Baseball and Barbed Wire

World War II’s forced relocation of 120,000 law abiding Japanese American citizens into concentration camps remains a blot on American history. Although stripped of their possessions, livelihoods, and civil rights, these Americans refused to give up their pride, their culture, their commitment to family and their dignity. And, they refused to give up baseball.

The Japanese American prisoners brought a love of the game and a long tradition of baseball with them to the camps. Some knew how to build and irrigate the baseball fields. Others were experienced semi-pro managers or players. Women and men, boys and girls alike played baseball or softball. Teams and leagues were formed. With great ingenuity, even uniforms and equipment were cobbled together. And everybody was a fan.

In these mesmerizing stories Kerry Yo Nakagawa, famed author, filmmaker, and historian of Japanese American baseball brings this period to life, capturing the suffering and hardships of those snatched from home and imprisoned. He describes how baseball helped maintain the prisoners’ morale and provided entertainment, social activity, and some respite from their misery and despair. He recounts the bravery and sacrifice of Japanese American soldiers, some of whom were baseball players, and the role baseball “diplomacy” played in post-war Japan during the American occupation. Discover why we call this little known and fascinating story “Baseball and Barbed Wire.”

Nisei Baseball

America and Japanese cultures have been closely connected through baseball going back to the mid-19th century.

Kerry Yo Nakagawa, a leading expert on the history of Japanese baseball, tells us of the growth of baseball in Japan, American All Star tours to Japan in the 1920’s and 30’s and most importantly the growth of baseball in the Japanese American communities.

The growth of baseball in the Japanese community sets the backdrop for what was to happen to its members once World War II began – when baseball became an even more essential part of life for Japanese Americans.

Internment & Conditions

After the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1942 suspicion of Americans of Japanese descent ran high. Reacting to this sentiment, in February 1942 President Roosevelt ordered the internment of Japanese Americans into holding areas – mainly race tracks, stables and fairgrounds -- while concentration camps were constructed throughout the western interior of the country.

The majority of approximately 120,000 Japanese Americans living on the US mainland were physically removed and relocated to holding centers during the first three months of 1942. They were stripped of their property and dignity and sent to live in hastily constructed barracks inside barbed wire, surrounded by armed guards. The internment is now understood to be more the result of racism than any real threat to the country, but it placed thousands of innocent people into a living nightmare.

Kerry Yo Nakagawa, historian, author, and film maker tells us the amazing story of how the internees constructed baseball fields, sewed uniforms by hand, and somehow managed to obtain bats and balls. The love of baseball they brought with them afforded some relief, bringing hope for better days to the Japanese American prisoners in the internment camps.

Internment Camp Fields

The February 1942 executive order took everything from the over 130,000 Japanese Americans who were forcibly relocated from their homes and communities to barren basic camps throughout the western United States. The one thing the government didn’t take away was baseball, which had been an integral part of the community’s culture for decades.

Incredibly, with armed guards, watch towers, and searchlights ever present the internees – men and women – built baseball diamonds, recreated their teams and formed leagues, bringing hope and dignity to the community. Despite the daily humiliation and despair, baseball brought a semblance of their American life back to them.

Kerry Yo Nakagawa is an historian, author, and filmmaker, and considered an authority on this part of Japanese American history. Here he tells us how baseball impacted life in these miserable times and how baseball games brought dignity and hope to the hundreds of thousands of Japanese Americans imprisoned in the internment camps.

Questionnaire, Loyalty & California Camps

As World War II moved through the 1940’s, America continued to build concentration camps to hold all persons of Japanese descent.

There were two in California. The internees were required to fill out a questionnaire, asking if they were loyal to America and if they would fight for the country. If you answered no and no you were sent to Tule Lake, a camp near the Oregon border. If you answered yes and yes you were sent to Manzanar near Lone Pine. Some wanted to prove their loyalty and wanted to defend America. Others wanted nothing to do with a country that would treat its citizens so cruelly based only on their race and ethnicity. The questionnaire broke up families and friendships, with each group staying true to their ethics and belief in what was right.

Kerry Yo Nakagawa, considered the utmost authority on this period of American Japanese history, as well as an author and filmmaker, tells the story of how teams from the politically polarized Manzanar and Tule Lake camps brought both communities together, united on the baseball diamond.

The 442 and Postwar Japan

Despite their inhumane treatment during World War II, Japanese Americans produced some of the war’s most valiant and decorated soldiers. Kerry Yo Nakagawa, noted historian and filmmaker, recounts the story of E Company, a fiercely loyal group of Japanese Americans who saved the Army’s lost battalion, trapped in the mountains of France. E Company suffered 800 fatalities as they saved 200 desperate Texans stranded on a mountain top. E Company became part of the 442 Regiment, a much decorated fighting force consisting entirely of Americans of Japanese descent.

Baseball became a big part of life for American troops during WWII. The story of Hawaiian semi-pro slugger, Joe Takata, part of the 100th Battalion, illustrates the important role Japanese Americans played in the war’s baseball history. Deployed to Italy after an historic game between his Hawaiian Aloha baseball team and Milton Eisenhower’s North American Camp Army championship team, Takata’s last at bat was a walk off home run before he became the first of E Company’s 800 casualties.

Kerry Yo continues this gripping story of baseball, the army, the men involved, and how baseball helped to heal the divide between American and its former enemy, with what Douglas MacArthur called one of the greatest acts of diplomacy ever.