Topaz Times (newspaper)


Publication Name Topaz Times
Camp Topaz
Start of Publication September 17, 1942
End of Publication March 30, 1945
Staff Members Managing Editor-Taro Katayama, Weekly Editor-Iwao Kawakami, Art Editor-Yuri Sugihara, Staff Cartoonist-Bennie Nobori, Staff-Kim Obata, Warren Watanabe, Fumio Obayashi, Fred Hoshiyama, Tad Hirota, Reverend Goto, Lily Tamaki, Evelyn Kirimura, Daniel Ota, Harry Hirashima, Harumi Kawahara, Alex Yorichi, Norman Nakashima, Eiko Honda, Kiyoshi Kimoto, Tomoye Takahashi, Haruno Wada, Fumi Nabeta,Yon Nobori, Rose Nakagawa, Mehiko Katsu, Mari Ikebuchi, Warren Watanabe, Hideko Shinagawa, Jimmy Kikugawa, Mits Shiozawa, Jack Tanaka, and Henry Takahashi

The Topaz Times (September 17, 1942 to March 30, 1945) was the newspaper of the Topaz, Utah, concentration camp. Ranging from four to six pages in length, the mimeographed newspaper was published daily for the majority of its run.

Contents

Background and Staffing

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 inaugural issue of the Topaz Times appeared on October 27, 1942, with a welcome and invocation from Reverend Taro Goto and a full listing of the Topaz administrative staff. The Times was preceded by ten pre-issues—the first appeared on September 17, 1942, and the last on October 24, 1942—and covered issues of housing, educational facilities, and early job opportunities for arriving inmates. Through an arrangement in nearby Delta, Utah, the first three pre-issues were mimeographed at Hinkley High School; pre-issue number four marked the first to be mimeographed within Topaz camp limits. The Topaz Times generally ranged from four to six pages in length and was published daily for the majority of its run.

By issue number two, a Japanese language, one-page supplement edited by Iwao Shimizu and translated by Kiyoshi Yamamoto was regularly included in the Times. Numerous issues of the Japanese issues, especially the New Year's editions, were hand illustrated by accomplished Issei artists such as Chiura Obata.

Coverage Highlights

The paper covered many of the same types of topics that other camp newspapers covered For the first few months, there were many stories about the difficult physical conditions the inmates faced. Regional dust storms were so intense and disruptive that all work in the open ceased and it was commonly reported in the newspaper that the dust made it near impossible for anyone to leave their homes or offices. Additional articles on the necessity of winterizing the project by insulating barracks both under the floors, inner walls and ceilings preoccupied reporters for the months of November and December 1942. Sports and recreation in the camp was another frequent area of coverage with stories on organized sports, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, and even camping, swimming and hiking at the Antelope Springs camp ninety miles away. When the formation of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team was announced, the Topaz Times released an extra edition on January 29, 1943, with the headline "To Recruit Nisei: War Department Plans to Organize Japanese American Combat Team," which began a steady series of articles and editorials touting the "Courage and Sacrifice" that military service offered for the Japanese American. By mid spring, news of inductions dominated the paper, and on March 12, 1943, the front page of the Times included an article touting three Yoshino brothers who volunteered along with an article announcing the creation of "The Volunteers for Victory," a group of recent army enlistees who vowed with their service to campaign for full civil rights for all evacuees.

The Times also featured some elements somewhat unique to Topaz. Because the paper had an unusually homogeneous population almost all of whom came from the San Francisco Bay Area, local politics weighed upon the minds of the Times editors. For example, as life began in Topaz, many of its inhabitants were still conscious of elections back in California. The Times dedicated numerous editorials in early November 1942, to absentee ballots and voting opportunities, going as far as listing residents who had their absentee ballots sent to them for the general election in California.

At the University of California, Berkeley, Japanese American students had developed ties with sympathetic professors and students of other ethnic groups. Several Pacific School of Religion faculty members had served as ministers and educators in Japan and had come to appreciate the Japanese people and culture. As a result, a small group of Berkeleyans formed the Fair Play Committee to protest the incarceration. Members included Harry Kingman of Stiles Hall, U.C. Economics Professor Paul Taylor, photographer Dorothea Lange and Pacific School of Religion faculty member Galen Fisher, and the activities of the Fair Play Committee were frequently mentioned in the Topaz Times throughout 1942–43.

According to the Times, Topaz administration and residents almost immediately began making connections with Delta community leaders and business owners in the Fall of 1942. Utah state governor Herbert B. Maw, despite the fact that he publicly opposed relocation of Japanese Americans into the state, visited Topaz to induct into office members of the Community Council and to pay respect to the Japanese American inmates. In an article that ran on January 14, 1943, it was reported that "A twofold purpose prompted the visit of Governor Maw to the Topaz Center; —first to personally inspect the housing, the food, the rations; —and secondly to bring to the residents a message of cheer and good will" and in his honor, a banquet was held. In other efforts to acclimate and educate residents of its surrounding geography and history, the Times ran a three part history of Utah by W. Richard Nelson and occasional poems in additional letters to the editor from Utah residents.

The Wakasa Killing

Guards had been regularly firing warning shots at Topaz residents when tragedy struck. On April 11, 1943, a military policeman shot and killed 63 year-old James Hatsuaki Wakasa, claiming that the elderly Issei was trying to escape. The autopsy, however, showed that Wakasa had been shot in the chest while facing the guard tower. (See Homicide in camp.) News of the shooting was first covered in a one-page special issue in English and Japanese, on April 12, 1943, with a sympathetic statement from Topaz administration statement before running details of the shooting. In the article, it was reported that "while attempting to crawl through the west fence between sentry posts Nos. 8 and 9 at 7:30 p.m.," Wakasa was "warned back four times by the sentries on duty," and that when he failed to heed, was shot and instantly killed. For seven consecutive days, the Times front page reported on the Wakasa death, including news that the MP sentry had been arrested and was to be court martialed, and on April 16, in a special issue, the WRA issued a statement assuring residents that they hoped no other similar circumstances would occur. The inmates demanded that they be allowed to hold the deceased man's funeral on the spot where he was killed and that the WRA include Japanese American leaders in the investigation. When the WRA first denied these demands, the operations at Topaz ground to a halt, which was reported in the Topaz Times issue on April 22, 1943. While the coverage was ongoing, articles in the newspaper, such as Wakasa's funeral that was eventually permitted, or investigations of the shooting were entirely devoid of opinion, and no letters to the editor or community voices were printed on this subject in the issues that followed.

The accused military police sentry would eventually stand for a general court martial on April 28, 1943, at Fort Douglas, Utah, and be found "not guilty," and news of the acquittal did not appear in the newspaper. The administration tried to place restrictions on the use of weapons, but a month later, a guard once again fired a warning at a couple strolling near the fence.[2] Following the scrutiny of WRA policies, security at Topaz was reevaluated and it was determined that fears of subversive activity at the camp were largely without basis, and security was eventually relaxed to the point where residents were once again allowed outside camp limits, provided that they had a permit. The more open atmosphere dampened nearly all of the anti-army agitation.

Beginning in late January 1943, when all WRA newspapers ran an article written by Dillon S. Myer, director of the WRA, doling out advice on resettlement, the Topaz Times editorials urged residents to find opportunities to leave camp on a permanent basis, whether it was to pursue their education, to find outside work, or to volunteer for the armed services, once the draft was re-enacted. The paper had been running ads for seasonal agricultural work outside the camp and soon included opportunities for inmates to pursue work within Utah as well in the Midwest or East Coast.

When Japan surrendered in August 1945, the government had already begun enacting plans for the closing of the camps. Roughly 60% of the Topaz inmates eventually returned to the Bay Area. Topaz was formally closed on October 31, 1945.

Authored by Patricia Wakida

Footnotes

  1. Takeya Mizuno, "The Creation of the 'Free Press' in Japanese American Camps" Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly 78.3 (2001), 514.
  2. "Topaz Relocation Center, Utah," Japanese American Veterans Association, http://www.javadc.org/topaz_relocation_center.htm.