'There is Still Hope': The Aftermath of Pearl Harbor for the Iwata Family

19 May 2021

History | Politics | War and Conflict

This blog includes temporary free access to correspondence published in Migration to New Worlds. Click on the images below to view these items for free until 18th June 2021.


With a rich collection of oral histories, diaries and correspondence, Migration to New Worlds  tells the stories of individuals who have moved to build a life in North America and Australasia. This resource holds a fascinating collection of letters from the Iwata family highlighting the devastating aftermath of the attack on Pearl Harbor for Japanese Americans in the US.

Shigezo and Sonoko Iwata met in 1937 on a prearranged date and were engaged on the same night, but this arrangement was swiftly broken by their families. They married six months later without their parents blessing, and settled in California, where they raised a family.

In March 1942, following the attack on Pearl Harbor, Shigezo Iwata was arrested by the FBI and taken to an internment camp. Over the next two years, the couple wrote to one another, offering a poignant and deeply personal glimpse into their lives as they navigated their time apart.

Sonoko’s early letters as she desperately tries to find some more information on her husband highlight the challenges of bringing up their young children and dealing with the uncertainty of their situation. Her first letters show that keeping Shigezo’s presence in the home is at the forefront of her mind, especially as their youngest child hasn’t quite reached their first birthday.

 

‘We found several of your portrait-like pictures that you didn’t seem to like very much, but we’ve placed one on the baby’s dresser anyway and it seems as if you are near us. Masahiro remarked that you seem to be smiling and Misao repeats “I like Daddy” whenever she looks at it.’

 

Sonoko Iwata to Shigezo Iwata After He was Taken into Custody by the FBI © Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.

 

Letters follow the family as the children grow, with one child starting school and their youngest child learning to walk. Sonoko captures the little moments alongside these events, commenting on updates from their friends and neighbours and their daily routines. The detail and warmth in this collection builds a vivid portrait of their family, with moments of humour and joy relayed alongside the grief and difficulty of their separation.

A common thread throughout this collection is the difficulty in securing his release, and the volume of paperwork required to confirm his status as a US citizen. Letters document various appeals processes, struggles to find referees and requests for Shigezo to join the family at the relocation camp. In one letter from 1942, Sonoko responds to the news that her husband will not be joining them at the relocation camp.

 

‘Till the last I had hopes that you would return and even though things are as they are now, something is there that leads me on. You probably think I would be the hardest hit and it was quite a blow, but there is still hope and I’ll do whatever I can to help you.’

 

Sonoko Iwata to Shigezo Iwata Regarding the News That He Will Not be Allowed to Join Them at the Relocation Camp © Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.

 

Shigezo Iwata was finally reunited with his family in 1943, although their release was not approved until 1945. The full collection of correspondence, including diaries, certificates and legal documents, is available in Migration to New Worlds.


For more information on Migration to New Worlds, including free trial access and price enquiries, please email us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

About the Author

Natalie Dale

Natalie Dale

Since joining Adam Matthew in January 2018, I have worked on some fascinating collections, including Colonial America, Shakespeare's Globe Archive, Sex and Sexuality and Foreign Office Files for South East Asia. I have a Masters in Literature and Creative Writing from Aberystwyth University and my interests include gender studies, literature and theatre.