Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Mitsuye May Yamada - Joe Yasutake - Tosh Yasutake Interview
Narrators: Mitsuye May Yamada, Joe Yasutake, Tosh Yasutake
Interviewers: Alice Ito (primary), Jeni Yamada (secondary)
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: October 8 & 9, 2002
Densho ID: denshovh-ymitsuye_g-01-0078

<Begin Segment 78>

MY: One of the things, though, about -- I think that this kind of sense of optimism is part of his character, I remember. 'Cause when I was going to the University of Chicago, I moved back with my parents for a while after I graduated from NYU. And we did talk about that period. And Dad, about his, about his incarceration specifically, not about the evacuation, but about his -- and he said, "Well, there must have been a good reason. After all, America was at war." He was making all these -- and I just thought that was rather odd, too, at that time -- was making all kinds of excuses, as to --

TY: Rationalizations.

MY: Rationalizing as to why it was necessary for him to be incarcerated. Because of his job and this and that. And then also, and then I also talked to him about, about the rumor that I had heard that his fellow inmates were, had turned against him, and that his life was in danger in camp.

TY: Did he, did he ever tell you that he sensed that? That he was aware of it?

MY: Yeah, he said that, he said that he was, but he thought that it was not, wasn't unusual, that was not a word.

TY: Not an immediate threat.

MY: Yeah, I know. He was a very forgiving person, if you remember. He didn't hold anything against -- because he was the kind of person he was, he didn't think ill of anybody. He didn't really -- I've never heard him speak bad things, say bad things about other people.

TY: No, I have not heard, yeah.

MY: And because of that, he was making all these excuses, or rationalizations for the behavior of his inmates, his fellow Japanese, some of them who had turned against him. And he said, "Well after all, their families were suffering and they lost a lot of money in the war," and so forth, "and in comparison, we came out of it quite well." And so forth. So he was very forgiving in that respect, of the United States government, and so forth. And I was kind of a cynical graduate student during those days. And I just thought -- and it was kind of remarkable to me, that he didn't hold any, any grudge or any sense of resentment about his treatment during that time. And by that time he had become director of the Chicago Resettlers. And he met quite a few Isseis who were coming out of camp, and some of them were really in very dire straits. And some of them had become homeless. And lost a lot of property and money. And he was, what he was doing as part of his job, was making applications to the federal government for, for them to get aid. For their welfare, welfare aid for them and their families and things like that. So he was very much aware -- and then also, it was during that period when the government permitted the Isseis to put in an application for the amount of money they lost during the war to... what was that called? Where they were returning --

TY: Reparations?

MY: Not reparations, it was before that. And returning some of the funds that they lost during -- we got our money back that, he got his funds unfrozen, the money that he had. So he was helping the -- you had to apply for that, I think.

TY: Oh, I see.

MY: So he had to, he was helping a lot of Isseis do all of this, so he was very much aware that in comparison to many, many of these families, that we came out of the war rather well. Because we didn't lose the house, we didn't lose our... and so it was kind of, well, it wasn't amazing, I suppose, but I remember thinking at the time, "What's the matter with him? How come he's not angry about what happened to him?" But he was lecturing, actually, to me. "Well, it just couldn't be helped. Shikata ga nai." That was very much ingrained in him.

AI: So even, even at that time, when he was still at Lordsburg, and you were visiting him at this time of -- in some ways, kind of a crisis, that he didn't display that to you outwardly.

MY: No, it's just really... yeah.

AI: Although at the very end of your visit, Tosh, I think you were the one who had mentioned at an earlier time that he, that your father did say something to you at the end there about not doing anything --

TY: Foolish.

MY: Foolish, yeah. We kind of figured that -- what do you think he meant?

AI: What did it, what was it that he said?

TY: Well, I think he just meant for me to just not get myself killed. [Laughs] To come back alive.

MY: That would have been foolish. [Laughs]

TY: But I think he just very quiet, in his way, trying to, telling me to be sure that I don't do anything silly and get myself killed. Come back alive.

MY: Be careful.

TY: Be careful, yeah.

MY: It's kind of a way of saying --

TY: Kiotsuke nasai.

MY: Kiotsuke nasai.

TY: And --

MY: But he wasn't talking in Japanese, though.

TY: Huh? No.

MY: He was talking in English.

TY: He was talking in English. Because the guard was there, he couldn't speak Japanese, really.

MY: He never spoke Japanese to us, anyway.

JY: Yeah.

MY: No, he didn't, he never --

JY: Yeah, I never talked to him in Japanese.

TY: Well, it was a mixture, I think. I don't think he spoke all Japanese. He mixed in Nihongo with it, too.

MY: Well, yeah, when we were sitting at the dinner table, for instance, because Mom was there, and she didn't understand English, so we spoke in Japanese so that she would be included in the conversation. But other than -- on a personal --

TY: One-to-one basis, yeah.

MY: -- one-to-one basis, he always spoke to us in English. And, he was kind of a remarkable person.

TY: Well, then we just sort of hugged, and I guess... [pauses] well, to keep us from breaking down, we didn't say anything.

MY: Uh-huh. It's, anyway, and after that, and then I left, then Mike and I left together. We left camp --

<End Segment 78> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.