Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Joe Ishikawa Interview
Narrator: Joe Ishikawa
Interviewer: Tom Ikeda
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: January 10, 2008
Densho ID: denshovh-ijoe-01-0013

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TI: So here you were at UCLA, and during this time period, after Pearl Harbor, there were lots of rumors running about. I think one of the rumors I've heard was that people, or the Japanese pilots, they were wearing UCLA sweaters and things like that. When you start hearing these, these rumors, how did you guys react?

JI: I never heard that rumor, as a matter of fact.

TI: Oh, yeah, they heard, they said they, they claimed that people had UCLA letterman's sweaters, things like that.

JI: Well, I wore a UCLA jacket to, when I was delivering telephone books because I thought that would give me protection. But if I had known this rumor was around, I would have taken the damn thing off, 'cause it was hot, for one thing, delivering telephone books.

TI: Oh, so that's interesting, though. So you wore your UCLA letterman's jacket just to identify yourself.

JI: Yeah. [Laughs]

TI: And hopefully that people would be more, more accepting.

JI: Well, it was interesting. After Pearl Harbor, I went, they had, at campus, they said if anybody wants to work in the post office over the Christmas holidays, you could do this by coming in and taking a test. So I went in and I went over to the post office to take the test, and I was parking my car and got out, and a guy, I wasn't wearing a letter uniform or anything, but a Caucasian man came by and said, "Hello, Yank," as though to say, "You're okay." And in Japan, I remember, in spite of the fact that I had a Keio uniform, they called me a stranger. Would holler "Yankee boy" at me. And so here, the same word with two different meanings. And it was interesting, the juxtaposition of a Caucasian saying this in a friendly way, and in Japan...

TI: It was a derogatory term.

JI: Yeah. And how they knew I don't know, other than the fact that I didn't drag my feet when I walked, 'cause shoes fit me. And usually Japanese wore shoes that were too big so they could get out of them right away when they went to the tatami. But I, anyway, that happened that way. This wouldn't happen anymore because the Japanese don't walk that way anymore in Japan even, I don't think.

Another strange thing happened in, Moby Dick Bookstore, it was a rather famous used bookstore near the public library in downtown Los Angeles. And I was in there browsing around looking at a book and I was squatting down looking at books on a shelf below me, and a man came by, back, and said, "Ve Germans must stick together." [Laughs] And I got out of there.

TI: So I don't quite get that. So...

JI: He says, "Ve Germans must stick together," after war had been declared and Germany and Japan was allied. And so he came back to tell me, "Ve Germans must stick together."

TI: So he was German?

JI: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, he was part of the, he was part of the bookstore.

TI: So he, he looked to you as being part of the Axis in terms of...

JI: Yeah, and so I got out of there, and I should have reported it, I suppose, but I didn't. But a few weeks later, the place was raided as a front for German American bund. And so it really was a German front.

TI: So it must have been a very confusing time. I mean, here you walk in there, a German kind of, you know, views you as, potentially as...

JI: An ally.

TI: ally against the United States, here you were going to the post office and a Caucasian sees you as a loyal American, a Yankee, in some ways. Are there any other --

JI: Well, you know, there are all kinds of people.

TI: Right, yeah. Were there any other incidences or anything that, like, were there any people who viewed you as potentially subversive or disloyal to America, things like that? Other people like that?

JI: I wasn't aware of it. There was a guy I used to, we used to eat lunch with, locker room, and there were people down there, some immigrants, there was a Czech guy and a, there was a Hungarian, Hungarian Jew, Czech, not a Jew, and there were American kids, and they would get into big political arguments and whatnot. I remember the Czech said that when he heard we were going to have to evacuate, he came to me and he says, "Ach, they're crazy. They call me an enemy alien." [Laughs] Here's a guy who fled Czechoslovakia to get away from the Nazis, and they called him an "enemy alien," so he said, "Ach, they're crazy. They call me an enemy alien." So he was saying this is a stupid thing to do, the evacuation.

TI: Because he looked at you as an American citizen, and they're taking you away.

JI: Yeah, he probably thought I was more American than he was, since he was an immigrant.

TI: And even, even to call him an "enemy alien" was false, too, because he was very anti-, anti-Nazi, anti-German.

JI: Yeah, right. But strange time, strange time. Hitler created a lot of problems in the world.

TI: How about your UCLA Caucasian classmates? Did they treat you anything, any differently after Pearl Harbor?

JI: No, uh-uh. No, most of them were sympathetic with what was happening, and members of both sexes. And when we went up to a wrestling meet at, instead of staying at a hotel, I stayed with a teammate in his fraternity house up there.

TI: And where would this be?

JI: Up at Cal, when we went to Berkeley for a meet.

TI: Okay, and so when was this, in January or February?

JI: Yeah, it was early because when the conference meet came up, I wasn't permitted to go to the conference 'cause it was in... I don't know whether it was Stanford, California. But we, we weren't allowed to go more than 50 miles, and the coach tried to get an exception. But they wouldn't offer an exception. He should have gone down in person, he was about 265 pounds, and an All-American tackle at Nebraska. As a matter of fact, he's the guy who got me to go to Nebraska.

TI: Okay, so...

JI: But anyway, that... but no, I found no difference other than maybe sympathy. I'm not sure about people I didn't know.

TI: I'm wondering how it was for your older brother Henry or Hank, since he --

JI: Well, Hank had, had problems, 'cause somebody set fire to the trading company and tried to pin it on him. And he had to defend himself quite vigorously, which he did, and he could prove that he was in no position to burn the place up. But the week I worked for the post office was the craziest week I ever had because I had three full-time jobs. Obviously I had the New Year edition of the Kashu Mainichi, or my section of it, and I was, I worked salvaging his, the results of the fire, they had a lot of stuff damaged by water, and I had to go help salvage. I didn't have to, but I did, and then I worked at the post office. So I had three full-time jobs, and I was really so depressed by, by the thought of Christmas that I had not planned to do anything for Christmas. But then when, when everything ended, I got three little paychecks, and I went up to the top floor of Bullock's and just walked down. And by the time I came out, I had so many bags of gifts that I couldn't carry them, and I had no more money. [Laughs] So --

TI: So in just one...

JI: -- I got the Christmas spirit very late, and fortunately, the store was open.

TI: And these were gifts for primarily family?

JI: Family, yeah, nephews, nieces.

<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.