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-01-0007

<Begin Segment 7>

LH: So, how long did this sort of go on for, for things to be sort of normal? And then when did start, things really start happening for you?

GA: Well, it started right after Pearl Harbor, December 7th. On December 8th, my dad went to work as usual down there at his shoe, shoe repair shop. And about noontime, I got a, my mother got a phone call telling her to close up the shop because they're going to take my father in to talk to him a little bit so they'll be detaining him over at the immigration office for a few days. And that, that was the beginning of everything that's happened beyond... after, say, about the middle of January, they were starting to talk about curfew. That any people of Japanese ancestries couldn't be going beyond First Avenue, can't go... the lake is the limits that way and the south was like, Dearborn up to someplace out there by.. where would that be? Around Stewart, the majority of the Japanese, that is. There were some people living out in the farms and things but those people were, I guess, excluded but the others were pretty well held within their limits and they had to be home by nine o'clock or whatever time it was, I can't remember offhand. But yeah, they started that up and within the meantime, my dad had called my mother up and said that, "Would you bring, bring in some personal belongings for me?" Because they had planned to send him and a number of the people into Missoula, into Montana. So we brought personal belongings, toothbrush, toothpaste, so on and so forth and went to see him and bid him good-bye. We didn't know when we'll see him again but that was the last to see of him until another, close to two years down the line.

In the meantime, they had talked about evacuation -- this is all within the month of January -- whether they should evacuate us or not, and by mid-February, I believe it was, that came true that they're going to evacuate us or, "Go by yourself," east of the Cascade. Many of the people, the majority of the people, they didn't have money or the means of transporting their personal belongings back east so many of 'em, most of us stayed back and were evacuated. There was a few that did make it over east of the mountains. And I guess it was February, March, we were told that we had to dispose of all our belongings, and have every, only items that you could carry with a suitcase, and a little hand package that we could carry. And we had to get rid of everything that we had, meaning the homes, the business and whatever valuable you may have. And the antique dealers, basically those type of people, would converge and make, wheel and deal and buy all sorts of things at the rate of maybe ten cents on the dollar and I guess they made a lot of money. And towards the end of the month, they were even dickering over a cent on a dollar and a lot of the people had gotten mad and says, "I'm not going to give those things or sell my things. I would rather break it up or burn it, rather than to give it away." So many of the valuable things that belongs to a lot of the families were just thrown away, the family treasures.

LH: So all of this happened in a span of three months, you're talking about your father getting taken away, you never got to see him until when he was first taken into the... for interrogation on December 8th. You didn't see him again for a couple of years, is that correct?

GA: Well, no, I seen him about two or three weeks later when he asked us to bring the stuff, so Mom, my brother and I went down there to say goodbye to him not knowing how long we won't see him. So that was the last time we saw him until his return.

LH: So what was that scene like, the three of you going down to the... can you describe that scene? What was it like for your mother?

GA: Well, being boys, we didn't shed any tears but we really felt bad about it, that our father, not have done, he hadn't done anything but being pulled in for some, some reason beyond our... question. We didn't know why he would be taken in, that all he was was a cobbler and that was all he did. True, he participated in the Japanese community like what they referred to as Nihonjinkai which is a Japanese club, kind of a liaison between the whites and the Japanese community to keep the community abreast of what was going on and also any questions to talk to the white people to let 'em know the doings of the Japanese community. But with the onset of the war, somehow or another they had gotten names of a lot of the people who had participated in the community service and they informed the FBIs that these are the people who are active, so right away the FBI just converged into the community and picked up all the people who were involved.

LH: So how did your mother react to this?

GA: Well, there's not much she could do about it. Certainly she felt bad about it but then she tried to, being a mother, comfort us as much as possible and she's from a old samurai family and she never would break down, meaning break down and cry or anything like that. She always says, "Keep your head up high," always, and so she told us that we have to be that way that, what has to be done is gonna be done so, there's nothing we can do about it and take it in stride.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.