Remembrance 29


A Virtual Exhibition
  • Dates:
    Permanent Exhibition
  • Where:
    Virtual exhibition

Remembrance: The Legacy of Executive Order 9066

On February 19, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, authorizing the establishment of concentration camps and the forced removal and incarceration of all people of Japanese ancestry living on the West Coast. Within a month, the process of incarcerating Japanese Americans and their families began.

By the end of World War II, the United States government forcibly removed an estimated 126,000 people of Japanese ancestry from their homes and incarcerated them in makeshift and newly constructed concentration camps. This was not the first time this community had experienced discrimination; it was a continuation of the systematic racism, policies, and legislation that originated in the late 1800s and disproportionately targeted Asian immigrants and their loved ones.

Families, friends, and communities were broken apart, often assigned to different concentration camps from one another, forcibly separated by hundreds of miles. Life in the camps created additional divisions, disintegrating generations of culture and tradition. This great loss, and the silences about this history that followed, continues to impact communities, even as they build on the resilience of generations before them.

This virtual gallery pairs objects from the WSHS collections and materials donated during community scanning events to tell some of these stories.

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WSHS exhibitions and programs are generously supported by Columbia Bank, Humanities Washington, KNKX, The Murdock Foundation, and the Port of Tacoma.

  • As Japanese immigrants settled across Washington State, they brought with them a vivid, thriving culture. People of Japanese ancestry formed the core of many major cities, establishing neighborhoods and businesses and becoming a vital part of both local places and economies.

    Teachers, families, and students in front of the Tacoma Japanese Language School
    About 1920-1935

    Museum no. 1989.18.17.1

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  • Japanese Language Schools, or Nihongo Gakko, were started in the early 1900s. Classes met after school and taught children and young adults not only Japanese language, but literature and arts such as weaving and calligraphy. In Tacoma, as in many other cities, the school quickly became the heart of the Japanese community.

    Desk and Chair from the Tacoma Japanese Language School
    About 1920-1942

    Gift of Kerry and Christine Dammeier
    Museum nos. 2020.10.1-.2

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  • After the United States entered into war with Japan in December of 1941, Japanese people experienced increased discrimination. Some people woke up in their homes to find graffiti scrawled on the street, blaming them for a war they did not start. Others lived in fear of being called the enemy, burning and burying reminders of their ancestors in alleys and back yards.

    Japanese homes, churches and businesses were searched for evidence proving disloyalty. This room, ransacked sometime in 1942 after people of Japanese ancestry were incarcerated, has been identified as being located in the Japanese Methodist Episcopal Church in Tacoma.

    Courtesy of the Tacoma Public Library,
    Richards Studio D18994-2 

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  • Notices were posted in the early months of 1942 by the federal government that people of Japanese ancestry living in certain parts of the West Coast would be evicted from their homes, schools, and businesses.

    When the forced removal of people of Japanese ancestry began, individuals were given only days to decide what to take to the concentration camps. No one knew exactly what to expect, what would happen to them, or where they might end up by the war’s end.

    Instructions to all persons of Japanese ancestry living in the following areas…Counties of Pierce and King, State of Washington

    Gift of Louis Collins Books
    Museum no. 1993.16.1

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  • …about the middle of May 1942, I overheard my folks saying that all people of Japanese ancestry would be sent to evacuation camps. Being quite naive I thought to myself “I was born and raised here and that would not include our family.” A day or so later one of the boys in our neighborhood mentioned to me that we would be included. I still didn’t realize it then but of course he was right. 

     My folks were notified by letter, I suppose, that we needed to get ready to leave. We could only take what we could carry in our suitcases. We were notified that two F.B.I. agents would be coming to interview us and answer any questions my folks might have. 

    Excerpt from account written by Jim Moyer
    About 2000-2005

    Courtesy of the Moyer-Eaton family 

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  • American concentration camps at which Japanese people were incarcerated were located in desolate areas across the United States, often desert or swampland. Many Washingtonians weren’t prepared for such harsh environments, particularly those second-generation Japanese people who had lived in western Washington all of their lives.

    Hunt, Idaho (Minidoka)
    Yasuko Morita

    Gift of Yasuko Morita
    Museum no. 1994.

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  • This suitcase belonged to Henry Hashimoto who lived in Tacoma. He was ten years old.

    Henry was small for his age and the suitcase was hard to carry. He carried it as he and his family were moved from camp to camp during the war – first to Pinedale Assembly Center near Fresno, California, then to Tule Lake near Klamath Falls, Oregon, and finally, to Minidoka near Hunt, Idaho.

    About 1940

    Gift of Yasuko Morita and Kats Fujita
    Museum no. 1994.19.12

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  • Patricia Koyamatsu was allowed to bring one toy to the Puyallup Assembly Center. In her own words, she remembers:

    In April, Daddy didn’t go to work. I woke up to find the house filled with boxes. Mommy and Daddy were packing our belongings in those boxes.

    “What’s happening?” I exclaimed.

    “We are going on a trip, a camping trip,” my father explained. I was so excited, I loved to go camping. “You may take one toy with you,” he said. It wasn’t hard to choose Teddy, my favorite teddy bear… 

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  • A long stream of buses picked us up at Jefferson Park. Adults could bring only what they could carry. As the row of buses traveled to Puyallup Fairgrounds, I was filled with excitement at the thought of going camping. But then I noticed a very strange thing. Daddy, who always appeared as if everything was always okay, had a great big tear sliding down his cheek. I was aware at the moment that something was terribly wrong.

    Teddy bear
    About 1940

    Gift of Patricia Kashiwagi Koyamatsu
    Museum no. 2020.3.1

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  • When he was forced to go to the Puyallup Assembly Center with his family, emerging Seattle artist Takuichi Fujii began keeping a diary that contained both written and visual observations. In it, he wrote, “Above the green grass of the pasture beyond, a machine gun was placed, and next to it, some soldiers were sleeping and others were training. When war comes, do people become horrible like this? Thinking about that, I felt wretched.” Later, he and his family were relocated to the Minidoka concentration camp in Idaho.

    Puyallup 4
    About 1942-1964
    Takuichi Fujii

    Gift of Sandy and Terry Kita
    Museum no. 2019.14.1

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  • War needs and the subsequent incarceration of people of Japanese ancestry resulted in labor shortages in the West during World War II. During this labor shortage, Japanese Americans were permitted to volunteer for farm labor at low wages. When he was forcibly removed to Minidoka concentration camp in Idaho, John Sasaki volunteered to work for a farmer in eastern Montana who grew sugar beets and alfalfa. Many years later, in the 1990s, he created this diorama of the concentration camps across the country for display at local museums.

    DIORAMA (Detail)
    About 1990-1999
    John Sasaki

    Gift of John and Toshiko Sasaki
    Museum no. 1994.14.34

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  • Katsu Oikawa included these sketches of housing at Heart Mountain in a letter to her best friend in Yakima. A graduate of Yakima High School, Oikawa had just started her studies at the University of Washington in Seattle when Executive Order 9066 was issued, interrupting her education. While at Heart Mountain, she served as society editor of the camp newspaper, The Heart Mountain Sentinel. With the help of Floyd Schmoe, a Quaker, she secured admission to Earlham College in Indiana, and eventually went into pediatrics, starting her own practice in New Orleans where she raised a family.

    Sketch of the barracks at the Heart Mountain concentration camp, Wyoming
    About 1942-1945
    Katsu Oikawa

    Courtesy of Midori Yenari

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  • The ugliness of camp was something that incarcerees attempted to change by building furniture and making art out of found materials and scrap wood. New supplies could sometimes be obtained from outside of camp or by using materials intended for official camp business. Some camp artists were
    professional illustrators and painters, while others had never before created art.

    Making beautiful things provided an outlet for feelings and also brought a sense of comfort to a harsh place. While many people did not create again after leaving, some of these items still exist as a testament to the resilience of their makers.

    Pendant carved from an apricot seed
    About 1942–1945
    Toshiko Tsujii

    Gift of John and Toshiko Sasaki
    Museum no. 1994.14.12

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  • Because there was no furniture issued to incarcerees except for a cot and mattress, incarcerees had to make their own at Arts and Craft shop facilities. Materials were scarce and nothing that could potentially be useful, such as wooden packing crates, was discarded. In some camps such as Heart Mountain, there were supervised outings to allow people to collect materials such as weathered wood, stone, and shells. These items were then used in making furniture and other items. Because Kinzo Hirose worked in the Heart Mountain kitchen during the day and could not participate in these sanctioned outings, he decided to sneak out at night to scavenge for the wood to make this dresser. This wood was scavenged from old shacks used by ranchers in the area.

    About 1943-1945
    Kinzo Hirose #2003, Hirose Family # 19454, Heart Mountain Relocation Camp, Block 1-4-A

    Gift of Susan Hirose Anderson
    Museum no. 2016.55.13

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  • The closure of American concentration camps presented families and individuals with hard choices. Some people returned to the places where they had lived before the war, but many did not.

    Many people left personal belongings or land with friends and neighbors to care for during their absence. In some cases, individuals and families returned to homes and farms, or recovered their belongings. In others, the choice was made to leave memories behind and start over in a place far from home.

    Child’s kimono
    About 1939-1946

    Gift of Wilma Spike
    Museum no. 2013.49.1

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  • During the 1920s, Japanese farmers grew much of the produce in Washington state. This cultivator was used by the Kawabata family to break up soil on their berry farm in Fife. After the family were forced into the Minidoka concentration camp, the father, Chojiro, became a carpenter instead of a farmer. The family didn’t immediately return to Fife after the war. They lived first in Oregon for a year before returning to the family farm near the Puyallup River.

    Hand cultivator
    About 1900-1940

    Gift of Yoshikazu Kawabata
    Museum no. 2007.170.2

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  • In 1928, Fujimatsu Moriguchi opened a business called Uwajimaya in Tacoma. He sold homemade fishcakes to Japanese laborers while his wife Sadako operated a small store near downtown Tacoma where this tea service was purchased. During the war, the Moriguchi family was incarcerated in Tule Lake where the weather was so harsh that they cut up blankets to make jackets. Upon leaving camp, the family chose to relocate to Seattle where they borrowed money and opened a small store to cater to other Japanese families. Over time, this store, also called Uwajimaya, became a center for community and has since expanded throughout western Washington.

    Japanese tea service
    About 1930s

    Gift of Tommie Oiye
    Museum no. 2016.69.29

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  • The first Day of Remembrance in Seattle (1978) was organized by Seattle-based activists as a way of gaining popular support for redress for those of Japanese ancestry who had been incarcerated during World War II. People were invited to dramatize the forced removal of Japanese Americans from the city by traveling by car from Seattle’s Sick Stadium to the Puyallup Fairgrounds, former site of the Puyallup Assembly Center. The organizers expected only a few hundred people at best – over 2,000 cars appeared.

    The First Day of Remembrance in Seattle
    November 25, 1978
    Mizu Sugimura and Yasushi Satori

    Courtesy of Mizu Sugimura

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  • In 1976, U.S. President Gerald Ford issued a proclamation that repealed Executive Order 9066. The repeal of the order was the result of several years of grassroots activism and advocacy within the Japanese American community, and was an important step toward achieving redress. 

    An American Promise (Proclamation 4417) 
    February 19, 1976

    Courtesy of Anne Tsunenishi

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