Brian Niiya

Brian Niiya is a public historian specializing in Japanese American history. Currently the content director for Densho and editor of the online Densho Encyclopedia, he has also held various positions with the UCLA Asian American Studies Center, the Japanese American National Museum, and the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai'i that have involved managing collections, curating exhibitions, and developing public programs, and producing videos, books, and websites. His writings have been published in a wide range of academic, popular, and web-based publications, and he is frequently asked to give presentations or interviews on the forced removal and incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II. A "Spoiled Sansei" born and raised in Los Angeles to Nisei parents from Hawai'i, he lived in Hawai'i for over twenty years before returning to Los Angeles in 2017 where he is currently based.

Updated May 2020

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Thieving Guards, Mass Food Poisoning, and Other Facts of Life in Fresno Assembly Center

The Fresno Assembly Center* (FAC) opened on May 6, 1942 and held a total of 5,344 Japanese Americans forcibly removed from the Fresno and Sacramento areas. One of fifteen dedicated short-term detention camps opened in the spring of 1942, the facility closed six months later when the population was transferred to a more permanent prison camp in Arkansas. Though surrounded by barbed wire fences and guarded by military police—all the while facing oppressive heat in a nearly shadeless camp and a nightly curfew and roll call—Fresno inmates did their best to make the best of things. We ...

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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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