While living in the camps, Japanese-Americans coped however they could, and by far the swingin'-est, most hep method was to pick up an instrument and play. Art Hayashi, a prisoner at Washington State Fair Grounds in Puyallup, WA, became the leader of one of the many swing bands that came together behind the barbed wire fences. These bands ranged from trained professionals like Hayashi and his Harmonaires to kids off the street who figured that relocation gave them the perfect opportunity to learn how to play the saxophone.
Then there was George Yoshida, who upon being forced to move to Poston War Relocation Center in Arizona, was only allowed to carry one suitcase -- so naturally, he filled it with his jazz collection. Yoshida formed a band called the Poston Music Makers, and later told a jazz-ified version of his story through an album titled Big Bands Behind Barbed Wire.
Even for those who couldn't play shit, this gave them a chance to keep their spirits up. People showed off their flair by swing dancing to show tunes (nothing more American than that) and playing songs that suddenly caught a new meaning, like the Manzanar Jive Bombers' version of Bing Crosby's "Don't Fence Me In." To them, music was more than a way to keep from going crazy in prison; it was a statement. The rest of America feared these people as "yellow peril" Axis sympathizers looking to destroy the country, but it turns out they only wanted to destroy our feet on the dance floor.