Two scholars are trying to shed light on the novels, essays and poems written by Japanese internees at wartime relocation centers in the United States, so their experiences and feelings will not be lost to history forever.
In June, Sataye Shinoda, an associate professor at Tokyo Kasei University, and Iwao Yamamoto, a professor at Ritsumeikan University, will jointly republish eight literary magazines compiled in the Japanese language. “Those writers could express themselves only with the Japanese language,” Shinoda said. “It is important to know how they felt and what they thought as people, not only interpreting the confinement in a political context.”
About 30 first- and second-generation immigrants published novels and poems for the magazines, produced at camps such as Tule Lake Segregation Center in California and Granada Relocation Center in Colorado. And other detainees helped compile and print works that were created by hand or with primitive equipment.
While the literary works are uncomplicated, readers can sense the desperation the isolated detainees were feeling, since many of those who wrote in Japanese did not fit into either Japanese or American society, Shinoda said. “They wrote only about their past, such as their childhood and hometowns. They held no hope for the future,” Shinoda said.
Among the writers were the children of immigrants who were born in America but sent to Japan by their parents to be educated. This practice was fairly common because the sons and daughters of Japanese were unable to get decent jobs in the U.S. due to racial discrimination, Shinoda said.
However, American-born Japanese were seen and treated as “foreigners” in Japan due to their American behavior, Shinoda said. Meanwhile, their English wasn’t good enough to fit into American society.
These people, who naturally held pro-Japanese sympathies, were often regarded as “unfaithful” to the U.S. by Americans and even by other members of Japanese communities. “They were in the most desperate of situations at that time,” Shinoda said. “But, even when they were discriminated against and confined to relocation centers, they still tried to keep their peace of mind through writing.”