A Rude Awakening: The Reaction of Japanese Americans to Executive Order 9066

In this lesson students will closely examine the impact of Executive Order 9066 signed by President Franklin Roosevelt due to the bombing of Pearl Harbor by Japan. WWII impacted the people living in the United States in multiple ways. There were social and cultural unrest as people’s lives and routines were interrupted and uprooted, many to never be the same again.

Historical Background

On December 7, 1941 Pearl Harbor, a U.S. Naval base, on the Hawaiian island of Oahu was attacked by Japan. Though rarely discussed Japan also attacked the Philippines, Malaysia, Wake Island, Guam, Thailand, Shanhai and Midway. These attacks were a complete surprise to the United States, as a peace envoy from Japan was in Washington. This action resulted in the United States declaring war on Japan and its allies Germany and Italy. Europe was already at war but with the United States declaring war on its attackers it became World War II.

The attack ended a decade of worsening relations between the two countries. In 1931 Japan invaded Manchuria, and made alliances with Germany and Italy. In 1941 Japan occupied French Indochina, which resulted in the United States stopping Japanese assets in the United States and imposing an embargo of petroleum shipments and other important war materials to Japan. The United States had greatly reduced its commercial and financial relations with Japan by the end of 1941, but was still in negotiations with the Japan until the day of the attack. Prime Minister Tojo Hideki of Japan ordered the surprise attack.

Many officials and everyday American citizens felt betrayed by Japan and many believed the Japanese living in the country were not trustworthy. Many Americans began to fear Japanese Americans and felt they were part of what happened at Pearl Harbor. People felt that Japanese Americans may be a source of future sneak attacks and for the “safety” of the country did not protest when their property was seized and freedoms greatly restricted.

Lesson Objective

Students will examine different prospective of the impact of Executive Order 9066 by selecting a group’s (Japanese Americans, Japanese non-citizen, other Americans) reaction to the order and how it changed their lives. Students will learn about this period in history by examining primary sources, which will develop and/or enhance their historical reading skills. They will master four components of which are sourcing, close reading, contextualizing and corroborating. Students will use these skills to analyze evidence to create and evaluate interpretations of the events that took place.



  1. Unit Information: In this unit, students will have studied and reviewed primary sources regarding Executive Order 9066, politically, socially, and culturally, and the impact it had on America and the Japanese population. Students will utilize this information to create their own impression of this time in history using identified primary sources to create a digital museum of this historical event.
  2. At the beginning of the unit, students should be introduced to the empathy activity and given time over the course of the unit to complete the activity with parent permission.
  3. In this lesson, students will use historical reading and thinking skills in order to create an online museum of their reflections and reactions to this historical event. Students can create their museum online at Thinkport.org.
  4. Activate prior knowledge by reviewing events leading up to WWII, examine the conditions of Asian Americans in the United States prior to WWII.
  5. Use teacher selected primary source resources and ask students to explain the person’s reaction Executive Order 9066. Students may be grouped or assigned documents from different perspectives. For example, one assigned person may be a Japanese American living in the United States, but without citizenship.
  6. Use SQR3 sheet to record reflections from primary sources. One sheet per source.
  7. Next, students will conduct their own research to collect primary sources and create their own museum. In order for students to begin collecting resources, create a new folder on the school computer or on a web cloud. Title the new folder “Museum”. Students may also use thumb or flash drives or cloud.
  8. Ask students to download/scan 15 primary sources in a sub-folder located in the “Museum” folder. These sources may be photographs, political cartoons, letters, journal entries, government documents. If documents are selected, they may be hard to read, so crop the image so a portion of it can be seen easily.
  9. Students will use their assigned account information go Create Your Own Museum site which is http://museum.thinkport.org/
  10. Students will upload the 15 primary sources to Create Your Own Museum to be a part of their exhibit. Each item in the exhibit should include a short caption and be placed in a logical sequence.
  11. Remind students to save their work so it can be viewed for grading and presentation.


On December 7, 1941, the day of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, there were more than 110,000 people of Japanese descent living on the West Coast of the United States. Within a few months, they were all removed from their homes. Out of fear of espionage and sabotage along the Pacific, the government placed Japanese American men, women, and children in internment camps in the interior of the country. Two-thirds of the internees were U.S. citizens. None of them were ever charged with a crime.

Clara Estelle Breed was the supervising children’s librarian at the San Diego Public Library, where she came to know many young Japanese Americans. When they were evacuated from San Diego, she was at the train station to see them off. She handed out stamped, self-addressed postcards and urged them to write to her when they reached their destination, where ever that might be.

Miss Breed spoke out publicly against the internment policy, believing that democracy “must be defended at home as well as abroad.” But by taking an interest in the internees, she was not merely taking up a cause. Her correspondents were her friends. Like anyone writing to a friend, the internees tended to report on personal concerns and ordinary matters: their parents, their classes, the dances they held, the books they were reading, the movies they saw. It is a great irony that the letters tell us as much about life as a young American in the 1940s as they do about the internment—the punishment imposed upon these people because they were not fully recognized as Americans, even though many of them were citizens.

You will be assigned one of the letters below (links). Please read it using the historical reading skills we use in class and then answer the questions from the Letter Questions Link. Read over History: Whose Story, it will be discussed in class.

Ishino’s Letter

Tsumagurui’s Letter

Ogawa’s Letter

Hirasaki’s Letter

Letter Questions (to be used with each letter)

History: Whose Story? Background Information


Teachers can assign students to complete 10 or 5 items for their museum.

Teachers can assign video segments that provide more background information for studies that are a part of Discovery Education Streaming or other sources they have identified.

Teachers can decide to do the homework assignment as a class assignment and have the class read the letter(s) and then answer the questions using a Smart/Promethean board.

Students may use the Web 2.0 tool Animoto to create their online video.

Students may use Power Point to complete this assignment.


Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation. http://www.heartmountain.org

Scholastic. http://www.scholastic.com/home/