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Tessaku is a collection of stories from Japanese Americans who lived through WWII. The word itself means iron fence, roughly translated to barbed wire: Tetsu 鉄 is iron, and saku 柵 is fence. It was the title for a short-lived magazine published in Tule Lake.

This project began solely to preserve my family history. During the internment, my grandparents and father were held at Santa Anita, Topaz and Tule Lake, where my grandfather was eventually targeted as a “troublemaker.” He was separated from the family, shuffled to a Citizen Isolation Camp in Leupp, Arizona and a Department of Justice camp in Crystal City, Texas. When the war ended, he started to write a memoir about his experience. Years passed and he never published it.

In 1994, he died. I was eight when he passed and still too young to understand the weight of this history. In 2010 when we sold my grandparents’ house, everything was lost, including his drafted work. With it went a remarkable story.

But in my own research, I found snippets of interviews where my grandfather is quoted, and then I was able to dive much deeper when I requested his WRA records. These are fragments of a larger puzzle that will likely stay incomplete but to try and complete the tapestry, I’ve sat my dad through hours of my questions, some of which I know the answers to but just want to keep hearing.

I started to record our conversations and this project snowballed into something greater than just me and my dad: I wanted to hear everybody’s story. With the community shrinking in size (the majority of people alive today were children in the camps), I feel the pressure of time to collect more, and soon.

My hope is that this brings to light more stories of our community, perhaps illuminating some that haven’t yet been told with a new perspective of intimate and honest conversation. It certainly can’t be done alone and my reach is only so far.

If you have a friend or family member whose story you’d like to share with Tessaku, please send me a note here. If you want to support in another major way and want to see these stories go far, please consider becoming my patron.

Thank you for reading, for sharing, for keeping this precious and important history alive for future generations.

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Dad and I in front of Castle Rock and the Tule Lake stockade

Listen to Tessaku on NPR’s Code Switch | An interview with Code Switch reporter Karen Grigsby-Bates on the Japanese Americans who avoided camp entirely by going to farm in Keetley, Utah.

8 thoughts on “About

  1. really enjoyed your interviews. well done! although its been many years (20+) since i left the bay area, i remember mr kaneko and mr yamamoto fondly from my school days and playing j-league baseball/basketball as their kids are my age. the fred wada part was especially interesting. i will now need to rewatch the japanese movie made on fred wada a few years ago as i was only familiar with him through his efforts to help Japan secure the ’64 olympics.

    1. Hi Hiro, thank you so much for your note. I’m so happy you found the interviews, and what a small world Bay Area world! Where are you living now? I myself need to see the Fred Wada documentary, he was a fascinating person.

      1. I live in the LA-area and thus appreciate your blogs (and others like DiscoverNikkei) that discuss the bay area J-community. Many of the guys that I hanged out with now coach in the J-league basketball leagues which I think is fantastic – need to keep those Nikkei traditions going! The Fred Wada Japanese movie was on YouTube for a while but looks like it has been taken down. I am sure somebody will put it up again. Perhaps Mr. Yamamoto’s son who is a TV anchorman and documentary producer will do something on Fred Wada in the future? I haven’t seen Ryan in ages, but if I did, I would suggest it to him!

      2. Very interesting, the community is so tight-knit and you’re right, very important to keep the JA traditions going. I’ll try to track down this documentary. I’d love to try and catch Howard’s son on the air–I’ve yet to see him! Thank you so much again for reading, Hiro.

  2. Here’s a link to the live-action Japanese movie on Fred Wada: http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x2bemno_subpig-tokyo-ni-olympic-wo-yonda-otoko-sp_shortfilms
    Sorry but the movie does not have Eng subs. (I grew up complaining that I wanted “cool” sansei parents like most of my peers rather than my traditional shin-issei parents who only spoke nihongo…needless to say, my attitude has changed now!).

    1. Hiro, thank you! I was finally able to take a look at this, really interesting. I’ll have to have my dad watch this with me so he can translate 🙂 Thank you again for sending!

  3. Emiko,

    I heard via Eric Nakamura/Giant Robot that you are moving to LA. I’m very interested in helping. Here’s a modest start to my family, the Yoshidas. https://kiriheiandmiyoko.blogspot.com

    I’m Sansei – HUGE fam, over 25 cousins, 8 aunts and uncs, one in the 442, 2 others I believe also in the Army. There’s more, but let’s leave it for later. Talk soon?


    1. Hi Jeff,

      I’m so happy you reached out – your family carries such rich history. It would be great to talk to you at some point, even before the move is permanent! I took a look at your site and will definitely delve in more. You have some incredible photos. I’ll have to thank Eric for connecting us. Please feel free to email me at emiko@tessaku.com, I’d love to chat more!

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