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The Japanese American Saga

Gateway to History Series

"The Japanese American heritage is no exception to the experience of minorities and oppressed people who know the bitter sting and enduring stigma of hate, fear, and despair in a land of abundance that was founded on freedom, liberty, and opportunity" (Edison Uno, 1971). They came with lofty dreams, but instead found disappointment, discrimination, and sometimes death. Despite their struggles, they built a legacy that carries on today. Their story and those of their descendants are at the core of the Japanese American saga. First generation Japanese (Issei) immigrated to California in the mid-1800s. They found work, raised families, and developed roots in their communities. Nisei, the second generation, diligently obtained an education, owned businesses, and served in the military. In 1942, Executive Order 9066, signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, led to the darkest chapter in Japanese American history. Understanding their plight in internment camps, issues of resettlement, and assimilation may be better understood by students today.

Japanese United Methodist Church 

Japanese United Methodist Church, Easter 1936. Sacramento Ethnic Survey Collection, 1983/146/1867

This Gateway to History edition will address such research questions as: Who were the first Japanese to come to Sacramento? What was life like in this frontier city of the 1880s, with severe restrictions and prejudices against Japanese Americans? Why did whites exploit, discriminate, and force internment? How did the Japanese cope with internment camps and adjustments home? What changes occurred in Sacramento’s Japantown that made resettlement more challenging?

CSH materials provide numerous resources for educators to utilize in the classroom in order to help students understand Sacramento involvement with this loyal, patriotic, and productive citizenry. Students have available documents, photographs, oral histories, newspaper articles, books, and other sources to enrich classroom activities, create research projects and reports. The collection provides interested parties with individual stories and insights into people’s traditions, values, resilience, isolation, and renewal.

Sample Resources at the Center for Sacramento History (CSH)

A History of the Japanese Community in Sacramento 1883-1972 (1973)
CSH Call Number: ETHN COL
This CSUS thesis by Cheryl Lynn Cole extensive research of the history of Japanese citizens, Issei emigration to Sacramento, subsequent formation of Japantown, growth of associations, societies, churches, and issues of discrimination, evacuation, and resettlement. The author delves into Japanese traditions, cultural values, and agricultural and commercial ventures. Nisei, the American-born generation, is traced from 1883 to 1972. Their barriers, particularly internment, and the tide of racism are addressed.

Japanese Ethnic Survey
CSH Call Number: Ethnic Survey, Japanese, Box 3, Folder 1-2
Another source personalizing Japanese American heritage, this compilation describes their quest for assimilation, employment, establishing families, participation in cultural, sports, and religious activities. Folder two includes chapter footnotes, appendices, and a bibliography.

Henry Taketa Collection
CSH Call Number: Henry Taketa Collection, 2003/016
Mr. Taketa (1912-91) was a prominent Sacramento resident active in the Japanese-American community. He had a successful law practice prior to his internment at Tule Lake Relocation Camp. After WW II he became a charter member of the Japanese-American Citizens League (JACL), and assisted in the construction of several memorials commemorating the Japanese military participation. The collection contains notes, memos, news clippings, books, and reports. Information on the Pacific Asian Studies events at CSUS, reparation efforts, and the 1985 Tule Lake Reunion can also be found in the records.

The Japanese American Family Album (1996)
CSH Call Number: E184.J3 H584
The publication documents the lives of generations of Japanese immigrants through their letters, diaries, photos, interviews, and newspaper articles. The authors, Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler, describe life in Japan, first impressions in America, adapting to new social customs, preserving cultural traditions, and contending with discrimination and restrictions of their civil liberties.

Colonel Walter Takeo Tsukamoto: Japanese American Citizen Leader (2002)
CSH Call Number: Doris Kobayashi Collection, 2003/020/001, Box 1, Folder 1
The booklet honors the author’s father, Walter Tsukamoto, a lawyer and first president of the Sacramento JACL. The organization lobbied against measures intended to discriminate against people of Japanese ancestry. Mr. Tsukamoto was re-elected for five terms and was president of the National JACL.

Executive Order 9066 (1972)
CSH Call Number: D769.8.A6 C6
President Roosevelt signed an executive order in 1942 which permitted the Secretary of War to restrict entering, remaining, leaving the country by subjects. The photographs reflect Japanese American’s evacuations (approximately 110,000) and internment. The photos were mostly staged to show satisfied and fulfilled people, which hid their true feelings. After release, the Japanese could not discuss imprisonment, the unspeakable crimes, and assaults. Many blamed themselves, because they lived quietly and in isolation from Caucasian neighbors. Photos show their uprooting, transport to camps, at work, selling businesses, and personal items with hopeless and forlorn facial expressions.

Issei Christians (1977)
CSH Call Number: E184.J3 I66
Oral histories originated in 1969, with six taped interviews by Reverend Takarabe of his congregation. The recollections are detailed accounts of Japan childhood, raising families in California, military experiences, education, financial reversals, disappointments and achievements.

Continuing Traditions: Japanese Americans, Story of a People, 1869-1992 (1992)
CSH Call Number: ETHN CON
Project Director Wayne Maeda developed and managed an exhibition about Japanese Americans, Issei coming from Japan, the 1913 Alien Land Law prohibiting Japanese from owning land, denied becoming naturalized citizens. The exhibit contained artifacts, documents, and photographs.

Not Black and White: The Sacramento Bee’s coverage of the Japanese Community from Pearl Harbor to Executive Order 9066 (2002)
CSH Call Number: ETHN WHI
Thaddeus David White researched Sacramento Bee articles to determine whether the newspaper actively promoted an anti-Japanese campaign after Pearl Harbor. The articles advocated tolerance and restraint, but supported mass evacuations.

Suggested Activities

Activity A
Display several photos of Issei coming to America, circa 1870 – 1890. Engage students in experiencing being in a photo, and take a sensory walk through the images. What sounds do you hear? What smells are there? What is the temperature? Where are you standing? How are you feeling? What are you wearing? Where are you going next?

Activity B
Display a copy of Executive Order 9066, and set the stage for mass evacuations. Students are Japanese Americans who have been deported to an internment camp. In small groups (six to eight), they describe what the camp is like, and their first full day of incarceration. How do you feel about being uprooted, dealing with prejudice, and your rights withdrawn? One student facilitates discussion, another student records the responses, and each group shares results.

Activity C
Debate the pro/con positions of, "It was important to contain Japanese Americans after Pearl Harbor." Students research, develop talking points, and debate each side from a political, economic, and social perspective.

Activity D
Students read about Japanese American resettlement into Sacramento from internment camps. Brainstorm issues surrounding this event and have them write a concise report about resettlement.

Activity E
In small groups (two to three), students are assigned as an ad-hoc committee of the Japanese American Citizens League trying to create legislation that will allow them to become naturalized citizens, own land, commemorate Japanese in American military service. They discuss issues preventing citizenship and ways to overcome the barriers. Students create a paragraph drafting the statement for legislative member’s consideration.