Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Ed Tsutakawa Interview
Narrator: Ed Tsutakawa
Interviewer: Tom Ikeda
Location: Spokane, Washington
Date: June 8, 2006
Densho ID: denshovh-ted-01-0015

<Begin Segment 15>

TI: So I'm curious, after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, what happened to the business, the family business?

ET: Family business was closed. And then just before the evacuation, they let us open it, clean up everything, and then we only had a few days to sell that business. And I was the only one left, really.

TI: Well, what happened to your parents?

ET: Parents were still there, and the parents of course helped, but legally, I was... just before I was twenty-one. I became twenty-one in camp. But a lot of things I was able to sign, but...

TI: So a lot of this fell on -- because your father was ill, so a lot of this was on your shoulders to take care of the, the business.

ET: Yeah, and Uncle was arrested, and he was in the camp in Missoula, Montana. And George was already gone, a soldier, and I was it. I was just the last one.

TI: So what, what did you have to do?

ET: I had to open, when the FBI closed, and I have to tell you that that was terrible. When I went in there, they had, we had cases and cases of things like crabs, very expensive stuff, those were just scattered all over the place, and they just... well, I cannot blame, these people got hungry and they saw this thing and they ate it. And it was just a mess. I went in and cleaned up, and that's, that was the wholesale side. Retail side, it's the same thing, too. Lot of the things were just... it was just a mess.

TI: So why, why did they close the business? I mean, I don't understand.

ET: Well, we were, we were closed. I mean, we weren't, we didn't have any choice. And there was, FBI's tag was on the door, so we could not rip that to get in.

TI: Yeah, no, I understand, but why, but why would the FBI close it?

ET: I don't know. I really don't know why, I think it's just that the way I feel, the things that government had to do, is to just close up everything, Japanese-operated business to avoid consequence from what could happen. Could be establish Japanese... yeah.

TI: So it sounds like you had a lot of perishable...

ET: Lots of perishable.

TI: And they were just all...

ET: So, so every once in a while, they were cleaning that, but then they didn't do a good job. So the place got messed, really messed up. And we sold everything, we just had one day of advertising, and sell everything on, ten cents on the dollar basis, and got rid of all this stuff, and it was successful, we sold out everything.

TI: So who, who'd you sell it to? Who came to the sale?

ET: Oh, the people, people that we knew, particularly the one that, we had a favorite customers, said, "Hey, come on over and get what you can."

TI: Now, were these Japanese?

ET: No, no, these are Caucasians. Japanese won't buy anymore. Some Japanese came and bought something, but...

TI: When you talked with your customers, when you opened up, did you, do you recall any conversations with any of your customers about what was happening?

ET: Oh, yeah, yeah. Very sympathetic. Most customers felt that, "It was just crazy that you're, what you're going through." And I don't think we had much of a chance to even delay any of those things. When order came, we had to follow exactly the way we were told. And I think by then JACL was in pretty much a position to advise all the Japanese to be very obedient-mind, and someday it'll pay off. They look at it that way, which is very wise, I thought. For young people like us, just barely adult, we didn't understand that, the more I think about it, that's the only way to, to act.

TI: So, yeah, so the JACL was telling people to cooperate, to not, to go along with it. And so you're thinking that that was the right way to go, back then.

ET: Oh, yeah.

TI: So when you sell all the goods, are they just giving you lots of cash? And what do you do with all that money?

ET: Well, we had, I remember one time I took money -- maybe couple, three times, I was carrying about $25,000 each time. And so it's quite a bit of money, $75,000 around that time. But that's just about sold out a pretty much a supermarket-sized store. But we were very successful in getting rid of it, really. And besides that, we had so many trucks and cars and things like that we had to get rid of.

TI: Oh, so you sold all that, too?

ET: All that.

TI: Did, did you own the building, too, and you had to sell that?

ET: No, we were renting the building, but the owners were very good about it, and I don't know exactly what happened because probably owner let us have it during the time we were asked to close the place.

TI: When you say $25,000, that sounds like a lot of money, but you were saying that you were selling things what, ten cents on the dollar?

ET: Ten cents on the dollar. It could be several million.

TI: So the family just took a, a huge loss for this.

ET: Oh, yeah. The Tsutakawa company, it was owned by Shozo in Japan, and then my father was the vice-president at the time. And there was an attorney there, and we sent him to Washington, D.C. to plead all weekend, but it didn't do any good.

TI: That must have been, for you to have to sort of be in charge of this, it must have been very hard.

ET: Yeah, this is the type of thing that probably most Japanese Americans didn't realize what, what companies like us, there were several others, gone through.

TI: So after the, you sold everything, then what happened?

ET: I think we were, just about time to pack our own things up, and I kept one truck. It was in my name, I just bought it myself. And then that truck was filled with workers' things and our things, and pretty much the company's personnel's items. And there were, well, I drove the truck all the way to Puyallup, and then later I handed the key to an official there. They used that as kind of a, like an ambulance during the day, garbage truck nighttimes.

TI: And then they stored all the things inside the truck someplace?

ET: Yeah, well, we, individually, we took that into our own apartment.

TI: I see, okay.

ET: Yeah. And that's just about, they told us how much to carry, so we couldn't carry any more than we ourselves could carry, that's it.

TI: And then you just gave the keys and they used the truck?

ET: Yeah, they used it, and don't remember, they sold the car. And it's far below what I paid for it, something like... this is a panel truck, it's a 1937 or '38, so it's only about four years old. And we ourselves paid maybe about $1,400 or something like that. Those days, the cars were cheap. But yet it was still worth a thousand dollars, maybe. I got a thirty-six dollar check.

TI: A thirty-six dollar --

ET: Dollars, yeah. No, fifty-six dollars, the check. I still got stuck. [Laughs] I think I should have.

TI: So how did you feel when you got that check?

ET: Oh, I was furious mad, but then there's no time to fight with it, so I just took it, just like anything else.

TI: 'Cause you were in camp and they just gave you --

ET: Yeah, we were in camp, and we may not get anything at all, so I thought, okay...

TI: Did they ever ask your permission to sell the truck?

ET: Yeah.

TI: And you said, "Go ahead, sell it."

ET: Yeah, go ahead and sell it, and I got a fifty-six dollar check.

TI: So someone pocketed a lot of money on this.

ET: Oh, yeah. It's a, it's a crazy time. You don't want to blame any particular type of people, but I still know.

TI: Well, you're furious now, when you think back, does it still make, does it still make you mad?

ET: Oh, I think so. I think it's still, yeah, that part, it still makes you mad.

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