Dan T. Nishikawa

Name Dan T. Nishikawa
Born January 2 1906
Died June 2 1991
Birth Location Honolulu, HI
Generational Identifier

Dan Toru Nishikawa (1906–91) was a well-known Kibei musician and band leader in Honolulu before the war who was interned for two years at the Sand Island and Honouliuli detention camps. He is remembered today largely for his evocative sketches of life at the two camps, along with his craft objects and written recollections of his internment experience.

Nishikawa was born in Honolulu on January 2, 1906 to Japanese immigrant parents. Like many of his contemporaries, he was sent back to Japan to be raised by grandparents. After graduating high school in Japan, the attended Aoyama Gakuin in Tokyo before returning to Honolulu in 1926 after twenty years in Japan. In Honolulu, he studied English at Mid-Pacific Institute and assisted his father in a dry goods distribution business, working with stores on Kaua'i, Maui, and Molokai. However, the depression hit the business hard, and it went under in 1932. He subsequently worked for the Nippu Jiji newspaper as a salesman, in charge of the central O'ahu region. He married Grace Togawa, and the couple had a son Albert. [1]

A talented musician, Nishikawa also started what is generally regarded to be the first Japanese orchestra in Hawaii, the Nippon Gengakuden (Nippon Orchestra) in 1928. Serving as its conductor, Nishikawa led the group in playing both Japanese and Western songs, ranging from classical to dance music. The group became the house band at the Nippon Theater, where it accompanied screenings of silent films. At least a dozen similar orchestras formed before the war. Nishikawa was also a pioneering figure in radio broadcasting, being featured on a weekly musical program on KGU radio that began in 1927, featuring his harmonica playing. He also judged popular singing contests and composed songs. [2]

The attack on Pearl Harbor dramatically changed the fortunes of Nishikawa and his family. Along with many other staff members of the Nippu Jiji , he was questioned by the FBI and eventually interned in May 1942. He believed that his frequent visits to the Japanese consulate made him a suspect, visits that he made as part of his job to collect bills or to take printing orders. In addition to his internment, his wife Grace's sewing school was also shut down by the military, and the family was forced to sell its possessions—which included a hothouse filled with valuable orchids—to survive. Grace and Albert eventually had to move in with the family of Grace's younger sister, Shizue Hayashi. [3]

Being bilingual, Nishikawa took on leadership positions at both Sand Island and Honouliuli, serving as a barrack leader in the former and a mess hall coordinator at the latter. He also served as a translator for Korean POWs at Honouliuli. To combat the tedium of internment at Sand Island, he and other internees began to collect shells that they would grind and make decorative pieces out of. The internees also made rings and other decorative objects out of toothbrush handles. He told Honolulu Advertiser reporter Beverly Creamer in 1981, "It's something you gotta do. Otherwise you're gonna be nuts if you think of the family. So that's why I was forced to make something you see.... Try to make something, then you forget the hours." He also began sketching scenes of everyday camp life in pencil and crayon. Given the relatively few photographs of the Hawai'i camps, these drawings provide rare glimpses of life in these camps. Nishikawa also first came up with the nickname "Jigokudani" [Hell Valley] for Honouliuli, when he wrote it on a apron for a friend. The name was adopted by many internees and has been reclaimed by contemporary chroniclers of Honouliuli. [4]

After nearly two years, he was paroled. Released from Honouliuli, he was required to stay in Honolulu. Without a home to return to, he ended up moving in with a friend, who also helped him get a job as an auto mechanic's helper at Dole Pineapple Co. He also worked retouching and coloring photo negatives at night to help make ends meet. Though he did not reform his orchestra, he did continue to judge singing contests and wrote and sang on a local hit record titled "Gunjin Hanayome," about a Japanese war bride living in Hawai'i. He retired from Dole in 1970. [5]

With the resurgence of interest in the wartime incarceration of Japanese Americans that accompanied the redress movement in the 1980s, Nishikawa became a spokesman for former internees. Though he was unable to testify in person before the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians (CWRIC), he submitted two statements of his wartime internment experiences to the them, in which he urged reparations. "Our life at the Sand Island was worse than the jail for villain," he wrote. "We were treated like in hell—no disregard (sic) for human rights with extreme racial discrimination." He passed away at age 85 in Honolulu on June 2, 1991. A collection of his writings, photographs, drawings, and craft objects is in the collection of the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai'i and has been featured in the exhibitions Dark Clouds Over Paradise: The Hawai'i Internees Story (2004, 2006) and Right from Wrong: Learning the Lessons of Honouliuli (2011). [6]

Authored by Brian Niiya , Densho and Patricia Wakida

For More Information

Dan Toru Nishikawa archival collection , Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai'i.

Dan Toru Nisikawa internment memoir, 1980–81 . Prepared for Committee on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians. Patsy Saiki archival collection, AR18, Box 2, Folder 9, Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai'i.

Hirayama, Laura. "Day of Remembrance." Hawaii Herald , February 19, 1982, 1–2, 7, 10–11.

The View from Within: Japanese American Art from the Internment Camps, 1942-1945 . Los Angeles: Japanese American National Museum, UCLA Wight Art Gallery, and UCLA Asian American Studies Center, 1992.


  1. Kenneth H. Toguchi, "The Weak Foundation," The Hawaii Herald , Dec. 5, 1980, 3–4; Toru Nishikawa Memoir #1, Sept. 29, 1980, Patsy Saiki archival collection, Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai'i, AR18, Box 2, Folder 9. Translated by Ari Uchida. Accessed on Aug. 1, 2019 at https://jcch.soutronglobal.net/Portal/DownloadImageFile.ashx?objectId=398 .
  2. Laura Hirayama, "The Heyday of Japanese Music," The Hawaii Herald , Aug. 21, 1981, 6–7; Laura Hirayama, "Japanese Language Programming: The Fading Signal," The Hawaii Herald , Oct. 16, 1981, 1–3; Jack Tasaka, "Japanese Language Broadcasting," Oct. 16, 1981, 2.
  3. Toru Nishikawa Memoir #1; Laura Hirayama, "Day of Remembrance," The Hawaii Herald , Feb. 19, 1982, 1–2, 7, 10–11; Jean Hayashi Ariyoshi, Washington Place: A First Lady's Story (Honolulu: Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai'i, 2004), 25. Shizue's daughter Jean grew up to become the first lady of Hawai'i when her husband, George Ariyoshi , became the governor of Hawai'i in 1974.
  4. Toru Nishikawa Memoir #1; Toru Nishikawa Memoir #2, Sept. 17, 1981, Patsy Saiki archival collection, Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai'i, AR18, Box 2, Folder 9. Translated by Ari Uchida. Accessed on Aug. 1, 2019 at https://jcch.soutronglobal.net/Portal/DownloadImageFile.ashx?objectId=400 ; Beverly Creamer, "Memories That Remain Interned Forever," Honolulu Advertiser , Sept. 9, 1981, E1–2; Hirayama, "Day of Remembrance."
  5. Hirayama, "Day of Remembrance"; Toru Nishikawa Memoir #1; Creamer, "Memories That Remain Interned Forever'; Hirayama, "The Heyday of Japanese Music."
  6. Quote from Toru Nishikawa Memoir #1; Jane Kurahara, Brian Niiya, and Betsy Young, "Finding Honouliuli: The Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai'i and Preserving the Hawai'i Internment Story," Social Process in Hawai'i (2014): 16–42.

Last updated Aug. 1, 2019, 7:45 p.m..