Letters of a Couple Interned Apart

Iwao and Hanaye Matsushita were issei (first generation Japanese Americans) who were separated by the doctrine of “military necessity” during World War II. Iwao Matsushita was interned by the Immigration and Naturalization Service as an “enemy alien” at Fort Missoula, Montana while his wife, Hanaye Matsushita, was confined in the War Relocation Authority's Minidoka concentration camp in Idaho. Their letters reveal the pain of that separation instigated and enforced by the U.S. government. Iwao Matsushita was born on January 10, 1892, to Christian parents, while Hanaye was born on March 9, 1898, and because of poverty, her parents left her at an orphanage. Her adoptive parents reared her in the Christian faith, and sent her to a private, Christian school in Tokyo. Hanaye married Iwao on January 22, 1919, and they sailed for Seattle, Washington, in August of that year. At the time, Japanese Americans totaled about 3 percent of Seattle's population, and Iwao worked as a cook, lodging house manager, and Japanese-language schoolteacher. He landed a job with the Japanese firm Mitsui and Company, and prospered with the interwar business boom with the Asian trade accounting for over 70 percent of Seattle's total import and export business. The couple bought a house in 1927, and Iwao taught Japanese-language classes at the University of Washington. Matsushita was a wealthy man on the eve of World War II. After 20 years with Mitsui and Company, he tendered his resignation in 1940, citing his original passion to study English and English literature at the University of Washington. In his resignation letter, Matsushita wrote: “I

enjoy my life in Seattle. I have so many happy memories with nice people—both Japanese and Americans. Especially I enjoy photography and mountain climbing. I have visited Mt. Rainier, my lover, more than 190 times. I cannot leave Seattle when I think of the beautiful views of Mount Rainier.”

[Note: These letters were censored. Forbidden and removed were details of the camp, names of internees, and words and phrases, which censors believed contained hidden messages. Japanese American letter writers knew of that practice, and they wrote their letters with the censors' eyes in mind.]

[The letters begin on December 11, 1941 with Iwao Matsushita's apprehension and detention at Seattle's Immigration Station from where he writes: “We are very comfortable here at the Immigration station …. We have many friends here & not very lonesome at all.” On December 28, 1941, Matsushita writes to his wife to inform her of his arrival at Fort Missoula in Montana following a train ride. “The ground is covered with patches of snow & surrounding mountains are salt-and-peppery. The temperature is freezing & very dry. Please don't worry & take good care of yourself.”]

[On January 3, 1942, Iwao Matsushita writes to “My dear wife”:]

We had a famous Montana blizzard on the 30th evening, but the next day, we had spotless blue sky & bright sunshine. The surrounding undulating hills covered with powder snow were really tempting. Toward evening the full moon was high in the eastern mountains, which was made purple by the setting sun. What a magnificent view it was! I wished I could have seen this scenery with you.

The New Year's day was again bright, but the temperature registered 20 below zero, which means 52 below freezing point. But don't lose your heart, because we really don't feel so cold as you might when you hear about this in Seattle.

We are now accustomed to the temperature here, & when it snows it usually is warm—around 10 above zero….

So please don't worry about my life here, but pray for our happy meeting in the future. Take good care of yourself, & write me sometimes.

Your loving husband Iwao Matsushita.

[On January 8, 1942, Hanaye Matsushita writes:]

My dear husband:

I have received your letters on January 2nd, Friday morning. Am glad to hear from you and thankful to the people who are very kind to you over there. I wish you to be healthy and to trust in God. Keep calm and be in good spirit. This coming 10th is your birthday. Wish you many happy returns from all my heart, especially this year.

I am living fine and healthy. Since you have left, I gained 3 pounds. I am still taking daily cod liver oil which doctor gave to me. Don't worry about me please. I

can manage myself no matter what happens. I am doing things businesslike little by little. I hope peace will come all over the world very soon. Everybody are very kind to me. Pray God day and night. If you want money let me know without hesitate.

Wishing you good health.
Lovingly, Your wife

[In August 1942, Hanaye Matsushita was forcibly removed from her Seattle home and confined in the assembly center at Puyallup, Washington. Later, she was taken to Minidoka concentration camp. She wrote to her husband on August 20, 1942, “My dear husband”:]

On the 15th we left Puyallup and arrived here around four in the afternoon on the 16th. The doctors will stay in Puyallup until the 28th or 29th of next month. Or, at the worst, they'll be sent somewhere else. I'm resigned to try living a bachelor's life. Aunt Kaneko and I are doing well living together. I owe a lot to her. Two or three single women will move in nearby since there are not enough living quarters to go around….

It's unendurably hot and dusty, though eventually I'll get used to it. My body is weak and can only stand so much. I pray to God for strength and tolerance. At times like this I wish day and night for your quick return….

I have many things to tell you, but in the afternoons I am worthless because of the horrible heat. When I dwell on this situation, I have suicidal feelings, but I've got to keep myself together until your return. I imagine you're also experiencing rough times. I have come to understand what it's like to live alone in this world. People tease me, calling me the Montana widow….

I can hear the violent winds blowing across the wide plains. In the distance I hear the sound of sagebrush blowing in the wind, rattlesnakes, and the howling of coyotes.

I'm thankful to this country that we can live here in safety. The soldiers stand guard day and night. I shed tears of sympathy for them standing in the scorching afternoon heat and the evenings that are so cold as to require lighting a fire, for each soldier is someone's son. At night a crescent moon shines brightly, the grandiosity of nature brings tears to my eyes. I need to focus my mind on something. I'll ponder God's benevolence.

The house we are living in now is built for winter and equipped with a new coal stove so we won't die of the cold. We eat at the cafeteria.

Our boxes have yet to arrive, so we have no tables or chairs. I am writing this letter on my lap. We should be settled in a few days. I anxiously await your next letter and pray that your day of return comes soon. Take care of your health. I'll write again.


[A concerned Iwao wrote back to his wife on August 25, 1942.]

Dear Hanaye,

I was happy to receive word of your safe move. I studied the map the other day and learned that you were located far south of us. I imagine it's very hot there. Once you've become used to it, it shouldn't be too bad. Take care of your health, that's of the primary importance.

The number in the camp is gradually diminishing as people are transferred or released to the “outside.” It probably won't be long now. My fate is entirely unknown. Be prepared for the worst, should that happen. [censored] is being transferred, too.

As I have said many times, if you remember that there are many others who are worse off, we'll be able to give thanks no matter what may befall us. If we trust in the Lord, even if we are left alone in the wilderness, we'll not feel any loneliness.

With the lessening population, my chore days come almost daily. However, meals continue to get better. For example, for breakfast we have hot cakes, corn flakes, bologna, and pears, and for dinner miso salmon, cucumber pickles, miso pork, and mixed rice. It's sumptuous. We have movies twice a week. I was reminded of the old days when I saw Sun Valley Serenade and Charley's Aunt.

Reports from other camps indicate that apparently there aren't places that are as good as Missoula. No word can describe the air of the highlands. Snow is still left on Mount Lolo. To be sure, they say there are lots of fireflies in the forest of Louisiana.

My regards to Aunt Kaneko. I'll write again. Please take care.

[Hanaye wrote on September 1, 1942:]

My dear husband:

I received your letter and postcard and am happy to hear that you're doing well. We've finally settled in. It's been cold enough in the mornings and evenings to use the stove….

Aunt has been of great help.

The place where we currently stay has a good view. At night I can hear the rush of the Snake River. It flows rapidly and is apparently quite dangerous. I can see the green grasses on the riverbank. The mornings are especially tranquil.

Uncle should arrive around Friday together with patients….

I feel safe and assured that you'll return soon. Whatever happens, I'll remain calm, so please don't worry. Everyone moving here from Puyallup should be here by Friday. This is going to be a big place. They're constructing a large hospital and

building houses throughout the day in preparation for the winter. The well water is drinkable though it's a bit hard. Since last week I've been able to boil water for laundry.

It seems like only yesterday when we went picking matsutake mushrooms at the end of August last year. It all seems like a dream….

Hiroshi Tada has been sent to a Tacoma hospital with a head-related illness that may be a result of depression. It's really too bad. I am praying for his quick revival. When I feel hopeless and that all is lost, I think of your homecoming to boost my spirits.

Sorry to be using a pencil but I gave Uncle my ink. I hear that snow has fallen in the mountains. I reminisce and wait expectantly for the day when we can sit together in peace and quiet. Peaceful days will return. I pray for everyone's happiness. Take care of yourself. I pray for your safety until the day we can see each other again.


[Hanaye and Iwao Matsushita were finally reunited at Minidoka concentration camp on January 11, 1944. There they remained until August 7, 1945, when Iwao returned to Seattle to reestablish a home and job while Hanaye stayed at Minidoka because of her fragile health. Hanaye left Minidoka on October 2, 1945, and rejoined her husband in Seattle. Hanaye believed her ill health, her thinning hair, and the onset of cancer was in part due to the longstanding anxiety caused by her wartime experience. Hanaye passed away on February 3, 1965, at the age of 66. Iwao followed Hanaye when he died quietly on December 17, 1979.]

Source: Fiset, Louis. Imprisoned Apart: The World War II Correspondence of an Issei Couple. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1997, pp. 25, 113, 114, 117, 118, 167, 168.