Camp Amache

Although the first Japanese Americans arrived in the late 1800s, it wasn’t until World War II that the population exploded in Denver.

In 1942, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 that uprooted and forcibly moved over 112,000 Japanese Americans from their homes into incarceration camps across the United States- just because of their cultural heritage. The incarceration camps had the bare minimum for living and were of poor condition. Families sold all of their possessions and traveled hundreds of miles just to be unjustly imprisoned by their own country.


Governor Ralph Carr of Colorado was one of the only politicians that spoke against the imprisonment of American nationals. He stated publicly of his dissent, “America is made up of men and women from the four corners of the earth, of every racial origin and nationality...there is no place for the man who thinks that his people...are in turn entitled to preference over any others.”


As a result, Colorado served as a safe haven for several Japanese Americans prior to and after the incarceration. Despite his dissent, Carr did allow the Granada War Relocation Center- also known as Camp Amache- to be built in Colorado, using the justification that if any state could treat Japanese Americans more fairly, it would be Colorado. To an extent this was true, Amache inmates could walk to the local town, Granada, and shop at the businesses there. They visited so frequently that local stores even began carrying small Japanese goods for their customers. State funding was also used to build Amache High School in the camp despite the outcry of the locals who demanded that the funding be used to revitalize their own education system instead. However, a prison is still a prison, no matter the amenities. The camp touted several machine gun towers pointing in and a perimeter of barbed wire fence. 441 internees were also drafted, and even some volunteered, to fight in the 100th Infantry Battalion in the war. Alongside another  4,000 Japanese Americans, the 100th Battalion became the most decorated unit in American history due to their heroism, and significant sacrifice,


At the end of the war, the camps began to release their incarcerees, with the last Japanese Americans leaving Amache in 1946. Because of Governor Carr’s constant advocacy, many Japanese Americans from Amache decided to stay in Colorado. 


Camp Amache still stands as an archaeological and historical site- a reminder of a darker time in American history. Visitors can view the campgrounds that remain in good condition, and the stone memorial honoring the 114 Japanese Americans that had passed away while interned. (B) (C)


When a paper lantern, or a chōchin, reaches an advanced age, it may transform into a chōchin obake. The paper of the lantern splits along one of its wooden ribs, forming a gaping mouth with a wild, lolling tongue. One or two eyes pop out from the upper half of the lantern. Arms or legs may even sprout from its body as well, although this is rare. ( (F)

The idea of a living lantern, a chōchin obake, has its origins in Japanese religion. The union of Shintoism and Buddhism led to the idea that every thing, animal, person, object, has a soul. This led to a belief in things called tsukumogami, or living objects. Old household objects, ones which survive over 99 years, would awaken and become yokai, or spirits. Chōchin obake, which directly translates to paper lantern ghosts, or lantern monsters, are one such spirit. They are lanterns which have lived long enough to become tsukumogami. Possibly, it was the flickering of the light of lanterns, while being tossed about in the winds of a gale that first made them appear alive, giving rise to the original legend. ( (G)


Pictured Above: ​"Oiwa-san" from the "Hyakumonogatari" by Katsushika Hokusai

Japanese American

Resettlement in Denver

Written by Gil Asakawa for DENSHO:

By the time World War II ended, many Japanese Americans who'd been in concentration camps didn't want to return to the West Coast, where they had lost their homes and businesses. The War Relocation Authority (WRA) stated in 1944 that out of 22,000 Japanese Americans released from the 10 concentration camps that year, the largest number to head to one place, was the 5,000 that relocated to Chicago. Denver was second with 2,507 former prisoners hoping to start new lives. [8] After the war, the Japanese population in Colorado swelled to 11,700, with almost half living in Denver. [9]

By 1950, the Japanese population in Denver had grown eightfold since before the war. The resettled population merged with the existing community. The Japanese community of Denver after World War II stretched from the original Nihonmachi section along Larimer Street (where businesses were concentrated because they weren't allowed to open in other parts of the city) [12] , to the historically black Five Points area all the way east to City Park. During the 1950s and 1960s, many Japanese faces looked out from middle school and high school yearbooks in those neighborhoods.

One reason that Japanese Americans found it easy to resettle in Denver was that the foundations of the community had been laid decades before World War II, and since Japanese weren't rounded up during the war (though they certainly faced racism and their freedoms were limited by authorities), those institutions were still in place.

By the '60s and '70s, many Japanese American families had migrated back to their roots in California, even if they had resettled in Colorado after the war. Denver's Japanese American population also dropped during the 1960s, not just because of families heading back west, but also because of upward mobility, urban renewal and a general flight to the suburbs. [19]

The remaining symbol of the community that once flourished is Sakura Square, a one-block development that wraps around the Buddhist Temple, between Larimer and Lawrence and 19th and 20th Streets. (A)


Pictured Above: Rose & Michisuke Tanouye, 

married in Denver, CO after being incarcerated in Poston, Arizona


The Savoy at Curtis Park occupies the second floor of a landmark Victorian building. Built in 1887 and residing in the historic Curtis Park Neighborhood, the second floor was used as a private social club with a dance floor/social space, lobby, and lounge. Today, it remains as one of the few surviving spaces of its kind in the city of Denver.

During the 2017 Day of Remembrance celebration in Denver, Dr. Lane Hirabayshi shared that Five Points and the area around The Savoy "provided a haven for the Japanese-American resellers," people with “capital and business expertise” who rebuilt after their forced relocation.

As families moved to town they would need temporary housing. As a result, Hirabayashi explained, the corridor saw a swell of hotels. As they settled in, these first- and second-generation immigrants would need a familiar taste of home. Fishcake manufacturers and fish markets, tea rooms and lunch joints popped up in what became the Ballpark neighborhood. (D) (E) 


Pictured Above: ​The Savoy at Curtis Park - now occupied by our friends Theater Artibus.