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Amache Archaeology Collection

Connecting the Pieces: Dialogues on the Amache Archaeology Collection Online Exhibit  

Ceramic sherds with Chinese characters

Porcelain, largest fragment 1'' wide. Found in Block 9G.

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The Chinese characters on these ceramic fragments may be part of a poem of classic Chinese literature. Such decoration was common for mass-produced dishes imported to the U.S from Asia. Because the U.S. began heavily restricting the importation of Asian goods in the 1920's, someone possibly purchased this ceramic before then. Popular among immigrant communities, imported dishes were used to serve traditional foods, reinforcing strong ties to their cultural heritage.

Using the arc of the ceramic fragment's lip, one can estimate the intact vessel was 11 cm in diameter. The size and cylindrical shape suggest it was likely a soup bowl. Soups, such as miso, are integral to traditional Japanese cuisine. Internees could buy ingredients for such soups in the fish market in neighboring Granada. Internees at Amache prepared foods of their Japanese heritage as a means of preserving their cultural identity and retaining a sense of autonomy during the uncertainty of internment.

- Meg Bailey, DU Student Curator

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Photograph of bowl fragments noting translated characters.
Graphic by Brianna Dalessandro

Personal Reflection

Archaeologists have discovered many broken pieces of ceramics associated with traditional Japanese food and drink at Amache. These fragments reveal how people appreciated having familiar tableware for serving Japanese cuisine while their lives were disrupted during internment. Varying in size and shape, specialized ceramics were used to serve tea, sake, rice, and soup. Some families took Japanese porcelains with them when they were interned in 1942; others had things shipped to them later. By 1943, Japanese green tea could be purchased from a nearby fish market in Granada, and tea was included among the gift goods sent to internment camps by the Japan Red Cross. Fragments of sake cups, flasks, bottles, and jugs were recovered at Amache, where internees brewed their own sake or purchased it from a local drugstore.

Soy sauce, noodles, rice, and other foodstuff were available for fixing favorite dishes. Made from soybean, tofu and miso could be used to prepare soups like suimono and misoshiru. Nori, an edible seaweed, was a rare commodity; hot dogs and canned SPAM® became common substitutes for fresh meat and fish. In 1942, my mother, her parents, and her younger sister were displaced from California to an internment camp in Rohwer, Arkansas, where I was born. Since my family returned to Los Angeles before I was a year old, I have no memory of that experience. However, my aunt recalls that they took a vintage teapot and teacups with them and says that she will bequeath these ceramics to me. She recounts that my mother gave her a canister of nori, used to make sushi rolls and rice balls (musubi, onigiri). The dried seaweed was too precious to eat so she still has it saved in its original tin container, seal unbroken.

- Ronald Yetsuo Otsuka, Community Curator, Sansei (third generation Japanese American), born at Rohwer, interned with mother, maternal grandparents and aunt, paternal grandparents and aunt interned at Poston, father in the 442nd Infantry Regiment of the U.S. Army

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Left: Meg Bailey, DU Student Curator. Right: Ronald Otsuka, Community Curator.