|Yone, Margaret, Janet, Poston and Ray Tanaka|
The Tanaka family
Q-C woman honors parents
by Bill Wundram
August 28, 2009
A collection of 29 centuries-old Japanese woodblock prints hangs at the Putnam Museum in Davenport, Iowa. In them is a poignant memorial story. The collection will be dedicated tonight in memory of [Shigeru] Ray and Yone Tanaka, who were interned in the Poston, Arizona internment camp, [block 45-8-D]. The Tanakas' daughter, Quad-City businesswoman Janet (Tanaka) Masamoto, was 6 months old when she was banished with her parents and 3-year-old sister, Margaret, from their home in Los Angeles.
The saga of the family's internment is interwoven with tonight's dedication of the exhibit titled "Images of the Floating World," which was how Japan was known when it was an isolated country in the 17th and 18th centuries. Hundreds of years ago, the woodblock prints - often called "the people's art" - sold for the price of a bowl of noodles. Now, their value can be counted, in part, as emotional linkage to the past.
"I visited the Putnam archives and was impressed by the vast amount of Japanese material, especially the collection of woodblock prints not being displayed," Masamoto says. "I wanted to sponsor an exhibition in my parents' name."
The exhibit opens to the public Saturday after a private showing tonight. To provide a counterpoint for the framed prints, which rim the walls of one of the museum's largest exhibition halls, there is Japanese craftwork from the Putnam collection: a delicate Japanese apricot-shaded kimono, an ivory geisha holding a bird cage, a fierce samurai warrior - one of nine in the museum archives - and other artifacts.
Masamoto was a toddler on May 29, 1942 when her family was hurried away from Los Angeles and arrived to the parched internment camp in Poston, Arizona [block 45-8-D], in a roundup ordered by President Franklin Roosevelt in response to strong anti-Japanese sentiment. "It was insulting for my family to be put away because we were not aliens, but American citizens," Masamoto says. "My mom was born in Missoula, Montana." Her father was born in Hawaii.
Masamoto, who is founder and president of JTM Concepts, a technical services company, talks candidly about the years her family spent in internment.
"Dad was in the produce business when he was closed down. Japanese-Americans were herded off to 10 relocation centers. The centers were more like prisons, with barbed wire fences and barracks. "Dad said we could take only what we could carry. It was insulting! People came by our house, offering pennies or nickels for what we had to leave behind. This was not to be believed. We were Americans, true citizens. "We were put in barracks on an old Indian reservation in Poston, 18,000 of us, to live in little sections, depending on the size of the family."
A monument at the site today says the barracks were flimsy, tarpaper-covered, "open to relentless summer sun and chilling winter winds."
Masamoto says. "My parents were given some straw and gunny sack material and told, 'Here is your bed.' I really don't remember anything, except that it was very hot. Dad worked as a guard at the swimming pool. Some of the internees tended gardens. But believe me, it was a prison camp; you didn't get out. "From 1942 until 1945, we were interned. During this time, my parents had a baby. They called him Poston, after the camp where we were held."
Today, Poston Tanaka is an architect who lives in Long Beach, Calif. According to his sister, he was one of the designers of EuroDisney. Her sister, Margaret, lives in Lake Forest, Calif.
Masamoto says one of the ironies of their internment was that an uncle, Ernest, served during World War II with the U.S. 442nd Infantry Regiment, made up of Japanese-American (Nisei) citizens. "I was about 3 years and 6 months old when we left the camp in 1945," Masamoto says. "My mother never talked about her years in the camp; she blanked it out. But she did say that when they were finally released, all she had was a little money and a dozen eggs." [Note: The family left Poston, Arizona on March 15, 1945 and went to Albuquerque, New Mexico. ]
Her father, Shigeru Ray Masamoto, returned to the produce business in California, joining a partner. He died 36 years ago, at the age of 64. Her mother, Yone Tanaka, died in March 2009 at the age of 94.
"From all I learned of the years of internment, dad never complained. It was a matter of accepting. He was never bitter," Masamoto says.