Japanese Internment Camps
From the Eyes of Sato Hashizume
My name is Hashizume. Sato Hashizume that is. I am one of the one-hundred and twenty thousand Japanese Americans who was placed into an Internment camp after the bombing of Pearl Harbor and for the duration of the second World War. I was born on July 14, 1931 in Japan. My mother and father originated in Japan, but my family had moved to America prior to my birth. My mother insisted on giving birth to me in her homeland, however. All of my siblings were born in America, but my mother wanted too have at least one child born in her homeland. So she had moved back to Japan just in time for me to be born. I believe she was very homesick and wanted to be in her mother’s presence while giving birth to me. I was even named “Sato” because it means “homeplace.” Japan was very near and dear to my mother’s heart. We lived in Japan for the first three years of my lifetime, and then my mother and I made the long journey all the way from Japan to Portland, Oregon to join the rest of my family who were already living there. I believe it was a big adjustment for all of us, although I was too young to remember the specifics. I do recall living in an apartment building. And I remembering running around and playing with my older brother, Tom. Tom was a rambunctious one. He definitely made things interesting for us in the apartment. He was constantly running around, rummaging through things, knocking my mother’s valuables down, and messing with the rest of us children. Now I remember the horrendous Sunday like it was yesterday. It was a very chill day. One of the very first cold days of winter in Oregon. We didn’t hear about the attack until later in the day, because of the poor means of communication back then, but I knew something was wrong simply by my parents faces. I was only nine years old, but I worked up the courage to ask my crying mother and father what was wrong. They told my siblings and I of the attack. I was scared. I was scared because I did not know if any other attacks were coming. But mostly, I was scared because I was a Japanese-American. I knew very well that people in our community treated us differently and acted differently around us because of our different ethnicity, but I was unsure of what this meant for my family here in America. My father just kept repeating “I don’t know why Japan did that. I don’t know Japan did that.” We all huddled up around the radio listening for any new news on the attack. We didn’t understand why such a small country like Japan would do this to such a large country like America. We knew that this only meant trouble for us in the future.
The very next day after the bombing I returned to my middle school. To me, everything seemed relatively normal. My Japanese as well as my non-Japanese friends all seemed to be acting friendly. The main talk amongst us children and the teachers was, of course, the bombing and the threat of war here in America. It is so strange to me that it didn’t seem like a big deal at the time. I was indeed worried. But I wasn’t worried about the Caucasian students making fun of me. And I wasn’t worried about being forced out of my home. I was worried for the sake of my country. I was American, just like the rest of them. But as time went on, and the war propaganda began to increase, the hatred for Japanese people was at an all time high. People began looking at me different, and I was fully aware of it. I began to fear going out in public and going to school. Children would chase me, kick me, and call me names. I no longer felt safe or comfortable in my own skin. The only way I could find peace was to wear a pin with the Chinese flag on it, hoping to fool my peers into thinking I was from China rather than Japan.
It was only a matter of time before my family and the other Japanese-Americans who lived in our community were forced out of our homes. The first camp I remember living in was called the Portland Assembly Center. When I realized we were being evacuated, I thought the government was sending us somewhere cool. I thought that this was to keep up safe, not to punish us for our ethnicity. The Assembly Center consisted of hundreds of tiny rooms. Each family got their own little room, with only plywood separating the different living spaces. Although I did not want to be living here, I was glad that I was able to be in the company of my own family, and not separated from my loved ones. When my mother and father finally informed my siblings and I about what was happening and what would happen to us, we had to make the decision to move. They told us that we could only bring things that were very important to us. I packed some clothing, my grandmother’s necklace I was given when I moved to America, my Holy Bible, and a wool blanket. After a few months in the Portland Assembly Center, we were relocated to the Minidoka Camp in Idaho via train. We lived in Idaho for about three years if I remember correctly. Minidoka was not a terrible place to live, as some might claim. For being an internment camp, it was somewhat peaceful. The terrain was like nothing I had ever seen before. And boy, were the temperatures outrageous. Those summers out there in the middle of nowhere were unbearably hot. And the winters were frigid. That’s probably what I remember most about Minidoka..the weather. But many of my memories from the camps have left me. I can no longer remember these bad times. I think my brain has done this as a way to help me recover. The war of course ended after a few years of us being relocated. My family and I moved once again to Salt Lake City, Utah. My father worked here as a dishwasher. We didn’t stay here long, my mother longed to go back to Portland and we finally did. My family and I started fresh in Portland after the terrible war was over. I was able to attend high school and receive my diploma. And eventually I went on to become a nurse.
I still think about being a little girl all of the time. Children at school would come up to me and ask me constantly if I was a “Jap”. I would always tell them “No, I am Japanese.” I will never forget this. The prejudice was unbearable. It is so hard for me to understand why this had to happen to my family and I. Yet then I think about all of the millions of people who lost their lives during World War II and I realize how lucky I am to have made it out alive. And although I could choose to be bitter and hold hatred towards the United States for what they did to their citizens, I made the decision not to. As I have grown and matured throughout my very long life time, I can now see why they would do this to us. They feared us simply because of our ethnicity. Which is not moral under any means, but is understandable. If I was living in Japan while American bombed Japan, I would too fear Americans in our country. There were many hardships I have overcome in my life, but I thank God everyday for the gift of life. I thank God for the Americans keeping me safe, and I thank God that I am still here today. I am thankful for my heritage, and will never take that for granted.
"Sato Hashizumi." Sato Hashizumi. Accessed April 27, 2015. http://www.tellingstories.org/internment/shashizume/index.html.
"Sato Hashizume: Japanese Internment Survivor." Abraham Lincoln High School Oral History Project. Accessed April 27, 2015. http://www.alhsoralhistoryproject.org/word_press/home/immigration-interviews/sato-hashizume/.
"Japanese Evacuees, Portland Assembly Center." Oregon History Project. Accessed April 29, 2015. http://www.ohs.org/education/oregonhistory/historical_records/dspDocument.cfm?doc_ID=000DA6C2-CBE3-1E91-891B80B0527200A7.
"Minidoka Relocation Center." Minidoka Relocation Center. Accessed April 29, 2015. http://www.javadc.org/minidoka_relocation_center.htm.