Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Records about Japanese Americans relocated during World War II

[There is an enormous amount of information on the Japanese American removal and incarceration available online even beyond the resources that Densho provides. This abundance is both a blessing and curse; a blessing because one can do an enormous amount of research online that once required travel to archives located in various parts of the country and a curse because the sheer volume of material makes it hard to figure out what is unique and truly useful and what is of limited use or even misleading. Every once in a while, I'll be posting on some of the most useful non-Densho web resources.]

Many years ago, when I worked at the Japanese American National Museum (JANM), in the early to mid 1990s, one of the most popular attractions in the old "Legacy Center" of the historic building—before the construction of the new building—was a computer file we colloquially referred to as the "camp database." For a small donation one could look up and print out "camp records" that indicated what camp a given person or family had been in, along with a host of other information including prewar location, occupations, age, schooling, and so forth. In those largely pre- (or at least limited) Internet days, it seemed kind of miraculous. For many visitors, it must have felt like a validation that yes, this did happen, and here are the government records that prove it. Though perhaps seeming less miraculous to our jaded post-internet eyes, this database—officially titled "Records about Japanese Americans Relocated during World War II—is available online through the National Archives and is still a useful tool for various kinds of research.

Monday, May 12, 2014

New Encyclopedia Articles, April 19 to May 9

The so-called "Citizen Isolation Centers" in Moab, Utah, and Leupp, Arizona—essentially War Relocation Authority maximum security prisons that held those deemed too dangerous for their run-of-the-mill concentration camps—have always had an air of mystery due both to the general neglect of the topic in the academic literature and the absence of photographs or other visual representations. Eileen Tamura's excellent new book, In Defense of Justice: Joseph Kurihara and the Japanese American Struggle for Equality, includes a chapter on Kurihara's time at the two camps that is one of the best accounts of the camp yet published. Adding to that is Art Hansen's detailed article on Moab and Leupp, just published to the Densho Encyclopedia, which further illuminates the two camps. We still don't have period photographs, but the accounts by Tamura and Hansen at least start to conjure an image of the places in the mind's eye, shedding some light on a slightly less dark topic.

Also recently added was Sheila Chun's portrait of Kumaji Furuya, a Issei businessman and poet in Honolulu who was among those arrested on December 7, 1941, and held for the duration of the war in a bewildering succession of detention camps both in Hawai'i and the continental U.S. He published a memoir of his internment in 1964 titled Haisho tenten, which roughly translates to "An Internment Odyssey." Chun, a volunteer at the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai'i, has been working with Tatsumi Hayashi on a translation of this valuable first person account that provides unique views of relatively little documented camps such as Camp Forrest, Tennessee, and Camp Livingston, Louisiana. The cultural center hopes to publish it later this year, completing a trilogy of Issei internment volumes that includes Yasutaro Soga's Life behind Barbed Wire: The World War II Internment Memoirs of a Hawaii Issei, translated by Kihei Hirai (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2008) and Family Torn Apart: The Internment Story of the Otokichi Muin Ozaki Family, edited by Gail Honda (Honolulu: Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii, 2012).

Finally, Greg Robinson returns with new articles on Eleanor Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, and the landmark Takahashi v. Fish and Game Commission case. The first two are of course famous figures, but their actions regarding Japanese Americans are less known. The Takahashi case was one of a string of early postwar legal cases that broke down legal discriminatory barriers for Japanese Americans and other ethnic minority groups. Adding to the article are photographs of Torao Takahashi, the suit's plaintiff, contributed by his granddaughter, Lilian Takahashi Hoffecker, who had earlier contributed an article on Terminal Island to the encyclopedia.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Roy H. Matsumoto: Shouting Military Orders in Japanese to Confuse the Enemy

In 2003, Densho interviewed the 90-year-old Roy Matsumoto who recounted his incredible story of fighting in the jungles of Burma with Merrill's Marauders against the Japanese. Roy saved his unit with heroic actions and he was later inducted in the U.S. Army Ranger Hall of Fame. We are sorry to report that Roy passed away on April 21st at the age of 100. This clip comes from Roy's 2003 interview where he describes a mission to hold Nhpum Ga hill in Burma, in which he shouted military orders in Japanese to confuse the attacking Japanese soldiers. Roy's full interview is available in the Densho Digital Archive.

View the Archive Spotlight interview excerpt

Monday, May 5, 2014

Oddball Camp Stories in Popular Culture: Early Children's Books

For whatever reason, there has been a flood of children's and young adult books on various aspects of the wartime incarceration of Japanese Americans in the last decade or so. Some of it is no doubt due to the increased interest in topics related to civil liberties issues in the years since 9/11, and I suspect funding for incarceration related projects from the federal government and from state governments also has something to do with it. There are some really good books out there, both fiction and non-fiction, which is certainly a welcome turn of events.

There are also a surprising number of older books as well. Yoshiko Uchida is a pioneering figure, with her 1971 Journey to Topaz being the first children's book written by a Japanese American on the wartime incarceration experience and coming at time when the community was just starting to emerge from its period of silence about the World War II years. Uchida authored several other books on the topic in the succeeding years, but was about the only one doing so for a couple of decades. In the 1990s, Ken Mochizuki's Baseball Saved Us (1993) and Graham Salisbury's Under the Blood Red Sun kicked off a succession of books in the 1990s, leading up the explosion of titles we've seen in the 2000s.