Japanese Americans’ Image in the 40s

Subject: Entertainment & Media
Pages: 12
Words: 3137
Reading time:
14 min
Study level: Bachelor

Media in the modern world plays a major role in public conceptualization of issues. Such role includes educating, entertaining and informing the public on various issues which may be of great import to them. The medium of relaying such information could be in the form of newspapers, electronic media, radio and TV. Being the consumers of the news product, information provided hence becomes very influential to their opinion making. Journalists, news reporters, and editors need to entrench media ethics in their profession in order to avoid causing damage to the public as well as ruining their career. However, the question to ask is, is the reporting usually neutral or is there some bias? Furthermore, if there is any bias has it had any effect on the public? Basing on this notion, this paper intends to look at the media’s portrayal of Japanese Americans at the time and the effect of such portrayal on the public and how this possibly led Americans to hate and distrust Japanese Americans.

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During the period around the Second World War, the image of Japanese Americans was completely and negatively tainted. Most of the citizens of this country viewed Japanese Americans as dangerous people that deserved no respect and trust. While one would argue that the fact that the two countries were enemies during the war was the reason why Japanese Americans were distrusted, there is no tangible evidence to prove this. However, the role of media in opinion formation has been proved by studies. Considering this, it is arguable that the media played an axial role in the formulation of this attitude towards Japanese Americans. Though some of them might argue that what they were reporting was true and not biased, the fact remains that their reporting led to the formation of negative opinions towards Japanese Americans.

How could this have happened, one may wonder! A closer look at an interview by Gene Akutsu gives a clear picture of how the opinions were formed. During that period, most Japanese Americans were concentrated in one area. Their schooling, both primary and secondary was marked by certain schools. Bailey Gatzert was one school that had the highest concentration of Japanese Americans. Garfield, Franklin and Broadway were the Japanese American secondary schools. Other than these, almost every other school had very limited knowledge about Japanese Americans. This means that whatever they were told or read or seen in the media concerning Japanese Americans would remain the embedded in their minds. In addition, the language used by the media agents would determine the level of respect and trust that would be bestowed upon the Japanese Americans. This was especially true given that the younger generation had very limited knowledge about the Japanese Americans.

One way through which the media negatively painted the image of Japanese Americans was through the use of language. With mainstream media using belittling words, to refer to Japanese Americans, it is clear that the younger generation that knew very little about this group of people would grow to develop the belittled image of the Japanese Americans. After all language is a medium used to form scenes in the mind. Construction of meaning in the brain is a result of words and context. The most common words to be used were ‘japs’ or ‘little yellow japs’.

During the write up of Webster Dictionary, the term ‘nigger’ and ‘Chinaman’ were included as derogatory terms. However, ‘jap’ was referred to as an abbreviation for Japan and Japanese. Sadly, this did not auger well with Japanese Americans who believe that this abbreviation is indistinguishable to another noun that has derogative meaning. To abbreviate Japan or Japanese, most of the learned Japanese Americans proposed that the dictionary should have promoted the abbreviation ‘Jpn.’ This would help counter the usage of the demeaning term. In addition, use of the word alien clearly puts the aspect of ‘us’ and ‘them’ in the mind of a reader. By reading the word ‘alien’, the reader comes to a conclusion that those are people that do not belong to this region, they are dwellers of another land or world. Unfortunately, the media could not help but continue with the use of the derogatory term, ‘jap’ and the separatist word, ‘alien’ especially when reporting on issues that concerned Japanese Americans “Dictionary faulted for ignoring ‘Jap.’”

During and a short period after the war, negatively portrayed the image of Japanese Americans through the use of this belittling word. Several articles in news papers could be pin pointed using the word jap or yellow japs or the term ‘alien’ which, as mentioned earlier, puts a boundary between the reader and the person being referred to. For instance, when the president ordered for the roundup of Japanese Americans living on the West Coast, Lewis Woods of the New York Times wrote a clear headline reading, “Army Gets Power to Move Citizens or Aliens Inland.” In the same newspaper of 20 February, 1942, one of the headlines was “Enemy Aliens to be Used.” Other headlines in the newspapers include, “150 Japs seazed,” reported by the Washington Post on “Action on Japs,” in the Los Angeles Times of February 19 of 1942, Warren Francis in Los Angeles Times reported, “Close watch on Japs in internment urged.”

Considering Gene Akutsu’s perception that children born around and after the period of war bared had any other knowledge of the Japanese Americans than that gotten from the media, a serious pitfall concerning the image of Japanese Americans becomes evident. How can one trust a person of which the only thing he knows about him is his descent from a country that bombed Pearl Harbor? How can he trust a person from a race whose people have been found possessing bombs and other deadly weapons? From what point will one get trust from a race whose people are reported to be spies and drug dealers? Why should one in the first place trust a person when the government itself is wary about this person’s whereabouts and hence putting them in internments? Sadly, this is what Japanese Americans had to undergo. The new generation of Americans born within the period of war, having little or no information about Japanese Americans, they only had an option of knowing them from what was broadcasted in the electronic media or written in newspapers.

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However, the rate at which negative news articles about Japanese Americans was being portrayed was so high that this would make this people seem criminals by nature. They would seem, in the eyes of the new generation, a people that would not spend a day without committing a crime. For instance, the months of February and March of 1942 alone saw more than ten articles, just to mention but a few, linking Japanese Americans with some sort of crime or incident that made them look questionable. The following are news articles that were written by mainstream newspapers in the two months alone (Woods 5).

On 17th of February 1942, the New York Times reported of uncovering of aerial bomb casings after the federal efforts to crack down on enemies at the Coast. On 19th of that month, The New York Times reports of the House passing of a Bill to increase the amount set aside for cracking down on enemy aliens and dual citizenship of Japanese Americans on the West Coast. On the same 19th, the Washington Post reports of 150 aliens raided and put in custody by FBI agents in California. Similarly, Los Angeles Times reports of federal government’s decision to evacuate aliens from areas that were adjacent to military grounds. On 21st of the same month, the Washington Post reports of several ‘enemy aliens’ who are put in custody after a crack down in Brooklyn, New York. This same day, the New York Times reports of FBI pounding on dynamite blasting machines in New Jersey and a number of enemy aliens are arrested in conjunction with the same. On 15th March, 1942, LA Times reporter Warren Francis writes about the Federal government’s plan to evacuate aliens and second generation Japanese Americans from sensitive areas that contained natural resources.

Similarly, in the same month of Feb at Sacramento in California, a wealthy Japanese named Henry murimoto was sentenced to jail for illegally possessing fire arms. He was fined $500 and an indeterminate sentence that followed his plead of guilt. Though he pleaded for probation, the court would not grant him the favor. This is another incident where the Japanese are associated with negative aspects. It might be true that Henry was an arms dealer, however, his being Japanese made the best part of the news. This would assist in ensuring that the public assumed that the Japanese engaged in illegal trade (Warren 15; Woods 5).

Mistrust by the government will automatically reflect to the public’s mistrust. This is particularly true in the case of Japanese Americans as most of the new generation Americans did not have any information concerning this group of people. By reading in newspapers how the government did not trust them, the young generation Americans would develop a mind set that Japanese Americans are untrustworthy. Through the media’s covering of the issue of Japanese demanding for the right to being given the American citizenship through the redress in the court of law, the public perception of the Japanese was very likely to be impacted. The public would want to understand why the government had taken the decision. For instance, 171 Japanese at the Internment Camps at Bismarck, N.D and Santa Fe, N.M asked the court to protect them from being scrapped off as the citizens of the United States by the Department of Justice. This came after they were identified as aliens and deserved to be deported. Among the petitioners were sixty two young men and women who were under the age of 21 years.Their case was to be heard before the Federal Judge A.F.st. Sure on March 19. The petitioners were among 1,002 who sued the Federal Courts seeking their citizenship at San Francisco on 4th March, 1946 (“Japanese Ask to Stay” 15).

Furthermore, The Congress at one time in history passed the bill to raise the funds for the FBI to monitor and track the activities of the Japanese all over the west coast of the Washington D.C.The appropriated bill was huge as $300,000 allocated to the FBI from the $221,209,100 budget of the Departments of State, Justice and commerce.The amendment was passed to release the fund s so that investigation on the monitoring the Japanese whose activities were questionable to the security of the country in some counties in the Washington D.C and some representatives in the west coast towns were showing little efforts in dealing with the Japanese issue. Therefore, no compromise was to be listened to from any aliens caught on the wrong side of the law or against the United States ideological ideals like securing the security of its territory among inversion from the aliens both from outside and within (“Votes Fund to FBI to Track Japanese.” 11).

Associating a certain group of people with foreign spies can be detrimental to their image. Media’s portrayal of certain people of Japanese descent as spies would make most Americans look at any Japanese American with distrust. They would all look like threats to the government of the United States. In 1942, the media reported that the US security was threatened by Japanese military spy men with air bombs and other military equipments. this caused tension between the American authorities and the Japanese Americans.Whenever such issue crops up the Japanese are handled with suspicion in the sense that the Americans security agents such as Federal Bureau Of Investigation (FBI) do not trust them (“Jap Girl Spy Suspect Held.” A4). As a result, investigations on their whereabouts are carried out to restore security in the country. For instance, The New York Times on Feb 6, 1942 reported on how air bomb casings belonging to Hamada I Takahashi Navy officer who was kingmanship of Emperor Hirohito and the secretary of Toga Kai sponsored by the Tokyo Society of ex Japanese naval officers were seized in twenty five costal coastal raid (Sacramento) This led to arrests of Japanese spies implicated to be members of the secretive agents emanating from Japan. As result of this Presidential warrant orders led to the arrest of many Japanese aliens who later ended into the internment camps. The issue of the secretive military operations by the Japanese nationals caused even the loyalists in various positions such as University lecturers to be arrested even though they owed their allegiance to the US. Other zones such as US Navy and Army bases were a No Go Zones to Japanese Americans due to suspicions due to their military dealings. Similarly, the Japanese were restricted from settling in some counties in the U.S (Francis 11).

For instance at one point a Japanese girl named Bettie Maya aged 23 was arrested in a cocktail bar in Santa Monica pending on the investigation that appeared in connection in the fifth column because she was suspected of spying. In addition Mr. L.M. Berry stated that during the time of her arrest at the cocktail bar she was in company of a soldier and she stated that she was looking for a conducive environment to carryout her spying activities. Such motives led her to be suspended in the town because in the public domain she was seen as an enemy to the security of the United States of America and therefore never to be trusted by the US security agents (“Jap Girl Spy Suspect Held.” A4).

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Further portraying the image of terrorism by Japanese Americans, the media ensured that the dangerous Japanese Americans were reported for possessing certain weapons that were a threat to the security of the country. As a result, the Japanese could not possess any equipment that seemed a threat to the Americans. Therefore the media at one point showed how the US Army Signal and Blasting machines were confisticated by the FBI agents that led to some Japanese, Italians and some Germany nationals being charged for possessing contraband materials in New York Harbor land since the president had warned that any contra brand materials such as maps, cameras, binoculars were not to be possessed by any aliens. Internees in some camps who were implicated in launching terrorist attacks to the United States of America justified the media’s painting of Japanese as terrorists. Some internees were opened trials in their home country and those who were found guilty had their terms in the internment camps extended as a result of new convictions. The attack at Pearl Harbor led to many Japanese being implicated with terrorism through links with Japanese organizations organized in line to do with military plans. Such people were not spared by the FBI agents who viewed such organizations as posing threat to the peace of the United States hence any Japanese or other nationals whose states were a threat to the U.S were detained in the camps (“Blasting Machine Seized.” 15).

The principle of tit for tat might be natural and innate in human beings. By realizing that some person treated your brother in a very rude way, one might opt to retaliate if given chance. Similarly, the media published some commentaries in some instances to show how the Americans were mistreated in Japan while carrying out their business activities in Japan during the second world wars. Both the U.S and Japanese governments foreign relations became sour whenever reports showing the traumas that the nationals were been mistreated due to war that had engulfed the world at that period of time in history. Even the Japanese Americans who owed their allegiance to the United States were mistreated in the hostile internment camps in the U.S soil. Such camps include the Bismarck camp where many atrocities were done to the Japanese and other U.S enemy’s.Therefore many human rights activists raised their concern that such mistreatment should not appear again in history should any future world war brake out (Green B6).

It is clear that the negative image of Japanese Americans as a serious threat to the security of the United States had great implications on their day to day lives. For instance, an interview about the Japanese experience before the attack at Pearl Harbor as recorded by Densho Visual History Collection ‘’Gene Akutsu Interview’’ shows that Japanese Americans’ lives changed to the worse. Larry Hashima was learnt from Gene Akutsu on the Japanese experiences at Pearl Harbor since the attack by the Japanese. Gene Akutsu stated how the issue of race affected the Japanese children attending various schools in the region and how the schools were managed. The interview also showed how the Japanese experienced the problems in the city life basing on the fact that they were looked upon by the Americans who disliked their race. Therefore from this interview it is quite clear to note that the Japanese were viewed as a dangerous race which was to be avoided by the Americans especially when the media posted information concerning the Japanese in the famous newspapers at that time in history such as New York Times, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times among others (Ikeda 6).

In conclusion it should be clear to learn from this essay that the media portrayal of the Japanese Americans to the public led to a conceptualization of Japanese Americans as non friendly people, enemies to be precise. This conceptualization later affected the Japanese Americans’ day to day lives. It led to the Japanese being hated and distrusted by the Americans throughout the nation of America. Use of cartoons and propaganda can therefore be attributed as the major causes of the negative portrayal of the image of Japanese Americans. A good historian on the study of the Second World War will quickly settle there and determine the point at which rain started beating the relationship between these two great countries. He will be able to determine why the media would use names like japs as aliens and terrorists. To be more specific it is the Japanese military attack at the U.S military base at the port of Pearl Harbor that provoked the U.S to counter attack the Japanese with atomic bombs at Nagasaki and Hiroshima. These two events later had drastic impacts to the Japanese relationship with the Americans. Through the deteriorated relationship, the Americans, through the media started to conceive the Japanese as enemies. Eventually, every person of Japanese descent, regardless of his or her allegiance to the United States of America was subjected to suspicion and hence denied certain rights. Through this article, it becomes clear that the media has a great role in opinion formation. Whatever they show to the public should have its repercussions measured first.

Annotated Bibliography

  1. Army Gets Power to Move Citizens or Aliens Inland. 1942.
    Blasting Machine Seized.”New York Times. 1942: 6. Print.
    This article highlights an event where a blasting machine was seized from people who branded a Japanese identity. This article therefore furthers the argument because it shows how Japanese Americans were associated with arms and other activities that are against the law. Associating them with such negative aspects allows for the consumer of the news to associate the negativity of dealing with illegal arms with the Japanese.
  2. Enemy Aliens to be Used.” The New York Times. 1942. Print.
    Francis, Warren. “Close Watch on Japs in Internment Urged.” Los Angeles Times1942: 15. Print.
    This article talks of the increasing suspicion on the Japanese in internment. By showing that the Japanese Americans needed to be closely watched, the article allowed the public to view them as people who can cause trouble any time. The article is therefore relevant on the topic as it gives one a picture of the suspicion that existed in the government towards the Japanese.
  3. Green, Norman. “Japanese Treatment.” Los Angeles Times. 1972: B6. Print.
    In this article, the author highlights on events that happened on Japanese soil where some American business people were treated in an inappropriate way. It is relevant to this topic because it brings within the reader an attitude of revenge.
  4. Hewlett, Frank. “Children who Starved Under Japs Reach US.” Los Angeles Times. 1945: 9. Print.
    This article highlights on the event where some children were treated in an inhuman way. They were starved but later rescued. The this article is fundamental in writing this on issue because using kids is the best way of creating hatred or love.
  5. Japanese Ask to Stay.” New York Times. 1946: 15. Print.
    This article highlights of the government’s effort to deny some Japanese Americans citizenship. The legitimate Americans however plead to stay. This article is relevant on this topic because it furthers on the suspicious nature of the Japanese in the eyes of the American public.
  6. Jap Girl Spy Suspect Held.” Los Angeles Times. 1942: 6. print.
    This article talks about a girl that was arrested because she was a suspected spy. This is an important article because it highlights on the image that the media was painting of the Japanese. By branding them spy tags, all Japanese Americans would look suspicious in the eyes of every American. This is therefore an important article because it promotes this notion.
  7. Japs Banned in New Areas.” Los Angeles Times. 1942: 1. Print.
    This article shows the restriction of movement that was on Japanese Americans. It is relevant for this topic because it shows how the media went ahead to create an image of mistrust and suspicious for the Japanese Americans.
  8. Japs Violeted All Rules of Decency, Hull Says.” Los Angeles Times. 1944: 6. Print.
    This article highlight the speech of one of the government officials calling the Japanese action prior to the war as indecent. By portraying the Japanese as people who cannot adhere to international laws, the media would have achieved its mission of creating an ugly image of the Japanese.
  9. Ikeda, Tom. “Gene Akutsu Interview.” Densho Digital Archive ID: denshovh-agene-03-0011
    This interview by Ikeda clearly gives a picture of the effect of what the media did to the lives of Japanese Americans. It is relevant for this paper because it allows the researcher to ascertain the claims that the image of Japanese Americans was tainted in the eyes of the American public.
  10. Dictionary faulted for ignoring ‘Jap.’” The New York Times. 1973: 12. Print.
    Votes Fund to FBI to Track Japanese.” New York Times. 1942: 11. Print.
    This article talks about the Congress’ effort to increase funding for activities aimed at tracking an arresting Japanese spies and aliens. It is important for this paper because it highlights on the mistrust that the American government had for the Japanese. Similarly the image of mistrust will be created in the public.
  11. Woods, Lewis. “Army gets Power to Move Citizens or Aliens Inland.” New York Times. 1942: 1. Print.
    This article talks of the power given to the army to move citizens and aliens from certain regions. This article allows for one to understand that Japanese were not wanted near the military areas of the united states. This creates an image of mistrust which is essential for this work.
  12. 150 Japs Seized.” Washington Post. 1942: 3. Print.
    This article talks of a governmental action that saw 150 people arrested by the FBI. All of them were believed to be Japanese. This article is important in this topic because it increases the enmity aspect of an American and a Japanese. This is what is needed to create a poor image of the Japanese.