Making Home From Nothing is a short, 15-minute podcast piece that explores themes of what makes a home a home during forced Japanese American incarceration. Through the lens of the Izui family, this podcast explores the varied complexities of individual lived experiences. The podcast paints immersive scenes through real historical documents from the Izui family’s collections, including letters and newsletters, alongside bureaucratic documents from the War Relocation Authority to explore competing perspectives and depictions.
Listen to brothers Victor Sumio Izui and George Kiyoshi Izui write letters to their uncle about the crummy Idaho weather and the packages of handcrafted items received from their father at Department of Justice camps and imagine the scenes they depict. Despite being torn away from their homes, members of the Izui family bring with them their various personal interests and talents, which they then use to influence the environment around them.
This project was completed as part of the JASC Legacy Center’s 2022 Summer Internship program. You can view all six of the 2022 internship projects here.
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LARRY S. TAJIRI (VOICED BY TY YAMAMOTO): As in other centers, the colonist upon arrival at their new barracks home are given a bare room and only beds and mattresses. They are not issued a single piece of furniture. A scrap pile of lumber left by the construction workers will serve as the raw material supply for furniture which the evacuees will build…
GEORGE KIYOSHI IZUI (VOICED BY TEDDY WU): The Haku-jin of the neighboring community donated trees which are being planted in each block of this camp. Maybe in about 5 years we might be able to see some shady trees with really genuine green leaves. In all my life I have never seen so much dust as I do now daily.
[radio shuts off]
BRITTANY MURPHY: Eight decades have passed since President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 on February 19, 1942, ordering the forced removal and incarceration of over 120,000 people of Japanese descent from their homes on the West Coast. And while eight decades seems like a long time, the legacies of forced incarceration during World War II can be found across the United States even today: in public memorials and museums, and in private family scrapbooks.
What follows is a collection of historical materials containing the thoughts of real people that lived during the war time hysteria that led to the forced incarceration of Japanese Americans. They weave together to tell the story of the Izui family, a family that is uprooted from their home in Seattle, Washtington to move hundreds of miles across the country to live in vastly unfamiliar landscapes, from the dusty Idaho desert to the far away city of Chicago.
Listen to these letters from older brother Victor Sumio Izui and younger brother George Kiyoshi Izui to their uncle Matakichi, who is incarcerated separately from them in Manzanar in California. Their father, named Mikisaburo, has already been arrested by the FBI and is incarcerated in separate camps run by the Department of Justice for being of the issei generation and a veteran of the Russo-Japanese war.
[fade in typewriting sounds]
VICTOR SUMIO IZUI (VOICED BY JOSH REYNES):
March 7th, 1942.
Board said be ready for induction on 20th, but seems everybody is getting notice cancelled. Believe mine is cancelled too.
Dad is at Fort Missoula, Montana. Dormitory 33-B. Says condition is excellent.
Well, expect evacuation any day now. Reception Center is being built on Puyallup Fair grounds. Have found your old Army registration Card. Will send if you need it. Everybody sends regards.
[fade in construction noises]
MINIDOKA: PRELIMINARY REPORT IN A NEW FRONTIER COMMUNITY
Administrators, Colonists Strive To Solve Immediate Problems of Dust, Crowded Barracks
The Faces of Minidoka Reflect the Determination Of Its Residents to Meet the Challenge of Arid Sageland, Wind and Sun on the Idaho Desert. By Larry S. Tajiri.
Last week we spent a day at Minidoka. We met its people and their administrators, tasted its food, choked in its dust.
This is a preliminary report. The story of Minidoka will be told in the months– perhaps years to come. This is an impression of Minidoka as it is today, three weeks since the arrival of the first evacuee colonists. Minidoka will be a modern American city– frontier style.
From U.S. Highway 30 you can see the cloud-layers of dust which form an umbrella over Minidoka. There is feverish activity at Minidoka as construction work is speeded to accommodate the trainloads of evacuees arriving from the Puyallup and Portland assembly centers. Trucks, churning dust, roar down its unpaved roads. Three thousand white construction workers are building Minidoka under the direction of U.S. Army Engineers…
Minidoka presents a great engineering problem– the construction of the physical features of a community of 10,000– and a great sociological challenge, the emergency relocation of ten thousand human beings on raw desert land…
[fade in wind]
September 12, 1942
We came here to Idaho last week. Every one is O.K. Mother will send you a longer letter soon. Our new address is:
Mrs. S. Izui
Twin Falls, Idaho
Please write to us.
[opening and closing door, turning lights on]
WRA REPORT (VOICED BY BRITTANY MURPHY):
Minidoka report number nine: gardens. October 29th, 1942. War Relocation Authority Community Analysis Section.
Along the streets of the Minidoka Relocation Center at random intervals are little gardens, bits of neat landscaping by patient and artistic Japanese. A few weeks ago the newly built barracks were severe and ugly. The dust was deep around each crude porch and it swirled like smoke when the ind swept through Minidoka…
Minidoka was dessicated, drab and dusty. But life is not worth living for these people unless they have some green to cultivate. A few brought with them from assembly centers pots of vines of ferns. Most of these withered on the train. Tenderly they watered these after reaching Minidoka to restore the greenness. Some planted radishes and onions as soon as they had watered down the dust.
But the majority had nothing. They wandered into the sagebrush and walked along the irrigation canal bordering the center. Bit by bit they brought home clumps of grass, mint plants, cattail, reeds, and willows. Some found cactus, desert moss and bushgrass…
Surgery – 3:10
November 30, 1942
Dear Uncle –
Back to work in the hospital. On duty from 12 Midnight to 8 AM in the dispensary. Kiyoshi is working in the warehouse, Mother is well and occupied most of time by knitting and crocheting.
Weather is “fine.” Just like Seattle. Snows one day and rains ‘nother. The place is like a pig-pen it gets so muddy.
Sugar beets were rotten. Couldn’t make much.
Looks like we get our clothing issued to us any day now. Hot Dog. Well, take care of yourself. Mom and Kiyo says “hello.”
Not much change except this lousy Idaho rain. Thought it hardly ever rained in Idaho. Dad sent a homemade chair for Xmas, Christmas otherwise there’s no word from him for the last month.
There’s going to be 5 big dances tonight, and Kiyoshi is going to take his first date to his first dance! The boy is really growing up. Well, take care of yourself and here’s wishing you a “Happy New Year.” Victor.
Feb. 5 7:45 PM
Dear Uncle –
Long time no write. Hope you are well and happy. Are you still having your vacation or have you started working again?
Just received letter and presents from Dad. He sent me lots of hair tonic, hair pomade, soap, hair oil, and can of pipe tobacco. He’s also making those Beau dolls again.
Started to work in hospital laboratory as assistant lab technician. Sweet place to learn microscopic technique!
Snowed 6” yesterday and the place looks beautiful for a change. Lotsa coyote and rabbit tracks all around the place. Can hear the ole coyote howling away sometimes in the morning.
Kiyoshi is still working in the warehouse and Mother is well and knitting something all day. Take good care of yourself and write soon.
April 28, 1943
How are you and everyone we know? I am sorry I have not written sooner. We are all O.K. Brother enlisted took the physical exam and passed. He is now waitin’ with 200-fifty or so for their final induction call.
I hope you understand why he volunteered. He did not do it just because his friends did. He slept over this problem for a week before making his final decision.
He wish to get in with the medical unit and have further training along that line.
Mother feels quite happy over it and so do I. Have you received any letter from Dad? We have. And he also sent us quite a lot of stuffs which he made there such as: chairs (camp chair), dolls, woven handcrafts, pipe tobaccos, and many other stuffs.
I wish that we can go out somewhere far away from here and live, but I guess it’s quite impossible as yet. But from what I hear, Internees (like Dad) whose son volunteered for service are going to be able to come back. That is not to be banked on. True or false- I wish I knew. But we are all hoping that that is possible. By the way have you Dad’s new address? It’s:
Izui, Mikisaburo. Camp Livingston Internment Camp.
I hope that you were able to read my lousy hand-writing. Hope to be hearing from you. Mother shall write soon!
Dear Uncle –
I’m sorry I didn’t write sooner. Finished my basic last month – was promoted to Private First-Class and they sent me to a medical technician school here in Texas. I’ll get my Technician 5th grade (Corporal) when I get out 2 months from now.
Classes and homework keep me pretty, but I know all this stuff, thanks to the hospital experience in Puyallup and Hunt so it’s easy. Hoping to get my 15 days furlough when I get back to Shelby.
How are you doing back in camp? Got your cook job back? I don’t see why you didn’t stay back in Hunt.
Well, I hope I hear from you now and then. The address for two months is going to be:
PFC Victor Izui. El Paso, Texas. Victor.
How are you? Sorry I didn’t send you a fine Christmas card, but how was the holiday? O.K.? I didn’t have such a merry Christmas. But what can one expect in such a crummy dump as this. I suppose that by now, you people are starting on the fine MOCHI-TSUKI. We’re to do it on the 31st. Maybe I won’t do it this year either. I may be too busy at work again.
What I wanted to tell you is that, Dad will be able to come home and join us for good. !!! A letter from Washington, D.C. came to Mom informing us about it. They’re having a negotiation between the F.BI. and the W.R.A. right now. A mere formality, but as soon as the negotiation (KO-SHO) is completed the W.R.A. is suppose to tell us exactly when Dad’ll be back. I only hope that he can be here before Brother comes home on his furlough. That’ll be some time early next month. I guess you know that Vic (Sumio) is now a T/5….. a Technician 5th Grade…. (Corporal). I bet he’ll be very happy to know about Dad.
Well… I guess I’d better sign off now. I hope that you have a very Happy New Year. (I can’t seem to find any decent greeting cards around here. Pliz., you write won’t you? G’bye!
P.S. We just received your gift. Mom is very happy about it. Thank you very much!
[radio filter, city ambience]
Many boys and girls have left as far as to Chicago, Cleveland, Ohio and other big eastern cities for work. From what they write back they say in Chicago it is much easier to find a job than to find a place to live. I know that I can’t go out so I’m not worrying yet.
After the war, members of the Izui family moved to Chicago, where the process of Japanese American resettlement was already underway. Groups like the Chicago Resettlers Committee and the Chicago Buddhist Church were created not long before and after the end of the war, giving the large amount of Japanese Americans moving to Chicago spaces to rebuild after forced incarceration uprooted their lives. Places such as these helped Japanese Americans in Chicago, but the experiences of these families differed greatly. Some felt more acutely the pressures to conform to mainstream American society while in Chicago.
Later on in his life, George Izui became a sensei for the Japanese martial art of kendo. Before the war, kendo in the Midwest was practically unheard of. In 1975, the Midwest Kendo Federation was formed to connect kendo dojos across the Midwest. George Izui became an editor for the Sempo, the federation’s newsletter that ran from 1981 to 2002.
OLDER GEORGE IZUI (VOICED BY STANLEY ODA):
I began my Kendo training in 1933 when this country was struggling to come out of a depression. Unable to afford a second set of BOGU, since my brother was already practicing Kendo, my father resorted to an unusual method of acquiring a set for me.
His friend operated a second-hand rummage shop in the neighborhood where many ‘gems’ were dug up from among the numerous tables piled full of various articles. During one of his frequent visits, he managed to pick up a very tired looking MEN, TARE and two right-handed KOTE. Later, he also found an ancient looking DOH consisting of straight, flat pieces of bamboo held together with leather thongs. Judging from some old illustrations, its existence could have been dated to the latter part of the EDO period or the MEIJI period. He mended the worn out portions of the MEN and TARE as well as he could, and dismantling one of the KOTE, he turned the first portion inside-out to make the necessary mate to the other half.
Here’s a clip from Brian Ozaki from the JASC oral history collection, talking about his relationship to his heritage and the influence kendo and Izui Sensei had on him.
Kendo, I took on later in my life because it has such a deep, strong connection with the Japanese culture and there’s so much in kendo that it provides for me outside of kendo. And it helps me understand my Japanese culture and it helps me appreciate why I may do things or why may others may do things. Because kendo is really deep into the Japanese culture. And I was lucky enough for the dojo that I belong to is the first kendo dojo in Chicago. And it was based out of a BTC (Buddhist Temple of Chicago). And you know, it was Izui Sensei and he was a really, he’s a very famous Sensei, but he’s passed on.
But he believed in teaching the etiquette and the culture of kendo rather than the tournament style of kendo. To this day, it’s that etiquette is still being taught and I really appreciate that. So that’s why, it was one of the reasons why I decided to join kendo was you know, it brought me to a lot of deep cultural roots to who I am.
…To this day, I appreciate my father’s ngenuity, enthusiasm, and encouragement for our KENDO training.
The purpose of this article is to impress upon Kendo students that a fancy expensive set of BOGU is not a criterion for developing a good KENDO persona. Then, too, one must not be intimidated by facing an opposition wearing elaborate accouterments.
This podcast was produced by Brittany Murphy as part of the 2022 Japanese American Service Committee Summer Internship Program.
The JASC Legacy Center materials used during this podcast are from the following collections: Izui Family Papers and Photographs, collection number 2002.014, Ruby Izui Sempo Midwest Kendo newsletters, collection number 2010.005, and the Brian Ozaki interview in the JASC Oral History digital collections. This podcast also uses War Relocation Authority documents from the Japanese American Evacuation and Resettlement Records, BANC MSS 67/14 c, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.
Special thanks to Stanley Oda, Josh Reynes, Teddy Wu, and Ty Yamamoto for their voice talents. Special thanks to Karen Kanemoto and Meghan Thomas for their correspondence. And a big special thanks to everyone at the JASC summer internship for all their support and guidance! Thank you for listening.
This material is based upon work assisted by a grant from the U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Department of the Interior.
This material received Federal financial assistance for the preservation and interpretation of U.S. confinement sites where Japanese Americans were detained during World War II. Under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and the Age Discrimination Act of 1975, as amended, the U.S. Department of the Interior prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, disability or age in its federally funded assisted projects. If you believe you have been discriminated against in any program, activity, or facility as described above, or if you desire further information, please write to:
Office of Equal Opportunity National Park Service 1849 C Street, NW Washington, DC 20240
Bogu: The bogu is the exterior suit that students of kendo wear during training. It consists of several parts, including a helmet called a men, forearm gauntlets called kote, a breastplate called the do, and the bottom protectors called the tare. The first bogu George Izui received from his father was an older form of bogu.
Chicago Buddhist Church: The Chicago Buddhist Church was established in 1944 by Japanese Americans who had previously been incarcerated and resettled to Chicago, and is considered one of the first Buddhist temples in Chicago. The establishment exists today and is now known as the Buddhist Temple of Chicago. To learn more information about the Buddhist Temple of Chicago today, click here.
Chicago Resettlers Committee: The Chicago Resettlers Committee (CRC) was formed in November of 1945 after the War Relocation Authority’s office in Chicago was closed down after the end of the war. While also providing social services to assist the large growth of Japanese Americans moving to Chicago in rebuilding after the war, one of the CRC’s initial visions was to prevent the creation of a “Little Tokyo” in Chicago and to prevent the creation of segregated areas. Later, in 1954, the CRC changed its name to its current name, the Japanese American Service Committee (JASC).
Department of Justice (DoJ) Internment Camps: Along with the incarceration camps that were built by the WRA specifically for the purposes for Executive Order 9066, there also existed internment camps that were run separately by the Department of Justice (DoJ) to hold first generation immigrants who had been arrested by the FBI, such as the case with Mikisaburo Izui. These DoJ camps already existed previously as opposed to the hastily built WRA camps, and could be found in areas outside of the exclusion zone across the United States.
Incarceration camps: Camps that were created by the WRA for the purposes of incarcerating Japanese and Japanese Americans are called incarceration camps. You can read more about the meaning behind the terminology by clicking on this link.
Kendo: Kendo is a Japanese martial art where practitioners study the way of the sword by using bamboo swords and wearing protective armor called bogu. Many kendo dojos today teach primarily competitive styles, but George Izui was passionate about teaching the discipline and etiquette of kendo.
Midwest Kendo Federation: The Midwest Kendo Federation was created in 1974 in order to connect kendo dojos across the Midwest, where kendo news was fewer and far between when compared to the coasts. The federation still exists today to provide news across dojos in the Midwest area. You can visit its website here.
Recreation within incarceration camps: Within incarceration camps, as well as DoJ internment camps, Japanese Americans were allowed and sometimes encouraged by the WRA to teach and join classes for various hobbies such as woodworking and art.
Russo-Japanese War: The Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905) was fought between the Empire of Russia and the Empire of Japan for competing imperial interests in east Asian territories of Manchuria and Korea. This was the second major war the Empire of Japan fought in after the Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895) and had significant worldwide implications due to Japan’s victory against Russia, which marked the first modern victory of an Asian world power against a European world power. One of the partial results of this is that the image of Japan and its imperial capacities became more prominent on the world stage, which contributed to an increase in anti-Japanese and anti-Asian sentiment across Europe and the United States.
Archival Materials Used
Izui Family Papers and Photographs, 2002.014, box 1, folder 5, Japanese American Service Committee Legacy Center, Japanese American Service Committee, Chicago, IL.
Ruby Izui Sempo Midwest Kendo newsletters, 2010.005, box 1, folder 9, Japanese American Service Committee Legacy Center, Japanese American Service Committee, Chicago, IL.
Tajiri, Larry S. Minidoka: Preliminary Report in a New Frontier Community. Japanese American Evacuation and Resettlement Records, BANC MSS 67/14 c, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley, CA.
Minidoka reports, nos. 1-25. Japanese American Evacuation and Resettlement Records, BANC MSS 67/14 c, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley, CA.
Secondary materials for further reading
Chiang, Connie Y. “Imprisoned Nature: Toward an Environmental History of the World War II Japanese American Incarceration.” Environmental History 15, no. 2 (April 2010): 236-267.
Limerick, Patricia Nelson. “Disorientation and Reorientation: The American Landscape Discovered from the West.” The Journal of American History 79, no. 3 (December 1992): 1021-1049.
Tamura, Anna Hosticka. “Gardens Below the Watchtower: Gardens and Meaning in World War I Japanese American Incarceration Camps.” Landscape Journal 23, no. 1 (2004): 1-21.
Supplemental sound effects have been downloaded from Freesounds.org under Creative Commons 0 licenses.