Detester Magazine is a diverse youth-led platform that shares BIPOC stories that join together to create a picture that “expresses distilled human emotions'' that can accompany the varying detestful experiences BIPOC youth can feel and encounter.

Japanese Spies in America! It can’t be true.

Japanese Americans (JA) were treated so poorly in the early 1900s. I mean, the US actually knew the Japanese were harmless and patriotic, they had an official survey and a 1984 lawsuit to prove that, but they still sent all these citizens to camps to basically take their land away from them. Obviously, it was because of their race, America be hella racist all the time (and also now). Race has always been a touchy subject, but systemic racial issues are being confronted in many different especially with a virus, fire, and an incompetent president; who recently admitted that Sytemetic racial structures existed on tape. There were problems that were not all solved after segregation was ended. It’s funny to think that in high school I was able to see the first black person who attended school with white children, Ruby Bridges. It’s depressing to think that it was that resent. My grandparents on my father’s side were put into Japanese concentration camps during WWII because I guess the government thought these people were the biggest threat to the US. I mean if you don’t know what happened to them and many other JA people in the 40’s I don’t blame you. Our educational system is apparently not that terrible. Look it up this piece is not about that. The government thought that these American born Japanese people were spies sent from Japan just because they were Japanese. The US has and continues to be racist to this day but they weren’t wrong about the Japanese sending spies, just weren’t the spies the US thought of. There’s quite a bit of background, so I hope you have a few minutes to hear an American story about Americans traveling to Japan for the first time.

 In Between Two Empires, Azuma writes about how the Issei, first immigrants from Japan, “sought to mold the Nisei mind, using education to preserve a “‘proper’ racial lineage and ‘uniquely Japanese’ qualities” (Azuma 113), which incidentally is also a very racist plan. So many Issei started sending Nisei kids and young adults to Japan so they could have that Japanese pride and education to make sure they knew Japanese people were superior (hello racism). These trips seemed like the best way to create a connection, so many JA organizations started Kibe Programs that sent as many JA people who had never been to Japan back to the homeland. The Japanese Government saw that this was happening so they also decided to fund Kibe programs like this. 

Young Japanese Americans had a hard time–not only did white Americans despise them, but also it really didn’t help that Japanese American elders were calling the next generation “half-baked Americans who are neither American nor Japanese” (Azuma 123). They also said there was a “real possibility of a Nisei(Second generation Japanese/American born) becoming a public menace and disgracing the entire community.”(Azuma 125) These community elders (who were all MEN) decided how they were presented to white people and how they should all be thinking. 

As the government and community leaders forced this trip upon the youth, they never really stopped to think about how the Nisei were feeling. And sis, they were not feelin’ it! They were in a country they had never been to. Yes, they were finally in a space where they weren’t judged for their race. But now, they were being judged by their nationality. They went to Japan just to find out they could be bullied in even more ways. The Japanese government did eventually catch on and saw that these kids were straight up not having a good time. But, instead of thinking that maybe growing up in different environments can make adolescent experiences different, they just thought these kids were not Japanese anymore —WTF, WE HAVE TO DO SOMETHING!

This young man was being taken in for and “was questioned insolently about whether he was a communist, internationalist, pacifist, or socialist. Indignant over rude treatment and groundless imputation, the man finally requested that his wife and he be admitted simply as Americans. The Japanese were so infuriated that they flatly told him to go back to the United States if he trivialized his Japanese heritage” (Azuma 156). This man and his wife were just trying to learn about their heritage but apparently saying that they’re “Americans” means they’re trivializing Japan? Sis, this whole thing is very sad, but also it’s incredibly hilarious that the government is acting like this. Like maybe if you let them in and treated them kindly they wouldn’t have a poor opinion of Japan, maybe yelling at them and accusing them of being communists wasn’t the best way to make someone like your country, I REALLY DON’T KNOW MAN. This guy showed no force or plan to destroy Japan but he was asked to leave. The word American was enough to get denied entry into the country. 

Even after inviting and then uninviting the JA, the Japanese Government was starting to get a little suspicious of these nisei youths. I mean the Nisei weren’t really liking the educational programs that much but only some of them were most likely propaganda. They started sending spies; not just any ordinary spies, these were Korean spies. “The juxtaposition of Nisei and ‘dissident Koreans’ signified the extent of official distrust, for Korean nationalists had always been considered the most treacherous elements in the Japanese empire” (Azuma 155). The Japanese were so untrustworthy of these Japanese Americans that they started sending people they didn’t trust to go spy on them. I cannot express to you how ridiculous and hilarious I think this is. Japanese people hate Koreans, but apparently they hated Japanese Americans more. These nisei kids must have been so angsty because they didn’t just feel like they really didn’t belong anywhere, they were told they didn’t belong anywhere. Americans didn’t like them, Japan thought they were disloyal, Japanese Americans thought they were about to ruin the collective reputation. Literally no one understood them, and everyone was actively bullying them. 

 So the Americans were right. Japan was sending spies, but they were being sent there because these Japanese American people were a little too American. Then a couple of years later they were being imprisoned in America for being Japanese. It’s absolutely ridiculous, especially because the spies were barely in the story and they weren’t even Japanese. I got to read this entertaining American history because I had to read it for an Asian American study required class. I wish I could have had these events taught to me in my AP US History class but I can’t even think of a reference of a simile about how that class was so boring.

I just think the moral that could be taken from this event is that we should be treating everyone like people, even if they look like they’re from Asia and are actually just from California or they go on vacation to Asia and come back HOME. Just be open to hearing from everyone.


Between t
wo Empires.
By Eiichiro Azuma. New York, Oxford University Press. 2005

“Immigration and Livelihood, 1840s to 1930s.” Asian Americans: an Interpretative History, by Sucheng Chan, Gale
Cengage Learning, 2008.

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