Hilo Independent Language School

US Gov Name Hilo Independent Language School
Facility Type
Administrative Agency U.S. Army
Location Hilo, Hawai'i ( lat, lng)
Date Opened 1916
Date Closed
Population Description Held people of Japanese ancestry, citizens and non-citizens, before transfer to Kīlauea Military Camp
General Description
Peak Population

One of three incarceration sites on Hawai'i Island that authorities used to detain prisoners during World War II.

Authorities systematically rounded up inmates on the island of Hawai'i on December 7, 1941, and the following days at three different sites: the Hilo Dokuritsu Nippon Go Gakkō (Hilo Independent Japanese Language School), Waiakea Prison Camp, and Kīlauea Military Camp before being transferred to O'ahu. According to Shiho Nunes whose father, Yoshio Shinoda, served as the principal of the school, a group of parents from the Hilo Hongwanji Japanese Language School established the Hilo Independent Japanese Language School in 1916 by at the foot of Ponahawai hill. By the early 1930s the school had become the largest language school on the island of Hawai'i with over a thousand students as it was the first language school on Hawai'i Island to build a special facility for kindergarten classes. Having outgrown its facilities, the school moved to a parcel of land at the corner of Ululani and Kūkūau Streets. Nunes remembers that "the main building would include classrooms, office, a library/conference room, and an assembly hall to double as a dōjō (judo hall). Adjacent would be the kindergarten, the principal's residence, and a two-story dormitory." According to Nunes, December 7 coincided with the school's tenrankai (a periodic exhibit of student work) and bazaar. Nunes remembers, "Hardly had it opened when military police arrived to disperse the crowd and shut down the activities." [1] Authorities evicted the family and transformed the school campus into the military police headquarters. They also converted the kindergarten building into a jail and the principal's residence became a holding cell for temporary detention of aliens. On April 1942, authorities arrested Shinoda at his former home before sending him to Kīlauea Military Camp and finally Sand Island on O'ahu.

Authorities finally released Shinoda a few months later and as they had closed the language school, the Shinodas began wholesale manufacturing of khaki trousers for the army. They also worked designing and producing souvenirs that were popular with military personnel for the Hawai'i Importing Company. Eventually, Shinoda and his wife established a well-known Japanese embroidery school and the school was never reopened.

Authored by Kelli Y. Nakamura , University of Hawai'i

For More Information

Burton, Jeffrey F. and Mary M. Farrell. World War II Japanese American Internment Sites in Hawai ‘i. Tucson, Arizona: n.p., 2007.

Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians. Personal Justice Denied: Report of the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians . Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1997.

National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior. Honouliuli Gulch and Associated Sites: Draft Special Resource Study and Environmental Assessment, May 2014 . Washington D.C.: U.S. Department of the Interior, 2014.


  1. Shiho S. Nunes and Sara Nunes-Atabaki, The Shishu Ladies of Hilo: Japanese Embroidery in Hawai'i (Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 1999), 41.

Last updated Aug. 30, 2017, 7:43 p.m..