Return to Themes &
Study Guides

OMMMM Telling World War II Japanese American Detention Stories

Photographs Courtesy of
Judy Nahman-Stouffer © 2002.
All rights reserved.

*Although the term "internment" is often used in literature, technically, "internment" refers to the detention of enemy aliens during time of war. Since 2/3 of the population imprisoned was American, "concentration" camps is more accurate.

For excellent discussions about political terminology and euphemisms addressing detention of Japanese Americans during World War II, please refer to: Civil Liberties Public Education Fund and Densho Project.

Japanese American Detention* Camps:
Stories of Strength and Hope

Based on Megumi’s personal interviews with American and Latin men and women of Japanese ancestry who experienced forced or “voluntarily” eviction, incarceration, draft and resisted the draft during World War II, these historical stories will spark interest and animated discussions.

The program is available in 45 or 90 minute formats. The first half of the program is Megumi’s storytelling (25 or 45 minutes). The second half is a Panel Discussion with former prisoners, veterans, and/or draft-resisters, if Megumi can find willing and able volunteers (25 or 45 minutes). To prepare the audience before the presentation, Megumi will loan your school or group books, videotape(s), a CD-ROM, a study guide, and a bibliography. (Grades 6 - College)

Study Guide & Bibliography

Megumi will tell true stories about the Detention Camps for the first half of the program. Questions and answer session with former prisoners follow. This program is best received, if students have general knowledge about the Japanese American Concentration Camps.

Baachan's Shells: A Sansei (3rd generation Japanese American) woman reveals her story of discovering her own family history, focusing on her beloved grandmother.

Floodgates of Memory (with projected digital images): A salty old Nisei (2nd generation Japanese American) veteran overcomes his resistance to revealing his World War II memories and shares them with his granddaughter.

Jack's Sketches (with projected digital images): Jack, who later became a professional sketch artist, documented what he saw, experienced, and felt as a teenager in "camp." This story encourages all to express themselves through art and words.

Through the Eyes of A Teenager: A Nisei Japanese American Grandmother remembers her teenage years in a Japanese American Detention Camp, overshadowing the difficult details by focusing on the fun and the romantic.

- To introduce students to personal stories of Japanese Americans during World War II.
- To give students the opportunity to ask questions and engage in discussions with former prisoners.

When a Japanese American friend first told me what her parents and grandparents experienced during World War II, I couldn’t believe it!

I tried imagining the indignity of mass imprisonment. I was awe-struck by the spirit of young Japanese-American men who left their families in camps to fight in the U.S. Army. Where did the activists in the 1980’s find the confidence to confront our government for the wrong it committed?

The more I found out, the more I realized every American needs to know these stories.

When former internees share, I listen, and I listen hard, for their stories, and the lessons within are far more precious than we might first guess.


Please choose and modify the following suggestions to fit your students’ needs.

(Adapted from Japanese American Citizen’s League, The Experience of Japanese Americans in the United States: A Teacher Resource Manual)

For History and Government
Concept 1: Immigration & Diversity

Key Question 1:

What common differences would most immigrants share when they arrived in the United States?

What impressions might an immigrant have of the U.S. that would be unfamiliar to him/her?

Activities: Have students divide into six groups. Each group should select a different country/ethnicity/religion to research and identify characteristics of immigrant groups that might cause difficulties in adjusting to a foreign country.

These characteristics should include but not be limited to the following: diet, clothing, language, housing, physical appearance, customs, family life, religious beliefs, socio-economic status, educational background, celebrations.

Have student groups identify and review various sources about ethnic groups. Include poetry, diaries, websites, and ethnic newspapers.

Key Question 2:
How do you think that you would have felt as a “Pioneer” immigrant to the U.S. at the turn of the 20th century?

Activities: Have students research and write an essay describing their feelings as a pioneer to the U.S. or have students write a letter to family or friends about their new experience.

Have students include answers to the following:

What steps would you take to make a living, find a home, go to schools if you were an immigrant? How would you feel about differences in attitudes and ways of living between the “old country” and America?

Would you be able to keep the characteristics of the country from which you emigrated? Did social, economic and political institutions in the U.S. encourage immigrants to maintain their cultural traditions? Why or why not?

Concept 2: Law - Equal Protection
Key Question:
What happened to Japanese aliens and Japanese Americans during World War II that affected or abridged constitutional principles?

Activities: Have students look at Executive Order 9066. Have students summarize provisions of the order. Have students look at pictures in Executive Order 9066. Other reference materials: Ishigo, Lone Heart Mountain; Okubo, Citizen 13660; Uchida, Journey to Topaz.

Have students react to the order. Ask students how they would react if they were a person of Japanese ancestry and they were ordered to leave their home, friends, etc. because the U.S. government had declared war against the Japanese government.

If you had eight days to gather up the things listed on the evacuation order, what things would you take with you?

What arrangements could be made to sell the household goods and belongings that you were not able to take with you?

Think about the steps you would have to go through if you had to move and sell all your property?

What arrangements could you make to sell property and set the true value in a few days?

Concept 3: Power, Law & Racial Prejudice
Key Question 1:

Who were the individuals in positions of power to effect the evacuation? Government officials? Other institutions? Other organizations?

Activity 1: Have students research and identify individuals who played a significant role in deciding the fate of persons of Japanese ancestry.

Key individuals may include: President Franklin Roosevelt, Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson, General John De Witt, Attorney General Earl Warren (California).

Organizations and institutions may include:
AFL-CIO, Sons and Daughters of the Golden West, American Legion, Newspapers

Suggested Materials, Resources:
Bosworth, America’s Concentration Camps; Daniels, Concentration Camps USA: Japanese Americans and World War II; Daniels, The Decision to Relocate the Japanese Americans: 1941-42; newspapers and magazines; Pacific Citizen, 1941-1942.

Key Question 2:
What ideas, attitudes and feelings did these individuals in power have about persons of Japanese ancestry? Do you think that there was racial discrimination in placing persons of Japanese ancestry in camps? Why or why not?

Activities: Research and review actions and statements contained in newspapers, pictures of the period, etc.

Develop a profile listing facts and stereotypes of persons of Japanese ancestry. Have students discuss them.

Role-play the discussions of key individuals. Develop arguments of those who wanted the evacuation.

Develop arguments for individuals who opposed the evacuation, e.g., Norman Thomas, Wayne Collins (American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California), A.L. Wiring (American Civil Liberties Union), Pearl Buck, Reed Lewis (Common Council for American Unity), American Friends Service Committee.

Ask students to make decisions as to what they would do in a similar situation and to explain reasons for their decisions.

Suggested Materials, Resources:
Girdner and Loftis, The Great Betrayal; Hosokawa, Nisei; Kitano, The Japanese Americans.

Concept 4: Stereotyping
Key Question:
What economic, political or social developments in U.S. history precipitated mass stereotyping go Japanese Americans?

Activities: Review previous issues of newspapers, magazines, etc. Develop a pictorial presentations using examples taken from the media.

For example, chronicle the portrayal of Japanese Americans for each decade from 1900 to the present, including an analysis of economic, political and social factors in U.S. history that influenced stereotyping of Japanese Americans.

Suggested Materials, Resources: Old issues of Life, Look, Saturday Evening Post, Reader's Digest, Time, Newsweek, U.S. News, World Report, etc.

For Visual Arts:
Questions and Activities:
How did art help internees cope with the stresses of mass confinement? Discuss the ways in which artistic expression relieved tension, allowed communication, provided an outlet for creativity. How does art educate those of generations born after the internment and who are unrelated to internees?

Gensensway and Roseman, Beyond Words
Okubo, Citizen 13600.

National Asian American Telecommunications Association, Days of Waiting.

For Language Arts:
After reading, discussing, and in other ways becoming familiar with Japanese American Concentration Camp Experiences, write poems to express reactions to this part of our American history.

Deborah Bachrach, Pearl Harbor: Opposing Viewpoints , Greenhaven Press, 1989.

Maisie Conrat and Richard Conrat, Executive Order 9066: The Internment of 110,000 Japanese Americans California Historical Society No. 51, 1972.

Roger Daniel's, Sandra C. Taylor, and Harry H. L. Kitano, editors, Japanese Americans: From Relocation to Redress, University of Washington Press, 1986, 1991.

Masayo Duus, translated by Peter Duus, Tokyo Rose, Orphan of the Pacific, Kodansha International, distributed in U.S. by Harper & Row, 1979.

Deborah Gensensway and Mindy Roseman, Beyond Words: Images from America's Concentration Camps, Cornell University Press, 1987.

Audrie Girdner and Anne Loftis, The Great Betrayal: The Evacuation of the Japanese-Americans during World War II, Macmillan, 1969.

Bill Hosokawa, Nisei: The Quiet Americans, W. Morrow, 1969.

Jeanne Houston and James Houston, Farewell to Manzanar, Houghton Mifflin, 1973. (grades 6-12)

Estelle Ishigo, Lone Heart Mountain, Anderson, Ritchie & Simon, 1972. (grades 6-12)

Lawson Fusao Inada, Legends from Camp, 1993.

Lawson Fusao Inada, Drawing the line: Poems by Lawson Fusao Inada, Coffee House Press, 1997.

Harry L. Kitano, The Japanese Americans: Evolution of a Subculture, Prentice-Hall, 1969.

Joy Kogawa, Itsuka, Anchor, 1994.

Joy Kogawa, Obasan, D.R. Godino, 1982, c1981.

Robert Kono, The Last Fox: A Novel of the 100th/442nd RCT, Abe Publishing, 2001.

Jack Matsuoka, Poston Camp II, Block 211, AACP, Inc., 2003.

Edward Miyakawa, Tule Lake, House By the Sea Publishing Co, 2002.

Ken Mochizuki, Dom Lee (illustrator), Baseball Saved Us, Lee & Low Books, 1993. (grades K-3)

Ken Mochizuki, Dom Lee (illustrator), Heroes, Lee & Low Books, 1995. (grades K-3)

John Okada, No No Boy, Press Pub., 1990.

Mine Okubo, Citizen 13600, University of Washington Press, 1946, 1983 (Grades 6-9).

R.A. Sasaki, "American Fish," The Loom and Other Stories, Graywolf Press, 1991. (grades 7-12)

Jerry Stanley, I am an American, Crown Publishers, 1994.

Chester Tanaka, Go For Broke, Go For Broke, Inc., 1982.

John Tateishi, And Justice for All: An Oral History of the Japanese American Detention Camps, University of Washington Press,1984.

Mitsuye Yamada, Camp Notes and Other Writings, Rutgers University Press, 1998.

___________, Desert Run, Poems and Stories, Kitchen Table/Women of Color, 1988.

Yoshiko Uchida, The Bracelet, Philomel Books, 1993. (grades 1-4)

___________, The Happiest Ending, Antheneum, 1985. (grades 4-5, sequel to The Best Bad Thing)

___________, A Jar of Dreams, Atheneum, 1982. (grades 5-7)

___________, Samurai of Gold Hill, 1985. (grades 4-5, about the ill-fated tea and silk Wakamatsu colony in post-gold California)

___________, Journey Home, Atheneum, 1978. (grades 4-5, sequel to Journey to Topaz)

___________, Journey to Topaz, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1971, 1985. (grades 4-5)

___________, The Best Bad Thing, Atheneum, 1983. (grades 4-7)

___________, Desert Exile: The Uprooting of a Japanese American Family, 1982. (grades 7-12)

___________, The Invisible Thread, A Memoir, 1991. (grades 4-5)

Michi Weglyn, Years of Infamy: The Untold Story of America's Concentration Camps, Quill, 1976.

George Yoshida, Reminiscing in Swingtime, Japanese Americans In American Popular Music 1925-1960, National Japanese American Historical Society, 1997.

Big Bands Behind Barbed Wire, Asian Improv Records, 415-221-2608

Educational Products
Asian American Curriculum Project (800) 874-2242

Japanese American Citizens League, San Francisco, 415-921-5225,

National Asian American Telecommunications Association, 415-863-0814

Contesting the Courts
Fred Korematsu
     audio clips on an ACLU webpage
     Recipient of Medal of Freedom
Gordon Hirabayashi
     one page pdf
     video interview on a Densho website
Mitsuye Endo
     2-page pdf
Minoru Yasui
     an interview on a Human Rights Constitutional Rights website
Arturo Shibayama
     audio clips on an ACLU website

Real Places Worth Visiting:
Japanese American Civil Liberties Memorial, Sacramento, CA

Japanese American Internment Memorial, San José, CA

Japanese American National Library, San Francisco, 415-567-5006

Japanese American National Museum, Los Angeles, 213-625-0414, 1-800-461-5266

Japanese American Museum of San José, 408-294-3138

Manzanar National Historical Site, the site of one of the War Relocation Center, near Independence, CA: Headquarters 760-878-2932, Visitor Information 760-878-2194

National Japanese American Historical Society, San Francisco, CA 415.921.5007

Study Guides
The Children of the Camps website and documentary videotape captures the experiences of six Americans of Japanese ancestry who were confined as innocent children to internment camps by the U.S. government during World War II. The film vividly portrays their personal journey to heal the deep wounds they suffered from this experience.

Honor Bound: The Story of the 100th/442nd Regimental Combat Team, 50 Years Later, produced by Wendy Hanamura, Flower Village Films, 1994. (Videotape)Videotapes

Center for Asian American Media has available various videos and accompanying study guides.

Ansel Adams's Photographs:"Suffering Under a Great Injustice"

Civil Liberties and National Security

Confinement and Ethnicity: An Overview of WWII Japanese American Relocation Sites: National Park Service

Densho: The Japanese American Legacy Project

Digital History eXplorations: Japanese-American Internment

Draft Resisters: video, study guide, handouts

General Information, with Glossary:

Germans Americans Interned

Granada Internment Camp in Colorado

Harry S. Truman Library & Museum The War Relocation Authority & the incarceration of Japanaese-Americans during WWII

Internet Archive Moving Images - Search with keywords "Japanese American Internment" for downloadable movies

Italian Americans Interned

Japanese Canadians
- CBC Archives
- Japanese Canadian history website
- National Association of Japanese Canadians

Life Interrupted: The Japanese American Experience in WWII Arkansas

Manzanar National Historic Site

Military Intelligence Service

National Archives

National Park Service publication, Confinement and Ethnicity: An Overview of World War II Japanese American Relocation Sites

Of Civil Rights and Wrongs: The Fred Korematsu Story

Puyallup Assembly Center known as "Camp Harmony"

Smithsonian National Museum of National History, "A More Perfect Union: Japanese Americans & the U.S. Constitution"

Stories and Images of Japanese-American Internment


University of California Japanese American Relocation Digital Archive

University of Washington Japanese American Exhibit and Access Project

Utah Education Network

The Virtual Museum of the City of San Francisco

War Relocation Authority Photographs 1942-1945, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley