Densho Digital Repository
Alameda Japanese American History Project Oral History Collection
Title: Kenji Tomita Interview
Narrator: Kenji Tomita
Interviewer: Jo Takeda
Location: San Rafael, California
Date: November 20, 2021
Densho ID: ddr-ajah-1-3

<Begin Segment 1>

JT: Okay. We're interviewing, we're talking to Kenji Tomita, and we're in San Rafael, Marin County, California. And first thing I wanted to ask you, Kenji, is about your parents, your mother and father. Where were they, did they come from Japan?

KT: Yes. My father was from Aichi-ken and my mother was from Gifu-ken.

JT: Okay. And what did they do? What did your father do for a living in Japan?

KT: Well, I assume he just went to a business school, and he was... and then there was another Mr. Kako who was also in that business school. And he came to the United States first.

JT: Mr. Kako.

KT: Yeah. And he used to live in Alameda.

JT: Okay. And then did he tell your dad that it would be a good idea to come?

KT: I guess that was probably it, yeah.

JT: And what year was that, do you remember?

KT: Well, I don't know what year my father came to the United States, but it's probably somewhere between '19...

JT: Nineteen.

KT: Yeah.

JT: Was he married?

KT: No, not yet.

JT: Oh, okay.

MT: I think (your father came to the U.S.) around 1917, I would say, because I see some albums that he has that were from pictures in the United States around 1918.

JT: Oh, they came late then. What was your mom, or what was your father's name, and your mother's name?

KT: My father's name was Katsushige.

JT: Katsushige?

KT: Uh-huh. My mother's name was Haruno.

JT: Haruno, her first name? Haruno.

KT: Yeah.

JT: Were they married? Did you say they were married when they came?

KT: No. My father came to the United States first, and then he went back to Japan to get, bring a wife.

JT: Oh, okay. Do you know if it was an arranged marriage?

KT: I think so.

JT: It wasn't a picture, was it a "picture bride" marriage?

KT: No.

JT: No. Baishakunin?

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2021 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

JT: We were talking about your parents. They were married in Japan and then they came here. Where did they come? Where did they land when they came here?

KT: They just landed... they didn't go to one of these camps, I guess.

JT: Did they come to San Francisco?

KT: Yeah.

JT: Oh, and did they live there for a while?

KT: No. Well, just probably about one year or so.

JT: And did Mr. Kako live in Alameda?

KT: Yeah.

JT: Oh, okay. Where did they live when they came to Alameda?

KT: The Kakos or my folks?

JT: Well, first let's go to the Takos, or Kako.

KT: Oh, okay. They lived on Peru Street.

JT: What did he do for a living? What did Mr. Kako do for a living?

KT: He was a wholesale food distributor.

JT: Oh, okay. And what about your dad? What did he do?

KT: Well, he was partners with Mr. Kako.

JT: Oh, they both... because he called him over and they came together. And where did your dad live? Where did your family live in Alameda?

KT: I really don't know where my father lived when he was single, but after he brought his wife over, well, they landed in San Francisco, and I think they lived there about, maybe one year or a little bit more or less.

MT: But you were born in Alameda.

JT: Well, maybe since Mr. Kako lived on Peru, Peru's on the Gold Coast. Did you live around the church?

KT: Yeah.

MT: Well, you lived in Eagle.

JT: Was your dad, were your parents Christian?

KT: Not really. [Laughs]

JT: I mean, what church... did they attend church?

KT: I don't think so.

JT: How did you end up at Buena Vista?

KT: Well, my mother, number one, we lived in Eagle Avenue.

JT: Oh, right around the corner.

KT: Right. And my mother felt like, well, here we're in the United States and the church is very convenient, just around the corner.

JT: Yeah, you could probably cut through the fence and be there. Okay.

KT: Yeah. And she said, well, she felt that maybe since we're in the United States now, that maybe it'd just be good to send the kids --

JT: Children, right.

KT: -- to church.

JT: Right. And so were you the oldest?

KT: No, my brother is the oldest.

JT: And how old is he? Or what year was he born?

KT: He was born in 1922.

JT: Two years before you, I see. And then your sister, you said, was seven years after that? So she was born in 1931?

KT: Nine years after me.

JT: Oh, nine years after you, okay. What was your brother's name?

KT: Shigeya.

JT: Shigeya, okay. Were you two close as brothers? Do you remember playing with them?

KT: Oh, not that close, but close enough.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2021 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

JT: What kind of things did you do as a young boy with your brother or playing with other friends? Were there other Japanese kids around?

KT: Yeah.

JT: Do you remember who they might have been?

KT: I remember we used to play Kick the Can. [Laughs]

JT: How do you play Kick the Can? I mean, I can see what you would do, but what was the object of the game?

KT: I'm not sure. [Laughs]

JT: We used to play that, too, and I'm not sure either. Is it like Hide and Go Seek? You kick the can and someone hides?

KT: Maybe so, I don't know.

JT: Okay, well, what else did you play besides Kick the Can?

KT: Oh, probably played catch. Because baseball was pretty popular. They had this Alameda Tai-kai baseball team.

JT: Oh, so do you remember anything about that baseball team? Were you on it?

KT: No. [Laughs] I wasn't very good.

JT: Well, maybe you weren't old enough yet.

KT: Well, that was true, too. But I guess...

JT: What do you remember about the Alameda Tai-kai?

KT: Well, they played, I think, during the baseball season.

JT: Who did they play against?

KT: There's a lot of teams that used to come and play.

JT: In the Bay Area?

KT: Well, like Fresno...

JT: Oh, they had a circuit. Did you go to the games?

KT: Yeah.

JT: Where did they play?

KT: There's a baseball field that the Alameda... I don't know whether it was a city property or what.

JT: Oh, was it McKinley Park?

KT: Right near there.

JT: Right down the... and did you go after church on Sundays?

KT: I guess so, yeah. And there's a lot of teams that were from the Bay Area.

JT: Stockton and Sacramento, and they all came, right? But did you ever play sports as a kid?

KT: Not really.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 2021 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

JT: Well, I'm trying to think if you were born in '24, what school did you go to?

KT: Well, that's interesting because I went first to Everett School, and that was the last class there. And Everett school...

JT: Before it closed?

KT: It closed, yeah. And so that was probably 1930?

JT: That was about 1930, okay.

KT: And my class was the last class.

JT: Because the school closed, okay.

MT: It closed in 1931.

JT: Okay.


JT: So you went to Everett School. And did you have any other Japanese kids in your class?

KT: Yeah.

JT: Who were they?

KT: We were, our class was, we had twenty students, and I would say nine of them were Japanese. And we had one Chinese, Ming Sang, and...

MT: He went to Everett School, too?

KT: Yeah.

JT: And do you still know him? How do you know him, Mary? Ming Sang Ng?

MT: Because he lived across the street from me.

JT: Oh, for heaven's sake.


JT: So when you were at Everett School, did you walk to school?

KT: Yeah.

JT: Because it was close.

KT: Right. But then after it closed, then we had to go to Porter School.

JT: Everybody... yes, I went to Porter School.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 2021 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

JT: And did you go to Nihon gakko, Japanese school?

KT: Yeah.

JT: Where did you go to Japanese school?

KT: At the church.

JT: Okay, it was at the church. Do you remember any of your teachers, their names?

KT: Not really.

JT: Yeah, I don't remember any of them either. But was it held in the church, at the church building?

KT: Yeah.

MT: What church are you talking about?

KT: Buena Vista Methodist Church.

MT: You went to Japanese school there?

KT: Yeah.

MT: How long?

KT: Until about... probably, let's see...

MT: Because I thought you said your father was one of the founders of the other...

KT: The other Nihon gakko.

JT: Where was that?

KT: Right across from the church.

JT: Oh. In 1930?

KT: Yeah.

JT: Okay, that was that other building. That was between...

KT: Near the Buddhist Temple.

JT: Yes, 2730 Buena Vista. That was the Nihon gakko, and they had offices there, too, in that building. Oh, you remember that? Do you remember who ran that school? Who ran that school? Was it the Methodist Church or the Buddhist Temple?

KT: Well, it was mostly Buddhist, because the church had its own language school.

JT: I see.

KT: And then my father and Mr. Kako said that maybe if you had only one school, you learned Japanese much better than the way it was. But then the church didn't go for that. But at that time, my father and Mr. Kako decided to go to the other Japanese language school.

JT: Okay. On Buena Vista at the Buddhist church, temple.

KT: Yeah. And I don't think that there was a Buddhist building.

JT: No. Do you remember what time, was it every day that you went?

KT: Yeah.

JT: Every day after school, after Porter, you went there.

KT: Right.

JT: How did you like that?

KT: Didn't. [Laughs]

JT: Why?

KT: Well, you'd rather play.

JT: Exactly, exactly. And when you did play, what kind of things did you play? Besides throwing balls, did you do anything else?

KT: I liked to play basketball.

JT: Okay.

KT: And there was a court in the backyard of the church.

JT: Of Buena Vista?

KT: Yeah.

JT: Oh, I didn't know that. Who else played with you?

KT: Oh, like Takeo Nakata, I guess Dan Mashihara, and Stanley Aoyagi.

JT: Okay, so you were buddies with those people, those guys.

KT: And we sort of formed a team. We went to the YMCA in Oakland and played in their league.

JT: Oh, my. And in their gym at the YMCA?

KT: Right.

JT: In those days, how did you get there?

KT: (Bus), I guess...

JT: Did one of you have a car or were you still too young to drive?

KT: I mean, after we got older, then some people had access to a car.

JT: Did you?

KT: No. [Laughs] Well, actually, my brother was able to drive. And he probably was one of the people that...

JT: Took you back and forth.

KT: Yeah.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 2021 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

JT: Well, you know, do you remember, I'm going back to your father's store and Mr. Kako's store, did you ever go there? Was it a store or was it a warehouse? What was it?

KT: Oh, it was, it was mostly a food wholesaler.

JT: Distributor, okay. And did they sell to other stores in the area, or how did that work?

KT: They had this shop in San Francisco. 323 Clay Street. And so they would commute.

JT: Oh, so they worked in San Francisco.

KT: Yeah.

MT: Actually, the company is still existing.

JT: What's it called?

MT Nippon Company with Tom.

JT: Okay, wow.

KT: It's now one of their friends' son, Tom Ito, he took over the company.

JT: Took it over. Oh my gosh. That's a very interesting part of Japanese American history in the Bay Area, those kind of businesses. Did you ever work, or help him at all at work? See, I'm thinking it was the kind where you delivered things to local stores, but they were the distributors, so they didn't do that kind of thing. Your father and Mr. Kako were more the business managers.

KT: They had contacts with the Japanese trucking company, and so they would contact them and have them delivered to the...

JT: Sure, and they all helped each other, worked. That's kind of amazing that in those days they did that, but the Japanese, your father's generation, were hardworking people.

KT: Yeah.

JT: Do you remember what your mom was doing all those years?

KT: My mother was really, didn't do any work at all. She just ran the house.

JT: Oh, it's so easy to run the house, it's not work. [Laughs] She only did the cooking and cleaning and washing and getting your lunch and things like that. What about your yard, garden? Did your dad do his own garden, do you remember?

KT: I guess he did some of the odd work, but my mother took care of the...

JT: She did that, too. She did that in her spare time. [Laughs]

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 2021 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

JT: Okay, well, I'd like to move on to when you graduated from Porter School. Where did you go?

KT: Well, Alameda High School after that. And then I was a senior when World War II...

JT: Oh, you were in the twelfth grade. Do you remember that day, when Pearl Harbor was bombed? Do you remember December 7th? Where were you?

KT: I was at the church, Sunday, and with Hiromu...

JT: Akagi?

KT: He had a car, and he turned the radio on, we were sitting around chatting. And Pearl Harbor was bombed by Japan, the radio says. We said, oh, that must be a hoax. [Laughs] They couldn't do a thing like that.

JT: Right.

KT: And after that we went home to eat our lunch, and it was Sunday, and we used to have basketball practice at Alameda High School. And so we felt if it was true...

JT: Right, right.

KT: But we went to the high school for our practice, and they said we're not going to have practice today.

JT: Oh, they canceled it?

KT: Yeah.

JT: Who said that? The coaches?

KT: No, just the, there was a man there that took care of the gym.

JT: Gym? Oh.

KT: And so we came home and listened to the radio more.

JT: Of course. And who else was there besides Akagi? Who else was in your group?

KT: Oh, I think Dorothy Madokoro.

JT: Was Kaz Date in your group?

KT: Hmm?

JT: Kaz Date?

KT: No.

JT: No, okay. Dorothy Madokoro...

KT: He was older.

JT: Oh, okay. That's right, that's right.

KT: And I guess my brother must have been there.

JT: Uh-huh. Shig?

KT: Shig? No.

JT: Shig is older, too.

KT: Yeah.

JT: So then you had to come home, and then do you remember what exactly happened? How did your parents feel when you told them what happened?

KT: Well, I guess they couldn't believe it too. And then I guess it could have.

JT: Could be. And then it wasn't very long after that, that notice came out about evacuation.

KT: Yeah. I mean, first thing, Alameda was a naval air base.

JT: Yes.

KT: And so they said that aliens couldn't live in Alameda any more. And so my father was closing the shop in San Francisco while Mr. Kako went to Denver. So when they told the, aliens can't stay in Alameda, then our family moved to San Francisco.

JT: Oh, you got out of Alameda?

KT: Yeah.

JT: And it was quick? You had to leave in a couple days or less than a week, I think. And where did you stay in San Francisco?

KT: Oh, it's just a regular home on Pine Street.

JT: Okay. With friends?

KT: No. It wasn't friends, but...

JT: Got out quick, got out of Dodge.

KT: Yeah. And we found a rental, so it's more or less, I guess... I'm not quite sure how we found the house.

JT: But you didn't stay there very long, you couldn't stay there very long.

KT: First, San Francisco had to evacuate.

JT: Right. Then do you remember where you went after? Where did you go?

MT: Wait a minute, Jo. He went, commuted from San Francisco to Alameda High School every day until they were told to evacuate.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 2021 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

JT: How did you get from San Francisco to Alameda in 1941? The ferry or the train?

KT: The ferry, I think.

MT: The ferry was, the bridge was already made.

JT: In 1936, okay. And what made you decide to go back to Alameda for school every day? Were you one of those...

KT: Because I wanted to be in my class and the ban didn't affect me, because we were citizens.

JT: And you played in the band?

KT: Oh, no, not band.

JT: Oh, the ban. Oh, because you were not an alien.

KT: Yeah.

JT: Oh, so you were allowed to go to Alameda High? Do you remember how it felt to be back at Alameda High after Pearl Harbor? Were the other students...

KT: I guess I was the only one that commuted to Alameda. Most people went, like Dan's family went to some friends in the country.

JT: Right, boy. And how long did that last?

KT: Not very long. Because by then, April, San Francisco had to evacuate to Tanforan.

JT: Do you remember that?

KT: Oh, yeah.

JT: How did you feel about having to... because you were already a senior in high school.

KT: I know.

JT: That must have been awful, made your life topsy turvy, turned it upside down. And how did your parents react to the news that they had to leave?

KT: Oh, I think that they expected that by then, because other, like Manzanar was opened up.

JT: And where was your brother?

KT: He was...

JT: He was already out of high school?

KT: Yeah. I think he must have gone to either San Francisco State or...

JT: Oh, he was in college. And what about Mariko, your sister? She was younger, she was in grammar school.

KT: Yeah.

JT: So she had to pack up and go, too. Do you remember getting to Tanforan?

KT: Oh, well, we were, Tanforan, a lot of people were stuck in the horse stables. But we were fortunate because they had built these cabins...

MT: Barracks.

KT: Barracks, yeah, on the parking lot. So that was nicely paved.

JT: Oh, so you didn't have to sleep in the horse stables?

KT: No.

JT: You were lucky, you were lucky. And then do you remember what happened, how long you were at Tanforan? It wasn't long. Well, it must have seemed long.

KT: About September or so, April, May, June, July... about five months.

JT: Yes.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 2021 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

JT: And then what happened? Where did you go?

KT: And then we went to Topaz and took a train ride. Every time you come into a city or town, any area that's, it's a population, we had to close our blinds.

JT: Why do you think they... you know, I've heard that a lot. Why do you think you had to do that?

KT: Because they thought that if some radicals were out there and in these various towns, that they might do something.

JT: Okay, there'd be some hate or some kind of racism, trouble. When I was little, I thought it was so that you wouldn't be able to look out, but now it makes more sense to me. Because did you know where you were going on the train? Did you know where you were going, where you were heading?

KT: Oh, just by the time we were going to Topaz. Some groups had gone previously, and then you hear all kinds of things about scorpions and stuff like that.

JT: Oh, all that... but you were already, if you were a little boy, it might have sounded like an adventure. But you already knew it was not a fun kind of camp.

KT: Right.

JT: So did you stay in the same, you call it a barrack, at Topaz with your family?

KT: Yeah.

JT: What block were you in?

KT: Twenty-eight.

JT: Okay, twenty-eight. Were there other people from Alameda there, do you remember?

KT: I'm not sure.

JT: It's okay, but so you're in high school. What did you do to occupy your time in camp?

KT: Well, initially, since my father was sort of ill, and my mother had to take care of him, and so... and my brother had left camp to go to school in Denver.

JT: Okay, so you were the eldest, you became the eldest son.

KT: Right, uh-huh. And so I had to do something for the camp. And so I was a dishwasher.

JT: Oh, in the mess hall?

KT: Yeah.

JT: Oh, boy. Three times a day?

KT: I believe that was, yeah.

JT: Okay, because you washed the pots and pans.

KT: Right.

JT: Okay. Because people brought their own dishes, didn't they?

KT: Yeah.

JT: And they brought, they rinsed them outside or something, I've seen pictures of that. So you got promoted, did you ever get promoted?

KT: [Laughs] I got paid.

JT: Oh, really? How much did you get paid?

KT: Sixteen dollars.

JT: Sixteen dollars a week?

KT: A month.

JT: A month, oh my gosh. What kind of things were you able to spend it on?

KT: Well, Sears catalogs, Montgomery Ward.

JT: And you were a young man, so you didn't have... what kind of things would you buy? Was it mostly clothes?

KT: I think the canteen was there.

JT: Right. Oh, gum... and what was the matter with your father? Why was he ill?

KT: Just high blood pressure, and I think he had a stroke before the war.

JT: Oh, gosh. And do you remember Akagi... what was his name? Your friend? Oh, Hi. Did you know, you were friends with Hi, but did you know his brother Kuni?

KT: Yeah.

JT: I heard that he wasn't well. I think he was the first person to pass away at Topaz, Kuni Akagi. There's a picture of his service. So you were buddies with Hi?

KT: Yeah.

MT: But Jo, he didn't stay in camp very long.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 2021 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

JT: You got promoted from dishwasher to what? Where did you go after that?

KT: No. In camp, there was the student relocation group, encouraged people to, especially younger ones, to go on to college.

JT: Get an education. So where did you, did you have an opportunity go to somewhere?

KT: Well, I went to the University of Cincinnati.

JT: Okay, Ohio.

KT: Ohio, right.

JT: By yourself?

KT: By myself.

JT: Oh, boy, what an adventure.

KT: [Laughs] Well, you never go anyplace like that by yourself, and especially knowing that you're Japanese.

JT: How did that feel? What did you think?

KT: Well, I just kept my mouth shut.

JT: You lived in a dormitory or a house? Where did you stay?

KT: Well, first, going to Cincinnati, I went from Utah to Denver where the Kakos were. And I stayed just one night. And then from there, I went to St. Louis, then from St. Louis to Cincinnati.

JT: That's pretty far east.

KT: It seemed like it.

JT: And how did you, you were by yourself?

KT: Yeah.

JT: Did someone greet you, or how did you navigate those first few weeks?

KT: Nobody greeting, met me or anything like that. And when I got to Cincinnati, my father said, "Stay at the best hotel."

JT: Wow. Did he give you some, a little pocket change to pay for that?

KT: Oh, yeah, they'd pay for my tuition. I mean, I was very fortunate that way.

JT: You went to the University of Cincinnati? And what did you study?

KT: Well, it's just studies, general courses.

JT: Right, the prerequisites. Did you know what you wanted to concentrate on?

KT: No, not really. I guess I probably would have gone into some kind of business or something.

JT: Sure, like your dad. So what did you end up studying?

KT: That's really mostly general courses.

JT: Was there any field that you really liked? What did you end up getting your degree in? Or did you graduate from...

KT: No.

JT: Oh, then what did you do?

KT: At Cincinnati, we went to the dorm there, and then after about one month, they said they're going to convert the dorms into a ASTP program, that's a military...

JT: Oh, okay, for the war effort.

KT: No, it was sort of, you've got to move out of the dorms.

JT: Oh, so they promoted you again. Where did you go?

KT: Well, fortunately, we found a house that would rent to us.

JT: To Japanese?

KT: No.

JT: Oh, to students?

KT: We never said we were Japanese. [Laughs] But then they got to know us and liked us.

JT: When you say "us," there were others?

KT: My roommate was from was from Palo Alto or Mountain View.

JT: Okay, what was his name?

KT: Yosh Ozawa.

JT: And they didn't even think you were Japanese? You must have been very quiet, otonashi. So you didn't have trouble finding another apartment?

KT: So it turned out that there were some Hawaiian guys from Hawaii studying at USC medical school. And turned out that they got into this same house. So we had me and my roommate, and two more Hawaiians. So they probably just said that we're Hawaiians.

JT: And you were so otonashi, you weren't troublemakers, you were good boys. [Laughs]

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 2021 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

JT: And did you, where did you go after, I mean, you went to the University of Cincinnati and took your prerequisites and then where did you go?

KT: I was there maybe eighteen months. So I just still...

JT: Basics, the basics.

KT: Yeah, basics.

JT: Then what happened after that? Did you move to another school?

KT: And then we got draft notices.

JT: All four of you?

KT: Well, eventually I said, oh well, no use of starting another semester. And so I went back to camp to visit my folks.

JT: Sure.

KT: But then when I moved from Cincinnati, I know when we moved from Cincinnati to camp...

JT: To Topaz.

KT: Yeah. Then your draft board changes.

JT: Oh, registration.

KT: So I didn't get a notice until about six months later.

JT: Okay. You dodged a bullet.

KT: And so I spent six months in camp.

JT: Waiting for that letter?

KT: Right.

JT: So by now, this was, well, this was still during the war.

KT: Yeah.

JT: '43?

KT: January of '44, I guess, was when I got a notice from the Utah draft board.

JT: Oh, boy. Did it say, "We Want You"?

KT: Uh-huh. And so I went to take my basic training.

JT: Where was that? In Kentucky? It doesn't matter, I know my husband was at that one, too. Not with you, but later.

MT: I thought you said you went to Fort Knox.

KT: Well, so I took a physical and the guy in charge there said, "Oh, you have bad flat foot."

JT: You were flat footed? Your feet were like a carpenter's dream.

KT: [Laughs] So he says, "We're going to have to, we can't use you."

JT: [Laughs] Yay.

KT: But then one officer later came and said, "Oh, we can put you in the tank corps."

JT: Tank corps? What's that?

KT: Military tanks.

JT: The shooting gallery? That's not a promotion.

KT: And so they, for basic training they said, "Okay, we'll send you to Fort Knox in Kentucky." And so that's where I wound up with my basic training. When that was through, then the war had pretty much turned. Oh, and I have applied for the language school, but they said, "We don't need you."

JT: It was winding down.

KT: Yeah. It was really blooming.

JT: Oh, the language part, right. But I'm backing up a little bit, what did you think when they said they were going to send you to, what did you call that?

KT: Fort Knox.

JT: No...

KT: Basic training?

JT: No, the term where the... tank school. How did that make you feel? Kind of scary, right? Because you know that's action place, right?

KT: I don't know.

JT: You were brave. So what did you do in the language school?

KT: They told me, first, "We don't need you." But then, by the time I got through with my basic training, then the war in Europe had ended, or pretty much ended. And some of the guys were going to ports to go to Europe. But then just as the war was ending, they had no use for...

JT: For that kind of Italian, right. So did you get discharged after that?

KT: No.

JT: You had to stay...

KT: No, because it was then that they would send you to your language school and accept you, and Japanese were almost all given an opportunity to go to language school. When I went to language school, I got stuck... my Japanese studies were pretty good, I remember. Because I went to the language school for the entire period that I was in Japanese language.

JT: At Fort Snelling? Or where did you go to language school?

KT: Fort Snelling.

JT: Yeah, okay.

KT: That's right.

JT: And did you ever get to use your skills in the war?

KT: No.

JT: You didn't have to go to...

KT: Well, let's see. Around...

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 2021 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 12>

MT: Well, first of all, you finished your language school. You graduated from the language school, didn't you? Or you finished it, anyway.

KT: The language school we were studying, and studying real hard. But then the war in Japan and... and so I was in one of the hard language classes, and they were in the other classes, the class that I was in was one of the advanced classes. But then in language school, they permitted you to take a leave, and so I went back to camp to help my folks move out of camp.

JT: Okay. Timing again. So were you ever able to use the skills that you learned in the MIS?

MT: Yeah, he was sent to Japan.

KT: It turned out that the war ended in Japan, and so they wanted occupation troops. And when I left, I think it was about the end of November, we left Portland, Oregon, and sailed to Japan, and that was, got there almost around Christmas, and went to camp Zama, which is a military receiving camp.

JT: Oh, okay.

KT: And then you were then assigned to wherever...

JT: Your station. And what was your job? What were your...

KT: Well, my job turned out to be very weird. I was sent to Tokyo, and they wanted me to take care of a Russian war document library. And we were in Tokyo, I was the NYK Building. We were starting to collect anything in the Japanese, any documents.

JT: Communications? Okay. From Russia?

KT: On Russia.

JT: About Russian, oh boy.

KT: And so I'm not a librarian, but what I could do was when these documents come in, I would stack them up so that if somebody wants to see --

JT: File them, I see.

KT: And that's while I was in Tokyo. My brother was in Tokyo earlier.

JT: In the MIS?

KT: Yeah.

JT: Oh, for heaven's sake.

KT: Well, he went to the Philippines and then to Japan.

JT: Did you get together?

KT: Yeah, we did. And then he had, but when got there, he went to see my uncle, our uncle.

JT: Your dad's brother?

KT: Brother, right. He had a last name that was different from Tomita. In Japan, people don't have children that...

JT: Boys. They take on the name of...

KT: They go with that name, yeah.

JT: Youshi, they call it, or something like that. Oh, so that uncle was not a Tomita? Not named Tomita?

KT: Right. And so my brother, when he got there, he tried to find my uncle. And he found him, and he was in a part of Tokyo that, just a little island of homes that were not...

JT: Had not been...

KT: Bombed. And so my uncle was very fortunate that way, too.

JT: I'll say.

KT: And so when my brother first went out there, went to his house, the boys, they had four sons, oh, about my age or younger.

JT: Would be your cousins.

KT: Uh-huh. Except they (asked my brother, "Are you Chinese?") "Shinajin gaki?"

JT: They thought you were Chinese?

KT: Yeah.

JT: You heard that?

KT: Yeah. But then he explained to them, "No, I'm not Chinese."

JT: Right. You remember that. So you had a nice reunion, kind of, with them, where you got to know them?

KT: And so when I got there, then I went to meet these relatives. And then they said, "Oh, if you have spare time, come visit us." So I did visit them quite often.

JT: Oh, okay, while you were there?

KT: Well, my brother was leaving already to come back to the States. And so I was in contact, and I'd bring all the rations and stuff like that to them.

JT: Sure, because they were suffering.

KT: Well, they really weren't.

JT: Oh, because their homes weren't destroyed. And they had the means to buy things.

KT: Uh-huh.

JT: When you say rationing, what kind of things did you bring? What did they want?

KT: Beer.

JT: Oh, gee, really important things.

KT: Cigarettes. [Laughs]

JT: Oh, my gosh. Yeah, they were happy to see you.

MT: Nothing nutritious.

KT: Candy.

JT: Oh my gosh, sounds like a party.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 2021 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 13>

JT: So then after your service in Japan and occupation, you came back to, Topaz was closed, so where did you go after that?

KT: Oh, my folks, when I was at Fort Snelling, they permitted us to get our parents out of camp. And so I moved them from Topaz to Berkeley. So they were staying in this home, Togasakis' in Berkeley.

JT: On Channing Way?

KT: Yeah.

JT: Oh, for heaven's sake. Dr. Togasaki.

MT: I think her parents.

JT: Her parents' home. And that's where you lived for a while?

KT: Well, I didn't. My mother and father and sister lived with them for a while. It wasn't very comfortable. So when they found out that these housing projects were starting to accept you...

JT: To live there. Where was this?

KT: In Berkeley. It's right near San Pablo and Gilman.

JT: Yes, where the university housing, it became university housing.

KT: So my mother was happy.

JT: Sure.

KT: Happy you have your own private units.

JT: Right, you're not living in a barrack, you're not living in, well, you didn't have the stables, but she was able to find another place to work hard, take it easy. So what about school, though, Kenji? After that, where did you go to school? You said you were studying at Cincinnati?

KT: Out of the military. And I went to UC.

JT: Is that where you would have gone if the war hadn't come?

KT: Right. Most Japanese would go to UC if they could get in. And at that time, UC was pretty liberal in accepting students.

JT: You mean... okay, well, I think you're being modest, I think it was harder to get in there than other places. And did you stay in that housing on San Pablo and commute, or where did you live, or you commuted?

KT: I commuted from San Pablo to...

JT: University. And what did you study at Cal?

KT: Well, I was a Bus. Ad. major, probably two years I had my degree.

JT: That's pretty good because it sounded like in Cincinnati you weren't there that long.

<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 2021 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 14>

JT: And then you graduated and then did you get a job right away? Or what year was that? Now we're talking about 1940...

KT: '49.

JT: Oh, '49, okay. So did you get a job right away? You studied Bus. Ad., what kind of Bus. Ad? I mean, was it accounting or marketing?

KT: Well, I went into accounting. But it was hard to find a job.

JT: Oh, yeah.

KT: And so there was some others that worked at the naval air station in Treasure Island doing payroll work. And then we had a lot of overtime work and stuff like that.

MT: Actually, Kenji, before that, you went to graduate school, started.

KT: Yeah, I started.

JT: You couldn't get enough school. So what were you taking in graduate school? More business?

KT: More business, more accounting. So when I was working on Treasure Island for the navy in payroll work, I thought, well, I'd better find a more permanent kind of job. And so I took exams with the state, and I guess I got on the list pretty high. And so I had a choice of going to work for the state. And the thing was, pay-wise, it was not that high of a level. And so... but I decided, well, working on the navy payroll, I could make more money. But how long is that going to last?

JT: Right, you were thinking ahead.

KT: And so I said, okay, I got on the state list, and they told me, "You can go to work for the Department of Public Health." And they had another Chinese fellow who worked on this one particular area, and that was hospital construction. They would get grants to construct hospitals.

JT: Build hospitals, sure.

KT: And various places. And they needed somebody to go and check those expenditures.

JT: That's what you did?

KT: That's what I did, yeah.

JT: So you traveled.

KT: Right.

<End Segment 14> - Copyright © 2021 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 15>

JT: Well, you know what? I wanted to ask you, in your travels, Kenji, when did you meet Mary? I'm changing the, we're getting on another ship here, but where was Mary all this time? How did you meet?

MT: Probably at the church.

JT: Do you remember?

KT: No. Let's see. Oh, well, we were with some group of people that liked to go skiing, and Mary was one of those.

JT: Do you remember what year that was? Let's see, if you got married in 1951...

MT: '57.

JT: Oh, '57. Okay. Am I putting you on the spot?

KT: I don't remember. [Laughs]

JT: Was it with a group of friends from Cal or just a group of...

MT: No, from church.

JT: Oh, from church.

MT: So like Grace Haratani.

JT: Oh, that group. See, you're a little older than I am, so I don't know those people very well.

MT: [Laughs] Right.

JT: Oh, so you met on a ski trip. And where were you from? Where was Mary coming from? Alameda?

KT: Yeah.

MT: Kenji used to go to the Buena Vista.

JT: So after the war, when you came back to Alameda, you continued going to church at Buena Vista?

MT: Periodically.

KT: Periodically.

JT: Oh, I understand. So then you met Mary and you were married in 1957? And where did you live after you got married?

KT: In Berkeley above Shattuck Avenue. That's when the trains were still...

JT: Oh, like on north side? More downtown?

MT: Uh-huh.

JT: Okay.

MT: Near Dwight and Shattuck.

KT: So you noticed the train travel at the beginning, but then you get used to it. Our apartment was just about, oh, quarter of a block from Shattuck.

JT: So you could hear the train all the time. But that made it convenient to get to work. You worked for the state, so you didn't...

MT: By then he changed his job. No longer worked for the Public Health, worked for the Public Utilities. Right, Kenji?

JT: So you fixed up all the hospitals and then you got another job?

KT: Yeah. Kept taking exams, and so I got on another list, and then it was from hospitals to...

JT: Public Utilities.

KT: Public Utilities.

JT: And what did you do there? And did you have to travel as much as before?

KT: Not as much. But you still traveled. We had to audit these water companies. But they would ask for rates to increase their revenues.

JT: Yeah, like everything changes but the paycheck, they're still doing that. So then when you were working in those jobs, did you feel any discrimination being Japanese?

KT: No.

JT: Not at all? Okay. That's amazing. You never felt prejudice. How about when you moved here to San Rafael? Were there a lot of Japanese in this area?

KT: There weren't that many Japanese.

JT: And did you come here, did you choose to live here for your work? To be close to work?

KT: When we got married and we bought a home in Walnut Creek, and that was about two years.

MT: About four years after we got married.

KT: Yeah, four years. And then we thought...

MT: The reason why we lived in Walnut Creek was because I was working in Pittsburg.

KT: Okay.

MT: And then after that I got pregnant and had Paul. And then he got transferred to Los Angeles.

JT: Oh, is that where you disappeared? So you all went.

KT: But I said, I told my boss that if there's an opening in the San Francisco office...

JT: "Put me down."

KT: Put me down. He gave me first choice to come back to San Francisco. And he said okay, and so when I went down to L.A., one year later, there was an opening in the San Francisco offices.

JT: So you had Paul by then.

MT: Right.

JT: You had Paul, okay. So you moved back here?

MT: Well, this time we didn't have to move to Walnut Creek because I wasn't working anymore.

JT: Okay.

MT: So we decided to stay closer. From San Rafael to San Francisco is a much easier commute.

JT: Right, okay.

KT: My Chinese friend was working... he bought a home.

JT: The same fellow that you went to Cincinnati with?

KT: No.

JT: Oh, different guy?

KT: Yeah.

JT: Okay.

KT: This guy that I worked with.

MT: Was he with the Public Health, too, Kenji?

KT: Oh, I guess so, when we were in Public Health. He eventually came in. He took my job in Public Health when I moved out --

JT: To the Public Utilities.

KT: Yeah. And then so he's the one that bought a home in this area. And he said, "Oh, the commute is not bad." Famous last words.

<End Segment 15> - Copyright © 2021 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 16>

JT: Well, you've been here for many years and you raised your family here. What I wanted to also ask you is, besides having Paul, you have a daughter, right? Where was she born?

MT: We adopted her.

JT: Donna.

MT: Donna.

JT: Okay, you adopted Donna.

MT: In 1968.

JT: And Donna has children?

KT: Yeah.

JT: And so you have two grandchildren?

KT: Right.

JT: And how old are they now?

KT: They're old ladies.

MT: The younger one is twenty-seven, and the other one, she'll be thirty in February.

JT: What were their names? I forget.

MT: Rhea and...

JT: Oh, Rhea and Reena.

MT: Reena, yeah.

JT: Okay.

<End Segment 16> - Copyright © 2021 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 17>

JT: Kenji, I also wanted to ask you, I'm jumping around a little bit, but I wanted to ask you, one of the things that I have admired about you is your work in volunteering. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

KT: Oh, that was with JASEB.

JT: Japanese American Services of the East Bay. And how did you get started in that?

KT: Well, my mother was getting food from them, and so I thought I should do what I can to help them, and so I applied. And I delivered food to various parts of the East Bay where they were providing food service.

JT: Lunches, right. Japanese American Services is a community service organization, and you delivered meals for how many years?

MT: Thirty-two years.

JT: I think you hold the record for volunteering for JASEB, and then it became J-Sei, and you commuted from San Rafael to Berkeley and drove all around. And what I really want to ask you is what... you spent more time doing that than going to college, being in the army and everything. What motivated you? Why did you stick with it? Besides you said you were grateful for their services to your mom, but that's a long time to drive from San Rafael to Berkeley every week.

KT: That's true, but you notice that people were volunteers were very good people. And I enjoyed their comradeship.

MT: I think it was fun.

JT: And Mary went -- it was a joyride from here to Berkeley. You drove all those miles for so many years, and you met so many people. Do you remember any special delivery that you made that stands out in the thousands of lunches that you delivered? Anything that comes to mind that you can't... if you were writing a book, you'd write in it, write about? You touched many, many lives during those years.

KT: Well, yeah, I knew that people that I was helping out appreciated it, the help.

JT: And that's pretty, that's a value that Nihonjin, Japanese people hold dear. Do you remember any, can you tell me what kind of values that you picked up from your parents? They may not have said it, but what did you learn about from your parents? What did you learn from your parents?

KT: Well, you should always do your share of, like volunteering. And I was just...

JT: Working hard?

KT: Working hard, and just doing your share of working, volunteering.

JT: Sounds like you learned to help others. And do you feel, can you think of anyone in your life, besides your parents, that helped you along during the years? Maybe when you were younger? Or were you an independent kid and you could do...

KT: Well, by combining the language schools, the church language school and independent language school, I think my father and Mr. Kako really believed that it would be better if you had one language school rather than two split.

JT: Right. Did that ever happen? Did they ever combine?

KT: No.

JT: Okay. Yeah, there was quite a controversy over that.

KT: Right.

JT: And which school did you end up staying at?

KT: I ended up going to the larger language school, which was not the church language school.

JT: Okay, it was the independent one, okay.

<End Segment 17> - Copyright © 2021 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 18>

JT: I have just a few other things to ask you, and they're more personal questions. I asked you about values or what your parents taught you, and I'm asking about your children now. Do you think that the Sansei -- you're a Nisei -- the Sansei have the same values as your parents and you and Mary?

MT: We didn't teach them very well.

KT: No, but I think...

JT: Oh, you mean role modeling.

MT: Well, Kenji was a good role model for a father, I think.

JT: Oh, you mean you didn't talk to, you didn't lecture them about values. We learn our values through osmosis, or what I call that, by experiencing them and living together. Like our parents didn't tell us to work hard, but we knew we had to because they worked hard and share all that. What do you think of this third, or the Sansei generation? I'm a Sansei, I'm an older Sansei. Your kids are Sansei, but they're young Sansei, right?

MT: Well, they're medium Sansei.

JT: Medium age. How old is Paul now?

MT: Fifty-seven or fifty-eight.

JT: See, they're young Sansei. Are they local, are they still around here?

MT: Donna lives about five minutes away, or five or ten minutes away. Paul lives in Mill Valley, so he's about twenty minutes away.

JT: I'm going to ask you one final thing. I wanted to ask you if you have any special advice that you wanted to give someone like me, my age, younger, someone younger than you. What kind of wisdom do you want to leave, tell Jo Jo? What kind of things have you learned about in your life that you want to pass on to others?

KT: Well, I don't have to pass things on to you people. You people have been taught very well by your...

JT: Oh, I see what you're saying.

KT: ...your parents. And you do more than your share.

JT: Oh, thank you for that. And my very last question is what kind of, the girls, Rhea and Reena. What kind of hopes do you have for them?

KT: Well, I think they're a little different in that their friendships are not with, strictly with the Japanese.

JT: Well, they live in a different, their pace of life is way different from ours. Even yours and then in mine, but it's a different world out there for them. And are you able to talk to them about your stories, and do you share your life like you're sharing with me right now? Do they know a lot about what you're talking about?

KT: They picked up some of them, I know. But I don't know whether they lectured...

JT: Oh, that you've purposely told them. Well, I'm going to ask you share all this with them, because I think if you don't tell them, they'll never know about you, and there are a lot more things I want to ask you about dating and Mary and all this, but I won't do that in this interview, I'll do that some other time. Would it be okay to come some other time and visit with you?

MT: Oh dear. [Laughs]

JT: Okay, well, I think you'll be here. I want to thank you for sharing all this with us.

<End Segment 18> - Copyright © 2021 Densho. All Rights Reserved.