Manzanar Relocation Center Sign

Manzanar Relocation Center Sign

Bainbridge Islanders arrived at Manzanar as it was still being constructed, the living quarters long barracks designed to house four families in 20'x20' rooms. Eventually 10,000 people would reside within the square mile of camp. At the edge of the Sierra Nevadas, Manzanar was a dusty expanse of barracks surrounded by barbed wire and watch towers manned by soldiers and searchlights, pointing in. Almost all of the remaining inmates were from California, many accustomed to city life.

The farm families from the Northwest found little in common with them, and by 1943 had successfully petitioned to transfer to Minidoka in southern Idaho, where the others from Washington and Oregon were incarcerated. To be near family members from California, five Island families chose to remain at Manzanar. Minidoka was similar to Manzanar: dusty and hot in the summer, muddy and cold in the winter.

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When the Bainbridge Islanders arrived at Manzanar they were placed into Block 3. Blocks 1 and 2 were filled with evacuees from the Los Angeles area who had arrived the week before as part of the Western Defense Command's "voluntary evacuation program." Many of these prisoners were bachelors or heads of households who volunteered to help complete construction of the camp. At it's full capacity Manzanar held over 10,000 prisoners, mostly from the Los Angeles area. The small group of Nikkei from rural Bainbridge Island found themselves surrounded by "city–folk," who were in many ways different from themselves. Further, many Islanders missed their friends and relatives from the Seattle area who were sent to Minidoka in Idaho. In February 1943, almost a year after their arrival, all but five Bainbridge families had successfully petitioned to be moved to Minidoka. The Hayashi, Nakata, Nishimori, Takemoto, and Tonooka families stayed in Manzanar either because they did not want the hassle of moving or had friends and relatives in Manzanar.

  • This is an invitation to a party thrown to bid farewell to the group of families from Bainbridge Island that left Manzanar in February of 1943 to go to Minidoka, Idaho.

As some of the first families to arrive at Manzanar, the Bainbridge Islanders had to endure many inconveniences while the camp was established and organized. Barracks, sewers, and roads were still under construction. Basic sanitation supplies such as brooms, mops, buckets, and soap were difficult to come by. Many Islanders had concerns over finding work, education for the youth, and recreational needs. Eventually these programs would be initiated at Manzanar and would be a standard for all future camps. Many of the details for the following captions were taken from the Manzanar Historic Resource Study/Special History Study published by the National Parks Service.

  • Manzanar was the first government facility to be constructed. It was originally a "Reception" center where evacuees would be held before being sent to various "Relocation" centers. Later Manzanar would become a permanent "Relocation" center housing over 10,000 people of Japanese descent. (Photo by Ansel Adams, Credit: Library of Congress)

The Minidoka concentration camp was located in south central Idaho, approximately 15 miles northeast of Twin Falls. Nearly 13,000 Nikkei were incarcerated within a space of 946.3 acres. As the final group to arrive, the Bainbridge Islanders were assigned to Block 44 at the far southeastern corner of the camp. Each block consisted of twelve barracks, a mess hall, laundry and lavatory building, and a recreation hall. Each family lived in a single room approximately 20' x 20', furnished with cots, a single bare light bulb, and pot–bellied stove for heat. For the newly arrived Bainbridge Islanders the setting was even more dismal than Manzanar. No longer surrounded by mountains, they now looked for miles at flat expanses of dust and sagebrush. It was extremely hot in the summer and cold in the winter. The only relief from the dust came when rain or melting snow turned the ground into a muddy quagmire.

  • This packing trunk belonged to the Henry Takayoshi family and was used at the Minidoka "Relocation" Center. After time friends were able to ship or bring items to prisoners from back home. The Takayoshis also used this trunk as they traveled from Minidoka to Renton, WA where they settled after the war. (Credit: Bainbridge Island Historical Society. Photographed by Fenwick Publishing)

There is a stark contrast between the Issei (first generation) and Nisei (second generation) experiences in camp. Hardships fell primarily on the older Issei who lost their homes, livelihoods, and freedom. Forced to leave before harvesting what was to be a bumper strawberry crop, many Island Issei had no means of supporting their family or paying rent and thus lost their farmland. The widowed Masa Omoto soon found herself alone in camp while her four sons were away serving in the army. Many Issei couples, such as the Amatatsus, Kinos, and Nishis, were separated for the duration of the war because the men were interned in Department of Justice camps. Isseis, who were not permitted to hold leadership positions in camps, were forced to take a back seat to the younger Niseis.

For some of the younger Niseis, free from the daily chores of farming, camp–life proved to be a chance to explore new opportunities. Many took on leadership roles in camp, learned a trade such as nursing or carpentry, or enjoyed an extracurricular activity such as baseball or dancing. Some applied for indefinite leave from Minidoka for education, employment, or to join the army. These young adults from rural Bainbridge Island may never have left the Island and life as a farmer had it not been for the war. Perhaps the youngest camp residents had it the easiest. Parents shielded their children from the shame and humiliation of evacuation and tried to make their lives seem as normal as possible. Hisa Hayashida, age six, remembers a carefree youth where she could explore the camp and just had to open her front door to find many other playmates.

Though cameras were confiscated as contraband immediately after Pearl Harbor, later in the war the Japanese Americans were allowed to have and use them again. Many of the following images are family photos taken while in camp.

  • At the extreme left is a corner of the dining hall where the 275 to 300 residents of the block eat. Behind the dining hall is the sanitation building including showers, lavatories, toilets and washtubs. Nearly all the residents planted flowers and vegetable gardens in front of their barracks. (WRA photo. National Archives)

Photo Information: Manzanar Relocation Center Sign — Wooden sign at entrance to the Manzanar War Relocation Center with a car at the gatehouse in the background. 1943. Copyright: Ansel Adams Collection

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