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

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10 Little Known Facts of Life at Minidoka

Located in Southern Idaho, Minidoka concentration camp opened on August 10, 1942 and held some 13,000 Japanese Americans during World War II. The incarcerees — most of whom hailed from Washington and Oregon — were accustomed to relatively mild climates and struggled to adapt to Minidoka’s extreme temperatures and relentless dust storms. They also endured lesser-known travails. Read on for untold stories of life at Minidoka.

 

1. “A Source of Unpleasantness and Inconvenience”

Due to a parts shortage, the sewage system was late in being completed, which meant that the flush toilets could not be used initially. Thus, for the ...

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10 Little-Known Stories About Rohwer Concentration Camp

If there’s one true thing about studying history, it’s that there’s always more to learn. Less (in)famous than sites like Manzanar and Tule Lake, Rohwer was one of two WRA concentration camps located in Arkansas, where inmates were exposed to the unique climate and racial politics of the South, and had regular interactions with Nisei soldiers training at nearby military facilities. This year’s Rohwer Pilgrimage took place on April 11, and Densho Content Director Brian Niiya collected ten little-known facts about the former incarceration site.

1. A Particularly Hostile Reaction by State Government*

The influx ...

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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 ...

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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 ...

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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 ...

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