Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Justice Charles Z. Smith: Reflections on Pearl Harbor

In this month's Archive Spotlight, Charles Z. Smith, former Washington State Supreme Court Justice, discusses his feelings upon hearing about the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Having never personally met a Japanese American prior to 1941, he describes believing in the war propaganda of the time and not being able to distinguish between Japanese Americans and the Japanese nationals responsible for the attack. This video clip is also featured in this month's From the Archive article.

View the Archive Spotlight interview excerpt

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

RIP William Hohri

[Below is an excerpt from an obituary written by Martha Nakagawa. The photo is from an interview William Hohri did with Densho in 1997. Frank Abe also has a good post about Hohri.]

William Minoru Hohri, writer, civil rights activist and lead plaintiff in the National Council for Japanese American Redress (NCJAR) class action lawsuit, passed away on Friday, Nov. 12. He was 83.

Hohri, a former Manzanar inmate during World War II, is best known for spearheading the NCJAR class action lawsuit, filed on March 16, 1983, which sued the United States government for $27 billion for injuries suffered as the result of the WW II exclusion and incarceration of Japanese Americans in U.S. concentration camps. The court disallowed NCJAR’s lawsuit on technical grounds on Oct. 31, 1988. Many felt NCJAR’s near successful lawsuit had influenced Congress to pass the redress bill.

Aiko Yoshinaga Herzig who was instrumental in uncovering documents in the National Archives for Hohri had the following things to say.

“William Hohri was a man of integrity. His straightforwardness made a great impression on me when we first met some 30 years ago. He was a dedicated family man, a philosopher, a skilled author, and a courageous leader who took on the chairmanship of a movement that others feared to pursue — that of confronting the government directly in the courts by challenging the legality of the denial of constitutionally-guaranteed civil liberties of an innocent ethnic minority during World War II, and to make restitution for the injustice. He acted vigorously on his convictions to seek remedies for social inequities perpetrated upon oppressed minorities. I am among those who will truly miss our good friend William.”

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Earlier this year Densho traveled to Hawaii and interviewed Masamizu Kitajima, a Nisei from Ookala, Hawaii. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, his father, a prominent Buddhist minister, was arrested by the FBI and interned in various facilities. With little community support and five children to raise, Masamizu's mother decided to accept the U.S. government's offer and move the family from Hawaii to the Jerome incarceration camp, Arkansas, to reunite with Masamizu's father. In an excerpt from his interview, Masamizu describes his sudden understanding that his father wasn't coming home after being arrested. He realized that as the oldest son, he now had to assume the role of father-figure to his family, despite being only eight years old.

View the Archive Spotlight interview excerpt

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Frank H. Hirata: A Nisei in the Japanese Army

Densho recently interviewed Frank H. Hirata, a Kibei-Nisei from Spokane, Washington. At the age of ten, Frank was sent to live with his grandfather in Japan. During World War II, he was conscripted into the Japanese army, and was still in training when the war ended. Despite his early life in the United States, Frank became fully indoctrinated into the Japanese educational system, at one point believing himself "brainwashed," never questioning the anti-U.S. propaganda he was exposed to in Japan. It was only after the war, during the U.S. occupation of Japan, that he began to change his view of Americans after working with U.S. soldiers. In an excerpt from his interview, Frank recalls when this change in attitude occurred for him.

View the Archive Spotlight interview excerpt

Friday, September 10, 2010

Love and Caring: Fred Hoshiyama, YMCA Leader

Fred Hoshiyama was born in 1914 in Livingston, California, where his parents helped to establish a farming community called the Yamato Colony. At the age of eight, he lost his father and had to help his mother on their “dirt farm.” He was attending University of California, Berkeley, when Pearl Harbor was bombed. At the Tanforan Assembly Center, California, and the Topaz incarceration camp, Utah, Fred organized YMCA programs for the young people (photo is of Boy Scouts at Topaz). His work in camp was a prelude to a lifetime career with the YMCA. Most notably, he developed NYPUM (National Youth Program Using Mini-Bikes), a program aimed at engaging high-risk youth in productive activities. In his interview excerpt, Fred describes how social differences were equalized in the incarceration camps.

View the Archive Spotlight interview excerpt: http://densho.org/archive
See other Archive Spotlights http://densho.org/spotlights

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Real Friends: Standing by the Japanese Americans

“Everywhere there is community feeling to be mended, vicious legislation to be defeated, many urgent jobs calling for attention from real friends of the real America.”—Letter from Friends of the American Way, a Quaker committee

Whether through principle or personal attachment, true friends of Japanese Americans did not abandon them after the attack on Pearl Harbor, when in public perception they were suddenly equated with the enemy. Interviews and documents preserved in the Densho digital archive give poignant testimony to the consolation that Japanese Americans felt when schoolmates, neighbors, and customers stood by them in spring 1942 and during their years of incarceration. Less cheering are the stories of long-time acquaintances turning their backs on Japanese American families when they most needed moral and financial support. While there is ample documentation of opportunistic Caucasians taking advantage of a population forced to “evacuate” at a week’s notice, Nisei interviewees also remember incidents of selflessness that help offset stories of self-interest.

read more of this story

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Manhattan Mosque Controversy through a Japanese American Lens

A recent blog points to a short interview with Scott Kurashige, Associate Professor of American Culture at the University of Michigan. Interviewed for Public Radio International's "The World," Kurashige is asked about comparisons between the treatment of Japanese Americans after the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the controversy over building a Muslim community center near the site of the 9/11 attacks in Manhattan. Kurashige sees a parallel between the controversy over the center and efforts to block Japanese immigrants from building Buddhist temples and shrines in the decades surrounding World War II. (Kuroshige's own grandfather was arrested after the Pearl Harbor attack because he was a Buddhist priest.) The historian also wrote a trenchant editorial about "the use and abuse of historical analogy" by opponents of the proposed Muslim community center.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Repealing Birthright Citizenship Wasn't a Good Idea Back in the Forties Either

On George Mason University's History News Network (HNN), historian Greg Robinson, author of A Tragedy of Democracy, posted a recent article about lawsuits by nativists during World War II to strip Nisei of their citizenship, something that strikes a chord with Densho:

The recent wave of public anger over illegal immigration has given rise to a movement to amend the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees birthright citizenship for all native-born children, in order to strip children of illegal immigrants of U.S. citizenship. While such projects are not entirely new—California’s governor Pete Wilson proposed such a measure as part of his immigration plan in 1993—for the first time prominent political leaders nationwide have taken up the call. Notably, both titular chiefs of the GOP in Congress, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader John Boehner, have now endorsed reconsidering the principle of birthright citizenship for all Americans.

agrees with Greg Robinson that this is a very bad idea, for many reasons. What do you think? We welcome your comments.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Hello Maggie!: Shig Yabu, Children's Book Author

As a boy Shig Yabu was taken from his home in San Francisco to the Pomona Assembly Center, California, and the Heart Mountain incarceration camp in Wyoming. While in camp, he saved an injured baby magpie, named it Maggie, and adopted it as a pet. Following the war, Shig became involved with the Heart Mountain Foundation, where members encouraged him to write stories about the talking magpie. The resulting children's book, Hello, Maggie!, was illustrated by Willie Ito, a former Disney animator. In an excerpt from his recent interview with Densho, Shig tells how the bird became a popular inhabitant of the incarceration camp. View other Densho Archive Spotlights.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Pioneer Generation: Remembering the Issei

"They were early pioneers. And especially on farms it was very difficult for them."
--Kara Kondo

The stories Nisei interviewees tell about their parents form a pattern: Fathers left the villages and rice farms of Japan at the turn of the last century to earn money in Hawaii and mainland United States. Some still in their teens, they took grueling jobs at farms, lumber mills, railroad camps, and fishing canneries; others worked as houseboys. Once they earned enough money, the men returned to Japan to find a bride or sent for a picture bride. Babies arrived, and the Issei built churches and Japanese language schools to educate the next generation. They formed business associations to support each other in an inhospitable country. They turned undesirable land into flourishing farms by working dawn to dusk, and even into the night. While many decided to make America their permanent home, others expected to return to Japan. As Ike Ikeda says, "I had a feeling that, like many immigrants, they were ready to make their mint. They thought they would really get rich in a hurry and go back. But that never happened." What happened to the Issei instead in the 1940s no one could have anticipated.

Read more of this article.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Kooskia Internment Camp Story

This morning Densho staff was surprised to hear one of our interviewees, Tad Sato, included in a local NPR story on the obscure Kooskia internment camp for Issei men. Over 250 Issei men volunteered to transfer from other Department of Justice camps to earn better wages--and to escape the barbed-wire confinement. They were still internees, but they preferred working in the wilderness to idleness in a DOJ camp.Treated like prisoners of war, the Issei men were put to work building what is now the Lewis and Clark Highway between Lewiston and Missoula.

A new book by Priscilla Wegars, Imprisoned in Paradise: Japanese Internee Road Workers at Kooskia Internment Camp, traces the story of this almost forgotten camp. If you're near Lowell, Idaho, you can attend one of the author's book signings.

The KUOW radio story by correspondent Tom Banse begins:

When you drive through the Clearwater National Forest in Northern Idaho, you're surrounded by deep, green forests and wild and scenic rivers. But if you drove through there 67 years ago, signs would have warned you not to stop. The woods hid a World War II Japanese internment camp. This week, archaeologists are wrapping up a dig at that now virtually forgotten site. A new book about this hidden history is titled "Imprisoned in Paradise."

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Distillations: Exhibition of Art by Four Sansei Women

Now and then people send Densho announcements of exhibitions, films, and books pertaining to our mission of preserving Japanese American history and educating the public about the World War II incarceration. If you're in the Bay Area, you might want to visit this exhibition and associated programs at a Berkeley gallery:


An Exhibition by Four Japanese American Women Artists:
Reiko Fujii, Lucien Kubo, Shizue Seigel, Judy Shintani

Exhibition: August 17 - September 18, Mon. - Fri. 11 am - 5 pm, Sat. Noon - 5 pm

Reception: August 21, Saturday, 6 - 9 pm

Four Sansei women artists draw from personal, family and collective narratives to explore the complex legacies of the Japanese American experience through collage, assemblage, glass, found objects, painting, photography, image transfer, word, video, installation, and performance.

Arts and Consciousness Gallery
John F. Kennedy University

2956 San Pablo Avenue, Second Floor

Berkeley, California


Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/JAArtists

mailto:[email protected], mailto:[email protected]

(415) 221-0487

Artist Talk, Sat, Aug 21, 4 – 6 pm Seeking the Essence: Memory, Legacy
and Untold Stories With artists Judy Shintani, Shizue Seigel, Reiko Fujii

Artist Talk, Sun, Aug 28, 2 – 4 pm Intergenerational Legacies: The Meaning of Hybridity in an Evolving California by Shizue Seigel, artist and author of In Good Conscience: Supporting Japanese Americans During the Internment

Art Making Workshop, Sun, Aug 29, 1 - 4:30 pm Honoring Ancestors Through Art, Tell their stories through writing, painting, and collage. Facilitator: Judy Shintani, JFKU Arts & Consciousness Alumna. $25 RSVP: [email protected]

Multi-Media Performance, Sat, Sept 18, 3 - 4:30 pm Grandmothers From Far Away Lands; The Egg House Wall; Stories about Internment Camp; The Farm and The Glass Kimono Performed by Reiko Fujii, Judy Shintani, Lisa Petrides. Artist Q&A following performance

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Papa San: Pat Morita's Daughter Remembers

In the Hyphen online magazine about Asian American culture, we came across a candid blog
article that Pat Morita's daughter Aly wrote about her famous father. She talks about her father's disappointment at being typecast and then overlooked after his days of glory as the sensei in the Karate Kid movies. (The recently released film by that name, oddly, is set in China. Critics point out it should be called The Kung Fu Kid.)

We learned that the beloved actor spent his childhood in a hospital ward, having contracted spinal tuberculosis. Lying in a body cast, Morita learned to love comedy and drama while listening to the ward's radio. He was escorted directly from the hospital by an FBI agent to join his parents at the Gila River incarceration camp in Arizona. In a video interview conducted by the Archive of American Television, Morita talks about his Issei parents and the impact of incarceration on them and his older brother. The family moved to Tule Lake to reunite with Morita's maternal grandfather and uncle. Upon leaving the camp in 1945, Morita remembers saying, "thank god I never have to come back to this place." Decades later, he found himself gazing up at Castle Rock again, filming Farewell to Manzanar.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Dad was an Internment Camp Commandant

We came across an article worth sharing: "Reconnecting to Father's 'Mistake' as Fort Missoula Commandant," in the Missoulian newspaper tells how the daughter of the immigration officer in charge of the Fort Missoula internment camp returns to examine his office and papers.
Christine Collaer Kite, now a history teacher, was a kindergartner when her father, Nick Collaer, assumed command of the confinement site for over 1,000 Japanese "enemy aliens" arrested after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Fort Missoula, in western Montana, also held Italian sailors captured in U.S. waters. Nick Collaer was a busy man, as he also managed the Fort Lincoln internment camp in North Dakota.

While Christine Kite's father defended the internment of Japanese immigrants throughout his life, in his old age he admitted it was "a mistake." Kite examines her father's papers with University of Montana journalism professor Carol Van Valkenburg, author of An Alien Place: Fort Missoula, Montana, Detention Camp, 1941-1944.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Civil Liberties Notes: Art and Law

Over the weekend, a two-day symposium on civil liberties in Twin Falls, Idaho, was presented by the National Park Service, Friends of Minidoka, and College of Southern Idaho. The symposium is associated with the annual pilgrimage to the Minidoka National Historic Site, "home" to nearly 10,000 Japanese Americans during World War II. A Southern Idaho TV station did a story on the symposium, and Twin Falls newspaper interviewed a presenter. This year's symposium was about art as related to civil liberties in the camps (drawing by Jack Matsuoka).

In a separate press release we learned that four Asian American civil liberties groups are joining forces under a new name, Asian American Center for Advancing Justice. The four affiliating organizations--the Asian American Institute (AAI), Asian American Justice Center (AAJC), Asian Law Caucus (ALC) and Asian Pacific American Legal Center (APALC)--will maintain their regional offices but will unite in national initiatives. Karen K. Narasaki, president and executive director of AAJC, stated, "As independent organizations coordinating around a set of shared vision and values, we will work to promote a fair and equitable society for all; strengthen civil and human rights; and empower the Asian American, Pacific Islander and other marginalized communities."

Friday, June 18, 2010

C-SPAN American History Broadcasts Densho Interviews

This weekend C-SPAN 3 will broadcast Densho's interview with Medal of Honor veteran George "Joe" Sakato. The C-SPAN American History channel has broadcast a half dozen full-length video oral histories from our collection and will air additional Densho oral histories this year.

Joe Sakato served with the all-Nisei 442nd Regimental Combat team during World War II. On a French battlefield, his courageous charge up a hill into enemy fire earned him the Distinguished Service Cross, which was later upgraded to the Medal of Honor. In this oral history recorded for Densho, Sakato recalls his war experiences – including his vivid description of his actions on October 29, 1944, which led to recognition of his "extraordinary heroism" in the Battle of the Lost Battalion.

The Sakata interview will be broadcast in two parts: Part 1 on Saturday at 2:50pm (Eastern Time) and 8:50pm, and Sunday at 8:50am; Part 2 on Sunday at 2:10pm and 8:10pm, and Monday at 8:10am. The Densho interviews can also be viewed online at the C-SPAN website.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

International Internees: The Family Camp at Crystal City

"The bitterness of the incarceration was there, but they were able to circumvent it somehow and live a pretty decent community family life." -- Mako Nakagawa

Days after the Texas Board of Education voted to amend the state's social studies curriculum in order to correct a perceived liberal bias, a Texas chapter in Japanese American history comes to mind. According to press accounts, among the changes the school board made to the curriculum is "an amendment stressing that Germans and Italians as well as Japanese were interned in the United States during World War II, to counter the idea that the internment of Japanese was motivated by racism." An internment camp in the south Texas town of Crystal City did hold German and Japanese internees, as well as prisoners deported from Latin America and a half-dozen Italians. Other internment camps across the country held a mix of foreign nationals. But the fact that the U.S. government interned European immigrants in no way negates the racism that led to the mass incarceration of Japanese Americans.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A visit to Tokyo by Tom Ikeda

Below are my daily notes from a whirlwind visit to Tokyo a couple of weeks ago. The purpose of the visit was to see some of the people I met two years ago with a similar delegation of Japanese Americans.

May 9th - I am back in Tokyo! In 2008 I was a member of the Japanese American Leadership Delegation that spent 10 days in Tokyo, Fukuoka, and Kyoto. This was an intense and wonderful experience of meetings with high level government, business, cultural and political leaders that sparked an interest for me to learn more about Japan, and the relationship between the US and Japan. So when Kaz Maniwa of San Francisco suggested a return trip of former delegates I enthusiastically agreed. (A quick sidenote for those of you who know Kaz – my enthusiasm for the trip was also to be able to spend a week with Kaz and his wicked sense of humor, trying to avoid being the brunt of his jokes!)

However, this trip is very different than the 2008 trip. The costs for this trip are not being paid by the Japanese government, so to save money, I am traveling economy – cheapest coach airfare I could find (Seattle to LA to Narita), and public transportation in Tokyo – very different than the first class transportation I received as a delegate in 2008! After everyone arrived in our hotel in Shinagawa (Pacific Tokyo), our first group meeting was Sunday night in the shared hotel room of Bobby Ichikawa (Honolulu) and Craig Uchida (Washington DC). It was a little reminiscent of being back in a college dorm room while the nine of us talked while sprawled out on the floor, beds, and chairs (drinking beer) talking about the plans for the coming days. In addition to Bobby and Craig, others in the room were Kaz Maniwa (San Francisco), Dianne Fukami (San Francisco), Debra Nakatomi (Los Angeles), Patty Kinaga (Los Angeles), Stan Koyanagi (Los Angeles), and Susan Eichor (Honolulu).

May 10th - The day started with a 7am breakfast with US Ambassador John Roos, U.S. Embassy Deputy Chief of Mission Jim Zumwalt, and Director of the Tokyo American Center Ann Kambara Zumwalt hosted by the Zumwalts – and ended at 11pm coming back on the subway after having a long dinner conversation with Tadakatsu Sano, Prime Minister Hatoyama’s Chief Executive Assistant. The day was long, but incredibly engaging as we were able to schedule long meetings (1-3 hours) so that there was time for deeper discussion and questions. We were also able to hear different perspectives. In addition to the US Ambassador and the Chief Secretary to the Prime Minister, we had long conversations with Hideo Tamura, a business journalist with the Sankei Shimbun, various officials in Ministry of Foreign Affairs - MOFA (Press Secretary Kodama, Ambassador Nakamura and Mori, and a larger meeting with various officials around the issue of High Speed Rail (HSR).

I came away from these meetings with a better appreciation for the profound change that is happening in Japan today – and the difficulties and challenges of making these changes. Although Futenma is getting much of the focus these days, I believe it is a minor issue compared to some of the structural, strategic changes happening in how Japan will be governed in the future.

May 11th - The highlights of Day Two were a lunch meeting hosted by the Japan Foundation’s Center for Global Partnership (CGP), a meeting with Ambassador Kato (Commissioner of Nippon Professional Baseball, Former Ambassador to the US), and an amazing dinner at the Royal Park Hotel.

Over the past two years I’ve gained a deep admiration for the work of the Japan Foundation and CGP. During the lunch meeting they shared some of their ongoing work. Masaru Sakato (Executive Vice President, Japan Foundation and acting Executive Director, CGP) presented an interesting paper looking at the flow of people between the US and Japan. Something that really caught my attention was the dramatic drop in the number of Japanese students studying in the US. Our friends at CGP also arranged several excellent and thought provoking presentations from the Nippon Foundation, the Japan Center for International Exchange, and the Sasakawa Peace Foundation.

After the two hour lunch meeting we stuffed ourselves into 2 taxis and zipped to the Imperial Hotel business tower for a meeting with Ambassador Ryozo Kato who was the Japanese Ambassador to the US for over 6 years. The meeting with Ambassador Kato was a thoughtful discussion about politics, history, Japanese Americans, and baseball. It was one of those meetings you can’t help but leave inspired and energized.

After a couple of hours of shopping in the Ginza, we had a FABULOUS dinner at the Royal Park Hotel. Dan Nakamura, the general manager of the hotel is a personal friend of Kaz and we were treated like royalty. I can honestly say that this was one of the best dinners I’ve ever had in my life. The flavors, quality of ingredients, and good company made this a very special evening. We were then led back to our hotel on the subway (couple of transfers, lots of walking) with the great navigation from Susan Eichor and her trusty subway map!

May 12th - Day three was filled with meetings at MOFA, the Japan Times, the Diet Building, and with Ambassador Yanai. Again we heard different perspectives from a diverse group. Our first meeting was led by Kazuyoshi Umemoto, MOFA, Director-General N.A. Affairs Bureau to discuss US-Japan relations. We then met with Takashi Kitazumi, Managing Editor of the Japan Times for a media perspective. With no time for lunch, we grabbed taxis to meet with Ambassador Yanai to get his personal thoughts about what is happening in Japan.

We then went to the Diet Building for a 30 minute meeting with Ichiro Ozawa, Chairman of the DPJ. This meeting was made possible by Kaz Maniwa’s involvement in the John Manjiro project which Ozawa supports. We then had a meeting with Takeaki Matsumoto where he described some of the reforms happening in the Diet to speed the process of legislation. Our day at the Diet ended with an engaging discussion with a dozen or so Diet members from the DPJ party – many of whom were young, 1st-time elected members.

We finally got our lunch/dinner after taking the subway to the Tokyo Dome to catch a baseball game between the Tokyo Giants and Seibu Lions – my first experience with Japanese baseball! (Thank you to LA Consul Hiroshi Furusawa and Ambassador Kato for helping to arrange this!!)

May 13th - Kaz Maniwa has been able to lead our group with a blend of protocol, vision, caring, and humor. The humor has been especially appreciated as the days can get pretty long and tiring. During the week each of us has been the target of Kaz’s quick wit and ribbing. An example of this occurred this morning while on the subway to our first meeting. Kaz dresses very stylishly and likes to compliment others when he likes what they wear. This morning Craig Uchida was wearing a beautiful pink tie that Debra Nakatomi admired. As we all agreed how we liked the tie, Kaz was a step ahead of us and started commenting on Craig’s dress “ensemble.” What Kaz had noticed was that Craig had accidently mixed-up his suit pants (grey stripes) with his suit jacket (solid grey) – and so Kaz did an impromptu, very funny presentation of Craig’s “fashion statement.”

After this fun moment, we had a fascinating discussion with Hitoshi Tanaka about the US-Japan Security Alliance – a topic he had presented a couple of days ago in San Francisco. After this meeting, the women in the group met with Royanne Doi to discuss women issues in Japan, and the men met with Paul Yonemine to discuss Paul’s experience doing business in Japan as a Japanese American. After lunch we rejoined the women and met with Sakihito Ozawa, Minister of the Environment of Japan, and then a long meeting and dinner with Taro Kono, member of the House of Representatives and a leader of the LDP.

May 14th - On Friday morning members of the group participated in smaller, topic focused meetings. For example, Kaz Maniwa and I met with Hideyuki Inoue, a young professor at Keio University and President of Social Venture Partners Tokyo whose area of expertise is social entrepreneurship in Japan. Hideyuki gave us a perspective about Japan that was positive and global.

For lunch, seven of us met (Patty Kinaga and Stan Koyanagi had flights to catch) with Mr. Shibuya and Mr. Endo at the Sumitomo Corporation Tokyo Head Office to get a Japanese business perspective of Japan. We ate on the 39th floor of the building giving us panoramic views of Tokyo Bay.

We then grabbed taxis to catch what was expected to be a short meeting with Transport Minister Maehara. The meeting ended up being an involved discussion about High Speed Rail spearheaded by Debra Nakatomi. After this meeting we went to the Ministry of Defense to meet with Vice Minister Nagashima, a top security expert, where Kaz had to explain that there was this place called Futenma located in Okinawa – just kidding (inside joke).

Our last scheduled function for the trip was an informal dinner with about a dozen MOFA and other ministry officials for a chance to drink, eat, and chat. This dinner was arranged by Akira Tsubokura who was our Japanese guide and friend during the week and who was invaluable by confirming meeting locations and times, and helping us get there on time while taking the subway most of the time. This last function was a great way to end a fascinating and productive week of meetings.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Blue Skies and Thunder: WWII Nisei Veteran's Memoir

Densho is bringing World War II veteran Virgil Westdale to Seattle to give a free author talk on Saturday, May 22, at the Densho building (1416 S. Jackson Street) from 3:00pm to 5:00pm. Westdale’s book Blue Skies and Thunder, coauthored with Stephanie Gerdes, traces his life from boyhood in rural Indiana, to service with the 442nd Regimental Combat Team in Europe, to postwar careers as inventor, businessman, ballroom dancer, and TSA officer. During World War II, Westdale was demoted from Air Corps flight trainer to Army private because his father was a Japanese immigrant. With the 442nd he helped push the Nazis out of France and assisted survivors at Dachau. He was among the veterans honored as camp liberators in an April ceremony at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. No tickets are required for the book event.

Read more about Virgil Westdale

Monday, May 10, 2010

Imposing the Alien Land Laws: New Documents Discovered

A friend sent us this noteworthy article in a February 2010 issue of the Pacific Citizen.

"Japanese American residents in San Joaquin County, Calif. had no idea that they were under state investigation during World War II until recently when two boxes were discovered containing government documents tracking their activities in an attempt to find them in violation of the Alien Land Laws."

Good for the clerk of the county board, that she gave the incriminating documents to the right parties for preservation. The papers are now archived at the University of the Pacific in Stockton (Densho loves a good archive).

I can't help but marvel over how our Issei ancestors succeeded despite persistent and insidious discrimination by the government. Brave souls, that generation.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Exceptions That Prove the Rule: Interracial Nisei Marriages

"The first generation was, you might say, narrow-minded...The second generation didn't marry out. But when it came to third generation and fourth, they had more freedom." --Takashi Matsui

To examine Japanese American history is to encounter generalizations about generations. Familiar characterizations emerge from the family stories of Densho interviewees: tradition-bound Issei, bicultural Nisei, and integrated Sansei. Marriage stories follow the same route: Having established a foothold in the United States, Issei fathers brought back brides from the home country. Upon leaving camp for military service, college, or careers, Nisei sons and daughters married other Nisei sons and daughters. After Nikkei communities dispersed in the 1950s and 1960s, growing numbers of Sansei and Yonsei grandchildren married other Asian Americans, Caucasians, and occasionally African Americans or other ethnicities. And now we have Shin-Issei narratives--new families bound to the old country. All of which raises the question, is Japanese American identity being developed or diluted?

Read more of this story

Friday, April 30, 2010

Revered Canadian Architect Is Honored

We learned about a respected Japanese Canadian architect in this column in The Globe & Mail. Raymond Moriyama is one of country's greatest architects, the genius behind buildings such as the Toronto Reference Library, the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa (pictured), and scores of university buildings.

In World War II, Moriyama's father was arrested for refusing to go into internment, while Raymond and his mother were held at Slocan, British Columbia. Another illustrious Japanese Canadian, environmentalist David Suzuki, was also interned at Slocan as a boy.

According to The Globe and Mail columnist, Moriyama showed his penchant for building at an early age:
Though it was forbidden at the internment camp, the young Raymond scavenged an axe, some nails and some scrap wood and built a rough, rhomboid-shaped tree house at the edge of the Slocan River. It was a place of quiet refuge and healing. “The view of nature from the tree house was absolutely astonishing,” he recalled in his speech Saturday night. “The mountains, green and silver, around the river; the whisper of the river and the sounds of night; the crisp night sky and the stars so close.”

Monday, April 26, 2010

Japanese TV Drama Filming in Seattle

"A major film is being made in Seattle, but you'll probably never see it. It's a 10-hour movie that will be shown only in Japan." That's how a KING 5 news story of April 24 began. The reporter interviewed Densho executive director Tom Ikeda about a Japanese production crew filming scenes in Seattle before moving on to Eastern Washington. Filming is also taking place in Japan and Idaho.

The final product won't in fact be a 10-hour movie, but rather a 5-part mini-series called "Japanese Americans" to be broadcast on Japanese TV. The producers consulted with Densho about the script, which focuses on multiple generations of a Japanese American family that settles in Seattle and is incarcerated at Manzanar, California, during World War II. The mini-series will air in fall 2010, and Densho will launch a companion Japanese-language website with historical references, thanks to funding from the United States-Japan Foundation.

We've been told that 10 to 20 million Japanese viewers will see the mini-series, something that pleases Tom Ikeda, who says, "It's a clear signal that the Japanese are becoming more interested in Japanese Americans." Densho looks forward to more international communication and collaboration.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Wartime Irony

A friend told us today about an NPR story of interest. At the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, General David Petraeus honored veterans who helped to liberate the Nazi concentration camps. One vet interviewed for the story is Susumu Ito, who as part of the 552nd Field Artillery Battalion, attached to the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, came upon prisoners walking out of the Dachau concentration camp. In 1998, Densho interviewed Sus Ito, who went on to become a professor at Harvard medical school.

He describes going to see his parents, who were confined at the Rohwer, Arkansas, War Relocation Authority camp: "It was strange visiting my parents in a camp, to report to military police in uniform -- and they're in uniform as well -- getting a pass to see my parents." Strange, or ironic, indeed.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Bad Meat and Missing Sugar: Food in the Japanese American Camps

"Americans are being rationed, and these Japs are getting steaks." -- Frank Kikuchi

When asked to share their strongest memories of the Japanese American camps, many survivors talk about the food. Life-sustaining but boring is the consensus. Worse than boring was the food served in the early days of the "assembly centers" in spring and summer 1942. Untrained cooks, unsanitary kitchens, and unreasonable food allowances added up to episodes of food poisoning in various camps and increased the misery of the displaced Japanese Americans. While false reports claimed that detainees were being treated to rich and costly meals, in reality they were fed a dismal diet of wieners, dried fish, pancakes, and other cheap starches. Canned and pickled vegetables replaced the bounty of fresh produce Japanese Americans were accustomed to. As with other aspects of camp, food quality improved only through the efforts of the detainees themselves.

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Friday, April 2, 2010

Sports Illustrated & ESPN take a look at the Japanese American incarceration

There is a good feature story in Sports Illustrated about the Champion Utah basketball team during World War II. It features Wat Misaka, one of the stars of the team and the challenges he had to face by being Japanese American while the US fought Japan in the war. After Wat graduated from Utah he was a first round draft choice of the New Your Knicks. Another Japanese American Tut Tatsuno joined the Utah basketball team after being removed from his home in San Francisco and held at the Topaz concentration camp.

ESPN also did a short video feature about the Santa Anita race track which served as a temporary detention facility that held nearly 20,000 Japanese Americans during the war. The ESPN film crew was at Santa Anita doing background work for the upcoming Breeders Cup when they came across a group of Japanese Americans who had been incarcerated at Santa Anita. The ESPN crew interviewed a few of these former inmates and also interviewed Cory Nakatani, a top jockey at Santa Anita whose grandfather was incarcerated at Santa Anita.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Internment 101

A recent action of the Texas Board of Education gives me an opportunity to discuss a topic that confuses some people.

On March 12, 2010, the Texas Board of Education approved a social studies curriculum stressing that Germans and Italians as well as Japanese were interned in the United States during World War II, to counter the idea that the internment of Japanese was motivated by racism.

It is true that approximately 12,000 Germans, 3,000 Italians and 17,000 Japanese were interned. These individuals were predominantly foreign nationals who were suspected of being potentially subversive and detained under the Alien Enemies Act of 1918. While there were no doubt miscarriages of justice, there was a legal precedent for arresting “enemy aliens.”

The important historical and civics point the Texas Board of Education misses is that an additional 110,000 individuals of Japanese ancestry, two-thirds of them U.S. citizens, were placed in concentration camps without any hearings. This incarceration happened under military orders that were authorized by President Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066 and did not affect German Americans or Italian Americans.

Today, confusion happens because the government action under EO 9066 is also often labeled “internment.” Technically, “internment” should be used for the individuals detained under the Alien Enemies Act. At Densho we use the term Japanese American “incarceration” for individuals put into concentration camps under EO 9066.

Anti-Japanese racism existed before and during World War II, and can easily be detected in government newsreels and propaganda posters. How racism played a role in the removal and incarceration of Japanese Americans can be seen in the words of Lt. General John DeWitt, a key player.

General DeWitt, in charge of the Western Defense Command, recommended that the president sign Executive Order 9066 for reasons of military necessity. After it was signed, DeWitt designated the west coast as an Exclusion Zone and ordered the mass removal and incarceration of all people of Japanese ancestry. During testimony to Congress, General DeWitt stated:

A Jap’s a Jap…There is no way to determine their loyalty…It makes no difference whether he is an American citizen; theoretically he is still a Japanese and you can’t change him.

To Secretary of War Henry Stimson, DeWitt stated:

The Japanese race is an enemy race and while many second and third generation Japanese born on United States soil, possessed of United States citizenship, have become “Americanized,” the racial strains are undiluted.

Many years after World War II, classified documents about what the government knew became available. In the 1980s, a U.S. congressional commission uncovered evidence from the 1940s proving that there had been no military necessity for the unequal, unjust treatment of Japanese Americans during World War II. The commission reported that the causes of the incarceration were rooted in “race prejudice, war hysteria and a failure of political leadership."

Acting upon the recommendations of the commission, Congress passed the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, and President Ronald Reagan signed it into law. This law required payment and apology to survivors of the incarceration caused by Executive Order 9066.

It is pretty common when I am speaking for someone to raise the point that Germans and Italians were also interned. It is during these times I get the opportunity to explain the differences between enemy alien internment and Japanese American incarceration.

Tom Ikeda
Executive Director, Densho

Monday, March 8, 2010

Japanese American Women Remember the World War II Incarceration

In honor of International Women's Day, we invite you to read Densho's latest article, on female memories of the incarceration, featuring selections from our digital archive of interviews, photos, and documents.

"We were asserting ourselves, letting the broader community know that we're not going to be just meek, intimidated." -- Lillian Nakano

In exploring the theme of power and the historical record, this month's "From the Archive" article concerns the marginalization of Japanese American women's voices in the archive. Japanese American history, with its emphasis on military service and, recently, draft resistance, leaves little room for the stories and experiences of women. Based on a series of oral history interviews, this article explores how memories of the incarceration shaped the lives of four Japanese American women in the years following World War II, illuminating the central, though largely unacknowledged, role of women in postwar Japanese American history. Far from silent, these women, in various ways, all drew on their experiences as a source of empowerment and means for enacting social change.

Read more of this article.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Seattle's Local Hero

The Densho staff sends congratulations to Seattle's local hero Apolo Anton Ohno for a successful 2010 Winter Olympics. What an impressive athlete and gracious young man he is. We had the pleasure of meeting Apolo back in spring 2007 at a banquet held in his honor. Since we had to stand in line for our photo opp with the Dancing with the Stars winner, we're using this excuse to republish the picture. Congratulations to Apolo. He is an asset to the Japanese American community of Seattle.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Day of Remembrance Broadcast: Densho Interviews on C-SPAN

C-SPAN's American History channel will start to broadcast selected Densho video interviews on February 19, the Day of Remembrance that commemorates the signing of Executive Order 9066 in 1942. That presidential decree authorized the removal and detention of 120,000 Japanese Americans from their homes and businesses solely on the basis of ancestry.

The first interview to be broadcast is with Norman Mineta, former cabinet member of the Bush and Clinton administrations and a longtime California congressman. Densho's Tom Ikeda interviewed Secretary Mineta about his role in helping to pass the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, the redress bill that so many people fought long and hard for.

Visit the C-SPAN webpage for schedule and more information.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Archive Spotlight: Asian American Activist for All

Densho recently interviewed the celebrated civil rights activist Yuri Kochiyama, who has devoted her life to promoting equal rights for all races and oppressed people. As a girl, she described herself as being completely ignorant of American history, not even knowing about slavery in the United States. Her education in discrimination against others besides Japanese Americans began when she left the Jerome, Arkansas, incarceration camp to work in Mississippi. In an excerpt from her interview, Kochiyama describes meeting Malcolm X in 1963 in Harlem, where she was working with various social justice groups.

This California interview was supported by the California Civil Liberties Public Education Program.

View other Densho Archive Spotlights.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

History, Memory, and the Japanese American Citizens League

Why does the issue of loyalty remain so divisive in the Japanese American community even today? This month's "From the Archive" article looks at a painful and contentious aspect of the wartime experience -- the role of the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) in crafting what scholar Eiichiro Azuma calls a "master narrative" of Japanese American history. This narrative, actively promoted by the JACL, constructed an image of Japanese Americans as superpatriotic and unwavering in their support of the United States- - the "quiet Americans" as one Nisei author put it. Not an expose or attack on the organization, the article instead explores the process of history making and attempts to understand why, after seventy years, the Japanese American community has yet to fully reckon with the legacies of the incarceration.

Read the rest of this article.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Archive Spotlight: Kind Neighbors and a Full House

In an interview Densho recently conducted for the Topaz Museum, Chiyoko Yano recalls how her family fared better than many others when the order came to leave their home in spring 1942. In Berkeley, they were renting from an Italian family who felt sorry for their plight and let Chiyoko's father buy the house for a low price. Then their African American and Irish neighbors helped them pack and watched over the house for the nearly four years the family was detained at Topaz, Utah. At one point, as many as thirty people lived in their house, working different shifts at the shipyard.

When Chiyoko's family was released, a neighbor met them at the station and brought them home. Unlike many returning Japanese Americans, they found the only damage to their possessions was normal wear and tear on the furniture. When Chiyoko moved away with her husband, her parents invited homeless Japanese Americans to live with them, even to stay for several years. In a video clip from her interview, Chiyoko recalls her "very nice" neighbors.
View other Densho Archive Spotlights.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Beyond the Divide: Japanese American Responses to the "Loyalty Questionnaire"

"The government is asking... a father and a son who have different situations, the same question, and on the basis of your answer your family might be broken up." -- Frank Isamu Kikuchi

One of the most divisive legacies of the World War II incarceration remains the issue of loyalty. The loyal/disloyal divide continues to haunt the memory and interpretation of Japanese American history, as many in the community still grapple with what has become such a stigmatized and controversial label. We examine what scholar Eric Muller calls the "loyalty bureaucracy" -- the registration and segregation program implemented within the camps to measure the "loyalty" of the imprisoned population. While Muller and other scholars have done important work in highlighting the absurdity of this premise, less explored are the varying ways in which Japanese Americans reacted to the government's efforts. In looking at the wrenching decisions Japanese Americans were forced to make during this time, we come to understand that these decisions were not expressions of "loyalty" or "disloyalty," but measured responses to difficult and often extreme circumstances.

Read more of this article.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Meet Allen Say - Talented Children's Book Author

Our friends at the Elliott Bay Book Company here in Seattle tell us that Allen Say, a Caldecott Medal winner for the children's book Grandfather's Journey, will speak at the downtown library on Sunday, January 17.

Born in Yokohama, Say is the son of a Korean father and Japanese American mother. He emerged from an unhappy childhood to become a successful photographer and then a highly respected artist and writer of children's literature. His works include Tea with Milk, Tree of Cranes, and Emma's Rug.

The publisher's webpage for Say features an NPR interview with the author, who discusses Home of the Brave, his dreamlike book about the World War II incarceration camps. In an ironic comment, Say confesses to the NPR interviewer that he is terrified of children. Luckily that doesn't prevent him from producing beautiful books for them.