Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Robert Mizukami Interview
Narrator: Robert Mizukami
Interviewer: Ronald Magden
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: April 11, 2000
Densho ID: denshovh-mrobert-01

<Begin Segment 1>

Ronald Ernest Magden: Good morning. This is the first in a series of interviews for the Puyallup Valley Japanese American Citizens League in conjunction with Densho. We're interviewing the elder statespeople of the community, the Nisei who lived through a great many experiences. And first is Robert Mizukami, who has quite a long history of association with the Puyallup Valley Citizens League going clear back to its foundation. Robert Mizukami also served in 442nd Infantry Combat Battalion and was one of the very first Japanese Americans elected to public office as mayor of Fife, and has been deeply involved with trade with Japan, for which he's been honored by the Japanese government. Let's go back to the beginning, Bob. Let's hear a little bit about your parents, Naonobu and Isami. Where is your father from?

Robert Taro Mizukami: My dad is from Toyama, he's a Toyama-ken. I think he came to this country in the early 1900s, 1910 or '12, or something like that. I'm not too sure what the date was, but...

REM: And where did he settle, or did he settle, or did he move around?

RTM: Well he first came to Seattle, I'm sure.

REM: And what did he do in Seattle?

RTM: I'm not too sure what his first, first jobs were here in Seattle. But I think from this area he went up to Alaska to the canneries, and worked in the canneries and then came back again down here.

REM: And when did he marry your mother?

RTM: I'm not sure of the dates of that, Ron, but he did go back to Japan to get married and brought her back to this country, so I'm not quite sure what year that was.

REM: Dates don't matter that much. Did they live first in Seattle or did they live some other place?

RTM: No. See, I think my mother had a brother here in, in South Park area. They had, some Isseis were farming in that area, and so I think that's where quite a few of them settled, in South Park here in Seattle.

REM: Was your father a farmer in Japan?

RTM: No, I don't think so. His family was, they were brewers of shoyu and sake, and so...

REM: But he must have had the skills to be a farmer or learned them when he got here?

RTM: Well, I think you acquire them as you go along, you know -- a matter of necessity. And so, he came over and worked on these different farms and all. So I'm sure that's where he acquired this...

REM: The oldest child in the family is Lillian.

RTM: Yes. Uh-huh.

REM: And where was she born?

RTM: She was born here in Seattle.

REM: Uh-huh. And number two was you?

RTM: Yes, uh-huh.

REM: Can you tell us about the other members, children in the family, sort of in the order of birth and where...

RTM: Well, the next one in our family was my brother, Bill, who was born, we were born in Star Lake here. And so he and, he and I are just about a year and a day apart in birthdays. And then my brother, Frank, is the youngest son in the family, and he was also born in that same area. And then we moved out to Auburn, and my dad went to work for a greenhouse in Auburn, greenhouses there. And my youngest sister, Esther, was born there. So that completed our family.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

REM: So your father is in the greenhouse business, very, at a very early state when you were very young children. The lifetime pursuit, his was greenhouses like yours. What attracted him to the greenhouse business, do you know?

RTM: Well, I'm not too sure whether there was any particular attraction or not. But I think in those days, I mean everybody's looking for work, and wherever there's work, that's where you ended up, and so, doing. Because when we lived in Star Lake, my dad and a few of his cronies got together and they started the Star Lake Lumber Company, and they logged off that whole area up, in that area, in Federal Way there. And so that was a, a disaster as far as venture was concerned, and they lost their shirt on that. And so after that, they continued to do whatever work they could anywhere they could find it.

REM: But the family's been in the greenhouse business eighty years.

RTM: Yeah, approximately. [Laughs]

REM: Approximately. It's a long time, three generations.

RTM: Yes, uh-huh.

REM: What has, have you a feel for why the family have stayed in greenhouse that long? Why -- what, you've devoted your whole life to it.

RTM: Well, actually my dad went from greenhouse to greenhouse just to be working. And so we ended up in Renton, in Maplewood there by the Maplewood Golf Course. And went to work for Hirai's there, and they had a greenhouse there, too. And so... actually, we didn't own our own greenhouses until 1937. We moved to Fife when opportunity presented itself to purchase an existing greenhouse at that time.

REM: Do you remember approximately how much he paid for the greenhouse in Fife?

RTM: I'm not too sure, really.

REM: Okay. About when? '37, you said.

RTM: 1937 we moved to Fife, about.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

REM: Yeah, before we talk about Fife, let's go back -- you went to school, where?

RTM: I went to grade school at a place called Elliott, which is about a mile or two up the road from Renton towards the Maple Valley. And after graduating grade school there, went to junior high school in Renton, and was in the ninth grade in Renton at that time.

REM: In, were you aware in Elliott, your racial background was -- when did it come to you that you were a Japanese American?

RTM: Well, I don't think we really thought very much about it in those days. I mean, we just, it was part of the neighborhood. There was three families of Nihonjin in that area, and one was the Hirais, and ourselves, and Serizawas. And there was one daughter in the Serizawa family, and so we all went to Elliott School.

REM: Were most of the students at Elliott Caucasian?

RTM: Yes, they were.

REM: But, and how did the mix work, in class or in recess?

RTM: There was no problem of any kind that I can remember. I mean, we all had, 'course, recess was our favorite time of the day. [Laughs] And so we all got along very well. And the Elliotts are homesteaders in that area, and Grandma Elliott started a Sunday school there. And so we all went to Sunday school every Sunday. And it was serviced by a minister out of Seattle, you know kind of a circuit rider-type of a minister. And he used to come out, and so...

REM: Is this your first touch with Methodism, the Methodist Church?

RTM: Well, I don't, I'm not sure what the denomination was at that time.

REM: Okay.

RTM: Probably a Baptist preacher. But the thing that I keep thinking about is that our folks are primarily Buddhists, and so that they're thinking that we needed some religious training. And so it didn't matter to them whether it was Christian, or whatever, and they sent us to Sunday school. We went to Sunday school every Sunday pretty faithfully. And even in the summertime, went to daily vacation bible school. So I always, very grateful to the folks for doing that for us.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

REM: Did you find a big difference in Renton Junior High School from Elliott School?

RTM: Well, of course, the Elliott was such a small school. We had, I think we had about twenty-nine kids in the whole (school), and that was all eight grades in Elliott. And each row that, in the school, was, the first grade was in the lower grades and the smaller seats, and as each row progressed up the line -- 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th and so on. And so when you have only twenty-nine kids in the whole school, you get to junior high school down in Renton, I mean, it's quite a big change as far as numbers are concerned.

REM: Your older sister was a brilliant student.

RTM: Yes, she was. She graduated Renton High School in 1938 as a valedictorian. And as I mentioned to you before, I think that's where all the intelligence stopped because it never rubbed off on me at all. [Laughs]

REM: But at Renton Junior High School you had separate classes...

RTM: Yes.

REM: ...for three years. And it was sort of departmentalized schoolwork. Did you like school?

RTM: I enjoyed it, yes. Uh-huh.

REM: Even without recess?

RTM: Well, even without being too smart. [Laughs] I enjoyed it.

REM: What did you like best in school, do you remember?

RTM: Well, of course, I like history and mathematics, I think was kind of my long suits, but I never excelled in either one. [Laughs]

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

REM: Can you compare for me Renton with Fife? The, when you went to Fife, you went into high school, and there must -- was there a big difference between Renton and Fife?

RTM: Well, the only thing, Renton, there weren't as many Nihonjin in Renton as there are in Fife. Fife, we must have had, 30 or 40 percent of the whole school was Japanese. And so that was the big change there. I entered Fife High School as a sophomore, so, and then...

REM: But it's an agricultural area, Fife. Was Renton agricultural or industrial? Do you remember? How, I was trying to see if there was, if they were similar or different, the two schools. Did you feel at Fife more at home? There were more Japanese at Fife...

RTM: Uh-huh.

REM: ...than at Renton. About half the student body, wasn't it?

RTM: Practically, yeah.

REM: Can you compare that? Did you enjoy Fife? Fife also had tremendous athletic programs and this sort of thing. Did you participate in those?

RTM: Well, when I first went to Fife, I was only about ninety-pounder, and so, you know, I didn't qualify to play very many sports programs. But I did get involved in the athletic program by being the, the managers for baseball and basketball and so on. That was about the extent of my athletic abilities there.

REM: All this time you're also working in the greenhouse with your dad?

RTM: Yes, we had. Yes.

REM: What did you do in the greenhouse as a, when you were in high school? What did you...?

RTM: Well, we did whatever chores was necessary. I mean, I know during the fall, and we used to grow chrysanthemums and stuff for the fall season. And our job was to come home after school and help the spray program, spraying the mums and so on. And so I've probably inhaled a lot of insecticide over my lifetime. [Laughs]

REM: [Laughs] You're still alive.

RTM: Yeah. But you don't find any aphids on me, either. [Laughs]

REM: [Laughs] How big an area is the greenhouse area, not only your father bought, but was it five acres, ten acres?

RTM: Well, we have right now about six, six acres there, but the greenhouse itself, we have maybe about a 130,000 square feet of covered area. That's about three times the size it was when they first went to Fife.

REM: Is there a busy season and a slack season, or is it same all year-round?

RTM: Well, our busy season is in the spring because that was, when we went into the bedding plant business, and that was our busiest time. Through the summer, and well, we used to grow greenhouse cucumbers and tomatoes, and that was -- but that kept us pretty busy as far as kids are concerned.

REM: The four years that, or three years that you were at Fife High School, were they happy years when you were in high school?

RTM: I think so, yeah.

REM: You enjoyed the students and the classes?

RTM: Uh-huh.

REM: You graduated 19-...

RTM: 1940.

REM: On the eve of World War II, 1940, June? You graduated in June of '40?

RTM: Yes, uh-huh.

REM: Uh-huh. Was there any thought on your part of leaving the greenhouse and, say, going to California or someplace to strike out on your own, or...?

RTM: No. I don't think (so), not at that time. I don't think that ever entered our mind, you know. We were too young to be even thinking that far ahead, I think.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

REM: When you were, about when did you get involved with the Courier League?

RTM: Well...

REM: Was it about this time or is it after --

RTM: Yeah. About when the, in high school there. The Courier League was developed by, I think, Sakamoto?

REM: Yes, Jimmy Sakamoto.

RTM: Jimmy Sakamoto, yeah. So they had teams all over the valley, White River, Auburn, Kent, and Fife. And Fife always had a very strong baseball team and basketball team, and so we all got involved in that.

REM: It was, you played teams from Seattle and...?

RTM: Yes.

REM: Did you play Portland, far away, or...

RTM: I don't (know), well, they may have. There used to be a big baseball tournament, Fourth of July here in Seattle of the Courier League. And so there were people from Portland, I think, maybe even Spokane for that matter. And they used to have a big baseball tournament during that weekend.

REM: And were there social events in conjunction with the baseball games and the...

RTM: I think there was always a big dance.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

REM: Were you involved with the JACL before 1942, before the war?

RTM: Well, I think when we were going to high school, my best friend was Milton Iida. He and I, we always liked to go to JACL meetings and enjoy their social functions. And so at that time, we thought, "Man, first thing we got to do is join JACL," you know, to get in on all this good stuff. And so as soon as we were eligible age-wise to join, we joined JACL. And so I've been a member since probably 1939 or something like that.

REM: The coming of the JACL, its main purpose, though, was in the field of the Nisei, the second generation, developing its self-identity. It's very much wrapped up, isn't it, with, as a Nisei movement, second generation movement? Were, did Issei belong to the JACL?

RTM: Not that I recall.

REM: Uh-huh. So the --

RTM: Strictly a Nisei project. And I think, like I mentioned earlier, my buddy and I, we felt that we wanted to take advantage of all the social functions that JACL sponsored, and so we enjoyed their picnics and their dances and so on.

REM: And it was co-educational?

RTM: Yes, uh-huh.

REM: Uh-huh.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

REM: Where were you on Pearl Harbor day?

RTM: Well, there was a bowling tournament in Tacoma at that time, and, place called the Broadway Bowl, which I think is non-existent anymore. But the tournament was going on at the time that the announcement was made of Pearl Harbor being attacked. And so, to us it was as big a surprise as anybody else, is something like that happening. In those days, we were, we don't follow the newspapers as closely as we do nowadays. And so, and all this ruckus that was going on in Europe and so on, we never paid that much attention to it, really. We probably talked about it a little bit in civics class in high school, but never sank in very much.

REM: Did you go back home to your, the house and talk with your mother and father about what this meant, the bombing of Pearl Harbor?

RTM: No. We really didn't have that much of a discussion on that.

REM: Was your father afraid he might be picked up?

RTM: No. I think we just, everybody was kind of playing it by ear. Being that he wasn't really involved in the community affairs that much, that some of the other people in the area that were, presidents of Nihonjinkai and so on, were the ones that were picked up, the school teachers and so on.

REM: So, you tried to keep everything normal? Would that be a good statement?

RTM: Yes, I think so.

REM: Uh-huh. The, do you remember the actions of the Japanese American Citizens League, the Puyallup Valley chapter, what they tried to do to solve the situation? Were there any, did the JACL in Fife or in the Puyallup Valley, did they just let the events come as they happened or did they try to protest about their patriotism? Do you remember anything like that?

RTM: I don't remember that far back. I mean...

REM: Okay.

RTM: ...what kind of reaction there was amongst the, the officers of JACL at that time. Of course, if you recall, there was, there was another chapter in Tacoma, too. There was the Tacoma JACL and a Puyallup Valley JACL. And so whatever transpired between the two units, I don't know.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

REM: You were -- let's go ahead then to February 19, 1942. How did you learn of the executive order that would intern Japanese Americans?

RTM: Well, I think it was through the, through the JACL chapter that disseminated information about evacuation and so on. And so some of the leaders at that time in our chapter were the ones that were help setting up registration and these kind of things. And so that's how we learned about that.

REM: Did your father go to do the registering, or did your sister or somebody in the family? How did that work?

RTM: Well, I think, because I was the eldest son in the family that that chore kind of fell on me automatically. And so I'm only eighteen years old at the time. And so eighteen-year-old grows up pretty fast under those kind of circumstances.

REM: Yeah.

RTM: So being the dutiful eldest son in the family, I took the responsibility of doing that. And went to the registration, and preparing for evacuation and so on.

REM: Where did you have to go?

RTM: Well...

REM: Where did --

RTM: ...I'm not too sure where it was done. Probably at the old Japanese school, if I recall.

REM: They just asked you who were members of the family and gave you a number? Was that the process or was there more -- wait, let's go back. Let's talk about your land because that becomes a central issue in, at the, between February 19th and the actual internment. How did your father get the land? Was he leasing it, own, did he own it? We really need to know the land question here because it becomes, I think, central in the internment. When your dad and you went there in 1937, what was the arrangement concerning the greenhouse land?

RTM: Well, as you recall, there was a, the alien land law was in effect at that time. So in order for any Nis-, Issei or, to purchase land, had to be done through someone, probably a Nisei of legal age. And so, at that time we were, in order for us to purchase that property, we had Bruce Nakanishi as our intermediary. So that's how we were purchasing the property at the time was through Bruce.

REM: He was of age?

RTM: Yes, uh-huh.

REM: And so you were buying the land? You weren't leasing it.

RTM: No. We were purchasing it.

REM: Okay. So you're going before the registration board to be interned. How was the question of your land resolved?

RTM: Well, I don't recall what questions were on a form that were, we were filling out at that time, but we were able to maintain ownership to the land by having another third party look after the property while we were, during evacuation. So we had a, able to acquire a person that would do that for us. And so we turned everything over to him as far as the operation of the business was concerned, and we left all the materials there, the trucks, the tools, and so on, for him to use to operate the business. Well, as the war increased, it became imminent that he would either have to go into some other kind of work, defense work, or be drafted into the service. And so we lost our contact there. And by that time, we were in Minidoka, I think. And so it was decided that maybe the best thing for us to do was to dispose of the property because not knowing whether we'd be able to come back to it after the war. Anyway, through the WRA we were (able to dispose) of the property. And they were able to find a purchaser for that piece of ground.

REM: By this time did you have a love of the land? Did you hate to see --

RTM: Well, that was our home, naturally, and so we must have had some kind of an inner feeling...

REM: Attachment.

RTM: ...attachment to it. Yes, uh-huh. But like I said, I was only eighteen years old. So I mean, eighteen-year-old doesn't have that much of a fixed desire or, so to speak, I would think.

REM: How about your father and mother? The sale of the land, how did that affect them?

RTM: Well, I mean, there isn't very much you can do about it from camp. So I mean, you kind of roll with the punches and do whatever's necessary. So I'm not too sure what their true feelings were at that time.

REM: They accept it.

RTM: Yeah, it's the accepted thing.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

REM: You took the, a train or car to "Camp Harmony"?

RTM: Well, we had a truck that we used in our business, and we loaded up all the stuff that we could carry into this truck, and then had this person drive us over to "Camp Harmony" in Puyallup. And we were in Area C. And, you know, we backed up, then unloaded the truck there. So each family had, what, whatever they could carry, a suitcase for each person and maybe some folding chairs and a card table or such. And that was about the extent of the furniture that we were able to have.

REM: No radios or...?

RTM: Well, I did buy a portable radio from a pawnshop in Tacoma, I remember, and took that with us.

REM: How did it feel to be behind fences and spotlights?

RTM: Well, it was kind of a different experience. You know, the week before, the Seattle people had already been brought down to Puyallup and was in Area A and B. And so we had some relatives in Area A, which was the main parking lot at the Puyallup Fairgrounds. And so we went down to visit them during the previous week. We'd, we'd take some groceries down there, some fruit and things like that, and pass it to them through the barbed-wire fence. And so one week you're on this side of the fence, next week, you're behind the fence. So I mean, it's quite an experience.

REM: You've been to McNeil Island Federal Penitentiary.

RTM: Yes.

REM: Can you empathize or sympathize with convicts? Was there much difference when you visited McNeil with "Camp Harmony"? Could you leave "Camp Harmony" at...?

RTM: Could what?

REM: Could you just get up and go out the gate?

RTM: No. It was all guarded with gates, and there was watchtowers with armed soldiers in 'em, and had spotlights along the borders of the, of the area. So it was probably an enclosed prison just like McNeil Island, I'm sure.

REM: How long were you at "Camp Harmony"?

RTM: Oh, let's see. We were in Puyallup from May, about the 15th of May 'til September. And in September we were put on board a train at Puyallup, and then left Puyallup to go to Minidoka, Idaho.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

REM: And what did you think of Minidoka, first impression when you saw it?

RTM: Well, the thing is, I mean, that's the first time I ever left the state of Washington was to get on a train to go to Minidoka. And the thing was that we stopped at Eden Station where, just a little outside of where Minidoka camp was. And the train stops out there in the middle of nowhere, and then they say, they, "Well, this is where you people get off." And you get out there and look around, there's nothing but sand and sagebrush there. And the only thing that was there that was of any luxury was these tour buses from Sun Valley, Idaho.

REM: Luxury tour buses?

RTM: Well...

REM: They, they were going to transport you in the Sun Valley Resort Company's buses?

RTM: Buses from there, from the station to the camp itself. That was quite an experience. Minidoka was carved out of sand and sagebrush there. The sagebrush grew about eight, ten feet high, so the soil there was very rich. Anyway, when you scraped the top off of that, take all the vegetation off, there's nothing there but sand. And every time the wind blew, there was a sandstorm and you could hardly see. It was...

REM: You weren't in camp long before you volunteered to go to work.

RTM: Well, soon after we got into camp and settled down little bit, I mean, there was a call for some farm release workers to go out and harvest spuds and sugar beets in the area. And so the first opportunity that came along, a group of us got together and decided that we would like to go to the harvest. And we went to a place called Aberdeen, Idaho. And because we have an Aberdeen, Washington, you know that kind of give us a connection with home, actually. So we went out there. Must have been first part of October that we went for the harvest. And we stayed there through Christmas, and we came back in the camp after Christmas.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 12>

RTM: In the meantime, Congress had passed a bill to, to activate a, the 442nd. And so they were in a recruitment program at that time. So they came to all the camps to get the recruits. So, being at our age there, we have a little cabin fever, and we have any opportunity to get out of camp -- this was one of them, was to join the service. 'Course, in the meantime, in the back of our heads we were saying that because of the fact that we were being accused of not being loyal to the country and so on, that we had a point to prove that we were just as good Americans as anybody else. And so here was our opportunity to do so. And so we did sign up to join the recruitment program at that time. And I went, when we got through doing that, I went back to our little cabin shack and told the family what was going on. And I told my brother that, "You stay here and take care of the family, and I'll go in the service." I didn't know what his plans were either, but I went to Camp Shelby, Mississippi for training, and lo and behold, here comes my brother, and he and I are in the same company together in Camp Shelby. And I told him, I said, "Well, I thought I told you to stay home." But he had his own ideas, too. Anyway, we trained together in Camp Shelby, went overseas together at that time.

REM: You were in what part of the 442nd?

RTM: I was in the Second Battalion in H Company in 442nd.

REM: And your brother Bill was right beside you?

RTM: Well, he was in a different platoon, but we were in the same company together, yeah.

REM: What happened to Bill?

RTM: Well, we went on line about, let's see, first part of, or end of June, I guess, when we got overseas. And my brother was killed on the 11th of July, so very early in the conflict he was killed in action there in Italy.

REM: How did you learn that he'd been... were you near?

RTM: Well, I saw him the night before he got killed. I mean, we were up on line and I was talking with him. 'Course, after he got killed, my first sergeant looked me up and told me what had happened. So I mean, it was kind of a shock to me, being that I just spoke to him the night before.

REM: Do you remember what you talked about?

RTM: Well, he was talking about what was happening during the war, and he says to me, he says, "Boy, some of these shells are getting awful close." So I make a smart remark like, I said, "Well, what do you want me to tell them when we get home?" [Laughs] I still remember that. I feel bad, like gee, what a smart-aleck I was, to say something like that.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 13>

REM: You went through the campaign in Italy and France?

RTM: Yes.

REM: All the way.

RTM: All the way, yeah.

REM: Untouched.

RTM: Well, I got my Purple Heart in France. I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time, I guess. Something like that.

REM: Uh-huh. What was, the spirit of the 442nd, were they of like mind? Did they all want to prove that they were good American citizens? Was this a fundamental idea?

RTM: Well, I think most of us are, were Niseis, naturally, so that we had our heritage from our parents and so on, that we would ganbaru and do the best we can with the situation. And so there was a real strong attitude of doing the best we can. When we left home, 'course, the advice that we'd get from our parents is, "Don't shame the parents or don't shame the nationality," and so on. So, I mean, that's pretty much ingrained in most of the Niseis, I'm sure.

REM: You had a brother, Frank, who came and joined you, didn't he? Or joined the 442nd?

RTM: Yes.

REM: Tell us a little bit about his...?

RTM: Well, he was the youngest in the family, and actually, he was too young to go overseas at the beginning. So he was kept over here in the States 'til he became old enough to go overseas. I don't know what the cut-off age was, nineteen or twenty or whatever. Anyhow, he was sent overseas just about time the war ended in Europe. And so he kind of went for the ride to Europe, and did the occupation force work. And I think he was in the Third, Third Battalion. I'm not too sure whether it was L Company or M Company or something like that. So there was three of us from our family in the 442nd at the same time, actually. I don't know how many families had that, but we were one of the few who had a multiple number of people serving in the service at the same time.

REM: Where were you on VE Day in August -- or no, it was in April, wasn't it, 1945? Do you remember when the war ended, your feelings when the war ended? The, when you didn't have to fight anymore, you were in France, probably.

RTM: No. I think we were probably back in Italy...

REM: Oh. Back in...

RTM: ...see, we went to France, and then we did our thing, and then came back to Italy again and ended the war up in Italy. So we were probably up in the Po Valley at that time. I don't recall where we were, actually.

REM: And who brought the news that the war was over, do you know? How did you learn that the Germans had surrendered, or was there just a...?

RTM: Just by word of mouth, I think.

REM: Word of mouth.

RTM: Yeah. I'm not too sure if there was any official announcement made or anything. But word does trickle down finally. [Laughs]

<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 14>

REM: How far, or no, not how, how long before you got back to the United States?

RTM: Well, I got back to United States in December after the war was over in Europe. At that, after the war was over in Europe, there was rumor that we would come back to, the unit would come back to the United States and get re-supplied and possibly go to the Pacific. So by the time that all happened, the war ended in Japan in August, I guess it was.

REM: Uh-huh. Where did you go when, when you came, when the 442nd came back to the United States? Then it was demobilized or...?

RTM: Well, we came back as individuals, not as a unit, particularly.

REM: I see.

RTM: After you had so many points for being overseas and such-and-such, and so when we had enough points, we were sent back home. And so I came back as an individual, not as a unit.

REM: Oh. I thought they marched down Washington, D.C.

RTM: Well, there was, there was a unit that did come back and paraded in Washington, D.C. But I was not one of those.

REM: Okay. You came back then as an individual and you went where?

RTM: Well, I was discharged at Fort Lewis here in Washington. And by that time, my folks were on a (work) release program to Spokane, and so they were living in Spokane at that time.

REM: So you went over to Spokane?

RTM: Yes.

REM: What did you do in Spokane?

RTM: Well, my folks were working at a greenhouse there again. And he was, in conjunction with the, with the greenhouse there was a nursery, too. So this person grew nursery stock and so on. And I went to work there. And, at the nursery, and I was digging nursery stock and irrigating and so on. And if the customers wanted, we would go out there and plant the material for them.

REM: And...

RTM: It so happened at that, that time that -- and that's how I met Lilly, my wife. Her dad came down to the nursery and bought some plants, and he wanted me to come up and plant them for him. And I tell you, in Spokane, I mean, Spokane's built on a rock pile. And I never worked so hard planting anything in my life.

REM: Did she bring water out to you, or how did you meet Lilly, your wife?

RTM: Well that's kind of a long story, really. [Laughs] During the time that I was overseas, the girls at the Methodist Church wrote letters to servicepeople who were in 442nd at that time. And I got a letter from Lilly, actually. They just drew names out of a hat, and they, they wrote to the servicepeople. And after I got discharged, went to Spokane and met up with another friend of mine there. And he said to me, he says, "Say, would you like to meet some girls?" And he said, "I know a family that has several girls in their family." And so this was the Yonago family. And so we went up to the house to see them. Well, we were sitting there talking about just anything, and I said to them, I said, "Well I got a letter from somebody here in Spokane, and I wrote back to this person and never got an answer back." [Laughs] Well, in those days, we wrote V-mail letters, if you recall what they were. And so as we were talking, Lilly went upstairs. She had this letter that I wrote, wrote to her. I gave her such a line of baloney she was scared to write to me. She said that. [Laughs] So that's how it happened.

REM: You were married in Spokane?

RTM: Yes, uh-huh.

REM: And then for some reason, you came back over and got involved with the, your old greenhouse property. Can you explain that to us?

RTM: Well, during that year, that summer, we thought well, we'd just drive over to the coast and see what our old homestead looked like. And so we came back to Fife and drove around. And the person who had purchased the property was operating the greenhouse at that time. And he was having such a hard time trying to make a go of it that he wanted to get out from under. And so as we visited him that, that week, we decided that maybe we could buy the place back and come back to the old place. And that's how we got back again.

REM: Was there a big difference in what you sold it for and...

RTM: Well, see I'm not too sure what we got for it when we sold, sold it. But I know we probably paid twice as much for the property the second time around as we were originally buying it for. And 'course, I think when we sold the property, it was like these other places where we probably got about ten cents on the dollar.

REM: Yeah. Were you, who came back to the greenhouse? You did, your parents...?

RTM: Yes. My parents and myself.

REM: Just you and your parents, or Frank or anybody else in the family?

RTM: Well, Frank was still in the service, and so...

REM: Ah, working up the points.

RTM: Yeah, I guess. But after he got discharged from the service, he came to join the family, too. And I had my sister, Esther, was there. And by that time, my sister, Lillian, was married and she had her own family. So, it was just the four of us left, plus my mother and dad.

<End Segment 14> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 15>

REM: And you get involved in the restarting of the Puyallup Valley Japanese American Citizens League. Could you explain how this starts again?

RTM: Well, it's, I can't remember what year that was -- 1947 probably or somewhere in that area. 1947, '48. Anyway, we reactivated the Puyallup Valley Chapter of JACL. As I mentioned earlier, there was a Tacoma chapter and a Valley chapter, and so there was not enough people that came back to Tacoma to form a JACL chapter, so we decided that we'd combine the two and call it the Puyallup Valley Chapter. And so members of that lived in Tacoma also joined that group. And Kaz Yamane, who was one of the leading Niseis of that time, was the president, I think, that year. And so we reactivated Puyallup Valley Chapter.

REM: Of the 177 families who were in the Puyallup Valley at the time of internment, what would you guess how many of those families came back, like the Mizukami, after the war? How many were there approximately? You think two dozen or three dozen?

RTM: Probably in that neighborhood, yeah. I don't recall what number would be.

REM: Out of the 177, maybe three dozen came back?

RTM: Uh-huh.

REM: Were they all on that 20th Street East?

RTM: Pretty much, yeah. 'Cause if you go further towards the hill, the Yoshiokas, the Fujitas, and Sugiokas and so on are all in that area there. So 20th Street was kind of the main thoroughfare for a number of years.

REM: It goes back to the very beginning of Japanese Americans, that street, in 1897.

RTM: Well, I couldn't tell you...

REM: Yeah. But I, the reason I... yeah.

RTM: was before my time. [Laughs]

REM: But going back into that -- JACL, is there a difference between what it was before the war, a social organization, and after the war, with the, the -- were the goals different, prewar and postwar, in the Puyallup Valley?

RTM: I think so. The emphasis of the, purpose of JACL was probably changed after the war because of the experience of the war. So it became more of a civil rights group than we were before. I think, like I said previous, prior to the war, it was more of a social group that did all these other activities. So since the war, I mean, its purpose has changed a little.

REM: You also joined the Nisei war veterans, didn't you?

RTM: Yeah. I was a member of the Nisei Vets here in Seattle.

REM: And they were also deeply involved in civil rights, weren't they? They, the work they did in Olympia on equal employment. In this early period, in the late '40s, there was a concentrated effort to, to obtain rights by Japanese Americans.

RTM: Well, I think, like I said earlier, that the experience of the war changed a lot of attitudes about what our purpose might be. So, 'course, civil rights being what it is, that was one of the main purposes, I think.

REM: And you were successful. Can you tell us, for example, equal rights to employment, equal housing, these come along. Do you know why you were successful in the postwar period where you were unsuccessful in the prewar period?

RTM: Well, I think after the war, we had more professional people in our communities than we did before. A lot of this civil rights movements were done through the Sansei lawyers and so on. And at the time the war broke out, there were very few professional people in our community.

REM: Ah. That's a good point.

RTM: So Sanseis can't understand why we didn't do certain things before the war. Well, it just wasn't there at that time.

<End Segment 15> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 16>

REM: You... when did you get interested in politics, Fife politics?

RTM: Well, Fife is a very close-knit community. So we had heard rumors that the City of Tacoma was looking towards the east to annex some of the areas in Fife. And a group of us got together, we decided that we wanted to maintain our own autonomy. So Joe Vraves, who was our first mayor, he was kind of the chairman of the group, and had formed an incorporating committee that we would incorporate to prevent this annexation movement by the City of Tacoma. So in order for us to do that, he asked me if I would help with the incorporating committee. And that's how I got first involved in that. At that time, I mean, I didn't know up from down as far as politics were concerned, but it was quite interesting, and the things that we learned about local governments and so on. So in order to form a city, first thing you do is, you know, you have to get incorporated, then you elect your councilpeople to run the city. And so I was on the original council at that time.

REM: You were elected?

RTM: Yes, uh-huh. But there was no competition, really. I mean, the committee made the slate of whoever it was going to be and put it on the ballot. So we were all elected at that first election that year.

REM: There was a, a Swiss, an Italian...

RTM: Well, yes. It was pretty, quite diversified in, in Fife area itself. The dairypeople were all mostly Swiss, and the farmers were mostly Italian and Japanese. So in our original council, Louie Dacca was Italian, and I was Japanese, and Frank Schneider was Swiss. And then we had another person, just a Caucasian there. And there was another person that was a state patrolman who became a councilman. And Joe Vraves, he was a farmer there. And he's of Yugoslavian descent. And so we had a real mixed bag of people there. But Joe was very diplomatic. He thought, "Well, we get representation from different ethnic lines there in Fife." We had a very good working relationship together and got along real well.

REM: Stayed together for many years?

RTM: Well, Joe was mayor for twenty-five years, I think. That's kind of the last of the strong mayor forms of government.

REM: Who succeeded Joe?

RTM: Well, Joe, the Pierce County at that time was in a commission form of government, and they had different commissioners. And the person from our area was, I don't recall, but he retired. And so Joe moved up to, to run for that vacancy there. And when Joe left, I was the mayor pro tem at that time, and so I got to take over his unexpired term. And I served his -- three years on his unexpired term, and then served another full, full four-year term after that. So I spent seven years in the mayor's office in Fife.

<End Segment 16> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 17>

REM: You were one of the first Nisei elected to public office after World War II, at least in Washington state. Did you receive criticism? Were the bigots on your trail, anything like that?

RTM: Well, I never really experienced anything personally, particularly in our community. The only real experience that I still remember, very fresh in my mind was when I first got married in Spokane. We went, we were going on a honeymoon to Canada, and we went up to Banff bath springs. And on the way up, we stopped at Bonners Ferry, Idaho. The first night we were going to stay in Bonners Ferry, Idaho. And Bonners Ferry, Idaho, was noted for being very anti-Japanese. So anyhow, we stopped at this motel to get a room for the night. In those days, motels were kind of cabin, camp type of things. They weren't like the luxury motels that we have nowadays. So the lady showed us these different cabins. And as she was going out the door, we said, "Well, this is nice. We'll stay here." And so, as she was going out the door, she says to me, "You're Chinese, aren't you?" And I says, "No, I'm not." And I said, "I'm Japanese extraction." And she says, "Well, you can't stay here, then." And I says, "Why?" And she says, "Because we only cater to the whites," she says. But then I said, "Well, you're kind of narrow-minded, aren't you? If I said I was Chinese, that would've been all right." But then, you know, you don't ever win an argument, arguing with a woman. So, anyway, the thing that really bothered me was she said, "Well, this is my privilege." And I said to her, "Well, I lost a brother overseas just protecting this privilege you're talking about." And so it really hurt me very much. And that's very strong in my mind even after, it's been fifty-three years now, we've been married. I mean, it's kind of like it was yesterday that this happened. I still remember that.

<End Segment 17> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 18>

REM: What was it like, Bob, being the mayor of Fife?

RTM: Well, I think that, like I mentioned earlier, Joe Vraves was a very good mentor for me. I mean, he was quite a businessman. And so the thing about Fife, we're changing from agricultural to industrial type of a city. Fife, for its size, is very well, very well off financially as far as cities go. So we were always considered donor city as far as participating in, in sharing of, of sales tax and so on. So when I used to go to the Association of Washington Cities conferences every year, and be on the panel and talk about small cities, they always said, "Well, Bob, Fife is not a small city as far as finances are concerned." So everyone was quite envious of our position.

And during my tenure there in office, we did a lot of building as far as industry is concerned there. They accused me of paving the valley with blacktop and warehouses and such. But because of that, Fife has a very high tax value there. Financially we've been very well off during that period of time. We were able to do things that small cities our size would never have been able to tackle. I keep wondering about little cities in eastern Washington like Omak and things like that. What do they do to maintain their, their revenues there to be able to support their government? I think because of the expansion during my tenure there, that I feel that I left the city in pretty good stand there. And I'm very proud of that.

REM: You were mayor from 1980 to '87?

RTM: (Yes). Seven years.

REM: Was there much re-zoning, that kind of thing, or were there people who wanted to see Fife stay agricultural versus another group who wanted to see it industrialized? Were these two forces there in the community or was it pretty well all for industrialization?

RTM: Well, I think there's, a lot of people wanted to maintain the agricultural climate there that we've always enjoyed. And so there's some resentment about too much industry coming into Fife. What industry brings, 'course, is traffic and that's the main thing that everybody's, opposes is all that extra traffic that comes through there. And now that the extension of 167 through, from Puyallup through to the Port of Tacoma is now on the drawing boards, and that's going to also eliminate quite a few of the farms that are there yet. And people kind of resent that. But I don't know if that's a sign of progress or what, but anyway, that's inevitable, I think.

REM: We've talked about, in the beginning there were 177 Japanese American farms in the valley before World War II, and that there were three dozen that came back after the war. What would you estimate, as the year 2000 rolls around, how many Japanese American families, farming families, are still in the valley?

RTM: I think you could almost count 'em on one hand, pretty near.

REM: Half a dozen.

RTM: I would say, yeah.

REM: A way of life is passing from the scene, then, the Nisei way of life? Is this...

RTM: Pretty much, yeah.

REM: ...sort of symbolic that...?

RTM: Well, because the farmers that are left now are all Sanseis, and they will continue to farm as long as it's viable. So I don't know how much longer farming is going to be viable in that area. The property values there in Fife are so high that the taxes you pay on the farm land makes it almost impossible to continue farming that ground.

REM: While you were mayor, you were involved with the Puget Sound Council of Government and the Good Roads Association, a lot of things. Can you explain how, as mayor, you participated in these groups that had, would have an effect on your community?

RTM: Well, I always felt that it's best to be on the inside on these kinds of groups because they would affect us directly. The Puget Sound Council of Governments, as you recall, is an organization that passes on (a), ninety-five reviews that kind of control the grants that, federal grants that came in our direction. And in order for us to get our share of it, I felt, well, that I should be participating in that level so that we would make sure that we got our share of what was supposed to be coming our direction. The Pierce County Good Roads Committee, I was chairing that for a while. And that also was a group that was responsible for where the grant monies should be going, what community and what areas, so that helped us in that.

REM: You would negotiate within these groups for Fife's share? That was approximately what was happening with Puget Sound Council of Government or any of these metropolitan groups that were involved?

RTM: Well, normally the small cities don't have very much voice in some of these kinds of decision-making organizations, and so my idea at that time was to be involved directly, to be heard on, in the different decisions.

<End Segment 18> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 19>

REM: You have two children that we haven't talked about. Would you tell us something about them? They're Sansei, and their outlook on today and the future, and how you raised them to be, Japanese culture and American culture in mind?

RTM: Well, I think we were pretty fortunate. Our kids turned out to be pretty good through all this, the era that they grew up in. And my son, Greg, took over the greenhouse operation, and he's third-generation in that business. And my daughter went to Western Washington University in Bellingham and became a schoolteacher, and she started teaching school at the Washington, Lake Washington School District. And then she had an opportunity to go to California to work with film production. And so my niece had a job down there, and she said, "There's an opening coming up." So she talked to Becky about coming down and applying for this position, and so she got the job down there. And she worked, she worked for Aaron Spelling Productions for a number of years. She worked on films like Dallas and Love Boat and so on. So she's still down there doing the same kind of work with other production companies now. And so all in all, I think our two kids turned out pretty well.

REM: You've received many awards, and in particular, one of the highest awards the Japanese give, the Japanese government, for the betterment of American-Japanese relations. Would you talk a little bit about the Order of the Sacred Treasure?

RTM: Well, I was very fortunate to be nominated for the Order of the Sacred Treasure Gold and Silver rays from the Japanese government. I felt that in my position as mayor of Fife, I had an opportunity to do the goodwill work between this country and Japan, by working with the different companies that came in our area looking for areas to, to set up business. And so couple of times, I've gone to Japan to visit with these different companies and to help promote good relations between Japan and America. Because of the fact that the State of Washington depends so highly on the exports to Japan for, for instance, I think State of Washington is one of the, probably about the second highest exporters to Japan in North America. And so being able to participate in this, hopefully through our action that we were able to promote goodwill between the two countries. So getting a kunsho from Japan, I think is very prestigious and I'm very proud of that.

REM: You've also received a National Japanese American Citizens League award. Can you tell me a little more about that?

RTM: Well, from National JACL, I was presented a Ruby Pin, which is for service over and above the local chapter level. And so that's another thing that I'm very proud of, too, is the fact that Ruby Pins and Sapphire Pins are not doled out too easily, and so being able to be a recipient of one of those, I, I really feel very grateful about that.

REM: One of the most unusual -- and it's not an award in particular, but your work at resolving the Puyallup Indian land claim problem with the federal government. I think people would like to know as a Japanese American, you were involved in settling an issue that's been around since 1855. Would you talk a little bit about your service on the committee that worked to solve this, and how it came, the ending of it?

RTM: Well, because of the fact that the city of Fife is wholly on the Puyallup Indian Reservation, that -- original Indian reservation, actually, and so I was involved in the settlement of the Puyallup land claims incident in Pierce County there. That was a very interesting experience, really. When we look back about the kinds of denials that we went through and what the Indians go through too, to this date, so we do have some kind of a common bond actually there. And being asked to, to participate on the committee, I really enjoyed that part of it, to get to know more about the history of our area and what's going on.

REM: How did that revolve itself? How, how did that finally come about that -- I think since 1991, the settlement has been successful. Do you remember the, let's say, the clutch moment when, when agreement was forthcoming when you were on that committee? I don't think I've ever heard an explanation of how they finally arrived at something the Indians could accept and something that the federal government would accept?

RTM: 'Course, it involves a lot of money. And I think there was about hundred-some million dollars given to the Puyallup Indian Tribes for the settlement of, of all the claims that they had in the area. So one of the things is that Senator Dan Inouye is on the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, I think. I think he chaired it at one time or another. And so when he came to Tacoma, being that he's a member also of the 442nd that, we two also had some kind of a bond there. And I was able to work with him as a member of the committee, and, and we came to a very satisfactory resolution of the problem that we had with the Indian claims.

REM: You also had a hand in the founding of the University of Washington, Tacoma. Sort of the... a great --

RTM: Well, I was on the original advisory committee of the University of Washington there in Tacoma.

REM: How did you get a branch campus at the, in Tacoma?

RTM: Well, we talked to, talked to University of Washington about bringing a campus down to Tacoma. They were very reluctant about doing such a thing. So then we got to talking with Washington State University, and they came over to look around to see if there was a place to put a campus here in the Tacoma area. And so when that happened, of course, that awakened some of the people in the University of Washington. Board of Regents and, whatever, that if they don't do it, then University, I mean, Washington State University would be coming over. And 'course, there's a rivalry between the two schools, so they didn't want that to happen. And so University of Washington got busy about, "Maybe we better do this before Washington State University comes over and does it." So the original advisory committee for the University of Washington-Tacoma was formed, and I was fortunate enough to be asked to work on that project. And that...

<End Segment 19> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 20>

REM: What do you think is going to happen to the Sansei and the Yonsei in the 21st Century? The Nisei have made their great contribution. They're now, let us say, the elder statespeople. What do you see happening to the unique culture of Japanese Americans in the 21st Century?

RTM: I think that's one of the concerns that the Niseis have is, how are we going to maintain the heritage and the culture that we've all inherited up to this point in time? Because in the next decade or so, I mean, the, the Sanseis have pretty much melded into the whole community. And so there isn't that distinction that there was as much as it was in the Nisei. And so hopefully that through our teaching of our children and such that they would maintain some kind of a cultural linkage between the Japanese and the other community. So I'm not too sure what direction we'll be going here henceforth, but...

REM: And what would you say about, can it ever happen again that a minority group can be interned?

RTM: Well, hopefully that the experience that, that we've had, that such a thing would not happen. But each time there is some kind of a conflict that you hear about internment and these kinds of things. Like when the Iranian hostage thing was going on, the first thing was, "Let's round up all the Iranians and put them into concentration camps," and these kind of things. So this type of mentality still is out there, and that I think that it wouldn't be surprising that something like that would happen. Hopefully, the efforts that we're making now about internment and what the consequences and such are, that these kind of things would not happen. So every opportunity that I get to speak to a public group about internment and such, that I take the opportunity to do that. I've been asked next month to speak to a Kiwanis group in Puyallup, and they want to know about "Camp Harmony" and what happened in their own local community. I've gone to different schools every year and talked about evacuating, internment, and such. It's surprising to, to know that even like in Puyallup school that I went to, they don't even know that this kind of thing happened at the Puyallup Fairground. The only thing that they felt was unfair was that the Puyallup Fair didn't go on that fall. [Laughs]

REM: It was called, "No Fair."

RTM: "No Fair," yeah.

REM: Yeah. Wonderful, ironic, yeah. It's been a pleasure to be with you, Bob. Is there anything you would like to say in conclusion, go on the record, or that you feel that needs to be said here?

RTM: I really, off the top of my head I haven't anything particular to say, except that, hopefully that experience that the Niseis had since World War II, that these kinds of experiences would not be experienced by our children or our children's children.

<End Segment 20> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 21>

RTM: Well, this is a photograph of my dad's family. And this is in, in Toyama, in Japan. If you notice the amount of snow that's showing here, Toyama is very cold in the wintertime because they get the winds off of the Siberian Coast over the Japan Sea.

REM: How many brothers are there? It looks like there's...?

RTM: Seven or eight.

REM: Seven or eight, yeah. And two daughters?

RTM: Just one daughter, yeah.

REM: One daughter.

RTM: Yeah.

REM: Fellow in...

RTM: That's my grandfather in the middle there with the beard.

REM: Yes. That's what I wanted to know. And they were sake brewers?

RTM: Yes. Sake and shoyu brewers.

REM: And did you ever meet any of them?

RTM: Well, the only person that I met out of his brothers was the one that was a, he was a consul general in Los Angeles area in 1936 and 1937. And he is the only family that I have met from him.

REM: Which one is your father? Point to him?

RTM: Well, let's see. This is my father right here. This is my mother. And this is shortly after they were married.

REM: And this might have been the day of the wedding.

RTM: Could be.

REM: Could be. They all came for it.

RTM: Uh-huh.

REM: Was he the only son that came to America, or did the others try and, or what?

RTM: Well, his brother that was the consul general of Los Angeles, his name was Hori, he was yoshi to that family, and so he's the only one, other person that came to this country, I think, that I know of.


RTM: This is a photo of my mother and dad's wedding picture, I think. This is a traditional dress for that particular time.

REM: Her name again was?

RTM: Isami.

REM: Maiden name?

RTM: Hirabayashi.

REM: Hirabayashi. And you are then related to Gordon?

RTM: (Yes). Gordon is my cousin. I mean, how my dad met my mother was the fact that, that Gordon, Gordon's mother was kind of the go-between between... she said to my dad, she says, "Say, I have a sister-in-law that you might be interested in." And so that's how they got married, got together on this.

REM: Then came back to America?

RTM: Yes. Uh-huh.

<End Segment 21> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.