Minidoka Irrigator (newspaper)


Publication Name Minidoka Irrigator
Camp Minidoka
Start of Publication September 10, 1942
End of Publication July 28, 1945
Staff Members Editors-Dick Takeuchi, Dyke Miyagawa, Rube Hosokawa, Hideo Hoshide, Sachi Yasui, Cherry Tanka, Mitsu Yasuda, Kimi Tambara, and Lily Nakatani, Managing Editor-Dick Takeuchi, News Editor-Jackson Sonoda, Sally Ishii, Associated Editor-Max Morinaga, Copy Editor-Tony Gomes, Reporters-Daiki Miyagawa, Taka Oka, Makiko Takahashi, Tadako Tamura, Jackson Sonoda, Sumi Itami, Illustrators-Tak Hirai, Karl Fujimoto, Cartoonist-Eddie Sato, Typists-Shizuko Kawamura, Takako Matsumoto, and Gertrude Takayama, Circulation Manager-Thomas Yamauchi

The Minidoka Irrigator (September 10, 1942 - July 28, 1945) was a weekly newspaper published at the Minidoka Relocation Center located in Hunt, Idaho. It was one of three WRA camp newspapers to be printed rather than mimeographed.

Background and Staffing[edit]

The War Relocation Authority camp newspapers kept incarcerated Nikkei informed of a variety of information, including administrative announcements, orders, events, vital statistics, news from other camps, and other necessary information concerning daily life in the camps. (See Newspapers in camp.) Story coverage was comparable to what one might typically expect of a small town newspaper, with nearly identical coverage in all ten camps of social events, religious activities (both Buddhist and Christian), school activities and sports, crimes and accidents, in addition to regular posts concerning WRA rules and regulations. Nearly every paper included diagrams and maps of the camp layouts and geographical overviews to allow residents to get a bearing of their locations; payroll announcements, instructions on obtaining work leaves and classified ads for work opportunities; lost and found items; and some editorial column that was reflective of its Japanese American staff editor. Reporters and editors were classified as skilled and professional workers respectively and received monthly payments. The wage scale was set at $12 or $16 a month for assistants and reporters and $19 for top editors, although no labor was compulsory. All ten camps had both English and Japanese language newspapers. Despite its democratic appearance, the camp newspapers in reality were hardly a "free" press. All newspapers were subject to some sort of editorial interference, in some cases even overt censorship, and camp authority retained the power to "supervise" newspapers and even to suspend them in the event that they were judged to have disregarded certain responsibilities enumerated in WRA policy. [1]

The first issue of the Irrigator was released on September 10, 1942, exactly one month after the camp opened. Roughly a month later, the first Japanese language supplement (with a translated key in English to the articles headers) made its debut. Beginning February 27, 1943, the Minidoka Irrigator was upgraded from a mimeographed to a printed newspaper, which the staff viewed as "the expansion and improvement of something vital to every resident as it is to all Americans—a free and intelligent press devoted to the best interest of the community."

Like every World War II War Relocation Authority camp, the newspaper staff was in constant in flux. The original editors were Dick Takeuchi, Dyke Miyagawa, and Rube Hosokawa. Other editors overseeing the Irrigator would include Hideo Hoshide, Sachi Yasui, and the self-titled "terrible triumvirate" of Cherry Tanka, Mitsu Yasuda, and Kimi Tambara (a very rare occurrence of female editorialship of the WRA newspapers). Mildly satirical cartoons were provided by Eddie Sato, through his regular strip, "Jankee."

Scholar John D. Stevens, writing on freedom of the press in all of the concentration camps, noted that the Minidoka newspaper "enjoyed little independence. Minidoka administrators kept a tight rein on all evacuee activities, including the Irrigator."[2] Even with administrators overseeing the camp newspapers, the Minidoka Irrigator's editors and reporters were able to cover some of the more controversial political and legal stories that were occurring outside camp boundaries. Along with the general community news and regulations that filled its pages, the Irrigator was also capable of expressing genuine sorrow over the community's predicament. In an editorial written for the December 1942 Christmas issue, editor Kimi Tambara wrote, "[T]his life behind a fence is not a pleasant one, but nothing can be pleasant in these times, could it? I can now understand how an eagle feels when his wings are clipped and caged. Beyond the bars of his prison lies the wide expanse of the boundless skies, flocked with soft clouds, the wide, wide, fields of brush and woods—limitless space for the pursuit of Life itself."

Coverage Highlights[edit]

In the first month or reporting, stories ranged from clothing allowances and the opening of a community co-op store, to crime-related ones such as reports of canteen theft and illegal fantan and dice gambling. In the Halloween 1942 issue, the first of the controversial topics appeared. In this issue, residents first learned of the construction of eight guard towers, purportedly for "lookouts for fire and other disturbances in the community" but that the guard towers would not control entering and exiting the project. However, barbed wire was also installed to outline the center limits, although "colonists" were supposedly permitted to go into the outer area limits between sunrise and sunset.

On November 14, 1942, a furor grew as it was discovered that a generator had been placed along the barbed wire fence, thereby electrifying the metal. However, the same article reports that the generator was shut off once it was learned that the electrification was not authorized by the army or WRA. The explanation was that the wire was electrified to dissuade residents from cutting the wires and uprooting fence-posts. All "colonists" who wish to go out of the outer limits must use the gates and not "crawl through the wires," according to the Irrigator. The passionate reaction of Minidokans might have emboldened the editors both politically and stylistically; that same issue also carried a humorous story with a feminist agenda, when it was reported that a group of "Irate Women Storm Shafer; Official Quakes as Coal Storage Spurs Females," when sexist policies prevented women from applying for jobs during a severe labor shortage.

The Minidoka Irrigator also had a flourish for drama, utilizing sensational headers to articles that would have been deflated and hidden in other centers. "Knife-Wielder Threatens D.H. 16 Cooks", (December 2 1942); "Nisei Wife of Chinese Indicted; Told by Judge to Leave Seattle (August 28, 1943); Mexican Youth Poses As Nisei in Manzanar (August 19, 1944). The December 5,, 1942 issue covered a sensational story of an inmate who wandered off in search of greasewood materials for his sculpture hobby, later to be found dead by a search party. On December, 1942 news of the uprising in the Manzanar camp made headlines, describing the incident as "a result of mob uprisings led by pro-Axis sympathizers."

Legal Challengers[edit]

On October 31, the paper reported the first in a series of articles about the status of two Nisei who had publicly defied the army's evacuation orders in a direct challenge to the constitutionality of Japanese American exclusion. Twenty-four year old former University of Washington student Gordon Hirabayashi's court case was the first to be discussed in "Hirabayashi Convicted; Asks For Longer Sentence Term." Hirabayashi was convicted on two counts for disobeying the Japanese evacuation order and the curfew laws in Spring 1942, and was sentenced to 90 days at his trial in Seattle. Nearly half of the residents of Minidoka were from Seattle, and likely followed this story carefully, although it is unknown how they reacted to his political stance against the U.S. Government, in defense of his civil liberties.

On November 19, 1942, the Irrigator ran its first story on former Portland lawyer, Min Yasui. In a similar case Yasui, a resident of Minidoka, left camp accompanied by U.S. Deputy Marshall Leigh McLian for Portland, where he was to be sentenced for violation of the curfew law the previous spring 1942.

The following day's paper (November 20, 1942) ran the radical headline "Evacuation Illegal?," the Irrigator's most radical statement yet, commenting on Yasui's sentence and discussing the validity of mass incarceration given Federal Judge James A. Fee's ruling that without declaration of martial law, the military had no power to regulate the life and conduct of the ordinary American citizen. The paper also ran a letter to the editor signed by Harold Kay Ito, urging "Isn't it time, now, that all Nisei who cherish their rights as American citizens make themselves heard?....Isn't it time that we shake them [members of the Japanese American Citizens League in Salt Lake City who are representing Japanese American interests with government officials] out of their apparent stupor,----to demand active support of a young man who is carrying on a fight for all of us? Isn't it time that we give hope and encouragement to a real American who is doing exacting [sic] what each of us would be doing, if only we had the money, family independence, and more common ordinary guts?" The Irrigator continued its coverage of the case, printing a letter by Yasui written from his prison cell and noting the formation of a support committee in Minidoka. After the announcement of the formation of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team at the end of January 1943, articles related to Yasui and Hirabayashi virtually came to an end.

Resettlement and Shutting Down[edit]

As "loyal" inmates began to be allowed to leave Minidoka, the paper covered various topics tied to the loyalty questionnaire and Resettlement. On January 9, 1943, the paper presented results from a recent Gallup poll on the question, "Do you think the Japanese...should be allowed to return to the Pacific Coast when the war is over?" 97% of those polled approved of the forced removal, leading to an Irrigator editorial by Dyke M. concluding that "We can contest the legality of evacuation until the end of time, but the existence of the 97% in the western area who believe the Army "Did the right thing" makes our arguments sound embarrassingly fatuous." The Irrigator was one of the few WRA camp newspapers that reported on the violence against Nisei as they resettled in the Midwest, Rockies, or East Coast; most other papers only covered the benefits of resettlement and urged people to leave camp by printing glowing reviews by former camp residents. On December 9, 1944 and in subsequent issues, the Irrigator covered articles from the Hood River News protesting the Hood Legion Act to exclude local Nisei soldiers killed in action from a war memorial. (See Hood River incident.)

On December 17, 1944, the Minidoka Irrigator announced the rescinding of the West Coast ban in a special extra issue. In the Irrigator's final issue, guest editor Kimi Tambara wrote the "Last Chapter" for Minidoka, signing the final "30" to its pages, with the exhortation to "let us take a deep breath and girding ourselves, bid a fond farewell to the gray barrack city of Hunt and pray that never again will another group be made to open its gates again."

Authored by Patricia Wakida

For More Information[edit]

Mizuno, Takeya. "The Creation of the 'Free' Press in Japanese American Camps: The War Relocation Authority's Planning and Making of the Camp Newspaper Policy." Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly 78 (Autumn 2001): 503-518.

__________. "Censorship in a Different Name: Press 'Supervision' in Wartime Japanese American Camps 1942-1943." Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly 88 (Spring 2011): 121-141.

Stevens, John D. "From Behind Barbed Wire: Freedom of the Press in WWII Japanese Centers." Journalism Quarterly 48 (1971): 279-87.

Footnotes[edit]

  1. Takeya Mizuno, "The Creation of the 'Free Press' in Japanese American Camps" Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly 78.3 (2001), 514.
  2. John D. Stevens, "From Behind Barbed Wire: Freedom of the Press in WWII Japanese Centers," Journalism Quarterly 48 (1971), 285.