Mapping Movement of Japanese-Americans

Russell Lee, photographer, 1942 May. Library of Congress.

Mapping Movement

Frequent movement defined the Japanese-American experience of the mid-twentieth century. Both through force and voluntarily Japanese-Americans had to adjust to new environments quickly as they were removed from their homes, and traveled the world in various capacities. This project outlines the movements of three people over the course of their lives, mapping the injustice and the opportunity that forever altered the trajectory of hundreds of thousands of Japanese-Americans. There was no single path taken but each of these stories represents broader trends of movement before, during, and after World War II.


Japanese in America

On 8 July 1853 Japanese isolation was disrupted by American Commodore Matthew Perry. In the following decades Japan began a campaign of modernization which resulted in many Japanese people emigrating to the United States. For some it was temporary, they desired education or technical training, but for many it was in search of a new permanent home. The first generation Japanese-Americans are called Isseis. This first generation largely settled together, resulting in the creation of immigrant communities throughout the West Coast and Hawaii. Their children were the Nisei, the second generation Japanese-Americans. The Nisei grew up as American children despite certain efforts among the Issei to impart Japanese language and culture onto their children. Some Nisei returned to Japan for a few years for school before returning to the United States but they still considered themselves Americans first. By the outbreak of war there were roughly 300,000 ethnic Japanese living in the United States.


World War II and Internment

On 7 December 1941 however, life for the Japanese-American community changed drastically when the Japanese Navy launched a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. Most Japanese-Americans had family or close friends living in Japan and many Isseis and Niseis alike found themselves angry at Japan for its initiation of war. As the war began suddenly Japanese-Americans found themselves excluded from much of American society. On 19 February 1942 President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, permitting the Secretary of War to establish military zones within the United States in which any Japanese Americans could be removed from and sent to internment camps.


By mid-Summer of 1942 most of the Japanese Americans in California, Oregon, Washington, and Arizona had been relocated to a number of internment camps. Although these camps were justified by the government as necessary for security there were no significant incidences of dangerous actions by Japanese-Americans throughout the war. Despite legal criticism of the constitutionality of these camps Japanese-Americans lived in them for the duration of the war, with some notable exceptions. Only a select few Japanese-American from Hawaii were ever interned, and many internees from the West Coast were given leave from the camps for the purposes of attending college or serving in the military.


However, the end of the war did not mean the end of internment. Many of the internees were not released until nearly a year after the war was over. Most of their homes and property were stolen or destroyed when they finally returned. Internment forced many Japanese-Americans to restart their lives, often in entirely new places.



This project utilizes Google Mymaps, a mapping tool built on Google Maps. Each person’s movement is mapped in a separate layer, to view one simply check the box next to their name. Each of the points are plotted chronologically and broken into different categories by color: Yellow = Before US entry in World War II, Red = Time during internment, Olive = Time in military, Green = During war, non-internment, Purple = Post-War non-military, and Black = Significant universally affective events.


Click here for the map.