June 3, 2014

Visitor Center Planned for Minidoka National Historic Site

Posted in Japanese American Incarceration, Minidoka, Minidoka Pilgrimage, News tagged , , , , , , , at 9:55 am by minidokapilgrimage


Visitor Center Planned for Minidoka National Historic Site

May 28, 2014 1:30 am  •  

EDEN • The Minidoka National Historic Site near Eden was an internment camp established during World War II where approximately 13,000 Japanese-American internees were detained. Now, through the National Park Service, the old Minidoka Relocation Center will be receiving a brand new visitor center to tell the story of the hardships of Japanese-Americans held there.

On February 19, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066. The order authorized the Secretary of War to exclude any persons from designated areas as a national security measure. According to Carol Ash, chief of interpretation and education for the National Park Service at Hagerman Fossil Beds and Minidoka, nearly 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry were rounded up along the Pacific Coast following Dec. 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor and placed into internment camps throughout the country.

In addition to a new staffed visitor center at the site in Eden, some of the camp’s original buildings will be rehabilitated to provide a better perspective of life while imprisoned there. Exhibits detailing the incarceration experience will be built and a public reflection area will also be available where visitors to the site can record their feelings about the camp.

“There were government reports that said they (Japanese-Americans) were no threat to their country during WWII,” Ash said. “After the war was over there was not one single documented case of sabotage by the Nisei, by the Japanese. It truly, truly was a civil liberties issue and that’s what makes these sites so very important.”

Ash also said that an oral history area will be on-site and contain audio of camp internees talking about their experiences. Ash hopes that a new visitor’s center at the site will help better educate and illustrate the importance of remembering what happened. Ash said that plans are moving Planning for the new visitor’s center began in April and it will hopefully completed by 2017, Ash said.

“We call it a site of conscience,” said Ash of the Minidoka site. “Two thirds of those people were American citizens. There was no due process of any kind and they were forcibly removed from their homes.”

The internees were sent to detention centers where they stayed for months until the relocation centers were built. From 1942 to 1945, the internment camps would be home to American citizens because of widespread paranoia following Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor.

“They spent three years in prison,” Ash said. “With no due process it becomes a civil liberties issue and that’s why it’s so critical that we remember that.”

July 3, 2013

Former Internees Trek to Minidoka Relocation Center

Posted in 2013 Minidoka Pilgrimage, Minidoka, Minidoka Pilgrimage, News tagged , , , , , , , , , , at 1:46 pm by minidokapilgrimage


Former Internees Trek to Minidoka Relocation Center

June 24, 2013 2:00 am  •  By Julie Wootton – jwootton@magicvalley.com

EDEN • Louise Kashino remembers windy days as a teenager at the Minidoka Relocation Center when the dust would fly up and sting her eyes.

At the camp surrounded by barbed wire, it would make it hard to see anything.

Saturday, the weather conditions were much the same as in the 1940s, as the wind whipped the tall grass at what’s now the Minidoka National Historic Site.

But Kashino – who is in her 80s and lives in Seattle – said when she comes back to visit what was once the internment camp, it isn’t the sagebrush and sand-covered landscape she remembers.

“It’s totally different,” she said, sitting in a tour bus during the annual Minidoka Pilgrimage.

Kashino described the experience as “nostalgic.”

She arrived at the Minidoka Relocation Center – about 15 miles north of Twin Falls – when she was 16 .

About 200 people went on the Minidoka Pilgrimage this weekend, participating in walking tours and ceremonies.

Kashino and about 10 other people on the pilgrimage – many of whom were internees – recalled their experiences as they talked to each other on a tour bus.

Most were children or teenagers when they were at the Hunt Camp. Many come back year after year for the pilgrimage.

Tosh Okamoto, who lives in Seattle, said most of the people who were sitting around him live in the Portland and Seattle areas now.

“Most of us are in our 80s,” he said.

Looking back on his time as an internee, Okamoto recalled what it was like to be forced to relocate.

“I think for most of us, it was an injustice against us,” he said.

But Okamoto said he’s proud of the Japanese-American culture.

“We could have been really angry,” he said, but noted most of his peers aren’t.

The anger over what happened hasn’t been so much that it prevented them from moving forward, he said.

After the attack on Pearl Harbor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 in February 1942.

It forced the relocation of more than 120,000 West Coast Japanese-Americans into temporary incarceration facilities.

The Minidoka Relocation Center was one 10 centers.

When internees arrived at the Minidoka Relocation Center in 1942, the camp wasn’t even complete yet. But Hunt, Idaho, ended up becoming the seventh largest population center in the state.

In the 1940s, the camp comprised about 600 structures spanning 33,000 acres. After it closed, many of the buildings were moved. Only a few remain.

Saturday, participants in the Minidoka Pilgrimage wore paper tags on strings with their names, similar to the IDs internees wore at the camp.

Groups took walking tours along a 1.6-mile trail, making stops at buildings such as a root cellar, old warehouse and two barracks with peeling white paint.

But the most of the camp has long been dismantled.

As one of the tour groups stopped in half of an old warehouse, dozens of visitors took pictures and looked up at the old wooden ceiling beams.

In a town that had nearly 10,000 people, the tour guide said, warehouses were essential for storage.

People of several generations – from children to those in their 80s or 90s – looked around the historic site, which was created in 2001.

Many brought cameras and took pictures.

During the pilgrimage, tour groups looked at the honor roll, which lists the names of Japanese Americans from the relocation center who served in the military during World War II.

Okamoto, a World War II veteran, recalls a memorial service for his fellow internees who volunteered to serve in the U.S. Army and were killed in action.

“It was a sad time,” he said.

July 27, 2012

Frank Yamagata worked the land, helped build Intern camp — to provide for his family

Posted in Minidoka tagged , , , , , at 11:06 am by minidokapilgrimage


Frank Yamagata worked the land, helped build Intern camp — to provide for his family

Frank Yamagata Portrait Frank Yamagata

TWIN FALLS • Frank Yamagata was 24 when Pearl Harbor was attacked in 1941. Yamagata wanted to join the army and defend his country, but his family believed his duty was at home being a farmer.

“I didn’t mind being a soldier,” Yamagata said. “I kind of wanted to go; it was an adventure. When you’re young you never considered you might die.”

Yamagata, 94, lives in a Twin Falls assisted living home. The back that once worked 160 acres of farmland is now hunched over a walker as he shuffles through the hallways near his room.

Yamagata, a second-generation Japanese-American born near Yakima, Wash., in 1917, moved to the Magic Valley in the mid-1920s. The oldest of four children, he quit school in the 10th grade to help his father farm. His father’s health was fragile after a heart attack, and Yamagata knew he had to provide for the family. With Yamagata’s help, one of his siblings went to college.

Father and son sharecropped for several farmers in the Jerome area until Pearl Harbor, when the farmer they worked for kicked them off his property.

“He liked the way we farmed, but when Japan attacked he thought we attacked the U.S.,” Yamagata said.

That incident is one of the few times Yamagata remembers discrimination because of his ethnicity. There were few Japanese families in the Twin Falls area in the ’20s and ’30s, but Yamagata never felt different and said his work ethic is how people knew him.

The Yamagata reputation proved valuable; he and his father were soon working on another farmer’s land.

“He knew I would do a good job, and I did a good job for him,” Yamagata said.

‘Not the Way to Treat People’

To earn extra money Yamagata picked up a second job working from midnight to 8 a.m. building what would be the Minidoka War Relocation Center outside of Hunt.

“They were hunting for people to build that camp; anybody who could hold a hammer was hired,” Yamagata said. “I just helped the carpenters and lugged lumber.”

Yamagata knew the camp was meant to imprison people of Japanese descent but felt he could do nothing to change anything, he said. “I felt sorry for them. They had nice homes back there. That’s not the way to treat people.”

He made friends with many of the people who lived inside the internment camp. A couple visited Yamagata when they received day passes, and he is still friends with some of them.

Yamagata said he remembers a time when the U.S. government wanted an inventory of his personal belongings; he doesn’t know why but thinks it was just in case the Japanese were successful enough to invade the U.S.

“The government was just afraid of those along the coast. There was no way we could sabotage this far away from the coast,” Yamagata said.

His mother’s family lived in Nevada, and he heard stories of how one of his relatives lost a job with the Union Pacific Railroad because of fears that he might sabotage the trains.

‘I Grew Up Here’

In 1942, Yamagata made enough money to buy his own farm — only two miles from the Minidoka War Relocation Center. Yamagata said it was hard to for him and his parents to see people just like them lose a hard-earned way of life while his family was free.

At 34, Yamagata married Misako Fujita. She was from Ogden, Utah, and her father did not approve of their courtship. The two eloped, leaving behind only a note for her family. Yamagata’s mother had only one rule for her son when it came to a wife: Bring home a girl who speaks Japanese.

When Fujita arrived at her new home, she was afraid when she saw all the sagebrush and rocks. She was a city girl who quickly had to adapt to her new home. For some time the newlyweds and Yamagata’s parents lived in a two-room granary. They used an outhouse and an outdoor bath house with a fire underneath. The main house eventually built is now gone, though the old granary still stands.

Fujita helped Yamagata care for his two elderly parents until they died. The couple eventually had a daughter they named Wanda, who now lives in Twin Falls with her husband, Russell Davis. Wanda said her mother was a doting person, her father’s “right hand man” on the farm, and she often felt like a spoiled only child.

Before Fujita died in 2010, the couple lived with Wanda and her husband in Houston. In 2005, the whole family moved back to Twin Falls; Wanda said her parents cried because they were so happy.

“I like this area best of all. After all, I grew up here,” Yamagata said with a smile.

Wanda and Russell often visit Yamagata at the assisted living home and, once a year if he is up to it, take him to visit the old farm near Hunt. Yamagata sold it in 1980.

Wanda said her father’s story is an old-fashioned tale of hard work typical of the times he grew up in. He serves as a constant source of inspiration and strength in her life.

“Boy, what would Dad have accomplished if he was given the chance to get an education?” Wanda said. “But in his mind he never had any regrets.”

Japanese internee during World War II recounts young life inside Minidoka camp

Posted in 2012 Minidoka Pilgrimage, Japanese American Incarceration, Minidoka Pilgrimage tagged , , , , , , , at 11:04 am by minidokapilgrimage


Japanese internee during World War II recounts young life inside Minidoka camp

Nakagawa 3 Yosh Nakagawa

July 02, 2012 2:00 am  •  By Tetona Dunlap tdunlap@magicvalley.com

MINIDOKA • Yosh Nakagawa was 11 when he thought he was going on his first vacation.

“I thought, ‘How great, we are going on a trip,’” Nakagawa, 80, said from his home in Washington. “I was a child and you never want to break a child’s dream. I learned as I grew that I was wrong.”

Nakagawa’s family lived in Seattle when the U.S. government sent a letter saying they had two weeks to vacate their home. The boy was one of more than 9,000 people of Japanese ancestry, many of whom were American citizens, removed from their homes and sent to the Minidoka War Relocation Center outside of Hunt.

“They evicted us. We were homeless, we had no place to go,” Nakagawa said.

Following the 1941 Pearl Harbor attack, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which forced more than 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry living on the West Coast to leave their homes, jobs and lives behind and move to one of 10 relocation centers in the U.S.

“I was a terrorist at 11 or 12 years old,” Nakagawa said. “That shouldn’t happen to anyone. America is greater than that.”

Nakagawa remembers when he realized they weren’t on vacation. There were barbed wire fences everywhere, and he was told that if he wandered into an area he was not supposed to go he would be shot.

“A child learns fear very quickly,” he said. “If your skin color was white I was afraid.”

‘Free from Our Captivity’

While growing up inside the walls of the camp, Nakagawa worked as a paper boy making a few pennies a day. He attended middle school inside the camp and was baptized in the original First Baptist Church of Twin Falls in 1945. The Nakagawa family had attended the Japanese Baptist Church in Seattle, which was closed.

First Baptist Church of Twin Falls was one of few churches in the area that allowed people from the internment camp to worship, Nakagawa said; “It was one of the churches where we could be free from our captivity.”

Nakagawa’s little sister was 8 when they arrived at the camp, but she was too young to remember much. “We grew up in two different worlds,” he said.

In 1944, Roosevelt rescinded Executive Order 9066. The last internment camp was closed in 1945.

The Nakagawa family returned to Seattle forever changed. Nakagawa’s mother, once owner of a corner grocery store, worked inside the homes of wealthy families cooking and cleaning. The family lived in a church sanctuary until they got on their feet again. The Nakagawas also stopped speaking Japanese so their children would grow up speaking English.

In 1952, Nakagawa’s parents became citizens, and they voted in every election.

“You don’t know the joy my parents had to go and vote,” Nakagawa said.

‘The Magic Valley Invites Us’

Today Nakagawa lives in Mercer Island just outside Seattle. For much of his life he was involved in the sports world and helped run a sporting equipment store in the Seattle area. He said he met several sports stars through his work, including Billie Jean King and Jackie Robinson.

He has one son and two daughters. One of his daughters, a teacher, often has her father talk to her fourth-grade class about his life inside the internment camp.

“Isn’t that ironic? That was the grade I was in when I was interned,” he said.

On June 23, Nakagawa returned again to the home of his youth, along with others who make the pilgrimage each year to the site of their imprisonment.

Nakagawa has made this trek before, he said, and never returns with an ounce of hate.

“My returning is simply this: We did not want to go there, the Magic Valley invites us and we want to go,” Nakagawa said. “It took a tragedy to show the awesomeness of America.”

Nakagawa also makes a point to visit the First Baptist Church of Twin Falls when he is in the area. He was a guest speaker June 24.

“I’m there to tell a simple story — I was there,” Nakagawa said.

The church’s pastor, the Rev. Jeff Cooper, met Nakagawa last year while attending a Baptist conference in Puerto Rico. Though Nakagawa spoke informally at the church years ago, Cooper was so impressed with Nakagawa’s story that he personally invited him.

“It’s such a tremendous story,” Cooper said. “He holds no ill will or regret. He is coming to represent the 120,000 nikkei who were interned … he’s a great man, very humble.”

Nakagawa shares the story of his childhood because he said it is a tale that does not belong to him.

“It’s not a Japanese-American story. It’s an American story of history.”

July 12, 2011

Lost but not forgotten: Reliving the past of the Minidoka Relocation Center

Posted in 2011 Minidoka Pilgrimage, Honor Roll, Japanese American Incarceration, Minidoka Pilgrimage tagged , , , , , , , , at 11:02 am by minidokapilgrimage


Lost but not forgotten: Reliving the past of the Minidoka Relocation Center 

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

By Kimberly Williams-Brackett

EDEN — Veterans of the segregated 442nd Regimental Combat Team were honored Sunday with a ribbon cutting of the Honor Roll at the Minidoka National Historic Site.

The event was in conjunction with an annual pilgrimage that began June 30 in Seattle and Portland, Ore., and ended Sunday at the former internment camp. Guided tours were held at the site on Saturday.

The segregated U.S. Army regiment was the most highly decorated unit of its size and for its duration of service in American military history, said Wendy Janssen, superintendent of the historic site.

During World War II, 73 soldiers from Minidoka died in Italy, France and Germany while fighting for their country, and two received the Congressional Medal of Honor.

Out of 10 relocation centers across the United States, Minidoka had the highest percentage of volunteers, about 1,000 internees — nearly 10 percent of the camp’s total peak population.

The original Honor Roll was built and erected on Oct. 14, 1943, to honor the young men and women who served in the military from the Minidoka Relocation Center, also known as Hunt Camp.

The center panel originally had 418 names. As the war progressed, names were added to two side panels.

The fate of the original Honor Roll is unknown.

Reestablishment of the Honor Roll received wide community support in 2006. In 2010, the Friends of Minidoka received a grant from the Japanese-American Confinement Sites Grant Program to assist with construction costs. It was a collaborative effort made possible by the Friends of Minidoka, National Park Service, and the Nisei Veterans.

Janssen said the original mess hall, currently located at the Jerome County Fairgrounds, will be returned to the historic site in about two weeks.

“It will house exhibits in the near future for educational programs,” she said.

After Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor and the signing of an executive order, more than 120,000 persons of Japanese ancestry were given six days to dispose of their homes and businesses and report to designated military holding areas.

Internees could only bring what they could carry and they weren’t told where they were going, Janssen said.

She said during the incarceration of Japanese-Americans between 1942-45, Minidoka became the 7th largest city in Idaho.

The camp was built in less than seven months covering 33,000 acres with more than 600 buildings. A five-mile long barbed wire fence with eight guard towers circled the camp.

Although farming remains the primary use of the former relocation center lands, there are plans to complete the trail, rehabilitate the root cellar, induct a visitor center in the warehouse and expand the museum collection.

Keith Yamaguchi, of Seattle, was emotional about the erecting of the Honor Roll because it pays tribute to everyone who came out of the camp.

Yamaguchi, who’s participated in the pilgrimage for the past six years, said his mother, grandparents, aunts, and uncles were all internees. But, he said, his grandparents nor his parents ever talked about their time in camp.

“All the stories I’ve heard, I’ve heard from other people,” he said.




July 1, 2010

Japanese-Americans share internment camp stories through comedy, music

Posted in Civil Liberties Symposium, Japanese American Incarceration, Minidoka Pilgrimage tagged , , , , , at 3:07 pm by rkozu


Japanese-Americans share internment camp stories through comedy, music

By Ben Botkin – Times-News writer | Posted: Saturday, June 26, 2010 1:25 am

In good times, they danced.

And when good times became bad times, they still danced, with their feet tapping floors and their eyes turned away from the barbed wire and armed guards.

That was part of reality for the Japanese-Americans residing in internment camps in the United States during World War II. It was brought back to life on Friday for the Civil Liberties & the Arts Symposium V at Canyon Crest Dining and Event Center in Twin Falls. The two-day symposium, organized by Minidoka National Historic Site, Friends of Minidoka and the College of Southern Idaho, focused on the arts and civil liberty issues stemming from the internment camps.

With comedy, dance and songs from that generation, the Los Angeles-based Grateful Crane Ensemble held the attention of about 350 people with its show, “The Camp Dance: The Music and The Memories.”

The 45-minute show had a bittersweet mood of happy high school dances that also reminded the audience of the difficulties of life in internment camps. Piano and drums brought back the music of World War II, and actors played out dance scenes based on camp life and drawn from interviews with those who lived in the camps.

They were decidedly all-American stories — like the one about the smart high school girl who doesn’t get noticed by the boy she likes, as he falls for the pretty, popular girl instead.

The story ended on a good note, though. Haruye Ioka, who played the smart, overlooked girl added a postscript to the story. Fifty years later, the smart girl saw her former competitor at a reunion and thought: “She’s no longer pretty, but I’m still smart.”

The audience laughed. The ensemble was joined by Mary Kageyama Nomura, a singer who lived in an internment camp in California as a teenager and is called the “Songbird of Manzanar.”

Difficult times were not sugar-coated. In one bit, the actors mentioned that the families lived in horse stalls that reeked of manure and had barracks with a hanging light bulb, pot-bellied stove, and metal cots with mattresses that internees had to stuff with straw.

After the show, the group took questions from the audience. Darrell Kunitomi said that it’s a reminder that in the worst of times, the best things are still needed — including the rights of all.

“We have to be the best that we can be and that is why it means so much,” he said.

Ben Botkin may be reached at bbotkin@magicvalley.com or 735-3238.

Pictures from the past and present

Posted in Civil Liberties Symposium, Minidoka Pilgrimage tagged , , , , , at 3:02 pm by rkozu

Here’s an article that the Magic Valley Times wrote about the Civil Liberties Symposium in Twin Falls this past weekend.


Pictures from the past and present

By Ben Botkin – Times-News writer | Posted: Friday, June 25, 2010 1:00 am

They are frozen in time, these black-and-white images from a chapter of World War II sometimes overlooked amid the stories of soldiers, battles and sacrifices.

For them, it was different.

They were Americans living on U.S. soil who saw their sons off to war and welcomed them back. But as Japanese-Americans, they lived out World War II in internment camps, a decision that the federal government made for them after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941.

Photographs from the internment camps, including nearby Minidoka, brought those images back for the audience of almost 200 on Thursday, the first day of the Civil Liberties & the Arts Symposium V at Canyon Crest Dining and Event Center in Twin Falls. The two-day symposium, organized by the Minidoka National Historic Site, Friends of Minidoka and the College of Southern Idaho, has an emphasis this year on the civil liberty issues surrounding the internment camps and the artwork shaped by that era.

“History is only important as long as you can apply the lessons you learn today,” said Emily Momohara, an artist and assistant professor from the Art Academy of Cincinnati.

Momohara showed the audience photographs taken when Japanese-Americans lived in internment camps, as well as pictures taken in this generation that capture the remnants of those places.

On a large screen, photographs showed a multitude of scenes: a soldier visiting family, women waiting for returning soldiers and a baseball team posing for a photo. But some photos brought reminders of suffering: a child waiting near luggage during a move away from home, and a grandmother holding a child and preparing to leave for a camp.

The photographers of World War II came from different backgrounds. The federal government had its photographers. The Japanese-Americans weren’t permitted to have cameras, though one managed to get a camera into his camp by disassembling it and stowing the pieces throughout his luggage.

Today, photographers take images of empty internment cots and buildings, using shades of dark against the landscapes to reflect emotions. But in some photos, the human images remain, now of those who descended from the Japanese-American generation of World War II.

Ben Botkin may be reached at bbotkin@magicvalley.com or 735-3238.