Japanese Internment in Washington State

States along the West Coast of the United States were at the epicenter for Japanese internment camps. Washington State in particular had it's own camp in the city of Puyallup. The official name of the camp was The Puyallup Assembly Center, however it was given the nickname Camp Harmony. This page will exam the life of those of Japansese descent in Washington State during their internment. 

Day of Forced Removal: Walking onto the Ferry Kehloken

Japanese Americans from Bainbridge Island, WA being escorted off the island by the U.S. Army.

Beginning in the 1880's large numbers of Japanese began to populate the Pacific Northwest. Seattle, in particular, had a major growth of Japanese Americans now living there. This was partially due to the fact that it was the first place Japanese immigrants came to in their new homeland. In this way, Seattle was the epicenter for their dreams to become a reality, it was a huge symbol of a re-birth, simply a chance to start over, for many immigrants especially the Japanese. Despite this, many Japanese immigrants weren't given U.S. citizenship, however, their children who were born in the U.S. were (due to naturalization rights). Soon the number of Japanese immigrants boomed dramatically and within Seattle they had formed their own little area known as "Nihonmachi-- Japantown" (Boswell). 

The Removal:

In March of 1942 300 people of Japanese ancestry were removed from Bainbridge Island (across from Seattle). By the end of April, the same year 2,000 were removed from Seattle. They were all sent to The Puyallup Assembly Center, better known by it's nickname Camp Harmony. Many were upset and contested against this order that forced them out of their homes. However, some were wiling as we can see from this quote from one Bainbridge Island farmer, "It's for the good of the country, so we'll move" (Boswell). Toku Machida Shimomura was another Japanese American local who lived on Bainbridge Island during their sudden and forced evacuation. The following is an exerpt from her diary that was later published in an article in the Missoulan.

“At last the day had arrived. It was time to leave Seattle, the city where we have lived for such a long time. Even though I tried not to cry, the tears flowed. Our group of 370 working people departed at 9:30 a.m. in a long string of cars and buses. We arrived at Puyallup at 11:30 a.m. We settled into our assigned place, A-2, number 27. We were all very dissatisfied with our army cots and cotton mattresses. Until late at night we heard a mixture of hammering and the crying voices of children. With much difficulty, I was eventually able to fall asleep” (Nickell).


Barracks at Camp Harmony

The Puyallup Assembly Center was built on top of the racetrack at the Western Washington State Fairgrounds. The barracks pictured were used to house the Japanese internee's.

Camp Harmony:

All in all, around 7,600 people of Japanese descent from Washington and Alaska were sent to Camp Harmony during the war, with a maxium of about 7,300 staying there all at one time. Camp Harmony was located in Puyallup, WA and served as a temporary relocation for those of Japanese ancestry in the Seattle area. its official name was the "Puyallup Assembly Center", while it's the nickname 'Camp Harmony' was “coined by an Army public-relations officer during construction in 1942” (Fiset). Assembly centers were seen all across the United States and were smaller holding facilities compared to their larger internment camps (also known as relocation camps) such as Camp Minidoka in Idaho. These temporary assembly centers allowed the U.S. troops in the area to round up all those of Japanese ancestry in a particular area and house them all in one secure area before transporting them to the actual internment camps. Those sent to assembly centers were then relocated after a short stay of roughly 3-6 months and spent the rest of their time at internment camps for the rest of WWII, about 3 years. 

The Camp itself was located on the site of what is now the Puyallup Fair, then known as the Western Washington Fairgrounds. The fair had been located here and going on every year since the turn of the century. Army officials say they chose this spot because “it possessed permanent facilities in good repair as well as upgraded power, water, and sanitary facilities capable of accommodating more than 5,000 people” (Wegars). In addition, a key element to the Camp’s location was it’s closeness to Seattle, only 35 miles away, were most of its internee’s came from. The fairgrounds land itself was 43 acres with 40 permanent buildings, enough space to house approximately 3,000 internees with designated places for things such as meals and laundry. The fairgrounds parking lot was also incorporated into Camp Harmony, at 34 acres it allowed them to house 5,000 more internees’. Camp Harmony was divided into four sections, A, B, C and D. Sections A, B and C were the fairground parking lot and section D was the actual fairgrounds area which included the oval shaped parade field. Each section was designed to be independent of the other, with the exception of the hospital located in section D (the fairgrounds). Each section had its own laundry, mess and shower areas. Many families found this divided life amongst themselves difficult. It was hard to see friends and distant family members who were in another section. Each family was allotted a mere 50 square feet of space to live and thus many internees described their living space as unfit for families.


Group playing ping-pong at the Puyallup Assembly Center.

Japanese Americans made every effort to lead normal lives in the Puyallup Assembly Center. They cultivated gardens, engaged in different types of activities, and played games such as ping-pong.

Life at Camp Harmony:

 It was clear to many internees’ that life was changing for them in a very abrupt and fast way. However, despite the low quality living they were given in the barracks at Camp Harmony, many people tried to assimilate some form of normalcy there. Jobs immediately opened up for those with special skills such as cooks, barbers, and religious leaders. Despite this, boredom struck almost every internee daily. One survivor recalled her experience as a teenager at Camp Harmony as boring, "There was this space between the barracks. When it was really hot everybody would go to one side of this lane and lean against the building and just sit there. And later on in the day when the sun changed its course, we'd go to the other side” (Wegars). 

One such job was being an editor or wrtier for the Camp Harmony News Letter, which had one volume with 12 sections sent out throughout Camp Harmony. The newsletter shared information of events happening throughout the camps divided sections. This allowed for everyone to see what was happening in other sections of the Camp. Important information and announccements were shared along side events such as sports games. For example, In section 8 the newsletter describes how the daily roll call will only be reduced to only once a day. Later in the section it talks about a baseball game in the D section of Camp against fathers and sons. In the same section of the newsletter is a short article on how the new thing to do for kids around Camp was carving thier names into blocks of wood.


  1. Boswell, Sharon, and Lorraine McConaghy. "Abundant Dreams Diverted." Seattle Times, June 23, 1996. Accessed October 7, 2016. 
  2. "Camp Harmony Exhibit." University Libraries-University of Washington. July 10, 2006. Accessed September 20, 2016. https://www.lib.washington.edu/exhibits/harmony/Exhibit/. 
  3. Fiset, Louis. "Camp Harmony (Puyallup Assembly Center), 1942." HistoryLink.org. October 7, 2008. Accessed September 20, 2016. http://www.historylink.org/File/8748. 
  4. Ford, Jamie. Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet: A Novel. New York: Ballantine Books, 2009. 
  5. George and Frank C. Hirahara Photograph Collection of Heart Mountain, Wyoming 1943-1945. Manuscripts, Archives, and Special Collections, Washington State University Libraries, Pullman, WA.
  6. Kinoshita, Lisa. "Seattle Remembers the Japanese Internment." Seattle Magazine, February 2012. Accessed October 7, 2016. http://www.seattlemag.com/article/seattle-remembers-japanese-internment
  7.  Nickell, Joe. "Imprisoned in Minidoka: Grandmother’s Diary Memorializes Life as an Interned Japanese American following Attack on Pearl Harbor." The Missoulian, October 4, 2009. Accessed October 9, 2016. http://missoulian.com/lifestyles/territory/imprisoned-in-minidoka-grandmother-s-diary-memorializes-life-as-an/article_02cb6524-af96-11de-857e-001cc4c002e0.html
  8. Wegars, Priscilla. 2011. "Camp Harmony: Seattle's Japanese Americans and the Puyallup Assembly Center." Journal of Asian American Studies 14 (2): 314-316,322. http://search.proquest.com/docview/875304991?accountid=14902.