NEW YORK--Captured in mostly black-and-white, the life experienced by Japanese Americans who were forced into internment camps during World War II had been shown by the U.S. government until now to emphasize their "American-ness."
But a recently published book of photos taken by an internee with color film shows that elements of Japanese culture such as sumo and traditional Bon period dance were being preserved in the camps to a greater degree than previously believed.
The volume is a rare collection of color photos taken by amateur photographer Bill Manbo. The photos taken by Manbo show various aspects of Japanese culture that the internees clung to, even while living behind barbed wire, despite the fact a majority were American citizens.
In total, about 120,000 Japanese Americans were sent to the camps as the U.S. government questioned their loyalty after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in December, 1941.
Manbo was a second-generation Japanese American who was forced to move with his family from his home in California to an internment camp at Heart Mountain, Wyoming, in 1942.
Soon after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor and brought the United States into World War II, cameras were confiscated from Japanese Americans due to fears the equipment could be used for spying.
However, Manbo may have been allowed to hold on to his camera to take family photos because the camp was located a considerable distance from the West Coast. Some of the photos were of his wife and son.
After the end of World War II, Manbo eventually returned to California, and he kept the photos until his death in 1992. Since then, his son has held on to the photos.
Even after more than 60 years, the color in the photos is still clear and vivid because Manbo shot with positive film used in making slides.
The book, titled "Colors of Confinement," was published by the University of North Carolina Press.
Eric L. Muller, a law professor at the University of North Carolina, said the color photos added familiarity about life in the internment camps because all the photos until now had been black-and-white.
Manbo's photos show young women dressed in kimono for a Bon dance as well as internees engaging in sumo while wearing the traditional "mawashi."
While most of the photos are of daily life in the camp, there are some with a political message.
In 1943, the U.S. government implemented a loyalty test for internees, asking them if they were willing to serve in the U.S. military and if they were prepared to pledge loyalty to the United States rather than the emperor of Japan. The several hundred who answered "No" to both questions were sent to another internment facility in California.
While Manbo was not among those who were sent to California, he did take a photo of the crowd of internees who gathered to see off those being sent to California.
In response to the question about loyalty to the United States, he is said to have responded that he would be loyal if his rights as an American citizen were restored.
"If we get all our rights back," Manbo wrote. "Who wants to fight for a c.c. (concentration) camp?"
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