Daily Archives: 27 November 2007

Tessaku Seikatsu, December 1941

From Life behind Barbed Wire [鉄柵生活 Tessaku Seikatsu]: The World War II Internment Memoirs of a Hawai‘i Issei, by Yasutaro Soga [1873–1957] (U. Hawai‘i Press, 2008), pp. 34-35:

On December 24, our first Christmas Eve since our arrest, Mr. Masaji Marumoto arrived at the camp accompanied by an FBI agent. This was the first time someone from the outside (other than military personnel) had visited us. Mr. Marumoto, a lawyer, had come to write powers of attorney, and I asked to meet with him. We were allowed to speak in Japanese, but of course the FBI agent present was fluent in Japanese. Upon his arrival, Mr. Marumoto’s face became deathly pale, perhaps because he saw our surroundings and old friends badly in need of a shave and a change of clothes. I asked Mr. Marumoto to contact my wife about sending me some clothes. Half a month had passed since our arrival at the camp, and Mr. Daizo Sumida, Dr. Takahashi, and I had yet to receive a letter or parcel. We later found out that our letters had crossed with those from home, but at the time we felt somewhat frustrated and suffered from a lack of spare underwear. The day after Mr. Marumoto’s visit, all three of us received parcels of clothes from home.

For Christmas, we were treated to turkey at lunch. The Germans and Italians hastily put up a simple Christmas tree in the mess hall. That night one of the German detainees, a lecturer at the University of Hawaii, gave a talk, and many Japanese attended. He said that he would pray for a quick end to the war and everyone’s good health and that we be reunited with our families for Christmas next year….

On the first day of 1942, our first New Year’s Day since our arrest, we did not get even a piece of mochi (rice cake) and did not feel festive at all. We were filled with anxiety, frustration, and hopelessness—not only for ourselves, but also for the families we had left behind. Unless a man was extremely confident and optimistic, it was to be expected that here he might develop “nerves” or begin to display odd behavior. I noticed that men who had been fond of “talking big” outside were now depressed, turning into shadows of their former selves. Still others, refusing to face reality, clung to their prewar social status, which created problems for everyone.

When we are reduced to living at the most basic level, our good and bad points are clearly exposed. On the whole, educators and priests showed themselves to be the worst of the lot. I was not the only one who felt this way. Of course there are always exceptions: There are many respectable teachers and priests. I regret to say, however, that in the camp I was disappointed in most of them.

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