Witness and victim.
Although Ichihashi had planned to pursue an academic career in Japan, his mentor, Stanford President David Starr Jordan, and others at the university encouraged him to return to campus and teach subjects related to Japanese studies, then a new field in academia. Jordan was keenly interested in developing ties between Stanford and Asia and believed Ichihashi could develop the relationship. Jordan once wrote Baron Iwasaki, the head of the Mitsubishi Company and one of the wealthiest men in Japan, that Ichihashi was "one of the best students with whom I have ever come in contact" and was well qualified for "a professorship in any university."
Ichihashi assumed a post at Stanford reluctantly, however, since he was not trained as an Asianist and, as importantly, he was sensitive about the anti-Japanese prejudice in America. Federal law barred him and other Japanese aliens from obtaining citizenship. Until 1952, they were categorized as "aliens ineligible to citizenship." Even in the university community, he personally suffered much discrimination. But he decided to give Stanford a try and began teaching in 1913.
During the 1920s and 1930s, Ichihashi regularly wrote and spoke on Japanese history and diplomacy and, in 1928, published The Washington Conference and After, a history of the 1922 Washington Conference which addressed problems of naval armaments and Pacific security. Ichihashi had attended the meeting as the personal aide to the chief Japanese delegate, Baron Tomosaburo Kato, later prime minister of Japan. Ichihashi became a leading authority on Pacific relations and worked to improve U.S.-Japan mutual understanding.
At Stanford, he held the first endowed chair at the university. He served as acting chair of the History Department and actively participated in professional conferences and meetings on Japanese history and international relations throughout the West, including with the Institute of Pacific Relations, later vilified during the anti-communist witchhunts of the 1950s.
At the same time, Ichihashi never relinquished interest in the experience of his fellow Japanese in America. In his early career, he had written frequently about Japanese immigrants and argued against anti-Japanese publicists such as V. S. McClatchy, the powerful newspaper publisher. In 1932, he published Japanese in the United States, a foundational work for today's Asian American studies.
At the start of internment in 1942, Ichihashi was a senior professor at Stanford looking forward to retirement. Even before he left the Stanford campus, however, Ichihashi had decided that he would write a book about his life under internment. He sensed the historic significance of what was about to happen to him and the tens of thousands of other Japanese Americans, and he knew he was uniquely qualified to document that experience. He understood both Japanese and American cultures and ways as few did. He was fluent in Japanese, English, and a number of European languages.
He therefore documented his day-to-day life in internment, from the day he left Stanford until his return three years later. He began his record using Stanford examination "blue books" that he took with him. He also kept carbon-copies of his extensive typewritten correspondence with Stanford colleagues. Moreover, he kept a private diary in which he wrote about his encounters with camp administrators, conversations and meetings with other internees, observations about current events, and the difficulties in his personal life.
But why did Ichihashi not complete his own account? Why did he let his precious research materials languish?
Apparently, the strain of internment had taken its toll and he never mustered the will and energy to finish his project after his return to campus. In fact, he never published any of this research in the last twenty years of his life. Stanford colleagues remember him after his return as bitter, increasingly recluse, and cranky in his retirement. His was a sorry postscript to a distinguished, pioneering early career. He died of cancer in 1963.
In the spring of 1942, military authorities, acting with the authority of the president of the United States, incarcerated all persons of Japanese ancestry in the western part of the country: 120,000 men, women, and children; young and old; citizen and alien alike were required to turn themselves in and live in federally operated internment camps. There were no charges, no due process, no formal accusations; unspecified internal security concerns were the official rationale. The only thing the internees had in common was their ancestral tie to a belligerent nation. German and Italian Americans, however, suffered no such fate.
Most of the Japanese Americans spent the war years in ten internment camps located in desolate and remote locations from Arkansas to eastern California. The camps were prisons, with armed soldiers around the perimeters, barbed wire, and controls over every aspect of life. These were not death camps, such as in Nazi Germany, but, then again, America was supposed to be fighting for democracy.
Nevertheless, life in America's camps was though physically and emotionally. Internees lived in roughly constructed barracks, suffered the extremes of weather, ate in mess halls, and endured the isolation and tedium of prison life. They also suffered the anxiety of not knowing what was to be done with them. Well into the war, officials discussed proposals for the permanent relocation of Japanese Americans onto Indian-reservation-like areas, using them for prisoner-of-war exchanges, and even wholesale deportation.
Other than a handful of Japanese American women married to Caucasian men, there were no exemptions from internment Yamato Ichihashi, a respected member of the Stanford faculty for thirty years, included.
Ichihashi and his wife Kei experienced the war in several different federal facilities. The first of these was the Santa Anita racetrack in Pasadena, California, one of the "assembly centers" for Japanese Americans, where thousands of internees were housed in horse stalls. In May 1942, Ichihashi (age sixty-four) and Kei (age fifty) left Stanford for their unknown future. The following excerpts are from his first two entries in his "blue book" diaries:
[We] left the house at 11:00 Am Tuesday; Sam
Anderson [of the American Friends, one of the few organizations
that offered support for the Japanese] drove us to
Mayfield where we assembled at the Japanese Language
School.... We were supposed to leave there at 12:00, but
due to the inadequacy of trucks to carry luggage, we were
detained until after 1 PM; we did not reach San Jose until
2:00. A medical examination was held and we did not get
on the train until 3:00. It was a hot day, but we had to walk
quite a distance with heavy luggage; it was cruel hardship
on old people like ourselves. All this was done at the San
Jose Freight Depot.
We entrained at 3:00; the cars composing this train
were all old day coaches, dirty and smelly--no light in the
lavatory which people, especially children, dirtied in no
time. Upholstered chairs showed moth-eaten spots.
Basket supper [with] sandwiches, 2 cup-cakes, an orange
and milk at 6:00 PM. This was repeated for breakfast
(Wednesday). At night, heat was turned on and it got
too hot, so that electric fans were turned on; thus passengers
suffered either from heat or draft. This was the
worst-managed train  experienced in the U.S., in addition
to the above characteristics. Each car was guarded
by an armed soldier. Beside him there was a doctor and
... I am informed by 12 persons that foods served at
present show a vast improvement over what was formerly
served. The first evacuees reached here 2 months ago.
. . . these were
given foods impossible
to eat. Hard
army bread and water. But the individuals were allowed
to prepare and eat foods in their own sheds. There were
bad foods served twice: once canned salmon and once
canned spinach which both caused bowel troubles (geri)
[diarrhea]. These created a havoc in lavatory facilities.
Foods were served by contractors who are said to have
indulged in [graft] by reducing to a minimum both the
quantity and quality....
Each district is provided a lavatory which is kept in
order and cleaned by care-takers; some of the users are
careless. There is no privacy. Pots are arranged in a row
and are open. Washing is provided with cold water only.
The men's shower place only is provided with hot
The major portion of evacuees are housed in newly
constructed barracks (wood-sheds), but thousands
are housed in stables which retain smells of the
animals. A stable which housed a horse now houses
from 5 to 6 humans, its ventilation is poor due to the
absence of windows. A stable is generally partitioned into
2 parts, the back-part is dark. These are not only unsanitary,
but mentally and morally depressive; they are
bound to produce evil results and therefore should
be condemned. The present occupants should be removed....
Ichihashi kept up an active correspondence with his Stanford colleagues and his letters provide exceptional insight into the internal life of the camps. He wrote the following letter from Santa Anita to University President Ray Lyman Wilbur in July 1942:
I have been kept very busy by many summons and numerous
personal visits every day and every evening since
my arrival here; the residents face a multitude of problems
of all sorts, personal, community, social, moral,
health, etc. It is indeed difficult, to choose which of the
problems to dwell upon, but I shall again attempt to write
you about educational problems as they are faced
No formal education is permitted until the fall, and
what is being attempted is informal in character; this is
confusing to children 16 years and under. Nothing is being
done for youth beyond that age group. This is exceedingly
unfortunate socially and morally, but the management
does not appreciate this fact and remains indifferent
about these phases of life and others. I need not tell you
about the danger of allowing youth to have nothing constructive
to do and forced to loaf; youth are in the most
dangerous period of life....
Many moral problems have already arisen, especially
among young girls and boys. Numerous cases of pregnancy
have been reported to me, and if this be true,
there will be born unfortunate children. I have warned
parents of the existence
so that they realize
their grave responsibility relative to their sons and
Although Ichihashi had mentally prepared himself for internment, the experience steadily wore him down. It took a severe toll on his personal life; his family virtually disintegrated under the pressures. By 1944, Ichihashi had become deeply depressed, as revealed in the following letter to one of his Stanford friends:
Though completely isolated in this desert, I know more or
less life in general in the outside world is full of sad occurrences;
it is difficult even for a habitual optimist to
remain optimistic.... I am hardened about [death]. In the
camps, including this one, the death-rate is very high due
to many reasons. I have attended more funerals in the
camps than I have in [the rest of my] life time. Even death
has its redeeming feature; the deceased will not know
sadness any more. Those of us blessed with life continue
to be confronted with sad events and must bear the burden
of spiritual suffering in cumulative form as time progresses.
In April 1945, almost three years to the day they left, Yamato and Kei Ichihashi were allowed to return to their campus home. Gradually, other Japanese Americans also left the camps to rebuild their lives outside. The last internees did not leave until mid-1946. When Ichihashi finally saw his house after the long journey home, he told a friend that he "almost wept" at the sight.
But the emotional toll of internment was heavy and weighed long after the ordeal was over. The family was never the same. Ichihashi did not reconcile with his estranged son Woodrow for twenty years, until just before his own death. Kei Ichihashi suffered a nervous breakdown shortly after her husband's death and died a few years later in a mental institution. Yamato Ichihashi's career and scholarly contributions were largely forgotten until his work was rediscovered in recent years.
Many other Japanese Americans suffered in similar ways, personally and professionally. Notably, most refused even to talk about their wartime experiences until just the past few years. Perhaps the passage of time has given them the distance to now unburden themselves. Publishing the Ichihashi account may help encourage coming to terms with the injustice--both for the Japanese Americans who went through it, as well as for the rest of us who should know about this past and how the power of the state was terribly misused under the pressures of war.
RELATED ARTICLE: Two American Prisoners of War
This year marks the tenth anniversary of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988. Signed by President Reagan, it apologized "on behalf of the American people for the evacuation, relocation,a nd internment" of Japanese Americans during World War II. Although it could not bring back to life the men, women, and children who died in American internment camps or erase the emotional scars of those who survived, it did acknowledge the fundamental injustice of and make restitution for internment.
At the same time, however, those Americans who were held captive in Japanese prisoner-of-war camps during World War II have had only their personal fortitude to reconcile the injustices they suffered. In Asia, many more died or suffered extreme cruelties as POWs, but for them there have been no national gestures etched forever in law books, no checks in the mail. Now, more than fifty years later, few survivors are even alive to educate future generations.
Recognizing the injustice in both cases, the Humanist offers the following two biographical studies. The first is that of a university professor who, at the age of sixty-four, began three years in an American internment camp. The second is that of a soldier who, at the age of twenty-one, began three years in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp. Each man experienced the injustices of war in very similar yet very different ways. As such, their stories serve as reminders of how fragile are our human rights and that such personal suffering is beyond rational defense.
Gordon H. Chang is associate professor of history at Stanford University. This article is adapted from his book, Morning Glory, Evening Shadow: Yamato Ichihashi and His Internment Writings, 1942-1945, the first to present a contemporaneous account of the three-year ordeal of an internee in his own words.
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|Title Annotation:||Two American Prisoners of War; respected professor imprisoned in a US Japanese internment camp for three years|
|Author:||Chang, Gordon H.|
|Date:||Jan 1, 1998|
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