A Raw Deal (Part 4) – Adult Education in Japanese Internment Camps (6/10/2022)

Two weeks ago the Friday Footnote explored the vocational agriculture and Future Farmers of America (FFA) presence in the Japanese internment centers of World War II. We discovered both existed in most of the internment centers. This week we will determine if adult education classes in agriculture were taught in the internment camps.

Figure 1. An adult education class in carpentry at Minidoka (ID) Japanese Internment Center.
Photo  from the National Archives and Records Administration Collection.

 Let the Learning Begin

Adult education programs in Japanese internment camps were a valuable addition to camp activities. The classes gave adults a welcome diversion from boredom or menial work. The classes were an opportunity to learn new skills and be challenged to think. And the classes were popular.

Melvin Strong, Director of the Adult Education Department at Manzanar (CA) stated “we have a standing slogan that we will provide a class in almost any subject upon the request of 12 or more students.”  Apparently, that was a real promise. The Manzanar Free Press (October 2, 1943) reported that 2,000 students were in adult education classes this past term.

A January 1, 1943 article in The Topaz Times (UT) reported that sixty-two percent of the 5,254 internees over the age of 18 were enrolled in adult education classes.  Art and flower arranging were the most popular classes. These enrollment figures were not an anomaly.  Enrollment in adult education classes was high at most internment centers.

Perhaps a class in woodworking at the Tule Lake (CA) Internment Center holds the enrollment record. In July of 1942 885 people enrolled in the woodworking class (See Figure 2). But there was a reason for the high enrollment.

Figure 2. Article from the Tulean Dispatch.

When the internment camps first opened, they were still under construction. A barrack to house a group of internees might be finished on one day and internees were moving in the next day. Furnishings inside the barracks were minimal or nonexistent. So that is why the internees at Tule Lake signed up for woodworking. They were going to build their own furnishings.

Who Was in Charge of Adult Education?

The War Relocation Agency (WRA) was created by Executive Order 9066 to oversee the internment centers. The WRA maintained close control of the primary and secondary education programs but did not tightly control the adult education programs. Su (2011, p. 36) writes “the high degree of self-government evident in the planning and staffing of Adult Education programs reflect a rare internee voice in community affairs that were otherwise tightly regulated.”

The national WRA staff set general aims and goals for the adult education programs but the staffing and organization of the adult education programs in each camp was left to the camp administrators and internees.

According to the WRA there were three types of adult education classes:

  1. Preparation for Relocation – a sizable number of the internees were Issie (born in Japan) and had limited English skills or knowledge of America. Thus, classes in English and “Americanization“ were taught for this group.
  2. Self-Improvement – I would classify these classes as career and technical education. These classes taught skills such as sewing, welding, carpentry, typing, agriculture, etc. The skills taught could be used at home or in a career.
  3. Leisurely Pursuits – Courses were taught in music, art, flower arranging and the like. These courses were avocational and helped reduce the drudgery of camp life.

Agricultural Education Adult Classes

I wouldn’t consider an adult class in “Vocational Agriculture” to be particularly newsworthy, but the editor of the Gila News-Courier must have thought it was (See Figure 3). On January 1, 1943 an article was published about this new adult education offering at the Rivers location (there were two “campuses”, Rivers and Butte, in the Gila River Arizona Internment center). This class was designed to prepare internees for work on “the outside” when they were released.  The topics to be covered in the class were dairying, livestock, beef cattle, hogs, and poultry.  I assume the phrase “The course will include specific training” means the adults will get hands-on experience.

Figure 3. Article about an adult education class in agriculture from the Gila News-Courier.

Figure 4. Is this “hands on” learning? Adult education students milking cows in the Gila Internment Center.
Photo from the War Relocation Authority Archives.

Some adult education courses in agriculture were needed for “inside” the internment centers. At the Minidoka Internment Center in Idaho there was a need for internees with farm equipment repair experience. Since most of the internees at Minidoka were relocated from Seattle or Portland, they did not possess these skills.

Because of the rush to open the internment centers the farm equipment collected for the centers (Lillquist, 2010, p. 84) was often “inadequate, inappropriate, or worn out.” Therefore farming operations were slowed by a lack of equipment, facilities, and personnel. “Minidoka enhanced its farm equipment repair capabilities by convincing the Idaho Department of Vocational Education to provide shop equipment and supervisory personnel for an adult education mechanics course.” (Lillquist, 2010, p. 84)

The Adult Education Instructors in the Internment Camps

How good were the adult education instructors at the internment camps? Did the old saying “Beggars can’t be choosers” apply to the adult education instructors?

Su (2011, p, 37) writes “Staff and instructors were drawn almost completely from the interned populations, except for certain English and Americanization teachers. As such, Adult Education programs took on a life of their own and the scope of the program differed widely across centers.”

Just out of curiosity I decided to see what I could learn about the adult education instructors in agriculture at Tule Lake (CA). Was I surprised! What an eye opener. The Daily Tulean Dispatch for August 3, 1942 listed the following agricultural courses for adults:

Course Title Instructor Time
Animal Husbandry George Sakoda 8:30-9:30 AM T Th
Entomology Hiroshi Kido 8:00-9:00 PM W F
Floriculture Yoshimi Shibata 8:00-9:30 AM M W F

7:00-8:30 PM M W F

Flower Arrangement Tatsuo Fujioka 8:00-11:00 AM M T W Th F

1:00-5:00 PM M T W Th F

7:00-10:00 PM F

Plant Pathology Roy Yokote 7:00-8:00 PM W F

9:00-10:00 AM T Th

Soil Fertility Tony Takashima 7:00-9:00 PM T Th

So, let’s check out the instructors.

George Takashi Sakoda taught Animal Husbandy. George was a FFA member at Lodi High School in California in the 1930s. He was third high individual in Weed Identification at the Picnic Day event at UC Davis one year and was third high individual in entomology in another year. He received a B.S. degree in agriculture from UC Berkeley in 1939. His brother, James, wrote that George was a “conscientious student in animal husbandry, and shy of women.” At the age of 29 he was sent to the Tule Lake internment camp where he was the Senior Foreman of the Swine Unit. There were five junior foremen under him.

It appears George was transferred to the Granada internment center in Colorado at some time, probably in 1943. A newspaper article in 1944 indicated that George was an agriculture teacher/FFA advisor at Amache High School. I don’t know where George went after that; I couldn’t find any more information on George other than he died in 2006 at the age of 93.

Figure 5. Article in the Granada Pioneer mentions George Sakoda.

Hiroshi Kido taught entomology. Hiroshi Kido received a B.S. degree in Entomology from the University of California Berkeley in 1942. His B.S. thesis was on the grape bud mite. After the war Hiroshi was a researcher in the Department of Entomology at UC Davis and was a co-author of a long list of publications dealing with pest control. In 1962 he received a Ph.D. in Entomology from the University of California Davis.

Figure 6. From the California Aggie, Volume 97, Number 12 October 1978

Yoshimi Shibata taught floriculture. Shimi (as he was known) had studied soil science and horticulture at UC Berkeley for three years then transferred to Ohio State to specialize in floriculture (specifically roses) but returned to Berkeley after a year to study marketing, accounting, and business law to help run the family nursery. He never received a degree from Berkeley.

After internment Shimi returned to the family nursery and transformed it into the Mt. Eden Floral Company in San Jose, California. He was at the helm of Mt. Eden for 55 years. It was the largest flower growing operation in the United States. He held many important positions and received numerous awards in the floriculture world. In 1983 Shimi started taking college courses from UC Davis and in 1984 at the age of 68 he and his 28 year old son both received B.S. degrees from the College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences. In 2006 he published his memoirs Across Two Worlds: Memoirs of a Nisei Flower Grower. He died in 2015 at the age of 99. A fund has been established in his memory with the American Floral Endowment. There is even a 16 minute video on YouTube. “Yoshimi Shibata: Flower Industry Pioneer.”

Figure 7. Shimi at Mr. Eden. Photo from the YouTube video.

Tatsuo Fujioka taught Flower Arranging. Though born in California his family moved to Japan when he was young. While in Japan Tatsuo studied floral arranging in the Enshu style (school) of floral arranging and received his diploma. Following this training he spent two years in Japan doing research. After returning to the states he established his own school of floral design (Shin Kado) in 1939. Tatsuo was one of the highest regarded floral arrangers in the United States. He was widely sought out to do exhibitions and workshops. The words used to describe him were typically “Professor” and “Master”. He Died in 1975

Figure 8. From the Mill Valley Record, October 16, 1963

Roy Yokote taught Plant Pathology. While in high school (1935) Roy won first place in a science fair for his insect collection. While Roy embraced the science classes his brother was in the FFA and had poultry for a project at Placer High School in California. Roy went to Berkeley to study microbiology, but graduated with a degree in “Agriculture; Chemistry” in 1942 from the University of California Berkeley.

During World War II he was drafted and was a member of the highly decorated 442nd Battalion. Near the end of WWII he was assigned to serve in an Army hospital in Italy and became an x-ray technician. When he returned to the states, he managed a radiology laboratory and became immersed in radiology. Over time he became Chairman of the Radiologic Technology Department at Merritt College in Oakland. In 1975 he published a book Fundamentals of Extremities Radiography. There are five video segments of Roy’s life at Roy Yokote oral history interview, June 28, 2003 · Japanese American Military History Collective (omeka.net). He died in 2011 at the age of 90.

Tony Toshio Takashima taught Soil Fertility. Tony grew up on a berry ranch and raised vegetables near Gresham, Oregon. He graduated from Oregon State University in May of 1942 with a degree in agricultural chemistry. He was able to leave the Tule Lake internment camp early to go to Graduate School. There are conflicting sources about where he went for graduate work. My best guess is Ohio State. In 1943 he was identified as conducting chemical analyses in a paper presented to the Ohio Vegetables and Potato Growers. There are three mentions of him going on food manufacturing field trips in The Lantern (the Ohio State newspaper) in 1946 and 1947. After that I found a reference to him in the 1974 book “Nutrients in Processed Foods” that identified him as the Supervisor of Research and Development at the Kitchens of Sarah Lee in Deerfield, Illinois.

Figure 9. From The Daily Tulean Dispatch, July 24, 1942

So, do you think the adult education instructors in agriculture were qualified? The quality of the adult education instructors at Tule Lake was not a fluke. At the Minidoka (Idaho) Internment Camp in 1943 the camp offered a total of 46 classes in 25 subject areas taught by 27 instructors. All of the instructors were residents of the camp AND all the instructors teaching technical courses had advanced degrees in their respective subjects (Su, 2011).

Concluding Remarks

The running title of this series of Footnotes is “A Raw Deal “and several of the Footnotes truly embody that theme. However we might need to label this Footnote “A Good Deal.” Internees who were in adult education classes often received a world class education. The knowledge and skills they learned were enriching and could be valuable outside of the internment camps.

Albert Einstein said “Once you stop learning, you start dying.” The internees in the camps were still living by taking adult education courses. We should follow their example and search out opportunities for our own professional development.

In Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People book, Habit 7 is “Sharpen the Saw.” This means we need to engage in self renewal. So what are you doing this summer to sharpen your saw?


Lillquist, Karl (Winter, 2010). Farming the Desert: Agriculture in the World War II-Era Japanese-American Relocation Centers. Agricultural History, Vol. 84, No. 1.

Su, Christopher (2011). An Ambitious Social Experiment: Education in Japanese-American Internment Camps, 1942-1945. Massachusetts Institute of Technology.