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New initiative to provide easier access to Japanese American internment records in Hawaiʻi

Honoʻuliʻuli Internment Camp detained prisoners of war and Japanese Americans during World War II.
Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaiʻi
Honoʻuliʻuli Internment Camp detained thousands of prisoners of war and hundreds of Japanese Americans during World War II.

The Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaiʻi is working on a new project that will provide easier access to records about the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II.

Nate Gyotoku, JCCH’s president and executive director, said staff plan to travel to the National Archives in Washington, D.C. to photograph and scan prisoner and daily logs from Honoʻuliʻuli Internment Camp. The goal is to add these records, which only exist in paper form in D.C., to the JCCH’s online collection next year, he said.

“It's very much a still relatively unknown story,” Gyotoku said. “I think within the last 10 years … we’ve helped shed a lot of light on the Hawaiʻi story. But there are still … things that we find, people that as they start to hear about it, and then they kind of do their own family research, they find out that their ancestor was part of the small group that was detained.”

The initiative is funded by a $70,000 grant from the National Park Service that was awarded to JCCH in May. The money will help to cover equipment, travel and staff time, Gyotoku said.

Honoʻuliʻuli was the largest and longest-used incarceration camp in Hawaiʻi during World War II. Opened in March 1943, the 160-acre plot of land held about 400 Japanese Americans and others who were detained and 4,000 prisoners of war.

Most of Honoʻuliʻuli’s civilian population were Japanese Americans suspected of disloyalty. They were community, business and religious leaders. None were ever convicted of sabotage or espionage.

Gyotoku said it’s important to have easier access to these records to better understand the experiences of Japanese Americans detained in Hawaiʻi.

During their two trips to Washington, D.C., he said they will need to search through millions of documents at the National Archives. Once they find the right records, he said they will also scan them into the JCCH’s system, process the photos, and then number and rename files.

In addition to this project, he said they are working on another initiative, also funded by the National Park Service, that will add the cultural center’s own incarceration artifacts to its online collection. Those will also be available online.

“It is an important thing to keep kind of alive and digging,” he said. “And then most of it is to make sure that it doesn't happen again to a different group of people.”

Jayna Omaye was a culture and arts reporter at Hawaiʻi Public Radio.
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