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All Manzanar photographs are from the National Archives Registry unless otherwise noted. Copies of these pictures can be obtained directly from the National Archives.

These images are some of my favorite. There nearly 500 Manzanar internment images in the National Archives files. I encourage you to visit the archives and peruse the many photographs. Once you click on the icon above and are taken to the archives, type in "Manzanar" and then press "Display Results" and the images will be displayed in sets of nine.
You might observe, as I did, that the internees appear rather unnaturally joyous in these pictures. I don't think that having been dislocated from their homes and businesses, forced to live in a harsh desert environment and confined to barracks with no insulation would have made them this happy. But as Jeanne Wakatsuki points out in her book, Farewell to Manzanar, Japanese Americans told each other very quietly to "Shikata ga nai" ("It must be done", or, as my Japanese friend says, "Suck it up [and get on with life]." Perhaps this is what encouraged them to put a smile on their face.

The photographer for the majority of these photographs was Dorthea Lange.

Text excerpts followed by a "JWH" are from Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston & James D. Houston's book "Farewell to Manzanar"

Manzanar under Construction

 The Internment Camp Layout

Manzanar Overview
Overview of the Interment Camp.

Manzanar Layout
Internment Camp layout details.

"Each barracks was divided into six units, sixteen by twenty feet, about the size of a living room, with one bare bulb hanging from the ceiling and an oil stove for heat. We were assigned two of these for the twelve people in our family group; and our official family 'number' was enlarged by three digits - 16 plus the number of this barracks. We were issued steel army cots, two brown army blankets each, and some mattress covers, which my brothers stuffed with straw.

The people who had it hardest during the first few months were young couples, many of whom had married just before the evacuation began, in order not to be separated and sent to different camps. Our two rooms were crowded, but at least it was all in the family. My oldest sister and her husband were shoved into one o those sixteen-by-twenty-foot compartments with six people they had never seen before - two other couples, one recently married like themselves, the other with two teenage boys. Partitioning off a room like that wasn't easy. It was bitter cold when we arrived, and the wind did not abate. All they had to use for room dividers were those army blankets, two of which were barely enough to keep one person warm. They argued over whose blanket should be sacrificed and later argued about noise at night - the parents wanted their boys asleep by 9:00 p.m. - and they continued arguing over matters like that for six months, until my sister and her husband left to harvest sugar beets in Idaho. It was grueling work up there, and wages were pitiful, but when the call came through camp for workers to alleviate the wartime labor shortage, it sounded better than their life at Manzanar. They knew they'd have, if nothing else, a room, perhaps a cabin of their own." (JWH)

Manzanar Entrance
Entrance to Manzanar during construction.

Military Police
Military police at Manzanar.

View South
Looking south down Owens Valley towards Lone Pine.

Barracks Construct
Construction of barracks at Manzanar in Owens Valley in the shadow of the High Sierra.

Military Police
Military police standing guard.

Barracks Construct
Construction of barracks at Manzanar in Owens Valley, flanked by the High Sierra and Mt. Whitney

 "In Spanish, Manzanar means 'apple orchard.' Great stretches of Owens Valley were once green with orchards and alfalfa fields. It has been a desert ever since its water started flowing south into Los Angeles, sometime during the twenties. But a few rows of untended pear and apple trees were still growing there when the camp opened, where a shallow water table had kept them alive. In the spring of 1943 we moved to Block 28, right up next to one of the old pear orchards. That's where we stayed until the end of the war, and those trees stand in my memory for the turning of our life in camp, from the outrageous to the tolerable." (JWH)

Military Police
Army military police on duty at Manzanar.

Main Street
Main street Manzanar.

Manzanar Street
Manzanar street construction.

Barracks Construct
Manzanar barracks under construction.

Manzanar in the late afternoon.

Manzanar in the late afternoon.

Tree Clearing
Clearing the grounds of long dead apple orchard trees from the time when Owens Valley was a rich agricultural area.

Barracks ConstructBarracks Construct
Manzanar barracks under construction.

"It seems so comical, looking back; we were a band of Charlie Chaplins marooned in the California desert. But at the time, it was pure chaos. That's the only way to describe it. The evacuation had been so hurriedly planned, the camps so hastily thrown together, nothing was completed when we got there, and almost nothing worked.

The kitchens were too small and badly ventilated. Food would spoil from being left out too long. That summer [1941], when the heat got fierce, it would spoil faster. The refrigeration kept breaking down. The cooks, in many cases, had never cooked before

The first chef in our block had been a gardener all his life and suddenly found himself preparing three meals a day for 250 people.

'The Manzanar runs' became a condition of life, and you only hoped that when you rushed to the latrine, one would be in working order." (JWH)

Barracks Construct
Manzanar barracks under construction.

Barracks Construct
Manzanar barracks under construction.

Land Clearing
More land being cleared on the southern side of the internment facility at Manzanar .

A view of Manzanar three months after it was opened to the first internees.

Manzanar Entrance
Entrance to Manzanar with the not so uncommon wind and dust.

Manzanar with completed streets and blocks.

Auditorium at Manzanar.

"Inside it [the latrine] was like all the other latrines. Each block was built to the same design, just as each of the ten camps, from California to Arkansas, was built to a common master plan. It was an open room, over a concrete slab. The sink was a long metal trough against one wall, with a row of spigots for hot and cold water. Down the center of the room twelve toilet bowls were arranged in six pairs, back to back, with no partitions. My mother was a very modest person, and this was going to be agony for her, sitting down in public, among strangers.

Like so many of the women there, Mama never did get used to the latrines. It was a humiliation she just learned to endure: shikata ga nai, this cannot b helped. She would quickly subordinate her own desires to those of the family or the community, because she knew cooperation was the only way to survive. At the same time she placed a high premium on personal privacy, respected it in others and insisted upon it for herself. Almost everyone at Manzanar had inherited this pair of traits from the generations before them who had learned to live in a small, crowded country like Japan. Because of the first they were able to take a desolate stretch of wasteland and gradually make it livable. But the entire situation there, especially in the beginning - the packed sleeping quarters, the communal mess halls, the open toilets - all this was an open insult to that other, private self, a slap in the face you were powerless to challenge" (JWH)

Ghosts of the Past 3 - Bruce Morgan's '49ers  

20-Mule-Team History  

 More Manzanar Japanese Internment Camp History


 Manzanar High School Portraits & History


 More Manzanar History & Manzanar Free Press

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This page was last updated on 27 August 2017