Jonathan van Harmelen

Jonathan van Harmelen is currently a Ph.D student in history at UC Santa Cruz specializing in the history of Japanese-American incarceration. He holds a BA in history and French from Pomona College, and has completed an MA from Georgetown University. From 2015 - 2018, he previously worked for the National Museum of American History as an intern and researcher. He can be reached at

Updated February 2020

war en ja es pt

Auld Lang Syne in the Desert and Swamp: New Year’s in Camp

The holidays are a special time of unity, with the end of each year bringing senses of joy and reflectiveness. For Japanese Americans experiencing incarceration during World War II, the New Year’s holiday elicited a number of responses that reflected both the importance of the traditional festivities and the anxieties of camp life.

For most Americans, the holiday season centers on Christmas; for Japanese Americans, New Year’s was (and, in many ways, still is) the center of the holiday season as an extension of the Japanese tradition of oshogatsu. In the prewar years, families celebrated the New Year ...

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community en

A Journey to Guadalupe

One of the more difficult questions historian are asked is not about history itself, but their work as historians: “Why do you write about this topic?” Of course, like other people who study history, I do so for a variety of reasons, whether to understand broader issues affecting society or as part of an introspective journey. History is, after all, a form of storytelling that uses the past as a medium for discussing issues, past and present. In more recent decades, historians have sought to collect personal stories of individuals that add a personal touch to seemingly impersonal topics. For ...

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war en

Power Failure: The Journey of a Utility Bill to Fort Missoula

When a collections representative for Pacific Gas and Electric sent out a regular utility bill to Mr. Yoshiyuki Akiyama of San Francisco in late January 1942, the company received no reply. Mr. Akiyama, a former resident of Apartment 5 of 1920 Pine St., San Francisco, was unable to respond. Earlier that month, he was taken by the FBI and sent to the Fort Missoula internment camp in Montana, arriving at the camp on January 30, 1942.

In the months leading up to December 7, 1941, Japanese nationals like Akiyama—along with German and Italian nationals—were documented and added to ...

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media en

Posh Writings on Prisons in the West: The New Yorker’s Take on Japanese American Incarceration

In the wake of the Los Angeles Times’s recent self-reflection on the place of racism in its past, it is worth considering how mainstream publications covered historical events in American history associated with race and civil rights. One issue that inspired a wide range of responses was the mass removal and incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II. Public opinion in favor of incarceration was fueled in part by the racist media portrayals of Japanese American disloyalty that were featured in West Coast publications such as the Los Angeles Times and the Hearst Press.

While East Coast newspapers ...

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politics en

Bunji Omura – New York Japanese Antifascist Writer and Publicist

Although the saga of the Issei generation has been written by a number of historians, our understanding the views of Issei writers and thinkers on Japan is still incomplete. While the work of Eiichiro Azuma delves into the connections of the Issei to Japanese expansionism and the rise of militaristic nationalism, few have examined their counterparts who spoke out publicly against Japan’s move toward fascism, and who defended democracy. One such voice was that of Bunji Omura.

Bunji Omura was born in 1896 in Takakura, Fukuoka, Japan. Although his parents were farmers, his family belonged to a long line ...

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