Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Mits Koshiyama Interview
Narrator: Mits Koshiyama
Interviewer: Alice Ito
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: July 14, 2001
Densho ID: denshovh-kmits-01

<Begin Segment 1>

AI: Today is July 14, 2001. We're here with Mr. Mits Koshiyama. I'm Alice Ito. We're here in Seattle at the Densho office, and videographer is Dana Hoshide. Thanks very much for being with us today.

MK: I appreciate your asking me to be here today.

AI: Well, to start at the beginning, I wanted to ask when and where you were born.

MK: I was born in Mountain View, California, that's in the Santa Clara valley in the Bay Area -- in 1924, August 7th.

AI: And what name were you given when you were born?

MK: Yeah. I'm the only male in our family. We had four sons, and I'm only one with a Japanese name. And my name is Mitsuru. And I asked my mother, "How come I have only the Japanese name?" Says, "Well, you're named after a famous Japanese person." And I said, "Well, who is Mitsuru?" And I, she told me, "Well, he is something like the Robin Hood of Japan." And I said, "Oh." I thought it was pretty good. But when we went to school, when I got older, the teachers had a very difficult time with the name. So it was really a handicap. And my brothers, they were named George, Albert, and James, which is very easy names. But I don't know why, you know. My mother never explained to me why I ended up "Mitsuru."

AI: Well that's an interesting, interesting exception she made. Tell me your mother's and father's names and where they came from in Japan.

MK: Well, my father's name was Tatsuhei Koshiyama. My mother's name was Tsutaye Oka. My father first came from Japan in, I don't know, early 1900s, I think it was. I don't know the exact date. But he was only fifteen. And his mother died in child-, giving birth to a child, his brother, so his father remarried. And this stepmother had children, so she was close to her own children, and my father felt left out. So even though they were pretty well-off, he jumped, well, I guess they call it "jumped ship" and came to Hawaii as a contractor. He didn't see any future in Hawaii in a sugar plantation or the pineapple fields, so he took off for America. I only wish that he stayed in Hawaii. I would've probably had a very much happier life. But he came to America. He worked on the farms and the railroad, and I guess he made enough money to go back to Japan, and he married my mother. And my mother came from a broken family. Her mother remarried, too. Since the, in Japan at that time, a woman with a child had a hard time remarrying. So she farmed my mother out to a relative. So my mother felt unwanted. So the first chance she got, she willingly married my father, and she came to America.

AI: Do you, excuse me. What area of Japan were they from?

MK: Oh, they're from Yamanashi-ken. Yamanashi-ken is near, between Yokohama and Nagano-ken, I think it is. And it's on one side off the base of Mt. Fuji. The other side of Mt. Fuji is Shizuoka-ken. And I think Yamanashi-ken became kind of famous after the war. People in the Tokyo area, when they start making a lot of money, they start buying resort homes. And these resort homes sprung up around Lake Yamanaka in Yamanashi-ken. So the, that really helped the prosperity of Yamanashi-ken.

AI: I see. Well, now, when, after your parents married and returned to the U.S., do you know about what year that might've been that your mother came?

MK: I'm not too sure.

AI: Possibly early 1920 or maybe --

MK: Oh, yeah.

AI: -- shortly before that?

MK: My sister was born in, I think, 1921. So they must've returned somewhere between 1918 and 1921.

AI: And what, where were they living and working at that time?

MK: Well, they came back to Santa Clara valley. They had no place to go, so they became farm laborers. And later on my father and mother had decided to become farmers.

AI: So they had, their first child was your oldest sister. And then...

MK: Older brother.

AI: And then...

MK: Me, two younger sisters, and then the last two were two younger brothers.

AI: Well, tell me a little bit about your young years as a child. Your parents were doing farm labor. Were they doing sharecropping then?

MK: Yes. We, at times we did sharecropping, especially after the war because we had no money. We had no place to go. It's an interesting story. Santa Clara valley, I would say it became the strawberry capital of the world because every street had strawberry, strawberry patches on it. And the funniest story is that the, lot of these farmers that later, who hired these Japanese family as sharecroppers, they were against the Japanese returning to California. But they saw that there was money to be made. And I always say it takes money, money makes people change their mind about everything. And that's what happened.

AI: That's what happened later.

MK: Yeah, they opened up their land and everything, and the Japanese families had places to stay. They didn't make any money growing, sharecropping strawberries, but they had a home to stay in. A lot of people came from the Los Angeles area and Washington area to become sharecroppers in the Santa Clara valley.

AI: That was after the war.

MK: Yes.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2001 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

AI: But I'm going to take us back again to prewar. And as you said, you were born in 1924. When you were going to, just starting public school, just starting school, do you have any memory of that time? Did you, for example, were you speaking Japanese at home, or had you learned --

MK: Yeah.

AI: -- some English already?

MK: I had a very difficult time at school because my folks spoke Japanese, and that's all I knew, just about, other than talking to my brothers and sisters. I remember school was very hard for me. And I tried my best, but I suffered.

AI: What kind of ethnic and racial composition did your grade school have? Were there other Japanese American kids in your school?

MK: The first grammar school I went to had lot of Japanese there. It was called Jefferson Grammar School in Santa Clara School District. And our family was sharecroppers near the school, so I went there. And to me, the school wasn't too bad because there was a lot, lot of Japanese kids. But later my folks moved to Cupertino, and they were all whites there. And that's, that's when I first learned, you know, about racism, how bad it was. And that's the grammar school I learned about being called a "Jap," and, "Go back where you came from," and things like that. They kind of, it was kind of cruel to tease a young kid, being a "Jap." Many times I went home, saying, "Why was I born Japanese?" Why wasn't I born white like the rest of the kids and so I could be accepted? But that's the way it was. And my father and mother always said, "Well, we gotta farm here. We just have to do the best we can." So I tried to understand. But to this day, going to a all-white school is a very bad experience for me. Every day was, when I was growing up was almost like a fight. They call me a "Jap," and I would fight back. And I noticed that one thing that the kids that didn't fight back, they were left alone. Isn't that strange? Maybe there's a lesson to be learned here. I didn't learn my lesson. I should've been like them and just bowed my head and accepted it. But I, I thought I was a good American, and I fought back. And I got beat up lot of times for that.

AI: And the teachers saw that? Just let it happen?

MK: Oh, yeah. The teachers were very prejudiced. They were just as bad as anybody. Even the teachers used that word, "Japs." All the kids would turn around and look at you when the teacher start talking about Japs. For example, Cupertino Grammar School, we had Japanese farmers -- across the school -- growing strawberries. And the teacher want to say, I believe she wanted to say something nice about the Japanese. She says, "Look at those Japs over there. Look how hard they work." Just that word "Japs," it turned me off.

AI: So even someone who thought she was saying something nice...

MK: Yeah.

AI: ...really didn't realize how racist that was.

MK: That's the way hakujin are. Even today I think the, most of the hakujin think Asians and especially Japanese or Chinese are foreigners, even though they're born here.

AI: So this is the kind of treatment that you received even in the years way before World War II started.

MK: Oh, yeah. You know, I had fights in the, even on the buses, they tried to kick me off. They, they'd try to make me walk home. It was just -- [laughs] -- I hate to look back on what happened, but I was really threatened. "If you get on this bus again, we'll beat you up." But I didn't want to walk four or five miles to school. So the first chance I'd get, I just jumped on the bus. The bus driver sort of protected me that much, anyway. But once I got on the back of the bus, there was no, no protection. There was just racial taunting all the way.

AI: So a lot of times, then, you were left with the feeling that gee, if you weren't Japanese American, you wouldn't have to suffer that.

MK: That's right. That's why I kept saying, "Why was I born Japanese? Why couldn't I have been born white so I could enjoy being an American?"

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2001 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

AI: And yet at the same time, there were some positive things about being part of a Japanese American community. I understand there were some picnics...

MK: Yeah.

AI: ...that your family would attend with other families that had originally come from same area of Japan. Maybe summertime, did you participate in any Obon activities or other kinds of summer activities?

MK: Yeah. I, I felt a bond with the Japanese American people. I, I went to a Japanese Methodist church, Christian church. My folks were Shintoists when they came to America, but we had a prominent Japanese who owned the import/export business in San Francisco -- I think he was one of the, if not the largest -- and he converted my father and mother. No matter how poor I was, I looked forward to going to church. I really believed in brotherhood and God and whatever you have. I, I really believed in that. But when the war came, I was very disappointed that the church didn't speak out. The Japanese ministers were very meek. In fact, they took sides with the government. And they took a dim view of the dissidents in the camps. I was very disappointed in our Christian leadership.

AI: Well, we'll want to come back to that when we get up to the point of the war in our discussion. But before we go there, I wanted to ask you a bit more about your high school years. What high school did you attend?

MK: I attended Fremont High School in Sunnyvale. And that was one of the racist high school probably in California, because the city of Sunnyvale passed some kind of ordinance or a law that forbade Japanese Americans to come back to Sunnyvale after the war to live. That's a, you know that's against the law, Constitution and everything like that, but it didn't bother them. I know for a fact that that school was very racist. And since we lived there, well, there was nothing much you could do about it. You're powerless actually. The teachers and principal had their way. There was no such thing as protests or anything. What could our parents do? They could hardly speak English. You went home and said that the teachers and principal were racist, they couldn't do anything about it. So I, I, well, we made, tried to make the best of it. Tried to make the best of going to school. Tried to make the best of pleasing our parents. They wanted us to be educated, because they knew from Japan days that education was the key. People in Japan that were educated did get the better jobs, and they were in higher society and everything. They saw that. So they wanted their kids to be educated.

And before that, they had, you asked me about -- I forgot about it -- but the kenjinkai picnic. We looked forward to that. The kenjinkais were very close, very close in Issei days. They had a common bond. They used to have picnics, and I really looked forward to that because they had ice cream, soda water -- first time in my life I get soda water, ice cream. Hey, bananas? Couldn't believe it, you know. But when you're a kid, you see all the material things and you think that's the best part of life. Who's gonna complain about racism and everything when you've got all that, all the goodies? [Laughs] You don't think of those things. Our Japanese community had their own picnics, too, and it was very good. And I especially liked the kenjinkai, because lot of relatives and friends were there.

AI: Well, during high school, what would a typical day be like for you, going -- you'd get up in the morning and go to school, and how would the day go on for you?

MK: Well, there was just certain groups that would pick on you. They just didn't like anybody that looked foreign. The rest of the kids were, they left you alone. And we participated in sports and everything. We, we did the best we could. We knew there was racism, but we wanted to participate in sports and all that, and we were allowed to do so. Some of the coaches were pretty understanding. I remember I was playing basketball, and this Japanese kid on the other team was pretty good, making points. And the coach looks at me, and he says, "Hey, you better watch that Jap kid better." [Laughs] What's he talking about, "Jap kid"? They, they don't think. It just comes out naturally for them. And I'm not going to say anything bad about that coach because he was pretty good to the Japanese people. But he used that word "Jap" quite often, and it kinda hurt me.

AI: Well, while you were in high school also, what would your summers be like at, during summer vacation, during high school?

MK: Well, I didn't look forward to summertime because that meant lot of work. I, Santa Clara valley was, had lot of prunes, apricots, and stuff. I ended up picking prunes, picking apricots, and doing all kind of farm work. I kind of envied the hakujin kids. They got jobs in canneries and stuff. They get better paying jobs and everything. And here, us and these Mexican kids we're picking prunes. It's kind of, well, we know that's the only kind of job we could get. We, we sort of accepted it. We knew it wasn't right, that we should have equal chance to get better jobs, but we realized it wasn't so. [Interruption] So in those days, it was very noticeable that they, hakujin or white kids always got the better jobs, always were treated better. I would say us Japanese kids, we did the best we can under the circumstances. We accepted, actually accepted the crumbs that they threw at us, and we survived. I, I always tell my kids we survived the war and racism because we have a lot of pride that was instilled -- no matter how poor we were -- that was instilled, instilled in us by our parents. Have lot of pride. Don't bring shame to the family. I, I still remember my mother always telling me that. No matter how poor we were, she always keep telling us that. "Some day, you will live a better life. Work hard."

AI: Well, now, you had your older sister and older brother who graduated from high school before you. And as you were in high school, what were your thoughts or plans about the future? What did you think you would be doing after high school?

MK: Really I only was, I gotta admit I wasn't a real deep thinker. I, all I could think was my poor mother was working out in the fields ten hours a day, early morning 'til late at night. Still take care of the family and cooking and stuff. I said I gotta get out of school, help my mother. So I didn't think about higher education or anything. My brother, who got real good grades in school, he really wanted to go to college. But we had no money. So he ended up working. And like I said, my aim was to help my mother.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 2001 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

AI: Well now, in 1941, in the fall of 1941, you were seventeen years old, and you were a senior in high school. You were on schedule to graduate the following June of 1942. But of course, that was, the fall of 1941 was just before World War II. As a senior in high school, did you have any idea that the U.S. and Japan might be going to war?

MK: Well, I knew that feelings were bad, because we were getting probably the worst treatment from the white community. So we felt that it was due to the Japanese and the U.S. tension. And we didn't, we didn't, well, we didn't really understand fully what the problems were, only that U.S. and Japan might -- that's the rumors -- that they might have a war. But I, I never believed that it would happen. I said, "Gee, how can Japan fight America?" -- a small country, a small country like Japan? They'd just, foolish. So I says, "No, that'll never happen." But to my surprise, it did happen. The public reaction was right away that we were the enemy, just the same as the people in Japan. White America couldn't tell the difference. Even today, let's face it, we talk about being assimilated. JACL said we're assimilated and all that, but I don't believe that's true. I, I really believe that majority of Americans, white Americans, think that the Asians are somehow foreigners even though they're born in America for three or four generations. They still, they're looked upon as foreigners. And I think that JACL realizes that, too. What else would there be a JACL or a need for it? If we were truly first-class citizens, and integrated, and living the first-class and accepted like some people claim, we wouldn't need a JACL. I think the smarter people realize that it's needed. That's the way I feel, too. [Laughs]

AI: Well, I'm going to ask you to go back in time to that day, December 7, 1941. What happened on that day? It was a Sunday.

MK: Yeah, it was a Sunday.

AI: What do you recall from that day?

MK: My sister and I, we were doing some kind of work, farm work. We had this radio. You know how kids are, we're listen to radio while we're working. All of a sudden, news came out that Pearl Harbor's attacked. My sister looked at me. I looked at her. Oh boy. I wonder what's going to happen now? And well, we feared the worst because there was all this racial discrimination before that. I told my sister, "Oh, don't worry. We're American citizens. The government will speak up for us and protect us." But I was wrong. The American people and the government turned out to be the most racist. Both of them were guilty of, of racial discrimination, racism. They say that we were kicked out of California because, we were, had the farms, and were doing, starting to do pretty good. And a lot of Japanese Americans and the older Japanese Americans were actually doing good on the farms. They actually controlled the agriculture in California and the wholesale produce market. And hakujin, whites saw that. They wanted it. So that, other than racial discrimination, I think economics played a big part, because if you look at it -- I know I'm getting away from it, but in Wyoming, when we were put into Heart Mountain concentration camp, the people in Wyoming just hated us. Cody and Powell, Wyoming, they didn't want anything to do with Japanese. But when harvest time came and we were in the camps and nobody to harvest the crops, they realized that, hey, there's labor there. And they asked for evacuee help. Naturally lot of the evacuees were farmers, so they, said, "Oh, the poor farmers. They need help." So they went out and, like me, went out to help the farmers. And the farmers made money. So I say money can make even the racist people accept you. Later, people in Powell and Cody said, instead of calling us "dirty Japs," they said, "Oh, those Japanese are pretty nice," because we were making them money. So I don't know, I got off the beaten track, but I had to get that in. [Laughs]

AI: Well, I think what you were doing is you were illustrating the point, making the point...

MK: Yeah.

AI: ...about the economic factor.

MK: Economics has lot to do with it, you know -- politics, too.

AI: Well, again, going back in time then, you heard the news about the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7th, and did you have any other -- you were with your sister, your older sister. That night did you have any discussion with the rest of your family, what might happen or...

MK: I think we did talk about it, and our family is kind of subdued, very quiet. My father and mother didn't say much. My older brother, he, he's a pretty smart guy. He, he realized what's, what might happen. And he told us that no matter what, that something might happen, something bad, and that we should prepare for it. And he proved, he was right.

AI: Well, the next day was Monday. Did you go to school that day?

MK: Yes, I did.

AI: And what happened?

MK: Well, naturally these people that don't like Japanese, they, they came and, not openly harassed us, but you know, slyly said, "Oh, you Japs, why don't you go back where you came from? You killed all these Americans." We, to us we were Americans, so what are you talking about, but he says... they say, "Why don't you go back where you came from," and all that. I know what they're talking about, because even before the attack on Pearl Harbor, same thing was happening. So I, I feared for the worst. It did happen. I had many, many fights. Came back with the ripped shirts and stuff like that. So my mother's, she's -- we didn't have much money, so I couldn't go out and buy new shirts and stuff like that. So she felt real bad. I told my mom, "I'm having fights all the time in school, so I want to quit school." She said, "No, no, keep on going." So I went to school about, a few more months. But every day was the same. There was always a fight and harassment. And teachers never speak up for you. I would think that teachers would protect their students from racial discrimination, but it wasn't so. It looked like they, they'd join in, and the class start talking, everything was "Japs, Japs, Japs," and stuff like that. It was unbearable for me. So I finally quit school, and I graduated from Heart Mountain High School.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 2001 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

AI: So in the meantime, at about that time when you were quitting high school, there were some restrictions being put on...

MK: Yes.

AI: ...people of Japanese ancestry. There were the curfew put in place...

MK: Yeah.

AI: ...and a restriction on travel. Did that affect you or your family very much?

MK: No, it didn't affect us because we didn't go far anyway. We just went to our neighborhood community, Japanese community, Japanese churches. So it really didn't affect me, but I know it affected a lot of people that were in business and stuff like that.

AI: Well, also in the very early part of 1942, as I understand it there was a so-called "voluntary evacuation" period.

MK: Yeah.

AI: Did you, your family talk about that, and did you ever consider trying to move out before it became mandatory?

MK: Yeah, my mother and father did talk about that. They talked about going to central California. That was in a different zone from -- eventually everybody in California had to move out, but that, they were allowed to move to that zone. And our friends moved to that -- I believe it was around Lindsay or someplace around there. And we did talk about that, maybe we should move over there. But our community in Mountain View, Japanese American community in Mountain View, actually went to Utah. They send some Issei, no, some Nisei -- older Nisei to Utah to look over the possibilities of our community moving to, voluntarily moving to Utah -- but they went there in the winter. They saw the harsh winter season over there, said, "No, there's no way that you could survive over there." So they told the group that it's best to stay here and to follow what the government had to say. So my father and mother forgot about voluntary evacuation.

And besides, I found out, Dr. Eric Muller's talk that all the governors of the western states didn't want any Japanese voluntarily moving into their states. In fact, Governor Smith of Wyoming told Milton Eisenhower, who was then head of the WRA, that there'll be Japanese hanging from every tree in Wyoming if they came to his state. The only way they'll allow anybody, any Japanese come to the state if supervised by the federal government, put into camps under guard, under the guard watching them. So I think I, that's why the United States government stopped volunteer evacuation because of the threats. I think that would've happened, too, because the governors were really getting the people excited about moving into a place like Wyoming. Who would want to, they worried about Japanese becoming permanent residents in Wyoming. I don't think any, anybody in Heart Mountain would stay there, even though they got paid to stay there. I can't understand their thinking, you know.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 2001 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

AI: Well, either way, as you say there was a period where then the voluntary, so-called "voluntary evacuation" was cut off.

MK: Yeah.

AI: And, but before you were actually forced to move out, as I understand it, each family had to sign up and register and receive your family number in preparation for the mandatory removal.

MK: Yeah.

AI: What do you recall from that time of getting ready?

MK: I knew there was something like that, but my older brother handled those things, so I didn't know too much about it. But I know there were certain restrictions and we had to comply with government orders. Like you say, how many in the family, and things like that, the names and ages and everything. So I think the government had, had pretty complete files on all the families.

AI: Well, when you and your family found out that you were definitely going to be moved out, how did you find out, and what was your reaction?

MK: Well, somehow, it's like I say, word of mouth. We didn't officially hear anything from the government, but we heard from the people, community leaders that on this day, you come to this Mountain View Railroad Station and get on. They didn't say where we were going. But later I learned that we were going to Santa Anita Racetrack. And by golly, they were right. That's where we ended up.

AI: What did, what did you bring? Now, excuse me, did your family own any property or anything at that time?

MK: No, we were leasing. My sister, I think she just barely got twenty-one. But under the conditions, the feelings and everything, I don't think my father and mother wanted to buy anything. And we had a, we lost our strawberry crop because we got evacuated in the spring when the, just before the berries got ready to pick. So the people that got, took over the farms and, vegetable farms and stuff like that, they did real good.

AI: Would that have been about May of '42...?

MK: Yeah, yeah.

AI: ...about May. And so you, all the families had to go to this spot in Mountain View?

MK: Yes.

AI: And then what happened?

MK: Well, we couldn't carry too much. All we can carry, that's all. Most family had just about maybe about four, five suitcases for the whole family. And that book, All You Could Carry [Ed. Note: narrator is referring to Only What We Could Carry: The Japanese Internment Experience edited by Lawson Fusao Inada] is really true. If you could carry ten suitcases, you could carry them. But how can you carry that many? Kids were small and everything, and mothers couldn't carry anything because they had to carry the little kids. So it took the father and the oldest sons to do it. It's really true. We went with all we could carry. That's a true phrase. [Laughs]

AI: And were you put on trains there in Mountain View?

MK: Yes, we were put on trains. I don't recollect... people say we had to lower the binds -- blinds and everything but, I don't remember that too good because it's been so many years. But I guess there were safety precautions so people won't shoot, shoot rifle shots into the train. When we went to Santa Anita, it was kind of a shock because for the first time in my life, I saw, I saw so many Japanese. They were already there. God, there was a lot of them.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 2001 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

AI: What, what did it look like at Santa Anita? When you got there, what did you see?

MK: Well, as soon as I got there, I saw all these Japanese. We were told to, I think it was register, and then a truck came by and put on all our suitcases. Then we went to the horse stalls. I says, "Gee, this is where we're gonna live?" Unfortunately, it was. I think our, our road in front of us was called Sea Biscuit Lane. Sea Biscuit was a, a well-known horse, racehorse. But it was, alley was really hot when we went there, and naturally, the smell of the horse stables -- wow. I don't think, I wouldn't wish that on anybody. I can see, as soon as they build the barracks, that a lot, a lot of these Los Angeles people that were in the stables moved right away to the barracks. Opened up the barracks, horse stables for us. So unfortunately, we were stuck in a horse stable.

AI: So for people who don't know, Santa Anita was a well-known racetrack...

MK: Yeah.

AI: the Los Angeles area. Were you there in the horse stalls with your whole family...

MK: Yeah.

AI: ...your parents and all your brothers and sisters?

MK: Yeah. Yeah. They had all the mess halls there. I still remember mess halls were, Red Mess, Green Mess, Yellow Mess. Anyway, the mess halls were named after colors. They had this big grandstand, you know, where the racetracks were, and within a few days, they had us working, making camouflage nets for the war effort. So we went because we thought that was our duty. We didn't, we didn't know anything about resistance or protest or anything, but there was.

AI: There, at Santa Anita?

MK: There was some people beaten up actually because they were called "stoolies." I still remember large crowds going this way, that way. I wondering, "What's going on?" Pretty soon this army came in with these, what you call half-tracks, half truck and half track. And they had a machine gun on the back, and they're going up and down the streets, because of, they almost had a riot. I still remember that.

AI: What was going through your mind when you saw them going up and down with those...

MK: Well, they claimed that there was a...

AI: ...guns?

MK: ...informer. I don't know, I don't know what the real reason was, but that's what I heard. And a few people beat 'em up. So that's the only disturbance I saw in Santa Anita.

AI: So you were living in these horse stalls, and then during the day, you were helping out with the camouflage netting.

MK: Yeah.

AI: What about your younger brothers and sisters? What were they doing at, they're still about grade-school age?

MK: No, they didn't have any schools or anything, so they were mostly on their own. That broke up all the families. The kids went, ate together and did everything together. The mother and father lost really control of their kids. That's, that was bad. And L.A. had these, all these what you call "yogore gangs."

AI: Well, when you say, "yogore," for people who don't know, understand that, what did that mean?

MK: Yogore means, well, you know, "bad people." Yogore means actually "dirty people." And they had those kind of gang, zootsuiters and pachucos. The first time I saw it, I said, "God, what kind of people are those?" It was frightening, actually, because they, they would -- first time in my life we ran into what you call organized gangs. Yeah, each one I, went under the name of clubs, but lot of 'em were gangs actually. And they would beat up anybody that probably got in their way. And L.A. kids were really good at that. They actually intimidated -- [laughs] -- the northern California boys. Like one girl told me, "You guys are just like Lil' Abners." You know, square. I told my brother when I came home, "You know that girl told me we were like Lil' Abner." I said, "You know, Lil' Abner, I thought he was big, husky, happy-go-lucky guy." I thought that's a compliment. But he says, "No, no. You know what she means? She said you guys are this, square." [Laughs] Really squares. We were really squares.

AI: And she meant in comparison with the L.A. boys?

MK: Yeah.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 2001 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

AI: Well, you and your family were in the Santa Anita Assembly Center for a few months then during the summer of '42.

MK: Yeah.

AI: And you were saying that it, at that point, it really didn't cross your mind to do anything except cooperate...

MK: Yeah.

AI: ...with what you were told to do. Well, in fact, in August of '42 while you were at Santa Anita, you turned eighteen.

MK: Yeah.

AI: You had your eighteenth birthday.

MK: Yeah.

AI: What do you recall from that time when you turned eighteen?

MK: Eighteen, I knew that I had to register for the draft. So I did.

AI: Did you register right there at the assembly center?

MK: Uh-huh. I registered there. And I didn't get my answer until I went to Santa Anita -- I mean, Heart Mountain, Wyoming. There I received my 4-C classification.

AI: But at the time in Santa Anita, you didn't know that yet.

MK: No.

AI: So as far as you knew, you were doing your duty signing up for the draft just like other eighteen-year-olds were doing.

MK: Well, you know, I'll be honest. I learned all this constitutional stuff like that, but it didn't, it never occurred to me that I should really fight for, fight for my constitutional rights because there was no organized protest -- there was none -- no organized protests against the government for the return of our constitutional rights. I really believe that everybody was just frightened and disorganized. And our leaders took, they sort of took advantage of that, took control.

AI: Well, now, while you were at Santa Anita, did you hear very much about the JACL activities, or any other kind of organized activities at the, at Santa Anita?

MK: No, I think in the camps, JACL took a low profile, because I think a lot of, lot of people openly said that they don't trust the JACL any more, because they heard rumors that JACL was cooperating with the government. That's why all the Issei men were put into separate government camps. Those were the rumors. JACL was very unpopular in the camps. Those people really had to watch their steps. In Heart Mountain, very little was seen about JACL. But JACL had gained power with the government. Government gave them the power to actually be the spokesperson for the people in the camps. All the camp newspapers were run by JACL personnel, their type of thinking. So there was no speaking out in the camp papers about constitutional rights or anything. Heart Mountain Sentinel was very weak on constitutional issues. You never read about, if you, if you think that it was strong -- it was a well-organized paper, but never spoke up against the government. Always took the government's side. Dissidents brought up an issue, the, the Heart Mountain Sentinel always, always took the government's side. And they made sure that the people coming into the, work in the personnel, personnel of the Heart Mountain Sentinel were all pro-JACL people.

AI: Well, we're getting a little --

MK: I think that happens to all the camps. That's why they kind of controlled the camps because of the work on the newspapers, the influence of the newspaper, I would say.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 2001 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

AI: Well, we're getting a little ahead now...

MK: Okay.

AI: ...but just at the end of your experience at Santa Anita, you were, and your family were there for several months during the summer. So was it about September or so that you were removed to...

MK: I think it was around August.

AI: ...or maybe the end of August.

MK: Yeah, yeah.

AI: And so what was that like? Once again, you were being moved...

MK: Yeah.

AI: ...and what happened? Were you put on train again?

MK: Yeah, I remember that we were put on the train. We had no sleeping quarters or anything. We, we slept on the benches inside the train. No shower, nothing. I don't know how many days we stayed on the train. Actually, from what I understand, they actually went through parts of Texas to go to Wyoming. But I'm not sure about that. Anyway, it took a long time. And finally we, we reached there, we peeked out of the window, all we could see was all these mountains and these canyons and stuff and all. The first time we saw these kind of places. We said, "Gee, what a desolate place this is." No, no cities, no homes. It was kind of a shock to us.

AI: When you got off of the train, what happened next? Were you put on a bus or trucks to go?

MK: No, we were put on a truck. The truck picked up all the suitcases and the, they already had the quarters picked out for us, what block, what this and that, this and that. All we did is just follow what they, what they ordered us to do, and we went.

AI: Was your family still all together in the same room and the same barrack?

MK: That's right.

AI: All of you in one room?

MK: No, we had two rooms.

AI: Two rooms.

MK: Two, two little, C and D, I remember, two medium-sized rooms because we had, we had nine in our family -- seven children and two adults.

AI: And all in two rooms.

MK: All in the two rooms. There was no privacy at all. [Laughs] I guess everybody, I'll be honest, everybody, I would say, did the best they could under the conditions. It was sad, but it took a little time before the Japanese Americans realized what was happening and they got the courage to speak out. At Heart Mountain, we had a lot of that.

AI: Well, now, in this particular barrack that you were in, you and your family, were you together with other families from the Mountain View area, or was it all mixed up?

MK: I think our block was mostly Santa Clara valley people. The rest were Los Angeles people. So I think, I think Heart Mountain was mostly Los Angeles people, and a big percentage Santa Clara valley people, and a sprinkling of San Francisco and Washington. So what made I think Heart Mountain very vocal was we had a lot of Los Angeles people who had an understanding of what politics were really about. I would say the people in northern California were very naive. You would think the people in San Francisco would be more like the people in Los Angeles, but it's not true. They were just as much squares as people in the Santa Clara valley.

AI: So it sounds like in some ways, the Los Angeles people maybe had more awareness or knowledge of politics because...

MK: Oh, yeah.

AI: ...they brought...

MK: Well, in Los Angeles, they were already talking with the politicians even before the evacuation. If you read Deborah Lim's report, they were talking to the Navy Intelligence, FBI, volunteering information to the FBI, which the people in northern California, maybe they had a few of them like that, but it wasn't organized like Los Angeles.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 2001 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

AI: Well, so now you're in Heart Mountain. It's fall of 1942, and you still haven't finished your high school. What happened then after, when you got to Heart Mountain then? Was there a school all ready for you to join in the, start going to class again?

MK: Yeah, at the, the early school was in the barracks. Later on, they built the high school there, and gymnasium and everything. While we were there, we went to the barracks. We had, some were teachers, some were teachers' aides, some were Caucasians from the outside, and they taught all the kids, I guess the best of their ability under the condition. A funny thing, when I went to school there, nobody talked about the Constitution and the Bill of Rights and the deprivation of our constitutional rights. We were taught school like a normal school, like on the outside. Probably wrote compositions "Why I'm proud to be an American," too. [Laughs] Isn't it ridiculous, but that's the way it was. I do remember a student writing, "Why We Are Prisoners in a Concentration Camp." I remember that. I, I thought, "Gee, that kid there is really bright and has a lot of courage to write a composition like that. But everybody else is, "Why I'm proud to be American," and you know, waving the flag and everything. Kind of ridiculous, but that, that's the way people thought in those days. This one kid wrote about the Constitution and the deprivation of our rights. And I said, "Wow." That put a kind of a seed in my mind, too. We're taking this evacuation and incarceration too lightly. It actually is a deprivation, like this student says, of our constitutional rights. Probably didn't hit a lot of people, but, because I had, because I went to detention and learned about the Constitution and all that. It really hit me, because I, I knew this kid was right. Why were we there? We didn't do anything wrong. We were denied due process of the law, which is supposed to be God-given right to all Americans, and I just couldn't understand it, why more people didn't fight it. Like the coram nobis cases. There was only three, three out of 120,000 that refused to be evacuated. You would think if everybody believed in the Constitution and all that, there'd be a bigger percentage.


AI: It's July 14, 2001, we're continuing our interview with Mits Koshiyama. And Mits, I wanted to ask you to back up a bit. In the interview, you had just mentioned about, learning about the Constitution when you were in detention.

MK: Uh-huh.

AI: And you were referring to a time before the concentration camp when you were in high school back in, at Fremont High School. So would you tell a little bit about what happened, how come you were in detention, and what, what you learned while you were there.

MK: Actually, it was in grade school when it happened. I think that was about the seventh grade. I would be called by the other kids, one day, "Jap." I resented it, so I kind of fought with them. First thing I knew I was called into the principal's office, and I was sent to detention class. I don't know if the teacher trying to help me or make, punish me. I, detention is for punishment. So I believe that she made me study all about the Constitution because that's the subject I, kids didn't want to study. So I didn't want to be punished anymore, so I studied the Constitution pretty hard. Then the teacher told me, she checked my papers and everything and, "What'd you learn? Don't you know that all Americans are supposed to fight for their constitutional rights?" And it'd kind of go through one ear and the other. But I read everything about the Constitution and how it should, it's supposed to protect all citizens. She told me, "It protects all citizens," she told me. "Don't you understand?" she told me -- [laughs] -- "It protects all citizens. It's for your own protection that the Constitution was written." I, it finally sunk into my head. It took a little while, but I didn't just go to detention one day. I had so many fights that it looked like I was there, oh, most of the time. Most every recess I had to spend in detention. But it, it did turn out to be real helpful to me later on. I did realize that, like she said, the Constitution is the main law of the land. It doesn't mean -- you know presidents come and go, teachers come and go, governments come and go -- but she says, "The Constitution be always there no matter what." She says, "You'd better learn all about the Constitution because sooner or later it's gonna help you." It sure did.

I, my soul was clean because I, I really believed in the Constitution, and I believed that they should protect me at, when I needed it the most. And that, the belief in that Constitution kind of pulled me through all this difficulties that I had during the war years. I, I knew that sooner or later -- I'm not a prophet or anything -- but I know by, let's say common sense, that sooner or later after the war that people were going to realize that standing up for constitutional rights is the most important thing. And it's proven to be true. Like I was telling somebody today, the resisters' story -- was that you? [Laughs] Resisters' story is like the Boston Tea Party -- "taxation without representation." Drafting us without rights is like taxation without representation. And that's why I call it the, draft resistance, the "Japanese Boston Tea Party." I guess a lot of people laugh about that, but there's lot of similarities.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 2001 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

AI: Well, and as you were saying earlier, after learning so much about the Constitution, here you were in Heart Mountain concentration camp. You were finishing up your senior year in high school inside this camp, and you were reminded of the Constitution again by this fellow student's...

MK: Yeah.

AI: ...paper. Now, about the same time that you graduated from high school in camp, it was 1943, you received your draft classification, and what was it?

MK: I received a 1-A, see, because the government had opened up the selective service to all Japanese Americans. Naturally since I was a 4-C, I didn't know what to expect. But a lot of my friends that were 4-C told me that they received a 1-A. So I kind of expected it and it did come, a 1-A.

AI: So even though before that you, young men of Japanese ancestry were classified 4-C, you had heard that this change was going to happen...

MK: Uh-huh.

AI: ...that the government was going to start accepting...

MK: Yeah.

AI: ...volunteers to the service. And so when you got your draft classification, it was 1-A.

MK: Yeah. Well, what happened was that the volunteer program the government initiated was a failure. There were less than, little over 800 people that volunteered out of all the camps. There were, where they expected maybe 10,000 people will volunteer from the camps.

AI: Well, in fact, it was early 1943 that the call for volunteers to the service came out. What was your reaction when you, when you heard about that call for volunteers?

MK: Well, it didn't bother me because I knew, under the conditions, I wasn't going to volunteer. There's no way, put me in a concen-, they kicked me out of my home in California because they didn't trust me. All right? They put me into a concentration camp because they didn't trust me. But they're willing to draft me into a segregated army unit. If they don't trust me, why did, why would they put, draft me into the army? It doesn't make sense. If now, if I was free in California I would've gladly gone, because this is my country. White America just can't understand that.

AI: So when the call for volunteers came out in early 1943, at the same time, the government put out a so-called "loyalty questionnaire" that everyone had to fill out. And as we know, there were two main questions that were controversial, number 27 and number 28. Number 27 was the one about, "Would you serve wherever ordered for the United States?"

MK: Correct.

AI: And number 28 was swearing unqualified allegiance to the United States, foreswearing any previous allegiance to the emperor of Japan. Well, so when you and your family got this questionnaire, what was your thinking on this or any discussion that you might have had with your family or friends or others?

MK: Oh, I took everything at face value. This question 28, some people come up with different answers later, but I just, I just said, "no." I don't have any loyalty to the emperor of Japan. That's the way I felt. And 27 is that, I felt that I was a good American citizen -- I put down, "yes." But I wanted my constitutional rights returned to me first. I got a copy of what I wrote down. It's not exactly that I put down, "I want the return of my constitutional rights first." It, I wrote more. But that was the basis of it.

AI: Now, why, why did you write more than just a simple "yes"? What, had you discussed this with some other people, or had you seen some other writings about this before you actually wrote down your answer?

MK: I read in, I read in this bulletin someplace that the government said it's all right to qualify your answer 27. And a lot of people told me that's the way they're gonna answer it. We want, we want our rights back as American citizen, and our families freed from the camps. Lot of us talked about that, I said, "Yeah. You know that's really true. How can we go fight for and defend democracy when our parents and family are locked up in this concentration camp?" And they're denied the very rights I'm supposed to fight for. Who am I supposed to fight for, in a way? If I can't fight for my parents and family, who am I gonna fight for? It doesn't make sense to me. And I talked to my friends. A lot of my friends said, "Yeah, that's the way it is. We should have our rights before going in the army." But they didn't want to challenge the government, so they, they went through the physical, and a lot of them went into the army.

AI: When they received a draft notice?

MK: Yeah. But I said, "No, I'm not gonna go until I get my rights back as an American citizen."

AI: So you didn't have to face that right away. In 1943, you had not received a draft notice yet.

MK: Uh-huh.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 2001 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 12>

AI: And so you decided that you would go out and do some farm labor.

MK: Yeah.

AI: Your schooling was over. You had graduated. Could you tell me a little bit about when you went out, where you went, and what you did as a farm laborer?

MK: Well, first we went to Billings, Montana, and did sugar beets. But there was two brothers, two Ger-, the funny thing there, Montana and Wyoming had a lot of German farmers. A lot of German, German families running the cities. We didn't know that until we got there, and they told me that they were, their parents were immigrants from Germany. And we said, "Gee, these people are free people, and the, the, Germany's at war with America, too." And I said, "Isn't that strange?" Lot of things didn't make sense to us. We had guys that questioned a lot of things. They were the kind of people like question anything. So those were the questions, doesn't make sense. But the German farmers were good to us. One of the brothers was young enough, young enough to be in the army, but he wasn't in the army because he was farming -- deferred. But his, his sugar beet crop was the poorest crop you ever saw in your life. This is, his sugar beets were like carrots. But we didn't make any money. Work all day and we didn't probably make a dollar. Worked hard, because the sugar beets were so poor. But he says, "You know something? I might have the poorest sugar beets in Montana, but they got the most sugar contents." He said, "That's what counts," he says. [Laughs] We said, "Well, what about us? We're not making any money." I says, "I'd rather have big sugar beets with the less sugar content so we could make a few dollars." Well, you don't argue with those kind of farmers. [Laughs] But the older brother, he was a pretty good guy. And he took good care of us.

So later we went to Idaho, and we went to work for another German farmer. I remember his name. His name was Hardin, H-a-r-d-i-n. And he, he was a good, pretty good. He was very happy to see us come and do his potatoes and sugar beets. We worked hard there. While we were working there, we heard about this Chinese restaurant in Idaho -- I think it was in Twin Falls. So we said, "Oh, boy. Let's go have a, dinner over there at Twin Falls Chinese restaurant when the crops are through." So we worked hard for about a month, and we went over there, and we sat down at this restaurant, and the funniest thing, this waitress kept walking back and forth, serving everybody else. Totally ignored us. So we said, "Gee, something funny. What's going on?" Where was this Chinese owner, anyway? I guess he was hiding in the kitchen someplace. Pretty soon the waitress about, after the longest time, seemed like hours, she came to our place and said, "Sorry, but you know something? Our boss said he doesn't serve Japs." So two of the guys I was with, oh they got mad. Said, "Hey, you know what? Let's tear this place apart." [Laughs] Well, I said, the other guys who were older said, "No. We'll be the losers. Let's not do anything rash." So we left. But it wasn't only the white people, white Americans that discriminated against us. It was Asians, too. So it's hard to believe, but that's exactly what happened. So we finished the crop there. We went back to Heart Mountain. We were on a seasonal leave. We just had a certain amount of time to harvest the crop. Soon as the crop was over, we were supposed to go back to camp.

AI: And when you got back, was that in about December of '43?

MK: Well, when I listened to Professor Muller, he did state that the government agreed with the governors of the, western states that they had, the prisoners of the camp have to go back as soon they finish their work. That was the understanding. They didn't want any Japanese to settle in Wyoming or Montana. Not that any of them would, but they didn't want that.

AI: So even though Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, were all far away from the western defense area...

MK: Yeah.

AI: still were not allowed to settle there...

MK: Yeah.

AI: that time.

MK: That's right. Well, don't you younger people think it's funny when, say that I, like Utah. There's Salt Lake City. There's lot of Japanese, Japanese Americans living there running around free, doing everything like in American life like a free citizen. And here, I don't know how many miles away, but there's a camp there with barbed wires, and there's Japanese in there locked up with machine guns aiming so they won't escape. Don't you think it's strange? Something's wrong someplace, isn't it?

AI: That's right. That's right.

MK: That's the kind of things I try to put out to the people I talk to, especially hakujin. They say, "Well, it's for your protection." And no, I said, "No, it's not for our protection. How can it be?" And then when I say, "Well, if it's for our protection to be in the camp, how come everybody in California resisted our efforts to come back to California after the war was over?" They had no answer for that. They say, "Oh, well... maybe this, maybe that." You can't go by maybes. They didn't want us back because they feared competition in farming again. So again, I say money, either it's good for you or bad for you. [Laughs] There's, can't believe it. But I think the, overall the effort that Japanese Americans made to return to normal life was extraordinary. In army terms it's "beyond the call of duty," really. They could've just laid down and said, "Government, help me. Hey, help me. You put me in this position. Help me." But no. They went out and worked, did any job they could get a hold of. The girls, they couldn't get nice office jobs or anything. The only jobs they could get is either housework or work in the farms.

AI: Well, I'm going to return us to the very end of 1943.

MK: Yes.

AI: You finished your work leave and returned back to Heart Mountain. And then it was Christmastime. Hard to imagine having a Christmas in camp.

MK: Yeah.

AI: Was your whole family back together again that Christmas of '43? You were back, your parents...

MK: Yeah. And we were, we were back together, yeah.

AI: And then you had said when we were talking earlier that, about some, in some ways, people still tried to have some kind of normal social life...

MK: Yeah.

AI: ...even though it was a camp.

MK: Yeah.

AI: And that December and January, you were back in camp. Could you tell me a little bit about the social life?

MK: Things started, started to get a little bit better because the evacuees went to help the farmers and went to the cities and spent money, and people were happy with that. They were making money. I have to tell you this -- Governor Smith of Wyoming at that time, he didn't want the Japanese, too many Japanese coming out to the farms, too. So the director of the WRA, he withheld lot of the evacuees from going out to Wyoming to work. So the farmers got all mad. The city people got mad because they were not making any, much money. So what happened was this governor, Governor Smith, he lost his reelection. But the next governor was just as bad, but he, he didn't try to keep the evacuees from coming out to help, help the harvest. So it's strange. Here's the guy that's so patriotic he doesn't want no Japs around, like he says. And he let, yet he lost his election because the farmers weren't making any money. It's strange, huh? So money has a lot to do with, with politics, too. Even today money and politics go hand in hand. But that's the way it was in Wyoming.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 2001 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 13>

AI: Well, now, bringing us up to January of 1944, in 1943 there had been the call for volunteers into the service.

MK: Yes.

AI: But in '44, the government decided to reinstate the draft...

MK: Right.

AI: ...for men of Japanese ancestry. And in February, draft notices were issued out to men including yourself.

MK: Uh-huh.

AI: You were still in camp, and you received your draft notice probably sometime in February. What was your reaction when you, when you got this thing?

MK: When I got my draft notice? I wasn't happy at all. I said, "How can they do this?" They take away our rights, punish us actually for being Japanese, having a different-looking face. That's the only reason, the Germans and Italians, they didn't, some of them, the aliens maybe were put, moved out of certain areas, but the citizens weren't put into concentration camps. It's just plain racism. Anybody could see that, but they denied -- hakujin, white America denies it, but it's true. The facts speak for itself. And while we, we, fully understood that we had to just try our best to, like, like my brother, he says, "We'll go along with the draft because the government requests it. Maybe that's the only way that we could become American citizen." But I said, "No. We are, we are American citizens and that we don't have to go out there and sacrifice ourselves just to please white America." I said, "Why can't we go after we get our rights back?" and that we should fight for return of our constitutional rights before we go into the army. I said, "That's only the right thing to do."

AI: Well, now, about this time, at the same time all of this was going on, the Fair Play Committee had formed...

MK: Uh-huh.

AI: Heart Mountain. In fact, I think it was that, late '43, Mr. Kiyoshi Okamoto...

MK: Uh-huh.

AI: ...called himself the "Fair Play Committee of One," calling for your rights back before people were, before men were drafted. And in late December 1943, other men joined him to create the Fair Play Committee...

MK: Yeah.

AI: ...and talking about the principles of democracy and what they called "fair play." Well, now, what did you think about what the Fair Play Committee was saying? Were you, did you attend any of their meetings or discussions?

MK: No, I didn't, I, unfortunately I didn't go to any meetings because I was more interested in social life. But I knew what was going on.

AI: So you heard about it.

MK: Yeah. I had friends that attended. They told me all about it. And I heard that it was a overflowing crowd and there was too many people standing around. So I said, "No, I'm, I'm not gonna go." About Kiyoshi Okamoto, it's right. He, he was one-man, "Fair Play Committee of One." And he went around camp actually, anybody that listened to him, he spoke about the violation of our, our constitutional rights and that, I think he, in his way, he was protesting. And after a while, like you say, many young people joined him and made the Fair Play Committee. It's amazing thing that these people that, in the camps that protested constitutional rights were mainly from Hawaii. It makes me wonder why these people, Nisei from Hawaii are more versed on constitutional issues and rights than mainland Japanese. Our mainland Japanese American leaders, they thought that appeasement was the proper way. But here this Japanese from Hawaii, he's eloquent -- I heard he had coarse language, but he was eloquent in preparing people to understand and study what the government was doing. It was unconstitutional, like he's claimed. We were American citizens, and under the law, we should have a day in court to prove our innocence, what you call due process of law. But we never had that. Why? Because of racism.

<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 2001 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 14>

AI: So here you are, it's February 1944, March 1944. You received your draft notice, and your reaction was no, you weren't going to answer it until your rights were cleared up.

MK: Uh-huh.

AI: Did you have any idea what might happen to you if you didn't...

MK: Oh.

AI: ...if you didn't report in as the draft notice required?

MK: Yeah. I...

AI: What did you think would happen?

MK: I thought there might be a penalty, but I was kind of naive. I thought that common sense, common sense would tell you that we're right, that we should have our rights before we go and defend. Like I said before, everything in the Constitution, if we go defend the Constitution, we should be enjoying the rights that's written under the Constitution, like the Bill of Rights and everything like that. Well, I, that's the way I thought, anyway.

AI: So then sometime about mid-March, then, you were arrested.

MK: Right.

AI: Will you tell me about that? What happened?

MK: I, I didn't go for my physical. I didn't know what was gonna, what was gonna happen. So I just stayed in bed. I didn't go. And the federal marshal came. He knocked on the door and said, "Are you this, is this you?" And I says, "Yeah. This is me." He says come with him. So I went with him, and he came, actually came to the front of my door, our door, in a car. So we went to the administration building where I was booked. Then we were sent to Powell jail. Then from there, we were shipped to Casper, Wyoming, probably for about thirty days. Then from Casper, we're shipped to Cheyenne. Stayed there about sixty days for, for the trial. That's what happened.

AI: Well, now, before you were arrested, did your family, your parents or brothers and sisters know what you were doing...

MK: No.

AI: ...that there was a possibility you might be arrested and taken away?

MK: Only one that I, I talked to was my brother, older brother. And he told me, "I believe you are right, fighting for your rights." But he said, "In the state of Wyoming, you don't have a chance. This is really a racist state." And he said that the judges, everybody will be against you. "You don't have a chance," he said. So he says he was going to, he's gonna go to his physical. So I said, "Okay." That's what happened. I just refused to go. And federal marshal, well, he didn't say too much. He, he was just doing what he was told to do.

AI: Did you get a chance to say goodbye to your folks before...

MK: No. My mother was working in the mess hall. My father wasn't home. The kids were outside playing already. I, yeah, my sisters were probably going to school. I was by myself. But I just told myself, "This is something I have to do." I'm like anybody else. If there's a wrong, the government does you wrong, you should protest. A lot of people will say that, but they won't contest the issue because they're afraid of the consequences. And I, too, was brought up, don't bring -- that word "haji," again. Don't bring haji and stuff like that to our family. My mother put that into my head. I realized that. But I said, "This is too important of an issue to worry about haji and shikata ga nai and those Japanese words." But I did learn something from my parents -- that's pride. As long as you have pride, you'll survive. And the Issei were right. I think it's just pride alone that made Japanese Americans, they're not what you call real successful, but they're, somehow successful in life. And I think the Issei had a lot to do with it.

AI: So you were put in the Powell jail for one night. What, what was going through your head and how you were feeling, that night when you were actually in jail?

MK: Well, it wasn't a happy thought to be put in jail, first time in your life. I, I thought, "Gee, I never thought it'd come to this." I thought the government ought to at least say, "Okay. We'll do what you say. If you go in the army, we'll release your family, put them back to where they came from." That's fine. I'll, I'll gladly go in the army for that. But they'll never do that. They were out to, bound to punish us. The government was out to punish us. There was a document sent from Dillon Myer to our, what you call a, they call a, I think it's, it's called a draft board. And it says in there, "Don't give these boys a parole. If you give them a parole, it'll amount to a slap on the wrist." And that no one else in Heart Mountain is going to go for their physical. That's the warning they gave to the draft board, parole board. So that's the reason why, under law we're supposed to be offered parole after your, one-third of your sentence is done. But they, they refused to give us that.

AI: That was later. But in this early days, in fact, the first, the first day when you were taken to the Powell jail, well, when you got there, did you see people you knew, or were there other resisters there in the jail?

MK: No, they, there weren't anybody else there. We went as a group. I didn't know them.

AI: You and some of the other draft resisters were arrested the same day.

MK: Yeah.

AI: You were taken there together, but you didn't know them.

MK: No. They say this is a conspiracy, but it's not true. We didn't know each other.

AI: And then all of you who were in the Powell jail, the next day you, were you all taken then to Casper, the Casper jail?

MK: Yeah, Casper. Yeah.

AI: And, and what happened there?

MK: Well, we stayed there for thirty days. Casper jail was a brand-new jail, so it wasn't, it wasn't too bad. But what, Cheyenne jail was very filthy, old. It was -- [laughs] -- I would describe it as cruel and unusual punishment, staying there. It was very bad. I think many of, many Indians must have just died in there because it was so bad.

AI: What was...

MK: Couldn't believe it.

AI: What was your treatment like there in jail? How were you treated?

MK: At Casper, we were treated decently. And when we went to Cheyenne, we received two meals a day. We didn't have the best treatment there. They, they refused to give us a toothbrush or toothpaste for thirty days. Can you imagine that? No wonder we got bad teeth. All ways Cheyenne was, you wouldn't want to go there.

<End Segment 14> - Copyright © 2001 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 15>

AI: Now, at that point, all this time you were in jail, you and the other resisters, draft resisters, were going to be represented by a lawyer. What were you hearing about your lawyer and what was going to be coming up for you?

MK: I didn't hear too much about our lawyer. It's, all we knew was that he was an ACLU lawyer. But somebody told me that, who was familiar with the Fair Play Committee leaders, that this Samuel Menin, the lawyer, he didn't talk too much about the case. All, all he was interested in was getting paid, where the money was coming from. [Laughs] So I think our parents had a hard time paying him. But, well, I'm glad he represented us, anyway.

AI: And while you were waiting there in the Cheyenne jail, waiting for the trial date, what did you think was going to happen? Did you, in talking to the other fellows, how did you think the trial was going to go? Did you think you had some chance?

MK: Well, the first day we went to trial, the judge called us "Jap boys." So when we came back, a lot of the other guys in our group said, "You know something? Things don't look too good. Why would a judge call us 'Jap boys'?" This shows that he's very prejudiced. And they were right.

AI: Well, tell me about the trial. It ran for, from June 12, 1944, to June 19th.

MK: Yeah.

AI: Your actual case was called United States v. Shigeru Fujii.

MK: Shigeru Fujii, yes.

AI: And your judge was T. Blake Kennedy.

MK: Uh-huh.

AI: Tell me about how the trial went, what you remember about it.

MK: Oh, I don't remember too much about the trial. I, like I told you one time, I, I just remember the funny parts of the trial. Since we were young, we, we were brave enough to sit on the front row. I, I remember at one time the prosecutor was rocking back and forth in his chair like this, and all of a sudden he just flipped over backward, lost his balance, and we just heard a big bang. We looked, and we just said, "What's going on?" Here this guy was just waving his arms and legs, and it was so funny. We just laughed, "Ha, ha-ha-ha." Well, you know that prosecutor got up and said, shook his finger and said, "You won't be laughing when you hear the verdict." He gave himself away. They were, they knew the verdict was guilty already. He, he realized he might have made a mistake, so he shut up right away and went and sat down on his chair. And the judge was still sitting there like nothing happened. [Laughs] Strange, but that's the kind of court people we had, prosecutor and the judge. Looked like they were actually in cahoots. [Laughs]

AI: Now, your attorney, Menin, Samuel Menin, was trying to make the case that because you had been discriminated against...

MK: Yeah.

AI: ...and put into the camps on a discriminatory basis, that that was the reasoning for your wanting to have your citizenship rights cleared up before reporting for draft, for your physical.

MK: Yeah.

AI: And he was making that argument, but it didn't sound like he was too persuasive.

MK: No. Well, no matter how eloquent you are, if the judge don't want to listen to it, you can't make your point. The judge just didn't want to, just didn't want to listen to it. He didn't want to listen to any constitutional issues. All he said was, he just took a narrow vision of the case -- either you went for your physical or you didn't. That's all he was interested in. He didn't care whether you were kicked out of California. You couldn't be trusted. You couldn't be trusted, but you could be trusted to carry a rifle on the front line. That's about it. That's a double standard. And I don't like that. I, more and more I listened to these judges and prosecutors, I says, "Boy, I'm really glad I, I'm a resister." Some day the people will, would realize how wrong these people are, that we are good Americans. If we were left alone, we were free citizens, we would be glad to go. This is, I don't how many times we presented that to the case. None of us wanted to go to jail. Like a lot of people think that, even among Japanese Americans, they think that we were happy to go to jail, but that's not true. Nobody's happy to go to jail. They just don't understand. They don't want to understand. That's why.

AI: Well, during the time that your trial was going on, were, was there anyone you knew or in your family who was able to come observe the trial?

MK: No. But I know of wives and children of some of the resisters, they came to the trial. I really felt sorry for them. They tearfully said goodbye to their husbands. It was sad. Well, I never want to get into arguments between the vets and the resisters because, you know, lot of veterans did die. That's the saddest part of it. If there was no casualties, we could have a good argument. But I don't want to argue when people have died, and people said we were showing dis-, disrespect and stuff like that. We, we would never show any kind of disrespect or anything like that. We just want to make a point that we want a return of our constitutional rights before we go into service, just as plain as that. And keep saying that's not asking too much. Shouldn't you be enjoying the very rights you're supposed to protect? That's, keep asking all the time. And the people that's against us, they're never trying to answer that kind of question. All they do is say, "Oh, look at the poor people that died," or something like that. Theirs is a persuasive argument. You can't argue with that kind of argument because nobody wants to say, oh, talk about people that died and stuff like that. All I say is that, all we wanted was our rights before we went in the army, that's all.

AI: Those ideas and principles were the main thing in your mind...

MK: Yeah.

AI: ...and then after that was cleared up, you would be happy to go and do your duty.

MK: Oh, yeah. Well, look, there was about maybe eight or nine people in our group that went to the Korean War because when they came out, they were free people. They're willing to go because they were free. People have to understand that. They weren't, instead of locked up in the concentration camp, they were free. Now, I just wonder why people can't see that.

<End Segment 15> - Copyright © 2001 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 16>

AI: Well, I'll take you back again, once again, to the trial in June of 1944. And the trial finished, and you and the other resisters were taken back to the jail to wait for the sentencing.

MK: Yes.

AI: What was in your mind then when you knew that the judge had ruled against you and you were going to be sentenced?

MK: We all, I think most of the people were resigned to the fact that the judge was very prejudiced. And he says, they said that we have to take it to the higher court. Well, they had their hopes high, but I think deep inside most people said this is going to be a tough case. I, myself, thought, oh, like I said, I was pretty naive at that time, I thought that we had a very good case. Locked in the concentration camp and drafted out of our concentration camp. I thought we had a very good case.

AI: So when you lost your case, were you kind of shocked?

MK: Yeah, I was. I was really hurt. I said, "Gee, what kind of country is this?" I says, they say one thing... they teach you one thing in school about equal rights and all that, deny us equal rights and punish us if we don't cooperate with them. I said, "This is unfair." At that time, I, I never was what you call a, oh, eloquent speaker or anything. I couldn't go up and say something like Patrick Henry, "Give me liberty or give me death," or something like that. I, I just said it like it was. "Give me my rights. I don't want to go to jail. I'll go in the army if you'd only give me my rights and release my family from the concentration camp. That's all I ask."

AI: But it didn't happen because you lost your case.

MK: Yeah.

AI: And then you and the other resisters were brought back into the courtroom for sentencing.

MK: Yeah.

AI: And that was June 26th of 19...

MK: Twenty-sixth.

AI: ...'44.

MK: 1944.

AI: And I want to read from Judge's, Judge Kennedy's memorandum. He winds up his memorandum by saying that "this Court feels that the defendants have made a serious mistake in arriving at their conclusion. If they are truly loyal American citizens, they should embrace the opportunity to discharge the duties of citizens for our national defense. It has been seen that the discrimination exercised by the government on account of their Japanese ancestry was legitimate, justified, and legal as being within the power of Congress and the President in the war emergency." And he cites the case of Hirabayashi. "Therefore, it is the verdict of the Court, must find the defendants and each of them guilty as charged in the indictment. It will be the sentence and judgment of the Court that you and each of you committed to the custody of the attorney general for confinement in such institution as he may select for a period of three years."

MK: Uh-huh.

AI: So when you heard that and you knew you were sentenced to three years, what were you thinking?

MK: It was a kind of a shock, and it took a little while to sink in. But we said, "Well, we, we'll give it our best shot." We'll try the higher courts. I think, I think lot of people were very disappointed. I know I was. Like I said, I really believed that we had a chance. But, all depends on the judge. Like the Tule Lake case, draft resisters, they were set free. Poston there was over a hundred. They were fined one cent and set, set free. We just had, unfortunately, we just had the wrong judge, who, who never understood the Constitution. Never once, he talking about constitutional laws, and that, it was unfortunate that we were tried in Wyoming. That's all it was.

<End Segment 16> - Copyright © 2001 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 17>

AI: Well, then after a short while in the Cheyenne jail, you were transferred and sent to McNeil Island...

MK: Yeah.

AI: ...Penitentiary for your sentence. When you got to McNeil, you went there in a group with some of the other resisters. Can you tell me what it was like there at the penitentiary?

MK: Well, when we went to the main institution, we were kind of shocked at how tough every -- really those people in the main institution are pretty tough-looking people. They don't, I don't think you want to mingle with them. But I think the administration realized right away that we were, we weren't that criminal type. So right away they sent us to the farm, prison farm, so, where they had a lot of draft cases over, already over there like Jehovah Witnesses and conscientious objectors. We also had people sent there for illegally wearing uniforms and stuff like that. It's surprising why, how many people do funny stuff to be in jail. It was kind of shock to see Japanese people in there. We had few Japanese from Alaska. Got to be friendly with one of them, and one of them told me that he, he killed his wife. Oh. I didn't want to be friends with him after that. There was a group from Los Angeles in there. They were the old Tokyo Club. I don't know you ever, people ever heard of Tokyo Club, but I think they were tried for murder. Probably did away with somebody, somebody didn't pay his bills, maybe. I don't know. But they were there. I learned a lot of things that go on in a prison, that some people will continually be losers, because, I know one person that went out, he received a certain amount of years' sentence, and he went out, he served it and went out. Before you know it, he was back in again. So it's, all kinda people there.

AI: Well, what was your daily life like?

MK: At the prison?

AI: Yeah. When you, when you went out to the farm.

MK: Oh, we, I was a truck driver, so I, I took my job pretty seriously, did the best I could. Saturday and Sunday I was allowed to go by myself to go to the beaches. They had little, little streams that I was supposed to measure. Put a stake in the water and measure how much water flows through it. They were talking about, thinking about putting a dam there. So I was like a trustee. Every Sunday I used to go there, then go to the beach, put my truck there by the beach and walk the beach. I said, "Gee, isn't this lovely?" There's a, next to McNeil Island there's a big island called Fox Island. I used to walk, look at the Fox Island and say, "Boy, freedom is right over there." But I never was tempted to go over there. [Laughs] I, all I know is I wanted to spend my time and get out and go home. I think, I think majority of us had the same idea.


AI: Well, continuing back to your time in the McNeil Island Federal Penitentiary, you were describing a little bit about the daily life. But as, as time passed on and you were carrying out your sentence, what were you thinking would be, would happen after, after you finished your sentence?

MK: I felt that I, I'll go back and resume a normal life. I, I think, I thought the people would just forget what happened during the war. Well, not carry the war debate over and over and over again. I thought that'd be over with, but apparently it's not true.

AI: Well, in fact, you got out of prison a little bit earlier than you thought you would. You had a three-year sentence. But in December of 1946, President Truman pardoned you and the other draft resisters.

MK: Yeah, that was '47.

AI: Oh, I'm sorry.

MK: December of 1947.

AI: Oh, I'm sorry. So actually you, you did carry out, you did have a two-year prison term.

MK: Yeah, I served actually probably twenty-five months.

AI: And you were released in about late July...

MK: Yeah.

AI: ...of 1946.

MK: Yeah, uh-huh.

<End Segment 17> - Copyright © 2001 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 18>

AI: So, and then where did you go when you were released?

MK: Well, I came back to Los Altos. There was a group of Quakers in our Palo Alto area. And they helped the Japanese family resettle. We didn't have any government help or anything. I wasn't there. My parents had just the younger kids, and I believe they had a hard time. But they, no, the government didn't help anybody. They'd just give them $25 and a plane, I mean a train ticket, and that was it. Here they kicked them out of California, took away everything, and now they send them, them back with nothing, either. It's, it's unbelievable what the, the country did. Japanese Americans don't talk about it. They don't talk about being sent back in the, with just a train ticket. They, the San Jose area, they lived in hostel. I know in the Mountain View area, they lived in the old Japanese school. All they had was just the blankets separating living quarters. And maybe for about ten families maybe they had just one bathroom, one bathroom, that's all. And they survived. That's the amazing thing. They all survived without any help.

AI: So by the time you returned from prison, what was your family doing then?

MK: My family was living in, I don't know if you know what a tank house is. It's a kind of a rectangular building. They used to house a water tank on top with a windmill. They knocked the tank and the windmill down, and they made the tank house into a living quarter. They, for their right to live in that tank house, they had to do free gardening and free housework. So, maybe they got taken advantage of, but they had no place to go. So I'm sure they all, all the Japanese American families had tough times at the time. The way the money is thrown around today helping people, you would think that, it's the government that caused all those problems, that they would at least help them get on their feet. But it's not true. They did it themselves.

AI: Now, in the meantime, your older brother, what had happened to him?

MK: He was in the, still in the army.

AI: And your older sister?

MK: Yeah. They were back, husband's working, found... my brother was in the army. He went to Okinawa and to the Philippines. In Okinawa, he loved Okinawa because the, oh gosh, found a lot of girlfriends, I guess. He, he used to ask to, my family would send him makeup, send it to the girls. He was very popular because he had a lot of makeup. [Laughs] He was so happy. First time in his life he was treated like a human being. First time in his life he had so many girlfriends, I guess. So he didn't want to come back. So when I came back, my mother told me, "Write your brother. He, he's ending his two-year army." He's talking about staying there in Okinawa as a civilian employee of a large construction company, American construction company that was going to rebuild Okinawa. And my brother said, "Geez, it's the best job offer I ever had. All I do is supervise the natives over here to rebuild Okinawa." And he said, he says, "I love it over here," he says. But you know how mothers are. They want the oldest son back. So she kept pressing me, pressing me, "Write him to come back." Tell him, "Please, your mother wants you back." So I kept writing him letters, letters, letters, and finally he came back.

I think I, I don't know, maybe I ruined his life for him. But it's something my mother, my mother was very determined woman. Like I lost faith in the church. I felt the church let us down. But when my mother was sick, she made me promise that I'll support the church because she was very religious. And I said, "Okay." So I might go to church two or three times a year. [Laughs] But I was very disappointed in the church. I thought that at least they'd stand up and speak up over the wrongdoings the government was doing against the, their own people, the church people. What do we learn in church? Brotherhood, brotherly love, do unto, unto others, and stuff like that. I, I finally realized that religion is nothing but a fairy tale. It's a business like anything else. That's a mean thing to say, but I really feel that because of the lack of fighting for the rights of the citizens that were willing to speak out -- I know the, like the resisters, when they spoke out, the religious groups in the camp wrote letters and stuff to, "Hey, you're doing wrong. Cooperate with the government." I don't think that's really the church's purpose. So I, I was really religious when I was young. Up to, into high school, teenage, I looked forward to going to Sunday school. I really believed in church and all this brotherhood stuff, but no. Disappointment just like the JACL. It was a big disappointment for me.

AI: Now, so then after you returned and the, here it is 1946 already, and then that August of '46 you turned twenty-two.

MK: Yeah.

AI: Your family's still struggling, trying to get back on its feet. And then your brother did return to the U.S. What happened next for you and your family?

MK: Our family, we decided to, we decided to farm. My mother says, "I, I'd rather farm than do housework." And so we said, "Okay, Mom. Maybe we'll raise strawberries," which was a popular thing to do at the time. So we went into strawberry farming. Then we made a few dollars. A friend of ours was growing flowers, and he came over one day and says, "Oh, why don't you try growing flowers?" My brother and I listened to him and says, "You know, for this much sum of money you could start a nursery. It's bare minimum, but you could start." And my brother thought awhile, and he says, "Oh, maybe that's a good idea." So we bought a piece of property with this friend, and we both started a flower business. And it wasn't a bad business. It was pretty good.

<End Segment 18> - Copyright © 2001 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 19>

AI: Now, during these years after the war and after you returned from prison and starting up your family business, all this time you were still back home in the Santa Clara valley.

MK: Yes.

AI: I wanted to ask you about what, what, if you faced any kind of negative reactions from people who knew that you had resisted the draft and had gone to prison. Did that ever affect you or your family?

MK: Everybody at that time was so busy trying to recover, they really didn't have time to study the issues of draft resistance and stuff like that. But later, I, I know that in San Jose there was a lot of people against the draft resisters. They say that they're not against them, but I heard from the, from the other people that's, that's friends with them and friends with me that told me, "This fellow said negative things about the draft resisters." But he'll, he'll never say it in front of anybody.


AI: So over the years, you have had some unpleasant experiences.

MK: Oh, yeah. There was a fellow resister in the Mountain View area that went to a meeting with Mountain View people there. And he told me that one man that he knew for a long time stood up and pointed him and his wife out, and said that, "These people don't deserve to live in America." Yeah. His, I'll tell you his name. His name is George Ishikawa. He was one of the, he's very good talker and very good thinker, but his wife was harassed in camp during the war years, so she don't want him to speak out. So he doesn't. So I know similar instances like that. I don't know why, but they, there's certain people that's very patriotic, especially some of the wives, wives of young guys that, these young guys never went even overseas, but their wives are in the VFW Auxiliary, and boy, they're very patriotic.

AI: Well, another time you were talking about different ways of being patriotic.

MK: Yeah.

AI: Would you talk about that now?

MK: Oh, yeah. I believe there are different ways. I believe that like Fred Shiyosaki, he's very sincere in saying that he believes in that, when he went into the army and that he was being very patriotic. I believe him because he's, he's not really a overbearing guy that everything he says is, is waving a flag. Like me, I believe that, believing in constitutional principle is being in one way very patriotic, too. I believe, I don't know the history of "no-no" people, but when they got angry and they refused to cooperate with the government, in a way that's being patriotic, too, because to me, they're showing that that they're willing to fight for what they think is right. If it wasn't for this harassment and persecution, they would probably never go "no-no." Oh, I can't think of it now, but there's, there's different ways to show patriotism. It's not always carrying a rifle. It's, well, I think a person that's a good American, works hard, would go into the service if there's a need for it, and -- if he's a free man and obeys everything like the laws, is not a, doesn't do any criminal things or stuff like that, just to better himself -- I think that's showing loyalty in their way, too. So I believe everybody has a different definition of loyalty.

<End Segment 19> - Copyright © 2001 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 20>

AI: Well, I want to bring us up in time a little bit more, past, now time passed, and you had been in business with your brother in your family business. And a number of years later, you met the woman who you eventually married.

MK: Uh-huh.

AI: And you did get married in 1962. Would you tell me a little bit about how you went about...

MK: Well... [laughs]

AI: ...meeting her and...

MK: It's a, sort of a funny story. I, I went to Japan to visit my uncle, my step-uncle. He's the, my father's half-brother. And he showed me around, and he says, "How come you're not married yet?" I said, "Well, you know I, I've been very busy." Years that, just slipped by before I knew it. He said, "Hey, you want to meet some young Japanese girls?" That's the, that was the last thought on my mind, to marry a woman from Japan, because I was very anti-Japanese. I am. I think the Japanese people during the war, and before the war were very mean people. I know they're mean. From my experience in going to Japan, the men are very mean. I, I said, "Well, I don't mind meeting a few girls." So he took me to see, meet some girls, and I wouldn't say I'm popular or anything, but it seemed like every girl that I met wanted to come to America. I met my wife. She was very young. But she, she's, oh, yeah... very, I thought she was very attractive. She was over 5 feet, 5. And I thought, "Oh, she'd make a pretty, pretty nice wife." But I didn't realize that she was the last child and kind of spoiled. [Laughs] I, my uncle said, "What do you think of her?" And I said, "Oh, she's pretty nice." And said, "I'll, I'm gonna ask her if she wants to get married." So he asked her. She said, "Oh, yeah." She, she says, "Okay. I'll, I think he's a nice guy." Well, she didn't really know me then. [Laughs] "He's a nice guy. I think the Nisei are much kinder than the people in Japan, males in Japan."

So we got married. We went to, where did we go now? We went to Tokyo to get married, embassy. And there we met a guy that, he hated American Nisei. He wouldn't give me okay to get married. So I says, "What's wrong with this guy?" He got, he got real, real sarcastic with me. I says, I guess some people don't want Japanese girls to get married to especially a Nisei. I said, I went back to talk to my uncle, and he says, "Oh, you know something? This is, don't sound too good. This guy'll never let you get married." Then my wife's friend worked in Yamanashi-ken government. Oh, he says, "Oh, you should go to Yokohama because lot of Americans get married there. They have no problem." So my wife and I went there, and sure enough there was no problem. They treated me like an American. This guy in Japan says, "You're Japanese." I says, "No, I'm not Japanese. I'm American." He says, he pointed at me, looked at me and says, "Look at you. You're telling me you're not Japanese?" That kind of guy. I said, "Yeah. I, my features are Japanese, but I'm an American citizen. I'm an American." He didn't like that. So we finally got married, and that's it. Three kid, three grown children later, we're still married. [Laughs]

<End Segment 20> - Copyright © 2001 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 21>

AI: Well, now, as, as your children were growing up, at some point, you decided to tell them that you had been a draft resister in World War II and that you went to prison for it. What was the kids' reaction?

MK: My kids' reaction was, they, they showed no interest. Yeah. I, they know I went to prison. They know I resisted the draft, and they don't care. They got their own friends. It's amazing. They, lot of Sansei groups are very close. His group is very close. And in fact, there's about fifteen of them, and he and another fellow's the only person that's married. The rest are all single. They're all in the thirty-five to forty-year bracket, and they were pretty close. My son, he, he knows I was a resister, but he, he doesn't really care. He, he's not even interested. But my daughters are interested. They asked me this and that, this and that. They, if then there's a article or something that comes out in the paper or something, they cut it out and give it to me. But they're not gonna go out of their way. They're, they're not what you call activists.

AI: Well, now, many years, decades later after your World War II experience, some filmmakers came to interview you for their films, Frank Abe, for Conscience and the Constitution.

MK: Uh-huh.

AI: And then also the Omori sisters...

MK: Yeah.

AI: ...for Rabbit in the Moon. What was, what was your feeling when these filmmakers came to you and wanted to interview you and hear your experience?

MK: Yeah. It made me very happy that there were Sansei that's very interested in our story. I know the Nisei will never do this. But the Sansei will. I think it started when Sansei had the Day of Remembrance. I read about it, and I says, "You know, one of these days I'm gonna go to just listen to what they have to say." So I went. And over there, I, I met a young woman named Susan Hayase, and she was more or less the leader of this young group, NCRR group. They call themselves the Nihonmachi Outreach Committee. She asked me what my interest was in being there. And I told her I was a draft resister and I was put in prison. She kinda looked at me and said, "Well this is, there's a story here." She was very supportive. Without her help I would've never really gone out and talked about it. But I think her acknowledging the resisters and putting me on the programs, NCRR programs, to talk about the experience, I think this led to Frank Abe and Emiko Omori and these people to know, know, open up the story of the resisters to the public, Japanese American public. Most of them surprisingly didn't know anything about resistance in the camps. And surprisingly, well you know even today the leading JACL person on the panel, he, he talks about the resisters as being "no-no "people. Still yet after all these years, even though all this is written about the resisters being "yes-yes" but only wanted the return of their constitutional rights before they go into the army. But they still make this kind of mistakes, and I'm glad that they have these, like Frank Abe's program and Emiko's program is, I think they open a lot of eyes. That's why I'm here today in Seattle because these programs have opened the eyes of lot of people even in the JACL that they were, JACL was wrong in persecuting people that were willing to fight for their constitutional rights.

So I'm thankful that all you young people really willing to fight for the rights of all Japanese Americans. It's not only certain Japanese Americans are this or Japanese Americans are that. We're all victims of racism. And that, if the Sansei really want to help us, bring out our story, we'll be, only to help, we'd be happy to cooperate. We appreciate it. [Laughs]

AI: Well, we appreciate hearing your experience.

MK: It's been hard, but it's not easy coming here to Seattle and talking to a JACL group because a lot of them, they still got that mindset yet -- World War II, America, "(Love) it or leave it." I really believe some of those JACL people are further right than, than most of the redneck right-wingers when it comes to patriotism. They're very, I don't know what you'd call it, but the, the, they see their side of the story only one way. They're not willing to talk, talk about it from another perspective. But they're changing. Like I said, the, the reason I'm here shows that the organization is slowly changing. It's for the better.

AI: Well, we thank you for sharing your perspective. We really appreciate it.

MK: [Laughs] Yeah. I, I understand the other side, too. I, I, because I, I grew up in that time. I understand that, how much pressure there was. But whether there was pressure or not, you got to do the right thing. You gotta fight for your rights when they're violated. To accept racism, in my mind, is always wrong. Just 'cause you look different doesn't mean you are different. I think we're all patriotic. Maybe we might show it in different ways, but we are all patriotic. I thank you very much.

AI: Thank you.

<End Segment 21> - Copyright © 2001 Densho. All Rights Reserved.