BONSAI  and  WWII  INTERNMENT / RELOCATION  CAMPS


Compiled by Robert J. Baran




This Page Last Updated: September 29, 2012


       On February 19, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which authorized the Secretary of War to designate military commanders to prescribe military areas and to exclude "any or all persons" from such areas.  During the voluntary evacuation period in 1942, some Japanmese-Americans moved to Colorado.  The order also authorized the construction of what would later be called "relocation centers" by the War Relocation Authority (WRA) to house those who were to be excluded.  This order resulted in the forced relocation of over 120,000 Japanese Americans, two-thirds of whom were native-born American citizens.  The rest had been prevented from becoming citizens by federal law.  Over 110,000 were imprisoned in the ten internment camps located far inland and away from the coast.  Over 70,000 of these persons were actually American citizens.  (Too much of Territory of Hawaii's economy depended on Japanese laborers, so very few of those persons were affected by incarceration.)
       The American Civil Liberties Union was divided over the proper response to American internment.  The War Department deliberately presented tainted records to the Supreme Court and surpressed crucial evidence.  And ACLU lawyers were personally so loyal to Franklin D. Roosevelt that the National Board refused to challenge the constitutionality of Executive Order 9066, thus crippling the presentation of appeals to the Supreme Court.  1


       Tule Lake, Northeast California.  Opened May 26, 1942, in it were detained persons of Japanese descent removed from western Washington, Oregon and Northern California.  With a peak population of 18,700, Tule Lake was the largest of the camps and the only one turned into a high-security segregation center, ruled under martial law and occupied by the Army.  Squalid housing and sanitation, unsafe working conditions, and inadequate food and medical care at the Tule Lake Segregation Center led to increasing dissatisfaction.  The Center was soon wracked by work stoppages, labor disputes and demonstrations.  On November 1, 1943, a crowd estimated at 5,000 to 10,000 inmates gathered near the administration area to show interest and support for camp leaders meeting with WRA administrators.  The mass gathering of Japanese-Americans alarmed the Caucasian staff and led to construction of a barbed wire fence to separate the colony from the WRA administrative staff.  The Army was poised to take over the camp in case of trouble.  On November 4, 1943, disputes over truckloads of food taken from the warehouse led to the Army takeover of the camp using machine guns and tanks.  Martial law was imposed and was continued until January 15, 1944.  Due to turmoil and strife, Tule Lake was the last to close, on March 28, 1946.
       [Future] Bonsai Teachers and Artists Known to be Interned Here (and their Book of Days listing):  George Muneichi Yamasaki (Feb 13). 2

       Manzanar, SE Central California.  The first of the ten concentration camps to be established, initially, it was a temporary "reception center," known as the Owens Valley Reception Center from March 21, 1942 to May 31, 1942.  At that time, it was operated by the US Army's Wartime Civilian Control Administration (WCCA).  The Owens Valley Reception Center was transferred to the WRA on June 1, 1942, and officially became the "Manzanar War Relocation Center."  The first Japanese-American prisoners to arrive at Manzanar were volunteers who helped build the camp.  By mid-April up to 1,000 Japanese Americans were arriving daily, and by July the population of the camp neared 10,000.  Over 90% of the prisoners were from the Los Angeles area, with the rest coming from Stockton, California; and Bainbridge Island, Washington.  Many were farmers and fishermen.  Manzanar held 10,046 prisoners at its peak, and a total of 11,070 people were imprisoned there.  On November 21, 1945, the WRA closed Manzanar, the sixth camp to be closed.
       [Future] Bonsai Teachers and Artists Known to be Interned Here (and their Book of Days listing):  Sam Nakano (Jan 20), Frank Masao Okamura (May 5), Chiyokichi Takahashi (Sep Also). 3

       Poston, SW Arizona.  The Center was composed of three separate camps arranged in a chain from north to south at a distance of three miles from each other.  Internees named the camps Roasten, Toastin, and Dustin, based on their desert locations.  The Colorado River was approximately 3 miles (4.8 km) to the west, outside of the camp perimeter.  Poston was built on the Colorado River Indian Reservation, over the objections of the Tribal Council, who refused to be a part of doing to others what had been done to their tribe.  However, officials of the Bureau of Indian Affairs overrode the Council, seeing the opportunity to bring in improvements and develop agricultural land on the War Department budget and with thousands of "volunteers," which would remain after the war and aid the Reservation's permanent population.  The combined peak population of the Poston camps was 17,800, mostly from Southern California.  At the time Poston was the third largest "city" in Arizona.  It was built by Del Webb who would later become famous building Sun City, Arizona, and other retirement communities.
       [Future] Bonsai Teachers and Artists Known to be Interned Here (and their Book of Days listing): Hideo "Leroy" Fujii (Nov 1); Masao (Mas) Takanashi (May 14). 4

       Topaz, near Abraham, West Central Utah.  The site was selected in late June 1942 and the government paid a dollar an acre for the land that it condemned for the camp.  The camp consisted of 19,800 acres (8,012.8 ha, or 31 square miles or 80.3 km2, mostly used for agriculture), nearly four times the size of the more famous Manzanar War Relocation Center in California.  The residents were mainly urbanites from the cities of the Bay Area, San Francisco and Oakland, and the small communities of the East Bay and the peninsula as far south as Menlo Park.  Only 248 were farmers; the rest were professionals, semiprofessionals, managerial and office workers, nursery workers, fishermen, and forestry and unskilled workers.  Topaz had more than eight hundred residents with college degrees.  This community of city dwellers from the lush Bay Area was now to attempt to create a farming community in the desert.  Most Topaz internees lived in the central residential area located approximately 15 miles (24.1 km) west of Delta, Utah, though some lived as caretakers overseeing agricultural land and areas used for light industry and animal husbandry.  Topaz was opened September 11, 1942 and people filled it at the rate of five hundred new arrivals a day.  It eventually became the fifth-largest city in Utah, with 9,438 internees at its peak plus 200 Caucasians, half of them from surrounding communities.  The grand total admitted to the center was 11,212.  In all, 451 people joined the U.S. Army; 80 of them were volunteers.  Fifteen were killed in action.
       When the questions of loyalty to the U.S. were asked, only 36 people actually left Topaz to sail for Japan.  Ultimately 1,447 persons of questionable loyalty decided to depart (1,062 Nisei and 385 Issei) to go to the Tule Lake camp.  Topaz residents prepared a festive sendoff.  At the same time, 1,489 Tuleans arrived, "loyal" Tule Lake residents who were being moved away from the "disloyal" ones.
       In addition to the community council, each block had a block manager, appointed by the administration and paid at the rate of $16 a month.  The official looked after the needs of the block community of 250 to 300 people, providing brooms, soap, light bulbs, and the like, and made sure the the area was well maintained.  The block managers were initially the men (and occasionally women) who had held this position at the Tanforan Assembly Center prior to life at the camp, but as the Nisei relocated Issei and Kibei took their places.  The managers helped alleviate food shortages and problems in coal distribution, and they oversaw the winterizing of the barracks and the dining halls...
       The Buddhists in the camp organized, a task made difficult since so many priests were imprisoned after Pearl Harbor because of their supposed loyalties to Japan.  The headquarters of the Buddhist Church in America were transferred from San Francisco to Topaz.  There were ultimately five priests at Topaz serving some 40 percent of the camp's population.  The priests served congregations of 400-500, meeting on Sunday with an overflow service on Wednesday.  Like the Christian services, the Buddhist services were in English and Japanese.  Buddhists and Christians cooperated at Topaz, forming an interfaith group; this was apparently unusual among the relocation camps.  Despite fears of gangs and juvenile delinquentcy, there was very little crime, less than in comparable communities outside.
       To function properly, the camp's hospital required sixty nurse's aides, but by 1944 only thirty-six were reporting to duty.  The reasons for the shortage ranged from simple absenteeism to an unwillingness to work at night or with people who had communicable diseases...  Topaz's population was becoming predominantly middle-aged or elderly, and many residents were depressed by their internment and frightened by the prospect of returning to life in a hostile white America.  (Communications from those who remained outside echoed their fears: racism was still alive in America, even in places that had not known Japanese Americans before the war.)  Poor health was a natural reaction to stress.  During the camp's existence, there were 131 deaths, but most of the time the level of health was above average.  Some of those who died were infants, but mainly they were people over sixty who succumbed to the diseases of old age.  The dead were cremated in Salt Lake City and the ashes were held for burial after the war ended.
       The West Coast was reopened to all Japanese-Americans in January 1945.  By the end of that month 5,839 remained at Topaz.  Community activities continued throughout the summer of 1945 to sustain the residents' morale, but their mood worsened as the population dwindled to the desperate and dependent few.  The adult education and vocational training programs were terminated in midsummer; the special housing for the aged closed on Sept. 1.  Seven or eight patients at the state mental hospital in Provo were transferred to California institutions.  On Oct 1, with fewer than 2,000 people in Topaz, the dining halls began to close.  Temporary housing was made available in San Francisco for veterans' families, and administrators hoped this action would lead to the opening of government housing for everyone dislocated by the war.  In early October lodging became available at Camp Funston, Hunters Point, and Marin City, all former army facilities in the Bay Area.  The block managers at Topaz left on Oct. 18.  The penultimate train left on Oct. 26 with 325 aboard; only 200 dependency cases still remained.  The eleven hospital cases were perhaps the most difficult for the director to resolve, but he assured them that they would be transferred to hospitals in San Francisco and told the WRA field office in San Francisco to expect them.  The last to leave were 32 persons, mostly evacuees from Hawaii who had to await a boat.  On Oct. 31, the center officially closed on schedule.  Local residents were hired to help the remaining Caucasian staff members shut down the facility.  In December the last dining hall and staff rooms were shuttered, and plans were made to return the center over to the federal government liquidating agency.  All property was declared surplus and the barracks were sold.  The barracks became chicken coops, residences, and businesses, and their former incarnations were soon apparent only to old timers.
       "One Topaz resident, Mr. I. Ishii, was an expert in dwarfing trees.  He missed especially a thirty-five-year-old maple which he had developed from a seed and had been compelled to leave behind; it was a perfect tree, and was most beautiful in autumn when the foliage turned to gold and yellow.  There was too much sun in the desert for dwarfed trees, but he began experimenting with desert plants and soon found that the common greasewood responded satisfactorily.  At the time of relocation in 1945, a greaswood shrub had been coaxed along for two years into very attractive form; it would be interesting to know if it is still flourishing."  See also Oct 15.
       [Future] Bonsai Teachers and Artists Known to be Interned Here (and their Book of Days listing): Kusuo "Jimmy" Inatomi (Dec 24), Homei Iseyama (same). 5

       Minidoka, South Central Idaho.  Construction by the Morrison-Knudsen Company began in 1942 on the camp, which received 10,000 internees by years' end.  Many of the internees worked on the irrigation project or as farm labor.  Population declined to 8500 at the end of 1943, and to 6950 by the end of 1944.  On February 10, 1946 the now-vacant camp was turned over to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which used the facilities to house returning war veterans.
       Please see this article about bonsai created at this camp.
       [Future] Bonsai Teachers and Artists Known to be Interned Here (and their Book of Days listing):  Hiromu "Kelly" Nishitani (here and here) 6

       Gila, near Sacaton, South Central Arizona.  Located on the Gila River Indian Reservation about 50 miles southeast of Phoenix, near the town of Rivers, the 16,500-acre site actually consisted of two separate camps, with the larger of the two, Butte Camp, located 3-1/2 miles west of Canal Camp.  Despite the Gila River Indian Tribe's objections, the site was approved, and construction began on May 1, 1942.  The camp officially opened on July 20, 1942, and evacuees streamed in from the Sacramento Delta area, Fresno County and the Los Angeles area.  (Another 2,000 came from the Jerome Relocation Center in Arkansas after its closing in June 1944).  By December 1942, Gila River had a peak population of 13,348 and was Arizona's fourth largest city.  Canal Camp closed on September 28, 1945, and Butte Camp closed on November 10, 1945.
       Because of food rationing the War Relocation Authority wanted the camps to grow their own food. Agriculture was a priority at Gila River, and the naturally fertile soil and warm climate provided ideal farming conditions.  By August 1942, vegetable farms were growing acres of beets, carrots, and celery and other vegetables.  One of the earliest crops was daikon, the long, white radish widely used by the Japanese.  Gila River would eventually produce 10 acres of daikon that was shipped to all the other camps.  During the peak harvest season, from 1943 to 1944, nearly 1,000 internees worked in the farmland around Canal Camp growing vegetables and raising livestock.  In the first nine months of operation, 84 train carloads of food were shipped to other relocation camps.  In all, 20 percent of the food consumed at the other camps came from Gila River.  Evacuees also produced 150 acres of flax, cotton, and castor beans as war crops.  The WRA also decided that livestock should be part of the agricultural program at Gila River, and internees began raising cows, hogs and chickens in May 1943.  Although the task of raising the chickens was especially challenging because of the extreme daytime heat, workers successfully used double-roofed structures to keep the chicken houses cool and ventilated.  By the end of the year there were 1,377 cattle, 1,106 hogs, and 8,584 chickens, with 60 hogs and 60 cattle butchered for the mess hall kitchens each week.
       [Future] Bonsai Teachers and Artists Known to be Interned Here (and their Book of Days listing):  Paul Matsusaki (second, Apr 4). 7

       Heart Mountain, NW Wyoming.  By early June of 1942, construction of the Heart Mountain Relocation Center was underway.  Within a matter of weeks nearly 2,000 laborers were at the site.  The economic hard times in Powell and Cody -- two towns about a dozen miles away from the camp site -- changed overnight.  Government contractors hired anyone who could swing a hammer.  The workers enclosed 740 acres (299.5 ha) of arid buffalo grass and sagebrush with a high barbed wire fence and nine guard towers.  Within this perimeter, 650 military-style buildings were constructed under the direction of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.  These buildings, laid out in a street grid, included administrative, hospital, and support facilities and 468 residential dormitories to house the internees.  All of the buildings were electrified, which at the time was a rarity in Wyoming.  The first trainload of internees arrived at Heart Mountain on August 11.  The editor of the Powell Tribune said that the camp had been constructed at a "most attractive site" in a "beautiful" area.  The internee's first impressions were markedly different: "barren, desolate, flat open desert, bleak, scrubby, lonely, dusty and a plain of sagebrush with not a tree in sight."  Many of the women sat down and cried when they saw what was to be their new home.  Thousands of acres of surrounding land were designated for agricultural purposes, as the center was expected for the most part to be self-sufficient.  Internees also worked on irrigation projects.  The center opened on August 11, 1942 when internees began arriving by train from the Pomona and Santa Anita, California, and Portland, Oregon assembly centers.
       By January 1, 1943, the camp reached its maximum population of 10,767 internees.  This made the Heart Mountain Relocation Center, at the time, the third largest community in Wyoming.  Once the food and housing situations were straightened out, internees moved to establish some semblance of a "normal" life.  Adults had to find jobs to pay for clothes and the everyday necessities of life that the government did not supply, and the children had to be educated.  During the more than three years that the Heart Mountain Relocation Center was open, it saw the birth of 552 babies and the death of 185 internees.  The center was of great economic benefit to the state of Wyoming and more particularly to the communities of Powell and Cody.  The last trainload of people left Vocation siding below the camp at 8:00 on the evening of November 10, 1945, bound for a return to their West Coast homes.
       "At Heart Mountain in Wyoming, the scheduling department's forty-two instructors developed twenty-seven activities in which about six thousand internees participated each week.  Some activities expressed traditional Japanese culture: the game of go, calligraphy, haiku writing, and bonsai tending."
       [Future] Bonsai Teachers and Artists Known to be Interned Here (and their Book of Days listing):  George Fukuma (Mar 18). 8

       Amache/Granada, SE Colorado.  The 10,500 acres of the relocation center reserve had been 18 privately owned farms and ranches, acquired by the WRA through purchase or condemnation.  Construction of the relocation center began June 12, 1942, with a crew of up to 1,000 hired workers and 50 evacuee volunteers.  The center was in operation by the end of August 1942, and reached the maximum population of 7,318 by October.  Although Granada had the smallest population of the ten relocation centers, it was the tenth largest city in Colorado when it was occupied.  Evacuees were from the Merced and Santa Anita, California assembly centers.
       In spite of its small population, Granada had one of the largest and most diversified agricultural enterprises of the ten relocation centers.  The farm program included the raising of vegetable crops, feed crops, beef and dairy cattle, poultry, and hogs.  Even the high school had a 500-acre farm, operated by vocational agriculture students.  Granada had an advantage over other centers in that its fields and canals were already in place, needing only minor repairs.  Existing agricultural facilities were incorporated into the center's farm program.  The Center officially closed on October 15, 1945, when the last group of eighty-five evacuees departed.  Two thousand former evacuees remained in Colorado.  The central area of the camp was sold to the town of Granada for $2,500.  Through 1946 and 1947 buildings were dismantled and sold, some going to school districts in the area, some going to the town, and some hospital buildings going to the University of Denver.  Other lands of the relocation center reserve were leased and then sold to local farmers, with the original buildings intact.
       [Future] Bonsai Teachers and Artists Known to be Interned Here (and their Book of Days listing): Toichi Domoto (Feb 20), Khan Komai (Sep 9), Fusaji ("Frank") B. Nagata (Apr Also), Morihei Furuya (same), Sam (Tameichi) Doi (same).  See also Oct 15. 9

       Rohwer, SE Arkansas.  On approximately 10,161 acres in Desha County, the site is located about 110 miles southeast of Little Rock and about 27 miles north of the Jerome Relocation Center.  Approximately 500 acres served as the central area of the relocation center and was home to most of the structures from September 18, 1942 until November 30, 1944.  It held as many as 8,475 Japanese Americans forcibly evacuated from California.
       See this image of a wartime bonsai.
       [Future] Bonsai Teachers and Artists Known to be Interned Here (and their Book of Days listing):  ? 10

       Jerome, SE Arkansas.  The site consisted of approximately 500 acres of tax-delinquent lands situated in the marshy delta of the Mississippi River's flood plain that had been purchased in the 1930s by the Farm Security Administration.  Open from October 1942 until June 1944, it was the last relocation camp to open and the first to close.  It was only in operation for 634 days -- the fewest number of days of any of the relocation camps.  The constant movement of camp populations makes completely accurate statistics difficult.  As of January 1943, the camp had a population of 7,932 people.  Most had been farmers before the war in California and Hawaii.  At one point it contained as many as 8,497 inhabitants.  After closing, it was converted into a holding camp for German prisoners of war.
       [Future] Bonsai Teachers and Artists Known to be Interned Here (and their Book of Days listing): Paul Matsusaki (first, Apr 4), Yuzy Sato (May 24). 11


       Multiple camps not yet specified:  Robert "Bob" Yoshio Kataoka (Feb Also) was in California, Arkansas, and Arizona.


       Honorable Mention:  The original Karate Kid's "Mr. Miyagi" (Jun 22), Noriyuki "Pat" Morita, was in both the Tule Lake and Gila, AZ camps. 12


       Student relocation increased, and by the end of 1944 high school graduates could aspire to attend colleges and universities not only in the interior and the East but also on the West Coast.  The West Coast was reopened to all Japanese-Americans in January 1945.  When the residents of the camps came back to San Francisco, for example, they faced two critical problems -- employment and housing.  The latter was most urgent, as personal reports from scouting expeditions and letters to remaining camp members made clear.  San Francisco Nikkei who had either returned or leased housing before the war had nothing to return to, and those who owned property had let it to others and sometimes could not immediately repossess it.  Since the area that was formerly Japantown was now predominantly African American, many Nikkei did not wish to live there.  There was no overt hostility between the ehtnic groups, but the Fillmore area was just not the Nihonmachi (Japantown) they had known.  Those who had money did not want to buy houses there, but they found that realtors would not sell them residences in "white" areas.  Restrictive housing covenants, which limited an owner's right to sell to anyone her or she wished, circumscribed their options.  Some found that realtors were willing to sell but banks would not loan them money for mortgages.  Returning Japanese-Americans established small communities all over the city rather than a single enclave, and they shared these areas with other minority groups.  The dispersal that Roosevelt had desired for the Japanese population throughout the country was taking place in San Francisco as well.
       The returning residents were but a fraction of California's pre-war Japanese-American population.  Like many others, they sold their possessions at a loss and stored the rest within a private home; nearly everything was gone when they returned.  Some 60 percent of the West Coast population had returned to their prewar places of residence by 1960, but others lived in Chicago, Cleveland, New York, or other midwestern or eastern locations.  Some eventually made their way back to California -- but others did not...  San Francisco's Nikkei population also included residents of other camps besides Topaz: Minidoka, Heart Mountain, Tule Lake, Poston, and Manzanar. 13

       In 1976, President Gerald Ford apologized and repudiated Executive Order 9066.  At the signing ceremony Ford shook some of the internees' hands.  The Redress Movement succeeded in getting the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 (CLA) passed.  The Act offered an official apology, funded education about the incarceration as a deterrent to future violations, and authorized a ten-year program of token $20,000 payments to most concentration camp survivors.  Not all those wronged received redress.  After 20 years, both the compensation and the education mandate of the CLA remain unfulfilled.  Thus, this longstanding campaign for justice is entering a new phase.  Additional legislation is being submitted this year to redress those individuals the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 failed to cover and to reinstitute the education fund.  Lawsuits against U.S. government regarding these issues are also still pending. (2010?) 14




NOTES


1.    Taylor, Sandra C.  Jewel of the Desert, Japanese American Internment at Topaz (Berkeley: University of California Press; 1993), pp. 243.  ACLU per Freedom of Information Act request by Peter Irons, Justice at War, vii-xi, as quoted in Taylor, Note 22 (to page 174), pg. 313.  See also: Eaton, Allen H.  Beauty Behind Barbed Wire, The Arts of the Japanese in Our War Relocation Camps (New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers; 1952).

2.    See also: http://www.tulelake.org/.

3.    See also: http://www.nps.gov/manz/index.htm.  The 1976 made-for-television movie, Farewell to Manzanar, and the 1990 movie Come See The Paradise.

4.    See also: http://postonupdates.blogspot.com/.

5.    Taylor, pp. 90, 103-104, 109, 125, 134, 150, 153, 157, 165, 179, 183, 188, 221, 222-223, 303; Eaton, Beauty Behind Barbed Wire, pg. 90.  See also: The excellent Warner Bros. 2007 movie American Pastime.

6.    See also: http://content.lib.washington.edu/cdm4/results.php?CISOOP1=all&CISOBOX1=minidoka&CISOROOT=%2Fsocial&CISOFIELD1=CISOSEARCHALL.

7.    "Gila River Relocation Center, Arizona," http://www.javadc.org/gila_river_relocation_center.htm.

8.    Mackey, Mike  "A Brief History of the Heart Mountain Relocation Center And the Japanese American Experience," http://www.northwestcollege.edu/library/special/hmdpp/history.dot; Strawn, Susan M.  Knitting America: A Glorious Heritage from Warm Socks to High Art, Minneapolis, MN: Voyageur Press; 2007, 2011, pg. 152.  See also: http://www.english.illinois.edu/maps/poets/g_l/haiku/mackey.htm; http://www.heartmountain.org/HtMtn1942-45.html.

9.    Burton, J., M. Farrell, F. Lord, and R. Lord  Confinement and Ethnicity: An Overview of World War II Japanese American Relocation Sites, Chapter 5, Granada Relocation Center.

10.    Report to the President: Japanese-American Internment Sites Preservation, Rohwer Relocation Center Arkansas.

11.    Report to the President: Japanese-American Internment Sites Preservation, Jerome Relocation Center Arkansas.

12.    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tule_Lake_War_Relocation_Center; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pat_Morita.  See also this video of him: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2XpPbBoxBME.

13.    Taylor, pp. 168, 183, 247, 272, 274.

14.    Taylor, pg. 255.


       There is also the story of Sam Ogawa's tamarisk bonsai made in unspecified camp in Eaton, Nancy  "A Desert Survival Story," Bonsai Magazine, BCI, Vol. XXII, No. 3, April 1983, pp. 79-80.


       The above is simply offered as a very brief introduction to this topic.  There are hundreds of references on the Internet, for example, which we have not yet examined for this article.  If you have any suggestions, changes or additions, please email  rjb@phoenixbonsai.com.  Thank-you.



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