About the Densho Project

Uploaded by DenshoProject on 21.02.2007

Narrator: Thousands of voices hold the stories that can teach us about a dark chapter in
America's past. At the Densho Project, our mission is to preserve these memories before
they fade away.
[old-time jazz music]
Narrator: The first Japanese began emigrating to the United States in the late 1800s.
By 1940, Japanese Americans were more- or-less settled into American society.
[sounds of bombs]
This all changed on December 7, 1941, when suddenly they looked like the enemy.
Tosh Yamamoto: And before my mother got home the FBI showed up and it must have been shortly after lunch.
Rae Takekawa: They came for my dad that night, early in the morning of December 8th.
Aki Kurose: One of the teachers said "You people bombed Pearl Harbor." And I'm going
"My people?" All of a sudden my Japaneseness became very aware to me.
Tsuguo Ikeda: I was seen as a "Jap" - just the same as the enemy.
Narrator: The surprise attack on Pearl Harbor made America angry, and afraid.
As Japan's Army and Navy swept unchallenged through the Pacific, most Americans thought it
perfectly reasonable to take action against their Japanese American neighbors here at home.
Even today, many Americans still don't know that more than 120,000 Japanese Americans,
two-thirds of them U.S. citizens, were forced from their homes and put behind barbed wire
because of their race.
Not until 1983, almost 40 years later, would a U.S. Congressional Commission uncover evidence
from the war years proving there had been no military necessity for the mass incarceration
of Japanese Americans.
Tom Ikeda: In 1997 there were two forces that really shaped Densho. The first one was that
our elders in our community were dying. These were people who lived through World War II
and we needed to get their stories, so there was a sense of urgency.
The second force was the emergence of high technology. Here we had digital video, the
Internet, and multimedia computers to really preserve these stories for the future.
Interviewee: Even before the war, well I felt that…
Tom Ikeda: When I think back 8 years I realize how far we've come. When we first started
we didn't know how to do interviews, so we had to train ourselves, train volunteers,
and then we were ready. But what threw us for a loop was that, when we started asking
people to be interviewed many of them said "No." They said the stories were too painful.
And so we had to tell them that the stories weren't for them, or really for my generation,
they were for future generations.
Tom at table: And that's what we're going to do the same thing where we're going to scan these…
Tom Ikeda: And that's why we call ourselves the Densho Project because Densho means
"to pass stories on to the next generation" and our narrators said that's really why
they're doing this.
So once the community saw what we're doing, they saw the value of our work and they wanted
to support it. So right away we started receiving checks which allowed us then to continue doing
more interviews and collect more photos and more documents.
And so right now, just day by day doing this work, we've collected over 230 interviews,
we've collected over 6,000 photographs and documents, and all of this is now available
online on the Internet.
Narrator: To make these unique materials widely available, Densho created a massive web database.
With just a few clicks of a mouse, users anywhere in the world, can see and hear entire interviews
indexed by topic, complete with written transcripts. Or they can sift through thousands of historic documents
and rare photographs, pulled from basements and closets, then scanned into the database.
As a result, Densho's web archive is not only a comprehensive living history, but an
unparalleled resource for understanding what happened to Japanese Americans.
Tom Ikeda: Every year over 80,000 people come to our website, and they come from all over
the world. But what really excites me is that most of them are students. And that's important
because our mission at Densho is education. We're not about just preserving the past,
we're about inspiring the future also.
Narrator: For anyone who didn't live through World War II, the idea that the American government
would put its own citizens inside barbed wire camps might seem beyond belief, not possible.
Teacher: Well, do you know what they were allowed to take with them? What they were
limited to?
Narrator: Any teacher, in any classroom, anywhere can take students back to 1942 and sit face-to-face
with Americans who tell their own stories of what really happened.
Frank Fujii: "…the first thing I picked was my mitt and my ball"
Paul Raymond: The ability to see interviews and to see actual chronologies and hear people
making actual speeches, whether they were for or against the detention, that's all
very positive.
Adam Shear: When I see them talking about their experiences, it hits me much harder
and I really feel their presence and their experience.
Sophie Watt: The most important thing is really to have a first-hand experience from it and
you can't get that in a textbook no matter how hard you try. But to have someone actually
tell you what happened, that's priceless.
Narrator: In 1988 Congress passed, and President Reagan signed, the Civil Liberties Act. This
law mandated monetary payments and formal apologies to all survivors of the incarceration.
The lesson, of course, was clear – anytime we single out a group because of how they
look or what god they pray to, we undermine America's democracy.
That happened during World War II and it's happening again today.
Paul Lawrence: One of the beauties of the Constitution is that it's a document that
applies really without exception. It's not to be applied when it's convenient. It's
not to be applied when it's easy. It's really to be applied when it's hard. It's
at those times when you have to be least willing to throw away your Constitutional rights and
really hold yourself as a country to those Constitutional rights.
Teacher: Was that the first time that you…
Narrator: By bringing the lessons of the past into the present and the future, Densho promotes
critical thinking as well as compassion, and provides a vital perspective on the complex
problems facing all of us today.
Tom Ikeda: During World War II our country made a terrible mistake. We want people to
understand this. Not because we want to dwell upon the past, but we want people to make
better, more informed decisions.
Sophie Watt: I think it's really important that people know what happened. I think when
you really understand something and you really know why this happened and what we did, can
you prevent it from happening again.
Peter Irons: How do you keep alive something as important as the internment experience
and the lessons that we learn from it?
Gene Akutsu: Don't hesitate but get out and speak up your feelings and let them know
that you want justice.
Charles Smith: And so we take the mistakes of history and determine for ourselves that
in our lifetime it will happen never again.