Tule Lake Committee, did a fascinating interview with Frank Sumida. Frank shared glimpses of the Japanese gangster element that was present in LA's Little Tokyo before the war. He talked about how some of these gangsters noticed him as a teenage boy on the streets, and how he later met them in detention camps in Santa Anita and Santa Fe. These meetings eventually led Frank to help run gambling operations in both these camps. Tom Ikeda

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Freshly Minted Videos - Watch on YouTube

For our latest teacher resource CD (available on request) we produced short videos to illustrate key points of Japanese American history. Teachers have been asking us for a summary video for ages, so we're glad to finally comply (with the help of funding from the National Park Service and 4Culture).

We also posted the new videos to our YouTube channel, where you'll find excerpts of Densho's interviews with Nisei, who share their memories of working on family farms, discovering they were less American than they thought after Pearl Harbor, along with other up and down experiences during and after World War II.

The first of five videos is on prewar Japanese American communities. The photos and voices are all from our Digital Archive, which teachers and other researchers can use free of charge. We hope educators will let their fellow teachers know about Densho's online curricula and huge bank of primary resources.

Frances Tashiro Kaji Interview in LA

Last week I was in Los Angeles and had the opportunity to do a video recorded interview with Frances Tashiro Kaji. Writer Martha Nakagawa helped arrange the meeting and assisted during the life history interview. Having Martha's help was invaluable as her local knowledge of Los Angeles introduced us to great people and stories. Frances gave us vivid descriptions of prewar Gardena and a glimpse into her father's life as a prominent doctor in the community. Tom

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Side Trip to Fort Snelling

Returning from a short trip to Minneapolis last weekend, I spotted a sign for Fort Snelling on the way to the airport. The fort is perched above the picturesque confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers. During World War II, some 3,000 Nisei soldiers went through rigorous Japanese language instruction there to serve in the Military Intelligence Service (MIS). Graduates worked in Japan during and after the war as translators, interpreters, and interrogators.

The military opened the first MIS school at the Presidio in San Francisco after it became apparent that the average American could not learn the difficult Japanese language -- and that, contrary to assumption, the average American-born Nisei did not speak the language either. Densho interviewee Francis Mas Fukuhara points out the irony of the situation:

"The real linguists in MIS were guys educated in Japan. They were Kibeis. And that's kind of ironic, because jeez, you know, [Western Command General] DeWitt went on for a half a page justifying the evacuation of Japanese... one of the things that he pointed out was that these Nisei were, couldn't be trusted because they had all this knowledge of Japanese and Japanese culture, and Kibeis were the worst of all because they were educated in Japan. And it's kind of ironic to me that they took us and threw us into camp for that very reason, and recruiters came in, really, and were recruiting us for that very same expertise."

Tsuguo "Ike" Ikeda remembers his nine months of training at the Fort Snelling MIS school:

"After basic training, the order was to go to Minnesota, so off I went. I didn't think I had any choice of saying no to that. There were so many of us Niseis that had been drafted into the Fort Snelling program, that for two months we stayed in these, we call 'em turkey farms. There were four men in a real small house. Had potbelly stove to keep us warm... And we used to go out and report out in the cold weather. Minnesota's very cold. Stand attention and go through military procedures...Somehow it was suggested I knew more Japanese than others, so they had us ranked from first class to twentieth class level. I was in class five. Myself, I would have assigned myself to nineteen or twenty. But somehow we graduated. We spent night and day, Saturdays, studying Japanese, writing it, reading it, speaking it."

All told, nearly 6,000 Japanese Americans served in the MIS during and after World War II. This famous quote seals their legacy: Maj. General Charles Willoughby, Gen. MacArthur's intelligence chief, stated, "The Nisei saved a million lives and shortened the war by two years." And they did it while their parents and siblings awaited the war's end behind barbed wire.

Help Preserve Minidoka and Heart Mountain

The Friends of Minidoka, Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation, and Conservation Fund ask supporters to urge their U.S. senators to vote for legislation that will fund the acquisition of lands for the Minidoka and Heart Mountain historic sites. The 2010 House Interior appropriations bill includes $350,000 to purchase and permanently protect 100 acres of the former Minidoka incarceration camp, but the pending Senate bill does not include the funding. Friends of the camps also support proposed legislation to acquire additional lands where the Minidoka and Heart Mountain camps stood.

You can help safeguard two historic sites that will preserve the legacy of Japanese Americans who endured injust imprisonment on this soil. Do not let such historically significant ground become commercial properties. Please read this letter for more information and write your senator today.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Words Do Matter: Join the Discussion

Anyone who writes about what happened to 120,000 Japanese Americans during WWII immediately enters a debate about terminology, whether they know it or not. "Internment" is the most common designation. Scholars say "internment" can't apply to U.S. citizens for legal reasons. (Some 70,000 Nisei, U.S. citizens, were confined in the camps.) Officials euphemistically called the camps "relocation centers" at the time. A growing number today maintain that "concentration camps" is more accurate, if controversial.

So where does this leave us? This article contains 1940s examples of authorities' words that betray their unease: Camp administrators referred to the U.S.-citizen Nisei as "Japanese non-aliens." They declared, "People will be confined in the relocation area for the duration but in no other aspect will Minidoka resemble a concentration camp."

Densho's "Note on Terminology" cites historian Roger Daniels's fine article "Words Do Matter." We agree, historically accurate language matters. But how to determine what is accurate language? Tell us what you think.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

All About the Women

Densho is dedicating resources to record interviews with Nikkei women, whose stories are often less documented in oral history collections. This month Densho staff travels to L.A. to conduct new interviews with Nisei women. And the September eNews contains a "From the Archive" article that's all about women's experiences in the incarceration camps.

Shigeko had to figure out how to "carry" a crib for her newborn to the assembly center. Aiko raced to snatch freshly washed diapers from the clothesline before the duststorm caught up with her. And high school student Masako spilled her hopes and frustrations into a stream of letters sent from Manzanar to her big brother, free in Chicago.

Densho's Digital Archive is rich in personal stories full of detail and drama. Take a minute to sign up for the free monthly eNews to view selections from the Densho collection and learn about events you won't want to miss.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Happy Birthday, Monica Sone

Today is the 90th birthday of Monica Sone, author of Nisei Daughter. Written in 1953, hers was among the first books published about experiencing the forced removal and detention during World War II. Sone and her family had run a hotel in Seattle before Executive Order 9066 sent all West Coast Japanese Americans into exile.

While much more literature on the subject is in print today, teachers still assign readings from Nisei Daughter, perhaps because of the approachable voice of the author, who recalls her childhood and adolescence with good humor. The University of Washington catalogue entry for Asian American literature about the Northwest traces the shift in Sone's tone between the initial publication in the 50s and her foreword for the 1979 edition.

The UW library posted a chapter from Sone's book, about arriving at their Puyallup "assembly center," dubbed Camp Harmony (see the library's online exhibit). Amidst the "quiet hysteria" of the first days in camp, Sone reflects on her situation:

What was I doing behind a fence like a criminal? If there were accusations to be made, why hadn't I been given a fair trial? Maybe I wasn't considered an American anymore. My citizenship wasn't real, after all. Then what was I? I was certainly not a citizen of Japan as my parents were. On second thought, even Father and Mother were more alien residents of the United States than Japanese nationals for they had little tie with their mother country. In their twenty-five years in America, they had worked and paid their taxes to their adopted government as any other citizen.

Of one thing I was sure. The wire fence was real. I no longer had the right to walk out of it. It was because I had Japanese ancestors. It was also because some people had little faith in the ideas and ideals of democracy.

Thank you, Mrs. Sone, for your seminal contribution to J.A. literature. Happy birthday!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Homecoming for Heroes: Veterans Gala in Houston

The National Japanese American Memorial Foundation asks Densho to spread the word about the "Homecoming for Heroes" gala on November 1. The event honors Nisei and Texan veterans whose lives intertwined in 1944 when the 442nd Regimental Combat Team rescued 275 men from the Texas National Guard who were trapped by the Germans. The 442nd suffered tremendous casualities in fighting to save the Lost Battalion. Read about the event here.

NJAMF extends this invitation to veterans of the famous battle:
"This year marks the 65th Anniversary of the rescuing of the Texas 141st Regiment’s “Lost Battalion” by the Nikkei 442nd Regimental Combat Team in the Vosges Mountain of France. The National Japanese American Memorial Foundation and the Host Committee of the “Homecoming for Heroes” would like to invite you and a guest to be our special honoree at a dinner on November 1 at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Houston, Texas. We will also host a brunch the following morning, November 2. Each veteran and his one guest will receive complimentary tickets to the Sunday VIP Reception and dinner and Monday brunch. Our current funding allows us to provide additional travel support for up to 50 veterans and their guests on a first come first serve basis."

For more information go to or call 202-530-0015.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Summer Days

On a warm August afternoon, in the time-honored tradition of the summer rerun, we thought we'd share some of our favorite "From the Archive" articles that are available on our website. These monthly articles feature photos, documents, and interview clips from Densho's wealth of primary resources in the free Digital Archive.

One "From the Archive" article on photography by Ansel Adams and Dorothea Lange inspired a student activity in a curriculum unit we share with teachers. We hope you enjoy reading "Controlling the Historical Record: Photographs of the Japanese American Incarceration."

Friday, August 14, 2009

Tragedy and Lessons: Listen Online

Twitter told us about an excellent lecture by law professor Eric Muller called "The Constitution in Wartime: The Tragedy and the Lessons of the Japanese American Internment of World War II."

Professor Muller describes the dominant racial attitudes that permitted the mass incarceration of an immigrant group, and he points out our propensity today to equate "otherness" with danger. You can listen to a recording of the talk on, a North Carolina nonprofit. The lecture is part of a four-part series, "We the People: Democracy in America."

Densho presented an event with Eric Muller upon publication of his most recent book: American Inquisition: The Hunt for Japanese American Disloyalty in World War II. You can listen to that talk here.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Justice Watch

Judges are in the news. On the same day, we read that U.S. Federal Judge Robert Takasugi has passed away and learn that President Obama--on the heels of Sonya Sotomayor's Supreme Court appointment-- has nominated five new federal judges, including three Asian Americans to California courts.

Judge Takasugi's obituary tells how he was taken from his home in Tacoma, Washington, and sent to Tule Lake at the age of 11 (photo: Gary Miyatake/Associated Press). His father died in camp. He called his experience as a "prisoner of war imprisoned in an American-style concentration camp" an "education to be fair." Takasugi was one of the first Japanese Americans to be appointed to the federal bench. More details of his career are here. Among other notable rulings is his post 9/11 dismissal of terrorist charges against an Iranian group for lack of due process of law. The decision invalidated part of the Patriot Act.

On August 7, Obama nominated Edward Chen and Dolly Gee to be federal district judges in California. If confirmed, Gee would become the first Asian-American woman on the district court in central California and Chen would become the first Asian-American federal district court judge in the San Francisco area. On July 31, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Jacqueline H. Nguyen was nominated to the U.S. District Court of central California.

I had the honor of meeting Judge Takasugi a few years ago at a Tule Lake Pilgrimage. He impressed me as a champion of diversity and individual justice. We can be confident the latest court nominations would have pleased him.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Floating Lanterns and Folded Cranes

Today, August 6, the world remembers the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. On the north shore of Green Lake in Seattle, volunteers hold the commemorative ceremony "From Hiroshima to Hope," a hauntingly beautiful lantern-floating ritual in remembrance of the victims at Hiroshima and Nagasaki and all victims of war and violence. More information: (photo courtesy of Wing Luke Asian Museum). Come fold a crane and float a lantern for peace.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Call for Interviewees

Late Friday afternoon we received good news. Densho's application to the national Japanese American Confinement Sites grant program was awarded in the amount of $112,500. The money will pay for 40 new video interviews with people who can speak about the 10 WRA mainland camps as well as detention sites in Hawaii. The new interviews will focus on camps less well documented in Densho's and others' collections (for example, Jerome, Arkansas, pictured).

We're starting to research new interviewees now. If you know of good potential "narrators" of the World War II detention camps (not necessarily Japanese American speakers), submit your suggestion online: See the Densho narrator criteria and nomination form.

Read more about Densho's grant here. It's administered through the National Park Service. If we're fortunate, Congress will appropriate the full $38 million that was authorized while there's still time to capture the life stories from our Nisei elders.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Book Event: "Japanese American Resettlement through the Lens"

When Asian American studies scholars visit Seattle, we sometimes invite them to speak in public programs. This Saturday at the Densho building, we will host a author talk by Lane Ryo Hirabayashi of UCLA. If you're in the area, come hear Dr. Hirabayashi speak about his new book on the War Relocation Authority's use of PR photography: Japanese American Resettlement through the Lens.

The book reproduces photographs by a Nisei photographer working for the WRA, complete with the original lengthy captions directed at two audiences: 1) potentially hostile members of outside communities, and 2) incarcerated Japanese Americans reluctant to meet those potentially hostile community members. These staged-looking photos of Nisei happy on college campuses and cozy in new homes feel faintly surreal if you've heard true stories of the poverty and discrimination that released detainees faced.

A past "From the Archive" article focuses on the government's attempts to shape the public's opinion about the "loyal and law-abiding" Japanese Americans appearing in their midst. In researching our digital archive for the article, I came across a choice quote from one of our interviewees. Peggie Nishimua Bain told us how she struggled to secure decent housing in Chicago:

The WRA did not offer to find anyplace. They give you an address and they say, "Well, you go and see if you can rent the place." And they kept calling me because they wanted to take a picture of me so they could send it back to the camp saying what a wonderful place Chicago was and how nice it was to be out and relocated. So I told them the next time they called me, I said, "I'm being thrown out of the apartment, so come and take a picture of that." They never bothered me after that.

So much for that photo opp. We hope to see you at the book talk.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Los Angeles Interviews, Tom

Last week I had the joy and honor of interviewing three Nisei women who were talented, strong, and committed individuals. For three days we set up a temporary video studio at the Torrance Holiday Inn to interview eight women. I conducted the following three interviews.

Aiko Yoshinaga-Herzig is known for her important research in support of the coram nobis cases and the redress effort. Our time together focused on her life before she became a researcher when she was a single mother raising three children and becoming more politically aware in New York City with the group, Asian Americans in Action. It was in her fifties when she launched her new career as an archival researcher.

Wakako Yamauchi is a playwright who wrote “And the Soul Shall Dance” a play that I saw when I was in college in the late 1970s. Although it was 30 years ago when I saw the play, I still remember how well it captured the hardships and despair of Issei farmers. During Wakako’s interview we talked about her growing up in a farming family in the Imperial Valley and the hardships her family faced. We also talked about how she emerged as an artist and writer.

Mary Kageyama Nomura is nicknamed “The Songbird of Manzanar.” During Mary’s interview she talked about how she performed as a child at community events. She also described the difficulties when both her parents were dead when she was only eight years old and how her older brother kept the five siblings together as a family. Mary also talks about singing in Manzanar and the special relationship she had with Louis Frisell, the music teacher.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Powerful Storytelling

I came across an interview with Leslie Ishii, a Sansei actor seen on TV in the series Lost and Desperate Housewives, and soon to be seen in the movie Fame. Her answer to the very first question rang Densho's bells. When asked what inspired her to pursue an acting career, she cites a 1980s Seattle theatrical performance in support of Gordon Hirabayashi, who was seeking to have his Supreme Court conviction for defying incarceration overturned.

The Japanese American community came out in force, and former detainees told the stories of their wartime ordeals for the first time. The standing room crowd was moved. Ishii says, "I recall my Dad mentioning at intermission that he was in the restroom and saw men crying. Asian men could be very close to their vests in showing their emotions. I saw how powerful storytelling was and knew it was something I had to do more of."

Densho also knows about powerful storytelling, the power of life stories to bring out emotions--and we hope to enlighten. Stay tuned for reports on our latest interview gathering.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Hero on the 4th of July

Over the 4th of July holiday, I remembered a news item from the last days of June. Seattle's historic federal courthouse was rededicated after a 3-year renovation. In 2001 the courthouse was renamed in honor of William Kenzo Nakamura, a Nisei war hero. Nakamura volunteered for service from Minidoka incarceration camp. He was killed on July 4, 1944, while drawing enemy machine gun fire to protect his platoon. His Distinguished Service Cross (second highest military honor) was upgraded to a Medal of Honor (highest military recognition) by Bill Clinton in 2001.

This column recounts some of the momentous episodes in the courthouse's history. The writer agrees with us that the William Kenzo Nakamura Courthouse is aptly named for a national hero.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Exhibition of Note

An art show we wish we could see in Seattle is a retrospective of work by Densho's friend Roger Shimomura, master of skewering racist stereotypes. The Return of the Yellow Peril is on display at the Crow Collection of Asian Art in Dallas. Roger sent us a news article that contains some dismaying comments about the Japanese American camps. See the usual complaints about "whiners," false comparisons to Japan's treatment of American prisoners of war, and assertions that it was for their own protection. Here's an example:

"What about all the American sailors that were incinerated by the sucker punch attack at Pearl Harbor? Is that the following story to give a little balance?

Muslims also love the fact that we're so extremely liberal by punishing ourselves for imagined crimes. It is our undoing..."

Thank goodness other commenters lamented the bigotry and pointed to that little thing called the Constitution. Once again we are reminded that Densho has work to do.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Interviews in Minneapolis by Tom

The Twin Cities Chapter of the JACL welcomed us last week with a Monday potluck dinner. This was a fun evening of eating homemade Japanese food, talking with the Chapter oral history committee, and getting to know better the men and women we would be interviewing in the following days. My favorite food was the homemade mochi that interviewee Helen Tsuchiya made for the group!

Below are a few tidbits about the interviews I did on this trip.

On Tuesday morning I started my interviewing with Yo Matsumoto. Yo grew up in the San Diego area and was going to UC Berkeley when the war started. Yo was sent to the Tanforan “assembly center” and was one of a few Nisei selected for early release to attend school at Washington University in St. Louis. After serving in the army in Europe, Yo joined his family in Detroit and then relocated to St. Paul as an engineer with the 3M Company.

Tuesday afternoon I interviewed Joe Uemura. Joe grew up in Denver where his father was the long-time minister of the Japanese Methodist Church. Joe recounts being the son of a minister and the frightening story of the stained glass windows of the church being shattered by vigilantes during the days following the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Joe also describes the many families that lived at the church during and after the war while trying to find a place to resettle.

Noon Wednesday I interviewed Yosh Matsuura. Yosh grew up in Fowler, California. As successful farmers, Yosh’s family suffered big losses when they were removed to the Gila River camp. Yosh was able to leave Gila River for Minneapolis to join the National Youth Administration (NYA) training program. A few days after arriving for the program the government expelled all Nisei youth and had them fend for themselves without room and board. Yosh was able to find employment and then was drafted into the army where he served with the Military Intelligence Service.

Wednesday evening I interviewed George Yoshino. George grew up on a farm in Bellevue, Washington. One of the jobs that George had after graduating from high school was oyster farming in the Puget Sound. George and his family were removed to Pinedale and then to Tule Lake after the war started. George described going out on temporary work crews from the camps with Issei men working on the railroad and on farms. George later served in the MIS.

Noon Thursday I interviewed Harry Umeda. Harry was the oldest interviewee I had on this trip at 94 years old. Harry grew up in the Sacramento area and was drafted into the army before WWII started. He talked about how the Nisei soldiers were segregated after the war started and how he eventually joined the MIS. Harry told gut wrenching stories about interviewing half-starved Japanese POWs in New Guinea.

At the end of Thursday we packed our gear and the very tired Densho crew of Megan Asaka, Dana Hoshide and I caught a flight back to Seattle.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Minneapolis interviews

Tom, Dana, and I just returned from a whirlwind trip to Minneapolis/St. Paul. The 10 interviews we conducted offered great insight into this significant, though lesser-known, community in the Midwest. The Twin Cities was the site of the Military Intelligence Service (MIS) language school at Ft. Snelling and drew thousands of Japanese Americans to the region during World War II. Many came to Minneapolis from camp, joining their sons and brothers who were recruited for language and intelligence training. Originally from California's central valley and incarcerated in Gila River, Helen Tsuchiya followed her brother to Minneapolis in 1943 and was joined by her Issei parents when the camps closed in 1945. Helen's family, like many, decided to remain in Minneapolis after the war because they had nothing left in California.

Others, like Mary Yoshida, came to the Twin Cities with no direct connection to Ft. Snelling. Mary answered a newspaper advertisement and worked as a domestic for a wealthy Minneapolis family while she saved up money to return to college. After college, Mary became a social worker for the YWCA and organized activities for teenagers around the city. Yet, the language school still influenced her life, as she and her Nisei friends would attend weekly dances with the MIS soldiers. In fact, that is how she first met her husband.

Many of the Minneapolis narrators also came from farming backgrounds. Helen's family operated a grape farm in Parlier, California, while Mary's family was involved with truck farming in Medford, Oregon. The Alien Land Laws prevented Japanese immigrants (who were also ineligible for citizenship) from owning property, leaving Issei farmers with no legal protection. Bill Hirabayashi recounted his family's 1920s court battle against the State of Washington, which later went to the Supreme Court, over land purchased by White River Gardens, a corporation formed by three Japanese American families in Thomas, Washington. Even though the Issei founders placed the property in the name of their eldest Nisei child (a U.S. citizen), the court still found the families in violation of the Alien Land Law and confiscated the land. Bill, younger brother of Grant Hirabayashi (interviewed by Densho in 2006), also talked about his childhood growing up in Thomas, Washington and resettling to Minneapolis after WWII. Like Helen, Mary, and other narrators, Bill told us that his family never returned to the West Coast because they lost their farm, home, and livelihood during the war.

In total, we interviewed 10 people and recorded over 17 hours of footage. Stay tuned for a recap of Tom's interviews.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

And now...Minnesota

The Densho interview team is on the move again. This week they headed for the Midwest to collect life stories of Nisei who chose to make Minnesota their home after the World War II incarceration. Tom, Dana, and Megan have set up a studio in Minneapolis and are working with the Twin Cities JACL chapter, who recruited good interviewees to document their community's history.

We hear interviewing is going smoothly, and the Minnesotans are making our Seattle crew feel at home. Densho staffers will report details. In the meantime, here are photos of a yard sale the Minneapolis folks held to raise money for recording the digital interviews. True grassroots fundraising!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Beginning our Summer Interview Trips

We’ve started our summer interview trips which means I will be on the road more than I am in the office. Last week a Densho team (Dana Hoshide, Megan Asaka, and I) were in Honolulu to do six interviews.

My first interview was with Muriel Chiyo Tanaka Onishi. Muriel is a Nisei who finished high school on Oahu and was going to college in Japan when the war started. Her mother who was the principal of a Japanese Language School on Oahu was picked up by the FBI and incarcerated at the Crystal City DOJ camp. Her brother joined the US Military Intelligence Service and served in the Pacific.
Because of Muriel’s bilingual skills she was “recruited” to help the Japanese Military by listening to American radio reports and writing down in Japanese what she heard. She did this with a small group of Nisei who were also visiting or attending school in Japan when the war started. She talks about how she talked with the other Nisei about how “horrible” it was to have to do this type of work.

My second interview was with James Nakano. He talked about how his family was removed from Honolulu to the Jerome, Arkansas camp to join his father who was picked up by the FBI in Honolulu after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. James is the brother of Bert Nakano who was a Redress activist. James talked about how Bert and he would often get into disagreements with mainland Japanese Americans because of the differences between the Hawaii boys and the “Kotonks.” The family later moved to the Tule Lake camp, where his father was then sent off to the Santa Fe camp while his mother was sick in the hospital after delivering a baby girl. James talks about how Bert and James, as teenage boys, had to quickly figure out how to take care of their newborn baby sister.

My third interview was with Paul Yempuku, the longtime publisher and president of the Hawaii Hochi, the bilingual newspaper in Honlolulu. Paul was born in Hawaii and then at six, went to Japan with his family to attend school. He talked about being a teenage boy who had to work in a Japanese weapons factory making parts for submarines while American bombs were dropping. He lived through difficult living conditions, never getting enough to eat and seeing the devastation of the atomic bomb at Hiroshima only days after it was dropped. He also talked about a dramatic family reunion with his oldest brother who served with the US Counter Intelligence Corp right after the end of the war.

Over the next few weeks we will be doing dozens of interviews in Hawaii, Minnesota, Washington and California.