Friday, December 6, 2013

Henry Ueno: Hearing About the Bombing of Pearl Harbor While in Japan

Henry Ueno was born in Pendleton, Oregon, but was living in Japan with his mother and siblings when World War II broke out. In this clip, he talks about what it felt like to hear about the bombing of Pearl Harbor as an American citizen living in Japan. Henry Ueno's full interview is available in the Densho Digital Archive.

View the Archive Spotlight interview excerpt

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Densho Online Giving Challenge Match

We need your help to support our teacher training and oral history interview programs. The Densho board and staff have pooled resources to create a $20,000 Densho Challenge match for online donations in December. What this means is that every dollar donated online in December will be matched by a dollar from Densho's board and staff. The impact of your online donation gets doubled in December. And if you donate $125 or more, you receive a gift book, The Colors of Confinement, by Eric Muller, or a DVD of the film, A Flicker in Eternity. If you donate $200, you receive both.

For more information or to donate:

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Masao Watanabe: Feelings About Being Placed in an "Assembly Center"

Masao Watanabe grew up in Seattle, Washington, and during the war was initially sent to the "assembly center" at the fairgrounds in Puyallup, Washington. In this clip he talks about his initial reactions upon arrival. Masao Watanabe's full interview is available in the Densho Digital Archive.
>>View the Archive Spotlight interview excerpt
>>Read the Densho Encyclopedia article on the Puyallup Assembly Center

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Sushi & Sake Fest a Success!

A heartfelt thank you to the 500 guests and sponsors who made this year's Densho Sushi & Sake Festival the best! Kudos to the staff and volunteers for making MOHAI into a fun, lively party that also raised over $60,000 for our education program.

See the photos here

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Mary Kageyama Nomura: A Five Year Old Singing for Issei

Mary Kageyama Nomura was removed to the Manzanar concentration camp, California, during World War II. There she was known as the "Songbird of Manzanar," frequently performing in camp. She was trained in music throughout her childhood, and in this clip she recalls singing in front of Issei at the age of five. Mary Kageyama Nomura's full interview is available in the Densho Digital Archive.
>>View the Archive Spotlight interview excerpt
>>Read the Densho Encyclopedia article on Music in Camp

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Tsuguo "Ike" Ikeda: Talking About Democracy in a Camp Classroom

Tsuguo "Ike" Ikeda was a high school student at the Minidoka concentration camp, Idaho. In this clip, he remembers how he and his camp classmates reacted when their teacher brought up the concept of democracy. Tsuguo "Ike" Ikeda's full interview is available in the Densho Digital Archive.

>>View the Archive Spotlight interview excerpt

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Free Press behind Barbed Wire? Newspapers Published in the Concentration Camps

Staff members at the Tulean Dispatch
"A battalion of American troops of the 7th Army was cut off for a week near St. Die in France. All its attempts to break out were stopped by superior German forces. Nor could American relief get through. The situation grew steadily worse…At the last minute, relief troops got through. Who were they? Japanese Americans of the famous 442nd regiment."

"A crippled Japanese American private, wearing many service ribbons, had been ejected from a civilian barber shop near the Poston WRA center because of the owner's objection to his ancestry."
- The Topaz Times, November 15, 1944
Many Americans still know very little about the World War II incarceration of Japanese Americans; yet the entire episode is well documented in federal records kept by the War Relocation Authority (WRA) and other government agencies. In the National Archives researchers can find details like the names of individuals and their exact barracks addresses in the camps. But the richest reports of the daily routine and larger concerns of the 120,000 Japanese Americans living in the ten WRA concentration camps appear in the pages of newspapers published by the very people incarcerated.

Densho has scanned, digitized, and indexed nearly 4,000 editions of newspapers from all ten WRA camps. All are available to users of the Densho Digital Archive. Ranging from rough mimeographs to professional layouts, the papers were named for the camp locations -- The Topaz Times, Minidoka Irrigator, Manzanar Free Press, Gila News-Courier, Poston Chronicle, Denson Tribune, Heart Mountain Sentinel, Rohwer Outpost, Tulean Dispatch and Granada Pioneer. They relayed the announcements and bulletins you would find in typical American communities of the day: wedding, birth, and death notices; job openings; sports scores; worship schedules; Christmas parties; soldiers killed in Europe.

Upon closer inspection, the illusion of normalcy evaporates. As Steve Chawkins wrote in his Los Angeles Times article "Barbed Wire and Free Press" (May 3, 2007), "The items are redolent of Small Town U.S.A., but the newspapers that carried them weren't exactly published in Mayberry." The day-to-day business is about running incarceration camps that each held over ten thousand U.S. citizens and legal immigrants in harsh settings. Elections are not for town mayor but block leaders (divisions of barracks); messages from administrative officials outline policies for work allocation, clothing allowances, and leave clearance.
So that Center children may enjoy a more cheerful Christmas, more than 500 sympathetic Caucasians from some 30 states all over the country have donated gifts as a friendly gesture in the true Christmas spirit.- Jerome Communique, December 22, 1942 

Questions concerning freedom of the press naturally arise. How could people who were essentially prisoners of war within their own country be permitted to speak openly about the injustice perpetrated on them by their own government? In his interview for Densho, Bill Hosokawa, who went on to become an award-winning journalist at major dailies, described the delicate balance he struck as editor of The Heart Mountain Sentinel. He reported tense situations -- such as anger over the erection of the barbed wire fence -- but he took care not to whip up dangerous emotions:
I was afraid that if there were violence, that the government would crack down even further. They had the guns, and they ran the place. We had no rights. And they could surely have cracked down…There was a military police detachment of something like 400 men who were just a few yards outside the camp. And they were armed, and it was their duty to climb into these watchtowers at night and focus their floodlights on us. And they, I'm sure they had their orders to, to shoot if necessary. And aside from that, I felt that the less cooperative we were, the more oppressive the management would be.
Glaring omissions do suggest censorship. The Manzanar Free Press, for example, did not print a word about the December 5, 1942, confrontation with soldiers that left two detainees dead and nine wounded; papers in other camps did report the incident. All the camp newspapers employ the euphemistic terminology coined by the government to soften the reality of imprisoning 120,000 individuals simply because of their race. The concentration camps were "relocation centers"; the illegally detained inhabitants were "evacuees" or even "colonists."

The camp newspapers in the Densho Digital Archive trace the full course of the wartime incarceration. The 1942 editions informed residents as the camps came into full operation: the hours you could expect hot water, which mess halls had food for young mothers and babies, the schedule for grade school to begin. By 1944, after the harshest restrictions were lifted, the papers commemorated Nisei soldiers killed in battle, listed people cleared for student leave, and printed what amounted to reconnaissance reports from those resettling "on the outside."
"I just figure if we have spirit to fight like the first Issei who came to the United States about 50 years ago, I don't see why we can't put it through here in the east." George Choichoi Yamamoto, Issei farmer from Gila River and Brentwood, Calif., recently told a visitor to the 50-acre truck farm in Pennsylvania which he is now operating on a share-crop basis. "People are more noble here than back in California." Yamamoto continued. "There is nothing like their bunch of jealousy here. I have nothing to complain of and am getting along 100 percent O.K. When I go into town once in a while, I'll bet no one even looks at me…I should have done it sooner, but it was impossible before."- Gila News-Courier, August 29, 1945
The written records that remain long after the camps closed are not just dry statistics buried in the National Archives but human stories about an uprooted yet resilient population continuing their lives in exile. Among the innumerable fascinating details that fill these pages appear heartfelt expressions of faith in democracy.
The one day difference between Dec. 6 and 7 meant the routine of my life was overturned and my finances were blown to bits. Though we were placed in an assembly center and deprived of our liberty, yet we hold no grudge against you, Uncle Sam. Even though some misguided people have called us "Jap" behind our backs, Uncle Sam, we still hold no grudge against you. War always involves innumerable sacrifices on everyone's part. Nowadays I dream of the peaceful days that are gone. I have read many books on the subject of democracy but none of them described the happy life which we led in our great democracy before the war. - Teiho Hashima, Daily Tulean Dispatch, November 6, 1942 

Friday, August 16, 2013

Izumi Hirano: Surviving the Atomic Bombing of Hiroshima

Izumi Hirano was born in Hilo, Hawaii, but moved to Japan with his family as a child. He was in his classroom near the epicenter when the United States dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. Izumi Hirano's full interview is available in the Densho Digital Archive.

>>View the Archive Spotlight interview excerpt

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Michiko Kornhauser: Meeting an American for the First Time

Michiko Kornhauser was a child living in Okayama during World War II. In this clip, she describes first meeting an American GI during the U.S. occupation of Japan after being brought up to hate and fear Americans. Michiko Kornhauser's full interview is available in the Densho Digital Archive through a partnership with Oregon Nikkei Endowment.

>>View the Archive Spotlight interview excerpt

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Mo Nishida: A Frightening Encounter in Camp

Mo Nishida describes a childhood memory in the Santa Anita Assembly Center, California, which led to his mother's nervous breakdown. Mo Nishida's full interview is available in the Densho Digital Archive.

>>View the Archive Spotlight interview excerpt

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Controlling the Historical Record: Photographs of the Japanese American Incarceration

Clandestine photographs from war in Iraq prove a long-known fact: images of soldiers in battle, prisoners of war, and civilians caught in the conflict have the power to provoke outrage, sorrow, patriotic fervor, and myriad other emotions. If a government is to manage the public's perceptions of a war, it must control the photographs that appear in today's newspapers and tomorrow's history books.

Decades before instantaneous digital images, the U.S. government could
Children wearing tags (Dorothea Lange)
more easily manage the dissemination of wartime photographs. To document the round-up and incarceration of Japanese Americans after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the War Relocation Authority (WRA) hired Dorothea Lange, best known for her wrenching photos of Dust Bowl farm workers taken for the Farm Security Administration. Lange was an odd choice, given her leftist politics and strong sympathy for victims of racial discrimination. Appalled by the forced exile, she confided to a Quaker protestor that she was guilt stricken to be working for a federal government that could treat its citizens so unjustly. Her reason for taking the assignment was a desire to accurately record what the Japanese Americans were undergoing. Apart from a few photos that reached the public, she was thwarted in that attempt.

Waiting in line (Dorothea Lange)
A few years ago, nearly 800 of Lange's WRA photos were unearthed from the National Archives, which impounded them over a half-century ago. Lange was required to turn over all her prints, negatives, and undeveloped film. Frustrated that her photos of life at Tanforan, Manzanar, and other sites would not be published, Lange concluded the government wanted a record but not a public record of the camps. Perhaps by stamping Lange's photos "impounded," the government indicated it wanted a different record - not Lange's shots of dejected elders, bewildered children, and glum young men. Not a record of patients on cots left by a latrine, of schoolchildren kneeling on the floor because there are no chairs, and of young and old standing in endless lines in the heat and dust. 

Many of these sequestered photos appear in the 2008 book Impounded (W.W. Norton) edited by Linda Gordon and Gary Okihiro. In her essay, Gordon explains how the authorities would not let Lange photograph the barbed-wire fences, guard towers, searchlights, or armed sentries. Guards regularly demanded her pass, constantly followed her, and prevented her from speaking with the Japanese Americans.

Lange well understood the power of the government to suppress objective documentation. She witnessed how the Japanese Americans entering Tanforan "assembly center" passed between rows of soldiers with bayonets pointing, but there is no photographic record. The artist Mine Okubo painted scenes of the conditions at Tanforan (camp inmates were not permitted to have cameras). She recounts being numbered, searched, medically examined, and then assigned to her living quarters: a converted horse stall. Lange did not intrude on families in their "apartments," but Okubo describes the sight that greeted her: "Spider webs, horse hair, and hay have been whitewashed with the walls. Huge spikes and nails stuck out all over the walls. A two-inch layer of dust covered the floor." Sitting in the semidarkness, Okubo wrote, "we heard someone crying in the next stall."1

The propaganda machine shifted gears when the WRA started reintroducing designated loyal Japanese Americans into free society. WRA photos depict an Americanized, unthreatening population, the same race that war propaganda posters had taught the public to fear. Images of baseball games and marching Boy Scouts abound, along with high school girls competing as beauty queens, and industrious women sorting donated Christmas gifts. Not a trace of Japanese culture appears, and certainly no sign of resistance makes it into the photos approved for public consumption.

Reading the Manzanar Free Press (Ansel Adams)
In contrast to Dorothea Lange, the famous landscape photographer Ansel Adams was invited to come and go as he liked while photographing Manzanar in 1943. Although extremely supportive of the WRA, he too was not allowed to photograph the guard towers and fences. Lacking Lange's compassionate eye and civil libertarian's anger, Adams portrayed the inmates ' stoicism. He avoided crowd shots that conveyed mass indignities and discomfort in favor of uplifting portraits of well groomed young men and happy families. "The acrid splendor of the desert, ringed with towering mountains, has strengthened the spirit of the people of Manzanar,"2 Adams declared. (He was speaking of the camp where guards had killed two men and shot nine others during an uprising months earlier.) Adams was pleased to comply with a request from the Office of War Information for photos "showing American kindness to Japanese...urgently requested to combat Japanese propaganda which claims our behavior is monstrous."3 Adams's sunny photo of men reading the Free Press, the censored camp newspaper, is devoid of irony.

Man in field (Ansel Adams)
Documentary photographers, shaping their images at every step, know there is no such thing as a truly objective photograph. It is no accident that Adams's young man is shot from a low vantage point, appearing all the more proud against a vast sky, while Lange's disheveled young "evacuee" is viewed from above, an angle that emphasizes his drooping shoulders. Adams believed the vista beyond Manzanar's gates expressed "the immensity and opportunity of America"4; Lange grimly recorded a collective, egregious injustice.

Man waiting with baggage (Dorothea Lange)
Images manipulated to influence opinion are by definition propaganda; the question is, to what 5
purpose. Dorothea Lange herself asserted that a documentary photographer has a responsibility of "keeping the record and keeping it superbly well," but she admitted, "Everything is propaganda for what you believe in, actually, isn't it? ...The harder and the more deeply you believe in anything, the more in a sense you're a propagandist. Conviction, propaganda, faith…I never have been able to come to the conclusion that that's a bad word."

This article was originally written in February of 2007 by Densho staff member Megan Asaka. Since then, several books have been published examining the work of Adams and Lange, including Moving Images by Jasmine Alinder, and Japanese-American Resettlement Through the Lens: Hikaru Iwasaki and the WRA's Photographic Section, 1943-1945 by Lane Ryo Hirabayashi, Hikaru Iwasaki, and Kenichiro Shimada. It should also be noted that according to Professor Roger Daniels, the National Archives allowed access to Lange's photos shortly after the Archives received these photos, including the ones stamped "impounded."

1. Mine Okubo, Citizen 13660 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1946), p. 35-36. [ link ]
2. Ansel Adams, Born Free and Equal, 2nd ed. (Bishop, Calif.: Spotted Dog Press, 2001), p. 260. [ link ]
3. Estelle Campbell to Ansel Adams, Nov. 22, 1944, quoted by Nancy Newall in an unpublished manuscript, Center for Creative Photography, Tucson, Ariz., p. 209.
4. Adams, Born Free and Equal, p. 260. [ link ]
5. Interview by Suzanne Riess, 1968, "Dorothea Lange: The Making of a Documentary Photographer," transcript, p. 181, University of California, Regional Oral Office, Berkeley. [ link

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Oddball Camp Stories in Popular Culture - California Generation

In the work I've been doing on the Densho Encyclopedia, I've come across quite a number of oddball camp references in mainstream popular culture of the past. Since I'm constrained a bit in expounding on these in the encyclopedia context, I'll be writing a series of blog posts on some of the most interesting ones.

First up is a 1970 novel by the bestselling novelist Jacqueline Briskin titled California Generation. Author of eleven rather large novels that sold some 30 million copies, Briskin gained a fair amount of fame and wealth in the '70s and '80s with titles such as Too Much Too Soon and Dreams Are Not Enough. Sometimes grouped with two other "Jackies"—Susann and Collins—her books mixed romance, adventure, convoluted plots, and lots of sex in a combination that earned her a large fan base. Having worked in a bookstore in the 1980s, I remember her thick paperbacks with the racy covers being steady sellers.

Though most of her books were historical epics, California Generation, her first novel, was set in the very recent past. It tells the story of a group of students from the fictitious "California High" class of 1960 as they embark on a very 1960s set of adventures over the next decade. It has what you would call an ensemble cast if it were a movie (which it seems to want to be). There's Clay Gillies, the handsome and charismatic outsider who becomes a Freedom Rider and anti-Vietnam War activist, and his girlfriend, Michelle Davy, who becomes pregnant as a high school senior, forcing the couple to marry. Becoming more status conscious and materialistic as Clay becomes more politically engaged, we can see this marriage is doomed rather quickly. There's Dorot McHenry, the skinny budding social scientist who notices everything; York, the crippled but filthy rich, disaffected, and very smart son of a Charlton Heston-like right wing movie star who dabbles in politics, Marshall Mosgrove, the insecure sycophant who becomes unaccountably successful (but who of course has a "terrible secret"); Stryker Halvorson, the beautiful and pure hearted star athlete who dies in Vietnam; Ruth Abby Heim, the repressed Jewish girl who is a talented singer/songwriter; Leigh Sutherland, the nice rich girl who rebels by taking on a poor "colored" boyfriend; a brilliant but brooding and angry artist and filmmaker named Ken Igawa, who was born in an American concentration camp in Utah…. Wait, what? Where did that come from? Who is Ken Igawa, and how did he find his way into this book?

I suppose his presence shouldn't be too surprising given the basic premise of the book. California High is in West Los Angeles and the title of the book comes not just from the fact that the cast comes from that school, but that they are all first generation Californians. Having grown up in Los Angeles and being a first generation Californian myself—as were many if not most of the kids I grew up with—this is something I can readily identify with. California—and Los Angeles in particular—grew dramatically in 1930s through the 1960s with agricultural jobs, warm weather, war industries, dreams of Hollywood, and many other things drawing large numbers of migrants to the state. Briskin too is a first generation Californian, having moved with her family from her native Great Britain at age ten and graduating from Beverly Hills High, albeit fifteen years before the people she writes about here. Having grown up in LA and having lived there ever since, she no doubt knew Japanese Americans and knew of their wartime expulsion and incarceration and wanted her readers to know about it as well.

Another part of the premise is that California High—which seems to be a combination of the real life Palisades and University High Schools—draws from a wide swath of West Los Angeles that includes rich and poor and a variety of ethnic groups. This is true of both Pali and Uni in real life, where sons and daughters of movie stars mixed with the children of their gardeners, as is the case here.

Ken's family is certainly poor, though it is made clear that this is because of the incarceration. A successful strawberry farmer in West LA before the war, Ken's father was forced to sell his land for "five cents on the dollar, which… was worse than theft for it added humiliation," according to Ken. To add further insult, that land became part of "Parkdale," an exclusive subdivision, after the war. We are told that the family went to a "concentration camp" in Utah, where Ken was born. No "quiet American," Ken is angry at the way Japanese Americans have been treated and, like his spiritual cousin Joe Kojaku from the 1959 movie The Crimson Kimono (which will be the subject of another essay in this series), that anger sometimes gets directed at those close to him, in particular his rich white girlfriend Leigh and her family.

The anger is part of an almost anti-stereotypical portrayal of Ken and of Ken and Leigh's relationship. Ken is a brooding artist rather than a budding dentist or pharmacist, he is six feet tall, and, though a somewhat indifferent student, he manages to get an art scholarship to UC Berkeley.  Ken and Leigh's relationship seems to be 90% physical at first, and their eventual marriage is rocky; on the other hand, pretty much all of the relationships in this book are rocky (and physical, it's that kind of book), and it is suggested in the end that they might make it after all.

Leigh's parents—or least her father—come off relatively well, at least relative to his peers who are uniformly unpleasant. Despite being closer in age to the parents, Briskin has played up the flaws in all of them from York's hypocritical movie star father and cold and conniving stepmother, to Ruth Abby's controlling mother, perhaps to make the point that despite their difficulties and growing pains, this 1960s generation represents a new hope for society. Mr. Sutherland is a rich lawyer who opposes Leigh and Ken's marriage because of their youth, but is portrayed as not a "racist"—not explicitly at least—but as a liberal and a member of the American Civil Liberties Union. ("Civil Liberties did nothing to stop the deportation [of Japanese Americans]," Ken tells Leigh when she points this out to him.) When Ken's father gets seriously ill, Leigh's father agrees to pay his hospital bills, on the condition that Ken and Leigh not see each other for a year. If they still want to get married after that, he promises to pay for the wedding. They do, and he does.

Ken's Nisei parents (this isn't made explicit, but they certainly don't seem Issei) have just bit parts but come off as badly as the other parents. His father seems defeated by the events of the war and is wholly ineffectual. His mother is dour and ethnocentric, pushing Ken to at least give a Sansei girl a second look.

It's been a long time since I've read a book like this, and I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed it. Over the course of eight years starting with the graduation, we follow the characters in and out of various subplots, hitting all of the 1960s touchstones. The characters come back together at the book's climax, which takes place at a huge anti-war rally organized by Clay that is held outside an event where President Johnson is speaking and where Dorot and Marshall are invited guests of York's famous father; most of others march in the rally, and an anti-war film made by Ken, funded by York and starring Leigh, rallies the marchers.

It is still odd to see a character like Ken in this setting. If he were to be a minority, one would expect him to be African American instead, but perhaps a Japanese American was seen as less threatening. And since Clay takes on an older African American girlfriend later in the book, perhaps the author saw other interracial frontiers to conquer with Leigh and Ken's story.

While there are other Japanese American characters in mainstream books and movies in this period, all the others seem to be Nisei. So could Ken be the first true Sansei character in a book or movie?

Brian Niiya, Content Director, Densho

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Ruth Y. Okimoto: Snakes and Scorpions in Camp

Ruth Y. Okimoto was a child at the Poston (Colorado River) concentration camp, Arizona, during World War II. In this clip, she talks about encountering the local wildlife in camp. Ruth Y. Okimoto's full interview is available in the Densho Digital Archive.

>>View the Archive Spotlight interview
>>Read the Densho Encyclopedia article on Poston

Monday, April 1, 2013

Densho's special April Fool's Edition of the eNewsletter is now available!

Friday, March 15, 2013

In the last two months of 2012 Densho published 42 new articles to our public encyclopedia about the Japanese American experience during World War II, including:

Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) contributed by Professor Cherstin M. Lyon, California State University, San Bernardino

Custodial detention / A-B-C list contributed by Professor Tetsuden Kashima, University of Washington

Funding for the encyclopedia is provided in part by the Japanese American Confinement Sites Grant Program, administered by the National Park Service. The encyclopedia will expand to over 1,000 articles when completed in 2014.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Gordon Yamada served with the Military Intelligence Service during and after World War II and in Japan during the U.S. occupation. In this clip, he talks about his early days of training in which he and other Japanese American inductees were asked to dress in Japanese military uniforms to show fellow U.S. servicemen how to recognize Japanese soldiers. Gordon Yamada's full interview is available in the Densho Digital Archive.

This interview is one of a collection of interviews done by filmmaker gayle k. yamada for her 2003 documentary, Uncommon Courage: Patriotism and Civil Liberties. She has given Densho permission to make the unedited interviews available in the Densho Digital Archive.

View the Archive Spotlight interview excerpt
Read the Densho Encyclopedia article on the Military Intelligence Service

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Peggie Nishimura Bain: Shell Collecting in Camp

During World War II, Peggie Nishimura Bain and her children were incarcerated in the Tule Lake concentration camp, California. In this clip, she describes how she and others quickly discovered that they could dig for shells in camp, which was a former lake bed. Peggie Nishimura Bain's full interview is available in the Densho Digital Archive.

>>View the Archive Spotlight interview excerpt
>>Read the Densho Encyclopedia article on Tule Lake

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Senator Daniel Inouye: Leadership Tactics During Combat

Senator Daniel Inouye served as an officer with the 442ndRegimental Combat Team during World War II. In this clip, he talks about his techniques for reducing casualties among the soldiers in his command. Senator Inouye's full interview is available in the Densho Digital Archive.

>>View the Archive Spotlight interview excerpt