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Japanese Internment through Art and Documents

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These resources can be used in an activity that introduces a lesson on Japanese-American Internment during World War II.

1. To begin, show students Roger Shimomura's painting entitled Diary: December 12, 1941. Without providing any background information, use the "Claim, Support, Question" routine to have students make claims about what they think is going on in the artwork, identify visual support for their claims, and share the questions they have about the painting. Document responses in three columns on large chart paper or a whiteboard.

2. Following this initial conversation, share the title, artist's name, and date of the painting. Ask students to consider the date in the title, and discuss what significance this date might have. If they don't figure out that this date was five days after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, share that information. Share with students that this painting is part of a series Roger Shimomura created based on the wartime diary entries of his grandmother, Toku, who was born in Japan and immigrated to Seattle, Washington in 1912. Along with thousands of other people of Japanese ancestry living on the West Coast during World War II , Toku and her family were forcibly relocated to an internment camp after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Roger was a young boy during World War II, and remembers spending his third birthday in the Puyallup Assembly Center on the Washington state fairgrounds, where his family was sent before being transferred to Minidoka Reservation in Idaho for the duration of the war.

3. Jigsaw Activity, Pt. 1. After sharing this context, tell students they will each be receiving a primary source document that relates to the painting in some way. Distribute copies of "Woman at Writing Table," the Superman comic, the Instructions to All Persons of Japanese Ancestry, and Toku Shimomura's diary entries. Divide students into four groups, one per document. Give students time to analyze their document as a group and discuss how it affects their interpretation of the painting.

4. Jigsaw Activity, Pt. 2. Next, create new groups so that each group includes students who received each of the four sources. Ask students to briefly report on their document and what their original group discussed as its possible meaning and relation to Roger Shimomura's painting.

5. Return to the painting as a large group, and discuss how the primary source documents have influenced students' reading of the artwork.

6. Optional additional resource: If time allows, have students watch excerpts from Roger Shimomura's artist talk at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

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