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-01-0033

<Begin Segment 33>

AH: There's been some criticism of Minidoka being a quiet camp even before 1944. After that, there were quite a few strikes and everything else.

JA: No, no, no strikes, no. Because that was JACL headquarters, and you had spies, spies, spies, spies. You know, for me, they even brought in a fellow named Ito, Kenji Ito, to spy on me. And they had some other people brought just to spy on me. And how do I know? Because the night watchman at my dad's shop before the war, he was the security person. And he said, "You know, Jim, you're on surveillance, you better take it easy, they're going to do something to you." Okay, so I thanked him very much but I didn't stop, I just kept doing what I thought was right.

AH: This was at the time of the draft thing, though, right?

JA: No, no, before the draft.

AH: No kidding?

JA: Yeah.

AH: Why were they, why do you think they were keeping an eye on you then? Going way back to the Puyallup thing?

JA: Probably that and whatever, yeah. Because they brought in this fella named Kenji Ito. He was a former president of the JACL while in Seattle. And they brought him into camp. And when I bring this up and say he was there to spy on me, going around the block talking to people just trying to gather information. And one time he tried to get into our unit and I told Kenji, "You'd better get your butt out of here. Next time I'm not going to be very kind." I found him there so I give him a boot, I knocked him right down and kicked him out into the, you know, yeah.

AH: So you kicked the JACL in the ass, is that what you're telling me?

JA: Yes, that's what I did. Yeah, and that's all... why were they doing that? What was I doing? I was doing what was good for us, you know, the camp people. I didn't like the food they were feeding us and every time they say, "Oh, sorry, the train was broken in, somebody stole your food." So what do we get? Not what was supposed to have been given to us.

AH: Well, what do you think of the accusation that's been made by a few people, that up until the segregation the people in Minidoka were spineless and they wouldn't speak up for their rights?

JA: Yes, very spineless, they wouldn't speak up. And they'll tell them, like my mother, "Would you talk on our behalf?" The milk they're short, they're cutting down. Our block manager wanted to get his name elevated in the administration by cutting down food and he could say, "Hey, look at me, I could feed five hundred, six hundred people on this much food." On the other hand, other manager will double, triple, whatever food coming in. So in our case, we had the Catholic group, the Father Tibbesar come in, and he had two rows of table taken for his group and he'll go up there and get service, everything in bowl. And these people sit there and eat as much as they want and what's not eaten they take it home. Then in the back of the, our dining room, the sons of the chef, they bring in their people. So, we're caught between the two, and you know, it's a funny thing. When you got nothing, really nothing, food becomes very important. And here it was cold, and you're hungry all the time and that's something that was getting me very mad. And I'd go to the block manager, he won't do anything, he wants to elevate his position.

AH: So you were getting mad before the draft issue came up in '44.

JA: Oh yeah, yeah, right, right.

AH: Okay, so that year in between the registration and the draft, you weren't just doing your work, for instance, as an engineer.

JA: No.

AH: You were getting involved and getting a bit overwrought to the point where you're being, taking retaliation. Somebody you think is spying on you and you give 'em a boot in the butt.

JA: The thing is, I didn't think -- he was spying. He even came into our barrack and start to really question my mother. And that's when I... I told him before, "We don't want you to come in," but he did it anyway. So that's when I gave him a boot and I said, "Hey, next time not going to stop at this. You're going to get beat up so much."

<End Segment 33> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.