Title: "Japanese Pack Their Own Firewood," Seattle Times, 5/6/1942, (ddr-densho-56-787)
Densho ID: ddr-densho-56-787

Japanese Organize Own Government at Puyallup

Although the Army's assembly center in Puyallup for Japanese evacuees has been occupied for only a few days, its population is increasing like that of a gold-rush town, and it already has a mayor, a local government, several postmasters, street signs, and the beginning of a newspaper.

The main street along wooden barracks in which 2,179 Seattle Japanese now are living, bears a sign "Burma Road." Mess halls are named Jackson Cafe, Spike's Cafe, and Blanc's Cafe. The mayor, a young attorney named William Mimbu, has an office and two stenographers. The camp had a dance last Saturday night. There was no orchestra but all the portable radios around were set up in a mess hall and tuned to the same station.

Puyallup's Population Doubled

The Seattle Japanese, first to arrive in Puyallup, are quartered in what is known as Area A -- a 19-acre parking lot across the street from the Western Washington Fair Grounds.

Eventually there will be 8,000 Japanese occupying four assembly areas, almost exactly doubling the population of Puyallup. As yet, all but Area A, which the Japanese have named Camp Harmony, are empty. When their people arrive, methods which the Seattle Japanese worked out will be used to settle them.

The Japanese themselves are handling all the diverse problems which arise when thousands of people are moved from their homes to camps with only a minimum of belongings. The 2,000 occupants of Camp Harmony were moved into it in a week, with more than 1,500 people and their baggage arriving in two consecutive days.

Three hundred people, mostly men, arrived first. They included the mayor, named by the Japanese American Citizens' League, six section leaders who are heads of six divisions of the camp, crews of six mess hall and details to handle baggage, wood, and a postmaster for each section.

All this work is voluntary.

The "mayor" handled hundreds of complaints in his first week in office. Roofs leaked; children strayed; because a canteen was not yet built, residents could not buy cigarettes, razor blades and other incidentals. There was a lack of hot water in the laundry. There was mud in the streets when it rained.

But, Mimbu said, most of the complaints were only those associated with settling into new homes and a new routine. All of Camp Harmony's population, he says, have volunteered for tasks which must be done in the camp and have done them well.

Expert Cooks Prepare Meals

Cooks from many Seattle restaurants prepare the meals for Camp Harmony. Best known probably is Joe Shiga, who was chef at Blanc's Cafe for 23 years. His mess hall bears the sign Blanc's Cooks get Army rations to prepare for adults. Each mess hall, however, has special meals for children from 2 to 14 years old, and other food for infants under a year.

Japanese who have not yet been evacuated have been acting as buyers for those who have, and have been going back and forth between the camp and Puyallup stores with ice cream cones, fruit, cigarettes, and other incidentals which will be on sale inside the camp as soon as its conteen [canteen] opens.

Younger Japanese children at Camp Harmony think the place is marvelous -- it hasn't any school yet and every day is like vacation. Their parents aren't so enthusiastic about the no-school idea, but most of them are treating their stay in camp as a vacation, and are performing their chores in the same spirit as if they were on a camping trip.

Quarters are about the size of those in a tourist cabin. If a family is too big for one room, the wooden partition between two is opened and more room provided. They are scantily furnished. Each has a stove, beds and a table. But most families brought camp chairs, radios and other small comforts with them.


[Photo caption]: Everybody works at the Puyallup camp for evacuated Japanese. Since all the camp's stoves are wood burners, every family has developed a tremendous interest in wood deliveries made at street ends in trucks. A volunteer wood detail unloads the truck, but after that its every man (and woman) for himself. Other volunteer details work on camp's streets and handle baggage of incoming evacuees.

[Photo caption]: Although restricted to their camp area at the Army's assembly center at Puyallup, Japanese evacuees have their own government. William Mimbu, attorney and the camp's chief executive, has an office and two stenographers -- Ruth Ogawa (left) and Cherry Tanaka.

[Photo caption]: Japanese cooks at the Puyallup assembly center prepare all the meals eaten by evacuees. Joe Shiga, shown here, for 23 years a cook at Blanc's Cafe, runs the kitchen in one of the camp's mess halls. He has named his mess hall "Blanc's."