Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Frank Yamasaki Interview I
Narrator: Frank Yamasaki
Interviewers: Lori Hoshino (primary), Stephen Fugita
Location: Lake Forest Park, Washington
Date: August 18, 1997
Densho ID: denshovh-yfrank-01-0018

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LH: If we could move to the period where you were going to Minidoka, and you said that you had a blank period that it's difficult to recall, but what made the biggest impression on you when you got to Minidoka?

FY: It was very, very dusty. The dust was powdery fine and if I recall, it was about 3 or 4 inches deep. So you just, every time you take a step, you would just have a puff of smoke -- I mean, of dust -- and if you have even the slightest breeze... wow, you're in, like a fog. And when you go to the mess hall to eat, of course, when you chew the food, you can... you can feel the grit of the sand. And it's amazing, even that, you get used to it. I gradually got used to the mixture of sand and food. [Laughs] It was terrible. The camp was really not ready yet. The water, even they had water tanks along the side of the road where you go, very heavily chlorinated water for drinking.

SF: So right before you were gonna go to Minidoka, did you anticipate it as a positive event or a negative event when you were moving from "Camp Harmony" to Minidoka? Was that seen as more hassles or a good thing?

FY: That's the area, that's the area I kind of blanked out. I don't recall at all. I'm sure there must have been some apprehension. But, total blank there. I try to recall several times, but I don't know why.

LH: Now, your family was all reunited at Minidoka.

FY: At Minidoka, yes. We were in Block 41.

LH: What were your living quarters like at Minidoka?

FY: Well, it was, at least it was a lot more substantial than over at the assembly center; but it was still a minimal area. I would say roughly 12 x 15 or so in size, and, or maybe 20 and then the... this was a long barrack that was partitioned off to... terrible memory, five or six units. And in each unit there would be a family. And each unit would have one large pot belly stove, cast iron stove. And the beds I think were more substantial, they were metal bed or rather bunk, or what would you call these, they were collapsible bed. And my father and mother, they combined the three beds with George together so that all three of them could sleep in one area, and I had a bed and my brother had one. So there were five of us in this little room.

LH: And it was one open space?

FY: One open space where you would have a pot belly stove in one corner and the beds around the perimeter, and one entrance and a table in the center.

LH: So, could you hear other people in the adjoining --

FY: No, this was much more substantial. The partition, I think, went all the way to the top, but, of course, you can still, the walls are not insulated so you can hear, but not like before where it was absolutely big cracks on the partitions and knotholes and then above would be open. So, it was much more substantial.

SF: Did your mom and dad put up some temporary blankets or any way try to get some privacy?

FY: I know what you mean, others had. But you know, we were all boys in the family, and I noticed that in some of the family where they would have women, young girls or teenagers or older, they would have drapes running across that they would hang. The period, early stage where the area was undeveloped and very dusty and the toilet facility was still poor. It was bad, but one thing under that type, type of situation, food plays a big part and the cooks they had there were fantastic. Because there were so many Japanese running restaurant business, so every, every mess hall would have one or two or three professional cooks. And they would... oh, it was wonderful. The food was good.

Speaking about food, back in the assembly center, I think if you were to ask a great percentage of the evacuees that were taken to the Puyallup Assembly Center, if you mention the word "Vienna sausage," I think you would get a laugh from them. Because there was a period there where we had Vienna sausage for every single day, and it got so bad that some people had developed diarrhea. And what happened is one evening -- I didn't see it, but I heard about it -- there was a group that just happened to, simultaneously, they all went toward the toilet and the guard on the tower thought there was going to be a riot. [Laughs] I heard that he turned the light on and he swung around and there was a, as you go up the ladder to this platform, there's a hole there, and I understood he fell down. Fell through there. [Laughs] I don't know if anyone ever mentioned the type of toilet they had. They had a communal toilet.

LH: Now what does that mean?

FY: Well, of course the male and female are separate. But the toilets had adjoining seat. Back to back you might say, the opening. And they would be so far apart and at one end of the, all these holes -- they didn't have seats -- but it was holes cut into a large piece of plyboard or something. And on the one end, to flush the toilets, flush the thing through, they had a large trough that works on a counterbalance and as the water fills up the tank, the thing turns over and the water gushes through. Now, if you happened to sit, not look and sit down on a hole where somebody had a very hard defecation, the water hits that and the water would splash out. [Laughs] So, there were some very humorous moments.

LH: There really was a lack of privacy.

FY: Well, oh, yes. You know, that's where some people who, who were so -- and many Japanese are very secretive, of course... so some families who had certain, maybe a child that's deformed, I think they went through, must have gone through hell. Of course, it was nothing to be ashamed of. It's just that this was the Japanese community, they kept many things in secret. And so, when you're there now without any kind of privacy, I'm sure they suffered a lot. Either that or they'd gotten over that feeling of being shamed, which is stupid.

SF: Were there any facilities for these people who had special needs, like handicapped people or people who had kids who had mental problems, or...? How were those things handled?

FY: Yeah, that is another area where I was too stupid to be conscious of a thing like that. No, I don't know.

<End Segment 18> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.