A written feature on Jimi Yamaichi's experience at Heart Mountain Internment camp and how he was able to identify relatives at the camp through Patti Hirahara's father's and grandfather's photos from their time in Heart Mountain.


"During his years of internment at Heart Mountain, Jimi Yamaichi mastered living in a frozen world. He insulated his barrack with ice. He substituted cold cow dung for cement. He grew summer vegetables in below-zero temperatures. He stood perfectly still when guards at the Heart Mountain War Relocation Camp ordered him to pack his belongings and prepare to be transferred to Tule Lake War Relocation Center. At least, he thought, it would be warmer. “I kept my street clothes on when I went to bed because I only had two blankets,” Yamaichi said as he shuffled slowly to the Heart Mountain photo albums displayed in the Japanese American Museum of San Jose. At 93 years old, Yamaichi still remembers the camp like it was yesterday. “It was cold and miserable,” he said.

During World War II, Yamaichi was one of nearly 120,000 Japanese Americans placed in internment camps, also known as a war relocation camps. Internment camps in the U.S. were government-funded civilian holding spaces created to supervise populations that were considered a security threat. Many Americans feared that Japanese Americans were working undercover for the Japanese government. Much of the propaganda at the time was racially charged, and so the vast majority of citizens interned were Japanese American, even though the U.S. was simultaneously at war with European countries. Yamaichi and his family, who lived in Pomona at the time, were sent to Heart Mountain in 1942 right after then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which forced many Japanese Americans, especially on the West Coast, to evacuate their homes and relocate to barb wire-fenced camps.

Patti Hirahara of Anaheim, California, a fourth-generation Japanese American, found her father and her grandfather’s collection of over 2,000 photos they took during their time at Heart Mountain in 1992 and 2011. Since then, she has displayed these photos at the San Francisco Films of Remembrance this year. Her goal is to find as many ex-internees and their family members as she can and have them identify people in the photos.

Now, the collection is on display at the Japanese American Museum of San Jose."