Continuing the thread of Japanese memories of WWII during this month of August, the anniversary of the end of WWII, there are many memoirs and historical fiction stories written about the Japanese internment camp experience. This subject was not in my school history books and I did not know about this until several years before writing my Japanese-born mother’s memoir, Cherry Blossoms in Twilight. When I told my mother about the internment camps, she was quite surprised, but seemed to accept that wars result in unusual situations and people do as they are told (at least in Japan).
Recently, I have become involved with a friend in video recording and writing the memories of an 89-year-old internment camp survivor who, several months after the War, went to Hiroshima with her husband in order for her husband to take care of family business. I used a tripod for the camera so I could sit on the floor at her feet, eyes big and mouth open, like a child filled with wonder. The Japanese tend to be reticent and do not like to speak about themselves or any “uncomfortable” experiences, so we were lucky to have an open, friendly storyteller who made us laugh even while she stunned us with some of her tales. The results of this project, which covers a Nisei experience in both the U.S. and Japan around the time of war, will not only enrich our storyteller’s family, but preserve an important part of history.
While Farewell to Manzanar may be the first and best-known book about the Japanese internment camp experience, there are other true personal narratives that followed:
Looking Like the Enemy by Mary Matsuda Gruenewald
Only What We Could Carry, Editor Lawson Fusao Inada (anthology)
Desert Exile by Yoshiko Uchida
Also, Topaz Moon by Chiura Obata (of the famous Obata family) is a beautifully done booklet of Obata’s stunning artwork mixed with some of his writings, capturing the bleak Utah camp he was sent to at age 57 when he was a professor of art at UC-Berkeley.
When researching internment experiences it is interesting to note that each experience is different, and often varies due to age at internment, temperament, and the particular camp sequestered at. Which makes each memoir fascinating.