Richard S. Nishimoto


Name Richard Shigeaki Nishimoto
Born August 28 1904
Died 1956
Birth Location Tokyo, Japan
Generational Identifier

Issei

Richard Shigeaki Nishimoto (1904-56) is probably the most cited Issei author who wrote on the camps in English—specifically on the WRA camp known as Tule Lake. Educated in both Japan and the USA, Nishimoto distinguished himself as the only Issei to be employed full-time as a researcher for the Japanese American Evacuation and Resettlement Study (JERS). He was also the only Japanese American co-author of any of the JERS publications, authoring The Spoilage (1946) with JERS director Dorothy S. Thomas. Besides being an Issei, Nishimoto was atypical of JERS researchers in that he was an active community leader in Poston, and thus drew from a unique point of view as both an "insider," and an "analytic" observer.

Shigeaki Nishimoto was born in Tokyo, Japan, on August 28, 1904. As a youth, Nishimoto's parents immigrated to the San Francisco Bay area where they started a business. Initially, Nishimoto was left behind while his parents established themselves. His parents put him in an intermediate school sponsored by Episcopalians where he studied English and probably garnered some exposure to American history and culture.

In 1921, as a youth of seventeen, Nishimoto was called to America (yobiyose) by his parents. With breaks for work to earn money, Nishimoto was able to pursue an education. He attended Lowell High School in San Francisco and then obtained a B.S. from Stanford University 1929.

Nishimoto had earned an engineering degree, but even with his elite credentials, as a Japanese national he was subject to employment discrimination. Unable to earn a living as an engineer, Nishimoto did various prewar jobs: he worked in insurance, tax services, and as a court translator. In 1932, he married his wife, Yae, and had two daughters. Eventually, before the war, Nishimoto wound up in the produce industry in Gardena.

Removed from East Los Angeles to Arizona in 1942, the Nishimotos were sent straight to Poston without going through a WCCA (a.k.a. "assembly") center. Residing in Block 45, Nishimoto was elected block leader and, because of his political acumen, he eventually became a significant community leader in Unit l. In terms of research, initially Nishimoto did a stint as a fieldworker for Dr. Alexander Leighton's Bureau of Sociological Research in Poston.

As such, Nishimoto developed a relationship to Japanese Evacuation and Resettlement Study researcher Tamie Tsuchiyama. Finding Nishimoto very well informed because of his bilingual abilities, as well as the extensive networks he developed with Japanese Americans and War Relocation Authority personnel alike, Tsuchiyama recruited Nishimoto as her research assistant in 1943. In this capacity, he was paid $15 a month. Nishimoto became a prolific fieldworker for JERS and kept an extensive sociological journal that covered a wide range of topics in regard to daily life in the Poston camp, Unit I. In addition, Nishimoto researched and wrote a series of detailed ethnographic reports for JERS director Dorothy S. Thomas on a variety of subjects including labor (the firebreak gang, a Poston work crew), gambling in camp, the All-Center Conference, and the camp residents' reaction to the rescission of the U.S. military's orders of exclusion, among other themes. Because they wanted to avoid being labeled as spies for the government or the WRA, all of the JERS fieldworkers of Japanese descent including Tsuchiyama and Nishimoto worked on a clandestine basis. In Nishimoto's case, he requested that all references to him and his work be concealed via the use of a code name which in his case was "Mr. X." Once released from Poston, however, Nishimoto did not seem to care if it was publicly known that he had once collected data for Dorothy Thomas's research project.

When Tsuchiyama decided to quit JERS in 1944, director Dorothy S. Thomas hired Nishimoto as her lead fieldworker in Poston, a position which he enjoyed until Dillon Myer, head of the War Relocation Authority, figured out what Nishimoto was doing and had him removed from the camp in 1945.

Life did not go very well for Nishimoto in the postwar period. While Thomas did recruit Nishimoto to help her write The Spoilage, after the JERS shut down, Nishimoto was not able to secure steady academic or professional employment worthy of his talents and education. He experienced underemployment, and was ultimately a night watchman in a small San Francisco hotel. He died of a heart attack, in San Francisco, in late May, 1956.

Nonetheless, in retrospect, it is clear that Richard Shigeaki Nishimoto was a dynamic intellectual and student of the Japanese American experience. In addition to his work for JERS which included his field reports, and sociological journal, between 1945 and 1948, Nishimoto made specific contributions to all three of the JERS official publications: The Spoilage (1946), The Salvage (1952), and Prejudice, War, and the Constitution (1952).

In the late 1960s, The Spoilage experienced a surprising revival. Although it wasn't their intention, Thomas and Nishimoto's study of the Tule Lake camp was taken up in a number of the early Asian American studies courses at campuses like San Francisco State because it exemplified Issei, Nisei, and Kibei resistance to the WRA and other federal authorities in terms of the injustices that Japanese American experienced during mass incarceration in an American-style concentration camp.

Authored by Lane Ryo Hirabayashi, UCLA

For More Information

Nishimoto, Richard S. and Lane Ryo Hirabayashi. Inside An American Concentration Camp. Tucson: The University of Arizona Press, 1995.

Thomas, Dorothy S., and Richard S. Nishimoto. The Spoilage. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1946.