Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Frank Yamasaki Interview II
Narrator: Frank Yamasaki
Interviewer: Alice Ito
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: November 5, 2001
Densho ID: denshovh-yfrank-02

<Begin Segment 1>

AI: Today is November 5, 2001. We're doing an interview with Frank Yamasaki. I'm Alice Ito with the Densho Project, and Dana Hoshide is our videographer. And Frank, your first interview with Densho was in August 1997, so thank you for coming back again. And in that interview, you gave us some family background and said that your father had immigrated to the United States in 1898. And when was it that your mother immigrated to the United States?

FY: She came in 1913. That was about time the, World War II -- no, I -- was going on, and I think shortly after that, they purchased, leased a hotel, so they were in the hotel business. When she came, she -- because my father was so busy, she had to do some of the shopping. And my father would ask her to buy a half-pound of meat so that she could cook it with vegetables. After about a couple of months, my dad says, "Get a little different kind of meat." Well, she didn't know. She just used to go to the butcher shop and ask for "meeto." [Laughs] And she didn't know that they had pork, beef, other type of meat. So it was a, quite a experience for her.

AI: I bet. Well, now, to recap a little bit about your family, could you describe your brothers and sisters?

FY: Well, my eldest brother was born right in Seattle on Dearborn Street -- well, I was born there, too. When he was growing up as a child, he was not too happy because he had the name "Harry," and apparently when he was born, whoever that was helping with the paperwork told my parents that he should have an American name because it's in America. So his name was originally Harry, but he was unhappy because all the neighbor children were all, had -- all had Japanese name. So they changed his name to Kazuo.

AI: And so that was your oldest brother.

FY: Right. And my next brother was Masao. And my name is Hideo. The irony -- the funny part here now in my case, my -- and my older brother's case, Masao and me, all our friends had American's name, and whenever we were in school, the teacher had difficulty pronouncing our name. So he changed his name to Robert and mine to Frank. [Laughs]

AI: And you, you and your brothers were three years apart.

FY: We were all three years apart, so it's easy for me to remember their names. My eldest sister was three years -- nine years older than I. My eldest brother was six years older. The brother above me was -- Bob was three, so it's easy to remember the age.

AI: Right. And then some years later, then, you had a younger brother.

FY: Some years later -- gee, it's several years later -- I had a brother named George, and he was about two or three years old when the second war broke out.

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

<Begin Segment 2>

AI: Well, before we get up to the wartime, I wanted to ask you to go back over some of your childhood memories, about when the time you were still in grade school. And thinking back, you described in your first interview that you were a poor family, but at that -- as a child, you didn't realize that you were poor.

FY: That's right. The, our neighbors were all "poor," quote/unquote. We were able to eat, but most Asians' diet was much more simpler than most Caucasian. We required very little meat, and the vegetables out in the farm there was plentiful. And so the means of living was very simple. The house we lived in were all rented, and the rent was very cheap. I know our house, we rented it for seven dollars a month.

AI: Let me back up here, and just to set the time and the place again, can you tell us what year you were born?

FY: I was born in 1923, November 26th.

AI: And when you were describing out in the farmland, that was when you were living in the area of South Park; is that right?

FY: Yes. I was born in Seattle on Dearborn Street, and we moved out to South Park because I was not very healthy, and the doctor suggested that we move off in the country.

AI: And so that's why you were describing the farmland at that time.

FY: Yes, yes.

AI: Well, I think you had mentioned something about when you were a child that you and a friend of yours would sometimes go to neighbors and take orders for vegetables.

FY: Oh, yes. Well, while we were growing up, we were all -- again, since we were all poor, we were on the same pond, we didn't know what, how the rich people lived. We were not given any allowances, so any kind of income we were to get, we had to do it on our own. I used to go to the golf link to caddy, and that was pretty good because I would make 90 cents. That's for 18 holes. On other days, Tony and I -- Italian friend of mine -- we would go into the Caucasian community in South Park and take orders from the housewives. And as an example, three bunches of radishes for a nickel, and heads of lettuce for two cents each, and on and on like that. And once we'd get the orders written down, then we would go to the farm and get our vegetables from other farmers. Now, Joe Desmond was the big farmer where most of the Isseis, where they worked. Now, because his, he had acres of farms, missing few heads of lettuce or radishes was not important. But we would get the vegetable, wash it, bunch it up, and we would take it over to the customers, and they would pay us a nickel or a dime, and we would make enough money to take a bus ride downtown -- four hours transfer -- with a four-hour transfer, so it cost a nickel only. And we can go to town and come back on the same nickel. We can go to a movie for a dime, and for a nickel, we'd get day-old pastry at the public market, and we'd get a whole, large bagful of it, so that's, that was a treat for our day.

We used to also dig worm. There used to be a worm man that used to come out. And I can't remember for sure; I think we got five -- we got a penny for five worms, so we'd spend several hours digging worms, and we might make as much as ten, twelve cents.

AI: So you had to be very imaginative to make some spending money as a child.

FY: Exactly. Now, my older brother, the oldest one, would go to Alaska during the summertime, cannery work, and he would earn, I believe it's like fifty dollars for the season. Of course, now, he wasn't too happy about it because he says he had to give all that money to the, to Dad if it goes into the pot, family pot. So most of us Niseis grew up supporting the family. The Niseis in town, where they had grocery stores or hotel business, most of the Nisei worked very hard, supporting their family.

AI: So it was just an expectation for you and your brothers that whatever money you made, you might have a little bit of spending money for yourself, but most of it would go into the family pot.

FY: That's right. That's right.

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

<Begin Segment 3>

AI: Well, continuing on with some of your childhood memories, can you tell me something about birthdays, how you might celebrate a birthday.

FY: The, again, a birthday is more of a Western culture than Japanese because most of the Japanese celebrated their birthday at -- once a year. That was the New Year's. And I think the culture came from China because in China they say, "When I get to be seventy-eight" -- that's the ultimate goal -- "then I'm supposed to be able to live forever." Then when I told them that, "Well, I've only got few more months to go," they said, "No, no. In China, you're already seventy-eight." So I was born November 26th. Now, December -- January 1st, I become two-year-old in the Orient.

AI: In the Chinese way of figuring it.

FY: The Chinese way of counting it, and also in Japan.

AI: But when you were a child and your birthday would come around...

FY: Well, the -- I don't remember when I was real young, but as I grew older and started going to school, I found out that you're supposed to celebrate your birthday the day you were born. So in school, eventually in the '30s with the Roosevelt administration, they introduced the PTA, the Parent-Teachers Association, and the parents were active, and they would have parties, birthday parties, right in class for their children. Well, so we would learn that, Nisei. At least I would learn about that, and I would come home and tell, well, my birthday -- my mother and father were very busy, but I would fix something up, and I would tell them that -- they would wonder why I have this little peanut butter sandwich there. And told them, "It's for my birthday." And I'd tell them in school, that's what they do, celebrate the birthday on the date of the birth.

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

<Begin Segment 4>

AI: Well, tell me more about your mother, please. I -- you had mentioned a little bit in your first interview that your mother read quite a bit, that she was educated in Japan, so she was literate, and that reading was one of her favorite activities. Maybe you can tell a little bit more about your mother and some of her influence on you as a child.

FY: When it began, I'm not sure, but I'm inclined to think my father was not a very good conversationalist. He was a very, very hard worker, and I remember him always working. And of course, the women worked just as hard if not harder. But because of lack of communication, I think, she started to read. That was her means of escape. And the more she read, the more aware she was of everything else. And then because I was sickly, she would, of course, have to stay home and take care of me. And she would read stories to me. And again, that was enjoyment for her and for me, too. So gradually as time went on, she became almost addicted to reading. I can remember her, and she would even pick up a advertising piece and start reading it -- in Japanese, of course. But she would even read that.

And later on -- I'm skipping -- but later on, when I grew up, she had a huge clock in the bedroom there -- oh, and in the apartment, she had it in the kitchen because she moved the bed from the bedroom to the kitchen so that it's, she could just get up and have her breakfast and read in bed because it was cold, and it'd keep warm in bed. But she had this huge clock there because she wanted to limit herself as to how much time she, she should read. She -- she just -- she was really addicted to reading.

AI: And as you were getting a little bit older, would -- you mentioned that she would read stories to you. Did she ever read the newspaper to you or talk to you about what was going on that she would read in the newspapers or magazines?

FY: Well, she would be reading so many, there was several religious, Buddhist religious books she used to read. And any magazine -- I don't think even her friends could keep her supplied. My wife and I -- at one time after we'd grown and she would come over to baby-sit, we figured she must average five, six hours minimum a day, just reading every single day. She used to come over to baby-sit for us, and we would come home and we'd find the kids off someplace and we wondered, where is my mother that's supposed to be taking care of the kids? Well, she would be under a shade somewhere under a tree. She'd be reading. She -- it was an addiction on her part. But as a result, she was very knowledgeable, aware of what was happening. And yes, she had a lot of influence on me, talk -- I used to ask her about what are some of the situation in Europe because I didn't have time to read. I'm just trying to make a living and go to school.

AI: Right. So for example, when World War II was starting already in Europe, then would she sometimes read about that and describe to you what she read?

FY: Yes. Well, by that time, I'm a teenager, and I'm not spending too much time talking with my mother. I'm out looking for girls. [Laughs]

AI: Right.

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

<Begin Segment 5>

AI: Well, let's back up a little bit before your -- those teenage years, and you had mentioned that some of your mother's reading was the Buddhist books. And could you tell me about the place of Buddhism in your life, in your family life and the religious upbringing that you got?

FY: I think, I think many Asians were influenced by Buddhism, which originated in India and to China and to other areas. It's hard to begin because it goes on, extend itself so far. Buddhism is, is a philosophy that says, "There is no good. There is no bad. Life is a continuous -- there is no beginning, there is no end." It describes each individual -- so-called good and bad -- China, in China, they call it yin and yang. This extremity will always be with us. And to find a happy medium, they call it the -- taking the middle path, as so-called considered ideal in the philosophy.

AI: Do you -- thinking back to your childhood, do you remember when you first starting -- started going to temple, or do you first remember early teachings about Buddhism as a child?

FY: No, I -- very little because most of the service and activities were in Japanese. No, I would say almost all of my understanding of Buddhism was from my mother. The activities among the Niseis -- this is in the '30s -- the Niseis in the cities were already active in sports, and they spoke -- how can I say? The, they, there was a language of the Nisei that we don't hear about now. I'm having difficulty even speaking English even now. Well, it used to be much worse. I couldn't pronounce, the word. "R's" were hard to pronounce. "Th's" were hard to pronounce. My vocabulary was very limited because my first language was Japanese because my, my parents were not able to speak English. "Can I go down on that road to school?" Because they were not able to speak or write English when I was going to school, if I played hooky or stayed home, I would have to write an excuse. And so I would write the excuse myself, and then I would see how my mother signed the passport, and I would forge her name. So I was very good at forging my mother and my father's name. It was very easy.

AI: Did you ever get caught doing that?

FY: No, no way because my mother and father couldn't read what I wrote anyway. [Laughs]

AI: And your teacher never suspected?

FY: Teacher never suspected.

AI: Well, now, you -- I think you also had mentioned that in connection with Buddhism that your family was Buddhist, and yet here you are, you're going to school, and you're finding out about other ways of doing things, and you have Caucasian classmates and others --

FY: Yes.

AI: -- who are not Buddhists, who are Christian. And can you tell me a little bit about that? For example, maybe the holidays, Christmas holidays.

FY: Well, like for instance, Christmas is another situation where in Japan or among Buddhists, it never existed. So I would come home and again tell my mother that in Christmas, we're supposed to have a tree. So we had, we lived in the foot of the forest, so it was easy. We'd just, I just went up in the woods and got the tree, made a stand for it, and we are supposed to decorate it. And in school -- you know, this was a period where everyone was pretty poor yet, so there were decoration that was made. And the teachers would have these scrap paper that were color, and they would cut it in strips and make a little ring and make a chain out of these paper -- make a paper chain, you might say. And then we would drape that over the trees. That was one form of decoration. We would cut shapes of flowers or something and then tie it on a little string and tie it on a limb. Later on... I can't remember whether it was at school where they had, they had these foils that they used to drape over the trees. Well, they would throw those out, so I would gather those. And so the next year, I would have those glittering foil to hang on the tree.

AI: Well, and of course, at that time, that was made out of real metal.

FY: Yes.

AI: That real metal foil...

FY: Well, no, they were thin, I think it could've been lead foil. I'm not sure. Yeah. But that's the way... and then later on, you know, my parent had -- like at first, we'd make little packages. That's our Christmas present. And later on, Dad would give us -- well, give me 50 cents. That would be my Christmas present. And I would go to, to the store and buy myself a checkerboard for 15 cents and -- or buy a yo-yo and things like that for a nickel, and wrap those up, and those would be my present. [Laughs]

AI: Well, speaking about stores, I think you had mentioned some memories about smells or odors.

FY: Oh, yes, yes. Looking back, stores -- at least most of us used to go to, there was a kind of a identity with each store. For instance, Luchi had a Italian supply store, and when you walk in there, you can automatically smell, instantly smell the cheese and -- primarily the cheese -- and other smells. If you go to the Japanese store, you walk in, and the floor are wooden slats, so worn, and then it's a little squeaky sound that the floor had. And they used to have these large containers with pickles. And they would have what they call takuan, radishes. They would have other pickles in these containers. So there was aroma there that you can identify right away. And if those aroma didn't exist, well, it couldn't be the Japanese store.

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

<Begin Segment 6>

AI: Well, now, later in the '30s as you became a teenager, your parents leased a hotel, and that was -- as I think you said earlier -- was at First and Cedar in Seattle?

FY: It's First and Cedar. We had a hotel business that was 56-unit. The, in moving there, my father was still in South Park. The family was living there, and he was working. And my mother and I moved into the hotel to run the business while my father was closing the house up that we were renting in South Park. And the hotel business, again, we just learned by trial and error. And in those days on First Avenue, First and Seattle on Seattle -- First and Cedar in Seattle, they had streetcars running on First Avenue. And right at that junction there on First and Cedar, there would be a lot of intersections. So these trolleys with their connecting wheels would run across the tracks, and it would throw a spark of flash. And of course, the -- these streetcars with their metal wheels, it sounded like a railroad going across. And then we were on First and Cedar, and then down on the, toward the waterfront, they had the train running there. And you hear the train. And then beyond that is the -- that would be equivalent of around Pier 70 now, they had the boat out there. So in the morning when the, some mornings when it's slightly foggy, they have the, the foghorn on the boat. And then, of course, the train running regularly, everything coming across and they're entering the city, so you hear them blow the whistle. And then constantly hear the track -- the streetcar running in front of the hotel. So I , I, it was horrendous. It was so noisy. I, I couldn't believe how noisy a place could be. But strange, you know, after a few months, you get used to that.

One day a friend of mine, their parent had a grocery store, Hank Hirabayashi, and we went camping out toward Quilcene in the Olympic Peninsula. And I couldn't believe how quiet it could be. So I guess people in the city are living under stress constantly.

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

<Begin Segment 7>

AI: Well, speaking of stress, there was something else that you had mentioned in your earlier interview, which was that, that you were raised up to expect discrimination and that that was painful.

FY: Discrimination, again, this strange -- like I said, I didn't think we were poor because we were all poor. And growing up, discrimination was a part of the environment that we grew up in. So if we were in a area where we could anticipate certain discrimination, there's a kind of a safeguard that we were prepared. So even if we are discriminated, it doesn't -- there isn't the pain. But when something happens, discrimin-, racial discrimination happens when, when you're not expecting it, that's when, that's when it, it hurts. And the, the kind of pain that doesn't leave one for a long time.

AI: Do you have any memory of how you learned to expect the discrimination? How, who taught that to you or how you got the idea that you should be expecting it?

FY: The, I'm not sure. It's, it's the kind of thing we grew up with as a child. I think that we just grow up with a certain condition, and I'm not trying to say that this is acceptable situation, but when one grows up with this type of condition, it's not as pain-, physically painful, I don't think. I could be wrong. Yes, I think I'm wrong because I know the experience at the camp where we were uprooted. And at that moment, the, where it's the fear or the, the changes of things, things we had to do, everything came so fast, there wasn't really time to reflect. Coming into the assembly center, trying to adjust to the muddy ground, getting our rooms settled, meeting different friends, going into a routine of the, eating at the mess hall. It happened so rapidly that again, the moment of reflecting isn't there. But I know, later on as the years go, the pain is there. This -- it shouldn't happen, really. It's...


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

<Begin Segment 8>

AI: We're continuing with Frank Yamasaki. And Frank, I wanted to bring you back again before World War II, to ask you just one more question about leisure, leisure activities and what the Issei and, of course, the Nisei would do.

FY: Well, the Isseis, at least my parents, both were very -- working very hard. You know, I grew up thinking that that's all they had to do in life is just work. Their, Sunday was the only time where they would, we would all go into town, and they would go to the temple for the service, and that was their social life, and I would cut out and go see a movie. And I know what time to get back. Other days, there would be -- special events where they would have shibais, the entertainment at the Nippon Kan Hall -- that's the community center. They would have church picnics, and that would be another leisure moment for them. They would... they have, of course, the Bon Festival, where in those days, they had almost equal amount of men out there dancing as women. And the most, most of the men were in costume, which was very colorful. That was about the extent.

And I'm jumping around a lot, but when the -- the point of going to the concentration camp, there were good points, too, because I don't think I could ever recall the Issei having that much time for their own personal interests, activities, and leisure time to be involved in. The Niseis -- this is prior, before World War II -- at least the one in the cities were involved in sports. They had leagues that was sponsored by community or the temple or JACL. They had what they call the Courier League. And they would have dances at special occasion. And they even had a band in the community. They were called the Mikados of Swing, and of course, in those days, Glenn Miller was a very popular bandleader.

AI: Now, were you involved in the band, or did you attend dances?

FY: No, I -- unfortunately, we -- well, unfortunate on one side, we lived out in the country, so the activity were all in the city. At the same time, the advantage of growing up in the country is only appreciated after I grew, grew up. It was a much more healthier life than living in the city.

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

<Begin Segment 9>

AI: Now, in, in November of 1941, you would have been eighteen. You turned eighteen in November.

FY: Yes.

AI: And you were a senior at Queen Anne High School?

FY: Yes.

AI: Is that right?

FY: I had my picture taken at the -- it was already, annual book, graduation book was already out. Everything was all right except they spelled my name wrong. So my name was "Yamaski." [Laughs]

AI: And what were -- excuse me. What were your older brothers doing at that time? You were a senior in high school, and your two --

FY: My oldest brother was in California. My --

AI: What was he doing there?

FY: I'm not sure.

AI: Possibly working or...

FY: Yes. It's strange how our association was almost nil. He was -- from the time he was a teenager, he was staying in town with friends, and so there wasn't that much of a relationship. I'd seen him, actually, more when he was, became ill and during that period before he died. I saw him more during those period than most of my life. My other brother was going to... in the summertime, he would be going to the cannery. And then in the fall, he'd be going to the university because he was going to the University of Washington. On December 7th, I think I mentioned before, Sunday, and we were volunteering. I helped -- we were wheelbarrowing sawdust into the gymnasium, and -- for what reason, I'm not sure to this day. But when I came home, and a neighbor told me there's war. I couldn't believe it. It was, it's just as shocking as the twin tower explosion.

AI: So you really didn't have a sense -- here you were a senior in high school, but you really didn't expect something like Japan and the U.S. actually going to war.

FY: No, no, no. That, in fact, when they were mentioning Pearl Harbor, we, Ted and I, we were all sitting there, "Where's Pearl Harbor?" We had no idea. Never heard of the name Pearl Harbor. The -- I think the, the news of what happened there would be equivalent to the terrorists' attack on the twin towers. The first, time has changed where we can, we saw the disaster on television almost immediately. Well, before, only time we see in motion would be at the theater when you see the newsreel. But it's the kind of feeling that you think, "Is it real?" Or is it some -- something like what Orson Welles did in radio days with the Mars? There is a moment of un-, you just can't imagine that it's true or can't imagine what it is.

AI: And then the following day was Monday, and you went back to school.

FY: Back to school. And the media didn't start in with the, the media was... contributed a lot to this fear of the Japanese.

AI: In what way? Can you tell about the -- what came out?

FY: This is very similar to what's going on today, and it's very sad that this kind of thing is happening.

AI: Now, today you're speaking of the --

FY: I'm talk --

AI: Septem --

FY: Yes, of the Muslim, the Arab people. I'm sure they must be under tremendous fear. At the same time in driving around, I don't see many Muslim walking the street -- that is, Muslim in their traditional clothing with turbans.

AI: Since September 11th.

FY: Yes. I read in the paper the kind of harassment that they are encountering.

AI: And when you read these things, what do you think --

FY: Yes, it brings back memory about what happened to us. And...


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

<Begin Segment 10>

AI: We're continuing on with Frank Yamasaki. And Frank, I'm going to fast-forward in time now, and I recall from your first interview that during World War II, after you and your family and all the other Japanese Americans had been removed from your homes and placed into camps, that you had tuberculosis. And so at one point, you were sent out to Spokane to be in a sanitarium.

FY: Can I make a little correction there? Actually, I did have tuberculosis in camp because I had some hemorrhage. And I went to the doctor and had checkup, and the x-rays apparently -- he says no, there was no problem. So I relocated to Spokane to go to school. And while I was going to school in the evening, I had a swing shift, working, so -- and then being a nice day and being outside, I was burning candle, you might say, on both end. And gradually I became very fatigued and finally went to the doctor, and he determined that I had tuberculosis.

The interesting thing is my first day at the sanitarium -- it was a Saturday when I went in -- and I was ushered in for supper. It was just in time for dinner. And after returning, they said, "Get your clothes on," and we all went to the, another dormitory area, and they were having parties. And I thought, "My gosh, here I've got tuberculosis, and it's all right for me to go to a party." Well, since then, I did learn a great deal about tuberculosis. But I think above anything else, as a teenager, I kept running, and I had no time to really reflect, sit down, stop, and reflect. And this is where hospitalization made me much more conscious of what's around. Again, I had a great deal of time to read because there's nothing else you can do.

I realized one thing, that most Asians that I knew, the way I grew up, we were all very negative-thinking. I could remember this one friend, attorney friend, told me that, "Frank, I don't mean to embarrass you or nothing, nothing reflecting on your background," but the kind of negative thinking that I grew up with is a common negative thinking also among whites. It is what they call "peasant thinking." The reason why they think in the negative sense is that if they were to apply for a job and if they don't get it, they feel terrible. But if they apply for a job with the expectation that they probably won't get it, then if they don't get the job, they don't feel so bad. So this negativism -- like my -- as an example, my parent would prepare -- spending two, three day preparing New Year's dinner. And the -- and then friends would come to visit. And they would come and say, "How beautiful." "How nice." "What a big spread." And my mother would say, "No, this is nothing at all. It's terrible." I grew up with that kind of a negativism.

So when I was in the hospital, I did have time to think about that and that all of a sudden, I realized that my tuberculosis was not as serious as many others. But when I was growing up, my parents -- not threatened, but warned me about taking care of my health, and if I don't, I'll get tuberculosis. Back in the '30s, tuberculosis was like someone saying you have terminal cancer. So -- so I learned a lot that, no, we can have positive thinking and actually heal ourselves much faster. And I got to the point where I wasn't afraid to make mistakes. I wasn't afraid to be wrong. And that made me a little more stronger. So I did learn, ironically, while I -- being hospitalized, I did learn about life. That's the first time I heard about the situation that was going on in the relocation center, where I heard the government wanted the Nisei to prove that they're American, and they wanted them to volunteer. And I became very, very angry about that. I said, "What?"

AI: And you heard about that while you were in the sanitarium?

FY: Yes. Well, no, my brother is the one that told me. This is just a couple years ago. I visited my brother in California, and he says, "Yeah, I remember you" -- we had a little bull session. I said, "Yeah, I remember you, you got angry when," -- I can't remember -- somebody told me about what was going on in camp. "And you said, 'Damn, that's stupid.'" I forgot about it.

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

<Begin Segment 11>

AI: And of course, here you were, already eighteen going on nineteen years old, so you were right -- draft age at that time.

FY: Yes, yes.

AI: And after the volunteering period then in 1944, January, government decided to draft --

FY: Yeah.

AI: -- Nisei out of camp.

FY: Yeah.

AI: And you were back in camp by then?

FY: By then I -- what happened is I was -- it sounds ironical when I say "home," in going back to Minidoka, but I was homesick. And I asked the doctor if I can go home. And -- in fact, I asked him if I could be released. And he says, "No, you haven't finished" -- they say exercise ten. But anyway, long story short, he says that he'll let, give me a, what they call a conditional release, and the hospital would be available for me anytime. So -- so I went home, and then a whole new chapter started there. [Laughs]

AI: Yes, right. And so as you described in your earlier interview, you did receive your draft notice --

FY: Yes.

AI: -- probably in April or so, spring of 1944.

FY: Yes, yes.

AI: And you made your decision.

FY: I made my decision. "Give me liberty or give me death." [Laughs] The, I think I could -- I, I probably mentioned what happened, being, the sheriff coming to pick us up and taking us to Twin Falls. And then from Twin Falls, we were taken to (Emmett) County and from there to Boise. And we had a trial in Boise. And there is a very good book written by Eric Muller, which is recently published, and in reading the book, I'm finding out more about my situation than I ever knew myself.

My action, my stand was purely on a gut-level basis. I was very politically naive. I had no concept of legal status. Many of the words was new to me. I even had to ask someone later when the, at the trial, when the defense attorney came up and says -- bringing out the Constitution and pointing to the section where it says it's completely illegal what they done to us, and the judge says, come out and says, "That's immaterial, irrelevant," and something else. And I had to ask, I had no idea what he was talking about. Jury went out, and -- this is, of course, later I found out that the jury was supposed to go into a jury chamber. None of those thing I knew. I had no idea. They went out in the hall, and I could see the door over there, open there, and they're smoking cigarettes, talking to each other. And then throw it down, then coming back in and, "Guilty," and that was it. It was -- it was a farce. Since then, I've learned a great deal.

AI: Well, it must have been quite an experience for you to -- so many years later -- to be reading in Eric Muller's book --

FY: Yeah.

AI: -- and I believe the title is Free to Die for Their Country.

FY: Yes.

AI: And it, it describes, in some of the legal terms, your cases for being tried for draft evasion --

FY: Yes.

AI: -- and refusing to respond to your draft notice. What -- can you tell me what -- what did you feel when you started reading about your own trial, your, and reading about your own experience?

FY: It -- I don't think I'm, I've, I'm getting any kind of a emotional response from it. The... how can I explain it? It's... I, I smiled to myself at times, looking at something that somebody else wrote about me, and I'm finding out, oh, this is what it was about. At that time, I was so naive. I had no concept of what is a courtroom? What is a defense attorney? All this, and such thing as civil rights and Constitution. This all came later when I, after I got out of prison.

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

<Begin Segment 12>

AI: We're continuing, November 5, 2001, with Frank Yamasaki. And Frank, where we left off was that you were just reviewing again that you had been found guilty of draft evasion from Minidoka camp, and you were sentenced to the federal penitentiary and taken to McNeil Island, where you were serving your time. And I'm going to fast-forward now and ask you about 1945, when you were in McNeil, and you heard about the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.

FY: Oh, yes.

AI: How did that come about?

FY: I was working in the education department at that time in McNeil. And one of the inmate who was teaching radio, repairing radio, came running into the office and says, "Hey, Frank, did you hear about that atomic bomb?" Atomic bomb. What is atomic bomb? And he says, "Yeah, they just blew up the whole city. It disappeared." And I said, and I thought, well, he's pulling my leg. And he comes back in, "Come on and listen to the radio." And I went -- and it's the kind of... again, it's like the twin towers, only much worse. You just can't believe, this is the type of fantasy that you read in a magazine or comic book. And it's so horrendous. I think it's, it's... the situation is, what kind of a life is, are we living in, where, where you can annihilate an entire city? I don't think I had pain, or at least I don't, I didn't feel the pain as much just the shock of it. Intellectually, of course, it's, it's horrendous, just like the, the twin towers. It's terrible. But I can't reflect on it any more than that.

AI: It was so shocking --

FY: Yes, yes.

AI: -- and difficult to take in.

FY: Yes.

AI: Seemed like an impossible --

FY: From our generation, where I grew up, to hear about a bomb annihilating a city, it's, it's unbelievable. To hear about a airplane crashing right into a, a building like the twin towers, there, it's unbelievable. It's, it's a fantasy. I don't know. It's, it's... very frightening, very frightening world we're living in.

AI: And a little later, as that reality of the atomic bombing set in, do you recall whether you had some reaction or a feeling about the fact that it was your government, the United States, that had done this?

FY: It, again, I think there's this point of blacking out beyond this point of shock that it's, it's not true. How could such a thing happen? What -- it's, you know, I was of a generation that didn't believe that we can go to the Mars or go to the moon. I could remember my younger brother saying, "Is it possible?" And I said, "No, it isn't. The gravitation in the Earth is so strong, it's impossible." I used to read about Buck Roger in the comic book. So you know, from my generation, this is something that is difficult to believe. To think even now we could write a letter and push a button and it goes all the way across the country, to some other country, in a second. So the world is changing very rapidly.

AI: That's right. Well, then continuing on, that, of course, signaled the end of World War II because soon after that, Japan surrendered. Do you have any recollection or memory about, about hearing that news of Japan's surrender or the ending of the war?

FY: Yes, the ending of the war... you know, it sounds callous, but we, my parent came from Hiroshima, so naturally I was trying to think who we have, relatives, and I knew this one friend, Takashi Iseki, that I grew up with, and they were, they visited Japan, and they weren't able to come back because of the war. But it's years since I saw him, and I wondered what happened to him. Aside from that, it's hard to imagine what a devastation, a real devastation is unless we have some taste of it ourselves. Even the disaster in New York. It's tragic, but I don't think we can really absorb the, the pain and suffering that exists there.

AI: Right.

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

<Begin Segment 13>

AI: Well, then another year passed until the summer of 1946. And it was about that time then that you were released from McNeil.

FY: Yes.

AI: And just briefly, can you tell a bit of what you did after your release?

FY: I came home -- I knew where my parents lived because I had the address --

AI: In Seattle.

FY: In Seattle. The Federal Building was on... let's see. I can't remember. Was it on Sixth or Fifth and Madison or so? Well, my parents' was only a few blocks from there, and I had to go report to the parole officer first, to the Federal Building. So from there, I walked a few blocks down to James Street, where my parent was. And when I went into the house, my mother was there. I think I mentioned this before. And she greeted me. And we weren't the kissing kind or anything. We just shook hand. We weren't even the embracing kind, so, and she, first thing she would say is she got fried chicken for me. [Laughs] That was my -- one of my favorite food. So while she was cooking, we talked, and I noticed how small the room was, and it just... I know there was moments I reflected on that. It was, it was very bad, terrible situation, where my father was in his seventies. We'd lost everything, and now we had to start all over again. I think the pain of coming out of the concentration camp was even greater than the pain of being in there.

AI: For your parents?

FY: Because, yes, for my parents. For myself, it was very difficult. I had a friend that found a job for me immediately, so that wasn't so bad. But later, when I decided to be more on my own, trying to get a job was very difficult. So best I could do was wash dishes or do housework while going to school. And I had learned, I was interested in art, so I couldn't get a job as a painter, artist, so I, I practiced and took classes in show card writing. So I tried to get a job in a sign shop.

And speak of some of the discrimination, I went to the sign shop, and I asked if I could get a job. I told him I'll do anything. I'll clean the shop for him. And he says, well, yeah, he could use me, but he says, "You have to be in a union." And I said, "How can I get into the union?" He says, well, you go down to the local there, 435, the local on First and -- it was -- forgot what street it was. But anyway, he said, "Go down there. You can get into union." They had the union office there. So I went down there, waited half a day to just get in to see someone. And finally when I went to see him, he says, "Well, you got a job?" And I says, "No." He says, "Well, you've got to have a job before I can give you a union." And I was streetwise enough to know that that was a run-around.

I had a job in a hotel as a busboy. And one of my job was to take, when they call for room service was to take the tray up to the room. I'd get up to the elevator, and I'd go up to the proper floor, and then the elevator operator stopped the elevator, and he says he'll take it. And at first, I thought, gee, that's -- that's kind of the guy. But what it was is another case of discrimination. He took the tray in so he gets the tip. Racial discrimination existed in so many ways. It's just -- so this is why many of, prewar, many of the Isseis, that first generation had their own business like grocery stores and hotels and laundries and tailor shops and jewelry store, shoemakers. And this is where a lot of the Niseis helped with the finances at home. So the Niseis themselves didn't have too much time, leisure time, especially on the farm, they -- many of the farm fellows I grew up with seemed like they had, worked 24 hours a day. It was endless. So when they had time to be involved in sports, they really enjoyed it.

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

<Begin Segment 14>

AI: So before World War II, a number of the Issei, as you mentioned, had their own businesses. And so they were not as subjected to discrimination in business in running their own small --

FY: Exactly.

AI: -- company. But that was wiped out during the war.

FY: Exactly.

AI: And then we're, after the war, the situation that your parents faced and yourself --

FY: Exactly. It was far too late for them to start over again. Besides, they had no resources. It's, it's a period where it's, it's... I think after the war, they were... I, as a resister, was discriminated by the community.

AI: Are you now speaking of the Japanese American community?

FY: The Japanese community. At that time, there were many Niseis that denied -- there was a lot of denial -- denied their heritage, their Japanese culture.

AI: Can you give me some examples of that, after World War II, the denial of the culture.

FY: I notice many names, for instance, many names, Japanese name changed to American names. I notice when they came to conversation about, "Remember the old days when they used to have certain, certain type of Japanese food?" They would walk away. They would try, they hesitate talking about that. This is among the Japanese even, Niseis. I can't categorically mention them, but there is a, several things that indicated that there was a denial of having any interest in the Japanese community.

AI: And how did that strike you? What was your reaction?

FY: Well, I was angry. I said, this is very important to retain our culture. And it had nothing to do with whether we were patriotic or not, and this is the -- this is the same attitude I had when I resisted the draft. It was just that it is our personal right to... if it's something that's illegal, I could understand. But it isn't. It wasn't. To appreciate one's culture is not illegal.

AI: In other words, you could still be a good American while appreciating --

FY: Of course. Of course. I, I, this is my personal opinion, but people, majority of people, unfortunately, I don't think understand what Americanism is or being patriotic is. It's certainly not just waving your, waving a flag or saluting the flag. That, that's not Americanism. Unfortunately, the media lead the people in thinking that's the way to be an American. I think American or a citizen of any country should be concerned with their well-being of their people and of the soundness and solvency of the country itself. I don't -- it's -- again, this is my opinion, but I... so anyway, I, I pulled out of the community. By that, I didn't run away or anything. It's just that my interest got involved with other groups and --

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

<Begin Segment 15>

AI: I recall that you were saying that as you got more deeply into your art school that you had some new experiences and met some new people. That opened up some different ideas to you.

FY: I met this Caucasian who was, oh, about twelve or thirteen years older than I was, and we were going to art school together. And he had a great deal of exposure, like traveling to Europe a lot, and we got to be good friend. And I listened to him a lot because he would explain how there are other countries and other worlds and other cultures and custom, and very interesting. Plus he, he explained about discrimination is not only with the Asian people but with Afro-Americans and women, and it goes on and on. And it, just the whole world opened up to me.

So I became, you might say, an activist. I got involved in the suffering of others and that wasn't a joy ride either because we had people who, who didn't like that either. The, many of the university students during the Vietnam War, they started a march, and it marched right into the freeway, and a huge contingent walking, protesting the Vietnam War. That was -- I had never seen such a large group participating. And it was very heartening. But there were other times where there were not as many support. But selfishly, looking at myself, I felt pretty good about what I was doing.

I came back into the community, and gradually the Nisei were gradually developing a little more confidence, not being ashamed of their heritage. But I was still very sad that they were not politically conscious, conscious of things that are happening outside of the community. The younger generation, of course, are much better now. They are becoming conscious.

AI: Well, I'd like to ask you more about your own consciousness. You were just starting to say that during art school, you met another student. And as you said, a world of ideas opened up to you.

FY: Yes.

AI: And was that in the late '40s, late 1940s?

FY: Yeah. Yes. Well, things like there was the persecution of, they called the Hollywood Ten, House Un-American Committee. And many of those people were well-known people. They, they were Academy Award winners, and I couldn't understand why they were being persecuted. That persecution also was in Seattle, where the professors at universities were being persecuted. And they called it a "Red Herring," that... and at the same time, I was learning myself, what is a "Red"? What's... I remember the first time I heard the word "Communism," and I thought that was some kind of a religious ritual, like I heard in Catholicism you have commune. But nonetheless, these people, some of these people that I've known personally, good people, and I can't -- I couldn't understand why they are being persecuted.

AI: What did you learn about this persecution?

FY: Well, it's... I think it made me feel -- personally, selfishly because I was such a minority as a resister -- it made me feel that I wasn't wrong to be a minority. And these people were a minority being persecuted. So I think above anything else, there's much more to be a citizen of a country than to just look at ourselves. We've got to -- if we want a healthy country, we've got to have healthier people and a healthy situation. At my age, now -- I'm almost seventy-eight -- I'm too tired to be active, but mentally, of course, I haven't forgotten. I think, I still believe that people are good yet. And someplace down the line, maybe this is wishful thinking, maybe a little Pollyanna, but I think eventually something will happen.

AI: Well, you were saying, then, about what was happening with the persecution of people who were good people, in the late '40s and then on into the 1950s, and that, of course, was the McCarthy Era. And what was going through your mind as you see -- in the 1950s, as you see these people being persecuted and things in the news?

FY: Well, I hate to sound pessimistic, but with the experience of the civil rights movement with Martin Luther King and many other things like prior to the McCarthy Era, they had the Cantwell and the Valdez and the HUAC (House Un-American Activities Committee) and persecuting people I felt were good people. I don't know. I have to reflect and say, "Is this all part of life, where you have things happening, and then it goes into the next stage?" And sometime they say an alcoholic, they have to hit the bottom before they start taking a upswing. I don't know. Maybe we as a country which been the most prosperous, the most democratic country in the world, maybe we have to go through certain stages ourselves. I don't know.

AI: Well, one of the stages we had was then also the Korean conflict, the Korean War --

FY: Absolutely, yes.

AI: -- came up also. And can you tell about what your thoughts were at that time.

FY: Yes. Our country were involved in a foreign war and the dissension that went on. And I just felt that we shouldn't be involved in it, just as much as the Vietnam War. I, I was a resister to the draft because of the, what I felt was a unfairness. Gradually I became more of a pacifist. I just don't believe in war. I know some discussion I've had was -- supposing someone should slap you on the face. You can just stand back and let that go? I don't know. I have no answer to that. I know my feeling is I wouldn't want to go out and hit somebody. I'm a pacifist in that sense. I'm not a religious pacifist. I believe, I believe in being a citizen of the world. I don't think we should have an alliance with just one group. We should have a... humanity. We should, we should be part of this humanity. I don't know if I'll ever see it, but I think if someone has some goal or dream of something like that, it makes life a lot more pleasant to live. You know, you suppose we could end this conversation, with, if there's any kind of a last statement, the, the type of thing I'm sure that Arabs and the people of the Muslim religion are going through is, is horrendous. Because we experienced that, too. We have to learn to understand that evil deed is not going to settle by another evil deed.

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

<Begin Segment 16>

AI: It's November 5, 2001. We're continuing with Frank Yamasaki. And Frank, I wanted to go back again to the 1950s and a time when you made a career move. And this was at a time when television was first starting here in Seattle. And could you tell me how you got into this business?

FY: Well, I wasn't an experienced artist in television, but television was a new media. And there was a station called Channel 7, KIRO-TV in Seattle, that was starting up. And they were hiring people, directors and producers. And it was a whole new station, so you could imagine. So they needed an art director. So I said to myself, "What have I got to lose in trying?" By then, I was very cocky about being very positive. So I applied. I, I was slightly dishonest or exaggerated about the kind of work I'd done. And prior to that, I'd worked for a film company, and we did make commercials and we did, that was also very new. So we had accounts that were nationally, not only in the United States but also in Canada. We had, did the production for a Canadian station, for a Canadian agency, advertising agency. My part in that was very small, but nonetheless, I put those down as my experience.

Well, apparently, I had the best background, and I was hired as an art director for Channel 7. It didn't take long for me to realize that it was not necessarily the kind of work I wanted to do because it was -- well, let's say it wasn't the kind of work. So I went down to resign, and at that time, the station manager says, "Frank, you realize that your job is far more secure than mine as a station manager?" Now, he -- when he explained all this -- because he says his job depends on the numbers. And I didn't understand that either. This is, everything that went on was brand-new. Well, it didn't take long for me to realize that, and I stayed on. They gave me a raise. I stayed on, and I realized what they meant and that the program they put on air was determined by the appeal of the mass public. They call that "numbers." The more numbers you have, the greater revenue you can get from the advertisers. So what it comes down to is to please or be accommodating to the advertiser was more important than the content of the show. Well, gee, that didn't sound good to me at all.

But anyway, long story short, I did get stuck with it. And I was there, and I did learn about advertising, marketing, and the media, television media. It's something that was completely new to me. I realized how the public are coerced or brainwashed, let's say, in thinking or forming opinions. To update this now, the current situation with the November 11 --

AI: Oh, excuse me. September 11th?

FY: September -- excuse me. September 11th tragedy in New York, the bombing of the -- or the crashing of the twin towers. It's very tragic, of course. But I feel something that's even more tragic, and that is the media coercing the public to become angry, pointing their finger -- this is tragic. The media should be sensible enough to not create a panic situation in the country. I feel this strongly because we, as a Nisei, our life was completely upturned because Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. Yes, my parent came from Japan. There were Germans that came from Germany. Italians came from Italy. But this, this was the beauty of America, that it was a melting pot. But we, ourself, as an Asian, was denied this. People should think in this term and the kind of intimidation that the Muslim and the Arabs are going through. I think it's tragic. It's very bad.

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

<Begin Segment 17>

AI: I wonder if I could ask you: what do you think about the media coverage more recently? Now this is November, almost two months later, and there has been some shifts in the media coverage.

FY: You know, I, believe it or not, for the past several weeks, I stopped reading, stopped watching the media. It just, it's not healthy for myself, selfishly looking at -- it's just -- I just stopped. I was tired of looking at this kind of a threatening headlines and this repeated hate that's shown on the, or apprehension that's shown on the media. I just -- and I feel better not watching it. And it sounds like I'm running away, but no, I'm familiar with the media. I know what they do, and I'm sick of it. If there's any law to be, legislation to be passed, certainly the media should be controlled so that it -- they don't exploit the public by creating, coming out with sensationalism and, and this is the media that's -- I point my finger up at, and I say it's wrong, what they're doing.

AI: You mentioned just now the legislation. Of course, we have seen some changes in legislation since September 11th, also. Would you care to comment on that?

FY: I'm, unfortunately, I'm not that familiar, but I'd like to go back again at the early days of television, at least in Seattle, between Channel 4, 5, and 7, there was a kind of a common understanding among the people in the news media that they don't exploit tragedy. Now we find a situation where this is all we have. We have, we have the tabloid format right in television now, going for pure sensationalism. Anything that would incite the people to view it. And this is sick. Not good.

AI: If you could envision a change in the media for the positive --

FY: Oh, well...

AI: Could you foresee that?

FY: No, it's -- no, I can't. No, I... sorry. I think we, we would get into another chapter of... [laughs]

AI: Is there anything else that you'd care to comment on?

FY: Well, like I say, the tape is running short. I enjoyed this conversation. I'd like to see this type of thing continue. What it will do to the present society, I don't know. But at the same time, this type of documentation, I think, will certainly be of interest to people in the future. It will portray the life of what we have today. And maybe they can benefit from it.

AI: Thank you, Frank.

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