Japanese Internment Camps Featured Baton Twirling Lessons (1942-1945)
Majorettes at Manzanar, a Japanese Internment Camp in California, were captured by photographer Toyo Miyatake. This photo appears in a 2022 National Geographic article and on the Owens Valley History website. The majorettes were part of the Manzanar High School Baton Club. The photo was originally featured in the high school yearbook.
In 1942, more than 125,000 Japanese and Japanese American people were declared “enemy aliens” and forcibly relocated and incarcerated in internment camps across the United States. Half of them were children and youth. The action, which was deemed a “military necessity”, occurred during World War II following an Executive Order signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
The prisoners were not freed until 1945. During their incarceration, they lived in uninsulated barracks furnished only with coal-burning stoves and cots. Hot water was usually limited and everyone shared common bathroom and laundry facilities. The camps were surrounded by barbed wire and patrolled by guards who were instructed to shoot anyone who tried to leave.
After the war, they fought for and won reparations for their losses, which included property and businesses.
Baton Twirling at Japanese Internment Camps
According to several reliable sources, including National Geographic, Japanese children and youth were taught baton twirling in the camps along with other activities like baseball. One research explained that these activities were attempts to Americanize the prisoners. Here is an excerpt from that research:
A wealth of photos from the camps was by then available — though overwhelmingly of internees enjoying “all-American” activities such as baseball, swing dance, baton-twirling, and Scouting. That was no accident, Muramoto discovered. “The War Relocation Authority, which oversaw the incarceration of Japanese Americans in concentration camps,” worked consciously on “Americanizing the Japanese Americans,” she explains. With war hysteria at a high after the attack on Pearl Harbor, and Japanese Americans’ loyalty in question, even the Japanese American Citizens League, a civil-rights organization, “was trying to encourage everyone to be more American.” Fearing FBI raids, persecution, even deportation, some destroyed musical scores and correspondence Japanese that might link them too closely with Japan. Source
Farewell to Manzanar
In 1973, Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston wrote a memoir about her experiences in one of the internment camps, Manzanar, which was located east of the Sierras in California’s high mountain desert country.
Farewell to Manzanar covers Jeanne and her family before, during and after their relocation to the camp. Chapters 12 and 13 feature her experiences with baton twirling lessons and as a member of the Manzanar High School Baton Club. Also, Chapter 20.
The San Francisco Chronicle named the book one of the twentieth century’s 100 best nonfiction books from west of the Rockies. It will be released in paperback in December 2023.
In 1976, Farewell to Manzanar became a made-for-TV movie starring Yuki Shimoda, Nobu McCarthy, James Saito and Pat Morita of Karate Kid fame. Click here to watch the first 20 minutes via YouTube. The movie is also available for purchase from Janm for $24.95.
Don’t Fence Me In
The above photo appears in a current exhibit, Don’t Fence Me In: Coming of Age in America’s Concentration Camps, at the National Japanese American Museum. It explores the experiences of Japanese American youth who asserted their place as young Americans confronting the injustice of being imprisoned in World War II concentration camps and embarking on the universal journey into adolescence. The exhibit runs through October 2023.
Photo Detail: High School majorette in parade at Amache concentration camp in Granada, Colorado, 1942–1945
Fresno Assembly Center, 1942 (California)
Fresno Assembly Center, Fresno, California.
1. “On the boards and on the ground young girls learn how to twirl the baton expertly.”
2. “Photograph shows young Japanese American girls learning baton twirling during forced removal of Japanese Americans to temporary concentration camps during World War II.”
Required Citation: United States Army. Signal Corps. (1942) Fresno Calif. Assembly Center — on the boards and on the ground young girls learn how to twirl the baton expertly. California Fresno, 1942. [Photograph] Retrieved from the Library of Congress
Fumiye Sasaki, 1943 (Minidoka, Idaho)
Fumiye Sasaki was photographed twirling her baton in front of the American flag at a Japanese Internment Camp in Minidoka, Idaho, 1943. The camp at Minidoka held Japanese and Japanese Americans from Seattle, Portland, Puyallup Valley and Alaska.
Jerome Relocation Center, 1943 (Arkansas)
Japanese and Japanese-American children dance and twirl batons at a patriotic celebration at Jerome Relocation Center, Denson, Arkansas, 1943. Source
Florence Kuwata, 1943 (Manzanar, California)
The famous photographer Ansel Adams photographed Florence Kuwata while she practiced with two batons at the Manzanar Relocation Center, 1943.
Required Citation: Adams, A., photographer. (1943) Baton practice, Florence Kuwata, Manzanar Relocation Center / photograph by Ansel Adams. California Manzanar, 1943. [Photograph] Retrieved from the Library of Congress.
Manzanar High School Yearbook
A page from the Manzanar High School Yearbook, 1944, features the Baton Club. The girl on the far right in the second row is reportedly Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston. The internment camps housed public schools for internees.
Citation: This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
Manzanar High School Yearbook
In 1967, more than 20 years after Japanese and Japanese-Americans were freed from the internment camps, baton twirling was introduced to Japan. We could not find any evidence linking baton twirling lessons in the camps to the introduction of the sport in Japan.
In August 2023, Japan won the World Cup in baton twirling at the International Baton Twirling Federation’s World Championship, Liverpool, England.