Donor: Rae S. Fujimoto
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These shell brooches from the internment camp at Topaz, Utah originally belonged to Rae Shizue Nakamoto Fujimoto. The Fujimotos’ story is remarkable. Despite personal loss amid injustice, the family found peace in moments of hardship.
Rae was born in San Francisco in 1908, the daughter of Japanese immigrants. Her father, Sekitaro Nakamoto, registered for the draft during World War I. Rae married Edward Kanta Fujimoto in 1940, a widower with a fifteen-year-old daughter, Grace. Born and educated in Japan, Edward immigrated to the United States after his parents had already settled and established a grocery store in San Francisco. The Fujimotos started a miso factory, The Fujimoto Company, and Rae and Edward managed the business together.
After the presidential evacuation order in February 1942, Bay Area Japanese-Americans worked quickly to close their businesses, sell their property, store their belongings, and find new homes for their family pets, all before May 1, 1942. Before Evacuation Day, Edward Fujimoto was sent to the Justice Department Camp in North Dakota. Rae, her mother-in-law, and her stepdaughter were left to manage these affairs before they were sent to Tanforan, a former horse racing track used to temporarily house “evacuees.”
As Rae and her family settled into Tanforan’s stables, Rae’s mother, Tamiyo Nakamoto, was in the San Mateo Hospital with terminal cancer. Rae and her siblings were able to remove their mother from the hospital and found housing in an empty stall at Tanforan so that she could be with her family when she passed. Although the living circumstances were difficult, Grace remembered that her grandmother “died in peace because she was with family, and we were so thankful for that.”
The Fujimotos and Nakamotos were sent to Topaz in September 1942. Edward was sent from North Dakota to a second Justice Department camp in Louisiana, and was eventually paroled to join his family in Topaz a year later. Grace finished out her senior year at Topaz High School. She remembered that one-square mile of camp became a place for recreation, and men and women would find raw materials that they used for arts and crafts. Through the hands of careful craftspeople, the innumerable supply of tiny shells transformed into delicate floral arrangements. In the absence of real flowers, internees wore these shell floral arrangements as pins or corsages for weddings and other celebrations. People often traded their creations or gave them as gifts. As Grace later reflected, “they found something artistic to do, and it was wonderful.”
Rae and Edward left camp in the fall of 1944 in order to re-establish The Fujimoto Company. Once the equipment was sent to Salt Lake City from San Francisco and the company was back in business, the rest of the family left camp to join them seven months later. Edward managed the family business until his sudden death in 1956, and Rae took it over until she retired in 1976. Despite their hardships, the Fujimotos found beauty in struggle and resilience after the war.