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Life behind Barbed Wire: The World War II Internment Memoirs of a Hawaii Issei (book)

Title Life behind Barbed Wire: The World War II Internment Memoirs of a Hawaii Issei
Original Title Tessaku seikatsu
Author Yasutaro Soga; Kihei Hirai (translator)
Original Publisher University of Hawai'i Press
Original Publication Date 2008
Pages 255
WorldCat Link
RG Media Type books
Title Life Behind Barbed Wire: the World War II Internment Memoirs of a Hawaii Issei
Interest Level Grades 9-12; Adult
Theme Facing reality; Immigrant experience; Nationalism – complications; Role of men
Genre Memoir
Point-of-View/Protagonist Characteristics written in first person voice of Issei man
Availability Widely available
Free Web Version Yes
Has Teaching Aids? No
Topic World War II-U.S. Army internment camps [432]; Identity and value-Issei [43]
Chronology 1940s
Facility Sand Island [42] - Sand Island, Oahu, Hawaii; Lordsburg [34] - Lordsburg, New Mexico; Santa Fe [27] - Santa Fe, New Mexico

Internment memoir by Honolulu Issei publisher and community leader Yasutaro Soga . Originally published in 1948 as Tessaku seikatsu , it was translated into English by Kihei Hirai and a team of volunteers at the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai'i (JCCH) and published by the University of Hawai'i Press in 2008.

Like many other Issei leaders, Soga (1873–1957) was arrested shortly after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. He was first taken to the Honolulu Immigration Station Building and then to the Sand Island detention camp, before being transferred to internment camps in Lordsburg and Santa Fe , New Mexico. All told, he spent nearly four years imprisoned, before he finally returned to Honolulu in November of 1945. At the time of his internment, Soga was sixty-eight years old and had been living in Hawai'i for forty-five years.

Shortly after his return to the islands, he began publishing short vignettes about his internment experience in his newspaper, the Hawaii Times (formerly the Nippu Jiji prior to the war). These stories became the basis for Tessaku seikatsu . Soga's keen journalistic eye and poet's soul captured many details of his wartime imprisonment, and he relates encounters with many other Issei leaders whom he met at his various stops. His book also includes a appendix containing a list of the some seven hundred men (and a few women) from Hawai'i who were interned in the continental U.S. As one of the few accounts of internment from an Issei perspective as well as one of the few written by a internee from Hawai'i, Soga's account has been often cited by scholars. [1]

In 2008, the University of Hawai'i published an English translation of the book that had been prepared by JCCH. The translation included a new foreword by Dennis Ogawa and introduction by Tetsuden Kashima.

Authored by Brian Niiya , Densho

Find in the Digital Library of Japanese American Incarceration

Life behind Barbed Wire: The World War II Internment Memoirs of a Hawaii Issei

This item has been made freely available in the Digital Library of Japanese American Incarceration , a collaborative project with Internet Archive .

Might also like An Internment Odyssey: Haisho Tenten by Kumaji Furuya; Taken from Paradise Isle: The Hoshida Family Story by George and Tamae Hoshida; Family Torn Apart: The Internment Story of the Otokichi Muin Ozaki Family , edited by Gail Honda

This page is complete and will be published to the production Encyclopedia.


  1. Two of the many works that draw on it are Gary Okihiro's Cane Fires: The Anti-Japanese Movement in Hawaii, 1865-1945 (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1991) and Patsy Sumie Saiki's Ganbarre! An Example of Japanese Spirit (Honolulu: Kisaku, Inc., 1982; Honolulu: Mutual Publishing, 2004).