Why Japanese in Hawaii Weren’t Interned during WWII

Once again, I thought I’d stick with the Hawaii-Japan topic, since i just got back from there (that’s right, eat your hearts out).

In high school, all of us younguns had to do a Senior Report, of sorts. Now, whenever I do essays / reports / etc, and I have the opportunity to write about whatever I want (bad idea, teachers), I like to choose a topic that almost nobody else has studied, so the professor can’t check my facts. I’m not saying that I go around making stuff up, but I feel a little better when I’m not writing on something within the teacher’s field of expertise. It, how should I say, often results in a higher, how should I call it, grade.

Of course, as you can tell by the title, I decided to study Japanese internment. More specifically, how it affected Hawaii.

If you don’t know already, Hawaii’s population includes tons of Japanese. I’m not just talking tourists in khaki shorts with cameras around their necks. Back during the war, Hawaii’s population was 1/3 Japanese. That’s huge. 157,000 Japanese made their home on the islands. In contrast, the United States mainland only had around 126,000 Japanese. 100,000 of those 126,000 were put in internment camps. That’s a lot of people being put away for no reason.

Now, as you probably learned in history class (if you’re an American, at least), “All Japanese were put in internment camps.” That is, at least, what we are led to believe. The history books tend to gloss over Hawaii, though. What happened to people over there?

Well, not that much.

Of the 157,000 Japanese living in Hawaii, only under 2000 of them were put in internment camps. These were people of supposed power, who could “possibly pose a threat to America.” The ironic thing is, though, Japanese-Americans on the mainland posed a much smaller risk compared to their Hawaii counterparts. Over half of the Japanese-Americans on the mainland were born in America and had American citizenship, yet they were the ones to get interned. They were forced to sell their land on the cheap (Japanese owned a lot of California grape growing land, all of which they lost. Sad, yeah?), and lost pretty much everything (My family’s sword was taken. Bastards!).

In Hawaii, however, almost everyone got off scott free. I’m not saying that anyone should have been interned – I think it was a terrible thing – but they should have at least been consistent about it. Really, the Japanese in Hawaii had much closer ties to Japan than those in the mainland. Still, in the end, it was all economy-based. If you suddenly lose 1/3 of your population, then the economy will implode on itself. According to my grandpa, a lot of Japanese ran banks and worked on farms at the time, so suddenly cutting them out of the economic equation would have been disastrous.

That is why Japanese didn’t get interned in Hawaii, even though more Japanese lived in Hawaii than any other part of the US.

Jokes on America, though. I hear stories about my Great Grandma during the war. She would walk around the streets of Nu’uanu, picking up cigarette packaging and pulling out the aluminum linings, then send it back to Japan so they could make weapons and bombs. On top of that, she went around to all her neighbors and friends (who apparently were pro Japanese, as well) and got them to put stitches into hachimaki, which were sent to Japan for kamikaze bombers to wear for good luck. Great job, America! Way to intern the right people.

Though, I would be sad if my Great Grandma was interned, she was just a sweet old lady picking up trash for those dirty cigarette smoking sailors. How nice!

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    Compared to the number of Japanese living in Hawaii though, it was almost nobody. Fewer than 2000 out of 157,000 total, I think it was.

  • Wps

    Grandmother could not possibly have sent anything to Japan from Hawaii during the war.  Must be a family legend, but can’t be true.

  • Kathy Warth

    My family had vineyards in the San Joaquin Valley – and thanks to caucasian friends, managed to return to their land after the war.

  • Ignoranceiscostly

    Yeah ok….your opinion is a little uninformed. Heads of the Japanese community were targeted for interment in Hawaii including one who served on the senate. The numbers of internees were less in Hawaii but more targeted including Buddhist priests, prominent business and community leaders. Many Japanese families were relocated to the mainland from Hawaii. They could not inter 40% of the population because they had just been bombed and would have lost to much of the work force….Honouliuli (you have a picture of the interment camp in your blog) . As for cultural items many families in Hawaii hid or destroyed them out of fear of being taken away and interred with the rest. They wanted no association with anything Japanese to prove their loyalty…sad really to loose such things.(no one knew where they went) A lot of the work is still being done on these camps, there was 12 to 14 around the Hawaiian islands, most have been located. Honouliuli is in the process of being placed on the National Register. Martial Law was declared in Hawaii after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii was still a US territory and not yet a state….as for grandma aiding the war effort from Hawaii? Have you been to Nagasaki? I have, nuff said. A lot interred were given the choice to join the military and fight for the US, they too received hachimaki from family members. Don’t kid yourself the Japanese community in Hawaii was very hard hit culturally & economically. I think your interpretation of events needs a little more background and accurate information. (If you got your info from the HI JCC you missed out on some important points)

  • Toshiyori

    Thank you so much for this insight into American history! May Amida bless your dear grandmother. Please look at Vol. XV, Leaf 55, of The Organ for the Universal Buddhist League (http://organubl.wordpress.com) and find Toshiyori’s observations at bottom.

  • Kaii

    My grandmother lived in Hawaii (she is Japanese) during WWII. She saw her best friend being raped by American soldiers…sooo…yeeahhh…

  • Freejahaja

    Thats not true, they actually had a japanese division in the U.S military, who were sent out to do the most dangerous missions, but their attitude was “im proud to be american, I want to make america realize it can be proud of me” so they actually did really well. Kind of like how amazing the african american fights were in the civil war. But not quite.

  • Freejahaja

    Hey, if the paraniod japanese dicks didnt bomb us first, maybe we wouldnt have had to retaliate, and would have actually kept out of the war.

  • JT

    The Japanese were interned in Hawaii. See the new documentary film, “The Untold Story, Internment of Japanese Americans in Hawaii”. There were camps all over the islands. I think the biggest was Honouliuli. The FBI used picked people, mostly community leaders from a Custodial Detention/ABC List, a list developed years before the war. I think there were about 2300 taken away; mostly men. Isseis were sent to Santa Fe, New Mexico on the mainland and the rest on islands in Hawaii. your title is a bit misleading. These people were often shunned when they returned by other Japanese for fear that they would be found guilty by association.

  • CK Thiruvathukal

    Why should an American citizen have to prove allegiance. I am sorry to say this, but you sound like you are are holding onto prejudice. Don’t blame the writer. He is just expressing opinions and didn’t commit genocide. America has plenty of crap it has done, including genocide…yes!

  • meow


  • meow

    you are wrong

  • meow

    just stop

  • jerseydave

    I’m pretty sure he was kidding. There’d be no way for her to get the aluminum foil to Japan.

  • Hitokiri 1989

    I don’t understand how your grandmother could have sent those packages during the war. Wasnt that sort of communication cut off during wartime? Also wouldn’t the US authorities check any outbound packages to Japan, an enemy nation?

  • Jakub Skowron

    Hawaii wasn’t a state at the time. Maybe Japanese were interned in the _states_ only?

  • Sogno

    I highly doubt every Japanese person at the time supported Japan. I’m sure there were some, but those born on American soil and especially those who, you know, served in the AMERICAN army as AMERICAN citizens and died for AMERICA, did not support the country that bombed their homeland. Which was America.