Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Sumi Okamoto Interview
Narrator: Sumi Okamoto
Interviewer: Megan Asaka
Location: Spokane, Washington
Date: April 26, 2006
Densho ID: denshovh-osumi-01

<Begin Segment 1>

MA: Okay. Today is Wednesday, April 26, 2006, and we're here at the Museum of Arts & Culture. And today I'll be interviewing Sumi Okamoto, and Dana Hoshide is on the camera today. So thank you so much for coming down here.

SO: You're welcome. That's fine.

MA: I wanted to ask you, when were you born?

SO: I was born January 7, 1920, in Seattle.

MA: Where were both your parents from in Japan?

SO: Let's see... Okayama, Japan.

MA: Do you know around when they came to the U.S.?

SO: Well, they must have come just about the time I was born, probably about 1920.

MA: And do you know how your parents met, or how they got married?

SO: No, it's probably... what do you call it?

MA: Picture bride?

SO: Picture bride, probably that way.

MA: And you said you were born in Seattle.

SO: Yes, uh-huh.

MA: So that was the first place they went?

SO: Yes, that's right.

MA: Do you know what they were doing in Seattle?

SO: I don't think they, I don't think they did very much, 'cause they weren't there very long, maybe a couple years or so. Because I, I don't even remember, you know, of course, I was only three years old, but I think they came to Spokane when I was about three, so I don't remember anything.

MA: And do you happen to know why they decided to move to Spokane?

SO: I have no idea.

MA: And you have older siblings, is that right?

SO: Yes, uh-huh.

MA: Can you tell me about your older siblings?

SO: My older sister is Miyo, and then I have, I had a brother in Japan that my folks left because they figured they were gonna come, go back to Japan after they earned a little bit, you know, and go back. And then I have a, the oldest brother, and he passed away, that my, the one in Japan passed away also, and I never did see him. He's my brother but I don't know, I didn't know him 'cause I never went to Japan.

MA: Who did he stay with?

SO: He stayed with my mother's sister, my mother's younger sister.

MA: In Okayama?

SO: Yes.

MA: And your sister, Miyo, was she also born in Seattle?

SO: She was born in Japan, so she had to get her citizenship papers.

MA: Going back to your brother that was in Japan, was your family able to communicate with him?

SO: Well, the children didn't. I remember my mother used to send packages all the time, you know, for clothes and whatever, she was always sending things to him.

MA: I see. So there was still some communication.

SO: Yes, oh, yes, uh-huh.

MA: And do you also have younger siblings?

SO: Yes, I have a younger brother and two younger sisters.

MA: What are their names?

SO: One is Ossie, O-S-S-I-E, and the other is Kimi. They're both married, but Ossie lost her husband just recently, and Kimi, her husband is in Spokane.

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

<Begin Segment 2>

MA: So your, your parents moved to Spokane when you were about three, you said, so that was 1923, around then?

SO: I think so, uh-huh.

MA: And what was your father's occupation?

SO: Well, he used to, he worked for the Alaska Junk Company, and I think he melted metal, and made bars, you know, metal bars. I don't know what they used it for, but I remember he used to do that.

MA: Were there other Japanese Americans working with him at this company?

SO: Uh-huh, yeah, there were, my sister, my older sister used to sew sacks there. It was during the war, and they had to sew those sacks. And there were several Issei women that were employed there to sew sacks. And my older brother was kind of a supervisor there.

MA: Do you remember how long his work day was? Did he work very long hours?

SO: Yeah, he used to work until midnight sometimes, so we used to bring the lunch to him -- I mean, dinner to him. We were only about four blocks away from his workplace.

MA: What do you remember about the, I guess, was it a factory?

SO: Kind of like, uh-huh. It was in the same building, and... let's see. And then upstairs is where the women had their machines, and they sewed those sacks. I don't know what they filled them with, but I know they sewed, they were busy sewing sacks. And most of them were Issei ladies that had just come to the United States. And the Niseis were still too small, you know.

MA: So they were children at this point?

SO: Yes, uh-huh.

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

<Begin Segment 3>

MA: Which language did you speak at home?

SO: We spoke mostly Japanese. We went to Japanese school after high school, we were off at three o'clock, and then at four o'clock we went to the Japanese language school and studied until five o'clock. So my mother couldn't speak English at all because she was home all the time and took care of the children and cooked, but my dad could speak broken English, he was pretty good at it.

MA: But mostly at home, you spoke Japanese?

SO: Yes, uh-huh. So we understand a little bit Japanese, but now I don't, I don't understand very much of it. I can understand it, but I can't speak it, that's what it is.

MA: Tell me about your experiences at Japanese language school.

SO: Well, it was at Japanese Mission, and that was the same place where we had our church, and it was right next to the Central Methodist Church. And...

MA: Was that downtown Spokane?

SO: Yes, it was right on Third Avenue, yes.

MA: How, how often did you go to class?

SO: Five days a week. Right after school we went there, and then we used to have (...) a baseball field right next to us, so the fellows used to play baseball. And there were, there was a ping pong table in the mission there, so in our spare time we would play ping pong and have a good time. [Laughs]

MA: Who were your teachers at the school?

SO: Oh, my. One was a Japanese teacher, he was about my father's age, I guess. But his daughter and I were about the same age. But I can't remember the others, there were several that taught, but this is the only one that I remembered, this person.

MA: What was the, at Japanese language school, what was the classroom environment like? Was it real strict, or was it kind of...

SO: Very strict. Yes, it was very strict, so we wouldn't dare whisper or anything. I guess we learned quite a bit, we were only... let me see, fourteen to eighteen years old, and so we learned quite a bit. I've forgotten quite a bit of it. [Laughs]

MA: Did you learn a lot of writing and reading, or was it a lot of oral...

SO: Yes, uh-huh. It was, we learned hiragana, now, that's the simplest Japanese, and then -- no, katakana's the simplest, and then hiragana. And then they had those difficult characters.

MA: Kanji?

SO: Kanji. That was hard to learn. [Laughs] It was real hard. But most of the Niseis speak more English now, you know, among ourselves, so it's kind of hard to remember.

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

<Begin Segment 4>

MA: Where did you live as a, as a child at this point?

SO: We lived on Fourth Avenue, on West Fourth Avenue. And the freeway is going through it now, but we lived, we lived near a Jewish temple there on Fourth Avenue.

MA: How far is that from the downtown area where a lot of the Japanese business were...

SO: Oh, well, let me see. I'd say about... could be about ten or twelve blocks, I think it is, uh-huh.

MA: And why did your family decide to move into that area?

SO: I really don't know. I guess since we had a big family, we had to, he had to find a big house. [Laughs] I don't know the reason why he moved to that area, but I know most of the, lot of the Japanese were, they were barbers and tailors and laundry people, so of course, they were downtown.

MA: Who, I guess, in your neighborhood growing up, were there many other Japanese American families there?

SO: Well, there was one family that was close by, the Migaki family, and then across the street, it was a Japanese family, and that was about it. There were more Jewish families, I don't know why, but it was close to my dad's workplace, too, maybe that's why they found this house.

MA: Did you interact much with the Jewish families or their children?

SO: Not very much. There were a couple of Jewish families in our block, so we did, we got to know them quite well.

MA: I guess at that time, I'm curious, were the, was the Jewish community kind of separate than the other Caucasians, or did it seem like it was more...

SO: Oh, I don't think it was -- there was a Jewish temple right on the corner from where we lived, so... but I don't think there were, you wouldn't call it a Jewish community right around there, I think. There were a couple, three Jewish people that lived around there, but I don't think there were that many.

MA: So they had sort of a temple that they would go to, but otherwise it seemed like they sort of...

SO: Yeah, mingled with everyone else, uh-huh.

MA: Were there many businesses in your neighborhood, in your area?

SO: No, uh-uh. There was one, the Ball & Dodd Funeral Home was across the street -- [laughs] -- and then there was, there's a hamburger place there. That was the best; they sold hamburgers for ten cents, and it was so good. We couldn't get a whole hamburger, we had to cut it in half, 'cause there were so many of us in the family. [Laughs] But let me see. I guess there might have been a dry cleaning place there, but otherwise there weren't any. It was kind of a residential area, I think.

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

<Begin Segment 5>

MA: What are some of your earliest childhood memories?

SO: Living there? Well, I remember that my dad, every New Year's, my dad had, fixed up the house so that the young people could, my friends and my sisters' and brothers' friends could come, and we'd play karuta. And he had, he had, my mom made lots of food, and that was for New Year's. And let me see. I think for Easter he had, he had some Easter eggs that he hid in the -- [laughs] -- and I remember my dad used to cut my brother's hair, and he used to cut our hair, too, like this. [Laughs] But that way he could save some money.

MA: What types of foods did you eat at home? Was it Japanese-style?

SO: Yes, it was mostly Japanese-style, and we ate rice. We ate a lot of fish in those days. We didn't, we didn't eat too much meats in those days, I guess that was more expensive. But we ate some noodles, I know, remember we ate noodles, and we always had rice with tea, ochazuke, that's what you call it. That was always good. And when we ate, we never spoke at all, we were real quiet. I guess, like, in American families, you talk with each other, but we never did. We were, we were supposed to be quiet when we ate, and my dad was pretty strict.

MA: How else was he strict with you, with the kids?

SO: Well, we had to be home before dark, and I remember when we had a dance at our church, when I was in my teens, well, he would bring us to church and then he would stay for a few minutes to see how everything was, and then he'd leave. If he saw that it was, you know, everything was okay, then he'd leave. But he was pretty particular. And then we had conferences in different cities, and we'd have to go in a train or something. And he was kind of concerned because there was boy-girl, you know, not only girls. So he was kind of concerned, but I think he let my sister go once. [Laughs]

MA: Were these conferences through your church?

SO: Yes, uh-huh. So it was called the Young, YPCC, and I think it started quite a while ago. Now, they have the Nikkei Conference, and it's, I think it started out as the young people that came from Japan, but there's Niseis that go to that, too. But as the Niseis are getting older, it seems like the conference is getting smaller and smaller. So that's kind of hard.

MA: Were you able to participate in these conferences when you were younger, like a teenager?

SO: No, I think I started going when I was, after I got married, I think. But I remember my sister, Miyo, she used to go when she was in her teens.

MA: Did you want to go along with her? Were you jealous that you couldn't go?

SO: No, not necessarily. She's five years older than I am, so it's kind of a different group.

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

<Begin Segment 6>

MA: Well, how did you get involved with the, it was the Methodist church, right?

SO: Uh-huh.

MA: How did you become involved with that?

SO: My oldest brother started at the Methodist church, and he, he became active and then we just followed through. My dad wanted us to go to the Methodist church. At that time there was no Buddhist church anyway, and the Buddhist... so I think they were both, my mother and dad were both Buddhists in Japan, of course, but he wanted us to go to the Methodist church to get acquainted with all the other young people. So it was fun. The church was used as a community hall then, so we had, we did lots of things at the church.

MA: What types of activities would take place at the community hall?

SO: Well, we'd, we'd have, play ping pong, and then we'd have little dances, you know. And we started our sukiyaki dinners from that little church, it was just, and it's gone up to today. So it was kind of hard because the room was pretty small, but the Issei people are the ones that started that, and we've been going every year. [Laughs] We're getting kind of old, and the Sanseis and the Yonseis, they're, a lot of them have intermarried, and a lot of them don't come to our church, so I don't know how it's going to be in later years.

MA: So it sounds like, then, the church was a religious place, but also community.

SO: Community, yes, uh-huh. That's the only place we could go. We didn't have another place to have fun. [Laughs]

MA: Can you talk a little bit about the history of the church? 'Cause it started in a different location, right, than it is today?

SO: Yes, it started next to the United Methodist Church, and it's, it was on Third Avenue. It was just a little, little mission, and the ladies of the Central Methodist Church are the ones that started. There are a few men that had come from Japan, and they started an organization, and it was built up from there. But there are only about three or four men that started that church.

MA: And they worked with the ladies at the United Methodist?

SO: Yes, the mission, yes. Yes, they were, the United Methodist women were really good to our church, and they really helped us organize and everything.

MA: And these were Caucasian ladies?

SO: Yes, Caucasian ladies, and our church, the Ellis Hall is named after this one lady that helped us, and Butler Chapel is Mrs. Butler. She helped us tremendously, too, so they're named after them.

MA: I see. So I always wondered why there was no Buddhist church in Spokane before the war.

SO: Uh-huh. No, I don't believe there was. I can't remember... if there were, it was just a small group, and I don't think there was a church at all. There were not enough to build a church, but after the war, then some of the Buddhists came to Spokane, and they built that nice Buddhist church.

MA: But your, your parents, for example, you said they were Buddhist in Japan.

SO: In Japan, yes.

MA: And when they came over to the U.S., did they convert to Christianity?

SO: My mother did. Yeah, my mother did, but my dad never did. Didn't seem to have time to come, go to church, but he, he encouraged us to go. And in those days, it was no, it was... you know, you could walk to church, and we were on the, on this side of town, and the church was, well, it was in the middle of the town, so we were, we were able to walk, and we didn't have to be afraid or anything, not like these days.

MA: So it started as a mission, you said --

SO: As a mission, yes, it started as a mission.

MA: -- on Third Avenue. And then did it grow from there?

SO: Yes. Well, and then we moved to a bigger church on Fifth, on Fourth Avenue, which was close to our house. Then it was about three blocks from our house. And then from there we moved to Grant Street Methodist Church, and that was a Norwegian or Swedish church before, and so we, we bought that church. And then from there we went to Highland Park, and that Reverend Shimada is the one that moved us all to this church. And this church was built on rocks, you know, it was just all rocky. But he, he believed that it would be successful, so he's the one that started the Highland Park Methodist Church.

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

<Begin Segment 7>

MA: Where did you go to grade school?

SO: Irving grade school. That was... oh, let me see, it was further (east) of our house. We used to walk to school, I think it must have been about eight, eight or ten blocks. But there were, the only other Japanese that we knew was Migakis, and they were the ones that lived a couple houses from where we were, we lived.

MA: So there was only a couple other Nisei students at the school?

SO: Uh-huh, yes, there were not very many, but they treated us real well.

MA: So you have positive memories of that experience at grade school?

SO: Oh, yes, uh-huh. I had, and then when I went to high school, I remember those students from Irving school. But it was, it was nice, that was a good, nice school, we thought. And then in the wintertime, we would, it's built on a hill, so, their street is just real steep, so my dad would bring us there with our sleds and we'd go down. That was so much fun. That was pretty steep, I wouldn't dare go down it now. [Laughs] But it was lots of fun. But there didn't seem to be any discrimination or anything then.

MA: So most of the other students, then, were Caucasian?

SO: Yes, uh-huh. Yeah, they all lived around... I guess you'd call it the South Hill, and there were some affluent people, affluent people living up there. That was the closest to our, where we lived, so that's why we went there. And the other Niseis lived closer to Lincoln School, and that's where my children went, because after my husband died, I lived in, closer to Lincoln School, and that's where the children...

MA: So you lived kind of, a little bit farther away from the downtown area where the other Niseis were?

SO: Yeah, uh-huh, I did.

MA: How was that? Did you, were you able to interact with that sort of crowd very much?

SO: Well, yes, because we, we went to the same church, and so we got to know each other real well. And some of the people lived... let me see... up on Third Avenue. Yeah, a lot of the people lived up there. It was close to our church, where, our Highland Park Church right now, but it was a little further west. And they went to Lincoln School, too, so... that downtown, they were mostly barbershops and laundries, and what else? Restaurants. And so they, they had houses, the restaurants and things were down on Main Avenue, you know, and Trent, but they lived about, well, up above on Third Avenue.

MA: Did you go into town often, into that area where all the shops were?

SO: Not very often, no, because we were kind of small yet, so we never did. Never did go down there. And my dad used to cut our hair, so we didn't go to a -- [laughs] -- barber shop.

MA: Did you, did your parents do their, like, shopping for food around there?

SO: Yeah, my dad used to do everything. He used to shop for food, and he used to, he liked nice clothes, so he used to shop for material for my mother to make, make clothes, and he used to love cars, too, so he'd get, he'd get a Pontiac or Buick or something, you know, and he liked to decorate it up, and he just loved cars. So I think he was about the third or fourth one that got a car, there weren't very many cars then, you know.

MA: So it must have been pretty special at the time.

SO: Yeah, uh-huh, really liked the cars. We used to, there were how many of us, five, five, six, seven of us in the car. [Laughs] We'd all get in and he'd drive to Wenatchee or Ellensburg and stay overnight, and that was a treat. We had our, our cousin lived in Seattle, so we went to visit them in the summertime. He, he used to get silk material and had my mother make dresses for all of us girls, so we didn't, we didn't buy clothes, we had it all made. My mother made them all.

MA: Was it common when you were growing up for, like, the mothers to sew their children's clothes?

SO: Yes, yes, oh, yes. I think most of them did.

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

<Begin Segment 8>

MA: So you said you would visit Seattle in the summers. What were your impressions of Seattle, being a bigger city?

SO: Well, I thought it was pretty big. [Laughs] My auntie lived on Yesler Avenue, and she used, she had... let me see, she had three children, so two girls and a boy. So we got along real well, and we used to go there, I think, about once a year, my dad used to drive us over.

MA: What do you remember about, I guess, the, sort of, Japanese community? I mean, I guess in Seattle it was so big.

SO: Uh-huh.

MA: Do you remember that at all?

SO: No, I don't remember that. I know, the only thing I remember is my dad used to take us to a variety store or confectionery store and we used to get those ice, you know, what do you call it? [Laughs] Kintoki.

MA: Like shaved ice?

SO: Yes, uh-huh, with the beans, black beans. I remember that real well, and I remember my auntie used to, every time we'd go she'd boil wieners, real thick wieners. [Laughs] And we would just love those. That's one thing I remembered about her. But they were, they were not Methodist, they were... what did they call it? They were... they were a special kind of a Buddhist, I don't know what... let's see, Nichiren. They were Nichiren. There's only two, a girl and a boy that's left from that family now, everybody else is passed away.

MA: Did you ever go to the Buddhist church with them, the Nichiren church?

SO: No, uh-uh, we never did.

MA: What were some of your hobbies when you were growing up?

SO: Well, I had, I took piano lessons. [Laughs]

MA: How did you get involved with the piano?

SO: Well, my dad loved music, and so I took piano lessons, my younger sister took piano lessons, Miyo took violin lessons, and my youngest sister Kimi took tap dancing lessons, so we were all, did something. And so he loved to sit on the sofa and listen. He wanted my sister and me to play, play something, you know, on the piano, he'd just sit there and just listen. He loved music. (...) I started when I was seven, and then I, when I was fourteen years old, that was when the Depression came and so I had to quit. And at that time, the lessons were a dollar and a quarter for an hour, but that won't even half cover it these days, I hear. So then I started to play piano for the church, and I've been playing ever since.

MA: Who was your piano teacher?

SO: Her name was Ms. Margaret Anderson, and she had, I don't know, what is it called? A lump in her back, she was very, you know, bent over like that, and she passed away quite a while ago. But she was, she was very strict and she would choose pieces that were not modern, but they were pretty difficult. Sometimes I wouldn't practice, and she would get irritated with me. But I'm glad I learned it.

MA: You said that you stopped taking lessons after the Depression, right?

SO: Uh-huh, yes.

MA: What were some other effects of the Depression that you felt maybe in your family, or that you witnessed?

SO: Well, I remember my dad used to say always to turn off the lights when you're not in the room, and other than that, we didn't feel the Depression very much. We had food all the time, and then on Christmastimes, my mom and dad would put presents on top of the dining room table, and they weren't much, they were, like paper dolls and things, and candy, and they weren't very much, but we really liked, we really appreciated it. It's not like what the children get these days. [Laughs]

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

<Begin Segment 9>

MA: Which high school did you attend?

SO: Went to Lewis & Clark High School. That's where most of the Japanese went. Of course, there were, like, some of them went to North Central, they were up closer to North Central, but most of the Japanese in the city went to Lewis & Clark.

MA: What are your memories of that high school time?

SO: I was very introverted, so I was bashful and I didn't, I didn't get to know too many people. I just knew my Japanese friends, and then a few friends from Irving school, you know, but I wasn't very outgoing, so I didn't get to know too many people.

MA: Who were your friends?

SO: Well, there was Miyo Migaki, and she lived, she's the one that lived right next to us on Fourth Avenue. And then Sachi, her, she, her folks had a laundry downtown, and Chiyo Takami, her dad had a... was it a grocery store, and let me see, who else? Sachi, Miyo, oh, there was one girl, Jean Oshima, and she went to Japan, so she's in Japan now. And there were quite a few of us, and there were quite a few boys around my age. But sadly, most of them have passed away.

MA: What sorts of things did you all do for fun?

SO: Well, there were only a couple of fellows that had cars, so we'd all jump in the car and we'd go up to Lincoln Heights and take pictures, and then we used to play ping pong at the mission and we'd just, we'd go to a park and just fool around, that's when we were teenagers. Oh, I guess some of us, some of the people used to bowl, they started the bowling, and then there was a field right next to the Japanese mission, and the fellows used to play baseball down there, and they had a good time then, there. I guess we, girls were inside playing ping pong or fooling around in the kitchen. [Laughs] I can't remember too much.

MA: What were, I guess, in high school, what were the interactions like between the Nisei students and then maybe the Caucasians?

SO: Caucasians? There weren't, there wasn't too much interaction, I don't believe. Not like there is today. They kind of, I think the Japanese people just kept to themselves, kind of, kind of bashful and introverted. [Laughs] But there was no, I didn't notice any discrimination or anything like that.

MA: But it sounds like the two groups kind of kept to themselves socially.

SO: Yeah, that's right, socially, yes, we did. There were some of the, a few of the menfolks that played baseball, I guess my husband played baseball, and football, and the girls, I don't remember them playing tennis or being cheerleaders or anything like that. Oh, and then there was an orchestra that I, I was in the orchestra, and there were some, some of the girls played violin, like my sister played violin. There were a few that were in the orchestra, but not too many.

MA: What about the academic side of high school? What were some of your favorite subjects?

SO: I liked algebra, and... let's see. I liked English, didn't care for science. [Laughs] But it seemed like the Japanese excelled, we were on the honor roll, you know, we were the first, second or something like that, or always, we weren't down below, we were always up on the top there in honor rolls.

MA: Why do you think that is? Why do you think -- because I've heard that from a lot of other people, too.

SO: I think we had to work harder or something, and probably our parents, you know, urged us to work as hard as we could. So most of the people in that age category did real well. Most of them were on honor roll, and I know when we were going to high school, I don't think there were, like, cheerleaders or anything like that, so I don't remember anybody, but like my daughter's age, those Japanese girls, they were cheerleaders and they did different things.

MA: As you were going through high school, what were some of your goals or aspirations or hopes for the future?

SO: Oh, let me see. [Laughs] Well, I always wanted to be an airline hostess. [Laughs] I, I don't know why, but I always wanted to be, but I wasn't tall enough or anything and I never did pursue it anyway. But I thought that would be a nice job. As it ended up, I became a secretary, so it's a different occupation.

MA: And what year did you graduate from high school?

SO: 1938.

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

<Begin Segment 10>

MA: How did you meet your husband?

SO: I think they lived for a short while across the street from my place, and then he went to the same church as I did. And they, his dad had a hotel, and I guess we met at church. I can't remember when we met, but -- [coughs] -- excuse me. That's about how we met, I guess. And I was real bashful, so I didn't, took me quite a long time to get to know him.

MA: Did he, did he ask you out on a date, or how did that...

SO: Yeah, after a while he did ask me on a date, so we'd go to movies and go to restaurants. Have tuna fish sandwich, I remember.

MA: So he was a, a Spokane guy then, right?

SO: Yes, uh-huh. Yeah, uh-huh. And he started the golf club in Spokane, he was very active, and he was, he was helpful to many of the families that came to Spokane from the internment. So he was active in JACL, too, he was one of the leaders, and so he did quite a few things. And he worked, he worked for the... let's see, what was it called? Produce company, so he didn't have to go into the service because he was working with the vegetables and things like that, so he didn't have to go.

MA: Oh, so the government maybe valued the agricultural help?

SO: Yes, that's right, uh-huh, so he didn't have to go.

MA: What about his parents? You said they ran a hotel?

SO: Yes, uh-huh, his dad ran a hotel and his mother died when he was, must have been about ten or twelve years old, I think. So his dad ran it and then after, after we got married, then my husband ran it for a while. But it was, the hotel was right across from the Spokane armory, and so it was kind of dangerous during the war, so right after we got married, I stayed -- he worked in the hotel, and he couldn't go outside the boundary, and so I lived with his sister who was married, I lived with them for just a short while until it was, it was lifted.

MA: Why couldn't he leave?

SO: There was a certain boundary that he couldn't leave, I guess. Anyway, he couldn't get out of there because he was in that limited area where there was the armory. So I don't know, that lasted maybe for about six months or something like that.

MA: And so no one could even go in that area?

SO: No, that's right, so I couldn't go in there. Then I guess once in a while he was able to come visit me, there was something, and then we had to shut our blinds down at a certain time of the evening, our drapes or whatever. And we couldn't go out after such and such a time. It was kind of scary.

MA: So this is all after, during the war when you had all these rules?

SO: Yes, it was during the war, yeah.

MA: How did you...

SO: That was right after I got married. Well, of course, that's when the war started.

MA: Did the government, like, hang up signs saying: "there's a curfew at this time, you must close your blinds"? Or was it word of mouth? How did you receive that information?

SO: Let's see, how did we receive it? I sure don't remember how we received it, but we might have received a letter or notice. I don't remember exactly how, how we knew about it, that we had to do that.

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

<Begin Segment 11>

MA: So I guess I wanted to go back a little bit and talk about Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941. And what were you doing on that day?

SO: I was getting ready, I was getting ready to get married. [Laughs] And I was getting my wedding dress on, but I never knew that -- because my parents didn't tell me, they knew, but they didn't say anything. My husband knew it, but he didn't say anything.

MA: They all knew about what happened at Pearl Harbor.

SO: Uh-huh, except me, yeah. But I didn't know anything about it. I should have probably known it because we had a little radio, but I guess I was too busy getting ready.

MA: So you were getting ready for your wedding.

SO: Uh-huh, that's right.

MA: The ceremony part of it.

SO: Yes, I think the ceremony was at two o'clock I believe, at the Grant Street Methodist Church. And everybody was there and there was no mention of it, but then when we went down to the reception at the Desert Hotel, after we had our dinner and everything, the FBI came storming in and told us that we couldn't go out, go out until they questioned the people, some of the people that were there. And they took about four or five of the leading Japanese Issei people that were, well, in the community they had done a lot for the Japanese people, and so they sent them right away without going home. I think somebody said they went to Montana, they took 'em to Montana. And after an hour or two, they let us leave.


MA: Okay, so we were talking about your wedding and the reception, which was at the Desert Hotel.

SO: The Desert Hotel, uh-huh.

MA: About how many people were attending?

SO: I think there were about 250 people or something like that. Probably most of the people in town. Because my husband knew everybody.

MA: What was happening in the reception when the FBI came? What was everyone doing?

SO: I think everybody was ready to go home, and they wouldn't let them go home. And so I think they talked to some people, some of the people that were there, and then they took them, the men away. And then they let us leave.

MA: How long were you, did the FBI agents take?

SO: I think we were, I think we were there for about a couple hours.

MA: How many FBI agents were there?

SO: Gee, you know, I can't remember. Maybe there might have been two or three, I don't think there were that many people.

MA: What was the...

SO: I don't remember very much of that. But the party, the party was over and then they came in so they didn't crash it or anything. But somehow they knew that we were having a reception there. Well, they probably saw all the Japanese going to the hotel, so they probably thought it was some kind of meeting or something.

MA: What was the atmosphere like among the guests and people attending when the FBI was kind of holding you all there?

SO: Uh-huh, I guess it was, they were pretty frightened, I think, you know, especially the older people. I don't remember very much of that. [Laughs] But I think --

MA: Do you remember how you were feeling?

SO: Oh, I was feeling all right. You know, I didn't know exactly what's going on, and so I didn't understand, and so nobody told me anything about it. I guess they didn't want me to worry about it or anything. But I think the, I think older people were worried, you know.

MA: And did the FBI single out these few men, or did they go sort of person by person and question?

SO: No, I think they singled out, somehow they knew that these men were leaders of the community, and so they singled them out. And then I think they told us to, you know, don't go too far from home, and I think a lot of the Issei people, I think they destroyed a lot of books and things that they had. And I, I think some of the FBI men did go in, go to the Issei people's homes, but they never bothered us at all. But we all, all thought they we might be able, we might have to leave, too, so we were deciding what to sell, our car and this and that, so it was kind of a scary time. It didn't seem to bother me very much, I think I was too young to understand what was really going on.

MA: How were your parents doing throughout all this?

SO: Well, I think they were quite worried, because I think after that, my dad had a stroke, and then I think... was it my older brothers told me that he had stock in Japan, in the banks in Japan, and he lost all of that And you know, he, I think he, it really affected him quite a bit. So let me see... when did he, he had a stroke and he passed away a year after my husband passed away, and that was, my husband passed away in 1948, and then my dad passed away in 1949. Yeah, he was pretty well, he was pretty distressed. And he was, he was pretty shocked because my husband had passed away. He really thought a lot of him, so he was quite depressed.

MA: During the war years, was your father able to work, did he keep his job?

SO: Yes, he did, uh-huh. He did. But, see, that was 1941... yeah, about, I think he had a stroke for about two years and then he passed away. He passed away right after my husband passed away, and then my, let's see, his cousin, his uncle passed away, too, the same year that my dad passed away, and that was the, the uncle that lived right next-door to where we were, too. It was funny that they passed away at the same time, same year, I think it was. It was quite a shock. But my mother lived until she was eighty-something, so...

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

<Begin Segment 12>

MA: Going back a little bit to your, after your wedding, how did, how did that affect, I mean, you'd just gotten married, and how did this event, Pearl Harbor, and then the FBI coming in, how did that affect you and your husband in the following weeks?

SO: Oh, I don't, I don't think it affected us too much. He didn't seem to worry very much, I don't know. [Laughs] I didn't seem to worry, I guess I didn't, we didn't know too much about it.

MA: Did you go on a honeymoon?

SO: No, we couldn't, he was going to take me down to California, but, so we went to the Davenport Hotel for one night. [Laughs] That was our honeymoon. They told us not to go out of town, so we had to obey the orders there.

MA: Was that the FBI?

SO: Yes, uh-huh, they said better not go down, better stay in town.

MA: Do you remember some of the other effects of Pearl Harbor, like maybe how the curfew affected you, or how maybe segregation of restaurants that you witnessed?

SO: Uh-huh, well, I remember, I remember the Chinese had signs on their clothes saying, "I am, I am not Japanese, I am Chinese." That was the one thing that was kind of irritating. And then I remember I went to Newberry's Store one time, and I was going to get some bobby pins or something and the girl there, there wasn't anybody else that she was waiting on, and she turned around to me and says, "What do you want?" And I says, "Oh, I just want some of those safety pins," and she wasn't very nice to me. But other than that, I, I didn't wander out too much, so I didn't, I wasn't mistreated or anything. But I don't know about the menfolks. I don't, I don't remember very much about discrimination, I don't remember very much of that. I remember that the Chinese had their signs saying, "I am not Japanese," though.

MA: What was the relationship like between the Japanese and Chinese before the war?

SO: There was not too much communication, I don't believe. Maybe downtown where they had the tailor shop and the laundry and things, I think there were some Chinese people living down there and they might have been, but I know, I don't remember any discrimination.

MA: It seems like, so they would wear the signs or the buttons that said, "I am Chinese."

SO: Yeah, uh-huh.

MA: What was the reaction of you and your friends, or maybe people in the community --

SO: Oh, when you saw that?

MA: Yeah.

SO: I actually didn't see any of that, I heard about it. So I wouldn't know... I thought that was kind of bad, but I never did see anyone wearing it. That's what I heard, that there were some Chinese people that were doing that.

MA: What did, what were you and your husband doing during the war? What were your jobs?

SO: During, well, my children were real small, so I was home taking care of them. My husband was working for the produce company, and he was getting vegetables from the gardens that were close by and bringing them into, into the produce company, and then sending them to the stores. But that was real close to the, our apartment where we were living, too.

MA: Oh, where was your apartment?

SO: Right across the street from the armory.

MA: So you were living by the hotel that, that his folks were running?

SO: Uh-huh, yes. Yeah, that's right. And then so after the war started, there were, there were quite a few people that were interned that came to Spokane and started farming, and I think most of them were farmers, but they came and most of them stayed quite a while. Some of them moved back to Seattle.

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

<Begin Segment 13>

MA: So you had mentioned the Niseis or Japanese Americans who had come from Seattle or from the coast.

SO: Uh-huh, in, from the internment camps? Yeah, uh-huh.

MA: How, how did these newcomers sort of fit in with the tight-knit community that was there already?

SO: I think they were pretty good. Well, let me see. In fact, a lot of them were Buddhists that came from.. and then, so eventually they started up a Buddhist church, but there were some Protestants that came, too, but most of them, I think they went into farming, and they did pretty well. Most of them farmed down at Hangman Creek, and they, they really worked hard, and they were, they did quite well, I think.

MA: Do you know why most of them went into farming? Why was that so popular?

SO: Gee, I don't have any idea... let's see. I don't think too many of 'em went into business of any kind, not that I know of. Not that I know of. Some of them might have started hotels downtown, no, they didn't own but they managed hotels. And so most of the, the barbershops and the laundries were, were here from the beginning, so I don't remember, the only ones that I remember were farmers, mostly farmers that went down to Hangman Creek and farmed.

MA: What about socially? How were, how did they fit in in more of the social...

SO: Well, let's see. I think they did okay. I think eventually, they came, they started the Buddhist church, and they, there were some that came to our Methodist church, and I think we got along all right.

MA: What did they say about their experiences being evacuated and in the camps?

SO: Oh, I guess the first-generation people had a hard time at the camps, they said, they had a real hard time. But some of the second-generation people, they met their spouses there in camp, and so for, as far as the young people, I've heard that they, some of them had a good time, you know, and they met their wives and husbands there, and they were always in groups, and I'm sure there were a lot of hard times, too, you know, like the living quarters were very hard, I heard that. And that eventually, I guess, they got used to the idea and they met some people, their young friends, and quite a few of 'em got married from that, from the camps.

MA: It seemed, like you said earlier and you were saying just now, it seems like the Isseis were sort of impacted very much.

SO: Yeah, they had a real hard, I heard, uh-huh. And you know, of course, they lived in those barn-like things, they didn't have anything. Beds, they had straw in their mattresses. So they had a very hard time. As far as the Niseis, they were right at the teenage, so they got kind of used to it, you know.

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

<Begin Segment 14>

MA: Were you ever afraid, were you and your husband ever afraid or worried that Spokane would be evacuated the same way?

SO: Not, I wasn't worried that much, but I know some of the Issei people, they threw a lot of their nice things, Japan-made books and dolls and everything, they threw a lot of things away because they thought they would be evacuated also. So, but the only thing my husband was worried about was to sell his car. [Laughs] 'Cause we didn't have very much when the war started. But we were, we were fortunate 'cause we had Caucasian friends that stood up for us, and of course, we were inland, so we had not too much worry about that, either.

MA: What are some examples of how the Caucasian, your Caucasian friends would support you or stand up for you, or the community, I guess?

SO: I think they wrote letters and they were always standing up for us. They were, the church ladies that did this for us, and there may have been some, a few other American people that were trying to get it, trying not to let, have us go, too.

MA: What are some ways that you remember Spokane really changing during the war?

SO: Oh, my goodness, let me see. Gee... can't remember...

MA: Did you notice maybe the population getting a lot bigger and growing?

SO: Yes, I think, I think the population did grow. But I don't know, I was just too busy raising my children, so I didn't... [laughs].

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

<Begin Segment 15>

MA: When were your children born?

SO: My son was born in 1943, and my oldest daughter was born in 1945, and my youngest daughter in 1946.

MA: So you had three small...

SO: Yeah, three small children to take care of, so I wasn't very knowledgeable about the community. But my husband did, he was, he was more or less, he was one of the leaders of the Nisei community.

MA: And you said that your husband was involved with the produce for a while?

SO: Yes, uh-huh.

MA: And what did he do after that?

SO: Let me see. That was 1942 or '3, oh, he had a tofu shop downtown between Main and Riverside, and he made tofu and age and he had a few other Japanese things that he sold, but that's what he mainly did. That's right, I forgot all about that.

MA: And that was sort of during the, the war years?

SO: Yes, uh-huh, yeah.

MA: How did he get this idea to open a, a tofu shop?

SO: There was a North Coast, North Coast Trading Company, where they sold Japanese things, Japanese goods, and Japanese food. And I guess from there, I don't know who suggested it, but anyway, he had an idea to start making tofu, and so he did that. He did that for how many years? Oh, it must have been a couple years before he passed away, I think, 'cause he was with the produce company for quite a while. His friends from Portland had come up, they were evacuated, so his friends from Portland had come up, and they had started this produce company, and he worked for them.

MA: Did he do both at the same time, the tofu shop and the produce?

SO: No, no, he did the produce company first, I mean, he was working for the produce company first, and then he started the tofu company.

MA: Who were the customers of the tofu shop? Mostly...

SO: Well, mostly the Japanese community here. 'Cause there were not too many Vietnamese or Koreans living here at that time, so there may have been some Chinese, I don't know. But I know that New Year's, he had to make a lot of age and tofu and that's when he got sick, and that's, he died right after that, in January. I guess he was working awfully hard, and he had a terrible cold. And so that New Year's he was making a whole bunch of tofu, and then he came home and he, he couldn't, he went to bed and he couldn't swallow, and then he suffocated. He couldn't, and they said that they couldn't put a toothpick through his throat. And they said that was not very usual, it was a... they called it acute pharyngitis, and they took an autopsy, and they couldn't get a toothpick through. So it was sudden, because he was very strong. He never did get sick, you know, and that was, but he just worked too hard and just, he was working even when he was tired, sick, worked, sometimes he worked 'til one o'clock in the morning, you know, near New Year's to make all that tofu and age for the customers.

MA: What year did he pass away?

SO: 1948. That was, let's see, January 1948, so I only had him for six years, I guess, December, yeah, six, we got married '41, and then he died in January of '48. And that was a shock to everybody, 'cause he had just been at the tofu-ya making tofu, and they were shocked because he never did, was sick at all.

MA: And at this point you had, you had three small children?

SO: Uh-huh, yeah, they were...

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

<Begin Segment 16>

MA: What did you, what did you do after he was...

SO: I went to secretarial school and learned to do shorthand. I learned how to type already 'cause I learned that in high school. And during that time, we were still at the hotel, so my father-in-law was cleaning the halls and making the beds and everything, and he, he took care of my kids while, for half a day while I was at the secretarial school, and then they went after that, the kids, those kids, the kids went to school, grade school. And let's see, did I start... I started working in 1955, I started working for the public assistance office, state public assistance office, and I worked until 1985 and then I retired. I worked for the vocational rehabilitation office, that's, which is a state, state job, and so I worked for thirty years and retired.

MA: So right after your husband passed away, you then lived with his parents?

SO: His, his, my husband's dad was doing the, cleaning the halls and making the beds and everything like that, so he took care of the children while I went to school for half a day, and then we moved to a little house behind my sister's house. It was just a little house, but it was good enough for us, and we stayed there for, oh, until my children went to college. And then after they went to college, of course, they moved, my youngest daughter went to Seattle and she was a speech therapist for a while, and my son went to Gonzaga, then he went to Seattle to finish his education, to University of Washington. And my middle, my oldest daughter went to... let me see, what do you call it? Fort Wright college there, got her degree, so she's a medical technologist. And so... we stayed, we were behind my sister's house for quite a while, and they grew up there with their children, too.

MA: Was this your sister, Miyo?

SO: Uh-huh, yeah. So they, they played with them.

MA: What was, you said you went to school. What was that like? Was it secretarial school?

SO: You mean me?

MA: Yeah.

SO: Oh, yeah, it's a... what is it called? It's a secretarial school, you learn how to type and do shorthand, and I remember, I think that was about it. It was right downtown, it was not far from the hotel where I was living, about four blocks.

MA: How long did it take for you to complete those...

SO: Oh, it only took about, let me see, about six months, I think, and then I started working for public assistance department as a secretary, so I was lucky. [Laughs]

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

<Begin Segment 17>

MA: Right when you started working, that was in the '50s, you said.

SO: Uh-huh, yeah.

MA: Were there many other Niseis that were in those positions?

SO: In school? Yeah, in fact, that girl that hired me was a Japanese girl that was coming to our church, and she was a supervisor of the public assistance office, and of course I had to take a test, you know, and I had to pass the test. And so she, she was my supervisor, and then she, oh, and then we moved to another place on the north side, and she was, she was still my supervisor, and then I... then, let me see. One of the case workers wanted me to go to the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, and so I had to pass a test first to do that, and I got, I passed the test and then I got to go over there. So, but it was a secretarial job. I liked that there, of course, public assistance was okay, it was a secretary job and I used to take dictation, you know, take letters and things, but that was a bigger place, but I liked the vocational rehabilitation office.

MA: So the woman who hired you, then, you said was a Nisei lady?

SO: Yeah, uh-huh, she was Sachi Nobuku, and she was a good friend of mine, she was about two years younger than I was, and she passed away real early, she had cancer. But her husband is still around. He just turned ninety. [Laughs]

MA: What about your co-workers, your co-workers at the office, were they mostly Niseis or Caucasian?

SO: No, uh-uh, no, they were all Caucasians. And then at the public assistance office, there was one Japanese, a fellow that was a caseworker, and I think I was the only Japanese secretary then at the time.

MA: What was that like for you, being a woman, but also being a Japanese American?

SO: I didn't, it didn't seem to bother me at all. And the caseworkers were real nice, and so I didn't have any problems at all with that.

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

<Begin Segment 18>

MA: What is your involvement with the church nowadays?

SO: I'm an organist for the church. [Laughs] I've been an organist, I played the piano, I started playing the piano at the Japanese mission when I was fourteen years old, and I've been playing ever since. [Laughs] And I, the only time I took off was when I had my babies, children, or when I was sick or something. I'm still playing the -- I never did learn the organ, but one of our minister's wives showed me the basics of the organ, so I, we don't have a pipe organ or anything, it's just a plain organ. But I've been playing that and just, there isn't anyone that learned the piano or organ. And the ones that did know how to play the piano have moved on to Seattle or other places, and so I'm stuck with that. [Laughs]

MA: So you've been involved with the church basically your whole life.

SO: Uh-huh, that's true.

MA: How have you seen the church change over the years?

SO: Well, I've seen the church decline because of the young people marrying outside of their race, which is fine with me, but it just... and then we've had some Caucasian ministers, too, and that's kind of hard, but they've all been good ministers, so we've been very fortunate. As the, it seems like, well, when we were growing up, we did everything for the church. Everything was centered around the church, where now, the younger generation, they have their sports, they get to do everything, and they're very fortunate, I think. And, but, of course, they, lot of 'em don't have time for church, that's the thing. Most of the sports are on Sundays, too, and so they don't have very much time for sports, and the parents have to bring their children for sports and everything. So we really, there aren't very many children, and then the families are not having as many children as they, we used to have before, so there aren't very many children any more, and we have more Caucasian children now. And we have, and the third generation of people, they tend, that's married to Caucasians, not all of 'em but some of 'em tend to go to the Caucasian churches. So it's kind of hard for our church. But I think every church is like that nowadays, they say. But we don't have very many children anymore.

MA: What has been... I mean, you talked a little bit about this, but what do you see is the impact that the church has had in the Japanese American community over the years?

SO: Well, I think when we were young, that church was the only thing that's... and that was used as a community hall, so everything was around the church. Now, you know, the young people, they have their baseball and their judo, and so it's, it's hard.

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

<Begin Segment 19>

MA: What are some lessons that you remember learning from your parents, and from, I guess, the Issei generation that you've really, sort of, held with you?

SO: Oh, uh-huh. Well, let me see. I remember that they, one of the Issei ladies told us to keep our mind open and read, read. She says, "That'll, that'll really keep you occupied, and you'll grow into old age." And they, the Issei ladies taught us how to make Japanese food, and they were very particular. And so we still had our menus from the Japanese people, and so some of it has changed, because we didn't figure that, we didn't have to do those things, and we made it more modern. But I know that the Japanese women are very particular, but that was, you know, we appreciated that a lot. Even some of the Nisei ladies are very good cooks. I know I'm not a cook at all, but some of them are very good cooks, and they, I don't know if they, they have taught their children to be cooks, 'cause there aren't that many young people that come to help. But I know the Isseis really taught us a lot. In fact, I think some of them still have their, the menus from the Issei ladies.

MA: What sorts of things were on the menu?

SO: Well, they, one of the ladies taught us how to make kimchee. That's not a Japanese food, but she made, and then she, they taught us how to make makizushi and inarizushi and, and then had recipes for sukiyaki. And oh, gosh, (...) we still make mochi for New Year's, you know, but they're the ones who started it for us. And daifuku mochi, they used to make daifuku mochi, but now we, the Niseis are too lazy, or it's just too hard to make daifuku mochi, it's so good, but we don't. We make mochi for New Year's, and we make senbei for our sukiyaki dinners because the Caucasian people love that. And the Niseis and the Sanseis love that, too, because it's so much trouble to make it at home. So we always make a lot of senbei bags and we seem to sell it all out before, maybe in an hour or two it's all sold out. But yeah, the Issei people were very faithful people. I think they were a lot more faithful than the second-generation people. And they, they were, they loved to come to church -- well, I guess that's about the only place that they could, you know, congregate, and see their friends, Japanese friends. So they really, if they were able to, they came every Sunday.

MA: What is one thing that you would like people to learn from your story or to take away from your story after they hear it?

SO: Well, I think, I hope that the Sanseis and Yonseis are proud that they are Japanese, at least they have some Japanese blood in them. I think that we learned so much from the Isseis, and I don't know if the Sanseis learned as much from them, from the Niseis as the Niseis learned from the Isseis, but I hope they learned a little bit from the Nisei people. I know the Isseis worked very, very hard, and so they deserve all the credit, I think. I know some of the Niseis worked hard, too, and so I hope some of the Sanseis learn about the Niseis and the Isseis and acquire some of their good habits and things.

MA: Is there anything else you want to say?

SO: No, I think I've said too much already. [Laughs]

MA: Well, this has been so great. Thank you so much for doing this.

SO: Oh, that's okay. I hope you don't put all that down. [Laughs]

MA: It's been great. Thank you.

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