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Life Behind Barbed Wire

Yasutaro Soga

Publication Year: 2008

Yasutaro Soga’s Life behind Barbed Wire (Tessaku seikatsu) is an exceptional firsthand account of the incarceration of a Hawai‘i Japanese during World War II. On the evening of the attack on Pearl Harbor, Soga, the editor of a Japanese-language newspaper, was arrested along with several hundred other prominent Issei ( Japanese immigrants) in Hawai‘i. After being held for six months on Sand Island, Soga was transferred to an Army camp in Lordsburg, New Mexico, and later to a Justice Department camp in Santa Fe. He would spend just under four years in custody before returning to Hawai‘i in the months following the end of the war. Most of what has been written about the detention of Japanese Americans focuses on the Nisei experience of mass internment on the West Coast—largely because of the language barrier immigrant writers faced. This translation, therefore, presents us with a rare Issei voice on internment, and Soga’s opinions challenge many commonly held assumptions about Japanese Americans during the war regarding race relations, patriotism, and loyalty. Although centered on one man’s experience, Life behind Barbed Wire benefits greatly from Soga’s trained eye and instincts as a professional journalist, which allowed him to paint a larger picture of those extraordinary times and his place in them. The Introduction by Tetsuden Kashima of the University of Washington and Foreword by Dennis Ogawa of the University of Hawai‘i provide context for Soga’s recollections based on the most current scholarship on the Japanese American internment.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press

Title Page

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pp. v-ix

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pp. xi-xiv

This book, Life behind Barbed Wire, is a daily record of Soga's internment experiences. In his preface, he writes: "In what follows I have tried to record my observations and experiences as truthfully, fairly, and simply as possible." Regarding his description of internee life, Soga more often wrote about what he saw than what he felt. However, one can gain some...

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pp. xv

The Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai'i (JCCH) and its Resource Center, for assistance and support. The following individual Resource Center volunteers: Yaeko Habein for checking the accuracy of the translation against the original text; Florence Sugimoto for proofing the grammar and writing; and Shigeyuki Yoshitake for verifying the accuracy of names...

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pp. 1-16

During the Second World War two dramatically different scenarios confronted persons of Japanese ancestry in the United States and the territories of Alaska and Hawai'i. Many knowledgeable Americans now understand that in the continental United States and Alaska, their resident persons of Japanese ancestry, identified as the Nikkei, became involuntary victims of...

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pp. 21-22

After four years, I returned to this green island in the Pacific Ocean from the snowy mountains of Santa Fe. The differences between this world near sea level and where I had been, 7,500 feet above the sea and surrounded by the Rocky Mountains, were never so apparent to me than upon my return. Honolulu seems to have changed much, but I truly...

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pp. 23-28

"Like a thunderbolt out of the blue" literally describes the news of Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor. Near the end of 1941, the situation between Japan and the United States had become serious, but most of the people in Hawaii believed something would be done at the last moment and war would be avoided. This was the thinking not only of Japanese here, but...

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pp. 29-65

Sand Island lies just a short distance away from Honolulu. From the pier, we walked for about thirty minutes before we were lined up in front of the barracks. The 35th U.S. Army Regiment Commander, who was responsible for the security of the area, addressed us: "The United States and Japan are at war. I am aware of the outstanding characteristics...

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pp. 66-70

We remained in port for one night before leaving Honolulu on the SS Matsonia at 2:30 on the afternoon of the seventh. The commander in charge of our transportation was Colonel Craig and our spokesman was the Reverend Keizo Miura, a Nisei. Both proved to be responsible and efficient. I understand that the treatment of internees and conditions...

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pp. 71-72

About one hundred and forty of us left Angel Island at four o'clock in the afternoon on August 27, 1942. As usual we were not told of our destination. I felt I did not care where I went. Following the example of those before me, I left my graffito mark in a corner of the room before leaving: "So we are Japs. Let us stomp defiant over sea and...

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pp. 73-122

As we approached the camp gate, the third and fourth groups from Hawaii, having arrived earlier, gathered to greet us. I nearly wept for joy at being reunited with the following old friends: Mr. Kango Kawasaki, Mr. Sadato Morifuji, Mr. Tokuji Adachi, Rev. Shunsei Shiratori, Mr. Shin Yoshida, Rev. Sutekichi Osumi, Mr. Ryoichi Tanaka, Mr. Takegoro Kusao...

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pp. 123-210

The official order to move to Santa Fe Camp was issued on June 10, 1943. The first group was comprised of 350 internees, all of the second battalion's fifth through seventh regiments and several members of the eighth. They left on Monday the fourteenth. The second group of 350 included the remaining members of the eighth regiment and all of the...

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pp. 211-224

As we were driven out of the barbed-wire enclosure of Santa Fe Camp, the relief we felt showed in our faces. I inhaled deep breaths of freedom for the first time in four years. Of course we were not entirely free yet. Until our release from custody and the designation "internee" was struck from our records, we were still subject to many restrictions. In this way, life...


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pp. 225-253

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pp. 255

Three years have passed since those of us who were sent to camps on the Mainland returned to Hawaii. This book stems from a series of articles I wrote for the Hawaii Times from January to July 1946. I received encouragement for these pieces as well as criticism. (Some readers felt I had been too candid.) However, many friends advised me to publish the articles in...

E-ISBN-13: 9780824863357
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824820336

Publication Year: 2008

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • World War, 1939-1945 -- Japanese Americans.
  • Japanese Americans -- Ethnic identity.
  • Japanese Americans -- Hawaii -- Biography.
  • Soga, Keiho, 1873-1957.
  • Japanese Americans -- Evacuation and relocation, 1942-1945.
  • World War, 1939-1945 -- Personal narratives, American.
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