In the early 1900’s Tomiyo and Ryukichi Morita left Japan shortly after their arranged marriage and took a boat to the United States. They settled in southern California and worked first as farmers, then as hotel owners in Los Angeles’s Little Tokyo. After leaving the hotel business, Ryukichi started a successful landscaping company alongside his wife, Tomiyo, who raised seedlings in their backyard. The Moritas settled into their lives in the United States and had five children. When Pearl Harbor was bombed and the United States declared war against Japan, the youngest of the Morita’s children was already in high school. Shortly after the war began, President Franklin Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, which sent 120,000 Japanese-American citizens into incarceration camps in isolated areas of Colorado, Oklahoma, Eastern California, Idaho, Wyoming, Arizona, and Arkansas. The Moritas were forced to abandon their home, business, and all of their possessions. They were incarcerated in Camp Amache in southeast Colorado, where they were held for three years, until the war’s end. Fumiko—their youngest daughter— graduated from high school in the camp. Her older sister, Yayeko, worked at the camp’s unofficial newspaper.
During the same period, another family—the Matsushitas—also farmers in southern California, were incarcerated in Arizona’s Gila River Camp. While in the camp, their son, Akira, enlisted in the US Army. He served in the Military Intelligence Service, a unit where many Nisei (second-generation Japanese-Americans) served as translators and interpreters, and assisted in interrogations.
When war ended and they were released, both the Moritas and Matsushitas moved to Chicago, Illinois. There, at a Japanese-American community basketball event, Akira—the former US soldier—met Fumiko, the Morita’s youngest daughter. They married and settled in Chicago, where Akira worked developing photographs at Peter Pan Portrait Studio. They had two children: Elaine and Kevin.
Neither Fumiko nor Akira spoke about their experiences during the war. Only when their daughter, Elaine, began asking questions did her mother reveal more about her incarceration under Order 9066. Elaine became a journalist and worked at several prominent newspapers including Chicago Tribune and Miami Herald. She has two sons, Josh (26) and Sam (22), and continues to live near her mother, Fumiko, and her aunt, Yayeko. The two sisters have lived in the same apartment building for 59 years and spend each day together. Akira, Elaine’s father, passed away in 2002. In 2010, he was posthumously awarded the Congressional Gold Medal for his service in the war. In 2016, Fumiko, Elaine, and her son Sam made a pilgrimage to the site of Camp Amache, where Fumiko and her family were held. In June 2017, Elaine’s oldest son, Josh, joined a trip sponsored by the Japanese American Citizens League and visited Manzanar, a former incarceration camp outside of Los Angeles.
Below is their family story as told by Elaine, Sam, and Josh, and through the heirlooms they hold dear.
Sam's "9066" Tattoo
Sam's Guard Tower Tattoo
Family Photos of Pilgrimage to Camp Amache
Akira's Army Jacket
Official US Army Photograph of Akira
Congressional Gold Medal
The Golden Crane
Family Photograph: Akira, Fumiko, 2-Year-Old Elaine
Fumiko & Yayeko's Apartment
1) What would you ask the original owners of these objects, if you could speak to them today?
2) What lessons or ideas do these objects communicate that you hope your children/ future children will carry through their lives?