Recreation in Poston (2/19/1943) – Toshio Yatsushino

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The Impact of Recreation on Japanese Relocation Camps

Yoonsik Chung

 

World War II was a very impactful historical event for many ethnic groups and nations. It had a strong effect on many communities at the time by changing their cultural and sociological dynamics. The Japanese Americans were one such group that were heavily affected by the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Due to this major event that brought about the United States’ involvement in the war, the daily lives of Japanese Americans were never the same. They were incarcerated and relocated into camps that were notorious for their dire conditions.[1] The drastic change in their lifestyles was evident, especially in recreation, as vividly stated in Toshio Yatsushino’s report “Recreation in Poston.” Recreational activities took a big role in the Japanese American lifestyle as it was a way of boosting morale in the community, as well as a method of relieving stress. As seen in the Poston relocation camp, differences in the cultural and social composition of the relocation camps and attitudes towards the recreational activities showed generational shifts, cultural differences, and gender role changes in the Japanese American society.

Poston’s recreational activities, like those of most other incarceration camps, were very diverse and mostly American. In his report, Yatsushino lists all of the activities that the people of Poston participated in, and the majority of them are sports and activities that are very American, or non-Japanese. For example, Yatsushino says, “The activities of the [Older Boys’ Outdoor Sports] Dept. was divided into two—major and minor sports…[the major sports] included such sports as softball, baseball, football, soccer, track and volleyball.”[2] The “major sports,” obviously, are all not traditionally Japanese, but rather American, and this certainly did not pertain to the older boys’ division only. These activities were actively pursued and organized, as there were ongoing leagues within the camp as well as attempts and successful games organized between nearby camps. As these American pastimes and activities grew more popular, especially in the younger generation, they naturally took less interest in traditional Japanese recreational activities, such as sumo wrestling and Judo. In participating and organizing these events, Yatsushino makes it clear that there is a major generational shift in the Poston incarceration camp. He describes the sports leagues and other modern recreational activities in Poston as mostly played or associated with the Nisei/Kibei generation rather than the Issei generation. According to Yatsushino, and his description of the organization of department of recreation, the most of the heads of these recreational organizations were Nisei individuals, young and bursting with energy, and of course, more Americanized. Also, in participating in the actual activities, Yatsushino describes the scene as “Nisei boys and girls predominat[ing]” in these sporting or indoor activities while the Issei, the few of them who did pay attention to recreational aspect of the community, only spectated or paid little or no attention to it, showing distance from one of the key factor in the community life.[3] The “Recreation Department league system” which interactively divided the softball and basketball teams among the camp, and the games with the nearby community such as the Parker Indian teams were all organized by the older boys division, which was consisting of males of age fifteen to 35.[4] Thus, the driving force in this big part of the camps were mainly Nisei-oriented, thus portraying the generational power shift. The traditional activities such as sumo wrestling or Judo, which the Issei generation really pushed for, was not nearly as competitive, bustling, and major as in some newer sporting activities like basketball, softball and volleyball, in which both Nisei men and women participated in. Thus, in recreational organization, it is evident that during the period of incarceration, Japanese Americans became more Nisei-centered, meaning the community has become less traditional and the cultural values in topics such as recreation, love, and other ideals have changed as well, greatly impacting both family and community dynamics.

These recreational activities, whether they were Japanese or American, provided a leeway from the busy, traditional, work-oriented Japanese tradition, as Japanese Americans sought to escape from the hardships that the incarceration has brought them. Yatsushino shows that a large portion of the residents in Poston camp either participated or watched the recreational activities that were going on in the community and thus through these activities they bonded and united. Regalado, in his book “Nikkei Baseball,” writes that “in June, at Poston, The Chronicle described a softball game that drew, by their estimate, 4,500 observers,” also showing this extensive participation in these activities.[5] In the games between different camps, Yatsushino writes, “this experience not only created great excitement for the Poston teams as well as residents, but it held greater significance for it was siding in establishing good rapport between the Poston residents.”[6] The people of Poston were cheering for their team to win, and portrayed a sense of singularity among the group, whether they were Issei, Nisei or the Kibei. Also, the inter-school games between Poston High school and the Parker High school basketball team, according to Yatsushino, “will be a boost towards creating greater unity” among the participants and the community, and it certainly served its purpose.[7] Regalado, in his book “Nikkei Baseball” also portrays how recreational activities, especially baseball, served to introduce relief and normalcy to this extremely unusual and grim condition. Baseball, an American pastime, by fulfilling the “need for momentary respite from the difficult circumstances… in their new lives behind barbed wires,” helped settle the community down from the agitated and surprised state, and furthermore, showed some principles of loyalty through “unity and patriotism” towards America by taking part in the national sport.[8] [9] To the incarcerated Japanese Americans, recreation was not only a source of relieving stress, but also a morale booster and energizer in which they can bond and together “temper the trauma of evacuation.”[10]

In other light, aside from the cultural difference and generational shift, recreation in Poston, according to Yatsushino, shows a change in gender roles and especially the increasing influence and community roles women. Yatsushino, in his report, specifically mentions the fact that there is a whole another report about women’s recreation written by another person, implying that there are voluminous details on women’s recreation at that time period.[11] Also, he mentions that “the Women’s Athletic Association took the initiative… and arranged a Co-ed tournament among various teams representing the various blocks in Poston,” showing that the women in the community were proactive, taking action and leading the organization of the community activities.[12]  This indicates a great change in gender roles as women, before incarceration, were not so openly welcomed to participate and take important roles in the society, especially by traditional Issei men. However the generational shift that put the Nisei, the more modern and urban men and women, in the driving seat of the community has encouraged women to speak up in the community, as well as take important jobs and position in the camps to further impose significant influence. Nisei women, who sought more independence and pursuit of individual interest were able to partake in recreational activities, such as dancing, sewing, or even playing sports like basketball, softball and volleyball. Also, many women, as noted in Yatsushino’s list of heads of departments of recreation, were now in charge of certain recreational committees and organizational chairs, conducting themselves as leaders of the community, further influencing the Japanese American culture during incarceration.[13] Regalado takes note about the growing women’s recreational activities as well in his book, Nikkei Baseball. According to Regalado, there were numerous “sign-ups for boys’ and girls’ basketball” and “by November 18 [of 1942],…each block within the approximately 8,400-person center had a girls’ volleyball team.”[14] This again shows a significant participation from the female gender in the area of sports, a traditionally male-dominated portion of recreational activities. Matsumoto, in her publication Japanese American Women During World War II, describes the increased leisure and recreation for both Issei and Nisei women as well. Matsumoto writes, “Courses involving handcrafts and traditional Japanese arts such as flower arrangement, sewing, painting, calligraphy, and wood carving became immensely popular as an overwhelming number of people turned to art for recreation and self-expression,” therefore showing that the women definitely utilized the increased leisure time to their advantages.[15] “Gone were the restrictions of distance, lack of transportation, interracial uneasiness, and the dawn-to-dusk exigencies of field work,” and subsequently, the “stigma” that held the women down in the society were partially lifted.[16] The expressive and progressive nature in both Issei and Nisei women portrays the breaking of the traditional view on female gender roles. Thus, women’s role in the society continued to show greater expansion as they reinforced their growing independence, following the trend of 1930s Nisei females.

This primary document is a valuable historical record of the impact of Japanese incarceration during World War II in the light of recreation in incarceration camps, and thus contains a very high educational value, especially to historians and anthropologists studying this this particular ethnic group in this time period. However, while this comprehensive report may serve as a valuable piece of information of the past, it may have some drawbacks as well. The readers of this document are not told about other functional or governing parts of the incarceration camp, thus does not know the full dynamic of the community. So the readers may not know if the Issei are governing other parts of the active community. Also, the women’s recreation is not fully described, so the readers do not know the complete extent of the activities that the women in Poston were involved in.

 


[1] Chrissy Lau, “Japanese Incarceration” (speech, Ithaca, NY, October 21, 2014).

[2] “Recreation In Poston,” Japanese-American Relocation Center Records, #3830. Box 8, Folder 15, Division of Rare and Manuscripts Collections, Cornell University, 12.

 

[3] “Recreation In Poston,” Japanese-American Relocation Center Records, #3830. Box 8, Folder 15, Division of Rare and Manuscripts Collections, Cornell University, 11.

[4] Ibid, 12

[5] Samuel O. Regalado, Nikkei Baseball (Urbana, Chicago, and Springfield: University of Illinois Press, 2013), 105

[6] “Recreation In Poston,” Japanese-American Relocation Center Records, #3830. Box 8, Folder 15, Division of Rare and Manuscripts Collections, Cornell University, 14.

[7] Ibid, 15

[8] Samuel O. Regalado, Nikkei Baseball (Urbana, Chicago, and Springfield: University of Illinois Press, 2013), 99

[9] Ibid, 92

[10] Ibid, 98

[11] “Recreation In Poston,” Japanese-American Relocation Center Records, #3830. Box 8, Folder 15, Division of Rare and Manuscripts Collections, Cornell University, 1.

[12] Ibid, 13

[13] “Recreation In Poston,” Japanese-American Relocation Center Records, #3830. Box 8, Folder 15, Division of Rare and Manuscripts Collections, Cornell University, 7-9.

[14] Samuel O. Regalado, Nikkei Baseball (Urbana, Chicago, and Springfield: University of Illinois Press, 2013), 105

[15] Valerie Matsumoto, Japanese American Women During World War II (University of Nebraska Press, 1984), 9

[16] Valerie Matsumoto, Japanese American Women During World War II (University of Nebraska Press, 1984), 9

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