Sunday, October 25, 2015

Portrait: Sharon Osaki Wong

I met Sharon Osaki Wong in August, 2015 at her home in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Photo by Andy Frazer

Sharon's parents moved to the U.S. from Hiroshima, Japan in the early 1920's. In 1938 they purchased an 80-acre plum and pear farm in Newcastle, CA about 25 miles from Sacramento. In May 1942, they were forcibly evacuated from their homes and sent to the Arboga (Marysville) Assembly Camp. One month later they were sent to the Tule Lake Internment Camp in northern California. In May 1943 they were moved to the Jerome Internment Camp 2,200 miles away in Arkansas.

Sharon was born in the Jerome camp on May 4, 1944. When Sharon was one month old, the Jerome camp was closed. Her family was moved again to the Gila River Internment Camp in Arizona. In May 1945, her family was released. They returned to their ranch in Newcastle, CA.

In 2014 Sharon and her husband attended the annual reunion for Arkansas internees at the Japanese-American Internment Museum in McGehee, Arkansas and spoke about her family to those in attendance:

As in the camps, my parents and sisters practiced "gaman", a Japanese word meaning tolerance, patience, and perseverance. ... I made this trip [to] visit the Jerome and Rohwer internment sites. There are no barracks or people so I could only imagine the thousands of Japanese incarcerated behind barbed wire. Then I realized how fortunate I and others in my family are for my parents and sisters practicing 'gaman', and enduring the unbearable with patience and dignity. Thank you."

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Portrait: Tets Furukawa

I met Tets Furukawa in October, 2014 at the "Return to Heart Mountain: A Celebration of Japanese American Baseball" event hosted by the Japanese-American Museum of San Jose. The event was organized by the Nisei Baseball Research Project.
Photo by Andy Frazer
Tets was born in 1927 in Osso Flaco, CA. His family moved to Guadalupe, CA where he learned to play baseball at the the Guadalupe Grammar School. He continued to play baseball Santa Maria High School. After Executive Order 9066, Tets and his family were forced to relocate to the Tulare Assembly Center, and finally to the Gila River interment camp.

"... when I got to Gila it was really horrible. Because the camp was under construction, the wind was blowing. It was kind of unbelievable that the barracks, 20x100 barracks were all lined up and there is only 20 feet between you and the barracks. And the dust storm is so severe, you couldn't see the next barrack. It was really a horrible time."

As a teenager, Tets was a pitcher for the Gila River Eagles. He also played in the legendary thirteen-game series in 1944 at Heart Mountain. Tets says he remembers winning that series, "as though it were yesterday".

Arizona State University has published a transcript of a lengthy interview with Tets.

Portrait: Kenso Zenimura

Kenso (Howard) Zenimura was born May 16, 1927. He was the son of Kenichi Zenimura who is credited with keeping baseball alive during World War II internment.

Photo by Andy Frazer
At age 15 Kenso's family was forced to move to the Fresno Assembly Center and, eventually, the Gila River interment camp.

"At the Gila River interment camp, his father Kenichi Zenimura constructed a ballpark from camp scraps and community donations. To make the backstop we took the 4x4's out of the barbed wire fence. Every other one we pulled it out, and connected it together to make a frame. It kept us going. What else was there to do?"

Kenso played baseball for the Gila River Eagles. After World War II, Kenso played baseball for Fresno State University, where he was later inducted into the Hall of Fame. He also attended Monterey Military Intelligence (M.I.S.) School.

Kenso is also a founding member of the Nisei Baseball Research Project.

Portrait: Masao “Mas” Iriyama

I met Maso "Mas" Iriyama in October, 2014 at the "Return to Heart Mountain: A Celebration of Japanese American Baseball" event hosted by the Japanese-American Museum of San Jose. The event was organized by the Nisei Baseball Research Project.

"Masao was an all-star on any team in any league. Masao and his brother Noboru were baseball legends in the Guadalupe region. While Masao was batting .400 for his Tule Lake California team in a Detention Camp, his brother was killed in action flying over Tokyo for the Sho-en Koku-Hei"

Photo by Andy Frazer
Mas grew up in the farming community of Guadalupe, CA. In 1939 he attended Santa Maria High School. Since he didn't speak English, he found baseball provided an international language where he was accepted by his peers. After high school, Mas played in the Nikkei League, which was organized by the Young Mens' Buddhist Association (YMBA).

In April 1942, at the age of 20, Mas' family was evacuated to the Tulare Assembly Center, which was built on the Tulare County Fairgrounds. Many of his baseball teammates' families had been evacuated to the same assembly center, where they organized their own softball league.

In October of 1942, Mas' family was moved to the Gila River War Relocation Center. The baseball players at Gila River were organized into ten teams, most were organized around their pre-War lineups. Baseball games were a huge form of entertainment at Gila River. Although teams occasionally practiced during the week, official games were only played on weekends.

Mas was later transferred to the Tule Lake Detention Center for the remainder of the war.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Portrait: Karlene Koketsu

Karlene (Kaoru Nakanishi) Koketsu was seven years old and living in the Sawtelle neighborhood of West Los Angeles when President Roosevelt declared war on Japan. Along with her parents, Karl and Taka Nakanishi, and her younger siblings Teruko and Dennis, her family left their home in April, 1942. They were gathered at the Japanese School at 2110 Corinth Ave, Los Angeles, and placed on a bus which took her family to the Manzanar Relocation Camp 230 miles away in California's Owens Valley.

Photo by Andy Frazer

Overall, Karlene told me that many children had positive memories of being in internment. Her family remained together at Manzanar, and many children had experiences they could not get in the city: all of the neighborhoods were safe, there were lots of children to socialize with, and most children were allowed to stay out late.

One day in 1943, Karlene was waiting for school to begin with her friends Eiko Edna Nagata and Sumiko (last name unknown). Photographer Ansel Adams was in the camp visiting photographer Toyo Miyatake. Ansel saw Karlene and her friends and asked them to pose for a photograph. This photograph (below) is available in the National Archives under the title School Children, Manzanar Relocation Center, California (LOT 10479-5, no. 6).

Sumiko. (L), Karlene Koketsu (M),Eiko Edna Nagata (R), Photo by Ansel Adams, Library of Congress.
Karlene's family left Manzanar in June, 1945. They temporarily stayed in Gunnison, Utah before returning by train to West Los Angeles in February, 1946. During resettlement, her family lived with many other Japanese-American families at the same Japanese school were they were gathered to be bussed to camp at the beginning of the War.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Portrait: Kiyo Sato

"FBI agents, three of them came to our house. One was in my little bedroom and he checked under the bed and between the mattresses and all the drawers and he found my diary. And I was just totally embarrassed. I just wanted to run in there and grab it away from him. And then I knew that if I did something rash we would get in more trouble so I just sat there, and grit my teeth, and I just hoped that he would find it boring and put it away, but he didn’t. He just kept reading it and reading it, while I was just sitting there humiliated and embarrassed."
- Kiyo's interview with Face-to-Face.

(Photo by Andy Frazer)

In July of 2011 I had the opportunity to photograph someone who was a huge inspiration for this project. After I first got the idea for this portrait project, I spent almost one year thinking about it, but never getting started with it. One morning I was listening to the Forum radio show on San Francisco's KQED public radio station. They were interviewing a lady from Sacramento named Kiyo Sato. Kiyo is former internee of the Poston internment camp.She was discussing her book Kiyo's Story, which described her life growing up on a strawberry farm in Sacramento, CA before the WWII. After Executive Order 9066 was signed by President Roosevelt in 1942, Kiyo was forced to drop out of Sacramento Junior College. She and her family were forced to leave their farm in Sacramento, move to temporary housing at the Pinedale Assembly Center, and were eventually incarcerated at the Poston Interment Camp in Arizona.

After listening to the radio broadcast of her interview, I realized it was time to make the move from just thinking about this portrait project, to getting started meeting and photographing former internees. I had always considered Kiyo's radio interview the real impetus to get this project moving. In June, 2011, the Japanese-American Museum of San Jose told me that Kiyo was coming to San Jose to give a reading from her book. Eva Yamamoto put me touch with Kiyo, and I arranged to meet her before she returned to Sacramento.

Kiyo's Story provides an amazing look into the Japanese-American experience before, during and after the forcible incarceration of over 100,000 Americans during WWII. Kevn Starr, author of California: A History described it as ",,, a magnificent memoir, fully worthy of being compared to Farewell to Manzanar.” You can buy your own copy from The Manzanar Store.

Since Kiyo is a well-respected author, there is already a lot of great audio and video and transcribed material about her on the internet. For this reason, I did not conduct my own interview when I met her to take her portrait. Instead, I'll include links to the other resources about Kiyo available on the internet.

  • You can listen to the entire interview with Kiyo on KQED's Forum show hosted by Dave Iverson.
  • The Face-to-Face organization has audio recordings and transcripts of interviews with Kiyo describing her memories after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and the FBI investigation into her family.
  • Casey Ikeda conducted an interview Kiyo as part of the Dreams Finally Realized Project that collects stories of Japanese-Americans who were unable to complete their college educations due to the forced evacuations of Executive Order 9066.
  • Kiyo spoke to the California Writer's Club about the process of writing the original version of her book, originally published as Dandelion Through the Crack.
  • The Rosemont Patch has an article about Kiyo, as well an a video interview

Monday, July 4, 2011

Portrait: Molly Kitajima

After I photographed Fran Ellis in 2010, Fran introduced me to Molly Kitajima. Fran and Molly are both on the Board of Directors of the Tule Lake Committee, which supports preservation of the site of the Tule Lake Internment Camp, and also organizes pilgrimages to Tule Lake in northeastern California. Not only was Molly active in supporting the movement for redress and reparations, but Molly was the first person I met who was incarcerated in Canada. Very few Americans are aware that Canada (and also Cuba) also conducted large-scale incarceration of people of Japanese descent during the war.

(Photo by Andy Frazer)
Molly is a native of the Surrey and Delta region in British Columbia. During WWII, Molly's family was sent to the Winnipeg Assembly Center, and were eventually moved to a large sugar beet farm in Middle Church, Manitoba for the duration of the war. When I photographed Molly she was 86 years old and teaching Taiko drumming

It was a pleasure to meet Molly because she is full of energy and has a wonderful memory of growing up and being interned in Canada. This was one of the longest interviews I've conducted so far.
  • Molly describes her life living on a farm in British Columbia before WWII. They had one of the first farmhouses to have piped-in water and electricity. She also talks about how her mom and dad came immigrated to Canada (LISTEN).
  • The year before WWII, her father returned to Japan. When he saw that Japan was preparing for war against the U.S., he tried to warn everyone that Japan was no match for the U.S. After they threatened to imprison him, he fled to Canada. He later learned that his ship was the last ship to be allowed to leave the country before Japan attacked the U.S. (LISTEN)
  • Molly describes her siblings (LISTEN).
  • Her dad returned from Japan and warned everyone that Japan was planning to attack the United States. Molly remembers attending a meeting of the Japanese-Canadian League when they heard the news about the attack on Pearl Harbor. (LISTEN)
  • After December 7, 1941 the officials began confiscating Japanese-American's fishing boats and cameras. Her dad continued warning everyone that they would all be interned, so he was promptly arrested. Her relatives from Vancouver Island were incarcerated first. They were sent to an assembly center at the Hastings Park race track in Vancouver. Molly recalls her memories of the people at Hastings Park living in the filthy stables. (LISTEN)
  • Japanese-Canadians from Vancouver Island were evacuated first. The young men were immediately sent to road camps. The wives and children were temporarily left in Molly's village. Since many of these wives didn't even speak English, Molly and her siblings would visit them and help them buy groceries and helped tend to women who were pregnant (LISTEN)
  • Her dad tried to get the local authorities to promise not to incarcerate the Japanese-Canadians. He was arrested after refusing to stop telling everyone to sell their possessions because they were going to lose them when the government order them to evacuate (LISTEN)
  • Molly and her brothers did paperwork for J.C.C.A before the evacuation. They wanted to help the people in the village get the best arrangements when they would be interned (LISTEN)
  • One of Molly's neighbors refused to be evacuated with her husband because she was having a relationship with another man. Molly's brother was able to arrange for the woman to be evacuated with her boyfriend, and the woman was forever grateful to him (LISTEN)
  • Before Molly's family was evacuated, her mom slaughtered all of the chickens on their farm, cooked them, and prepared hundreds of chicken box lunches. When they were on the evacuation train to Manitoba, her mom would give the box lunches to their friends who were in the road camps along the way. (LISTEN)
  • Molly talks about her memories of the evacuation train ride over the Canadian Rockies. At Jasper Station, the RCMP guard wanted to take Molly's family to a great apple pie bakery in the station. But his superiors forbid him from letting Molly's family leave the train. (LISTEN)
  • She recalls her memories of the Winnipeg Assembly Center; including the tightly-packed cots, and a limited number of toilets and baths (LISTEN)
  • Molly's family was sent to a large commercial farm, instead of the more common road camps. Many of these farms would arrange for multiple Japanese-Canadian families to be packaged together to create a more productive labor force. Many of these families were not happy about being forced to live with each other (LISTEN)
  • Molly talks about the living and working conditions for the interned Japanese-Canadian farm hands (LISTEN)
  • On the farm, they had an out house that was separate from the main house. During the winter they had to tie a line between the house and the out house to prevent getting lost in a blizzard while walking to the out house. (LISTEN)
  • Her family worked very hard to finish harvesting all of the sugar beets before the arrival of winter in mid-October (LISTEN)
  • After working on the sugar beet farm during internment, Molly talks about her empathy for Cesar Chavez and the farm workers in California (LISTEN)
  • Molly's family requested to be sent to a working farm because they had heard many bad stories about the conditions on the road camps. But the conditions on the farms were so bad that they regretted not being sent to a road camp like most of the Japanese-Canadian internees (LISTEN)
  • While living on the farm in Middle Church, Manitoba, her younger brother was killed by a drunk driver while he was pulling his wagon to get water for the family. The driver of the car was the wife on an R.C.M.P and was never charged in her brother's death (LISTEN)
  • Japanese-American men serving in the Military Intelligence School in Fort Savage, Minnesota, would take the train up to Winnipeg to meet the women in the Japanese-American community. Molly talks about the arrangement between Winnipeg and Fort Savage, as well as the story about how she met her husband (LISTEN)
  • During the war Molly's dad was doing some research for the government, so he traveled across Canada while the family had to remain on the sugar beet farm (LISTEN)
  • After Molly's family was released from internment at the sugar beet farm, they decided to settle in Winnipeg (LISTEN)
  • Molly discusses her memories of hiring discrimination against Japanese-Canadians in Winnipeg (LISTEN)
  • After Molly's family moved to California, she was very vocal in the Movement for Redress. Once the U.S. government formally apologized the Japanese-Americans, Molly went back to Canada to help start the Movement for Redress in Canada. The Canadian legislation passed, and the Japanese-Canadian citizens received their reparations before the Americans received their reparations (LISTEN)
  • Molly's nephew was asked in second-grade where he was born. He truthfully told the teacher he was born in the Tanforan Race Track in San Mateo, CA. The teacher sent a note to the parents accusing the boy of lying in school. Molly went to visit the teacher and was shocked the learn that even the school teachers had never heard that the race track had been used as a Japanese-American assembly center (LISTEN)
  • During World War II, Cuba also interned people of Japanese descent. Molly tells the story of how she was asked to go to Cuba to act as an interpreter for many Japanese-Cubans who only spoke Japanese, and were applying to the Cuban government for reparations (LISTEN)

You can also read the TRANSCRIPT of the above interviews.