Islands | A multihued archipelago, tuned to soccer’s harmonics

Honouliuli housed Japanese, German and Italian men beginning in Mar 1943; four other camps around the Islands were also in service at various times. Altogether, some 1,500 Hawaiians spent time in internment camps, a surprisingly low number considering the estimated wartime Japanese population of 140,000—40 percent of the populace. Again, a multicultural network of cooperation might have preserved the authority of Hawai‘i’s martial-law government and prevented massive detentions. Tom Coffman, director of the documentary film The First Battle, emphasizes how community advocacy preserved the Islands’ sense of themselves as a self-determining cultural mix: “It was an essential struggle between Hawai‘i being a multiracial democracy and a model of a distant military outpost of the United States,” Coffman says. “In that sense, the future was up for grabs.”

On 25 Aug 1942, George Hoshida created this ink-and-watercolor rendering of Kilauea Military Detention Camp, with Mauna Loa looming in the distance. He cultivated an interest in drawing during an incarceration of more than three years, spread among five concentration camps from Hawai‘i to Arkansas. (George Hoshida Collection, Japanese American National Museum, Los Angeles)

Internment zones in Hawai‘i contrast with the more comprehensive relocation-center barracks in Arkansas, Wyoming, Colorado, Idaho, Utah, Arizona and California, which made room for recreation grounds, including soccer fields. Ansel Adams on a 1943 foray to the Manzanar War Relocation Center in California photographed card games as well as baseball, calisthenics, gridiron and volleyball. Martial arts were practiced, and the Manzanar facility operated its own newspaper, Manzanar Free Press, which reported regularly on recreation and sports in the camp:

Goh, shogi, drama, musicals, woodcarving, gardening and poem writing are the favorite pastimes for the elderly men. Embroidery, flower making, knitting, leathercraft, sewing, dramas and musicals are the predominant recreations for the women.

Through the medium of talent shows, dances, softball, basketball, football and tennis games, weight lifting contests, song fests, folk dances, parties, ping pong and movies, the morale of the younger residents has been kept at a high level. In addition to these diversions, several groups have been organized to form music, model airplane building, painting, and literature clubs for persons in all walks of life. (“Community Activities,” 10 Sept 1943, p. 19)

Soccer games, with various levels of organization, occurred in at least two of the concentration camps and likely in others that had land available for recreation. Internees recount intramural games for youth at Crystal City, Texas; in the Department of Justice–administered Fort Missoula Internment Camp in Montana, authorities permitted a mixed-nationalities league among Japanese, Italians and Germans. The league proceeded successfully despite animus among the three groups. In a karmic parallel, the same ground for at least 30 years has contained soccer fields managed by the Missoula Parks and Recreation Department.

As a means of cultural exchange between Japan and Hawai‘i, the most important sport might be sumo, according to Jonathan Okamura of the University of Hawai‘i Public Policy Center. Since the 1960s native Hawaiians—Akebono Taro, most notably—have been recruited to join the esteemed sumo ranks, although the eligibility of foreigners has since been limited.

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