Tessaku Seikatsu

Life Behind Barbed Wire

Through the Eyes of an Issei:
The Internment of Japanese in the United States during World War II

In 1896, a young Yasutaro Soga left Japan and came to the island of Hawaii where, after only a few years, he became assistant editor of a Japanese-language newspaper, the Hawaii Shinpo. Ten years later, at 33 years of age, he was Editor-in-Chief, and in another ten years he would become editor, president and publisher of his own newspaper, the Nippu Jiji (Hawaii Times during the war), which included a section in English, a first for a Japanese newspaper. He was quite a prominent individual, at least in the eyes of the Japanese government, so much so that they invited him to their Imperial Chrysanthemum Party in Tokyo in 1934, the only Japanese invited from Hawaii.

The world for him changed drastically on that December day in 1941. When Pearl Harbor was attacked by his countrymen, 68-year-old Soga suddenly became an "alien enemy" and was arrested along with hundreds of other important Japanese on the Hawaiin islands. After being detained six-months on Sand Island, he was sent to an Army camp in Lordsburg, New Mexico, and then ended up at a Department of Justice camp in Santa Fe. After the war, he returned to Hawaii, where he felt his real home was.

In 1948, nine years before his death, Soga published in Japanese a fascinating journal of his experiences and candid thoughts during his four years of internment. His memoirs were translated into English in 2007. There are few firsthand accounts in English written by first-generation Japanese who lived in the United States during WWII, which makes Soga's writings, therefore, especially valuable to anyone researching the subject.

Following are some excerpts I have gleaned from his journals where he shares his views on a variety of topics -- issues which are rarely mentioned, if at all, in modern history books, nor, for that matter, in books and articles by Japanese Americans themselves. These are his words, seasoned with age, not simply some youthful observations. No study of Nikkei history will be complete without an understanding of this elderly Issei's sentiments on issues which had such an immense impact on a minority people in the United States during WWII.

Source: Life behind Barbed Wire: the World War II Internment Memoirs of a Hawai'i Issei by Yasutaro (Keiho) Soga; translated by Kihei Hirai; University of Hawai'i Press, 2008. Translator's notations are enclosed in {braces} in the text below; mine are enclosed in [brackets].

Book cover

Thoughts about the War

I now have in my hand "The List of Japanese from Hawaii at Lordsburg Camp." This mimeographed document was compiled by the internees who arrived in the fifth, sixth, and seventh groups. I believe its preface clearly reveals our thoughts about the war at the time:
December 7, 1941! Black smoke rose and explosive sounds reverberated over Pearl Harbor in the early morning. They not only woke the people of Hawaii but also announced the arrival of a new age. The memory of this day is deeply ingrained in the minds of many. It was the first day of the great leap into a new world. It was the day when a bright light began to shine on the futures of one billion Asians.

In the year that has passed since then we have had joy and sorrow in quick succession in this foreign land. In the meantime, the blood and tears of the hundred million people in our native land have forged a sacred fire that liberates the Asian races in the southeast. Like a great storm blowing through young grass, it carries before it the many splendid deeds performed in this sacred war.

Now we are destined to spend our days behind barbed wire in desolate New Mexico because the Japanese blood runs through our veins. Whenever we see the sun rising silently over these barren fields, we send Japan our best wishes for victory. Whenever we see the sun sinking slowly, we think of the old country and tearfully give thanks that we were born in Japan. Whenever we see the bright moon shining over a hill in the cloudless night sky, we lose ourselves in fond memories of Hawaii.

We have compiled a list of all those who were destined to dine together at one table and sleep side by side under the shade of trees and alongside a river among sand-swept hills. In doing so we honor the friendships that have developed among us and give thanks to those who came here before us. We wish to express here our gratitude for their boundless goodwill.

All members of the fifth, sixth, and seventh groups
January 1943
I do not remember who wrote this preface. Although it now seems shameful when we think of the war and its outcome, many of us at the time agreed with its sentiments. Both Japanese from Hawaii and the Mainland shared this kind of thinking, and it undeniably influenced our behavior.

Hawaiian Japanese vs. Mainland Japanese

After living with Mainland Japanese, I noticed their backgrounds and circumstances were very different from ours. Of course, there were exceptions, but, generally speaking, those of us from Hawaii were firmly established in our new country and were well settled, while for the most part Mainland Japanese worked seasonally as agricultural laborers and moved from place to place.

In dealing with Americans, Hawaii Japanese were friendly and cooperative, while those from the Mainland were not. The living standard for Japanese in Hawaii improved considerably before the war. This was not the case for Japanese elsewhere: I understand that many living in the more rural parts of the Mainland could not afford curtains for their windows.

Internees from the Mainland were more rebellious than those from Hawaii. From the point of view of Americans, this kind of behavior was seen as extremely disloyal but, given the pitiful circumstances under which mainland Japanese were placed, it was to be expected. I would not be exaggerating if I said that part of the responsibility for the recalcitrance of these internees rested on the United States government. Japanese in Hawaii were very lucky in comparison. Throughout the war, most were allowed to live comfortably and keep their businesses. For this we must thank Lieutenant General Emmons, a fair and intelligent man, who was commander in Hawaii when the war broke out.

When the first and second Hawaii groups came into contact with internees from the Mainland, they were generally considered inferior. (By the time I arrived at Lordsburg, this was no longer the case.) Japanese from Panama and South America were also held in low esteem, so they felt much closer to internees from Hawaii.

Japanese resent being discriminated against, but they themselves are prone to "closing ranks" to exclude others. Few ethnic groups exhibit this kind of behavior: It is definitely one of the shortcomings of Japanese. Those from the Mainland had suffered greatly under anti-Japanese policies and regulations, so they tried, consciously or unconsciously, to gain satisfaction by excluding those whom they considered to be "outsiders" -- Japanese from Hawaii, Panama, and South America.

What we hated most was being blamed by Mainlanders whenever something went wrong. But in general we were not reproached and maintained a good reputation in the camps. I think this was due to our strong willpower.

Executive Order 9066

In March 1942, four months after the war had begun, 119,000 Issei and Nisei living in California, Oregon, and Washington were forced to move inland by order of Lieutenant General Dewitt, commander of the Western Defense Area. Rumors had been circulating that Japanese living on the West Coast were very active in espionage. In Los Angeles alone there were six thousand members of the Nippon Butoku-kai (Japan Martial Arts Association). According to some, the 1,600 Japanese fishermen living in San Pedro were poised for military action against the United States.

After the attack on Pearl Harbor, anti-Japanese factions persuaded military and judicial authorities to order people from their homes and businesses. The hardship and injustice they suffered during the sudden evacuation were beyond our imagination. Quite a few Jews took advantage of unlucky Japanese and secretly paid next to nothing for furniture and other goods. Items stored in warehouses and other assets were either broken or stolen. The wickedness of these people became apparent.

Japanese were chased from their land and their homes and herded like sheep into ten relocation camps in states beyond or near the foot of the Rocky Mountains. They were first lodged at fifteen temporary assembly centers built on horse racetracks in California and neighboring states. The resulting confusion was disastrous. After hearing the many tragic stories of mainland Japanese, I felt that we in Hawaii had a comparatively easy burden to bear.

On News from Imperial Japan

From the start, internees were hungry for news of the world outside. We had our own modest newspaper; newspapers and magazines in English were allowed. We could listen to any domestic radio broadcast (shortwave radios were prohibited), but we generally enjoyed the news broadcast in the camp.

Internees tried hard to be optimistic about whatever they heard; they wanted to hear good news. Announcers who understood this won plaudits from their listeners. Whenever there was good news from the Imperial headquarters, everyone went wild, although what we were hearing at the time was mostly propaganda. Near the end of the broadcast, an announcer would raise his voice and solemnly say, "An announcement from the Imperial headquarters!" and everyone would quiet down and listen with reverence.

Religious Organizations

At Lordsburg there were close to a hundred Buddhist, Shinto, and Christian ministers, pastors, and lecturers -- quite an amazing number. Fifty-four Buddhists represented various sects. The twenty-five in the second battalion organized a Buddhist association, and the twenty-nine in the third established a Buddhist ministers' organization. Each organization held study sessions and a service every Sunday. Among the special events were the Bon Festival, equinoctial service, and Buddhahood attainment service. Twenty-three ministers were from Hawaii, thirty-one from the Mainland. Other Buddhist groups included the Jodoshu Mission, the second battalion's Sodoshu Mission, the second and third battalion's Buddhist hymn group, and a Kannon sutra reading group. Key figures among the Buddhists were the Reverends Enryo Shigefuji of Fresno, Jokai Ko of Los Angeles, and Eimu Miake, Kodo Fujitani, and Kogan Yoshizumi of Hawaii.

Shinto associations in the camp included Daijingu and Konko-kyo. Twelve Shinto ministers hailed from the Mainland, two from Hawaii. Mr. Miryo Fukuda of the Konko-kyo San Francisco Mission was said to be a graduate of Tokyo Imperial University, but he was an ultranationalist and a troublemaker. The Tenri-kyo Mission had twenty ministers, including two from Hawaii. Their leader was Mr. Masaji Hashimoto, bishop of the North America Tenri-kyo in Los Angeles. A graduate of Kokugaku-in College and an easygoing, interesting character, he was an authority on
kana writing and an excellent poet. He established a Tenri-kyo village in Manchuria.

Christians from the Mainland and Hawaii organized the United Church of Christian Sects here. Of the eleven pastors, four were from Hawaii. They held Sunday morning and evening services, Wednesday prayer meetings, bible lectures, special meetings, and hymn study meetings. Rev. Kiyoshi Ishikawa, a graduate of Doshisha University, and Rev. Takashi Kamae, a graduate of Aoyama Gakuin University, were devoted scholars. They were both from California. Rev. Sutekichi Osumi from Hawaii devoted himself not only to the pastors' association but also to his work as the chief secretary of the third battalion, a barracks chief, and an English lecturer. I had the greatest respect for him.

[NOTE: Soga was asked during his interrogation on Sand Island if he were Buddhist, Shintoist or Christian; he replied "No" to all three, saying he had "no religious preference."]

The Tokyo Club

Several Tokyo Club leaders were interned at Lordsburg. Members of this club, headquartered in Los Angeles, were feared by Japanese up and down the West Coast. However, after becoming friendly with them in the camp, I discovered they were not scoundrels; in fact, as is often the case this type of people, many of them had a high sense of duty and honor. They were always very quiet and cooperative. This was my impression; according to some Mainland Japanese, they were merely putting up a front.

The Tokyo Club resembles the gambling clubs run by American and Chinese gangs on the Mainland. It asserts its right to a percentage of the income from Japanese-sponsored events. If ignored or rebuffed, members use pressure or take retaliatory actions, sometimes ruining a promoter's fortune. On the other hand, they contribute, financially and otherwise, to Japanese charities and welfare organizations. They play their bad and good roles skillfully.

The Tokyo Club was responsible for many shocking murders never went to trial. One member was known to have killed five or six people. Several club bosses were in turn assassinated and the perpetrators never found. The Tokyo Club's "methods" were similar to those used by Chinese gangs... One member used this method to get rid of a body and escaped arrest due to lack of evidence. Once free, he brazenly invited a large number of people to a party to celebrate his release. Many Japanese in Los Angeles, aware of the situation, nevertheless sent congratulatory gifts of cash to avoid future problems. The evil influence of this club made its way into various segments of the Japanese community in California. Lawyers and newspaper companies conspired with them. Religious men enjoyed their protection, albeit indirectly. Even the police in some areas may have been a part of their "racket."

Black Dragon Society

A memorial service for Mr. Mitsuru Toyama, a member {co-founder} of the Kokuryu-kai [Black Dragon Society], was held in the Upper Town mess hall on the night of October 10 [1944]. The Kokuryu-kai was very active in the United States, and many of its members were interned. The authorities were watchful that evening.

Kazumaro "Buddy" Uno

Mr. Kumemaro Uno supported Japan during the war. His eldest son, Kazumaro, was an American citizen, but he worked for the Japanese military in Tokyo and had captured Mr. James Young, the International News Service correspondent in Chungching who had been sending reports attacking the Japanese military since before the war. Mr. Young was pardoned before war broke out between the United States and Japan, and was sent home through Honolulu with his wife. During the war he used his more ten years of experience in Japan to inspire anti-Japanese feeling.

Article about Young
Source: The Melbourne Argus,
February 28, 1940

An American newspaper reported in March 1944 that Mr. Uno was a first lieutenant in the Japanese army. His younger brother, who was an American soldier, wrote a letter to the paper saying that, while he himself had been born and educated in the United States, his brother Kazumaro was an ungrateful wretch who had joined the Japanese army. He also said that he would be willing to go to Japan to kill Kazumaro because he was no longer his brother but the enemy. This was like a story from the old days, but there were many such cases where family members fought on opposite sides. {See Yuji Ichioka, Before Internment: Essays in Prewar Japanese American History, ed. Gordon H. Chang and Eiichiro Azuma, which contains a lengthy biographical piece on Kazumaro Buddy Uno titled "The Meaning of Loyalty: The Case of Kazumaro Buddy Uno."}

Banzai! -- Support for Japan

November 3, 1942, was cold and windy. On that day, all internees, about fifteen hundred men, gathered for an all-day athletic meet to celebrate the birthday of Emperor Meiji. On February 21, 1943, we celebrated the 2,603rd anniversary of Emperor Jinmu's accession. Everyone took a holiday and participated in the anniversary ceremony, which began at nine o'clock that morning. We sang the national anthem, and Mayor Abe made a congratulatory speech. There was an exhibition of artwork by internees as part of the entertainment. On April 29 of that year, the emperor's birthday, the second battalion held a ceremony in the religion hall during which we sang the national anthem and bowed in silent prayer in the direction of the Imperial Palace. After Mayor Abe's speech, I led the banzai cheers.

At Missoula Camp, the New Year's party was held with Mr. Minoru Murakami as master of ceremonies. I understand this celebration was very lively. Italian internees joined the party in their famous black shirts. A tipsy Mr. Kiyoshi Ichikawa was asked to lead the banzai cheers. He led cheers not only for Japan, Germany, and Italy, but also all the Axis powers, including Manchuria, the Nangching government, the Philippines, Thailand, and Independent India. He led twenty cheers in all, each time asking the participants to stand up and join in. In the end, all the participants were very tired.

...many internees felt that by working for Americans, they were helping the enemy.

The next day, with the surrender of Italy, the news was full of reports favoring the Allied cause. This put all of us to shame.

It was comparatively warm on the morning of November 3 [1943], the birthday of Emperor Meiji. A celebration, sponsored by the Japanese office, was held in the open-air theater at 9:00 A.M. We bowed in the direction of the Meiji Shrine, sang the Japanese national anthem, and heard a speech by General Manager Kawasaki.

December 7, 1943, was the second anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. A ceremony honoring the memory of fallen soldiers was held in the square in the morning. We bowed in the direction of the Imperial Palace, sang the national anthem twice, and observed a moment of silence. A speech was given by General Manager Kondo. After the ceremony, a packet of fragrant green tea, donated by the Japanese Red Cross, was distributed to each internee by the barracks chiefs. A large flag of the Rising Sun made with used paper was displayed in the Upper Town mess hall. This would have been a problem in the outside world, but here it did not seem to matter.

New Year's Day, 1944, arrived covered in snow. This was my third New Year's Day as an internee. I got up at seven o'clock and changed my clothes. I offered a silent prayer facing east. At nine o'clock, the internees assembled in the open-air theater to bow in the direction of Japan. After a speech by General Manager Kondo, we gave three banzai cheers and sang the Japanese national anthem. The donations from the Japanese Red Cross were distributed that morning.

In the afternoon, the outcome of a sea battle near the Philippines was broadcast: Japan sank 1,008 American warships, including 18 key battleships, and shot down more than 2,000 airplanes. Its own losses amounted to 2 battleships and about 1,000 planes. Ecstatic over the news, we decided that night to present a show, which had already been postponed once before due to bad weather, to commemorate Japan's victory.

November 3, 1944, was a clear, cloudless, and unusually warm day. At nine in the morning, we celebrated the birth of Emperor Meiji at the open-air theater..... The dinner at the Upper Town mess hall that night featured an outstanding menu. Prepared by Chef Furukawa, it included clear soup, sashimi, a side dish, a vinegared dish, grated radish, tofu, festive red rice, and a cake decorated with the Rising Sun and the word "celebration." My understanding was that Mr. Furukawa had gone without sleep the night before, and I was truly humbled by his efforts and his determination to do his best in carrying out his responsibility.

According to a broadcast that morning [February 27, 1945], the Japanese army was nearly defeated in a battle on Iwo Jima. Reports from Tokyo, however, reported a glorious Japanese victory, which caused an uproar in the camp. I could not tell which broadcasts to believe.

Preparations were under way for the emperor's birthday celebration, but Mr. Williams would not approve any additional expense for a special lunch menu. We decided to take six hundred dollars [three-month's median salary for US worker then] from the internees' welfare fund to pay for the meal. Our request for more money was probably denied because the country was still in mourning for the late president. We celebrated the emperor's forty-fourth birthday at the new theater on April 29.

Camp Food

While I am on the subject of mess halls, let me say a little about the food at the camp. Readers would generally sympathize with us on the quality of our meals. Yes, we were forced once in a while to eat sand with our rice, or pork and beans day after day. However, considering the wartime conditions, I think the food in general was quite good -- especially if you compared it with our clothing and housing. If our clothes were too natty, we attracted attention, so we wore the drab clothes issued to us. As for housing, we lived in shabby barracks like refugees taking shelter from an earthquake or flood. But the food we were served was neither better nor worse than what most people had to eat outside the barbed-wire fence.

Guards, Guns & Golf

In general, the attitude of the guards toward us was good and we had no serious complaints. However, one of them fired a gun without warning on several occasions, nearly causing a few accidents. Our two mayors had the guard reprimanded and reassigned to an unarmed position. The other guards received a stern warning. The major representing the commanding officer and Governors Abe and Yoshizumi issued a joint statement, which maintained that internees were free to play and walk anywhere on the golf course despite the rule that prohibited them from coming within twelve feet of the barbed-wire fence.

The Nisei Issue

On March 18, 1944, in the east classroom, I heard a lecture, "Nisei and the Geneva Convention," given by Mr. Sei Fujii, Kashu Mainichi (California Daily News) president. He referred to the pending court case of George Fujii, a young detainee at Poston Relocation Center who was charged with draft evasion and sabotage. The lecturer revealed the contents of the young man's letter justifying his conduct, which was sent to the Spanish consul at the request of the young man's father. The basic argument was that, unlike other second-generation Americans with blood ties to enemy countries, Japanese Americans suffered the same treatment as Issei Japanese, many of whom were not U.S. citizens. By subjecting its own people to unwarranted curfews and evacuation, the United States had violated its constitution and had no right to conscript Japanese Americans. Thus, if a Nisei refused to be drafted, he could not be charged with sabotage.

Because the topic was of interest to all of us, the classroom was full that day. Mr. Fujii's remarks elicited enthusiastic applause. Although he was an old acquaintance of mine, I was quite disappointed with his lecture. The government might be violating constitutional law, but this did not sanction similar conduct by Japanese Americans. The young man's letter could be used in considering extenuating circumstances, but his argument could not serve as a rule of thumb for Japanese Americans and their Issei parents. Worse, I believed it would be misleading and would only raise false hopes.

Donations for Japanese POWs

For some time, internees had been soliciting donations for Japanese POWs. On October 25, we had about twelve hundred dollars [half-year's median salary US worker]. Considering the camp population at that time, I estimated that each internee on the average had donated one dollar. In November of last year (1943), we had collected $737 in cash in addition to gifts and books for Japanese POWs. General Manager Kawasaki had sent everything through the American Red Cross on November 24.

Club of Seven Lives

A right-wing youth group called Shichisho-kai (literally "Club of Seven Lives") held its first meeting in the east classroom on the night of December 12. I decided to attend. At the meeting, young people seated themselves in groups and roll was taken. Then they all stood up and chanted in unison: "We are the loyal subjects of the Emperor. We are determined to be reborn seven times and serve our country." After that Rev. Dojun Ochi talked about the great history of Japan, beginning with the Meiji era and going back in time. It was very interesting. The leader of Shichisho-kai was apparently a man from Tule Lake.

Seinendan Hoko-kai (Youth Group Service Association)
and Tule Lake Camp

On December 30 [1944], all of us carried out a general cleaning of our barracks. In the afternoon, seventy internees arrived from Tule Lake, most of them young and all with their heads shaven. They were carefully checked at the Upper Town mess hall under the supervision of many guards and soldiers and were separated into different barracks in Upper Town. It was an elaborate operation. We later learned that they were all members of Seinendan Hoko-kai (Youth Group Service Association) and were regarded as extremists. Many were Kibei who had been taken from their families and sent to camps.
[See here for series of photos of members of the Hokoku Seinen-dan (for men) and the Hokoku Joshi Seinen-dan (for women).You will note they are not all youths. See also page 9 of this Sept. 1944 report of an interrogation of a Taiwanese POW re Japanese youth groups in Taiwan.]

Two Seinendan Hoko-kai members were from Hawaii: a son of Rev. Kyushichi Hayashi and an Okinawan minister, Rev. Kenjitsu Tsuha of Ewa. The newly married Rev. Tsuha had been dragged out of bed at midnight on the twenty-seventh and taken to a waiting train. Mr. Zenshiro Tachibana, a former general manager at our camp, was now back among us, this time with a shaven head and an imposing mustache. (This would be his third time at Santa Fe Camp.) These men seemed to be the leaders. On the very cold early morning of December 31, one day after their arrival, these association members were outside doing calisthenics in vocal unison. Later they used an old office without permission for a secret meeting. Their behavior was certainly disquieting.

A rumor spread that more of these "shaven heads" would be arriving from Tule Lake. The reason for their transfer will become apparent once I explain the situation at the camp. There was constant trouble between authorities and internees and among the internees themselves at Tule Lake Camp. A young man, Mr. Okamoto, had been killed. The murder investigation was still in progress when a Nisei from Oregon beat up a guard in early June 1944. I think it was about this time that Mr. Jensen, the Santa Fe camp manager, had taken a five-day trip to Tule Lake regarding the transporting of a number of internees to Santa Fe. Upon his return he had commented that the trouble at Tule Lake would probably continue.

Among the internees at Tule Lake, two groups that were constantly at odds with one another were the pro-Japan or "disloyal" faction and the pro-American or "loyal" faction. Such a division in thinking could be found at any relocation center or camp, but it was especially serious at Tule Lake. The pro-Japan group set up a spy ring to gather information on those who were sympathetic to the United States. They infiltrated various groups, placing certain individuals under surveillance and using gatherings to collect information abour their enemies. They selected faction members who were to take direct action against the enemy through extraordinary measures. If this proved unsuccessful, they planned to report the enemy to the Japanese government after the war.

Once a person was identified as pro-American, they intimidated him by throwing human feces at his house or even boiled feces at the windows. Families were afraid of what others might think and quickly and quietly cleaned up the mess. In July 1944, after a certain Mr. Hitomi had been murdered, fear among the pro-American internees reached a panic stage. Thirteen families fled to a separate enclosed barracks, leaving everything behind. Some of the soldiers who were asked to retrieve their possessions were said to be in sympathy with the pro-Japan group, because when they went to collect one person's belongings, they asked, "Where's the dog's luggage?" [NOTE: Dog, or inu in Japanese, was a derogatory term for an informant, presumably so termed due to the nature of a dog always sniffing around.]

With the arrival of the "shaven heads" from Tule Lake, the atmosphere at Santa Fe Camp changed, becoming even more depressing than before.

January 1, 1945, was a fine and pleasant day. The thermometer held steady at nine degrees in the morning. It was my fourth New Year's Day as an internee. About nine hundred of us gathered at nine at the newly completed theater to bow solemnly in the direction of Japan. Mr. Shu Nakayama, manager of the education department, served as master of ceremonies and General Manager Mukaida gave a speech. Then, suddenly, the new group from Tule Lake pushed their way into the building and into the seats at the front of the theater. I thought their behavior was somewhat unruly. Mr. Langston, head of the liaison office, later prohibited the "shaven heads" from gathering as a group -- even for calisthenics -- and wearing insignia with words or messages like "patriotism" on their clothes. There were some fine young men among the new arrivals, but there were also some extremely impertinent ones. The Issei leaders in general were apparently at fault, judging by their lack of understanding as evidenced in their criticism of the Hawaii excludees sent to Tule Lake. No sooner had they arrived here, than these leaders began making disparaging comments about the Santa Fe internees in general.

The Santa Fe authorities kept close watch on the Tule Lake group, who continued to do their calisthenics every morning without regard for the rest of us who were still asleep. The members of Shichisho-kai routinely held daybreak meetings on the seventh day of each month. Ostensibly they were meeting under the auspices of the Buddhist and Shinto federations, but that was just a subterfuge, and the authorities never suspected

On March 5, before the arrival of more than a hundred more internees from Tule Lake, the authorities began assigning them to already overcrowded barracks. There were bitter complaints, but we could do nothing. Two days later, 125 men arrived. They went through a strict check under the heavy supervision of mounted guards and were placed in the preassigned barracks. In our barracks, ten were housed in Room E, which had been used as a recreation room, six were taken to Room C, and four to Room B. The barracks had never been so crowded. All the new arrivals had shaven heads. Many of them wore a "patriotism" emblem on their shirts. One of them wore a shirt with the following message in big, conspicuous letters: "Not words but action. Trust the mother country, Japan. Crush 'em to bits." Soon a notice from Mr. Williams appeared: "To Internees from Tule Lake: If you have shirts with 'patriotism' written on them, you must bring them to the office by 4:00 P.M. on March 10. Violators will be prosecuted."

On March 15, four days after [another] disturbance, there was still some confusion because people's belongings were not yet sorted out, but it felt like the day after a big storm. The emergency meeting of barracks chiefs lasted from morning to evening, in part because the Japanese office leaders in attendance were not familiar with procedural rules. A few stubborn individuals added to the problem. It was made clear at the meeting that both Rev. Tsuha and Mr. Tachibana, leaders of the Tule Lake group, had been partly responsible for the disturbance. Mr. Williams issued a statement saying that all internees except those in the segregated area could expect camp life to return to normal.

More on Tule Lake

The internee population of Tule Lake Camp was eighteen thousand in October 1944. There were many families, so the camp resembled a town in Japan. Because there were many young girls at the camp, romances blossomed. This, fanned by an uncertain future, led to rash and impulsive behavior. Forty to fifty babies were born every month. Japanese-language schools were not allowed at relocation centers, but there were seven at Tule Lake, two of which were specifically named First National School and Second National School. Mr. Tokuji Adachi was a principal at one of the schools.

Tule Lake Camp measured about a mile and a half on its northwest side and a mile on its northeast side. Seventy-four barracks housed two to four hundred people each. There was an administration office, hospital, schools, police station, fire station, post office, immigration office, baseball field, shops, warehouse, and graveyard. In one corner of the camp was a military barracks. There were two reservoirs nearby with a railway running parallel to them. Tule Lake is in northern California, near Oregon, so the climate is pleasant, even in winter. The hospital facilities were good, like those of a university hospital. There were five doctors, white and Japanese, including Dr. Hashiba (a brain surgeon from the Mainland) and Dr. Kazuo Miyamoto from Hawaii. They were always shorthanded. Doctors and technicians were paid $19.00 per month, all others $16.00. Workers were given a stipend of $3.50 per month for clothing. [NOTE: No mention of barbed wire or guard towers.]

Japanese American Soldiers

As I mentioned earlier, the conscription of Japanese Americans was a hotly debated and sensitive topic for Issei and Nisei. The following incidents took place at Tule Lake: The mother of a soldier tearfully begged her son to kill himself on the way to the front because it would be a disgrace to their ancestors if he shot at the flag of the Rising Sun. The son answered that he would not kill himself but that he was among the three hundred Nisei soldiers who had pledged not to do battle in Japan. His mother was satisfied and let him go.

In another instance, a commander wanted to send a Japanese American soldier fluent in both Japanese and English to Japan. He promised to pay him three times the usual salary. The young soldier asked the officer to consider his feelings and to send him anywhere but Japan. The commander was impressed by the young man's sincerity and agreed. These are just two instances in which the U.S. military considered and respected the feelings of Japanese American soldiers.

Issei, Nisei and Kibei

Internees at Tule Lake included four categories of Issei and Nisei:
  1. Those who wanted to return to Japan
  2. Those who had refused to pledge their loyalty to the United States
  3. Those who were known to be disloyal at the time
  4. Families of these men who requested cohabitation.
There were about five to six thousand internees in each group.

Not everyone at Tule Lake was disloyal or hostile to the United States, however. There were many whose classification had been determined by their responses to the formal questionnaire (Application for Leave Clearance). For example, when Issei were asked, "Will you pledge your loyalty to America or not?" they were often at a loss. It was an almost meaningless question for them, because they could not become U.S. citizens anyway. About 80 percent of Japanese at Tule Lake had sent their children to school in Japan or wanted to return to Japan themselves for family reasons -- but they did not want to sever all ties with their second home, America. Most of the Nisei at Tule Lake had returned to the United States after being raised and educated in Japan. Not surprisingly, these Kibei could not get along in wartime America given their upbringing and education.

Given their situation, some of the Tule Lake internees openly expressed their discontent by shaving their heads and organizing the Sokuji Kikoku Hoshidan (Immediate Return to Japan Services) and the Hokokudan (Patriots Association). The first attracted mostly Issei, the second Nisei, and trouble erupted between the organizations on one side and the authorities and other internees on the other.


On February 17, at the barracks managers' meeting it was reported that 22 internees had died in the camp since September 1944. Out of a population of 1,409, close to 900 internees {ca. 64 percent} had applied for repatriation to Japan.

Kesshi-dan (Blood and Death Group)

Since the arrival of the Tule Lake internees, the volume of mail between our two camps had increased dramatically -- as did the number of letters with contents that violated mail regulations. The mail inspectors were kept busy: Many letters had portions cut out, and some were returned. The resentful Tule Lake group sent the inspectors a threatening letter, allegedly written by the Kesshi-dan (Blood and Death Group). One of the leaders of the Tule Lake gang, Mr. Wakayama, was summoned to Mr. Williams' office, causing the situation to deteriorate even further.

Ambassador Kurusu's American Wife and Tragic Death of Son

I was shocked to hear during an evening broadcast on March 5 that the only son of former Ambassador Kurusu and his American wife had died gallantly in a battle against American B-29s. According to an article in the New York Times, the young pilot had survived the crash landing, but farmers outside Tokyo mistook him for an American and clubbed him to death. The story moved me to tears and brought home to me the tragic impact of war on interracial marriages. The ambassador and I were old friends.

Spanish Embassy

On April 4, 1945, Mr. Williams informed the Japanese office as follows: "The Spanish embassy is no longer responsible for protecting the rights of Japanese in the United States. Camp authorities will continue to treat internees in a fair manner. Please bring all requests and other matters to the authorities here. Matters that cannot be decided here will be promptly forwarded to the central authorities."

Bar Closed!

Around that time [April 7, 1945], it was learned that the broadcasting staff had stolen beer from the bar and held a small party. The bar was closed for three days, which annoyed drinkers considerably. The wartime food shortage was of course felt at the camp and became especially apparent that month, affecting the quality and quantity of the food.

Surrender and Occupation

That day [August 16, 1945] the Denver Post reported that the emperor had issued a rescript concerning the surrender of Japan over radio. I read an English translation of it with tears streaming down my cheeks.

A broadcast on August 29, 1945, reported that the first contingent of occupation forces had landed at Atsugi the day before. The 150 soldiers had been surprised that the Japanese citizens were cooperative and that the outlying coastal area had already been secured. Thirty-six people committed suicide by hara-kiri in front of the Imperial Palace. The youth group organized mainly by Tule Lake internees held a dissolution ceremony that night. I heard that their officers made speeches and burned all of the group's documents, including oaths taken.

The next morning someone spread the rumor that talks between Japan and the United States had broken off and that we were at war again. Shouts of joy could be heard throughout the camp.

The Bomb

A memorial service for the war dead was sponsored by the Buddhist federation and held at the theater on the night of September 14. Rev. Joei Oi began the evening by saying that the service would honor the war dead of both sides, which was commendable. However, in his sermon, Rev. Enryo Shigefuji of Fresno expressed opinions that clearly showed he did not understand the current situation. I was surprised at his ignorance.

First he attacked the United States for its unlawful and unjust use of atomic weapons. This was admirable. Then he reported, "Japan was so incensed at the inhumanity of this act that it wiped out the entire American expeditionary force in the Far East in three days and forced the United States to surrender." Rev. Shigefuji was said to be a highly learned priest, so I wondered what had happened.

Two days later, I heard a sermon by Rev. Shuntaro Ikezawa of the Christian church in the east classroom. The weather was very bad -- rain, hail, even thunder. There were only a few priests and about a dozen people present. As I expected, Rev. Ikezawa had grasped what was happening.

In his sermon, "Truth and Love," he talked about the atomic bomb: "What was wrong was not the invention of atomic energy, but the thinking that led to its use in war. If we use our inventions for good, all human beings benefit. His Highness the Prime Minister said to General MacArthur, 'You must forget Pearl Harbor and we must forget the atomic bomb: These were wise words." The Reverend then prayed for the birth of a new Japan. I felt what he had to say was well worth listening to.

Over the next few days the internees could not stop talking about Rev. Shigefuji's sermon while Rev. Ikezawa's was never mentioned. Rev. Shigefuji was praised for expressing his opinions without fear and was regarded as a hero.

Diehards vs. Traitors

I escaped my noisy barracks whenever I could by taking walks in the morning and evening with other "traitors," as the rabble-rousers called those of us who believed that Japan had been defeated.

We received a cable from Hawaii Times, Ltd., informing us that old Mr. Miyozuchi Komeya had died in Honolulu at 10:40 A.M. on August 18. His friends at the camp arranged a memorial service at the new theater on the afternoon of the twenty-third... It was a grand service, but someone commented that Mr. Komeya had died in peace because he had heard that Japan had won a military victory that day. It was his only consolation.

Even those who should have known better were misinformed or deluded themselves. Around that time I met an uneducated but admirable young man. He had been in Honolulu in the old days and had worked for a while at the Nippu Jiji when the newspaper office was on Hotel Street.

One morning in early October, the two of us were taking a walk. I asked if he wished to return to Japan. He answered that, because he was poor, he could not go back and wanted instead to remain in the United States, where many jobs would be available in restaurants. He continued:

"Actually, one of my friends advised me to return to Japan with him. I said I would if I had the kind of money he had. He said looks were deceiving; in fact, he was penniless and that was why he was returning to Japan. Since Japan had won the war, internees could expect reparations from the United States. Internees who went back now could receive as much as fifty thousand dollars. If they returned later, the money might no longer be available."

My friend repeated that I should go back with him. I did not know what to say. There are so many such fellows who think Japan has won the war. And so many of them were greedily waiting to return to Japan.

Mr. Hiroshi Tahara, a schoolmaster from Papaikou who had been in the hospital for some time, passed away on September 1. His funeral followed three days later. In his eulogy, another schoolmaster remarked, "Mr. Tahara passed away knowing peace had finally come and Japan had achieved her purpose in this sacred war."

The rumors continued. On September 4, one internee announced that Japanese schools would be reopening in Hawaii with teachers from Japan. Men in my barracks were exultant, saying that here was proof that Japan had won the war. This was nothing short of insanity.

Here are some comments courtesy of "the man on the street":

An elderly gentleman from Maui: "They say the Japanese army has landed in Hawaii."

Mr. Takeda, a former general manager: "I was asked by a minister whether the Japanese flag had finally been raised in Hawaii or not. I was at a loss..."

Rev. Shigefuji contributed an article to the next issue of Hikari (a Buddhist publication) entitled "Four Years in Detention." In it he misrepresented the current situation entirely and slandered "those traitors behind barbed wire."

The 5% Who Really Understood

On October 2, the camp population was 2,027, of which 106 were in the hospital and 3 were in the temporary holding cell. Those of us in the "traitors group" estimated that the number of internees who had any real understanding of the war and its aftermath was less than a hundred.

Even Nisei who visited their parents in the camp around this time advised them not to worry, because Japan was winning the war. The purpose may have been to bolster the spirits of the internees, but it also seemed to provide fuel for the diehards who refused to accept Japan's defeat.

The "Number One Diehard" in our barracks, Rev. Nagamatsu, made a snide reference to us when he mis-interpreted the news and said to his listeners: "Some people believe Japan has lost the war even though they read the English-language newspapers and magazines every day. I wonder how they are reading the articles ... with eyes closed?"

When the Hawaii Times arrived from Honolulu, everyone read it eagerly. However, one reader said: "Japan can never be defeated. This paper has nothing to offer but ads. I'd like to meet the publisher of such a newspaper." Surprisingly, this was a man who had been in the newspaper business.

Around that time, Life magazine published a picture of General MacArthur and the emperor. A Mainland man from my barracks said that the Japanese in the picture resembled a man he had seen in Hollywood. A man from Los Angeles, who lived in the barracks next door and claimed to be a director or something of the Hosai-kai (Worshipers Association) of the Meiji Shrine, argued, "It is impossible for Japan to lose the war in light of its 2,600-year history."

Some members of the Japan Victory Party had been looking dismayed since coming aboard. They had expected Japanese ships, flying the Rising Sun, to pick them up in Seattle. Still clinging to hope, they claimed that we would soon learn the truth when we encountered the three hundred Japanese battleships currently surrounding Oahu. It was useless to talk to them.

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