Brian Niiya

Once and always a "Spoiled Sansei," Brian Niiya is currently the content director for Denshō: The Japanese American Legacy Project.

Updated May 2014

war en

What An Ungodly Place To Meet: Tales From Camp Toilets

In stories of the forced removal and incarceration, certain types of stories recur. There is the shock of Pearl Harbor and the subsequent exclusion orders, the preparations for removal including human “vultures” who come by to buy household goods for a fraction of their value, and Issei women who break dishes rather then sell them at such prices. Once at the concentration camp, there is dust, extreme temperatures, barbed wire fences and guard towers, spartan living conditions (sometimes in converted horse stalls), lack of privacy, and the slow disintegration of family life. And there are the toilets. Always the toilets ...

Read more

migration en

Ship Jumpers, Border Crossers, and Other "Illegal" Issei Immigrants

Here at Densho, we often draw parallels between the forced removal and subsequent incarceration of Japanese Americans from the West Coast and the treatment of marginalized groups today. Sadly, the need to do this has only increased in recent months. However the current crackdown on and scapegoating of immigrants—particularly those deemed “illegal”—should remind us about an earlier period of Japanese American history: that of the Issei pioneers who came to the U.S. over one hundred years ago and laid the foundation of today’s Japanese American community. But did you know that a good number of those ...

Read more

war en

Remembering the Manzanar Riot

December 5, 2017 marks the 75th anniversary of the best known instance of mass unrest in the one of the WWII concentration camps. The Manzanar Riot, as it was called, was also one of a handful of times in which military police killed inmates in the camps and was a key event in leading the War Relocation Authority down the road of the “loyalty questionnaire” and segregation. Coming one year after the attack on Pearl Harbor, sensationalist coverage of the event inflamed anti-Japanese sentiment outside the camps. And the episode exposed deep divisions within the inmate population and with the ...

Read more

war en

Common Myths of WWII Incarceration: “More Than Half Were Children”

“Half or more of those removed from the West Coast and incarcerated in concentration camps were children.”

In recent years, this has to have become the most common misstatement of fact about the Japanese American wartime incarceration. It appears all over the place—in print publications, in films and videos, and on various reputable websites. I was reminded of this one most recently when I watched Letters from Camp produced by the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center in which Muslim American children and Japanese American former incarcerees read from letters Japanese American children wrote to librarian Clara Breed while imprisoned ...

Read more

culture en

Nanka Nikkei Voices

Earlier Generations

One of the things I have finally learned is that there are late people and early people. There are late families and early families. And there are late generations and early generations.

I come from an early family. My parents would habitually show up everywhere half-an-hour early. I learned early on that if we were going to pick someone up at the airport, for example, there was going to be at least a 30-minute wait if the plane was on time. Going to a baseball game meant getting there before everyone else, watching batting practice, then getting a hot dog ...

Read more