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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Pets in Camp: Dogs, Cats, Canaries, and “Even a Badger”

It is one of the most poignant—and often told—stories of the WWII roundup and incarceration of Japanese Americans: the wrenching decision that had to be made about a beloved pet as families were being forced to leave their homes in the spring of 1942. Unable to take the pet with them, the family has to leave it behind in the care of friends, neighbors, or strangers. In most cases, the family never sees the pet again.

You come across many stories in this vein in oral histories and in literature about the incarceration, and such stories have seemingly come to …

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In Memoriam: A Tribute to Lane Ryo Hirabayashi

Lane Ryo Hirabayashi was an innovator in the field of Asian American Studies, a historian and storyteller who dedicated his life to deepening public knowledge of Japanese American WWII incarceration, and a mentor to generations of students. In this touching tribute, Densho Content Director (and longtime friend) Brian Niiya describes Lane’s incredible life and impact.

Even though we all knew it was imminent, I was still shocked and saddened to learn of the passing of Lane Ryo Hirabayashi, a good friend, and one of the most important chroniclers of the Japanese American incarceration and its aftermath.

Lane Ryo Hirabayashi was …

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Ten Things That Made Poston Concentration Camp Unique

The Colorado River “Relocation Center”—more commonly referred to as Poston—was located in the Arizona desert a few miles from the California border. The largest and most populous of the War Relocation Authority (WRA) administered concentration camps (with the exception of post-segregation Tule Lake) with a peak population of nearly 18,000, Poston was unique among WRA camps in a number of ways.

First, it was built on the Colorado River Indian Reservation and jointly managed by the Office of Indian Affairs (OIA), a troubled arrangement that ended with the OIA withdrawing by the beginning of 1944. Secondly, it was …

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Ten Little Known Stories About Topaz Concentration Camp - Part 2

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As at many camps, inmates were encouraged to go out on short term leave during the harvest season to do agricultural work in states like Utah, Idaho, and Colorado. Because so many workers were moving to the coast to take relatively well-paying war industry jobs, there were serious shortages of agricultural workers, leading to many farmers attempting to recruit incarcerated Japanese Americans. Thousands of Japanese Americans did do this, particularly in the falls of 1942 and 1943. So many left some of the camps in fact, that they created labor …

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Ten Little Known Stories About Topaz Concentration Camp - Part 1

The “Central Utah Relocation Center”—more popularly known as Topaz—was located at a dusty site in the Sevier Desert and had one of the most urban and most homogeneous populations of the camps, with nearly its entire inmate population coming from the San Francisco Bay Area. Topaz is perhaps best known as the site of the fatal shooting of an inmate by an overzealous camp sentry in April 1943 and for its art school, which included a faculty roster of notable Issei and Nisei artists. It was also the site of significant protest against the “loyalty questionnaire” in the spring …

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