Japanese Incarceration

World War II and Japanese Incarceration

The rounding up and incarceration of 120,000 Japanese Americans during World War II is often referred to as “internment.” ARC rejects the use of the “internment” vocabulary as it validates a line of reasoning that justifies the incarceration of Japanese Americans as a method of protection and minimization of inhumane treatment.1 Many historians and members of the Japanese American community, many of whom are descendants of those who were incarcerated or were incarcerated themselves, refer to the incarceration camps as concentration camps.2 This term predates the infamous Nazi concentration camps and describes “a camp in which people are detained and confined, usually under harsh conditions and without regard to legal norms of arrest and imprisonment that are acceptable in a constitutional democracy.”

Caught in war hysteria and searching for a party to blame, the US rounded up and incarcerated 120,000 Japanese Americans in ten facilities across the American West. Although Japanese Americans in many states were subject to incarceration during World War II, California housed the majority of the Japanese American population before the war and was, therefore, the epicenter of this gross injustice.3  

Before the incarceration began, South Pasadena had a sizable Japanese American population in the 1920s and 1930s. In fact, the Meridian Iron Works History Museum was a Japanese American Center and school before internment began.4 The South Pasadena City website does cite that this building once served as a school, but chooses to omit its historical significance to the Japanese American community in South Pasadena. 

When these families were forcibly removed from their homes, their lives were uprooted and permanently affected. Their homes or apartments were no longer theirs considering they were unable to pay their mortgage or rent. If they owned businesses, they were unable to run them from the camps and they were eventually forced to close. Their relationships with their neighbors were forever affected and they feared for their livelihoods.4 

Many of those who were taken into custody were processed through the largest processing center in the country only 10 miles away from South Pasadena. What today is called the Santa Anita Racetrack was used as a temporary housing and processing facility for thousands of interned Japanese Americans before they were sent to internment camps until their official closure in 1946.3 Many were forced to sleep in horse stalls during their stay at the Santa Anita Racetrack, a practice that is inhumane, unsanitary, and only one example of the dehumanization of Japanese Americans during their incarceration.3 


1. Schumacher-Matos. “Euphemisms, Concentration Camps and the Japanese Internment.” National Public Radio (NPR). February 10, 2012. 

2. Japanese American National Museum. “America’s Concentration Camps: Remembering the Japanese American Experience.” janm.org. October 15, 1995. 

3. Trinh, Jean. “When Santa Anita Racetrack Was A Japanese Internment Camp Assembly Center.” LAist. December 8, 2014. https://laist.com/2014/12/09/when_santa_anita_racetrack_was_a_ja.php

4. Thomas, Rick. “Throwback Thursday: Revisiting Our Racist Past.” The South Pasadenan. June 14, 2018. https://southpasadenan.com/throwback-thursday-revisiting-our-racist-past/