Tom T. Sasaki


Name Tom T. Sasaki
Born April 3 1916
Died April 9 1995
Birth Location Los Angeles
Generational Identifier

Nisei

Anthropologist, field worker for the Bureau of Sociological Research at Poston and for the War Agency Liquidation Unit in Los Angeles. Best known for his fieldwork in Native American communities in the U.S. and his contributions in medical anthropology internationally, Tom T. Sasaki also contributed fieldwork to two major studies of Japanese Americans during and after their wartime incarceration.

Sasaki was born on April 3, 1916, in Los Angeles and grew up in the Imperial County, California, town of Brawley. After attending junior college in Brawley, he went to the University of California, Berkeley, graduating in 1939 with a psychology degree. Along with all other Japanese Americans on the West Coast, he and his wife, Myrtle M. Susu-Mago Sasaki, were forcibly removed and incarcerated, going directly to the Poston, Arizona, camp in May 1942 without going first to an assembly center. One of the couple's two daughters was born in Poston in February 1943. At Poston, he became one of nine full time Japanese American field workers for the Bureau of Sociological Research, working under its director, Alexander Leighton.

He left Poston with his family in September 1943 to teach in a school on the Navaho Reservation in Toadlena, New Mexico. He later worked for the Office of War Information and for the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey, doing research in Tokyo for the latter.

Upon his return to the U.S., he took a position as a fieldworker for a study of Japanese American resettlement for the War Agency Liquidation Unit (WALU), an agency in the Department of the Interior that served as the successor to the War Relocation Authority. Sasaki was assigned to Los Angeles, where spent the second half of 1946. He ended up filing 149 short reports totaling over 500 pages on Little Tokyo and the Japanese American community in Southern California, touching on topics such as housing, employment, integration, and the formation of LA chapters of the Japanese American Citizens League and the Civil Rights Defense Union. He also contributed to the subsequent publication, titled People in Motion: The Postwar Adjustment of the Evacuated Japanese Americans. His field reports are in The Japanese American Evacuation and Resettlement digital archive at UC Berkeley.

Sasaki subsequently pursued an academic career, entering graduate programs at American University and Cornell University. At the latter, he worked on the Cornell University Southwest Project starting in 1948 where he was reunited with Leighton. His fieldwork in Fruitland, a community in the Navajo Reservation, served as the basis for his doctoral dissertation, which was completed in 1950. He remained on the Carnegie Foundation funded Southwest project, serving as its field director from 1952 to 1956.

He went on to faculty positions at the University of New Mexico, Johns Hopkins University and Notre Dame. At Johns Hopkins in the 1960s, he worked on studies with the Geographic Epidemiology Unit at the School of Hygiene and Health, serving as part of an interdisciplinary team that studied health and disease in Peru, then later in Chad. He moved on to Notre Dame in 1972 as a full professor of sociology and anthropology, where he remained until his retirement in 1981. He remained in Indiana subsequently, and passed away there in 1995.

Authored by Brian Niiya, Densho

For More Information

O'Nell, Carl W. Obituary. Anthropology Newsletter 37.6 (Sept. 1996):34.

Major Works Authored by or Contributed to

Buck, Alfred A., Tom Taketo Sasaki, and Robert I. Anderson. Health and Disease in Four Peruvian Villages: Contrasts in Epidemiology. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1968.

Buck, Alfred A., et al. Health and Disease in Chad: Epidemiology, Culture, and Environment in Five Villages. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1970.

Leighton, Alexander H. The Governing of Men: General Principles and Recommendations Based on Experience at a Japanese Relocation Camp. New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1945.

Sasaki, Tom T. "Technological Change in a Navaho Farming Community: A Study of Social and Psychological Processes." Ph.D. dissertation, Cornell University, 1950.

———. Fruitland New Mexico: A Navaho Community in Transition. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1960.

United States Department of the Interior, War Agency Liquidation Unit. People in Motion: The Postwar Adjustment of the Evacuated Japanese Americans. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, [1947]. New York: AMS Press, 1975. [Links to Sasaki's 1946 field reports on Southern California for this study in The Japanese American Evacuation and Resettlement digital archive, UC Berkeley: Imperial Valley reports, Los Angeles part 1, Los Angeles part 2, Los Angeles part 3.]