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

<Begin Segment 1>

TI: Today's date is January 10, 2008, so this is my first interview of 2008. We're in the Densho studio in Seattle, and on the camera, operating the camera is Dana Hoshide, and then the interviewer is me, Tom Ikeda. We're both with Densho. And so this morning we have Joe Ishikawa to do the interview. And so the first question, Joe, is could you tell me where you were born?

JI: I was born in Los Angeles, California, which used to be part of the United States, may still be, I don't know. [Laughs]

TI: [Laughs] And what, what was the date of your birth?

JI: I was born July 29, 1919.

TI: Okay, 1919. So, that makes you how old today?

JI: Eighty-eight, going on eighty-nine. Eighty-eight is supposed to be a propitious year for... but I think that's kazoedoshi, they, the Japanese, so last year was a propitious year for me, except it wasn't.

TI: Wow, you look, you look great for eighty-eight.

JI: Well, I have a new pacemaker, helps. [Laughs]

TI: And what was the name that was given to you at your birth?

JI: I was Joseph Bunichi Ishikawa. Bunichi, I guess. And Bunichi could be read as Fumikazu in Japanese. As a matter of fact, my relatives in Japan thought, thought Fumikazu was my name, not Bunichi. And so when I met them years later, they, I was addressed as "Fumikazu" and I didn't know who they were talking to.

TI: So the Japanese characters for that could be read either way?

JI: Yeah, "bun" and "ichi," yeah.

TI: Okay. Do you know why you were named the name that was given to you? Was there any connection...

JI: I don't know, my father being hopeful, I guess. Bunichi means something about, has something to do with literature, fumibako is a letter box, and so it has to do with literature. And as a matter of fact, when I started university, I thought I was going to become the great writer of the, of the, write the Great American Novel, which I never did. Spared the public of bad writing.

TI: [Laughs] That's good. So let's go back to 1919. At that point, or during that period, did you have any siblings?

JI: Yes, I was the last of, of six children, really. I had, had... no, five children, I'm sorry. Two sisters, my oldest sister had been born in Formosa where my father was working for the Japanese government. And...

TI: And do you recall about how much older she was than you?

JI: Well, let's see. I was four when she died, and she must have been twenty, twenty-one. She was married at that time, she died of a miscarriage which, when it happened --

TI: So she was quite a bit older, then. She was about seventeen years old.

JI: Oh yeah, yeah, because my other sister was ten years older than I am. And then I had a brother eight years older, and another brother about three and a half years older. So, and I was the tail end, and my mother thought I was a gas pain. At least, that's what my siblings said, and I think they're, I don't know whether they're teasing me or whether it was true, but anyway, I turned out to be a pain in the gas to the whole family, I guess. [Laughs]

TI: Now, do you recall the names of your siblings, from your sisters on down?

JI: Yeah, my oldest sister was named Fusaye, meaning "tassel," I guess. And my second sister, the first one born here in the United States was Chiyo, Chiyoko. And my brother was, oldest brother was Henry, whom we called Hank, and he had a Japanese name called Jinichi. And the other brother was named John, Johnny, whose name was, Japanese name was Shuichi. But for some reason, my father gave us non-Japanese names. People say American names, but of course, mine is Hebrew, Joseph. And, but I don't know why that was, it was just that the boys were, were given, given Western names.

TI: Okay, good.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

TI: Let's talk a little bit about your father. You mentioned your father earlier. Tell me about your father. What did he do in Japan, or in Formosa, actually?

JI: I don't know what his work was. He was the oldest son of, you know, the samurai family, and he was not supposed to leave Japan, leave being head of the household. But he ceded his rights to, and duties to his younger brother, who was a naval officer. And then he came to this country at the, he was nearly forty when he first came here, thirty-nine or forty. And not knowing any English, and I thought that took a great deal of courage on his part, and especially with having a child, and having responsibility. And it wasn't for economic reasons because he left a job to, to come. And my theory is that he felt that a girl couldn't get a proper education in Japan, and for that reason, he thought he'd come to the land of opportunity. And my oldest sister did graduate from USC with a degree in pharmacy.

TI: So what year, or about what year did your father come --

JI: I think 1905, 1906, something like that. I could probably tell you if I, my, one of my sons is very interested in genealogy, and he's gathered as much information as he could from his family and from our family and my wife's family. And my wife's family has quite a bit more information, even though our family goes back farther in time.

TI: And your father's name was... what was your father's name?

JI: Rintaro, and he always said Rintaro with a shika hen. Shika is deer, you know, and that's on the left side of the character, it's very complicated. I couldn't do it anymore. I did at one time, not anymore. And in other words, I think Rintaro could also be, like Hayashi, it could be rin and taro, but this with the shika hen, whatever that means.

TI: And so your father, it sounds like he was, it was probably from his family background, well-educated.

JI: No, no. He had the minimum education, but he loved education. He read constantly. And it's interesting, he never learned English, spoken English very well, because he was very shy. But he learned to read and write, and he wrote copious notes and kept a scrapbook of articles from the newspaper that he was interested in. And I think, for that reason, he wanted all of his children to be educated. As I say, he loved learning, and when I got my first job with the university, he kind of held that up to my brothers and sisters, but since that was so, such a low-paying job, they were constantly sending me money to help me with. It kind of griped them that he put me up as an example when they thought I was a bad example.

TI: Oh, that's good. So, tell me a little bit about your mother. What was her name?

JI: Her name was Mura, and her maiden name was Shimatani.

TI: And do you know what her family did in Japan?

JI: Well, I think she was an orphan, and when they were married, she had no parents, she was raised by, by relatives. And in the, the Japanese, she was identified as a commoner, so I don't know whether the, the marriage of my father with a so-called "commoner" was, also might have played a part in his coming to this country. Although I think the other theory is more accurate. I know when my mother went back to Japan with my dad in the '30s, they were welcomed, and my mother was welcomed very graciously by, by all the relatives. So I don't think, if there had been any prejudice about it, at least it didn't exist at that point. And of course, now, it probably wouldn't exist at all. Now, they probably wouldn't be able to identify someone as, as a commoner.

TI: And roughly, what was the age difference between your father and mother?

JI: Thirteen years.

TI: So when she came to the United States, she was in her, in twenties, probably about twenty, twenty-six, twenty-seven years old, it sounds like.

JI: Yeah.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

TI: So let me just sort of summarize right now. So we just talked about your, your, when you were born, your siblings, you had four older siblings, your father came to the United States when he was about thirty-nine, forty, and your mom came with him when she was about twenty-six, twenty-seven. They came with your oldest sister, and then she graduated from USC. How, how, do you recall how old she was when she came to the United States, your oldest sister?

JI: She was five, I think, yeah. And she kept a diary that our daughter Chiyo, who was named after my second sister, was, she has it and it's quite interesting, 'cause it's very precocious, probably when she was ten or eleven. She had some, some perceptive things to say, but I, I haven't read it completely.

TI: Yeah, I have to talk to, to your daughter about that. I'm curious about the diary. But, so now that your father and mother and your oldest sister are in the United States, what did they do in the United States?

JI: Okay, my father started work on a farm, and he, as you know, many Japanese had, went into farms, and eventually, when they had children who could own property, they became quite prosperous. My father, I think, felt that rural schools at that time were very inadequate, so he moved to the city, took a very menial job with a pharmaceutical company, the Standard Homeopathic, and was there for about thirty-five years until he retired. And he was the only Japanese in the firm, but he still never learned to speak Japanese -- speak English. He would say "yes" and "no," and he could, understood everything that was, all the instructions. And he was, he had the responsibility of mixing various chemicals to make pills and things, and they trusted him to do that and to run the machinery to make those things, but it was still a very menial job. But he worked with them all through the Depression, so we, even though we didn't have much money, at least we had a father with a job. And my oldest brother went to work on Saturdays to earn money to help the family, so when he was fourteen. And the second brother did the same when he was fourteen.

TI: And your, and your mother during this time, what did she do? Did she stay at home?

JI: Yeah, well, she cleaned houses for some people. I noticed at one point, and I don't know for how long, I don't remember for how long, she got tuberculosis and eventually she died of tuberculosis. Well... I don't want to go into that part, but she, she killed herself because she thought she had, that it was, that the family couldn't afford to keep her in the sanitarium. And so in the sanitarium, after a few days... it was symbolically, did it in, on Easter day. And she and my father -- I'm not sure, but they may have converted to Christianity when they were in Japan.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

TI: Okay, so let me, let me back up just a little bit. First, when you said "moving to the city," I'm thinking this is Los Angeles?

JI: Yeah.

TI: So what part of Los Angeles did the family live?

JI: Well, the slums of Hollywood. [Laughs] The outer fringes of Hollywood, around in Melrose and Virgil. I was born in a house in Melrose and Virgil, but moved -- my first recollection is of another house south of Virgil across the street from a swamp. Now, that's the middle of the city. [Laughs] It was a swamp, I remember seeing a guy take a cow out to pasture. And we'd go into the swamp and it had wonderful clear flowing streams. And we would pick watercress there and get pollywogs and hatch them into frogs. It was a great place to grow up because it was very rural in spite of being in the city. And then we moved, we moved east to what they called the West End of Los Angeles. It was called the West End, but now it's, it's somewhere east of the center, the geographical center of city, probably.

TI: And in the neighborhoods that you grew up, were there other Japanese families?

JI: Yeah, there were quite a few in the... Virgil district was quite, quite a community, I think. And then when we moved to the West End, there were quite a few. It was a mixture, there were blacks side by side. As a matter of fact, in one house, we had black neighbors on both sides of us. Before that, there were, and there were some film studios around, too, there was a guy who... oh yeah, the Our Gang comedies were shot on our street, for instance. Not, not a lot, but occasionally they would shoot, shoot film there. And we lived across the street from Pathe News, and next to, about two doors down was a great big studio which caught fire one day. Very, very, everything was flammable and made a sensational conflagration and took down most of the house next to us and took down part of our garage. But we had... well, I guess we had a car by that time, we didn't have a car until '28. But we pulled, the car was not parked inside.

TI: And so when you think about those early days, do you recall who your friends were back then and the type of things you did?

JI: Yeah, well, we played ball, we had empty lots around there in the old days, you know. There's no empty lots anymore, at least none you can, that they permit you to play ball in. But we had pickup games. And I was lucky, my older brothers tolerated my, my playing with them, and so I learned a lot from them. And we played that kind of game, and "Kick the Can," street games.

TI: And so your friends, did they tend to be... you mentioned you had African Americans, you had Japanese, probably Caucasians. I mean, what kind of, I'm curious, like the racial mixture of the people you played with.

JI: Well, my closest friends were, were Caucasians, I think, and people I knew at school. And when they'd, I'd come home, they would, and they'd come over to play at our house, or we'd, I'd go over to their house sometimes. But yeah, there was... I guess the closest friends were Caucasians, but I had Japanese friends, too, with whom we'd play. And when we played ball, they were mostly from the neighborhood. So there would be, well, a few blacks. Then when we moved over to the West End area, we moved into an area where there was one kind of cute little black kid who would come around and talk with us. And my brother asked him what his name was, he said, "Willie Billy Smith." Well, Willie Billy Smith became Bill Smith who, in high school, he ran a 9'4" hundred. [Laughs] And he had, he high jumped 6'5" or something, broad jumped around 24 feet, and he was this little skinny kid, grew up to be this...

TI: World class athlete.

JI: Great, great athlete.

TI: Interesting.

JI: And so he had a couple of high school world records.

TI: That's interesting. Earlier, you mentioned the death of your mother. How old were you when this happened?

JI: I was nineteen, 'cause... yeah, nineteen. And it was after my mother died that my father asked me to go to Japan, because he was afraid that all contact -- he was in his seventies by then -- and he thought all contact with his relatives would be lost. And so since I was the youngest, since the other brothers were working and I was in school, I was a sophomore at UCLA at the time, he thought I should be the one to go. And he tried to give me a crash course in Japanese. [Laughs]

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

TI: Okay, before we go there, I just want to just touch a little bit in terms of, I know a little bit about your father and mother, but just who they were as, as people, in terms of maybe their personality. So can you tell me a little bit about first your mother, just in terms of, how would you describe her in terms of, if terms of her personality?

JI: She was always the life of the party. She was much more gregarious and outgoing than my father, who was very shy as I told you. And even in the Japanese community, he was, he was very quiet. But my mother -- well, I guess she agreed to having, I remember we had a wedding in our house, of friends. They weren't even real good friends, but they were friends my parents knew, people my parents knew when -- and this was, I guess, the second marriage for each of them, I guess they had lost their mates. And so they asked to be married at our house, and I don't know why, our house wasn't that elegant or anything, but I remember that incident. And whenever there was a festival or something at the grade school, my mother was always asked to get a Japanese booth, and they would make food or whatever and have it available at this booth. And she was the one who was always called to organize them. And then my oldest brother, when he graduated university, went to work for the... a Japanese import/export company, Pacific Trading Company is what it was called. He was, he was able to get a shamisen, and he gave it to my mother. And my mother had apparently been taught to play the shamisen and do Japanese dances by people who raised her. But she had never played it in this country because of the association with geishas, that these were activities that geisha did. But she apparently remembered enough of it because she started teaching without pay. She had several Nisei girls learning both shamisen, and then she would teach them the dancing, and they would even perform. But she just thought that that was a good hobby for her. So I, in terms of interacting with other people, my mother was, was way out there.

And did you know Hiro Hishiki? He was the publisher of the Kashu Mainichi until it folded. And as a matter of fact, I studied Japanese with him for about two months, he worked at, he taught at Daini Gakuen when he was in high school.

TI: Could you say his name one more time again? I missed that.

JI: Hiro Hishiki. And he was... let's see, last time we saw him, which was probably when my brother died, one of my brothers died, he was remembering my mother. And I didn't even know that he knew my mother except as my mother, but he talked about how she would entertain the women. And I didn't know that his mother and my mother were friends, even. Because they lived on, across town from us, they lived in the Normandy area. He, he talked about how she would keep people in stitches by stories she had. And I knew she was a good mimic, 'cause she'd scare the hell out of me sometimes. When I was acting up, she would come to the door as the boogieman with a deep voice. [Laughs] And scared the hell out of me and tried to force me to be good. Never took, but at least she tried. And, but anyway, that was the kind of person she was.

TI: You mentioned earlier that your father and mother were Christian. Were they actively involved in a church?

JI: Yeah, they were very active. Not necessarily as officers of the church or anything like that, but with women's groups, my mother would... they had a lot of what they called prayer meetings at our house. They were at United Church, Union Church in Los Angeles, which was, I guess Presbyterian Church of Christ, and maybe Congregational, too. There were several, several denominations that were embraced. And most of our pastors were Congregational, as I recall.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

TI: Boy, based on what you told me about your mother and her activities, her death must have been hard for the, not only for the family, but the community also, 'cause she was so active.

JI: Oh, yeah. When, the funeral procession was several blocks long, it was an enormous outpouring of people, many of whom I didn't know, most of them Japanese. The only Caucasians that I recall being there were people my father had worked with in the pharmaceutical company. And it was interesting, when my dad, when relocation happened, my dad didn't have to go because of his age. They took older people, but they were things like high school, Japanese school principals and that sort of thing that by their work made them suspect. But my father had not been associated with anything like that, and was not even... well, as a matter of fact, I was one of the few of my contemporary Nisei friends who didn't have to go to Japanese school. Almost all went to Japanese school, and I was very handicapped when I went to Japan because I didn't know Japanese that well.

TI: Let me back up a little bit. So you mentioned your father not going. Are you talking, I think you're talking about that initial roundup of the Issei leaders that were picked up by the FBI?

JI: Yeah.

TI: Talking about that. So he wasn't picked up there.

JI: No. And because of his age, they said he didn't have to go. And Mr. Hyland, the head of the pharmaceutical company, invited him to stay with, with them during, until the crisis was over.

TI: So let me understand this. So "when the crisis is over," so during the war, you're talking about?

JI: Yeah.

TI: So he was able to stay in Los Angeles?

JI: Yeah, he could have, but he opted to go with the family.

TI: I see.

JI: But, and what would he do? 'Cause Mr. Hyland lived in Beverly Hills in a big house, and completely foreign territory to the way we live.

TI: But even -- this is interesting -- but even if he wanted to stay in Los Angeles with that invitation, I, I don't see how he could have. I mean, wasn't the orders that all people of Japanese ancestry had to leave the coast?

JI: I guess they said all, but they probably had exceptions, if you're such-and-such an age, and he was seventy-something. And essentially, I wanted to indicate the regard with which he was held even though Mr. Hyland was very kind to him in many ways, even though... well, but at least he offered him the opportunity. And you know, we would go and, as a family, would go and visit him often. Not often, but maybe three or four times in my memory.

TI: And going back, just, you're talking about your mother's funeral. Was there anything that you heard or saw that surprised you, that you learned a little bit about your mother during the funeral in terms of maybe someone coming up and saying something to you that you didn't know about your mother or something? Or just the fact that there were so many people there, did that surprise you?

JI: No... yeah, I was really grief -- I hadn't cried when I heard about her dying, and then my brother told her that she, told me that, took me aside and just, and told me that she had killed herself. And then I felt a great deal of guilt, partly because I hadn't gone to see her in the sanitarium on the Easter. As a matter of fact, I was riding a bicycle down in Palm Springs. So I felt guilt about it, but I was overcome by grief at the funeral. But it didn't, tears didn't come until, until the funeral. So I, I don't know. I still feel some guilt about, about that. And I know she will have forgiven me, but I still feel that I had done wrong. The only new revelation about my mother was listening to Hiro, Hiro Hishiki telling me about, about the early days of my mother and the community. He was much closer to the Japanese community that I was, even though I was editing, sports editor of the Kashu Mainichi, which was Japanese-language paper in the Japanese community. And I really didn't know... I reported on the community, but I wasn't of the community, particularly.

TI: And when you say "Japanese-language," so it had both an English and a Japanese section?

JI: Yeah, yeah.

TI: And so you were the sports editor for the English section.

JI: Yeah. Like, same as Bill Hosokawa was with the newspaper here.

TI: Right, right. I think the Courier here.

JI: Yeah.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

TI: So let's go back, when you said you had his conversation with your father, he wanted you to go back to Japan so that the family ties wouldn't sort of get, disappear. How did you feel about going to Japan at this point?

JI: Well, I wasn't too wild about it. I was, I was wrestling for UCLA, and I thought that's gonna interrupt that. And the other thing was... well, I guess I didn't object too much because I figured I wasn't doing too much as a student anyway. I, but I didn't feel ready to go to Japan; I wasn't prepared. But we had, I went in the company of a guy about my age who was from Imperial Valley, and they were our parents' oldest friends. And he was the son about my age, they had several children, more than we had. Almost all girls except for Oliver. He was the only boy among, I think, seven girls at the time. And I remember going over on the boat, he kept saying, "Oh, you'll like Japan 'cause it's a man's country." [Laughs] Surrounded by seven sisters, I suppose being a "man's country" was important to him, but I thought, "A 'man's country'? What a stupid perception." [Laughs] But anyway, I could understand him. But anyway, we went together, and he had, he had gone earlier and he was a student at one of the schools, Waseda, I guess he was a student at Waseda.

TI: Before we do that even, why do you think your father chose you to go to Japan?

JI: Well, 'cause I was not working, other brothers were working. And well, my oldest brother was married (...). So the others would have been much more adept, they... for a while I read and wrote Japanese better than they did, but they spoke better Japanese. Well, for one thing, my oldest brother worked for the import company, and then after the war he became partner of a wholesale fruit and vegetable market in L.A. And my other brother, I guess he returned to California after he retired from working at the Bank of Tokyo in New York. And so he spoke Japanese better than I did. But I remember when I came back from Japan, he said something to a guy who was, had people work who were supposed to meet him, hadn't come to meet him, and he didn't know any English. And so my brother said, "Anzen desu ne?" instead of "Zannen desu ne?" And anzen means it's very safe and secure. [Laughs] And the guy looked at him, and he meant to say, "It's a terrible dilemma for you. It's too bad." So at that point, he didn't know as much Japanese as I knew then, and I didn't know a heck of a lot after two years, because I went to Keio University, which was... and the only Japanese they taught was tenth century Japanese, Makura no Soshi, and you know, Japanese that was very difficult for Japanese students. It was like learning Beowulf, really a foreign language.

TI: And so was the intent for you to go back to Japan, while you were there, to attend school? I mean, was that the thinking?

JI: Yeah. I couldn't just go to Hiroshima and meet my family and freeload off them. So I, it would have been better if I had gone to middle school or chugakko, high school, or whatever, rather than university, because then I would have been forced to learn Japanese. And people who did that knew Japanese much better, learned Japanese much better. But the only guy who was slower than I was in learning Japanese was, this was before we took the exam for the university, we went to kind of a prep school run by the foreign office, and this was for foreign-born children of Japanese abroad. And the only guy who was worse than I was was a guy from Java who only knew, who only knew Dutch. [Laughs] And he, he got to be good friends with a lot of the Hawaiians, and he learned pidgin English, which did him no good. And Dutch and pidgin English, and he was drafted into the army right off the bat.

TI: Which army? The Japanese?

JI: Japanese army. It was, so I wondered how he would survive there. Probably learned Japanese pretty quickly after that.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

TI: Tell me a little bit about the family in Japan, I mean, the people that you connected with. Who was in Japan that you lived with?

JI: Okay, I had a cousin who, with whom I stayed until I got into the, the Masugatayama, which was a boarding school. And then I had another cousin who worked for a bindery, and he and I were quite close. And he was one of the few who agreed with me that Japan should get out of China -- [laughs] -- that they shouldn't be there. And unfortunately he, in spite of the fact being kind of a pacifist, he was drafted and killed on some island somewhere. But the other relatives were all in Japan, or -- I mean, in Hiroshima, and I would go and visit them on school holidays and went there for Christmas, over Christmas/New Year's. And they were all very nice to me, except for the guy whose place I was staying. He was, I like to say he was adopted into the family, one of the yoshi, and that he was not really a member of the family because he had a two-year-old kid, not quite two yet, and he would train this kid to come kick me in the head when I'd be lying on the tatami. And I would carry this kid all over and throw him up in the air and play with him. But one day I was lying there, and he came and kicked me in the head and said, "Amerikajin, inase." You know Hiroshima-ben?

TI: No, no.

JI: Inase means, "Get out of here," inase, or "throw him out, make him go away."

TI: So you think his father was telling his son to...

JI: Oh yeah, 'cause he and I would get into great, great arguments. He had a military, quasi-military uniform on, looked ridiculous. He had gum boots, you know, the high rubber boots, and he had affected a kind of Hitler mustache. [Laughs] And I said, "Where are you going?" and he says, "I'm going to the anti-British demonstration." And so, and I said, "Why are you going to the anti-British, why is there an anti-British demonstration?" "Oh, they want to stop us in China." And I said, "Well, they should." And he says, "You're not helping either." I says, "What do you mean, we're not helping? We're helping too much, we're selling you oil, we're sending scrap metal over here, we should not do that." And he says, "You don't understand," and I says, "What don't I understand?" "We're trying to save the Chinese." And in a way, they thought they were saving it from Western imperialism, but, "We're trying to save the Chinese." I said, "That's a hell of a way to save Chinese, by killing them off." And they had really bad massacres in China. When you see what's happening in China now, you kind of lose a little sympathy for that, but at that time, I thought that it was terrible what they were doing. And that's, that's the reason I was very uncomfortable.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

TI: Well, you mentioned earlier, before the interview, that you, in fact, wrote an article about, about this.

JI: When the, because I had worked on the newspaper, they had asked me to write an article on, for this magazine called Japan and America.

TI: So was this written in Japanese?

JI: No, no, in English. It was an English-language, little, I don't know what kind of, what kind of circulation it had.

TI: And so when you wrote the article, was there any response that you got after it was published?

JI: No, but I don't know whether it was because of that or not. But I'd find when I'm going to school, somebody would come sit by me, says, "Excuse me, what are you reading?" and just snatch it out of my hand and read and look at stuff. He, and when I went to the American embassy for something, they had a kohban across the street. And I was about five blocks from the streetcar, and I had almost gone the full five blocks when I hear pitter-patter of feet behind me, and they dragged me all the way back and said, "Excuse me, may I go through -- " and then he gave me a cock-and-bull story about there being trouble in the neighborhood and so forth. And so he looked at my bag and pulled out books. I had like sixth-grade readers, Japanese readers. [Laughs] And he must have thought it was some kind of code. But anyway, they were very apologetic and let me go. But I don't know whether it was because of the article or not, and I know I had a notebook that I was keeping notes in it. If he had found that, I would probably have gotten into a little more trouble. But he just looked at what I had in the bag. And it's interesting, I had on a Keio uniform with a, what they call a bocchan hat, 'cause Keio was the most prestigious private school, but at the same time, they called it a bocchan because they figure that all the kids who went there were spoiled. [Laughs] And I had some good friends there, too, but I also had some friends who would like to needle me when, say, a military officer would come by, they would get me into an argument or something. But the friends, I had two good friends, and one of 'em who was the only one in my class who spoke English without an accent. And in English class he starred, but in other things, too, but he just said, "Don't pay attention to him, he's from inakappei," he's from the country. Even though he may not have been from the country, but this is the attitude, he thought.

TI: But in general, your classmates, especially the ones that maybe you were closer to, your friends, how did they, what did they think about your views on what Japan was doing in China?

JI: Well, they were, they didn't criticize it or anything, but they remained friends. Well, as a matter of fact, one of 'em had a brother who had a shortwave radio which was forbidden. And we would go to his house once in a while and listen to radio from the United States. He may have had permission to have that, I don't know. He may have been doing work that required it or something. But for me and for my friend, it was sub-rosa to go up there and listen to that. He, I didn't get anything, I just heard some music from San Francisco, and that was about it. But there were others who... there was one guy who felt he was very close because he was a Catholic, and he felt that that made him almost like an American or something. But at the same time, he was, we would get into other kinds of arguments about it. The... the others, mostly, didn't pay attention.

TI: It's just interesting to me that you're, not only did you have different viewpoints, but you were outspoken about them, too, which must have been somewhat unusual.

JI: Well, that's been my big weakness everywhere, I get in trouble wherever I go for speaking out. I got into trouble in Nebraska, they were ready to, the president was ready to fire me, except somebody, one of the boosters tried to get me fired, tried to get him to fire me, and he wasn't going to let anybody tell him what to do, so I saved my job. But there for two different things, but because I open my yap too much. One was getting, opening, getting the swimming pool open to blacks.

TI: We'll get to that later. So, so we're still in Japan, and we're now, like, 1940, around 1940.

JI: 1939, '40.

TI: '39, '40, so right before war breaks out between the U.S. and Japan.

JI: Almost, I came back on, in (January of 1941), just about a year before Pearl Harbor.

TI: And at that point, when you were in Japan, was there a sense that Japan would go to war against the United States?

JI: No, I thought they would make a move in Southeast Asia. I thought, in the first place, the navy was very antsy because the army was getting all the glory in China and they went to Southeast Asia, navy, it would be a naval operation. And I was surprised when they attacked Pearl Harbor. I mean, I wasn't surprised in retrospect, but I thought that was very reckless. That if they did, I didn't see how they could win because I had, we had something like ROTC on campus, and I thought, "Boy, these guys aren't learning anything," they had wooden sticks that they were using as guns, and they didn't know how to break a gun down or rifle. At ROTC at UCLA, we had to learn to break a rifle apart and put it together again and stuff like that. And they were just learning maneuvers and bayonet thrusts and that sort of thing, but I thought just physically, they couldn't do it. At the same time, they were rather contemptuous of, of American willingness to be aggressive about things. We're too aggressive now -- [laughs] -- but they felt that they would be a match physically for any American, 'cause they thought they wouldn't, wouldn't fight. And I say there are a lot of Americans who are, are very aggressive, you just don't know them.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

TI: So, we're starting the second hour of this interview with Joe Ishikawa. So where we ended up the first hour was you're still in Japan, and you had expressed your viewpoint that you thought that Japan being in China was the wrong thing for Japan to be doing. But you mentioned that (January 1941) was when you returned back to the United States.

JI: Yeah.

TI: So why don't you, let's pick up the story there. So, coming back to the United States, why did you come back?

JI: Well, the, we got letters from the consulate, the American consulate saying we should return, because the commercial treaty of 1910 or whatever, had been abrogated. And so essentially, their relationship between Japan and the United States was to be cut off. And so he, American citizens were asked to return to United States, and my brother was getting kind of antsy about this, too, and somehow he got funds to get me out of there. And most of the people on my boat had drawn lots to get, get passage, and I don't know how my cousin, apparently, was able to get passage without any problem for me. So I took my... so anyway, I came back.

TI: So maybe I'm not -- make sure I understand this. So, a lot of people had to draw lots because there were a limited number of spots to go back. So do you think, somehow, through your brother or your cousin, you got preferential treatment?

JI: No, no, I don't think, it was just accidental that he was able to get, get something where, a travel agent or whatever, who had tickets that were not spoken for. There were, it was, as I say, the next to last ship, and I was aware coming back, it was a brand-new ship, the Asama-maru. And I figured it could be stripped down to become a troop carrier or something very easily, and they were trying to see how fast it could go. I don't know whether this might have been the maiden voyage as a matter of fact, but they came in a day early, which, and through very rough seas. This was in December, so seas were pretty rough. And yet, it made good time, so I figured that they had some plans for... there was one other passenger ship that was scheduled to come back, and after that, I think the United States sent a ship over to bring nationals back. But those were the three ships, except during, after war broke out, the Gripsholm was sent over to, to remove Americans. That was after the war and they had a treaty to... but that happened.

TI: So (January 1941), you come back to Los Angeles?

JI: Yes.

TI: And what was, what did you do when you came back?

JI: Well, I returned to school, and kept my usual existence. [Laughs] Just existence.

TI: How were you changed by this experience? You were in Japan for over a year. What, how, how do you think you were changed?

JI: Well, I guess it made me a patriot, a U.S. patriot, which I had kind of made fun of jingoism all through my growing up. I thought, I thought patriots were jingoists, and here I found that I became more... I realized when I got back that I had been homesick. I hadn't been homesick when I was in Japan necessarily. I didn't much like being there, but I wasn't what you'd call homesick, just yearning to come back. I didn't, maybe I, it was a matter of identification of things. But I was grateful that my father, when each of us kids was born, he repudiated the dual citizenship, so he cancelled the Japanese citizenship for all of our, us children. And otherwise, I'd have been subject to Japanese law when I was there, and I probably wouldn't have been permitted to come back. But...

TI: So it sounds like you came back with a appreciation of the American life, the American government, how things were done here, more so than you had before you...

JI: Yeah. Of course, that was before the Bush administration set in. [Laughs]

TI: [Laughs] We won't get into that right now, Joe. We'll pass.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

TI: So you went back to UCLA, and so talk about that in terms of what was your area of study at UCLA?

JI: I guess I had changed from political science to English and English literature, and that was, there was no writing program as such. There were writing courses taught, but not a writing program, and I wanted to write, but nearest thing was, was literature. So I, mostly English literature rather than American literature, although when I went to graduate school, my thesis was going to be on an American writer. So the, other than that, it was... but I was mostly, I spent most of my time in the gym. I was a, not an athletic, but I was a bum athlete is what I was. But I spent most of my time in the gym.

TI: Were you still on the, the wrestling team? You mentioned your wrestling...

JI: Yeah, I wasn't very good until my senior year.

TI: So at what, at what weight did you wrestle at?

JI: I wrestled 118 and 121. They had two different classifications because we wrestled year-round, intercollegiate in the spring and in fall we would do AAU, and they had different weight classifications. As a matter of fact, supposed to wear different shoes, that sort of thing. And when I started, we had a ring for college wrestling, like a boxing ring, and so we had a whole technique where you had to take him off the rope or you have to use the rope to spring back at a guy and that sort of thing. And then by the time I was a sophomore, they had made just a mat on the floor, and you had to have different techniques. But you had to have essentially two different techniques for AAU and intercollegiate. Rules were slightly different, too. But it was good that most of my friends were kids on the wrestling team, 'cause UCLA was a commuter school and so you didn't really have too much interaction with kids after hours or anything. If we'd had a dorm or something, the pattern would have been quite different, I think, but other, the only people who stayed on campus, they had women's dorms, but the men who stayed on campus were members of fraternities and that sort of thing. Or else, if you were in, they had a co-op out at Brentwood, which was about 4 miles out of campus, off campus.

TI: But I imagine most of the Japanese American students were pretty much, as you say, commuters, they lived and just commuted in. Now, so during this time, in 19-, I guess the end of '40, but actually the beginning of '41, what level were you at? Were you a third year or a fourth year? A junior or a senior?

JI: I came back as a junior, yeah.

TI: As a junior. So you were finishing up your junior year in the early part of '41, okay. And so during the --

JI: No, '41, that's right. I must have been a... I graduated, I was, graduated, so it was, well, yeah, ('41) when Pearl Harbor broke out. We, you know, they took a long time to evacuate people. It took a long time to decide that they were going to do it. And so I, if anything was going to happen subversively, it would have happened long before then. We had plenty of time if we wanted to do something subversive, and that's another fallacy of the whole business of evacuation.

TI: And so during that time, you were able to graduate, is that what happened?

JI: Well, campus became off-limits for a while. But prior to that, I was permitted to take my comprehensive exams and all the examinations I could take early, although I was unprepared for some of it, but at least I passed the comprehensive, which, without which you were not permitted to graduate.

TI: So this was in the, sort of, February/March timeframe of '42 that you were able to...

JI: Yeah.

TI: Okay, so you, so before you left Los Angeles, you actually had, you finished your degree at UCLA.

JI: Yeah, you could say we were graduated in absentia. I remember in the camp getting a letter from the provost inviting graduates to a tea, and I was going to write back and say, "I'm sorry, for reasons of incarceration, I'm sorry that I cannot attend this tea." [Laughs] But anyway, I got, I got a diploma in due time through the mail, and a friend of mine brought me my letter sweater.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 12>

TI: So let's back up a little bit now. So in the... well, let's talk about December 7, 1941. And where were you, or how did you find out that Japan bombed Pearl Harbor?

JI: I guess we were getting ready to go to church or something, and radio was on. And here came this news, and I thought it was... I didn't believe it at first. But it became obvious it was true, and at that time, we hadn't declared war yet, and I guess during the course of the day, Roosevelt eventually came on and declared war. My brother, when that happened, my brother and I both went to an armory in Exposition Park to try to enlist.

TI: So when was this? How soon after December 7th?

JI: That night.

TI: Oh, on December 7th?

JI: Yeah. And it was dark, and we were approaching the guy, and somebody says, "Halt, who goes there?" And I wasn't gonna say Ishikawa, because I didn't want to get shot at. So I said, "friends," and so the answer would be recognized, friends, so we went up and told him what we wanted to do. And they let us fill out forms, but essentially it was: "Don't call us, we'll call you" type thing. Well...

TI: And which brother, was this John?

JI: John, yeah. And he... see, he had been 4-F because he had varicose veins, and I had student's exemption. But we never were called, obviously, and then I...

TI: But I wanted to go back to your thinking. When you and John decided to do this, how did that come about? Did you guys have, did you guys sit down and talk about it, or what made you decide to go down there to do this?

TI: Well, we thought they're going to need, need an army, and they had the draft. As a matter of fact, several Nisei, the Nisei who had been drafted, were given honorable discharges, you know that.

TI: Right.

JI: And so they couldn't finish up what they had started, so there was no way that they're gonna get volunteers from us, from our group. But I guess... it may have been defensive, too, that we don't want to be identified as the enemy, and so the best way, or one of the ways is to join up, I don't know, or maybe we felt gung ho about going after these people.

TI: What reaction did your father have for you and John to do this?

JI: Oh, I think he supported it. He didn't identify particularly with, with Japan as, as a military power or military. I'm sure he thought that was a stupid thing to have happened, too. But I don't know what... my sister was married to a guy who was born in... Seattle, as a matter of fact, but he was not born in Seattle, he came here when he was one year old, but he was born in Japan. And he felt very fearful that he had been an interior designer and part of his work had shrunk. I'm not sure if it was because of the war, but he was relieved to go to Manzanar, 'cause he thought he'd be protected. But he felt very vulnerable, whereas the rest of us were kind of indignant about being uprooted and all. And partly his work had shrunk, and he had, during the silent movie era, he had done a lot of the subtitles for silent movies and even appeared in a couple of the movies as an Eskimo when the gold rush charge happens, gold rush.

TI: But because he did not have U.S. citizenship, he, even though he lived here essentially his whole life, he felt that something would happen...

JI: But you know, he identified much more as a Japanese.

TI: Oh, even though he came to the United States at one, he still identified more as Japanese?

JI: Yeah.

TI: And he was married to Chiyo?

JI: Yeah, my sister Chiyo.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 13>

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.

<Begin Segment 14>

TI: So any interesting stories or things happen between those few months between Pearl Harbor and when you were removed from Los Angeles? Anything other that, anything else that you can remember that was interesting?

JI: I know I sold my car before, before the campus was forbidden, so I had to go on bus. And what had been a twenty-minute ride to campus became a two-hour bus ride, 'cause I had to transfer three times and take a zig-zag route. That was probably the worst thing.

TI: Now, did you have a hard time selling your car, was it easy?

JI: Oh, no, I, it was a good car, it was a car that used to belong to Basil Rathbone. [Laughs]

TI: How'd you get that car?

JI: Well, a friend of mine told me that this car was for sale, and I went and it had 13,000 miles on it. But then it had a cracked block and everything else. And I went to, couple years later, after he had moved, they had lived in Jack Dempsey's old house, and they had moved to Bel Air after that. And somebody told me they were looking for a butler, which were, they were actually glorified houseboy, that Basil Rathbone. So I went, worked there for two weeks while the guy was healing. He had, the guy who was before me had cut his, cut his finger, and my sister-in-law worked for the JACL. And so she knew about this job, so I went and applied, I asked my, Sei Fujii if I could take time off to do that, and I would send in articles and stuff from there. And he said yeah, so I did it. And that was a great experience.

TI: So let me just back up a little bit, or summarize --

JI: But I could realize why my car was junk, 'cause Ouida Rathbone, the Mrs. Rathbone, went around those hills on two wheels. [Laughs]

TI: But Basil Rath-, Rathborne?

JI: Rathbone, yeah.

TI: He was a movie actor, and he played an important role, I'm trying to remember which movie.

JI: Sherlock Holmes...

TI: Sherlock Holmes, that's right, Sherlock Holmes. So he was a movie star.

JI: He played villain in a lot of parts, in Sherlock Holmes he was a hero. A really, prince of a guy. His wife, who was, had a reputation of being Hollywood's principal hostess for the parties she threw, was something else. She would, he'd leave about six in the morning to go to the studio, and when he was making one of the Sherlock Holmes movie he was in the water most of the day. And he'd come home and about eight o'clock, very chipper, and he would say, "How are you, Ouida?" And she would say, "Oh, it was terrible," which was very interesting because she'd get up about one o'clock in the afternoon -- [laughs] -- and just putz around.


TI: While he was busy all day...

JI: All day.

TI: a hard shoot in the water. [Laughs]

JI: But it was an interesting two weeks, and there was one party that had, had very big people there, but it was a small party, ten people. And for that, they hired a French butler from Central Casting or something. He and I would talk French to each other, but that was the only thing I got out of it, 'cause they wouldn't let me greet the guests at the door or anything, I could just see them as they came in.

TI: Oh, that's interesting. And because of that two-week sort of job, you were later on able to buy his car?

JI: No, no, I bought his car earlier, and I realized how, why, why the thing was, had a cracked block and everything, it was the way she was driving. But actually, once I got it fixed up, it was a good little car.

TI: And then you were able to, because it was a nice car, able to sell it relatively easy?

JI: Yeah, for about same amount I sold it, I bought it for.

TI: Okay. 'Cause you hear a lot of stories of people, because they knew they were going to be leaving...

JI: Oh, yeah.

TI: ...they got pennies on the dollar for their things.

JI: Right, yeah. Worse than that, I had friends in Nebraska whose families had given power of attorney to people they thought were friends who essentially stole the land from under them. So, I mean, there were... we didn't have property so we didn't have that to worry about. We had, things that were contraband, we could leave with the police station to have them, and pick them up after the war, and I'm sure they were kept. But I have friends that, I had a camera I gave to a friend, and other things I, radios, gave away and that sort of thing.

<End Segment 14> - Copyright © 2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 15>

TI: So let's talk about when you got the, the notice that you'd have to leave Los Angeles. So let's pick it up here, so what happened after, after that?

JI: Well, I don't remember whether we got written notice or whether we just found these posters on the telephone posts in the neighborhood. But anyway, we were told to, that we would have to report to such and such a place to board buses to go to Santa Anita. And that was, I don't even remember what date that was, April sometime, I guess, that we --

TI: So at some point, when you realized that Japanese Americans were going to be sort of removed, how did you feel about that?

JI: I thought, "This is insane." I felt like Rudolph Schudolf, this Czech friend of mine was right when he said, "Ach, they are crazy." [Laughs] I thought this is insane. And I guess I was kind of mad at the JACL, whereas I said my sister-in-law worked for JACL. But I thought the JACL should have fought this, and instead, they said, "Oh, of course we'll show our loyalty by going," and they passed out pins that said, "We also serve," you know, and that kind of thing.

TI: So did you ever confront or talk or discuss this with any JACL?

JI: No, I didn't know that many JACL people. I knew some of them, but I, no, I was just mostly in a funk. As a matter of fact, I had no intention of going to graduate school, but since that seemed a way out of... I started applying to graduate school, and that's where the guy from, my wrestling coach, who was really a converted, he was a football coach, but he, our regular wrestling coach enlisted, and so Ray came and coached us my last year. And he, when he knew that we had to leave, he said, "You should go to Nebraska." And I said, "Ray, you know, I was thinking of Cornell." And he said, "Well, you ought to go to Nebraska because I can get you a scholarship there." And I said, "Ray, this is my last year, I've used up my eligibility." He says, "Well, you ought to go there anyway." And I said, "You know, the thing is, I'm going to miss mountains more than anything, being able to look out and see mountains. So are there mountains around Lincoln?" And he said, "Gee, I don't know." [Laughs] He had been a lineman, you see, and he had grown up in Ponca, way in the northern, northeastern corner of Nebraska. So he turned to Bernie Masterson, who is another All-American from Nebraska, but Bernie had gone to high school in Lincoln. And says, "Hey, Bernie, are there mountains around Lincoln?" And he said, "Yeah." [Laughs] So I, anyway, long, short of the story is I finally get there in the middle of the night, and met at the train by some other Nisei and other people and taken someplace, and I don't even remember where now. But I got up early the next morning and went out to look at the mountains, and they had beautiful capitol that said, "Straight up," so I went to the top of the capitol, and I looked like I was in the middle of a platter and all the world just dropped off. [Laughs]

TI: They got you to Nebraska, right? [Laughs]

JI: Yeah. Well, Bernie came out to coach Nebraska, and I was going to go ask him, "Bernie, where the hell are the mountains?" [Laughs]

TI: That's a good story.

<End Segment 15> - Copyright © 2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 16>

TI: But let's pick it up at Santa Anita, so you go to Santa Anita.

JI: Yeah.

TI: And what are some memories for you about Santa Anita?

JI: Well, Santa Anita is, is the same. They wanted me to work on the newspaper, and I said, "No, I didn't want to do anything that required brainpower.

TI: Now, why, why is that?

JI: Well, I was in a blue funk. And so I, having worked in the post office, I worked for the postal thing. Well, the newspaper would have paid me twelve dollars a month, and instead, I took the post office job which was eight dollars a month, that is in script, you know. You got script to exchange for ice cream or whatever you wanted. And so I worked at this menial job, but it was, it was much, much more relaxing than the other. However, the other memory I have is, did you know Ruth Kurata? She's a kind of left-wing newspaper person from San Francisco area. But she had worked in, at the Kashu Mainichi with me, too, part of the time. And after the war, when I saw her, I asked her -- I mean, she started talking about her memories of camp, and she said she was standing in line, and her brother, incidentally, stayed in L.A. all during the war. He adopted a Korean name. [Laughs]

TI: Interesting.

JI: And I don't know how, why he wasn't turned in by Koreans, 'cause obviously they would know he wasn't. But he --

TI: By any chance, do you know if he's still alive?

JI: I don't know.

TI: Or is Ruth still alive?

JI: No, Ruth, I'm sure, is gone, 'cause she was older than I was. But she said she was standing in line to go into the mess hall, and overheard two Japanese women talking about how wonderful it was to go in and be able to eat food that you didn't have to prepare, and not have to wash up afterward, and they felt liberated. And probably had life of servitude, may have been picture brides or something even, brought over to be slaves within the household. And they... and she saw then the different side of camp that for some people, this was -- and for, like, my brother-in-law, who felt secure in Manzanar, and not threatened. It's interesting to get this point of view, which I hadn't heard before. I wasn't aware of it in the camps I was in. I know that our camp was, we had terrible food.

TI: But going back to that comment, do you think there was a distinction? So Ruth mentioned these two Japanese women, and you mentioned your brother-in-law, who was a Japanese citizen. So do you think it was more the Japanese nationals that felt that way versus an American, the Japanese American citizens?

JI: Not necessarily. My brother-in-law's brother, who was born in the United States, probably in Seattle, was so ticked off by, by the war that he went to Tule Lake as a hard-core person.

TI: Yeah, so again, the distinction is, so the U.S. citizens were the ones who were kind of ticked off, upset, but the Japanese citizens...

JI: Yeah, but no, he wanted to be repatriated to Japan. That's the reason he went to Tule Lake. That's where they were going to be repatriated. I don't know that they ever did. But Tule Lake was a kind of camp for hard-core people.

TI: Right, right. No, but I was just thinking in terms of expectations. So if you're a U.S. citizen like you, I mean, you're kind of ticked off, like, "This is my country." But then here, the people you were mentioning, like in the mess hall line, they were Japanese citizens who felt that this wasn't that bad, this was, they were being treated...

JI: Well, I don't know, because it was their status, they were women who had to work hard all the time at home, and here they could relax, in the camps they could relax. I'm not sure what their, if their husbands shared this view or not, I don't know. And I, I don't know what my dad thought about this, although I don't think he supported Japan in the war at all.

TI: Okay. Let's move on from Santa Anita --

JI: One more thing about Santa Anita. I was there when a Korean, who was assumed to be a spy, was attacked. And he got in a corner and it probably saved his life, because they threw a typewriter at him, but it was wedged in the corner. But anyway, the Santa Anita had got a bad reputation as being a place of troublemakers. Oh, another thing is, that happened, is police had come through inspecting rooms, and several people reported things stolen by so-called police. And then they blamed the Korean, who I didn't know there was such a thing as a Korean there at all, and I don't know that he was identified as a Korean until this happened. But anyway...

TI: So let me, let me make sure I understand this. So the police, you're talking about internal security?

JI: Yeah.

TI: So these were Japanese Americans.

JI: No, no.

TI: Oh, they were Caucasian.

JI: Yeah.

TI: Okay, so they went through and the claim was that some things were stolen. After this happened, there was a...

JI: Kind of a mini riot.

TI: A mini riot, and then focusing on this, this Korean who, the Japanese Americans felt...

JI: As an informant.

TI: ...was an informer, and he was kind of planted inside the camps to inform on Japanese Americans. And the thinking was probably because he looked Japanese, that he could probably mingle and...

JI: Yeah, I can't tell the difference. There are people who... there are friends of ours who started an orphanage in Korea who claimed they could tell the difference, and I said, "I can't."

TI: And so he was cornered, and then a typewriter was thrown at him, but it missed him but was wedged in the back. And then, so what happened then?

JI: Well, he was let off and taken away from the camp. But when we went to Amache in Colorado, the food was considerably better, but the people from Amache were first from Tulare in northern, in central California, and they asked not to let us go there because we were troublemakers.

TI: Oh, so the Santa Anita group had already been identified as a rougher, troublemaking group.

JI: Yeah. And, but another thing about the contrast between Santa Anita and Tulare was I decided if the post office was a fun, relaxing place to work, but I decided I'd work in the kitchen, which meant less pay but you could get decent food. [Laughs]

TI: Oh, so when you went to Amache.

<End Segment 16> - Copyright © 2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 17>

JI: So I went to Amache and started working in the kitchen. And I, I found the food so much better there. The Tulare people said the food wasn't as good as they got. And then it comes out that the head of our camp was arrested for selling meat on the black market.

TI: Oh, so at Santa Anita --

JI: Yeah, Santa Anita, our diet was almost a steady diet of heart, and I can't think of anything else that was, was served there. And in Amache we had a varied diet.

TI: And what were your impressions of Amache when you first got there?

JI: Rattlesnakes, I suppose. People used to go on rattlesnake hunts; rattlesnakes outnumbered people by several times. Maybe after the evacuees moved in, their, their rate diminished considerably, I'm sure, but it was all cactus. It was, Colorado was a beautiful state, but this was not very beautiful. Just, it was on the Arkansas River, which... in a town, I forget what the town was called, down below. But a lot of people don't believe me when I say that toward, at one point in camp -- I left early, but my father had to stay. But frequently, he would take the camp bus down to, to the river and would just watch the river and watch the trains go by, the train didn't stop there. And that was recreation for him. Or else he would walk down 'cause it was about three miles, and he liked to walk even at his age. And people that I met from other camps couldn't believe that...

TI: That they let people do that.

JI: Yeah. And, but anyway, I was there only a short time, matter of weeks. I hadn't received word about going to... even though I'd been accepted at the university, I hadn't been released by the War Relocation Authority. So I finally wrote to them and said, if it's because I had been in Japan, they should realize that I was really not, a persona non grata in Japan and gave them details. And so after I had moved to Amache, they, I got a release. And so I enrolled two or three days late, Nebraska had already started. But the, in a way it was advantageous to me because you had to pay your own way through the school, and Amache was a lot closer than L.A. would have been. [Laughs]

<End Segment 17> - Copyright © 2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 18>

TI: But you mentioned when you went to Nebraska, you were met by Niseis?

JI: Yeah.

TI: So were these Niseis, who, before the war, lived in Nebraska?

JI: No, no.

TI: Who were these?

JI: They were, they were evacuees. Nebraska was a... I don't know what other people's... well, I know one person, I'll get to that. But Nebraska was a great place to go because there was a guy named Bob Drew, or Robert Drew, who was minister to Methodist students. And, well, he's a guy from New England. But he was outraged by the whole evacuation process. And how he found out about it on the East Coast I don't know, but he was aware of it. And he did a great job of preparing people, the university, first of all, and people of the town, to accept Nisei. And so I remember walking down the street one time, and there was a little girl who spoke to me -- and I didn't hear her, I guess, I walked by. And she came running after me and grabbed my, says, "I said hello." [Laughs] So I said hello to her and greeted her. I had, my brother had a friend who was in Nebraska, and I saw him a couple of times, opening, he could help me find a job, but he was a truck driver or something. And he couldn't help me find a local job, so I did little odd things, and eventually got a job working for the art department. That's how I got started in art. But...

TI: But going back to this Robert Drew, so he made it a more welcoming environment for the Niseis.

JI: Yeah. He was somewhat suspect in the community because he was a pacifist. But at the same time, I think he was generally respected. And he was a great, a great catalyst for, to make our absorption into the community.

TI: And so at, in Nebraska, or University of Nebraska, are you talking about, like, a couple dozen or...

JI: There were a hundred.

TI: Hundred.

JI: Yeah.

TI: Wow, so significant. From all the --

JI: Yeah, as a matter of fact, they had, they published a booklet which they sent to me -- well, as a matter of fact, they asked me to write something for it, which I did, and, about the relocation. And you probably have it in your library somewhere. I forget what it's called but it's a little pamphlet-sized booklet with a lot of photographs, and I don't know where they got photographs of me, but they had two photographs of me. And people's recollection... and to a person, they remembered Bob Drew. As a matter of fact, his family came back from the east, he had died, but the kids, wife, widow, came back for the occasion. And I guess I was in, in Italy when this happened.

<End Segment 18> - Copyright © 2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 19>

TI: Okay, so Joe, we're now into the third hour. And where we are right now is we're in Lincoln, Nebraska, you're starting graduate school there, and you mentioned you also just got a job in the art department.

JI: Yeah. A friend of mine -- well, I used to hang out at the Wesley Foundation, which is where Bob Drew was. And mostly because I had friends there, and they had had a bedroom for two people, students, to stay there. And when one, who became a very good friend of mine, Ken Stevens, was drafted and left school, I was asked to, to go to live there. I was invited, I should say, and, which was great for me. So I did that, and there was a guy named Bob Hanson, who was an art student, who used to come to the Wesley Foundation frequently, and he and I became friends. And he said, said they need someone to work at the art museum, and if I wanted to, I should go over and ask, so I did. And they gave me a job, coolie work, building crates and so forth. But from building crates I got, I guess I did it well enough to, to help design shows, which I did, helped design exhibits that were planned there. And Nebraska was, I guess, the first school to offer a degree in, in studio arts in the country, followed by Yale and eventually Iowa, which had a graduate school. But ours was strictly undergraduate. But it also had a museum, and put on a big show called the May, May Show. And it was big enough so that it attracted the attention of New York press, and so we had New York people coming out to look at the exhibition. These were things that... but the director, Dwight Kirsch would go annually to New York to pick out, and he would go to several galleries and gather work and had this big show. Well, since I wrote, they had me do the labels, and this meant doing a lot of research. So whatever training I had in the arts was essentially that way, through the, through doing the research and doing the writing and seeing the work. So we, that's what, what I did, and then eventually the librarian, who was married to a chemist, your field, and he went to work for Phillips Petroleum in Oklahoma. So, so she left, and they gave me her job, which was a little step up. And so I became our librarian, and since I'd been doing all the research in the library anyway, that was handy for me. And then eventually, he made me a curator, so I did more work in the museum and did more exhibition design. Well, as a matter of fact, I did almost all the exhibition design, figure out how things should go, and how they would fit together and so forth.

TI: Was all this happening while you were a graduate student?

JI: Yeah, graduate student. And gradually, I quit going to classes in English, 'cause I had, my interests had shifted so much. And I still thought, well, when I get at finishing this before my six year limit is through. [Laughs] But I never did, 'cause I got involved in this so much. Well, and then other things happened, but we can get to that later.

TI: So you're, so it sounds like you, so because of this initial job in the art museum, essentially that was a huge shift for you. You went from literature to art, and now you're a curator at the... and what was the name of the museum?

JI: It's now called the Sheldon Art Museum at the University of Nebraska, but that was a new building that we were in, in an old building, just part of what had been a classroom building, they built two galleries on it. And we filled the two galleries with, and the hallway with exhibitions. The Sheldon is, was built as a museum, and it was, the seeds for that were started by Dwight Kirsch, but then when they wanted to split the department from the museum, he tried to fight that and essentially lost. And at that time, he was asked to be the director at the Des Moines Art Center, which was a two-year-old institution, and had lost two directors very quickly. And so they asked Dwight to go there. And about that time, let's see... I had, because I wasn't working summers, one summer I went to New York to work with what they call a College Summer Service group.

TI: Okay, let's, so what, so what year is this? The summer of...

JI: '44.

TI: So the war is still going on, 1944, summer.

<End Segment 19> - Copyright © 2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 20>

JI: And I did social work in a, in a settlement house, this was what, what the College Summer Service group people did. I remember a great girl from Wenatchee was there, who took the bus all the way across the country. And...

TI: And so what part of New York were you doing this social work?

JI: Well, it was in, scared the hell out of my wife when I drove her through there several years later. [Laughs] She rolled up all the windows. It was East Harlem, which at that time was transitional between Italian Harlem and Puerto Rican Harlem. And the Italians were being replaced by Puerto Ricans, essentially, and the settlement house served everybody. And they were great institutions, they were kind of a New York invention. (Narr. note: Hull House in Chicago may have been earlier.) And kids from the College Summer Service group, there must have been seventeen, or fifteen, sixteen, seventeen of us, and we were scattered around the city at different settlement houses, there were probably four or five at Union, and we stayed there, and it was a very hot part of summer. And I did mostly work in the playground with the kids, and often we'd take excursions out of the city and all that. And I remember one time we went on the spur of the moment, we went out to Central Park, which was about three blocks away. And three of us were supposed to go with about fifty kids, and the other two were women, they wound up with about five kids, and I wound up with the rest. And we were walking -- it didn't bother me, but we were walking through there, and one time, a little girl, a Puerto Rican, black kid, tried to kiss her. And so immediately, police are there, and I said, "Okay, I'll take care of this," and went up to the policeman. He said, "Who the hell are you?" [Laughs] And I said, "Well, I'm the leader of this group, from the settlement house," and explained the situation to him. And he says, "Where's your draft card?" And I had, of course, left the draft card in, 'cause I didn't know we were going to come out of the settlement house. I says, "Well, it's back in the settlement house," and he said, "Well, you're going to have to come in with me." And all the kids are staring like this, says, "Okay," and then the guy looked around and he says, "Oh, it'd be bedlam," if I'm hauled off. [Laughs] So they said, "Okay, you can go, but be sure to carry that with you all the time. Said, "You're supposed to have that on your person."

TI: Now, did he know that you were Japanese American?

JI: Oh, yeah, he could see it. I presume he assumed it, 'cause I told him my name, for one thing.

TI: But the idea of having, like, forty kids running loose in Central Park. [Laughs]

JI: Yeah, it's different from now where they'll shoot first. The police now are more trigger-happy.

TI: So he used a little judgment there, realizing it would be bedlam to leave those kids there, that's funny.

JI: And so anyway, that was one experience.

<End Segment 20> - Copyright © 2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 21>

JI: Well, I had a lot of other experiences with that. But we, the best thing about it is we had different people talk to us: George Buttrick, who was one of the leading churchmen from, from, Presbyterian churchman from biggest church in, Presbyterian church in New York. And then the president of the Jewish Theological Seminary, which is a conservative seminary, named (Finkelstein), met with him and Harry Emerson Fosdick, who was president, or minister at Riverside Church in New York. He, it was a Baptist church, and he was not a Baptist, but John D. Rockefeller created Riverside Church. And when he asked Fosdick to take the church, Fosdick said, said, "No, I don't want to come and be the minister at John D. Rockefeller's church." And so Rockefeller promised not to interfere in his doings, and he really made it into kind of an interdenominational church, which it still is today. They have, the last time we were there, they had a black minister.

TI: And what was the name of that church again?

JI: Riverside.

TI: Riverside, okay.

JI: It's very close to Grant's Tomb, as I recall. Well, anyway, he was one of the speakers, and there was a guy named Benjamin Davis, who was a city councilman who was a communist, and then, of course, Norman Thomas, and that's when I became a socialist, I guess.

TI: And that was based on listening to his, to him speak?

JI: Yeah, and he seemed to be a completely rational person. Benjamin Davis was ranting and raving, and there was a guy named Mark Antonio, who was a congressman who sounded just like Hitler when he would... he was a communist congressman from New York who shouted and screamed. And it was interesting because earlier, they had tried to have a United Front of Leftist Parties, and they had a big rally at Madison Square Garden. And when Norman Thomas was introduced, they booed and catcalled so much. He finally quieted them down and said, "Well, you've just demonstrated why we can't have a united front. You won't work with anybody," and he sat down. And he was very quick on his feet, and could say it with humor, but -- not just rancor. But he saw the impossibility of the situation. And I know when we were passing out leaflets at Union Square, where a lot of radical groups gather, some communist worker came over and took mine and just tore them all up.

TI: So Norman Thomas was viewed by the communists as being not left enough, not...

JI: Well, the communists were not left, communists are fascists, at least the American Communist Party, and so was the Russian Communist Party. They're not communists -- they're not communists in the classical socialist sense, because socialism believes in equality of everybody, and communism generally believes in an elite force of party members.

TI: So when you think back to Norman Thomas and his viewpoints, what were, can you recall some of the ideas, the ideas or concepts that he talked about that really got you excited?

JI: Yeah, well, some of the things that the communists had, too, is that from each, from each according to his ability, to each according to his need. In other words, we'll help the needy, and cooperativeness, I guess. He was not a Marxist, he was probably closer to Fabian socialists, Fabians from, from England who were not Marxists, but they believed in cooperation, essentially, and believed in looking out for the other person. If you were able to, that you were responsible for the other person. And I guess that's the essential sort of thing. And I began meeting with what they called the Young People's Socialist League. It was funny because Johnny, my brother, was in New York at the time, and I would go and visit him. And Johnny was a very conservative person, he was a member of the Republican party. [Laughs]

TI: So the two of you probably got into some interesting discussions.

JI: Yeah, we'd get into big arguments, but he still felt protective of me as being a big brother, and he was always a great big brother to me. But anyway, when I'd go to the Young People's Socialist meetings, they, they would ask me, "How come you're a socialist?" And I said, "Well, I guess mostly because I'm a Christian." And I felt a Christian even though I was fighting with the church all the time, too, and I wasn't really observant Christian, but I felt that I was a Christian, and my ideals were Christian. So I said, "I guess because I'm Christian," and it brought the whole house down. And after, I looked around and I realized these were all Jews. [Laughs] But we had, became very friendly with several of them.

TI: Did the topic of what was happening to Japanese Americans at this time ever come up during these meetings?

JI: No, except I had a very good friend named Irwin Suall, Irwin Suall, who became very high in the hierarchy of Jewry. He was head of the (Anti Defamation League of the B'nai Brith), he was head of United Jewish Appeal one year and all that. And he tried to get me to go with him to form a kibbutz in Israel, and I said, "I can't go there, it's going to be a theocracy." This was before, before Israel was a state yet. But the Balfour Declaration was in the works, and it looked like it was going to happen. And I said, "Besides, I, Hebrew will be a language, and I don't want to learn another language now." And he said, "Oh, no, it's going to be English, and it's going to be a socialist state. It's not gonna be a theocracy." And I said, "Forget it." And years later, I found him in the phone book and called him up there, "Did you ever get to Israel?" He says, "Never." [Laughs] He wanted to go yet, but he said, "Never," because of his association with UJA and all. But he was, he took to me, he says, because he felt that I had suffered the same kind of persecution that Jews had. And Jews are so quarrelsome among themselves, I went to a thing when they were having a lecture on... what do they call it? Where, about the Jewish state.

TI: Oh, right, I'm blanking out, too.

JI: Well, anyway, they... (Narr. note: As a matter of fact it was supposed to be a debate with a couple of guys from what was to become Israel who were touring the country lecturing, a USA Zionist who thought it should be done one way and another who thought it should be done another and Bertram Wolfe, the author and art critic who was an anti-Zionist. The moderator got cold feet and didn't show and stupidly Wolfe was persuaded to act as moderator. All hell broke loose, the audience joined in, chairs were thrown and I wasn't sure I'd get out in one piece. A volatile issue among excitable people.)

TI: But I wanted to get back, so did the people that would go to these Young Socialist meetings, although you didn't, the topic didn't come up, do you they were aware of what was happening to Japanese Americans on the West Coast?

JI: It's possible, because The Call, which was the national newspaper, the Socialist party, was very indignant about it, and so I'm sure that...

TI: It seems a little surprising to me that having you in their presence, it didn't come up that they were curious and asked you about it.

JI: No, they didn't.

<End Segment 21> - Copyright © 2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 22>

TI: Well, let's keep moving, because there's more stories I want to make sure we get to. So the summer you're about twenty-five years old was a very pivotal sort of time period for you to, to work in New York as a social worker, in East Harlem, exposed to all these different ideas, Norman Thomas in particular. At this point, you go back to Nebraska?

JI: Yeah, I went back to Nebraska and continued my work. And then, and then I resigned the following spring, summer, after term was over, I resigned to go back to New York. I didn't know what I was going to do, but I thought New York is a vital place. And maybe I was... 'cause I don't know whether you knew Joe Oyama or not, but he was kind of a radical Japanese in L.A., and he had come back from New York and said, "New York is a wonderful place." And he was so ecstatic about it I thought, "Well, I'll go..." and I had found it a very exciting place in '44, so I went back in '45 to work there. And I got a job with the Post War World Council, which was headed by Norman Thomas. And it was such a privilege working for him. He had a very characteristic script that was hard to read, but once you got it, it was so consistent you could read it very easily. And so I was, my work was mostly typing up his scripts. And besides that, he got me jobs, other job working, editing for Workers Defense League, radical publications. And just, just have conversations -- he never treated me like an underling, nor did he treat anybody else in the office like an underling, we were equals. And he would, would... oh, let's see. When Syngman Rhee became president of Korea, he asked me about it and what I thought. I says, "I know very little about Korean politics, but Syngman Rhee strikes me as kind of a fascist." And he says, "I think so, too." [Laughs] And then when, when peace, when the atom bomb was dropped, he was so angry. And just a week later or so, when John Hersey wrote that monumental copy of New Yorker, which was entirely devoted to Hiroshima, he got a copy and gave it to me. And so he was aware of everything that was going on.

I was telling you about how quick he is on his feet. One time -- we lived on the, we were, our office was on the nineteenth floor of a building, and one time a window washer came and knocked on the window. So I opened it and he says, "Is this where Norman Thomas works?" And I said, "Yeah." And says, "Would you like to come in and meet him?" He said, "Yeah, can I?" So he climbed in and I took him in to Norman's office and I said, "Norman, this is our window washer, and he'd like to meet you." And Norman was a big guy and had a big voice, and he says, "Indeed, I'm glad to meet you," and he came up and shook, put his big paw out to shake hands with this guy. This guy just absolutely awestruck, and he says, "I've heard a great deal about you, and I've always wanted to meet you, but I must say, I've never voted for you." And Norman threw back his head and laughed, had a big, booming laugh. And says, "Indeed, and a great many good men have never voted for me." [Laughs] Just like that.

TI: Earlier, you mentioned Joe Oyama talking about things happening in New York. Did you meet with other Niseis in New York during this time period?

JI: Yes, mostly through my brother. But there was, George Yuzawa was a guy we knew as children, and as a matter of fact, I was telling you I was always flipping off. And one time -- he played for a basketball team called Spartans, and one time I wrote an editorial about how dirty Spartans played. They were going to come down and beat me up. And Yuzie was a Spartan, he wouldn't let them. [Laughs] But anyway, he was running a flower shop in New York, so met him a couple times.

TI: But during this time, maybe it was more, a little bit more after the war, there was kind of this group of Japanese Americans who politically, and I think in the art circle also, they were pretty progressive. And I was just curious if you...

JI: Yeah, well, the Oyama, the whole family, Molly Oyama, Mary Oyama, we called her Molly, they were all fledgling writers who wanted to write. But Joe was running a fruit stand up by Columbia University, and I would see him now and then. But he, he had, from being unsuccessful in wanting to write, I think it kind of depressed him, and he was quite different from when I knew him in L.A. Other than that...

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<Begin Segment 23>

TI: So I'm going to keep moving because we don't have that much more time. So after this stint in New York, you returned back to Nebraska again. Now, why did you go back to Nebraska?

JI: Oh, that's right. Dwight came to select the May Show, and I went around with him to quite a few of the galleries and got acquainted with the gallery directors, commercial galleries, which stood me in stead when I went out on my own, pretty much. But Dwight asked me to come back, and got me an academic appointment, not just being a curator, but an academic appointment as well, which was... still, Nebraska was on depression salaries. So I should tell you also, in the meantime, when I'm in New York, VJ night happened, and that was quite an adventure, but I'll tell you about it later on and not with this, if I'm not keeping you from your appointment. [Laughs] But he asked me to return, and so I did. It was a good experience for me. One of the roommates I had at the Wesley Foundation had been in the, had gone to England and had been on, I guess, D-Day plus ten or something. He had been on the invasion force although he didn't have the terrible days the first two days on Normandy. But he was shot up, so he came back, and he visited me in New York. The thing about him was he was a pacifist, too, he refused to... he was convinced by Bob Drew to be, become a pacifist, but he didn't want to declare as a conscientious objector, because then his theory was if he was a conscientious objector, somebody else would have to go in his place. So he went, but he told them that he didn't want to carry a gun. And so they made him a medic, which was the lowest form of life in the army, I guess. [Laughs] But he had previously, when he had gone to Fort Leavenworth for the exam, he ate, he made all but one, he was right on all the questions except one, and they didn't believe it, 'cause nobody had scored that high before. So they made him take the exam over again, and he aced it this time, nothing. So they tried to give him a commission on the spot, and he said, "No, I don't want to be in charge of anybody." And so that was the kind of guy he was. And as a matter of fact, when he... war bonds, instead of sending war bonds to his mother, I find all these war bonds coming to me in his name and my name. And even though I was in bad straits, obviously I wasn't going to use his money, so I just saved them for him for when he came back. But anyway, he stopped by to see me, and he was going with a beautiful woman, so I told people about this, and he came back and said, "You know what Ishikawa is saying? He's saying I'm going with this most beautiful woman." And so she thought, "Ah ha, that Ishikawa is pretty bright." [Laughs] Well, anyway, eventually we got married.

TI: Oh, so that woman that you said was the most beautiful woman ended up being your wife?

JI: Yeah. [Laughs]

TI: [Laughs] That's a good story.

JI: Well, I actually said... 'cause CD had, when I was in, went back to Nebraska, he was there, too, and one day he left school apparently, 'cause his mother called up and said have I ever seen Charles David, she and I called him CD always, Charles David. I said, "Not for a couple of days, but I'll..." she said, "I think he's dropped out of school." And I said, "Well, let me check." So I went to the registrar's office, and sure enough, he had checked out. So I called my friends in New York, told 'em to keep an eye out for CD because he's probably going to show up there, and sure enough, he did. And there had been a... five of us had a little co-op apartment, the three women and Jesse Cavalier and myself, who was... and one of them worked for National Council of Churches, the other woman worked for, for, a secretary at Warren Street Methodist Church, and Jesse was a theological student at Union Seminary, although he wasn't, he was such an offbeat, I figured he'd never be ordained. [Laughs] And then a girl from Lincoln, Nebraska, whose parents had sent her to New York in my care, which shows you how harmless I was. [Laughs] Anyway, so the upshot of it was CD and she got married.

TI: Oh, interesting, okay.

JI: But before that, I asked, see, I wrote to CD, who was still in New York then, and said, "Do you mind if I ask Livie for a date?" And he says, "Well, you're the two people I love the most, and with my characteristic generosity of offering you something I don't possess, go ahead."

TI: Oh, that's a good story.

JI: So that's how Livie and I got together. And it was stormy, we took, took several more years. Well, she had, the reason he dropped out of school, he wanted to get married and she says, "I'm just not ready." She was sixteen, seventeen years old at the time, and she says, "I can't, I'm not ready to get married," and so he dropped out. And then... she taught school in various places, Lutheran schools, 'cause she only had two-year degree. And well, when we got together it was like Sid Caesar's program where the violin's playing in the background, and that was kind of an accident that we met again.

TI: And so how much longer did the two of you meet again?

JI: Well, all told, it was about six years since I had met her. And a friend of mine, there's a lot of people from different places, came to Nebraska on GI Bill, and there was this guy from New York who was older, and very outgoing guy who was there with his family, with his wife and little daughter, and we became good friends. He said he wanted to get a friend something for Christmas, and I said, "Lingerie would be good." What did I know about lingerie? But I said, "Lingerie would be good," and the best place would be at Miller & Paine. So I went up there with him, and there she is working behind the lingerie counter.

TI: And this is after six years, or several years?

JI: Yeah, well, about three years anyway. And I looked at her finger and it was bare, and she looked at my finger, and so we were kind of lost in each other. And here's Ben, big guy, and he said, "Introduce me to the pretty girl." [Laughs] So anyway, I did, and it was, so from then, all history.

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<Begin Segment 24>

TI: And so what, tell me her full name, in terms of her maiden name, everything.

JI: It's Olivia.

TI: Olivia?

JI: Olivia Brandhorse Ishikawa, although she doesn't use Brandhorse, she uses Irene.

TI: And I'm curious, as you started dating her, how did her family react to this?

JI: Well, her, we were kind of friends, but they really didn't want her to get married. He had grown up in Oklahoma, and knew about "squaw men," men who married Indian women and so forth. And so he was really very nervous about it. And her mother, of course, went along with him, although I invited her to come to our wedding when we were married in Denver, and I went there with my best man, and we were married in a little church in Denver with no family from either side. And it's funny because selective memory, my mother-in-law once talked to Livie and said, "So-and-so got married, I feel so sorry for her. Can you imagine? Her mother wouldn't even go to her wedding." And Livie thought, "Gosh, Mom, you gotta pick your targets better than that." [Laughs] She had selective memory about that.

TI: So it sounds like Olivia's parents were against the marriage.

JI: Yeah. Well, that's the reason we gave her, Livie got a job in L.A., and I stayed in Nebraska, and we gave them a year to get used to the idea. And then by... and they never did, but her uncle came over one day from St. Louis was visiting her family, and he came to visit us and said, or maybe he just told them that this was wrong. And so they all came over for dinner one time and her sister was wondering why I'm doing the cooking. I said, "Well, Livie doesn't know how to cook." "She's the only one of us girls who does know how to cook." So the cat was out of the bag and so Livie started doing as much cooking as I am, more later on.

TI: But how much longer did it take her parents to come to that dinner?

JI: Well, we had just moved back to Lincoln, we were there, I had resigned from the university and was going to go to Des Moines, Dwight had asked me to come to Des Moines to work from there. And so I, it was probably a matter of weeks after that.

TI: Well, how about your family, your siblings and your father, how did they react?

JI: Well, they, when she was in L.A., she met my family because Hank had moved back and Chiyo had moved back, and Johnny hadn't, but he met her some, someplace else, I forget where. But they were all very nice to her, but Chiyo, who would teach her how to cook Japanese food and all, kept hoping that she would meet a nice Caucasian person there and I would meet a nice Japanese girl there. My father, who was living with me, was the best of all. He said, "You're getting" -- I was over thirty at this point -- he said, "You know, you ought to think about, you ought to think about getting married, and it's okay if you marry a Japanese woman -- I mean, if you marry a hakujin, a Caucasian." And I thought, "I'm going to put this old boy to the test," so I said, "What if I married a black girl?" 'cause I'd been active in the black community and that kind of thing, and so it wouldn't be out of the realm of the possible. And he says, without hesitation, he says, "Well, if you loved her and weren't doing it just to try to prove something, making a political statement." And I thought, "That's the right answer." And so I thought that was very good. Of course, if I wanted to marry a Japanese girl, there weren't very many in Lincoln at that time. Most of the Nisei students had gone back to the West Coast, various places.

<End Segment 24> - Copyright © 2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 25>

TI: You mentioned while you were in Nebraska you worked with the black community, and I think there was the incident that I'm aware of in terms of your efforts to desegregate a swimming pool. Can you tell me that story and how that happened?

JI: Well, I was doing playground work for the city.

TI: And what city? Is this Lincoln?

JI: Lincoln. And before they changed the pool, changed the water in the pool, they let kids swim free. And when I went to the city hall to get the tickets to pass around, they said, "Don't give any tickets to the black children," or, "the colored children," they said. "Colored" was an accepted word at that time. So I said, "Well, you'd better keep them all. I'm not going to sneak around and hand out tickets here and there and pass up others." And the more I thought about it, the madder I got. And so I decided I would resign, and I sent in a letter of resignation and sent a letter, sent a copy to all the playground directors in the city. The only guy who quit was a guy who worked with me who was black, and a veteran who had had white troops under him and so forth, and he was an angry person, so he was even angrier than I was, to the point where he couldn't rationalize. He would have been a great Black Panther if the Black Panther movement had been present, but it wasn't. As a matter of fact, blacks were fairly passive at that time. And anyway, nothing was happening, so I decided I'd go to the city hall and talk to them at a city council meeting. And they, I said, "You're in violation of the state statute." Well, first of all, I got some kids together, there was a guy in graduate, taking graduate college who was a professor at Southern University in Louisiana, which is the black part of LSU at that time. And he came with me, and we tried to get into the swimming pool, and they wouldn't let him in. So I got, I just wanted to make a test. And so I went to the city council and said, "You're in violation of state statute," they had a very good state statute that wasn't enforced, but they had a very good, very specific statute from, from way back. And the upshot was that they said, "Not one black has asked for, or not one colored person has asked for what you're asking for." And they said, "Would you be happy if they, if we made a swimming pool in the colored neighborhood?" And I said, "No, that's not, that's still in violation of your statute." And they said, "Not one colored person has asked for what you're asking for."

So I went to the Urban League, and I was active with the NAACP anyway, so I went to them and told them what was happening, and went to some of the black preachers. And I knew the Urban League person because they'd asked me to come talk to career day or something, to some of their kids. And so I, anyway, we, their city hall will seat maybe two hundred people, and we had over two hundred people there, at least half of them black. And other people were very helpful were some veterans coming back from the war, American Veterans Committee, they were very, kind of answered to the American Legion, very liberal group. And so they had no choice but to open the swimming pool. And then a cold spell set in, so nobody went to the swimming pool. And the guy tried to, the playground director tried to blame it on the fact that they had opened the swimming pool, and so I got a friend of mine, one of the AVC guys who went down and did some research on temperature tables and we gave them all these temperature tables, told them that was probably the reason. And anyway, it stayed open after that, but you know, it was not a big thing. It seemed big at the time, and in a way it was kind of a defining moment for me. That and the time when I tried to get Norman Thomas on the ballot in Nebraska, which is impossible to get a third-party candidate 'cause of the numbers that you're required, just impossible. But the upshot of it was that the guy who was in charge was a banker -- in charge of the recreation committee -- was a banker whom I thought was a friend of mine, 'cause he was active in the Nebraska Art Association and we would chat about things. And he tried to get me fired.

TI: Because of your connection to Norman Thomas?

JI: No, because of having -- no, they didn't care about what my politics were.

TI: But the desegregation?

JI: Yeah. They're a conservative state, but they're generally laissez faire people. No, because he was the recreation committee, and he felt that this was a slap at him, and he tried to get me fired. In the meantime, I'm in trouble at the university because the, Duard Laging, who had come in as chairman of the department, kept trying to act as though I was working for him, and I was doing things independently of him. And so I -- oh, and students were up in arms against him for things he had done, and they would come to me. I don't know why people always talk to me, but they came to me, and so I started writing letters to the president and all that, and at one time I see the president walking across campus and he says, "Ishikawa, I'm disappointed in you." I said, "I can't help it, this is what's happening, and Laging shouldn't be there." But he was a new president, he came from Michigan State, and Laging had come from Michigan State, so it was a pretty hard combination to knock down, and he didn't want to get involved with that. And I probably would have been fired on the spot, except for the fact that the banker wanted to get me fired, and he wasn't going to let an influential alum tell him what to do. [Laughs]

TI: Oh, so interesting. So in some ways --

JI: So I was saved. It was, it was a crazy situation all the way around. Fortunately, I was able to get another job. Oh, another thing that I would have probably gotten into trouble with the university was they were trying to pass a loyalty oath. This was during McArthur... McCarthy group, and at a faculty meeting, I said, "Any communists among us will be very happy to sign that. They have no ethical sense of perjury, and they would be very happy to sign, but I won't sign it because I think it's so manifestly unfair, and also ineffective. I don't think it would be an effective means." And so the only thing they would have done, they wouldn't, they couldn't fire you, they could withhold your salary. So that's, but anyway, I would probably have gotten in trouble with that if I had stayed at Nebraska.

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<Begin Segment 26>

TI: I only have a few minutes left, unfortunately, and so as a final question, I know that you've been living in Italy for a while, and so you're able to look at the United States from probably a different perspective than Americans who live in the States. And in listening the last few hours about your life and all the different things, I think you have a very, perhaps, interesting perspective in terms of sharing in terms of, when you look at the United States now and where we are how, do you assess what we're going through right now? Is this something -- 'cause you've watched the United States go through war during World War II, you talked about the McCarthy era, you saw the civil rights movement, you've worked with men like Norman Thomas. How do you assess what the United States is going through now?

JI: Well, you know, Norman Thomas, before he died, wrote a column called, "What's Right With America," and listed all the things that had happened, the civil rights legislation and so forth. And he couldn't write that column now. He would be so depressed, so disillusioned about what's happened. And one of the things that's happened in Europe at least, is the credibility of the U.S. is zilch, and not just in Italy, but throughout western Europe. I know that Sarkozy is trying to mend fences and all that, and yet his people, I don't think, find much credibility among, in the United States. I've always, when people ask me if we're coming back, and I said, "Well, eventually. America is my country, United States is my country, but I'm not proud of America. I'm ashamed of the kind of government we have." So I can't say I'm proud of, to be American. I'm not proud to be American. I am an American, but it's not with a sense of pride I have. And in a way, it's a copout because I contribute nothing to, except vote every four years or whatever, but I haven't contributed anything. We have all kinds of friends who are in the United States who are doing very important volunteer work for --

TI: But Joe, so the, I'm trying to get a sense, so you're less proud of the United States now than when it was a country that put Japanese Americans and Japanese in camps, that there was this racial divide up and through even now, but especially before the civil rights movement, and even the McCarthy era. So you've seen those, and even living through that, you think now, perhaps, is worse?

JI: Well, I think part of it is because I thought you could mend it. And this administration has, has trashed the country so much that it's going to be very hard to repair it, and I know the candidates always talking about being able to fix it and all, and I hope they succeed, whoever is elected succeeds. But I think it's, it's going to take a long time. The, how a country can be trashed so thoroughly in eight years is beyond me. The fact that after the initial four years, that they would return a, the "Destroyer" to continue his work is beyond me. I have, I used to have faith in the Congress, but Congress has lost its opportunity to try to counter. They've let this administration take away their rights, they seized the rights to the courts, I mean, it's not a, it's not a tripartite government with equal power.

TI: So the checks and balances are no longer in place. I'm sorry, one last question. In terms of, I never asked this, but you and your wife, children... tell me just the names of your children and what they're currently doing.

JI: Okay, our oldest son is named Bruce, Bruce Allen Ishikawa, and he lives in (Marlborough), Vermont -- not Vermont, Massachusetts, and he's working for (Boze) there, doing computer work, I guess. And second son is Jesse Ichikawa, who's in Madison, Wisconsin, and he's been working with a law firm ever since, after, beginning in L.A. He felt like a Midwesterner and wanted to return to Wisconsin. So he's there, and this year they've asked him to teach at the University of Wisconsin Law School as well, so he'll be doing that as well. And then Chiyo Ishikawa is our third child, and she's in Seattle, and she's deputy director for the art, for arts at the Seattle Art Museum, and is a curator of European art. And then Kimi Ishikawa, who was the first Seattleite in our family, came here to work for Bolt, Baranek & Newman, found that it was too stressful to work for a software company and went back to get a Master's in teaching, and is teaching in Madison, Wisconsin, too. Again, she felt, A, that Seattle was getting too expensive for her to live and raise a child and so she moved back to Madison. Also, she felt like a Midwesterner. And then Ross Ishikawa is, is an architect who is working in Seattle with a friend of his. So there you are, our five children, and we have, I guess, thirteen grandchildren.

TI: I won't have you mention all those, 'cause you won't get all the names, right? [Laughs]

JI: Not all of them, grandchildren, but we love them the same.

TI: Well, I just want to thank you so much for spending the morning with me. It was an incredible story, and thank you so much for your time.

JI: Well, thank you for asking me. I don't know that I've added anything to your library, but I appreciate the opportunity.

<End Segment 26> - Copyright © 2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.