Anger and Frustration: Minnie and Isao At the Canteen

Group: Angela Sun and Kaitlyn Yong

Watercolor Painting: “Anger and Frustration: Minnie and Isao At the Canteen”

Anger and Frustration - Minnie and Isao at the Canteen

Watercolor painting: Anger and Frustration: Minnie and Isao At the Canteen.

Artist: Gene Sogioka

This painting is in black and white which is an interesting choice for a Disney animator.  The lack of color removes a vibrancy but the degree to which Gene Sogoika utilizes shadows and details adds a dimension and a serious tone.  Although it appears to be a social setting, the mood and the expressions on the people sets a tense and somber tone.  Set in the evening, this painting also reveals a community that is active after dark.  The main focus points of this painting is the people and the watermelons. The people in the painting ranged from young children to middle-age adults. The themes of this painting are food shortage, sustainability, economy, agriculture.

The title of this painting contains two names: Minnie and Isao.  Minnie is the name of Gene Sogioka’s wife and Isao is his middle name.  Why he referred to himself and his wife in the third person and why he chose to use his middle name is connected to the people present in the frame of the painting, but also outside of the frame.  Minnie, Gene, and their firstborn child, Akemi Cecile were sent to the Japanese internment camps together.

 

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Primary Document: First and Second Quarterly Report

First and Secondly Quarterly Report-page-017 First and Secondly Quarterly Report-page-018 First and Secondly Quarterly Report-page-019 First and Secondly Quarterly Report-page-020 First and Secondly Quarterly Report-page-001 First and Secondly Quarterly Report-page-002 First and Secondly Quarterly Report-page-003 First and Secondly Quarterly Report-page-004 First and Secondly Quarterly Report-page-005 First and Secondly Quarterly Report-page-006 First and Secondly Quarterly Report-page-007 First and Secondly Quarterly Report-page-008 First and Secondly Quarterly Report-page-009 First and Secondly Quarterly Report-page-010 First and Secondly Quarterly Report-page-011 First and Secondly Quarterly Report-page-012 First and Secondly Quarterly Report-page-013 First and Secondly Quarterly Report-page-014 First and Secondly Quarterly Report-page-015 First and Secondly Quarterly Report-page-016

First and Secondly Quarterly Report

 

Primary Document: First and Second Quarterly Report

About half of the residents in the internment camps were involved in agriculture before relocation, so these skills were utilized in three main goals: to provide as much food for the camp to maintain maximum sustainability and self-sufficiency, to possibly create a surplus to be shipped to other locations, and to help with the war effort.  They managed to clear 165 acres of land and harvest on 120 acres.  It is reported that they produced nearly $25,000 worth of vegetables, melons and tomatoes.  This calls into question where all this food went and why food shortages were reported.  Both the residents’ and the directors’ expectations for wealth and abundance were not met perhaps because there was an overestimation of the success the farmers would have and misallocation of the produce they harvested.  Unbearable heat and unexpectedly harsh winters that resulted in extended shipping delays and probable crop failures.

 

United States. War Relocation Authority.  First Quarterly Report. Washington D.C.  March 18- June 30 1942.  Print.

United States. War Relocation Authority.  Second Quarterly Report. Washington D.C.  July 1 September 30 1942.  Print.

 

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Keyword: Spam and hotdogs

Introduction:

Spam is a form of pre-cooked meat that came to the American public around the late 1930’s to 40’s. Spam, along with other forms of substitutive/pre-cooked meat, such as hot dogs, served as both a convenience in terms of preparation and availability. Entering World War II, such options of packaged and canned meats served a great role as non-perishable food for American soldiers. However, what are less commonly known are its association to and influence on the food, labor and cultural struggles in Japanese incarceration camps during the war.

Historical references:

The Japanese Americans placed in internment camps during the war had little to no personal possessions with them. They were forced to leave on short notice, many of them leaving behind their homes and land, in which a majority practiced agriculture and farming as a means to sustain their families. Coming to the camps, despite their illegitimate persecution and nearly unlivable, harsh, unclean conditions, they tried to reconstruct their lives by creating community. However, one of the main problems they faced was food shortage, for they were met with little opportunity to put their labor into practical use.

Food shortage in the camp:

Some geographical locations allowed the Japanese Americans to labor in the sugar beet industry, while others were actually shipped off the East coast to package frozen vegetables.  Those that were isolated in the camps had very little ways to grow their own food. Thus, they were put under the strict food regimen of their respective camps,

Internment camp diet:

Life in the camps was strict and food was scarce. Generally, their days were counted by their three meals, breakfast, lunch and dinner. There were provided food, but the portions were very small. Any remnants of their traditional Japanese meals were replaced by bread, potatoes and maybe some vienna sausages on a good day. There were little no fresh vegetables, no fresh fruit, no milk, and most definitely no fresh mean. What they did have was a lot of canned foods: wieners, hot dogs and of course spam. Even then, the food that they received was often the extra rations left over by American soldiers. “They were fed government commodity foods and castoff meat from Army surplus; hot dogs, ketchup, kidneys, spam and potatoes.” The irony comes from the fact that the initial supply and packaging of the canned, pre-cooked meats were probably Japanese internee laborers who were exploited to help in the war efforts.

Effects of food shortage during internment:

Due to the lack of food in general and the chaos in internment dining halls, families were no longer given the opportunity to eat together, and the intimacy of the family meal was broken. Grandparents, parents and children were broken apart, as teenagers chose to sit together. The mothers were also no longer given the opportunity to fulfill their filial and motherly roles of cooking and taking care of food preparation.  The woman’s role, which was once dominant during meal times, slowly began to disintegrate as internment lengthened, as did authentic Japanese cooking and food. During the post-war era, when Japanese Americans were trying to get out of internment and rebuild their lives and families, the taste palettes that were developed during the war followed them. Weenies, hotdogs and Spam began to make their appearance in regular home meals, with inventions such as Weenie Royale (weenies and eggs), hot dog sushi and spam musubi.

Impact on Culture:

It is easy to overlook what seems to be merely an adaptation of an American good into Japanese American households, but if you look at it from a larger perspective, thousands of people lived in the refugee camps, millions of people had their culture, families and livelihoods stolen from them during the war. Pre-internment, right before the move, thousands had to leave their home businesses, whether it be agriculture or grocery stores. Then during the war, the lack of food and forced consumption of surplus from the American soldiers caused a rejection of their own foods, cultural traditions and family dynamics. Thus, after they returned to whatever homes they had left, they continued their internment habits. Artist Howard Ikemoto said “after the war, his father became a gardener in the Sacramento area as did many of the other men who returned from the camps. At lunchtime, the men would meet to eat together either in a park or on a lawn that they had just mowed. They would eat rice with a plum in the middle, a slice of Spam and corned beef hash in a tin.” This image undermines but also interestingly modifies the social and cultural norms centered around food that the Japanese family unit had pre-war.

Modern day references:

In modern day Japan and Japanese influenced American culture, we see the influences of Spam and hotdogs on their lives during the War and during incarceration. During the war, the Spam that Japanese internees packaged and sent to soldiers, was adopted as a popular ingredient in Hawaiian dishes to make a spin of an onigiri, now commonly known as spam musubi. Shousei Hanayama, a priest at the Buddhist Temple in Watsonville, California also recounted how American soldiers who were stationed in Okinawa brought hot dogs to the island culture. It became and still is a part of the Japanese culture there, with many Japanese food eating competitions revolving around the consumption of these sausages. Takeru Kobayashi a world renowned speed eater from japan is able to eat 63 hot dogs in under 12 minutes and was the winner of six consecutive Nathan’s Coney Island Hot Dog Eating Contests. Thus we can see the effects of wartime exploitation, food shortages and pre-cooked meat to have influences that still resonate today in Japanese and Japanese American culture.

 

Nelson, David. “Weenie Royale: Food and the Japanese Internment.” NPR. http://www.npr.org/2007/12/20/17335538/weenie-royale-food-and-the-japanese-internment.(accessed November 30, 2015)

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Analysis:

Food is central to the origination, preservation, and continuation of culture.  The way in which food evolves is central to the identity of a culture and the identity of the people who eat it.  In examining what people cook and eat, and how they interact with one another gives a great amount of insight into the history and the ways in which culture can be shaped and formed.  The Japanese culture is no exception to the rule. The cuisine that Japanese and Japanese Americans make and consume reflect their history. In that food is a dialogue that translates experiences into tangible and visible evidence of a culture’s transformation from one point in time to another. Japanese incarceration was a time in which Japanese immigrants and Japanese Americans in America faced heavy prejudice, due to their ethnicity during WWII. During this time, they were forced by the American government into incarceration camps as a way of showing their loyalty to America after the attacks at Pearl Harbor. The conditions in the camps and food rations reflected their maltreatment and discrimination; food was sparse, the diet was limited, living conditions were unsanitary, family structure were torn apart and their labor was exploited with little compensation. However, despite all these struggles, the Japanese Americans in the camps, as well as religious and women’s groups such as the YWCA, did their best to salvage what they could of their culture, food and family structures given the situation. And remarkably, the remnants of their struggles can be traced back to food, reflected in modern Japanese diet, food and culture.

 

Historical References

When the Japanese first immigrated to America, many spread throughout the Northwest, providing farm labor. The Issei saw independent farming as a means to move up the economic ladder. Many Japanese Americans actually became quite successful in their agricultural endeavors; however during WWII, other American farmers in the region were afraid that the Japanese Americans would be taking their farming business and in turn pressured the government to remove Japanese Americans due to their “threat”. The Japanese Americans put into internment camps during the war had little to no personal possessions with them. They were forced to leave on short notice, many of them leaving behind their homes and land, in which a majority still practiced agriculture and farming as a means to sustain their families. Two-thirds of the Japanese interned were already American citizens and the ones brave enough to challenge authority were imprisoned immediately. Coming to the camps, despite their illegitimate persecution and nearly unlivable, harsh, unclean conditions, they tried to reconstruct their lives by creating communities behind barbed wire fences and guard towers. Their lives were akin to prisoners. And despite their efforts, one of the main problems they faced was the severe lack of food and resources. Due to these shortages, they were met with little opportunity to put their labor and agricultural practices into use. [1]

Food Shortages

Some geographical locations allowed the Japanese Americans to labor in the sugar beet industry, while some of them were shipped off the east coast to help with frozen vegetable packaging, which will be mentioned in further detail later. The equally unlucky majority still isolated in the camps had very little means to grow their own food. Thus, they were put under the strict food regimen of their respective camps.  About half of the residents in the internment camps were involved in agriculture before relocation, so these skills were utilized in three main goals: to provide as much food for the camp to maintain maximum sustainability and self-sufficiency, to possibly create a surplus to be shipped to other locations, and to help with the war effort.  They managed to clear 165 acres of land and harvest on 120 acres.  It is reported that they produced nearly $25,000 worth of vegetables, melons and tomatoes.  This calls into question where all this food went and why food shortages were reported.  Both the residents’ and the directors’ expectations for wealth and abundance were not met perhaps because there was an overestimation of the success the farmers would have and misallocation of the produce they harvested.  Unbearable heat and unexpectedly harsh winters that resulted in extended shipping delays and probable crop failures. [2][3]

In large, inhabitants within the camps were not given opportunities to put their agricultural backgrounds into use so they fed themselves off the strict regimen implemented by the camps. There were always three meals a day, served at set times. Food basically set the rhythm and progression of the day. During meals, people ate at long tables and benches, which forced families to separate, thereby breaking down the family dynamic of meals. The food that was served was bland, repetitive and not very nutritious. Japanese foods, such as white miso sauce, fried shrimp, kombu, soy sauce etc. were never available at the beginning of their internment, and only towards the end were very short supplies offered. In general, their diets consisted of stewed tomatoes, potatoes, bread and much canned food, such as sausages, spam and beans. In Excerpts from Letters from Japanese Evacuees in Assembly and Reception Centers, compiled in 1942, Joseph Conard of the American Friends Service Committee wrote, “There’s not enough milk for the babies in the camp because the army’s contract for milk is with farmers in Oregon.” And even though there was plenty of milk available in nearby towns, the “redtape” separating incarceration camps from the rest of American society made such exchanges nearly impossible. He also wrote that “some have gone without meals several times. There has been no fresh vegetables, no fruit, no fresh meat, but plenty of canned food”. [4] The Japanese Americans not only were cheated out of their grown food, but also the food they were served. In spite of the availability of food, such as milk, they were deemed unworthy of having such “luxuries”.

 

Internment Camp Diet and living conditions

Due the scarcity of everyday foods,this in turn caused internal conflict and strain between residents.  Not unlike life outside of these camps, economic strain and scarcity led to problems within families and the community.  As mentioned previously, their days were counted by their three meals, breakfast, lunch and dinner. There were provided food, but the portions were very small. Any remnants of their traditional Japanese meals were replaced by bread, potatoes and maybe some vienna sausages on a good day. There was little no milk, and most definitely no fresh meat. Fruits and vegetables were also scarce, only being reintroduced to their diet very late into their incarceration. Special treats like candy, soda, ice cream etc. were also a paucity. They were never served in the mass dining halls, rather they could be bought or illegally obtained via over the fence purchases with stores in the area. The two parties would meet at the barbed wired fences that enclosed them, and exchanged cash for food. It was not only food that they exchanged, but also things such as snacks, toilet articles, magazines and cigarettes later on. The action of “over the barbed wired fence” purchases only further amplified their prisoner-like images in the camps. [5]

And while Japanese Americans were struggling to survive in these camps, other Americans paid little heed to their hardships. “Some internees died from the inadequate medical care or the high levels of emotional stress” and yet these issues were not even recognized. Mary I. Barber and Lieutenant J.W. wrote a report in 1942 regarding the quality of living and food at the camps and neglected to note key issues.  Reflecting the common, racist sentiment many Americans harbored during this time period, they were either blind, deaf, or both, regarding the blatantly obvious food shortages and sanitation problems. “The food is excellent in quality and the cooking was food. Unusual care was taken by the girls who served to see that the plates were made attractive… There was ample space for additional people and there seemed to be no reason why they could not all sit down at the same time”.[6] Perhaps they caught the food service on a good day, but even so, it is doubtful that the food quality as “excellent” and much “care” was taken. Even more doubtful that there was enough space for people to sit. Many times people went hungry because they were not able to get enough food or a spot at the table to eat. Hearing from a Japanese American who was at the camps offers a much different view of the situation. According to Ted Nakashima in “Concentration Camps: U.S. Style” in the New Republic, “We have absolutely no fresh meat, vegetables, or butter since we came here. Mealtime queues extend for blocks; standing in a rainswept line, feet in the mud, waiting for the scant portions of canned wieners and boiled potatoes, hash for breakfast or canned wieners and beans for dinner”.[7] Such situations were not unsupported, for there were many other first hand accounts given by Japanese Americans within the camps.

A rather special case of a similar yet peculiar situation is exemplified in Gene Sogioka’s painting, “Minnie and Isao at the Canteen”.[8]  Gene Sogioka utilizes shadows and details to add a dimension of bleakness and sets a serious tone. Although it appears to be a social setting, the mood and the facial expressions of the people painted in what appears to be a social setting, is tense and somber. Set in the evening, this painting also reveals a community that is active after dark. Perhaps their attempt in finding a time where everyone in the camp can try to recreate the community atmosphere that was lost due to their forced relocation. The main focus of the painting is the interaction between people and the produce that is being sold, the watermelons. The first surprising feature of this painting is the presence of watermelons.  Fresh produce was not readily available and it is remarkable that such a rarity was able to be documented. As mentioned previously, during the duration of their incarceration, Japanese Americans had little no zero contact with fruits. Because the existence of these watermelons at the camp was documented in Gene Sogioka’s painting but not in written documentation calls into question what else was missed in the records of these internment camps.

The second surprising aspect of the painting is the fact that even though these watermelons had been brought to the camp, by the Young Buddhist’s Group, the people portrayed in the painting do not look happy, excited, or even remotely display positive emotion, with the exception of a few children. The adolescents and adults look on with longing. It can be inferred that perhaps the watermelons were a treat but they had no money to buy them. Afterall, not many of the internees had income, and the few that did earn money were usually relocated or paid by the government to work in the camps for as little as $14 to $19 a month. [9]

 

Exploitation of Labor

The internees that were relocated to other places were often exploited for their labor. They often went to places that also hired immigrants as a cheap source of labor. One of the largest businesses that Japanese Americans internees contributed to during the war was the sugar beet industry in the Columbia River Basin.[10] Another popular relocation area was Seabrook Farms, in New Jersey. During the war, it was a major food supplier, for it was once one of the largest producers of canned, frozen and dehydrated vegetables. The number of Japanese internees working as a cheap labor grew from 300 in 1944, to up to 2,700 by 1947. Not only were white workers promoted over well established Nisei workers, but the living and working conditions were reminiscent of the internment camps. Seichi Higashide, a former Japanese-Peruvian internee described Seabrook to be a “town of chain-linked fences” that was “no more than a shift from complete confinement to partial confinement”. Their hours were long and their wages were low, starting at a mere 50 cents per hour. And to make matters worse, the food that they were packaging and shipping did not even go to the internment camps, rather they were sent to soldiers fighting in the war.[11]

There was a little bit of backwash though. The rations that were leftover and unwanted by the soldiers were given to the internment camps. Further illustrating the demeaning light in which white Americans viewed their Japanese American citizens. One of such castoffs foods that were sent back to internees at the camps was spam. Similar foods like wieners and hot dogs were also received when there were extra rations left by soldiers. Remarkably, the remnants of the effects of spam and hot dog on Japanese American internees and even the Japanese are still visible today. The common Japanese American food of “spam musubi” was created during that time period, a prime example of how the evolution of cuisine in a culture can be traced by to actual historical events. Even nowadays in Japan, hotdogs and spam are a popular food, featured in snacks, street foods and eating contests. However focusing more on the effects of food during the period of internment, a major downfall to the internment camp system was that families fell apart. As previously mentioned, due to the manner in which they were served food, families had difficulty during meals. The roles of each family member slowly began to dissolve with the dissolution of family meals. Women in particular had trouble adjusting. One, they no longer had the distinct role or cooking and serving the food. Beyond food, two, they basically lost their role in the household as the keeper of the house, chores and children. The Japanese American family was falling apart and the women were at a loss at what to do. [12]

 

Young Buddhist Group

The description that accompanied Gene Sogioka’s painting stated, “This was sponsored by the Young Buddhists of Camp 2. Many wanted to purchase but the steep prices did not allow in their 12 dollars a month budget.”8 The Young Buddhists, also known as the Young Buddhist Association, was a group of Japanese Americans who organized a variety of fraternal and benevolent societies.[13]  Philanthropically, they were responsible for projects that compensated for the legal segregation that prevented Japanese Americans from having access to the same resources as other Americans.  In the context of the painting, it seems as though the Young Buddhists are responsible for allowing the camp to have access to Fresh fruit, which was extremely rare for the internees.  Unfortunately, as much joy as fruits can bring to residents with such limited access to fresh food, economically, people could not generally afford it.  This economic strain was responsible for much of the tension between family members and community members.

 

The Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) was born amidst the mid-nineteenth-century evangelical protestant religious revivals that swept the United States and England.  The first Japanese branch of the YWCA opened in 1913 in Los Angeles, CA in well-established Japanese American communities.  The Nisei in these areas grew up in the YWCA environment.  The association refused to hold conferences in legally segregated cities and held their very first interracial conference in 1915 in Louisville, Kentucky.  Their goal was to integrate both racial minorities and new immigrants into an inclusive democracy.

The YWCA developed the “Japanese American evacuation project” (JAEP) to deal with the psychological stresses the forced evacuation and internment would have.  “The younger girls are so concerned about the long-time results of this evacuation. They fear that they will become an ‘outcast group’ so that when they are free again to move about the country such fear and animosity will have grown up about them that they will be ostracized”  They helped the evacuated develop good educational and recreational programs.  However, their establishment within the camps was not an easy process.  The members of the YWCA were only allowed to contact camps if there was someone on the inside requesting them.  Leadership within the camps were questioned because outside people and Caucasian leaders were not allowed inside the camps to lead them in any sort of way.  Fortunately, many Japanese American women who had prior experience with the YWCA experience were eventually able to establish a YWCA chapter in all 10 relocation camps and one internment camp.

The clubs within the YWCA chapters for women of all ages.  A few examples included the Girl Reserves, Business Clubs, and Young Matrons. The YWCA was one opportunity of leadership for women in the incarceration camps, which greatly helped reduce tensions.  This was particularly valuable for those who no longer had a role in the family because of the lack of household chores and child rearing to do.  These women successfully lobbied for their own dedicated spaces in already crowded camps which served as safe spaces for internees.[14]

The exploitation of Japanese Americans and the forced removal of so many loyal American citizens of Japanese descent is both outrageous and profound.  The conditions of the Japanese Internment camps and the quality of life as experienced by the Japanese American internees were quite poor. The food situation in terms of the shortage and the prevalence of preserved meats influenced Japanese American lifestyle and culture much after the termination of the internment camps.  Quite remarkably, the internees made the best of their situation and from enduring this adversity, came a historical significance and cultural development that is reflective in the records of American history.

[1] Mercier, Laurie. “Historical Overview: Japanese Americans.” Japanese Americans In the Columbia River Basin. Accessed November 30, 2015. http://archive.vancouver.wsu.edu/crbeha/ja/ja.htm.

[2] United States. War Relocation Authority.  First Quarterly Report. Washington D.C.  March 18- June 30 1942.  Print.

[3] United States. War Relocation Authority.  Second Quarterly Report. Washington D.C.  July 1 September 30 1942.  Print.

[4] Conrad, Joseph. “Japanese Evacuation Report #11”, Box 4, Hoover Institution Archives, May 11, 1942

[5] “Food.” Camp Harmony Exhibit. https://www.lib.washington.edu/exhibits/harmony/Exhibit/food.html. (accessed November 30, 2015)

[6] Barber, Mary I. “In American concentration camps: a documentary history of the relocation and incarceration of Japanese Americans, 1942-1945, New York: Garland, 1989

[7] Nakashima, Ted. “Concentration Camps: U.S. Style”, New Republic, Volume 106, June 15, 1942, pg. 822

[8] Sogioka, Gene. “Anger and Frustration: Minnie and Isao at the Canteen”

[9]  Mickey. “Living Conditions of Japanese American Internment Camps”, Period 3’s LA Wiki. http://la8period3.pbworks.com/w/page/25942447/Living Conditions of Japanese American Internment Camps. (accessed November 30, 2015)

[10] Mercier, Laurie. “Historical Overview: Japanese Americans.” Japanese Americans In the Columbia River Basin. http://archive.vancouver.wsu.edu/crbeha/ja/ja.htm. (accessed November 30, 2015)

[11] Kelli Nakamura. “Seabrook Farms,” Densho Encyclopedia http://encyclopedia.densho.org/Seabrook%20Farms/ (accessed November 30, 2015)

[12]  Nelson, David. “Weenie Royale: Food and the Japanese Internment.” NPR. http://www.npr.org/2007/12/20/17335538/weenie-royale-food-and-the-japanese-internment.(accessed November 30, 2015)

[13] Taniguchi, Nancy J.  “Japanese Americans In Utah” Enduring Communities. http://www.discovernikkei.org/en/journal/2008/2/27/enduring-communities/ (Accessed November 30, 2015)

[14] Park, Yoosun.  “The Role of the YWCA in the World War II Internment of Japanese Americans: A Cautionary Tale for Social Work.”  Social Service Review.  Sep2013, Vol. 87 Issue 3, p477-524. 48p. (Accessed November 30, 2015)

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