Sokendai Review of Cultural and Social Studies


The Family Visitation System
in Japanese Internment in Hawaii:
The Experiences of Internees and their Families


(SOKENDAI (The Graduate University for Advanced Studies),
School of Cultural and Social Studies,
Department of Japanese History)

Key words:

Pacific War, Hawaii, Japanese internment, martial law in Hawaii, voluntary internment, Sand Island Internment Camp, Honouliuli Internment Camp, visitations, POW camp.

The aim of this paper is to provide a new perspective on aspects of the experiences of Japanese internees in Hawaii during the Pacific War as shown by the family visits to the Honouliuli Internment Camp that existed from March 1943 to around August 1945. This camp was used after the first detention camp on Oahu known as Sand Island was closed. Arrests and incarcerations of Japanese and Japanese-Americans that began after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii constituted a selective internment. Many male householders were taken away from their families, while other family members were left. Because of this situation, these family members tried to follow the internees who were sent to the War Relocation Centers (WRC) or camps.

The families of internees from Hawaii spent their days under pressure and in isolation from the rest of society, but the visitations to the Honouliuli Internment Camp gave them some relief from the pressure although it was another type of painful experience. Some features of the visits have been clearly described in the oral histories. On Sundays, military buses transported the regular visitors to Honouliuli, and visitors brought various things to the camp mess hall while internees prepared some gifts for them. These visits were opportunities for the members of families that had been torn apart to help each other to endure their wartime status and the isolation caused by the internment. For internees, the family visits were a nervous but joyful routine.

There is an oral history that seems to indicate that the visitor system at the Honouliuli camp was a type of method that the military authorities used to control internees. Moreover, there was mention in a military telegram of plans to build family units in the Honouliuli internment camp. However, these were never built because the site needed to be opened for incoming prisoners of war from many battlefields as the Allies gained the advantage in the war.

This paper theorizes that the apparent intimacy between Honouliuli and the community in Hawaii may have come about because the visitation system that united internees with their families helped to bridge the gap between those inside the internment camp and the society at large. For the families in Hawaii, the Honouliuli Internment Camp was a special place that helped to confirm their identity. However, future investigation is needed regarding the military control and use of visitations at the site to control internees, and the management of family requests for transport to the WRC and camps by the Hawaii Military Government.