Photography exhibit enlightens, depicts hardships of Japanese-American history

The MacVittie College Union’s Kinetic Gallery is the host of a new, historical exhibit entitled “A Pilgrimage to the Japanese American Internment Camps of World War II,” presented by Notch and Margaret Miyake. The exhibit is composed of digital photographs taken while the Miyakes took a road trip across the country to visit abandoned Japanese-American internment camps, which were in operation from 1942–1945. The gallery opened on Nov. 4 and was accompanied by a talk by Notch Miyake—a Japanese-American himself—about his experience with the internment camps.

During his talk, Notch Miyake described his own experience growing up as a Japanese American. Born in Hawaii just before the attack on Pearl Harbor, he said that his experience was a positive one, contrary to that of the rest of the country. At the time, Japanese-Americans made up 30 percent of Hawaii’s population.

Years later, Notch Miyake and his wife embarked on a road trip to the West, visiting the internment camps and detention centers that once housed more than 120,000 Japanese-Americans. Notch Miyake said that “the trip became a pilgrimage” for him and Margaret Miyake as they began to realize the historical and spiritual importance of the camps. He cited that his and his wife’s main goal is to broaden the public’s knowledge of the Japanese-American experience of World War II.

Notch Miyake addressed a theme that plays a lead role in his wife’s photography series: “gaman.” Gaman is a Japanese term that means “enduring the seemingly unbearable with patience and dignity.” Both Notch Miyake’s speech and Margaret Miyake’s photographs—which are each accompanied by a short description—stress the positivity and productivity of the Americans who spent time in the internment camps.

Not only were the internees faced with terrible living conditions—including communal toilets and cafeterias, no plumbing or heat, straw mattresses and one-room houses surrounded by barbed wire—but their traditional cultural values were destroyed as well. The Japanese highly value and respect their elders, but these camps made it impossible to uphold this value with its dehumanizing treatment of all internees.

Despite all of these obstacles, Japanese-Americans essentially turned the Western landscape into productive farms that continue to feed Americans. In addition, they built schools and churches and even formed sports teams. Essentially, the internees refused to be broken by their living conditions—something truly incredible.

In his speech, Notch Miyake stressed that these people who suffered were Americans and fully considered themselves to be so. Their transformation of bleak internment camps into the American Dream is an excellent example of gaman.

Notch and Margaret Miyake may have had personal reasons for visiting the remains of the Japanese-American internment camps, but they are strong proponents for continuing to educate others on the societal significance of the internment camps. Notch Miyake emphasized the idea that the past may repeat itself with issues such as immigration, terrorism and the refugee crisis dominating today’s world.

Notch and Margaret Miyake both expressed their hope that their exhibit will teach our community what it taught them: “How to negotiate our own personal crises and to never allow fear and prejudice to infect us.”