About This Site
This web site is the result of collaboration between the University of Hawaii and Hawaii nisei veterans. It focuses on the experiences of Hawaii’s Americans of Japanese Ancestry (AJA),* from the early decades of the twentieth century, through World War II, the postwar era, and the present. Since several nisei veterans are alumni of the university and their experiences and accomplishments have not been fully documented nor made widely accessible, Chancellor Peter Englert expressed the University of Hawaii’s commitment to fund and conduct this research project.
Other individuals involved in planning and discussions were: John Morton, vice-president for community colleges; Daniel Ishii, associate vice-president for research; and C. Mariko Miho, director of funds development and marketing for the community colleges.
It was decided that Thomas H. Hamilton Library would collect, store, and catalog official papers, letters, photographs, and other materials relating to the veterans’ World War II experiences. To document and place these wartime experiences in socio-historical context, the University of Hawaii would record, process, and make available to the public, life history interviews with Hawaii nisei veterans and selected spouses.
To make these materials accessible to the widest possible audience, it was decided that Kapi’olani Community College would design and create a web site.
This web site features: synopses of each life history interview, video clips, transcript excerpts, and supplemental material. Scholars and researchers wishing to review the question-and-answer exchanges in the interviews may access the full transcripts, available in PDF format on this site. Links to related sites and sources are also available.
The team would like to acknowledge the following individuals for their encouragement, support and contributions to this project: Franklin Odo, Director, Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program; Tom Ikeda, Executive Director, Densho, the Japanese American Legacy Project; Christine Yamazaki, Executive Director and President, Go For Broke National Education Center; and Karleen Chinen, Editor, Hawaii Herald.
Web Site Contributors
University of Hawaii at Manoa Center for Oral History, a unit of the Social Science Research Institute, researched, conducted, transcribed, and edited videotaped interviews with veterans representing: the 100th Infantry Battalion, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, the 1399th Engineer Construction Battalion, the Military Intelligence Service, and the Varsity Victory Volunteers. In addition, the center interviewed four spouses of veterans.
Warren Nishimoto, Director
Michi Kodama-Nishimoto, Research Coodinator
Cynthia Oshiro, Publications Specialist
Holly Yamada, Research Associate
The University of Hawaii Kapiolani Community College Web Team was responsible for web site planning, which included: Information architecture, metadata, storyboard, design, navigation and layout. Web site construction included: Web publishing of context and content pages, photographs and supplemental information to KCC’s content management system. Video production included: Video digitization, editing, optimization and delivery via Flash containers. The Web Team also researched, located, and digitized secondary and primary source materials, including: historical documents, photos, manuscripts, letters and other unpublished materials.
Susan Murata, Head Librarian
Shari Tamashiro, Cybrarian and Web Site Project Manager
Ivan Sinclair, Webmaster
Junie Hayashi, Assistant Webmaster
Christine Galiza, Web Editor
Martin Holzgang, Web Team
University of Hawaii at Manoa Thomas H. Hamilton Library has been collecting, cataloging, and making accessible veterans’ letters, photographs, manuscripts, and other materials. The library also serves as the repository for the raw videotaped interviews.
Diane Perushek, University Librarian
Laura Capell, Archivist
Jan Zastrow, Archivist
Joan Hori, Head of Special Collections
Representatives of the various nisei veterans’ organizations communicated to the University of Hawaii the urgent need for documentation, preservation, and education and collaborated with University staff in collecting materials and identifying interviewees. They also provided valuable feedback while the site was in its conceptual and construction phases. The organizations are:
100th Infantry Battalion
442nd Regimental Combat Team
Military Intelligence Service
1399th Engineer Construction Battalion
Varsity Victory Volunteers
Sons and Daughters of the 100th Infantry Battalion
Sons and Daughters of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team
Oral History Methodology
The oral history interviews were conducted by Center for Oral History researchers Warren Nishimoto and Michi Kodama-Nishimoto. The researchers and interviewees collaborated in structured, in-depth conversational narratives. These narratives help convey the meaning of World War II Nisei experiences within the context of the interviewees’ lives, as well as the history of Hawaii, the United States, and the world.
The researchers began by conducting unrecorded preliminary interviews with potential interviewees. These sessions, generally lasting an hour, were held at interviewees’ homes, restaurants, or at pre-determined meeting sites, such as the 100th and 442nd clubhouses. The preliminary interviews enabled the researchers to establish rapport with the interviewees, as well as collect biographical information in order to prepare for the recorded interviews. From these preliminary interviews, the final list of interviewees was created.
The video-recorded interviews were conducted between January 2005 and January 2007 at either the interviewees’ homes or the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Each individual was interviewed in at least two separate ninety-minute sessions; one individual was interviewed in seven sessions. Because interviewees were asked to comment on experiences and incidents oftentimes specific to their own lives, no set questionnaire was followed. Rather, a life history approach was taken, creating biographical case studies centered mainly on the social, economic, and cultural backgrounds of the interviewees and the many historical forces that shaped their aspirations and life decisions.
The interview topics covered three major phases of the interviewees’ lives. In the beginning phase, interviewees were asked about their family background, childhood activities, cultural rearing, housing and other facilities, chores, community involvement, education, and early employment. This phase helps document the socio-economic and cultural situation faced by Hawaii-born Nisei — a situation that differed from that of the U.S. Mainland-born nisei. The Hawaii men were raised in sugar or pineapple plantation camps, rural Oahu or the neighbor islands, or lower socio-economic urban areas of Honolulu. Their collective experience provides valuable historical, cultural, socio-economic, and political data on the Japanese during the islands’ territorial era — the years between annexation and statehood.
The second phase generally marks the interviewees’ entry into young adulthood. Interviewees were asked to remember and comment on their World War II experiences beginning with the Pearl Harbor attack, being drafted or volunteering for service, wartime duties and responsibilities, locale assignments, and relationships with fellow soldiers. Interviewees were not only asked to chronicle these experiences in detail, but also reflect on the short- and long-term effects these experiences had on them, their comrades, and their families.
The final phase involves questions relating to postwar adjustment and employment. The landmark Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, commonly known as the GI Bill of Rights, provided wide opportunities to returning World War II veterans. The GI Bill provided federal monies to help veterans adjust to civilian life. Tuition, subsistence, books, and counseling services were provided, enabling many nisei veterans to continue their education in college or trade school. The postwar education of nisei veterans, their careers, marriages, family, and community involvement, were discussed. Interviewees were also asked for their observations and reflections on life and war. Many nisei veterans took full advantage of the GI Bill, starting or continuing their education at the University of Hawaii, or professional or vocational training schools locally and on the U.S. Mainland. Other veterans who completed their education prior to the war began their professional careers soon after military discharge.
Following each recorded session, the interviews were transcribed by COH-trained students. The transcripts, audio-reviewed by the researchers to correct omissions and mistranscriptions, were edited slightly for clarity and historical accuracy.
Prior to inclusion in this web site, the interviewees read and signed a document allowing the University of Hawaii and the general public scholarly and educational use of the information contained in the transcripts.
While not always entirely accurate, the aim of an oral history interview is the creation of reliable and valid documents. To achieve this objective, the researchers corroborated interviewee statements with available documentation, selected interviewees carefully, established rapport, listened carefully and with empathy, asked thoughtful questions, and obtained permission from the interviewees to use their real names, rather than pseudonyms, in this web site and any future publications.
Support for this project is provided by the Chancellor’s Office, University of Hawaii at Manoa, via the Research and Training Revolving Fund.
* Nisei is a term used in North and South America to describe a son or daughter of a first-generation Japanese couple who emigrated from Japan prior to World War II. Americans of Japanese Ancestry is a term that has been closely associated with nisei veterans born and raised in Hawaii. Although the exact origin of the term is not known, it remains the term of choice of most Hawaii-born nisei veterans.