Monday, April 29, 2013


Today we went to Manzanar, which is is one of the ten camps in which 110,000 Japanese and Japanese-Americans were incarcerated without due process after Pearl Harbor.  Of the total interned, about 2/3 were American born citizens.  It is a shameful part of our past.  I am extremely impressed by the efforts of the National Park Service in acquiring the site and excavating a piece of history before it was gone forever.

This is the guard gate at the entrance to the facility.  Note the beautiful stone work, done by an incarcerated stone mason, Ryozo Kado.

The town hall/community center for the camp.  It was built by the internees in five months.  After the camp was closed it served many other purposes before being returned and refurbished.  It now houses the exhibits for Manzanar.

This is a scale model of the camp.  It was a square mile of barracks, mess halls, latrines, and etc.  During the war Manzanar was the biggest city between Los Angeles and Reno with 11,000 people incarcerated.

The displays talk about why this happened.  The fundamental causes were war hysteria, racism and hatred of the other.  Many Japanese immigrants had worked hard and done well, and it bred resentment.  After Pearl Harbor the newspapers started calling for the removal of all people of Japanese ancestry due to the possibility that they would mount a Fifth Column action and help Japan's war effort.   
On Terminal Island in LA, 3,500 families lived and worked, making a living by fishing.  They owned their boats.  After Pearl Harbor, all the men were rounded up and arrested.  Their families were given 48 hours to pack up and go, and then their neighborhoods were destroyed.  They were sent to Manzanar.
Bainbridge Island had a large population of Japanese as well.  Many of them were strawberry farmers.  They were first sent to Manzanar, and then to Minidoka in 1943.

This is a harsh climate.  It's hotter than hot in the summer, and it's cold in the winter.  The barracks are made of tar paper stapled to a frame.  There were 4 apartments to a 20 by 100 foot structure, 8 people to an apartment.   There was no running water in the barracks.  When the wind blew, dust would cover everything by blowing in through knot holes in the wood floors, and through the walls.
The dust came from Owens Lake which had gone dry. The "fine white dust" often described by internees is consistent with descriptions of dust from Owens Lake. Owens Lake dust is significantly different from regular dust due to its white color and fine consistency. It is often mistakenly referred to as a "mist" or "fog." Scientists have described this dust as a "pervasive, unusually-fine-grained, alkaline dust that infiltrates the smallest cracks and contaminates residences."

After the first year, celloboard  and linoleum were provided so that there was less penetration of dust into the living quarters.

This was posted in the ladies room. It touches on the daily indignities of life living in a camp.

In the 1920's, Los Angeles had purchased almost all of the water rights in Owens Valley and diverted it.  The area was dying before the camp came.  During Manzanar's time, LA had to give back water to run the camps.  Streams off the mountains were diverted into reservoirs for camp use.
The Japanese spent much time planting and creating these ponds.  This is a family pond, almost every barracks had a pond and a garden. They planted grass to hold the dirt, fruit trees and flowers.  Over time the internees grew livestock, planted crops, made their own soy sauce, miso and tofu, and operated a few forbidden stills for sake.

The Pleasure Park was a large community pond with a pagoda.  Cattails grew along the edge of the water, there were trees, it was quite beautiful, and provided a place of respite.

The sun was harsh when I took this, but it was very elaborate.  They placed rocks to make little rapids with the moving water.

A replica bridge.

This is the former location of Block 3, where the Bainbridge Islanders lived.

During internment, 150 Japanese died.  Most were cremated, but 15 were buried here.  Five are left, the other ten were relocated by their families.

At the end of the war, the internees were told they had to leave.  Many had no where to go, particularly the people from Terminal Island.  Their boats and their homes were gone.   Several elderly bachelors killed themselves rather than go.  Each person was given $25 and a bus ticket.  The buildings were taken down and the wood was sold for building materials.  Then the entire area was bulldozed.  The Park Service has carefully excavated and mapped and re-created so that there is a monument to this.

I knew some of this history because Jim lived on Bainbridge during high school.  However, I did not know these following tidbits.
  • After Pearl Harbor was attacked, martial law was declared.  All civil liberties, such as freedom of the press were suspended.  Twelve hour work days became mandatory.  The military took over the islands completely.  In spite of these restrictions, the majority of Hawaii's 158,000 Japanese-Americans experienced greater freedom and less prejudice than those on the mainland.  Comprising 1/3 of Hawaii's population, their labor was essential for the war effort.  However, Japanese-Americans were excluded from occupations such as fishing, teaching, defense work and photography, and were removed from homes and businesses near harbors and railroad terminals.  They were also discouraged from practicing Buddhism and speaking Japanese.  "We must remember that this is America and we must do things the American way," stated Delos Emmons, Hawaii's military governor. 
  • Canada.  Seven days after the US announced its decision to relocate all people of Japanese ancestry from the west coast, Canada passed a law which authorized relocation of "every person of the Japanese race."  20,881 people were removed from the west coast of BC, leaving their farms, businesses and homes to be sold by the government to pay for their confinement.  Over half were sent to Interior Housing centers at abandoned mining towns and newly built sites in the BC interi0r.  Thousands of men were separated from their families and sent to road construction camps.  The remainder went to work in the sugar beet fields of Manitoba and Ontario, or settled in self supporting communities throughout the country.  Japanese-Canadians were not allowed to return to the "protected zone" of BC until 1949.
  • Latin America.  Under pressure from the US, 16 Latin American countries interned 8,500 residents of German, Italian and Japanese descent.  Over 3,000 others were deported to the US where they were to be exchanged for US prisoners of war.  The deportees' passports were confiscated, and upon arrival in the US were declared illegal immigrants and placed in Department of Justice camps in Texas.  The majority of the deportees of Japanese ancestry were eventually sent to Japan either as part of the exchange programs or as repatriates after the war.  Of the 2,264 Japanese nationals who were deported from Latin American, 80% were from Peru  When the war ended, Peru refused many of those remaining in the US reentry, and the US denied their residency requests.  In 1952 364 Japanese-Peruvians were declared "permanent legally admitted immigrants" and became eligible for American citizenship.
For the past 44 years there has been an annual pilgrimage to Manzanar.  Internees and their children want this to be remembered.   It was held last weekend.  Wikipedia has a very good article on Owens Valley, the camp, the subsequent investigations as to how the internments happened and the lawsuits which finally resulted in an apology from the president and reparations.
It you're in the area, take the time to go. 


  1. Wonderful information! Thank you for sharing this. What an embarrassing time for our country.

  2. I've driven past many times and never stopped. Thank you for sharing.