On August 27, 1942 the Amache concentration camp opened its doors to thousands of Japanese Americans who had been uprooted from their lives in California and transported to the remote, windswept plains of Colorado. For the next three years, Amache incarcerates endured weather extremes that ranged from freezing winter snow to summertime heat and dust storms.

With 7,318 residents at its peak, Amache was the 10th largest city in Colorado during World War II, but the smallest of the War Relocation Authority (WRA) camps. Located within walking distance from the town of Granada, Amache residents enjoyed access to services, commodities, and employment opportunities not available at the other WRA camps. Evidence unearthed during archaeological studies of Amache, including an abalone shell from the Granada Fish Market and swizzle sticks from a local bar, bear witness to the close ties between Amache and its neighboring town.

The higher morale afforded by this relative freedom is evident in photographs of Amache. This visual record has been greatly enhanced by the photographs of George Ochikubo, who—along with his family—was relocated from Portland, Oregon and incarcerated at Amache from 1942 through 1945. While there, Ochikubo used his 4×5 speed graphic camera to take hundreds of striking photographs of the camp’s residents, industries, recreational activities, built environments, and natural surroundings. His photos have an almost cinematic quality: carefully constructed shots that skillfully employ shadow and depth to heighten drama, while also displaying intimacy with the people and places he captured through his lens.

In this photo essay, Ochikubo’s photos are paired with family collections as well as photos from the WRA archives to provide a glimpse into everyday life at the Amache concentration camp.

Approaching sand storm, ca. 1942-1945. George Ochikubo Collection.
Lightning in Amache, ca. 1942-1945. George Ochikubo Collection.
Arrival of Japanese Americans transferring from Tule Lake, ca. 1942-1945. Catherine Ludy Collection.
Original WRA caption: “Granada Relocation Center, Amache, Colorado. Harvesting the first spinach from the project farm,” June 1943. National Archives and Records Administration Collection. In 1943 alone, inmate farmers produced approximately 4 million pounds of vegetables, over 50,000 bushels of field crops, as well as successfully raising a wide range of livestock. Not only did the farms of Amache make the camp self-sufficient for many foodstuffs, but surplus was sent to other WRA camps.
Shipment of goods from Japan, February 1944. George Ochikubo Collection.
Summer carnival, ca. 1942-1945. George Ochikubo Collection.
High school typing class, Amache High School, ca. 1942-1945. George Ochikubo Collection.
Elementary school children, ca. 1942-1945. James G. Lindley Collection
Dental check-up, ca. 1942-1945. Catherine Ludy Collection.
Original WRA caption: “Granada Relocation Center, Amache, Colorado. It is a long time between meals at the mess hall for a hungry man, so the cracker box at the Kobayashi barracks gets a frequent raiding,” December 1942. National Archives and Records Administration Collection.
Playing basketball, ca. 1942-1945. James G. Lindley Collection.
Namiye Kinoshita playing in the snow, ca. 1943-1945. George Ochikubo Collection.
Walking on a snow-covered street, ca. 1942-1945. George Ochikubo Collection.
Memorial service for Amache servicemen killed in action, ca. 1944-1945. George Ochikubo Collection. Amache had the highest rate of military volunteerism of all the camps. A total of 953 men and women from Amache volunteered or were drafted for military service during WWII. Of this number, 105 were wounded and 31 killed in action.
Gravesite, October 1945. National Archives and Records Administration Collection.
Guard tower, 1944. George Ochikubo Collection.

Read more about the Amache concentration camp in the Densho Encyclopedia.

Browse through more of George Ochikubo’s photographs, as well as other Amache images and documents, in the Densho Digital Repository.

Natasha Varner, Densho Communications Manager