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An Internment Odyssey: Haisho Tenten (book)

Book cover. Courtesy of the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai'i
View in the Densho Encyclopedia

An Internment Odyssey: Haisho Tenten is the third book in a series published by the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai'i and University of Hawai'i Press of a Hawai'i inmate's account of their incarceration experience during World War II. It represents a critical addition to Japanese American history as it provides the perspective of an Issei from Hawai'i who authorities incarcerated at multiple sites in the Islands and the mainland. The author, Kumaji Furuya , thus gives voice to some of the experiences faced by the 1,320 inmates from Hawai'i who like Furuya were often separated from their families for the duration of the war.

Background of Furuya

Kumaji Furuya was born on February 22, 1889, in Kawaguchi village in Yamanashi prefecture, the second son of Iwakichi and Nobu Furuya. He graduated from elementary school and immigrated to Hawai'i when he was eighteen years old. After working on the plantations and in stores for five years, he managed furniture stores and held various positions as a leader within the immigrant Japanese business community. He was the president of the Honolulu Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Industry, head of the Honolulu Japanese Merchants' Association, and later was the vice president of the Honolulu United Japanese Society. The latter was the largest Japanese organization in the Islands that collaborated with business and fraternal groups with ties to Hawai'i's Japanese and Japan.

Despite his business success, Furuya was often more interested in cultural pursuits and enjoyed drawing, dabbled in acting, often played Go (Japanese chess), and loved writing haiku . Furuya submitted haiku to Japanese language periodicals, particularly the Hawai'i Shimpō writing under his pen name, Suikei (Green Valley). He also helped to create a new group called the South Club along with Editor Kyoshu Aoki and Chumu Mita. By 1926, South Club poets and other clubs of freestyle haiku influenced by poet Ogiwara Seisensui created the Hawai'i Haiku Club that had over twenty members who regularly published in a poetry journal from Japan called Sōun (layered clouds). Due to Furuya's importance within the business community and his participation in cultural activities in Hawai'i, authorities deemed Furuya suspect. When war broke out, they immediately arrested him on the afternoon of December 7, 1941 along with other Japanese community leaders. Haisho Tenten , roughly translated as "transiting imprisonment," is Furuya's account of his incarceration experience during the war.

Overview and Significance

Furuya published An Internment Odyssey in Japanese more than fifty years ago and in 2017, it was translated into English and released after the publication of Yasutaro Soga's Life behind Barbed Wire: The World War II Internment Memoirs of a Hawaii Issei and Otokichi Muin Ozaki's Family Torn Apart: The Internment Story of the Otokichi Muin Ozaki Family . The translator, Tatsumi Hayashi, was a prominent Japanese businessman stationed in Honolulu who in his retirement began volunteering at the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai'i along with his friend Kihei Hirai. Although both did not know much about the incarceration story in Hawai'i, Hirai would translate Soga's book, which was published in 2008. Hayashi, who first worked on translating Otokichi Ozaki's radio scripts of his World War II experiences, worked on translating An Internment Odyssey , that was eventually published in 2016, more than ten years after he began the project.

Furuya's book is comprised of thirteen chapters that detail his arrest following the Pearl Harbor attack and his detention first at Sand Island and then to multiple mainland incarceration centers. The sub-chapters originally appeared as a series of 196 articles Furuya wrote for the Hawaii Times , a Japanese language newspaper, from September 29, 1961 to September 23, 1963. The last three chapters of the book—"Haiku From Santa Fe," "The Rest of Our Group Remains," and "The Family Camp"—were not part of the original series and were likely written specifically for the book. Furuya writes about his surprise at being arrested and despair at being separated from his family as authorities detained him at multiple locations: the Honolulu Immigration Station and Sand Island on O'ahu; Fort McDowell/Angel Island in California; Camp McCoy in Wisconsin; Camp Forrest in Tennessee, Camp Livingston in Louisiana; Fort Missoula in Montana; and Santa Fe in New Mexico.

In his narrative, Furuya painstakingly records the inmates' daily activities, offering some of the first accounts of Camp Livingston and Camp Forrest as his life become an unpredictable journey from one incarceration center to the next. He documents the personalities and experiences of his fellow inmates as they struggle to adjust to these unprecedented circumstances. He identifies not only Hawai'i inmates, but those from the mainland, South America, and even prisoners of war like Ensign Kazuo Sakamaki who was a Japanese naval officer who became the first Japanese prisoner of war. The extensive roll call of names that also included the names of guards and camp commanders reflect Furuya's efforts to document and possibly understand his experiences. His account helps to contextualize and humanize camp experiences as these inmates struggled to maintain normalcy, structure, and meaning to their lives behind barbed wire while facing an unpredictable future. Hawai'i's inmates faced particularly tenuous circumstances as they were often separated from their families who struggled to support themselves in the Islands. Furuya documents how many wrestled with the agonizing decision to ask their families to join them in the camps or to repatriate to Japan to allow families to be reunited.

Furuya's account, that is in part based on material that his barracks mates provided, is interspersed with haiku that Furuya wrote throughout his incarceration experience that provide depth and insight to Furuya's own emotional state at that time. An Internment Odyssey is thus Furuya's documentation and reflection of camp life to understand as well as memorialize for future generations an unprecedented chapter in American history. Furuya's book represents one of the few Issei accounts from Hawai'i that can now be understood by a larger audience. It contributes to the overall knowledge of the incarceration experience through the perspective of a first-generation Hawai'i resident.

Authored by Kelli Y. Nakamura , University of Hawai'i

Might also like Life Behind Barbed Wire: The World War II Internment Memoirs of a Hawaii Issei by Yasutaro Soga; Morning Glory, Evening Shadow: Yamato Ichihashi and His Internment Writings, 1942-1945 by Yamato Ichihashi; Tule Lake: An Issei Memoir by Noboru Shirai

Media Details
Author Kumaji Furuya, Tatsumi Hayashi (translator), Gary Y. Okihiro (foreword), Brian Niiya (introduction), Sheila Chun (introduction)
Pages 368
Publication Date 2016
For More Information

For More Information

Furuya, Suikei. Imin no rakugaki [The Scribblings of an Immigrant]. Honolulu: Hawaii Times, 1968.

Chinen, Karleen. " Book Review—An Internment Odyssey. " Hawai'i Herald , Feb. 17, 2017.