America’s Concentration Camps


December 1941 – March 1, 1943

“My life as an internee—when I had to write “ISN-HJ-1068-CI” on every letter I wrote—it all seems like a dream now.”
—Otokichi Ozaki

Arrests in Hawai‘i began as soon as martial law was declared, hours after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor. A full-scale evacuation of all people of Japanese descent wasn’t practical in Hawai‘i—they comprised nearly 40% of the population and over half the skilled labor force. But the FBI had compiled a “custodial detention list” of people to be arrested in case of war with Japan. They were almost all males, mostly leaders of the immigrant community—volunteer agents for the Japanese Consulate, Buddhist and Shinto priests, Japanese language school officials, and newspaper editors. Commercial fishermen were also targeted.

Otokichi Ozaki, a volunteer for the Japanese Consulate in Hilo, was among those promptly picked up by authorities. He was immediately taken to the Kilauea Military Camp.

The next morning, December 8, we went through a second search, and even though it was raining, we were ordered to line up in front of the barracks. Dozens of armed soldiers surrounded us, and their guns glittered ominously in the rain. It flashed across my mind that they were planning to execute us.


Detainees were held in jails for a few days, and then transferred to U.S. Army Internment Camps that were much more prison-like than the mainland concentration camps. Personal belongings were confiscated, men and women separated, and strict curfews imposed. Inmates were not allowed to have watches, reading material, or even pencils and paper. Torazo Sugita wrote, “Especially after sunset, the barracks became most demoralizing, just like a prison with ‘lights out’ and doors locked so that no one could step outside.”

Sand Island Detention Camp, in Honolulu Harbor, was the main hub through which all prisoners passed. “Honolulu was within eyesight,” recalled Ozaki of the 18 days he spent there. “But barbed wire separated us, and we had no idea what was happening there.”

When Sand Island closed, the remaining prisoners were transferred to Honouliuli camp, in central O‘ahu.

In all, about 1,200 Japanese and Japanese Americans from Hawai‘i, as well as about 100 Germans and Italians, were arrested and incarcerated. Most were eventually sent by ship to mainland concentration camps. At that time, the wives and children of incarcerated men were given the option to accompany them.

Vanishing Japanese Culture

The number of Japanese and Japanese Americans from Hawai‘i who were detained during World War II was relatively small, less than 1% of the total Japanese population. Yet the impact on Hawaiian culture was significant. Japanese customs and traditions abruptly vanished. No one knew who might be arrested next, and people feared that practicing Japanese culture would make them a target.

Quote credits
Otokichi Ozaki, quoted in Gail Honda, ed. Family Torn Apart: The Internment Story of the Otokichi Muin Ozaki Family. Honolulu: Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai‘i, 2012. (forthcoming)
Torazo Sugita, “An Evening On Sand Island” Naniwabushi, Internee recollections of 37 Years Ago. December 5, 1978.

George Hoshida, Kilauea Military Detention Camp
George Hoshida, Kilauea Military Detention Camp

George Hoshida, Kilauea Military Detention Camp, 8-25-42. Gift of June Hoshida Honma, Sandra Hoshida and Carole Hoshida Kanada. George Hoshida Collection (97.106.1AC).