ARTIFACTS - "Things from Japanese Internment Camps
In 2009, I received a project commission from San Jose Museum of Art. The project was to photograph the city’s Japantown. I was told I had the freedom to photograph any subjects as long as they relate to Japantwon of San Jose. Soon after I flew to San Jose and visited Japantown for the first time. From what I have researched, I knew Japantown was much smaller than the ones in Los Angeles and San Francisco. The area had some restaurants, markets, shops, and other businessesmostly Japanese related, but the streets looked like any business streets in the US except some monuments of Japanese internment during the World War II and a Japanese temple on a side street. The streets were relatively quiet and there was not much going on. On the first day, I walked around and I could not find anything distinctive or striking enough to take pictures.
Before I flew to San Jose, the museum gave me a few names of key individuals of the community. One person was Jimi Yamaichi, Director and Curator of Japanese American Museum of San Jose. This small local museum was temporarily closed for renovation at that time. I met Jimi and he showed me the museum building which was still under construction. There was nothing inside. I asked him what would be exhibited in the museum and he told me they were in the storage. The storage was in the back of the under-construction building. He opened one of the doors and told me to follow. Inside were full of dust covered old cardboard boxes randomly piled up everywhere. He held one of the boxes and explained that inside the box were things from the internment camps where the Japanese were forced to stay during the war. Some were things people used and some are what people made during such confinement.
I noticed one flower brooch. It was beautiful. Looking at it carefully, I noticed that the flowers were made with tiny shells. Jimi explained that where the internment camps were mostly on dry lakes which used to be lakes thousands of years ago, and that if you dig dry lakes, you will find many shells underground. He said because people were not allowed to go outside, they used whatever they could find inside the fence on the dry land. Many World War II internment camp survivors still reside in San Jose area, and many items belonged to them, I was told. I thought then things inside these boxes could be the essence of Japantown and I decided to search what else were inside these boxes.
While I was photographing those artifacts at the Japanese American Museum, I heard that there was a dump site near the internment camp in Tule Lake in northern California. When the Japanese internees left the camp after the war, they disposed their belongings that they were not able to carry with them in a field outside of the camp. I became intrigued by the story and I traveled there soon after.
The dump site was a wide open field, almost a half mile long and I was able to see many exposed items that were rusted and broken. When I dug up the ground by hand, I found many more items beneath the soil. I was certain that many more things were buried there, to be found. I decided to pursue further and go beyond the scope of the original project boundary and explore by photographing those buried items that I might find.