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Rediscovering Honouliuli and preserving former camp sites

Having previously read with enjoyment and edification a trio of books published by the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai‘i — Life behind Barbed Wire: The World War II Internment Memoirs of a Hawaii Issei (2008), Family Torn Apart: The Internment Story of the Otokichi Muin Ozaki Family (2012) and Haisho Tenten: An Internment Odyssey (2017) — I was overjoyed by the prospect of scrutinizing still another sterling JCCH volume.

Although not as ambitious in analytical penetration, topical and thematic context, and historical detail as the above noted three works, this slender primer is both more comprehensive in coverage and richer in multi-perspectival representation of a lived wartime ordeal than any of its precursors. Of a piece with the earlier JCCH books, A Resilient Spirit acts strategically as an educational vehicle to incorporate the Hawai‘i Nikkei involvement into the heretofore mainland-dominated World War II uprooting and incarceration story of the Japanese American community.

Upon perusing the book’s foreword by Carole Hayashino, retiring president and executive of JCCH, readers will become cognizant of two significant facts. The first of these is the pivotal role played by her organization in rediscovering, between 1998 and 2002, Hawai‘i’s largest and longest operating World War II civilian incarceration and prisoner-of-war camp, Honouliuli, in West O‘ahu, and the JCCH’s subsequent dedication “to forever preserve the history of Hawai‘i’s confinement sites” (p. v). The second key fact imparted to readers by Hayashino is that the co-editors of “A Resilient Spirit,” Claire Sato and Violet Harada (both specialists in the field of library and information science), enshrine in their treatment of the wartime incarceration experience of Hawai‘i Nikkei the notion long ago vocalized by Edison Uno, the legendary father of Japanese American redress and Hayashino’s onetime ethnic studies mentor and colleague at San Francisco State University, that “history must be told by those who lived it” (p. v).

Consistent with this historical inclination, Sato and Harada organize their book into 11 diverse thematic/topical chapters (“December 7, 1941,” “Torn from Their Families,” “No Longer Free,” “Daily Life Behind the Barbed Wire,” “Pastimes,” “Mess Hall Meals,” “Separation and Longing,” “Sorrow in the Camps,” “Release with Conditions,” “Bittersweet Reflections,” and “Resilient Spirit”).

Each of these chapters are comprised of a cluster of artfully chosen and exceedingly moving mini-stories communicated by 36 former inmate narrators (whose brief life histories are provided in an appendix). These storytellers, overwhelmingly male Issei aliens, speak to the situations prevailing at the multiple inmate camp sites (minimally 17) within O’ahu and the neighboring islands (which are conveniently mapped in a second appendix).

What made Honouliuli unique among the detainment center and incarceration camps was that in addition to the approximately 360 inmates it held at any given time, it imprisoned 3,000 to 4,000 POWs, principally non-combatants who provided the labor force for Japan’s South Pacific military holdings.

Thanks in large part to the efforts of the JCCH, in 2015 President Barack Obama proclaimed Honouliuli a National Park Service-managed national monument. It would be a very wise decision for future visitors to that interpreted site to first read A Resilient Spirit, an action which is bound to convert an eye-and-mind-opening historical encounter into one suffused with palpable feeling and enlarged meaning.

 

A RESILIENT SPIRIT: THE VOICE OF HAWAI‘I’S INTERNEES
Edited by Claire Sato and Violet Harada
(Honolulu: Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai‘i, 2018, 100 pp., $25, paperback)

 

* This article was originally published on Nichi Bei Weekly on January 1, 2019.

 

© 2019 Arthur Hansen / Nichi Bei Weekly

book review Honouliuli incarceration JCCH WWII