Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Making It Worse

Photo courtesy of MTV and Viacom International Inc.

By Densho's Content Director Brian Niiya

Japanese Americans often object when journalists, screenwriters, or others minimize or distort some aspect of the wartime incarceration. But should we also object when the incarceration is depicted in a way that makes it worse than it was? This question has come up most recently in criticisms leveled at the musical play Allegiance, most notably by filmmaker Frank Abe on his invaluable resisters.com website and blog. 

I thought of this when I recently viewed two episodes of dramatic TV shows largely devoted to plot lines that take place in American concentration camps during World War II. The first is an episode of Hawaii Five-0 titled "Ho'onani Makuakane" (Honor thy Father) that aired last December. The plot involves an elderly Sansei man named David Toriyama who is caught trying to shoot an even older World War II veteran. It turns out that Toriyama believes that the old man killed his father while the family was interned at the Honouliuli camp in central Oahu. The rest of the episode sees the police officers investigate and ultimately solve the crime, with frequent flashbacks of internment at Honouliuli in recreating the crime scene.

The second is an episode of the MTV drama Teen Wolf titled "The Fox and the Wolf" that first aired a couple of months ago. The show is about a typical teenager at a suburban California high school who also happens to be a werewolf. A major subplot of the series' third season is the apparent possession of key character by a nogitsune, a type of malicious Japanese fox spirit. This episode explains the origins of the nogitsune, which turns out to involve a secret Japanese American concentration camp and the mother of a newly arrived Japanese American student. As with the Hawaii Five-0 episode, we get numerous flashback scenes that take place at this camp.

New Densho Encyclopedia Articles, July 2014

By Densho's Content Director Brian Niiya

One of the neglected areas of Japanese American history is the story of Japanese Americans in Japan just before and during the war between the U.S. and Japan. Generally, this includes two broad groups: Nisei/Kibei who were in Japan prior to the outbreak of war, whether for employment, study, or to visit family and those who returned during the war on one of the exchange ships that also brought Americans in Japanese custody back home.* Members of the first group were referred to as "strandees" at the time, and I think that remains a useful term. I don't think there is a name for the second group. (I should note that my mother and her siblings are members of this group.)

A tragic subset of this population were those who were in Hiroshima and Nagasaki when the atomic bombs fell. Because Hiroshima was one of the prefectures that sent the largest number of immigrants to the Kingdom of Hawai'i and the U.S., a particularly large number of Nisei and Kibei had been sent back to family there and were thus killed in the bombing. But a substantial number were also hibakusha—survivors of the atomic bomb.

One of the new encyclopedia articles is Naoko Wake's on these "Japanese American hibakusha." A native of Japan who is an assistant professor of history at Michigan State University, Naoko has spent the last several years doing research on these hibakusha, having interviewed more than a hundred, and will soon release a new book on the topic. We hope to work with her in the coming years to make these interviews available online, adding to the handful of such interviews we already have.

Other new articles include Alexandra Wood's on the California and Washington Civil Liberties Public Education Programs, both now defunct, but both of which helped to fund many projects, including a number of Densho's, that have brought greater attention to the wartime incarceration of Japanese Americans. Alexandra, currently a visiting assistant professor of International Education at New York University, also has authored an article on K–12 Education on WWII Incarceration, based on her 2013 doctoral dissertation. Also new: Cherstin Lyon's pieces on the Denaturalization Act of 1944/Public Law 78-405 and the group of draft resisters imprisoned at the Tucson Federal Prison Camp who self-identified as the Tucsonians; articles by Stan Yogi on Ernest Besig, Edward L. Parsons, and Marilyn Hall Patel, the first of several he will be contributing on figures involved in the Japanese American wartime cases and the coram nobis cases of the 1980s; and my piece on the so-called Lim Report.


* Depending on how one defines "Japanese American," there were also many Nisei who were taken "back" to Japan as children by Issei who chose to return permanently to Japan from the United States prior to the war and who were subsequently raised as Japanese.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Ruby Inouye: Treating Issei Patients

Ruby Inouye was a longtime family physician in Seattle after World War II. In this clip, she talks about her ability to speak directly to her Issei patients without an interpreter. Ruby Inouye's full interview is available in the Densho Digital Archive.

View the Archive Spotlight interview excerpt