“Playing American”
Baseball, Loyalty and Identity in
World War II Japanese Relocation Camps


This project seeks to use relocation center newspapers to understand how Japanese-Americans interned during World War II viewed sports–in particular baseball–as markers of identity and “Americanness.” While the connections between baseball and Japanese-American identity have been uncovered by other authors, the availability of a dataset containing the the full text of the newspapers allows for a deeper look into how the sport was framed in a medium specifically meant for relocated Japanese-Americans that also fell under the watchful eye of American military officials.

The research done for this project indicates a nascent understanding by American military authorities to foreground sports as a means to qualify “Americanness” and the value of sports in occupying the attention of an unhappy population. This eventually manifested in the immediate postwar era in efforts to rebuild Japan along American lines by reintroducing baseball.

Conceptually, this project is meant as a means to think through how to utilize digital methods in tandem with traditional history, marrying the traditional research and writing expected of a monograph with digital elements. It is also seeking to draw connections between previous personal research on the topic of baseball in U.S. – Japan relations and to develop skills in presenting research in a digital format.

A great debt is owed to Erin Bush for her article “Attracted to the Khaki: War Camps and Wayward Girls in Virginia, 1918–1920” which served as the model for this project. Additionally, Cameron Blevin’s article on his project  “Space, Nation, and the Triumph of Region” proved invaluable in how to think about methodology and approach newspaper data.


After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, 110000 to 120000 Japanese and Japanese-Americans residing along the Pacific Coast of the United States were relocated to 10 internment camps in the American Midwest as part of Executive Order 9066, signed by President Roosevelt in February 1942. Much of the security concerns arose from the Ni’ihau incident in Hawaii. Shortly after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, a Japanese pilot ditched his plane on the small Hawaiian island of Ni’ihau. Three Hawaiians of Japanese descent attempted to aid the pilot in an escape. This alarmed US officials who saw the incident as proof that Americans of Japanese would side with Japan as the war progressed. However, despite relocation on the mainland the governor of Hawaii refused similar measures. Several government reports complied before the outbreak of war declared the chances of anti-US activity by people of Japanese descent were minimal. These reports were not taken into consideration by Army officials when the authorization to relocate people of Japanese descent was handed down from President Roosevelt. While relocation was confined to the Pacific region of the U.S., due to immigration patterns this impacted the majority of people of Japanese descent in America. German and Italians were also within the parameters of Order 9066 but were not targeted except for a small number of individuals. Notably, American government sources today claim relocation was also intended to “to protect persons of Japanese descent from harm at the hands of Americans who had strong anti-Japanese attitudes.” 1

The Japanese relocated were a wide cross section of Americans. They included Issei, first generation immigrants who typically retained Japanese citizenship, Nisei, the second generation with American citizenship, Sansei, the third generation who were almost entirely young children, and Kibei, Japanese-Americans who were educated in Tokyo. Within these broad categories were women, young men and the elderly. The relocated people were of a broad range of social standing, including wealthy landowners, middle class professionals, and poor farmworkers. The relocated were forced to leave behind their homes and most of their possessions, many of which they were never able to recover after the war. The relocation camps were hastily and poorly constructed, with some early assembly centers dorms being former stables. Life in the relocation centers was difficult and generally unpleasant due to weather and substandard housing.

While the United States government eventually issued an apology and paid reparations, the targeting of Japanese-Americans continued a legacy of unequal treatment for people of Asian descent in America.

Note: The term relocation has become more prominent in the literature on the internment of Japanese-Americans.

The Dataset

Shortly after the establishment of the relocation camps, newspapers began to appear. The first paper appeared in the Manzanar War Relocation Center in April 1942, a month after the establishment of the camp. This dataset collects the text of newspapers from the 10 camps. While the majority of camp newspapers were in English, some newspapers were published in Japanese to cater to the issei and kibei who could often not read English. However due to the intrinsic difficulties in machine reading Japanese characters they are missing from the dataset.

As the dataset was transcribed with optical character recognition, there are a substantial number of spelling errors along with word fragments, random letter groupings and incomprehensible text. Although these irregularities were surmountable for the work done for this project, it did demonstrate a common problem to keep in mind when dealing with machine read data.

While there was communication and some travel between the relocation centers, the newspapers were produced independently of each other. This adds regional variation to the terminology and the unique voice of the writers to the language of the dataset.

Performing “Americaness”: Leisure, Identity, and Baseball

Baseball art by a student at the Manzanar center.
Artwork by a student at the Manzanar school.

The shock of being label “enemy aliens” and relocated from their homes and lives was traumatic for the relocated Japanese-Americans. They were cut off from friends and the lives they understood while having their very identity questioned. How relocated Japanese responded to this shock has been discussed in the literature on internment. Baseball provides a lens to understand how relocated Japanese attempted to re-establish a sense of normalcy while also “performing” American identity. Eiichiro Azuma notes that nisei were especially impacted by relocation, as they faced suspicion and confusion in Japan due to their American upbringing and racism in the United States due to their Japanese heritage. 2

As the residents of the relocation centers had a great deal of “enforced leisure,” military officials sought to use direct the energies of the population towards entertainment as friction and discontent could arise from sheer boredom. 3

Some young Nisei men opted to join the US military to prove their loyalty. However, the option for military service was only available to men. Women, children, older men and noncitizens were unable and at times unwilling to join the American armed forces. Baseball was a means to connect to normal times while also partaking in what was considered the quintessential American past time, despite the fact baseball was very popular in Japan as well. As the relocation camps were under military jurisdiction, it should be noted that the newspapers were subject to wartime censoring and the population under military surveillance. Hence, writers were aware that their articles would be screened by military officials. This knowledge undoubtedly impacted the way writers described baseball and “Americanness” in the newspapers, although rising discontent in the centers would manifest in demonstrations and riots by 1942.

A Dr. Suess poliical cartoon.
A political cartoon by Theodor Seuss Geisel insinuated all Japanese in California were potential saboteurs. Waiting for the signal from home…, February 13, 1942, Dr. Seuss Political Cartoons. Special Collection & Archives, UC San Diego Library

The Research Question

In conducting the background research for this project, several intriguing points came to light. Originally this project aimed to look at the entirety of the dataset to examine the terminology used in discussing baseball and if it related to ideas of Americanness and re-affirming identity. Upon further research, it was clear that this approach was following the same path as the American government in 1942–treating the dataset and the relocated Japanese as an undifferentiated whole. As an example, the relocated included kibei, American-born but educated in Japan who at times had very little experience with American culture, and Japanese-American high school students who attempted to keep their lives normal by holding socials and dances.

By looking a smaller slice of the dataset, comparisons could be made between centers. This is possible due to the makeup of the camps. The population of most centers were regionally based. To illustrate, the Manzanar center population was drawn mostly from the Los Angeles area. The Tule Lake Relocation Center was designated for Japanese and Japanese-Americans considered “disloyal.” This definition was extremely broad, including those who refused to answer a loyalty question, elderly Japanese afraid of being stripped of their Japanese citizenship with no guarantee of being able to stay in America, and those who answered negatively. Over time nearly 20000 “suspect” Japanese were interned at Tule Lake, predominantly young men taken from the other nine centers. By comparing the reporting in the Tule Lake papers to those in Manzanar, perhaps the most well known relocation center, it is possible that distinct differences can be seen in use of language at the intersection of baseball and identity. At the same time, it is also highly possible there will be no discernible differences as the criteria for “disloyalty” was broad and clumsily applied.

Determining Loyalty

Before the outbreak of war, American authorities we already concerned with the possibility that Japanese-Americans could pose a security risk. The State Department commissioned a survey through a private citizen named Curtis B. Munson. Munson reported that Japanese Americans were ‘‘universally estimated from 90 to 98% loyal to the United States if the Japanese educated element of the Kibei is excluded.” 4 The summary of the report submitted to President Roosevelt agreed with Munson; the cover memorandum to Munson’s report stated ‘few’ Japanese in the United States were dangerous, ‘and ‘[f ]or the most part the local Japanese are loyal to the United States or, at worst, hope that by remaining quiet they can avoid concentration camps or irresponsible mobs.” 5 Separate Office of Naval Intelligence and FBI investigations came to similar conclusions.

After the attack on Pearl Harbor, several voices within the U.S. continued to agree with the earlier findings. However, historian Eric Muller pins the ultimate decision to relocate Japanese-Americans on U.S. Army officers. Authority for relocation was given to Lt. General John L. Dewitt, who justified his decision to relocated Japanese but not Germans or Italians on racial grounds.

“The Japanese race is an enemy race and while many second and third generation Japanese born on United States soil, possessed of United States citizenship, have become ‘Americanized,’ the racial strains are undiluted.” 6

Hence, racist considerations overtook the prewar reports and surveys. Upon initial relocation to assembly centers, Japanese-Americans were required to fill out Form DSS 304A, the “Statement of United States Citizen of Japanese Ancestry”–more colloquially referred to as the “Loyalty Questionnaire.” The document comprised 28 questions asking about languages spoken, education levels, and family connections. Question 19 is especially relevant for this study as it asks about sports and hobbies. The inclusion of a question about sports is intriguing and connects to the central idea of this project, that baseball was viewed as a means to identify a connection with America and American values. The question signals a potential interest by American authorities in using leisure activities as a means to determining the level of attachment the United States and to Japan by relocated peoples. Traditional Japanese activities such as kendo, ikebana and calligraphy were bound to compared unfavorably to American pasttimes such as baseball. Kendo, the traditional Japanese fencing sport, was closely linked to the Japanese military during this era and referred to as the “national Japanese sport” in newspapers. 7

In late 1941, reports from Japan stated a Physical Education Council approved a resolution recommending banning baseball in favor of cultivating “native” sports and athletics. 8 With Tokyo’s continuing and aggressive rejection of Western culture in the 1930s in favor of “traditional” Japanese culture, affinity for the game was arguably construed as going against the will of the Japanese government and a sign of independence. However, the baseball resolution was a recommendation by a private organization and did not impact high school sports or the Japanese professional league, although wartime pressures forced a hiatus in 1944-1945.

The pertinent questions from the questionnaire are as follows:

Question 19: “Sports and hobbies.”

Question 27: “Are you willing to serve in the armed forces of the United States on combat duty, wherever ordered?”

Question 28: “Will you swear unqualified allegiance to the United States and faithfully defend the United States from any or all attack by foreign or domestic forces, and forswear any form of allegiance or obedience to the Japanese emperor, or any other foreign government, power or organization?”

Japanese-Americans and Japanese who answered negatively to question 27 OR 28 were eventually segregated and sent to the Tule Lake center. This is relevant, as Tule Lake internees proved to have similar numbers of positive answers to 28 as other centers, which argues for the problematic nature of the two part question. Young men who answered negatively to both questions were nicknamed “no-no boys.” The question of gender is also raised in the questionnaire, as women could not serve in combat duty and hence were excluded from the chance to “prove” their loyalty.

The questionnaires themselves would be an superb resource for extending this project although preliminary research finds not all the forms were preserved. Further study of these documents, particularly Question 19, would enhance the framing of sports as a marker of Americanness in the minds of American military officials.

Manzanar War Relocation Center

Manazanar was the first relocation center for Japanese-Americans. Initially designated a temporary assembly center, Manzanar was upgraded to a permanent relocation center in June 1942.

The Manzanar newspaper was the Manzanar Free Press which ran from April 11, 1942 to September 8, 1945.

Tule Lake Relocation Center

Among the relocation centers, Tule Lake is unique as it was designated as the center for disloyal or suspect Japanese and Japanese-Americans. Over the course of relocation, suspect Japanese were sent to Tule Lake from other centers, which swelled the population to a high of 18789.

The Tule Lake newspaper, the Tulean Dispatch, ran from June 15, 1942 to October 30, 1943. During the course of this project no official indication has been found as to why the newspaper had a shorter run than Manzanar’s paper. However, due to rising unrest among the center’s population, the U.S. Army imposed martial law in November 1943 which is a likely reason for the shutdown of the press. The imposition of marital law also curtailed leisure activities such as baseball. The dataset includes newspapers from August 1942 to September 1943.

Visualizing Difference

In order to keep the timeframe being studied consistent, this the visualizations and analysis for this project will focus on newspapers from Manzanar and Tule Lake from August 1942 to September 1943. That martial law at Tule Lake also halted recreational activities such as baseball further complicates research using this dataset past October 1943.

Two visualizations highlight the most frequently used terms for Tule Lake (top) and Manzanar (bottom) after minor additions to the Stopword list in Voyant.

Tule vizualization

Manazar visualization

At first look, the two corpora share a good number of similar terms, which is to be expected given the relatively similar conditions of relocation center life under military control. Of interest are two terms. The first is “league” which appears in both visualization and suggests a link to sports. The term “American” appears in the Manzanar visualization but not Tule Lake. Turning to look first specifically at the frequency of the terms “American”, “America” and “United States” a distinct difference appears between the two newspapers.

Manzanar: American 905, America 221, United States 263

Tule Lake: American 218, America 46, United States 64

Moving to baseball, another considerable difference can be seen.

Manzanar: baseball 151

Tule Lake: baseball 41

These results are in line with initial projections based on the camp populations. From the text analysis, the residents of Tule Lake wrote less about America in the newspapers. The Tule Lake residents may have little to gain in discussing the United States, as the omnipresent Army presence had already judged them as suspect. It should be noted that privileges such as travel outside the centers and relocation to be with friends and family were available upon approval by the military authorities. Anger at their situation and at the United States government provides a reasonable explanation for the limited discussion of America in the Tule Lake newspaper.

The lack of news on baseball is surprising however, as sports has been noted as a means used by the military to keep boredom from escalating into unrest. It would stand to reason this was especially true with the demographics of Tule Lake. Another text analysis of three other sports reveals the trend continues beyond baseball.

Manzanar: football 131, kendo 18, volleyball 162,

Tule Lake: football 11, kendo 0, volleyball 16

What to make of this? One possibility is that the population of Tule Lake was under tighter scrutiny than Manzanar. The eventual suspension of baseball due to martial law at Tule Lake suggests that revoking privileges was a tactic used at Tule Lake. Lastly, the newspapers were community organizations, so the bias of the writers and editors could play a role in the language used. In the hothouse environment of Tule Lake,  the newspaper could serve as the mouthpiece for vocal leaders–which also may have contributed to the shutdown of the paper in 1943. Tule Lake had over double the population of Manzanar, so it is unlikely that there was insufficient activity at the center.

To try and answer this issue, it is time to circle back to the term “league.”

Manzanar: league 994

Tule Lake: league 484

Manzanar league
Tule Lake League

The links visualization reveals the high frequency of “American” in the Manzanar paper is at least partly related to the word league itself with the appearance of the connection to “national.” The July 22, 1942 edition of the Manzanar Free Press including this quote.

“FROM THE GLENDALE PRESS Carroll W. Parcher of the Glendale News Press has this to say of our sport page: “The sports section is perhaps the most eagerly read part of the paper, be-cause it contains box scores and stories of the baseball games participated in by the 180 teams in the 10 or more leagues which have been formed.” Well fans, see you at the ball games.”

This was four months after the establishment of the newspaper and six months after the issuing of Order 9066. Searching through the newspapers find that National and American were the names of two of the ten leagues. The first 50 occurrences of American in the Manzanar paper are references to the Relocation American League. Taking a look at the names of two other leagues, similar results as with “American” can be seen between Manzanar and Tule Lake.

Manzanar: kitchen 339, Owen 119

Tule Lake: kitchen 27, Owen 0

Note: One of the leagues was the Civil Liberties League, which at the least showed a sense of humor and a small way to comment on the relocation.

Tule Lake’s use of the word league is very much in line with reporting on local baseball. The text analysis suggests that the residents of Tule Lake were invested in baseball but appear disinclined to reference other leagues. This can also be a result of the unique voice of the Tule Lake newspaper writers and their choices in language. However, this possibility was anticipated.  The questions raised by this require deeper reading into the newspapers. A comparison of all the centers is also in order..

It is here that the value of text analysis for the project is visible, as this analysis has provided a direction for further inquiry and new questions to ask of the text.

Conclusions and Future Directions

Manzanar and Tule Lake displayed different approaches toward writing about baseball. Although the newspapers had no shortage of commentary, the reporting on baseball stuck to scores, standings and analysis. The expected connections to identity were not readily visible. However, Tule Lake reported did display a tendency towards insularity, referencing the other leagues of the much less frequently than Manzanar. This in itself may point to the Tule Lake population seeing themselves as apart from the rest of the relocated Japanese-Americans.

The most compelling discovery from the research for this project is the indication that sports were a factor being considered by American military officials in determining loyalty. While most of the writing on Japanese relocation and baseball ties the experience of Japanese-Americans with identity, writing on the role of the military in encouraging baseball is minimal. This provides an unexpected connection to previous research which pointed to a very rapid push towards rebuilding ties with Japan through sports by Occupation authorities. That American authorities had a form of limited experience with sports and the Japanese-American population of relocation centers, either as a means to reinforce American values or as a means to quell potential unrest, points to the need for further research on sports and postwar military planning. Future planned research into American military base newspapers should provide additional information on the role of the military in managing baseball in the postwar era. The experience gained in working with machine read newspaper text will be extremely useful in this regard.

The use of Voyant and textual analysis proved to be a useful exercise in comparing Tule Lake to Manzanar and bringing new connections to light. For the moment, this foray into digital methods has helped inform the direction of research into baseball and U.S. – Japan relations. While this has helped in understanding how to develop the textual analysis into a substantial part of an article, it also shows the need for more practice and the use of additional tools to foreground the digital aspects of this research. Unlike a literature analysis, the information revealed by the textual analysis required additional research and contextualization in order to make sense.

Data Curation Record

This data is composed of the scanned contents of newspapers from Japanese relocation camps from 41 different periodicals spanning from April 1942 to September 1945.

The data is OCR in plain text format in txt. Misspellings and corrupted word fragments are due to the machine reading.

Type, Format, Extent, Size

The dataset is composed of 145 txt files with an Excel index totaling 116MB.

Filenaming Conventions

The general filename convention is GDSC001580002600.txt in increments of 100 in the final four digits.


No modifications were made to the original data sets as the size of the, as even when reduced to the Tule Lake and Manzanar the amount of text was substantial.

Methods & Tools

Text analysis was the through Voyant. Word frequency and collocation was used to attempt to determine the relationship between baseball and ideas of American identity.


Azuma, Eiichiro. Between Two Empires: Race, History, and Transnationalism in Japanese America. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.

Daniels, Roger. Prisoners Without Trial: Japanese Americans in World War II. New York: Hill and Wang, 1993.

Eisen, George and David K. Wiggins, eds. Ethnicity and Sport in North American History and Culture. Westport: Greenwood Press, 1994.

Grant, Kimi Cunningham. Silver like Dust: One Family’s Story of America’s Japanese Internment. New York: Pegasus Books, 2011.

Guthrie-Shimizu, Sayuri. Transpacific Field of Dreams. How Baseball Linked the United States and Japan in Peace and War. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2012.

Muller, Eric. American Inquisition: The Hunt for Japanese American Disloyalty in World War II. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007.

Smith, Page. Democracy on Trial: Japanese American Evacuation and Relocation in World War II. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995.

Whitting, Robert. You Gotta Have Wa. New York: Macmillan, 1989.


1. National Archives. “Japanese Relocation During World War II.” Archive.gov. https://www.archives.gov/education/lessons/japanese-relocation

2. Azuma, 113.

3. Eisen, 122.

3. Muller, 15.

4. Muller, 15-16

5. Muller, 16.

6. “Kendo, Japanese Sports, Holds Spotlight at Nisei Festival.” Los Angeles Times, Aug. 25, 1941. p. A3

7. “On the Line: Baseball–and other things–End in Japan.” Washington Post, Aug. 10, 1941, p. 52.