Pilgrimages to Japanese-American World War II Internment Camps and Isolation Centers

This page collects all of my previous posts about the interment of Japanese-Americans during World War II and provides a home for my (hopefully) growing list of pilgrimages to the sites of internment camps and isolation centers.

Previous Posts


Pilgrimages to Sites

Recently, I have made an effort to visit the sites of the internment camps and isolation centers when the opportunities present themselves. As of July 2017, I have visited one camp and two isolation centers, which are linked below.


Internment Camps

Gila River War Relocation Center, Arizona

Granada War Relocation Center, Colorado (AKA “Amache”)

Heart Mountain War Relocation Center, Wyoming

Jerome War Relocation Center, Arkansas

Manzanar War Relocation Center, California

Minidoka War Relocation Center, Idaho

Poston War Relocation Center, Arizona

Rohwer War Relocation Center, Arkansas

Topaz War Relocation Center, Utah

Tule Lake War Relocation Center, California


Citizen Isolation Centers (for those considered to be problem inmates)

Moab, Utah (AKA Dalton Wells)

Leupp, Arizona (see directions to the site here)

Fort Stanton, New Mexico (AKA Old Raton Ranch)


Justice Department Detention Camps (housed Nikkei considered to be disruptive or of special interest to the government)

Crystal City, Texas

Fort Lincoln Internment Camp

Fort Missoula, Montana

Fort Stanton, New Mexico

Kenedy, Texas

Kooskia, Idaho

Santa Fe, New Mexico

Seagoville, Texas

Forest Park, Georgia



Directions to Leupp Isolation Center (World War II Japanese-American Detention) Site

As noted in my previous post, there is no official historical marker for the Leupp Isolation Center for Japanese-American detainees during World War II. Nor is the location marked on Google Maps (though I submitted a request that Google add a marker).

For anyone wanting to go see the site, here are the directions I used. Please be mindful that a family does currently live in the Superintendent’s House and locals do use the roads.

The site is in the area known as Old Leupp, which lies southeast of the current town of Leupp. I began at the gas station (Pic-N-Run) at the center of Leupp and proceeded as follows (3.6 miles total):

  1. From the gas station in the new town of Leupp, travel east on Indian Route 15/Leupp Road for 1.9 miles to Old Leupp Road
  2. Turn right (South) on Old Leupp Road
  3. Continue 1.7 miles on Old Leupp Road past Indian Road 6933 to arrive at the old Superintendents House (on map above).

Indian Route 15/Leupp Road is a paved highway, but Old Leupp Road is a graded dirt road with lots of washboarding, so take your time.

Old Leupp Road toward Leupp Isolation Center site, July 1, 2017. Photo by David Yamane

The best way to orient yourself is using the Superintendent’s House and the Presbyterian Church. They are easy to find if you match up this Google Map satellite image of the area with the drawing of the site provided below:

Drawing of site from online book Confinement and Ethnicity:



Pilgrimage to Leupp Isolation Center, Arizona

On April 27, 1943, Harry Ueno and other inmates at the Moab Isolation Center at Dalton Wells in Utah were moved to an abandoned Indian boarding school on the Navaho Trival Land in Leupp, Arizona. Ueno and four others were “forced to make the 11-hour trip confined in a four by six foot box on the back of a flat-bed truck,” according to the Confinement and Ethnicity. The book continues, “The prison atmosphere at Leupp was enforced by four guard towers, a cyclone fence topped with barbed wire, and the 150 military police who outnumbered the inmates by more than 2 to 1.”

Inmates at Old Leupp isolation camp outside the old boarding school, 1943.

Leupp isolation center was open slightly longer than Moab, from 27 April 1943 until 2 December 1943. It housed over 70 inmates at its peak, when the detainees from Moab were joined by inmates from Tule Lake (California) and Topaz (Utah). When it closed, the 71 remaining inmates were transferred to the incarceration center within the Tule Lake Internment Camp in far Northern California.

Claudia Katayanagi has recently completed a documentary called “A Bitter Legacy” about the internment which has a considerable focus on the Leupp isolation center.

The fact that my wife and I drove through the Navajo Nation Reservation and the Hopi Reservation from the north to get to Leupp was not lost on us. Leupp is on Navajo land and the connection between Japanese-American detainees and members of the Navajo Nation has been observed by others.

There are no permanent or temporary markers identifying the site of the Leupp Isolation Center and only a few buildings, like the Superintendent’s House and Presbyterian Church, remain. Using the map provided in the National Park Service book Confinement and Ethnicity (reproduced below) we were able to find the site by orienting ourselves to Indian Route 6932 running north/south and the levee to the east.


In reflecting on the experience recently and looking at Google maps of the area, it dawned on me that there is no river to the EAST of the levee. The isolation center is to the WEST of the levee, and WEST of the isolation center is the Little Colorado River. So, the isolation center clearly lies in a flood plain, and it turns out that is one reason the original Indian boarding school was closed.

Other than the few buildings that remain standing, walking the site is basically an exercise in imagination to envision what once stood in these ruins. Even a marker like the windmill and tank that was photographed as late as 2008 no longer exists:

Remains of the windmill and tank, 2017. Photo by David Yamane

The Old Leupp Trading Post, which once sat on Old Route 66, then and now:


Remains of Old Leupp Trading Post, 2017. Photo by David Yamane

The parts of the site that were actually used to house the inmates — I am guess this is the area marked as “boarding school” on the map near the watertower — have been cleared so that little evidence of its existence can be found.

Historic picture of Leupp Isolation Center building and water tower from http://www.rafu.com/2017/01/film-focuses-on-little-known-wwii-camps/

We were able to identify the foundations for the teachers’ residences and dining hall near the windmill.

Remains at Leupp Isolation Center, 2017. Photo by David Yamane


Remains at Leupp Isolation Center, 2017. Photo by David Yamane


Remains at Leupp Isolation Center, 2017. Photo by David Yamane

Some parts of the site are only vaguely marked on the map, like this sidewalk leading to the area marked as “posts”:

Remains at Leupp Isolation Center, 2017. Photo by David Yamane


Remains at Leupp Isolation Center, 2017. Photo by David Yamane


Remains at Leupp Isolation Center, 2017. Photo by David Yamane


Remains at Leupp Isolation Center, 2017. Photo by David Yamane

Although it’s not clear whether the nurses’ residence behind the Superintendent’s house was used for the Luepp isolation center, the remains give a distinctive feeling for the condition of the site.

Remains of Nurses’ Residence, 2017. Photo by David Yamane

The view from the remains of the nurses’ residence conveys a sense of what the inmates would have seen during their time at Leupp isolation center.

View from Remains of Nurses’ Residence, 2017. Photo by David Yamane

Pilgrimage to Dalton Wells Isolation Center, Moab, Utah

The resistance to the unjust authority felt by Japanese-American citizens who were forcible evacuated from their homes and imprisoned in concentration camps during World War II went beyond the organized efforts against the loyalty questionnaire I discussed in an earlier post. And the resistance was not without consequence.

One of the best known detainees at Manzanar was Harry Ueno, the “Manzanar Martyr.” As head of the Manzanar Kitchen Workers Union, he was identified as a “troublemarker” for helping bring to light the theft and sale of inmate supplies like sugar by Manzanar authorities. Later arrested and at the center of the “Manzanar riot,” Ueno and 15 others were taken from the internment camp and moved to an “isolation center” near Moab, Utah.

The Dalton Wells isolation center was the site of a former Civilian Conservation Corp camp some 13 miles north of Moab. Lying hundreds of miles from any major city at 38.5667 lat and -109.5333 lng, it was “the American equivalent of Siberia.”

The Moab Isolation Center at Dalton Wells was only open from 11 January 1943 until 27 April 1943 and housed at its peak just 49 Nisei and Kibei “troublemakers” like Harry Ueno.

On a trip through the National Parks of Utah, my wife and I made the (short) pilgrimage from Canyonlands National Park near Moab to Dalton Wells. There we found little evidence of the existence of the Moab Isolation Center beyond the marker placed there.

Marker at Moab Isolation Center, Dalton Wells. Photo by David Yamane

The previously mentioned National Park Service book, Confinement and Ethnicity, provides a drawing of the site as it existed in 1943.

From National Park Service book, Confinement and Ethnicity, available at https://www.nps.gov/parkhistory/online_books/anthropology74/ce14a.htm

My wife and I found some concrete remnants marking the entrance drive, a few concrete slabs, and some stray posts. Like many former internment and isolation camps, nothing has been built at this site to replace what was once there. There was a reason these places were used as prisons.

The sense of desolation at the site today no doubt pales in comparison to what the inmates must have felt when they arrived and during their short stay.




Additional Resources on Japanese-American Internment Camps During World War II

I began this series of posts talking about how little I knew about the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, even when I was an upper-division college student at UC-Berkeley. At the same time I “discovered” the internment, I also discovered resistance within the internment camps.

Almost 30 years later, now, and much more has been done to publicize both the internment and the resistance. In addition to the digital copies of the Japanese American Evacuation and Resettlement Records that I explored in hard copy at UC-Berkeley’s Bancroft Library, there is Densho, a grassroots organization dedicated to preserving, educating, and sharing the story of World War II-era incarceration of Japanese Americans, with its rich and growing online encyclopedia. The Smithsonian National Museum of American History has exhibits online, as does the National Archives. The National Park Service is doing a great job at Manzanar, as I wrote about already. They also published a free on-line book, Confinement and Ethnicity: An Overview of World War II Japanese American Relocation Sites, which I consult often.

In addition, John Okada’s 1956 novel, No-No Boy, is back in print. The first Japanese-American novel, it is a fictional telling of the story of the resistance to the loyalty questions.

I was interested to learn just recently that a documentary called “Resistance at Tule Lake” is just being finished and screened. The trailer is available on YouTube:

The aforementioned Densho site also has made available a number of interviews with individuals who resisted their unjust internment by answering “No-No” on the loyalty questionnaire or otherwise resisting the draft. Here a a few:



This is obviously just a start. If you know of other resources beyond these, please mention and link to them in the comments.

A Critical Incident and Collective Resistance in WWII Japanese-American Internment Camps

In my last post I discussed conflicting views of how Japanese-Americans ought to handle the internment. For the sake of ease, I characterized those who wanted internees to be cooperative with and supportive of the government as pro-JACL, and those who took a more negative view of the situation as anti-JACL.

Over the course of the detention, there was a great and growing distrust of the government on the part of many detainees. Skepticism was not in short supply and the Anti-JACL attitude seemed to be spreading as a result. Many Issei (as well as some Nisei) were busy organizing among the detainees.

Of course, for some, this took place from the start. For example, one observer of the Tanforan detention center from which people were sent to permanent internment camps wrote that some “had begun to develop … a negativistic philosophy … [They] slowly gathered their forces … and began to exert pressure [on other detainees]. Most of this organization was carried on underground and was manifested in ideas and attitudes” (Kunitani, Tanforan Politics, p. 14).

Screen cap of Kunitani’s “Tanforan Politics” from http://www.oac.cdlib.org/ark:/28722/bk0013c5h63/FID1

There still could be no true resistance on the part of the underground groups, though, as they had nothing to resist. Within the detention centers, any service or cooperation they withheld would only hurt detained Japanese as a group — as much of the work done in the centers directly benefited center occupants — and draw the scorn of the coercive arm of the United States government– imprisonment and loss of citizenship were a constant threat. Both Issei and Nisei organized nonetheless.

Much of the underground organizing was explicitly in opposition to what had come to be seen as the pro-administration stance of the JACL. Those with Pro-JACL views and JACL members especially were called “inu” — literally, dogs. In Tule Lake Relocation Center (Newell, California), a group organized under the name “Japanese American Liberators.” According to internee Shotaro Frank Miyamoto, “The inception of the group probably was caused by two main aims, on the one hand, to have an organization of the Nisei in opposition to the JACL, and on the other, to organize the Nisei for vigorous action to save themselves from the pressure of anti-Japanese feeling rising in this country” (Japanese American Liberators, BANC MSS 67/14 c, folder R 20.25).

Screen cap of Miyamoto’s “Japanese American Liberators” from http://www.oac.cdlib.org/ark:/13030/k6319vk2/?brand=oac4

Thus, the nascent organization for collective resistance was undeniably present at Tule Lake. But once more the question arises, resistance to what?

Again, more so than most dependents, the detainees relied on the government for virtually everything. The centers were, in sociologist Erving Goffman’s terms, “total institutions”[*]

The government controlled nearly every aspect of their lives: school, work, recreation, food. The slightest disturbance could result in denial of privileges, and the ease with which the government corralled and caged those of Japanese ancestry raised questions in many minds as to the grave consequences of a collective action. These manifold deterrents notwithstanding, widespread collective resistance eventually occurred inside the internment camps.

The term “critical incident” is from William A. Gamson, Bruce Fireman, and Steve Rytina, Encounters with Unjust Authority (Homewood, IL: Dorsey Press, 1982).

Early in 1943, less than a year into the detention, there was an event — the government program of registration of detainees for Selective Service and clearance for leave from the centers — which greatly increased the capacity of detainees for organized resistance. It was a “critical incident” and immediately thereafter the most intense and widespread collective resistance of the entire evacuation and detention program occurred.

According to the War Relocation Authority Tule Lake Reports Officer, “When the War Department announced on January 28 [1943] the proposed formation of a combat team composed of American citizens of Japanese ancestry to be recruited by the United States Army for active service in a theater of war, and the mass clearance of loyal Japanese-Americans for work on the outside [of the centers], the curtain was raised on a drama so moving and so fraught with human emotions that the repercussions will effect in varying degrees the lives of many Tule Lake [detainees] for years to come” (John C. Cooks, Selective Service and Leave Clearance Programs at Tule Lake-An Historical Survey, BANC MSS 67/14 c, folder R 6.05, p. 1).

The legitimacy of the government had already decreased in the eyes of many during the course of evacuation and detainment, and the proposal put forward by the War Department of registration for Selective Service and leave clearance was seen as grossly unfair. A program of registration under ordinary circumstances surely would not have met much organized resistance. The various levels of the state regularly require its subjects to file information: automobile registration, Selective Service registration, birth and death certificates, taxes, Social Security, drivers’ licenses, etc. In the sensitive atmosphere of the relocation centers, though, it would take only a small spark to ignite the mounting feeling of resentment and unleash a full-fledged movement.

In order to form a Japanese-American combat team and to approve leave clearances for resettlement, the government needed to determine who in the camps was “loyal” and who was “disloyal.” This would be done by means of a registration questionnaire to be filled out by all detainees. Loyalty would be determined by responses to the questionnaire, specifically two questions: #27 and #28 (the so-called “loyalty questions”).

Source: Smithsonian Institution, “Life in American Concentration Camps,” http://cgm.smithsonianapa.org/topics/life-in-american-concentration-camps.html

Question 27 read,

“Are you willing to serve in the armed forces of the United States on combat duty, wherever ordered?”

Question 28 asked,

“Will you swear unqualified allegiance to the United States of America and faithfully defend the United States from any or all attacks by foreign or domestic forces, and forswear any form of allegiance or obedience to the Japanese Emperor or any other foreign government, power or organization?”

These two questions had to be answered in the presence of a US Army officer.

The objections to the questionnaire were manifold, and according to Cooks, “The [questionnaire] struck the project like a bomb.” It was a bomb that would create the most widespread and passionate resistance in the life of the centers. Detainees who decided to join the resistance to the Selective Service and leave clearance program could do so in several ways.

The army wanted the Japanese­ American combat unit to consist of volunteers, not inductees. Not volunteering, then, was a subtle but powerful action. Also, refusing to register would greatly impede the process of determining “loyalty.” Those who went through the registration process could (and did) signify their discontent by answering “NO” to questions 27 and 28. They could also offer qualified answers to either. Finally, the most serious form rejection of the US government could take was the request for repatriation to Japan. In my review of the documents, it appears that all of these methods of resistance were employed, in varying degrees, in nearly every camp.

Tule Lake, Newell, Calif.–A view of Selective Service registration headquarters — Photographer: Stewart, Francis — 6/30/42. Courtesy UC-Berkeley Bancroft Library.

At Tule Lake, for example, an army team explained the Selective Service and leave clearance programs on February 9th, and registration was to proceed block by block beginning on the 10th. Cooks recounts the unprecedented events: “Registration was slow. Wednesday evening, February 10, colonists met in their respective mess halls at the behest of their block managers.

The following blocks decided against registration for induction or for indefinite leave: 5, 28, 35, 46, and 48.  The block manager of Block 28 tenta­tively explained that the residents of his entire block wish[ed] to repatriate … Enemies of the selective service and  leave clearance programs were busy, apparently, because  threats on the lives of a number of colonists had already been made, particularly persons prominently identified with the JACL … By Thursday, February 11, it was obviously apparent that there was organized resistance to the registration program … It was apparent that there was a subversive group operating behind  the scenes, intimidating col­onists and urging non-cooperation  with the selective service and leave clearance programs.

This explanation of the early events by a WRA official suggests three things happening at Tule Lake internment camp: one, that there was widespread resistance to the registration program, and by extension to the government itself. Two, that the resistance was organized and collective. Three, that there was direct hostility toward the JACL and its followers.

Registration was an issue which clearly embodied the philosophical differences between the pro-JACL and anti-JACL attitudes I have described. The Pro-JACL position on registration was expressed by a Nisei minister who implored one residential block not to vote en masse against registration:

I think [registration] is a test of loyalty, and the future of the Japanese residents of this country depends upon this critical moment … This is an opportunity to test our loyalty, both citizens and non-citizens, on the individual basis … This is not time to get emotional and count the past hardship, mistreatment and injustice … If we refuse to register, the government wouldn’t lose anything while we lose everything, even our citizenship. Then what’s the use of fighting? We have nothing to fight for, nothing to fight with. “Better to light the candle than to curse the darkness.” Don’t let this chance of proving your loyalty pass carelessly. (Evacuee Letters, Folder R 30, Barnhart Catalog)

On the other side of the issue, Kentaro Takesui explained very simply why he did not register. Refusal to register was “a symbol of our resentment against oppression. The suppressed emotional bitterness that was boiling upwards had to have an outlet and this was it.” Indeed, in many respects, registration was not even the issue. As Takesui wrote, “the issue and question of registration became of secondary importance” (The Factual Causes and Reasons Why I Refused to Register and A General Summary of the “Registration Incident” at Tule Lake, BANC MSS 67/14 c, folder R 30.25).

Screen cap of Takesui “Why I Refused to Register” from http://www.oac.cdlib.org/ark:/13030/k670814t/?brand=oac4

What was truly important was that the delegitimized government was trying to institute a program which made demands deemed unfair by many detainees. The organizations and ideas for resistance already existed; thus, when the opportunity arose for the detainees to withhold something which the government wanted (their bodies for war and their statement of loyalty), it was seized.

By no means was resistance to the registration program limited to Tule Lake. Guy Robertson, Heart Mountain Project Director, wrote to Dillon Myer, WRA Director, “Our registration is practically complete at Heart Mountain and in many ways it has been very discouraging … I have felt, and I still feel, that there has been an undercurrent of resistance” (Induction, Registration and Selective Service, Folder M 3.00, Barnhart Catalog).

James Lindley, Granada Project Director, similarly wrote to Myer, “originally 106 military aged citizens answered Question No. 28 in the negative. At the same time this information was tabulated, we had 31 volunteers for the Combat Team, which appeared to me to be a rather heavy ratio in the wrong direction” (Induction, Registration and Selective Service, Folder L 8.00, Barnhart Catalog).

Screen cap of Omachi, “Draft Registration,” from http://www.oac.cdlib.org/ark:/28722/bk0013c9312/?brand=oac4

At Gila River, “The results of registration of the first three blocks were very discouraging, possibly 80 or 90% [‘no’ responses to question 28]. Block four was said to be about 100% ‘noes'” (Omachi, Draft Registration, BANC MSS 67/14 c, folder K8.28, p. 2).

At Poston, “[The officials] encountered a flood of ‘Nos.’ The administrative officials became jittery. [Project Director Wade] Head in a staff conference threatened to place all those who answered ‘No’ to 27 and 28 in internment camps but was restrained by [Employment Chief] Kennedy and a few others who pointed out the illegality of such a step” (Tamie Tsuchiyama, Notes on Selective Service Registration, BANC MSS 67/14 c, folder J6.23, p. 16).

Screen cap of “Notes on Selective Service Registration” from http://www.oac.cdlib.org/ark:/28722/bk0013c627d/?brand=oac4

It seems abundantly clear, then, that resistance to registration was neither slight, nor isolated.

A final note about attitudes of the Japanese during detention. Though the two attitudes toward the evacuation and detention could not be more polarized, there was one thing that both sides could agree upon, and this too is brought out rather clearly in the documents I surveyed. Whether Pro- or Anti-JACL, complicit with or resistant to the registration program, most Japanese adhered to the saying, “Koi No Take Nobori.”

Yashima Gakutei, “Red Carp Ascending a Waterfall,” H. O. Havemeyer Collection, Bequest of Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, 1929, Metropolitan Museum of Art. CC0 1.0 Public Domain

The koi (carp) in Japanese culture is a symbol of strength, and the saying translates to “swimming up a waterfall like the carp.” It means overcoming any hardships one is confronted with.

One Issei wrote from Gila River, “We see quite a few [carp in] gardens in our camp swimming gayly, and I like to stop very often to watch them — the emblem of undaunted spirit” (The Pros and Cons of Situation, Folder K 12.10, Barnhart Catalog, p. 24).

That undaunted spirit was evident not only during the resistance to the loyalty questionnaire but also when, out of the dust and barbed wire of concentration camps, people of Japanese ancestry rose to success in American society after World War II.

Koi No Take Nobori



[*] “A total institution may be defined as a place of residence and work where a large number of like situated individuals, cut off from the wider society for an appreciable period of time. together lead an enclosed, formally administered round of life.” Erving Goffman. Asylums: Essays on the Social Structure of Mental Patients and Other Inmates (Chicago: Aldinc Publishg Company, 1962), xiii.

Because the detainees had some personal space and freedom of movement and thought, the centers were not as extreme as the mental hospitals Goffman studied. There was thus much less mortification and curtailment of the self. While still being a total institutions by Goffman’s definition, these variations should be noted.

Conflicting Attitudes of Japanese-American Detainees during World War II

Having discussed my “discovery” of the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, as well as a brief history and mention of my pilgrimage to the Manzanar internment camp, I now want to consider conflicting attitudes of Japanese-American detainees.

(Note: Documents referenced below are part of what used to be called the Barnhart Catalog of Japanese Evacuation and Resettlement Documents at UC-Berkeley’s Bancroft Library, a repository for a large number of primary documents from the period. I originally reviewed these physical documents back in 1989; some I have been able to find online, where linked below. Others I could not find due to reorganization of the files prior to digitization.)

Screen cap of Tanforan detention center newspaper published by detainees and available at http://digitalassets.lib.berkeley.edu/jarda/ucb/text/cubanc6714_b022b05_0008.pdf

Under the pressure of evacuation and detention, two distinct attitudes toward the government relocation program developed. On the one hand, there were those who advocated cooperation with the government. They tended to side with the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL), a Nisei organization which came to be the liaison between the government and Japanese detainees.

Not all detainees, however, felt they owed the government their cooperation nor, for some, their allegiance. Resentment toward the evacuation and detention of US citizens and loyal resident aliens was central to this view of the situation. Many, though not all, who held this view were vehemently opposed to the JACL, its beliefs and its followers.

Pro-JACL Detainees

The Pro-JACL detainees recognized the injustice which they had suffered, but were always more concerned with the image that Japanese-Americans portrayed to the American public. They felt resistance or lack of cooperation would be a black mark on the record of Japanese in America and would be seen by whites as justification of the evacuation and detention. Clarence Nishizu, detained at Heart Mountain, Wyoming, argued that to “pave the way for the rest who are in the center, it is the responsibility of the Nisei to create the most favorable impression upon the public” (Opinions of Evacuees, BANC MSS 67/14 c, folder M4.00, p. 19).

Another Nisei reflected, “Since things Japanese did were unpopular. the Nisei went out whole hog for things American. They became 200% flag waving ‘Americans'” (Michio Kunitani, Tanforan Politics, BANC MSS 67/14 c, folder B8.29, p. 15).

Screen cap of Kunitani’s “Tanforan Politics” from http://www.oac.cdlib.org/ark:/28722/bk0013c5h63/FID1

These detainees always sought to prove their loyalty to the United States: in being detained, they were just doing their part in the war effort. One high school junior expressed this attitude very clearly and concisely: “Many men have given their lives for their country since December 7. They gave their all for their native land. Let us drop our ill feelings and take on this life in camp as our duty in this war as loyal Americans. ” Several essays written in class at Tanforan (detention center) High School express the feeling toward the relocation (see My Role in Relocation, BANC MSS 67/14 c, folder B 8.32, Barnhart Catalog).

The Pro-JACL detainees looked forward to reintegration (and even assimilation) into society after the war ended, and wanted to be able to fall back on their cooperation during the war to ease that process.

Anti-JACL Detainees

The Anti-JACL detainees resented the hypocrisy of a supposedly democratic government that would detain its citizens without due process of law. One Nisei wrote in a letter to friends, “After being taught and educated that freedom of expression and movement is something worth while . . . , it is extremely difficult to accept cooping up as if it were [the] inevitable hand of fate [that] had thrust us here, and that we should meekly accept that as such” They resented being asked to prove their loyalty to America: “the whole thing and the attitude of the people outside toward us (prisoners of war) gripes me. What the hell. They take us out of our paths of life and put us in a rat-hole like this and expect us to be contented. Who do they think we are anyway?” (Correspondence from Tanforan Assembly Center, BANC MSS 67/14 c, folder B 12.50, Barnhart Catalog).

And they resented the life in the relocation centers: “Minidoka [Relocation Center in Hunt, Idaho] is a lonely place, spiritually bleak, devoid of hope and warmth. It is surrounded by barbed wire, and watch towers punctuate the horizon . The only gate is guarded by military police. No one enters or leaves without credentials” (R.M. Hosokawa. A Phi Beta Kappa Nisei Speaks, BANC MSS 67/14 c, folder 8.50.

Screen cap of Hosokawa’s “A Pi Beta Kappa Nisei Speaks” from http://www.oac.cdlib.org/ark:/13030/k65b026x/?brand=oac4

For most of the detention, the Pro-JACL attitude was dominant, and the centers were without significant disturbances. The prevailing attitude was one of cooperation. All along, there existed underground organization s coordinated by Anti-JACL detainees. But, for the most part, they were unable to mount any significant collective resistance to the centers’ administrations.

Not only did they contend with the Pro-JACL factions for ideological and material support, but they were also up against a wartime state organization, the War Relocation Authority, that had the full coercive force of the US Army to back it up. (The WRA was a civilian agency established to administer the relocation and detention centers by Executive Order No. 9102, March 18, 1942, see Appendix C in Myer, Uprooted Americans, p. 309, for the full text of the order.)

Screen cap of correspondence from Tanforan detention center from http://www.oac.cdlib.org/ark:/28722/bk0013c8x33/?brand=oac4

Add to that the barrage of pro-American propaganda leveled upon the detainees (reading the essays and school newspapers of the high school students is remarkable evidence of this type of ideological indoctrination) and clearly the formation of a resistance movement would seem unlikely.

During the detention, however, the US government instituted a policy which was the spark needed to ignite the fire of latent antipathy among the detainees. In my next post I turn to that “critical incident” and the collective resistance unleashed.

Child’s letter written after arrival at Tanforan detention center in San Bruno, California, screen cap from document at http://www.oac.cdlib.org/ark:/28722/bk0013c8x33/?brand=oac4

Pilgrimage to Manzanar Internment Camp

For my wife’s birthday last November, we traveled to California to visit family and tour some of the national parks in Southern California. After visiting Joshua Tree National Park, we headed north to Death Valley. Not exactly between Death Valley and Pinnacles National Parks, but not too far out of the way, is the site of the Manzanar internment camp.

For reasons outlined in posts on my discovery of the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II and its history, we made the pilgrimage to Manzanar.

The first internment camp to receive detainees, Manzanar was opened on 21 March 1942 and remained open for over three years, closing on 21 November 1945. It’s peak population was 10,046, housing prisoners from Los Angeles, San Fernando Valley, and San Joaquin County in California, and Washington’s Bainbridge Island. In the shadow of Mt. Whitney’s 14,500 foot peak, Manzanar is 200 miles from Los Angeles, but felt like 1,000 miles from nowhere when I visited.

Manzanar is also one of the best-known and best-documented of the 10 permanent internment camps for Japanese-Americans during World War II. It drew the attention of photographers like Ansel Adams and Dorothea Lange, among others.

“Street scene in winter, photographer Ansel Adams, 1943, Manzanar concentration camp, California.,” Densho Encyclopedia http://encyclopedia.densho.org/sources/en-denshopd-i93-00023-1/.

It has been a California Historical Landmark since 1972, and was designated a National Historic Site when President George H.W. Bush signed H.R. 543 into law in March 1992.

The National Park Service runs the site, which includes a replica of one of the watchtowers, a visitor center in the restored Manzanar High School Auditorium (including exhibits, gift shop, movie theater), reconstructed barracks, the archeologically excavated “Pleasure Park,” and the iconic monument at Manzanar cemetery.

It is definitely worth a visit for anyone interested in this and related aspects of our nation’s history. For those who can’t make it, following are some photos that may give a feel for the place.

Sign at the gate of Manzanar War Relocation Center. Photo by David Yamane

Replica of one of the guard towers positioned at the perimeter of the internment camp. Photo by David Yamane

Exhibit superimposing names of detainees at Manzanar on photo of the camp. Photo by David Yamane

20 detainees named “Yamane” among the 10,000+. Photo by David Yamane

Exhibit listing names of individuals who entered the U.S. Army from Manzanar internment camp and/or had immediate family interned at Manzanar while they served in the U.S. military. Photo by David Yamane

Exhibit of reconstructed barracks. Photo by David Yamane

Exhibit showing condition of barracks upon initial arrival in 1942. Photo by David Yamane

View from window of barracks exhibit. Photo by David Yamane

“Pleasure Park” marker. Photo by David Yamane

Excavated bridge and ponds in Pleasure Park. Photo by David Yamane

“Turtle Rock” at Pleasure Park. Photo by David Yamane

“Soul Consoling Tower” (Kanji inscription) monument at Manzanar cemetery, just outside the barbed wire fence of the internment camp. Photo by David Yamane

Chains of origami cranes left at Manzanar cemetery monument. Photo by David Yamane

150 people died while interned at Manzanar. 15 were laid to rest in the Manzanar cemetery, and 6 remain including “Baby Jerry.” Photo by David Yamane

Historical Background to the Internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII

Having discussed my “discovery” of the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, in this post I offer some historical background to the internment, based on my reading of scholarly studies which I note as I go along.

To contemporary sensibilities, the evacuation and detention of  Americans of Japanese ancestry during World War II seems unjust, inhumane and even racist. But to someone who had followed the history of the Japanese in America, detention based on race would not be that surprising.

Like most people of color who have come to the United States (voluntarily or involuntarily), Japanese immigrants were subject to numerous forms of overt, covert, and institutional racism. And as with most people of color, racial discrimination against the Japanese bore the seal of approval of various local and state governments, as well as the federal government.

From the early period of immigration from Japan to the West Coast of America, “resident Japanese were an unpopular and unwelcome group in the eyes of many residents … Their race and the semiclosed communities into which they were forced set them apart from the larger population. Their adherence to Old World culture patterns further served to emphasize their isolation and to make them the target of popular distastes” (Morton Grodzins, Americans Betrayed: Politics and the Japanese Evacuation, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1949, p. 2).

In essence,  their  inability and, for some, unwillingness to assimilate was both a product and a cause of Eurocentric discrimination. Discrimination against the Japanese, however, was merely a continuation of the racism which had earlier served to provoke violence against Native Americans, Mexicans, and Chinese, especially in California.

In 1790, three years after the ratification of the United States Constitution, the first immigration law of the US was passed, and it spoke very clearly to the racialized nature of American “democracy.” The law “provided that only ‘free whites’ could be naturalized,” and as a result, of the 72,157 Japanese in the continental US in 1910, only 4,502 (6%) were American citizens (Dillon Myer, Uprooted Americans: The Japanese Americans and the War Relocation Authority During World War II, Tuscon: University of Arizona Press. 1971, p. 9).

That no immigrant Japanese could be a naturalized citizen was not enough, though. In the 20th century, racism and the desire to eliminate all immigration from Japan resulted in further governmental legislation. “By 1900, widespread economic and social antagonisms had developed, and agitation in opposition to further Japanese immigration had begun. The 1906 San Francisco school law, ordering the segregation of oriental students, was the first official discriminatory act of importance [directly aimed at Asians]. It was followed by action on the state level, as in the passage of the 1913 California Alien Land Law (prohibiting ‘aliens ineligible for citizenship’ from acquiring ownership of agricultural land), in the subsequent strengthening of that law, and in the passage of similar statutes, following the California example, in Oregon, Washington, and other states” (Grodzins, Americans Betrayed , p. 3).

Discrimination against Japanese became a matter of federal policy with the passage of the Exclusion Act of 1924 which “den[ied] admission to the United States of all immigrants ineligible for American citizenship,” a law that was amended exclude Japanese specifically (Myer, Uprooted Americans, p. 12).

The judicial branch continued in its tradition of racism with “a Supreme Court decision denying the citizenship previously granted a Japanese who had served with United States forces in [World War I]” (Jacobus tenBroek, Edward Barnhart, and Floyd Matson, Prejudice, War and the Constitution, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1968, p. 28).

After the passage of the Oriental Exclusion Act of 1924, relations between “whites” and Japanese improved somewhat. But racism only needed a catalyst to incite further discrimination driven by the desire to eliminate the “yellow menace” altogether. In 1942, the collective weight of half a century of racial antagonism on the West Coast collapsed onto 113,000 residents of Washington, Oregon, Arizona and California who happened to have ancestry in the country which had attacked the United States at Pearl Harbor.

Although there was no action against Japanese and Japanese Americans immediately after December 7, 1941, there would soon enough be calls for measures against the “Japs,” this time with the full force of a wartime mentality behind them.

The politics behind the decision to hold a mass evacuation of a single racial group is beyond the scope of this discussion. Suffice it to note that on February 19, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order No. 9066 which authorized the Secretary of War, Henry Stimson “to prescribe military areas in such places and of such extent as he or the appropriate Military Commander may determine, from which any or all persons may be excluded, and with respect to which, the right of any person to enter, remain in, or leave shall be subject to whatever restriction the Secretary of War or the appropriate Military Commander may impose in his discretion.” (The Japanese American National Museum is running an exhibit of reflections on Executive Order 9066 called “Instructions to All Persons,” through 13 August 2017.)

On February 20th, Stimson delegated his authority prescribed in Executive Order 9066 to General John DeWitt of the Western Defense Command of the US Army. For many Japanese, this was an ominous foreboding of future events. In a February 14, 1942 memorandum to Stimson called “Final Recommendations,” DeWitt expressed his desire to exclude from military areas all Japanese aliens as well as all Japanese American citizens. (For the full text of DeWitt’s “Final Recommendations,” see Appendix A in Myer, Uprooted Americans, p. 301.)

DeWitt — notorious for his assertion that “a Jap’s a Jap” — expressed his racialized view in the memorandum:

In the war in which we are now engaged racial affinities are not severed by migration. The Japanese race is an enemy race and while many second and third generation Japanese born on United State soil, possessed of United States citizenship, have become “Americanized,” the racial strains are undiluted. To conclude otherwise is to expect that children born of white parents on Japanese soil sever all racial affinity and become loyal Japanese subjects, ready to fight and, if necessary, to die for Japan in a war against the nation of their parents. That Japan is allied with Germany and Italy in this struggle is not ground for assuming that any Japanese, barred from assimilation by convention as he is, though born and raised in the United States, will not turn against this nation when the final test of loyalty comes. It, therefore, follows that along the vital Pacific Coast over 112,000 potential enemies, of Japanese extraction, are at large today. There are indications that these were organized and ready for concerted action at a favorable opportunity. The very fact that no sabotage has taken place to date is a disturbing and confirming indication that such action will be taken (quoted in Personal Justice Denied: Report of the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians, University of Washington Press, 1997, p. 6).

Not long after he was given authority under Executive Order 9066, DeWitt issued Public Proclamation No. 1. This proclamation essentially fell in line with the program he proposed in the “Final Recommendations” memo. Proclamation No. 1 “designat[ed] the western half of the three Pacific Coast states and the southern third of Arizona as a military area and stipulat[ed] that all persons of Japanese descent would eventually be removed therefrom” (Myer, Uprooted Americans, p. 25).

Whereas the program of removal from the designated military area was initially instituted as “voluntary evacuation,” and movement to any residence outside the military zones was allowed, it soon became one of forced evacuation and detention in “relocation” centers [Note 1*].

Through Civilian Exclusion Orders Nos. 1- 108, issued between March 24 and August 8, 1942, DeWitt was able to force the migration of 109,650 people of Japanese ancestry, American citizens and resident aliens alike, to fifteen “Assembly Centers” (really, detention centers), mostly racetracks and fairgrounds like Tanforan I mentioned before, where they would wait until relocation centers could be set up for their detention (Dorothy S. Thomas and Richard Nishimoto, The Spoilage: Japanese American Evacuation and Resettlement, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1946, pp. 11-13).

Photo of photo exhibit at Manzanar National Historic Site by David Yamane

Tule Lake in Newell, California was the first relocation center to open (May 27, 1942), and the final shipment of evacuees arrived at Arkansas’s Jerome Relocation Center in October 1942. In a matter of months, the evacuation and detention was complete.

The roughly 110,000 detained Japanese were most of the total Japanese population of 127,00 living in the continental US at the time. They represented “less than one tenth of one per cent of the total American population, less than two percent of the population in the state of their heaviest concentration (California)” (Thomas and Nishimoto, The Spoilage, p. 1).

This population can be broken down into Issei (first generation) and Nisei (second generation). The second generation Japanese were divided into the “Jun” (pure) Nisei and the Kibei (literally, “returned to America”). The Kibei were sent by their families back to Japan to live with relatives and generally to be educated, then returned to the US. They differed from the Jun Nisei in their more strict adherence to Japanese cultural traditions, and in ideological divisions between Issei and Nisei, they tended to side with the Issei.

Of the 127,000 total in the US, some 80,000 were Nisei and held American citizenship by virtue of their birth on American soil. Two thirds of the Nisei were under twenty years of age. Of the 47,000 Issei who were resident aliens, “Ninety eight per cent … had come to America prior to the Oriental Exclusion Act of 1924, almost half of the total having arrived before 1910” (Thomas and Nishimoto, The Spoilage, pp. 1-2).

The Issei were characteristically old: 67% being over fifty years of age. Due to the tradition of racist exclusion described above, the 98% of the Issei who had lived in America at least eighteen years (almost 50% of those residing at least 32 years) were ineligible to be naturalized as citizens. Had the Japanese not been discriminated against previously, it is possible that fully 99% of all people of Japanese ancestry interned would have been United States citizens in 1942.

Photo of photo exhibit at Manzanar National Historic Site by David Yamane

Resentment, then, was not an unknown feeling among the Japanese in America. In a later post I will explore how this resentment played out in the drama of collective resistance in the detention centers.


[1*] “Relocation” center was meant to imply a stopping point on the way to resettlement outside the military zone. In reality, most did not resettle, but stayed in the centers until they were closed. Some stayed as many as four years. Most wanted to wait until the West Coast was reopened to them, while others simply feared racism on the outside of the centers regardless of the region of the country to which they would be resettled. A few even felt as though they were “getting back” at the government by staying in the centers and living at the monetary expense of the government.

Discovering Japanese-American World War II Internment Camps

I don’t know when I first became aware of the forced removal and internment of Japanese-Americans from the West Coast of the United States during World War II. But I remember learning alot more about it for a paper I wrote back in 1989 when I was an undergrad at UC-Berkeley.

The Bancroft Library at Berkeley is a repository for a large number of primary documents that are part of what used to be called the Barnhart Catalog of Japanese Evacuation and Resettlement Documents. I will never forget sitting in the library going through box after box of letters, memos, diaries, essays, speeches, high school newspapers, and other ephemera of people living their everyday lives under extraordinary circumstances. I was transported back to a time I hardly knew existed in the United States.

Screen cap of http://bancroft.berkeley.edu/collections/jais/. The materials I examined were from the Japanese Evacuation and Resettlement Study (JERS) and the War Relocation Authority (WRA). JERS was conducted by social scientists from UC-Berkeley from the time of the early evacuation until after the closing of the last relocation center.

My paternal grandparents were Nisei, second generation Japanese-Americans, born in Hawaii. So my father is Sansei, also born and raised in Hawaii. He was 11 years old when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. Because there was such a large population, there was no mass incarceration of Japanese-Americans in Hawaii at the time. So none of my immediate family were interned.

But thanks to the National Archives’ Database of Japanese American Evacuees, I was able to search for last name “Yamane” among the 109,384 evacuees listed. The search yields 179 results, including some from the San Francisco Bay Area, where I was raised.

To produce the screen cap above, I added the search term “Tanforan.” When I was growing up in the Bay Area in the 1970s and 80s, Tanforan was a shopping center in the city of San Bruno. Before that, however, it was a horse race track. And, as I came to learn in my studies, it was used as an “assembly center” — a temporary jail pending the construction of the permanent internment camps.

“View of barracks at Tanforan Assembly Center, California, June 16, 1942.,” Densho Encyclopedia http://encyclopedia.densho.org/sources/en-denshopd-i151-00344-1/.

Even though I learned alot about the internment through my class paper, I still had alot to learn. In the summer of 1991, I worked with my father or a few weeks in Wyoming, around Worland. I remember driving along one of Wyoming’s many sparsely populated highways one day, seeing a mailbox, and noticing the name on the mailbox was Japanese. It wasn’t until we passed 2 or 3 more such mailboxes that I made the connection to the Heart Mountain Internment Camp, which was outside of Cody, Wyoming.

“Young girl near guard tower, May 31, 1944, Heart Mountain concentration camp, Wyoming.,” Densho Encyclopedia http://encyclopedia.densho.org/sources/en-ddr-hmwf-1-15-1/.

Obviously the reality of these camps is an important part of American history, but I also think of them as part of my personal history. It is only because they lived in Hawaii rather than California that my father and his family were not rounded up and imprisoned.

In addition to posting more about the history of the internment, I am also going to create a landing page and individual entries for the camps and centers that I have already visited and will visit in the future. Stay tuned.