Linda's Orchard

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Gaijin Girl at the Japanese American National Museum, Day 2

Sid Okazaki and Richard Watanabe

We arrived at 11 on Sunday, just as the museum opened. Sid greeted us and introduced us to several docents; Richard Watanabe was kind enough to be our guide. Enthusiastic and a natural story-teller, Richard walked us through the main body of the museum. We began our tour in an actual barrack from Heart Mountain. Richard explained that all WRA camps were similar in composition, modeled after army encampments in every way imaginable, except that the actual residents were civilians. Families and singles, young and old were housed in wooden buildings that provided little protection from the weather. Communal latrines and showers offered little privacy. Meals were served in mess halls, virtually eliminating the sense of a family dinner. The majority of individuals held in these camps were American citizens. The Department of Justice Camps had better living conditions as they were considered prisoner of war camps and therefore governed by Geneva Convention requirements.

The exhibits within the museum were arranged in chronological order and Richard moved through time in his description of the Japanese American experience before, during and after World War II. As his oration became more compelling, our group grew. What began as a tour for two soon became three, then four, then 8, until, I don’t know. 15 or 20? Emotions stirred within the group as he described the injustices placed upon the Japanese Americans. His knowledge was extensive. I was appreciative that he took the time to describe the experiences of the Germans and Italians who were interned in the DOJ Camps. He told of those of Japanese descent from Central and South America as well as the Caribbean. He explained that some native Alaskans were inadvertently interned and he described the unique ordeals of the Japanese Canadians.

Richard continued to educate the group about resettlement. He explained that each internee was given $25, the same amount given to newly released federal inmates. Imagine starting over in a country brimming with animosity toward the Japanese, with little money and no home or job. Some moved east to where jobs were available. Some Issei (Japanese born immigrants) chose to be repatriated, bringing their American citizen children with them back to Japan, as was the case with the Okazaki family. Others stuck it out and returned to their former communities.

Finally Richard explained reparations and redress to the group. Ronald Reagan signed the American Civil Liberties Act in 1988, after which internees who were alive on that date received a financial compensation as well as an apology for the injustices served.

It was a full and productive day, educational and moving. Richard Watanabe is a natural educator and I am so glad to have been part of his group today. My suggestion to anyone visiting JANM: have a docent give you a tour. Following this experience, we were able to spend a few hours using the on site research center to gather some additional data for our genealogical project.

Tomorrow? Gila River.

JANM: Part 1

The Japanese American National Museum is located in the historical area of Los Angeles known as Little Tokyo. As recently as ten years ago, this neighborhood was run down, filthy, and somewhat depressing. Since then, it has been revitalized. There is an interesting mix of old and new. Young people of all ethnicities wander the shopping areas, participate in karaoke, eat in neighborhood gems. Some of them dress up like Harajuku girls. The old sidewalks have markers indicating what Japanese businesses occupied the former sites, from barbers and bakeries to confectionaries and hospitals.

JANM offers a variety of community events, classes and educational opportunities.  We have been museum members for years but since we don’t live in the area, we don’t often participate. This weekend, however, Ted and I spent most of Saturday in a workshop presented by Chester Hashizume entitled “Discovering Your Japanese American Roots”. The class was well-organized and thorough, with excellent handouts. At the end of the day, we had the opportunity to briefly meet Greg Kimura, the new JANM president and CEO.

Following the class, it was time to catch up with family. This meant not only eating delicious Japanese food and exchanging news about the extended family, but also was a chance to talk with Sid and Yukie about their personal camp experiences. The Nii’s were Northern California landowners and interned at Tule Lake. Sid showed us documents from the Crystal City and Lorsdburg Department of Justice Camps which I had never seen. There was a letter from Ichimaru in which he practiced his English writing skills in anticipation of reunification with his family. There was a list of inmates at both facilities, along with their house numbers and jobs held. There were copies of immigration records and more. Pouring through these pages with a fine tooth comb was going to be interesting. And we still had one more full day at the museum to gather data.