• Art Nomura

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

On Mar 27, 1944 Jiro left Manzanar for Rupert, Idaho on yet another work furlough. While in Idaho he received notice that he had been drafted into the U.S. Army. From Idaho he was shipped to Starke, Florida for sixteen weeks of basic training at Camp Blanding.

Kaworu, through a series of twists and turns, was drafted directly from the University of Minnesota where he was a student into the Army reserves. When service assignments were given however, he was by-passed and ended up back in Manzanar. In early 1945 Kaworu did not have a military assignment, job, or classes to attend. Finally, after four months had passed he was finally called to active duty at Fort Douglas, Utah. After several domestic transfers, Kaworu ended his military service in October 1946 and re-enrolled at the University of Minnesota to study physics and mathematics.

In the meantime, during the Spring of 1944 a second child was born to Yoshiko and Sam Hasegawa. Uncommonly bright and precocious, Harumi Alice Hasegawa was unfortunately born with a heart condition that severely compromised her immune system. She was often sick and seemed to be in the hospital more than at home.

Mizuko reduced her hours to part-time work at the mess hall so that she would be able to help care for her. She spent many hours singing Japanese songs to her so that her granddaughter would be distracted from her chronic suffering. While Mizuko knitted or crocheted, she would often use her feet to rock Harumi’s buggy until she fell asleep.

The presence of a second grandchild (after Mikako's daughter Hatsumi), even a sickly one, buoyed Mizuko’s spirits. She felt blessed to have a special baby to care for and love. For many of the camp inmates without a young one to care for, the tedium and depression of life behind barbed wire fences deadened emotions.

Searchlights from the perimeter guard towers swept the campgrounds every night literally illuminating the abnormality of their lives. And although a patina of normalcy, in terms of a full schedule of educational, sports, and cultural activities, was maintained, the overriding need to return ‘home’ dominated every adult’s thoughts.

Despite their restricted existence, Mizuko knew that life for her and her family could have been worse. For instance, when the initial ‘round-up’ of West Coast Japanese began, many issei men were incarcerated immediately without due process.

The Japanese living on Terminal Island saw most of their heads of households swept up and imprisoned by FBI agents. The theory held was that the ranks of Japanese fishermen living in Southern California, with their shortwave radios and wide-ranging access to the Pacific were rife with spies and enemy agents. In days after the round-up began, the leadership of the community was shipped off to secret prisons for interrogation. Other issei men, especially in urban areas were also jailed.

Junji Kaneko, Mizuko’s former son-in-law(once married to stepdaughter Chiyoko) was imprisoned in Sante Fe, New Mexico for two years because he was deemed ‘suspicious’. Kaneko, a resident of the United States since his arrival in the early 1900s, made the ‘mistake’ of returning to Japan in late 1938 to visit his two teenaged daughters who were living there with his ex-wife.

His visit coincided with the preparations for the 2600th anniversary of the formation of Japan that was going to be celebrated in 1940. Even though Kaneko had been a law-abiding alien resident in America, even registering for the WWI U.S. military draft on June 5, 1917, and was the successful proprietor of a downtown Los Angeles gas station, he was imprisoned by the U.S. government for his ‘dubious’ activities before the start of the war.

In May of 1944, he was finally released from prison and allowed to transfer from his high security prison to a regular ‘relocation’ center. He chose Manzanar since some of his former neighbors and business associates had been sent there. Mizuko, who had known him since their days of working on the railroad in Montana, welcomed him as if he were still part of her family.

After graduation from Manzanar High school in June 1944, Ayako was hired for a job at the Property Management office in Manzanar. She devised a filing system that efficiently organized the office data. Her cleverness and efficiency garnered her the top inmate pay of $19 a month. Because she felt that she didn’t have a personal need for the money, she gave her earnings to her mother Mizuko each month.

Throughout 1944, the population of Manzanar declined as inmates left of their own volition or at the bidding of the WRA. Some families moved to new locations in the Midwest or East. More and more of the young men, spurred on by a mixture of patriotism, peer pressure, and news of the escalating U.S. war effort, enlisted in the service.

On Sept 16, 1944, Yoshiko’s husband, Sam Hasegawa joined the 442nd, the U.S. Army’s all-Japanese American battalion. bAfter basic training at Ft. Douglas, the former star athlete and farmer was sent off to fight in Italy, leaving his wife and four month old daughter imprisoned behind.

Concurrently, Mizuko decided that it would be a good idea to once again work full-time. Since Mikako’s mother Hatsu was present in camp, and many friends and neighbors willing to help care for granddaughters Hatsumi and Harumi were present, Mizuko decided to answer the call for field hands in Idaho. By joining the harvesting crews in Idaho in the late summer of 1944 she could make more than the top salary of nineteen dollars a month in camp. By this time, the use of work furlough farm laborers from Manzanar had been more or less standardized, with fair labor practices and salaries the norm rather than the exception. With the end of the war seemingly imminent, the need to accumulate money to re-start lives was a priority.

Before Mizuko packed to leave, Henry suggested that everyone available pose for a family photo that could be given to Sam Hasegawa before he went overseas. Henry handed his box camera to a neighbor and chose the pond outside of barracks 15 as the nearest scenic backdrop.

Manzanar had been transformed through the efforts of its inhabitants over the previous two years. mLawns, ponds and victory gardens dotted the interior of the camp, as inmate after inmate sought to alter their barren environment into at least a semblance of the places they had left behind.

Before plans for travel could be completed, a surprise guest arrived at Manzanar. Clifford Nakadegawa, Mikako older brother, and an ordained Protestant minister, came to visit his mother Hatsu and to provide guest sermons at the block 15 Protestant Church. Hatsu decided that her eldest son’s presence was worthy of a formal photograph to mark the occasion. The Nomuras and Nakadegawa families gathered at Toyo Miyatake’s camp photography studio for a group portrait. Mizuko, knowing that Kaneko-san was without any other relatives in Manzanar asked him to join the group.

Shortly after the photo was taken two other family members decided to follow Mizuko’s lead and sign up for work furlough assignments. Henry opted to join the potato harvest in Idaho, and Ayako chose to accompany her mother north. The two women ended up spending nearly two months cutting the stalks off of dry onions mounded in huge piles. As winter approached, all three returned to Manzanar in mid-November with some extra cash in hand.

On December 18, a week before Christmas 1944, the restriction that dictated holding loyal citizens in detention camps against their will was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court. As a result of the court’s ruling on the Endo case, any Nisei whose loyalty was not in question could return to his or her place of residence anywhere in America including the West Coast.

However by the time the pronouncement was made, the Nomura and Hasegawa families had been winnowed down to their issei elders (Mizuko, Kinzaburo Hasegawa, and Hatsu Nakadegawa), older kibei (Henry Nomura), Nisei mothers with babies (Mikako and Hatsumi; Yoshiko and Harumi), and Nisei teenagers (Ayako and Jimmy). With the adult men, Sam Hasegawa, Jiro, and Kaworu Nomura away in the military or at school, it was deemed impractical for the remaining members of the family to leave Manzanar.

“The war will be over soon. When Sam, Jiro, and Kaworu get out of the service, we’ll make our move,” Henry proclaimed. I hear that there’s still a big demand for produce in L.A. If we all work together we can get the business back on its feet,” he said.

“The Japanese resistance isn’t gonna last much longer,” added Kinzaburo Hasegawa. “If you can believe the news, the U.S. has won every battle for the past year.”

“So much death, mottainai, ne, it’s such a waste,” Mizuko said sadly.

On Christmas 1944, Mizuko and the remaining members of her extended family gathered in Henry and Mikako’s apartment unit to exchange gifts. The room was adorned with homemade decorations and a small fir tree that one of Henry’s kibei friends, Ikeda-san, had harvested for the family. Both he and Kashitani-san, another kibei bachelor, joined them for the festivities. Mizuko proceeded to regale the group with a story of a past Christmas after someone remarked on how cold and snowy the winter had been.

“We had some very tough winters in Deer Lodge, Montana,” Mizuko told everyone. One Christmas it snowed so much that the snow piled up and covered all the windows of the house.” When Kashitani-san smirked and shook his head dubiously, Mizuko quickly clarified her statement.

“The house we lived in was mostly underground to start with. The windows were high up near the ceiling to let in light and air when they were open. With all the snow, the windows were shut tight, so when the snow piled up, the room was as dark as a tomb.”

Henry, having heard the story before, grinned broadly and said, "Oh boy!"

“You must have been freezing in there,” Ikeda-san observed dubiously.

“We were actually pretty warm,” Mizuko replied. It was like living in an Eskimo igloo. Papa, Chiyoko, Yoshiko, Kaworu, and me warmed the air in the house with our body heat alone, so we didn’t even have to wear jackets or sweaters. But with the windows covered by the snow, it was so dark inside that we couldn’t tell if it was day or night.”

“Then what happened?” asked a captivated Kashitani-san.

“Well Papa woke up, still drunk from the night before. He said he needed to use the outhouse, and before I could stop him I heard him stumble to the door and open it. He yelled out, so I lit a match to see what had happened.”

Henry looked over at his engrossed friends, and chuckled in anticipation.

“Papa was on the floor, practically swimming in a big pile of snow and swearing like a sailor. It took all I had not to laugh out loud,” Mizuko smiled.

“It must have taken us ten minutes to dig our way out through the door and up the stairs. There was at least four or five feet of snow piled up. Once we broke through, the cold air from outside rushed into the room and made us all shiver. Now that was a cold and snowy Christmas.”

As the group laughed appreciatively, Jimmy, who had not been born until the family moved from Montana and settled in Los Angeles, called out, “Tell us another Montana story Mama.”

Mizuko thought for a moment and said, “Talking about that snowy weather has made me feel kind of chilly so I’ll tell you about what happened one summer when it was warm,“

“Those rail gangs in Montana were all Japanese men and they really missed eating Japanese food. I decided to make tofu and natto to sell to them on my days off.”

“Where did you get the soybeans?” Jimmy asked.

“They came all the way from Japan,” said Mizuko.

“It was pretty simple to order them through Japanese food importers in Tacoma, Washington. The train through Deer Lodge made regular trips to the coast so I could order supplies that were delivered directly to the Deer Lodge depot. “

“It was no problem making the tofu and natto once I had the soybeans and a few other ingredients. And the water up in Montana was pure and cold, straight from the melting snowpack and mountain springs. It was easy to make good tofu and natto. But getting customers to buy it was a problem at first. Because the boxcars where everyone lived looked the same, it was difficult for the men to find my homemade kitchen store,” Mizuko continued.

"Luckily, my step-daughter Chiyoko, came up with an idea that steered the men our way.”

“It was very clever. We hung the fermenting natto buckets on the tree nearest my boxcar, and the men would follow the odor to my door. That way the natto was out of our space and helped advertise our business at the same time.”

“Boy, I can’t stand that stinky stuff,” Jimmy said.

“It was a delicacy for those men back then. And I still think it’s really good for you,” Mizuko concluded.

Nodding their heads in appreciation, Henry’s kibei friends rose to leave. As they offered their thanks and goodbyes at the doorway, Ikeda-san motioned Mizuko aside.

“Excuse me for bringing up business at this time, but I’ve been working over at the shoyu factory for the past six months. What with everyone leaving, we’ve lost a lot of our experienced workers. It sounds like you really know how to work with soybeans. Maybe you could join us? We’ve been trying to ramp up the production of things like miso, tofu, and natto, but we’re really short on expertise. Would you be interested?”

Surprised by his request, Mizuko gave Ikeda-san a thoughtful look. “Perhaps,” she began.

But before she could go on, Hatsumi Catherine, now nearly two years old, discovered a teddy bear with black button eyes hidden behind the Christmas tree, and squealed with delight. Mizuko turned and laughed appreciatively. On that positive note, the year 1944 drew to a close.

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

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