Japanese Ambassador’s Visit to Former Camp Site Yields Linguistic Clarity

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Ambassador Ichiro Fujisaki’s visit to United Tribes included a tour of the tribal college campus, where 1,200 American Indian students from tribes throughout the country are educated yearly.

BISMARCK, N.D. (United Tribes News) – After 67 years, telltale signs of the Japanese American internment can still be found at the former site of a government detention camp. The Japanese ambassador to the U.S. helped shed some light on one fading piece of evidence during a recent visit to United Tribes Technical College.

Ambassador Ichiro Fujisaki toured United Tribes as part of an official visit to North Dakota. The tribal college is the site of the former Fort Lincoln Internment Camp. While there, the ambassador translated some Japanese writing that still exists on one of the buildings.

Right: A rubbing of characters found on a former camp building. Left: A more readable version provided by Ambassador Fujisaki. He translated the kanji, “Houkoku Seinen Dan,” as “Young Volunteer Group for the Country.”

During World War II, the one-time military post was rigged with fences, guard towers and barbed wire. Confined there were foreign nationals and some American citizens under the presumed authority of the Alien Enemies Act and presidential proclamations. About 1,800 men of Japanese descent were held at Fort Lincoln between 1941 and 1946.

Lens on History

The internment is known to Japanese Americans who experienced this sad chapter in American history, and to citizens of Japan. Fujisaki said he is familiar with it and has visited several of the camp sites.

Over the last 43 years under United Tribes, the brick and wood-frame buildings of Fort Lincoln were transformed to educate American Indian students and their families. While much renovation has occurred and many new facilities added, the old buildings have been maintained intact, offering glimpses into the past.

In the attic of one, the names of a few former internees are scrawled in pencil on the woodwork. In another there is German writing left behind by men of the other major ethnic group held at the camp. Meriting special attention on this visit was a five-character string of Japanese writing etched into the brick exterior of a barracks building.

“We were very honored to have the ambassador here,” said David M. Gipp, United Tribes president. “When we pointed out there was Japanese writing on a building, he was eager to see it and we paid close attention to what he said.”

Written Translation

After viewing the somewhat indistinct markings on the wall and a pencil tracing of them, Fujisaki set about writing the characters clearly on paper. He accompanied that by translating them into this English phrase: “Young Volunteer Group for the Country.”

United Tribes President David M. Gipp and Ambassador Ichiro Fujisaki at the college’s Native American Art Gallery.

The hands that crafted those words most certainly belonged to one of the American citizens of Japanese descent who were locked up at the camp near the end of the war. In 1945, about 750 mostly young men from other camps, who were considered disloyal, were sent to North Dakota and housed in Fort Lincoln’s barracks. They were known as “renunciants” for having renounced their U. S. citizenship while in confinement.

Scholars and researchers explain that their action was motivated by loss of their civil rights as U. S. citizens, resentment over the callous treatment they and their families received at the hands of the government, and other reasons. Their resistance led to further confinement at Bismarck, where they left their slogans.

Over 20 years after the war, a federal civil rights case helped restore citizenship for nearly all who had lost it during the internment. The case found that renunciation of citizenship “under extreme duress” was unconstitutional. Legislation offering an official U. S. apology and reparations to Japanese Americans for their wartime internment was passed in 1988.

Fujisaki encouraged United Tribes to continue working to preserve its history. The college plans to create an interpretive center that will help improve understanding about all of the uses that the campus site has served.

“It’s not every day that you get a visit from the Japanese ambassador to the United States,” said Gipp. “We’re very encouraged by his remarks.”

The ambassador’s visit to North Dakota also included meetings with state leaders.

(Editor’s note: Fujisaki has since concluded his tenure as ambassador and returned to Japan.)

United Tribes News photos by DENNIS J. NEUMANN

Ambassador Ichiro Fujisaki points to Japanese writing etched into the brick wall of a building at United Tribes Technical College, the site of a former federal government internment camp during World War II.

 

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  1. The Houkoku Seinen Dan was really a young men’s version of the Houkoku Kai, or Patriotic Society, that is, patriotic to Imperial Japan. The Issei wanted their American-born children to show the same devotion they had toward the homeland. There was a great mist surrounding the whole concept of patriotism among the Issei and their Nisei children. Fortunately, many were able to see the light and break free from the fog.

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