• Art Nomura

Chapter 20, segment 1 of 2, 'End of Confinement'

Mizuko, with her job experience in tofu and natto production, was hired in January 1945 to work in the camp soy products factory. Shoyu, or soy sauce, their main product, continued to be in high demand throughout the camps as an essential seasoning for a wide range of Japanese foods. Bean sprouts and miso, in addition to tofu, were also mainstay products of the group.

As more and more of the soy products staff made the decision to leave Manzanar for the outside world, Mizuko found herself being involved in all aspects of soy food manufacturing. Finally, the critical minimum of workers was broached and the factory ceased operation. As she left the soy factory for the final time, Mizuko’s thoughts were more of life beyond the camp than her next job within it.

Amidst reports of heroic deeds by Japanese American soldiers in France, Italy, and Germany, a new era began in Manzanar. Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes’ public praise of the accomplishments of Nisei GIs bolstered the morale of the inmates. Their sons’ growing triumphs on the battlefields of Europe hopefully signified that the end of the war was imminent. With that thought in mind the camp administration began imploring camp inmates to leave camp to restart their lives on the outside. mMany inmates considered the call to action, even though uncertainty about their prospective lives in their former neighborhoods tempered everyone's enthusiasm to leave.

Some young adult inmates chose to leave Manzanar in January for Southern California. Unencumbered by family obligations and eager to discover what life beyond the barbed wire could offer, they re-entered West Coast life with relative ease. Recipients of housing and support from sympathetic friends and acquaintances, and church-based organizations, most resumed attending college or found entry-level jobs.

The trickle of departees to the West Coast rapidly grew to a steady flow. By March 1945 the population of Manzanar had declined from a peak of over 10,000 in late 1942 to under 5,400 inmates. North of the main east-west firebreak that bisected Manzanar, whole residential blocks were closed as the inmate population fell. In an ironic turnabout from previous policy, the WRA announced that any inmate caught outside the camp without permission would automatically be put on indefinite leave and would not be permitted to return.

Announcements of ‘halfway house’ accommodations appeared on camp bulletin boards and in the Manzanar Free Press newspaper. In the Los Angeles area, offers of temporary housing for adults looking for jobs on the West Coast were posted. But for Mizuko, and her children Ayako, Jimmy, and eldest daughter Yoshiko and her family, the notion of starting over in Southern California without the guarantee of jobs or long-term housing was filled with too much uncertainty to be appealing.

After much discussion, Mizuko, Kinzaburo Hasegawa, and Yoshiko decided that their first post-camp move should not be to Southern California but to the farmland of Idaho where employment and housing were guaranteed to be available.

On May 2, 1945, during a gap in the incessant Manzanar dust storms, Mizuko, accompanied by her two daughters, Ayako and Yoshiko (with baby Harumi and Yoshiko’s father-in-law Kinzaburo), and her fifteen year-old son Yoshito (Jimmy), left the rooms in block 15 that had been their home for over three years. Each received a re-location allowance of twenty-five dollars and a one way ticket from the War Relocation Authority with which to begin their new lives.

Rather than joining them on their northern sojourn, Mizuko’s oldest son Henry opted to remain in Manzanar with his family because his wife Mikako was pregnant again and expecting their second child. Her mother, Hatsu Nakadegawa, also remained in Manzanar to help care for her daughter and her two year-old granddaughter Hatsumi.

Mizuko and the Nomura/ Hasegawa contingent journeyed to Idaho via trains packed with uniformed GIs recently discharged from the service or traveling for reassignment to the Pacific front. Unexpectedly, despite their initial fears of prejudice and discrimination being directed towards them, Mizuko and her family found that most non-Japanese, including the military, treated them fairly. In fact, the majority of the soldiers were friendly and welcoming, often offering their seats to the women of the group on the most crowded trains. On their way north, the group heard of work in Layton, Utah, and decided to stop there to help bring in the just ripening green bean harvest. Teenaged Jimmy, however, made the decision to continue on to Idaho alone to earn a higher daily wage thinning sugar beets.

In Europe, it was clear that the war was nearly won, with daily reports of Allied and Soviet victories and mounting German casualties. On May 8, V-E Day, Germany unconditionally surrendered. While the rest of American celebrated May 8th, in Layton, Utah it was just another day in the fields for Mizuko and her family.

The Nomura/Hasegawas worked throughout spring and early summer harvesting and packing green beans. Compared to the dry, broiling heat of Manzanar, the weather in Utah was hot and humid. Mizuko’s quick, strong hands enabled her to meet her daily work quota with no trouble. During the long, tedious days, Mizuko thought often of her father and siblings in war-torn Japan. With the conflict raging, the correspondence between them had ground to a halt and she knew nothing of their latest circumstances.

The summer of 1945 found Japan ravaged by wave after wave of American bombers. On August 6, 1945, with the Japanese on the brink of capitulation, the United States unleashed the deadliest single weapon in the history of warfare. The Enola Gay, a specially modified B-29 bomber, dropped an atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. The news of the ‘A-bomb’ spread through the Mizuko’s farming camp like wildfire. The packing shed where the family had been assigned to work was abuzz with anxious talk about what had occurred.

“They say that Hiroshima has been destroyed,” said Kinzaburo.

“Those bastards killed thousands of helpless people, and for what,” he continued angrily.

“The Japanese were already done for, why drop such a bomb?”

Nakashima-san, a field hand, ran up to the packing shed and addressed everyone. “It’s even worse than you can imagine,” he said breathlessly.

“The bomb blast was just the tip of the iceberg. I just heard that something called radiation poisoning is going to kill a lot more people.”

Suddenly aware of the utter silence in the room he said hesitantly, “Excuse me, but do any of you have family out that way?”

The largest group of Japanese immigrants had either come from Hiroshima province or had been born to parents who called it home. As he waited for an answer, it was clear to him from the groups’ faces that the answer to his query was 'yes'.

“Mama’s family is in Onorimura in Hiroshima-ken. We pray that all of them are okay,” said Yoshiko almost inaudibly as she glanced toward her mother.

Nakashima-san, regretful that he had asked, bowed awkwardly and looked down at his feet.

Mizuko considered the sober faces around her and shook her head. “Mah Mah, motonai, ne. What a waste. War is truly a curse. Nothing good ever comes of it.”

She gazed at the assembled group for a moment then returned to the task of packing green beans into their wooden shipping crates. But for the rest of the week the usual restorative effects of steady work could not curtail the feelings of sadness and trepidation that engulfed her.

Although Mizuko’s hometown of Omorimura, forty-five miles from ground zero was spared, tens of thousands of Japanese civilians died or were injured by the searing blast in the Hiroshima municipal area. Afterwards, many others succumbed to cancers and other maladies caused by nuclear radiation from the blast.

On August 14, 1945, after a second atomic bomb from the United States had devastated the southern Japanese port city of Nagasaki, Japan surrendered, ending WWII. While America wildly celebrated, the end of worldwide conflict had little effect on the fortunes of the displaced Nomura/Hasegawa families. Despite the sadness they felt for their brethren in Japan, they continued their low-paying, strenuous work as farm laborers without pause. When the bean harvest ended in Utah, the families moved on to Weiser, Idaho to join the ranks of migrant field workers engaged in the apple harvest.

Picking apples was exhausting work requiring countless trips up and down rickety ladders toting heavy bags bulging with apples. However, once management discovered that Kinzaburo Hasegawa and Mizuko were experienced cooks, they were switched from apple picking duty to cooking for the ever-increasing number of harvesters. Other arriving former camp inmates were assigned to pick apples shoulder to shoulder with Mexican migrant workers.

Ayako worked in the kitchen with Mizuko and Kinzaburo, peeling potatoes, chopping onions, clearing tables, and washing dishes. Once he arrived, Mizuko’s youngest son Jimmy, after a summer-long stint of thinning sugar beets, was given less tedious work. Since he was both fluent in English and tall in stature he was given the relatively easy tasks of spraying the fruit trees for pests and managing the irrigation to the orchards.

A county social worker assigned to serve the migrant laborers appeared at the kitchen one day and after observing Ayako for a few minutes asked her if she would be interested in working at a hospital in the nearby town of Weiser. Eager for an alternative to washing dishes, Ayako agreed to give the job a try. Ironically, at the hospital she was initially assigned to work in the kitchen, but was soon transferred over to the laundry detail.

Although her pay amounted to little beyond room and board, a life-changing opportunity arose as a result of her employment at the hospital. The social worker, struck by Ayako’s efficiency and hard work asked if she was interested in training to become a nurse. In 1945, women were faced with a limited selection of possible jobs: teacher, secretary, or nurse, all with the expectation that one would marry when the opportunity arose and become a homemaker. Undaunted by these limitations, Ayako discussed the possibility with her fifty-year old mother.

“What nursing school will you attend?” asked Mizuko.

“I’m not sure yet, but Mrs. Johnson said that I should apply to a lot of schools to increase my chances.“ Ayako replied.

Anticipating her mother’s next question she said, “None of them are on the West Coast.”

If you have to go away to get your training, I want you to go to a Catholic nursing school. I don’t trust anyone else to give you a good education and to look after you,” Mizuko insisted.

end of Chapter 20, segment 1 of 2, 'End of Confinement'

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