Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Jim Akutsu Interview
Narrator: Jim Akutsu
Interviewer: Art Hansen
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: June 9 and 12, 1997
Densho ID: denshovh-ajim-01-0018

<Begin Segment 18>

AH: We're continuing an interview for the Densho Project today with Jim Akutsu, and we're continuing the interview that we started on Monday, June 9th, 1997. A few days later on Thursday, June 12th, 1997 and the interview is being done, as it was last time, at Mr. Akutsu's home, 1917 South Walker in Seattle, Washington and the Production Coordinator is still Matt Emery and the interviewer is still Art Hansen.

And Mr. Akutsu, when we left off on Monday, what we were just doing was getting into the topic of your eviction from this area, and other Japanese Americans, and going to the fairgrounds of Puyallup where it was made into a assembly center and where most of the Seattle people did go. Now, I know that you've done some interviews with other people and one person you did an interview with was an individual named Louis Fiset and Louis is writing a book on the Puyallup and...

JA: It's pronounced phew-al-lup...

AH: Puyallup? And I guess "phew" is a good word for it -- that's easy to remember.

JA: Yeah.

AH: For a lot of reasons. But the Puyallup, he's writing the book on that and the other WCCA camps -- the assembly centers, and so he'll probably go into much greater detail with you on that. But it's an important camp in a lot of ways. It's addressed a lot in the literature because of some of the people involved in it like Jimmy Sakamoto, and for a while, too, Bill Hosokawa. And both of them were powerful Japanese American Citizens League officials. And so I'd like to get a ground level perspective from you about the so-called "Camp Harmony" experience. I mean, why don't you take it through from not so much what you've read but what you, what you recall experiencing. So why don't you tell me what you can about it...

JA: Okay, as I told you before, all we were able to do is to take what we could carry. Not two suitcases -- one. So the biggest thing was that we took what was necessary, clothing, and that was it. But once we got to Puyallup, we got put into different places, and we got into one of the big barracks. There's a screen between families, about 8 feet high, there's a plyboard screen between, and the top side wide open. So you can hear anything going on through your barrack. And that's the kind of place that we lived in. Then about the eating, every, we can hear the mess call, they ring the bell, and we had to all go out there and line up. First time we had to line up on the outside the mess hall which was a big demonstration for chicken and ducks, and the tables were all lined up. And we were being told to stand out in the rain, cold, so one of the first things I did was say, "You know, there's a lot of old people. Why don't we get inside the building instead?" So my first confrontation with JACL or whoever was trying to run, Sakamoto, Hosokawa, whoever it was...

AH: You didn't know those people at that time, did you?

JA: No, I didn't know who was running it. But they said, "Well, we've got to get an approval." I said, "Why, gee, all it takes is just go from one side of the building, outside to the inside." Anyway, I went there to find out. And then there's not just JACL people but there is the union people that were involved trying to... who's going to be the leader or take over the camp, how to run. So I had to go to the labor group as well as JACL and they weren't too cooperative, so I just said, heck well with it, I'm just going to tell the people, "Let's get inside, don't stand out." Then, another thing is -- once we got in, that was fine -- instead of standing out in the rain, cold, you know, this was March-April so it was still pretty cool, and a lot of times we weren't dressed for it. So once we got inside, I noticed one thing, people were wrapping pieces of bread or bringing cup and taking whatever in that cup. And I'd ask them, "What are you doing that for?" And says, "Oh, my mother's sick or my so-and-so is sick or can't come out to eat." So I said well heck, I'm going to start a tray service to bring out breakfast, lunch and so forth. Well, it worked good for awhile until it grew too much and we're running out of utensils. So they said, hey, we gotta quit this. So that's when I asked them if I could get a tray service girl and all they had was privilege of eating first, and taking out the lunch and after they finished, they'll go out and pick it up again. That's three times a day, so that took care of utensils running out. Before they used to pile up one, two, three, meals worth and they're running out of plates or cups or whatever. So I had the tray service girl and there's anywhere from six to maybe ten tray servers. And, it worked very good. That's where I went against the JACL of Seattle, or whoever. I got the okay from the chef, the chef thought that's a real good idea to accommodate people that can't come to eat the meal.

<End Segment 18> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.