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The Fence at Minidoka (film)

Early documentary film on the forced removal and incarceration of Japanese Americans from the Seattle, Washington, area that may have been the first such film to be produced by a local television station. Barbara J. Tanabe, a young reporter for KOMO in Seattle instigated, wrote, and reported on the program, which first aired on December 7, 1971.

Tanabe had been hired by KOMO in late 1970, when she was still a senior journalism major at the University of Washington. Though her father and his family had been incarcerated at Minidoka , she had largely been raised in Japan and Okinawa, where her father, a World War II veteran of the Military Intelligence Service , worked as a translator for the Japanese occupation government and later as a public affairs officer for the American government in Okinawa. As one of the first Asian American broadcast journalists in the country, she often reported on stories on ethnic communities with the encouragement of the station. With the 30th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor approaching, Tanabe approached her bosses with the idea of doing a piece on Japanese Americans in World War II. Her news director thought it was a good idea and suggested doing a half-hour documentary instead. [1]

Tanabe began doing research, initially finding reluctance among Japanese Americans to talk about their incarceration experience. She did eventually find those willing to talk, and she also interviewed white political figures such as Seattle Mayor William Devin and Tacoma Mayor Harry P. Cain, the latter one of the only western political figures oppose the expulsion of Japanese Americans at the time. Encouraged by the station to visit the Minidoka site, she found former inmates who were willing to take her to the site and give her a tour. [2]

After the initial airing the station received much negative feedback from some viewers. "For days after that, we got all kinds of very angry letters, bitter letters, telephone calls," Tanabe recalled in 1994 oral history. "But I also got letters of support. I think the Japanese-American community galvanized, mobilized behind me, because they wrote many letters of support, and it was quite gratifying to get that kind of reaction." Copies of the program went to Washington schools and libraries, and several community screenings were held. Along with the contemporaneous museum exhibition Pride and Shame , organized by Seattle's Museum of History and Industry, The Fence at Minidoka helped to raise awareness of the wartime incarceration at the dawn of Redress Movement . [3]

Authored by Brian Niiya , Densho

Might also like The Nisei: The Pride and the Shame (1965); Guilty by Reason of Race (1972); East of Occidental: The History of Seattle's Chinatown (1988)


  1. Barbara Tanabe oral history, sessions 1 and 2, interviewed by Donita M. Moorhus, Apr. 28, 1994, Washington Press Club Foundation, accessed on May 5, 2015 at and .
  2. Tanabe oral history; "TV Documentary on Minidoka," Pacific Citizen , Jan. 28, 1972, 1; Kats Kunitsugu, "If You Wonder Why It's Wrong Being Called a 'Model,'" Pacific Citizen , May 12, 1972, 2.
  3. Tanabe oral history, session 2; quote from page 25.
Media Details
Release Date 1971
Runtime 27 minutes
Producer Barbara J. Tanabe
Writer Barbara J. Tanabe
Narrator Barbara J. Tanabe
Starring Bill Mimbu (interviewee), Minoru Masuda (interviewee), Hana Masuda (interviewee), Don Kazama (interviewee), John Bigelow (interviewee), <a href="/wiki/Emery_Andrews" title="Emery Andrews">Rev. Emery E. Andrews</a> (interviewee), Floyd Schmoe (interviewee), Y. Philip Hayakawa (interviewee), William Devin (interviewee), Harry P. Cain (interviewee)
Cinematography Kurt Horn
Editing Kurt Horn
Studio KOMO-TV
For More Information

For More Information

Barbara Tanabe oral history . Interviewed by Donita M. Moorhus, Apr. 28, 1994. Washington Press Club Foundation.