Confidential Stories at Honouliuli (excerpts)
by Jack Tasaka
(English translation of original handwritten Japanese text)
DURING THE WAR
(pages 6-7, from “Crimes” section)
Interrogation by the authorities started with various questions about my personal background, eventually ending with the question, “Do you think it is better for Japan to win this war?” If I answered it was better for Japan to win, I would be sent to the detention center as an enemy alien. If I answered, “I like America to win,” they would insistently say, “Don’t lie. I know you are really praying for Japan to win.” Therefore, I had no choice but to offer a harmless and inoffensive answer, “I do not like war. I really hope Japan and America would make peace as soon as possible.” Then, he asked me, “If your older brother lands in Hawaii, can you shoot your brother?” If I answered, “I would not dare to shoot him,” I would, of course, be branded as an enemy alien. If I answered, “I would shoot him,” they would say, “Don’t lie. He is your blood brother. No way would you shoot him.” Furthermore, they asked me, “Are you willing to work together with us?” which meant if I was willing to make myself a cat’s paw for the authority. If I said “No,” I would be sent to Honouliuli. If I said “Yes,” I would imagine I would have tentatively been allowed to go home and forced to work as an informer.
At the Honolulu Immigration Station
(pages 8-9, from “Worse Than Prisoners” section)
The most exasperating thing during my detention life was the humiliating treatment at the hands of the Immigration Station. The Honolulu Immigration Station was a type of waiting place for those in an “undetermined or pending” status. The place was fenced by barbed wires and full of narrow, temporary barracks with 30 to 40 Japanese Americans jam-packed inside.
We were confined all day in a dark room with no light bulb, until we were called one by one to the final judgment. We were forced to languish in this room. Confinement ranged from one week to several weeks for those of us involved in a long examination. We were taken to a yard outside of the fence only at mealtimes, morning, noon, and evening, under the watch of military policemen.
Furthermore, our meals were very plain, and we had to use unwashed dishes and utensils used earlier by the prisoners of Oahu Prison. There were more than ten prisoners from Oahu Prison working at the Immigration Station, cleaning offices and sweeping the yard. At mealtime, those prisoners ate first, and the dishes and utensils they used were rinsed in a cursory fashion in a bucket so the plates, cups, and forks were still essentially unwashed. This was just filthy and humiliating and made me lose my appetite; I could hardly eat. This was just mistreatment; we were treated worse than the prisoners….
Furthermore, twenty to thirty of us slept on plain military folding cots in a small, totally dark room. I had difficulty sleeping and was bothered by the loud snoring, teeth grinding, and those talking in their sleep. I was totally depressed with anxiety, worrying about the painful life I would be forced to endure in the coming months….
In many ways, my detention at the Immigration Station was really “the first step into hell”; it was anguish and suffering right from the start. Since I was confident that “I had not/have not done anything shameful,” I really harbored ill will against my unreasonable detention and was indignant about the inhumane treatment. It rubbed my nerves the wrong way, making it too painful to be there.
After suffering hell for about a week at the Immigration Station, I was judged “guilty” and was to be detained during the war. Truthfully, when I was taken to Honouliuli internment camp in a jeep from the Immigration Station, I breathed a sigh of relief and felt like I had made a narrow escape.
Sgt. Loveles - a white friend in the camp
[Note: The actual name is Loveless, but was written as “Loveles” in the original text]
(page 13, from “Jigoku de Hotoke [A Friend in Hell]” section)
Honouliuli internment camp was administered by the Honolulu Military Police, and several MPs were stationed at the office, taking charge of the internees. One of them was Sergeant Loveles.
Those MPs who were newly transferred to Hawaii from the US mainland tended to regard Japanese internees with suspicion as enemy foreigners. However, Sergeant Loveles did not have any racial prejudice, and treated us impartially and in a gentlemanly manner. His openhearted attitude towards us was really appreciated and it was “like meeting Buddha in hell.”…
Our bleak life as detainees was really lightened by Sgt. Loveles’s visible and invisible kindness towards us.
The effects of the war on the camp
(page 36, from “Yusho Reppai [Survival of the Fittest]” section)
Those of us who were detained at Honouliuli could actually sense the defeat of the Japanese military. This was because the number of Japanese prisoners of war, who numbered only a few at the internment camp in the beginning, gradually increased as the war turned in favor of the US military that continued to advance from island to island in the Southwest Pacific Ocean….
…It was interesting to note that there was discord among Korean prisoners numbering more than 15,000. They were separated into two groups of pro and anti-Japanese. American authorities, in dealing with those opposing two groups, treated the anti-Japanese group preferentially in terms of providing meals and entertainment and trying to brainwash the rest to become pro-American. Accordingly, those Koreans who favored America received special treatment and were kept separate from the pro-Japanese elements. Those who were pro-Japanese, the majority at the beginning, were enticed by the better meals and entertainment, and gradually became pro-American.
AFTER THE WAR
Life after internment
(page 37, from the “Parole” section)
September 3, 1944, I was provisionally released on parole from the internment camp. Parole required us to declare no hostility after release and we were freed upon securing a sponsor (bail). At my release, I was ordered to sign an oath, “I will not bring a suit against the government.” Then, I was allowed to go home. However, I was obligated to have a mandatory interview with my sponsor once a week, reporting my current address, my work place, and my working circumstances. As for my job, I was not allowed to work at jobs prohibited by the mobilization office of the military government. I was not allowed to change jobs at my convenience, or move to other islands without approval from the competent authority. My provisional discharge under my sponsor’s guarantee continued until the end of the war, August 14, 1945 (Hawaii time). I finally became free when Japan surrendered.
All things considered, those four years during the Pacific War were the worst days of my life, having been oppressed, and suffering distress and humiliation.
Reflecting on the internment
(page 3, from the Introduction)
These days I hear many discussions about forced evacuations and detentions of the Japanese Americans during the war, apologies by the American government, and issues of reparations. Forced evacuations, relocations, and detentions of the Japanese Americans were against the founding spirit of America that stands for liberty and equality: This was a setback to the national principle upholding human rights and seeking worldly justice. I feel a strong desire to protest against the American government and demand reconsideration with regard to those compulsory measures. After all, “Issun no mushi nimo, gobu no tamashii. [Even an inch-long worm has a soul half-an-inch long]*
*A Japanese proverb meaning, “The most defenseless and weak creature will fight back under duress.”
(page 37, from “Reparation Issues” section)
Our rights to pursue freedom and happiness as guaranteed by the Constitution were snatched away during the Pacific War, and 120,000 citizens of Japanese ancestry were isolated and detained in internment camps or in concentration camps, losing their properties, assets, jobs, and incomes. Recognizing this as a huge mistake that stained American history, well-informed people have supported devising remedial measures.
Source: Confidential stories at Honouliuli internment camp, by Jack Y. Tasaka
Publication: Unpublished manuscript, 1980
Note: Page number references refer to the page number in the spiral-bound manuscript with the English translation of the original Japanese text.
English translation by: Ari Uchida, JCCH translator
Call No. in JCCH Resource Center: SP H 940.5317 TAS
MLA citation: Tasaka, Jack Y. Confidential Stories at Honouliuli Internment Camp. Trans. Ari Uchida. [Honolulu], 1980. MS. Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai‘i. The Untold Story: The Internment of Japanese Americans in Hawai‘i. Web. [date of access]