Educator Resources

Japanese Relocation During World War II


President Franklin Delano Roosevelt declared that the day of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941, would live in infamy. The attack launched the United States fully into the two theaters of the world war. Prior to Pearl Harbor, the United States had been involved in the European war only by supplying England and other antifascist countries of Europe with the munitions of war.

The attack on Pearl Harbor also launched a rash of fear about national security, especially on the West Coast. In February 1942, just two months after Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt as commander-in-chief, issued Executive Order 9066, which had the effect of relocating all persons of Japanese ancestry, both citizens and aliens, inland, outside of the Pacific military zone. The objectives of the order were to prevent espionage and to protect persons of Japanese descent from harm at the hands of Americans who had strong anti-Japanese attitudes.

In Washington and Oregon, the eastern boundary of the military zone was an imaginary line along the rim of the Cascade Mountains; this line continued down the spine of California from north to south. From that line to the Pacific coast, the military restricted zones in those three states were defined.

Roosevelt's order affected 117,000 people of Japanese descent, two-thirds of whom were native-born citizens of the United States. The Issei were the first generation of Japanese in this country; the Nisei were the second generation, numbering 70,000 American citizens at the time of internment. Within weeks, all persons of Japanese ancestry--whether citizens or enemy aliens, young or old, rich or poor--were ordered to assembly centers near their homes. Soon they were sent to permanent relocation centers outside the restricted military zones.

For example, persons of Japanese ancestry in western Washington State were removed to the assembly center at the Puyallup Fairgrounds near Tacoma. From Puyallup to Pomona, internees found that a cowshed at a fairgrounds or a horse stall at a racetrack was home for several months before they were transported to a permanent wartime residence. Relocation centers were situated many miles inland, often in remote and desolate locales. Sites included Tule Lake, California; Minidoka, Idaho; Manzanar, California; Topaz, Utah; Jerome, Arkansas; Heart Mountain, Wyoming; Poston, Arizona; Granada, Colorado; and Rohwer, Arkansas.

As four or five families with their sparse collections of clothing and possessions squeezed into and shared tar-papered barracks, life took on some familiar routines of socializing and school. However, eating in common facilities and having limited opportunities for work interrupted other social and cultural patterns. Persons who became troublesome were sent to a special camp at Tule Lake, California, where dissidents were housed.

In 1943 and 1944 the government assembled a combat unit of Japanese Americans for the European theater. It became the 442d Regimental Combat Team and gained fame as the most highly decorated of World War II. Their military record bespoke their patriotism.

As the war drew to a close, the relocation centers were slowly evacuated. While some persons of Japanese ancestry returned to their home towns, others sought new surroundings. For example, the Japanese American community of Tacoma, Washington, had been sent to three different centers; only 30 percent returned to Tacoma after the war. Japanese Americans from Fresno had gone to Manzanar; 80 percent returned to their hometown.

The internment of persons of Japanese ancestry during World War II sparked constitutional and political debate. In the 1940s, two men and one woman--Hirabayashi, Korematsu, and Endo--challenged the constitutionality of the relocation and curfew orders. While the men received negative judgments from the court, in the 1944 case ExParte Mitsuye Endo, the Supreme Court ruled that, "Mitsuye Endo is entitled to an unconditional release by the War Relocation Authority." Some people refer to the relocation centers as concentration camps; others view internment as an unfortunate episode, but a military necessity. During the Reagan-Bush years Congress moved toward the passage of Public Law 100-383 in 1988 which acknowledged the injustice of the internment, apologized for it, and provided a $20,000 cash payment to each person who was interned.

One of the most stunning ironies in this episode of American civil liberties was articulated by an internee who, when told that the Japanese were put in those camps for their own protection, countered "If we were put there for our protection, why were the guns at the guard towers pointed inward, instead of outward?"

Other Resources

Manzanar (New York: Times Books, 1988), with photographs by Ansel Adams and commentary by John Hersey, provides a stunning portrait of a camp.

Farewell to Manzanar (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1973), is an easy-to-read memoir by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and James D. Houston of Japanese American experience during and after the World War II internment.

Nisei Daughter (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1979), a memoir by Monica Sone, and Obasan (Boston: D.R. Godine, 1982), a novel by Joy Kogawa, capture the prewar, wartime, and postwar life of Japanese Americans.

Bill Hosokawa's Nisei: The Quiet Americans (New York: W. Morrow, 1969), Roger Daniels' Prisoners Without Trial: Japanese Americans in World War II (New York: Hill and Wang, 1993), Page Smith's Democracy on Trial: Japanese American Evacuation and Relocation in World War II (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995), and a portion of Ronald Takaki's A Different Mirror : A History of Multicultural America (Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1993) provide a historical look at internment.

A few stories of Nisei and their reactions to internment can be found in Studs Terkel's The Good War : An Oral History of World War Two (New York: Pantheon Books, 1984) and Tom Brokaw's The Greatest Generation (New York: Random House, 1998).

A novel, Snow Falling on Cedars, by David Guterson (San Diego: Harcourt Brace, 1994), set in the Puget Sound area of the Pacific Northwest, gives an account of life and tensions before, during, and after World War II as cultural values clash in a love story about a Caucasian man and a woman of Japanese ancestry.

A recent novel, The Climate of the Country by Marnie Mueller (Willimantic, CT: Curbstone Press, 1999), is based on the author's experience of living with her father, a Caucasian, who was interned as a conscientious objector.

The Documents

  1. "Conference with General De Witt" at Office of Commanding General, Headquarters Western Defense Command and Fourth Army; January 4, 1942.
    National Archives Identifier: 296057
    View Pages: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8
  2. Final Report: Japanese Evacuation from the West Coast, 1942, Headquarters Western Defense Command and Fourth Army, Office of the Commanding General, Presidio of San Francisco, California; Chapters 1 and 2.
    National Archives Identifier: 296055
    View Pages:     Cover | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18 | 19 | 20 | 21 | 22 | 23 | 24
  3. Transcript of Executive Order 9066 by President Franklin Roosevelt, February 19, 1942. Available from
  4. Posting of Exclusion Order at First and Front Streets in San Francisco, California, directing removal of persons of Japanese ancestry from the first section in San Francisco to be affected by the evacuation.
    National Archives Identifier: 536017
  5. Thank You Note in "Little Tokyo" in Los Angeles, California. Mr. and Mrs. K. Tseri have closed their drugstore in preparation for the forthcoming evacuation from their home and business.
    National Archives Identifier: 536001
  6. Merchandise Sale in San Francisco, California. Customers buy merchandise in a store operated by a proprietor of Japanese ancestry during a pre-evacuation sale. Evacuees of Japanese ancestry will be housed in War Relocation Authority centers for the duration of the war.
    National Archives Identifier: 536042
  7. Children Pledge Allegiance to the Flag in San Francisco, California, at Raphael Weill Public School. Children in families of Japanese ancestry were evacuated with their parents and will be housed for the duration in War Relocation Authority centers where facilities will be provided for them to continue their education.
    National Archives Identifier: 536053
  8. Family in Front of Farmhouse in Mountain View, California. Members of the Shibuya family are pictured at their home before evacuation. The father and the mother were born in Japan and came to this country in 1904. At that time the father had $60 in cash and a basket of clothes. He later built a prosperous business of raising select varieties of chrysanthemums which he shipped to Eastern markets under his own trade name. Six children in the family were born in the United States.
    National Archives Identifier: 536037
  9. Manager of a Large Farm in Stockton, California. Henry T. Futamachi (left), superintendent of a 1,300-acre mechanized ranch, discusses agricultural problems with the ranch owner, John B. MacKinley. Before evacuation of persons of Japanese ancestry, Futamachi, 45, was paid $4,000 a year and bonuses. He came to this country 28 years ago with his father. Evacuees will be housed in War Relocation Authority centers for the duration of the war.
    National Archives Identifier: 536030
  10. Packing Up in San Francisco, California. Dave Tatsuno rereads notes he compiled while he was a student at the University of California where he was graduated in 1936. Tatsuno, with his two-year-old son at his side, is packing his possessions at 2625 Buchanan Street, prior to evacuation of residents of Japanese ancestry. Evacuees will be housed at War Relocation Authority centers for the duration. (This is the caption as it appeared on the photograph. According to the 1942 Polk Directory for San Francisco, the correct address is 1625 Buchanan.)
    National Archives Identifier: 536039
  11. Registration in San Francisco, California. Residents of Japanese ancestry file forms containing personal data, two days before evacuation, at a Wartime Civil Control Administration station.
    National Archives Identifier: 536056
  12. Waiting for Evacuation in San Francisco, California. With baggage stacked, residents of Japanese ancestry await a bus at the Wartime Civil Control Administration station, 2020 Van Ness Avenue, as part of the first group of 664 to be evacuated from San Francisco on April 6, 1942. Evacuees will be housed in War Relocation Authority centers for the duration.
    National Archives Identifier: 536065
  13. Wartime Civil Control Station in San Francisco, California. Japanese family heads and persons living alone form a line outside the station located in the Japanese American Citizens League Auditorium at 2031 Bush Street, to appear for "processing" in response to Civilian Exclusion Order Number 20.
    National Archives Identifier: 536422
  14. Sorting Baggage at Minidoka in Eden, Idaho. Baggage belonging to evacuees from the assembly center at Puyallup, Washington, is sorted and trucked to owners in their barrack apartments.
    National Archives Identifier: 538278
  15. Barracks Assigned at Minidoka in Eden, Idaho. Newly arrived evacuees from the assembly center at Puyallup, Washington, are registered and assigned barrack apartments at this War Relocation Authority center.
    National Archives Identifier: 538283
  16. The Hirano Family, left to right, George, Hisa, and Yasbei with picture of a United States serviceman. Colorado River Relocation Center, Poston, Arizona.
    National Archives Identifier: 535989
  17. High School Campus at Heart Mountain, Wyoming. Classes are housed in tarpaper-covered, barrack-style buildings originally designed as living quarters for the evacuees.
    National Archives Identifier: 537153
  18. Poster Crew at Heart Mountain Relocation Center, Heart Mountain, Wyoming. The poster crew turns out fire and safety posters, announcements for public gatherings and dances, and some general instructions.
    National Archives Identifier: 538754
  19. Court Session at Heart Mountain, Wyoming. The court is composed of seven judges selected from the residents and appointed by the project director. They preside over infractions of center regulations and ordinary civil court cases.
    National Archives Identifier: 537166
  20. Coal Crew at Heart Mountain, Wyoming. It takes approximately four carloads of coal a day to provide heat for residents at this Wyoming relocation center during the cold winter months. Here a crew of men load trucks from the coal gondola for delivery to barracks.
    National Archives Identifier: 538770