The Iwata Internment Experience: What Is A Personal Essential?

Home Education Unit Plans Japanese American Internment The Iwata Internment Experience: What Is A Personal Essential?

The Iwata Internment Experience: What Is A Personal Essential?

One family affected by the Executive Order 9066 was the Iwatas of Thermal, CA.  As a former martial arts teacher, Shigezo Iwata was arrested by the FBI at 4:30 p.m., March 11, 1942. He was first taken to Santa Fe, New Mexico on March 14th, and then to Lordsburg, New Mexico, on the 20th. His wife Sonoko was left with their three children, Miki (age 1), Misao (age 2), and Masahiro (age 3) and no knowledge of her husband’s whereabouts. In May 1942, Sonoko herself and her three children were evacuated to Poston Relocation Center in Arizona.  During their forced separation from March 1942 to July 1943, the Iwatas exchanged more than one hundred letters. This lesson includes some of the most extraordinary letters that Sonoko wrote to her husband Shigezo to keep him abreast of familial affairs.

Essential Questions

How does continuity and change within the United States history influence your community today?
What role does analysis have in historical construction?


Students will be able to:

  • Evaluate the government’s decision to intern Japanese Americans by discussing the effects, constitutionality, and sociopolitical aspects of the act.
  • Develop political and social consciousness on connections between political decisions and everyday life by analyzing primary source material to understand the effects of Executive Order 9066 on Japanese Americans.
  • Gain understandings about people with different experiences and empathize with their situation by writing a letter about Japanese Internment to President Roosevelt through the lens of a Japanese American in 1942.

Other Materials

Suggested Instructional Procedures

  1. Teachers should start this lesson by providing some background information on Japanese American Internment during World War II through a very short period of direct instruction. Present Executive Order 9066 and Exclusion Order No. 34.
  2. Write the world “alien” on the board, and ask students to take 30 seconds and brainstorm the meaning of this word. Teachers should emphasize the meaning of the world in the context of Japanese Internment. Pass around selected Itawa Family Photographs. Ask students “Do these people look like aliens?”
  3. Have students read Executive Order 9066, either individually or on pairs.  After students finish reading Executive Order 9066, teachers should guide a conversation about the document. Questions include:
    • What is President Roosevelt authorizing in this order?
    • This Executive Order gave permission to the military to establish military zones anywhere in the United States, not specifically mentioning the internment of Japanese. What effects did the order have on the nation?
    • What effect did the order have on Japanese-Americans?
    • Is the establishment of domestic military zones constitutional? Which constitutional amendments did Japanese Internment break?
    • Related to Japanese American internment and wartime hysteria were negative and ignorant attitudes toward Japanese and Asian American difference. Internment was possible in part because of widely held attitudes that Japanese Americans were more "Japanese" than "American" and thus a threat to national security. Although the United States of America is a country of immigrants, and often touts it diversity as a strength, many Americans also consider their country a “melting pot” that expects difference nationalities to merge into one community. Where does the respect for diversity end and where does necessary assimilation start?  Who decides how much diversity is enough and how much assimilation is insufficient? How does this balance change when the nation perceives an external threat?
  4. Split students up into groups and give each group one of three different letters: Sonoko Iwata to Shigezo Iwata, April 10, 1942; Shigezo Iwata to Sonoko Iwata, June 18, 1942; and Sonoko Iwata to Shigezo Iwata, March 5, 1943.
  5. As a class read the letter “Sonoko Iwata to Shigezo Iwata, June 10, 1942” aloud. Ask the following questions:
    • Who are the Sonoko and Shigezo Iwata? How much do you know about them by reading their letters?
    • Think about what your essential are. What would you bring or leave behind, if you were in the Iwata’s shoes?
    • How were Japanese Americans like the Iwatas evacuated from their homes and interned in camps? What effect did this have on their personal lives?
  6. Instruct students to place themselves in the shoes of a Japanese American who was interned in 1942 and write a letter to President Roosevelt about their feelings about internment. Instruct students to reference primary source material studied in class, especially the legislation that legalized internment.


Alien: belonging to a foreign nation; unfamiliar
Internment: confinement to a prison or camp during wartime
Espionage: the act of spying
Executive Order 9066: an executive order issued by President Franklin D. Roosevelt which authorized the Secretary of State to authorize the establishment of military zones in the United States which allowed for the relocation of Japanese people to internment camps

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