Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Gene Akutsu Interview
Narrator: Gene Akutsu
Interviewers: Larry Hashima (primary), Stephen Fugita (secondary)
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: July 25, 1997
Densho ID: denshovh-agene-01-0004

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LH: No, I think actually that's pretty close to what I was trying to ask you. But, so you thought at the time -- with as soon as Pearl Harbor and the attack happened -- that you immediately thought that you might actually be targeted as, in some ways, by your schoolmates, at least by, as being somewhat the enemy?

GA: Well, I'll tell you. Back in 19... I think that was about '37, we used to have what you call a neighborhood gangs, we were like in our early teens, ten, twelve, thirteen in that area. And each neighborhood used to have their little turf that they covered. And right behind the City, City Light, there was an open vacant lot because it was unstable ground and they never fixed that area because of the slide. And we used to have slingshot fights, and we used to have maybe fifteen, twenty, thirty of each gang get together and we have a slingshot fight. And one day, I remember, the Seattle P-I came over and took pictures of us, and we thought, "Oh, this is great, we're going to be in the newspaper." But I think the caption read that "The Japanese are, Japan is training the little kids to be future soldiers for Japan," or something to that effect. When they start writing things like that you just take another view of what's going on.

LH: So, so was this your first, sort of, exposure, this article in the P-I, to a sort of a racialized view of the Japanese?

GA: Well, let's say, let's put it this way: that was one of the first. Offhand, I can't remember much more but then, certainly there were talks about the word "Japs" were used quite often. And the comic books were all written up on the war and the war with Japan, and the... it's always the "Yellow Japs" and things like that. So, I couldn't help but think all the younger generation had all that implanted in their minds, so that a little bit of talking would convince them that the Japanese Americans were bad. They hadn't had any exposure, or not much exposure, to the Japanese Americans because we were pretty well-concentrated, as far as the school goes, into Bailey Gatzert, which was predominantly Japanese, Central School. Incidentally, Bailey Gatzert's up there on Twelfth and Weller, which is now, I guess, the Indian Center, Cultural Center or something like that. And the Central School -- which is down there on, was down there on Seventh and Madison, right across the street from what is now the Stouffer Madison Hotel, it's underneath the freeway -- that was quite full of Japanese. And the high school was Broadway, Garfield, and Franklin. Broadway and Garfield carrying on most of the Japanese population. And so most of the kids there, they knew and grew up with the Nisei so they thought nothing of it. But the others from other schools, I could surmise and say that they probably didn't know us, and they were rather scared of us, I guess. They've heard of judo and anybody who was taking judo they kept away from. Yeah.

LH: Well, that's... so that the kids that you actually went to school with, probably didn't buy into a lot of this, this racism that was being purported, but you, but did you have experiences with other kids from other schools that were, that maybe weren't as familiar with the Nisei or the Nikkei community?

GA: No. In those days, we were pretty well stuck around within our community. You know, it's quite different now and then, 'cause in those days any, like for myself, going south beyond Jackson Street to Dearborn, that was, as far as we were concerned, out in the country, like another world. That's how small our, what would you say... the area that we went, as far as we could venture out. So we pretty well stuck around to our own group, within our group that did things, so we didn't have any run-, say a run-up against anybody that was say, provoked me to fight or anything, no. Well, I guess I was fair-sized for my age, too, so they didn't pick on me or anything.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.