Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: George Yoshida Interview
Narrator: George Yoshida
Interviewers: Alice Ito (primary), John Pai (secondary)
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: February 18, 2002
Densho ID: denshovh-ygeorge-01

<Begin Segment 1>

AI: Okay, and today is February 18, 2002.

GY: Yes.

AI: We're in Seattle with George Yoshida. Thank you for being here. I'm Alice Ito, and John Pai with the Densho Project. Well, really would just like to start at the beginning of the beginning and ask you to tell us a little bit about your family --

GY: Sure.

AI: -- about, maybe start with your father, his name, where he came from.

GY: Yeah, father and mother is the beginning of George Yoshida. [Laughs] My dad was born and grew up in Saitama-ken in Japan. And not sure when his birthday was. In the latter part of the 1800s, of course. (September, 1876).

AI: And what was his name?

GY: His name was Koji, K-o-j-i, Koji Yoshida. Unfortunately, I know very little about his early background, his childhood in Saitama, his family life, if they were even farmers. I know that in the latter part of his education in Japan, he attended -- after probably high school in Japan, a school known as Aoyama Gakuin now. It's a university now, bona fide university in Tokyo. But at that time, when he was growing up in the latter part of the 1800s, it was more like a, a high school. And my understanding is that the school was originated by -- oh, probably a Canadian Methodist Church, or churches, and so it was, I guess, a mission school to spread the word, and also to provide some education in terms of, of English. And that's where my father was able to learn how to read and write and speak English quite well relative to other Japanese Amer -- Japanese in Japan, of course.

So when he came to the United States (in 1897), he was very fluent in English. Spoke well, and his writing was good, syntax, sentence structure was excellent. Even today his writing, if he were still alive, would have been -- handwriting was better than mine, certainly. So he felt very comfortable as far as language was concerned.

What I recall about my father very strongly is that he had a bent for music, and he loved to hum to himself when he was working or when we'd walk from A to B, he used to be humming. Walked very much, with a lot of energy. And his musical legacy is contained somewhat in a group of song sheets, piano sheets that has music and the lyrics, of course. And they were mostly European songs and American songs. And I'm remembering one called "In My Merry Oldsmobile," which is still sung at times. But here is the song sheets, larger than the standard song sheets we have now. It's rather large -- and this beautiful color photograph or drawing in the front, very ornate. And because in those days, back in the '20s, many homes had pianos in the living room, and it was a very important source of entertainment. No radio. No television, of course, obviously. There was a lot of gatherings where people listened to music or sat around or sit around the piano singing pop tunes, old tunes, hymns. And that was part of my father's life. As a matter of fact, he didn't tell me very much about it -- anything about it, but I found a photograph in his old family album of a group of men in their straw hats, and so it's -- singing away, about six of them. And part of their repertoire included American songs.

So that was neat. So -- and also going to Aoyama Gakuin at that time was a lot of Western culture part of -- which became a part of the school curriculum, probably not initially directly but through the music and the language. It was a infusion of American culture to the Japanese folks there. So he was familiar with -- I'm sure with Western harmony and Western music. So he didn't come over blank in terms of American songs. So he was participating in, in vocal groups, and I could still hear him just constantly humming or doing something like that in terms of music.

I think he had some hopes of doing some bookkeeping or, in those days I don't think it was called accounting, but in some of the books that were (found) in the closet, stored away, I saw some books that were made for ledgering, bookkeeping, with the long, the lines and vertical lines. Debits and credits possibly. Never talked about those books, but that's probably a hope he had in mind. I'm sure he didn't want to go into farming or whatever. Well, accounting did not become anything -- a part of his future. He did the best he could. Worked in hospitals, not Japanese, as a cook. Probably started as a dishwasher, picked up cooking American foods. And as a result, Christmas, Thanksgiving, holidays and dinners were very much that of turkey, cranberry sauce, gravy, mashed potatoes, pumpkin pies, fruit salad, and, of course, the traditional rice with a lot of gravy. And that was a favorite -- today is still my favorite, rice with turkey gravy. Oh, that's so much, so much, that's gourmet food for me, man. Good stuff.

And that's my legacy in terms of what I picked up from my father except for the -- if there is anything genetic about it, a love for music. He himself was not a very -- successful in earning a lot of money. Didn't make much money. He was very skillful at that: making not much money. But I think he enjoyed life to some extent; there were other rewards. For example, we lived at 1042 Jackson Street -- or rather Main Street, not far from Jackson, one block away in Seattle. And the Japanese Congregational Church was in the basement in our apartment house. Our dwelling was part of the upper unit. And he served as caretaker and the janitor of the church, volunteer service. And he'd carry the coal and light the fires for the Sunday morning services. And during Christmas time he loved to decorate the stage with greens and red -- I don't know if they had poinsettias in those days, but enjoyed the decoration, the Christmas tree decorations and take photographs.

And I still have photographs of his, that experience. And it's something that has sort of been passed on to me, again genetically or whatever, I -- times I've helped with my church taking pine greens and help with the decoration, and I -- photography is a secondary hobby of mine. And he took many, many photographs as I did now, especially with the family and other objects of my photography, landscape. Enjoyed, for example, going to the Grand Canyon. And after a tour with friends and the family, I'd go out on my own to search for what I wanted to photograph.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

GY: Getting back to my dad, it was something that was sort of a pain for me. Whenever we'd have to fill out information about the family, a questionnaire, survey, father's name, address, age, birthday, occupation, I didn't know what to put down because he didn't have much of an occupation. Many of my Nisei friends were owners of a grocery store. That was kinda neat, you know, proprietor of some enterprise, or cleaners or dyeworks kind of thing. But he was just a laborer at the time. Although in Seattle, when he came over, he started a fruit and vegetable route selling merchandise off of this truck, a Ford truck, Model T. And he'd go to different parts of the city. Queen Anne was a name that stays in my mind. And he would have regular customers, and he'd stop off and take orders. And I would accompany him when I was a little bit older. And it was an open front of the truck. And I remember going around the curve once and I fell over, fell and hit my head. It was very traumatic experience, but I was not injured permanently -- I don't think, anyway. [Laughs]

My father promised me that if he -- if I would help him in the summertime, going with him -- which I hated to do, I'd rather play with the kids in the neighborhood -- he would pay me 25 cents a week. God, 25 cents a week, let's see. Four weeks in the month, that's twenty-five times four, it's a dollar. Maybe two months. Two bucks, man. I thought, oh, neat. You could buy a lot of things. Ice cream cones were for a nickel. Even hot dog was five or ten cents. The movies, five cents. Boy. Two bucks. That was a lot of money. But he never gave me a penny. I had to ask, "Hey, when am I, am I going to get paid at all, Dad?" We called him Papa. You know, "Yeah, I'll pay you, I'll pay you." Never did. Never got -- so I resented that for many years, you know, like maybe fifty years. [Laughs] And (I) came to the realization finally that, well, it's just very difficult to, to make any money, any profit on the money. And so -- that was that. So I said, okay, after many, many years.

And in connection with this kind of a style of living and expectations, the Ringling Brothers Circus would come by, Barnum and Bailey, I guess, it was. Every year or two, some empty lot or wherever they came. Never did find out. I'd see these signs posted on the walls in the city, throughout the city. And, "Papa, I'd like to go to the circus." "Okay, yeah." "When can we go?" "Okay, pretty soon." Never did go, man. Another resentment I kept -- I don't know how many years I kept. And I thought, oh, God, I get... he probably doesn't like me very much, kind of thing, that kind of feeling. When it all had to do with the economy and his lack of money for this kind of thing.

Another thing about clothing, too. In those days, the high bib, overall style that young ladies like to wear nowadays, and copy. Blue denim was something worn every day, and as other families and boys -- you know the Nisei families, the bib finally came off and we just had ordinary pants. And, but I had to keep wearing those things for a long time, and oh, I hated that, too. But eventually I overcame that and became typical. [Laughs] Oh, Dad... let's see...

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

AI: What about your mother?

GY: Yeah, my mother, Kiyoka, was born in Hokkaido (on April 27, 1897). And she eventually -- oh, it was interesting. Her father worked in the lumber business because there was, forestry projects was much more plentiful up in that area, in those days. It was not as urbanized or commercialized in Hokkaido. And he worked as a person who would walk around the forests in Hokkaido to measure the size of circumference of trees to measure which trees might be cut down for lumber. That's what he did. But I understand eventually he was fired for something. Maybe he drank too much sake or something. That's the story I got. I don't recall.

I didn't ever, ever know very much about my mother's early childhood nor my father's childhood. As a child, I didn't care. I was more interested in playing outside. And, and it took me a long time, a long time to appreciate what they really, how -- had to suffer, what joys they had as children. And I was, and I don't feel very good about not having asked them. On the other hand, my kids today don't ask me what, "Hey, Dad, what did you do?" [Laughs] And so that's cool, I think it's a matter of generations. When you're young, you're into yourself, too. So that's cool.

And my mother eventually ended up in Kyoto and somehow was enrolled in a school where they taught the students to become teachers and in her case, to become a kindergarten teacher. And again, this school was sponsored and its origin was a Christian organization from the United States or Canada. And so they received a lot of instruction about, I'm sure, about religion, about the Bible. And in connection with that, they sang hymns, and in connection with that, she learned how to play the organ. Where you had the foot pedals and so the wheezy sound, but nevertheless, introduction to Western harmony and learned how to play the piano, to read music from hymnals. And that was her introduction to Western harmony, and it's never stopped there. She, she, when she came to the United States a few years later, which was 1920 or '21 with her brother, who was a chaplain of, in Doshisha University, which was, again, in origin -- its origin was some kind of Christian organization from the Western world, the United States or Canada.

AI: Excuse me. So when she came from Japan to the United States, she came with her brother?

GY: Yes.

AI: And with other family members?

GY: Yes. She came with her brother, who at the time was a reverend, a Christian minister (at) Doshisha, Reverend Seizo Abe. And, of course, my mother was Kiyoka Abe. She came with her (niece)... yeah. The (niece), right. Her name was Jun-chan or Junko. We called her Jun-chan. And they came in 1920, maybe '20, '21, early -- late '20s, rather, late '20, year 1920 or '21, just to visit, I suppose, but became a permanent situation for my mother because her brother, Reverend Abe, became the chaplain or the reverend or the pastor of the Japanese Congregational Church. And my mother stayed as a result of that. And soon enough, some of the people in the neigh -- in the community said hey, here you are. You're by yourself. Here's this cool cat, Koji Yoshida, who's single. And they didn't tell her, but he's getting on in his age, and what do you think? So somehow or other, they were introduced to each other and decided to get, they decided to get married, and they were married in 1921. And I'm the result of that marriage, a year later in 1922.

My mother enjoyed her music, Western music. She never talked about the koto, the shamisen. Never sang any kind of tunes like that. Of course, Japanese children's songs were introduced to, to me through records. And so that was part of the Japanese culture that was brought over, but none of the traditional music. So my early background was filled with music -- records, of course. And not too much radio. Records, Japanese folk songs, children's songs.

I remember one of the songs we had was the Waseda University's school song. And that was kind of neat, too. It was a very, marching kind of thing: Waseda, Waseda, Waseda. And I remember that clearly. It's, it's still in my ears, and it's kind of neat that about five years ago, to bring the song to today, I met a young man who sang a lot of Western songs, in Japanese, of course, who sang in the male chorus at Waseda University. And there's a great tradition of choral music in Japan today. Male choruses are rather abundant, I think, especially in the universities. And he sang this Waseda chorus. And he and I started a Japanese -- I wouldn't say Japanese. It's a choral group. A choral group, maybe there were six or eight of us at that time singing Japanese songs exclusively, although as Nisei, I was very fond of the early childhood children's songs. Very dear to my heart. And after some incident where I heard him sing a song that was very dear to me -- I think it was "Kojo no Tsuki," which is a very popular song, very old song, but still sung -- not as a pop song. I approached him and asked him about starting a group, and he said yes. And well, to make a long story short, we still sing Japanese songs. But that was Waseda, but that takes me back to my days as a child, listening to record that my mother had about the Waseda University. Getting back to my mother --

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

AI: Well, when were you actually born? What's your birth date?

GY: April 9th, 1922.

AI: And what was the name given to you at birth? Was it George --

GY: My name was George, yeah. And I don't know whether they wanted to call me Joji or Joji came from George. But it was George. I have no Japanese middle name. George Yoshida. And was delivered through the, courtesy of Mrs. Shimomura, a midwife here in (Seattle), who delivered many, many babies, I'm sure. So I was born on my -- I don't think my bed, but at this address. And courtesy of these tender hands, Mrs. Shimomura.

And I suppose I received a lot of attention, being the first-born boy at that time. And life here in Seattle as a child was very, very -- a happy time, I think. A happy time, very happy because the gang was that -- made up of kids, this cul de sac block of Jacks -- Twelfth and, Twelfth Avenue and Main Street. Going up the hill westward toward the bay, the street was closed off, so it was a, kind of a nice block. Very little traffic going up and down the hill. The old Buddhist Church was at the, located at the top of the hill. And most of the houses on both sides of, of Main Street were occupied by Japanese families. I think majority, if not all. I think there was one house right across from our place where -- which was occupied by a black lady, a single person. And a Chinese family next to our house. Actually, it was not a house. It was a string of apartments, rather large apartment with maybe four apartments next to each other, two stories. In the back there was a coal bin and right next to the coal bin, I remember an icebox with ice that had to be put in every few days, and a little collector pan which collected the melted ice which had to be emptied. If we forgot, it'd be a large puddle there. And the front room, the living room, it's sort of a narrow living space. Living room, and the left-hand side with a piano. We had a piano there. And right there was a telephone, Prospect something. I still remember Prospect. And further down there's a bedroom, another bedroom and the bathroom, toilet there, and then the kitchen in back. Most of the activity was in the back in the kitchen, of course.

Let's see. Downstairs in the basement was the Japanese Congregational Church. I say the -- my childhood was a very happy one in fact because it was somewhat bounded by the street and the hill and top, the church. And it was a cul de sac, very little traffic. Our playground was the street, which was a dirt street, some gravel on top. And those days were really wonderful because in comparison to today, where my grandchildren are standing there with their little handheld games and just sitting there, standing there or at the TV set. All these chit-chit, and all this -- the noise, burning cars, people killing each other (on TV) and so forth. It, we didn't have any of that. We played together, a lot of laughs. I'm sure we agreed and argued and hit each other, kicked each other and cried, went home crying and dirty and so forth, but it was happy, happy times.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

GY: And we played many games, depending on the season again. When it was in the fall, I guess maybe April when the wind starts to kick up and the rain stopped falling. Kite-flying was a really wonderful thing. We bought kites. They were sort of diamond-shaped. They were, probably cost five cents or ten cents. Made out of wood and paper and the string. We'd fly kites, put a, made homemade tail on it. That was a wonderful experience. And the other experience I remember is watching the Filipino men who were men who made kites made out of thin strips of bamboo, triangular shaped, the body was triangular with some crosspieces and the wing-like appendages made out of bamboo. And blue, dark-blue crepe paper. And when they were up in the air, boy, could they be seen, I guess a little part, they had the little cuts, and they'd just flutter. And just, they'd pull like mad. Oh, it was cool, neat. And we'd just watch, you know, just sit there watching these men -- who suddenly see us sitting there and, "You want to try?" So we said, "Oh, of course." And it was such a treat. And they would hand the line to me, and man, it, that was a great thrill. Great thrill. And this is the empty lot right across from the old Buddhist Church, and it's still open, man. Go up there. It's a shocker. I guess maybe the land is so moist and there's a lot of shifting. I really don't know why it's not improved. The whole street -- all the houses are gone. It's kind of shabby with all the parked cars there. But in those days, that was a playground, and the empty lot was a place where I enjoyed kite-flying. And when the rain stopped, the sun came up, so I sit there and lie there, and that was neat, too. It was so nice to feel the warmth of the sun after the rains.

In other streets we played jintori. That was a neat game. Jintori's a Japanese name. Jin means hito, and tori, to take. Sort of like tag-like game. We had bases, maybe two telephone poles, and there was a center divider. And this team, Team A played Team B. And we'd go, if we go into terr -- enemy territory, they could tag us. We had to go to the bases. And we could save them if we caught the -- Team A was able to cross the enemy lines and touch the hand of those who were captured. They were free to go back. So it's called jintori. I guess it, it must have originated in Japan somewhere because the name's jintori.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

AI: Where did you go to grammar school, grade school?

GY: Grammar school was Bailey Gatzert, which was about four blocks away, on Twelfth Avenue and Weller Street. Again, it was part of the Japanese community. It was our school in that other than the Nisei children there, there may have been a few Chinese students there. I remember Billy Eng was one, was a friend of mine in school. And kind of admired him because he was handsome and he wore a nice clean pair of glasses, and very urbane in terms of his behavior and his clothing. But he was not a friend, close friend of mine. I didn't play with him at all. He was not part of the neighborhood, and I don't know where he lived.

But Bailey Gatzert was neat in that again, it was a place where there were friends there, Japanese faces where we didn't have to worry about what we ate or whatever. We, I guess we took sandwiches to, to school, peanut butter or sandwich meat with some lettuce and maybe fruit. We did not take rice balls, as many kids do nowadays because we were ashamed to take something like that because of the Americanization that started to take place slowly. Ms. Mahon was our principal. Rather short but very much -- I think she really enjoyed providing, not formal Americanization lessons but to teach us what we are, American citizens. And becoming more Americanized. And I didn't resent that at all. She didn't say, "You're not Japanese." But she encouraged us to speak English. "Speak more English. Speak more English." And I don't know how she stated that, whether she said, "Well, you're not Japanese anymore. You're American," kind of thing, but she encouraged us to speak more English.

And I remember in the lunchroom, she'd walk around and notice that we were slurping our tomato soup as Japanese do. [Laughs] And taught us how to use the soup spoon, dip it in very lightly to sort of pour the soup into the mouth. And that was the (extent) of our Americanization, I suppose -- or beginning, I should say, among other things. The teachers were, I thought, very much interested in teaching us what they had to teach. Art, music, reading and writing, arithmetic. And I didn't feel any kind of racial bias and discrimination on the part of the teachers. They were strict. Many of them were strict. But I think they felt that they, that we needed proper instruction. The teachers were very conscientious in those days.

I remember this, the music teacher, Miss Phelan, who had her hair worn up high, kind of dark eyes. And I think she was a very handsome woman, Miss Phelan, but very strict music teacher, who taught us to read music and to -- not to read too much technically, but read notes, sing our do-re-mi's kind of thing. Sang a lot of songs like "Santa Lucia" and, let's see. When -- let's see. "Johnny Comes Marching Home Again," tunes like that that were very, very much a part of the school, children's repertoire in those days, which I dearly miss. As a schoolteacher, we did sing many of those songs years later, but we'll go back to that later. So again, introduction to Western music. And she started a harmonica club. That was kind of neat. Introduction to instrumental music, to read notes, do-re-mi, and becoming much more sensitive to harmony and to singing in tune, in tune, I suppose, notes, et cetera, et cetera. And introduction to instrumental music. We played the Hohner Harmonica, I think, about twelve, maybe twelve little openings there. For 50 cents, it was called the Marine Band, the key of C. Today the same instrument is called the blues harp. And what used to cost 50 cents may cost maybe 23 dollars and 95 cents. And they don't play "America the Beautiful." They play the blues, down-home blues. And it sounds a little different from what we used to do. Washington School -- oh, yes.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

AI: Did you -- excuse me. But at the time that you were going to grade school at Bailey Gatzert, were you also going to Japanese school?

GY: Oh, yes. Yes, I did. Every day. After school -- it was something we hated, but it was part of our, the scene and expected of us. And next to my apartment, there was a series of other apartments, was Ishii Japanese School. Mr. and Mrs., Mr. and Mrs. Ishii were the proprietors and the teachers of the school. And very frugal surroundings, makeshift rooms, ordinary rooms where they may have had old kitchen table or dining room table with a few chairs. A small attendance, maybe four or five kids at the most in each level. We used the standard texts, reading texts from Japan, Book 1, 2, 3 up to 6 or whatever. We learned quite well, I thought -- reluctantly, of course.

And the other Japanese kids from outside the neighborhood, living away from our gang, would walk down past our school, down on their way to the other, the main Japanese School. And if we were up on the porch up there, hanging out, the kids going to the regular school would look at it -- schools, for some reason the old school -- the new school, I should say, the large school was called "Tip School." And when these kids would go to Tip School, they'd see us up there playing. They'd look up and say, "Ishii gakko. Boro gakko." And they shouted at us, and boro means, I guess, rickety. And that would sort of get us really uptight and angry. And, and one of the Kato sisters, who lived right across the street, just told me the story after all these years. This is sixty, seventy years, well, maybe sixty years after the experience. Said, "Yeah, I remember that. That was -- got angry when they called us boro gakko." And she remembers going, was just, at that time to a relative, a friend of hers, who used to be one of these people who used to call the school boro gakko, and she said, "I punched him in the nose, something, I was so angry." That was a cute story. Yeah. Boro gakko.

AI: Did you speak Japanese mainly with your parents?

GY: Oh, yeah.

AI: Was that your main communication?

GY: Yeah, I think that's probably natural of anyone coming from Spain or Mexico. I expect their primary language was their primary language, which is Japanese. And so they would speak to us in Japanese, and our response would be in Japanese, too, because that's what we heard as an infant growing up. Japanese, Japanese, Japanese. Of course, it didn't take long for us to hear other sounds, of course. And in school, we were -- as part of our Americanization and assimilation into American culture.

AI: Did your parents ever talk to you about be -- being American or being Japanese or were they concerned at all that you were growing up more American than Japanese?

GY: No, not at all. It's just sort of a natural process. I didn't recall at all their urging us to retain Japanese or to speak more, more or less of one language or the other or to be more Japanese or to be more American. I don't recall any of that.

AI: And you had two younger sisters? Is that right?

GY: Two younger sisters, yes. Masako was two years younger than I. And Toshiko two years younger than her, or four years younger than I, you know.

AI: Do you ever recall your parents talking about perhaps leaving the United States, going to Japan?

GY: Not at all. Not at all, no, no, not at all.

AI: And they were both Christian? Is that right?

GY: Yes, uh-huh.

AI: Before they came? What kind of religious upbringing did you have?

GY: Well, getting back to my father and mother, it was interesting that my father's father, my grandfather in Japan, in Saitama, would walk -- not walk -- not only walk, but ride his bicycle out in the countryside and read the Bible, which was in Japanese, of course, to whoever would listen to him. So my early start, in terms of my background, was very much Christianity.

And, of course, my uncle was a chaplain at Doshisha, so there's that bit. And so I had no inkling of what Buddhism might be. And so in the United States here, I went to the Congregational Church and continued going to Christian churches, which did not mean that I was a devout Christian, but nevertheless, that was my Sunday habit, going to church school or -- to yeah, church schools or to church services, yeah. Yeah.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

AI: Then after you graduated from Bailey Gatzert school, you went on to a middle school?

GY: Yes, Washington School. Where was that? About Fourteenth or Sixteenth Avenue. And again -- this is kind of a part of the evolution of becoming more American, I suppose, in that I was exposed to other racial/ethnic groups. Washington School, Jewish kids, a few blacks, and a, still a sprinkling of Chinese Americans. Again, great majority were Japanese. That's, that was a... that was still part of the, that was still part of the Japanese community. I had many friends in, at Washington School, but that was only daytime. And after 3 o'clock, we, kid went home to the Main Street gang and to the Japanese community. And that's how it was for many, many years, yeah.

AI: So growing up in Seattle, you really didn't have that much contact then with the larger, white, Caucasian community?

GY: Well, actually, in terms of time, no, but it was a time when we became familiar with them and what they did, what they enjoyed. But they were Americans, of course, for many years. And many of them were children of immigrants, too. But they came through the same process and being here in America. When a person, a minority group, is -- small groups are a minority, small, it mean smaller group, to a larger group, you become assimilated. You absorb the outside, the surrounding culture. That's only natural, I think. If I were a white American going to Japan, I'd become very much Japanese living there. And this is what happened to us.

So growing up in this environment of friends who spoke English and we started speaking English, music, sports, going to the library. The school was providing the, part of the assimilation process -- a lot of it, not part. Much of it. Movies, all provided this input in becoming American. And so it was not only the schools and meeting these kids. So when I walked to school, it was easy enough to become friends with non-Japanese because we talked about the latest movie you saw, the cowboy movies or whatever, and what we heard on the radio. Newspapers, of course, what little we read in the newspapers. So we became, because of our input from schools, et cetera, radio, it didn't take long for us to be a part of a, a larger group, yes, culturally but not socially, you know.

AI: Did -- do you recall any incidents from your childhood in Seattle of prejudice or discrimination or becoming aware of these racial/ethnic differences?

GY: No, I don't recall any, any significant examples. I think living in -- I don't think the word "ghetto" is a proper term, but it just seems like a small community within a large community and somewhat forced to live in the community but also mainly from choice, I think. You think, well, it's terrible you have to live together like that, but the birds of a feather flock together kind of thing. You -- much more comfortable with friends with same backgrounds, same attitudes about the world. I don't recall -- because of the fact that we had little contact with mainstream except maybe to go to the library or possibly go shopping. We didn't do much shopping as kids, of course. We stayed locally. And the schools were children of the same group here. I don't recall anything very much in terms of being -- feeling very much different, inferior, no. And even at Washington School, a bit older... I know there was separation, but not because we were told, "You're not as good," or -- we didn't get that "Jap" treatment, attitude. I didn't feel that at all at that time.

AI: So as a youngster, that really didn't touch you.

GY: No, no. It was really kind of neat, yeah.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

AI: Well, and then you graduated from the Washington School.

GY: Yes.

AI: Is that right? Here at Seattle.

GY: Uh-huh.

AI: And now, at that time, did you also have your mother's mother living with you in Seattle?

GY: Yes, I did. Grandmother, yes. She was my mother's mother, Mrs. Abe. I don't know her first name. What was her...? Well, you said, "Baachan," Baachan all the time. Baachan. And she shared -- she and I shared the same room in the Seattle apartment. A little bed on the side, and she had some room. And she would sit on the bed and practice her shamisen. And, hmm... I don't know how old she was. Maybe -- let's see. My father was about forty when he married, so she must've been maybe -- my mother was twenty. About sixty, sixty-five. But in those days, that was old. And she was shrunk. She was curved over like this, as many elderly Japanese people were. Maybe osteoporosis, what if they were -- whatever, sitting on the floor all the time, bunch of them like that. But she, she really dug that, too. And as old as she was and the fact that she was not at all familiar with the English language, she would take a streetcar and give, and go to a student to teach shamisen. And at that time, it was nothing, but now, in retrospect, I think, gad, that's pretty bold of her to do that. Obaachan, going out, making her own way, not knowing how to speak English.

But that, I didn't enjoy that at all. I thought, oh, God, that sound is terrible. I couldn't deal with it and, because I was more into American music, which my mother was, too. My mother didn't especially enjoy that. She didn't say, "Listen up, that's our music." No, none of that. So she, that was her life, and I guess she was relatively happy. But that was about the only enjoyment she had. None of her friends were alive anymore, and parents were very busy, trying to make a go of it. We were on our own, making a lot of noise. So that was Obaachan.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

AI: Well, now, 1936 -- and this was after you graduated the Washington School.

GY: Uh-huh.

AI: Was that about the time where your family moved?

GY: Times were really hard. It was, my father's fruit and vegetable run was not profitable, although one benefit from his unprofitable business was the fact that he had fruits and vegetables which he couldn't sell, which he brought home, which we ate. Or if the fruit was not good enough to be sold, we'd just sort of clean up the rotten part. We'd enjoy the fruit. So that was, that was nice. But other than that, it was not profitable.

So the decision was made to go to Los Angeles because he had some friends, Issei friends, men who had businesses here. And one of the, his friends was Mr. Nagao, who earlier lived in Seattle and moved to Los Angeles earlier with his family. And he started a shoyu manufacturing business. And I think it was he who was somewhat instrumental in my father taking his family to Seattle in 1936.

AI: To Los Angeles.

GY: Yeah. From Seattle to Los Angeles. And so after much discussion and again, I know that my mother was very reluctant to go. She did not want to go. And I recall hearing her crying in the kitchen, some argumentative voices, I think. I know she was very sad because she spent many years here in Seattle, and her closest friends were, were living here. Friends who were members of the church. I remember the Hata family was a very close friend of hers and -- Mrs. Hata. And it was very difficult for her, but my father didn't have any other choices. And I don't know how it felt. I guess there was this, a loss of friends, but there was this new adventure, too. God, California. Go to California. So one day after packing everything and selling whatever he, we had to sell -- there wasn't much to sell, we took a Greyhound bus, and it took many, many hours to get down there. It was an old bus in those days. A rather rickety bus. And they carried some milk and orange juice in the back. And milk bottles rattled, and here we're going in the back. And it was not a very comfortable trip, but golly, taking a long bus ride was something else. And when we hit the California border, started to see here and there palm trees. Thought wow, palm trees. Look at that. That was so exciting. Introduction to Californ-i-a. [Laughs] Palm trees. Made it to San Francisco, and we stayed overnight there because we had an aunt in Berkeley. Went to the Japanese Gardens and the San Francisco, Golden Gate Park, spent a day. Spent the night and continued on to Los Angeles, 1936.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

AI: And so where did -- where in Los Angeles did you live when you moved there?

GY: We stayed in East Los Angeles, I think the Nagao family and his business was in East LA somewhere. And there was, at that time, many, many other families in East LA. East LA, which is also called Boyle Heights, actually. It was called Boyle Heights, that area. Mexicans, and not too far away, Brooklyn Avenue was the area where many immigrant Jews lived, Jewish families and their children lived.

So we had, again, a new -- exposed us to new groups of people there. And the Mexicans, especially the Mexican population there. Again, your world opened up a little bit larger. And it opened only -- not only but mainly because we grew older and become much more sensitive to the outside world. Again, movies, the radio, school, new faces enlarged the world. Many Niseis there, it was kind of interesting. When you move into a new area such as this, where there are, there were options in terms of ethnic and racial groups, and options in terms of making connections. In high school, for some reason, there were Japanese there, but somehow it's more difficult to move into the Japanese group. So most of my friend, many of my friends were Jewish kids. I spoke a little, I wouldn't say I spoke the language -- we all spoke English, but somehow I felt more comfortable with them. And I think this is true of... I don't know how to say. I hate to stereotype, but maybe it is stereotypical. But nevertheless, the Japanese are not that outgoing, and -- this is my observation. And I'm not either. They don't say, hey, welcome to the club kind of thing. They kind of look at you, and yeah, I kind of, that's about it.

So in the classrooms, I met Japanese friends -- rather, Jewish friends who, with whom I was -- became much more friendly. And Mexican friends, and in my chemistry class, Isadore Saltzman was my favorite -- my, my, I guess laboratory mate. He was smart as heck, and I wished, I wished that sometimes his smart, his smartness would sort of become part of me, but no, it didn't happen. [Laughs]. But, and then another friend, Murray Marks. Golly, he was so neat. Nice Jewish friend, Murray Marks. He taught me a Jewish poem, and I still remember it. This is way back in the 1940s -- "zal ze voxen, zal ze voxen a cemetery (off en kopf) and oyskocken taite menshen." And he said -- I don't know if the, well, certainly enunciation is not proper, but answered it with, and something about dead people, eating dead people or, or something like that, and shitting out the, eat -- zal ze voxen -- oh, yeah. (Building a cemetery in the head) and shitting out dead people, anyway. [Laughs] It was so neat to remember that. And, but that was a long time ago. That's sixty years ago. But Murray Marks taught it to me.

And I had Mexican friends, too. And that was kind of neat. His name is (Alfonso Salas). (Another) was a dark-skinned Mexican, but my friends said, "Chocolate." Chocolate kid, chocolate. Robert Pereslete, we call him -- I forgot the names, but Mexicans who were a little bit different -- we think when you say Mexico and immigrants, that people are just learning the language and having a hard time in learning to speak English. So for these kids, they were very fluent in English. So they spoke very little Spanish. And I got along very well with them. They were in the same classes, the same math classes, algebra classes, so they were a cut above whoever they might be. And I had some close friends in there.

And then I made some friends, especially in the orchestra because I played, by then I was playing the baritone sax in high school. I had learned alto sax in the, in high school mainly. And in the high school orchestral program, I met some real neat people. And my favorite was George Vaiana, who played the bassoon. And I played the baritone sax. I played next to him. So he became a very favorite friend of mine through the music. And I played the baritone saxophone very poorly, and I'd miss -- maybe, I'd play maybe 50 percent of the music, but nevertheless they needed another horn to augment the bassoon part. But that was kind of a neat experience, too. So through the music, I was able to enlarge my world with other non-Japanese folks, again soak in some of the culture, the Western culture, yeah.

AI: And this was in high school?

GY: High school, yeah.

AI: Which high school did you attend?

GY: Roosevelt High School. Again, a large population of Japanese Americans there, Niseis. The Jewish kids were really school leaders. And several Mexicans who became very much a part of the leadership program. Again, they had certain levels just like we had certain levels in our community, in the Mexican population. And they had people who were recent immigrants, and those people (who) were much more assimilated and so forth. And that's true of all immigrant groups.

Sometimes people forget today, especially Niseis and Sanseis don't realize the very limited background that we came from in terms of the American culture, we were immigrants with a different kind of language, different attitudes, et cetera, et cetera. And today, for example, you see there's a lot of anti-immigration feelings because of the sudden flux of certain groups of people. And we forget our early beginnings.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 12>

AI: Well, now, what were some of the other activities you were involved in, in high school? I think you mentioned at one time Boy Scouts?

GY: Boy Scouts, yes. That was a very important part of my life and other young Niseis because, because it was our group, too. Our leaders were all Niseis who were very much -- very capable. And we held our meetings at Chuo Gakuen in Boyle Heights, which was a Japanese school. Let's see. I, I was not much of a good Boy Scout. And one of the things -- it goes in Boy Scouts was to learn the different skills: campfire, knot-tying, building fires out of whatever, rubbing sticks together, the signals with flags and so forth and so on. I earned a few badges, but was not much, one of the... not an academic at all. What I really enjoyed was the drum and bugle corps we had. That was so neat. Again, instrumental music. And I played the drums, and it was so neat to be able to play along with a bunch of guys and to drill and to march in parades and bugles are blowing. And the martial music is so, so neat at that time.

Jazz was not a part of the story yet, but to be able to play in a group, a real instrument was so neat. And there was some competition because downtown, there was even a larger troop with a bigger band, a real sharp, sharp band. And we used to admire them very much. But I had my kicks from my local band. So that was a great experience, great experience, yeah.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 13>

AI: Well, so can you tell me what a typical day would be like for you in high school?

GY: Well, high school was typically, typically not exciting for me. I was not an academic. I didn't enjoy going to classes. I didn't enjoy algebra or trigonometry or physics. What did I enjoy? There wasn't very much I enjoyed. [Laughs] Sports, PE. Many of my friends was into sports, as many Niseis are and still are. Football, basketball, baseball. And they played on the school team, lightweight team in basketball, baseball, track because they were much smaller in stature and weight, too. But they were really into, they played for the high school team. That was neat, and played for other teams. But I was never a part of that scene mainly because I was not very athletic, either. Like when we had teams on the playground and we'd have two teams and they would say janken-po, and they would choose teams, like who goes first. Oh, I lost. Well, you go first. Okay. Well I choose, so, I'll choose you. I was the last to be chosen. [Laughs] And they said, "Oh okay, you could have George," kind of thing. And man, I didn't feel very good about that, but what the hell? I wasn't very good anyway. And so that was something that started early in my life, so that continued through high school. So I didn't participate in sports. I didn't collect stamps. I was not into photography. What did I do?

AI: But then you, you had a job, though.

GY: Yeah, I worked on weekends, Saturday and Sundays, and because needed the money, the spending money. And I worked in a fruit and vegetable stand. At that time in those days, we had what we call the supermarket now, where the front, which is open air -- because in Southern California, weather was much more, less... what's the word I want? Open to heavy storms, rain and so forth. Much milder, of course, Southern California. So in the front was fresh, fresh fruits, vegetables. Operated by a Japanese entrepreneur. And this side the Van de Kamp's Bakery, there's meat department, and in the back were the groceries. So it was, that's pretty standard at that time. That was in the '30s and '40s. I worked in one in Los Angeles, and outside of the city, Montrose is, it's a sort of suburb at that time. And every Saturday morning I'd get up about 6 o'clock and take the streetcar down to Japantown, from East LA down to Japantown, and meet at this restaurant, where we gathered to be taken to this far-away store. And it was kind of neat in that I really wanted to eat at this restaurant. It was a greasy-spoon kind of restaurant run by a Japanese. Just a counter. And the men who worked in the market with me were Kibei -- single men. Kibei, these were people who were born here but educated in Japan, came back. They spoke Japanese a lot. And here was this Japanese-run restaurant. And one thing was fried wienies and rice, shoyu on, they really -- and man, that was so, looked so good and tasted so good. And every so often, I'd have breakfast there. Big treat. Rice -- hot rice and fried wienies. And we'd take, we'd be taken to work, and we'd work for at least ten hours, eight hours, maybe ten hours.

And my job was to trim lettuce to be put out on the stand; cabbage, trim the outside leaves; trim the root of the celery, wash the dirt off. As far as fruits and vegetables, polish the apples, great, big Washington Delicious apples from Yakima, right? And line them up and just sort of nice arrangements. And I would do the setting up and cleaning the vegetables early in the morning. But I was a helper. I was not the main person. And I would do some sales. I was not much of a salesman, and one thing that really bothered me was to sell watermelon to customers. In those days, here was this huge watermelon, and all of the customers were, were hakujin, white folks, sort of middle class, upper middle class people. And, "George, now make sure you get me -- I want a ripe melon." So okay. Yes, yes, ma'am. [Laughs] And I'd pretend I know what to do. Tapping, okay, this sounds pretty good. And one thing they did was to -- what was it called? To sample them. We'd have some sort of a sharp, shovel-like (trowel) which is sharp and not, and we'd push that through, then just make a, sort of... and pull a cone -- and to look at it to see what color it was. And many times it's pink, and I was not much -- and some would say, well, it's pink, but it's a good -- it'll taste good and so forth. Take, you know, and I'm sitting there and I'd, I'd poke, and here's another pink one. And the boss was really upset about that. He'd tell me, "Hey don't do that again because we're wasting all these watermelons for two cents a pound or one cent a pound." (Sampling for the color and flavor of watermelons was called "plugging." Most customers preferred bright red melon flesh; light pink often meant a lack of sweetness which was not always true. My boss objected to my not being an assertive salesman.) And the apples were three pounds for 25 cents. Three pounds for 25 cents. I still remember that because now it's -- what was it? Fifty-nine cents a pound or something like that? Yakima apples, boy, yeah, I remember that.

And then I just really hated that Saturday, Sunday, so I didn't have a chance to hang out with the guys. But 50 cents an hour, about four dollars a day, two days, eight dollars. And I was very frugal about the money I earned. Didn't give any of it to my mother or father. I just put it in the bank, and I'd spend it on getting a pie or something when it would go to -- and I was not very, a nice person. And I'd treat myself to buy like a lemon cream pie, and I'd bring it home and just eat it by myself and hide it in my drawer. Wouldn't share it with my sisters. That was kind of nasty, but anyway, that's me. That's what I did with money, buy candy or something like that.

<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 14>

GY: And that was that, but about that time, been hearing music over the radio. I'd hear, once in a while Benny Goodman, and it was kind of new. But it's kind of so, sounded so neat to me, and it turned out to be -- turned out to be someone who played swing music. I don't know about the word "jazz," but it was, and especially I heard something, a quartet by Benny Goodman with Lionel Hampton on the vibes, Teddy Wilson on piano, Gene Krupa. That really moved me like, hey, this is neat. Isn't this neat? It just moved me so much that I went to the music store and bought some wire brushes that, brushes used to play on the snare drum, and just found me a little box. And I'd just play on it with Benny Goodman. That was so cool. [Laughs] And I'd play up loud, right, and Mom would say, "Hey, cut it out, Joji. Yakamashii." So noisy. "Okay, Mom, okay, Mom." And I really enjoyed that. That was my introduction to jazz again, and that really started something that lasted the rest of my life until today.

And so I didn't have to worry about playing football anymore with the guys or anything that the other guys did. And that was neat. Of course, we went to -- when I had time, I'd go to dances that were sponsored by some girls' club. In those days, clubs were popular. Athletic clubs, which was, I, not a part of, but other kinds of groups. And the girls had their own clubs: YWCA and things. The clubs were, would invite each other to dances. They were very innocent kind of things. And records were played, and music by Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey, Jimmy Dorsey, Artie Shaw. And I enjoyed dancing. I loved to dance. Learned how to dance through my sister, and I, I consider myself -- well, because of my enjoyment of music and rhythm, I could just, you know, dance, move around. Enjoyed that very much. So that was dancing. And the other part of, of life for high school students at that time was weekends we went to roller-skating rinks. And it's, again, clubs would sponsor parties. We'd invite this club, and they'd get together and do some roller skating. Singles, couples kind of thing. I'd go once in a while.

<End Segment 14> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 15>

AI: We're continuing with George Yoshida, February 18, 2002, and we just left off -- you were talking about high school --

GY: Yes.

AI: -- and why it was that perhaps the academics were, you were not into as much.

GY: Yeah. In retrospect -- of course, there was some self-pride in getting, I didn't want to get Ds or Es. I guess in those days, It was A, B, C, D. On the other hand, I feel that there was not much motivation. All right, supposing I do well in school, which means getting good grades. And these were academic courses as opposed to commercial or wood shop kind of thing or auto shop. And I took those classes only because of everyone else. All of my friends were taking these classes, and I didn't see much of a future in shorthand, certainly, or taking auto shop. But for a lot of kids in high school and through the influence of their parents, role models, they knew what they may have wanted to do. I didn't have any idea of what I wanted to become, in that we didn't have role models. As far as role models in the Japanese community, there was the M.D., Issei man, handsome, moustache. And the dentist. The other role model at the time in terms of something other than menial work was the insurance salesman. He was always dressed. He had a car. And apparently did fairly well. Other than that, I didn't even see (an Asian) mailman carrying mail, anyone in the offices, librarian, musician, in the movies, over the radio. Nowhere was there an example of role model in terms of an Asian doing something other than working in the fruit stands, working on the farms, doing domestic work. That's about it. And my father didn't say, "Okay, Joji, go to school. And I want you to get a degree and become an engineer," all the stuff that some of these parents might have done with their children. And I sort of resented that, too. Oh, God, to have to make choices like this, what am I going to do, is very difficult. It might have been easier if he said, "Okay, you be a doctor." Where as a kid, no role models. He didn't say, "Why don't you learn how to fix cars," or something like that. He didn't, anything like that. I resented that for a long time. But it's, it's better -- in the long run, it was better, I suppose because there are so many kids who have to do what their parents tell them to do and go to school and, for the rest of their lives, resenting it. So that was kind of a difficult time for me in terms of the future.

<End Segment 15> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 16>

GY: Well, high school was, again, on the other hand, a time for adolescence in terms of sexuality, maturity. Some of the guys had girlfriends that was going steady. That mean -- going steady means, in those days, just holding hands, mostly. There was not too much sexuality involved, I think, as far as those outward kind of things that we knew. So it was kind of cute, going to dance and seeing a couple holding hands. But that was not too common. But that's what it meant to go steady in those days. And I was certainly attracted (to) young girls -- not old girls, of course. [Laughs] Girls, and they were cute. Not thinking too much about personality or anything. And I think it's mostly in terms of looks. This is not uncommon, certainly. Sex, sex was not a very -- sexuality was very downplayed. Certainly in the movies, we certainly didn't have television. And movies were very, very innocent, too. If there was any scene that had to do with a man and woman, I think it was a -- the scene in the Clark Gable movie, Clark Gable and who this other star was, where they had to share a room, and what they did was to very deliberately set up a sheet in between them, kind of thing. That kind of separation, and there was never use of any words that had to do with sexuality and sex itself. Those were very innocent times outwardly. But this is true of Niseis in general. Very conservative in that respect.

As far as vices were concerned, a few of us smoked cigarettes. Not too many -- our gang did not smoke any cigarettes. But there was something that we did that was kind of interesting. We bought pipes. (Ronald) Coleman, the movie star, and the elegant, handsome men, on the movies would be smoking a pipe. And we thought that was kind of fun, and we'd buy a pipe for a dollar, two, buy some tobacco and just little, little puff, just for looks more than anything else. It's interesting. My particular gang in high school never smoked.

I remember that there was no, none of us had dates except one of the members of the group had a date and once in a while we'd go out on (the) date, but he'd rather hang out with us. On a Friday night, because I worked on Saturday/Sunday, so on Friday night would be some time off. And he's the only one who had a family car which he could use, so we'd get together, four or five of us would get together. Well, we didn't do much. We may have gone to a movie, maybe, I don't recall going to a movie with them, but maybe, maybe to a skating party. One thing I remember was to go way out to the country. It wasn't that far. But anyway, to go see a girl out there, and she'd come and sit in the car, and we'd just talk, just talk. But that was the extent of it. One thing that I remember which I don't feel too proud about was, because of the boredom, we'd go to sort of drive around and find a very deserted place and see a parked car, and we'd -- not me, but some of the, couple of the guys -- I hate to use the word "gang" because it has connotations that are very negative, just a group of young men hanging out together. And because maybe the thrill of it. We didn't need it. Some, one of us would swipe a hubcap, take them and bring it in. And I don't know. I guess maybe it was just a lot of boredom. It's the thrill of not getting caught. Do that or -- but I didn't deal with that. I didn't want to hang out with, deal with that. But I was a part of the group, though. Or else once in a while, go into a store and somebody would swipe something, and bring it out.

Other than that, we didn't drink, we didn't go to brothels in high school. It was a pretty, kind of a quiet time. Parties because once in a while, we did a little dancing. And the skating parties I mentioned earlier. Birthdays -- there was no great celebration for birthdays. And on New Year's, I don't recall anything special on New Year's. I guess it was more of the Japanese foods, the gochiso that they made, mochi. That was kind of a nice part of the adolescent years.

In terms of, getting back to sexuality, it's kind of interesting that my mother one day slipped a booklet about this size about human sexuality in my, in my bedroom, which I shared with my grandmother, and this was later on, when, after my grandmother died, I had my own room. But it doesn't matter. I had a little set of drawers. May have been one, two, three, five drawers, top drawers. That's where I kept my cream pie. [Laughs] She had a booklet about this size about human sexuality. And I thought it was kind of neat. At that time, it was kind of shocking. I mean, golly. It's about masturbation and intercourse and all that and disease, et cetera, pregnancy. And I thought that was pretty neat for my mother to do that. She was aware of what was happening to me in terms of growing up. Yeah, I thought that was neat. And I never did that to my kids in terms of when they were growing up, although I did talk about menstruation and other kind of things. But... so I learned a lot, and I would take it out and read it a lot because it's just so intriguing, and it was arousing, too, those kind of booklets at that young age. In terms of dirty books in those days, we didn't have -- I guess the word is "dirty books." There's a lot of different connotations, but it's not like the very open -- what's that? Playboy, and what's the one that's in there? Hustler is what it's called? Well, it doesn't matter. Our pornography in those days was very, again, rather innocent, but they were called -- we used to have called, books called "Big Little Books." They were about, oh, about 4x5, and they were thick. And they were cartoon books, Dick Tracy, something like that. But we had these dirty books. And these Dick Tracy and they were all going into sexual kind of things, but it was not too, too graphic. But anyways, so they were somewhat kind of fun to read, as teenagers. And let's see. Human sexuality. Certain books, they had certain pages or chapters, they had something that had to do with sexuality and intercourse, somewhat. We'd sort of heard about it. Then if we found something, we'd share it. And earlier in, in those days, the only kind of nudity was seeing, that was seen was, you know, the rather easy to obtain was National Geographic magazines of, of primitive tribes, and, where the ladies would be exposing their breasts, but of course, in their natural setting, of course. And this was the early bit of human sexuality that, experience that we had. So the "Big Little Books." And, of course, there was no (porno) movies in those days.

Let's see. Oh, yes, of course, getting back to Seattle and the red-light district, the brothels, was again, introduction to human sexuality, too. Little by little, increment at a time, learned finally what was going on in those houses. And what was that question about -- oh, yes. Oh, yeah. I remember the story about, oh, yeah. I think it was someone saying that when these ladies would attract the attention of men, she saw only men going to these houses. And she thought it was very discriminatory on the part of the ladies, not knowing what went on. She thought how terrible it was, saying, how come the women don't go in? And that was kind of an interesting observation. Yeah.

<End Segment 16> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 17>

AI: Well, now, in 1940, you would have turned eighteen.

GY: Yes.

AI: And then -- and then it was later in 1940 that you graduated from high school?

GY: Yes, yeah.

AI: Kind of taking, getting back to that time when you were saying that the outlook wasn't so good for someone graduating from high school.

GY: Uh-huh.

AI: What, what did you have in your mind that you would do after graduation?

GY: It was really bleak. I can't -- I like the word "bleak." Man, the future seemed gray, bleak, ash-gray days in terms of what I'm going to do because I had to make some decisions. School? What am I going to do? And I was working again, (weekends) at the fruit stand. And Lloyd Kinoshita was a young man, nice, nice young man who, with whom I shared a lot of interests because he loved to sing. And he was always humming some pop tune, and how neat that was. And he said, "George, you're going to graduate, and what are you going to do?" Well, I guess I'll go to LACC, Los Angeles City College at that time. Most of the kids went there. "Well, what for?" He says, "You're going to end up here anyway." (I) said, "No, man. I'm not going to come back here." But I knew in -- deep inside, yeah, I was going to be back there.

AI: You mean back there at the --

GY: Back to the fruit stand, working as he did. And thought, oh, man. I didn't think -- how terrible that would be, for the rest of my life to work in a place like that. So that's how it was. And so in, in school at Los Angeles City College, again, large groups of Niseis were there, too. The same situation. Their aspirations may have been a little bit different depending on their background, their family background, how the parents may have pushed them along. So we'd hang out on the lawn just like they do now, groups of Niseis hanging out. And I knew it was kind of neat because these were new friends from different schools, different parts of LA.

And not too far from, away from Los Angeles City College was a record store. In those days, they had records in bins, exposed, it's just like here, nowadays, but L -- 78 rpms. And if you wanted to listen to a record, you'd pull it out and go to the small booth similar to a telephone booth but smaller. And there was a turntable there. And I guess no earphones, put the radio -- rather the phonograph record on and play the tune. If you liked it, (you'd) buy it -- bought it. The Bluebirds, were, Decca and couple of (other) labels were 25 cents, 35 -- I guess 35 cents. The better records like Tommy Dorsey a little bit, a little higher, were 50 cents, Victors. So that was a neat connection with music again.

And at City College, they had a big band, a swing band. For the first time heard live -- these were students, of course -- but real neat. And there was a tune that they played that just knocked me out. It was called "Never No Lament." It was a Duke Ellington piece. And it was so swinging, just neat. And I bought a record of it, 50 cents, Duke Ellington. And even today, with my big band, I bought an arrangement that's very similar to that arrangement, and we still play it. Still a favorite. And it was introduced to me from, from Los Angeles City College and the, their orchestra. So that was nice, again, exposure to live music, swing music. So we had the record store not too far.

But, God, what am I going to take in school? And went to some orientation meetings as to sort of needs and professions as these schools provide, job opportunities, something. And they said there something about, male nurses were needed. I didn't want to take accounting. Engineering didn't interest me. And I don't know what else there may have been. I didn't know what. So I took some courses because of that orientation meeting, male nurses. I thought, well, what the hell? I was an orderly at Poston in the internment camp. And so I took biology and things like that, and just for the fun of it -- that just lasted a year because I think we were still in camp. But that was my exposure to some of these classes in biological sciences. And let me correct that a little bit. I, in terms of being the orderly, it was soon after going to LA City College that I became an orderly in camp. But -- I'm getting a little mixed up here -- but LA City College was, again, exposure to something other than high school to another level in terms of music and different mainstream white America students. And I felt, again, a little bit more, more, more of a minority there. High school felt very much at home, just hanging out with all the kids. But they're a different group of people, more, more white Americans, people who are much really into academics. People had goals in life. Politics, school politics. And I was not a part of that scene.

AI: Excuse me, but you said earlier that Lloyd Kinoshita had said, you know, "Why are you going to college? You'll just end up back here." For people who don't understand what that means, could you tell a little bit more? You said that deep in your heart, you felt that way, too, but can you tell, for people who don't know, what he was referring to when he said, "You'll end up back at the vegetable stand"?

GY: Yeah. Well, Lloyd was experiencing what I was experiencing but a little bit, was ahead of me in terms of time. And it has to go -- has to do with role models in the community, what he saw in the community, which is really main part of his life and my life, too. It's just like being in a small space with tall, high barricade or fences around us. No exposure to anything else. Or, kind of think about the ice cream parlor, it's where your ice cream cones and flavors now. In those days, it was just vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry, maybe. But now you have all these varieties. So we had vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry in those days. Doctor, dentist, maybe the insurance salesman, it's in my mind. And so it's a self-imposed, imposed mindset in regard to the future and what I could do. And so after high school, I had no goal in mind. And that really left me in the lurch. That's really... emotionally depressed, I suppose, yeah. So this is what I said, and that's why he told me. So when he said, you're going to end up... I knew deep down in my heart, my heart, yeah, my gut, I wouldn't be there -- that I would meet with him soon.

<End Segment 17> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 18>

AI: Did it ever enter your mind that you might want to go into music, that that would --

GY: No, oh, no.

AI: -- even be a possibility?

GY: No, no. That's another world. That's another entirely new, unattainable -- I didn't even see a, an Asian... fireman, for example. You know, white kids, as babies, the kids would say, "I want to be a fireman," kind of thing. But we didn't have these -- these desires. We didn't see any of those. To be a musician is, I -- it was just so far out of the scene of my mind that I didn't even think about that. It was just fun to listen to music. And I didn't think about the great discrimination against black musicians either at that time, listening to music, because there was a great division, again, between the black musicians and the white musicians. Although you had great bands like Count Basie and Duke Ellington, the big bands, the, and you heard of, from public -- not public, but the radio itself. Popular ones were Glenn Miller especially. It was, and they didn't play jazz. It was just more dance music. But that was pop music. Even today, there's a division between the black music and the, in terms of... well, there's a little bit more fusion now, of course, but some division between white musicians and -- vocalists, pop stars, and the black ones, too. There's a division there. It's been going on for a long time. Those days, it was much deeper. And the black records were called "race records." And you rarely saw them in these regular, mainstream record stores. You'd have to go to special stores and buy these records. And they were not played over the regular stations, so we didn't hear that music very much. (During the '30s and '40s, popular American music played by white dance bands such as Glenn Miller and Tommy Dorsey was what was heard over national mainstream networks. This music included both live performances and recordings. Nisei, generally, were thus exposed to the above with only a few aficionados discovering the excitement of jazz played by black musicians and orchestras.)

Again, so the future, again, was very much, there was no future except -- for me. I'm sure there were other Japanese American families where the parents were a little bit more forceful in saying the American kind of thing. And there were others who did go into college. My best friend, John Tanaka, did go to the University of California LA -- UCLA. I don't know what his aspirations were, but he'd go, and he'd say, "Come on, George, let's go to UCLA." Said, "Oh, what for?" Man, I had this whole mentality -- it was a paranoia, I guess, self-imposed on my part, but somewhat in terms of reality, too. So that's how I felt.

AI: Well, and then not too much time passed between '40 and '41.

GY: No, that's right.

<End Segment 18> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 19>

AI: Now, in 1941, did you have any sense or any idea that the U.S. might be entering World War II or that -- and might end up fighting against Japan? Did that, did you have some awareness of that?

GY: Well, yeah, in the latter part of the '30s, there was a lot of activity in the Far East as far as Japan was concerned, but I was not too sensitive about it except that they were going into China, and I wasn't quite sure, it meant -- moving to China, that meant. Those forces were going to China, but I didn't realize that they were really starting to expand their own boundaries, that there was a great need for space. The population was, was... what's the word I want? Creating a problem in terms of availability of food and so forth. Overpopulation, I guess. So the Japanese population, in order to relieve this overpopulation, was encouraged to move elsewhere. And the authorities in Japan had their eyes on China and Manchuria, Northern China. And they were offering X numbers of yen to move and migrate to, to Manchuria. They were provided with, with land and money to establish families there. And there was a colonization of, of China. And I didn't realize that they were doing something to the people who lived there. Have Manchuria kind of thing because...

AI: At that time, you really weren't aware?

GY: No, no, what was actually happening. You're right.

AI: And, and so when, as the, 1941 went on and we come up to December and, of course, the bombing of Pearl Harbor --

GY: Yeah. But at that time when Japan was expanding to Manchuria, I learned that my cousins in Tokyo also was part of that movement, and they did go to Manchuria. Another thing, too: there were Niseis, musicians, vocalists, who went to Japan in the '30s because of the lack of opportunities here. They went to Japan and became a part of their, the show business over there. And during this expansion, many of them performed in Manchuria to entertain troops and civilians there. So I was aware of that. I wouldn't say aware of it because I learned of this many years after. So there was that going on, and there was some, a movement on the part of local Japanese here in the United States to help the cause, expansion. They didn't call it that, but to help the country. And, and we were told to collect tin foil and materials like that, save that material and -- to be sent to Japan. They sent other things, too. And so there was, that was a part of the, effort on the part of the Japanese community to do that. So we were aware of that, but I wasn't too sens -- sensitive to that in terms of its colonization.

And because of that, that they were (imposing) upon British and American interests in China, there must have been a beginning of anti-Asian, anti-Japanese -- I guess it would be propaganda in American papers, slowly, little bits of things there against it and so forth. I think -- I started to begin to sense that, too, the "yellow peril" kind of thing, the revival of that, which must have, was part of the early Chinese experience here. And I don't know when the demonization of Japanese became part of the everyday practice here and experience, but when Pearl Harbor was bombed and war was declared on December 7th, 1941, I don't know if we expected or not, but we were certainly surprised, I think, because imagine Japan having the -- what's the word I want to... I don't know what the word is... the assumption that they could do something to our country and to do it. It was just so far out of sight, yeah.

And immediately when that happened, thought, God, what's going to happen to us? We didn't think about being thrown into camps, certainly, but we still -- we had the, "We are Japanese." We're not, we're not Japanese Americans, we were still a Japanese kind of thing. Although we danced jitterbug and listened to swing music, we're still Japanese. And yet we couldn't relate to the Japanese in Japan, so there was really a conflict there. Who are we? Again, identity was big problem for me. And I didn't want to be a part of that stuff at all. And yet, golly, I look in the mirror, and I'm Japanese. So this was a major identity problem. And so there was a feeling of guilt, too, being Japanese. Japanese name. Eating gohan. And yet I didn't feel a part of that scene over there because I had not been to Japan at that time, no contact with any of my relatives over there. So internally, it was a terrible time. On the other hand, in the community still, I was not part of the mainstream community. I was still in the Japanese community. And all my friends were Niseis. So we were all somewhat confused, yeah.

<End Segment 19> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 20>

AI: Do you recall anything about that day, what you were doing or what --

GY: Well, I was working with, same place with Lloyd. And he was singing away, working on setting up the stand there in the early morning. And as soon as we heard the news over the radio, I thought, golly, because I was very self-conscious, customers coming in and cars would drive by, and I think, oh, are they -- paranoia. A lot of paranoia on my part. This is true of most Niseis, too.

AI: How were you actually treated by the customers or --

GY: I think we had customers -- I don't recall any open hostility toward me, but it was all inside here. I didn't feel any open hostility. I didn't, I don't recall any experience like that. And in school, I don't know what happened. We must have gone to school. And another thing, too: there were Niseis already in the Army already because older Niseis were drafted in the Army. So we must have thought about that, too, especially -- well, I hadn't met Helen, yet, but there were others who were in the Army. But oh, though I wasn't concerned about them, but there was that problem, too. But the, as soon as war was declared and all of this happened, the demonization of Japanese started, boy.

And then there were organizations -- super, became superpatriots, and this was the, the reincarnation of the yellow peril bit, "Japs" kind of thing, "Japs." Every day. And there was cartoons about the horn-rimmed glasses and the buck-toothed "Japs" appeared. And eventually local agriculture groups thought, here, man, let's get rid of them now. And all kinds of legends were born in terms of who we were and what we were doing. And there were, I think -- there was, I should say, subsequent to the Pearl Harbor attack, a submarine attack on Santa Barbara somewhere, where maybe a couple of shots were lobbied, lobbed over into the coast. I think there was a stray balloon that was, drifted into Portland or Oregon somewhere with a bomb attached, which exploded, I think may have injured and killed maybe some family in some obscure place in Oregon. Well, anyway, these incidents added to the, all the different propaganda and the hysteria in the United States and just kept building and building.

And then the Japanese forces were very successful in their defeating this and that and moving. And, of course, war was declared by Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The fleet, American fleet in U.S. harb -- Pearl Harbor was very much damaged, certainly had damage to the image of United States. Golly, here come, how come these Asians did such damage to us, kind of thing. And this business about the sneak attack was used over there. Of course, history, today we have different stories about why this all happened. It's kind of interesting in retrospect again. But at that time, anti-Japanese hysteria was so heightened that we became paranoid, too.

AI: Did you ever feel that you were in danger that someone might actually attack you or beat you up?

GY: Yeah, well, they were incidents that we heard about, especially in the farmlands, where there were attacks and people killed by marauders, I guess. And so we heard that through the grapevine. And then I'm sure we had our, several incidents of rocks being, rocks being thrown into shop windows, that -- certain kind of thing that we experienced lately because of the, of the September 11th, September 11th incident, the World Trade Fairs -- World Trade Centers that, both being damaged and actually demolished, I should say, anti-Arab sentiment, onslaught of anti-Arabic feelings and local response to that. Attacks over the weeks, suffering the same kind of things. It was a little bit more intense because with, in those days, because the whole country was into a state of shock and the need to overcome the enemy, the "Japs" kind of thing. And we were the, received the brunt of that kind of hysteria and propaganda.

AI: And then there were also the curfew restrictions and the travel restrictions --

GY: Yes, yes. That's true, too. And a matter of fact --

AI: Did those affect you or your family very much?

GY: Not as, not as directly. We had to close the shades and keep the lights dim. Getting back to the hysteria and propaganda, the radio was a very important part of our, our entertainment and there was a popular show. I'm not sure whether it was Jack Benny or some -- someone or other, but on one of the shows, there was a comedian, and he was from the, supposedly from the Ozark and sang some folk songs, and he played the bazooka, "bome-bome-bome" kind of thing. And he sang a song, a parody, and it was a love song, romantic ballad, I guess, "I'll get" -- "I can get along without you very well; of course, I can," dah-dah-dah-dah-dah. But changed, and then he changed that to -- instead of, "I can get along without you very well," he said, "I can get a lawn without you very well," because most of the gardeners were Japanese. [Laughs] And he sang that tune, and people laughed about that, yeah. And all these jokes about who we were and the kinds of foods we ate and, yeah. And there were some popular songs about going to war, and -- with reference to Japan and so forth. And so that really fit into, to our lives, too, affected our lives because there was all -- Japanese, anti-Japanese stuff, yeah.

<End Segment 20> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 21>

AI: Well, then it was in the spring of 1942 that government decided to move all people of Japanese ancestry off the West Coast. When you first heard that started happening, what went through your mind? Because you were in California --

GY: Yes, uh-huh.

AI: There was, there were some Japanese on Terminal Island, some fishermen, who were moved off early. But then in February and then in March, up near Seattle, the Bainbridge Islanders were moved off.

GY: Oh, yes, yeah. Uh-huh, yes.

AI: And then, but then eventually, people in California were being moved. What was your reaction when you found out about this?

GY: Well, I didn't think about civil rights or due process, as we hear all the time now, still wasn't -- again, we had that mindset, the Japanese community: we're a group, kind of thing. And we were not part of the mainstream. So I felt -- if I were maybe outside, living with hakujin friends, whatever, and they don't want to, and felt a part of them. They may have felt very much depressed, angry, upset, being treated, and like my -- but here we had this communal sense that made us a group, and so it was a little bit easier to take because under the barrage of propaganda, man, we're a group, too. That really put us together here. And said, "You guys have to go." And said, "Well, I guess we have to because they don't want us here anyway." And when you get, when you share stories about this group of people, this group, they say, "Well, we're next now." In those days, of course, there was no such thing as the, the Civil Rights Movement came much later, and so we didn't -- there were no parades, marches, no cards holding up, "We won't go," kind of thing.

AI: Did you hear of anyone who was refusing to go or --

GY: No, except there were stories about others. There were some others who did refuse to go, and they were somehow -- but at that time, no. No, no. So the parts of Los Angeles, since we had such a large population of Japanese Americans that they went to the assembly center, which was the Santa Anita Racetrack in Arcadia, California. So they went there, and that was before our section of the city was evacuated. So I would visit them. There would be a gate. And I would re -- exchange letters and say, I'm going to be there visiting hours on a certain date, and they would come and meet me, and we talked, and sort of joked, hey, you guys are back in camp, huh -- or back in camp -- or not back in camp, but you're behind barbs -- I don't know. We were so joking about it that, you poor suckers. We're out here, free. But again, we didn't feel sorry for ourselves. We just accepted the whole status quo, the movement, so forth.

AI: But when you saw your friends at Santa Anita, that may be the first time you can recall seeing them, and they're behind those wires, what, what did you think? What went through your mind?

GY: I don't remember, but I was upset because where they're -- I meet them, friends, say, hey, how you doin', man, in camp and that kind of thing. And I'd say, God, I sure feel sorry for you because I'm gonna be there, too. And I was just wondering how soon I'll be here or where. And I wasn't angry, I don't think. I really accepted the whole thing. I said, well, it's something we have to do. That was my reaction because all my friends were doing the same kind of thing. And what alternatives were there? One alternative was to move to the inland cities or states -- get out of the state, away from the West Coast, but that was not a possibility, not an option on the part of my family. No friends, no farm. And the great majority of people were going to camp, too. Majority was going. I don't recall what I felt down here. Just too naive, too young. If I had a family -- if I had a wife and maybe an infant or two, I would be very much upset because of responsibility, uncertain future. But I was a little bit too young and just too naive to be concerned, yeah.

<End Segment 21> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 22>

AI: What did you and your family do to get ready, knowing that your turn was coming?

GY: We had a house rented in Boyle Heights. We had a piano, maybe the old washing machine in the back, some worn-out furniture, a rug that probably had a hole in the, in the side, raggedy old rug. What else did we have? Well, clothes that we wore, some utensils, some, nice set of dishes, one set of dishes. We didn't have too much because we had to move from Seattle. So there was not a storage of memories or materials in Los Angeles at that time. So it wasn't too hard.

What we did was we had some Japanese records like the Waseda University or some children's songs and Japanese records. Again, we did not want to be associated as being Japanese. Oh, no, it's bad. Enemy. So we destroyed records as many families did, and whatever personal things that we couldn't take we just burned or whatever. I remember families, non-Japanese people come to see what we would, we could sell. The piano went for ten or fifteen dollars, whatever it was. That was about the only thing that we sold that was worthwhile. The other stuff was stored. A few things were stored including these photographs, fortunately. And they were stored at, in large trunks at the Union Church in downtown Los Angeles, I think. We were members of that church. So that was that. Now, one thing I kept, which I took to camp for my personal use, was a record carrying case of LP -- not LP but the 78 rpm records of my favorite pop music -- Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey stuff. Carried them to camp besides another suitcase with spare pants, suits, whatever, shirts. And my sister was very much upset because I took these records, and, "Hey, you're supposed to carry other things. What's the matter with you, George?" Well, she was sort of, she was sort of the, what's the word I want? I was just the -- standing back and -- and she'd take care of the, kind of the family. Other business of family. But she was very much upset about that, but I could not bear leaving my records behind. So I went --

AI: Where were you taken? You and your family, where were you taken?

GY: Oh, we went directly to Poston, Arizona, which is the southwestern part of Arizona. There were three camps: Camps 1, 2 and 3. First camp with about 10,000, and 5,000 in each of the other camps. And it's one of the larger camps, but there was little need to move from camp to camp, back and forth. So it was Poston Camp 1. And we took the train probably from station -- near downtown, near Japantown, as a matter of fact, was the Santa Fe Station, that area. And probably we were taken by buses down to that station, and all of our belongings were piled high near where we lived, I suppose, and the trucks took that baggage down there. It all had labels, family number and so forth. And I don't recall -- it's really interesting that I cannot recall getting from the house to the station or even getting on the station and the train, I should say, and on the way to -- I cannot recall. And many of my friends do recall that part of the trip. And I can't recall. I'm sure it was hard. Well, anyway, that's where we were, in Poston, Arizona.

<End Segment 22> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 23>

AI: And that was April of 1942 that you arrived at Poston. And what was your first impression?

GY: Well, there was not much time to impress, I think, because it was so hot. Man, it was so hot, and the train ride was very tiresome. No air-conditioning, and the food was not very appetizing. We were tired. And to, I guess we got off the train at the station, and we were taken on the truck possibly through this desert country, or a bus. And here we were, and... row upon row of black barracks. No vegetation. And because of the fact that the ground had to be leveled for -- to build the barracks. So when the vegetation was, vegetation -- what little there was, originally was cleared, that left pure dust and sand. And so when the trucks would go by, the clouds of dust, other beat down Niseis greeted us at this reception center. We had to register again. And we were assigned our barracks. All the workers were Japanese already, and so we didn't feel too much -- too foreign, as a matter of fact.

And taken by truck to our new home, Block 36 -- I don't, I can't remember if, 36-A. I'm not sure what the barracks number was, but anyway, we were taken there. And the first thing we had to do was to unload the stuff and scatter them through the barracks room. Just one area, one room -- one barrack. And the coal stove in the center. No, I guess it must have been a, not a coal stove. Excuse me. Other barracks had, other camps had coal stoves, and we had -- no, I guess the oil-burning stove. And first thing we did was to be given some empty bags, rather, canvas bags which served as mattresses. We filled them with straw. There were metal cots, just the spring. So we filled the, the bags with straw, and they were sort of, sort of made a bed. And sat on our beds, well, here we are, sweating. And heard rumors about sickness, diarrhea, the food was, that the water was not pure.

<End Segment 23> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 24>

GY: And found who our neighbors were, and we were happy to see friends from East LA. Well, I guess, the kind of feeling that we have when -- a person may have when we go to a summer camp with the family. You find yourself in the tent by yourself, and people -- it's kind of a strange feeling because you're used to having a house and bedroom and this kind of thing. But, but it's not a happy feeling, but we, well, here we are kind of thing. At least we're in a place where we're not getting all this stuff, propaganda about "Jap" -- "Jap" kind of thing that, that we didn't have to deal with that paranoia. So we're settled now for a while. Of course, there's this uncertainty in terms of the future. How long we're going to be there. And so the men who were already in the armed services -- what is my role in terms of what I'm going to do in the camp. One thing that was kind of interesting that one friend told me -- he was Nisei, about my age -- he went to camp, and it really blew his mind to see, eventually, the camp run by Niseis but not the running, administering the program, but to see so many different Niseis in doing different things, just a variety of things. For example, the newsletters, here's this journalist writing newsletters and producing the newsletter, distributing the newsletter. And here's this Japanese fireman, and here's a fire station, Japanese, Niseis there, hanging out, they're firemen. And there was a police station and a Japanese Nisei policeman. And in the hospital, there were the nurses, doctors, all Nisei. Let's see. What other things? Of course, we had some farmers who grew vegetables. There was a pig farmer here, setting up the places. Dairies. Let's see. What else did they do? Well, and then there were some building of schools, adobe -- in Poston, they built adobe schools. Teachers. It was a, again, a city in itself, a city in itself. Populated and run by Japanese. And here's this dance band, too.

And there's another friend who said, golly -- I guess he came from a small town in California. Here's this dance band, all Nisei faces playing dance music. He said that was so far out, so far out. And one of my friends -- whom I knew, and it was kind of the -- he's the only person mentioned. He saw, and when I was playing, there's one I sang one night. That was the only one, the only time I sang in my whole life at the time. He remembered. "I remember you there. And it just blew my mind, seeing some Nisei up there, singing away." So that was a new experience for many Niseis and to participate and do -- and to observe others doing that. They became schoolteachers. Well, to work as a cook is no big thing or wash dishes, but seeing all these different kind of things. So that opened the world for him. And it did for others, too.

<End Segment 24> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 25>

GY: And I worked in the hospital because I had taken biology, and I thought, male nurse kind of thing. Well, what the hell. And I'm going to do something that I kind of, might be fun. So I worked in the hospital, and there were several others who worked as an orderly. And we wore, what we wore was those gowns -- the hospital gowns where you just tie the back, it's open in the back, that it's kind of embarrassing for patients. [Laughs] Well, that was our gown. And what we did was to empty bedpans. We were bedpan jockeys, bedpan jockeys, and we provided enemas. And it was a kind of joke between several of our male orderlies, the triple-H enemas: high, hot and helluva lot. [Laughs] If there were patients who were kind of nasty to us or something, we'd give them this triple-H enema. I don't know if we did or not, but it was kind of a joke. But it was neat in that I was able to observe a little bit more about what it means to provide health services to human beings. I was in the surgery. I observed my first surgery. It was a hysterectomy. And the Nisei nurse was very kind enough to let me observe. "Don't you want to come see?" "Oh, yeah, of course." So I had to scrub, put my mask on, and I (stood) and watched. And pretty soon after the, the lady was under the anesthesia, the surgeon, Nisei doctor, he got his -- this sharp, sharp knife -- what do you call these knives? Is there a special name for that?

AI: Scalpel?

GY: Scalpel, right. And opened this area here, and the bright lights were shining. And he got the scalpel, and he did this right here. And right down this abdomen, and it was hysterectomy, right down here. And there is a lot of fat here, and just being open like that. I thought, whoa. [Laughs] And the nurse kind of looked at me and said, "You okay, George?" "Yeah, I'm okay." And as he started to open a little further and the blood started to ooze out and he started messing around in there, "George" -- and the nurse kept on asking, "You okay, George?" "Yeah, I'm okay." And pretty soon, well, I'd better -- think I'd better leave. "George, you'd better go outside," and I didn't see the rest of the operation. But that was the first experience. And I had these new experiences that were pretty neat. And I met young ladies who were in nurses training, young girls. And it was kind of neat to meet kids from this part of the country, or the state -- mostly California, of course. Meet with them and learn about working with patients. In fact, the first night I was on duty, it was from -- I guess I had the midnight shift, yeah. The swing shift was 4:00 to 12:00, 12:00 to 8:00, yeah. And so my, my job was to go through the, the ward, and men and women in the ward, and check the pulse rates. I don't know about the temperature, but anyway, in doing that, I found an old man all curled up, and he had died during the night. So again, I had to prepare him to take him to the... again, the, the cold room, where we kept the corpses -- what was that now? Word, something where you keep --

AI: Mortuary?

GY: Well, I guess the mortuary, the place where they kept the bodies. Well, it doesn't matter.

AI: The morgue?

GY: The morgue, yeah. I guess there was a makeshift morgue there. And I had to, to plug all the openings and to tie the arms and the legs and close the mouth kind of thing. Again, a new experience and kind of neat. It was kind of scary, frightful at times, but it was something -- I, really accepted that because it was new, and I felt kind of sorry for this old man, but I, some things I had to do, and he died. And we thought, "Well, how come? Hey, Doc, how come?" "Well, he's probably died of old age," kind of thing. That was that.

<End Segment 25> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 26>

GY: Other experiences... oh, yeah. At that time, there was a polio epidemic of some sort in the country and there was no, any vaccine at that time. And there was a Sister Kenny, a nurse in Australia, who had come up with an idea to provide therapy for people who had suffered from poliomyelitis. And we had two or three patients who had polio in Poston. They were in a separate ward. And a person who was familiar with this Sister Kenny method came to Poston to provide therapy. And what the therapy had to do was to have very thick material like gunnysack but really thick, in boiling water. It's hot, hot, and they would squeeze the water out and place it onto the muscles that were paralyzed and atrophied to, to try to restore the muscle and to provide a restoration that would help them to walk. And that was something I did in camp, too. That was kind of interesting. I don't know whether they recovered or were able to walk again, but that was part of the therapy in camp.

And the other interesting case was a young lady -- well, maybe she was about sixteen, seventeen years old -- and all she did was sit at the side of the bed just like this, all day long. I guess -- is the word catatonic, without any emotion? Said nothing. Expression did not change. Kind of like this. Obviously, a mental state, some dementia of some sort. And I was curious what had caused this. Apparently she, I don't know if it was something that happened before she came. We thought perhaps if we came before, that she would have been put into a different institution. Maybe it happened in the process of moving. Maybe. I really don't know. But eventually she was removed from her bed.

Another close friend of mine, relatively close, yeah. Same age, in his teens, early teens. Kind of liked to smoke, and one night -- I think he was smoking, he put about one. He'd light it. Put another one, put about three or four in. That's so strange. What are you doing? Just kept on doing that. It's was really strange, first time, and later I discovered that he had a breakdown. It was at the beginning of his breakdown. And so he was taken to the hospital, and then he was sent away to some institution, out of camp. So again, the stress and trauma of moving to camp was so very difficult for him. This is how he's reacted to it, I guess. Many years later -- that was the last I saw of him. And his sister was at camp, and she was okay. And, but I never had a chance to find out from his sister because she moved away out of camp.

One of our reunions not too long ago -- let's see. That was 40, 60 -- about 50, 70 -- about 50th reunion from camp, of the Poston camp, and there he was, sitting at a table. Same guy who was sent to some kind of institution, he had a beard. "Hi, how you doing?" "Hey, how are you," kind of thing. I thought, wow. Complete recovery. And I was just curious what happened to him all these years, yeah. But he was okay. That was kind of nice.

AI: He survived.

GY: Yeah. So it was kind of neat, that experience in camp, was good. Met a lot of new people. In fact, I met, we were -- the young Nisei girls who were trainees to the nurse program, one of them went out and became a nurse and had some training, well, there was introduction -- student nurses, I guess they were called. There was another -- there were two girls, at the time I guess we could use the word "girls" -- who were, had graduated nursing school or close to graduating, and they had uniforms already, caps, Olive -- don't know, they were Niseis, of course, Olive so-and-so and Sierra, and they came from a certain part of California, maybe Central California. And they were nice nurses who were advanced in the nursing profession but not quite registered nurses yet. And they'd provide service, but I know -- I remembered Olive. She was rather tall and dark complexion and so forth -- and Sierra, too. She had this strange -- they had strange names, Olive, Sierra. So I remember them well.

And that's the last I've heard of Olive until yes -- yesterday? Yesterday -- Saturday, when we had this book talk at the Nisei Veterans Hall, a tall hakujin man, a Caucasian man came up to me, "I'm Charles Hall." And he said, "I was married to Olive. My wife's name was Olive, a Nisei woman. And I came here to see, hello, say hello to you because I, I saw in your book -- that book -- that was in Poston. And my wife came from Poston." I said, "Well, Olive, I knew her, too. I worked in the hospital and worked with Olive." And I thought, whoa, how far out. All the little coincidences. I worked with Olive, and sixty-two years later, her name comes up as the wife of this man who was at that meeting. It's so far out. [He's] kind of an interesting man, because he's Caucasian. And I said, well, how come you, Olive, you're here? He said, well, he grew up in Tacoma, and used to hang out with Nisei kids, and [he'd] come to Seattle for, to dance, with those guys. So that was the connection. Now, I don't know how exactly he met Olive, though. But I never had a chance to -- so much to talk about -- but here he married this young nurse in camp. And years later, get this, all this stuff about their lives and about my life and how they connected again. And that was kind of neat.

<End Segment 26> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 27>

AI: And we're continuing with George Yoshida on February 18, 2002. And when we left off at, before the break, you were in Poston Camp No. 1.

GY: Yes.

AI: And I wanted to ask you: because the Poston camps were on the Colorado River Indian Reservation, did you see Native Americans, Americans Indians there, and what -- did you know anything of them?

GY: Okay. I didn't meet any or see them during our daily lives. I did see several of them when we reached the train depot in a tiny town -- I forgot what the name of the town, town was. I guess it may've been Parker. But I just think, you can see them, they're just all hanging all the time and not working, doing anything special. They just were sort of standing around in the middle of the day. And this kind of thing I see quite often in some of the black neighborhoods, where men supposedly should be working. Young men still hanging out and just hanging out. And I thought yeah, Native Americans -- of course, they were "Indians" in those days. We didn't use the expression "Native Americans" -- nevertheless, it seemed to me that while in camp, this is the kind of life they were leading. The government provided us internees with food, some clothing, and with no direction in terms of what we might do, but we'll take care of you, so don't worry. And sorry for, have taking you off your land. Of course, this wasn't said, but that's the idea I got that -- but we'll take care of you. So you don't have to worry anymore, kind of thing. But that's not the point. To be fed and to be clothed, provided some housing just is not enough for a, a human being to spend for the rest of one's life when there's a need for more motivation of some sort, if not work. And I felt very much like the Indians -- or Native Americans at that time. Here we were fed. If you wanted to work, fine, yeah. On the other hand, in camp, we had some opportunity to work and do something other than just to hang out. I had no contact with any of them -- Native Americans at that time. Someone said long time ago that he had seen some, in his experience, Indians helping in the camp, working, but I never did. Most of the work, in fact all of the, all the work that was done in camp was performed by people who were in camp. So here was a new community, taken out of California or whatever state, and put into the desert, and continued on with our lives.

<End Segment 27> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 28>

AI: Well, speaking of work and all of the services that were provided by the Nisei and other camp residents, I understand that in November of 1942, there was an incident where a, a Nisei was suspected of being an -- a so-called inu, a dog or informer or someone who was perhaps seen as cooperating with camp authorities, possibly naming other Japanese Americans as possibly "subversive," so-called. And I understand that he was beaten, and right after that, a number of Nisei were picked up and arrested as suspects in this incident.

GY: Uh-huh.

AI: And that in reaction to that, a number of Nisei went on a general strike, a, stopped work, stopped providing services, except for some emergency services.

GY: Uh-huh.

AI: And I wonder what you recall of that time?

GY: Uh-huh. Well, I was politically naive and just a rather youthful teenager who was very much concerned with my own daily life and not really concerned about what was happening. I recall bonfires late at night, burning, people standing around. And there was a strike, and people didn't go to work. In my case, I worked in the hospital, and that was a necess -- necessary kind of work. And so we didn't go on strike. So my life did not change at all. And I was not very much involved with what was happening. Sort of a political kind of situation. I didn't quite understand what was happening, but I was not curious enough to, to investigate the situation to see who was doing what, whether it was correct or not correct. Just a young, naive guy doing, carrying on with his daily life.

<End Segment 28> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 29>

AI: Well, one area that you did get very involved in was music at Poston.

GY: Uh-huh, yeah.

AI: And I was wondering if you would tell us how did you get involved with the, with the band and the music?

GY: Yes. I became interested in jazz several years ago, in like, around '35, '36, when I was high school. And never did much in terms of learning to improve my playing the saxophone, which I learned in high school. I recall before camp, a group of Nisei kids got together, and we tried to play Artie Shaw's "Begin the Beguine," which was a top hit in those days. It didn't work very well. We bought the arrangement, and then we sort of got together in the garage. It didn't sound very good. We gave it up in no time. [Laughs] The first and only rehearsal we had, but it was a beginning.

So then in camp, I discovered others who were very much interested in, in this kind of music. As a matter of fact, even the assembly centers -- it's amazing -- for example, at Santa Anita, where there were large groups of kids from LA, they had a dance band at the assembly center, organized and going strong. They even had, had jazz concerts at night, playing records, of course. And discovered, or not -- excuse me -- discussed jazz artists at that time who were very outstanding. And it was kind of neat. So you -- so it kind of made me feel good when I heard this, that, and I realized this, was that among the Niseis, there was a small group of people who are very progressive, very much into music, enjoyed swing, jazz, you know, and, of course, classical music, too.

But because of my interests, to discover youngsters, Japanese Americans, Niseis, digging this kind of music... and in camp, somehow -- I don't know whose idea it was, but a dance band was organized, and the recreation department, which was a part of a, an organized part of the whole system in Poston, helped to sponsor a dance band. And there was a young man, Hide Kawano, who was seventeen years old at the time, who had, who was a high school dropout but very much a, a whiz at playing drums. And he used to play some swing and jazz before he went to, before we to camp, who was the leader of the band. He picked up the trumpet, learned how to play the trumpet somewhere along the line before he dropped out in junior high school/high school. But he was, he was consumed with swing music and jazz, just really -- that's all he wanted to do. And so here was this great opportunity. All of these potential musicians. Not too many. Maybe a dozen or so out of ten thousand, who played some instrument of some sort that may have made up a dance band. So through the, probably the camp newsletter, announcement was made that there was going to be a dance band and please come to the first rehearsal if you're interested. And it's probably, that's how it started. This is what happened in most bands -- or in other camps.

And eventually we were able to gather four saxophones -- two tenors, two altos. And I think there were three trumpets and one trombone. We had a guitar player, a drummer, and a piano player. And the guitar player was kind of interesting in that he was a nice-looking young man, very tall, but he loved cowboy music in those days. We call it western music, but in those days, cowboy music, and he wore cowboy boots and some fancy shirt, sing cowboy songs, Gene Autry kinds of things. But he learned how to play, just learned some rhythm guitar. The drummer, Haruo Fujisawa, "Foozie." He's bald-headed now. But his drums were sent to camp by some white friends of his back home. So that was kind of neat. And he had played this kind of music in high school, so he was pretty well advanced in that respect. The piano was, piano player was another person who sort of hang, hung out with the guitar player. And, and he knew, he was able to read music but not too familiar with swing or jazz. And the others had more or less music in school, so forth.

Bought arrangements by mail, mostly popular things like Glenn Miller's "Moonlight Serenade," which was our theme song, and several other Glenn Miller tunes. And (we) had Tommy Dorsey tunes. A few swing numbers by Glen Grey -- excuse me -- Count Basie. We rehearsed on weekends and in the evenings, because most of us had jobs other than playing. In other camps, there were dance bands which were, was, which was a part of the recreation department scene, the music department scene, so that's all they did, rehearsed and played gigs. And it was kind of neat for them. We were paid, we were paid about -- they were paid. I wasn't paid. Maybe about $12 a month. I think the drummer and the piano player -- no, just the drummer may have been on the payroll of the recreation department. But it was something that could not be done earlier because of a lack of personnel.

<End Segment 29> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 30>

GY: Here was a camp, had all the time, all the instruments, all the music, all the support from the community. So it was really a wonderful time of my, my life in terms of playing the music we dearly loved. We played more for ourselves than for the entertainment of others. And I would do -- we didn't play too well. One of the things that very few of us were able to do was to improvise, which is the core of jazz playing, I think. There was one person, Yuki Miyamoto, played the tenor sax, and he was a person who played at the Santa Anita Assembly Center dance band, and he was fairly good. He'd improvise and play a little bit more than the, the straight melody, and that was nice. But nevertheless, we played for dances, a few of them, maybe one or two talent shows. And we did not have vocalist except for this one sort of a medium up tempo. It was called "Wham," and it was part of the, Glenn Miller's repertoire. And I had a chance to sing that. It was kind of neat. That was the only time we did any singing -- I did any singing. So that was sort of the beginning of my short -- rather lengthy in term, in terms of playing this kind of music.

AI: What was the name of the group in Poston?

GY: In Poston, it was, we were called the Music Makers. And I think that the name was taken from a very popular dance band led by Harry James, who was a great trumpet player. Played jazz with Benny Goodman. And his parents were members of a circus band. Harry James played jazz trumpet, first with Benny Goodman, and many -- he's on many of these earlier jazz records that Goodman produced. Then he started his own band, and his band was called the Music Makers. And one of the popular tunes was a waltz called "Sleepy Lagoon." It was a very beautiful, quiet waltz, which was very, very popular in the United States and, of course, in our camps, too. It's a waltz, "Sleepy Lagoon." And Harry James about that time hired a young singer who was to become a big star. His name was Frank Sinatra. And he (sang) with them for several years. And a popular music record that he made at that time with Harry James -- that's Frank Sinatra -- was "All or Nothing at All." Big, big hit. Soon after that, he started to work for Tommy Dorsey.

So that was life in camp. And most of the records -- or rather -- excuse me. Most of the dances were dances where the music was supplied by records. They were, they were plentiful. And there may have been one or two -- excuse me -- internees who may have had fairly good record-playing system, a player with a large speaker. It may have been homemade. I really don't know, or order through mail. So they're the ones who -- I guess they're called disc jockeys today, DJs today. So they played most of the music. And we had plenty of records in camp. Mail order, orders for most items were available through camp catalogs. And that's how business was done in those days, purchasing was done in those days. So it was kind of nice, nice time for me to play the music we loved.

<End Segment 30> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 31>

AI: Well, now, like many of the younger people, you started thinking about getting out of camp --

GY: Yes.

AI: -- wanting to get out. And how did that happen for you? What, what happened?

GY: Well, I worked every day in the camp -- or rather in the camp hospital as an orderly. And after about a year, roughly about a year or so after our being sent to camp, I think the government decided that here we have over a hundred thousand people, feeding them and housing them. It's costing us millions of dollars. And there was a turn-around on the part of government authorities in terms of who we were. There were no acts of sabotage or espionage perpetrated by Japanese Americans. And the Japanese American soldiers, they, and the 100th Infantry Battalion, mostly from Hawaii, made up of Japanese Americans from Hawaii, and a few of the mainland Niseis were in the Army. And apparently, they were very much impressed with these early inductees. And the government decided again, well, we've got here, a good supply of healthy men in camps. Why not give them an opportunity to participate in the war effort?

AI: And that was about January of 1943, wasn't it, that --

GY: I suppose so.

AI: -- that the government issued these questionnaires to the young men at first and then everyone in camp to -- for people to supposedly determine were they loyal to the U.S. or not? And those who were supposedly loyal indicated on this questionnaire, then they would be allowed to volunteer for --

GY: Yes, volunteer.

AI: -- the Army or, or possibly apply to leave.

GY: Yeah.

AI: Do, do you recall that questionnaire?

GY: Yeah, I recall that. I think it was the "yes-yes," "no-no" kind of a question. The question -- I'm not quite sure what numbers they were, but the point is we were asked if we would be loyal to the United States as citizens and not to protect any other country. Essentially this is what it said. And I said well, I certainly am an American and am not going to go out of my way to protect any other country other than the United States. So when those two questions that were answered, I said "yes-yes" without any doubts, without much debate in my mind. And this is true of most Niseis of my, among my friends. So I said "yes-yes." And so it was not a matter of much debate in my mind. And my parents had nothing to say or didn't try to effect -- or affect my, my ideas about how to answer these, these questions. They didn't say, you should do this or not, yeah. They were pretty cool about that. So my answer was yes, I would defend the country and -- but I wasn't ready to enlist into the Army at that time, although many Niseis did out of camp, yeah.

<End Segment 31> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 32>

AI: What did you decide to do after that?

GY: Well, at the same time that the draft was, became effective and that we were allowed to go, leave camp, I decided well, I would like to leave camp because of the, life in camp is not a very pleasant life at all. And I had friends in Chicago already who had received permission to leave and were living in Chicago. I and several thousands of others then left immediately, and most of us went to Chicago because the job opportunities were good in big city. There was a labor shortage because of the wartime. The attitude of people in the Midwest -- for example, Chicago -- was a little bit different toward the Japanese Americans as opposed to the attitude of the general populace of the West Coast in that there were very few Japanese Americans there. During the postwar years, maybe three or four or five hundred at the most in Chicago.

AI: Oh, you mean prewar?

GY: Yes -- yeah, prewar, before the war. And so there was not that sense of, of our being immigrants and foreigners kind of thing. It was a rather neutral attitude toward who we were. And we did provide a certain need that they had in Chicago in terms of the population, there were jobs. And the companies were more than happy to hire Japanese Americans who are very hard workers, conscientious workers. And we were happy to be out. We were happy to have a job, to enjoy this freedom once again as citizens. So many of us worked, and there were quite a few Isseis who went, also. But most of these jobs were menial jobs in the services. For example, hotels, became maids and worked in the kitchen in restaurants as dishwashers, and these are the kind of jobs -- I worked in a book-publishing company and did a lot of the menial work of stacking books or stacking paper and so, so on.

AI: Excuse me.

GY: Yeah.

AI: Did you have to have a job before you could get out, or how --

GY: At, when I went out, there were, I didn't have to have a job. The American Friends Society, the Quaker group, was kind enough to help internees who were leaving camp by setting up hostels. For example, there's a hostel there where this rather large apartment was -- well, not apartment -- large house, I guess, all these rooms were made into a hostel, sleeping quarters, one or two beds. And it was temporary, of course. And I think there was a office set up by the government to help with the people who were relocating to Chicago in some sort of job-referral system there. But I didn't have that because there was an informal set of, system in that we would be talking to other Nisei, "Hey where do you work?" You know, why don't you do this or that. And there were several places, places that we were accepted as employees. So that was a networking that provided us with information about jobs and housing, too. And what --

AI: And --

GY: Most of this, this networking took place at dances and social gatherings of Niseis at that time, yes.

<End Segment 32> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 33>

AI: And, and that time was April 1943 that you went to Chicago.

GY: Roughly about that time, yeah.

AI: About that time?

GY: Yeah.

AI: So you would have been about twenty-one years old.

GY: Yes, yeah. Between -- yeah, I think that's right. Twenty-one years old, yeah.

AI: What stands out in your mind about when you, when you first went out to Chicago?

GY: Free at last. Free at last. [Laughs] Two things: free from the confines of being in camp, but also being free in terms of parental guidance and parental looking-over-the-shoulder kind of thing and behavior and so forth. And it was a coming of age of Niseis in general. Looking for a job, finding a place to live, paying rent. Washing old clothes, we washed our clothes in the wash -- the bathtub. Ironed the same shirt that was washed in the bathtub. Everything that our parents did just prior to our leaving for camp. And meeting others from different parts of the, of the... California and Washington and Oregon. And when you'd meet, we'd say, "Hey, what camp were you in, from?" Because that was a common experience. We still do that. You might see, meet a Nisei from someplace where -- when I don't know this person. Every Nisei, "Hey, how you doing? What camp did you -- were you in?" And that's really a very powerful part of, significant part of lives that gave us this common sense of community, what camp were you in kind of -- that's a question that comes out, yeah. And say, oh, yeah. So there's a commonality, common element that makes us brothers and sisters, I suppose, to some extent.

<End Segment 33> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 34>

GY: So Chicago was the coming of age of Nisei. And, of course, it didn't last very long. It was from the -- from the frying pan to the hot, boiling pot of something or other. [Laughs] We were inducted into the Army at Camp Grant -- I'm not sure. Doesn't matter. And I thought, gee, I have flat feet. Maybe they'll defer me. No, I didn't have that, such luck. The American army in Europe, which was part of the Allies, Great Britain and France -- where France, of course, was conquered and occupied by the Nazis for a while, but mainly the British and the United forces were part of the Allied. And things were getting better and better and better for them, and the Nazis were slowly retreating, so forth. Things were going quite well in the war. And then in the Far East, the, the Japanese were doing so well, we were being, again, forced back. The American Navy was built up, and things improved rapidly for the American forces.

In that respect, though, I think that we have to give credit to Niseis who volunteered, went to school to improve their Japanese language facility at one -- at the Fort Snelling in Minneapolis. And there were six thousands of us who studied day and night to improve our Japanese facility, and we became translators, interpreters in the Far East during the combat, then, during the occupation, provided a lot of the services that were needed for Japanese speakers. When I was inducted, I was sent with many others, other men who were both -- of course, who were mostly whites -- but a large group of Niseis went because I guess there was a concentration of Niseis in Chicago at that time. We were sent to Fort Knox. And the purpose of that was that Fort Knox, Kentucky, this area was a armored training area. And we learned to operate tanks and to use firearms and so forth and so on connection with the com -- the, a tank, tanks. And so we were trained. And the idea originally, which I learned about this fact much later was that the armored division or group would be a part of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. And as we were undergoing training and close to the end of the training, the war was progressing so well for the Allied forces that I think they gave up on the idea of, of providing a, a armored unit to assist in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team's efforts.

So upon the completion of our training, Niseis were -- in this particular group were sent to Europe, and by then, the war was over, VE Day, was over. In fact, the VE Day was May, or May the 5th, 1945. So fortunately, these men did not have to go into, to battle or to you know, any combat, so it was kind of neat, nice for them. Now, I say "these men" because I did not graduate with them. I volunteered to go to Fort Snelling to, to become a person with some language facility in Japanese to work as an interpreter or whatever. It wasn't required of us. And so Fort Snelling was a time of, of learning kanji and katakana, reading maps, et cetera, et cetera, translations, and was not easy because most of us had very, very little instruction in Japanese. We could speak a little bit, conversational Japanese, but that was about it. And it was something we didn't like to do, didn't want to do, any of us. But nevertheless, because of the war effort, we were a part of this program.

<End Segment 34> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 35>

GY: And I... one good thing about Fort Snelling was that, was again an opportunity to play swing music. A dance band was organized, and it was a real neat band because it was a collection of men from different camps who had played in bands in camp. So it was a kind of a all-star band. [Laughs] Not really all-star, but we called it, called it an all-star band because it was a collection of some of the better player, playing members of the, of these camp bands. And it was a neat band. Called itself the Eager Beavers, and the Beavers was sort of the, sort of the mascot of Fort Snelling or the, related to the Fort, and Eager Beavers was a pop tune which was very much a part of Stan Kenton's repertoire. I think it was their theme song, sort of a jump, swing number. It's kind of neat, too. And we played dances at the field house, and we invited girls from the local PXs -- not the -- excuse me. Not the PX. Sorry. What were they called?


GY: USOs. PXs, PXs are stores. [Laughs] That would have been, may have been girls from PXs. Anyway, USO. And among them was quite a few Niseis who lived there, too -- Nisei women, that is, in Minneapolis. So they came to these dances. And it was very enjoyable. Enjoyable in the sense that we enjoyed playing the music. And there was one trombone player, said, "Oh, I'd rather be out there playing with -- dancing with the girls. And I'd rather, didn't want to play that trombone," but anyway... and among the members of the band was an outstanding musician. His name was Jimmy Araki . And Jimmy, he was a little bit younger than I was, and he was -- let's see. Where did he go now? What camp? Oh, Gila in Arizona. And when he was there, he was maybe high school or junior high school, but he learned how to play, play the clarinet in camp. Pretty soon he's moved into the saxophone. And soon enough he's playing the saxophone in the dance band. Well, there aren't too many people like that. And he was so proficient that when he, when eventually he was inducted in the Army and he ended up at Fort Snelling, and I don't think he knew -- well, he may have knew, known some Japanese, but eventually he became an instructor. I mean that was, he was so sharp musically and language-wise, too. And I think he was the leader of the band at Fort Snelling. But he was so good. I mean he loved music. He had, all by himself, every so often I'd see him in the auditorium all by himself, he was playing his saxophone or playing the piano, self-taught, playing the piano. He -- I said good-bye to him after, when I graduated Fort Snelling. I mean, next thing I knew, years later he ends up in Hawaii as a professor, and he's teaching Japanese language, translating Japanese, these classical Japanese plays, songs into English so forth, there. So it's -- Professor Araki, University of Hawaii. And he plays -- during the occupation, he taught bebop to Japanese musicians. He was so good they called him kamisama, god. That's so far out. But anyway, that -- that was Fort Snelling for me.

After Fort Snelling, I didn't -- oh, I was on my way to Japan with the rest of my group, and in, ready for overseas duty, and I was ready to debark when I received, there was a message: "Yoshida, report up to the whatever, top side." I had received a discharge which I had applied for earlier through the Red Cross because about that time, my family was leaving Poston to return back to California. And they were rather elderly then, and I, I asked for permission because they were rather, they didn't have much strength and they were old, to pack, and they needed some assistance. And so the Army said, okay. The war was over, and there's no need to keep Yoshida in the ranks, so I received my discharge, and I went back to Chicago.

<End Segment 35> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 36>

GY: During my stay in the Army, I was married in 1945 on VE Day to Helen Furuyama at that time, in Chicago. And so after my discharge, I hurried back to Chicago to join my wife, and had to make some decisions. What am I going to do? Oh, my parents had on their own returned to LA and were staying at a hostel, including my two sisters. I think my other sister was -- excuse me -- was in Detroit. But my younger sister was with them. And so again, the matter of what am I going to do. One of the things about being in the Army was that you had benefits. Receiving a few dollars each week, and money to go to school. That was really neat, but I had no idea what I wanted to do with this opportunity. We went back to California because Chicago was no, not a place to... not a very pleasant place.

And Helen was, before the war, worked in the city of Berkeley near the university as a schoolgirl, a domestic, and she would provide baby-sitting chores and help in the kitchen, but she went to school at the time for a few hours a day. And she was taking some classes at the, at a business school. And, of course, in those days, Nisei women were advised to take just typing and shorthand because opportunities for jobs were just about, very much limited to something like this. And it was not a bad idea because when she left camp to go to Chicago, she did work, find job rather easily as an office worker. Getting back to the postwar years and returning to California, her former employee, when she used to go to school in Berkeley was the same family that invited her back. "If you'd like to stay with us for a while until you find housing, you're welcome to stay there." So it was really nice of them, a hakujin family, white family. So we stayed with them for a few days and then found a job right next door as domestics again, with a very nice family again. So that was a good setup. And we'd go to school, do some housework, and she stayed, and she stayed there as a domestic again. Washed dishes, helped with the cooking, but she also started to work for the International (House) near the Berkeley campus for a while.

AI: Excuse me. So this would have been about 1946 --

GY: Yes, uh-huh.

AI: -- that you and Helen left Chicago, moved to Berkeley, and luckily were able to -- with this assistance of the family -- temporarily stay and then find the domestic work.

GY: Yes. Yeah, yeah, I went to school, and she continued to work. And so we had a few dollars coming in; saved every bit of it. We didn't have a car, no expenses. None of that. And I took accounting, too. I went to the same business school she went to because she was familiar. Again, do -- reason why I went to this business school was that in Chicago, before we left for Berkeley, looked through the want ads, help wanted and all these things, and it seemed like they wanted accountants more than any other kind of job. So I thought, Well, there's, must be some kind of need. So I took accounting at Armstrong College in Berkeley, business school and graduated with some kind of a degree. Looked for a job and couldn't find anything. And took some civil services jobs -- examinations. Applied at accounting offices, and I think there was a recession at the time because, about the time of the Korean War. I could not find a job, and I was not hired for one reason or another. I worked part time doing some accounting work for a person who was very -- kind enough to lend me some office space, and helped him, get some experience in accounting. But it didn't work for me. I just could not sit around, trying to debit the -- what's the word I want? To balance the debits with the credits kind of thing. [Laughs] Very much disappointed with that. And I thought I'd better change, get out of that business.

<End Segment 36> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 37>

GY: And my sister about then, my younger sister was going to UCLA and studying to become a teacher. And I talked to her, and I just kind of looked at the situation, and I thought, gee, it'd kind of be nice to be working there with school, work with kids because I thought I get along with other, by then it was probably -- kids didn't bother me. Children didn't bother me. Didn't have any real responsibilities, but I felt possibly... I guess it has something to do with being a, a Japanese person or a minority, dealing with the adult, white male, mainstream. I felt -- down here I felt this kind of thing. It was being opposed and... Some difficulty in communicating. And I thought it would be easier with kids. (Having grown up in an exclusive Japanese American community, my comfort zone in relating to white adults was relatively low. I thought, as a teacher working with children of diverse racial/ethnic backgrounds, I would be an effective teacher.)


AI: So about, about 1950 or '51, you thought about switching from accounting --

GY: Yeah, this must have been close to '50 maybe, yeah. Okay. I was curious about teaching and the requirements for preparing for a credential. So I went to the education department at the University of California Berkeley and talked to someone in the office. I had no idea what it means to become a teacher or anything about education. And the manager who talked to me wasn't necessarily condescending -- he was not condescending, but he was not very open to talking and saying -- say, hey, well I could do this, you know. And I didn't have many questions because I was not familiar with the, the business. He said, "Well, George, you'll have to -- I guess about the only thing you could do is to teach, but you have to be twice as good," he said. And I thought about that and said, well, I'll take a chance anyway. What else could I do? I had no idea what I wanted to do. I said, well, I'll take a chance.

AI: When, when he said that, "You'll have to -- if you teach, you'll have to be twice as good," what did that mean to you? Why would he say such a thing?

GY: At that time, there were very few Asians or Japanese Americans in the field. And he was looking at me as a second-class citizen, I guess, being a "foreigner." Couldn't see myself in front of a classroom with white children, I guess. Maybe that's the idea, I guess, I was different. I was "foreign." He had no experience with, in the training of Japanese Americans. There were no black teachers; very few, if any, at that time, even in the big cities. I said, well, okay. I'll try that, and see what I'm... so I took some of the classes and finally received my credential after about two years because I received credit from the business school. Also got credit from being, going to Fort Snelling language school, that was kind of nice. And in September of 1952, I was ready to teach. Just prior to that, I went to different school districts to talk to the personnel manager or the personnel department of the school districts. And after the interview, they said, "Well, we'll call you back." Don't call us, we'll call you kind of a situation. Never got any responses. I was very much disappointed because all my white friends had jobs already when they graduated.

<End Segment 37> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 38>

GY: Two weeks before school opened in September of 1952, I received a call from the Berkeley Unified School District, asking me if I was still interested in teaching. And I said, "Of course, yeah." Hope I didn't sound overly eager, but nevertheless, I said yes, and I was to report to Washington School in downtown Berkeley. The teacher whom I replaced was a woman who was pregnant and somehow or other I guess she wasn't well enough to teach, and so she had to ask for a discharge rather suddenly. And all the teachers leaving the UC Berkeley system and other schools in that area probably were hired already, so they scraped the barrel and found Yoshida down there. [Laughs] And I found myself teaching a fourth/fifth grade -- or fifth/sixth grade combination. And the teacher who had this class before I did just turned to me and talked to me and said, "Now, I'll expect you to be good to my class now. Don't spoil them," or something like that. And she was rather reluctant to give her, this wonderful class to me, not ever seeing an Asian teacher before.

But it started out to be just a very wonderful career in education. And I value that experience very much. I'm glad I made the change, and I feel very successful. Very fulfilling. I grew a lot in my experience at Washington School. That was the only school I taught in -- for about eighteen years ago -- eighteen years, I should say.

AI: Well, now, when you first started, you were probably the first Japanese American schoolteacher these kids had ever seen.

GY: Yeah, yeah.

AI: How did they react to you?

GY: Okay. I was -- for the, in the district of, of the school district of Berkeley, there was one other teacher who -- Yosh Isono is the name, Sansei, who started one-half semester before I did. He started as a gym teacher in junior high school. But as far as the children are concerned, it was the first Asian teacher and Japanese teacher, to see someone up in the classroom. It was a rather unique, novel experience. On the other hand, the classroom is from a, sort of a working-class background of neighborhood children in this particular area in Berkeley, away from the university somewhat. Mostly white, upper- lower-class, lower-middle-class kind of thing. Owners of grocery stores or whatever. But there were quite a few Sansei children in there, too, yeah. So that was nice. Three or four, five, six maybe. Maybe one black student, black, but yeah. And since there were classmates who were Japanese, too, also in the classroom, the white kids were not unfamiliar with Japanese names and faces, yeah.

<End Segment 38> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 39>

GY: It wasn't long -- it wasn't long before I was just really an important part of their lives, too. And I think my special approach to educating these kids was a sense of humor, trying to make life kind of a little, jokes and things like that. And I showed -- one of the things I did was the little trick with my finger, or do this kind of thing, among other things. [Laughs] And many years later, many, many years later, I went to a bank to make a deposit or something, and there was a young black man at the desk, the cashier's desk, I guess, where they, opening -- teller, and he looked at me, and he did this. [Laughs] And he said, "You're Mr. Yoshida, huh?" I said, "Yeah." He said, "I learned how to do this in your class." He didn't say, "That's the only thing I learned," but anyway, that was so neat. That was so neat.

And some great experiences. And as the years went on in terms of my, my teaching there, I had some great experiences that were more and more -- there was a movement of blacks from this section to move, slowly, so I had more and more black kids. The number of Asian kids, more Chinese kids, Japanese kids grew. But those were nice times there. There's some respect for teachers, and their parents were quite respectful. We had great parent-teacher conferences and meetings, so forth. Very supportive of the program. So I had a nice time. I had a great time. I would say nice time. Yeah, I guess it was a great time, nice time as a teacher. And I -- a couple things that I did which I thought was rather important in terms of my life, every year the sixth-graders would have to do some kind of a program, assembly program for the kids. And one year I did a take-off on Carmen with the sixth-grade class. And instead of, of tobacco factory, in which the women in the Carmen opera worked at, the workers were working in the chewing gum factory. And instead of the toreador, the, the hero was the yo-yo champ. And I used tunes from the very popular opera's, melody from Carmen and made some lyrics up to it, and it was kind of a neat program for sixth-graders.

Another program that was really enjoyable was a, an assembly, one-hour assembly of poetry. And I just learned how to enjoy poetry, and I was able to pick poetry or poems that the kids really dug. And so the poetry program assembly for the other class had to do with poetry by Langston Hughes, St. Vincent Millay -- is that her name? Poems they wrote. And how I would stimulate their, their imaginations in poetic, creative energy by having huge photographs. For example, Life magazine was a very neat source of curriculum material. For example, I had a photograph of Louis Armstrong. "Red hot," and he's going like this, and they would write poems about hot sounds coming from the Louis Armstrong, poetry. And then also did a neat poetry segment on haiku. And that was kind of neat, too. So we made a booklet, and the children wrote the three or four haiku. And I did some revisions. I, I guess it's okay to do that. No, let's move this around kind of thing or eliminate this kind of thing. And they were very successful, and we made little stamps using linoleum, they call them linoleum prints, sort of trying to get Asian kind of things. And we'd put stamps every so often, then poetry. And that was neat. That was a good, great poem, project.

<End Segment 39> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 40>

AI: Well, now, about this same time, you and Helen were starting your family.

GY: Yeah.

AI: And so will you tell me a little bit about your children?

GY: Let's see. We were married in '45, and this was 1950, '52, yeah. No kids. We were working.

AI: Oh, and excuse me. And did you move to El Cerrito in 1952?

GY: Somewhere around there, yeah. About that time, 1950, I started to work. We had enough money saved. Being a domestic, we didn't have a car, so we had from here, we were very frugal people. Saved money, no expensive... so we had about $2,000 in the bank. Started from scratch. And Helen grew up in, in, well, in a tiny home in Modesto, but much of her life was spent in a hotel because her parents had a hotel in Stockton, also. She just had a room, and all her friends had houses with a lawn. She just had a hotel room. And she dearly wanted her own house. And that was her, down to it, an obsession on her part. So when we moved to Berkeley and had some money, said, "Let's find, start looking for a house." And, and she really pushed that. I didn't think too much about it, but she pushed, so we'd go out, weekends, we'd look for lots, and, and that was '50, '51, '52, so there were quite a few lots in and around Berkeley. And we searched and found one in El Cerrito Hill. And when you looked down, you could see the bay, the Golden Gate Bridge and the Bay Bridge, et cetera, et cetera and the lights at night. It was just real wonderful piece of property . But in, on the deed, it said: Not to be sold to persons other than the white race. I'm not sure what the wording was. Not to be sold to blacks or whatever. There was that stipulation. Well, the owner of the property, a young Italian family, actually, several brothers owned the property, so he was ready to sell this -- choice is his. He said, "I don't care. I don't care." So a real nice guy. So we bought that property for about $1,700, $1,700. That's pretty good, huh? And, but it's all relative because my annual salary -- the first year at Washington School was -- one year now, $2,500. So that piece of property was, ate up most of the year's savings -- that wasn't a savings, but the point is it's relative to, to my income.

<End Segment 40> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 41>

GY: And we did want a family, but we wanted to save enough money for the house, too. And in our minds in terms of family -- I think this is true of most Niseis -- grow up, get married, and have a family and a house kind of thing. We didn't think, should we or should we not have a family, have kids? That was not much of a choice for some reason. It was a choice and yet it wasn't -- everyone did it. [Laughs] So we tried. We started a family, but the family didn't want to come to us. We couldn't start. We started it. We started. We started. Nothing happened. Eventually, we thought, well, we still would like a family. So we looked into the adoption process. And the easiest way to do this at that time, back in '52, was to consult with the adoption agency of the county welfare department -- social welfare department. So we went to the Contra Costa Social Welfare Department to inquire about the adoption and learn more about the procedure, requirements, financial cost, et cetera, et cetera, and also I think we may have gone to more of a private, nonprofit organization called Children's Home Society and got further information and requirements, well, do you have to have a full-blooded Japanese child? Do you have any other preferences? Are you -- what about, do you want an infant? Do you want -- is it okay to, would you like to adopt or can you, would you adopt an older child, et cetera, et cetera? How would you feel if your child doesn't go to college? All these questions.

And after our initial home study or several initial home studies, we were given a call to let us know that they had a child, a biracial child. [Interruption] But nevertheless, we went and advanced to a point where we were to meet the child. So we went to the welfare office and rendezvoused with our first son. And what shall I say? It was pretty exciting. And he came with his daily schedule. He gets up at so-and-so, and he eats this for breakfast and he takes a nap, with full instructions. [Laughs] That's sure neat. And we gave him a name, Cole, after both Cole Porter or Nat King Cole, and Koji is my father's name, Yoshida. And brought him home, and he became our first son. That was 1954, somewhere around there. And that was the beginning of our family.

And soon after that, about fifteen months, we thought, boy, about that time, sure would be nice to have a brother for Cole because we were, we had such good luck with, with him in terms of raising him and so forth. He was all scheduled except for one thing. He was subject to some kind of allergy to milk or something or other to eat. And he, because of this allergy, he, he had a case of eczema, I guess it was. He started to scratch, and so he had a pretty hard time with that. Other than that, he was very healthy. Handsome. I'm kind of partial to biracial children in that respect. And that was Cole. And then soon after that, we inquired about a brother. And -- yes, we, and we got a call saying they had another child. And he was biracial. [Interruption] And so we brought him home again. And his name's Clay Masao Yoshida. Masao is his other grandfather's name, Helen's father's name. It's kind of interesting because although they're both Yoshidas, they're so different, and each human being is different. I understand that. But entirely different. [Interruption] Raising him was, was neat for both of these boys.

And then, thought, God, we had such a good time here, easy time. Be nice to have a girl. Lo and behold, after some time, we got a call from the agency -- either one of the child services. I forgot which one was which. But nevertheless, they had a child for us, which we went to visit and to meet and say hello at the office. And she had a little rash on the face, and the social worker said, oh, don't be too concerned about her skin because she, she said that she was somehow, some kind of reaction to the food. And after the initial meeting, after about a week or two, or two, if we decided upon final adoption, we were to pick her up, which we did, and brought her home. And her name is Maia Toshiko Yoshida. Maia is a somewhat exotic name, I guess. It's Maia, sort of Swedish word. Also Maia is the mother of Buddha. I think with the -- so it nice saying Maia Yoshida. These children are rather exotic, I think, and were given -- instead of Mary or something like that, with nice name, and Helen was very particular about syllables and the sound. And I think it's a really nice name. And brought her home, and a lively young lady, who, as she grew up, enjoyed playing with the boys, in the back yard playing "Cowboys and Indians" kind of thing, kind of thing. Very athletic. And, well, we can talk about that later.

Then -- Helen was the only girl in the family, so she always wanted a sister, so another child. [Laughs] And we found her, they found one for us. [Interruption] Brought her home. We called her Lian, L-i-a-n, Lian Tosh -- let's see. Lian -- oh, gosh. This is embarrassing. [Laughs] Lian -- she does have a Japanese name. Toshiko... oh, yes. I know. (Kayoko). Well, anyway, it will come to me. I'm having a senior moment. But Lian, a very lively girl with a cute, raspy voice. She looks more Latina. Just really a cute girl. High energy.

Anyway, this is our family. That's how we started out, four adoptees, biracial, from different backgrounds. And -- but very special in how they looked, and so exotic in the facial features, so forth. And --

AI: Well, for the time -- at that time, in the '50s, 1950s, that was rather unusual.

GY: I suppose so. I didn't know of, of any other families.

AI: For, for Niseis couples to adopt and...

GY: Yeah. And if they did adopt, they wouldn't say, "We have adopted children." It was something that was sort of kept under... family secret kind of thing. In fact, they didn't even tell the child that he or she was adopted in those days. It was not recommended. But when we adopted children -- excuse me -- we were told to tell them the true story at the beginning. And we did. And they grew up in that manner, this, as our children, but way back they knew, they knew they were adopted. They were called "chosen children." But that was not, never a problem. Never a problem in terms of our relationship with them and theirs with ours and with each other, too. There was no connection in terms of the bloodline kind of thing.

<End Segment 41> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 42>

AI: Okay. We're continuing with George Yoshida, February 18, 2002. And you, we're now in the year 1963. And you were, you took a sabbatical from your teaching job.

GY: Yes. Up to that point, one of the fulfilling, I guess, and enjoyable part of my teaching as an elementary school teacher was that it was such a diverse day in terms of the curriculum. There was reading, writing, arithmetic, music, art, science, PE, all that stuff, and different aspects of each of the subjects. And one of the things I enjoyed doing thoroughly was the art class every week, not just one hour. And if you have time, go to the art table -- and you could use crayons, and that's art today for many kids. In those days, in the '50s, the school district provided workshops for teachers in art. For example, we'd be sent to a special class or have the option to do that, and professional artists will give us advice in terms of the curriculum. And so I really picked up on that, and I, myself, was not an artist in that sense, but I could appreciate art. So I, I tried many different techniques that were very successful, very successful as far as I'm concerned. And the principal at that time, Dr. Harold Maves, was a person who just enjoyed that, cultural arts. And being successful in it made me do it more, of course. And so we did such a variety of artwork, watercolor, using crayons, melting crayons, prints -- linoleum prints. What else did we do? A lot of watercolor. And the prints were very good, too.

And about that time, I met -- oh, yes. One of the consultants we had in art was a professor at the University of California. And he knew a Japanese artist from Japan who was working in San Francisco and living in the back of the Buddhist Church. He was a young teacher, elementary school teacher of art. And this art consultant introduced me to Mr. Oe, Takashi Oe. Marvelous young, very modest Japanese man. You know, they're not very outgoing, these Issei, you know. So I had sometime, difficulty in, in communicating, but he showed me his work, this large, white paper with sumi-e, but abstract, very abstract. But used a lot of different shades of black, gray, and some whites, open there. And that was what he's doing, he spent a whole year in the back of this Buddhist Church, small room, in a cold room, doing this work. And I think he had a show in one of the museums there. But I was, I would visit with him, and I enjoyed his work, and he sold me one of his works, and I still have it in display at my house.

But he would encourage me and he would tell me about art education in the elementary schools in Japan. He would show me booklets that were part of the curriculum, and it was a standard art text for children. And each grade had Book 1, 2, 3, 4 -- different grades. I was really impressed. And I was impressed with the time they spent with a professional artist. I was impressed with the curriculum because of the -- the medium -- the media they use. Print materials and different kinds of print, crayons, cutting up pieces of plastic and making abstract shapes, woodwork. You name it, and they did it. It was really impressive. And I thought, how neat. Golly. He said, "Come to Japan. Come to Japan." Well, I'm not going to -- I'm going to go to Japan.

<End Segment 42> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 43>

GY: And then, of course, there was the sabbatical leave program at schools. Most schools have it -- had it at that time. Not anymore. One-year sabbatical leave to do whatever to improve one's teaching facility, so forth. And I, I talked to the principal, and he said, oh, gosh, yeah. Maybe, get leave, and why don't you apply for it? And he encouraged me. And Mr. Oe said, "Come on. Come to Japan." So the approval was given to me to go to Japan for a whole year. They would give me 75 percent of my salary. And I could take my family. It was usually 50 percent, but I proposed that, I requested I take my family, so they raised the percentage to 75 percent. And salary back then was -- let's see. Fifteen hundred first year, 17 and 2,500 -- well, I made 5,000 by then, a year. That was pretty good, right? Compared to the beginning salary. And so we packed up. I didn't know what to take. I had no idea what to expect and the lack of space in Japan. We couldn't find a place. No apartments were available, as housing is very scarce in Japan. But my cousin, actually my mother's cousin, had a tiny house in the outskirts of Tokyo, and he, she built a tiny room -- it was a tiny room -- for his, for their, I should say, their eldest son to move in with his new wife. And a tiny kitchen. Well, the son didn't move in, so here was this tiny bedroom. And she invited me, come on over, and you could stay with us. Oh, hey, how great. And that was because she -- her name's Jun, Junko. Jun-chan, we call her, Nishimura -- is the cousin of my mother, who came from Japan in 1921 with her. And she's the one who went to the school in Western -- Eastern Washington. And her major was music and piano. So she was very much Westernized, very open. She'd laugh, and just great, great person.

So we were living with her and her husband, who was a very quiet but very nice man, very artistic, tall, tall man. And they lived in Manchuria for a while. I think we may have talked about that. They had just come back -- not just come -- some time ago, but they had some terrible times. Their life was a matter of trying to find enough to -- you know, enough to buy food, whatever. But they slowly recovered. So I stayed with them and there were two daughters living there. They were both out of school by then. And then the two sons were out of school. They lived out somewhere. And it was a very modest house; small room, small kitchen. We had our own small kitchen. One burner, propane gas. In the spout of the wall, cold water. There was a well outside. And so Mr. Nishimura built a tiny table for us. We sat around the table, six of us, and had dinner and that. And for the bedroom, in the tatami room, instead of using the tatami on the floor -- we had four kids, so he made two double-deckers close to each other, man. And just close together. And I guess the size of one tatami, I think seemed to fit. And so we had, four kids were in there. And then we slept in the, sort of a, their living room. We had a mattress on the floor every night, and roll it up.

So they were very nice people. And it was kind of neat to meet their kids, to recognize... and we even had Christmas there, Christmas tree because she knew about Christmas and what to do. Of course, they were Christians, too. And she was -- she would bake a small cake for us or whatever. And their kids were very friendly with us and our kids, too. Our two sons were fourth -- third and fourth grade, I guess, or somewhere around there, went to the U.S. Army's dependents' school. So they had to take a bus, streetcar. They learned to make their way by themselves to go to school every day. Our two younger girls were not old enough to go to the local Japanese school, so they hung out in the neighborhood and played with neighborhood kids who spoke only Nihongo, Japanese. So in hearing, and being -- this is a full, total immersion, learning a foreign language, they learned rather quickly to speak Japanese. At first we could hear them mumbling. What are they doing? They're pretending to speak Japanese to each other. Then moved into words slowly and to sentences. And by the end of the year, they could converse in Japanese and go to the store, and they asked for a candy, candy chodai, or something like that. That was neat. And they played with the kids.

And near our field was a rice paddy and other vegetables growing there. So essentially farmland. The dirt was very rich, which means very black. And our kids were wearing little pants and the T-shirt, and we didn't worry about what they wore because they're going to get dirty anyway. So they wore just very simple clothing. They were dirty and we were not very much concerned. And Japanese folks are very much concerned about their, how their neighbors think about who they are. And when, any time kids would go out, they'd have to be neat, clean, but our kids were dirty. And it was kind of interesting because our cousin, Junko-san, said, "You know, some of the neighbors are really concerned about your kids. They think you're very poor, and they are thinking about donating clothes to the kids," she said. And it was a great laugh and sort of reverse Marshall Plan of some sort. But that was that. And --

<End Segment 43> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 44>

AI: Now, what would you be doing, during --

GY: Okay. Yes. My purpose of going to Japan as far as the school district was concerned was to observe the art program in the elementary schools. So I bought me a brand-new Nikon camera, which I carried in my left hand. Heavy, heavy camera. And I'd take the train and go to different schools and meet a teacher, talk to him, observe the kids, talk to the kids, take photographs, chit-chit-chit. And it was great. And, and he would say, "Well, why don't you go to this school here," and introduce me to so-and-so and do that. So I spent a whole year doing that, going to different schools. And one day I was invited to a art teachers' conference way up there in northern part of Aomori. I think it was Aomori, north, Sendai? The northern -- Aomori. Is that a ken? Sendai. Well, anyway, northern part of Japan. Teachers from Tokyo took a train, overnight train, and they would meet at this -- I guess it was a ryokan of some sort, the inn of some sort. And it was so neat because they sat to talk about philosophy in terms of elementary education. They learned a few techniques, and some people -- teachers demonstrated. It was a teachers meeting. And it was, it was kind of neat, very... felt very much at home, yeah, with these people. And I was impressed with their, their really conscientious effort to provide art for them, (the children), at their level, to have them enjoy the art process. They said, here's an apple. Doesn't matter what it looks like to you. That's an apple. That's her, his or her work. And dig it, kind of thing. That was nice.

AI: Well, so you felt very much at home among these Japanese art teachers.

GY: Well, yeah -- yes and no. Yeah, the teachers, yes. Go ahead. I'm sorry.

AI: Well, please tell me more about "yes and no."

GY: Well, yeah, the teachers fine. And I enjoyed their, the teaching style, their philosophy toward education in art for the children. It's something we rarely did. But the interesting part of it was that I took some of the works of, artworks of children from our school, Washington School, and my work and the other teachers' works, so I had a real good collection of different techniques. And I had a display, received permission to display at one of the big department stores, sponsored by Crayola Company. And it said, "Artwork" -- in Nihongo -- "Artwork from Washington School, Berkeley, California, Yoshida Joji, Sensei" or something like that. In Nihongo. It was really a nice exhibit. And so, the public was invited to attend, so forth. It was kind of interesting because every so often, we'd have people, white folks from the Occupation, maybe wives who were wandering and see this work and say, hey, lookit, gee, isn't it wonderful, the Japanese art? Work that the kids in Japan do, not realizing it's from United States. [Laughs]

<End Segment 44> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 45>

GY: But getting back to relationship with, with Japanese, and Japanese, well, the family -- if you were close to the family, it's very intimate and warm. In Japan, there's a concept, tanin; means outsiders. And that means when you're on the train, you're with outsiders. You don't care how you behave to their, or what you do. You could be rude as heck. We talk about polite Japanese, but it's not like that in the big cities. Everyone is outsiders. We were outsiders, too, out there. And especially with four children because in Japan at the time -- well, even now, too, families were small. The kids were, at the most, maybe two at the most -- at the most, but mostly in one family, one child per family. And here is this strange group of people, talking this strange language, dressed differently. They would look at us, not look at us, especially on the trains. We were sitting there, and then kids were sitting next to, and all the people are looking. And it's, who are these strange-looking people, speaking strange language? And I don't know if they even knew we were speaking English or not. Dressed differently, behaving a little bit differently. And the kids really were unhappy and resented that. Oh, they're all staring at us, why are they staring at us, kind of thing. Others that -- this, like this incident once that -- in one of the department stores -- I think Japanese women, you know, women, just adore children. And it seems to be a national trait, I guess. And so Lian, the youngest at three years old, running around, she was, she had this raspy voice, cute, big eyes. And, and a lot of -- what's the word I want? No inhibitions at all. Just running all over the place. And one of these young salesladies would, knowing that we were not Japanese but figured out we were Japanese Americans, would sort of stop Lian and talk to -- and they wanted to practice English. "Hello." They said, "What is your name?" kind of thing, you know. And Lian, you know, "How old are you?" Lian would say, "Mittsu." [Laughs] And shock, kind of thing. So these little incidents about meeting -- East meets West or West, or West meets East.

And then the other thing is that in Japan at that time, there were very few -- certainly not in homes, there weren't any of these so-called Western seat -- toilet seats and all that. They were on the floor, flush on the floor level. I don't know if you're familiar with that. So it took a little squatting and athletic proficiencies to do whatever you need to do in the toilet. But the kids didn't like that. And they were smelly, too, because there was no, in our house -- in most houses at that time, they didn't have flush toilets, so the honey bucket -- it's, actually it's a big, looks like a, a oil tanker truck, kind of thing. Petroleum truck. But anyway, they sucked up the stuff. That was a pretty terrible experience because it, it mussed up this material and they'd throw it up there. (Toilets in Japanese homes in the '60s were mostly out-houses located inside the homes -- they were not flush toilets. "Honey buckets" were receptacles used years ago by individuals to remove the accumulated waste. In 1963, trucks similar to our petroleum delivery trucks came to remove the waste through the use of a vacuum-operated flexible tube leading from the collection base of the indoor toilet to the tank of the truck. This process resulted in a most disagreeable stench throughout most of the house. My 5-year-old daughter once remedied this situation with a clothespin on her nose!) Well, anyway, so whenever we had the opportunity, we'd go downtown and go to the big department store, they had a Japanese toilet and a Western toilet. So they'd look to find the Western toilet. "Hey, Mom, yeah, found it. We found the Western toilet. It's a good toilet." So that was a treasure hunt on weekends at department stores. [Laughs] Yeah, so East meets the West. West meets the East, yeah.

<End Segment 45> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 46>

GY: So school was going -- and so they enjoyed that. And I enjoyed going to school. The teachers were very friendly. And I observed a music class or two other than, other classes, I should say. And this is, there was a neat class in this one school. It was a kindergarten class. And each one had a harmonica in, and in front of the class is a huge chart with notes on it, man. Notes. Golly. They played okay. This is kindergarten. That was amazing. Amazing. And they were singing solfeggio do-mi-so kind of thing, with the note. And one day on the bus in the back row, a group of kids, maybe four or five, was, they were singing, "When the Saints Were Going Home," mi-so-la-do -- I don't know what it is. Bah-bah-dah-dah. Dah-dah-dah-dah. Dah-dah-dah-dah. In solfeggio, something like that. And it was really amazing they're, the music education. But they didn't have the instruments, but they did have some keyboard, you know, kind of thing. And the tonette, harmonica. I didn't see too many large orchestras, so -- well, it's just too expensive. Now they do have them. So that was the music education, and they, and the physical education was very, very fascinating. I think it's patterned after European physical education. A lot of jumping, hurdling, dip -- gymnastics and so forth. That was neat, too. And art, science was kind of neat, too. They had group science teams like four or five, six kids working on an experiment, that kind of thing. And the teachers were very -- I thought very friendly, and it was a nice relationship between the teacher and the -- they were kidding around -- and the students. Kind of nice, I thought. Art, music, science, yeah... yeah, I guess that's what school was like.

AI: Excuse me --

GY: But in the meantime, Helen, what did she do as I went to -- school to school? Well, let's see. In the drudgery of the household, she went shopping every day to the local grocery store or the vegetable stand or the meat counter and so forth. And washing was a, a big chore. Eventually, we bought a sewing mach -- a washing machine. All it did was this. And eventually, when the washing was done, all the clothes were tangled, man, it's all sort of -- and just took hours to untangle the clothing after the spin-dry -- which was not very dry. Then she used to hang the clothing on these horizontal bamboo posts. Put their -- they'd poke through the arms all the, through kind of thing. And that was a chore. Then upper ones you had to use some kind of thing. And that was a chore that took a long time. And the clothing became dirty because the dirt was black.

And then every day about 4 o'clock, she went outside with some kindling and started the fire to heat the water for the bath. And the bathtub -- wooden tub, about so long and so wide. Up to here. So filled up with water with the hose, tiny, little water came through. And there was this fireplace down there, and they heated the water. And it took two or three hours to heat the water. And at that time in the household, there were five of us and Mr. and Mrs. Nishimura and two daughters, so we had nine people. We all took turns taking a bath. They'd start with the kids, two girls then two boy -- well, no, I think the boys had to do it separately. It was a tiny, little shack there with the tub. And it's just sooty with smoke, whatever. And maybe, maybe the boys took it separately, but the two girls, we could scrub them in there. And then Helen or I, and then either Mr. or Mrs. -- Mrs. first, and then maybe, and the girls would come in late -- the same water. Of course, we washed outside. That's the Japanese pattern. But for soaking nine of us. And so there's still warm water left. So the next day it was used for washing clothing. And that was the life in those days in Japan.

AI: Excuse me. I'm going to -- only because we're short on time, I'm going to move you ahead in the time machine here.

GY: Right.

<End Segment 46> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 47>

AI: You were, you were there in Japan with your family for a year. You came back to Berkeley in 1964.

GY: Yeah. '63, yes, '64 -- yes, roughly.

AI: And so I'm going to kind of ask you to, to move into the era of music in your life and kind of bring it up to date from, from the '60s up the present because you became very engaged with music and jazz, and please just tell us some of the highlights.

GY: Yeah. After the camp experience and camp band experience, I wanted to do something about continuing the work, but in raising a family, I didn't have much time to play instruments or to get, work with a group. And I didn't know too many people who were doing that at that time -- most Niseis were very busy regaining some kind of mental state to work and to earn a living, to get married and so forth and so on. But I would say about '60, '61, I started to become interested and to have some time away from children and to take some drum lessons. That was something I dearly wanted to do. A black friend of mine, Earl Watkins, who taught at one of the music schools, real nice cat who was responsible for my joining a black musicians' union in San Francisco. Anyway, I advanced -- I didn't advance too much, but -- in terms of my technique, but nevertheless, I met more and more people like me, so, this kind of thing. And I met the person whose name was George Takamoto, and I knew of him -- not really personally. He knew me because he was in camp, too, at Poston. And he had picked up the trumpet and became rather good and eventually became a professional musician. And he was in San Francisco. And somehow we got together. And there was another guy who played at Topaz -- in Topaz. You can set up, matters of networking. Oh, here's so-and-so, so forth. So there was a quartet, and so I played with George's quartet for some time, playing in Chinatown or restaurants, JACL meetings and dances, things like that. And so got a little bit better with the drums and improved my technique a little bit, but mostly self-taught.

One thing left -- oh, yes. Another important event in terms of my life and music is that while at Washington School, there came a new principal one, one fall, and his name was Herb Wong. And it turned out that Herb was a DJ, a disc jockey, for KJAZ at that time. Very much a devoted aficionado of music and swing, and rather influential in this position. And decided that Washington School to start a jazz education program for elementary school kids. And so we did a survey, wrote a survey, wrote curriculum guides, introduced children to jazz through recordings, instrumentation, difference between classical and jazz in terms of instruments, how it sounded, some blues. And it was really kind of a neat program. And he invited Oscar Peterson and his trio to take -- perform for the kids. Now, that was really an exciting event for the kids but especially for me. Another outstanding musician is Roland Kirk, and local musicians. We even had a faculty band, made up of fac -- our faculty, other faculty members. We had a janitor, black janitor -- there were always janitors around -- who played a wonderful saxophone. And, that was kind of neat, too. We played one or two concerts. But that was, again, fun to rehearse.

<End Segment 47> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 48>

GY: So we got more and more involved with -- I got more involved with music. I don't know when it was, but let's see, maybe going for thirteen. In 1989, about that time, '85-'89, I met Mark Izu, a Sansei bass player, and I really marveled at his proficiency, technique, interest in music. He wanted to be, at that time, a professional musician. In fact, he was a professional musician. That was his trade at that time, but not too many gigs, of course. But I talked to him and said, geez, Mark, sure would be kind of fun to have a big band of some sort because we started hearing more about the availability of Sansei musicians. I said, it'd be kind of neat to have an organization to introduce them to swing music if you had not -- if they had not played in such a group, which they had not. And so we had our first rehearsal on February 1989. And we were short on trombone players. We had a piano player from, from, from locally, George Yamasaki, originally of Hawaii, playing the piano. And I played drums. We found a bass player -- oh, Mark Izu was the bass player. Found about four saxophone players, all Sanseis. We found one female, Jan Yona -- Yonemura -- excuse me. Yonemura. Yonemoto -- who played the saxophone and clarinet. And it was a kind of nice addition to the family, good to have a female Sansei playing. It was so neat. Trumpet players, and maybe we had one or two hakujins there because -- one of the trumpet players who used to play in the Heart Mountain band, joined us. That was neat. And he would bring a friend in.

So we had the saxophone section, the trumpet section, and maybe one trombone at the most. This trombone player was kind of an interesting -- Tomita was his name. And he was at Mills College, but he was sort of an avant-garde musician who had studied in France. But I saw this photograph of him. Tuxedo, trombone, and in bare feet. That's just -- a really interesting person, very much into music, avant-garde. And he played for us for a while, and that was kind of neat. And they were rather scarce. So we had our first rehearsal on that date. We announced several -- I think we may have put announcements in the paper, jazz paper. So that was the beginning. That was thirteen years ago, and we're still going strong. And it's really a great organization, I think, musically. But in terms of social contacts and the sharing of --

AI: And this, this was the J-Town --

GY: J-Town Jazz Ensemble. And I used the word "ensemble" because if I said "J-Town Big Band," I didn't know whether we'd be a big band, how big or small it was. It was, turned out to be seventeen pieces: five saxophones, four trumpets, four trombones, four-piece rhythm section. We do have two vocalists now. And I was graduated into something other than playing the drums because there were so many young drummers who could read the music and were quite capable. And again, it was the, my idea was to serve as a role model, too. If that wasn't there, there'd be nothing for them. I wouldn't say nothing, but it, the kids would not have had the experience of what we're doing now. It became a very social group. And every year we'd have a birthday party, and David Umemoto had a big house. And, and -- well, I don't know about every year, but in the last few years, we have a anniversary party. And it was a nonprofit organization in that none of us expected any money for gigs, but sometimes we do, sometimes we don't. Nonprofit. Played for local Cherry Blossom Festivals, et cetera, et cetera.

Last year it was a very outstanding event for me because the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles had a, as usual their annual fund-raising program, which was a dinner-dance at the Palladium. Now, the Palladium is a very well-known ballroom, built about sixty years ago. And it opened in LA with great fanfare. It was a beautiful ballroom. And the dance band that opened it was Tommy Dorsey with his new singer, Frank Sinatra. And man, at that time, he had a big, big seller. I don't know what. Million sell, whatever, a tune called "I'm Fall -- " let's see. What is it? "I'll Never Smile Again" and tunes like that. And I had a date that night, one of these rare dates, and just really enjoyed Tommy Dorsey, Buddy Rich, Frank Sinatra, The Pied Pipers, and several other singers. Great show. And then here it is sixty years later, no -- never been there since. Last year, here our band is down there, playing on the same stage as Tommy, and it was quite a thrill to me. We were saying to -- talking to some of my friends, if the walls could only talk, in the same small, cramped dressing rooms and all that. It was a great thrill for me and for some of the older guys to play at the same ballroom as Tommy Dorsey. That's sixty years ago, my first -- one of my first dates, too. Yeah. So that was good.

So we -- we're still working, and next week we'll be playing at the Sacramento State University for their Day of Remembrance program to play the tunes that Niseis enjoyed many years ago. So that's the J-Town Jazz Ensemble.

<End Segment 48> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 49>

AI: There's so many more questions that I would love to ask you and it's only because our time is running short that I hesitate to continue here. I did have one question that I'd like to ask and then give you a chance to say anything else that you'd like to add. But my, my last question is: now, when you were younger and going through the World War II years and then difficult years after that and facing some difficulties in getting your employment, well, during all that time, you had to deal with a lot of things, but you didn't -- you, you had mentioned to me that when redress efforts first started happening, that like many Nisei, that was not of great interest to you.

GY: Uh-huh.

AI: But at some point along the way, you -- it seems like you did start thinking about the injustices that had happened and that the government had, make a mistake and then admitted it. When did that start entering into your, your music and your development in your, your performances with the poetry and the reflection? Can you tell a little bit about that?

GY: In camp scene, we had to live the life of camp, to accept life as it was. At the time, we didn't think about it in terms of injustices and so forth. There's sort of a Japanese philosophy of shikata ga nai. This means we had to accept what we could, do the best we can. And after the camp, it was a matter of resettlement and resuming our lives as citizens, growing up, possibly marrying, raising families, so forth, finding a job, so forth. But in our latter year -- later years especially, I, as I think in terms of redress, so forth, in my -- as far as I'm, understanding is concerned, I feel very strongly that Sanseis had a lot to do with the redress movement. And I felt -- I think they felt as an outsider to see what was happening to their parents. Maybe their, their point of view was different and they could see the injustice that was done. And because of that and their interest in our history and the sudden... oh, what shall I say? Well, I guess the impetus for redress aroused a lot of interest in term -- on the part of the Sanseis and others, what happened and whatever before that. As questions were asked, why didn't you talk about it, so forth. And so people started to write, and I think younger academicians were -- started to get oral history, write about it, do research, became big, big, bigger, bigger. And so that right now it seems like we're overwhelmed by the internment scene, just overwhelmed by information available and so forth. But it was a really big part of our lives.

But as a part of that, it was just -- well, in terms of my entire life, it's just one, one-seventy-ninth of my life in terms of being in the camp. And I lived through it, and it seems to me at the present time in terms of my mental state, in terms of all that happened, that -- looking at my life today, I just feel very fulfilled. I'm doing what I want to do. I'm not wanting with anything. I've got stimulation from whatever I'm doing and the music, so forth. But then because of the interest in the occupation -- no, excuse me -- the internment and so forth, people, people asking questions. I did, did my own research and discovered like poetry of Lawson Inada, thing. And that's cool, boy. There was a lot of -- not too much poetry was written, but here were people always talking about how cold, or the food is bad, or the train ride was bad, but Lawson is talking about something special about -- for example, I just... this poem about the assembly center, Fresno Assembly Center, about it cost money to go to the fairgrounds, but we got in free to live, Fresno prison camp. You know, poems that sort of adds a little bit more -- a deeper feeling interest about, about camps. And so, that I started to, sort of, get a feel for that. I guess maybe that sort of changed me. About the condition in camp, people there. The hakujin woman who stayed with his -- her Nisei husband. It was more than just my being there, playing, going to dances kind of thing. And I sort of developed an interest in things other than camp. Of course -- and I could look back at it and say, if I became destitute and life was on -- I was up on skid row, that would be something else. But I feel very satisfied with what happened to me. And I thought, well, to tell the story and people want to hear about it, okay. Maybe I can do my, do it my way by using music. And so I came to do what I did the other night, reading poetry by several young Sanseis and to use music that I like to augment what I did. That's what I'm doing now.

AI: Is there anything else you'd like to add? Something else you'd --

GY: No, not at the present time because it's 4:30, and I said I'm going to be there at... [Laughs] I have to call Helen right now because she'll be waiting right now.

AI: Well, we thank you very much for your time.

GY: Is that okay?

AI: Certainly. Thanks so much.

GY: Yeah.

<End Segment 49> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.