Search
  • Art Nomura

Chapter 19, segment 1 of 3, 'Concentration Camp, 1943-1944'

On Jan 1, 1943, the first New Year’s Day to be celebrated in Manzanar Concentration Camp, residents flocked to the camp mess halls for two special Japanese meals. They featured the following menu (as listed in the Manzanar Free Press newspaper):


New Year’s Feast (day)

Breakfast: 8:30-9:30 am

mochi, ozoni, umani (translation unclear, may be a reference to the Japanese description for savory flavor) rice and green tea


Dinner: 3-4 pm

Japanese salad, sushi, mochi, and green tea


The traditional foods were welcomed and happily consumed by the inmates. For many, the meals served as additions to traditional foods they had already prepared privately with imported Japanese ingredients such as bamboo sprouts and canned abalone that had been made available at the camp co-op store.


Mochitsuki, or traditional rice-cake making activities, were held in each camp block. The camp authorities provided two bags of sweet rice to each block while residents chipped in for three or four additional bags so that everyone would be able to share in the traditional Japanese foods of the New Year. As was the time-honored practice, the men pounded the hot steaming sweet rice with huge wooden mallets into a glutinous paste. While the resulting rice paste was still hot, the women formed it into small patties by hand as they gathered around long communal tables. The activity helped foster a sense of community that had been severely tested by the turmoil of the December riots.


In late January 1943, camp officials made two announcements with far-reaching consequences. The first was a declaration that interned Japanese American men would be allowed to volunteer for a racially segregated all-Japanese U.S. Army unit. Secondly, the U.S. War Department and the War Relocation Authority announced that they had created a test to determine the loyalty of all people of Japanese ancestry that were incarcerated in WRA camps. Anyone 17 years of age and older was required to fill out a loyalty questionnaire.


The answers given were used to determine whether or not a person taking it was loyal or disloyal to the United States. Questions #27 and #28 of the questionnaire effectively split the camps into conflicting factions. Both announcements were greeted by mixed reactions and heated discourse throughout Manzanar.


Question #27 asked:

Are you willing to serve in the armed forces of the United States on combat duty, wherever ordered?


Question #28 asked:

Will you swear unqualified allegiance to the United States of America and faithfully defend the United States from any and all attack by foreign or domestic forces, and forswear any form of allegiance to the Japanese Emperor or any other foreign government, power, or organization?


After much discussion and deliberation all the adult Nomuras and Hasegawas decided to answer yes/yes to questions 27 and 28 even though their answers did not accurately reflect their actual thoughts and feelings. The questions themselves were viewed as flawed and did not seem (or more insidiously, did) to recognize the dilemmas they would create for the inmates, especially the issei.


For example, by answering yes to question #28, Mizuko would, in essence, give up being a citizen of Japan, and since she was still a resident alien in America, meant that she would become a person without a country. Regrettably, both families had become accustomed to the unequal treatment America had offered Japanese immigrants and their offspring.


Foremost in everyone’s mind was the need to be practical and to survive no matter the circumstances. If they answered no/no they would, in all likelihood, be transferred to Tule Lake in Northern California: a concentration camp designated for dissidents and those Japanese wishing to be expatriated to Japan. The only practical answer for either family group was to answer yes/yes to the two questions.


Furthermore, unlike some of the other camp families, the Nomuras had always depended on one another for support. Even Henry and Jiro, who had spent seven years of their childhoods in Japan, considered the welfare of the family to be of primary importance.


Mizuko, as the family knew her, had been a poor, working, non-English speaking widow before the war. Her children had all grown up without material wealth but been raised to survive through collective action and perseverance.


After the camouflage factory closed, Mizuko found a job working as a kitchen helper in the Block 24 mess hall. Given her reputation as an expert cook, she still received requests to act as a fill-in cook at various mess halls. She declined to take any of the jobs full-time because she still did not want to resume the overall responsibility of running a kitchen.


More importantly, she wanted to be available to help in the approaching birth of her daughter-in-law’s baby. Henry’s wife Mikako had been separated from her own mother Hatsu Nakadegawa, who was sent to the Poston WRA camp in Arizona along with Mikako’s three siblings. Consequently, Mizuko felt a deep obligation to look after Mikako as if she were her own daughter.


The death of Yoshiko’s son Roy, in September of 1942 continued to weigh heavily on Mizuko’s spirit. She made a personal vow to do everything in her power to prevent another tragedy. Since she worked in the mornings at the mess hall she could no longer take most of her meals with her family, but she remained a vigilant guardian over Mikako’s diet and rest.


Through her many friends she stayed apprised of the birthing events at the hospital’s maternity ward. On January 5th* she was pleased to hear that a healthy baby boy was born to a neighbor at 15-11-1. But her anxiety returned upon hearing of a baby dying at birth in mid-January.


She temporarily felt assured when it was reported that a record ten babies were delivered safely at the camp hospital from February 1st through the 5th, with three being born on February 3rd alone. But after February 5th the lack of live births of any kind felt vaguely ominous.


The winter of 1942-43 was colder than normal. Nearing mid-February the daytime highs peaked in the mid-40s. The morning of February 9th dawned cold and windy. After returning from breakfast, Mikako turned to her twenty year-old brother-in-law Kaworu as they both sat in the barracks room they shared.


“I think its time for me to head to the hospital,” she said as she awkwardly rose to her feet.

Kaworu looked up from the math textbook he was studying and took a moment before he grasped the situation.


“Ah, ah, ah,” he gaped, looking rapidly around. “Where’s Henry? he asked.


“Henry is on a overnight work furlough to pickup some equipment and supplies for the camp farm,” Mikako said calmly, “but I don’t think that I can wait until he comes back.”


“In fact, I need to go to the hospital NOW,“ she said, gasping from a sharp contraction.


“Are you OK? Can you walk?” Kaworu squeaked.


Mikako, her lips pressed together in concentration, nodded her head.


“OK, ok, I’ll walk you there,” said Kaworu jumping up from his bed.


He grabbed his jacket and trotted towards the door until Mikako stopped him.


“Kaworu,” she said patiently. “Can you carry this for me?”


Kaworu turned to take an overnight bag from his sister-in-law and sheepishly offered her his arm.


It took twice the usual time to walk to the hospital because Mikako had to stop often to cope with the increasingly strong contractions along the way. Kaworu did what he could to comfort her, but was clearly out of his element. Despite the chill, by the time they’d traversed the half-mile to the hospital he was sweating profusely.


As soon as he had handed off Mikako to the hospital staff he ran to the Mess Hall in nearby Block 24 to tell his mother what was happening. Mizuko quickly hung up her apron, told Kaworu to tell the rest of the family, and walked briskly to the hospital. When she arrived, Mikako was being helped into the maternity ward. She immediately took her daughter-in-law’s hand in her own and held it firmly as another contraction overcame her.


After examining Mikako, the pediatric nurse told both her and Mizuko that the baby was still aligned in a bottom-down position and that they should be prepared for a breech birth, a possibility that both Mizuko and Mikako had been aware of for several weeks. Breech births happened 2 - 3% of the time, but the nurse told them that she had no memory of such a delivery at the Manzanar hospital.


Mizuko, with the experience of five unassisted births of her own children, was very knowledgeable about the process of delivering babies. While she had never experienced a breech birth herself, over the years she had discussed the possibility with several midwives and had gained important knowledge about what needed to be done if such a complication arose.


After Mikako had been settled in a hospital bed, Mizuko drew the nurse aside. “Does her doctor have experience with breech birth?” she asked.


“I don’t think so,” the nurse replied. “The only doctor available now is a pulmonary specialist and I think his delivery experience is pretty limited.“


“How about you?” Mizuko asked.


“I’ve assisted on breech birth twice before coming to camp,” the nurse replied. “One turned out fine, the other….”


Before the nurse could elaborate, Mizuko interrupted, “I’m sorry to be so forward, but I think that she will be delivering soon. Please listen. There are three things that are critical in a breech birth. Make sure the baby’s arms do not go above the head. An arm against the head can block it from coming out. Keep the head tilted downward toward the chest and faced toward either the side or back once it enters the birth canal. And make sure the doctor does not pull on the baby, but supports its body carefully as it comes out. If you remember to do these three things, then the birth should go ok.”


The nurse looked at Mizuko with astonishment. “That’s amazing. How do you know this?”


Mizuko shrugged.


“If I could, I would bring you into the delivery room with us, but I know the doctor will not permit it,” the nurse continued. “But I will do my best to see that we pay attention to everything you’ve said. I’ve been here for many of the births this year, but this will be my first breech delivery in a long time. Luckily, the baby ward is empty today, so your daughter-in-law will get our full attention.”


Despite a labor that went on for the next twenty-four hours without the benefit of pain medication, Mikako gave birth to a baby girl without any of the complications associated with breech birth. At 10:30 am, on the morning of February 10th, 1943, Hatsumi Catherine Nomura was born. When Henry finally showed up he bought and distributed cigars to friends and strangers alike, smoking himself sick in the process.


Mizuko continued to be a godsend to Mikako after her baby was born. She instructed her daughter-in-law on the finer points of breastfeeding, and cared for Hatsumi whenever she could. In addition to the sweater and blanket she had already made for the baby, Mizuko quickly knitted a hat and woolen booties to help keep her warm in the blustery winter weather. She also willingly took it upon herself to wash Hatsumi’s diapers by hand in the laundry room. To find the time to do so, she would take a quick break from her kitchen duties and an early morning breakfast to secure one of the limited washtubs available in the laundry room. Henry ordered a small, portable bathtub from Sears department store that Mizuko filled with buckets of water drawn from the women’s latrine sinks. With Mizuko guiding her, Mikako mastered the art of gently holding a squirming little body during bath time.


Hatsumi thrived under the care of her mother, grandmother, and the many block residents that were drawn to the newborn. A cadre of issei women, many who had been Mizuko’s language and handicraft students, shared in the baby’s care. During her first year, Hatsumi’s feet seldom touched the floor as she was carried, coddled, and fussed over by her mostly issei caregivers.


The new addition to the family lifted everyone’s spirits immeasurably. The baby’s presence provided a feeling of normalcy and spurred the necessity of looking forward toward the future. Caring for baby Hatsumi and seeing her develop from day to day gave Mizuko, Mikako, and the extended family a sense of purpose and a reason for starting every day with a smile on their faces.


Hatsumi’s birth somehow allowed everyone to relax and engage a little more into whatever camp life offered. While sixteen year-old Ayako shared in her niece’s care, she engaged herself more fully in school and music.


She and younger brother Yoshito rededicated themselves to learning the violin and clarinet, respectively. Henry, not one to be outdone, redoubled his efforts to play the alto sax like his big band idol, Jimmy Dorsey.


The three musicians eventually progressed to the point of joining the Manzanar camp orchestra and over the next several years played in concerts featuring light classical music. In addition, Jimmy and Henry played in one of the many bands founded in Manzanar. Their specialty was the approximation of several John Phillip Sousa marches.


End of Chapter 19, segment 1 of 3, Concentration Camp, 1943-1944'

1 view

Recent Posts

See All

Chapter 23, 'Legacy'

Chapter 23, ‘Legacy’ At the time of her death Mizuko had twenty-six grandchildren and twenty (the number grew to a total of forty in the ensuing years) great grand-children. She was survived by four

© 2018 by Art Nomura

 Proudly created with Wix.com