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Tacoma Community History Projects: Featured Project: Joseph Kosai

A guide to oral history projects compiled by students in Professor Mike Honey's "Doing Community History" course. Projects date from 1991.


Joseph Kosai

Joseph Kosai was born in Tacoma on May 7, 1934. When he was eight years old he and his family were sent from Tacoma to Pinedale, California, and then on to the Minidoka Japanese internment camp in Idaho. His father had been removed to Montana by the FBI at the beginning of the war. Kosai's internment lasted three years almost to the day - from May 18, 1942 until May 17, 1945. He ultimately returned to the area after the war for a career in Education, retiring as Director of Admissions from Tacoma Community College. Kosai became involved with the Redress Committee of the Japanese American Citizen's League (JACL), and was in attendance when President Reagan signed the redress bill into law on August 10, 1988. In this excerpt Kosai discusses the Japanese American community's view of the U.S. government's official explanation for internment, and shares some personal anecdotes.


Note: For the complete version of this project, see call # 1991#04

Section of Joseph Kosai Interview

From my understanding, the government evacuated the Japanese people in the interest of the nation's security. From your recollection, do you believe that the Japanese people actually believed that?


They did not believe it but they still went along because of the way they were brought up - they were obedient?

Right; obedience and no leadership to oppose it. A few people opposed it - you take the Korematsu case, Gordon Hirabayashi from Auburn, and the Yasui case - individuals, but there was no organized group.

But this is the message they spread across the country, that it was for the security of the nation that we must evacuate and intern the Japanese people.

You get two stories. One is like that. My response to that would be there were as many Japanese living in Hawaii at the time as there were in the West Coast of the United States. In Hawaii this is more of a jumping off point for the military to go to the Pacific. But yet, they did not remove the Japanese people from Hawaii. It would have really devastated the economy of Hawaii. Some of these people were working at Scoffield Base or some of the so called military installations. The other thing is, interestingly enough, they were still in some cases drafting Japanese Americans into the service at that time. When the war started, in Tacoma, I know of three families that, because of the draft, they were drafted into the service February 10, 1942 - nine days prior to the signing of Executive Order 9066 [directing the removal of ancestral Japanese from the west coast] - because they were required by law. In 1942 at Tule Lake the military was also recruiting Niseis [first generation ethnic Japanese born in the U.S.] for military intelligence. A number of young men from Tacoma joined. A couple of them are still living in Tacoma who went to battle in the Pacific. In Tacoma, we also lost a member of our [Buddhist] Temple, on the invasion of Okinawa, serving in the U.S. Army. So they talk about disruption, military concerns and yet there were a lot of things going on.

The other thing is there was one family, who happened to be our neighbor and now live in Seattle, that did not leave Tacoma the same time as we did. As far as I know, they probably were the only family left in Tacoma when everyone else left because the Mrs. was expecting a baby and she couldn't travel. In fact, I was talking to her just recently and I asked "When did they tell you you had to leave?" The woman said they stayed for weeks after the baby was born. The baby was born in June so they were here at least a month after everyone else left. The interesting thing is that they kind of got lonesome so they had to ask the military when they can go to camp. It's kind of an interesting story.

The other thing people would say is that they were protecting the Japanese people from the masses in case of harrassment and things like that. Tacoma was very fortunate that the Mayor of Tacoma, Harry P. Cain, spoke against the evacuation. He was, as far as I know, the only public official on the West Coast, Mayor of a major city, to publicly oppose the evacuation. In 1978 he happened to be back here visiting Tacoma and the Japanese community then honored him with a dinner for his support. The interesting thing is that people who lived in Spokane did not go to camp. Fewer numbers seem like they would be in more danger than a large population of people, but people living in Chicago, Detroit or the East Coast - and there are many military installations on the East Coast I'm sure - weren't rounded up. So there was no danger from the military standpoint and protection was not needed.