Rev. Daishō Tana’s Diary – Santa Fe Lordsburg senji tekikokujin yokuryūjo nikki, vol. 1 – March 14-26, 1942 (Tr. Duncan Ryūken Williams)
Initial Procedures [3/14/1942]
The camp was completely isolated from the outside world, and the only lights that illuminated the darkness were those inside our rooms. When I look up at the clock, it was 7 a.m. Despite that hour, those around me were already chatting rather loudly about the war. Now that we are here, perhaps no one cares what we say.
We were provided with black coffee and oatmeal on a rectangular shaped dish. Not quite satisfying, we all partook of some botamochi (a Japanese sweet made with rice and red bean) that Mr. Hotta brought last night as left overs from lunch that he had had on his way to the camp. This botamochi was cut in half to feed the twelve of us.
I had heard no lunch would be served, so I forced myself to eat the oatmeal. We were told that each individual should wash and return their own dishes. Around 9 a.m., visitors were allowed to meet with the detainees in the camp and they brought us some food. I laughed at myself and would not have forced down the oatmeal had I known about this. At noon, someone brought some Hinomaru (“circle of the sun” Flag of Japan) rice balls [a pickled red plum in white rice], and we gobbled those down. Regardless of whom you know, everyone here already lives like a family. At 2 p.m., family visitations were allowed.
I saw some acquaintances, including Mrs. Shimakawa, so I asked her to give a letter to [my wife] Tomoe. Paradoxically, it made me less anxious not to have any guests.
Around 3 p.m., we were placed into armed truck and driven to the CCC Camp at Tujunga on the outskirts of Los Angeles. It was raining during this transfer, and we finally arrived at the camp at 5:30 p.m.
The camp was surrounded by barbed wire fences almost 20-feet high. We went through luggage inspection, and I was assigned to Barrack F. Dinner tonight was a Japanese meal and included hot miso soup. I felt so relieved while eating it.
There was an inspection/count of the Japanese at 8:30 p.m., and lights were off at 10 p.m. I recited Buddhist texts quietly on my bed in the dark. It was too cold to fall asleep, but I slept well after wrapping my body in a blanket.
Visiting Days [3/15/1942]
I woke up in the CCC temporary internment camp in Tujunga, located on the outskirt of Los Angeles. Rain last night turned into snow on the mountains.
Woke up at 6 a.m. At 6:45 a.m., guard inspection, 7a.m., breakfast and room cleaning, 11:45 a.m., guard inspection. At noon, lunch, 4:15 p.m., guard inspection, 5 p.m., dinner, 8:30 p.m., guard inspection, and 10 p.m., lights out.
Living in this collective and ordered environment made me think of regimented military life. We had to stay 10 feet away from the barbed wire fence. Being cut off from the outside is the most painful thing about being in camp.
Visitors came starting at 1 p.m. Visitors are permitted on Sundays and Wednesdays. Many family members were particularly excited, because today was the first Sunday since we were detained. Detainees without visitors, though, seem at peace. After the brief 30-minute visit, detainees near the fence and their families in a bicycle parking lot waved to each other, all in tears. How could one communicate through a grate during the 30-minute visit? A fellow internee who could speak English was required to be present to translate if one could only speak Japanese. Prisoners and families could only touch their fingers through the grate. I can only imagine how these families felt, seeing their husbands or fathers in prison. Many detainees did not sleep that night after lights out. Letting them see their families in this unsatisfactory way is not necessarily kindness. Detainees are not criminals. The way the visitation is organized ignores human dignity and it should be reorganized to reflect American values such as liberty.
What is Prison? [3/16/1942]
Assembled in this camp are fellow Japanese in America who were leaders of the community on the outside, but reduced to being treated as prisoners. They never imagined themselves being imprisoned, but after spending a night or two together, we started to bond with each other.
[When the detainees first were first brought here], some were forced to change clothes, with photos of them taken from the front and back. Others had their fingerprints taken. And some had their private parts examined. Everyone felt as if they were being treated just like criminals.
Once in prison, a few among the detainees [took charge] and forced other to fork over $1 or even $2.50. They also confiscated personal items and any sharp objects. These so-called division “leaders” are well-known [in Japanese prisons], but it’s a surprise that they would exist here in the United States, supposedly the world’s leading civilization. The “leaders” claimed that this confiscation was for mutual aid since some detainees did not have any money. I heard of one case when a certain detainee kindly offered to look after someone else’s bed, but then got his money stolen. We Japanese detainees in the U.S. have fallen into the dark side of this country, and this episode is going to be the first story they tell when we return home to Japan one day.
Unexpectedly being in the prison is also an interesting experience for us. We heard of, but did not experience, the more criminal activities in prison, such as rape and robbery that the Filipino or Mexican inmates perpetuated. Here, we Japanese are segregated to 12 detainees per unit to spend the night together. What a contrast from Santa Barbara, where we had to remove our clothes for the disinfection process. In any case, I will never forget these nights we spent as prisoners in America.
At Ease in Prison [3/17/1942]
The sun feels so nice in the spring-like weather of this southern land. Daily routines of inspection, cleaning, and meals is broken up only with foolish talk. We spend the rest of our time talking. About 300 prisoners get in line at the mess hall, putting their hands together in gassho before picking up chopsticks. But during these waits before a meal, everyone seems sad.
Luckily, because there are so many Japanese here, there are many who can cook Japanese food, which is a slight consolation.
Although I am imprisoned, having others who share the same experience gives me strength. I wonder how lonely it would be to be imprisoned as one of few Japanese among people of other races. At least here, even though we are stripped of our social status from the “dusty” world [the world outside], being part of a Japanese prisoner group, I feel a bit better.
Here, even someone who may have had a high social status on the outside, when its their turn to clean the bathroom on the toilets, they seem to enjoy fulfilling their duties.
Everyone seems to have nights when they cannot fall asleep, thinking of their families or their work, but they focus their feelings toward Japan’s victory all day. Anyway, I am getting used to living in camp now that I have been here for three or four days. In fact, I have decided to get my body in shape by sunbathing in the morning.
The First Visitor [3/18/1942]
Ohigan must have started from today. Leaves outside are showing signs of springs, but no one seems to have any interest in enjoying that.
Today is visiting day. Everyone seemed excited since the morning. I was at peace just observing everyone’s excitement, but unexpectedly, I too was called to meet a visitor. I assumed the visitor was Mrs. Hayashima and looked for her near the barbed wire, but to my surprise, it was Mr. Masao Waki waiting for me. Mr. Waki graduated from the University of California last summer and moved in Los Angeles, but because of the recent arrests, he was not sure how many times he could come back here and decided to visit. He is going to join the U.S. military on the 28th and was going to stop by Lompoc on the way back to his home. Mr. Waki asked me if I wanted him to deliver a message to my family. If he is going anyway, it would be a great opportunity to let my family know that I’m in good spirits. Maybe just writing letters would not give them peace of mind, so I asked him to take some of my clothes, which were unnecessary given the allocation of clothes here in this interment camp, back to my family, and I promised that I would get everything ready by tomorrow morning.
Mr. Waki handed me $10 through the barbed wire, saying that he didn’t bring anything as a gift. Even though I was thankful for his kindness, I felt sad receiving money in this way through barbed wire.
People outside must see me like a monkey in a zoo. I can only imagine how miserable visitors feel to communicate with their families and friends through the barbed wire.
On the Eve of Departing [3/19/1942]
I am getting used to living in this camp. I left a package in the office this morning for Mr. Waki to hand it to my family. Since it was not visiting day, all I could do was wave to him from a distance.
Barrack F is now completely full. I heard a rumor that we would be transferred to New Mexico, so we introduced ourselves after roll call before anything happens. We announced our birthplace, place of residence [before confinement], and full name. Out of the 48 prisoners who share this space, there was one Christian minister and two Buddhist priests. I added a few extra thoughts after introducing myself, stating; “we are 48 people, and as member of the so-called “ABC (Iroha) Camp,” we will soon be dispersed eastward (to New Mexico), but like the Chūshingura (the well-known story of the 47 samurai/ronin), we should keep the Japanese flag embossed on our hearts as we build a Japanese community in this place that the U.S. claims as it own.” After the 48 individuals introduced themselves, it soon was time for lights out. We rushed into our beds, and perhaps because of how we had been able to set things out in the open, I heard someone [relaxed and] snoring.
The Raison-d’etre of Japanese Language Schools [3/20/1942]
There are many different kinds of people among the roughly 300 detainees in this temporary camp in Tujunga. Most of detainees who were arrested are linked with Japanese language schools: teachers, principals, Buddhist priests who were also teachers, school administrators, Christian ministers, and school board members and staff.
These arrests happened because of the Dies Committee’s report that accused the language schools of being anti-American organizations. Thus we see the arrests as well as the confiscation of the schools’ textbooks. Of course, the organizations taught second-generation students not only the language, but also Japanese values. But somehow the Americans do not accept the fact that these schools also teach students to be sincere and faithful to the U.S. The committee admitted that Japanese American soldiers show better performance than non-Japanese American soldiers, but they will not concede that the excellent performance was thanks to the Japanese language school education. During this war between the U.S. and Japan, there is not a single language school administrator who ran their school to somehow benefit Japan. They simply taught that being an American of Japanese ancestry should not mean that they are inferior to white Americans. This should be something Americans find agreeable. Not accepting the virtues of others and unnecessarily showing of one’s own power is the first step in the decline of a country. Japan has been accepting other cultures’ virtues as assets and developing the nation for the last 70 years, whereas the U.S. today is only focusing on itself as a super power. The way the war is going recently is evidence of this contrast.
The U.S. must already have had many resources to dominate this war, but only a few months after the war began, it is already claiming a shortage of armaments.
The U.S. is arresting the leaders of the Japanese community here and herding helpless women and Japanese American citizen children as if they are chasing powerless sheep. How will, within their admirable history, the U.S. in posterity record the reason this war began? I assume Americans will say that the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor without an official war declaration, and not mention why the U.S. government put its Navy in Hawai’i in the first place.
Mr. Scott [3/21/1942]
Today must be the middle of the spring Ohigan. I write must be because we prisoners do not have any sense of the season or time. It has been a week since we arrived in Tujunga. The snow on the ground has melted, and the leaves on the trees are out, but I don’t feel like enjoying this beautiful scenery given out current circumstances. If one asks, “[the trees are] beautiful, aren’t they?” others simply reply; “Yes they are” emotionlessly.
During roll call in the afternoon, camp leader Mr. Scott said that people in Barracks A and B might move to other locations around Monday. The rest would be transferred to other camps after Thursday. In any case, I told the others that we still have some time because they won’t be able to uproot us so suddenly. Given that we still have visitor’s day on Sunday and next Wednesday, those would be good occasions to sign over deeds and other properties, though, I wanted them to be careful about changing things if it were to someone else other than their wives or children.
Scott is a kind person. Yesterday, he heard that one of the detainees’ son passed away suddenly and allowed that detainee to go home until Sunday. Normally, permission would not have been granted if the detainee had applied through the normal procedures, but he demonstrated on unconditional sense of human feeling towards a Japanese person. There are Caucasians who are extremely kind to us on an individual basis, and Scott is one of them.
I received the first letter from my wife. It was mailed on the 19th. She wrote that since I left Lompoc, my family has been supported by other fellow Japanese. (Surprisingly,) the letter was written in English. Because of restrictions, letters in Japanese are not permitted, and we have to communicate for the next conceivable period in broken English. It became clear, however, it has become clear that those who are a member of the Yamato race would come together and support each other as a consequence of this war.
Spring Higan Ceremony at the Camp [3/22/1942]
It’s Sunday today. Christian worship began at 9 a.m. outside. I am impressed that people go to these Christian services no matter where they are. I do not feel good about promoting a Buddhist ceremony to anyone, but given that it’s Ohigan, we decided to convene this evening an Ohigan ceremony that will be trans-sectarian.
In C Block, we set up an Amida Buddha statue and chanted the Jūnirai all together. I was moved to spend this year’s Higan in such an unexpected place. I was asked to speak at this unusual Higan event, so I delivered a Dharma talk, entitled “Our Higan.” I focused on what we might ideally be able to do despite our incarcerated selves. I thought that other detainees applauding during my talk was not suitable for a Buddhist ceremony. But after the 30-minute Dharma talk, they continued to applaud, so I guess rather than feel offended by that, [I should think that] the audience might have been moved by my sermon.
The Christian minister Rev. Izumi from Santa Barbara, told me that it was a great talk. Another Christian minister Rev. Nakane, also seemed pleased and commented that my voice extended throughout the room. It’s a good thing to speak openly and forthrightly to people who might be of a different faith.
Those Leaving Camp [3/23/1942]
During roll call at 3p.m., it was announced that the head cook and ill detainees who are over 70-years-old would be released on parole. Two people fit this criterion and they both beamed with happiness upon being sent off with applause from the roughly 300 other detainees here. Even though they would return to the Japanese community that is currently in upheaval, it must seem better than internment life that is like being trapped in a birdcage. People sending the two off seemed somewhat envious.
Living in a camp, where detainees have food and shelter, should be better than living in an enemy country during a time of war when it’s possible that one’s life might be imperiled. But the fact that a single barbed wire fence takes away our freedom has made for a dreary day-to-day existence without any joy or taste to life.
But for me, I actually enjoy being in this kind of place where it’s possible to interact with other detainees from so many different backgrounds and to learn from their interesting stories.
Because of our robes, we Buddhist priests are usually isolated from larger society, but being put in a place like this, we are just regular human beings who experience suffering just like everyone else. Indeed, without this kind of experience we priests should have no right to talk about the purpose of life to others.
On the sender’s address section of a package from Tomoe, in addition to her return address, she wrote; “Keep your mind strong day and night.” In Tomoe’s package was missing one item I had requested, namely a book titled Bukkyō bungaku monogatari (The Story of Buddhist Literature). So I went to the office to ask them to return that item in case that kind of material was not permitted.
Baseball in Confinement [3/24/1942]
The spring sun is shining like it might in a southern region. And those confined here are playing baseball.
It’s good for us to engage in activities like this and forget ourselves and our time as detainees. There must be some here who have concerns, such as the state of their family businesses, which they can’t discuss with others. While there is no doubt that we all have love for our families that we had to leave behind, during those twice a week meetings with them through the barbed wire fence, there must be many detainees who cannot but stifle their true feelings. The detainees release stress by playing baseball, but they are simultaneously tired from preparing for the next transfer and feel sad to only be able to encounter their wives, who bring them delicious food, by entwining their fingers for three minutes through the barbed wire while guards look over them. How pathetic it must seem to see a husband or a father in this way.
That’s why I wrote to Tomoe to not come see me. Enemy aliens have to get a travel permit from the state’s Public Prosecutor’s Office to visit. Those who cannot drive have to ask others for a ride, and for her, looking after two young ones all the while. And if after having done all that, she returns home feeling sadness and pity for us, it would make everything even worse.
I think I’m lucky not to have any visitors and can simply observe how everyone goes through this difficult period of their lives.
I received another letter from Tomoe, and she informed me that she helped to observe Mrs. Shizue Nakamura’s 100th-day memorial service. It appears that she is doing what we discussed before my arrest and serving the community wearing the Buddhist priestly robes that she inherited from her mother. She also mentioned that some people in Lompoc have voluntarily evacuated to other regions. And civic organizations are having difficulties because of the ever-changing government regulations. In the end, there will only be left those who weren’t able to voluntarily evacuate. They should help each other try to abide by the laws so that when it comes time that they will be forcibly evacuated by military orders, there will not be any trouble. Most people are probably thinking in this way.
Announcement to Transfer to Santa Fe [3/25/1942]
There was a poem from Tomoe in a notebook she sent me.
If I open my eyes, I can see my husband.
Even if I close them, my husband appears as mine.
Shackled, give me wings
So that I can go to where my husband sleeps.
I try to be strong
But a wife’s attachments never ends day and night.
Waking up in the middle of the night thinking I caught a glimpse of him
It was just the shadow of a pillow. Tomoe, March 19th
At 3 p.m., after visitors returned home, Captain Scott announced that 209 detainees would be transferred to another camp in Santa Fe, New Mexico tomorrow morning at 9 a.m. I am alone again. At 10 p.m., we went through luggage inspection and had to take out everything in our hand luggage. I will sleep in clothes that I am wearing. I was hoping to organize the 48 in this barrack as the “ABC (Iroha) Camp,” but it turns out that we won’t be able to be all together as eight of the group, including our block leader, will be left in this camp.
Tonight, I was designated the MC for the farewell party. It would be the last night for us to bring our dreams together at Tuna Camp.
It was very windy outside, and I am concerned about tomorrow’s weather.
In Line for Santa Fe [3/26/1942]
After 13 days of custody, it is finally the day when I could go out again. We are to be transferred from this temporary internment camp, Tuna Camp, to a permanent wartime internment camp, located in the suburbs of Santa Fe, New Mexico. At 9 a.m., 209 of us started to head towards Los Angeles on five buses, each with a capacity of 40 people. On the way, Mrs. Hayashima, Eizō Masuyama, Rev. Kow’s wife, and others saw us off, but they seemed more pained than us detainees. I have no idea why the 209 were chosen to be transferred, but the ones left at the Tuna Camp seemed to also show the same sadness while they were sending us off.