Hatsue Egami

Name Hatsuye Egami
Born 1902
Died 1961
Birth Location Tokyo, Japan
Generational Identifier

Issei

Hatsuye Egami was an Issei intellectual who wrote for Japanese American publications in California before the war. Her published assembly center diary and columns for the Gila News Courier provide a rare Issei woman's perspective on the wartime incarceration.

Biographical Overview

Hatsuye Egami was born in Tokyo in 1902. She lost her mother very early in life and graduated from the Mission School in Himeji, Hyogo, at the age of 18. Her father was a Baptist minister in Japan. She was married to Kumao Egami, eight years senior to her, immediately after graduating from school in Japan. Their first child, Sachiko was born in Japan. In 1921, when Hatsuye was nineteen, she and her family moved to the United States with the support of her uncle, who was a Baptist minister in the United States. Three additional children were born in the United States.

At the time of the Pearl Harbor attack, the Egamis lived in Pasadena, California. Hatsuye studied music after she migrated to the US, and taught music in Pasadena until the military exclusion order was imposed on Japanese Americans on the West Coast. Before the war, she was on the editorial staff of the Japanese section of Rafu Shimpo . Egami was also active in Japanese literary circle in Los Angeles. She was involved in the editing and publication of the literary journal, Shūkaku (『収穫』[harvest]). Egami and her family were removed from their Pasadena home on May 12, 1942, to be incarcerated in the Tulare Assembly Center . The family was moved again in late August with most of the other incarcerees in Tulare to the Gila River War Relocation Center.

After being brought to Gila River, Egami engaged herself in the camp literary circle. She became a writer for the Japanese edition of the Gila News Courier , or Hira Jiho (比良時報), where she was in charge of the prose section. She authored a serial column, "Fujin no Sekai" [Women's World], starting on December 5, 1942 and ending on March 13, 1943. Fourteen articles under this title were published throughout the period of four months. Her serial column was followed by a new regular column "Pen no Shizuku" [Ink drop], which started on March 16.

Egami left the Gila River camp by herself for the Topaz War Relocation Center on March 20, 1943. Her husband stayed in Gila River until June 1944, and left for Chicago . Her eldest daughter, Sachiko, was married in the Gila River camp. Sachiko moved to Topaz with her husband and in-laws a few months after Hatsuye. In the fall of 1943, Sachiko's family was transferred to Tule Lake . Hatsuye, on the other hand, received an indefinite leave of clearance and left for Cincinnati, Ohio. There is no information about what happened to the Egami family after the war.

Hatsuye Egami's Literary Activities in Prewar Los Angeles

Hatsuye Egami was an intellectual urban Issei woman. After she moved to the United States, she joined the Issei artist and literary community in Southern California, and became a writer for Rafu Shimpo . The literary and other Issei activist community in Los Angeles included progressive and some leftist Issei and Kibei, such as Karl Yoneda , as well as members of the Hokubei Shijin Kyokai [association of North American poets], the first inter-regional Japanese literary association in the United States. Hokubei Shijin Kyokai published a literary journal, Shūkaku , starting in November 1936. Hatsuye Egami was on the editorial board of its sixth issue, the last issue of this journal, published in June 1939.

Because Hokubei Shijin Kyokai included literary figures with views across the political spectrum, Shūkaku contained poems, short novels, reviews, and essays ranging from proletarian literature to columns supporting the Japan Empire. The majority of the editorial board members were progressive Issei, Nisei, and Kibei. The sixth issue was edited by four women: Hatsuye Egami, Tsuyuko Matsuda, Mitsuko Hayashida, and Shizue Ihara. [1] Egami was a close friend of Tsuyuko Matsuda, a socially conscious feminist poet.

Egami published a short fiction titled "Shunshū"(『春愁』[Spring Melancholy])in this issue. The story is about a Japanese American family in an urban setting. The husband is much older than the wife and is unemployed. He is gentle and takes care of all the household chores, while the wife, the heroine, works as the breadwinner of the family. The husband's nephew comes to live with the family temporarily, and the story mainly describes the secret romantic affection felt by the heroine for the younger male lodger. The heroine's unspoken loneliness, discontent, and adulterous desire are skillfully expressed through the literary description of her body while bathing. The story ends without incident, as the husband's nephew leaves the house and moves to another city. Iwao Yamamoto, one of the pioneer Japanese scholars of Japanese American literature, names this piece among the best fictional works compiled in all the six volumes of Shūkaku .

The Evacuation Diary of Hatsuye Egami : Life in the Tulare Assembly Center

Hatsuye Egami kept a diary during the days of her incarceration. The diary she kept in the Tulare Assembly Center was entrusted to Garcia Booth, a member of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), who regularly visited the assembly centers. A part of the diary was later translated from Japanese into English by James Sakoda . In the early 1990s, this translated diary was sent to Claire Gorfinkel, whose father was an attorney who helped Japanese Americans file for losses they suffered due to their forced removal and incarceration. Gorfinkel was involved in the AFSC in the Pacific Southwest, and she arranged in 1993 for the AFSC in Pasadena to host an exhibit 50 Years Later: Remembering the Japanese American Internment from the Files of the American Friends Service Committee . After the exhibit, she received a package from Garcia Booth's daughter, which contained the translation of the diary written by Egami. Gorfinkel published the diary under the title, The Evacuation Diary of Hatsuye Egami (1995).

The diary starts from the entry on May 12, 1942, when the family had to leave their Pasadena house for the Tulare Assembly Center. Egami explains that Japanese Americans' apparent lack of adversarial reactions was due to the deprivation of their humanity when forcefully removed from their beloved homes. Egami realizes that the only way to survive this unjust racial exclusion and incarceration was to smile and to look for reasons to smile. The diary describes the natural beauty, the religious and entertainment activities, the schools, as well as the basic infrastructure in the assembly center, such as the latrine, kitchen, and mess hall. She records her observations about the variety of reactions shown among the incarcerees to this extraordinary racial persecution. She appreciates the Issei's reactions—accepting the fate and calmly facing the reality—while she criticizes the "young people always complaining" about the poor food or substandard living conditions in the camp. The diary is a rare historical document revealing an Issei woman's views of the wartime reality. Egami also reveals some familial issues, such as her daughter's romance and hints at domestic personal conflicts, most likely with her husband. The dairy ends with the entry dated July 13, 1942.

"Fujin no Sekai [Women's World]": Egami's Writing in the Gila River War Relocation Center

After the Egami family settled in Gila River in late August 1942, Hatsuye joined the editorial staff of the Gila News Courier , and took charge of the art and literature sections. The Japanese language section of the Gila News Courier carried a column, some literary works, and collections of poems, in addition to regular news and announcements from various sources. "Fujin no Sekai" (「婦人の世界」[Women's World]) was the first of the serial columns. Fourteen articles under this title were published throughout the period of four months. The last column of "Fujin no Sekai" appeared on March 13, 1943, one week before Egami left Gila River.

Titles of the Column "Fujin no Sekai" (婦人の世界)
Date Title English Translation
Dec. 5, 1942 女の友情 Onna no Yujou Friendship among women
Dec. 9, 1942 メスへの感謝 Mesu e no Kansha Appreciation for the mess hall workers
Dec. 17, 1942 ほくろ Hokuro A mole on the face
Dec. 19, 1942 心の若さ Kokoro no Wakasa Youthful heart
Dec. 24, 1942 夢 Yume Dreams
Dec. 27, 1942 遊戯する人 Yugi suru Hito Playful minds
Dec. 29, 1942 本然の姿 Honnen no Sugata One's true nature
Jan. 1, 1943 新春の訪れ Shinshun no Otozure Arrival of the new year
Jan. 12, 1943 花の魅力 Hana no Miryoku Charm of flowers
Jan. 16, 1943 花追憶の尊さ Tuioku no Toutosa Precious memories
Jan. 19, 1943 春のささやき Haru no Sasayaki Whispers of spring
Jan. 21, 1943 捨てる一葉 Suteru Hitoha Discarding a superfluous leaf
Jan. 23, 1943 書物 Shomotsu Books
Jan. 25, 1943 味の醍醐味 Aji no Daigomi Delicious meal
Jan. 28, 1943 no title Content: Women's emotions
Jan. 30, 1943 働く気持 Hataraku Kimochi Work spirit
Feb. 2, 1943 講演を聴く Kouen o Kiku Attended public lectures
Feb. 6, 1943 應と否と Ou to Ina to Yes and no
Feb. 11, 1943 医者への感謝 Isha e no Kansha Appreciation for the doctors
Feb. 13, 1943 婦人會 Fujin-kai Women's association
Feb. 16, 1943 手紙の迫力 Tegami no Hakuryoku Power of a letter
Feb. 18, 1943 優しい先輩 Yasashi Sempai A kind senpai
Feb. 20, 1943 蚊の恐怖 Ka no Kyoufu Fear of mosquitos
Feb. 23, 1943 婦人解放 Fujin Kaihou Women's liberation
Feb. 25, 1943 婦人と読書 Fujin to Dokusho Women and reading
Feb. 27, 1943 比良になじむ Hira ni Najimu Adjusting to Gila
Mar. 2, 1943 春の味覚 Haru no Mikaku The taste of spring
Mar. 4, 1943 お雛祭 O-Hinamatsuri Girl's Day celebration
Mar. 6, 1943 春雨 Harusame Spring rain
Mar. 8, 1943 還境を怖る Kankyou o Ssoru Concerns about the environment
Mar. 11, 1943 知己の感 Chiki no Kan The feeling of friendship
Mar. 13, 1943 隣人愛 Rinjin Ai Love your neighbor

As in her Tulare diary, Egami uses a lightness of the tone and uplifting language to describe camp life in "Fujin no Sekai." This text could be interpreted as a typical Issei reaction—submission to injustice and compliance with the governmental measures, often symbolized with the terms " gaman " [endurance] and " shikataganai " [nothing can be done]. However, this emphasis on self-sacrifice and endurance should not be attributed to a "natural" cultural trait of the Japanese but to her awareness of the fact that the deterioration of morale of even a few people could erode the social fabric of the entire camp community.

As much as "Fujin no Sekai" urged endurance from the readers, it tried to do so by alleviating pain. Egami tried to re-energize the spirit of all the Japanese speakers in the camp, telling people to look at the bright side of their surroundings. She kept observing and writing about small pleasure and comfort, and urged people to live on with a strong spirit even in the face of injustice and despair.

"Fujin no Sekai" promoted women's participation in social events and encouraged women to read and learn. She wrote, "Now that women are freed from housework, we should participate in as many lectures and read as many books to obtain knowledge about history and society." [2] She also encouraged women to retain free and "playful" minds. One article discussed women's liberation ( fujin kaihou ). Egami did not believe that women's liberation equaled "masculinization of women" but rather the active involvement of women in society as "constructive participants." [3]

Interestingly, there are no references to children in "Fujin no Sekai." On the Girl's Day celebration, she wrote how happy the fine dolls and ornaments made her and how much she appreciated the efforts of those women who made them, but did not mention how those women made the dolls to please the children in the camp or how the children reacted to the dolls. In the February 8 article titled "Kankyo o Osoru" [Concerns about the environment], she discussed the importance of maintaining cultural standards by finding unique beauty in the "primitive camp life far away from cultural centers" in order to avoid demoralization. Egami's column, published in a desolate desert camp, was not a voice in the wilderness. It inspirited the souls of Japanese-speaking incarcerees. Although the articles in "Fujin no Sekai" appear to be an innocent collection of personal thoughts on daily events, they illuminate the survival strategy of Issei women who collectively worked to uplift the impounded people's morale.

Authored by Masumi Izumi , Doshisha University

For More Information

Egami, Hatsuye. The Evacuation Diary of Hatsuye Egami . Edited and with introduction by Claire Gorfinkel. Pasadena, Calif.: Intentional Productions, 1995.

———. "Shunshū," Shūkaku 6. Los Angeles: Bungei Renmei, 1939. 49–52. Reprinted in Nikkei America Bungaku Zasshi Shūsei [Anthology of Japanese American literary journals], Vol. 1. Tokyo: Fuji Shuppan, 1997.

Izumi, Masumi. "Gila River Concentration Camp and the Historical Memory of Japanese American Concentration Camp." Japanese Journal of American Studies 29 (2018): 67-87.

Kobayashi, Junko. "'Bitter Sweet Home': Celebration of Biculturalism in Japanese Language Japanese American Literature, 1936–1952." PhD. dissertation, University of Iowa, 2005.

Mizuno, Mariko. "1930 nendai no Nikkei Amerikajin no Bungaku Katsudou to "Sayoku-teki" Musubitsuki: Shukaku , Current Life , Doho , Hoka" [Politically left networks among Japanese American literary gropus in the 1930s: An analysis of Shukaku, Current Life, and Doho]. In Media: Imin o Tsunagu, Imin ga Tsunagu [Ethnic media: Connecting immigrants, immigrants networking]. Ed. Norifumi Kawahara and Yoshitaka Hibi. Tokyo: Cross Culture Shuppan. 311-34.

Shinoda, Satae. "Nikkei Amerika Bungaku: Kyousei Shuyousho Nai no Bungaku Katsudo (4) Hira Ribaa Shuyousho" [Japanese American Literature: The Literary Movement (4) The Gila River Relocation Center]. Bulletin of the Tokyo College of Domestic Science: Cultural and Social Science 34.1 (1994): 55-67.

Yamamoto, Iwao. "Maboroshi no Bungeishi, Shūkaku , Kaidai" [The mythical literary journal, Shūkaku, introduction]. In Nikkei America Bungaku Zasshi Shūsei [Anthology of Japanese American literary journals], Vol. 1. Tokyo: Fuji Shuppan, 1997. 13-14.

Footnotes

  1. Iwao Yamamoto, "Maboroshi no Bungeishi, Shūkaku , Kaidai [The mythical literary journal, Shūkaku , introduction]," in Nikkei America Bungaku Zasshi Shūsei [Anthology of Japanese American literary journals] vol. 1 (Tokyo: Fuji Shuppan, 1997), 13-14.
  2. Hatsuye Egami, "Kouen o Kiku," Gila News Courier , Feb. 2, 1943, Japanese Section, 1. Also see, Hatsuye Egami, "Fujin to Dokusho," Gila News Courier , Feb. 25, 1943, Japanese Section, 1.
  3. Hatsuye Egami, "Fujin Kaihou," Gila News Courier , Feb. 23, 1943, Japanese Section, 1.

Last updated Feb. 19, 2021, 4:50 p.m..