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

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 ...

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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 ...

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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 ...

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sports en

Japanese American National Museum Magazine

More Than A Game – Sport in the Japanese American Community, 1885 to Present - Part 2

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“BASEBALL SAVED US”

The coming of World War II brought upheaval to the Japanese American community. On the mainland, all West Coast Japanese Americans were forcibly removed from their homes and placed in American concentration camps. Though mostly spared such treatment in Hawai‘i, Japanese Americans there faced additional restrictions under martial law.

In America’s concentration camps, sport served as a much needed outlet for young and old, male and female, Issei and Nisei. In some cases, teams from before the war reformed in camp to take on all comers. In other cases, new alliances and ...

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sports en

Japanese American National Museum Magazine

More Than A Game – Sport in the Japanese American Community, 1885 to Present - Part 1

Sport has played a major role in the life of Japanese American communities from the first establishment of those communities in the late nineteenth century to the present. Over time, that role has changed. For the immigrant and first American-born generations, participation in sports was seen as a step towards “Americanization,” while at the same time it served to cement ties within the community.

Although outstanding Japanese American athletes have met many discriminatory barriers, many, when given the opportunity, have managed to reach the highest levels of their sports and their exploits have been eagerly followed by the community. And ...

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