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Ken Mochizuki Questions

Teacher: Dear Mr. Mochizuki,
During our year-long study of social injustice, amazingly begun on September 10, my seventh and eighth graders read both "Passage" and "Baseball." Their positive response to human endurance and individual contributions in the face of great personal danger proved the immense value of your stories. Thank you for sharing so much with us.
Hummelstown, Pennsylvania
Ken Mochizuki: And thank you for sharing these stories with others. On copies of "Baseball" I inscribe: "Attitude determines altitude!" On copies of "Passage," I write: "One person can make a difference!"

Student: Our class is doing a mock trial about the use of Japanese Internment Camps...we would like to know if and how you think the Internment Camps protected the Japanese Americans living on the west coast from racial violence and the interrogation of their families here and over seas?
If Japanese Americans were not sent to Internment Camps would the other Americans have accepted them sooner as American Citizens?
Ken Mochizuki: That's a view that still prevails today — that the camps existed to protect those of Japanese descent from racially motivated violence. Our U.S. government has proven that false, stating the reasons why the camps occurred was because of racial prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership.

In your mock trial setting, you could bring in one of those actually at the camps as a witness. They would tell you that, if the camps were there for his/her own protection, then why were the machine guns in the towers pointed into the camp, instead of out? Why were searchlights sweeping into the camp at night, instead of out to spot those trying to attack the Japanese Americans inside?

And if the camps were for protection, why wasn't it voluntary to be in one or not?

Because Japanese Americans endured the camp experience, in some ways they were accepted sooner as American citizens. If it did not occur, those of Japanese descent might have lived longer like they had before the war, living together in their own communities (because they were forced to—they couldn't live anywhere they wanted), still having more connections to the country of Japan, more generations still speaking Japanese. Due to the camps, when they were singled out just because they were of Japanese ancestry, that created an accelerated drive to be seen as more American.

There was the famous World War II 442nd Regimental Combat Team, an all-Japanese American U.S. Army unit that became one of the most decorated units in U.S. Army history. Their members' legendary exploits went a long way for those of Japanese descent to be accepted as Americans. Many in that unit volunteered out of the camps, because they figured that they were in the camps because they were not seen as American. Fighting for America would change that. They did to a large extent. But, even till today, some people of Japanese descent are still not seen as being American. That happens to me often, when people assume I must be from Japan. I have never been there, my parents were born in Seattle and went through the camps—my grandparents were from Japan.

Student: Have you ever been to an internment camp?
Ken Mochizuki: I have been to the former sites of the Minidoka camp in southern Idaho, and Tule Lake in northeastern California. I am too young to have been in one during World War II.

Student: What is your opinion on the conditions of internment camps?
Ken Mochizuki: Conditions were deplorable at best, especially the tar-paper barracks with no heat or running water. Most of those in these camps had to live in a desert, with extremes of hot and cold temperatures.

Student: Are you angry against the US Government for the internment camps?
Ken Mochizuki: Rather than angry, I am more concerned that all Americans be considered Americans by their fellow Americans. These camps happened because those of Japanese descent in this country were not seen as Americans.

Student: Do you think that the US had a just cause for the use of internment camps?
Ken Mochizuki: No, the government did not have a just cause to send 120,000 people off to these camps—that had been proven by the U.S. government some 40 years later. A major reason for the camps to exist was based on rumors — not anything certain people did, but just based on who they happened to be.

Student: Do you hold a grudge for what the US did to your heritage?
Ken Mochizuki: Rather than a grudge, I think it's more important to know facts — how what happened in the past shapes your present and future. How do you know where you're going if you don't know where you've been?

Student: What would you have done if you were placed in an internment camp at the age you are now?
Ken Mochizuki: If I were my present age in 1942, I probably would've gone along and into a camp. Japanese Americans had few supporters back then—hardly anybody speaking out against what was happening to them. If these camps happened today, there are more national leaders—including a number of Japanese Americans in high government positions—who would speak out and work against this from happening. I would probably be one of those speaking out, and would probably have to pay some kind of price for it.

Teacher: Last week my video class and I attended a lecture at San Marino High School given by the actor who played the Japanese diplomat who saved Jews in Lithuania during World War II. This short film won an Academy Award, (which he graciously allowed the students to hold). I don't have the postcard right in front of me with the young man's name, but he did say that he was working on a "baseball" in the internment camps screenplay with an author. Is it you? I remember reading a lengthy article in the L.A. Times last year about baseball and the camps. We have a retired teacher who was in Tule, California during the war. He's a very deep, philosophical and interesting man. We discussed this baseball article. He volunteers as a docent at the Japanese-American Museum in downtown L.A. For years, he didn't want to talk about it, but now, he's ready, I think. This is a very interesting subject because it is one that needs to be given more attention.
I'd like to hear from you.
Ken Mochizuki: I know who you're talking about re: the Sugihara story. Sorry, but his name escapes me right now. Chris Yamashita? No, it's not me who's working on the screenplay with him, although that's very interesting to hear. You're probably aware of my book, "Baseball Saved Us," a fictional picture book rendition of playing baseball in the camps. I am presently working on a musical version of it for the 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle. Some Hollywood producers have also expressed interest in turning the story into a film, although nothing has happened yet. If you are interested in more about baseball in the camps, you might want to contact the National Japanese American Historical Society in San Francisco, or they must have a Web site. They have a traveling exhibit devoted to that subject.

Interesting connection here: if you don't know already, I also wrote the picture book, "Passage to Freedom: the Sugihara Story" which is about Consul Sugihara and his rescue of over 10,000 Polish Jews from the Holocaust.

Student: Are you working on any new books now?
Ken Mochizuki: Yes, I am just completing my first young adult novel, "Beacon Hill Boys," which will be published this fall by Scholastic Press. The story centers on a Japanese American high school student and his friends during spring of 1972 in the Beacon Hill neighborhood of Seattle. Essentially, it's about the main character's search for his own self-esteem and pride during a time when the "Asian American" identity is born.

Student: Your author's note says that as a print journalist you covered the decade-long campaign that eventually convinced the U.S. government that its imprisonment of Japanese Americans during World War II was wrong. What did you do? Are you still involved politically?
Ken Mochizuki: I traveled around the U.S. in the early 80s, gathering testimony about the World War II incarceration of Americans of Japanese descent. It concluded that the World War II forced expulsion and incarceration was a result of war hysteria, race prejudice, and a failure of political leadership. This conclusion led to the U.S. Congress and president officially declaring that what the U.S. government did to those of Japanese descent during that time was wrong.
I covered this subject—commonly known as "redress"—for a publication called the International Examiner in Seattle, WA. It is a newspaper that focuses on the issues of the Asian American communities in the Pacific Northwest. I did just that—reported on the movement that began locally, expanded nationally, and ended with the bill's passage by Congress and signing by President Reagan. If I had participated in this cause, it was by publicizing it through my journalistic work. As far as any political work now, I write the books that I do and travel around the country, giving presentations around my books and the subject that Americans of Asian/Pacific Islander descent have been a part of America for a long time. One of my presentations is on the history of Asian/Pacific Americans in the U.S. military (going back to the War of 1812). That I consider to be involved politically.