May 15, 2023

Since launching the Densho Encyclopedia in 2012, we’ve published 1,500 articles on Japanese American history written by expert scholars and public historians — making it the go-to resource for many students, researchers, and anyone looking to learn more about WWII incarceration. In fact, over 300,000 users from around the world visit this free digital resource every year.

Even though the Encyclopedia is free to access, it still incurs costs to operate and maintain. And after 11 years, it’s in need of major technology upgrades and content updates. We hope you’ll consider a donation to Densho to ensure the Encyclopedia continues to be a valuable community and educational resource!

Here’s a look at our top five most-read encyclopedia articles.

#5 – Tanforan Assembly Center

A Japanese American walking out of a barrack at the Tanforan Assembly Center. They are walking on scraps of wood laid the ground to avoid very muddy conditions.
Barracks at Tanforan two days after opening. April 29, 1942. Photo by Dorothea Lange, courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration.

Tanforan was the second largest of the temporary “assembly centers” where most Japanese Americans spent the first few months of WWII incarceration, before being transferred to more permanent, and more isolated, War Relocation Authority concentration camps. This updated article by scholar Konrad Linke expands on a previous version to provide new information on the physical layout of Tanforan, the people imprisoned there, activities and daily life in the camp, and more.

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#4 – The Civil Liberties Act of 1988

President Ronald Reagan seated at a desk signing the Civil Liberties Act of 1988. Standing around him and watching are Senator Spark Matsunaga (Hawaii), Representative Norman Mineta (California), Representative Patsy Saiki (Hawaii), Senator Pete Wilson (California), Representative. Don Young (Alaska), Representative Robert Matsui (California), Representative Bill Lowery (California), and Harry Kajihara, President, National JACL.
Onlookers watch as President Ronald Reagan signs the Civil Liberties Act of 1988. Left to right: Senator Spark Matsunaga (Hawaii), Representative Norman Mineta (California), Representative Patsy Saiki (Hawaii), Senator Pete Wilson (California), Representative. Don Young (Alaska), Representative Robert Matsui (California), Representative Bill Lowery (California), and Harry Kajihara, President, National JACL. Courtesy of the Kinoshita Family Collection.

After more than a decade of grassroots organizing by Japanese Americans and allies, the Redress Movement culminated in the landmark Civil Liberties Act of 1988, which granted a formal apology and $20,000 in monetary redress to survivors of WWII incarceration. Writer and filmmaker Sharon Yamato gives an overview of this milestone moment in Japanese American history.

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#3 – Japanese Americans in the military during World War II

Japanese American soldier in US Army uniform performing a military hand suit
Nisei/Kibei soldier Toshikuni Taenaka performs military hand salute, likely in front of his parents’ house in Brighton, Colorado. Courtesy of Special Research Collections, UC Santa Barbara Library.

Much decorated for their valor and often cited as being part of the most decorated unit in World War II for its size and length of service, Japanese Americans served in the US armed forces in disproportionate numbers, despite having their loyalties questioned after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. This article by Densho Content Director Brian Niiya takes a look at these men and women’s military service during WWII.

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#2 – The Loyalty Questionnaire

Japanese Americans walking through the snow carrying luggage at Tule Lake concentration camp. They are being transferred from Manzanar for their responses to the loyalty questionnaire.
Incarcerees from Manzanar arriving in Tule Lake after being segregated in retaliation for their answers to the “loyalty questionnaire.” Courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration.

In early 1943, the government administered the infamous “loyalty questionnaire” in an attempt to assess the loyalty of Nikkei citizens and immigrants being held in US concentration camps—provoking widespread resistance and resentment. Cherstin M. Lyon, author of Prisons and Patriots: Japanese American Wartime Citizenship, Civil Disobedience, and Historical Memory, delves into the origins of the loyalty questionnaire and its disastrous consequences.

>> Read more

#1 – Psychological effects of camp

A Japanese American family posing in front of an American flag inside a WWII concentration camp. There are thirteen people ranging in age from a baby to two grandparents.
Three generations of the Hayashi family posed in front of an American flag inside Poston concentration camp, c. 1944. Courtesy of the Masao Roy Hayashi Family Collection.

Coming in at number one is a look at the wide range of psychological impacts that Japanese Americans experienced as a result of their wartime incarceration. Donna K. Nagata, a leading scholar on the long-term psychosocial impacts of the incarceration, explores how this traumatic event shaped Japanese Americans’ lives many years, and multiple generations, after the end of WWII.

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[Header: Japanese Americans reading in the library at Tanforan Assembly Center. Courtesy of National Archives and Records Administration.]