Camp Life

        All of the camps were surrounded by barbed wire and guard towers, that were stationed with armed military guards. Life in the camps was primitive at best. Barracks were partitioned into 4 units, 20 x 25 feet. Walls were bare and the frame was exposed. Beds were simple cots with straw filled mattresses. Facilities for toilets and showers were in another building in the central part of a block of barracks. These did not have walls or doors for privacy. Meals were served in the mess hall, where one lined up 3 times a day, outdoors in all weather, which frequently was inclement in these camps.  (Food was based on Army requirements.  Since meat was rationed across the country, the daily meal usually consisted of hot rice and vegetables.  Breakfast was western style with toast, powdered eggs, coffee for adults and milk available for children under five and people on special diets.  The daily cost for food was estimated to be about $.45 a day per person.)  

The weather was extremely hot, or cold, always windy and dusty, depending on the season. Laundry rooms with tubs were provided, but you needed your own washboard. Lines were strung to hang clothes. Then there was an ironing room and a recreation barrack. Later, as life became more settled, people built furniture from scrap lumber, built gardens, raised vegetables, raised chickens and rabbits, went to school, went to church or temple, got married, had babies, whatever one does to carry on with life. They also had jobs in the co-operatives that were formed, in the professions, and in administration to keep the camp operating. Pay was minimal: $19 per month for professional workers, $16 for skilled work, $12 for semi-skilled, and $8 for unskilled. 

By the end of December 1942, several disturbances occurred. Poston, Heart Mountain, Tule Lake, Topaz and Minidoka had protests of various types: wage differences, black marketing of sugar, intergenerational friction, rumors of “informers” reporting to the FBI and the administration.  In                                                                                 Manzanar, a serious disturbance which some historians have called a “rebellion,” “uprising,” or “revolt” occurred on the eve of December 6, 1942.  An unfortunate and unplanned timing, since it coincided with the eve before the Pearl Harbor raid one year earlier. There were several months of tension between Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) supporters and a group of Kibei (Japanese Americans educated in Japan).  Rumors of sugar and meat shortages due to black marketing by Administration officials, and the beatings of a JACL member led to a mass meeting to protest the arrest of Harry Ueno, leader of the Kitchen Workers Union.  A crowd of several hundred demonstrated at the police station which Military Police (MP’s) were protecting.  When the crowd supposedly surged forward, tear gas was thrown.  As people ran to get away, some in the crowd pushed a driverless vehicle forward towards the MP’s, who then fired into the crowd.   Two young camp residents were killed and nine others were wounded.

A typical barrack where curtains served as room dividers between families.

Making camouflage nets in Manzanar.

Poston: Filling mattresses with straw.

Heart Mountain barracks.                               Photo: National Archives