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

<Begin Segment 1>

AH: Do you mind if I call you Jim?

JA: Go right ahead.

AH: Jim, we were talking a little bit about your father's background in Japan, and then coming over here. And we talked about, you know, starting a shoe store and then having partners who were not particularly trustworthy. And then going back to Japan, and in Tokyo starting Washington Shoes which is now the largest shoe outlet, retail outlet store, in Japan. I wanted to go back a little bit, behind even your father, if you possibly can, and talk about his family, what you have found out about them, because here he was, a college graduate. So what was the...

JA: Okay. Now, they were from a area in Tochigi-ken, okay. But they were from the farming area, and the city, the closest city or trade stop, was called Ujie and they were the biggest... what shall I say? Rice grower -- okay. And he was toward the younger of the family of ten kids.

AH: Oh, really?

JA: Yeah, and therefore the older brothers got together and sent him to the university.

AH: And which university was that?

JA: Nippon. Nippon Daigaku. Nippon University.

AH: Now, when he came to the United States, you said he was unable to go to the University of Washington, and what were the reasons for that?

JA: No, he tried going but they weren't accepting him. So he took it that that's exactly what he came to the United States was to find out discrimination -- okay. And he found that he was not able to enroll in the university so he went into doing whatever, that he could start working. And one of the things that he did was as a janitor at Frederick & Nelson. And he followed them from Frederick to Standard, and back to Fredericks and that was around from 1909 and maybe over the next several years.

AH: Did you ever talk to him about his experiences?

JA: Oh yeah, yeah, we are always... we communicated very good.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

AH: A lot of immigrants, when they come to the United States, come with -- and this is still going on -- have quite a remarkable education and professional background. When they come here they're forced into a lot of jobs, and usually it's because they don't have language skills but it's a combination of just racism and prejudice, and things like that. I'd be interested in finding out what your father said about his feelings about this particular situation, that here he is a student of America and then he comes here and he can't get in the university and ends up as a janitor. How does he feel about this?

JA: Well, one thing, he just, just never even thought about, this is America, and he accepted as such. Okay? So what he used to tell me was, "J-town," -- meaning International Area -- "this is not Seattle. You have to go out and we have to meet people." So one of the first persons that I met was Dr. Matthews, the person who started the university or college right there at backside of Queen Anne, and I met with him. Or if there's some mayor, county executive, or any officials from schools or from city, he'd take me and introduce me to them. And he said, "You got to meet people, you got to meet people." And he said, "That's the only way to do it." And another thing is that he told me, "See it once is better than hearing about it." So he used to always take me to university and he used to take me to certain buildings, and even as a youngster used to go to university, to the museum and at many times go into some of the buildings and meet with professors. And he says that's what he wanted me to do. And that's what... I was, therefore, I was a little different from the other Japanese Americans who lived and their whole life in J-Town. He wanted to take me away, so we never went down to J-Town. We were always living up there on top of the hill where Harborview Hospital. We used to live up there and he never asked me to come down or just stay away and...

AH: There, a lot of times what has gone on in some of the studies of Japanese Americans -- and it's only beginning to change right now -- is that people who have looked at Japanese American history have not been alert to the idea that there were social class and economic class differences and things. Recently that's come out. Would you say that, in a sense, that your father regarded some of the Japanese Americans as peasants in comparison to himself since they came as laborers and he came as a college graduate?

JA: Well, yes, he didn't come out to say that, but he more or less told that to us. That there are these people down here, they gamble, they do all kinds of things that he didn't want us, for my brother and me to get involved with. So he always told us, "You guys stay up here," and you go down there... even from very young, ten, eleven, they're gambling with pennies. Well, my parents never thought that was good and the kind of talks they carry on. So he would control -- or not control, but tell us where to go, what to see, what to hear, everything was very positive.

AH: Was he associated with Christianity?

JA: Yes. You know, my name Akutsu... I've been with the City of Seattle for forty years. Anyway, during that time I helped get the sister city going, mayor's conference, chamber conference, always present. And at the time they'll ask me, "What is your name?" "Akutsu." "Oh, you're from Kyushu." I said, "No, no, we're from north of Tokyo, not Kyushu." And I was very curious, because everybody will refer to us as Kyushu. So finally I found out that our family were Christians from way back. Anyway, they had to leave, they were told, "So many days you gotta leave," so they must have left and they got blown north and by the time they hit land they were up by north of Tokyo into the Nikko area. So the Akutsu -- actually the "Aku" beginning -- Akune, Akutsu, Akuta, all comes from Kyushu. So talking to... every time I go to a mayor's conference or a chamber's conference in Japan, I'd inquire, inquire and I found out that's true. Evidently, we got blown north and our ancestors got blown north and at about Nikko, they turned inland and they became a hillbilly. [Laughs] Well, anyway, you go into that area, north of Nikko, all the names -- Akutsu Mura, Akutsu Village, Akutsu, Akutsu, Akutsu, is all in --

AH: Common there.

JA: Yes, very common.

AH: In Seattle, were there enough people from your father's ken to be able to have a kenjinkai, or not?

JA: Yes, not too many. Our ken, just like I told you once, most of them, they all went into Tokyo rather than to come out to U.S. In Hiroshima or Yamaguchi or other places, they all came to the United States. But they all went to Tokyo, so the kenjinkai, Tochigi-kenjinkai, very small, maybe ten family at the most.

AH: But they would still have annual picnics?

JA: They used to, they did. And pretty soon this one will leave, that one leaves and pretty soon we only had about five or six, at which time we just stopped.

AH: Well, your dad had a bad experience with some of his fellow ken members. When he was here, and you were growing up and you and your brother were growing up in Seattle, did your dad largely not only live apart from the Japanese American community, did he also have his friendship circles that were outside of the Japanese Americans? Or did he have Japanese Americans who he felt comfortable with?

JA: He was always close with the Japanese Americans, he never pulled himself away from the Japanese community, as you would say. He put up the money for the Japanese University Student Club, you know, where lot of the kids from out of town came to, come to the university and they had no chance of going back and forth, they used to stay at the Student Club. Well, he used to put up the money for, not all, but he did contribute to set that up. And then to maintain Christmas, Turkey Day, New Years, he'd take mochi or turkey or whatever, to have them eat, have their celebration there at the University Student Club.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

AH: Where did he get this money from? He was, we've been talking about him as a janitor but he made a favorable impression, you had said earlier. Did he then have his fortunes change to the point where he started to make a fairly sizable income?

JA: Yes. Now, because that just like what the Frederick & Nelson... I don't know whether it Mr. Nelson or Frederick, whoever, said that, "You should get involved in new shoes." So when he got involved, yes, he was very successful. And then beyond that, he went into repairing shoes. So he set up many Issei shoe shops at different locations. He set up Norwegian, up in Ballard he used to set up some, Green Lake, all over, University, in Central Area. So he had probably a half a dozen or more repair shops going.

AH: These people worked for him, sort of like franchises?

JA: No, no, what he did, he'd set 'em up.

AH: Oh, and them sell it to them?

JA: Yes, okay, that's where, one of the downfalls. Well anyway, he had that going and another thing he had going at Second and James Street was for deformed foot. And he was already involved in making loggers' shoes, or heavy, what do you call, shoes -- work shoes. Well, anyway, he had a place out in Westlake, or rather Eastlake, where they were making that, and they called it something like Rainier Boots. And then later on when he had this group of people that absconded money. And another thing was he got talked into, by some Jewish people, to set up a shoe finding company. That's where you wholesale leather, nails, rubber heel, so forth. And that's where he was supplying, at a cut rate, to the Japanese shoe repair people. He also set up Italian, about two or three of 'em down and around Jackson Street. So he was quite an entrepreneur that that's where he was making his money, new shoes, selling shoe findings, and he was doing very good.


JA: So, he got involved in the shoe business and did very well. Now, after getting involved in new shoe sales, he also got involved in deformed foot and that's a special shop that he had down on Second and James Street. And he also set up all these Japanese in shoe repair shops because, you know, in those times you have to use your shoes more than once. So he was set up together with some Jewish people, shoe finding, and he put up the money. Well, anyway, to make it short, they set the place on fire, and they tried to collect on insurance and they found out it was a fire that was set.

AH: His Jewish partners did this?

JA: Yeah, to collect the insurance. They took off and he was left there and he had to pay for everything, make up for, and that was the big downfall. After that, our family moved from the shoes and opened up a new place called New Golden, down on Sixth Avenue between Jackson and King Street on the Eastside. And there's a, the post office is there now. But that's where he started all over again, New Golden. This time, he wasn't selling new shoes, as such. He was making boots and he hired Norwegians or people from Ballard to make those boots. And then at the same time he was in Depression and there was lots of unclaimed shoes. So what he used to do is to take smaller unclaimed shoes to send out to the Japanese in the valley and in turn they would send in produce, and he'd take it home and everybody will get some of it. Then later on what he did, he'd run out of small shoes so he had to teach these people take the big shoes apart and then he'd make a [inaudible] for them, their foot size, and then how to put it back together.

AH: And this was out in the outlying rural areas like Kent or Auburn and these places?

JA: Yes, Auburn, all of that. But they had to come in to my dad's, New Golden to learn how to rebuild the shoes.

AH: So he was involved in both the cash economy and also a barter economy, because he was bartering these shoes for produce and things.

JA: Okay, no, not as such. Because he had so much and it was taking up all the room, he'd just give it away. But in turn, they didn't want to just take so they'd turn around and brought him produce -- chicken, eggs, boxes of daikon, nappa.

AH: So it was an informal barter system?

JA: Yeah, it's very informal.

AH: Now you were, what ages? You were born in 1920. So when this is happening, give me some kind of sense of the timeline. You mentioned the Depression, so I'm thinking you're talking about the '30s at some point.

JA: Coming, right between the late '20s and into the '30s, yes. And whatever he tried to do was to give these unclaimed shoes. After so many days he'd just give 'em away to the farmers, and in return they'll just bring in... and then whatever produce they had. And then pretty soon when they, when he ran out of them, he'd teach 'em how to redo big shoes into little shoes. And another thing, he used to take me was to Hoovertown. During Depression they had Shantytown, and he used to take me. He said, "You gotta see this side, the bad, I mean, the poor side." So he used to take me, and at that time he'd take big boxes of unclaimed shoes and, "Here, take 'em."

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

AH: About what year was that fire that was set by his partners? About, what are we talking about here, in the '20s when you were very young? The fire that they set in order to collect the insurance.

JA: Oh, that was probably in the late '20s or into early '30s. Because my mother used to tell me, because for that, we had to, for ten years or better, make-up the whatever loss. And we had to, my mother had to make payments to whoever and used to show me stacks of receipts.

AH: Now, why was it that when this fire was set, they collected the insurance and your father was left out in the cold?

JA: Yeah, they tried and they couldn't get it. But they took off. But as far as the insurance company, there was things that were insured, even though he did not get anything, he had to make up for it.

AH: So he was paying back those, those obligations?

JA: That's right.

AH: Now, how did this affect your family's situation? Did you have to change your place where you were living? What ways did it reveal itself in terms of your circumstances?

JA: Okay. It made a lot of difference. Because up to that time, during Christmas I'd get all kinds of presents from the people that my dad helped set up in shoe repair. And we had the Italians, we had Japanese, we had Norwegians, they'd all come and used to come to our rented -- we didn't, we were not able to buy a house so we were renting it -- but they used to bring all of these things. And even to date I have some of these big Lionel train sets that were given to me and that was my time. My brother's time, it was all over, and he didn't have this present given to him, it was hard times only.

AH: And this wasn't just the general Depression, this also had to do with your family situation?

JA: Yes.

AH: Now, you mentioned two things in which, in effect, your dad's partners sabotaged him.

JA: Yes.

AH: In one case, it was Japanese, and the other case it's Jewish. How do you explain that? Was your dad an unusually trusting or gullible person?

JA: No, he was very trusting person. He said you have to... like people used to say, "How come you let these guys go out sell shoes, collect money and bank it?" He says, "You gotta trust them, if they're going to work." So in the same way, when he was told by this Jewish people that hey, why don't you get involved into shoe finding -- he just trusted them that they were straight.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

AH: And what impact did this have on your mother and father's relationship? Here's your father two different times, things are going well and then the winds comes out of the sails and everything. How did your mom respond to this?

JA: Well, anyway, she came later in, they were married early enough, but she came to United States to make that deadline, 1924, whenever it was. So, she came later but at that time she was already teaching high school math and she had almost enough time in for a pension.

AH: In Japan?

JA: Yes, so they were living separate. She was in Japan and he was here. And...

AH: Well, you mean, let's go back a little bit with your mom's whole situation and take her up to this so I can understand it a little bit better in perspective. Tell me a little bit about where your mom came from and what her family was like.

JA: Okay. All right, my mother's side was samurai family, very distinct samurai family. And my father's side was farmer. And the reason, how they got to know each other is to go to the university, he stayed at their place. They had an extra place to, they had extra house, so he used to stay there and that's how they got to know each other.

AH: So she's from Tokyo?

JA: No, she's from Utsunomiya.

AH: Okay, that's where...

JA: Yeah, my father is from a place called Ujie which is further north, farming area.

AH: And where is the university located?

JA: In Tokyo.

AH: Oh, in Tokyo. But that's where he met her, right, when he was staying at their house to go to the university?

JA: Yes, he was commuting to Tokyo.

AH: Okay, so she doesn't live too far from Tokyo, then?

JA: No.

AH: Okay, but she's from a samurai class?

JA: Yes.

AH: And then when did they get married?

JA: Let's see, they got married sometime early in 1900. And she stayed there because she was teaching, she wanted to teach, keep teaching until she knew what was going on over in U.S. But at the time he was doing very good in whatever shoe business he was involved.

AH: But you were born in 1920?

JA: Yes.

AH: So she must have been here by then?

JA: Yes, she came in around either '18 or '19.

AH: Now, if she's from a samurai background and... there's a class difference between your parents, then.

JA: Samurai is the top. Farmer comes right next.

AH: Right. But there is a class difference even though your father's family was fairly prosperous, because of the rice growing as you've explained it. But later on, this other stuff is happening, and your father's fortunes, the bottom falls out once and then twice. Does your mother feel the first time, shame on them, the next time, shame on you?

JA: That's right, and she did bring up that, "You're too trustworthy. You have to watch it much closer," and that's where she stepped in and any money transaction and all, she would be involved in it. She'd take over that part and he'd be going up there doing his thing.

AH: Now, how general do you think that pattern was among Japanese Americans? You've talked to other people, of your generation, their parents, where the wife actually handled the finances. For example in my family right now, my wife handles the finances, but how general was that in the Japanese American --

JA: Not too much. The men, they had everything to say. They were the boss. But like my mother respected the husband. But yet when things like that happened twice, I mean, she's going to be watching him more closer. She wanted him to be closer to the work instead of trying to get out there to run the business or advertising his business.

AH: What would you say your mother's attitude would be towards the Japanese Americans in J-town, the mainstream Japanese American community? How would she regard them, because we sort of talked about the way your dad felt about it.

JA: Well, at the same time, my mother, being educated, she didn't get down to do the J-town uneducated people, but she would go up there to read letters, write letters, do all of that to accommodate. But she understood why and what the reason they were there for. But beyond that, she didn't... to isolate ourselves.

AH: Was she also from a Christian background?

JA: I don't think so.

AH: Did she, was she a practicing Buddhist when she was here in Seattle?

JA: No, the family was Nichiren. I remember when we went there around 1931, first time I went there. We went to the Mount... wherever Nichiren was, what do you say, studying, yeah, we went up there. And she came back and joined the Nichiren. Up to then she wasn't, she was going to Japanese Baptist Church. That's where we, my father, my mother, they all were involved in Japanese Baptist.

AH: Is there where you were brought up, in the Japanese Baptist Church?

JA: Yes.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

AH: How would you describe your parents' relationship? Because we always hear these things about arranged marriages or non-arranged marriages, and some people draw distinctions between the one as the other. Now, your parents' marriage was not an arranged marriage, it was a love match. Would you say that it was a happy relationship between your mother and your father? Was it a happy marriage?

JA: Yes, it was happy up to the time when he got knocked down a couple of times, then she wasn't as happy. No, she was trying to get that back. He couldn't go back, therefore, she went back to get the money from this Washington Shoe group.

AH: And, do you think that you and your brother were children that they planned for, were you accidents?

JA: No, no accident.

AH: You were planned for?

JA: Right.

AH: Okay. And you've talked a little bit about the way in which your dad nurtured your sort of character by introducing you to people, and taking you to events, and really acting as a cultural mentor as well as just a father. How about your mother's role, vis-a-vis...

JA: She was same, she was same. She was active in PTA and she was active with whoever Caucasian friends that I make and when they invite me to a lunch, then she will turn and invite them. So pretty soon, they were exchanging formulas, recipes, things like that. Whereas the Japanese, Issei as a whole, they never did that. Many of them were living in one little rooming house and they didn't want them to come to their place. So there was hardly any communication between the white Seattle people and the Japanese or Issei. But I think we were one of very few.

AH: Okay, so, in a sense, then, I am starting to see -- and you correct me on this because I don't want to impose a pattern that's not there -- but I'm starting to see that are some differences between your situation and between the Japanese American community. And the differences that I see, is first of all, both of your parents come from an area of Japan where there weren't too many other people from that same area in Seattle.

JA: Yes.

AH: Although a lot of Japanese Americans became Christians here, your father actually comes from a long-standing Christian background.

JA: Yeah, right.

AH: You lived on the outskirts of the community, although there was a relationship with the community of not only economic but social and the like, but you had friends freely with Caucasians, etcetera. So in a way, I don't want to say your family was deviant but in a social sense, it deviated from the norm.

JA: Yes.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

AH: Now in what sense, looking at it the other way, in what sense would you say you were part of the Japanese American community?

JA: The only part that I was with the Japanese community will be like going to the Japanese school and getting involved into kenjin picnic, kenjin, or shuu, group's picnic. Other than that, most of my contacts were with Caucasians. From the time that I was into high school, that's when my dad said, "Hey, get in there, play football, you could do it, you play baseball." So he backed me and so I turned out for football, baseball, and by that time, I was completely away from the Japanese American community. I didn't play any baseball with them until after the season and they'll all want me to play for this team or that team, but not until after the season. But basically my whole... from my high school year out I was basically with Caucasian people.

AH: Until camp?

A Until camp, right.

AH: And when you talk about Japanese or Caucasian, I think what we're leaving out is a whole array of other people from different backgrounds. And I'm wondering, did you have contact with any of them? Can you think of...

JA: Oh yeah, because we went to same school, high school, so we had our contacts. Not too much beyond school where we may do homework together, but not too much. My contact was very much with the Caucasians and I didn't play in their league. When I did play, I used to be pretty good and they'd want me to play for this team, that team or this team, but I turned out for high school.

AH: But did you know Chinese Americans, and Filipino Americans, and Mexican --

JA: Not too much. At my time, we were kind of separate. Chinese, there were Chinese, Filipino, there were Filipino. But there were like the beginning, like Bob Santos, he is -- I don't know whether you know about him -- but he used to be the baby of the group where we used to live. And there was one Chinese that was closer to us than to the Chinese, but he came from Montana. But other than that, I didn't have, or I myself, my brother, we didn't have too much contact with others.

AH: Sometimes, the Japanese American community, when they observed families such as yours where many of your contacts were with Caucasians, often felt that you kowtowed to these Caucasians and therefore they would even say extreme things like, "They're not Japanese," like that. Did you ever feel that or not?

JA: No, I never felt that way, and so if they said it, it didn't bother me any. I was doing it and I was doing... that was my full time and I was not doing too much with the Japanese Americans. Why? Because baseball, football, that I played, it was with the Caucasians and after, just like I keep repeating, that I come into their league after the season. And then all my time I'd be spending up at Broadway playfield. I was pretty good tennis player. So I'd be playing tennis up there and in the tennis court I'd be playing basketball. Or after the season I'd be playing basketball with the fellas that played basketball for Broadway. And that was enough to just keep me there. And I very seldom got involved with the Japanese Americans.

AH: What about your relationship to Japanese culture and Japanese language?

JA: The language you pick it up because your parents spoke Japanese. So by listening, I picked up Japanese. And I don't have any, not too much schooling as such. I went through sixth grade, but then I didn't learn anything and once I got beyond the sixth grade in Japanese school I was turning out for school sports so I didn't attend Japanese school. And so after I went into university, then I went back to start Japanese all over again, this time to learn, but then I was in college already.

AH: Did you take Japanese language at the University of Washington?

JA: No, I was taking engineering.

AH: No, I know, but you said you went back into the language. Did you just do it on your own?

JA: Yes. Because, see, at that time, there was so much discrimination that all these fellows that went to the University got out, they never were employed here in the United States as whatever, engineer or doctors, or maybe not doctors, but anyway, professional people. They were all going back to Japan, or were hired by Japanese companies. So I thought, well, maybe I'd better seriously think about learning how to read and write Japanese. And I was already probably sophomore or so in college.

AH: You have a brother that's about five years younger than you, and that's about the whole of the family, right?

JA: Yes.

AH: Even the size of your family is somewhat at odds with the size of most of the Nikkei families of your generation, right?

JA: Right, right.

AH: And how would you account for that, that the family was smaller?

JA: Well, I think it had something to do with the times that my father had his ups and then downs, and back up and down. Therefore that maybe that was all they could afford was just two children.

AH: So economic circumstances.

JA: Economic, yes.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

AH: Now, your mother and your father brought you up obviously to be educated, and to, they have a legacy of themselves going to college. Was the expectation from the beginning that you would go to college? Was that part of the reality of your life?

JA: Oh yeah, yeah.

AH: So in that way your situation was very much like say, Sansei, where the idea was that you were going to go, not some of you were going to go, but you were both going to go, right?

JA: That's right, yes. Because at that time, I was very much interested in horticulture. And I did a lot of projects in high school that was over and beyond what they were teaching in botany, and that was hydroponics, and that's something that they were thinking about, they never tried. And I did experiments and I grew a daisy six feet tall and that was... I wanted to go to Washington State. But my parents said, "We don't want to finance you in how to become a farmer, you become an engineer." I said, "No, I don't want to be an engineer." So, at one point, we were fishing way up in the high mountain lakes, and one evening a very tall, nice-looking white haired man came and wanted to use part of the lean-to. So we said, "We got lots of room so why don't you take your place." Well anyway, he started talking to us, and saying, "You know, you guys are just about time, ready to go to college. What are you going to be?" And I said, "I want to be a horticulturist." Okay. So he said, "My name is Chittenden," and I didn't know who it was. But anyway, he told us his being a civil engineer, and trips to China, and what he did. Then he got involved in Alcan Highway, and he said, "It's a very interesting profession." So anyway, I heard about him. And my parents said, "No, we don't want to finance you in to become a farmer, you become an engineer." So, I'm saying well, gee, I want to... fishery? No. Forestry? No. Engineer? So the only thing that came very close to being outside, was civil or mining, so I ended up civil. And what do you know, sophomore year, here's that gentleman I met. He's professor at the University of Washington, teaching C.E. And Chittenden, he is son of Chittenden, the Locks Chittenden; his father was the one that put in the locks, so he's son of. So anyway, I met him and that's how I become civil engineer.

AH: You're talking about your own career as though it were something that your parents would arrange for you rather than you for choosing for yourself.

JA: That's right, yeah, because every son, sons were all becoming engineers.

AH: Can you talk about that a little bit? Because here I teach at a school now where 30 percent of the students are Asian Americans and most of them are Southeast Asians. And a goodly number of them are, of course, in the sciences and in engineering and computer science and the like and everything. What's the thinking that goes on when... you think the parents have, or immigrant parents have for their kids?

JA: At that time, because so-and-so and so-and-so, they're engineers. That's it. So it's mostly boys were becoming engineers, "Why can't you?" Why a horticulturist?

AH: Well, what about your mom's own background? Did that have a lot to do with it? Because it's certainly nobody was telling you to be a historian, which is what your dad was, really, in college.

JA: Well, actually, my mother was a good mother, very strict and very disciplined, I mean, you stayed in line, no monkey business with her. You had to be home such-and-such time, you had to study, you had to go to sleep such-and-such time, and that was it, very disciplined. And I grew up very disciplined.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

AH: Well, you had a disciplined orientation even to going on to college and stuff. And you were talking about the fact that increasingly you started to move in circles which were largely with hakujin people. Now, did the limit stop with respect to romantic involvement, or were you encouraged, or did you feel free to be able to explore relationships across ethnic lines or not?

JA: Well, at that time, I never even thought of going out. See, like my parents didn't want me to go dancing, so I didn't dance. They didn't want me to go any movies. They told me to see certain kinds, so that was it. But it was pretty well controlled. And culture, they were teaching me all of the good things of Japanese culture. They said, "There's three things that you gotta remember -- one is the mirror, one is a sword. Mirror you look at yourself, and make sure you could look at yourself. Sword is conviction. And the other is the necklace and that necklace is made up of all different colored beads, shaped beads and human beings should not be all of round or square or one color. That's the world." And he pushed that, and he said, "Make that part of yourself. Be strong -- sword, honest -- mirror, be worldly -- the necklace."

AH: And these came from your father?

JA: Yes.

AH: And were they echoed by your mother, or reinforced by your mother, or was there a difference?

JA: She didn't say too much; she was more concerned about bringing us up.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

AH: The role of the oldest son in a Japanese American family is frequently talked about and usually in stereotypical terms. Tell me a little bit about what you felt it meant to be the oldest son, and what was the difference between your sibling's experience, your one brother, and yours. He's younger than you. I know the economic situation had changed for him, for the worse, but how would you describe the different experience of yourself and your brother in the family?

JA: Like me, my father used to say, "Not only should you be smart, you got to be able to learn how to take care of yourself." Therefore, you do judo, kendo, or whatever. And I was very good at all of that. Like me, I think I was only seventeen or so to become shodan kendo, and that's something that they never heard of, and I was very good at it. And then I did wrestling, and I was very good at that. And I was a good swimmer. So by the time I went to University of Washington, they want for me to become a swimmer, wrestler -- fencer, because I challenge Professor Aronheimer, he was a fencer, teaching fencing and he was never able to touch me, but I'd get through to him all the time. And he said, "You must be a kendo person," and I said, "Yes, and I'm shodan." And I was just about eighteen years old then, but doing kendo with Issei, I'd be right on top. I'd be... trophy after trophy, I'd win.

AH: And then your brother's situation is what?

JA: Okay, he was younger and that's why I did all the fighting for him. They'd pick on him and I'd -- "Hey, hold it, don't do it." And I was not too long-tempered, I was short-. And when I say stop, they'd better stop or bang, I'd have 'em down. And that was my... many times that was my problem, was that I'd hit somebody after I'd tell them to stop. If you didn't know, that's it. And that's why I got into a lot of trouble -- because for him, but it was protecting him.

AH: He went into architecture as opposed to engineering. Do you think his choice of that field and your choice of your field has something to do with the way you were brought up?

JA: No, his choice to become an architect... he was always the artist of the family -- between my brother and me -- he was the artist. And when he went to camp, he became a draftsman also at a camp's building department. And that's where he was introduced to architect and his superior or his boss, a Japanese American, he was an architect, so that's where he got involved into architect.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

AH: We're talking about you going to the University of Washington and we've been talking about the fact that your dad was disallowed to go to the University of Washington. When did that change?

JA: Well, I'll tell you, someplace before me it changed. See, like me, number one, I tried to get into Washington National Guard, you know, the national guard -- they wouldn't take me. I went to university and tried to get into ROTC -- they wouldn't take me. And I'll go one further. Shortly after December 7th, I went down to take my physical, okay, take me. 4-C, enemy alien, and I'm put in camp. So it's not that I didn't want to get in, I was trying to get in but they would not accept me. Then in 1943, I tried to get into the navy and also into the Seabees and they wouldn't take me. So here over and over and over, I'm trying to serve my country, and they won't take me. Then because I knew too much about the hanky-panky, going out of camp, stealing of food, and so forth, clothing, food, etcetera, hey, we've got to get this guy out of here. And also I could have screwed up the Selective Service when it was going to become reactivated by citing 4-C -- no military obligation, and that was, I told that to Min Yasui.

AH: I think we are getting a little bit ahead. I'm interested in your other part, if you don't mind, we're going to cover that in great detail especially Thursday.


JA: So at university, they won't accept me in ROTC, but they would take me for wrestling, fencing, swimming, they want me. And I don't even have to take any tests or anything. But, ROTC they said, "You got flat foot, we don't accept you." And that was, here, I got a little card saying that.

AH: Did you think that a pretext, or not?

JA: Yeah, I thought that was strictly discrimination, and I wanted to get in. I like military things.

AH: So you weren't just a great athlete with flat feet. You didn't have flat feet? [Laughs]

JA: No, I didn't.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 12>

AH: When you went to the university, I know at the time that the war broke out, there were a lot of Nisei students at the University of Washington. And so, you weren't one of the first ones there because they at least had been coming since 1930 or before. But did you get involved at all with Nisei at the university? Like through your major, through engineering, or through Japanese student clubs? Like you said your dad had helped support the club.

JA: Not really. I'd studied with probably with maybe one or two Japanese Americans, you know, Nisei, and that was about it. Beyond that, everything was with Caucasians. And not trying to discriminate Niseis, you know, but to me they were easy to talk to and whatever I said, we had very good communication. With Japanese Americans, you had to kind of second guess them. What they'd tell me and what they'd do, is not the same.

AH: Okay, so you had some suspicions about the way in which the community worked? You weren't sure that you could be straight? Is that what you're saying?

JA: Well, no, it's not... you know there's that fine line. I'd just as soon stay away from them, than to get involved with them. So if I got involved with the guys I went to school with or I turned out for sports with, I felt more comfortable with them. And therefore I expanded on that more than on the Japanese Americans.

AH: Now, these feelings didn't come out of a vacuum, they must have come out of experiences you had. Were there experiences -- talk to me a little about -- you don't have to recall everyone, but what kinds of things led you to say, "I think I'd better keep this at arm's length."

JA: Well, the biggest thing was, I had more fun with them. Everything I did, I went... well, at that time, Japanese Americans didn't go camping, didn't go hiking, they didn't do hunting, they didn't do a lot of things of which I want to do. Niseis wouldn't do, so I went with these Caucasians. And once you go camping and hunting together, you get closer and closer. And not trying to stay away from, but they weren't interesting to me, they weren't doing things that I, as an American, would like to do. Hunting -- yeah, fishing and taking packs and walking across the Olympic peninsula or going from one pass to another across Cascades. And there's no Niseis doing that, and that was my interest and that's why, that's where I was going towards. Because here the Nisei are talking about whatever, their little things, J-town thing, and that wasn't, like my father said, that's not Seattle or that's not America. You've got to get out, get out.

AH: What about the other students that were in engineering, the Nisei students, did they tend to be narrow and focused on engineering?

JA: That's right, they were focused on their studies, I mean, no monkey business. To me, okay, I studied, but yet I also went out with other people.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 13>

AH: If somebody was to ask you to reflect on those college years and say, "Tell me about your best friend," who would you tell them about, and what would you say?

JA: Well, actually, I don't have what you call best friend. I've got lots of associates. They want to get to know me, and I'm interested in them, so I've got lots of associates but then not what you call one person who is best friend. I could say yes, I could have had one or two, but I didn't have... I had lots of associates, but not what you'd call best friend, a one person. And there may be one or two that I associate with more than the others because I went to school and we used do homework together.

AH: Was that, do you think for some reason or other that you were keeping intimacy at arm's length, I mean, that you weren't getting involved that closely with a couple of people?

JA: Well, beyond studying, I didn't do anything with them. Okay, that was it. But with the Caucasians that I used to do things with, we'd go beyond that. Go hiking, camping, fishing, hunting, whatever, or just 'B.S.-ing.'

AH: But you didn't have any close friends, real close friends among the Caucasians either, is that what you're saying?

JA: Uh, true.

AH: So, you were mobile, you had associates and everything, you had a lot of interests and you did things with these people, but you were pretty singular, in a sense, ultimately.

JA: Yes.

AH: Private person?

JA: Not private, as so private, yet I'm open.

AH: Open to a degree.

JA: Right, see, because my father said, "Hey, you know, like the necklace, you're not round or one color, you have to be like necklace, you've got to be of all colors, all size, shape." And therefore I didn't, say one certain... it was just like the necklace my father told me.

<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 14>

AH: Now, you're what grade in college when the evacuation comes along?

JA: I think I was in junior.

AH: And you had finished two years of engineering and both of those were at the university, right?

JA: Uh-huh.

AH: And when you were taking engineering courses you were a civil engineer.

JA: Yes.

AH: Now, was that what most Nisei were in engineering or were some electrical or mechanical or what were they?

JA: Civil was not with the Nisei. They were either chemical, electrical, aero, uh, what else -- not too much mining. But anyway, they were the main three: chemical, electrical, mechanical, and aero.

AH: Did they have petroleum engineering here or not?

JA: No, it was mining.

AH: And was Boeing an up and going concern at the time or did that not come 'til World War II?

JA: Yeah, it was going but not as such.

AH: And what was happening to engineers, Japanese American engineers, in the Northwest? In Southern California, they were ending up working on fruit stands and things.

JA: Yeah, that's the very thing. In the little composition, I said, I don't want to be like Joe such-and-such, getting a degree in engineering, and not being able to be hired.

AH: Well, how did you feel about that? Were you arrogant enough to think that in spite of the fact that these other Nisei were not getting hired, that you would? [Laughs]

JA: That I was going to make it. And that's why I fought my way, fought my way into engineering department -- first Nisei, yeah.

<End Segment 14> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 15>

AH: So, tell me a little bit about what was happening with respect to the coming of the war, and your estimates of it. You're a smart person, you come from a family of bright people and they're in a position to be able to understand this situation, and it's not happening just, bang, overnight. There are other developments going on in world history at that time. What kind of intimations did you start to have about, what if a war breaks out, where does this leave us? Where does this leave me?

JA: Now as far as I was concerned, I knew exactly where I was. Therefore, I tried to get into National Guard, ROTC, and when the war broke out, within a few days I was down taking my physical, "Now take me." When they said no, then why don't you -- I could speak Japanese -- why don't you start a, or I could start a language... and I went that far. Trying to... and then just like I say, I tried to get in navy and they... it was that the navy construction group, yeah.

AH: And some of these things you were doing even in anticipation of a war involving Japan and the United States.

JA: Oh yeah, I knew where I was and otherwise I wouldn't be trying to get into all the service, right? It's not JACL that told me that I should do this, this, this. No, I was doing it on my own. But when I went down and took my physical I didn't see any Niseis down there, I was the only one.

AH: One of the problems sometimes with people who are in engineering in college is that they have to take so many units and that may reinforce sometimes a rather narrow view of life, as though this technical stuff is sealed off from the wider sort of world. I mean, they are not anxious to take literature courses, they're not anxious to take history, political science, they don't read the paper. Was that your situation?

JA: Well, I didn't do a lot of outside reading. Strictly, you know, my school, that's it. And like newspapers, I'd go through it pretty quick.

AH: And what newspapers did you have available to you?

JA: Well, there were Times and the P-I.

AH: And did you take any of the vernacular newspapers?

JA: Like what?

AH: Did you read the Courier?

JA: The Courier, no.

AH: You didn't. So you didn't have Japanese American newspapers coming into your house?

JA: No, but then I think the community was small enough, even though I didn't get in there to get involved, I'd be hearing it from someplace.

AH: Tell me about when it started to become real to you, when there's a crisis. How did this crisis --

JA: You mean the war crisis?

AH: Yeah, the war crisis.

JA: Like me, it just came, boom, all of a sudden. So like on December 7th I was down at the ice arena, skating when the announcement came over the PA, that the guys who were in the National Guard, "You got to all report." And that's when the guys came over and says, "Okay, Jim, we'll fight the Japs, you take care of the girls." And that's how we were. They knew I had tried to get in and they wouldn't take me. So they said, "You take care of the girls, and we'll do the fighting," and that's it. And then when I came home, shortly, or maybe the FBI was already there.

<End Segment 15> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 16>

AH: I'm going to leave you with one last question, because we're going to have a break and then Thursday we're going to take you on through the events, and that's a natural place to stop. The question is this: Let's suppose there had not been a Pearl Harbor. You had this intention that you were going to get employed and everything else like that. How did you see your future rolling out before you? What did you see for yourself? You're going to graduate as an engineering major from Washington, you're then what? Where's the life after that for Jim Akutsu?

JA: Okay, at that time, I didn't know the war was coming on, so I had no idea. So, my idea was, so if I graduate from civil engineering I will probably work at an area where I most likely want to be. And one of the things was Skagit, up there, City Light, and I'd get involved in whatever outside thing. So at that point, that's about all I was thinking, is not beyond too much into the future. But when the war came on, it just, boom, it came on suddenly.

AH: What did you think about in terms of marriage? Who did you -- I don't mean the person.

JA: I used to take out Caucasian girls, more than I did Japanese.

AH: In college?

JA: In high school. And that's where I was very close with them.

AH: How exceptional were you in that regard?

JA: Very accepted.

AH: No, I don't mean accepted, how exceptional? I mean, were there other, lots of other Japanese Americans? Now the out-marriage among Japanese Americans is about 60 percent.

JA: That's right. But at that time, I didn't -- never even thought of marriage or anything -- going out together, going skating or movie or something, that was about it. Beyond that, no.

AH: So marriage hadn't entered your mind too much by the time of evacuation.

JA: No, no.

AH: You had some thoughts about how you would use your education and everything. And you were involved in a lot of different activities, things that now people would... if you were around now, you'd have been in the Sierra Club and be off on different things and maybe even being in an environmental activist groups, who knows?

JA: Well, maybe, maybe. Because I contribute toward those environmental groups like the park and the animal groups, I donate to them. But outdoor is something I like. My parents liked it, both, outdoor life.

<End Segment 16> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 17>

AH: So the war breaks out and on December 7th, you would have been probably twenty-one years old. Is that right?

JA: Uh-huh.

AH: Okay, so we leave you now here in your junior year in college, and twenty-one years of age and there's a big thing coming up that's going to not only change your life, but World War II transforms and continues to transform...

JA: And with the friends that I knew, one was Gifford Dolby. His father, I've got to show you, he's got a card, he was acting Consul General for Spain on behalf of Japanese. He was, more or less, kind of a counsel to me.

AH: This is going to be interesting since Spain was a neutral power and they represented the Issei.

JA: Yeah. And therefore, see, from there, to prove myself that I was an alien, I even applied for repatriation, okay, repatriate. If they accept me to repatriate, that means I'm an alien. Right? You expatriate. But I'll show you some documents that... I'll tell you how... that's the thing the government used to put me in jail, so that I won't become a witness.

AH: Well, you're an ideal interviewee because you foreshadow the next interview. So thanks a lot and we'll see you on Thursday, then.

JA: Okay, fine. Thank you very much.

<End Segment 17> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<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.

<Begin Segment 19>

AH: Let me backtrack a little bit and ask you a couple of questions. You alluded to something, kind of passed by it -- this labor group. I don't know the situation real well at Puyallup, but I do know it pretty well at Tanforan and at Manzanar, which were other assembly centers, too, and, of course, Manzanar later became a relocation center as well. But at both of those places, when you're talking about the labor group, you're talking about a leftist group. Oftentimes they were Communist or what other Japanese Americans called "aka." And they were progressives, or internationalists, or whatever, and they often aligned themselves with the JACL -- not before the war, but once the war started -- in cooperating to get the evacuation going and to convince people that this was a necessary thing to do. Now, when you refer to the labor group, is this a code word for you to talk about these other people, or not?

JA: Well, actually, "labor group" meaning they're the cannery union people and they kind of seem to control certain groups of Japanese Americans.

AH: Are you talking about the cannery groups from up in Alaska?

JA: Yes.

AH: Okay, so these are the labor organizers?

JA: Yes, nothing to do with Communism or anything like that -- pure, labor organizers.

AH: So these are the ones who used to take not only the boys of summer, the Nisei, up to Alaska but would get the Issei and everything else, and they would get the labor crews, they were labor contractors, right?

JA: Yes.

AH: And so who were some of the big labor contractors at Puyallup?

JA: Well, I really don't know. But they were, a couple of them there who were... when they're hiring for the new hire... we'd have to go there and wait our turn and that's where we used to go down on Second and Main Street where the cannery union had their headquarters. But anyway, there was a couple of them fellows that were, I don't know how to say that, they're trying to run the camp or had something to say how it should be run, and if there's going to be any change you're going to have to go up and ask them, or JACL.

AH: Okay, so you felt there were these two powers that were contending for control of the camp?

JA: Well, there was Sakamoto and Arai was another one and Hosokawa and Minato and Takegawa on the union side.

<End Segment 19> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 20>

AH: Okay, and then when you're talking about organizing this tray service, you're talking about just for your own block, aren't you?

JA: Yes, Area D.

AH: And how big was Area D, about how many people?

JA: It was the biggest.

AH: It was. And what does that mean, about 600 people?

JA: Oh no, no, no, no, more than that, thousands.

AH: Oh really? Out of the ten thousand that are there, this is a size...

JA: The biggest, biggest area. Area D was the biggest, it was A, B, C and D.

AH: Oh, so it was in quadrants there, the camp.

JA: No, Area D was the biggest and in the Puyallup Fairground. And Area A, B and C, they were separate and they were all wired in, I mean, fenced in, and they had their own thing.

AH: But that was still part of what they called the Puyallup Assembly Center.

JA: Yes, assembly center. It was A, B, C and D. And I was there in D.

AH: Was D about as big as all the other three combined?

JA: Just about, yes.

AH: Okay. And is this the place where most of the presence of the JACL and the labor group was, in D?

JA: Yes.

AH: Okay. So then you were taking on a big group here when you were doing this tray service, then?

JA: Right. If you haven't been to Puyallup, you know where the mess hall was or where the cooks were, the kitchen, and when you have to take the tray, you had to walk maybe a quarter mile by the time you go back and forth. So I had to have a group of girls enough to cover that whole area, pretty good size area.

AH: How did you have the authority to just unilaterally organize a tray service like that?

JA: Well, I just saw the need, that's all.

AH: So it was an informal thing?

JA: Yes, very informal, and it was not according to how they wanted to run the camp.

AH: So this was something you basically did with the blessings, after a while, of the head chef in the kitchen there.

JA: Yes, he thought that was a good idea. And then not only was it just for that, we, I was asked to take food out to the isolation ward and to the hospital, it expanded from that tray service.

AH: What were some memorable experiences, apart from these, during the three months or so, that two or three months that you were at Puyallup?

JA: Well, we had to do something, so we had softball team, then we had sumo, and what else? Oh, yeah, we danced in the mess hall. That's about the time when jitterbugging was coming, too, and I'd be there teaching people how to jitterbug. [Laughs]

AH: Did you have a job in Puyallup that you were compensated for?

JA: Uh, guess I was. I think it had something to do with the kitchen and maybe from that I was involved in the kitchen.

AH: And who was with you when you were at Puyallup? Who in your family was there?

JA: Now, meaning what?

AH: Which other members of your family were with you?

JA: Oh. Just my brother and myself. And there was a young man whose mother and father took off and left him in Seattle, so we kind of took him in and took in as one of our family.

<End Segment 20> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 21>

AH: And was your mother with you there at Puyallup? And your father was...

JA: Yes, my father -- no. He was picked up, sent to the immigration, from immigration he was sent to Missoula, to Bismarck, and to Shreveport, Louisiana, then to New Mexico, Lordsburg. And from there, he came back but he was gone from '41 right when the war got started, came back in I'd say about the time I got involved in the draft.

AH: So at Minidoka.

JA: Yes, he came back and I'll tell you one thing. We, I heard that he was coming in, so I took off and went up to the gate and waited, and I didn't see him. So I came back to my barrack and I kind of waited and I thought well, I'm warm again, so I think I'll go take another try. So as I got out to the street, there's a small man and stopped me and asked where the Akutsus lived. So I said, "At the end of the barrack." I didn't even recognize my father and he did not recognize me, either. Because I used to be about 110-115 pounds, but at that time I was only about 103. And both of us, we couldn't even recognize each other.

AH: Because father look like what, that was different?

JA: He was so frail, thin, and you know, I just couldn't recognize him. He was just very gawky and I suppose I looked the same. Because the last time we seen, saw each other was before the war and we didn't look that gawky.

AH: That kind of is a commentary on two things. The experiences that he went through in this odyssey that he made through these different Department of Justice camps and the like. And then it also speaks to what you went through at Puyallup and Minidoka for those two years before you guys got reunited. Why don't you first tell me more about your situation -- and I want to cover your dad's situation in some detail, too -- but here you are working in the kitchen, and yet what we're getting here is you're losing weight. [Laughs] What's happening? Is this stress or what?

JA: Well, it's stress. Yes, stress. Because, you know, we get some, we'd get letters from where he was, Shreveport or wherever, everything is blacked out and you can't figure out what was going on. And through people that were released from Shreveport or wherever, will come back will tell more my mother than to me, that he's not doing too well, he's very sickly, and health-wise he's not doing good. That worried my mother.

AH: Was your mother also going, undergoing a dramatic transformation in her? I mean, you saw her on a daily basis. If she had gone away and then come back two years later, would you have recognized her?

JA: Well, seeing her every day, I didn't see too much transformation. But while in camp I'm not there with her all the time, I'm doing my thing and whatever I was doing, she'd be sitting there in this small space in the barrack and she was kind of going over, going over, and she was kind of hurting herself. And every time somebody would come back and say, "Your husband this-or-that," she wasn't too, it didn't make her feel too good.

<End Segment 21> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 22>

AH: Now I know from reading a number of things that after the war, your mother took her own life. And some of the discussion about that fact had to do with the way in which she was ostracized by the community here. Now, were some of the roots of this, though, even going back into this period during the time when your father was gone? I mean, was there an awful lot of stress showing on her where you saw her crying a lot or becoming sometimes irrational?

JA: Well, she was not irrational, but she was getting bitter about the whole thing. "How come so-and-so's husband gets to come back? Why not mine?" And what was holding him back? All of that, was getting her quite bitter about what was going on. And what the Japanese were talking about her. And many of the Japanese, you know, many of them couldn't even read or write Japanese. And she used to do the writing or if there's any complaints, she would talk on their behalf. And then they'll turn around and say, "Hey, we didn't ask you to do this, this, this," and then start to turn against her. And therefore, she got this... it's very hard to say.

AH: You actually, from hearing what you've been saying in the interview on both of these days, and then actually talking to you off camera and reading things about you and then hearing about your mother and everything, it sounds like there's a close affinity between you and your mom. I mean, she was quite well-educated and educated in what amounts to the math, which is close to science, and you certainly use a lot of math in engineering and everything. But she was also a person who took on the mantle of leading, standing up for her rights and the rights of others and it seems like you're doing this not only in the incident that you're talking about of starting the tray service, but in a lot of the other things that you rated earlier, and continuing right down to today. I mean, we left off on Monday and you were going off to intervene in a case against the city and everything. So this behavior is still going on. So, is that a fair sense? That there is a close identity between you and your mom?

JA: Well, to being honest, to being fair -- that, yes.

AH: Differences...

JA: And, helping people, she used to help people. There was a family, the mother passed away and she'd cook extra, and I'd be the one to take the dinner to them and they lived three or four blocks away. But she was that kind of person.

AH: Do you also feel that you're a person, like your mom, who when you do intervene and do some good for other people oftentimes they don't thank you for it, and instead give you hell for it? [Laughs]

JA: Well, yes, that's a funny thing. You do things for them and it's taken for granted. And they'll just keep taking, taking, taking and as though that's the way it's supposed to be. But she just went ahead to help, and like in my case, I go out to help people because they gotta need help.

AH: What are the biggest differences between you and your mother, aside from the fact that of course she was a woman and you're a man, in terms of personality and the way in which you approach problems of the world?

JA: We were both very strong. In her way she was strong, I'm strong in my way. I'm very competitive. And I like to get involved and my father would say, "Okay you're a good athlete, go out there turn out for football." He'll buy me football shoes so he was pushing me along that line. And my mother was pushing me along, more or less, on the academic side.

AH: Is your brother's personality similar to your mother or closer to your father?

JA: Well, I don't think either. He was quite spoiled, and he used to get his own way, you know. But like me, I never did that. If I had to do it, I didn't ask Mother to do anything, I'd do it and I'd get it myself. That's the difference between my brother and me.

<End Segment 22> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 23>

AH: Suicide is something that I'm fairly close to myself, having been married to a woman whose father committed suicide and her having a brother who attempted to commit suicide. And I've read enough about people in families sometimes famous like Ernest Hemingway where suicide runs through three or four generations. And I'm wondering about yourself, when you sort of think about the personality dynamics that go into when does a person sort of take their own life? And you're the inheritor of something culturally and through the family and stuff. What are your thoughts about that because I hardly ever get the chance to talk to somebody about such a profound thing as life and death in that way. You contemplated -- I don't mean contemplate suicide -- but do you contemplate the idea of suicide?

JA: No, not me, I never got myself into that position. But in my mother's case, like me, I could take a lot of, what you call crap, from anybody and I used to hand it right back to them. So I was very strong physically, so if somebody says something, I just turned around and I just give them a dirty look and they just back off. But in my mother's case, it was the Issei who constantly, "Hey, your son's a draft evader, coward, chicken shit," and kept pressing, and cut her off, cut her off, cut her off. And there's only one family, Uchida, that communicated with her. All the rest of the Japanese community kind of cut her off, just isolated her.

AH: Here in Seattle?

JA: In Seattle, back here in Seattle. And it was almost like that about the time when all this reactivation of Selective Service and what I was going to do. But I want to get back to this Selective Service where I had the talk with Min Yasui. I want to get back to it -- remind me.

AH: Oh, I'm going to spend a lot of time on that, you bet. Okay, go ahead.

JA: But anyway, the Japanese Issei community cut her off, very cold. And then she used to go to church and she used to be just like a janitor. And one day, this Reverend, Reverend Oda -- this was at Nichiren Church -- from the pew he said, "There's a very educated woman who does all the toilet cleaning and you people use it and you don't know about it." But anyway, people figured who it was and they resented and they told her, "Get out, we don't want you here."

AH: The parishioners told her that?

JA: Yeah, so finally she came back, and there's no place for her to go. So she stayed in this one small dingy room and she was just... at the beginning she says, "I can't go anywhere, I can't even go to church." And she sat there, and whatever she was thinking, and that is what led her to committing suicide. But not... she started and she ended up in the Harborview Hospital where she strangled herself. And, you know, the terrible thing was, the night or the day it happened, I heard about that. But the nurse, we were having a kind of a mushroom bake or wiener roast at Alki, and this woman came, and said, and explained how she committed suicide.

AH: She explained to who?

JA: To the whole group.

AH: Really? And you were there?

JA: And I was there and this one... there was a couple of 'em who were nurses at same place, they tried to keep her down, to say that, "Jim is here." And no, she couldn't, she had to blurb the whole thing out, over and over and that's where I found out how she killed herself.

AH: Even when people were trying to tell her that you were there, and then she just kept going on in front of all these people?

JA: Right, and that's the kind of attitude I had to come up through. I was strong enough and I could take that, but my mother, on the other hand, she wasn't, you know, mentally that strong.

<End Segment 23> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 24>

AH: Let me ask you this: last time we were talking and we were talking about where you were living and really you were saying you were living on the periphery of the Japanese American community, outside of it.

JA: Yes, that's later, but we're talking about right after the war.

AH: No, no, I'm talking about earlier. I mean, when you were growing up, your family, your father and your mother and you and your brother lived outside of the Japanese American community, and I was getting the sense that the community was not an important part of their sort of daily life. Now, is the thing that's changed by the time after the war, the fact of camp that now all of a sudden the community was together and it became more important and their opinions became more important to your mother?

JA: Well, maybe not as such. But when they... you, they may not come right to her face to say, "Hey, you're son's a coward, he's a traitor." But that goes on behind her and she was kind of isolated, and all the talk is still going on and that's the kind of thing that really hit her hard. And once when she was told by the parishioners, "Hey, we don't want you here," she says, "I've got no place to go," as though to say, hey this is it, this is the end.

AH: Now, how do you deal with that? Because somebody could look at this and say, well, "Jim Akutsu is walking around with a loaded gun within him because he feels this guilt because of the fact that his actions caused his mother to feel so much pain and everything, that ultimately she had to take her own life." So how do you, how do you...

JA: To me, from the very beginning I had, not an idea... but with E.O. 9066, FDR set a very dangerous precedent for all America, race, creed. Because if they, if he could do that to one group of, ethnic group, why can't he do that to, or as a precedent, why can't the same precedent be set to Irish, and why not the German, or Italian, or English, for no cause, no due process and that was, to me, number one, very important. Going into the army, like me I tried to get into National Guard, ROTC and few days after the war I took my physical, "Here, now take me." How far more can you go? And in 1943 I tried to get into Navy and the Seabees, and they still wouldn't take me. So I could go so far and I know I am loyal, I don't have to be told. And then like that 28 question, unqualified, pledge your unqualified allegiance to the United States of America and forswear your allegiance to Japan or any foreign party. I said no, why should I? I never did that, I'd be incriminating myself. Then right away I was thinking of redress and my friend's father being consul, acting consul for Spain, he was talking to me and, "You're going to have to test them. You've got to fight this thing because it's not just for you, it's for all Americans." To me, that was the priority number one. Getting into the army or navy or whatever, that came down the line.

AH: Let me take a second pass at this for a second, because what I'm asking you... is did -- 'cause what you're explaining to me is an intellectual logic that you did all of these things and everything, and you perceived this sort of higher truth and everything. But there are also emotional logics as well as intellectual logic. And the emotional logic oftentimes overwhelms the intellectual one. And so you may have all of this account for your behavior but your emotions can still tell you that, "Mom is gone in part because of what I did." Now, how do you reconcile these two? And let me try a hypothesis and see if it holds any water and you're not one that ever agrees with things -- [Laughs] -- that you don't really agree with so it's safe to play these kind of games with you and hypothesize. But my hypothesis would be that that your mother must have been very, very supportive of all of your actions, so that you didn't feel that you were letting her down but that you were sort of enacting her will. Is that right?

JA: Not her will, but it was my will, and my friend's father, who said, "You're going to have to challenge this."

AH: Right. I meant by "her will" was that you were enacting her will to have you act out your own needs, in other words, to give you...

JA: It was not she, it was I.

AH: Right. No, but I'm saying --

JA: And she was supporting what I was doing.

AH: Right. That's what I'm saying, in other words, the message that she's sending out to you is that you have to act on your own conscience and stuff.

JA: Yeah, that's right.

AH: And so you had the freedom to do that, that's what I was trying to say. Not that she was manipulating you, or coercing you, or pushing you into a decision that you didn't want to make.

JA: No, because before we even left Seattle, my friend's father said, "You gotta challenge this, you gotta challenge because this is a very dangerous precedent set by FDR and through E.O. 9066. So you've got to fight that." So at that time, I had nothing to do with talking to my mother or anything. We were trying to prepare to go to Puyallup and there was not too much talking. But once I got into camp, Puyallup, and then from Puyallup to Minidoka, I had enough time to think and all of that came to me, "Hey, this is your priority number one."

<End Segment 24> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 25>

AH: Were you starting to think about that, even at Puyallup? I mean, you were talking about dancing and playing sports, you're also talking about doing some organizing within the D Section there to try to ameliorate, you know, bad conditions. But are you starting to think of things, too, in terms of your own personal conscience and your need to protest things, or not yet?

JA: Yes, in some way, but that was way in the back of my mind. The time-wise, it wasn't the time. There's a time when it'll come to be. But because I was told, number one priority you were going to have to challenge the government for what they did, because they set a very dangerous precedent. Okay? So that is set way back in my mind but it's not up front. But what I'm doing is what was there that had to be done to ease whatever condition in camp.

AH: And how long after you moved from Puyallup to Minidoka did this seed that had been planted there start to germinate to the point where it became more than just sort of a back burner issue, it became up front? What triggered it, in other words?

JA: Well, actually, all the things that was going on in camp. I didn't like what was going in camp. Number one, there is, you know, below the barracks, wide open and I want to close that, use the local people to close that. Here we had all the plumbing sitting out in the desert. Why can't we put it in? And I, as a civil engineer, I know exactly what to do and why can't we use people of camp? And the camp will say, "Hey, we have contracts out with such-and-such, such-and-such, we can't do anything." And I'm cold, I'm not feeling good and I have to go out to the john out between the blocks and here it is 20 below zero. Hey, let's get with it. And, you know, all of that is starting to come back, all of the things that we could do and we're the ones suffering. So all of that and the food was terrible and then I find out all the cheating, conniving, stealing going on, by WRA, because I am told by the outside people and the people that were doing the stealing for WRA. And now, it used to be in the back, now it's starting to come up forward.

AH: And is this starting to connect with what you're seeing going on in changes in terms of your mother, and then your dad's continuing absence from the camp?

JA: Well, as far as my mother, we didn't have too much contact. She was, she was wherever she was, and like me, I'm doing my thing. And I'm trying to make it easy as possible for all the younger people for their stay in camp and also trying to improve the condition all the way around. Like taking the people from the outside waiting for their meal to bring 'em inside, and then from there to tray service. And that's what I'm thinking and doing and I wasn't too much concerned, at that point. But once I got to Minidoka and I see the same conditions and all the hanky panky going on in camp, and who was trying to hold us.

<End Segment 25> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 26>

AH: Well, you were starting to have what was latent starting to become sort of up front now, your indignation and the feeling that something had to be done and you were seeing the same kind of behavior by the authorities at Minidoka that you had seen actually at Puyallup. And you were talking about, you could have done things as a civil engineer that were quite easy and yet they seem to have regulations and procedures and contracts and everything take precedence over people. And this was getting you upset. And I'd asked you whether this feeling of being upset was deepened by what you were seeing in terms of the changes in your mother and the fact that your father's absence from the family was being prolonged because of him going through these different camps. And what you had said was that you weren't seeing your mom very much because you were doing sort of your own thing and stuff. And while you said that I was thinking to myself, "Well, what was your own thing at Minidoka?" Because you were doing something with the kitchen when you were at Puyallup, but what was your job at Minidoka?

JA: One of my first jobs I got at Minidoka was the border post crew. That was to go out into the border of our camp and put up posts -- "WRA Camp," "No Trespassing," so forth, all the way around. That was my first. And then from there they wanted some engineer, so I just told them I'm a civil engineer, so I got into with the Bureau of Reclamation to do engineering work.

AH: Now that first job that you were describing, that must have gotten you a little bit mad, too, didn't it?

JA: Not really. We were in crews of four and I'm listening to, you know, what they're thinking. To me, I want to get the posts in and let's keep going. And a big, another thing was that there was a lot of rattlesnakes, scorpions. So we had to be careful how we walked, so that was more my concern -- the safety of the crews. So I ended up becoming the snake person...

AH: So just dealing with the snakes or the scorpions, etcetera, kind of blinded you to the fact that what you were doing was putting up these restrictions on where people could go.

JA: Yes, there you go. Yes, I realized that, but it didn't hit me that deep. All I knew this was the border of the Minidoka camp, and my job was to put the border posts in.

AH: I would guess that in a few more months you wouldn't have been able to do a job like that. Am I right?

JA: Why?

AH: Just because it would have stuck in your craw more, it would have...

JA: Not necessarily, no.

AH: So you could have done that at any time through the camps?

JA: That's right.

AH: Really? How do you explain that?

JA: Well, it's a job.

AH: Because somebody even wrote a poem when the put up the fence at Manzanar, about that -- I mean, at Minidoka about that 'damn fence,' and stuff like that, but you didn't feel the same way about that?

JA: No, I didn't feel. It was just, to me, it was... although it was pointed toward camp, it meant for people from camp that that was the border, you can't go beyond that, but I never... it was such a distant away. I mean, we'd take a truck and we'd drive maybe half-hour, forty-five minutes way out into the desert, so at that time, it was just a job and that was it, just another job.

AH: Okay, and then what about this next job you got, that was in your field, more or less.

JA: Yes, it was in my field. And the big thing was, we had to bring in the water into camp, that means irrigation water, because so dusty. So I had to go out there and do the engineering, well, actually, it was the surveying, to make topog. map for the area from the canal to camp, how to bring the water into camp, how best to bring it in. And I was very busy at that.

AH: It was kind of an intellectual challenge for you, too, wasn't it?

JA: Right, and it was good, because it was just up my line and at school I went through but no practical experience, and here I was, I was getting all of that. And I was very happy.

AH: It was kind of a good job for you in two ways I would guess, not only that it was an intellectual challenge for you but it also provided a social service for the people in the camp. I mean, they got water.

JA: Well, in some way, but that's what I'm thinking. Once we get water in... it was so dusty, you'd be walking in dust maybe knee-deep, and once we get the water in and whatever they said, grew, rye grass, that settled the dust and everything got much better. Instead of being dusty, it become not dusty.

<End Segment 26> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 27>

AH: And did you have other jobs connected with engineering after the solving that problem?

JA: No, that was all the way... that's what I was doing with the Bureau of Reclamation, and not only was I doing the Bureau of Reclamation work for camp, but they used to take me to a place called Burley, Idaho, and I would do some of their work. This was for Bureau of Reclamation, Southern branch, main office and that's where all of the surveyors came from or worked from. And if there were anything that be done, they'll take me over there and whatever they want me to do, I'd do.

AH: Were you the only one that was working for the Bureau of Reclamation?

JA: No, there were about four, five fellas, but I was the engineer of the group, so they'll take me. And I was on the stop order, I couldn't get out of camp, couldn't go out to school, couldn't go out to work, but when I'm sitting in a U.S. government car with a great big U.S. seal, U.S. license, they just let me go.

AH: Now, you weren't on the stop list by then, were you?

JA: Oh, I was.

AH: What got you on the stop list?

JA: That's the whole thing. I was doing... see, in Puyallup I went against the whoever that was trying to run camp. So the only thing I could recall my being put on the stop order is I went against and I went ahead and did it on my own to help the condition, to alleviate the... what shall I say? The condition.

AH: How did you know that you were on the stop list?

JA: Oh, when I applied to go out to school, remember I told you one of the fellows, one boy -- his parents left him and we took care of him -- he left for...


AH: I was surprised to hear you say, a little while ago, that you were on the stop list this early. I knew later on there would be some reason for it but I wasn't quite sure why you were on the stop list and how you found out you were on stop list, so could you kind of talk about that?

JA: Okay. Shortly after I started working as an engineer for Bureau of Reclamation, instead of being sent way out to the border, I was working right in the administration building, that's where the superintendent was, right there. So, I was working in the construction area of... and I asked to leave camp to go to work, or just to be leaving, and Mrs. Yamada, who was the person in charge of approving leave, told me, "You're on the stop order, you can't leave." So I heard it from a person who was issuing 'okay' to leave camp.

AH: And the reason you, this frustrated you is because you had somebody -- I think we had a little technical difficulty -- and I'd like you to repeat that about going to school and why you thought you could go to school, too.

JA: Yes, or go out to go to work.

AH: But, I mean, you had this fellow that your family had...

JA: That's right, kinda adopted, right, he left and he was good -- I mean, he just left.

AH: And went to a university somewhere?

JA: Now, I don't know where, but there was two place I wanted to go. One was Minnesota and one was Texas so I tried to go to Texas and Mrs. Yamada told me, "You can't leave, you're on the stop list."

AH: And did you put two and two together that it was because of what your activities had been at Puyallup?

JA: Phew-al-lup.

AH: Phew-al-lup, right?

JA: Phew-al-lup.

AH: Phew-al-lup.

JA: Right. So why did I get... then I'm starting to think, "What caused me to be put on stop list? Who's putting me on the stop list? Why did I get put on?" So the only thing that I could see is what I did in camp. I went against the, whoever was trying to run camp and instead of... I just ask the chef, "Can I do this, this, this?" And I'd say the heck with these guys who's trying to... they're just trying to kinda elevate themselves without considering the suffering of the people below in camp.

AH: Have you, in recent years, been able to avail yourself of Freedom of Information Act materials that indicate that, in fact, there was somebody responsible for you being on the stop list?

JA: No, I haven't.

AH: You haven't?

JA: And I'm very curious.

AH: So this is a surmisal, and was then, but it makes a lot of logical sense to you?

JA: Uh-huh, because I was going against the group who was trying to run camp and I could see their shortcoming, so I want to run the camp much better, and I was getting into their business.

<End Segment 27> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 28>

AH: So you were in a kind of an anomalous position. You had some skills that allowed the Bureau of Reclamation to use those skills, and you could go out of the camp for those purposes to Burley, Idaho but you really couldn't go by yourself and go off to school in Minnesota or in Texas. Right?

JA: See, the whole thing was, to go out to Burley, Idaho we had to stop in one place -- I thought it was a place called Eden -- to have coffee and that's where at the beginning the proprietor was a small cafeteria or cafe run by man and wife and we weren't talking too much. But the person that I am, I'm kind of curious so I get kind of talking to him, and he told me how the camp is being ransacked. Here, he says, "The coffee you're drinking, hey, somebody stole it from camp. The sugar you eat, stole from camp." So, I said, "Well, who is it?" "It's the camp personnel." And they said, "The big boxcar from where they steal these things..." A boxcar you got two big doors. They come together and they have one inch iron bar. And at the bottom they have a flange with a hole, so they line the holes up and instead of snapping the lock, they would just line it up so somebody could come up and just turn the lock open and steal whatever -- and at our cost. So I found out that the camp people, personnel, not the Japanese personnel or maybe there could have been, were stealing our food, and selling for profit. Then at the same time, the camp people had piggery way out, out beyond the border and here you see a mountain of the food that we're supposed to be using. And everything that was sent to camp they had blue cross. Now, if it were rice, the sack will have blue cross on it. If it were in carton, the carton would have blue cross and whatever the contents, you know, they're feeding it to the hogs. And I saw, and I was told how they were stealing it. And all of that now starts to... when I had it in the back, now it's starting to come forward.

AH: I'm curious about this, and it seems like something of a contradiction, but I'm sure you can resolve it. On the one hand you're wanting to get out of camp and go to school at Minnesota --

JA: Or go to work.

AH: Or go to work. But I'm thinking that you're an oldest son in the family, your father is off in a Department of Justice camp and it's just your mom and a younger brother there. How could you just go off to school and leave them in a situation --

JA: Or go to work, go to work. Now, if I were able to go to work, then I would get them out of camp, so that was my idea. Go to school and if I work, then I could get my brother and my mother out of camp. And that's why it was not just school only, it was to get my mother and brother out of camp.

AH: Did you make the choice of Minnesota and Texas on the grounds of academic reasons -- they have good engineering schools -- or did you make it on the grounds that these were easier places to relocate?

JA: No, they were accepting people out of camp.

<End Segment 28> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 29>

AH: So, in any event, you were on the stop list, and so they put a stop to you either working or going to school. So what you had to do was to stay there and witness these kinds of things that you'd just been telling me. Now, when did this discontent start to take shape towards the specific issue of military service?

JA: Okay, now, I got involved or I heard about the Fair Play Committee in Heart Mountain. And I got the information through Jim Omura because he was making a report in the newspaper, his paper, so I was getting information of what was going on in Heart Mountain. And they were organized, and they were being financed, so forth.

AH: Wait a second I think we're jumping way ahead of this. That's in 1944.

JA: '43, '44...

AH: That's after they... well, '44, where they re-institute the draft. But -- in fact, he doesn't start working for the Rocky Shimpo until in early 1944 -- but a year earlier than that, there is a registration, a big loyalty registration at Minidoka and the other camps. And you're given the famous, or infamous questions...

JA: Right, 27 and 28.

AH: ... 27 and 28. So I'm really interested in what your thinking was, and what your behavior was, at that particular time because you're starting to get pissed off about what's going on in the camp -- the draft and the things. And the all of a sudden the government comes in here -- you tried to get into the military, as you said, in your high school you're trying to get into the National Guard, when you're in college you're trying to get into the ROTC -- and then here's this registration thing, the military comes in and it has to do with two things. You're on a stop list, so you can't go out and resettle and the WRA is giving this in order for resettlement, and then the army is giving it in order to be able to get volunteers for a combat team. So what's the situation for you personally?

JA: Okay, so now I'm going back and I'm saying... I heard about the Fair Play Committee in Heart Mountain, but so far, up to that time, there is Min Yasui, Gordon Hirabayashi, and Korematsu -- Fred Korematsu. They tried, they didn't follow the curfew and they went, they turned themselves into police, "Hey, I'm going to violate." So they got put in, and during the trial, they gave their reasons. But they said, "Well, that's all moral." Well, I didn't think it was a moral, I think there was a violation on part of the government -- on their part. And one thing was, I could... what a citizen is, or citizenship is... so if you look in the book, I've got that book right behind you stating what a citizen and citizenship is. And it's nothing that you could give, take, give, take, at the government's will. And I was kind of ticked off about that, about... how can they without cause or due process... what can they do? Here, one time I'm a 1-A, then next time I'm a 4-C. 1-A, 4-C, and to me, citizenship is nothing that can be shifted back and forth at government's will. Okay, so I'm going back and say, "Well, what is this whole thing?" Well, what they want to do was, they want to use us as a hostage -- number one, then prisoner of war -- number two, and three -- cannon fodder, meaning 442nd. So, all right, if that's the case, then I'm going to say, "Let's make it legal." You violated me and you made me into a 4-C enemy alien and look under their classification, 4-C, no military obligation. Therefore, I'm saying, "Okay, government, I'm putting this on your back."

AH: Okay, now, Jim, were you thinking this at the time of 1943, or is this a year later in '44? At the time of the registration, when you go in, what did you sign?

JA: What do you mean, regis-,

AH: 27 and 28?

JA: Okay, I said I would go anywhere if they want to send me, but I said "no" to number 28. Why? I saw it, I'm incriminating myself, and it was a very cause that why the government put us into camp is that they didn't trust us.

AH: Okay, repeat the language of the 28. What's the essence of it?

JA: Uh, okay, the essence of it is, pledge your unqualified allegiance to the United States of America and foreswear your allegiance to the Japanese Emperor or...

AH: Any other foreign power.

JA: Yes, and foreign power. So I said... I saw that, hey, I see what they're doing, they're making it so that the blame will be on me, and I didn't want to incriminate myself. If I had said "yes," that meant the government had every right to put us in camp, do whatever they did. And one of the things they did was to take our 1-A... took away our citizenship and made us an enemy alien, then the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, President's oath, all of that didn't affect us, so they could do anything, abuse us. And to me, that was very important, it was a very dangerous precedent that the government set.

AH: Did you write that down when you, did you qualify your "no" answer? Did you put an explanation, or not?

JA: No, it was just yes or no.

AH: Okay. So you did put "no," though?

JA: I don't remember.

AH: But you put "no"?

JA: Yes.

AH: And did your brother put "yes-yes" or "yes-no" or what?

JA: No, I don't think so. Yes, he might have said "yes-no." I can't answer for him, but 28, he said "no."

<End Segment 29> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 30>

AH: Most people... now, I know you've established the fact that you didn't have a lot of close friends and you were kind of a Lone Ranger in a lot of ways. I mean, in school and even before that...

JA: But not Lone Ranger in a way with the Japanese community. I was very in thick with the Caucasian group.

AH: Yeah, but now when you're in camp, you're... of necessity, you're concentrated literally and figuratively with a lot of other people of Japanese ancestry. Now, everything I've read on the registration thing is this caused a lot of block meetings. And it caused a lot of discussions. And the army sent representatives there, and they usually had a Kibei sergeant that was with them, and they would go to the different groups in the blocks and stuff, and that, and then people had to make decisions. And Minidoka is always brought up as a camp in which they produced 300 volunteers, more than any other camp. And a lot of people drew the conclusion, rightfully or wrongly, that this therefore was a "happy camp," and everything. And that, that Stafford had things under control and this went through beautifully and stuff. Now, I'm trying to get a sense of... okay, I'm trying to leave you with this because we're going to, we're gonna change some... but leave this question with you. I'm trying to understand what you were going through at that particular -- were you talking to other people? Were you talking with your family about the consequences of you saying "yes-and-no," or was this just something that you were doing in a vacuum? [Interruption] So, were you doing this in isolation, or were you doing it in a social context? Were you were dealing with your family, you were dealing with some of the other people your age on the block and talking about this?

JA: Well, actually, you know, these questionnaires that was given to us, it was something that the manager of the block said, "Hey, this is it. On this day you're going to fill out these questionnaires." And when I got to 27, 28, they were the two questions, right away I could see that the government was making it that we were disloyal, that's why they did what they did and that was... that 28 would be incriminating the Japanese Americans. I saw that. And I was going to... I had, even at that time, redress in my mind. Therefore, if I had answered that "yes," hey, there's no redress, and therefore the only answer, only answer, okay, I say the only answer is "no" by Japanese Americans. But 99 percent said "yes," so in other words, they incriminated themselves saying that the government had every right to put the Japanese Americans in the camp and do whatever they wanted because they were dangerous, and I saw that.

AH: Did you ever try to persuade other people of your position at that time, or not?

JA: Okay, now, the next thing I did was when Gordon Hirabayashi, Min Yasui, and Fred Korematsu, they were released from jail, and Min Yasui was from, he came back to Minidoka.

AH: And we came back to Min Yasui. Which is good. [Laughs]

JA: So, what I did, I went to talk to Min Yasui. And at that time, this, there was this talk about reactivating the selective service and all. So I said, "I know over in Heart Mountain they're saying as an American you violated me." And I said well, Yasui, Gordon Hirabayashi and Korematsu, they had moral case -- but not legal. And when I compared their case against what was going on at Heart Mountain, they had a moral case. So I told... I got words to Frank Emi, whether by telephone or whatever it was, and I asked, "Well, do you know that you got a good moral case, but you don't have what you call legal?" So I said, "My way is that I'm going to agree with the government. Okay government, you took away my citizenship, assigned me 4-C, and 4-C said no military obligation and I'm going to go according what the government says." No military obligation, fine, that's it. So I said, "You don't have to generate any money to fight the case," and, well, by that time, Frank said no, we'll just go through without so-so. I said, "Fine, you go ahead and I'll do my thing."

<End Segment 30> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 31>

AH: Okay, now, before we proceed with that, there's still a big time gap. And maybe it doesn't seem like such a big gap after half a century, but between the time of the registration in February of 1943 and the reinstitution of the draft in January of 1944, we're talking about eleven months. Now, you've said "yes-no," now what kind of activity went on after... did you have to have some re-hearings or something, or how did you avoid being segregated to Tule Lake? I'm interested in...

JA: Well, I'm curious, too. But from what somebody tells me, one of the reasons why they didn't send me over is because I didn't answer 27 "no." To me, 27 was irrelevant whether they sent me or not. Number one, 28 was very important, because I'm thinking of redress and I didn't want to incriminate myself and make it so that the government would say, hey you signed that 28, you don't get any redress. Or... at that time, I was thinking of redress myself, not as a group, okay?

AH: So probably the "yes" on 27 overrode the "no" on 28?

JA: Well, it could have.

AH: In the minds of the WRA.

JA: Could have, yes.

AH: They went through these things and they look at your "yes" and your "no" and the "yes" overweighs the "no." So nobody approached you about you being sort of having to leave Minidoka and go to Tule Lake. No?

JA: No, because people wonder how come I was not sent to Tule Lake.

AH: It would've seemed like you would have been a candidate for it. You had a father who was in a Department of Justice camp and then you have a split sort of thing -- it seems that would have been a red flag, possibly a white flag with a red circle, in their minds, and say you ought to go to Tule Lake, but they never touched you. Did it affect your employment in any way with doing the work with the Bureau of Reclamation or not?

JA: No, because I was doing a lot of work they wanted... because we're only getting paid, what, eight or ten dollars, and gee, where can you get somebody to do engineering work for that kind of wages?

AH: I wonder if that didn't weigh in the balance a little bit, too, the fact that you had a skill that was usable at that time?

JA: Okay.

<End Segment 31> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 32>

AH: So you continued to go out to different places like Burley, Idaho, and to do work...

JA: Just to Burley, not to anywhere...

AH: Nowhere else.

JA: Yes, but one of the things that I did was become a ditch rider. In other words, you measure at certain stations, how much water is passing that station by running a equipment called a (...) hydrometer. Okay. And what you do, you take it two feet from the top, two feet from the bottom, and then you record the depth. So when you finish, you will have a total area of that section, and by knowing what the velocity is you know the total volume of water passing. So you go to the next station and if there's no leaks, there should be same amount of water. But if there's a drop, then you have to go and station that and then go in after the canal is turned off and do some fixing.

AH: So, actually the job that you had was kind of challenging and fulfilling for you during that time.

JA: Yes, right.

AH: Did you ever develop a profile -- like a lot of people did at other camps including Minidoka -- did you ever develop a profile before the draft issue in 1944 of being a quote, unquote "troublemaker"?

JA: That I don't know, that I don't know.

AH: At Puyallup, you had.

JA: Yes, there in Puyallup I went against whoever that was trying to run the camp. And I went ahead and did what I felt was good for camp -- for the people, not for who was running. Okay. And there was this Sakamoto, Arai, then you had the cannery union group, and they're all trying to outdo each other. But to me, I want the answer now, I don't want them to think about, think about, think about. Hey, I'm gonna do it, and I'm a doer. I'm not a person who thinks and just dwell on it. So I just go ahead and say hey, this is the best way. Go to the chef, chef says fine, okay, I'm going to do it regardless what the camp, whoever's trying to run the camp. And to me, I thought that had something to do with my being put on the stop.

AH: But you didn't feel obliged to that kind of thing at Minidoka very much. I mean, this one attempt that you were talking about, the opening underneath the barracks and stuff...

JA: Well that, and then try to... see, we had all the toilets and whatnot, equipment, sitting out there in the desert. Well heck, jiminy, we could do a lot of plumbing. And there were many people, very good at doing things like that. So I said, "Hey, we'll do it. We'll put in the toilet, we'll do the carpentry work, we'll do this, we'll do that." And the, Stafford says no, we can't because we have contract, to whoever. So what do we do? We go out there and sit in the outhouse 20 below zero. I'm not feeling good about that. I don't think anybody, yeah.

<End Segment 32> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<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.

<Begin Segment 34>

AH: You know, even before the draft thing came up in early '44, there was that movement of people because of the segregation center set up in Tule Lake. And the people who had answered the loyalty registration in a certain way, if it was deemed wrong or somebody in their family did it that way, they went off to Tule Lake. And then those people in Tule Lake who had signed "yes-yes" were moved to other ones, and then there were quite a few of 'em that came to Minidoka. And I've always found it very ironic that when those people who were "yes-yes" came to Minidoka, they were more politically-minded and were more opposed to what was going on in the administration and took action.

JA: That's right. Let me pick it up right there. In our block, five people from Tule came and one was Mr. Takeda. He was the negotiator for Tule Lake for whatever was not going right. And he came, and first thing he said, "Jim, how come you're eating garbage?" And that's after he stayed for a week or so. No meat, everything was... like morning, you get piece of toast, bowl of mush, no sugar, then you got some black thing that looked coffee-like, which was not coffee. And noon, was a little bit of casserole. Then he saw these groups of, Catholic group, and the chef's sons in the back, and we were caught in between and we weren't getting enough food. So I said, "I've been fighting and I've been trying to improve the condition." So he says, "Okay." And I'd go up to the administration and I'd complain and they won't listen because I've got no backing. So finally, Mr. Takeda, Makishima, and Nitta -- they're all from Tule -- and myself, we went up to Stafford's office. And they said, "You gotta have an appointment." I said, "Yeah, we got an appointment." I didn't, but I just walked in. And this fella, Mr. Takeda, bilingual, and he had a -- little guy, but powerful voice, and we sat ourselves in front of Stafford and we laid it to him. And from that week, meat and all the food, the whole food changed and the conditions started to change. And it took these people from Tule, just like you say, "yes-yes" but then when they came up to Minidoka they were "no-no." [Laughs]

AH: These were more your type of people, then, when they got there.

JA: Yes, and then I got support. Up to then, they were all quiet Americans.

AH: Do you think you came across in those days as an aggressive person, not only in terms of what you said, but physically?

JA: Physically aggressive, yes. Because I'd say, "Okay, what do you want to do about it?" And before that, before the war, somebody look at me sidewise, bang, I'd have 'em down. I was very short-tempered.

AH: And you were getting a short fuse at this time, too, with all these things going on?

JA: Yes, right. And I was getting madder and madder. [Laughs]

AH: So you're getting more angry, but you're also getting a little bit more, you know, wind in your sails because you've got some people who at least will stand up and be counted...

JA: Allies, yes. And will support me. Not the block people, as such. But it was these new Tule people. And to date, they're very close to me. And when I said I'm going to challenge... well, I didn't say I'm going to challenge the selective service, well, I'll get to that. But they were supporting of me of, whatever I want done. And when we start to go up to the Stafford, hey, we're going to get the plumbing in. And then all of a sudden all the plumbing that was sitting out there was gone. And I'm telling them, "Who stole it?" He said, "They were stolen." And here it is, you've got three bridges, army guards and any truckloads of toilet equipment going through not just one, two, three, it might have taken thirty, and they just say, "Oh, it was stolen." And I wouldn't let them off and I said, "What do you mean, stolen? You guys must have stolen, or you guys had something to do," and I'm threatening them now, because I'm not comfortable here going to toilet, twenty below zero. You go to toilet and gee, everything is frozen. And you go to bath, we have a little bit of shower, but not the shower I want to be. So, in the washroom, heck, I used to take my bath right in the washtub basin and I'd tell the guy, "Hey, hold the towel around me." And I'd just... that's me, I just did. If they won't give me the shower, okay I'll take it right in this -- they call it, what the heck is it -- washroom. Anyway...

AH: Oh, yeah. The laundry room?

JA: Laundry room, yes. And I'd take my bath right in there and I'd tell some of the guys, hey, hold some towel up there. And people, "Gee, Akutsu's taking bath in the laundry room." [Laughs] And I'm that kind of guy, I'll go ahead and do it. Yeah, I'll do that until they'll do something with the showers and get coal so we could be warm. And that's another thing, they'll come and dump one little load of coal, and everybody's supposed to go out there and grab coal and keep yourself warm. And like in my case, my mother's there and she can't compete with all the men who were not working. And we'd get maybe little bits of coal. And I'm cold, and I'm hungry and I'm getting madder and madder for the conditions.

<End Segment 34> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 35>

AH: So is it fair to say, as a transition into what went on at the draft thing that, what was happening in these months between the registration and the draft, is that you were starting increasingly to take on the camp, and then a little bit later you're taking on, really, the United States government?

JA: Yes.

AH: So, how did that come about, with the announcement that the draft was going to be re-instituted which, of course, meant that the 4-C status was going to go to 1-A. And this was sold as sort of the first step towards the restoration of your citizenship rights.

JA: And here, I'm saying, "Restoration, what do you mean restoration? In the first place, you shouldn't have even taken it away from me and what right, what cause, what due process?" None. So I'm getting to say, "Hey, I'm going to put the monkey on your back, government. You did all of this and now you're blaming me for it." I said, "No, I'm not going to do that, I'm going to fight you."

AH: Did you talk to other people about that at the time when it first came out?

JA: All right. That's when I went to talk to Min Yasui, because he was released from wherever he was. And I said okay, here they're trying to reactivate selective service and so forth. I said, number one, I'm not going to be like Heart Mountain, organized to fight this thing. I'm just going to agree with the government and say, "Yes, government, you did everything. You took away my citizenship. Here you put me into 4-C. 4-C," you look up your selective service, no military obligation. Therefore, I'm accommodating the government and that was my position.

AH: And how long were you holding that position before you had to put it to the test?

JA: Okay. Now, I talked with Min Yasui, I shouldn't have talked to him. But what he said -- he went through a trial -- he said, "There's no justice anymore. It's going to be a mockery," it's going to be... what do you call it?

AH: Kangaroo court.

JA: Kangaroo court. And that's the only thing, he was right. When we went to trial, by the time I took my, they told me to take physical, fine, so I did. I took my physical. I didn't... so, what I did was, I took the physical and I had twenty days to appeal my 1-A or whatever they... they told me to take physical, I took physical. There are other people who said, "No, I'm not going to even take physical," but I said, "Hey, you guys should take physical and appeal, that's the law. You have that right." I'm always following the law. So I took the physical and I appealed, saying that I was not being able to get out of camp, I was held there, just like prisoner. How come, 1-A? And if I can't appreciate my being a citizen, just leave me as 4-C. And they had to answer me back in twenty days. They never answered me back. And I'll show you what they did. The camp sent a letter to my draft board saying, "This guy won't go."

AH: Where was your draft board then?

JA: Here.

AH: In Seattle?

JA: Yeah. So what they did was write to my draft board -- I will give you a copy of that -- saying that as a favor, as a suggestion and a favor -- tamper with his induction, and that's exactly what they did. June 10th, this thing was...

AH: 1944, right?

JA: '44, and I was supposed to have been inducted at the camp hospital May 21st. How could I be at a place when I don't even know that I was... and that's what they did, that's how far they went. And then also they sent the FBI -- and I'll tell you, they're ready to kill me...

AH: The FBI?

JA: Oh, just about. Because I came out and because they rapped on the door -- not just knock-knock, bang-bang.

AH: On the barrack?

JA: Yeah, and I wanted to know who in the hell was doing all that, so I came running out and boy, they just took off and went down the stairs. They opened up their suits and click, unbuckled their guns. At that time, if I made any motion, they could have killed me right there.

AH: So you probably threw open that door fairly aggressively, too.

JA: Oh, yes I did.

AH: You were going to kick a little butt again, weren't you?

JA: Yeah, I thought it was some guy that I'm going to be kicking butt. And here, they just... once they got up there they flashed their thing, supposedly it was the badge. And I didn't know until they got out there they were FBI. And once they opened up their coats and clicked their holster, I just thought, gee, I'd better not go through because, dead man.

AH: Right. And so then what happened?

JA: And so, I showed them this letter from the board dated June 10th. I was supposed to be inducted 25th. And I said, "How can I be there when that thing is five weeks earlier, and I didn't get that notice until sometime later?" So I was way beyond and I was violated. So when they read that they just backed off and said, "Okay," and walked away.

AH: Really?

JA: Yeah, and they wanted that. And I said, "No." That's where Kenji Ito was assigned to get that away from my barracks. And that's where I told Kenji Ito, "Don't screw around, I'm going to bang you up." And he wanted that letter. He must have been told by FBI, "You better get that letter."

AH: Incriminating?

JA: Yes, incriminating me. So I saw all of that, so I...

<End Segment 35> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 36>

AH: When Min Yasui, when you were speaking to him... you know, the story on Min Yasui that some people have is that here he was, a courageous guy taking on the government on his own behalf. But then, and the JACL did not support him, did not want to take on the test cases, they didn't support Hirabayashi, they didn't support him or Korematsu. But then, later on, he goes the other way in the sense that he becomes a JACL associate and then he starts putting pressure on all other resisters. Had that change been made or was it right in the process of being made, do you think?

JA: I didn't know. See, so I walked right into him and I told him that we, Japanese Americans in camp, 4-C, we do not have any military obligations, so we don't have to go. We don't have to fight, we don't have to claim our citizenship rights. I just said, "I'm going to go the other way, I'm going to follow what the government did and that's it, that's how I'm going to go."


AH: Okay, we were talking about Min Yasui and the time when you were seeking counsel from him because he had gone through an act of resistance. And you were thinking about resisting and so you probably looked up to him a bit as somebody who was a model and sought some advice. So what was your impression when you talked with him then?

JA: Well, my impression was he was defeated, because he wasn't encouraging me. He was saying, "No, no, forget about it. You go into the army or whatever." So I felt I'm going to be wasting my time. So I told him, of which I shouldn't have said, that I'm going to declare 4-C and no military obligation and I'm going to stay with it -- that I am an alien. So I told him that I'm going to be an alien, put the monkey on the government's back and we're going to let the government do whatever necessary to restore everything. That means out of camp, get whatever we lost back or somehow monetarily or whatever. And over in Heart Mountain they organized, and they're saying, "We are an American and you did this, this, this, this, this. Unless you don't straighten it out, we will not go in the army." So in my case, I said, "They may say you are a, you have a moral case but you don't have a legal case." So I said to Frank Emi that I'm going to agree with the government. Yes, I am an alien. Now, to prove that point, I applied for repatriation through the Spanish embassy.

AH: And did you do that in '44 after the draft thing? Okay.

JA: Right, and I've got all the documents to show you. And they accepted me and they said, "Okay, if that's the case, we accept you as a repatriate." And that was the end of that.

<End Segment 36> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 37>

JA: So, anyway, next thing I know, here, I no longer was working with the Bureau of Rec. because they were ready to fold up, everything was finished. So I was right close to the school so I thought well, I'm going to get a job as a school teacher high, in math. So I went to school to teach, trig, higher algebra, so forth, and I was there. And about the day I got in, I checked in a lot of equipment, athletic equipment -- this is at high school. Up to that time, they had one steel shot-put, one discus -- you could have that for a hundred years and it'll never wear out. So I told the boys, "Hey, we got bunch of footballs, basketballs, etcetera, why don't you come in and check it out?" And when I went in the next day, the Monday, open up the locker, it's gone, there's nothing there. So I talked to the person in charge of the student teachers. I said, "Ross" -- his name was Ross -- I said, "Where's all that stuff that I checked in? I told the boys to come in and get that and I don't see it." And he tells me, "You didn't see anything. You didn't check anything." And here I'm saying, "You mean to tell me I'm lying?" And now all of that now starts to come forward again. And here he stole a lot of that. Yeah. And so he and I got into it. [Interruption] He's telling me I didn't see it. I said, "I saw it, I checked it in. Now where did it go? Who's got it?" And I'm pressing him. So he doesn't, he and I got into it. So he takes it to the principal of the school. You know, he carries it up, "This guy, he's saying things that he shouldn't." Anyway, the whole thing was somebody stole it and I'm trying to find out. So it went all the way up to the principal and he didn't help a bit. And about that time, Min Yasui had talked to Clarence Arai. So one day I get a...

AH: Identify Clarence Arai, would you?

JA: Clarence Arai was the ex-JACL president and he was kind of a powerhouse at camp. So anyway, by that time, I said I had already applied for repatriation. So he tells me, "So you're not going into the army?" And I don't know who told him but Min Yasui is the only one I told him and what I was going to do. And if I had gone out to talk to the people of which they thought I was going to do, put the monkey on the government's back, no military obligation, I would have ruined what they were trying to do, to reactivate the selective service. And my other thing was, how can you change your status back and forth, alien one time, then you're 1-A citizen, back to alien, back to alien? You know, citizenship is nothing like that you can monkey around with without no cause or due process, and that's why I want to make sure. Am I an alien? Am I a citizen? So I had to go through the third party, which was the Spanish Embassy. And I said, "I am an alien, am I an alien? If so, I want to repatriate," so they accepted me. This is embassy, not anybody.

AH: So this Clarence Arai... last time I was here you showed me a document. And you must have at least met him once before the war because he was the lawyer who signed your last will and testament before you went to camp.

JA: That's right. So he knew what I had done in camp, but yet by this time, he didn't, I don't think he remembered me, and when I offered my service to the army after. And I also at that time I said, "I'm bilingual, we should have a bilingual force in the army because if you're going to be fighting Japanese, you're going to have to have bilingual." So I even went to that point. But anyway, getting back to Min Yasui, he must have reported that to Clarence, and Clarence called me out of school room and I thought I got called -- I didn't know he called me -- the principal called me. So we went to this kind of a conference room and what do you know, gee, there's Clarence Arai and five Caucasians. And they told me to sit down and they want to talk to me. So one of the first things they say, "What's this I hear that you're going to fight the draft?" And I said, "I didn't come here to talk to you. I thought this whole thing was about who stole the athletic equipment," and they start press me. They said if the newspaper around the area found out that here is a person that's attempting to fight the draft, gee, what will happen to us? Now the camp people, Stafford and all, all they're thinking about is we never had demonstration, we never had any trouble, and we had the biggest number of volunteers. So they're trying to protect their position.

AH: Image.

JA: Image. And to me, I'm not there to protect their image. And I tried to tell them that certain equipment, athletic equipment was stolen. I want to know and they wouldn't listen to me, so, and they got kind of threatening. So I just got up and said, "The hell with you guys" -- bang.

AH: So you walked out on them?

JA: Oh yeah, I walked out, I wanted to know who stole the athletic equipment. To date, I don't know. But anyway, Clarence Arai was there, and he said, "Hey, what do you mean, repatriating?" I said, "I'm an alien, therefore when I applied for repatriation, Spanish embassy accepted me, so that's it, I'm an alien." And I said, "What are you? You're an alien also, so what are you telling me that I'm not an alien." So anyway, we got started on that. Then, later on, several weeks later, he called me personally to his office and we went around in circles about repatriation, expatriation. I said I did... he said, "You mean expatriation." I said, "No, I mean repatriation." And I said, "You understand what that means, I understand, and I repatriated to prove a point that I was accepted as an alien by a third country and I have the letter to prove." And he kept saying, "No, you can't do that, no you can't do that." I said, "I did it." And I said, "You're an alien, don't tell me you're not 4-C alien, don't tell me that, because you are." And, of course, it didn't resolve anything. He got mad at me and that was about it.

AH: Didn't he say to you that once we've had this reinstitution of the draft by Stimson and everything, that therefore I'm an American citizen, that validates my American citizenship, so I would have to expatriate. Didn't he tell you -- wasn't that his logic?

JA: No, he just said, "You can't... you expatriate, you don't repatriate."

AH: Yeah. but what I mean is wouldn't he say...

JA: No, he didn't tell me anything.

AH: He didn't try to logic with you, then?

JA: No, only thing is I was an alien and that was it. And I even told him, "You're an alien also. What do you mean that I can't repatriate?"

AH: You're getting to know him a little bit there under this sort of context. What'd you think of him?

JA: I don't think much about him.

AH: I mean, at that time you didn't...

JA: By that time, no, I didn't think much about... see, because that first time when he made out my will, I went to him because he was the only person and my father sponsored him going to university. Therefore, my father had something to do with his being able to finish school.

AH: Did he try to bring your father into this situation when you went to talk to him or not?

JA: No.

AH: And you, of course, didn't either. Right?

[JA nods]

<End Segment 37> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 38>

AH: All right, so where did it go from there? I mean, here you're getting this threat by, really, by not only Arai, but by the WRA, right, with Stafford and...

JA: Yeah, because that they were afraid that there will be nobody that's going to, well, number one, volunteer, let alone be inducted. And most of 'em, if I had gone out and told them that, "Hey, you guys don't have to answer their call because it says 4-C enemy alien." But they didn't want me to do that, and therefore they had Kenji Ito and they had some social worker, and they had this night watchman, on surveillance of me, so they could watch what I'd be doing. If I had gathered people to talk, then they would have nabbed me right away, for sedition or whatever.

AH: What do you think upset the JACL or the WRA more, the position by the people at Heart Mountain who were saying we want a restoration or clarification of our rights as citizens before we're willing to serve, or your position, saying, what I am is really a non-citizen of the United States and I'm repatriating to prove a point. Which do suppose -- 'cause they're dealing with both of them at the same time here?

JA: But, just like I told you, Stafford and his group, no riot, no demonstration, he was really riding high, the best superintendent. And I was about to destroy that image by getting up to talk. So they had to do something and they had to do it in a hurry. So they wrote a letter to my board, draft board, saying, as a suggestion and a favor, and this guy won't go in. And they wouldn't tell the draft why I don't have to go, I mean, that I won't go in. It was that I didn't have to -- no military obligation. But they don't say anything but as a favor, suggestion and a favor, tamper with this man's draft notice.

AH: And so what kind of tampering do you think they had in mind?

JA: Well, make it so that I won't be able to answer the call. And therefore, June 10th they wrote out the draft notice, and I was supposed to have been drafted May 25th or 21st and they gave me, I got the notice late so I was already violated.

AH: Okay, that brought on the FBI and that confrontation, but then the FBI walked away, and so what happened after the FBI's out of the picture?

JA: So the thing was, it was either I had to take another examination [Interruption] declare yourself an alien and you have no military obligation. But on the other side, they wanted a cannon fodder, they want somebody to, you know, the 100th and 442nd, they wanted to come across Africa to the island of Sicily and then on up all the way to the end of the war. Well, to me, I thought I could save a lot of people's lives, so anyway, before I could say anything, they had me violated and went through all of this, FBI thing and they sent me another notice. But by that time, if they go that far, I'm going to fight it harder yet. So I wrote a letter to General Hersey saying that I'm being shanghaied and I gave the reason.

AH: This is the head of the selective service, Louis Hersey.

JA: Yes, right. And I didn't get any return or anything. Next thing I knew, they sent a couple of FBIs.

AH: Again?

JA: No, no, that's how they...

<End Segment 38> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 39>

AH: But then, what I was getting was, what happened after that FBI thing? Because you said that they banged on your door and then they almost pulled a gun, and then once you showed them these papers, they walked away.

JA: Yeah. And the thing is they gave me the next notice. Oh, in the meantime, I took the physical and I appealed, and three to zero, that whatever I have to be drafted. And here, I have to do everything, appeal and they're not applying, answering my appeal and it goes by. So they sent me another draft notice, but by that time I'm saying, "Hey, I'm going to really make a test case out of this." Can they or can't they, and that was it. And next thing I know, I'm violated, okay. So they come and pick me up and take me to Boise to wait trial. And at the trial, you ought to see the report written by the FBI. No name given, no date, no nothing. They don't even sign that, and they used that as a document to charge me with draft evasion. And three times during my course of talking to the... see, I didn't want court, I want to talk to the jury, because I knew I can talk to them. It was no use court, because previous, it was, "Did you appear or not?" "Yes-no." And it was called a sing-song trial, and they're making fun of it, and that again makes me mad.

AH: But they were doing... you didn't have a group trial like the Heart Mountain sixty-three?

JA: No, individual.

AH: You went in there individual.

JA: Right, and that's why I didn't ask the court. I want the jury, I want to talk to the jury. But the judge will tell the jurors, "Hey, we found this guy guilty." I'm already guilty. "Don't find him otherwise and if you do, then you will be..." and rattled off some term. So, regardless, I was guilty without even a jury listening.

AH: So you might as well have just chosen the judge as far as this went.

JA: But, the thing was I wanted to talk to the jury.

AH: Did you talk to the jury?

JA: Yes, I did and I had 'em pretty well convinced, and he stepped in and said, "Don't find him not guilty." He did that two, three times during the course of my giving my presentation.

AH: I was reading something that was written dealing with your situation, and it said that you had made the point that it was interesting that the two camps where draft resisters got the worse sentences and everything were Heart Mountain and Minidoka, and both of them had very strong JACL presence in 'em. Poston and Tule Lake really got released with nothing. And so is this right that you had said this, that you had made this point?

JA: We got the biggest sentence. Over Heart Mountain. I pulled three years, ten months.

AH: Plus you spent some time in jail, too.

JA: Oh yeah, and all the guys that did try to, said, "No," they spent, some of 'em, from February until October -- that's about how many, eight months? Yeah, they didn't get any credit.

<End Segment 39> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 40>

AH: You were in contact with both Frank Emi and Jimmie Omura, and I've gotten some -- I went over to Denver -- and I got some correspondence. And I wonder if I could take a moment to get you to clarify what this might have been all about. This, this letter, short letter from you, is dated June 27, 1944, and you write: "Dear Mr. Omura, thank you very much for answering my letter. From what I hear, you are on the spot, too. Well, now since I uncovered that letter I sent you, my draft business, I was told it was a mistake, but I'm not sure of it. To protect the writers of the letter, I think it was just called a mistake. Well now, I'm now accused of taking government property, so the FBI told me. He was accusing me for taking the letter, somebody sensing the foul play, as a great favor left a copy, not the original, at my place. By the time I got such a copy, just about everybody else knew about it but me, so somebody wise me up. Could I be accused of taking government property? May I have your answer? Thanks." And I couldn't understand what you were referring to.

JA: That's right. You know the documents that I had, like the letter from Stafford to my board? Yeah, that's another thing, I stole government property.

AH: I see, so that's what they were accusing you of.

JA: Yes.

AH: Oh, okay, so it's that letter that they're making reference to.

JA: That letter and whatever, that somebody slipped under my door.

AH: This is what Mr. Omura answered, and I want you to kinda to comment about what your feelings were when you received this letter back. He writes to you on July 10, 1944, so you're still at Minidoka at that time. He said: "My dear Mr. Akutsu. I have your second letter of June 27, 1944, and in regards to your inquiry as to my opinion as to whether you could be charged with removing government property, I have the following observations to make. The position of American citizens of Japanese lineal descent since the outbreak of hostilities between the Japanese Emperor and the United States on December 7, 1941 has been a most precarious one in regards to civil rights and constitutional procedures. This is particularly noted in the manner in which the military summarily evacuated approximately 120,000 persons of Japanese descent, the great majority of whom were citizens from the Pacific coast and bundled them off to war borne relocation centers in the interior. The policy of the War Relocation Authority which has been charged with the responsibility of caring for the evacuees have not, in my opinion, reflected a democratic or humane process. Your case is merely one further example of this autocratic rule of the WRA, it's an example of wielding the big stick which was greatly responsible in my particular case in bringing about my removal as English editor of the Rocky Shimpo. It was the WRA pressure, particularly in the person of Harry Tarvin of the Denver office, and I believe the appointed personnel at Heart Mountain that affected the decision arrived at by the Office of the Alien Property Custodian in Washington. I am positively acquainted with Mr. Tarvin's activities and representations to Washington on this matter. Can you be accused of stealing government property? A person of Japanese ancestry can be accused of almost anything and the manufactured hysteria of hatred toward all things Japanese at present would revolve to his detriment regardless of his innocence and non-complicity. I view the charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation on this point as a cover-up to remove the bad taste resulting from the public discovery of the WRA action in your case. It is my opinion that your case should be cited to higher authorities. As an example of the degree to which WRA officialdom is exercising questionable authority. In respect to your attitude on selective service, I'm somewhat doubtful as to what concrete end can be achieved by refusal to report for pre-induction examination. Of course, I greatly sympathize with you and with all Nisei who are in a similar position. However, you would be merely jeopardizing your own personal position and liberty by refusing to report. In times of war, I feel that the extent we can go is to file a protest but to comply with requirements however much we may resent their imposition. In this connection, the reason for my support of the Fair Play Committee at Heart Mountain was for the principle involved of bringing a test case on the constitutional implication contained in such an action. The leaders of the Fair Play Committee themselves held small hope for a favorable decision and for that reason prepared to appeal to the Supreme Court of the United States for a decision even before the boys actually refused to report for pre-induction examination. The purpose, as I gather it was to secure a clear-cut legal decision of constitutional rights and obligations of suspended citizens. I am not at all acquainted with your personal thoughts on serving in the United States and would like to have you explain in greater details the various factors which prompt you to determine to refuse to report. Of course, I'm quite familiar with the various facets of this problem as concerns the individual Nisei but I would like to have your expression here. Perhaps I could help you somehow in this connection. Certainly, I would hate to see you get into unnecessary difficulties though I do not know you personally. In the same manner I would hate to see any Nisei, friend or foe, or neutrals, get themselves into similar straits which has already been demonstrated by others who have preceded you in this matter. It is morally proper to inject a test case, but a futile and stubborn stand against immobile legal barriers seems to me a useless and tragic procedure. I do not want you to interpret my opinions above as a condemnation or criticism of your attitude. The fault is not with you or others who feel in the same manner, but with the application of democratic ideals to citizens of Japanese extraction, or rather the failure to apply the principles of democracy to us. The cause lies in the system, in the people, and in the authorities who are charged with enforcement of the high and noble ideals to which we are all heirs. You are dedicating your personal liberty for a principle, and I cannot help but admire all individuals who place principles above personal security and personal desires despite the obvious hopelessness of the cause. But it's only by concerted action that a bad system or a bad law could be remedied. And I am most doubtful that in the case of the Nisei, any remedy can be achieved during the period of this global conflict. It's too much to contend against the tide of public hysteria and racial hate and distrust. With all good wishes. James Omura." Now, you receive this letter, it's a two-page letter, it's quite thoughtful and it's got a lot of different dimensions to it. When you got the letter, did you think to yourself, "You're absolutely wrong, Mr. Omura, I feel like I'm being chastised by you," or how did you feel?

JA: No, I didn't feel anything of that nature. My thought was very simple. I'm going to put the monkey on the government's back. "You did this, now you undo it," very simple. And the 4-C says no military obligation, I'm following what the government put me... I'm just following them. I'm not resisting, I'm following, that's the difference between Heart Mountain and me, is that I'm... "You did it, okay, fine, you do to straighten whatever out."

AH: You're accommodating what they did and acting on it, and they're resisting what they did. Right?

JA: Yeah.

AH: In other words, you're taking them at their face value that you're a non-citizen?

JA: Yes.

AH: If you're declared 4-C?

JA: Yes.

AH: Right, okay, and then acting on that. So, your position with Mr. Omura and Frank Emi and the others of the Heart Mountain thing, was that you regarded them as allies who were taking a different approach to the same kind of problem that was put upon you?

JA: Right, only I make it easier, put it on the government's back. They did it, they undo it.

AH: Did this response and the response of Frank Emi at all make you think more deeply about your own position?

JA: No, no deep... I mean this was it. There's no other way as I could see. You put it on the govern-, they did it so you put it on their back, whatever they're going to do, they're gonna undo it.

<End Segment 40> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 41>

AH: What was the position that the other of the thirty people who were up for trial from Minidoka took?

JA: I can't speak for them. I don't know why they want to resist. See, I don't know... we never met, we never did anything together.

AH: You saw 'em in prison later on, didn't you?

JA: Once we went to county jail, yes. And I was quite surprised, oh, you're here, you're here, oh, you're here, because I didn't have any contacts with them. Before I could say anything, they had to get me out of camp before I talked too much. Because otherwise, if I had talked to people saying that we don't have any military obligations, hey, there'd be hundreds of 'em that would not answer the call, because they didn't have to.

AH: But did these people who resisted, and they resisted it, I guess...

JA: You mean the other...

AH: The twenty-nine others aside from you, did they later on become friends of yours in jail or in prison?

JA: Well, I wouldn't say friend. Friend is a friend, but they were associates or whatever you want to call -- one of the guys.

AH: But you didn't hear any of them say that they shared your philosophical position?

JA: No, I don't think so.

AH: And none of them repatriated?

JA: I don't think so.

AH: Okay. So their situation... the end result was that they were in jail, but their situation for getting in jail was somewhat different from yours?

JA: Yes, that I don't know. Each, to me, I say each individual had their thought and that's why they fought...

AH: And your brother is taking the same position you are.

JA: Yes.

AH: So there's two of you actually out of the...

JA: Yes.

AH: And did you talk to your brother about it, or was this just big brother did this and so I'm doing it.

JA: No, we talked to each other.

AH: Because he ended up spending time in jail, too, right?

JA: Right.

AH: The same amount of time as you did?

JA: Maybe less.

AH: A little bit less?

JA: Could have been little less. But anyway, what I wanted to do was to take the physical. Like Heart Mountain, they said, "Don't take physical, don't, nothing." So they got hit pretty fast and hard. Like me, I did take the physical, because I had the right to appeal and they have to respond to my appeal. And the response they gave me -- it's on one of the sheets -- three to zero. That means there's no way that I could go further, that was it, three zero, there's no way that I could appeal further. Only way was to talk to the president. And to that, that was just not in the books.

<End Segment 41> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 42>

AH: Were there any other siblings like you and your brother who were -- I know at Heart Mountain there were, for example, the Emi brothers, Frank and Art -- but of the Minidoka thirty, were any of the other ones who were given jail sentences and ended up at McNeil and things, brothers, or were you the only two?

JA: Let's see. Offhand, I can't think. There might have been another brother, Kajimura might have had brother, two brothers, I mean, they were brothers.

AH: But this would have made it even stronger for the treatment that your mother got after the war. That it wasn't just that she had one son, but there were two sons who ended up in prison and could be viewed as a draft-evading family.

JA: That's the whole thing.

AH: I mean, if there'd been one or the other...

JA: That's right, that's the attitude they took. And the parents of the people who lost a son took an even stronger attitude. And whatever they said to my mother was not very pleasant. Me, I could take all of that. My mother -- it was getting to her.

<End Segment 42> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 43>

AH: Now, when you went to prison at McNeil Island, who of Japanese American ancestry -- I'm not talking about that one prisoner that was there -- but I mean of the group that came in as a result of the draft resistance. Were there all thirty of the ones from Minidoka, or did some of those go to Leavenworth?

JA: I think we all were together.

AH: All went to McNeil.

JA: Right.

AH: And did you see people there from Heart Mountain, too?

JA: Over in McNeil. But soon as we got in, we were pretty dangerous people, so what they did, they kept us and the Heart Mountain separate.

AH: Oh, they did?

JA: Yes, and then at a certain time they transferred 'em all out to the farm and we stayed in the main line.

AH: Oh, really? So you were both maximum security though, weren't you?

JA: We were.

AH: Yeah. But they treated, they kept you apart.

JA: Yeah, we never were mixed.

AH: So you never got to be close friends with the people from Heart Mountain, then, at McNeil?

JA: Well, once we got there, that was it, it was more or less all over. So we just were putting in time.

<End Segment 43> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 44>

AH: And three and a half... and what did you do in jail? I read somewhere where you actually had said that the time went pretty fast, which surprised me.

JA: Right, you know why, because I was studying -- well, whatever I did -- I went in there as a first thing, laundry worker, doing sheets or shirts or whatever. And to me, any dummy could do that, just running sheets through the big press. So I wanted to do something else so I went to ask if I could go into the dye works. So they said okay, fine. So I was able to go into the dye works and do all of the prison personnel's clothing. Whether it was silk, rayon or whatnot I could separate them and do the dye work very good. Then after I got that finished, I want to go into shoe repair and I did that, and once I finished getting that part, I want to go to the metal shop. So I went to metal shop. I had a little bit of foundry work at university in the first two years you had mechanical engineering something, you did machine shop -- so I went to the machine shop. Then I want to go from one part of the machine shop all the way and the last thing I was there, I was foundry, I was in charge of the foundry. And from there they had to have a typist who could type very good. And I was a good typist so I went into the prison administration where I'd do all of the pencil work that they did. I'd type it and make files.

AH: So you were busy and learning a lot of things, too. And when Min Yasui talked to you, you didn't mention this on tape, but you did in some other things that I've seen in interviews that you've given, where Min Yasui basically said, "You go into a prison, it's not going to be a picnic. You're gonna get beat up or even killed."

JA: That's right, yeah, he said that.

AH: So what was your experience when you got there?

JA: Well, so the whole thing was, if I go in the army, okay, I'm giving my life. So if I go to prison and this is what I selected, and if they take my life, hey, that's it... if I got killed.

AH: Most people said they didn't have incidents very much in prison at all, that the prisoners...

JA: No, same.

AH: Was your situation similar?

JA: Same, same. And they were more understanding than the Japanese Americans, JACL, WRA. They said yeah, if I was in the same position, the Caucasians say, "Hey, I'd do the same thing. Hell with the army." So they understood why we were there and no incidents whatsoever, unless, I can't recall any incident.

AH: What was your brother's experience in prison? What did he do? You were learning all these different skills and things, and he later becomes an architect. Right?

JA: Yes. And therefore he goes into that line, he follows it. After hours you had school so you could do whatever you want. And like me, I kept pushing for math, so I did further math, further math until beyond the math that the university requires. And I've got many books of problems that I worked out in math, I still have them. And my brother, he kept as a draftsman. And when he came out, he went to work with a architect firm because he was a very good draftsman.

<End Segment 44> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 45>

AH: Well, you're a bright person, very bright person, and you learned a lot of different skills and stuff when you were in prison and I think any situation you would find yourself in, you would convert it in one way or another into a learning experience. And I'm wondering, there's things beyond skills and stuff, sometimes I think like when we have a university we try to not only train people, we try to educate people and sometimes the biggest things they need to be educated is about life and about values. What did you get educated in, in what way did you get educated at prison aside from simply trained? What did you learn about life and about yourself?

JA: Well, number one, when I was there, I did a lot of physical things because number one, if I get out, I might have to fight somebody. So physically, I lifted weights, wrestled, boxed with Indians or Mexicans of my weight, to train myself physically. So when I came out I was physically trained, and whatever, if I want to go to machine shop I was able to. So I ended up in Olympic Foundry because the training I got in the prison. So anything I did there, I did so I could use outside. And another thing I did was chicken. They put me in charge of chicken laying eggs. And when I was in charge, we'd bring in many day-old chickens and we'd have big chicken house, fifty, sixty, hundred thousand chickens, and I was in charge of that. And I knew exactly what to do if I were to start a chicken farm. I had that much experience. Then, they talked about turkeys so I said, "Yeah, I want to learn how raise turkey." So, I raised turkey for two seasons, so I'm pretty well-qualified to raising poultry.

AH: I was trying to get at what you might have picked up about a philosophy of life, and about people, and about yourself, and values, and everything and how society ticks, and how power corrupts, or whatever else, that's the kind of larger questions, I guess.

JA: Yes, I went through all of that and I know. But to me, when I get out I gotta start making a living, because we lost our house, my parents lost their business. So I had to get back and whatever, that I had to make a living, that was number one. And whatever or wherever I went, I was never able to get an engineering job, always dishwasher, gardener, or janitor. So anyway, that was just a temporary work. What I was still trying to get into my profession. And I went down to the civil service when they gave, they handed out notice of, posted notice of engineering test. So I go down and they say, "Sorry, we haven't got any." So what I did was, okay, if you don't have it, then that's it, I'll come again. [Interruption] Okay, let me complete this.

AH: Yes.

JA: When I came back, I couldn't find engineering work, just like I told you, janitor, gardener, dishwasher, fine. But I wanted to break into that, and it was that civil service was looking for engineers, and I went to apply. "Sorry, no application," but after second, third time, there was a fella that went to school with me in line, and I waited for him to go all the way to get the application. After I was told they don't have any, he got his. So okay, I'm going to get back in line. So I got back in line, I got up to the clerk, and, "I'm sorry, we don't have any applications." So I said, "Hey, I heard this once, twice, three times and you told me today, half hour ago, and here's the guy that was way behind, he got one. I'm going to stay here. Until you give me one, I'm not going to move off the counter." So I stayed there and I wouldn't move. Somebody, a head of the section came and talked to me. "Sorry, give me the application I will move. No application, I'm going to stay here." So all of a sudden, wham, I got jerked off the counter. And they called the King County sheriff and they dragged me up to King County, wherever it was, ninth floor, and here they're going to fingerprint me, and what for? Disturbing the peace or whatever charge. So I said, "Okay, you win," and I said, "Okay, fine." So they let me go. So then to break that discrimination, I went to Urban League -- that's the black league, the other one was Neighborhood House -- and I said here, because I used to be working together with these people to get jobs for minorities, blacks, Mexicans, Jewish or whatever it was, so I went there and I talked with whoever that was there. So they say, "Just pay a dollar and you become a member." So they had called, "Say, what's the idea, this is the Urban League and you have refused to give an application." So next time I went I got the application, I passed the test way up high and the way they assign is out of the top five, you could take four. And then, six, seven, eight, nine comes up and then here I'm sitting on top and I'm not appointed or assigned. And I was getting pretty well ticked off again. And about that time City Light wanted somebody up at Skagit, and about that time I also got a call saying that, "The city engineer will take you." So I started at the bottom as junior aide and I did very good.

AH: When was that about, Jim?

JA: About '48.

AH: Oh really, that close after... because you were only out of prison by '47, weren't you?

JA: Yes, but I tried to get in as engineer, but you go to the engineering company and they'll say, "Are you in a union?" "No." "Sorry." Or if you go out in construction, they give you the same.

AH: And you had a presidential pardon by then, too, so you allegedly have no prison record. So when you go into apply, that shouldn't be on anything that you apply for.

JA: That's right but when they asked, I just put down anyway, and I put down presidential pardon. But anyway, I broke into the city engineering department. But it wasn't easy, I had to fight, and fight, and fight to get in. And once I got in I did such a good work that they asked me, "Would you recommend somebody, Japanese American?" So I'd recommend another, another, another, and pretty soon, "What about Chinese?" Okay, I'll get Chinese. At that time they were working to get professional work, and I had opened the door, and I got them started. So once they got in, they got hired, and then they would take the test and they naturally passed. So more and more and more Asians started. So I opened the door for the Asians.

AH: And a black organization, in a sense, opened the door for you. So you could see this as an alliance, in a lot of ways, of people who are being oppressed for one or another reason.

JA: And that's why I joined the Urban League and the Neighborhood House. But we were already working as Asians, Blacks, Filipino, Chinese, together to get our fair share of the professional jobs.

<End Segment 45> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 46>

AH: Now, we talked a lot the last couple of days when the camera was being set up and everything else about things, so I kind of know some of this stuff. But I think one of the things that would be interesting to talk about a little bit is in the course of your long career, and when was it you retired from the city as a city engineer?

JA: Let me see, I was sixty-two or sixty-three, whenever, I retired because I had put forty years in by that time.

AH: Okay, so then it was probably about '88 if you put forty years in from '48 on to '88 or so?

JA: No, it wasn't that long. Well anyway, let's go on.

AH: But the point is that you got involved in an active way, in not just your work, but also in other things related to your work -- social justice causes and through your work. So could you kind of explain what you did in the city in order to bring about change?

JA: Okay, number one, one of the first things I was asked to, was to join the professional engineer and architect, and I was very happy. I joined right away. But the other Niseis that I got in, and Asians, they wouldn't join. I kept on them. But then, of course, we used to have stewards meetings representing City Light -- fire department, police, water, engineering. We used to have meetings at YMCA and the professional engineering/architect business people used to hold meeting in the YMCA dining room. And we invited, or they invited all the stewards for free, have lunch and do whatever we were supposed to do. But as I watched, I could see all these guys came was for free lunch, and they all walk off. And when the time for business, there's nobody there. So I thought okay, I'll straighten this out. So I talked to the business manager and told him, "Let me handle this." So instead of being a steward I was a chief steward. And when, at the next meeting, when these guys will come and go through their lunch and start walking out, "John, you'd better get back here. You're here as a steward." Everyone that came back, then I gave it to 'em right into the main stem. "You guys are no longer stewards, you're all out. Your free lunch is no more. You didn't work for it, you didn't care for the betterment of the engineering professional union so that's it." So I went out to select new, young stewards and told them exactly, "This is what we're going to do. We're going to organize." So anyway, in due time, I had the city engineers, water, light, police, firemen, organized almost 100 percent.

AH: One big union.

JA: Yes, and this time we had janitors within our professionals, engineers, carpenters -- just, we had everybody in. So my end thing was, we're gonna get a lot of voting power. So by time we got this thing all organized... now, when we were asking for betterment of our position as employee of the city, able to maintain or keep sick leave. If you didn't use, that was it, the end. We asked to accumulate, and there's many benefits that we asked for, we pulled through and got it because the candidates for mayor, council, state governor, even the congress people, they'd come and ask for our endorsement and back-up with a number of votes. So there, we'd get 'em over to our meeting and there'd be five, six of us, and say, "Okay, Mr. Congressman candidate, what are you gonna do for us? You tell us and we'll ask you questions we want you to do." So in that way, we got our way. So we got raise, we got benefits, we got all the things.

AH: This vision that you had and actually the embodiment of the vision, the organization -- it's not just a vision, it's giving a concrete form and stuff like that. Is there a correspondence between the actions that you took working as a city engineer to do this organizing of the workforce and what you had gone through during the war years and in the after war years? Is there a relationship?

JA: Yes, because we didn't have no control over the WRA. After I came back and working as an engineer, we had no control of whoever that was in the mayor's or council's spot. Yes, there was a connection. So there was this connection because we were abused. I didn't want to be abused and the reason why I didn't do this with the Japanese Americans, Japanese Americans didn't want to join any union, they didn't want to say anything, they just want to just keep quiet and do whatever they're told to do. Well, I'm not put together like that, so if I found that I could -- so instead of being with the Japanese American I felt that I'll waste my time and effort, so I went and, there again, I go back to the Caucasian. And I got their support and we got everything we wanted. So it starts back in camp and I tried to work through Japanese Americans, no, couldn't do anything, they wouldn't even join the union and I had to really twist their arm. But later on they had to join because for certain reasons. Anyway, we went out to this Forward Thrust and all of a sudden we had ten million by the government saying, "Okay, ou've got to clean up all your waterway because it's getting polluted." So we hired a lot of engineers and since our wages were so cheap -- you get only $200 or so for being an engineer -- Boeing was paying $500-600 so they all went to Boeing. And the city sent out engineers, senior engineers, to different graduating schools to see if they can get somebody to City of Seattle. We only got one person out of two or three years of constant recruiting and he came from Louisiana and he came to work for us and he stayed just enough time so he could find a job at Boeing. And so there I said, "Hey, we gotta do something about this," and that's why I thought we'd better re-organize our professional engineers and architects and become stronger and get involved into the politics, and get us affiliated or associated with a strong union and that's why I picked the Teamsters. So when we ask for raise, when we ask for benefits, all we had to do was hit the brick, one post, and that was it.

AH: Jim, you were working very hard as an engineer, but you were also working hard in connection with the profession. I mean, getting the salaries up, getting people's rights and things like that, but I know that...

JA: Not only did I stop at ourselves but we recruited, or the city recruited many engineers from Philippines, Hong Kong, Taiwan, China, Korea, and they came to work. And many of them had at least a masters degree and as far as the city was concerned, "We'll replace these Asians anytime you guys ask for anything. Why don't you leave?" And that's what they were doing, replacing with overseas Asians. So being an organizer, I wanted them to come into our union and they won't do it. And I said, "Why?" He said, "We're organized, Chinese or any, they're organized." So, he said, this one guy, he had a doctorate, and I didn't trust him from the first time I saw him, I mean, shifty and so... the people were saying, "Why are you hiring all these foreigners? Don't have any citizens, they don't have anything. They haven't even applied for green card." So that's where I thought if we want a strong union and get a lot of these masters, doctorates in, we'll help them. So I talked with the business manager. We'll say that these guys are applying for, that they will get their green card. So that kind of... and at that same time, Boeing was laying off a lot of people and they were coming to the city and saying, "How come these foreigners get the job, we don't?" So there was this squabble going on between the Americans here and the foreigners, new foreigners that came in. So I made it so that we will take care of them, "provided you join the union," so finally, grudgingly, they did. The terrible thing is no sooner they got their green card, you know what happened? They quit the union.

AH: Oh no. [Laughs]

JA: Yeah. But by that time, they were the minority in the engineering department. So they took me. But we'll organize the total. So we organized the total employees of city under professional engineers and architects, whether they were janitors, carpenters, didn't matter, brought 'em all together. So in the end we had the voting power and that does the work, and that was over there in camp as well as here.

<End Segment 46> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 47>

AH: Jim, I want to ask you about a couple of things that are related in one sense and unrelated in another. Related in the fact that it has to do with you and your life after the war. You're a worker but you're also building a house, raising a family, and you even got married at some point. So could you tell us a little about you and your personal life in the years... when did you meet your wife and when did you have your family and what did they do?


AH: Well, Jim, tell me a little bit about your family life -- even from camp time on if it's appropriate -- when you met somebody who you fell in love with and married and...

JA: Well, in camp, one thing I had in mind all the time, I'm going to challenge the government. And as far as having dates, I had no trouble. I went to all the dances, I even taught people who didn't know how to dance, teach them how to dance. So that's how I was. Then at the same time, get together with them, talk, whatever they wanted to talk about, I'd talk with them. Basically I was trying to talk young people into becoming professionals, not just drop out of, or finish with high school, go on further to university. And once I finished from my time in McNeil, I came back and one of the first things I started was to reactivate these churches. I'd go to one church, maybe half a dozen congregational, half a dozen presby, maybe another half a dozen. Well, heck, we've got to get the kids back into church and get that part going. So, using my ability to have socials, teach 'em how to dance or parlor games or what you, to have fun, and get them back. And pretty soon six, twelve, twenty, forty, fifty people, all get back. So I did that with the churches here, reactivate the churches here, went to Auburn to reactivate that group, went to Tacoma, Bainbridge Island, like Dr. Kitamoto. Well, I was there doing the same thing reactivating and getting the Japanese Americans back into the... to become interested. So I used to do that. And at the same time, I used to coach one boys team, one girls team and I coached them. And invariably I'd come up with a championship team in maybe a year later. Then I was the scoutmaster over at Methodist Church, Troop 55, and some of the parents, you know, thought that here was a draft evader, ex-con, so I said...

AH: Was it a Japanese troop pretty much?

JA: Yes, Japanese American troop, Japanese Methodists. So I heard about that so I said, "I want to talk to the parents." And I talked to the parents and it was all over. So I was involved Boy Scouts, coaching, and I was the Sunday School teacher at Buddhist Church, and whatever youth activity. And I got this whole Seattle activity start to move again.

AH: So that business about the draft and everything and the prison sentence came up in the Boy Scouts thing.

JA: Oh, yeah.

AH: But when you talked to the parents, you were able to lay your cards on the table?

JA: That's right, take it or leave it. You don't want me? Fine, I'll get out, there's other troops that want me. And I was asked by the boys and the younger people who were involved with Boy Scouts, that I had a lot of experience along Boy Scouting, hiking, whatever, and, "he's the best man," so they ask me to come over. So anyway, when I heard that I put it right to the minister -- the whole, the Issei group -- I can always go someplace else.

AH: What about your own family, Jim?

JA: What?

AH: What about your own, your wife and your kids?

JA: Well anyway, I'd better get to how I got married and all. But anyway, during one of the dances that was sponsored by one of the teams that I coached was University of Washington's girls team. Well anyway, I went there as a chaperone. And I was just sitting there, just make sure that -- at that time there used to be a lot of GIs that used to come in and break up lot of these dance or they'll create a lot of rumble -- so anyway, I was there to make sure nothing will happen. It almost happened, so, bang, I turned on the lights. "Okay you guys. You guys screw up, I'll just call the police, I'm not going to..."

AH: Is this 1949 or something like that?

JA: Yeah, that's right. So I just told them, "Don't screw up." Because we had a bunch of GIs from Hawaii and somehow these guys over here, the brothers, the younger brothers of the GIs, they didn't care too much for the Hawaiians because usually Hawaiians, they're pretty open, they'll come and ask for a dance, it doesn't matter who she goes around with. Well anyway, they didn't like that they're going to do something so, wacko, I turned on the lights and hey, no monkey business. Then I'll call the police and let them handle it. So next day I saw these youngsters down on Main Street so I told them, "Hey, I'm sorry what happened the other day. You buy the lunch, I'll supply the automobile and the girls, and we'll go out to Lake Wilderness and we'll have fun." So I was doing things like that all the time. There's a Nisei, they're very close, so the Hawaiian comes in, hey, we don't want them and they try to raise Cain with them. Like me, Hawaiians fine, the water's fine, get in there and swim. So I was patching up things like that to keep the community moving, moving.

AH: And then how did you meet your wife, Jim?

JA: Oh, okay. [Laughs] Well, during one of these dances I was chaperoning, and I was kind of looking around and there was this one girl, oh, she was beautiful, outstanding. And I knew she wasn't all Japanese. She was built not like Japanese, built like Caucasian, so I had a dance. I didn't know who she was, so only way to find out is to ask for a dance. I did and as soon as she opened up her mouth I knew she was from Japan. And from then on, that was the beginning, and I stopped... and her friends kept pushing me, come on, keep going out, keep going out. So pretty soon we were going pretty steady, and then we went out for eight years. She'd go back home, come back, go back home, come back. Anyway, our courtship went on for eight years.

AH: Was her command of English pretty good at that time?

JA: Yes, very good, because she's a Sansei, her father's a Nisei...

AH: I thought you said she was from Japan?

JA: Yes, she was born and raised in Japan, but from generation, her grandfather was one of the first Japanese that came over from Japan right after Civil War. In about 1886, father, I mean, grandfather married a Caucasian from Nob Hill and the father was second generation and he was half. But anyway, she was very attractive and after eight years, we got married.

AH: Is she independent-minded like you?

JA: Oh, yeah, pretty-independent mind. And she attended this Sacred Heart Convent which is the top school of Japan.

AH: Was she planning to be a nun?

JA: No, never. Her friends did, but in due time they stopped. But I heard many stories about her friends trying to become nuns and what they were trying to do. They'll send these Japanese nuns to the dirtiest place of the world and they work out their whole life being, you know, cleaning, janitor, doing work like that.

<End Segment 47> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 48>

AH: What about your kids?

JA: My son... I got two, one daughter, one son. Daughter's married to an aerospace scientist.

AH: What's your daughter's name?

JA: Christine, Chris. And my son, Phillip, he's got his Ph.D. in clinical psychology and he's teaching at UC and also at Pacific Institute of Psychology preparing these people for a doctoral.

AH: And do you see your kids a lot?

JA: I don't. I go down whenever I can. And usually, it's usually the Turkey Day. I go down, cook the turkey. So I go down for sure November and into December.

AH: How do your kids feel about your wartime activities?

JA: I told them when they were quite young, and I didn't want somebody else to tell them, so I told them just what I did, why I did. So both of my children, daughter, son, they knew exactly why I did it. And they could go, they could tell by my actions why I did it. I coached their basketball, I was their scoutmaster.

AH: Are your kids principled fighters like you are?

JA: My son is. My daughter is. Both of them, yeah, they go after things.

AH: They stand up for things?

JA: Oh yeah, they do.

AH: So when you see them you can sort of feel pretty tall, both you and your wife can?

JA: Yeah, right.

<End Segment 48> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 49>

AH: I wanted to ask you, as a last question area. You're identified as the protagonist in the most famous Japanese American novel ever written by anybody. John Okada wrote a book back in 1957 called the No-No Boy and then it's been reissued several times with the work of people like Frank Chin and Lawson Inada came out and then you gave me something the other day which I had actually read before. It's from The Big Aiiieeeee and it's by Frank Chin and his long essay and he says definitively, he says, that this is not the autobiography of John Okada, this is really John Okada writing about you and everything, and I'm wondering, is this is as definitive as he makes it sound? I mean, usually novelists don't just copy one person's experience, it's usually a lot of this and some of that and a little of this. It's kind of an amalgam of different kinds of things, and so I'm wondering, if you buy this idea that it's just you that's represented in this book or not?

JA: At this point in time, number one, Frank Chin and Abe kept... they want for me to give them interview because they heard about me. But one thing is, they said, "Have you read No-No Boy?" And at that time, I thought it was something downgrading me, so I said, "No," I wouldn't even bother to read. So they came the second, the third time and says you gotta read it. So finally I read that thing and it sounded pretty good. I didn't really read but I perused it. So next time I went through to read it, but at no time did I tell, give authority or release to John to write about me. He did it quietly because he used to follow me around, just follow me around. He used to be working at a naval surplus and he used to sit on the table there. He didn't care how many people there...

AH: Is this right after the war?

JA: Right after I came out.

AH: Right after you came out of prison?

JA: Yeah. Well, anyway, I used to work for the Olympic Foundry, and I'm dirty so I'd go take a community bath, then I'd come down in front of this place, this surplus and John would be sitting there just looking down. He might have ten people there, he just doesn't care. So anyway, the person I am, after I finish my dinner, I'd go and talk to John. Because I knew -- we weren't in the same class but I knew of him -- so we got to talking and we got to talking and he'd say, "Hey, let's go to Wah Mei," or let's go here or let's go there and I'd go with him. But anyway, in due course a book was written, but he writes of me not as a strong person but as a weakling that I made a mistake of not going into the army. But that I don't like. I had my idea what it was but he, just like you said, he took little this, this, this and he didn't, it's not...

AH: He writes of your mother or Ichiro's mother as being very pro- sort of Japanese and having these delusions that Japan won the war and everything. Does that have any relation? I know it has the business about suicide but what about this other stuff?

JA: Okay, all of that, I'm hearing it too. But there's a guy, there used to be a half dozen people there including John's father. They all talk back and forth about their old times and so on, and this one guy keeps bringing up this about Japan didn't lose the war, and he gets his news from Brazil or someplace down and he'll come and talk about it. Anyway, my mother's listening to all of that. And for what happened to us here in United States from '41 on, she wants to go back to Japan. And I told her, "Japan lost the war and I don't want to go back." Because listening to people coming back, it's all... and then we had to send old clothes to Japan because their house burned, or food to them so I knew and she knew, because she was making these care package. But she kept listening to this one guy saying that Japan didn't lose. Well, to me I heard, but I'm not listening to him.

AH: What about the brother situation? Because the way Okada depicts it there's two brothers, one is the older one who goes through this but then the younger one who resents it so much joins the army, even has a fight with Ichiro and everything...

JA: No, that wasn't it. That's something that he brought in.

AH: Literary...

JA: What makes me... that we didn't really mean it. It made us look very weak and we never had a fight. We always was together.

AH: Somebody had mentioned that Okada had a very good friend, not you, a very close friend who was a "no-no" -- or not a "no-no," but a draft resister, and that this person might figure in the piece, too.


AH: And just mentioned that Okada had a friend that was a close friend of his who was a draft resister, too, and that he talked to him all the time and for a long time and that this person... does that have any credibility, because I haven't run this down at all.

JA: I don't know. I have to read that again because I don't recall.

<End Segment 49> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 50>

AH: So in the case of Okada, what are the elements within that story -- because we've talked a lot about the elements that you don't like or not your situation, not your brother certainly, and not even you -- what are the elements of the story that are leaving you to be as convinced that he sort of appropriated your words, and your language, and your life, in a sense, in that story?

JA: Okay, because every... once I start talking with him at this navy surplus, he followed me around or he took me here, there, and then he comes to my dad's shop and he'd be listening, right there, he'd be listening. Because he just lived just few steps away at Union Hotel. So he'd be there listening and that's why, by being there all the time he knew what was going on.

AH: Did you know he was a writer?

JA: No.

AH: You didn't?

JA: No.

AH: So, you had no idea that he was working on any kind of literary things?

JA: No, I didn't know.

AH: What did you think of him as a person?

JA: Well, just another person, not even a friend, I knew of him, that's about it. And once I got to talking to him, I took a little more interest, or he used to tell me, "Let's go to Wah Mei," or, "Let's go to Wah Chang," or whatever.

AH: You obviously are a little upset about the fact of your depiction, and if it's you and the way in which you are depicted in this novel. And yet this novel has been seen as one of the great pieces of work in Japanese American imaginative literature, Asian American imaginative literature. And I'm wondering how do you reconcile this in your mind that on the one hand you're a little bit ticked off and on the other hand you must be flattered by being associated with something so voluminous as that?

JA: Only way... to me, I don't try to get bothered with a lot of stuff that I don't need because I got so many things going. And about the flattery, hardly any. Yeah, so I am told that I am the "No-No Boy" Ichiro, okay, so be it.

AH: When I leave this interview, I'm going to go home down to Southern California and I'm going to write a novel that based exactly on your life. I'm going to call it the "Yes-No Boy" because that's what you were. [Laughs]

JA: To me, all of that didn't matter anything, but one thing, 28, is that unqualified allegiance to the United States of America and foreswear... foreswear what? I didn't pledge allegiance to Japan or anybody, foreign country. So why should I? And right away I'm thinking, if I'm going to redress, if I answered that "yes," the government say, "That's why we put you in the camp." So I would have no reason to redress, so I thought about it that far when I answered it.

AH: Why don't we leave the interview with that open-ended question, "Why should I?" And let me thank you for allowing me to come into your home, not once but twice and to be able to ask you a lot of questions, sometimes invading your personal space and everything to do it. And I appreciate it very much and it's been a privilege to be able to be involved in this session.

JA: Well, I appreciate your interviewing me also, because up 'til now, I've been going out making speeches at universities, colleges, community, senior citizens because they're interested. Why, why, why? And I have to go out, because there's nothing written up to now, no record. So, I say, my life is a legacy, of what I did is a legacy to Sansei, Yonsei, Gosei. Hey, speak out, act, don't just sit back. Don't be afraid.

AH: Well, this will be passed along to Densho, and through Densho to a lot of people, so thanks again.

JA: Okay, thank you very much.

<End Segment 50> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.