Japanese American Incarceration

Frank at Heart Mountain

Two months after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 on February 19, 1942 ordering all Japanese and Japanese-Americans to evacuate the West Coast of the United States due to fear and hysteria. This resulted in the relocation of approximately 120,000 men, women, and children, two-thirds being American citizens, to 10 relocation camps across the country. Many of the families lost their homes, their property, and businesses; sold at only a fraction of their real worth. They were allowed to bring only what they could carry. Once in the camps, they had to buy or make clothes, furnishings, and supplies to make life bearable in one room barrack-style dwellings. Some Japanese-American citizens were allowed to return to the West Coast beginning in 1945, and the last camp closed in March 1946. In 1988, Congress awarded reparation payments of $20,000 to each survivor who was sent to these Japanese relocation camps.

At the time of the incarceration order, the Hirahara Family was living in the State of Washington in the Yakima Valley. Motokichi and Sato Hirahara were farmers in the City of Wapato, and George and Koto Hirahara were proprietors of the Pacific Hotel in the City of Yakima, and raising their only son Frank. They lost both their farm and the hotel they had run, but kept their family home at 21 East Washington Avenue in Yakima; the same home they returned to in 1945.

With an over 1,000 member Japanese contingent from the Yakima Valley, the Hirahara's left the home that they had known since 1909. They were sent by two separate trains from the Wapato station on June 4th and 5th of 1942, to the Portland Livestock Exposition grounds, the assembly center in Portland, Oregon. On August 31st and September 1st of 1942, the Hirahara Family arrived at the Heart Mountain Relocation Camp in Wyoming where they stayed until October 2, 1945. Motokichi Hirahara died in camp in February of that year. Frank C. Hirahara graduated in May of 1944 from Heart Mountain High School and left to attend Washington State College, now Washington State University, in Pullman, Washington.
Robert Nailon drawing of the hidden darkroom under the Hirahara barrack
 The Hirahara Family's time in Heart Mountain is a phenomenal story, with George Hirahara building an underground darkroom and mini-photo studio under his barrack apartment in 1943. He was able to order photo equipment, film, and supplies from the Sears Roebuck mail order catalog, in addition to driving his car to Billings, Montana to obtain supplies not available at Heart Mountain. Along with his son Frank, he took and processed over 2,000 photos from 1943 to 1945, providing an inside look at high school life and events happening around the camp.

Working outside the relocation camp in Nyssa, Oregon in 1943, George Hirahara paid cash for a used car and drove it back to Wyoming. Having a car during those times was invaluable since it allowed the family to travel to Yellowstone National Park and take photos outside of Heart Mountain. This was noted in his Heart Mountain WRA Alien Short -Term Leave permits. The car also would make it easier to move his valuable photo collection and equipment when the family moved back to Yakima in 1945.

When Frank C. Hirahara heard about the Anaheim Public Library's "Shades of Anaheim" Photo Project in 1999, he decided to donate three images from his Heart Mountain photo collection to the Anaheim Public Library's Digital Collection. One of which is a rare photo of the Heart Mountain Camera Club, a photo of Frank Hirahara in Heart Mountain, and the last New Year's dinner in 1945, taken in the Hirahara's barrack apartment 15-9-A.
Heart Mountain Camera Club
The Hirahara photos are considered to be the largest private collection taken in Heart Mountain, and in 2010 Patti Hirahara donated the photos to her father's alma mater of Washington State University (WSU). It is now part of the WSU Library’s Manuscripts, Archives, and Special Collections. In 2011, the university received a National Park Service's Japanese American Confinement Sites Grant to digitize and preserve the collection for future generations. The Heart Mountain Camera Club photo, obtained from the Anaheim Public Library, is now on display at the Heart Mountain Interpretive Center on the site of the original camp in Wyoming.

 The WSU George and Frank C. Hirahara photo collection has been utilized in five documentaries about Japanese internment and at the world premiere of the new American musical “Allegiance” at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego in 2012. The most notable film of this collection is the 2014 Emmy Award winning documentary “Witness: The Legacy of Heart Mountain”,  co-produced by ABC7 Los Angeles news anchor David Ono and Content Media Group's TV producer and owner Jeff MacIntyre. The WSU Hirahara Photo Collection helped inspire the creation of this documentary when Patti Hirahara reached out to David Ono about the collection's existence in July of 2012.

Artifacts from the Hirahara Family Heart Mountain Collection are now on display at the Yakima Valley Museum in Yakima, Washington. Their “Land of Joy and Sorrow: Japanese Pioneers of the Yakima Valley” exhibit runs through 2018, with the museum utilizing some of the photo panels Patti presenting her Grandfather's softball to the Smithsonianfrom the City of Anaheim's Hirahara exhibit in 2009. This 1,500 square foot exhibit won the Washington Museum Association's Award of Exhibit Excellence in 2011. From this exhibit, George Hirahara's Heart Mountain softball was donated by Patti Hirahara and the Yakima Valley Museum to the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History in Washington DC in 2015.

Photo credit: 
Richard Strauss, Smithsonian Institution