Navy Japanese Language School


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Wartime language school staffed almost entirely by Japanese American instructors that trained U.S. Navy and Marine personnel for duty in the Pacific. Originating at Harvard and the University of California Berkeley in the fall of 1941, the school moved to the University of Colorado at Boulder in June 1942 due the exclusion of Japanese Americans from the West Coast. Around 150 Japanese Americans made up the vast majority of the faculty, many of them recruited from detention camps holding the removed Japanese Americans. The family members of Japanese American faculty members also joined them in Boulder. Due to aggressive public relations in the local community by the Navy and the university tying support of the language school to support of the war effort, the Japanese American faculty members and their families experienced few anti-Japanese episodes. Some 1,200 students—since Japanese Americans were banned from serving in the Navy, almost all were white—graduated from the school, most of whom served in the Pacific where they intercepted and translated radio communications, deciphered codes, translated documents, interrogated prisoners, and performed other tasks requiring Japanese language ability. After the war, many of the school's graduates became scholars of Japanese studies or worked for the federal government in intelligence or diplomatic capacities.

Authored by Brian Niiya, Densho

For More Information

Arnston, Jessica. "Journey to Boulder: The Japanese American Instructors at the Navy Language School, 1942–1946." In Enduring Legacies: Ethnic Histories and Cultures of Colorado. Edited by Arturo Aldama, et al. Niwot: University Press of Colorado, 2011. 175–93.

"Collections: The US Navy Japanese/Oriental Language School Archival Project (JSLP)." University of Colorado Boulder Libraries. http://ucblibraries.colorado.edu/archives/collections/jlsp/.

Hays, David M. "Words at War: The Sensei of the US Navy Japanese Language School at the University of Colorado, 1942–1946." DiscoverNikkei, Apr. 10, 2008. http://www.discovernikkei.org/en/journal/2008/4/10/enduring-communities/.

__________. "No Invisible Minority: Japanese Americans at the University of Colorado, 1910–1945," Parts 3 and 4, DiscoverNikkei, May 9, 2014. http://www.discovernikkei.org/en/journal/2014/5/23/no-invisible-minority-3/; http://www.discovernikkei.org/en/journal/2014/5/30/no-invisible-minority-4/.

Slesnick, Irwin and Carole. Kanji & Codes: Learning Japanese for World War II, 2nd Edition. Bellingham, Washington: self-published, 2006.