<Begin Segment 1>
ME: This is the interview with Aki, Aki Kurose, and Matt Emery is the interviewer, Aki Kurose is the narrator, and it is taking place on July the 17th, sometime in the afternoon. Aki, let's... you know there is so many things that we could talk about in this interview. We could talk about a million things and actually go for more than just two hours. But let's start, let's start before you were born, actually --
AK: Well! [Laughs]
ME: -- and talk a little bit about your parents. Where did they, where did they grow up?
AK: My mother grew up in Kumamoto, Japan, which is the southern part of Japan. And my father grew up in Miyagi-ken, Sendai, Japan, which is the northern part of Japan. And they met in the United States. That's why they are from two separate parts of Japan. Usually people marry within their own prefecture, or area. But my mother came to the United States, she came to Berkeley to study, after she finished high school. And then she realized her English wasn't proficient enough, so she went to McKinley High School there. And she claims that she was small enough so they didn't know she was older. [Laughs] And so she fit right in the school. And also, my father had finished Yokohama School of Commerce, and he came over to seek a fortune -- well, not really. He came over to work. And then he met my mother through mutual friends, and so they got married.
ME: What area did they meet in?
AK: In California. And then they had friends that were in Seattle, so they came back up to Seattle, started working.
ME: How soon after they were married did they come up to Seattle?
AK: Um, I think they came up right away, because they had mutual friends, and then they settled in Seattle.
ME: When they settled, what did they, what did they do?
AK: Well, my father worked in a restaurant. And then they bought an apartment. Well, actually, they leased it, because of the Asian Exclusion Act, where you could not buy property if you were an alien. And so they leased the apartment, and my mother managed the apartment, and my father worked in the restaurant, and then he went and worked at the railroad station as a porter. So he did many things. He was a real gregarious person, loved people and...
ME: Now once they arrived in Seattle, then I would assume that's when your siblings started to arrive. After they bought the apartment, or leased the apartment?
AK: Uh-huh. My brother was born... let's see, he's how many years older than me? My sister's three, five -- five years older than me. And then my sister, my older sister, then I came, and then my younger sister. So, there were four in the family and we're all two to three years apart.
ME: What were their names?
AK: Haruo was the oldest, and he was the only son. And then my sister, Fusaye, is my older sister, and my younger sister Suma.
<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 2>
ME: Could you describe for me, tell me a little bit about the house in which you...
AK: Well, our house was a very happy house, and it was... my parents were both very hospitable. So we always had people over, and they were taking care of other people's children, or taking care of strays -- cats, dogs, and people, you know. Mainly dogs and people. And it was just a real happy time. They, they welcomed anybody, no matter, you know. And ethnicity didn't count. And so I was very amazed later on when I found out that so many people had racial prejudice. Because we weren't raised that way, and anybody was welcomed.
ME: So what kind of people were they letting in?
AK: Well, all kinds of people in the neighborhood. And my dad loved to bake, so every Friday evening he'd make jellyroll and then all the neighbors would come in to have jellyroll and we'd just have a good time, listening to music and just being social. And I, my most memorable years are at the apartment. And the neighborhood was very diverse. And there were many Jews and a Chinese family, and several black families, and we went in and out of each other's homes all the time.
ME: Was the house in which your family lived pretty close to the apartment and restaurant?
AK: No, the apartment... I lived in the apartment, I grew up in the apartment.
ME: Oh, the whole family did. Okay, it was right there then?
ME: I see.
AK: And my father went out to work. And my mother managed the apartment, with my father, but my mother was the main manager. She got the engineer's license, she ran the boiler room, she cleaned the furnace. She did all those things. And, you know, it wasn't strange at all to see her wallpapering right along with my dad, standing on a ladder and just going at it. And they both were great readers, so they were always reading. And education was very important to them, so they encouraged us to go and pursue, you know, higher learning. Also, they were very generous and free about letting us do anything we wanted to. I decided I wanted to go take dancing lessons, so they let me take dancing lessons. Then I wanted to get a clarinet, so I got a clarinet. And I was in the band and in the orchestra. They encouraged any kind of activity. And so, I was very spoiled. And loved every bit of it. [Laughs]
ME: Sounds like it was a very happy childhood.
AK: It was a very, very happy childhood. And my parents were quite permissive when I think about it, really.
<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 3>
ME: Now, there were four of you. Did you guys help out in the apartment, too?
AK: Oh yes, every Saturday it was our, my sister's and my duty to dust all the railings. And they had these railings all around the apartment, all four floors. And I had to take a cloth and dust it all the time. We'd fool around and just... that was our chore. And then, we, we used the library a lot, it was kind of a gathering place for young people. And we'd go down there, and walk down to the Central Library and have a good time.
ME: Now I'd imagine that at some point, after the chores were done, there might be some fun times to cause some mischief in the apartment.
AK: Oh, all the time. And then we'd slide down the banisters, we'd just do all kinds of, you know... and skip a lot of the railings when we were dusting. My older sister was much more conscientious than I was, you know. So she'd polish the woodwork real nicely and I'd slough off. [Laughs] And, but it was really always a fun time and good times. We were very fortunate. And in the summers we'd go off to the farms to pick beans or strawberries, or whatever, to make our spending money and buy our outfits for the school year.
ME: You and your younger sister, did -- you and Suma -- did you ever... any particular stories you remember about you and her in the apartment?
AK: Oh, I think I was very domineering, and she was much more meek. So I think I bossed her around a lot. [Laughs]
ME: Whatever you say, she did, huh?
AK: Yeah. And she was the baby of the family, and she was weak, she was very asthmatic. So we really kind of babied her along, too, also. But we all, we were always laughing. People were always commenting on us laughing a lot. We were a real laughing family.
ME: The two of you, or the whole family?
AK: The whole family kind of, you know. But Suma and I especially were the silly girls. [Laughs]
<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 4>
ME: Can you tell me a little bit more about the neighborhood, the surrounding neighborhood around the apartment?
AK: Uh-huh. On the corner was the Chin, Fung, and Pang, family. They all lived there. And they were the pioneer Chinese family. And it was a huge house, and all the extended family lived there. And we just had a good time, you know, always interacting with them. And then next door to them was the Romanos -- it was a Sephardic Jewish family. And I still keep in touch with Emma, and also with the Chinese girl, Irene. We still keep in touch with them. And then Janey Bacher was a black girl that lived right across the street. We just interacted all the time, had lots of fun. And then my classmates, you know, the Japanese American girls, too, would live in the periphery of that apartment. And we just had a good time.
ME: I'm curious, what's standing in this area right now?
AK: And where... the apartment that I lived in still stands, except it's been combined with the next door apartment, it's made into one building and it's housed... it was a Model Cities project, and I think it's a low-income, senior citizen type of housing. And it's still there. It was a solid brick house. And in the corner was the Brenner's bakery, which was a family bakery. And we used to run in and out of there all the time. And then up the street, two streets up, the Gai's bakery was situated, and it was a family home where the mother did the baking in the kitchen. And we'd go and buy bread from them, or you know, they'd share it with us. And so these were small businesses which have turned out to be great, big businesses now, you know. And then on the corner was a little grocery store that we ran into, and the other corner there was a drug store where we'd go and get our milkshakes and...
ME: Sounds like it was a very diverse neighborhood.
AK: It was. And a very friendly, happy neighborhood.
ME: Everyone got along?
AK: Everybody got along. And... so... I was not very sophisticated, and not very political, not very knowledgeable about government or anything. I was just a happy-go-lucky person, and when the war broke out it was a great shock. Because we just assumed that we were "great Americans," you know. And never did it occur to us that we would be ever considered anything but an American. And so, it was a great shock. And we, of course, appreciated the culture, you know, the cultural things about the Japanese tradition and whatever. And we did celebrate -- in fact, it was very interesting because we celebrated the Jewish holidays as well as the Japanese holidays. Because it just worked in nicely, Passover, people are cleaning the house and my mom thought that was a wonderful idea, so... you know. And then living in the apartment, well, we, we interacted with all the tenants also. And there was a Jewish rabbi who lived in the apartment, so I carried his prayer book to the synagogue every Saturday morning. And also the tradition was that you do not use electricity, or cut, or anything, on the weekends, Sabbath or whatever, sundown until sunrise. And so I'd go around turning on all the lights and turning off the lights the next morning so that they would not use the lights.
<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 5>
ME: You mentioned that your mother liked to celebrate some of the Jewish holidays as well, so you interacted with those that were around your community. [Interruption] What I was wondering is, what about the interaction with the Nihonmachi, or the Japanese community?
AK: Oh yes. And then we also observed all the Japanese holidays. And, and my folks had lots of friends that came in and out. And so, we had a very multicultural experience from way back. I think it was a shock when we went into camp to have just... well, it was just so homogeneous, you know. And so it was a totally different experience as far as interacting with people. You know, it's easy for me to say now that our Constitutional rights were violated, I wasn't thinking of those things at that time. It was a shock to say, you know, to know that we had to leave by reason of race. But then I didn't think deeply enough to think about those things then. There was kind of almost a resentment of, "Why were we born Japanese that we'd have to leave like this?" And so, thinking of unfairness, it was almost like we were turning it against ourselves, saying, you know... we wished we didn't have to leave, but we had to leave because of our ethnicity. And it was a real fun childhood I had at that time. I was very much involved in the school functions, and so it was a different way of life when we went to camp.
ME: A complete turnaround.
AK: Yes. And the, and Japanese families are, were taught to be modest, or we just were. We never even undressed in front of our sisters, you know. We just were very private. And so to have to share the bathrooms with strangers as well as, you know, sharing the shower stall, and taking a shower with multiple groups of people was very devastating.
ME: How did you, how did you get through those devastating times?
AK: But, you know, one of the nice things was my parents were really positive-thinking people. And my father and mother said, "This is war, this is what happens. In wartime, people do crazy things. So we mustn't be bitter, but we must think in terms of never having war again. So we must work for peace." And at that time, "Okay," you know, it was... but as I... as the years went on, I really appreciated the impact it had on our attitude about being incarcerated. And we saw a lot of bitterness, as well as lots of sadness and devastation. And it wasn't... I'm not criticizing people, but it's just that it was a different atmosphere for our family, as it was for some other families. But I was... most of the people were accepting of what had happened, and they didn't turn their sadness into real bitterness, which was very good. But you know, I think that was part of the culture also. And so often people say, "Well, why didn't you protest?" And there's lots of criticism by younger people, and other people saying, "Well, you didn't have to go, you should have protested." But it wasn't the time to protest, and it wasn't that kind of a, you know, atmosphere. I think if we protested at that time, I think it would have been much harder on us than people protesting... today is a time of protest, and marching, and demonstrating. But it wasn't that kind of a time.
ME: It was a completely different atmosphere.
AK: Completely different.
<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 6>
ME: You mentioned that your father, or your parents, told, told you guys, "Don't be bitter." Was there a tendency for you and your siblings to be bitter about what was happening to you?
AK: Well, we would kind of complain because of the inconveniences. More than bitterness, just complaining. Oh, you know, we're in this small barrack, all six of us, bumper to bumper, and no privacy, and lots of extra time. And so we got bored and whatever and we'd grumble. And my dad would say, you know, "We mustn't... we're all together, we have to make the best of it." And both of my parents were smiling and making the best of it. My mother did a lot of needlework. And she did a lot of knitting and crocheting, and was very productive that way. And my father worked in the mess hall as a chef. And he enjoyed working with all the people. They always called him "Happy," because he was smiling. And when the... I guess it wasn't idle, when the army came in to recruit for volunteers, that was a very hard time for my folks, I think. You know, my brother was the only son. But some of the families protested that their son had volunteered and whatever. But my dad said, "It's your decision, and I don't want you to go, but," he said, "you go with our blessings." And so he got a very cordial and warm send-off. So, I think I've just been real fortunate.
ME: I was curious about that. So your brother, he did volunteer?
AK: He volunteered, yes. And he went in the 442 infantry.
ME: What was your parents' initial reaction when he...
AK: He said, "Oh... must you go?" And he said, "I'd like to go." And my dad said, "That's your decision and if that's what you want to do, go ahead. We will back you up." And so I never heard any negative things, or protesting that he doesn't volunteer. He says, "If that's your decision, that's fine, we will..."
ME: Your parents were very supportive in, in anything.
AK: Anything, yeah. And so, I don't remember my dad really getting mad at me, or my mother getting really mad at me. We were very lucky. And my dad was not chauvinistic, he was in the kitchen helping, he loved to cook. And, you know, my brother was mopping the floor. It was just, you know, just a natural thing to do. And I noticed that, when I got married, my in-law's family was very chauvinistic. My father-in-law was a very nice man, but he had certain kinds of... well, he had a rigidity about him, where he expected his wife to do certain things. And they didn't cross that line.
ME: And that's completely opposite of what you saw in your household?
AK: Yes, uh-huh.
<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 7>
ME: What was it like in your household then, as far as housework goes?
AK: Oh, well, I was the lazy one. I dashed off to the bathroom to read. [Laughs] And by the time I came out, my, all the dishes were already done. [Laughs] And my sister was very efficient and she didn't mind. And I don't think I would have really minded, except that it was an easy way out. I was kind of happy-go-lucky and very carefree. And my older sister was always conscientious and did things so well, I thought, "Gee, why should I iron, why should I do all these things?" [Laughs]
ME: If she did such a great job so quickly, right?
AK: Yeah, and she never complained.
ME: You mentioned your father did the cooking -- did he, he did all the cooking?
AK: No, not all the cooking. But the big holidays, he did all the cooking. And it was, and we'd invite all kinds of people. It was a full house all the time. It was really nice.
ME: Would you invite people from the community, from the neighborhood there?
AK: Yeah. And then from the apartment and anybody, just come over, you know. And he'd really put on a good, you know, like Thanksgiving, we started out with shrimp cocktail and soup, and all the trimmings. He was a really good cook.
ME: So he could cook all-around, American dishes, Japanese dishes?
AK: Not Japanese dishes so much. My mother did the Japanese cooking. And she wasn't really great at it. She didn't spend that much time cooking. In fact, I wouldn't say she was that great a cook. And as she grew older, she cooked American dishes because it was more convenient and she liked the American dishes. She loved potatoes and she loved her coffee and toast and eggs for breakfast. I still don't drink coffee, I think it's awful. [Laughs]
<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 8>
ME: I'm curious, your family, for back then, when the four of you were younger, seems like it was very progressive for the time. I don't imagine that if you went into the Japanese, the Japanese American community, that you found the Jewish, the Chinese American, the African American kids and families over at those homes?
AK: Not that much. And also, we didn't talk about classism. And until I was married I had never heard about the Ainus, or the etas or whatever. We just never discussed things like that. And then I noticed that there was prejudice against the etas, for instance, they considered them lower class. And I think all these kinds of concepts maybe came up in camp. And I don't know if that was regular practice of criticizing; or looking down at people of that group or not... but, yeah. And we didn't get into the kenjinkais like... kenjinkai is the groups where people go and form their social clubs by the prefecture that they lived in, and the area they lived in. And we weren't that much involved in that as such, you know, my folks were always working. And my father believed in cooperatives and he... no, after we came back from the camps, he helped form the Porter's Railroad Worker's Union, you know, the Porter's union. So that the blacks and the Japanese worked together and there wouldn't be the pitting against each other, which happened when -- all the porters, before the war, were Japanese. And when we were all incarcerated, then most of the porters became blacks. Then when they came back, when the Japanese came back from the war, they wanted their jobs and the railroad would give them their jobs and then there was this pitting against each other. And so my father thought it would good to form a union. And then they worked together. And so that was really nice.
ME: And he helped form that union?
AK: Yes. And so I was the secretary for that union. [Laughs]
ME: How do you think that other Japanese households viewed your family, knowing that you were so accepting of other races?
AK: Well, I don't really know. Except that I'd hear like some of the parents saying, "Well, they shouldn't bring a black to the house," or something like that. Or, "So-and-so is going with a black," and it was very, like almost a shame kind of thing, you know. And also, we didn't go to the traditional Japanese school. We went to a school that was run by a couple that had a... well, the other people would say it was an inferior school. It wasn't. We went to a Japanese school where one of the Japanese language teachers was black. And it was Evelyn Whistler, was our Japanese school teacher. So there was a lot of progressive people around. And Mr. and Mrs. Ishii, who ran the school, just hired for, what do you say -- competence. And so, with Evelyn's qualifications, they felt, they felt it was very natural to hire her as a teacher. And I don't think it would have happened at the other Japanese language school.
ME: But if you go just a little bit outside of the community, you see things like that happening.
ME: That is quite unheard of, for the most part. Especially, this is in the '30s right? A black Japanese language teacher.
AK: Uh-huh. And I don't know where Evelyn learned her Japanese. She was excellent. And so here she was, a Japanese school teacher. And I think she was in college or something. And she was doing this as part-time work.
ME: You don't know where she learned, huh?
AK: She may have learned from Mr. and Mrs. Ishii. Who knows?
<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 9>
ME: What was that school like? Where was it located?
AK: It was on Main Street. And it was, and people, some of them would call it boro gakko, meaning it's a trashy school, or it's a poor persons', you know. Boro means rags. So, "raggy school" I guess you would say. But it was very interesting. So, our family never went to the traditional Japanese school. I don't know if it was because it was cheaper, I don't know. We just didn't. And it didn't require us to go to Japanese school every day like the, many of the other people. My husband's mother was a Japanese school teacher, and that school is the regular, well, the main Japanese language school that still exists, where Densho is now. And students went to school every single day after school. I didn't do that. I just went on Saturdays.
ME: So just one day a week?
AK: Uh-huh, uh-huh.
ME: What was the building on the other days?
AK: I don't think it was anything.
ME: It was just open one day a week?
ME: Wasn't it... didn't you, I thought you told me...
AK: It was an old building.
ME: Was it a judo school or something?
AK: No, this other one was... well, I went to two different schools. And this other one was just an old house, and they had desks there and whatever. Then the other one was in a storefront. And the teacher that taught at the storefront was a judo teacher that lived in the apartment, in my mom and dad's apartment. So that's the school we went on Saturdays. With Japanese judo teachers who taught the Japanese language.
ME: So you actually ended up going to two different Japanese schools?
ME: Oh, okay. How many students were enrolled in the first one, where the...?
AK: Very few, maybe a dozen and this other one in the storefront, maybe fifteen, sixteen. You can't hold very many people in that little crowded quarters. What we meant by storefront was a real, I don't think it was any larger than this room.
ME: I'd imagine you'd get a pretty good education with just a few students, though?
AK: Oh, well yeah. But I wasn't a very serious student. [Laughs] Yes, uh-huh. I think -- my sister, who was conscientious, became very fluent in Japanese, she still is, and writes very well in Japanese. Suma and I... and Suma's worse than me. [Laughs] You know, we didn't take it that seriously.
ME: Did it hurt your feelings knowing that people were calling it a "raggedy school," or whatever?
AK: No. We thought it was kind of funny. I suppose maybe. But we weren't that serious about the school, so it didn't really... I just felt fortunate we didn't have to go every single day.
ME: That's the thing. Boy, "At least I don't have to go to school every day," huh?
AK: I know, after school. After they put in their whole day at school, then they'd take off and go to the Japanese language school, I think from 3:30, or for a couple of hours.
ME: When other students would do that...
AK: Well, we were playing, just in the neighborhood. We played volleyball in the streets. We played baseball in the streets. We roller skated in the streets. Traffic was not that heavy. And the corner, street corner, was the perfect baseball diamond. One corner was the base and across the street was the first base, second base, and third base. That was what we did, and we broke people's windows doing that. [Laughs]
<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 10>
ME: What about elementary school? Where did you, where did you go?
AK: I went to Bailey Gatzert at the beginning, and then went to Washington, and it was an elementary school. And that's where all our classmates went -- the Jewish kids, and the Japanese kids, and the Chinese kids, and the black kids.
ME: So the elementary school was also very ethnically diverse?
AK: Yes, uh-huh. And our class is pretty unique because we had our fiftieth anniversary together of the elementary school, not high school or college, but elementary school, that's pretty good. And I'm still in contact with several of those people.
ME: Did you think it was strange when you would go over to the household of a Japanese family and not find any other African American or Jewish children playing?
AK: No. I just wasn't thinking in those terms. And, you know, multiculturalness and multiethnicity was not something that I even thought of at that time. It was just a natural thing for us to interact with these people of different races. And so... you know, today they make such an effort to make sure that there is this balance or whatever, and we were very fortunate, that we had this natural, spontaneous interaction with each other, without really considering race.
ME: That is wonderful. Your friends were your friends.
AK: Uh-huh. And we were, you know... our living situation was determined by the economics. And so people of the same economic level lived in the area and we interacted with each other. And it wasn't by ethnicity, and it wasn't, you know... although we were considered more or less like in the ghetto, so to speak. But it was because of the economics, more than the race that determined that.
<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 11>
ME: You mentioned that your friends would, you guys would play baseball, volleyball... any idea what the topic of conversation was among the adults at that time?
AK: No, I think they were so busy working. And I don't really know if there was any real political discussions or whatever, you know. These were... so many of them were just trying to eke out a living, I think.
ME: Did you ever realize how progressive your family was?
AK: Not really, until later on. I just felt like I was lucky that they were so cordial to everybody. And the pacifism has really influenced me in the later years when I went to a Quaker college and realized, you know, the importance of pacifism. I was very thankful that my parents had even introduced us to the thought of pacifism.
ME: What did they teach you? What did you learn from them?
AK: And my dad would mention Kagawa was a Japanese... Christian, I think he was a minister, whatever, and his, and then he'd mention the various people that were involved in the pacifists. And lived their lives as pacifists, and so, and he would tell us about the Quakers. And, I just was really thankful that he did that. And then when I went to the Quaker college, I realized that I felt that this was part of my life. That was what I wanted, to spend my life doing this to work for peace.
ME: So around that time you realized that that's what...
ME: ...you wanted to work for peace?
AK: Uh-huh. Uh-huh.
<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 12>
ME: You mentioned in an earlier conversation that you and I had, that you grew up with no cultural restraints. What does that mean?
AK: Well, it was like, several times my husband's family would say, "A man shouldn't have to change diapers," "A man shouldn't have to bathe a child," whereas, I didn't have that kind of thing, or, "A man shouldn't be sweeping the floor," "A man shouldn't be doing this." We didn't have that kind of upbringing, so we didn't have that kind of separation or that kind of chauvinistic, sexist philosophy imposed on us. And I was very surprised, and perhaps I shouldn't blame it on the Japanese culture. But there seems to be a strong, and it may have been at the time, but a very chauvinistic culture.
ME: Did you see this happening around the community?
AK: Yeah, and then like the Nisei fellows would sometimes make those kinds of comments. And I think they're pretty chauvinistic as far as... now as they grow older they share more of doing the housework and whatever. But, I noticed at the beginning when we first got married, I would notice that the men would have that kind of attitude.
<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 13>
ME: Let's move ahead, to the time of Pearl Harbor. Where were you, what were you doing?
AK: Well, I had just come home from church. And then we kept hearing, "Pearl Harbor was bombed, Pearl Harbor was bombed." I had no idea where Pearl Harbor was. My geography was not that sophisticated. I had no idea, and my father said, "Uh-oh, there is going to be trouble." And I said, "Well, how come?" He said, "Well, Japan just bombed Pearl Harbor." And he says, "We're at war with Japan." But, I thought, "Why should it bother me?" You know, "I'm an American." And then he said, "You know, we are aliens." My parents... "We don't have the citizenship, so they're gonna do something, we'll probably get taken away." But at that time, my parents had no feeling that we would be removed because -- so they were saying my brother would have to take on the responsibility to keep the family together, because they may be removed or put into camp or whatever. And, then when I went back to school that following morning, December 8th, one of the teachers said, "You people bombed Pearl Harbor." And I'm going, "My people?" All of a sudden my Japaneseness became very aware to me. And then that I was no longer, I no longer felt I'm an equal American, that I felt kind of threatened and nervous about it. And then the whole time we were now getting the orders, and getting prepared to go to camp and whatever.
ME: You mentioned your teacher said, "Your people bombed Pearl Harbor." Was there any other signs, any other discrimination?
AK: Yeah, and some of the students would just be very unfriendly. Because it was a very emotional time and some of their families, members probably went to war or were involved. And so it became a very emotional time, and my Japaneseness became very, very prominent to me. It was that I became very much aware of my Japaneseness. Not in a real positive way, but kind of a scary way, or, and almost like... "Why?"
ME: What did you think was going to happen to your parents?
AK: I had no idea. I just felt like, "Why are they saying this, and where are they gonna go?" I really had no idea what a camp would be like. And I really didn't know what to expect.
ME: What, what did they think was going to happen to them? Did they have any idea?
AK: They just said, "Uh-oh." And they didn't really clarify, or possibly they didn't know, probably they didn't know exactly what was going to happen. The FBI was, came to the apartment, and they were watching the man across the street, Mr. Kimura, because he worked for the Japanese Consulate or whatever. And so, all this became a very, kind of a fearful kind of thing for us. You know, saying, "Wow, this could actually happen."
<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 14>
ME: I'm wondering what happened, what arrangements did your family have to make when it was time for evacuation? What were they going to do with the apartment?
AK: Well luckily, my brother was at the university, and his classmate lived in Everett. And so he'd come and study with my brother and he'd drive back to Everett. And my mother and dad said, "Curt, why don't you stay with us? Because you, it's so inconvenient, and you know, just stay with us. You don't have to pay rent or anything." And so they fixed up a room for him, and so he was living with us. And so when the war broke out and then the word that we were going to get evacuated, he, Curt said, "Well, I'll take care of this place for you." Which was very nice. And then there was a deacon from the Methodist church that came, and asked us if he could help. And we were, we were kind of leery of him, because he kept saying he needed to have the power of attorney. And my father said, "No, I can't give you the power of attorney." And he kept insisting, "What, you don't trust me?" And so finally on the day before -- and Curt had suggested, "Don't do that, don't give it to him," but Curt was a student and whatever. And so, this man was a real estate man, and a deacon of the Methodist church. And so finally my father gave in and gave him the power of attorney. Which was not very bright, but anyway he did. And so when we went to camp, we kept hearing pretty soon from Curt that furniture was disappearing, and of course the money was being depleted from the bank account. And after a couple of years, the apartment was being sold for tax default, because the man had not been paying the real estate taxes, so it was up for it. Curt reported it immediately, and luckily if you're a GI, your property cannot get sold. And the apartment was in my brother's name, because, you know, my parents could not own it. And so he was able to save the apartment from being sold, but all the furniture had disappeared and the money had gone and everything. But the apartment was still there, and Curt was able to take care of it until he was drafted into the service. And so things were pretty bad, but then, it was... people were still living in there although the apartment was falling apart. And then we were given the release to come back to Seattle, and we were the first family to come back. And now, we came back to the apartment. And that's when Floyd Schmoe and Reverend Andrews, and everybody came to meet us, and helped us and got the place ready. That's what happened.
ME: Is that when you first met Floyd?
AK: I had met him before. Because he was protesting the evacuation of the Japanese, and all that. But then that's when I really connected with him, and then I worked with him.
ME: What about your parents' other belongings? Were they stored in the apartment as well?
AK: Yes, and we stored a lot of the things there, and all the valuable things were there. And when we returned, naturally most of them were gone. And it's very ironic, and I'll be bringing you way back into 1990, '89, when my mother was in the hospital and she was dying, she had pneumonia, she was dying. This nurse came, and she was a weekend nurse and a lovely young lady, and she said, "Mrs. Kato, are you from Elnor Apartments?" My mother said, "Well, yes." She identified herself, she said, "I want thank you so much for all those lovely Japanese things that you gave us." She says, "We have treasured them, my mother and I have treasured them so much." And she says, "My daughter's getting married in June, and I'm giving her the nice silk kimono and the nice plates that you gave us." My mother looked at me, and they had these beautiful dolls in the cases and everything, and my mother looked at me and I looked at her. And as soon as the nurse went out, she said, "Now I can die in peace." She said, "Isn't it wonderful that all our belongings have been treasured so nicely?" She said, "Please don't tell her that they don't, they didn't belong to, you know, that her father had taken them." And so it was very nice, and my mother was able to die in peace, saying, "If we had taken those to camp, they would probably would have been broken and destroyed. At least somebody's treasured them and taken good care of them and still honoring them." And she got very pleased, because so many people had things destroyed just because they were Japanese. And at least these were treasured, and so that was very nice. And so, we, I must say that we have been fortunate in not having the real tragedies that so many people had undergone in camp. And returning also, there were suicides, and you know, break... breakage in the families and really hard, a lot of hardships, but our family was together and we were able to continue. So that was good.
<End Segment 14> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 15>
ME: I'm wondering, Aki, for evacuation you could only take what you could carry. What, what did you take?
AK: I'll show you and I have kept this for a long time, because I have treasured this. This is the suitcase that my mother went and bought at Crest Ten Cent Store. She, and perhaps it's because she's so little and she couldn't carry so much, she got this suitcase because she was, you know, purchasing things for all four children and themselves. And so we were able to take whatever we could carry in our two hands. And so this was one of the suitcases I had and another little bag. And these are my whole worldly possessions that went with me.
ME: How old were you at that time?
AK: Yeah, and so I naturally took some underclothes and my pajamas and whatever and some books. And then I took my clarinet and... but it wasn't very much. And so we missed a lot of things. And in camp, it was very interesting, that Sears Roebuck and Montgomery Ward's said, "We will not discriminate against you people." They sent all kinds of catalogs. They didn't lower the prices and they made a killing. [Laughs] But people were ordering things from the catalogs, because, you know, and whatever limited money we had we spent it on purchasing things to make the camp life a little more comfortable. And one of the most popular things that people purchased, and the stores kept running out of, was chamber pots. And you may not know what a chamber pot is, I did not know until then, and they're little pots, and they're called chamber pots with a lid on it and that's what you used to defecate and to urinate in. Because our toilets and bathrooms were way far away and in the middle of the night, people didn't want to go in the freezing cold to go to the bathrooms. And so they'd use those. [Laughs]
ME: The chamber pot.
AK: Yes. [Laughs]
ME: Straight from the Sears catalog?
AK: Yes. [Laughs] As you know, all modesty is gone because there is this little closet, you're hiding behind a curtain, using this... and hoping nobody could hear all this tinkle, tinkle and whatever. [Laughs] And so it was a new way of life.
ME: You mentioned your clarinet, what -- when, when you're trying to figure out what you're going to take, what were you thinking? "This is my prize possession, I can't live without..." what? What else did you have to bring?
AK: Well, I thought it would be fun to at least make music. You know, a group of us that were in the band and orchestra together would just get together and play. And I carried that clarinet wherever I went. And now I gave it to my grandson, and he's... the same old clarinet, he's using it. It had to be reconditioned somewhat, but... uh-huh.
ME: What books did you bring with you?
AK: And, The Secret Garden was my favorite book, so I had The Secret Garden. And I had those Nancy Drew mysteries. That was very popular, so that's what I took. And we would share it on the train with other kids. Many of us took Nancy Drew and Andrew Hardy mysteries. That was the popular thing, but I always liked The Secret Garden, that's always been my favorite, so I took it. As I read it now, I realize there's a lot of racism in there, but it's a beautiful story anyway.
<End Segment 15> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 16>
ME: You went to Puyallup first...
ME: What was the ride like there? How did you get there?
AK: They took us in a big bus, great big Greyhound buses. And when we got there it was the campgrounds, Puyallup campgrounds. And the animal stalls were converted to living quarters. And the parking lot was converted to living quarters with plywood barracks. And we were to stuff the mattresses with hay, and it was -- they gave us army cots and then they gave us these bags and we were to stuff them for mattresses. And they told us to go get some hay. Well, it was very interesting, because the first thing, we stuffed them so full that when we took it back to the barracks, we'd try to get on it and we'd roll right off of it. And so we'd have to go empty some of it. But my sister, Suma, was very asthmatic, so that was terrible. She could not survive with the straw mattresses, you know. And so she spent a lot of time in the hospital in camp, because of her asthma. And so the medical care was not that adequate either.
AK: So Puyallup was more of a assembly center...
AK: So it was very temporary as far as the quarters were, there was no insulation and they used, they must have used third grade plywood. They had all these knotholes all over, so you could see your neighbors as well. And it was very crowded quarters.
AK: And we were divided into four different areas. Area A, B, C, and D, and people in the different parts of town were moved at different times.
ME: Which area were you?
AK: And we were in area B.
ME: Area B?
AK: Uh-huh, uh-huh.
AK: And then it was very interesting because as we entered, I realized there were barbed wire fences all around us. And I always considered barbed wire fences were fences to keep the cattle out of the farm areas, and whatever. So it was pretty interesting, and then also, that it was so crowded. Six people in one room.
ME: When you were... during your time in Puyallup, did people drive by to see what was going on?
AK: Yes, and, but also friends came by. And one interesting thing was, as we entered the camp we saw this guard tower with a soldier pointing a gun towards us. And it was very shocking because although we were being incarcerated, I really never felt that we were being under military, you know, what would you say... control. And that we were under suspect, and so why would there be a gun pointing towards us? It was a rather frightening experience. And also the guard tower was manned by such a young man. And, we did get into conversation with him and he was very young from the South that had never seen any Japanese Americans or Japanese. And so, it was very hard on him.
ME: What was it like talking to him?
AK: He was afraid first, you know. And he kept saying, "Don't come near the fence," don't do this, don't do that. But, gradually, I'm sure he was lonesome also, and just being a human being -- just got into conversation and you know...
<End Segment 16> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 17>
ME: What were you feeling when you first got off the bus at the Puyallup fairgrounds?
AK: Like, "Where are we? And what are we doing here?" was my first reaction. And, we were given numbers and we were waiting to get our assignments. And when we were given the assignment to go to the barrack it was very, very dismal, because it was, "This is where we're going to stay?"
AK: I'm sure a lot of people were spectators just driving by to see what it was all about. But, several of my classmates came by. This Maryjo Forcell, who's a white girl at Garfield, brought me a little carving set. And, I just had a reunion with her last year, and she still has the thing that I carved for her. And it just goes way back, and Mamie Chinn, this Chinese girl who was my classmate, always came by and brought us ginger and ingamoi, which was something that Niseis were always buying and eating. So that many nice people came by to offer help, and bring goodies and things. And then, there were those spectators that would drive by, and you know, sneer at you and make comments. So there were both.
ME: What kind of comments would people make?
AK: Like "Jap, go back." And we keep saying, "Why do they keep telling us to go back?" You know, because go back to Japan, because we were never there. But it was just that kind of a war hysteria. And I think it was as devastating for them to have a whole, you know, group of Japanese right near them. In a camp that might be, they may have felt threatened also. But a very strange reaction, because you don't know whether, you know, well, it's just so different. And I don't know what we were expecting. We certainly weren't expecting the Ritz, but we certainly weren't expecting stalls like that. We went as farm workers to pick beans and things, but our living quarters were better than that. [Laughs] At least we had private bunks and whatever.
ME: So all six of you were in, essentially, a horse stable?
AK: No, ours -- I was not in the horse stable. We were in the barracks. Area A was the one that had most of the horse stables and animal stables. And we were in the parking lot.
ME: You mentioned that you carved something for your friend that gave you the carving kit. What was it exactly?
AK: It was a ring, a friendship ring, and she still has it. Which was very interesting. And also I still have the carving set. And it's years.
ME: What did the ring look like?
AK: It was very plain. Just with little carving. I don't even know how I did that. [Laughs] But her father had given me chunks of wood and a carving set. There was a lot of that kind of friendship that went on. And we didn't have much discussion of what's going on. I think today if this would have occurred, we would have community meetings and more discussion. But our leaders were very young then, and naturally when we were dispersed like that they weren't able to help out. The average older Nisei was like twenty-one years old, being that twenty-one and in a peaceful situation, you not very concerned about those things, they were in school most of them, not that community-oriented. People are different these days; they're more into community and interaction.
<End Segment 17> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 18>
ME: A few months after that, you were sent to...
AK: Then we were sent to Idaho. And it was -- we were welcomed by dust storms. And it was really, you know, desert. Tumbling weeds, and dust, windstorms. And the barracks were at least more stable than what we had in Puyallup, but they were not finished, so they were covered with tarpaper all around. And so at least it was giving us more protection. But the weather was very extreme, and those of us that were born in the Northwest were not accustomed to that kind of weather.
ME: Tell me what it was like for you when you first arrived there.
AK: Well, we just again looked over the situation. This time they gave us army mattresses, so we didn't have to stuff mattresses when we went there. And there were still the steel army cots and we had to arrange the six beds so that there'd be space enough for us to move around. And then there was the mess hall, which was more permanent-looking than what we had in Puyallup. And so, we said, "Well, I guess this is where we're going to stay for awhile."
ME: Overall not too pretty, huh?
AK: Uh-huh, uh-huh. And, one of the things we did is to find out where each other, you know, each of our friends lived, "Which barrack are you in?" and so that we could visit. And so, it's not that we weren't that concerned, but we did go around trying to socialize and make friends. Well, they were our friends, but to establish contact with them, knowing where they were.
ME: How did your parents react at this time?
AK: And, you could see the disappointment in them, but they didn't say much, you know? I never heard them really complain. And it was 1984 when my husband and I decided to take my mom back to camp as a pilgrimage. And when we went there, she was by the river and she let the leaf float down the river and she said, "It's been a long time, and those were not very pretty years," was all she said. But she never really ever complained. I think they decided to make the best of it and that was it. And that's -- I think that's, was their upbringing. And so, they weren't the type that would go and protest or demonstrate. Whereas I think if -- well, I don't think it could occur now, with us, because we would protest. Also we have more legal kind of help, we have more experts in that area. And people are different these days. It's a land of protests and demonstrations.
ME: What was that pilgrimage like in '84 with you and your mom?
AK: It was very interesting. We just felt we'd like just go see what it was like. And as we looked over it, it had changed so much. The land was more arable, people were farming where our barracks were, and there were, barracks had been relocated. And we saw a man, and he said, "You know," he said, "I want to apologize to you." And he said, "I was one of those youngsters that worked here in the camp, as, you know, an eighteen-year-old, to help build these camps." Then he said he went into service and when he came back, those barracks were being offered, and that land was being offered as a homestead agreement. And all those GIs could get the barracks and the land if they served. One of the stipulations was if you have ever lived on that land, you could not homestead it. Well, the only people that lived on that land were the Japanese American soldiers, so they were the only ones that were not permitted as GIs to homestead that area. And so it was very interesting. And he, he had fought with the Japanese Americans in the service, and he felt that he needed to come in there and because -- but...
ME: That is interesting.
AK: Uh-huh, uh-huh.
<End Segment 18> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 19>
ME: How did you pass the time in camp?
AK: We did a lot of needlework, played games, card games. And then I got a job to work in the office -- filing and things like that. And then finally, I went off to school.
ME: What about school in camp? You still had a, what, a couple of years left to go?
AK: No, I had one year. Well, I finished in camp, and so it was just a short time. Then I got my diploma in camp.
ME: What was, what was that like? What was school like in camp? Or, what was getting your diploma like in camp?
AK: It was very uneventful. And we were just given the diploma, and it wasn't any big thing. It wasn't, you know, we didn't have a commencement, so to speak. We didn't have a real big graduation party or anything like that. It was just okay; it was just a completion of a part of my education, that's it. And I don't know if it's mental or whatever, do you know I never went to my baccalaureate exercises when I got my bachelor's and neither did I go for my master's? So I've never been in a real diploma situation, a real graduation.
ME: And for as far as you've gone for education then -- never.
AK: Yeah. And I just felt like, oh well, it's not that important, I guess. And yet when Paul was graduating, I said, "Hey, I want to come down for your graduation." [Laughs]
<End Segment 19> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 20>
ME: Are there any particularly positive moments that stand out in your mind about the camp experience?
AK: Well, I saw the togetherness and the community spirit where people went and had singing sessions, you know, we had community singing. And just, then later on they did community dances in the mess hall, you know. And so, that we felt the bonding and the togetherness. And I thought that was good and people were helping each other, and friendly.
ME: How about any particularly negative points?
AK: Well, the negative aspect was the inconvenience. The bathroom situation was very difficult, you'd have to go a whole block to go to the bathroom. And then it was all public type of facilities. And also, the laundry room was big tubs, and where you had to go wash your clothes with the scrub board -- which I had never seen done 'til then. And so those were the major inconveniences. But we did make do, I'd go pick up my girlfriend or she'd come pick me up and we'd go for walks or whatever. And so -- and we'd read books and things so there wasn't that real boredom -- read Gone With the Wind. [Laughs] And the American Friends' Service Committee sent in lots of books for us.
And then, Floyd Schmoe started a student relocation program, and he was checking out all the different colleges that will accept Japanese Americans. Princeton dismissed all the Japanese American students. And some of the colleges would not accept new Japanese American students. And so he placed many of the Japanese American students in Quaker schools. And so there were acts of discrimination and prejudice against the Japanese ongoing. And some of them, some of the people felt more victimized than some of us -- depending on the situation. There was a lot of turmoil when the boys volunteered for the service, because some of the parents felt like, "Why are you going to the service when we're thrown into camp?" And some of the older Isseis actually felt that Japan was going to win the war. And they said, "Hey, why are you doing this?"
<End Segment 20> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 21>
ME: When you were in camp, what did you find yourself missing the most about home?
AK: Well, the thing I felt most was the lack of privacy, and that there wasn't anyplace you could just go and sit down and reflect. It was just like, hey, everybody's around, and it's just -- was no privacy. And also the warm interaction with the family was missing, because we used to spend so much time together talking, and joking, and singing and all that. You don't have that kind of opportunity in a barrack with six cots lined up and your meals are at a mess hall. You know the mealtime used to be a happy time, where we discussed things and had fun, and share things. And so, it was just a lack of that kind of comfort.
ME: Would you say it was more stressful on the family than it was bringing you closer together?
AK: I... I really don't know. My parents never complained, but we also never got together like that anymore. We didn't sit down and share food together; we didn't sit down and eat together. And we're all going in and out of the barracks at different times. And so, there was a lack of that kind of... lack of communication as well. And, but, we didn't have the real stressful, anxious times that some of the other families had because of the age situation. We were old enough so we could listen to our parents and not rebel. But the youngsters, the real youngsters, kind of fell apart without much structure and a lot of freedom.
ME: Was it hard when you would receive letters from Curt, your brother's friend --
AK: Uh-huh, uh-huh...
ME: -- was it hard knowing that your furniture was being stolen, and you're thousands of miles away and there's nothing you could do about it?
AK: Right, right, you know.
ME: What was that like?
AK: It was just like, wow, but this is what happens. And always the fact that we were together was okay. And, my folks didn't make too much of that. They said, "Well, if it's gone, it's gone." And I think that was how most of the Japanese in camp... were feeling, that, "Well, shikata ga nai, that can't be helped. So let's make the best of it." And so, people were making gardens in that awful soil there and really being very successful. You know, they bought lots of seeds and plants and kept growing things. And so that the people made good use of their time, I felt.
ME: What do you feel that you've learned about yourself from your camp experience?
AK: Well, I have so much to be thankful for to my parents, because I didn't get that bitter feeling or the angry, bitter feeling, or feeling that something useful can't happen. They encouraged me to go to school, and so I left camp to go to school. And, I felt that they were constantly supporting me just in the way they were. And so throughout our whole experience we found good friends that were always trying to help, people like Floyd Schmoe and Emery Andrews, and all these people. And so, we didn't feel that abandoned, and that was good.
<End Segment 21> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 22>
ME: So you, you left camp after a couple of years?
AK: Uh-huh, uh-huh.
ME: And went where?
AK: Oh, and I went to Salt Lake City and I was supposed to go to the University of Utah. And had all my papers taken care of, and in order to leave camp, a requirement was that we find housing and many of the families opened up their house, homes for... and offered board and room. And so, I was placed in a home, but those people had no intention of letting me go to school, they wanted a nursemaid and a housekeeper. And so, I said, "Well I need to go register in school." They said, "My dear, you may go only in the evenings, you need to work during the day for your board and room." And they offered me the bus pass of the man of the house, and that was for my days off on Thursdays, where I -- and so when I went to the school they said, "Well, you're not going to be able to attend with this kind of schedule." And so they -- and I said, "Well, I want to go to school." And they said, "Well how's about business college?" So I went to LDS Business College. And then, when my brother came to visit Salt Lake City during his furlough, the woman said, "I do not want any Jap soldiers coming to the house." I said, "My brother's in the U.S. Army!" And she said, "No." And also she didn't want me to get any mail at my house, at her house, so I was getting my mail at my sister's. My sister had also left camp to go to work in this home. And so when my brother came up, he said, "You're not going to stay there any longer." And so the woman said, "Well, I'm going to send her back to camp." And he said, "No, I'll take her back to WRA office," which was War Relocation Authority office. And my sister's family, the family that she was staying with, offered a space for me and said I could stay with her until I found another place. And so then I stayed with her, and then found another place, then continued school. Then the release came and we came back here. And then I came back here and worked with Floyd and then I went to Friends University in Kansas, and stayed with his wife's family down there.
ME: So tell us about Friends, what was that like there?
AK: Friends was very... it's, Wichita, Kansas is a small town. It was a -- well, it's not that small, but most of the students at Friends University were farm kids, and people from the rural area. Very friendly and very nice, and they didn't think of me as an oddity but just took me in -- very cordial, warm. And so it was lots of fun down there. And I still am in touch with those friends. And so, it was a very good experience.
ME: You mentioned Floyd's name again, why don't we talk a little bit about him?
AK: Uh-huh, uh-huh.
ME: And how did you, how did you first meet?
AK: Well, Floyd was very active in helping Japanese American students at the university. He was a professor at the University of Washington, a forestry professor. And he housed many Japanese students that came from Yakima, Wapato, whatever. The family always took in students. And I started attending Friends Center -- Friends meeting, which is church. And he just kind of adopted me, and said, "Hey, you're going to be our daughter." And so I'd go in and out of his house all the time. And his wife was very, very nice, and I got to know the whole family. And I've kept up this relationship with them. And he is just the most uncanny person I've ever known. He's very bright, very giving; he's just a very nice person. And I think I feel real honored to be his friend.
ME: And even today?
AK: Yes, yes. Every Sunday I pick him up and go take him to meeting, and bake him apple pies, because that's his favorite. And in the meanwhile he's writing another book, he's writing books all the time. And he's writing In the Beginnings right now about this story of Lucy, Lucy's child, that Johanson and Shreeve discovered. And he's doing a historical fiction about that. And I'm transcribing his material.
ME: That's wonderful.
<End Segment 22> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 23>
ME: Now another relationship that you had, that we haven't found out about yet, is with your husband. When did you guys meet? Did you guys meet in camp?
AK: He was my brother's best friend. [Laughs] So, and I was his sister's best friend. It wasn't anything mysterious, or... we just knew each other. And he used to come and visit my brother all the time. And so he was like a big brother to me, then I married him. [Laughs]
ME: Before the war you guys knew each other?
AK: Yes, yes. And he used to be my brother's best friend, so they'd, he'd come over all the time and visit. And he liked the freeness and the warmth of our family. And so, he just became like part of our family, so I decided I might as well marry him. [Laughs] And he was much older than me, so I was lucky. I played the role very well, and I let him baby me and take good care of me. [Laughs]
ME: What year did you guys get married?
AK: In 1948.
ME: You had come back to the Seattle area...
AK: Uh-huh, and he was discharged, and he came back to the Seattle area. After we got married we went to Chicago to live... for a couple of years because his parents were there, and he was the only surviving son. But, he decided he did not want to raise children in Chicago and he missed the Northwest. So we came back here.
ME: What was he like?
AK: He was a very generous, giving person. He was very progressive, but certain things I felt like, hey... he had these cultural biases that I hate to say, he says like -- I'm a fast walker and he'd always say, "My goodness," he says, "I should have married a woman from Japan. You're supposed to walk ten paces behind me, you're always ten paces before me." [Laughs] Things like that. But he was very hospitable, too, so we took in lots of kids, and he was very good about that.
ME: It sounds like he fit in perfectly with your family.
AK: He did, he did... and so it was really nice. And that was what was really fortunate for our family, because all the kids, and all the kids' friends would interact with them and feel real comfortable. And he'd be real helpful.
ME: Unfortunately, we can't interview him for our own archives, but I want to know how you would like him to be remembered.
AK: Well, he was a strong community person. He believed in helping youth, he loved to help youth. He coached basketball at JBC for many years. He was a very -- what would you say -- understanding person. I would not be considered a perfect Japanese wife; I was always taking off, going to school and whatever. But I was very fortunate, I loved school and so he allowed me to take classes all along. And I was in school from day one. [Laughs] And I've been going to school ever since. And so while I was raising six children, I'd take off to evening classes. And then, in the summertime -- one summer I decided to take some courses up at Bellingham, I left him with six kids for two months and went to school. And the biggest complaint was, my kids would say, "Dad makes stew, but there's more vegetables than meat in that stew, and he won't give us anything else 'til we finish that stew." [Laughs] And like his... he'd make meatloaf, and they said, "Dad doesn't make hamburgers. He just lays out all this hamburger on a tray and cook it like a big meatloaf, and then he'd cut it up and eat it." [Laughs]
And so, he was very good. So I was very fortunate. And some of his friends would complain, and said, "Boy, if we had a wife like Aki, we'd leave her. Junks, you're crazy." [Laughs] But he was very supportive with me during the postwar years because I was very active in the peace movement. And with the veterans and the NVC people and everything, it wasn't the most popular stance. But he always supported me and stood by me. And, well, he didn't know about these demonstrations; and there was going to be a peace march and he says, "Well, I hope I don't see you going out there." And I just laughed, and I says, "You know I'm going to." And he says, "Yeah." And when he came home and nobody was home, and he says, "Hmm." And so he says, "I go out and watch," and so he came down and watched the peace march. And he saw me, then he saw Hugo, then he saw Guy, then he saw Ruthann, and then he saw them holding Paul and Marie's hands all marching, he says, "Well, if you can't beat 'em, you might as well join 'em." So he joined us. And so, he was very good about that and I don't think, at that time many Nisei men would have done that.
ME: Because he got right in there with you...
AK: Yeah, uh-huh, uh-huh. And so, as I say, I was very fortunate. I don't know about him being that fortunate. [Laughs] I didn't keep a very neat house. [Laughs] Took off to classes all the time. But he really encouraged me. And so, I was able to go to school all the time, and worked real hard in the peace movement; and he supported me on that, so I... and he was real supportive of the kids. When they got into trouble, he always stood behind them. He was never judgmental about other people's kids. And that I felt was very fortunate, because sometimes in a community people start criticizing other people's children if they don't conduct themselves the way they should or whatever. But he wasn't that way, so, and especially with me. [Laughs] Because, I realize now how lucky I was in -- you know, I was pretty selfish because I took all the classes I felt like taking. I still take classes.
<End Segment 23> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 24>
ME: So how long have you been taking college classes?
AK: Ever since we got married. And the, I took off two years after my last cancer. It was just... I was going through chemo and I was real tired, so I stopped taking classes. But now after this batch, bout of cancer, I've gone back to school, and I'm taking classes all along. So there was that interim of two or three years when I didn't take classes, but I've always taken evening classes. It's not -- some of the classes haven't been real academic; take doll-making classes and I take craft classes. But I'm always taking classes, but mainly education classes and science classes.
ME: So were you then taking classes at the same time your kids were in college?
AK: Yes. Paul helped me in my physics, the trigonometry. [Laughs] And in those days, when we were taking statistics and trigonometry, we were not allowed to use the calculators. And that was difficult especially in statistics, so you make one error and, calculation error and your whole thing is skewed. But, so I was always calling up, "Paul I can't do this." [Laughs] And my husband, too, he was good in math. When the kids were small, I'd rely on him for my math. And when the kids got older, then Paul was a whiz in math so it was, I asked him. And he was more patient and Junks would say, "You don't understand this?" And I'd say. "No." Like, you know, things would come to him like this, like making estimates and things, and I could never do that. But, look at a room and make an estimate and know much tile to buy, or how much paint to buy, whatever -- I could never do that. And that's why I'm teaching first grade. [Laughs]
<End Segment 24> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 25>
ME: Now you mentioned the peace movement, when did you first get involved as a peace activist?
AK: After I came back from camp, and after I came back -- oh, actually, I really got involved after I came back from college. So before I got married, and then I continued. And so I've been active with the American Friends Service Committee for many years.
ME: And so how often would you go on marches?
AK: Well, the marches weren't that often, maybe six months, maybe... you know, twice a year, once a year or whatever. But I was going to the meetings, you know, coalition with women about peace and children, and also I've always been anti-war and anti-nuclear weapons. So ever since, with Floyd when I always commemorated August the 6th, the bombing of Hiroshima will make a peace movement out of that.
ME: Aki, how did your camp internment experience influence your work for peace?
AK: Well, because I realized what war can do and the injustices that occur for reason of the war. There is no justice when war takes place. And my folks emphasized the fact that this incarceration was due to war, this was an injustice due to war. And that we should always make sure that there is no more war, and we should work for peace. My father was a real strong pacifist. And he was a real peaceful man, and I just felt like, and my mother, too, and they were never critical of people. It was just amazing because my mother never gossiped and talked bad about people. And when we would do that, she would really frown on it; and wouldn't join in to cheer the -- sometimes it's, you think it's fun to hear all these negative things about people, and say, "Ooh," sensationalize it. And my mother discouraged that. And so, I'm very lucky to have those kind of role models. And then getting influence like, people like Floyd Schmoe and people in the peace movement. And peace empowers you. Peace empowers you so that it's such a satisfying thing because you could see the good that it does. And it's not what you're doing but it's -- but empowerment of peace makes such a difference for so many people. Made my teaching real exciting and fun. And you see the results, and you realize that it's the most positive thing that could happen.
<End Segment 25> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 26>
ME: When I spoke to your son, Guy, he, he described you as a non-traditional Nisei woman. Has it been tough at times to stand up for what you believe in?
AK: Yes and no. You know what I mean? I felt like, "Come on... you don't understand," because I was labeled as a Communist and people would criticize me, but it wasn't a hardship because I felt like I knew what I was doing was right. It was just kind of sad that that wasn't being communicated to them, and for them feeling that I was doing something unpatriotic or wrong. And that also the prejudice and racism that many Niseis harbored was very uncomfortable. My niece married a black, and people would say, "Gee it's too bad." And I'm going, "Why?" But it's because she's black -- he was black. And so that's what happens.
And I feel that if I didn't have the commitment to peace and the peace testimony, my teaching at Laurelhurst would have been very difficult, too. When I taught at Martin Luther King School, which was mostly, predominately black and low income, and the H.E. -- in 1970, I don't know, '75 or thereabouts, this H.E.W. mandate came out. You know the Department of Health, Education and Welfare mandate came out that no minority teacher could teach in a minority impacted school. And also, they were desegregating the schools and it came to the attention of the school board that the staff was not desegregated. And so I was sent out to Laurelhurst as the token, desegregate... or whatever you want to call it. And the school community freaked out. I was replacing this very good teacher. This teacher was born in Laurelhurst, her father was a doctor. And he... she went to Laurelhurst school as a student and then after she got her education degree, teacher's certificate, she taught at Laurelhurst school; was an excellent teacher. And she was being shipped out to the central area to teach in a minority impacted school as a white teacher, and I was being shipped out to Laurelhurst as a minority teacher in a predominately white school. The community was very upset because I was replacing one of the best teachers. So they had a meeting in the community, the principal called me in the middle of August and said, "The community wants to speak to you." And I said, "Well, what about?" And he said that, "They're concerned about you being a teacher here at Laurelhurst school."
And so they had a summer meeting in this beautiful home, Dr. Peter Mansfield's home on the lake, with squash court, indoor swimming pool, beautiful home. And the principal asked me to meet at school and he would drive me down there, and I went down there. There were over forty parents in the downstairs living room. And they wanted to know what kind of education I had. What kind of philosophy I had. What, you know... and whether their students would pick up the Japanese accent. And they were wondering if I would be able to deal with their gifted children. And so, I was being really on trial. And they said that, "This is our school and it's our right to come visit the classroom." And I said, "Well, you're most welcome to." And so two parents came every day to check me out, and finally I passed the test. But it wasn't easy. There was one parent that came and said, "You know, the only reason you have this job is because you're a minority." And she says, "I don't think you're a good teacher at all." And she says, "The only reason you have this job is you're a minority, and you've displaced and replaced one of the best teachers in the district." She was very angry.
ME: How did you react to that?
AK: And I said, "Well, I'm sorry." What can you say? She was in a beautiful tennis outfit and she just... so it wasn't everything positive at that time. And in fact, one of the parents that was in that group, is now my very good friend. She worked on the peace garden committee, and she says she's still trying to live it down that she was one of those parents. But you know, they were highly educated parents that wanted the best for their children, and here was this unknown Asian teacher coming to their building. They didn't know what to expect.
ME: If I may place my own commentary in this archive...
ME: ...they did get the best.
ME: If I may do that for the Densho archive, they did get the best. So they are lucky.
AK: But, you know it was very interesting, because one of them said, "Well, if you want to bring your chopsticks and rice bowl, it's okay." [Laughs] And this is in the 1970s.
<End Segment 26> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 27>
AK: Well, it was very interesting at Laurelhurst, because some of my greatest critics became my strongest advocates.
ME: You were going to tell us what one teacher had said.
AK: Uh-huh, oh, but when I first went there, one teacher came and said, "What are you?" And I said, "What do you mean, what am I?" And she says, "Well, who are you?" And I said, "I'm Aki Kurose." And she said, "Well, what are you?" And I said, "I'm a teacher." And she said, "Where'd you come from?" And I said, "From Madrona." And she was getting furious with me, and she said, "No. You know what I mean, where did you come from?" So I said, "Oh, Martin Luther King School." And she said, "I'm asking you where you came from." So I said, "Are you trying to ask my ethnicity?" I said, "I told you I'm from Madrona, I told you I'm from Martin Luther King School, and you're still asking me where I came from." And she said, "Oh." And I said, "Are you wondering whether I'm Japanese, or Chinese, or Vietnamese, or whatever?" And she said, "Well, what are you?" And so I said, "Well, I'm Japanese American." And she said, "Oh." And she walked away.
Then things were going on okay, and then came it to the Christmastime and there was a Christmas party going on, and one of the teachers came and said, "Is your husband coming to the Christmas party?" And I said, "Well I thought this was... aren't husbands invited?" And she said, "Oh, yes." But she said, and there were three teachers there, "Well, our husbands were in the service, and so they won't feel comfortable if your husband comes." I said, "My husband was in the service, too." And they said, "No, we mean the American army." And I said, "My husband was also in the American army." But they couldn't quite understand that. And when I told my husband, he said, "Thank goodness. I don't want to go to a teacher's party anyway." [Laughs] But those are subtle prejudices that people don't realize. And I'm sure they were well-meaning. They didn't want my husband to be uncomfortable. This is why they didn't want him to be there, that I should be forewarned.
ME: And what year was this, Aki?
AK: In '76 or '75 or so. And then my niece's daughter, who was black, came to the school. And the comment in the teacher's room, "Your sister must have been devastated." And I said, "Why?" They said, "Your niece married a black." And then they said, "Gee, but Kiyomi is very smart." Like she's not supposed to be? And then, after she left, my, when my son died, the teachers came to his funeral. And a couple of the teachers said, "We want to see Kiyomi, we want to see Kiyomi." So I said, "Oh, Kiyomi, some of those teachers would like to see you." And she went, and then after we got back to the school they said, "Gee, isn't it too bad that she looks more black than Asian now." And I'm going, "Thank you, you came to my son's funeral and you're talking about what my niece looks like?" So, there's those kinds of undertones that occur, but this is from faculty.
ME: And it still comes out today.
AK: Uh-huh. And one of the... and I have to be real careful because I don't want this... she's a school board member, maybe I shouldn't even say that much, and she's... when I went there, her son was assigned to my classroom. And he came in and says, "I'm not supposed to have a Jap for a teacher." And I said, "Aaron, I, that's not a very nice term." I said, "I'm Japanese American." And he said, "Well, my Mom says I'm not supposed to be in this class. I'm supposed to be in Miss Ireland's class." And I said, "Well, we'll see about it." I said, you know, "I'll have to speak to the principal about it." Because I said, "You were assigned here and I can't do anything about it, but I'll see what I can do about it." So I went to the principal and I said, "Aaron is just making all this fuss, 'I'm not supposed to be in this class, I'm in the wrong class, I shouldn't be here.'" And she said... Japanese and all this... and so the principal called this woman, and she said, "Oh, he wasn't supposed to say that out of school, out of home." But, she says, "I really don't want him in her class." She withdrew him from my classroom.
And later on, her other son, who was just a holy terror, was not wanted by any of the teachers. And so, I read the roster three years later, and here is Elliot; and I said, "I'm not supposed to have this child in here." So I went to the principal, "Here, this child is in my classroom." And I said, "You know his mother didn't want me for a teacher." He said, "Oh no, this time she requested you. And he's really difficult to work with." And so when she came in, I said, "Are you sure you want your son in my classroom?" And she said, "Oh, yes," she says, "he is so difficult, and I'm sure he could fit into your room because, you know, you're real nice to kids." Well, he just needed the special kind of attention, and he turned out very nicely. He was no trouble for me, because I gave him respect and, you know, I didn't restrict him. And so now she was the one that spoke so highly of me at the dedication, and so highly of me at the, my retirement, and I went, "Oh my goodness." And she's always praising me... [Laughs] And I think, oh my goodness. So you learn or whatever, but you know... she could not even have him in my room a half day more. She pulled him out to go to the other class. And so, these are the subtleties of racism that occur constantly, and even in the teaching profession.
<End Segment 27> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 28>
ME: I'm looking at your resume and I see... the honors and awards go on and on and on, and I was going to ask you, have you always felt so loved and accepted? And the answer... would, I would assume, be no, from what you just told me.
AK: Well, it was at the beginning, it was hard. They were, they're... it's a community that's very highly-educated, and very education-oriented. And I think they were very concerned that here comes this stranger with a different ethnicity coming to teach their kids. And one parent said, "Our children have had privileges all along, are you going to be able to meet their standards? Can you teach kids that are so highly motivated and qualified?"
ME: Aki, are there any of the -- we can't touch on all of them, because there are so many. But are there any high points that you want to tell us about, as far as being an educator?
AK: Well, one of the most exciting things was being on President Carter's advisory board for the education of disadvantaged children. I was able to visit and see the really, really poor schools down South. And what the Chapter One was doing for them. And unfortunately that Chapter One program was wiped out when Reagan took office. But it was really interesting and a very eye-opening experience. This, when people complain about poor schools, when you go to some of those areas where the funding is so low, and the facilities and the resources are so low, you realize how lucky you are being up in the Northwest here. But the most exciting part is to work with children. I really enjoy that.
<End Segment 28> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 29>
ME: You, you've mentioned in speaking earlier about your fight and your successful battle with cancer. When did that first start?
AK: Okay, and... in 1970, in early '70s, I... the doctor discovered a big tumor in my ovaries. And so I had the ovarian cancer. Then I... maybe five years after that, I had the breast cancer in the left side, and I discovered that myself. And then, five years later, maybe... yeah, thereabouts, I discovered a lump in my right breast, which was quite advanced. And I had gone to the doctor's and they did a magnification, and the doctor had said, "No, there's nothing there." But a few months later, the growth had increased so much, I went to the general practitioner, and said... and he says, "Oh, I'm sure you have cancer, let me see a surgeon." And it had, it was cancer and they had made a mistake on the reading of the magnification, because I went back and looked at the x-ray and they said it was there. But it had been... so with that time I had another mastectomy, then it had already infected my lymph nodes. And so, at, the first time I had radiation, then this last time I had chemotherapy. And so then I recovered and I went back to school, as I had told you previously, my chemotherapy was once a month. So I was able to do that and go to school, and not take time off. With my first, well, cancer of the breast, left breast, I had radiation. So I would schedule my radiation after school hours every day, because that was a daily treatment. So I'd go at 5 o'clock, get zapped, come home, crash, go to school the next morning, then teach all day, go to the hospital, get zapped, crash... and repeat, I repeated that for several months. And it wasn't as devastating, but the, and the second chemo, bout with cancer with the chemo was once a month, so that wasn't so bad, where I could continue working.
This last batch was a different kind of chemotherapy; where it was a twenty-eight-day regimen but there's four treatments during that twenty-eight days. And it was very intense. And so I had to get a substitute, and finally it was... I decided, I need to -- and also this was a lady that was my former intern, an excellent teacher, and I thought, "Well, this is a good opportunity for her to get her full certification and her full contract." And so with that agreement, I said to the district, "If you'll give her a full-time contract, I'll leave." And so, that's what happened. But I've continued volunteering because I really enjoy it. And I do miss teaching, and having my own class.
ME: But the status with the cancer is you've...
AK: Oh, yeah. Uh-huh. And they said there would be recurrence, but I'm fine. And so, I think a lot of it's just luck of the draw, I guess, or something. I've just been real fortunate. And I must say that my whole life has been a real positive kind of life. I've been very fortunate. Lots of good friends, and lots of fun teaching, and, and people have honored me way beyond what I should be honored for. It's just... but I think it's the nature of the community that I worked in, because to be realistic, if I worked in a very poor area, they wouldn't know how to nominate me for these awards. They wouldn't, you know, the resources wouldn't be there. They're many, many teachers as equally as good, if not even better, that have not been honored because of where they're working. Because they don't have the same kind of resources. But I must say Laurelhurst parents are very resourceful, that Peace Garden is overwhelming. Now come on, in a poor area, they couldn't do that. It's just...
ME: Well, that's very nice of you, and very, very modest of you.
<End Segment 29> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 30>
ME: You have had a wonderful life and I'm... the nature of the Densho archive, is it's preserved, for hopefully generations and generations to come. Is there anything that you would like to say to future generations? Anything that you learned along the way that you'd like to share?
AK: I want them to always realize that, not to get involved when you should get involved is an act of violence. And that you should always work for peace. Peace does empower you. Peace is the most empowering and productive way to go. And... I wish that there would be peace for all people in all nations.
ME: What about special messages to great-great-great-grandchildren that are not even born yet, that you might not get a chance to see?
AK: Peace is the most important message, yes. I want them to always work for peace. And without peace, real learning cannot take place, real interaction with others cannot, you know... meaningful interaction cannot take place. You have to respect people, and be peaceful with people. I think respect is very, very important. Respect for yourself, respect for others. And if there is anything I would like to leave with my grandchildren, is to have them learn to respect themselves as well as others, and to work for peace. Because peace is what empowers people.
ME: What's the biggest joy in your life right now?
AK: My grandchildren, I guess. [Laughs] And just to have a happy family. And I see a lot of empowerment of peace throughout the city, I think there's a message being given to people. There are a lot of peace gardens that are being made in various schools, also there's going to be a strong peace curriculum that's being implemented in many schools through the Mothers Against Violence in America. There's a lot of these very, very positive, active groups that are making a difference.
ME: And not only peace, but you're also interested in preserving the history of the Japanese American community, otherwise you wouldn't have helped us out today. Why is that important?
AK: Well, because I think that comes with respect for yourself and respect for others. But also that gives you identity, and I think it's very important... self identity, and knowing where you came from, knowing what your roots are is very important. And we must never forget that, because through the multicultural enrichment is where real peace can take place. You know, you have to know who you are.
<End Segment 30> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 31>
ME: Aki, was there, was there anything that I didn't ask that you wish that I had? Anything else that you want to talk about?
AK: Not really. [Laughs] I can't think of anything right now.
ME: We did cover a lot, we did cover a lot.
Richard Pratt: Aki, that day at the dedication of the garden, how did that make you feel when you walked through the gate, and to see those kids around you, like, you're like a magnet for them, they come around you, they hug you, they love you. As a teacher, how does that make you feel?
AK: It was very exciting. But the most important part of it was that it was the peace aspect of it, those kids really are thinking about peace. And peace was empowering them, and this whole thing occurring in the peace garden was very exciting for me. And they are the ones that showed me how peace has empowered them, and their parents and community.
ME: There's a couple of things that I would like to ask that I didn't get a chance to. Of course, we won't get a chance to talk with your parents. Can you tell me a little bit about how you would like your parents, and your mother, especially, remembered?
AK: Well, my mother was a very kind, loving, giving person. And... a very peaceful person. And I think that she was my role model; she was always wanting to help people. And never wanting, and, and one of the most important things, thing that she taught me was -- don't do something looking for a reward or thanks, you don't do something expecting to be thanked or rewarded. Then don't do it... she said, "Do it from the heart." And that's so important, because so often you do something and think, "I didn't even get thanked," or, "I didn't..." and so the message is do something for the good of the order and don't do it for a reward or for thanks.
ME: How about your father?
AK: Oh, he was wonderful. He was a very, very giving person. And both of them were just wonderful. And my father always had a very happy outlook and a positive outlook on things. And never felt defeated. You know, he had his ups and downs in business, but he never showed distress or anxiety. He says, "You keep going." And that's the message he gave us. And both of them felt education was very important.
ME: I was curious, how did you get through the time when you, it seems, you lost your mother, your son, and husband all within a short period of time?
ME: How did you get through that?
AK: Well, you know, you look back and think of all the positive things about them, and the gifts that they gave you. Rollie died at thirty-two, but he was a wonderful son, he did a lot, he was a caring person, he helped people, and you remember those things. He lived a full life in the short years, because he was always helping people. And it was really, really something that I can always look back on. I'm so fortunate for the years that I had with him. And he left a beautiful daughter, my granddaughter, and so I've lots to be thankful for. It's just, how lucky I am to have the support system that I have. You know, there are so many people that are homeless, jobless, family-less, what a bleak life for them. I'm so fortunate to have so much love around me, that there's no time to be feeling sorry for myself. I have to feel very fortunate. Naturally, I didn't want to lose my son, naturally I didn't want to lose my husband so early. I had my mother for a long time, ninety-three years, my father left us very early. But, all the good things that I, I cannot ever complain. I feel very, very fortunate. And we live in a wonderful community. And I'm so thankful that Densho is doing this, to preserve a lot of the things that, you know, that we've gone through, which is part of you.
ME: We thank you Aki, we've lots to be thankful for.
<End Segment 31> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.