Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: George Yamada Interview
Narrator: George Yamada
Interviewer: Megan Asaka
Location: Spokane, Washington
Date: March 15 & 16, 2006
Densho ID: denshovh-ygeorge_2-01

<Begin Segment 1>

MA: So today is March 15th, and we're here at the Museum of Arts & Culture in Spokane, Washington. And today I'll be interviewing George Yamada, and Dana Hoshide is our cameraperson today. So George, thank you so much for coming down here.

GY: You're welcome.

MA: I wanted to start by asking you about your family background. Where was your father from in Japan?

GY: My dad was from Yamaguchi, somewhere close to Shimonoseki, which is on the very tip of the main, Honshu, main island.

MA: Closer to Fukuoka?

GY: Yeah, 'cause I remember seeing Koreans in white kimonos in that area, going to Shimonoseki prior to going into Korea, I guess.

MA: How did he end up in Spokane then?

GY: I really don't know. I think it was due to economic, farming for one, then he latched on to railroad, and he worked for Great Northern for thirty-eight years, I believe.

MA: Did he, so was most of his family back in Japan then, did they stay?

GY: He had a brother in Japan, no sisters, a brother. And I think he may have been killed in the military, I'm not sure which war, but I would assume it was World War II.

MA: And what about your mother? Where was she from?

GY: She was from Hokkaido. Could have been some connection, relatives, distant cousins, but my mother was from Hokkaido and her grandfather, I remember meeting the grandfather, grandmother, and her three sisters.

MA: Did you meet them in Japan?

GY: Pardon? Yes, when I went to visit back, 1929, 1930.

MA: And then do you know how she met your father?

GY: I think it was a picture wedding, what they call a shashin kekkon. I think that's what it was.

MA: Did your parents ever talk to you about that, or what gave you the clue that it was...

GY: I was never that curious as to -- [laughs] -- how they met. I guess my mother used to tell me it was shashin kekkon, but other than that, I'm not really certain how it all came about.

MA: You said that your father worked for the railroad. Did your mother work as well when she first came over?

GY: She did for a little while, off and on. Used to be a company called Alaska Junk Company, and she used to sew, make or sew bags, large, I don't know, 100-pound, 200-pound bags for whatever purpose they used those bags for, I don't know about that. I know she worked there from time to time.

MA: And did your parents share much with you about their experiences immigrating to the U.S. and settling in Spokane? Did they talk about that time?

GY: Yeah, my dad used to deliver vegetables in the wagon going up to the South Hill. And I guess this is something that my wife used to tell me. My mother used to talk to my, my wife, and my dad would convey his thoughts to my wife and I would hear from my wife. I never heard from my dad or mom, but wife used to tell me what my folks told her about their, when they used to live in -- well, not live in Spokane, but when they first started out, vegetables, delivering vegetables.

MA: So your father delivered vegetables, was this mostly to other Japanese homes?

GY: No, it was hakujin. It, whoever would buy vegetables during that period -- and this is before the, before the 1920s. I was born in '23, so you, I think it was in the turn of the century possibly. My mother was not here then, yet. He went back to Japan and married my mother then, but before all this took place, before I was born -- I was the firstborn -- he was doing farming work, I guess. Yeah, primarily farming.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2006 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

MA: So you said you were born in 1923?

GY: Uh-huh.

MA: And where exactly were you born?

GY: [Laughs] I think, I'm pretty sure it was with a midwife, Japanese midwife. This is the kind of things that I wish my mother told me, I never wrote it down, and I've forgotten her name. But I was born where Washington State college now sits, on the Spokane River bank, across from Gonzaga University. And it used to be an old sawmill, McGoldrick Lumber Company, that used to cut logs that floated down the Spokane River. And in those days, used to be just blocks on end of floating logs that went into the sawmill. We had one in downtown Spokane and one by Gonzaga. And that house, I remember, had gas jets coming out of the wall, I assume for light, but we never used it. I think it was just too dangerous. But we lived there for a short while before we moved into town. My dad was working on the railroad at that time, so it was easy for him to cross where you people are staying, on Division Street. Across Division Street, walk down that hill, used to be a roadway where the hotel sits now, and walk to the clock tower, past the clock tower where the U.S. mail gathering station was.

MA: What do you remember about living, about those days living at the, you said the old sawmill camp? Were you old enough to remember some things about that?

GY: Oh yeah, you could hear the bandsaws going, high pitch, and when you hear big logs being cut, you could hear the whine of the blades. It's what they call a bandsaw, it's one continuous saw, like a band. And that would be going full-blast, and you could hear the wood being cut as the motor slowed down to get it into the wood. And then at noon, the steam whistle that was created by their engines, I guess, would blow at noon. And we had two of those... particularly at noon, everybody would look at their watch because McGoldrick Lumber Company sounded at noon, and the one downtown also sounded at noon.

MA: Do you recall, were there other Japanese families living in that area where you were born?

GY: Oh, yes. There was a couple of 'em, I'm not sure. I think Kawai was another one, but I think there were just two or three families that I know of.

MA: What exactly was your father's job during that time?

GY: He's just a laborer. Eventually it came to be a bid job of what they call mail handler. He read the, not so much the pouches but mail bags, and they had printed or written where they were supposed to go. If it was in Wisconsin or Texas or in the northwest, he had to know the various stations and what railroads were in that general area. Union Pacific, Northern Pacific, B&O, Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, SP&S, Spokane, Portland and Seattle, Union Pacific, Milwaukee, Great Northern.

MA: So he started then as kind of a laborer and then moved up to be more of an administrative...

GY: Yes, yes.

MA: So how long, approximately, did you live in that area?

GY: Probably, oh, I don't know, not even a year, I'll bet. My sister, I'm not sure where she was born, whether it was in that area or not, but she died after nine months with encephalitis, "sleeping sickness." Anyway, I presume it was in, in that area where she was born.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2006 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

MA: And where did you move to next, after you lived in that area?

GY: Let's see. I think we lived uptown in a small rented house. We stayed there for a short while, and then we moved back downtown. We, my folks leased a World Hotel, which was, let's see... Two forty and a half West Main. It would have been two blocks in from Division Street, west of Division. And it was a forty-nine room walk-up hotel, forty-nine rooms, men only. It was a WPA and CCC bunch.

MA: Is that the Work Projects Administration?

GY: Work Projects Administration, and Civilian Conservation Corps. It was two different entities. And the WPA bunch, we had, used to rent rooms there for twenty-five cents inside room, thirty-five cents outside window room, and used to be one or two persons to a room. You know, I mean, friends probably shared a room, the expenses and all. However, when, during the early '30s, we had blister rust control, which is a blister rust, the pine beetles eating the trees. And the CCC and the WPA used to go into the woods to work in the timber. And quite often, the workers would come in, and my mother was the one that was working in the hotel, and my dad was working at Great Northern, so he wasn't home during this period, time element. And the WPA, CCC people would come in and give my mother, they used to call her Mama, you know, like I used to call my mother. And would give her a big steelhead trout that they somehow captured in the streams that they were working in, in the mountains. And I remember several instances where the steelhead were, it seems to me they were in the eight, ten, twelve pound range, large trout. And naturally we ate it. They were good enough to remember my mother and I guess we just all got along real well.

MA: Yeah, it sounds like it was kind of a good relationship between the people who stayed there and then your mother.

GY: Yes, yeah.

MA: I'm curious, did you work at the hotel as well?

GY: Oh, yeah. I was chambermaid during my high school years. Well, even grade school, too, for that matter. Helped make beds, and clean cuspidors because in those days people smoked or chewed tobacco. Changed sheets, of course, cleaned the toilets. [Laughs]

MA: And was this after you would go to school? Would you come to the hotel and do this, or on the weekends?

GY: Yeah, both ways, before or after, because we used to live in the hotel. That's where I used to walk to high school, and I recall throwing out those that were a little inebriated. I had to quiet them down, if they didn't quiet down I threw them out. So my mother would wake up the next morning and look at the records and see how much money was taken in during the night, which I was night clerk at times. And she would ask, "What happened to this gentleman?" I says, "Oh, I threw him out because he was drunk." And Mama would say, "He was probably our best customer. He always came in from the woods, stayed at hotel, never caused any problems." But anyway, they fired me after that. [Laughs] I think they got a night clerk.

MA: That's funny.

GY: Yeah.

MA: Did your, actually I was going ask you, how many siblings do you have?

GY: I have one other sister.

MA: And did she work at the hotel as well?

GY: No, no, Mitsuko, no, she didn't. She, I guess she was... what? '24, Hideko, '25, '26... '25 or '26 my sister was born, my last sister. And no, she didn't do anything in the hotel, not a thing.

MA: So it was mainly yourself and your mother?

GY: My mother, me and my dad.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 2006 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

MA: Can you describe the atmosphere of the hotel? Was it rowdy, was it fun?

GY: No, it was pretty nice. Guys did drink, of course, they had wine bottles, beer bottles, and they were young men in transition. Jobs were scarce, and they were a pretty hard-working bunch. Several of the guys after the war went into college and graduated and I know they worked in Wenatchee, head telegrapher or something in the railroad end. But we never had that much of a problem. I do recall getting in fights with several big lumber, lumberjacks, but other than that, I thought it was pretty quiet. I did, one time -- we had two different hotels. We leased one from the mid-'30s, and let's see. I know we had it at Pearl Harbor, so after, in the early '40s or mid-'40s, we sold the lease and bought one downtown, right smack downtown, and it was not any more different, nicer or whatever, it just happened to be right in the middle of downtown, a block or two, a block away from Great Northern, Milwaukee, Union Pacific, SP& S, because the people would come off the trains and take a room at these various flophouses, so-called flophouses, which ours was one of them. But there happened to be a whole bunch of hotels in that area run by Japanese, and the people that came off the railroad, whether they were riding the rods or a paid passenger, would buy a room for the night or two or three. And that's where the business came from, primarily people traveling.

MA: And this was after... I mean, you talked about the, the blight in the wood that happened?

GY: Oh, well...

MA: Did you see a dropoff in those?

GY: After the war ended, I don't believe there was that much involvement in WPA or CCC. We did cater, and we did own the hotel for a number of years, but I think we eventually got out of it, and that must have been in the '50s, '60s. Yeah, we got out of it in the '60s, and dependent on my dad's work at Great Northern, apparently the wages came up quite a bit, you know, and he, we just sold off the hotels.

MA: So in the early days, though, it was more of those WPA, CCC workers.

GY: Uh-huh. And going back to WPA/CCC, the federal government, in order to pay for these roomers, WPA people or the CCCs, they, we started to put two and three to a room, in every room. And that way, the government had to pay for three or four people that, in each room, which made it more lucrative to be in the hotel business during that juncture.

MA: So the government paid for their lodging?

GY: Yes, yeah. I don't know, I'm pretty sure it was the government that paid for their housing. I don't know about the food, but I know it was for living, shelter anyway.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 2006 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

MA: And this hotel was called the World Hotel?

GY: The first hotel my folks owned was the World Hotel.

MA: And that was, you said, right downtown?

GY: Uh-huh.

MA: Where all the other Japanese businesses were?

GY: Yeah, right now the District 81 school headquarters. And then the second hotel we owned was the Logan Hotel. And from what everybody tells me, Logan was known throughout the country for a lot of the guys that stopped in Spokane, they stayed at the Logan.

MA: Oh, I wonder why, why it was so popular.

GY: Well, I think it was right off the railroad, and the railroad used to be one of the busiest things in Spokane, railroad. And it provided people going through, they were called transients. But those transients also had a few dollars in their pockets. They, I remember when we lived in the small house, these transients would come by and say, knock on the door and says, "Can I chop wood for you or clean your yard for a meal?" And these were those transients. I think for the most part, they were trustworthy and loyal. That type of society then, of course, the doors were always unlocked in that period, we went to sleep without locking the door, and it was that, that time of, the period that time that we felt reasonably safe.

MA: Can you describe, I guess, the neighborhood around there, around your hotel, around where you grew up? What was that like, that neighborhood?

GY: Well, we lived right over Garney's Tavern. We had to go through Garney's Tavern to get to the basement to stoke the fire to build the steam to heat the hotel and the hot water, and there was a huge boiler, huge fire box. And I used to remember I had to feed it coal, huge chunks of coal to bank it so it would stay hot throughout the night to make hot water and heat.

MA: How long did that usually take, to heat the water?

GY: The heat? I'm not sure now. We put the coal in there, I think it, you could hear the banging away of the pipes. The banging away of the pipes is due to the fact that there was a vacuum created in the pipe. It wasn't a continuous stream of water, and whenever the heat came up, you could hear the pipes banging away, I mean a large bang. I don't know quite how you explain banging, but a lot of noise emanated from those pipes. And it didn't bother us, we were young, so you know, noise didn't bother us, I guess.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 2006 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

MA: So when you were growing up then, who were your friends?

GY: Just the Japanese guys and couple of hakujins.

MA: What did you do for fun?

GY: We rode a bike, rode 'em all over Spokane County. I mean, we rode all over Spokane County. And we just, I guess the Niseis just enjoy each other's company. We were in the Boy Scouts sponsored by the American Legion way before the war. And the American Legion also sponsored us for the YMCA. Every Friday night, we used to go down there and swim. And I guess we had several Italian, good friends, Italians.

MA: Were these people that lived in the same neighborhood?

GY: Uh-huh, yeah. Well, not so much the same neighborhood, but we lived on the South Hill primarily. I could think of several big-name Italians that oh, was connected with the University of Idaho at Moscow, and one of 'em ran the biggest Pepsi cola, Coca-Cola, beer, distributing company here in town, and he still does, or at least his family does now. And I guess when we went camping, we generally, I can't remember any hakujins in there, any Caucasians, but there were several Niseis, we used to go out camping, ride our bike and camping would consist of passing our merit badges. Earning our merit badges.

MA: Oh, so this was with the Boy Scouts that you went camping?

GY: Yes, the Boy Scouts. If not for the Boy Scouts, we went out camping and enjoyed cooking breakfast and fishing by a stream. Oh, yeah. [Laughs]

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 2006 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

MA: I've heard a lot about Trent Alley. And what are your memories of Trent Alley?

GY: Trent Alley to us is, you might say we kind of grew up in the alley system. Where we played, it was one, a long alley that every day you would see a big cart, some worker would be pushing his cart loaded with food. Breakfast for one, lunch for another, and supper. And they would be hauling that to the city jail. And the city jail was located, parts of it was located on Trent Alley, on the west end. That's were the City Hall was, where several Niseis worked there at City Hall, right in downtown. It's not in downtown now, so to speak, it's away from downtown a little ways. But this building housed prisoners, emergency hospital. The reason I'm familiar with the emergency hospital is during my time as night clerk in one of the hotels that we owned, I got in a fight with an individual, the fight ended up outside. I was going to high school, and I didn't have any shoes on. I don't know if I even had slippers on, but the fight in front of the first -- not the ground floor but the first floor where the offices were, I threw him out from there, and we ended up fighting in the streets. And a patrol car came by and arrested him for disturbing the peace, I believe it was. And I was hit on the head, hit on the head with a beer bottle several different times. I didn't even feel it, but as I went back upstairs, my mother was waiting for me at the top of the stairs and saw blood streaming down my scalp. And we, she called the cops back and they took me to emergency hospital there where I had a whole bunch of stitches put in. And the following day, I was playing football then for high school, and the following day, in the newspaper, "George Yamada beat up." [Laughs] I didn't think I lost the fight. I knew I had the upper hand, but they called it, "George Yamada beaten up," or something like that. I got quite a ribbing in high school. Even that day happened to be squad pictures taken of us in uniform, football. Here I am with a big white patch on the side of my head where they shaved it and stitched it. It was just one of those memorable moments. [Laughs]

MA: That's funny. You were saying earlier that you played a lot in the alleys, and you spent a lot of time in the alleys. What sorts of things went on the alleys?

GY: Well, there was a Chinese restaurant, Washington Noodle, and I used to remember a square small box, fruit box, I don't know, where the Chinese guy had that box leaning on a stick. And the stick was tied to a string, and on the ground was grain or corn or whatever to keep, to have the pigeons come in there. And he would pull the string, the box would hopefully fall on the pigeon, and he would slaughter the pigeon I guess. I never saw it, but I couldn't help but to think there was no other purpose for that trap to be sprung so that he could have pigeon soup or pigeon drop soup or whatever the Chinese cooks managed out of a pigeon. I also -- although I never seen them, seen them capture a pigeon, that's what they did. However, I did see them slaughter chickens. They had a half a dozen chickens as I recall, they bent the head back under the wing, the wing locked their head in, and with a sharp knife slit the throat, threw the chicken on the ground, the chicken was flopping all over the place with the blood coming out. [Laughs] But that's the, that's what we observed. We were kids.

MA: And you said there were Chinese places around the alleys. What were your interactions like with the Chinese families?

GY: We got along good with them. We never fought or called each other names. It was only after Pearl Harbor came along that they started wearing "I am a Chinese" button or sign indicating they were Chinese, or telling us after all these years that we used to eat there, "Don't come back here. If you do, you won't know that we spit in your food." So with that story going around, I never went back to this Chinese restaurant. After the war I think we did, you know, a bunch of us guys, we had a place where you could get a good spaghetti dish for thirty-five cents, real delicious, good spaghetti. They sold olive oil primarily, and Chinese food. I don't know where we had the money, but we had enough money for several of us guys to eat Chinese food or spaghetti. And oh, we had second-hand shops, the back door ended up in Trent Alley.

MA: How did the, how did the Chinese community compare with the Japanese community in terms of size?

GY: They were smaller, much smaller. Let's see, we only had during that period probably Washington Noodle, Noodle Grill, two, three... I don't know, four or five Chinese restaurants. Let's see. We used to shoot marbles in Trent Alley, and Tenkoku... there was a name, I thought we gave it a Japanese, there was a Japanese name where you dig holes, one, two, three, four, five, like a cross, and you shoot to get your marble into the hole. And I know we did a lot of that, marbles, playing marbles. We played catch, there were... oh, let's see, one, two, three, four Nisei girls, and I don't know, half a dozen Nisei boys. And we just all got along together, no problem. The girls stayed on their own, and we primarily did a lot of bike riding, you know, us guys.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 2006 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

MA: You were telling me earlier that you used to travel to Seattle when you were young, and can you explain why you went to Seattle?

GY: My cousin used to live there in Seattle, oh, somewhere around Yesler Way, and I thought it was around Fourteenth and Yesler. But anyway, since my dad worked on the railroad, we had free passage, family. My mother, my sisters and me, we used to be able to travel free with this card. And we went to Seattle several different times. In my younger days, some lady here in town used to baby-sit. My mother would ask this lady to watch over, I was probably six, seven, eight years old, and she was a teenager, older teenager. And she watched over us during our ride to Seattle, and her father also worked on the railroad, too.

MA: So you would go by yourself without, I mean, without your parents?

GY: Me?

MA: Yeah.

GY: Oh, no. I was too young then. Years and years later I traveled by myself on the railroad, but generally speaking, it was, if I traveled it was either with my mother or some Nisei lady that used to baby-sit me, to Seattle.

MA: How typical was it for Niseis in Spokane to travel to Seattle and maybe Seattle people to travel to Spokane?

GY: Not, not difficult at all. We used to go to Seattle for the YPCC, what they called Young People's Christian Conference, which was Methodist, I believe. And they used to come to Spokane, Portland used to come to Spokane, we used to go to Portland and Seattle. Not too much Tacoma, Tacoma used to be part of the... oh yeah, I guess you did, we went to Tacoma, but that was, the YPCC was one of the bigger events for Nisei going to the coast, or having those people come over to Spokane.

MA: What were your impressions of Seattle when you would go over there?

GY: Oh, it was very, we used to go to Alki Beach, swim a lot. The water was bitterly cold as I remember. Yeah, we went to Seattle a lot. Sometimes we went to Rainier, Sick's Stadium on Rainier Avenue and watched baseball, and of course salmon fishing in the Sound. And I guess it was just that, went over there for Fourth of July. I remember popping firecrackers which was legal then. And yeah, from my uncle's back porch, I remember throwing firecrackers out, and one, one had a quick fuse and it blew up in my hand, split my fingernail. I can still see the scar from it. Fingernail comes out deformed slightly. But that was some of the fun that... it was always nice to go to Seattle.

MA: What do you remember about the Seattle Nihonmachi, I guess in comparison with the Spokane Japantown?

GY: Well, my cousin, my uncle, they were Buddhists, so we went to a lot of the Buddhist functions. And whenever there was a death in the Buddhist family, someone, I kind of remember the long, drawn-out affair; I got bored. Never understood what they were saying in Japanese, and it was one long affair, anyway. [Laughs]

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 2006 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

MA: So I guess then, did you speak Japanese or English at home, or both?

GY: Well, primarily Japanese. My mother would always say, "Uchi ni oru no dattara. Narutake Nihongo o tsukao yo ni shite kudasai." So we were forced to speak Japanese. A lot of the words I didn't know, of course, I spoke English. But it was a mixture anyway, English and Japanese.

MA: Did your parents speak English at all?

GY: Not too much. Even my dad, with all these years behind him in the railroad, still spoke, to my way of thinking, poor English. I didn't, I never mentioned anything like that, but when I think about it, I kind of believe after all these years, he should have been able to speak a little bit better. However, when I think of all the other Isseis, it was in the same boat. There were a couple of 'em that spoke real good English, but I guess it just, the way circumstances went, our parents encountering the Caucasian population where they had to speak a lot of English. They, they managed, real broken English as it was.

MA: So when your mother was running the hotel, did she manage okay interacting with the customers then?

GY: My mother had a worse time with English, but she got along with the customers. The customers were quite loyal, they would come in, go out, come in, this could happen several times a year depending on what type of job they had, but they always remember my mother. They would give her small presents, just be nice to my mother. One, I do remember one Nisei across, they ran another hotel across the alley Trent Alley, and I remember him, someone slapped his mother. And he used to be a former boxer, semi-pro boxer, a good boxer, gutsy boxer. And he fought under a different name in Japanese, Nisei. However, anyway, he hit this guy and threw him down the stairs from the second floor to the first floor to the ground floor, and he punched him. Being a boxer, he just hit him. And he actually threw him out, onto the sidewalk, and well, that was understandable. Anybody that would hit my mother, it, I thought the way he did it was rather interesting, the way he spoke of it. [Laughs]

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 2006 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

MA: What were your experiences like at the Japanese language school? Did you go every day?

GY: Oh, we had Mr. Nozaki, Mrs. Nishibue, Reverend Taro Goto, teach Japanese. It was nothing like the coast, from what I could gather, the way Japanese was taught in the coast.

MA: What were the differences that you heard?

GY: I think they had grades over there, whatever grades it was depending on your skill. But I remember us just horsing around, I remember the Reverend throwing eraser boards at us to get us to be quiet or pay attention. I remember the Reverend hitting us with a ruler; we weren't paying attention. Reverend Taro Goto, loved that guy. He was from Hokkaido as I recall, born and raised in Hokkaido. His brother was also a minister in Spokane. And Mr. Nozaki was a very stern teacher. Yeah, none of his kids are, they're all gone now, and Mrs. (Nishibue), her husband Mr. (Nishibue) used to always call me up, says, "Oi, Tatsuo, sakana tsuri ikitai ka," and I used to love fishing. I think it was all made possible by Mr. Nishibue, Mii-chan's father, taking me fishing. And he took his son but he always depended on me. I never knew how to drive, I was too young, but I guess I just enjoyed fishing in north Idaho. He, I would get in his car with our bento, you know, nigiri, and we would fish all day long. And some days it was so windy out there, huge dangerous waves, that they had to go to shore on a different shore and stay there to wait the weather out. And I remember a couple of times where they had to stay there 'til late hours before the wind subsided. But oh, yeah, I couldn't wait for him to pick me up to go fishing. We went silver, what we called silver trout, kokanee fishing, but we called them silver. The way he would say it was, "Oi, tsuruba fishing ichitai ka," bass fishing.

MA: How many fish would you usually catch in a, in a day of fishing?

GY: In those days fifty was the limit for silvers, and every one of the silvers was I'd say thirteen and a half, fourteen and a half inches long. Every one of them; not a one was under fourteen inches. And fifty was the limit. The most I ever caught was thirty-seven or so. I mean, how many fish can you eat? We didn't have a freezer.

MA: What did you do with the extra fish?

GY: Give it to everybody. Everybody, I mean, we just, it was just a real good, productive lake. It isn't now, but in those days, they had commercial fishing for these silvers. And it was just a delicious fish. Oh, I'd like to have some, I still love to fish now, however, I'm primarily a fly fisherman. I do enjoy trolling for silvers, that type of silvers.

MA: What are your memories of Mrs. Nishibue, Mii Tai's mother, who was also a teacher, right, at the school?

GY: Yes, she's quite a lady; she was quite a lady. Whenever we came into town, for some reason or another, Mrs. Nishibue knew we were in town, and she always had some kind of meal ready for us, my wife and me and my family. I -- oh yeah, my mother was downtown at the hotel working, so Mrs. Nishibue always took us in for a short period. Oh yeah, that obasan, ojisan were very, very dear friends.

MA: How was she as a, as a teacher for you, the language school?

GY: I never had her. I had Mr. Nozaki, and he was very strict, and I had Reverend Goto, and Mrs. Nishibue, I wrote a letter in Japanese to her one time, and she wrote back. I used the word "aikawarazu." I can't remember how I did it, but, "Aikawarazu watakushi no whatever," you know. But that was the beginning, opening sentence in Japanese. And she sent me the letter back all corrected. [Laughs] And she said, "This aikawarazu, the ai that you are using is 'love.' And ai, although ai means 'love,' the word you want to use is a different kanji writing." So that's, that's the way she was, you know, real lovable lady. [Laughs]

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 2006 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

MA: You said that earlier you were involved with the Young People's Christian Conference?

GY: Uh-huh.

MA: So then you were Christian, your upbringing was Christian?

GY: Upper name?

MA: Your upbringing?

GY: Oh. Oh, yes, very much so. My mother, pretty sure was Buddhist. My dad, I don't know what his religion, but I would assume they were Buddhist when they came over here from Japan. The timing of their being over here, we didn't have a Buddhist church. So naturally the older Isseis were trying to establish a Christian, Christianity.

MA: Do you know why there was no Buddhist church, why that never came about prewar?

GY: I, well, maybe it was everybody was just too busy. Christianity -- well, I mean to say, yeah, Christianity came in first before the Buddhists did. And one of the reasons, strong reason Christianity was stronger in our, in our society, Spokane, was due to the fact that our, we had a couple of churches, but the one that I remember prominently was the one on Second Avenue and... no, no, Third Avenue and, right across the street is McDonald's, right across the street Lewis & Clark High School. We had Central United Methodist Church, and from them came two wonderful, beautiful ladies, Mrs. Ellis, E-L-L-I-S, and Mrs. A. Butler, Mrs. Butler. And through these two ladies' efforts to establish Christianity among us, they worked real hard.

MA: What did they do to...

GY: Oh, they just came in and taught Bible classes, taught Sunday school, and taught us more about Jesus Christ. And from that, I think we have our strong beginnings of Christianity through these two ladies, although Christianity went on for a hundred and two years as of last year. It'd be a hundred and three now, the church for the Japanese was established a hundred and three, hundred and three years ago. And from that we had a couple of deaconesses, Japanese, I think a couple of deaconesses, I don't remember them at all. That was way before my time. But then we have Reverend Tanabe, Reverend Niwa, Reverend Goto, this is all way before the war.

MA: And this is all the same church?

GY: Yes. The Methodist Episcopal Church.

MA: The M.E. Church?

GY: M.E. Church, Methodist Episcopal, right. And we had a John J. Cobb, a Caucasian minister. Why, he could speak Japanese better than some of the Isseis, I thought. He, his Japanese was just, just great. And he was our minister during those war years. But anyway, finally the Buddhists came in there, I'm not sure when it was, just after Pearl Harbor. Because we did have a Buddhist church in town, and that later was sold and went over to Perry Street where they built the present-day church. It burnt down once and they built, rebuilt it on the same location, and that's where the Buddhist Temple is now. But I understand there are, like our church, there's more hakujins in Buddhism, just like our church, Methodist, there's a lot of Caucasians that are in our church presently.


MA: So we're back, and we were talking a little bit about the Methodist Episcopal church, and about Christianity, I guess. And I'm curious about how Christianity was accepted by the Isseis in Spokane.

GY: Very strongly. I have a picture of all the Isseis in the choir robe, a number of them. They're all Isseis, and they're all gone now. I just recently dedicated a Holy Bible, New Testament, printed in Japanese, and with the scriptures in Japanese. It was printed on real thin Japanese paper, very thin. And you might say... my mother's name was on it, my minister came over and he says, "What is this? I see your mother's, Yamada name on it." And I looked through it, it happened to be my mother, Fumiko Yamada. And I just said, "Well, since it's been in the church for all these years, why don't we just put it in the church archives? And I really believe, I know my mother was a very strong Christian. After she came to know Christianity, she and other Isseis here in town became strong, strong churchgoers, Christianity.

MA: So how important, then, did the church become in the Japanese American community?

GY: Very important, I think very important. Once they got to know or learn Christianity, it was a strong motivation for them to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ. I know they were trying to follow those teachings, at least my mother would talk about Christ, you know. And I went to church, but not as strongly as some of those Isseis did.

MA: Do you think then that the Christianity was embraced maybe stronger by the Isseis than the Niseis?

GY: No, I wouldn't put it that way. I think they felt the same feeling about Christianity as the Niseis did. They didn't... their feeling was somewhat subdued, however, but you knew their feeling for the teaching, from the scriptures, was very imbued in the Isseis through their ministers, various ministers. Fortunately for the Isseis, we had many of our pastors were Japanese heritage, and that helped the transition a lot for their understanding. A lot of them spoke Japanese. Most of them were Isseis.

MA: Most of the ministers?

GY: Ministers were Isseis, so they got along and understood Christianity real well. Now with the Isseis gone, it's primarily Caucasian ministers, at least in Spokane. I go to Ontario, Oregon, and find a Japanese minister there, you go to Seattle and find two or three Japanese ministers. In addition, this is just the Methodists. The Presbyterians have, has a Japanese minister. I'm not sure about the Catholics, although when I was in Seattle, I, to this day, I can't understand. But anyway, I was invited to the Matsudairas, which were very strong Catholic, and I understand Mike is gone now, but I knew Mike, Michael, and I heard that Mrs. Matsudaira got the Catholic Mother of the Year. And I think there was a Kinoshita in there that also got the Catholic Mother of the Year, and I, for some reason or another, I think I thought I stayed at their house. He was killed in World War II, I believe. But anyway, lot of my friends were, too, YBA, the Young Buddhist group. I really don't know why, but I guess it's just through my cousin or attending some of their Buddhist functions.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 2006 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 12>

MA: So in your, in your neighborhood and with your hotel and all that, it seems like there was a lot of interaction among the Japanese Americans and the Caucasians. Did you ever witness, like, any types of discrimination or racism?

GY: Oh, yeah, you bet.

MA: What sorts of things did you see?

GY: During, prior to the war, I recall after YMCA, which was located downtown at that time, going into a coffee shop for whatever it was, a Coke or coffee. And I noticed a sign above says, "No colored." "No colored people allowed." And I walked in there and they didn't throw me out, which was kind of a surprise to me.

MA: Why were you surprised? Did you expect them to --

GY: Well, I figured if they were that haiseki, haiseki, you know, about the Negroes, the colored people, what's to hold them back in reference to Japanese or Chinese or any other ethnic group? But not a word was said, and he served me. I had my Coke or coffee or whatever, and then I went out to eat at a nice, nice steakhouse out in the valley, edge of the valley. And there was a sign there that said, "No colored allowed." And I went in there with my date, and no problem. Even in my basic training in Alabama, we got onto a bus down there, bunch of us, we were all Japanese. Got onto a bus, and the bus driver says, "You guys can't go back there, that's for the colored people." And I don't know about the Niseis, but we had a bunch of Hawaiians there, and Hawaiians are very loose. And they just sat back there and the bus driver couldn't do anything. But insofar as discrimination went in Spokane, it was underlying; it was there, strong there.

MA: You mean discrimination against Japanese? Anti-Japanese?

GY: Well, yeah. Anti-Japanese. You could just kind of feel it.

MA: What would be a situation where you could kind of feel that?

GY: Well, in high school as I remember, the feelings were felt. A couple of the guys just, you knew that they, "Hey, you bombed Pearl Harbor," and I would assume they, they had that ill-feelings toward the Japanese. I had also good friends, real good friends that came to our aid, so to speak, when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. But I do know of several Caucasian friends that I lost because of my race.

MA: How did you feel about that, after you lost those friends?

GY: I just ignored them. I mean, if that's the way they felt, it didn't bother me. To heck with them; I just ignored them. Didn't talk to them, and they wouldn't have talked to me anyway as far as that went. But primarily, I think this was felt throughout the community, not only in Spokane, but throughout the United States. Where the FBI -- my dad, in order to get to his mail job at Great Northern Railroad, had to go under the United Union Pacific, the Milwaukee Railroad tracks. And it was railroad track that came right through into Spokane. Great Northern was a block north of that station, Union Pacific, but Union Pacific was all on girders. And they came in, you had to walk up to the railroad station, and underneath, we had to walk through to get to the employment, railroad. And the FBI says, "No, you can't do that. You can't be caught walking under a bridge, we're afraid you might bomb it." And so they fired every one of the Japanese, and there were a couple of Italians working there, Felice and Mancheny, Clark, were working there. And they couldn't handle, even with the new, whoever they hired for the mail, the mail was all screwed up, it was going all over the country instead of to the right destination. So after, I think, thirty days, they had to rehire all the Japanese again, so the mail started to run in the direction they were supposed to be going.

MA: I see. So they fired, initially fired all the Japanese laborers, but then stuff started going wrong, and they couldn't run the mail center?

GY: Yeah. At that time, I had a bid job, I had pretty good seniority from 1937. I was just a young teenager, but I received my social security through the Railroad Act, and I worked alongside the Isseis in the mail. We were considered laborers. And I became a mail handler, a bid job, being able to handle pouches and mailbags and send them to their destination.

MA: Was this while you were going to high school?

GY: Uh-huh. And I even got a job driving a car to post what trains were coming through Spokane: freight, passenger. And I got the job, but they found out I was Japanese, and, "Hey, you can't have a Japanese delivering train schedules." They were afraid the Japanese would bomb or whatever these railroad and freight, freight cars loaded with war goods. I've seen tanks going through Spokane, you know, army tanks.

MA: So you felt that yourself.

GY: Oh yeah. I was fired immediately, on the spot. They found out I was Yamada, Japanese, and I couldn't have that kind of sensitive job delivering. I used to have to go into Hillyard Station and post arrival of a freight train coming through Spokane and that. And it was a job that was a good job, but they fired me on that.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 2006 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 13>

MA: I'm curious to go back a little bit and talk about your high school experience. How do you think the Niseis fit in? I mean, did you attend Lewis & Clark?

GY: Uh-huh.

MA: How did the Niseis fit in there?

GY: I think real good. I never really had any big problems. Being involved in sports didn't surely hurt, I think, the Japanese chances.

MA: Which sports were you involved in?

GY: Primarily football, but on the other hand, lot of the valedictorians, salutatorians were Japanese. And you would be surprised if there wasn't a valedictorian or a salutatorian in those days in, on the high schools. Primarily the Japanese were at Lewis & Clark, several were at Rogers in the northeast corner, several were at North Central, and several were at East Valley, way out in the valley. But primarily, most of your Japanese were at Lewis & Clark.

<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 2006 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 14>

MA: And what, what sorts of things did you do for fun in high school with your friends?

GY: Well, I used to... although I was invited, I used to go to... not the sorority dances. I guess were, the hakujin people were lot of your dances. We had what we called Natatorium Park here by Spokane River. It was a big dance hall that held generally around two thousand people. And you would have Benny Goodman, Charlie Barnett, Charlie Spivak, Tommy Dorsey, the other Dorsey, all these various -- Glenn Miller, all these famous orchestras of that era come into town. And I was a lousy dancer, poor dancer, but we would go to these, you know, you'd get a date and go to Natatorium Park. I remember one time Benny Goodman came into town, and it was so packed with people that the floor caved in. It was on stilts, I guess, but anyway, the floor dropped and they had to get a big floor jack to jack that place up, and I think something about Benny Goodman says, "I'll be darned," if he ever came back to Spokane again. He was disappointed. And they had jackrabbits there, jackrabbit being roller cars. You know, you go down, come back up in these various roller cars, you shoot .22, it's like a, not a vaudeville, like a small circus, carnival, but that was a permanent stay there. You took the streetcar there or your own car. I remember riding the streetcar there and then enjoying the festivities. Get a free ticket for the roller coaster, yeah, I had a lot of fun on that roller coaster. And bumper cars, another area was we had a huge, Olympic-size swimming pool, swam in it a few times. It was enclosed, I mean, you know.

And that was part of the fun that we used to enjoy, going to Nat Park, going to the dances, and among other things, fishing, for me. I kind of remember a small, juvenile-only creek. I used to be on all fours and crawl to the edge of this small stream which is only a couple feet deep. Only juveniles were able to fish there. I used to ride my bicycle there all by myself, out in the country, and I used to see grasshoppers jump into the stream and all of a sudden be a flash, and the grasshopper would be gone. So I used to remember getting myself on all fours to catch grasshoppers in the fading light, throw 'em into the stream, and find out where these trout hid, under the bank as I remember. And I did that and impaled a grasshopper on a hook, and caught my first thirteen-, fourteen-inch rainbow trout. And anyway, I enjoyed fishing from even before then. I still do.

MA: So when you would go to the park or on these outings, was it mostly a group of Niseis that you would go with?

GY: Yeah, we, a bunch of us guys -- and I think it was generally guys, three, four, five of us, would go to a park, and we'd just sit on the ground with our bikes and talk. I don't remember what we even talked about, but we were just young Niseis. And we would carry a small knife, we would play Mumbleypeg. You know, you throw that knife, see if you can make it stick into the ground. All boys, whether Japanese or not, played Mumbleypeg and marbles. But I remember a number of times going to a park and just sitting there, just talking, you know. I don't know what we talked about, but just talking. And I, that was part of our fun. Fishing was, playing basketball on the various courts, dirt floor courts, even playing tennis. We all got into tennis, several of us guys that lived downtown, and we used to go to these parks. Primarily for downtown guys, we went to Brown's Addition in this area, matter of fact. There is a tennis court over here. We used to go there four, no, five, six, seven o'clock in the morning just to play tennis. I don't know why so early. After that we came in a little later, but we used to make dates with other gals to play tennis. I don't remember who they were, but we played tennis. And let's see. I can't remember any other form of entertainment. We used to go out to the lakes. Once we learned how to drive, go out to a lake and have a picnic out there at the lakes.

MA: Did many of the families own cars back then?

GY: Oh, yeah. My dad had a '37 Packard. I mean, it was a beautiful looking, like his majesty in England driving, with a driver. This kind of car, Packard, it was a good-looking car. Outbreak of war, we had to sell that. We, I think we gave it away, practically. I think it was supposed to be worth, oh, car prices were getting in short supply because even before Pearl Harbor came along, the war effort was, like the automobiles were stopped, sort of. Stopped making it and went into building tanks because cars were hard to come by. You couldn't buy a new car. And even used cars were going at a high price, and my car, which was a '37 Plymouth, I bought for three hundred and fifty dollars working at Great Northern, saving money. Three hundred and fifty dollars, it had a new, brand-new motor installed, and that was during the war years. I bought it for three hundred and fifty dollars, and they offered me eight hundred dollars, oh, I don't know, after Pearl Harbor came along. But yeah, we went all over in our bikes before we owned cars, and then cars, they just made more opportunity for us to go to these various lakes.

<End Segment 14> - Copyright © 2006 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 15>

MA: So I wanted to ask you a little bit about Pearl Harbor. And do you remember what you were doing when you first heard?

GY: Oh, yeah. Oh, yes, I had just come home from church. Our church was located on Grand Street, and it was a regular nice-looking old church. It's torn down now, but it, I went down, I walked down to World Hotel, which we had at that point, and turned on my Zenith radio, which was most of our entertainment. Listened to all these various programs on radio. Anyway, it was around twelve-thirty, turned the radio on, and all you heared was airplanes buzzing through the loudspeaker, and actual shooting of the war itself beginning in, at Pearl Harbor. And the announcers announcing, some in a very excited voice, some crying, announcing the war itself. I was just shocked. And that war had already been on, I don't know what time it started in Hawaii, but we're several hours behind Hawaii at that point. And when I turned the radio on at twelve-thirty, there it was, lo and behold, Pearl Harbor.

MA: What went through your mind when you were listening to the radio and hearing this?

GY: Well, we all immediately knew Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, we immediately knew there would be all kinds of haiseki finger-pointing going on. You didn't have to hit us on the head with a hammer just to tell us. Being Japanese, we anticipated name-calling, whatever, that would come out from the civilian population.

MA: You mean name-calling within the community, the Japanese community, or from outside?

GY: Although -- by the hakujins, by the Caucasians. It, it was, oh, I don't know, it was bad but not as bad as I think we perceived. Name-calling, yes, fighting, probably. I remember going to a movie theater, one of your better ones in Spokane, several of them. Fox and State Theater, Orpheum, they sold war bonds during intermission at the movie theater. And when the American flag came on, I don't know, I was eating popcorn or something, I never clapped. But the lady next to me -- the light was on -- she poked me and I knew what she meant, I had to clap. But I was eating popcorn, so... I didn't say any excuses or anything, but she gave me a dirty look and hit me.

MA: Was this a Caucasian lady?

GY: Oh yes, Caucasian lady. But during those hectic war years, at intermission, or before the next movie started, the American flag was shown on the screen, there was probably navy and air, not army air force, but military things, nature, but primarily the American flag was on the screen. And then the next intermission, people would come on stage and sell war bonds. Some called it liberty bonds, but war bonds. Let's see. You get a twenty-five dollar bond for seventeen dollars and fifty cents. At the end of twenty or thirty years, it matured. But we even so, during those war years, went to see a lot of movies. I enjoyed cowboy movies for one. John Wayne was my hero, still is. And yeah, we saw a lot of movies. Used to buy Coney Island hot dogs, used to cost twenty cents apiece, used to get five for a dollar, and two tax tokens or whatever. And I remember buying a bunch of Coney Islands and going into a movie theater, and that onion and that chili smell, and I used to -- [laughs] -- I used to eat it without making a mess of the aisle or the seat. You know, I don't ever recall making a mess, but we ate every bit of those Coney Islands, the guys. Never had a date so much, but the guys used to go, if it wasn't popcorn it was Coney Island.

<End Segment 15> - Copyright © 2006 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 16>

MA: Going back to Pearl Harbor and all of that, what were your parents' reactions when they heard?

GY: Oh, they were, they were afraid. I think they, it was all instantaneous. Soon as they knew Japan had bombed Pearl Harbor, they just were afraid. Ostracized, part of it, I'm sure, job discrimination, I'm sure, name-calling, whatever you might think of that was discriminatory against Japanese took place in their own mind. And possibly took place in your work, too.

MA: Do you think the Isseis were maybe more fearful because of their, they weren't, they couldn't become citizens, and they had uncertain...

GY: I'm sure, yeah, that was part of it. I think we even had name-calling back then. Oh, what's the word, quisling. Quisling was used in German. Quisling would, France was noted for quisling, they were spies, so to speak, saboteurs. And a lot of that was going on, "You show your patriotism, you're in America now," and that kind of thing. We didn't have any spies, but I guess we had name-calling among the Japanese itself, even. You got to do right, if you're going to live in this community, you have to do right.

MA: What did -- sorry, what did they mean by that, doing right?

GY: American, being American. Don't speak Nihongo, Japanese, out in public. We had a lot of pictures particularly in judo, with Japanese flags. And we had to cut out the Japanese flag because if the FBI came, and they did in some respect, to our house, and you had a picture of Japanese flag, good lord. You were ostracized or pulled into jail. It never happened, at least for us, but we could see that it would create problems. You don't want to create problems for yourself by that display of a Japanese flag, even with American flag. So we just cut it out, threw it away.

MA: Do you remember the FBI presence in your community and around Spokane?

GY: Oh yeah, oh yes. Yeah, one couple here in town married on December 7th.

MA: The Sumi Okamoto...

GY: Okamoto, you bet. And they were delayed, they were delayed for a long while at their own wedding. Doors locked, or they couldn't get out or whatever. My folks went, but, at least that's the story that came back.

MA: What happened at that wedding in terms of the FBI? Did they actually arrest people that night?

GY: I thought I heard a couple of Isseis were taken away. I'm not sure if it was at that wedding, but I, I thought they were taken away, whisked away. You never saw them for a couple years after that, they were whisked away so fast. Mr. Kosai and...

MA: Was it Hirata?

GY: Mr. Hirata, yeah.

MA: After these two men were arrested, did that set off another sense of fear or anxiety that...

GY: I'm sure it did, I'm sure it did. Everything was, you know, concentration camp for the Isseis, the relocation center, in reality, it was a concentration camp, however, the language of those days for the Niseis and Isseis was "relocation centers." And oh yeah, even, we were afraid, we kept on hearing stories about Spokane was on the evacuation list also, and the story at that time yet wasn't about the cutoff would be the Columbia River, Wenatchee area, somewhere in that, Columbia River. But all we heard was the bad thing, Spokane will be evacuated. Therefore, we bought, oh, two suitcases made in Japanese straw. It's a soft cover, male-female like affair, where you put it over the other to tie it up. You put your clothing in there. We bought two of those, started putting our luggage away, and then a lot of the stuff we gave to the FBI. FBI confiscated our cameras, our guns -- we didn't have any guns at that point, but they confiscated a lot of the, a lot of the stuff, and as I remember, when I was in the military in Alabama, I asked for my camera back. I had to go through the FBI. And lo and behold, FBI went to whatever place it was and got my camera and sent it to me in Fort McClelland, Alabama.

MA: Did the FBI confiscate these things, did they go door to door?

GY: Oh yes, oh yeah. Yeah, they confiscated every bit of it, cameras, so you don't take pictures of "sensitive areas," and I think it was binoculars, guns and cameras, primarily.

MA: How did your, your parents' hotel business do during the war years? I mean, was there a big change?

GY: Well, not really. So many of the hotels downtown were owned by Japanese. No Chinese, but primarily Japanese, and these transients that came through, gee whiz, if there were haiseki, if there were, if they were any, even... what do you call it? What am I trying to... but anyway, they, if they wanted to stay at a hotel which were all owned by Japanese, and there was all these various hotels that they wanted to stay at, they had to cater to the Japanese to get a room for that one night or whatever. So there was no, we didn't encounter any difficulty in people staying at our hotel. It might be that actually business picked up with the WPA, CCC still staying there. Lot of them went into the military, however.

<End Segment 16> - Copyright © 2006 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 17>

MA: As the war went on, how much did you hear about what was going on in Seattle and the other coastal areas with the evacuation of the Japanese Americans? I mean, were you well aware of what was going on?

GY: Oh yes, oh yeah. Yeah, it, the horse racing places in California and Puyallup, horse race stalls in Tacoma area, oh yeah. We were very much aware what was going on in Seattle.

MA: So at this point you are eighteen, nineteen, is that right?

GY: '23, '33, '43. I was, '43 I would have been twenty years old.

MA: So you had graduated from high school.

GY: Yeah. But actually, I would have been nineteen years old, being born in November.

MA: And you were working on the, on the railroad with your, you dad?

GY: Yes.

MA: Do you remember seeing, I mean, you were working right where all the trains were going by. Did you ever see any Japanese Americans, I mean, being transported inland?

GY: Yeah. At that time, there were, I don't know how many of us were working at Great Northern in 1942. A lot of Niseis had volunteered for the military, lot of 'em were drafted into the military, and I was working on the rail with other Niseis. And since I was the oldest seniority holder at that time, I worked the trains. And in servicing these trains, I serviced one that came through with two guards, army guards on each end of the coaches, train. They were Mexicans; every one of 'em were Mexicans. I couldn't understand that, but they had a fifty-five-gallon barrel of water sitting on the floor, and I remember back swimmers swimming in the water. And we had to fill the water, and when I took the cover off, naturally I could see these, what they would call back swimmers with legs on, swimming in the water. That went to tell you that that water was old, and they filled it from a creek or something. And then that was supposed to be hush-hush. And then one time -- this was very hush-hush -- but a train stopped late one afternoon. I presume it came from the coast somewhere, and I serviced it with water, ice, and there was a guard on each end with the shades all drawn. I had to go inside to service the water. When I went in, that's all I saw: Japanese. All Isseis and Niseis, and I don't know about Sanseis, but all Japanese. I thought, holy crow, holy mackerel. Then it dawned on me, I inquired. They weren't supposed to talk, they weren't supposed to show their face, I wasn't supposed to do anything, but they were headed for Heart Mountain. And I says, "Oh." I serviced them, and that was the last I saw of them; they went to Heart Mountain, Wyoming. And at a different time, another train came through during my shift that had nothing but evacuees on it, going to Heart Mountain.

MA: What, especially when you went into the train and saw the Japanese Americans, what did you think? What went through your mind?

GY: Well, it was, the hysteria of that era, that time, what could we do? You felt bad, you didn't think any more positive or less of that situation I was in about not being evacuated. The hysteria was all still there, and I just felt bad for the Japanese. I can't tell you how, other than feeling bad. Seeing your own kind being transported in a car all the way to Wyoming, it must have been a good two or three day ride from there to Wyoming. I guess only those that were on that train, and those involved in servicing those trains felt the need at that point, at that time. Yeah.

MA: When you stepped on, into the train car, what was the atmosphere like? I mean, among the passengers, what was going on?

GY: I think they looked at us with some surprise, I'm sure. I looked at them with some surprise, oh man, Japanese. How did I know? They may, they may have been speaking Japanese for all I know, the Isseis. But immediately I knew they were Japanese. Once I found out they were Japanese, I asked, "Where are you going?" The guards didn't shoot us, or shoot me, but Heart Mountain, you didn't have to hit my, hit me with a rock to tell me where that was. Everybody knew these various relocation centers at that time. Tule Lake was the most notorious at that point, Manzanar was the second most notorious, for our way of thinking.

MA: How long did you work for the railroad during that time?

GY: Oh, just about a year and a half, couple years. The military called up, and I left that position but I never went back to it after I returned two years later.

<End Segment 17> - Copyright © 2006 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 18>

MA: And you told me earlier that you attended college.

GY: Yeah.

MA: Did you go from your railroad job to entering college?

GY: 1943, since I was a year in Japan back in 1929 and 1930, and then I had a lot of problems physically, a ear operation, three month, what they call a mastoid operation, three month on one side, three month on the other side, and that kept me out of grade school at that point. But anyway, 1943 I was classified 1-A.

MA: What is, what is that? 1-A?

GY: 1-A for entry into the military. The best classification you could get for becoming a soldier. And then that 1-A after a while was changed to 4-C. 4-C meaning "enemy alien." My dad was an "enemy alien" because being an alien, the considered him an enemy. But to have me, an American-born citizen with a 4-C designation, you know, that was very offensive, real offensive. I really felt betrayed that here I am, an American citizen, losing all my rights, and then you call me an "enemy alien." That really offended me. At that point, I wrote to Major General John Hershey, a commandant of the military then, Commandant of inductees or volunteers, something like that, then. And I wrote to him I wanted to become a marine. But says, "Are you kidding? You're a Japanese. We don't take Japanese into the marines." And I says, "How about the navy?" I didn't want to be lumped into a Japanese organization. However, the more I think about it at that period, it would have been better befitting to be one Japanese unit.

MA: You mean into one unit?

GY: Oh, yeah.

MA: Why, why didn't you initially want to be in a...

GY: Well, I thought they were just trying to kill us off. And well, I don't know, the way the thing was going, you knew they didn't have very high regard for the Japanese, irregardless of how well you did in the military. And I got a nice letter back from Major General Hershey that, "We aren't accepting," people of my ancestry into the marines or the navy.

MA: Sorry, was this after you had been classified 4-C?

GY: Yeah, 4-C. And anyway, they put it into my records, and no sooner did I reply back, I was drafted. I didn't volunteer, I was drafted.

MA: So how did you feel? I mean --

GY: Oh, I was okay.

MA: -- for so long you were trying to get into the military and they considered you an "enemy alien," then suddenly they draft you.

GY: Yeah, well, that's because I showed, instead of showing espionage or subversive type of thing, I assume, because of my willingness to go into the marines, I would have. I thought I would make a darn good marine or sailor. But anyway, they didn't so I went into the army, military.

MA: And what year was that? Was that about '44?

GY: That was 1944.

<End Segment 18> - Copyright © 2006 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 19>

MA: So it's 1944 now, and you had just been drafted into the military. And where did you go from Spokane?

GY: To Fort Douglas, Utah. Matter of fact, Tom Haji, Keiji Horiuchi and I were bowling at the bowling alley that one... one day, Sunday? Well, anyway, we were bowling there, and over the loudspeaker came, "Private George Yamada, please report to the booth." Private? I didn't catch on real quick. But I went to the booth and my mother told me that, in Nihongo, that I had a telegram from Fort Douglas, Utah, that I was immediately to report to Fort Douglas right away. And the telegram said, "We'll reimburse you upon arrival." So I paid seventeen or twelve dollars or whatever it was to get to Fort Douglas. And I went to the bus station, got a bus, and the next day I was in Fort Douglas, Utah. Well, actually, that morning, around five in the morning -- no, I got there pitch black and I reported in, not knowing nothing, anything about military life. I slept on a hard bench there, and then the next thing was a bugle reveille coming over the loudspeaker. And I mean that was loud, that bugle, and I jumped up, woke up, and I think I went outside for a smoke. And a major passed me -- [laughs] -- this officer passed me, I didn't know him from Adam. And he looked at me and yelled out, "Attention," and, "Soldier, do you know what these are?" They were gold leaf, major. And I said, "No, sir." Or no, I didn't know whether to say "sir" or not. Maybe I did, I don't recall. But, "You're supposed to be at attention when you address an officer." And I says, "Yes, yes, sir." I think I said, "Yes, sir." Didn't have to be that smart to say. So it occurred to me to say "sir," "Yes, sir," "No, sir," and all that, but I never was chewed out more. I mean, I was really downgraded, castigated and everything else by this major. And that was my first encounter in the military, right off the bat in the morning.

Fort Douglas, I boarded a train. They didn't pay me right away, I had to wait a month for my -- they tripled, they tripled, since I paid my own way, they tripled. I got back thirty-seven dollars. But if you go back, triple, it must have been thirteen, fourteen, well, whatever it was. But anyway, I got on the train and went to Camp Savage, Minnesota, and then I was there for, Camp Savage for a week, and then they transferred us over to Fort Snelling, and that was our permanent station after that.

MA: So when, when were you at Fort McClelland doing basic training? Was that before?

GY: Well, that was after this. I was a raw recruit, didn't know anything about military, I got my uniform at Fort Douglas, I got my class A and summer khaki wear, I'm not sure if I got my canteen. I must have gotten my canteen, I had a duffel bag full of stuff. And got to Fort Snelling, was assigned at Fort Snelling, and got on a troop train shortly thereafter. Troop train, and there was 175 Niseis on that, and one Chinese. I don't know how that Chinese guy fit in there, but he happened to be with us. And one funny story from that encounter, that one Chinese guy, we were going through Knoxville, Tennessee, and we were on some kind of river. Across the river was this old brick building, about four stories high, and off of each level, a bunch of women were coming, looking out, and they happened to -- it was a laundry, I believe, it was an old laundry. And these women, this, several women, "What nationality are you?" And this one Chinese guy, "I'm Chinese." Among all 175 Niseis, one guy spoke up and it was the Chinese guy: "I'm Chinese." And they said, "Good luck," you know, "Give 'em hell," or whatever it was, for us to do well in our military career. But nobody spoke up, no Japanese, but that one Chinese guy says, "I'm Chinese."

MA: That's interesting.

GY: Huh?

MA: That's interesting.

GY: Yeah, it, no one spoke up. Well, we spoke up afterwards. We probably kidded the Chinese guy for saying, "I'm Chinese." But at that one moment, "What nationality?" "I'm Chinese," and well, we just let it go. We didn't mind, didn't say anything.

<End Segment 19> - Copyright © 2006 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 20>

GY: And got to Anniston, Alabama, Fort McClelland, and that's where we really encountered drinking fountains "black only," bathrooms, "black, this door only," riding the bus in the back seat. I'm not sure if there was a sign there, but everything oriented to blacks, against blacks.

MA: How did you feel when you first saw this, and you saw this...

GY: Oh, I'm not used to, none of us were used to it, being categorized "no blacks." I think the mainland Japanese, you had a lot of people that, you know, would have said something. But the more vocal people were the Kanakas, the Hawaiians.

MA: Vocal in what way? Like against the...

GY: They were the ones, you don't push Hawaiians around, or you don't push us around. And when you looked at the picture, overall picture, lot of 'em were Hawaiians. Many of them were Hawaiians, and they were very boisterous. And when it came to riding in the back of the bus, "Well, to heck with you. We'll stay where we are." They rode on the back of the bus. And I think primarily it went that way a lot.

MA: When you first got down there and saw the, all these signs and all these, this overt segregation, were you wondering how the Japanese fit in? Was that...

GY: Well, yeah, we have a guy named James Ito, we had a soldier named James Ito from L.A. or southern Cal. In our rifle shooting range, he was using a what we called 1903, what we called 03-83, 83 being the number of this particular rifle, and it was a Springfield, Springfield Armory from Massachusetts. And it was a World War II vintage sniper's gun. And the Hawaiians were scorekeepers, and they would give you a better score than sometimes you would deserve. And we didn't call it cheating, but they were, they pushed the pencil, and he became the sharpshooter for our company against all the other, there were ninety, I think at that time at Fort McClelland there were 90,000 trainees. And he, we got the championship, or at least we got into, high into the championship round in, with this 03-83 rifle with a scope. Well, anyway, that's where I first encountered Hawaiians also, Kanakas. Nice bunch of guys.

MA: Were there other Niseis from Spokane that joined you and did basic training with you?

GY: No, not then. No, they, they could have gone to Camp Blanding or somewhere in Texas. Primarily, the military training for the Niseis in bulk were Camp Blanding in Florida or Fort McClelland, or I think there was another one, Fort Hood, Texas, which was an anti-tank, where Patton's tank were.

MA: So you were the only Nisei from Spokane at Fort McClelland?

GY: Well, when we went for our physical here back then, Tom Haji, myself, and one other Japanese from southern Idaho were sworn into the military. That's an interesting one right there also, a first lieutenant swore us into the military. We would uphold the Constitution and all that, and after the swearing-in testimony was done, he didn't congratulate us, his first word was, "If you do anything against the Constitution, you will be shot." That was his words. In other words, he didn't trust the Japanese, and says, his language was, "If you do anything against America, you will be shot." That was his, his way of thanking us or whatever you...

MA: That was your introduction.

GY: Yeah, introduction into the military. We, Tom Haji and I and the other guy, we just laughed it off, went about our way. We, you would, I think we accept those kind of things as natural, anyway. Sometimes you get in a fight with it, but generally speaking, you just shrug your shoulders, turn your back on it, and walk away.

<End Segment 20> - Copyright © 2006 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 21>

MA: In Fort McClelland, during basic training, you said there were 90,000 inductees training there.

GY: Yes.

MA: How did the different racial groups get along? Was there any tension?

GY: We have, it was so busy, our basic was so taken up by the day, hour, minutes, when you had over two months of training, of basic, they didn't give you enough time to have any discrimination. On our time off we, in that hot southern sun, we had our rain jackets on and we, we would go for swimming survival, or something like that. I remember passing patches of huge watermelon, huge watermelon, southern watermelon. And if you've never eaten a southern watermelon, boy, you missed, you're missing something. The reason we were able to eat it is because Hawaiians broke in there and swiped, stole a watermelon or two and brought it back, and we had a watermelon feast. Of course, we had to clean it up, but it, maybe it tasted better because it was stolen. [Laughs] But boy, that watermelon was delicious.

MA: Did the Hawaiians, I mean, you said they were kind of rowdier...

GY: No, not really. We had, the Nisei yogores, I'm not sure if you ever heard that terminology, yogore, it's a zoot suit, oh, the mainlanders. I suppose the Hawaiians, too, but mainlanders with a big keychain, gold keychain with a, with a hopped up suit with a hopped up tie. I don't know how you'd describe what "hopped up" means, but zoot suiters. Anyway, we called them yogores. I really don't know what yogore means, but it's a disparaging remark against some Japanese that dressed like that. The present-day long hair, ponytail I guess, I don't know. But it, they were a different group. So it wasn't just the Hawaiians, it was the mainlanders.

We had things disappearing in our company. Someone was stealing, I don't remember if it was money, in our footlockers. Our footlockers were tidy, very tidy under, just like the military, everything has to be in place. But someone was stealing money or what, primarily money, I guess, and we had the showdown inspection several times to find the culprit. Could never find him, but one time as I was coming back into the barracks area, I saw a army car, four-door army-colored car sitting there, and a Nisei being escorted in handcuffs by military police, hakujin military. And found out later he was the culprit. He got a dishonorable discharge and was sent to Leavenworth, Kansas, which is a military prison. And, but later I heard that if he behaved himself, they could clean, cleanse his record of the dishonorable discharge and he would be back in the military and serve out his time. That's what I heard. I assume what I heard was correct, got back in the military -- I don't know how -- but got back in and cleared his record. He happened to be a mainlander, mainland born in the States.

<End Segment 21> - Copyright © 2006 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 22>

MA: So the basic training, then, lasted a couple months, you said?

GY: Oh, yeah. Ten weeks, eight or ten weeks.

MA: And then you got out of basic training.

GY: Uh-huh.

MA: Where did you go after that?

GY: We went back into Headquarters Company and processed those that were going overseas. That was part of my job, and the war, it was a six-month course for a lot of the people. Some of the other people was a three-month course, and for a couple, they were so well-versed in Japanese that they immediately went into the Philippines.

MA: Oh, I see. So you're talking about language school?

GY: Oh, yeah, language school, and Tosh Ichikawa, he was three-month, no, he was, he went overseas right away, because I remember him coming back, and we went on a big party spree when he got back to the States, and we went to Chicago and nightclubbed up there, as I remember. And then there was a three-month course for those that were real good, but not quite good military bungo, they called in bungo, Japanese military. And then there was the long course which was six-month, and by that time, war had just about ended with the six-monthers. And by then, we had moved all our belongings and I accompanied a troop train. I had one troop car, Pullman, to Presidio California.

<End Segment 22> - Copyright © 2006 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 23>

MA: So how were you initially -- this, you're talking about the MIS.

GY: Yes.

MA: How were you recruited to be in the MIS?

GY: Well, because we were familiar with Japanese somewhat.

MA: Was there someone that came up to you, maybe heard you speak?

GY: Oh, yeah. Yeah.

MA: How did that work?

GY: They graded you, tested you in Japanese. You couldn't get into the military end of it to avoid European Theater of war, the 442. In other words, you had to be, your, not instinct, but you had to be a full soldier and know Japanese to be eligible for the linguistic school.

MA: And is that something you wanted to do versus go to the European Theater?

GY: Yeah, yeah. I think under the circumstances at that point, you could choose either way, European or Japanese, and I chose Japanese way. It would have been nice, I never got the chance, but, to go to Japan and look up my relatives. But never got the chance and war ended shortly thereafter, so, '45, and I was inducted in '44.

MA: And you stayed stateside during the war?

GY: Yes, yeah.

MA: And were you stationed at, was it Fort Snelling?

GY: Fort Snelling, and then we did our parades every Saturday. Every Saturday, like West Point, you had a parade. And finally, orders came, I was to get separated at Camp McCoy, Wisconsin, then my order was changed to Presidio California, or Fort Ord, and then my orders were changed again to Fort Lewis for my separation papers. But anyway, we took a troop train to Presidio, the original language school. From there they went to Fort Snelling or Camp Savage, and then from Fort Snelling back to Presidio. And it is, as of now, it used to be all-around language. Now they teach Arabic because of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, and one of my good friends, that fly fisherman, he owns a gun store, but he was also a master sergeant and he knew German. So Presidio recruited him and after the war ended, he was telling me all he did was look up homosexuals in the military. That was his job, because there was no need for linguists, German, at that time, so his job status changed.

MA: Why, why did he do that? Why did --

GY: Well, I guess it was a military order, that even to this day, the military will not admit if you are an avowed homosexual, you couldn't get into the military. But those that got in, and I guess there are a bunch of 'em that got in, don't... what is that word?

MA: "Don't ask, don't tell"?

GY: Yeah, "Don't ask, don't tell" policy, and under those circumstances, this hakujin, this Caucasian master sergeant was telling me his job status changed. Instead of his German being in use in Europe, European Theater, they, he ferreted out homosexuals. I don't know how long it took and what happened, but that was one of his job descriptions.

MA: So your specific duties during the war when you were working at Fort Snelling...

GY: Just a clerk.

<End Segment 23> - Copyright © 2006 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 24>

MA: Did you interact much with the students of the language school?

GY: Not too much. They were busy, they were kept real busy. Lot of my friends, I could think of one, two, three, became commissioned officers. And one, he's retired, a lieutenant colonel living in California, Sun City, California, now, but he lost his parents, they were from Fresno, California area, Parlier... anyway, Parlier, Fresno. They lost their parents, the evacuation took 'em into whatever camp from Manzanar, I think, to Minneapolis. And three, Grace... Grace, Jane and Mazie, yeah, they ended up in Minneapolis and Ben took me over to -- my guy I took basic with -- took me over to the apartment in Minneapolis and I got to eat a lot of rice right there. They made a lot of rice. In the military, we just loved, we wanted rice. We wanted gohan to eat, and so the mess sergeant put it in a 55-gallon barrel, one of those big tubs. Not 55-gallon, maybe 20-gallon tubs, and put rice in there. I don't know if he even washed it, and he cooked, put it on top of his stove, and at dinnertime, chow time, we got it. But it was uncooked rice, so we all dumped that. But anyway, we ate, I used to save, I used to call them up on the telephone and save a nickel or a dime, I think a dime on telephone charges, just so that we could come in and eat rice, gohan with them.

MA: What were --

GY: I'm sorry. [Laughs]

MA: Oh, no. What were your memories of John Aiso, the director the language school?

GY: Oh, he was, he was a great guy. We had another one, a lawyer, they were both graduate lawyers, attorneys. The other one was, it started with a "W". But anyway, oh yeah, he, just like an ordinary college professor, you know. I'm not sure, you could kid around with them just a little bit, but not a heck of a lot. He was just, just all around great guy. Yeah, yeah, I knew him, he knew me, and we, no problems.

MA: Why do you think he was so successful at what he did?

GY: Well, I think being a Nisei or being a Japanese, or for that matter, any particular race, you were given a job, a very important job, and a job that he did well. He was a PFC in the military, army, and they gave him a direct commission to a major. From thence he became a lieutenant colonel, however. But to jump from, it was a well-known during that period, to be a private first-class and then to become a major, you're jumping second, first, captain, three, three officer stages: second lieutenant, first lieutenant, captain. He was a major. So, but anyway, he, he was a good guy, great guy. I wouldn't call that to his face now, but he was a great fella.

<End Segment 24> - Copyright © 2006 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 25>

MA: Going back a little bit, after you finished basic training, you had an interesting story about traveling eventually to Minidoka.

GY: Oh, I went to visit it, yes.

MA: Yeah. Can you talk a little bit about that?

GY: On this particular trip, we had a layover either in Council Bluff -- I thought it was Council Bluff or Omaha, but there was, I got off and I had my smoke, and just walking around town, I don't know how many hour layover I had, but it must have been at least six or eight-hour layover or even longer, maybe. My mind's kind of foggy on that portion of it, but I was walking around, close to the railroad, and this young girl walks up to me with a luggage, the old-time old luggage, suitcase. And she looked at me and asked me if I was a Nisei. I said, "Yes," which made her feel a lot better. She just had come out of camp, probably Manzanar, I think she mentioned. And she wanted, she was looking for the hostel, the hostel being the, a locale where all your evacuees tended to gather. Anyway, we found the hostel and I guess it was in Council, it must have been in Council Bluff, I was thinking Omaha. But we found the hostel, and she registered there. I took her out to dinner, and then we said goodbye, I had to get back on the, onto the passenger train. And I thought that was a novelty part of the wartime era stories that took place, of a young girl, frightened girl coming out of camp not knowing anyone, and then meeting up with a Nisei and finding her way in Nebraska.

Yeah, that was, I also got a birthday cake in Nebraska. The USO gave out birthday cakes to anyone on a given birthday, November 16th I was going through Nebraska, I'm not sure if that was Omaha, but they had a huge USO depot there. And I opened the window of the train, and there happened to be a bunch of Caucasian, second lieutenants, just got commissioned. And it was just a fun-loving group on that coach at that time. And anyway, we got that cake and we all ate it on the train. And we could have celebrated at the USO, but anyway, it was a fun time also during the war years.

MA: You were able to visit Minidoka. Who, who exactly were you visiting when you went?

GY: Oh, just a girl that I used to go around with. [Laughs] Yeah, I don't know, my first girl, I guess.

MA: What were your impressions when you got there?

GY: Oh, I was amazed. It was built in a U shape, the blocks. The central dining room was at one end of the U, I think. Your toilet and your, and your bath was also in that general vicinity, and I was there for, what, little over a week, eight or nine days. My mother came to meet me down there because she didn't know what might happen during my military career. And instead, I opted to go visit my girlfriend instead of going and seeing my mother, and that was quite a slight. And my mother came down to meet us in Minidoka, and it was an experience for both her and myself. And she had a free pass anyway, working with, my dad working on the railroad. So yeah, we met down there and then after my stay was up, we went back. They gave me rice, we started going to the main dining room. We stayed in the barracks where they slept, and they, we made rice, and I think I had satsumage there. You know what satsumage is? They used to fish in the Snake River, people did.

MA: You mean people, people from Minidoka?

GY: Yes. And apparently they'd catch these suckers or, big huge suckers, and they make satsumage out of that fish, and it was delicious, it was good. But that was one of the okazu that I had with my rice. They had guards there, I was in uniform, I was able to go in and out without any problem.

MA: What sorts of conversations did you have, did you have with the people living in Minidoka?

GY: Well, all I know is I talked to her mother. I talked to her mother, and that was the kind of Japanese that we spoke, you know, simple Japanese. Yeah, anyway, it was... well, I was -- nah, I won't mention anything about it. I spoke clean Japanese that really surprised her and impressed her, and at that point -- [laughs] -- she offered me her, her daughter. [Laughs] That's a fact. But you know, if I was ever serious, I think the way she put it, if I was ever serious, she said her Japanese name-o agemasu yo. And I declined anyway, but... [laughs]. I thought that -- I shouldn't have even mentioned that.

MA: That's funny.

<End Segment 25> - Copyright © 2006 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 26>

MA: So you were in Fort Snelling, right, working in clerical, clerical work at the language school. Oh, yeah. Did you, were you able to go out into the city, into Minneapolis or explore kind of that area?

GY: Oh, yes. The Scandinavian descent Norwegians were really open-hearted, I thought. I don't know if you could compare them to Europeans, say, for instance, but I thought the Norwegians, Scandinavian people were very open-, open-minded. They welcomed us with open hearts. We literally, they really wished us well, the Japanese community. And I think at one time, there was a, it was a good gathering place for people from, I mean, Japanese in Minneapolis. They had the University of Minnesota there along with a lot of other colleges. They, it was a large metropolitan area. They had the schooling, the education, whatever you wanted to pursue, nursing. I met a number of nursing students, they were all tops in their field. They graduated number one.

MA: So did you notice a lot of, say, Japanese Americans who resettled into Minnesota, who came right from the camps?

GY: Yes, uh-huh. We had a bowling team, the post, they had a bowling team, and we used to bowl against a lot of other people, including the WACs, the Nisei WACs, and sometimes against other leagues. And we never encountered, when we went against the Caucasians, we never encountered any problems. We just, we just had a good time together. Chinese food, we, there was one place called John's Restaurant, John's Chinese Food, upstairs on Hennepin Avenue in Minneapolis, and we went there all the time for Chinese food. All the time.

<End Segment 26> - Copyright © 2006 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 27>

MA: Where were you when you heard about the war ending and the atomic bomb being dropped?

GY: I was at, I was in Minneapolis, we were forbidden to go into town. We were all... what was the word I'm trying to think of? We were all locked in at the post. No one was supposed to get a pass to get into town.

MA: Why did they do that?

GY: I think they just wanted the people to celebrate among themselves, rather than to have us go into town, but we were... not locked in. It was, in essence, locked in, but there was another word for it. No one was able to get into town at that moment during V-J day.

MA: What were your feelings, I guess, when you heard that this nuclear bomb had...

GY: Oh, great, great. A number of us yelled out, great, and that was the end of it. I think everybody was preparing to go home after that. I don't know how long it took to try to go home, but at that point, we had what we called the numbering system. If you were overseas, you got so many points, if you got the Purple Heart, you got so many points, if you got a medal, Silver Star, DSE, bronze, you got a medal -- you got points. And if you had something like seventeen or twenty-seven points, you were able to get out of the military faster. And I wasn't able to because I never went overseas, never got a medal. The only medal I got was the commendation medal. And so we abided our time and like I was telling you earlier, I, from Camp McCoy, Wisconsin, I figured out I would have gotten four hundred dollars on traveling money -- in those days it was good money -- on traveling wages, traveling money in the military. Then they changed my orders from Camp McCoy to Fort Ord, or Presidio. And I got down there and said, "Well, I'll still get three hundred dollars or whatever," I figured. Then they changed my orders, then instead of three hundred, I ended up with fifty dollars or whatever. [Laughs] From Fort Lewis to Spokane is not very far.

<End Segment 27> - Copyright © 2006 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 28>

MA: So you, then after you, after the war ended, you said that you went from Fort Snelling to Presidio?

GY: Presidio.

MA: In California?

GY: Yeah, thirty days. I was there for thirty days, and I didn't do anything. Since I was already on separation mode, my first sergeant and I went fishing in Monterey Bay, and we caught a bunch of cod, codfish, huge, big codfish, and we bartered with a Chinese restaurant, "You could keep the fish for a free dinner," and we got a free dinner out of it. They got the fish. So, yeah, in Monterey it was a beautiful area. They had the Seventeen Mile Drive, I understand it's closed now, but we used to rent a motor scooter. And being in uniform, went around Monterey and even found out where John Wayne lived in that area.

MA: Your childhood hero.

GY: Yeah, yeah. And he had his boat in the -- I never saw his boat, but he had a big yacht down there. But it was interesting. While in Minneapolis, the guy that I was inducted with, Tom Haji, anyway, Tom and I were inducted together, we shook each other's hand upon our passing, and getting sworn into the U.S. military. When I went up to pick up my date at this hostel, the gal that opened the door was crying. Well, anyway, when I entered, everybody was crying, actual tears. So I asked this girl, she's from Seattle and I asked her, "What's this, why is everybody crying?" And one of the girls, her name is... Hiro Haji. And oh yeah, I know her, I knew her in Spokane. But anyway, she'd received a telegram her brother was killed in action. And boy, that hit me like a brick. Tom and I were in the military, you know, we were good friends. After evacuation he came into Spokane, he was going to college, I knew his folks real well, knew his sister, out of two girls, I knew one of 'em anyway, and that's what the crying session was about.

MA: So your friend Tom Haji had been killed?

GY: Yeah, and boy, I, I just wanted to go out and just, just cry. But anyway, we went out, just went to a park, my date and I, we just sat on the grass and just, you might say I moped around, just sat there. I was really stunned. I'm still stunned by his loss. Sure, I lost a lot of good friends, killed in action, but somehow or another Tom and I were very, very close. But I found it very -- not strange, but to find out about his death through his sister who received the telegram when I happened to be at this hostel at the same time that she received the telegram. Tom came to see me before he went overseas.

MA: He visited you in Minneapolis?

GY: Yeah, Minneapolis, yeah. Came into my barracks, and a matter of fact, another time, a telegram came in, I didn't give it a thought. A guy named Ben Saiki, he's a good friend of mine, he lives in, south of Seattle right now. But when Ben came in, I says, "Ben, there's a telegram for you." So I had posted that telegram on the bulletin board, and he got the telegram and it was, it was about his brother Toll, T-O-double L, Toll that was killed in action in Europe. And that was another good friend of mine; we attended Washington State together, and he volunteered for 442. And he was also killed, and we went to his memorial service, funeral service in Chicago, Ben and I. But those were one of the few instances where he, our friends were killed in action. There were much more, of course, but just those two that were kind of close.

<End Segment 28> - Copyright © 2006 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 29>

MA: Okay, so today is March 16, 2006, and we're here again at the Museum of Arts and Culture in Spokane. And I'm here with George Yamada. So thanks for coming back, George.

GY: Well, thank you for inviting me.

MA: So when we left off yesterday, you had just finished talking about your experience with the MIS, and I wanted to ask you when, when did you return to Spokane after the war?

GY: Oh, from Presidio I proceeded up to Fort Lewis. There I got my separation papers, that was May, June, July 13th of 1946. And I met up with several other people that took basic with me that were from Portland, and we met there anyway, with the idea to get separated from the military. That was Fort Lewis.

MA: And from Fort Lewis did you return back home?

GY: I came back to Spokane, uh-huh.

MA: How had Spokane changed during the war? I mean, you were gone for three years...

GY: Actually, that, well, it changed quite a bit. We have an influx of evacuees that came into town, many of them went back to Portland and to Seattle. However, we did have a contingent of evacuees that made it their home permanently, so to speak, in Spokane. And it, I think the local people, people like myself, could recognize the evacuees. We got to know one another, of course, and many came from Manzanar, one or two came from Tule, lot of 'em came from Heart Mountain and Minidoka. Not too, not any from Topaz.

MA: Why did so many of them settle in Spokane, do you know?

GY: Primarily job opportunities, I believe. We had electronics firm, Hewlett-Packard, couple other ones that located in Cheney, Eastern Washington University is located there. I think the job opportunities that came up.

MA: And how did these Niseis, how did they fit in with the Japanese American community in Spokane, the sort of prewar community? How did they fit in?

GY: Yeah, fit in real well, I thought. Many people started attending the Protestant Church, a few of them were Buddhist, and we had already established a Buddhist Temple. I think primarily we had Kaiser here, and eventually... no, I guess the aerospace, the Boeing, offshoot from Boeing on the west plains started up, but that was much later years. And opportunity here for business, work, was, I thought, real well. We have several lawyers, a lot of doctors, MDs, and I read about name, Japanese names in the newspaper or other business journals where I don't recognize the Japanese name, so I would assume they came in from wherever to pursue their professional goals or could be nurses, doctors. I have no idea, but you know, they are mentioned in the newspapers.

MA: So aside from the new sort of Niseis coming into Spokane, how did you notice the changes in the, sort of, preexisting Japanese American community during the war? Were there any major changes that happened with, with your older community?

GY: Oh, I think with the job description, I don't know how they all got into, like, U.S. mail or, well, postal service, or even becoming a cop here in town. We have a Nisei police that transferred in from Canada, I believe, and his name was Yamada, and that was in the newspaper, also. I'd never seen that fellow, but I met up with his sergeant, buck sergeant cop at the doctor's office, and he mentioned was I related to that Yamada that was under his command. And we got to know one another, this hakujin cop.

MA: And then when you returned to Spokane, what was the housing situation like in terms of segregation or areas that, you know, the Japanese could or could not live?

GY: Well, once it was established that Orientals could buy real estate here in Spokane, anyway, I think it was in the mid-50s where this diver, Olympic diver, I thought his name was Kono. But anyway, he medaled in the Olympics as a diver, beautiful diver. He wanted to buy a house on the south, south side of Spokane, and he was, he was told they would not sell real estate to an Oriental above, I thought it was around Sixteenth Avenue. I'm not sure when that opened up, because I wasn't around, but I read in the paper subsequently that that was against the law, whatever law that mentioned, but it opened up. Kono did, I'm not sure if he ever did buy a house in Spokane, but that was a big row back in the '50s.

MA: So even after they had passed these laws forbidding segregation, it seems like there was still resistance.

GY: Oh, yes, oh, yes. It, it's, I'm not sure when that came into law, but when I was in real estate also, a number of years, I, we get to learn these various laws and we have that in our test, you know. You gotta know your laws, governing, buying and selling of real estate in the State of Washington.

<End Segment 29> - Copyright © 2006 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 30>

MA: After you returned to Spokane, what job did you start at that time?

GY: Oh, let's see. I went to Washington State for a while, chick sexing appealed to me.

MA: Oh, yeah, so what -- I was going to ask you about that, too -- what was it about the chick sexing that appealed to you?

GY: Oh, the money, most likely. Back in the early '40s, it was a good-paying job compared to outside employment. And I'm not sure, there were, they were all Niseis at that point, throughout the, throughout the United States. We were partly in the broiler business -- not us, but we sexed the chickens that were in the broiler business, but my end was, generally speaking, egg laying. And the only ones that counted in egg laying was the pullets, the female chicks. They laid the eggs. And if... let's see. The northeast, primarily, was egg-laying, and some of the better strains came out of Seattle area, like Mount Hope chicks, was a beautiful strain of chickens. Good-sized eggs, strong eggshell, color, and the color. Some of that I could remember from the '40s and '50s.

MA: How did you first hear about this chick-sexing industry? Were you recruited?

GY: It was in, yeah, it was in the Pacific Citizen. Every week you took the Pacific Citizen, and in it would be chick sexing. And primarily it was American, Amchick, what they call Amchick, American Chick Sexing, located in Lansdale, Pennsylvania. It was run, John Nitta, N-I-T-T-A, I'm not sure if it's still running now, but his son, after he passed away, I think his son took over. And I'm not sure if he, I thought he sold it, sold the firm. And right now, I understand the Korean segment are in it. And one of the things about the Nisei was we were all very amiable, we wanted, it was strictly business, but we were all amiable. We were able to talk to the workers that came in and took the chickens, boxed the chicks, along with the owner, and I think it was just an enjoyable time between the employers and employees.

MA: Why were so many Nisei recruited to do this?

GY: I think part of the secret that came out of Japan, what they called "vent sexing." Right at the vent there, you could tell whether it was a cockerel or a pullet. About that period, they were using pills to... what the heck was... there's a name. Anyway, the chicken used to be sold at market, those that were heavy, five-pounders. They used to give it a pill in the neck, and it turned out to be, they thought, was cancerous, so they stopped that. Then the next step was the surgical... surgical, I think they cut open by the, the chick, baby chick's leg, and cauterized, cauterized the male, I think, cauterized it, and then that was supposed to be capon, yeah. They called the capon, and capon became a larger chick, larger chicken.

MA: So what exactly was the, the technique that came from Japan?

GY: It was a matter of squeezing the chick to get the egg yolk out, the egg yolk that they lived on after they hatched, it would be eighteen days in the incubator, and three days in the hatching compartment. And in order for the chick to look nice and yellow and bright, they have to use formaldehyde mixed in some other charcoal. And when you walked in when the formaldehyde was not only for keeping it germ-free, but it also turned the white chicken yellowish color. There's something about a pure white chicken that didn't look just right, however, a little baby chicken, one day old, that had a yellow color, fluffed out, looked a lot better to the buying public, apparently. And oh, I'm not sure how long it took for us to be adept at it, but we, with our thumb and forefinger on the left hand, we opened the vent, identified on the rim whether it was male or female, and sexed, that's what sexing was about.

MA: What was your training like? How long did you train to do this?

GY: Gee, I really don't remember. I don't even remember going to school. I know that in order to make spending money, some of us have to go into Pennsylvania farm fields to pick tomatoes. And I guess we were good pickers.

MA: I see. So you had to, you had to go to school?

GY: Yeah, and earn a little money, spending money, or whatever you might call it. The GI Bill paid for the sexing part, school part. But anyway, it was an experience also for me to be able to travel the country.

MA: I see. So you didn't stay in Spokane and do the sexing?

GY: No. I worked in Raleigh, Charlotte, North Carolina, Spartanburg, South Carolina, I worked in Texas, Oklahoma the second year. And it was all seasonal then. However, as time went on, the improvement in the industry, it turned out to be year-round job. But then when I was in it, it was seasonal. I used to come into Spokane and nine month of, maybe six month of chick sexing, and then get laid off, so to speak. There was work, but it wasn't enough work. So we just let someone else handle it and I came back to Spokane and worked at Kaiser. Most of the time I think it was Kaiser.

<End Segment 30> - Copyright © 2006 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 31>

MA: What was a typical day like for you at, doing the chick sexing?

GY: Oh, gee whiz. My work was in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and one day in say a 24-hour to 48-hour period, I worked in five states. I think it was New York, Connecticut, I even ventured into New Hampshire to work up there, sexed up there. We were getting in the neighborhood of around one and a quarter cent per chick, one point quarter for a chick. In the smaller hatcheries, we were getting a nickel a chick, and we also sexed turkeys, turkey poults, and we got anywhere from a nickel to seven cents or a dime a poult, as I remember. And it was real decent money for what people in the country were making at that time.

MA: How many chicks could you sex in an hour, say?

GY: Well, the fastest I was able to go with a sustained speed was around 1,200 chicks an hour -- with accuracy, that's what's important. Japanese, the Niseis were very, highly accurate. If you had a thousand laying hens, you would find maybe one or two roosters in the entire batch. In other words, if you had a hundred thousand laying hens and you only had ten roosters, they have to be destroyed because there was no, nothing for, like the broiler industry, they don't generally eat Leghorns. Leghorns' known for its laying capability, whereas in the broiler industry, you want a fatter, heavier chicken, and quicker.

MA: So that's why the accuracy was so important?

GY: Oh, yes, for egg laying. Well, actually, for broilers, too. In broiling end of it, they kept both the male and female and raised them. But in the egg-laying industry, they destroyed all the roosters, primarily. If you had a million roosters, a million pullets, you would destroy 999,999 of the roosters. They kept some for meat purposes, but you don't get that much meat out of an egg-laying male chicken.

MA: Why do you think the Niseis were so adept at chick sexing?

GY: I think it could be that it was good money, of course. It was a fascinating career, I thought, to be able to travel, only Orientals were in it at that point, good money, and maybe for those people that, you know, it was a better-paying job than being a laborer or whatever else, a farmer, say, for instance. It was just sort of a fascination for me. I can't speak for all the rest, but for me it was traveling, living in a different part of the country. And I got to know a lot of good hatchery owners.

MA: So the people who would hire the chick sexers, so they would specifically recruit or focus on recruiting Niseis?

GY: Well, not really. They would write to Amchick and say, "We would, our capacity is so many hundred thousand or million, million eggs, and we would like to have chick sexers serve us. Our hatching" -- then they would give them the hatching schedule, and hopefully it would tie in with our scheduling. And sometimes it really is a madhouse. You have a lot of traveling to do, and some hatcheries will produce, oh, I don't know, hundred thousand, two hundred thousand in one hatch, day. And out of a hundred thousand, you would assume there would be fifty thousand females, fifty thousand males, generally speaking. And you have this one hatchery that has hundred thousand chick capacity, and so you call in other chick sexers around the area, and you get a system going where maybe three, three, two to five chick sexers, or two to four chick sexers would do a hundred thousand chicks. And then you go to another hatchery and meet there, and do another quarter million chicks. And you go to another hatchery -- this is all in one day's time. And to have another hatchery that's, wants broilers sexed, and they would have several hundred thousand themselves. So it wasn't a matter of just a few thousand per day, it was, it was in the hundreds of thousands of chicks that we had to process.

MA: Yeah, that's interesting. I guess I'm trying to understand the connection between, you know, this sort of art form coming out of Japan, the vent sexing, and then so many Niseis working in the industry. That connection seems interesting to me.

GY: Well, I guess maybe because during the war years, the majority of the people, if they weren't in the military, were idling away in the camps. Or they came out of the camps and worked in the sugar beet field or a place in New Jersey that hired...

MA: Seabrook?

GY: Seabrook Farms, that hired Japanese. They believed in them, they believed in their ability, they believed in the, keeping their nose to the grindstone, so to speak, and that was the typical Japanese of that era. They worked hard, and they just went about their business. So I would assume that chick sexing was good advertising, that a lot of the Japanese went towards. There were a few girls also in that.

MA: Nisei girls?

GY: Yeah, Nisei girls with very long fingers, that it looked like it was just real easy compared to a man's stubby fingers. And the fingers and fingernail was important in chick sexing.

MA: What was sort of the record number of chicks that were sexed in one hour, say, that you heard of?

GY: Oh, good lord, I don't remember that at all now. Oh... gosh, I, it would be, it would be well in the millions on a one day. It could very well, let's see, a hundred thousand, two hundred fifty thousand, yeah, it could be in one day where you had anywhere from five to seven chick sexers that would split the work, and they would come in and the lead, the guy that, the Nisei that is the boss of that hatchery, would say, "Well, I want two hundred thousand chicks sexed. Two hundred thousand, then you guys can go." And the lead man always stays there as all the other guys say, "Well, I got my twenty thousand in," or, "I got my five thousand in," and they would leave. And gradually it would come down to one or two left, the lead chick sexers. So I really don't know how many hundreds of thousands of chicks, but it was close to a million chicks. We had some very, very large hatcheries during that period, and I think up in the New England states, they're mostly Jewish-owned hatcheries. They were good businessmen, and they provided well for us. We had to fight for, you know, pay raises and stuff like that.

MA: What sorts of things, how did you, how did you fight for that, for the pay raises?

GY: Oh, we just called for a meeting. Called for a meeting, went into the office, and we generally asked for half a cent raise.

MA: That's half a cent per chick?

GY: Per chick, yes. And well, it was an argument, anyway. [Laughs] Eventually we got it; we had to, we had to barter. But we cut into the owner's profit, you know.

MA: Was there a union?

GY: No. I don't know about now, but there wasn't a union then. And I'm not sure if I would have gone for a union if we had to vote for one. They were talking about unionizing later, much later on, but nothing came of it.

MA: Why don't you think you would have voted for a union?

GY: Well, you would have always antagonized the hatcherymen, and they were, we were all independent contractors income-tax wise, and I'm not sure what the union could have done for us. You know, if you went on strike, that wouldn't have helped the industry. All it would have done was made them go broke, or cut down on his chickens, and going to maybe broilers instead. But anyway...

<End Segment 31> - Copyright © 2006 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 32>

MA: Did you eventually settle somewhere? You said that you worked seasonally for some time, but did you eventually settle in one area?

GY: Yeah, when my wife and I got married, I knew just one person from the military that lived in New York Ci ty, and I knew my territory was going to be in upstate New York. I'm not sure where, but I knew it would be in New York State, because I asked for, and I received it. So when we got married, we filled our, my '49 Plymouth car up with all kinds of stuff, just the two of us went to, directly cross-country to Manhattan. We got a room, a flat, oh, hundred and, hundred and thirteen, 114th and Broadway. And oh, let's see, Broadway, it was about half a dozen blocks from General Grant's tomb, it was about ten blocks away from Columbia University where President Eisenhower was president of the college, of the university at that time. And that was 1951. And we stayed in Manhattan for six months, and then we moved to Brooklyn and lived just off of Avenue R and Flatbush in Brooklyn and stayed there for six months. Thereupon I got into chick sexing full-time. It was working out of Manhattan, going upstate, and then coming back into New York. That was a little bit too much driving, so we settled in Hobart, New York, Delaware County, right in the heart of the Catskills, where Rip Van Winkle slept, you know. And from there, I worked into western New York, which is a long ways, into Connecticut and Massachusetts. There were, that was primarily my, my territory: New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts, with Pennsylvania thrown in and New Hampshire thrown in, and oh, I used to have, service a couple hatcheries in Vermont.

MA: I see. So you would travel...

GY: I would travel, yes.

MA: ...among all these states and go to all these different hatcheries.

GY: Uh-huh. Used to cover around thirty-five thousand miles, being self-employed, thirty-five thousand miles, and I never had a serious accident, never got a ticket for speeding, and I used to go eighty, ninety miles an hour in those days. And the only accidents I would be, I hit seven different deer, seven different times. And I would always go to my insurance company, and on comprehensive, and they would pay for the damages. But eventually, this will never do. I do a lot of my traveling nighttime, so they threw me out, out of insurance, car. I had to have car insurance, you know, so... it wasn't, it wasn't a law to have one in New York State, but I preferred to have one. And so I had to go to Lloyd's of London as an assigned risk program. You know, back in, what, 1950s, to have to pay twelve to fourteen hundred dollars just on car insurance, that was, that was really killing, but I had to do that for three years. And then my record turned out okay.

MA: You said you were self-employed?

GY: Uh-huh.

MA: When did that, when did you start being self-employed as a chick sexer, or was it the whole time you were doing it?

GY: It, I think the IRS wouldn't take that under the hatcherymen, and hatcherymen surely didn't want to carry us as an employee, so we had no other choice but to go as independent contractor.

MA: I see. So all of the chick sexers then, mostly, were independent, or self-employed?

GY: Yes, mostly. Unless a guy got lucky enough, like in California, they have several-million-chick hatcheries somewhere in California, and I would assume those guys are employees because they just stay there at one hatchery, and they'd just millions and millions put out every day. And I think they have a number of chick sexers there, strictly just sitting right there.

MA: How would it work with you, then? Would the hatcheries call you personally, or did you work through a contractor?

GY: No, we had a schedule made out. We knew exactly when they put in the eggs, said, "Well, we just loaded our hatchers with eggs." So you wrote that down, you know that twenty-one days from them, you have to be there to chick sex the chick, baby chicks. And it wasn't a big deal, it was no big problem to write down, you go into, you walk into a hatchery and find out the incubators are loaded with eggs, and you know that those eggs in twenty-one days will become baby chicks. And you know just about what you have to do, so you have your schedule all lined up, you know, well, in three weeks advance what you're supposed to be doing.

MA: And who lays out that schedule for you?

GY: Ourselves, along with the hatcherymen. The hatcheryman says, well, I, we knew that it would be loaded with eggs, and the hatcheryman would say, "Well, we put in two hundred cases. Two hundred cases is thirty dozen to a case, and say if that, a hundred cases would be thirty thousand, is it? Thirty thousand chicks. So you know just about how many chicks would be hatching on a given day, given, yeah, given day.

<End Segment 32> - Copyright © 2006 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 33>

MA: What was your experience like living in New York City for that year that you were there?

GY: Oh, we really enjoyed it. Yeah, we went to Radio City Music Hall, we found right there in Times Square, a place to have a steak. And it was a quickie steak, it was a nice large steak, and it was like McDonald's or Carole's, they cook the steak there and you ate it right there. I think you got a potato with it, but it was only sixty-five cents, I think. Real cheap. The only place you would lose money if you didn't watch your change was... not confectionaries, but those little fruit stands and places like that. You've gotta watch your change in New York City. [Laughs]

MA: Was there a strong Japanese American community in New York?

GY: Yes, they had JACL there, they had the Buddhist Church. I've attended several of the functions, primarily in the Buddhist end. They were more busy with whatever, movies or dances or social gathering. But it was close by, as I remember, in Manhattan.

MA: What was it like for you, you said that you were involved with a lot of the Buddhist community activities?

GY: Oh, I don't know. Even in Seattle, I ran around, the friends happened to be YBA, Young Buddhist Association, some Catholics, not too many. And a lot of Protestants, because I used to go to Seattle to meet up with Protestants, I mean, in our youth group. In New York State, we had to work a lot of Sundays, so the chances of us going to church was rare, very rare, until I got further established and my business got worse and worse, poorer and poorer, that I find my Sundays was open a lot. And one of the great things about chick sexing then was I loved fishing. I loved fishing with a worm or an egg, or grasshoppers, but I had an opportunity, even as, living here before I got married, to fly fish. And however, when we got into upstate New York, that was the mecca of fly fishing. All these beautiful mountain streams and rivers, and every time I went to Vermont, I made sure I went fishing there also. I made it a point to go fishing. And much as I was tired and bleary-eyed and everything, we managed to get in fishing, two times a --

MA: Was there -- sorry -- was there a group of people that you would go fishing with?

GY: Sometimes. Generally speaking, a lot of times, I ended up by myself. We did travel together some of the time, but not that often. And it turned out that everyone liked fishing. I could think of out of four, out of five, out of six, one, two, just three of us enjoyed fishing, fly fishing or worm fishing or whatever.

MA: So you were able to really get into that while you were living in New York?

GY: Oh, yeah. I think I really enjoyed that portion of it. I still enjoy fly fishing over here, and trying to get out as much as possible, fly fishing, tying my own flies.

<End Segment 33> - Copyright © 2006 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 34>

MA: So I wanted to ask you about your experience in the ROTC program. You said you were a student at Washington State, and you entered the ROTC.

GY: Well, 1943, after high school and all, we were classified 1-A. And shortly thereafter, they changed our classification to 4-C, and 4-C was "enemy alien," which none of us appreciated. Anyway, because of that, we, I went to Washington State and before I got inducted, a little bit later in '44, May of '44, I was at Washington State in the ROTC program. And we were in it for at least thirty days, maybe a little more. And we wore ROTC uniforms the whole, whole bit, regular with a blue lapel. And one day at the formation, early in the morning, we were asked to go into the third platoon, and all of us went to the third platoon, and there was, oh, maybe a dozen, maybe a dozen and a half Niseis, and from thence, the next day, we were asked to turn in our uniforms, we were all thrown out of the ROTC program because we were Japanese. So...

MA: How did you, I mean, react to that?

GY: Oh, well, at that point, we were, you know, to be distrusted, that really hurt. They, we were proud Americans, proud Japanese, but to be distrusted by the federal government, that really, that hurt, anyway.

MA: How did that impact your feelings about later actually serving in the military?

GY: Oh, there was no problem there. It hurt us, yeah, to be classified as "enemy aliens," but you know, when you graduate from basic training and you're marching in formation for the review before the generals and higher officers, the entire formation is out there on the field. And then you see the American flag flying, there's not a better feeling to seeing that colors, the American flag.

MA: Did that experience happen to many of the Niseis that you knew?

GY: I'm sure it did. I'm not sure about the Kibeis or even some of the Niseis. However, when we first got to Fort, Camp Savage and Fort Snelling, we were told that, "You took the easy way out -- if you, we thought that you took the easy way out. Instead of going to the 442nd, your services are needed in the Pacific Theater, but for those that fail the project purposely, we would ship you into the labor battalion." And nobody wanted to go into the labor battalion because, well, the labor battalion was made up by, apparently at that time, of a lot of soldiers that you didn't want to be associated with, at least I didn't think so anyway. I'm not sure what kind of people they were, but they would be the scum, so to speak. But they seemed to imply that you don't serve properly or voluntarily, you will be shipped to the labor battalion. And I think there was, there was an area where the Nisei soldiers were put into and kept there until the end of the war. Not, not a lot, but those that I think the intelligence community thought that it just didn't fit in with their war plans for Nisei in combat roles. So they spoke Japanese real well, but they were all, you know, took care of the grounds. Swept the grounds, kept the grounds clean. There were some few Niseis or Kibeis or whatever that were in that area. The reason I could think like that is I was there for two years. I could see the goings-on, even with my low rank and all, I could see. You didn't have to hit me with a rock or bat to tell me the, what was going on at that time.

MA: What did you have to do to be put in this labor battalion?

GY: Oh, I don't know. It depended on the psychologist or psychiatrist, particularly the psychologist overseeing the situation. They, they didn't question you individually, but they looked at your action and your grades during the time that they were at the MISLS, Military Intelligence Service Language School.

MA: Are you still, do you keep in touch with other veterans, other Nisei veterans?

GY: Yeah, there was one in Michigan, he graduated from University of Chicago in physical chemistry, I believe. He lives over there, formerly from Colorado, and another friend that lives in Sun City, formerly from Fresno. And I write to them periodically.

MA: Are there any veterans' groups in Spokane that you participate in?

GY: No. I don't think, other than playing golf, maybe, I don't believe, unless they belong to the VFW or the American Legion. I belong to American Legion, but I haven't been to a meeting in I don't know how long.

<End Segment 34> - Copyright © 2006 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 35>

MA: So going back a little bit, I'm curious how you met your wife.

GY: [Laughs] You know when you first talked to me, Megan, that I told you "stalking?" That was a very poor word to use. Not like, you know, hiding behind trees, bushes and all. No, I, I knew a lot of the evacuees, guys and gals that came into town, I knew the locals, which, you know, born and raised in Spokane. However, our hotel was located in middle of downtown where Susie, my wife, was employed, close by. And she would be having coffee at this marketplace, she and her, I think, couple other girlfriends, and I noticed her a couple of times. I had to shop for my mother, where we used to go down, I used to go down to help her make beds and sweep the floors, sweep the outside concrete, sidewalk. But anyway, I saw her, and I told my mother -- I was taking her home from the hotel one afternoon, and I saw Susie waiting for a bus. And I pointed, I told my wife I pointed to her as we drove by, and says, "You know, I'm going to marry that girl." And then my mother would say, "Sonna baka na koto you." Baka is crazy thoughts or whatever, but anyway, she told me, "Sonna baka na koto," and she, she kind of castigated me and I just let it run off my shoulder.

And I saw her couple times after that again, I made it a point, I got to find out her telephone number. And through another Nisei, he worked in the same office, insurance. And he forced me to buy a thousand-dollar policy, so I bought a thousand-dollar life insurance policy from him. And I think it was a term insurance one. Anyway, it, no cash value or anything, but anyway, I called her up. And I told her my name, and I tried to make a date for a week ahead, or two weeks ahead at Natatorium Park, which was the one I was telling you about, the roller coaster and dance floor for two thousand couples, big band days. But anyway, I made a date two weeks ahead and I thought, "Gee, I'm sure loving talking to this girl." I just saw her, I never spoke to her before, and the more I talked to her, the more I thought, "I got to see her quicker than that." So I said, "Instead of seeing you two weeks from now, is it possible to get together next week?" And she said, "Yeah, yeah, I'm open that day." I said, "Matter of fact," I jumped at the opportunity again, said, "Long as I'm able to see you seven days from now, why not tonight?" [Laughs] Anyway, so I got together with her that night. Went to, could be a movie or whatever, and that's how it all started out.

MA: And then you got married.

GY: Then we got married, and it's fifty, it's the fifty-fifth, fifty-five years now.

<End Segment 35> - Copyright © 2006 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 36>

MA: So after you got married then, you moved to New York, and then upstate New York.

GY: Right after, yes.

MA: What was it like living in upstate New York and raising a family there?

GY: Oh, I don't know. It, she used to accompany me when I was living in Spokane, and I took a territory chick sexing in Walla Walla, Yakima, Wapato, Pasco area, I worked the Columbia River area up into Yakima and back down, and then into Hermiston, Oregon. They didn't have a, they had a small one-car ferry then, I believe. But anyway, that went into Hermiston. So I invited my girlfriend then, or fiance, possibly, could have been fiance, to come with me if she wanted to watch me chick sex. And I took her down to some of the hatcheries where there was just small amount of work instead of big amount; she would have gotten bored waiting around, so we did that, took her out to dinner and brought her back home to Spokane. And that's how it all started out from then. She knew the kind of business I was in. I guess she... let's see. I showed her a magazine, and there was another Susie Shinohara in California, same name as my wife, and she was the queen at one of the local dances in California. And I told my wife, says, "Look at this picture." I don't know how I should put it. My wife was very, very attractive, and you know, well, anyway, fifty-five years later. [Laughs]

MA: How many children did you have?

GY: Six.

MA: And were they all born in New York?

GY: New York. I was, I didn't really care, I guess, if you want to put it that way. It was my job anyway to provide for the family, and it happened to be in an area where there wasn't any Japanese. There was one or two other families, but they also had the same problems of being connected to the Caucasian community. And all my kids are married to, intermarriages, and I have one great-grandson that was born. Lisa, my oldest, she's twenty-eight years old -- I hope, forgive me, Lisa. [Laughs] My granddaughter, yeah, my granddaughter, Lisa, is twenty-eight years old, she just recently, about a couple years ago got married, we were in New York for that wedding, and she bore a son here about a year ago. So I have a, one, I have twelve grandchildren and one great-grand... is that great-grandchildren? Grandchild, a boy, and I have a blond, a pure blond white-skinned granddaughter. My oldest girl, Cathy, who's a teacher in upstate New York with her husband, adopted Elizabeth from a Massachusetts woman. She's, my granddaughter, Elizabeth, the Caucasian, is still in contact, I guess, with her mother in Massachusetts. But anyway, she's, I think she's blond, she was blond, and white, but she is my granddaughter, adopted granddaughter, and she is in California. She was, in her sophomore or junior year at a four-year college in Geneva, New York, and she quit. And in talking to her mother, my daughter, she was planning to go back at a future date, but she wanted to see part of the country. So I called her up personally and I said, "Elizabeth, long as you're out of school, why don't you come to Spokane to live?" She says, "Grandpa, if I wanted to live in another snowy part of the country, it wouldn't be bad, but I don't want snow anymore." They get a lot of snow where we used to live. Two feet of snow in one snowfall is, is a tremendous amount, but it happens over there. And we're on the same, oh, latitude as, or longitude, latitude as Hobart, but we don't get as much snow. We do get a lot of snow in the mountains; I think there's 172 inches today, in today's paper, 172 inches of snow in the hills around Spokane. But anyway, she mentioned that, "Grandpa, if I wanted to live in snow country, I'd probably come to Spokane, but I don't want to. I want to live in California." So she and two other girls got together -- I don't know how they met, but they went to California, are there right now living, the three of them are living together. And I think she's learning the ropes on Home Depot department store -- well, not a department, but the store, and she's doing real well.

MA: So then you definitely saw the impact of where your children grew up in that community? You can see that connection in them?

GY: Oh, yeah. Oh, you bet. They, they go, three of my oldest children were, graduated from high school in Hobart. South Kortright was their, name of their school. And the other three went to high school here in town. I, my move was very abrupt. Chick sexing was at a standstill, I took two other jobs, three other jobs to keep on going. I drove a tractor-trailer, I went to school to learn how to drive a tractor-trailer for a grocery chain, and that was okay. And then I delivered pharmaceutical goods for a big pharmacy concern that was in Hobart. And...

MA: When, about what year was this kind of going on, when the chick sexing declined?

GY: Must have been in the '70s, because 1975 I abruptly pulled up anchor and moved here, back here, back to Spokane from upstate New York in 1975, April of 1975.

MA: And why did you move so suddenly?

GY: Oh, I guess I was getting sick of not being able to have a good, steady income coming in. And I, yeah, I told my wife, I says, "Whether you like it or not, we're, we are going to move." So, you know, my daughter was pregnant at that time, she had married and she was carrying this baby, Lisa, who is, what, twenty, twenty-eight years old now, twenty-eight or twenty-nine. And we abruptly moved and left my daughter all by herself, so to speak, with her husband. And that really broke my heart. But we had to, and we moved back here. I worked for a while the various other jobs, but I finally got a real estate license and for thirteen or fourteen years, stayed in real estate, which I enjoyed. I was my own boss, anyway.

MA: How were your parents doing? I mean, after the war, they, you said they still ran a hotel. Did they continue that up until the '70s?

GY: About 1960... somewhere in the '60s. They sold it to another Japanese, the lease, and depended on my dad, he was, he was making, I would assume, pretty good money as a mail handler for Great Northern Railroad, and he had a lot of years in, so he had good hospitalization, I presume, along with income. So they, I guess it was just that one income. And my mother periodically worked, I think, so that she could also draw social security, which she did. I don't know how much it was, wasn't very much I'd imagine.

<End Segment 36> - Copyright © 2006 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 37>

MA: How was it coming back, moving back to Spokane from New York after twenty-odd years?

GY: Twenty-five, twenty-six years, gee, living in a big town, when you live in a community of 650, after we moved, it dropped down to four hundred, probably, you know. But gee, everybody knew us in, in a fifty-mile or maybe even a hundred-mile circumference. They all just about knew a Japanese family that lived there among a couple other Japanese families. And I enjoyed the fishing, I was on a ski patrol. I used to snow ski, and in order to make a little bit better, money-wise, I joined the ski patrol and was director of the ski patrol. I was paid professionally, I was paid money to ski patrol one year, and that's how bad business got, sexing. I was patrol, ski patrol during the wintertime, driving the truck, but anyway, I used to belong to a golf club, eighteen-hole golf course there. It was beautiful playing golf whenever I felt like it, it was beautiful going fly fishing whenever I felt like it. The activities there for the kids going to, in their band concert, school plays, and sports, it was very enjoyable because there wasn't a movie theater, it was just a small town. After we moved back here, we were just flabbergasted how much our town had changed, my wife and me.

MA: What were some things that stood out to you as being the most changed?

GY: Well, one-way streets, for one. I used to go down all those one-way streets in the opposite direction, I did that a number of times. And the freeway, I-90, going through town, dead, stopped dead on the street that we used to live on. And naturally, when... what's that word I'm trying to think of? When they, when you had these highways going through, they could take your house. See, there's a word for that.

MA: Repossess?

GY: No. Oh, gee whiz. Not repossess, but they take your house, they give you what they feel your land is worth. And anyway, it went right smack through a lot of the Japanese-owned housing, right smack through it. And took our church eventually, and blocked off the street, I-90 went right through where we lived then.

MA: Where did the Japanese families go, and where did the buildings...

GY: They all moved to various areas. South Hill and north side, more or less on the south side, South Hill. There were a few on the north side, few in the northeast corridor, but the money, money houses was primarily in the northwest corridor or the South Hill, all of the South Hill. Few out, way out in the valley, but it was a big change for us. We went to see a movie, we went to eat pizza, went to a Chinese restaurant, we were so amazed at the closeness of going to eat pizza. We had to go twenty miles or twenty-five miles to east pizza back in upstate New York, it was such a small town. And we just enjoyed our first year of coming back. And my, my wife used to take care of my mother, she had diabetes, so go over to the house every day and give her a shot, you know, insulin. After my mother died, we moved into their house and took care of my dad, and six months later he died, that was in 1981.

But anyway, up in, when we first moved back, we pulled a trailer full of our belongings, and we stopped over in Pennsylvania to, we stopped in New Jersey to see my army buddy from Portland, Oregon, and we stayed with them for a little while. But as it turned out, we left their house around one or two o'clock in the morning, and we headed out on the highway. On the turnpike in Pennsylvania I got groggy and fell asleep. And then the following morning I woke up -- this was in April 1975, and soon as I turned on the ignition, I proceeded down the highway, I hit a deer. [Laughs] Oh, boy. I, I looked in my rearview mirror and I could see it bouncing from... it hit the front end bumper, it didn't dent anything except maybe pushed the bumper in a little, and went over the top of the trailer that I was hauling, and I could see it bound away. I hope I didn't kill it. It was still, we just had started out that morning, and it was, it was early in the morning, daylight, I hit this darn deer. And like I told you earlier, I, that was my seventh deer that I hit. Much earlier they had thrown me out of the insurance, because I filed a claim on, comprehensive on every one of 'em. But anyway, that, we came back to Spokane, and that's where our second part of our lives started. I was completely out of chick sexing then, completely. I just quit.

MA: Was it nice to, when you moved back to Spokane, to see some of the childhood friends?

GY: Oh, yeah, oh, yeah, you bet. Faces that I haven't seen, you got to figure from 1943 on, from going to Washington State to living in Chicago for a little, I was bumming around, you might say. Not bumming, but just trying to find myself. I lived in Chicago for not quite a year. I don't remember what, I guess that was in, yeah, just before I got into chick sexing. But anyway... I kind of lost my train of thought.

MA: Oh, that's okay. Oh, I was just, yeah, talking about the childhood friends.

GY: Oh, yeah, it was, it was just really nice seeing old-time friends I grew up with, missed certain friends also that were killed in the European Theater. But it was nice to get back after a quarter of a century.

<End Segment 37> - Copyright © 2006 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 38>

MA: How do you see, I guess, the future of the Japanese American community in Spokane and maybe in general?

GY: Well, for Spokane, I could see the Japanese slowly dying off. This is the picture in my own mind. I could see the Japanese slowly dying off, a lot of intermarriages, all my kids all intermarried. They in turn would mostly likely marry another Caucasian, and I could see the Japanese in my family slowly being integrated. And a hundred years from now, it'd be just, what, half a percent Oriental, and you won't be able to tell the offsprings were any Oriental blood in them at all.

MA: How do you feel about that? I mean, do you have an opinion?

GY: It's, it was the life that I chose for my family. Naturally, my family had to follow suit. It would have been nice for them to have married a Japanese, for instance, but that was not the case. So I accept all my daughter-in-laws and my son-in-laws. The only thing is the Caucasians, we get together and I've heard 'em say, "Hey, we're outnumbering the Japanese now," you know, at the dinner table. [Laughs] In a joking way, of course. But once in a while they do outnumber us, the family, in my own family. It's just a big joke, is what it amounts to.

<End Segment 38> - Copyright © 2006 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 39>

MA: So you've had, I mean, so many experiences, and you have quite a story that you've told. What do you want people, when they hear this story, to learn or to take from your experiences?

GY: How did you mean that now?

MA: What do you want people to learn from your story, or take away when they hear it?

GY: Oh, I don't know. I guess we did as we pleased. My wife, she was raised in the Caucasian atmosphere. My wife lost her mother in 1931 when she was a year old. My wife was born in 1930, her mother died shortly thereafter from TB. 1937, in Parkland Hospital in Puyallup or Tacoma area, her father died. She was six or seven years old at that point when her father died. After we were married, we happened to be going by this hospital, and it had "Parkland" on it, and my wife immediately hollered, "Stop, stop, stop," and I stopped, and she started to cry. [Cries] I guess as a little girl, she remembered her father. And I guess it's only natural for a young girl, not having any parents to grow up with, and being assimilated into the Caucasian atmosphere. But you know, after we got married, she learned how to cook rice, she didn't know anything about rice or gohan, or sukiyaki. She, I really feel she assimilated a lot quicker and faster than myself, being full-blooded, knowing the Japanese culture. My wife didn't know anything about the Japanese culture, and she learned a lot from my mother. My mother made it a point to teach her about omochi and sushi and other Japanese sayings. And actually, my wife is a better Japanese than I am. [Laughs] Yeah, but my wife, when, anyway, that was the first time I have ever seen my wife have tears. And after her, she got her stroke here last December, something in her changed, and I could see her, when she was in the hospital, the Christmas caroling bunch, some church came through, and I could see her having tears then. And that was quite a surprise or shock to me, to see my wife having tears, other than grieving for her parents back years ago. So that stroke did something to my wife to have her have tears, which I find a little different, it's unusual. I guess that's about it there.

MA: Does she speak with you often about her childhood and her experiences?

GY: Not too much, no. She did talk, I met (...) Mrs. Ballou, who lived in Puyallup at that time. Shortly after we came back from back east, I was rather negligent in when we got married, I'm not, she must have sent Mrs. Ballou, the caretaker, a card, wedding card. But anyway, I met her, and she gave me a big hug, and I got to know her, the type of woman that she was. After she died, she was taken back to South Dakota where she is buried now. We got to find her gravesite so that we could just go there and visit. I believe her (...) nephew is Chuck Woodworth. And Chuck Woodworth is a retired minister now. While we were living in New York for twenty-five-plus years, Chuck was a preacher at Oak Hill Methodist Church, small town in upstate New York. And he finally, he and his wife Peggy settled in Sweetwater, close to where she was born, next, just over the Canadian border, from the Canadian border. And he's, my wife considers Chuck her brother. They're that close. And he's been calling just about every other day to find out how Susie's doing.

MA: What are your plans for your future?

GY: Well, I don't know how many more years I have left after open heart and pacemaker and back surgery and aorta with stents put in. I think I'd like to be able to travel, we're talking about just going into Canada, and what they call the onsen, which is a steam bath, and go up there and just kind of enjoy ourselves, and travel throughout the country. We've done enough of that, but sometimes... I'd like to see Florida where a friend of mine from the military is living there. John Okamoto, formerly from Seattle, I think his brother's living in Seattle now, and kind of visiting old friends, and do a lot of fly fishing. My wife, she's a pretty darn good sport. She will sit in the car and wait for me for several hours while I fly fish. And I, I got to be able to see my wife, also, you know, for safety's sake, I guess. But yeah, we, I just hope that our lives will still continue. We're at an age, and since my wife's stroke, it makes it, oh, a little bit more fearful for me. And I just hope I'm around to be able to live with my, my girl, my wife.

MA: Is there anything else you want to say?

GY: Not really, no.

MA: Okay, well, thank you so much.

GY: Thank you.

MA: This has been so great, yeah, so much fun, too.

GY: Sorry I talked too much.

MA: No, you didn't talk too much. It was great. Thank you.

GY: Well, thank you very much for inviting me.

<End Segment 39> - Copyright © 2006 Densho. All Rights Reserved.