Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Art Abe Interview
Narrator: Art Abe
Interviewer: Tom Ikeda
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: January 24, 2008
Densho ID: denshovh-aart-01

<Begin Segment 1>

TI: Okay, so Art, let's get started. So the way I start every interview is just the date and location. So we're in the Densho studio, today is Thursday, January 24, 2008. Operating the camera is Dana Hoshide, and I'm the interviewer, Tom Ikeda, and today we have Art Abe. So Art, the way I like to start is if you could just tell me where you were born and what date you were born.

AA: I was born in Seattle, Washington, 1921.

TI: And what was the date? What's your birthday?

AA: June 12th.

TI: June 12th. And then what was the name given to you at birth?

AA: Arthur, middle name was Kinya, K-I-N-Y-A.

TI: Good. Can you tell me, in terms of siblings, the order that you were born? So if you, like, start with the oldest and then just kind of go down the birth order.

AA: Yeah, my sister Kazuko, she was born 1920. And then my younger sister, Lyla, was born 1923.

TI: So, good, so Kazuko, 1920, you were born 1921, and then Lyla was born 1923, so you were a middle child around two sisters.

AA: That's right.

TI: That must have been interesting. We'll talk more about that. Let's go to your father. What was, what was your father's name?

AA: Takaji.

TI: And do you recall where he, where his family came from in Japan?

AA: Yes, he was from Okayama, Japan.

TI: And do you know what, what kind of work your father's family did?

AA: They had a farm, a fairly sizable farm. He was the eldest of three brothers.

TI: So why, as the eldest of three brothers, why did he come to the United States?

AA: Well, he, I believe that he didn't want to join the army.

TI: Because during this time, the Japanese were engaged in various military engagements.

AA: Yes, with Russia.

TI: So your father was interested. Can you tell me anything about your father's family in terms of maybe his siblings or anything about the family in Japan? You've mentioned he's the eldest of, what, three brothers?

AA: Yes. Well, he came over when he was about nineteen, so he left the family in charge of his younger brother.

TI: And do you know any stories in terms of how your Dad's, say, parents, like your grandparents, reacted to his wanting to come to the United States?

AA: He never discussed that.

TI: What was your father like? If you were to describe him, what was he like?

AA: Oh, I believe he was quite intelligent. He was fairly tall for a Japanese.

TI: And what would, when you say "fairly tall," how tall...

AA: Oh, he wasn't that tall. He was a little bit taller than I am, I guess.

TI: So maybe about 5'7" or so?

AA: 5'7", yeah.

TI: Okay, five feet, seven inches. So intelligent...

AA: Yeah, he graduated from high school, and immediately after high school, he came to this country.

TI: Okay, so let's... well, so tell me, so when he, he came as a nineteen-year-old, and so what did he do when he first came to the United States?

AA: Well, he was a laborer, working in a, working in the nursery greenhouse business.

TI: So talk about that. I mean, so, by the time your father came to Seattle, were there other family members already here doing things?

AA: No, he was the only one.

TI: So did he start the, sort of, the greenhouse?

AA: No, that was my mother's side.

TI: Oh, okay, okay. So, let's, yeah, I'm getting confused here.

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

<Begin Segment 2>

TI: So let's, let's go to your mother's side. So what was your mom's name?

AA: My mother's name was Sadako.

TI: And before we get to Seattle, what do you know about... so where in Japan did her family come from?

AA: She came from Tottori.

TI: So where's Tottori? That's a new one for me. Tottori is where? Do you know what ken that is?

AA: No.

TI: Or what part of...

AA: It's on the Japan Sea side.

TI: Okay, and what, what kind of work did your mother's family do in Japan?

AA: They were also farmers.

TI: And so tell me about your mother's family in Japan.

AA: My grandfather and grandmother came to this country and left, they had four children, and they left them behind, and they came to this country and established a business here. And they brought the four, four children over in several different times.

TI: So your grandparents on your mother's side, this is a little unusual. So they were already somewhat established in Japan with children, and they decided to leave their children in Japan, come to the United States to start a business or some work?

AA: Yes.

TI: And was this the greenhouse business, then?

AA: Yes.

TI: And then once things got established, then they went back and brought the four children to Japan -- or back to the United States.

AA: I don't think they went back.

TI: They just sent for the children?

AA: Yeah, as children were teenagers, they brought 'em over one at a time.

TI: And so your mother, was she in Japan?

AA: Yes, she was the second of the four.

TI: Oh, this is interesting. Second of four, so she... and who took care of the four children?

AA: The aunt, the aunt took care of the four children.

TI: Now, do you know much about your grandparents and what they were like to come to Seattle to do this?

AA: Oh, yes. I knew my, my grandfather passed away back in 1926, I believe, but I vaguely remember him. My grandmother lived to be about eighty-four, so I knew her quite well.

TI: And so what were they like?

AA: I really don't recall too much of my grandfather, but he was quite a businessman. He had, he had this greenhouse/nursery business, and he had quite a few people working for him. And my dad got a job there, he was the foreman of the company.

TI: And so is this where your father met your mother?

AA: Yes, that's right.

TI: Yes, this is interesting. So your mother was here already, okay. And tell me a little bit about your mother's siblings, 'cause she, you said she was the second of...

AA: The oldest one was named Hiromu Nishitani, and he worked in the greenhouse, he inherited the greenhouse after my grandfather passed away. And then my uncle that was one year younger than my mother was Yutaka. He last name was Akichika. The reason his name was Akichika rather than Nishitani was that he married, his wife was an only daughter and they wanted to carry on the name. I think they called that a youshi.

TI: Right. So he was a youshi, where he took on the name of the wife's family.

AA: Wife's family.

TI: So that that name could be carried on.

AA: Yes.

TI: And that last name again was...

AA: Akichika.

TI: Akichika, okay. And so that was Hiromi, and then was Sadako the second?

AA: Second one.

TI: Okay, then Yutaka, and then...

AA: And then the fourth one was Misao, and she married Jim Sakamoto, and they had the Courier newspaper business.

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

<Begin Segment 3>

TI: And then tell me a little bit about the business. So this greenhouse business, where was this located?

AA: It was located on the Bothell Highway. They had a 5 acre piece right on, right on the highway, and they had a number of greenhouses, then they had a nursery business, selling shrubbery and all kinds of things like that.

TI: And were there very many other Japanese that lived out near the greenhouse?

AA: Well, yeah, there was, not in the immediate vicinity, but that Green Lake book shows all the Japanese that are living in the north end.

TI: So, as much as you can, tell me about the greenhouse business. I mean, was this a business that traditionally Japanese would do, and who would be the customers? Can you just kind of give me a picture of this business and how it operated?

AA: Yeah, they grew flowers. My uncle and grandfather grew chrysanthemums and bedding plants, Easter lilies. And it, springtime was an exceedingly busy time, 'cause they grew bedding plants, and Easter was a very crucial time, they had to get everything out, you know, within a week, and so it was quite a hectic time. I remember going out there helping after school and evenings and weekends.

TI: Was this like a retail business or more a wholesale business?

AA: Well, they were very fortunate and they had both. They were on the highway, so they had a fairly good retail business. Then the rest was the things they took, took down to the wholesale house.

TI: And where was the wholesale house? Where would they go for that?

AA: It was in downtown Seattle.

TI: Like the Pike Place Market, around there?

AA: No, it was... I forget what, where it was located, but it was, name of the wholesaler was Jones, I believe.

TI: And this was a place where all the flower growers...

AA: Flower growers dropped their flowers on consignment, and they and the wholesale house would in turn sell the products to all the florists in town.

TI: Okay.

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

<Begin Segment 4>

TI: And tell me a little bit about your mother. What was she like? How would you describe your mother?

AA: Well, she, she came over to this country when she was about fifteen, and she attended Maple Leaf grammar school for a couple of years, and so she picked up a little bit of English. During the time when they were in Japan, the parents had additional kids (in the U.S.), and she had a number of younger siblings. And it was kind of, they felt very uncomfortable with, like, my mother going to school, she was fifteen and she was in the first and second grade, and they were kind of ashamed to think that they had a dumb older sister. But there was, there wasn't the closeness between the ones that were born here and the ones that were in Japan because their culture was altogether different.

TI: So Art, this is interesting. So there were four siblings who were born and essentially raised in Japan.

AA: Yes.

TI: And as teenagers they came over. And then there was a second wave...

AA: Second wave.

TI: ...of children. Tell me about those children, who were they?

AA: Okay, the oldest was May, and she married a fellow by the name of Tony Gomez. He used to be, he was working for the Seattle Times. And then the next one was George, and he became a farmer in Idaho. And the next one was Tom, he also became a farmer in Idaho. And then the next one was Woodrow, he was in the forest product, he was the first one that went to the university, majored in forestry. And the next one was Martha, she was a dancer, and the youngest one was Connie, and she married Hideki Sekijima.

TI: So it was kind of interesting, from a family standpoint...

AA: Lot of kids. [Laughs]

TI: Yeah, there were lots of kids, two, four, six, they had ten children, your parents, or your grandparents. And it looks like the younger children were probably fairly close in age to the, to their nieces and nephews from the older...

AA: Oh, yes. My aunt Connie was a little bit younger than I am. [Laughs] So we all grew up together.

TI: And so was that, did that, were there any problems or issues with that, or was that just kind of like, just felt normal to you? Or I mean, when, so you saw your, Connie, you probably didn't, did you call her, like, Aunt Connie?

AA: I never called her aunt. [Laughs]

TI: She was just, like, more like a cousin, perhaps?

AA: Yeah.

TI: Okay. And so, and so you talked about sort of this, maybe difficulties between the older siblings and the younger siblings? And a lot of it was the younger siblings, did you feel like they felt maybe a little ashamed because the older siblings didn't speak English as well? Is that what happened?

AA: But my mother's younger siblings, Yutaka and Masao, they both went to high school and they were very fluent in English. They came over a little bit younger than my mother. But turned out that (...), other than Hiromu (who) had the greenhouse in the north end, they all lived in the south end of town, so we used to differentiate by the north enders and the south enders. So we weren't that close with the people in the north end.

TI: So who, who were the north enders and who were the south enders? I mean, what was that distinction?

AA: All the younger, younger ones lived in the north end.

TI: Along with --

AA: And even to this day, they still live in the north end. [Laughs]

TI: And so your family and Yutaka and Misao's family were south end?

AA: South end, yes.

TI: Okay. Oh, interesting.

AA: That was initially, but later on, they separated. The Sakamotos all were in the south end. And Yutaka went to Japan right after the war, so we didn't see too much of him.

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

<Begin Segment 5>

TI: Well, let's talk about your family now a little bit more in terms of, so after your father and mother were married, what kind of work did they, did they do in the south end?

AA: My dad had a, had a hotel downtown Seattle, and then when the war ended, all the shipyards closed, and so they, the business floundered and so they went out of business.

TI: And so did he have the hotel before the war?

AA: No, no, after.

TI: Okay, let's talk about --

AA: Well, no, yes, during the war. They had a lot of shipyard workers living in the...

TI: Okay, before we get there, let's talk about before the war. So when you were growing up as a child, what kind of work did...

AA: Well, before the war, I wasn't born until '21.

TI: Well, so in the '20s, what kind of work do you remember?

AA: Well, after the, after the business was bankrupt...

TI: Oh, so you're talking, when you say "war," were you talking about World War I?

AA: World War I.

TI: Okay... so, okay. So World War I, they had a hotel downtown Seattle.

AA: Hotel, yes.

TI: And then that was doing fine, but then after the war, then business got bad.

AA: Yes. So he (worked) as a salesperson in the produce market down in Westlake (Ave).

TI: Okay, so he did that. And then how did that go?

AA: Well, we were barely able to make a living, I guess. In 19'... I think it was about 1930, my dad decided to go back to Japan to visit his folks, 'cause he had never gone back. And so when he came back, then he opened up this little grocery store up on Capitol Hill.

TI: And where was the grocery store located?

AA: On Belmont and Olive Way. It was an all-Caucasian neighborhood, and so I went to school, Lowell School up on Capitol Hill.

TI: So let me see if my Seattle geography is good. Belmont and Olive Way.

AA: Yes.

TI: So is that close to the B & O sort of restaurant?

AA: Yeah. The B & O restaurant took over the store that my dad had.

TI: Oh, so the B & O was the same building.

AA: Same location, same slot there.

TI: That's funny, I still go there and they have great desserts at night. Yeah, Belmont and Olive, is that why it's called the B & O? I just looked at that, B & O, Belmont and Olive?

AA: [Laughs] I don't know.

TI: I wonder if that's why it's called that. I just wrote that down.

AA: So we had that store until evacuation.

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

<Begin Segment 6>

TI: And so here you're in a Caucasian -- because I think about walking around that neighborhood, and...

AA: It's mostly apartment house.

TI: Apartment houses, and if you go further north, you have nicer homes that way. And so tell me about the customers of the store. What were they like, who were they?

AA: Oh, most of 'em were working downtown. And in those days, not too many people had automobiles, so it was a short distance, about a mile downtown, so people used to walk downtown, and they lived in apartment. There were a few houses. Today, there's a lot more apartments up in that neighborhood, but those houses were torn down and new apartments went up.

TI: And so it sounds like most of your customers were kind of working-class...

AA: Working-class, yes.

TI: Lived in apartments. And how about your playmates growing up in this neighborhood? Who were they?

AA: Oh, they were all Caucasians. There were several Swedish and Norwegian kids I used to play around with.

TI: And so what kind of games would you guys play in the neighborhood?

AA: Oh, I didn't have that much time to play, 'cause I was working in, helping in the store all the time. And then I was involved in sports in school.

TI: So you can't recall, like, at night or something, just playing around or doing games with some of your friends in the streets?

AA: No, not at my... I had enough activities at school, so I didn't play around too much.

TI: So what school did you go to in that neighborhood?

AA: I went to Lowell. It was on Mercer and Federal Way.

TI: And how many other non-white or non-Caucasian students were at Lowell at this point?

AA: We were the only Japanese there. I remember later on, there was one Chinese family that came there.

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

<Begin Segment 7>

TI: By being the only Japanese, did you ever feel sort of singled out or discriminated against?

AA: Oh, yes, at first I did. When I first went there, the kids used to pick on me because they, I was different. But my dad told me to keep a low profile, don't make any trouble. And so they kept on picking on me, and I didn't retaliate. Finally, I got to the point where I had to do something, so I said, "Okay, I'm gonna put an end to this. Who wants to take me on?" And the biggest guy, he decided he'd take me on. I, we were wrestling, and (recall) my dad had taken me to some of these judo practices, and so I just grabbed a hold of his collar and proceeded to choke him. And he was hollering, "Unfair, unfair," and I said, "What's unfairness got to do with it?" and I kept, and I says, "Give up? Give up?" And he finally says, "Yeah, okay, I give up," he was getting kind of blue in the face. [Laughs] And then, so I let him up and I says, "Okay, who's next?" [Laughs] Nobody wanted to take me on, 'cause I had beaten the biggest bully there. After that, I got along fine with all the other kids.

TI: Oh, that's a good story. So it took standing up to these bullies to actually get them to stop bothering you.

AA: Yes. But I caught hell from my parents. My sister told them I was in a fight. [Laughs]

TI: Even after you explained to your parents why you had to do it?

AA: Yeah.

TI: They still thought that was wrong?

AA: Yeah. But anyway, I got along fine, and I eventually got to be a leader in a number of activities. I was captain of the track team, captain of the soccer team, and captain of the School Boy Patrol, and president of the Boys Club. My academics were not that great when I first went there, but towards the end, I was an excellent student.

TI: And I'm curious, some of the boys that were part of that group that bothered you, after that incident, later on, did some of them become your friends?

AA: Oh, I don't recall the bully ever becoming my friends, but I had a lot of friends that were... you know, Lowell school was on the border of all the wealthy people up on Federal Way, and we were on the fringes. And so I had a lot of friends that were from wealthy family. Like the Schaefers, the Schaefers owned the Schaefer Building downtown, and their parents drove the kids to school with a chauffeur. And I believe a fellow named David Ernst, he was somewhat related to the Ernst Hardware. And there was a girl named Virginia Simpson that was part of the Simpson Lumber family. And so I went to school with a lot of the wealthy old-time families.

TI: 'Cause you know, you're right, when I think, again, geographically Seattle, Lowell is located near a lot of what I would call mansions.

AA: Yes, that's right.

TI: And so the families there would send their children to Lowell, and then you would interact with them. Did you get a sense of a class difference with these individuals? Did, was, in school, was there like a differentiation between the wealthy and the not so wealthy?

AA: I sensed that there was a difference, 'cause we had two, two classes of the same class. They had us segregated, and it seems to me that all the kids in my class were from the lower side. There were a few that were in my class, but all the more elite kids were in the other half.

TI: Did you get a sense that the, the other class got better, maybe, resources than your class?

AA: Well, I think they were the same.

TI: But yet, you felt like there was... did, do you ever recall your classmates in your class ever talking about the other class in a different way?

AA: No, I... the only thing that, the reason I felt that way is that the majority of the kids in my class were down in the, lived in the south end of the district.

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

<Begin Segment 8>

TI: Yeah, because when I think about, yeah, if you go south, that's where, you're right, it's more what I would call the Broadway district, and there's more apartments. And if you go the other way, it's more the Volunteer Park, where you have more of the larger, larger homes. Anything else you can recall in terms of... 'cause that would be an interesting school to look at, because of the, especially during those years, the disparity in wealth because, 'cause those were hard times economically, when you look at the late '20s, early '30s, you're in the Depression. And so was there any influence in terms of the Depression on, that you could tell in terms of what was going on?

AA: Oh, the kids in the north end, they lived in fine, fine homes, and I used to associate with all the, all those kids. I guess the reason was that I was, I was a fairly good athlete. I remember one instance, one of my friends had a birthday party, and the mother decided that she'd treat the kids to swimming at the Moore pool in Seattle. And all of us went down there with our swimming suits, and they declined to admit me to the pool. And the mother didn't say anything, the rest of 'em went in and had a good time, and I was left out. That was the first time I'd, I'd encountered discrimination in grammar school.

TI: Do you recall how you felt being left outside when the other boys went in?

AA: Well, I kind of expected, it wasn't that bad because my father had, had experienced discrimination when we opened the store, and he told us to expect these things to come up.

TI: But how about the mother who brought you there? You said, did you have any interaction, did she say anything to you when this happened?

AA: I don't recall. There was about a dozen kids, so she was herding them around.

TI: After the, the other boys were done swimming, did you do anything afterwards with the other boys? I mean, like, was there, like, a continuation of the party someplace, like dessert or something?

AA: No, no, that was the end of the party. We had the party at their home, and then afterwards, they went swimming.

TI: Do you remember how old you were when this happened?

AA: I must have been eleven or twelve, somewhere around there.

TI: You mentioned that at school, you got to know some of these more wealthy kids, or kids from more wealthy families. Were you ever invited to their homes?

AA: Oh, yes, I was, I'd been in their homes. I especially remember a fellow named Jerry Swanson (whose) father owned a chain, chain of cigar stores down on the waterfront. They lived in a penthouse in one of their apartments, and I still remember, they had a large living room. The first time I'd been in a, a place where they had real thick, heavy carpeting, I could walk on it, and I thought, "My goodness, what a luxury." And they had a big grand piano there, and his older sister was taking singing, singing lessons. I couldn't imagine the amount of money that it took to live in a place like that. And they had, had an elevator to go up to their, their place. But I had a couple of friends that lived up on Federal Way, and they lived in huge, huge houses.

TI: So Federal, like Federal Avenue?

AA: Yeah, Federal Avenue.

TI: Federal Avenue, right. Where those large homes were.

AA: Large homes.

TI: What did you think when you went into these, these, sort of, really nice places like this?

AA: Well, I felt that, gee, I saw all this elegant furniture and things like that, but contrasted, you know, the sparse homes that I lived in.

TI: Conversely, some of these friends, did you ever have them, or invite them to your house? Did they ever come to your place?

AA: No, never.

TI: And why was that? Was that something that you decided not to do?

AA: I was kind of ashamed to bring 'em to my place.

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

<Begin Segment 9>

TI: So you did sports in elementary, then after Lowell, where did you go?

AA: I went to the University of Washington.

TI: Oh, so Lowell went all the way through high school, or where did you go to high school?

AA: I went to Broadway High School.

TI: Okay, so you went to Lowell, then to...

AA: Then to Broadway.

TI: Broadway.

AA: I went four years there.

TI: So tell me a little bit about Broadway, because there, there were quite a few Japanese there.

AA: Japanese, yes.

TI: So how did that --

AA: But I didn't get to know very many Japanese, other than, my interaction was only during class. But after school, I walked north, and all the Japanese went south.

TI: And so would you say your friends in high school were still kind of like your Lowell school buddies more than Japanese, because you went north?

AA: I associated mostly with the kids going north, 'cause they were my classmates from Lowell, and I really didn't... when we moved north, I was in the third grade, so I really didn't have any close friends.

TI: And so if I were to ask you, in high school, who were some of your best buddies, which names would come to mind?

AA: Oh, there's one, one person, Don Combs, he's, I still keep in contact with him. He lived in the north end, and I spent quite a bit of time with him. We used to go fishing together, I helped him when he painted his house one summer, we spent about a month painting the exterior of his house. Another person was Lyle Amundson. In Broadway, our roll room, the students were assigned alphabetically, and we sat on tables, and right next to me was Lyle, and I spent four years sitting next to him. And he eventually became a stockbroker and to this day, he was my stockbroker until he passed away a couple of years ago.

TI: That's good.

AA: That helped considerably. [Laughs]

TI: Oh, that's good. And so what kind of student were you, like, in high school? You mentioned earlier how you like athletics, and that eventually, you became a pretty good student. So how would you describe yourself at Broadway?

AA: I was an excellent student.

TI: And what kind of activities were you involved in at Broadway?

AA: I went primarily in track. I was the captain of the track team. I made the varsity in my freshman year in track.

TI: And what events did you do in track?

AA: Long jump and sprints.

TI: Great. So you must have been very fast for you to, as a freshman, to make the varsity.

AA: Well, in grammar school, in track, I took first place in the all-city long jump. And the sprints, I think I came in second in all-city, I guess.

TI: So back then, when you were at that level, like the fastest in your age group in, or the longest jumper and one of the fastest runners, who would be your competition? Because you're, that's all over the city, right? So they're coming from all over. So would they be mostly Caucasians, or would they be other Japanese, or would they be, sort of, black?

AA: They were all Caucasian. There weren't too many blacks in Seattle at that time.

TI: And the other, there weren't other Japanese or Chinese at this level?

AA: Not that I'm aware of.

TI: So at that age, were you big for your age? I imagine, to be a sprinter, you'd have to be fairly large.

AA: No, I was, I was rather thin at that time. I think I only weighed about 135 pounds.

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

<Begin Segment 10>

TI: So what, what year did you graduate from Broadway High School?

AA: 1939.

TI: Okay, 1939. And then, and then you mentioned earlier that you then went to University of Washington?

AA: Yes.

TI: And at this point, were your parents really supportive of you going to the university? Is that something they wanted you to do?

AA: Oh, yes. My dad always stressed the fact that in order for the Japanese to get (ahead), you had to be twice as good as the Caucasians. And he stressed education, and we really didn't have enough money to send us this... my sister went to university, but in order to make tuition, I had to go work on the farms during the summer. And he said, "Well, you can live at home and you can go out to the university," and that's how I was able to make it. And if it wasn't for the low tuition that was available, I would have never been able to get a good education.

TI: And so when you said you had to work at the farms during the summer to raise money, what farms did you work at? What kind of farms?

AA: I worked on a, on a vegetable farm over in Kingston, growing lettuce, peas and celery, things like that. Then another year I worked over in Woodinville, doing the same kind of work.

TI: And so during the summer months, you would just live out in the farm and work from morning to night.

AA: Yes.

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

<Begin Segment 11>

AA: And then one summer I worked on a yacht. This family by the name of Griffith had a yacht that was 129 feet long, and it was moored at the Seattle Yacht Club. And I was a waiter and dishwasher and deckhand. And we used to cruise up and down the British Columbia.

TI: So that Inside Passage...

AA: Inside Passage.

TI: to Vancouver Island.

AA: Yes, north. That was quite an experience.

TI: That seems a lot easier than working as a farmhand. [Laughs]

AA: Well, not really. [Laughs]

TI: Not really? So what did you have to do as, tell me about the work on a yacht, what was that like?

AA: Oh, I'd have to get up early in the morning, and they wanted, I still remember having, they used to have about fifteen guests aboard, and used to have to help the cook prepare breakfast. And then I'd have, I'd be the waiter, and wait on the tables, and then afterwards I'd have to clean up, wash all those dishes. And I couldn't get over the fact that they used so many dishes and utensils. [Laughs] At home, we had just a plate and knife and forks, they had all kinds of things. I had a mountain of dishes to wash. And we didn't have a dishwasher on board. And then I'd have to clean up, and I had to go back and clean up the cabins. And then late at night, they'd have, they'd have their drinks, they'd be playing cards, and I'd have to, they wanted ice or mixers, I'd have to help wait on them 'til late at night, then I'd have to get up early in the morning. So I didn't get that much sleep. I was working fourteen, fifteen hours a day.

TI: And what happened when the ship wasn't out sailing? Would you still work, or would you...

AA: We were, the ship was out about half the time, and the other half we were down at the Seattle Yacht Club. And I'd go there every day and clean up and do a lot of work on the ship. There's a lot of work, varnishing, scraping and painting, doing things like that.

TI: So I'm curious, how did you get this job?

AA: Oh, my uncle Jim Sakamoto knew Stanley Griffith, the son of the owner. (James) Griffith, I believe, was a member of the Press Club -- I don't know how, why -- but Jim Sakamoto knew him, so Stanley asked Jim if he knew anybody that wanted to work on a yacht. That's how he got the job. The pay was a little better than the farm because I was able to get tips in addition to my salary.

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

<Begin Segment 12>

TI: I want to, later on, I want to talk a little bit more about your uncle, Jim Sakamoto. But before we get there, let's go back to the University of Washington, I wanted to find out, so what were you studying when you went to the University of Washington?

AA: I was taking business administration. I really wasn't that keen about business, but my dad told me, "Well, we've got a business, and it would be very difficult to get any, any other jobs." I was particularly interested in going into engineering, but Boeing was hiring Japanese, and so I knew several others that graduated in aeronautical engineering and they weren't hired, and so they went to Japan and got a job in the aircraft industry in Japan.

TI: But did your father think that if you got a business degree, that that would help you kind of run the store, or did he have bigger sort of plans for you?

AA: Help run the store, I guess.

TI: 'Cause it seemed like that's, you're almost overqualified to get a university business degree, and to run a small sort of store.

AA: Yeah, a lot of Japanese were overqualified. During one summer, I worked for a fellow by the name of George Shigaki that was in the gardening business. I don't know whether you're familiar with that family or not, but he was a graduate of the School of Architecture at the University of Washington. He couldn't get a job, so he went in the gardening business.

TI: And so you were, you were watching, essentially, these older Niseis who went to the University of Washington, got degrees in architecture, possibly engineering, but then when they came out, they weren't able to get jobs in their field.

AA: Yeah, like George Shigaki went to school, I guess at the time that Min Yamasaki was at the school. And there were a lot of people like that. My brother-in-law --

TI: And you mentioned Min Yamasaki, I should just mention, so he's the one who designed the arches at the Seattle Center.

AA: Seattle Center, and the World Trade Center.

TI: Right.

AA: But he went back east, and I think that's why he was able to get...

TI: So Min went back east, and that's why he was able to practice as an architect.

AA: Yeah.

TI: Whereas George stayed in, on the West Coast or Seattle, and he ended up doing gardening work. Now, so did you ever talk to these Niseis? Were they resentful that they would go get their college degrees, and then couldn't get, sort of, jobs that fit their training?

AA: No, I think they were too busy trying to make a living, and they accepted the fact that there was discrimination.

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

<Begin Segment 13>

TI: Okay, Art, so we're now into the second, second hour of this interview. And before I get to December 7, 1941, I wanted to ask you about your uncle, Jim, or James Sakamoto...

AA: Sure.

TI: ...who in Seattle Japanese, in Japanese American history, is a very prominent figure. He started a newspaper called the Courier, and was very prominent. And I wanted to ask you about your, sort of, experiences with Jim Sakamoto. So tell me a little bit about Jim Sakamoto. What was he like?

AA: Well, he was, he was a graduate of Franklin High School, and he was quite an athlete. He was on the football team, and I heard that he, Franklin was not very good at the time he was going, and he was the only who made a touchdown I guess, I don't know whether that's true or not. But then his father sent him to Princeton. And to make ends meet, he took up boxing, and he was boxing in Madison Square Garden in the preliminaries, and he got hit too many times in the head. That's when he lost his eyesight. And when he came back to Seattle, there wasn't a great deal of work he could do, so he started the Courier.

TI: Just so I understand, so at what point did he marry your, your aunt? Was this like before he went to Princeton or after?

AA: No, no, he married when he came back. I still remember the wedding. It was... this was after he had started, started the newspaper business.

TI: Okay, so he married your aunt, so he was already, this was after his boxing career, he was blind and had started the Courier.

AA: Yes.

TI: And so describe the wedding.

AA: Oh, they had the, I don't recall where the, where the ceremonies were, but they had a big reception at the place on Fourteenth on Fir, it used to be known as the Washington Hall, I believe.

AA: It's only a couple blocks away from here. And I still remember my, my aunt coming down to help decorate the place. We lived on Thirteenth and Alder at the time, it's just a couple of blocks away, so they used that as a staging ground. They used to drop by and get all the things, preparation, I remember watching them hang up all the crepe paper and things like that, and all the food that they brought in, and I used to eye all that.

TI: And how old were you when this was happening?

AA: I was in the second, about the second grade at the time.

TI: Okay.

AA: We weren't invited to the wedding, the kids were not. [Laughs]

TI: Oh, no. [Laughs]

AA: And I remember they had a big, big band that they had dancing afterwards. But at that time, I guess, I felt the whole Japanese community was down there at the reception.

TI: Because at this point, Jim Sakamoto was very prominent in the community.

AA: Oh, yes.

TI: Was it because of his boxing career, or was it because of the Courier?

AA: Because of his Courier. He had a lot of advertisers and all the, all the people that were involved in the sports, the coaches and all those people.

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

<Begin Segment 14>

TI: And so you've talked about some of the things that Jim Sakamoto did, and what's hard for me to understand is, so here you have this ex-boxer who's blind, who starts a newspaper that becomes successful. What was he like as a person? What was it about him that allowed him to be so successful, even though he was blind, to do a successful newspaper?

AA: Well, he was quite independent. He used to go around, travel around the community, he used to take the streetcar on his own, and I used to see him in his office. He used to type all the editorials by himself, he'd sit on the typewriter and type things out. But that business was not very successful. He was always in debt. And he was a hand-to-mouth kind of operation. And I remember at the end of the athletic season, they used to have what they call a mixer up at Collins Playfield where all the athletes, the teams used to get, have a get-together after the season, and they have a dance there. And for the refreshments, they'd come and ask my dad to order all those things, like they used to have hot dogs and buns and potato chips and all the things like that. He didn't have any funds to pay for those, but my dad ordered the things, and I remember having to deliver all that stuff down to the Collins Playfield, and I think they used to charge admission of twenty-five cents. And long afterwards, they finally got enough funds to reimburse my dad. They got it from my dad's wholesale.

TI: So how did your dad feel about Jim Sakamoto? Because here you mentioned, so your dad is a hard-working businessman, has a store, and then his brother-in-law, he probably will help out, but how did he feel about it?

AA: Well, I don't recall any ill feelings.


TI: And so was your dad in the family kind of... what's the right word? Kind of the, like, I was going to say, like a foundation or someone that people went to when they needed help?

AA: Yeah, my sister was the oldest, or my mother was the oldest sister, so the rest of the family kind of, she was kind of a mother to the younger ones when they were in trouble.

TI: Even the younger ones, I mean, the, kind of the second wave? That they would go to your mother sometimes for help?

AA: Yeah, I think so.

TI: Okay, good.

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

<Begin Segment 15>

TI: Let's go to December 7, 1941, and I wanted to ask you your recollection of that day and what happened to you.

AA: Yeah, it was a Sunday morning, and I was working, we were doing a little bit of remodeling in the store. When I heard the news, I couldn't believe what was happening, and we were kind of stunned, and we were wondering what was gonna happen, 'cause we were all in the Caucasian neighborhood, and all of a sudden business dropped down to a fraction of what it was before.

TI: Were there ever any sort of direct comments made to you or your family about being Japanese at the store?

AA: No, not that I recall. But those people that used to come and trade with us, we didn't see them. And then we used to give credit to the customers, whereas stores like A&P and Safeway never extended credit. So those customers stopped coming and they didn't pay their bills. So I still remember going with my parents to go out and try to collect some of those bills, 'cause we had bills that we had to pay to the wholesale house. And then shortly after, we started getting visits from the FBI, and they said some of our customers had complained to them that my dad was associated with, with some of the people that were sympathetic to the Japanese. We had a real good friend that was working for the Bon Marche, he was kind of a janitor, and he was a trusted employee of the Bon Marche. And at nighttime, after the store closed, he'd take the proceeds of the Bon Marche to the bank. Nobody would expect the janitor to be carrying the proceeds. He got picked up by the FBI and sent to Missoula, and we couldn't figure out why they would pick, pick him up. And the management at the Bon Marche vouched for him, but didn't do any good. And they finally found out that he was a bachelor, and he had an automobile, and so the, when the Japanese fleet came into Seattle on a visit, I think the Japanese community asked for volunteers to take care of some of the sailors. So he said okay, and he picked up three Japanese sailors and took them over on a tour and went up to Mount Rainier. And we figured that was the reason. The FBI was monitoring all the activities, and I think they checked on his license plate when he went down to the docks to pick up the sailors.

TI: But in the case of your, your family, your parents, did they have similar type of activities? When you mentioned the FBI...

AA: My dad never did have any contact with the Japanese organizations, other than the grocerymen's association.

TI: So do you think, you mentioned that the FBI came by the store right after you were talking about how your parents were having a hard time collecting money owed to them on credit. Do you think that possibly some of the people that owed your parents money were the ones who were talking to the FBI?

AA: I think so. My, I have no proof of that, but the FBI didn't name people, they said, "One of your customers." This happened two or three times, so we had several visits. The FBI would come out and says, "Oh, another one of your customers called and so we have to check out everyone, every call." So my mother would serve them tea and cookies, and they'd chat for a few minutes, and so they'd come by. And they'd say, "Well, your dad's clean."

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

<Begin Segment 16>

TI: So as this was happening, at some point, a couple months later, word got out that Japanese were gonna be removed from Seattle. So what happened to the store?

AA: Well, we, we had a, we tried to put it up for sale, and we had one customer living across the street, he was in the jewelry business, and so they, government shut down all the non-essential businesses. And so he wanted to buy the store, but he didn't have enough funds. And so my dad said, "Okay, we'll cut down the inventory as much as possible," and so we had a big fire sale. And we were selling things below cost, and we had heard some complaints from the Safeway store that was a few blocks away. We said, "So what?" we had a thing called the Robinson-Patman law that stated that you couldn't sell things that drive out the competition.

TI: So that's interesting. So Safeway complained because they thought that you were being unfair in terms of making it hard for them. So some of their customers were going over to your store to buy things much cheaper.

AA: But anyway, were able to get most of the inventory in the back, just the things that were on the shelves, they were all purchased, with all the equipment.

TI: And so this other, this former jewelry store owner, at that point, did he then buy the business, the store?

AA: Yes, he bought the, a fellow by the name of Spring, he bought all the fixtures and the refrigerators, ice cream cabinets, scales, and all the shelving. And he bought that at a substantial discount. But before we had a sale, my aunt May worked for a family up on Capitol Hill by the name of Ringstad. He was the assistant postmaster for the Seattle, City of Seattle. And at that time, there was talk of sugar rationing, and Mrs. Ringstad asked May, "Hey, your brother-in-law's got a grocery store. Do you think we could get some sugar from him?" And May called, and my dad said, "Yeah, I guess we could." Sugar used to come in 100-pound sacks at the time. And so I remember loading that 100-pound sack in the car, taking it up, up there. And she says, "Hey, don't bring the sugar in." Says, "We'll leave the garage door open, and you drive in the garage," we closed the garage door and I unloaded the sugar. They didn't want the neighbors to see what was going on. I thought that was kind of interesting.

TI: Yeah, that is. How about, were, did any of the customers show any acts of kindness towards you or the family during this time?

AA: Yeah, there was one family named Walsham that took a few pieces of our furniture that we didn't dump. And they kept it for us during, for the duration. But we got rid of just about everything.

TI: So this customer essentially stored your, some of your furniture for you.

AA: Well, not... just a couple of pieces that my mother wanted.

TI: Do you recall customers, as people knew that you had to leave, any customers just coming to say goodbye?

AA: Yeah, there was one customer that visited us in Puyallup, they were outside the fence and we had to visit through the fence. I remember one, one other customer that had... she was still single at the time, but this is a young girl that she had quite a bit of money on the books. And just before we left, she came back, she had gotten married to this one guy, she and her husband came and paid off the debt. I don't recall anybody else doing that.

TI: So as you probably left, and if you looked at your books, there were probably quite a few people who owed your family money.

AA: Oh, yeah. We lost hundreds of dollars, never did recover any of it.

TI: And people just probably felt that since you were being taken away, they wouldn't have to pay you, so they just...

AA: Yeah, I guess so.

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

<Begin Segment 17>

TI: So you mentioned Puyallup, so eventually you and your family were moved to Puyallup, the Puyallup assembly center. What was that like for you and your family?

AA: Well, I guess I was pretty bitter at that time. I was a junior at the University of Washington at the time, and... it was very uncomfortable living there.

TI: What were you bitter about? Think back to that time...

AA: The fact, the fact that I wasn't accused of anything, and I felt that the writ of habeas corpus was suspended. I couldn't believe what the government was doing to us.

TI: During this period, did you ever talk to your, to your uncle, James Sakamoto? Because during this time -- and it's a little controversial, but he was a official, high level official with the Japanese American Citizens League. And they took the stance that Japanese Americans should cooperate and go along with this.

AA: I didn't have any contact with him because I think he was in another area, and there was three different areas... four, I think it was, in Puyallup. But the first time I had further contact with him was in Minidoka.

TI: So you never got a chance to talk about... so let's go back to Puyallup. What type of activities, or what kind of memories do you have of Puyallup?

AA: Well, I remember the long lines and the, going into the mess hall. Some of, some of it was not too bad, I guess, in the evenings they used to have dances. And I was in Area D, that was the fairgrounds, and right next to it was a funhouse. I remember we used to climb up, everything was boarded up, we used to climb up on the roof and then pry open a window up there and get in there. And we'd roll around in the barrels and we had a good time. And we had a sentry outside, and when he saw the soldiers coming in, we'd get the high sign and we'd all scramble out and the soldiers would look around and wouldn't find anything. And as soon as they left, we'd go back in. [Laughs] We did all kinds of things like that. I didn't have too many friends at that time, so I hung around with a couple of Eurasian kids that were in, in Puyallup with me. My uncle Hiromu was married to a Caucasian woman, so my cousin was Eurasian, and so he hung around with a couple other Eurasian kids. And so, but eventually, they were all released before we went to, went to Minidoka.

TI: Now, explain that. So why were, because they were half Japanese...

AA: Half Japanese.

TI: ...half Caucasian. But according to the regulations, they would need to be also removed and incarcerated with other Japanese. Why were they released?

AA: I have no idea.

TI: Do you know where they went to after...

AA: My cousin went back and ran the greenhouse afterwards.

TI: So he came back to Seattle?

AA: Yeah.

TI: That's... is he still alive?

AA: No, he passed away several years ago. And there was another (Eurasian) family named Sugiura, they had quite a number of kids. The elder kids were released, but the younger kids stayed with the parents and they went to Minidoka.

TI: That's interesting. I'm curious, so these, these kids, well, I guess they were young adults...

AA: Young adults.

TI: ...who were half Japanese, half Caucasians, how did the Japanese and Japanese Americans accept them? Or what kind of relations did they have with these Eurasian...

AA: They got along okay, I guess, but I, they went to the dances and things like that, so I didn't recall any animosity between the two groups.

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

<Begin Segment 18>

TI: Okay, so let's go from Puyallup. After Puyallup you then went to Minidoka, Idaho. So describe Minidoka for me. And what time of year did you guys go to Minidoka?

AA: It was August. I still remember that trip --

TI: This is August 1942, you're going to Minidoka, go ahead.

AA: I remember that train ride. I think we went from Seattle, or from Puyallup down to, through Portland and up the Columbia River. And the, I don't know where they picked up all those cars, it was old vintage, seemed like from the Civil War days, had potbelly stoves for heating. And of course, we had all the shades drawn. I remember on a hot day we were on a side track for hours. And we'd look down and we'd see all the freight trains going by. And I see cattle cars going by, and they were given preference over us. And we had sentries aboard to make sure we didn't have the shades up, but anyway, we'd peek out through the cracks, and we could see that. I was getting bitter, it was hot, hot, and we didn't have anything to eat.

TI: And did you know where you were going at this point, when you were in the, when you got on the train?

AA: Yeah, I knew we were going to Minidoka, because they had recruited advance crew, a bunch of 'em went out to set up the, set up the camp.

TI: Now, did you ever talk to your parents about what was going on and how they felt about first Puyallup and then going to Minidoka?

AA: No. They kind of accepted what was, what their, they figured they didn't have any control over what was going on, so they accepted what was going on.

TI: And then just that little story you told about waiting sort of on a side rail. So generally, the railroads would give preference to passenger cars over freight cars, but in this case, the freight cars had preference over, over what you were...

AA: Yeah. The railroads were all single track, and so we had to go on the side. I guess the government gave preference to freight, freight moving.

TI: So when you got to Minidoka, tell me what that was like.

AA: Gee, I looked out and I saw that desolate, desolate place on the side tracks of Eden, I couldn't believe what, where we were at. And the buses came and hauled us in, and the camp was not completed, it was still in the construction stages. And Block 1 was completed, that's where the original volunteer advance crew was, living, and then Block 3, I was assigned to Block 3. They had just been completed. There was dust and it was ankle-deep all over, it was... and the wind was blowing and it was hot, no shade.

TI: And what were you thinking while you were going into all this?

AA: I was just trying to keep the dust away, and trying to get settled down. We had had our luggage, I still remember our luggage was in a big heap and we had to look around. Several hundred pieces of luggage were out there in pile on the ground where we had to scramble to find our luggage.

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

<Begin Segment 19>

TI: So once you got moved in, many people were assigned or got jobs inside the camp. Did you have a job?

AA: Let's see. Not initially. They asked for... I don't recall exactly what period that was, but the farmers came in the camp looking for workers to help with the harvest. And I, my uncle asked me to join him to work in the, harvesting the sugar beets.

TI: And which uncle was this?

AA: Hiromu, the oldest. I really wasn't particularly interested in going out with a older, older person, but I wanted to be with my younger, younger group. But anyway, I agreed to go with him. He had another friend by the name of Ken Sakura, who was a bachelor, and my uncle assured me that he's got all the pots and pans and things necessary for setting up housekeeping, and so I went along. I went up to the town of Aberdeen, Idaho, and worked with a, for a farmer. That was kind of interesting experience. I never knew what a sugar beet was, and when they came into camp, the farmers brought in a knife, sugar beet knife, and says, "Here's what you do." He says it has a hook on the end, you pick up the beet and hold it one hand and cut the top off, throw it down on the ground. I thought, "That's kind of simple, anybody can do that." But I never knew how difficult it would be. You'd be bent over all day long, hacking the, hacking the top off. And then the truck would come by and you'd bend over, pick it up, throw it in the truck, and pretty soon the truck would be filled, and we were on, people on both sides of the truck throwing stuff up. They'd throw it up and pretty soon it'd come over the top, a big ten-pound sugar beet would come crashing down on your head. [Laughs]

TI: So it was just backbreaking work.

AA: It was backbreaking work, yeah.

TI: And just all day.

AA: And at the end of the day, you couldn't straighten up. You're walking back to your cabin all hunched over. [Laughs] And then we had to cook our own meals, and the grocery store was about a mile away from where we were at. And it was very interesting, I think my uncle had a, had a reason for asking me to join him because I was in the grocery business, so he says, "Hey, you go pick up the groceries." So I'd trudge in, as tired as I was, I'd trudge in the store and buy the groceries and come back. But the story about the groceries, there's a, when we first went in there, they had two grocery stores, none of 'em would sell us any groceries. And so I went down to, down to the farmer and says, "This is nonsense. We come down to help you, and you guys aren't going to sell us any groceries." And so one of the, the farmers was a field manager for the Amalgamated Sugar Company, and there was a half-a-dozen other Japanese crews up there in that neighborhood. Says, "If this is going to happen, to heck with you guys, we're going back to camp."

TI: So did you say that? Did you tell this guy that?

AA: Yeah.

TI: And did you represent the other crews? Were they with you, or was it by yourself?

AA: No, I didn't know any of the others at that time. I think were one of the first ones there. And so the farmer went back and told his grocer that he was doing business with, says, "Hey, you give these guys groceries," and he says, "if they can't pay for it, I'll pay for it myself." And so this one grocer says, "Okay," and we got groceries from him. And so there was a butcher shop that wouldn't sell us anything, and there was a barber in town that had a sign, "No Japs," in the window. One Saturday evening after work, we cleaned up and we, there was a movie house that opened once a week on Saturday nights. So we thought we'd go in and see a movie. And we're standing in line waiting for the movie house to open up, sheriff came by and says, "I want you boys back, back on the farm. I don't want you in town." And we says, "What for?" He said, "I don't want any trouble." I said, "We're not causing any trouble," and he says, "Well, there might be." I says, "Well, if that's going to be trouble, we're not causing it." And so anyway, he chased us out of town. And so we went back and told the field manager, says, "This is, if this is the way you guys are going to treat us, you go pick your, harvest your own crop." And so all the farmers got together and they went to the sheriff and they says, I says, "These guys are helping us." And the sheriff was an elected position, so he knew which side the bread was buttered on, so he backed off. And so we were able to go to the movies after that.

TI: How about the barber shop? Did he ever cut...

AA: Never did. We weren't too concerned about getting a haircut in those days, 'cause it was only a short time, three, four weeks.

TI: So this was what, like September, October, kind of?

AA: Yeah, I remember when the weather started getting cold. It got so cold I thought my feet were gonna freeze. And the farmer took us up to Blackfoot, we were able to get those heavy felt shoes, and that helped a little bit.

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

<Begin Segment 20>

TI: And if the Japanese and Japanese Americans weren't there to harvest the crops, what would have happened? I mean, who would have, why were they in such a shortage of workers?

AA: Nobody would help, there was a shortage of workers. Mexicans, the first year there, the first couple of years I think there were Mexicans that were working up there, but I didn't see anybody up there. Down in the following year, I was down in Burley picking potatoes. And I still remember one field that they were working in, the farmers kept Japanese and Mexicans separate, but I could hear, hear the Mexicans chanting, "Seis centavos, seis centavos," that's "six cents." And what they were paying, getting six cents for every half sack of potatoes. Soon as they filled up a half a sack, they'd pick it up and set it aside and they'd say, "Seis centavos." I could hear that chanting all afternoon.

TI: And how would that compare to what you were being paid?

AA: Oh, we were being paid the same. About being paid the same, one fall I was down in, down in Utah picking tomatoes. The farmers had come into town and recruited a bunch of us to go down. We were down in Tremonton, we were, the FSA camp was in Preston, Idaho, and we were trucked down a few miles. We had signed a contract to pick tomatoes for eight dollars a ton, and also we were supposed to be paid prevailing wages. So we were down there picking tomatoes, and we found out that the Cash Valley Farmers Association was short of help and they had, they were paying some of the local kids ten dollars a ton. And we got wind of that, and so says, "Hey, we want the same pay that you guys are giving the local boys here." And the farmer says, "Oh, you guys signed a contract for eight dollars a ton." And I says, "Yeah, but we're supposed to be getting prevailing wages." He says, "That is the prevailing wage, eight dollars contract." So they're playing games with us. They didn't realize that we weren't a bunch of idiots, uneducated Mexicans. Anyway, we said, "Okay, you guys want to play games?" I was a ringleader and in our group we had about eight in our crew. And one day we went out, farmers took us out to the field, we sat down and picked about two boxes of tomatoes, sat down and ate our lunch. The farmers came by and says, "Hey, how come you guys aren't working?" Says, "We're working." We says, "We picked a few tomatoes." And the farmers insisted, "You guys signed the contract to pick for eight dollars a ton." I says, "Yeah, but the contract didn't say how many tomatoes we had to pick." And that stalemate went on for, oh, about a week. And what they were doing was we were picking tomatoes that were green, and we're shipping them back to New York. And they were, tomatoes were mature, but they weren't turning color yet. But by the time it took the tomatoes to get to New York, they were starting to get ripe. And so here they're starting to get ripe in the field and the farmers were getting frantic. And we were just sitting there, and they finally says, "Okay, we'll give you ten dollars a ton, but we're gonna hold back the two dollars until the end of the season." I says, "Okay, that sounds fair enough." And so we went and picked tomatoes until the end of the season. One day we got a deep freeze, and everything turned black. They came back and said, "Okay, get your stuff together, we're going to take you back to camp." I said, "Yeah, but how about our two dollars a ton?" I didn't know how many tons we'd picked. Anyway, they said, "Okay, we'll send you the money, 'cause we haven't figured out how much we owe you guys." I said okay, so I went back to camp. Thanksgiving rolled by, no money, Christmas rolled by and no money. So I went down to the project director's office and contacted their lawyer, and I says, "Hey, these guys are holding back money, and they agreed to pay us money." And so he got busy and contacted the association. So after a few weeks, we finally got our money. But I don't know whether, you know, the money was correct or not, but at least we got the money.

TI: That's a good story. So you were, you were kind of this labor organizer back then, and engineered a work slowdown until you guys got this.

AA: I was kind of a ringleader 'cause I was, in school I was the leader in a number of organizations.

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

<Begin Segment 21>

TI: Yeah, I'm going to switch gears here and go to December 1942, because during that month, a tragic event happened in camp, and that involved your father. And I wanted you to sort of tell me what happened.

AA: My father was a, had a job of washing dishes in the mess hall. He and another fellow dishwasher, after their shift, they decided to go outside the camp to search for greasewood, which was highly prized for making ornaments and things like that. And all of a sudden, there was, a storm came up, and it started snowing. And in the late afternoon, my dad didn't show up when he was scheduled to wash the evening dishes. So we were kind of frantic, and then his partner that he had gone out with had come back, couldn't figure out what it was, and he, we asked him and he was surprised. He says, "Oh, I thought he came back. We got separated." And turned out that -- I don't know why my dad didn't come back -- but there was a, kind of a whiteout, and he couldn't, in the evening, you couldn't see the light of the camp. Usually, you could see the lights from about a mile, several number of miles away, but never did come back. And so we sent out, they sent out the crews at night, had a motor pool, they had sent out half a dozen trucks and they were combing the sagebrush. And didn't have any luck 'til the next morning they --

TI: And what were the weather conditions during this time?

AA: Oh, it was cold, it was freezing, but the snow had let up. And the next morning, they let the high school out, and these kids formed a long, mile-long line with, I still remember they had these poles with flags on so they could see each other, and they combed the desert, they were sweeping the desert back and forth. And my, after the third day, they found my dad. The project director Stafford had a, he had a private pilot's license, and he had a plane, and he flew up hour after hour. He had taken up a Caucasian observer with him, and they'd fly until they ran out of gas, and he'd come back, and he'd pick up another different observer, and he flew I don't know how many sorties back and forth. My understanding was that he was the guy that spotted my dad. But according to one of the newspaper articles, somebody else claimed that he was the one that found him.

TI: And how large an area was the search, were they searching?

AA: Oh, it was several miles.

TI: So several square miles in terms of area?

AA: Yeah. But they found him a couple of miles away from camp.

TI: And sort of describe those three days in terms of your family and what was happening?

AA: Well, I was riding a truck most of the time. There was a bunch scouring the desert. Daytimes were nice and clear, cold, crisp. But by the third, third day I was thoroughly exhausted. I could hardly stay awake, 'cause I had been going all night and day out there.

TI: And it sounds like others were doing the same thing. I mean, not only had your project director, but others who were searching the desert.

AA: Yeah.

TI: So tell me a little bit more about just the support or the camp in terms of, you mentioned the high school going out there and looking. I mean, how many people were looking for your father at this time?

AA: Oh, I don't know how many, but when I saw the number of flags, that stretched for, for a mile. They were separated by 20, 30 feet apart.

TI: And so when they did that, did they just miss your father in that first sweep, or were they looking in a, I'm sorry, a different place?

AA: Well, they were probably looking for a different place. One of the interesting things about Stafford, he was a pretty dedicated help. And I remember the first, the early, when we first got there, my uncle Tom, he was one of the first draftees in 1940, and he came, on his furlough, he came to camp because nobody's left in Seattle, so he came to see his mother. And they had a ruling that no military personnel was supposed to be inside the camp. You could understand why, some, some disgruntled Japanese would jump him, there could be quite a problem, and so they had the ruling that no military personnel would be in, permitted in the camp. So he came and the guards saw that he was, he was a sergeant in the army, and they wouldn't let him in. And it was, we visited for a couple hours, and then our, a friend of ours, a girl by the name of Yasuko Koyama used to be Stafford's secretary. She was the only Japanese civilian that was working inside the camp, she was a civil service employee, and she was Stafford's secretary. So Stafford said okay, he told Yasuko, "Take my Cadillac and take the family outside. I can give permits for, for the residents to go outside." So that's what we did, and we had a nice picnic lunch the following day when we got the permit. And we went out to Hazelton and visited with my uncle, the whole family went out, and we did that for a couple of days. Finally, he decided to go back, go down to (Caldwell) to see his brother George. But I thought that was pretty nice of Stafford.

TI: And then eventually they changed that rule.

AA: Yes, they changed because of that.

TI: That family members in the service could come in.

AA: Yeah.

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

<Begin Segment 22>

TI: Okay, so we're now going into our third hour of the interview with Art Abe. And Art, I wanted to go back, we had talked about that tragic event where your father got lost looking for greasewood in the desert, and after three days, they found his body, and so he had, he had died from, I imagine, exposure out in the cold. After they found the body, can you, can you tell me the series of events that happened afterwards in terms of what happened next?

AA: We had a funeral for him, a tremendous amount of people came to the funeral. I still remember that. And rather than being, than being buried in a desert out there, we decided to cremate his body, and so we took him down to Salt Lake City and had him cremated. And then about a couple of months after that, the army came and started recruiting for the 442.

TI: Before we go there, I'm just... what was, what was the impact on your family, like your mother? Because this was just like this sudden death. I mean, he was healthy, a prominent person, and for him to be taken away so suddenly must have been quite a shock.

AA: Yeah. But my mother held up pretty, pretty well. My sister, both sisters did quite well, too.

TI: How about the impact on you? Like do you recall how it was for you?

AA: Shortly afterwards, you know, they had, they had the turmoil about the questionnaire, "loyalty questionnaire," and they had a lot of meetings and things going on. And that was, I guess that was during that period of time. But December 7th, nothing happened. They, people were expecting to get a lot of turmoil at that time, but in Minidoka, nothing happened. Because they are, it was the aftermath of my dad passing away and the funeral. Then shortly afterwards, they started recruiting, and lot of the fellows that were searching for my dad were volunteering. So I decided... it was a tough decision for me because I felt that I should look after my mother. But I finally decided to volunteer.

TI: And what helped you decide to volunteer was because of the, of the men who really worked really hard to try to find your father, they were the same men who were actually volunteering to go in the service.

AA: Yeah. That was, that was part of it. And the fact that I grew up in the Caucasian neighborhood, I felt that the United States was my country.

TI: What was the reaction of your, your mother when you decided to volunteer?

AA: Well, I don't think that was a problem with my mother, 'cause her brother was already in the army. Hiromu had volunteered for the army during World War I, but the war ended before he actually did any service. And he was married to a Caucasian woman, so later on, he had this girlfriend at the time.

TI: But it must have been hard for you then, just knowing that your father had just died, and your mother was, was without him, and you were the eldest son. And that was probably what, what probably made it difficult for you to do this.

AA: Yeah.

TI: So you decided to volunteer and then what happened next?

AA: Well, I went down for my physical and I didn't pass the physical for front line duty because of my eyesight. And so they put me in a class they called "limited service," but since no other branch of service was taking Japanese Americans, I was held in limbo. And so I spent another year in camp, going out to work in the harvest. And then when they lifted the restriction on keeping us in, they said we could go wherever we wanted to for outside employment, I decided to go out to New York City. We weren't able to go back, back to the coast, so I thought the best opportunity was go to back east.

TI: And what timeframe was this? What, when was this?

AA: This was early 1944.

<End Segment 22> - Copyright © 2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 23>

TI: Okay, so you go to New York City, and then what happened?

AA: Pardon?

TI: And so what did you do in New York City?

AA: Oh, they give us twenty-five, transportation and twenty-five dollars, but the twenty-five dollars was given to us when we arrived in New York. I tried to get a job in the field of marketing, but civil service, or I mean the federal government, U.S. Employment Agency had pretty much control of where you went to work. The defense industry had primary priority on workers, and when I went down to check with the, with the employment office, U.S. Employment Office, they shunted me into the Veterans Administration to take care of national service life insurance, which was, I felt was okay, that was providing service to the guys in service.

TI: So this would be a civil service?

AA: Civil service job, yeah. So I worked there for, until, when the war in Europe ended. They opened up the other branches of service, other than the 442 and the MIS, I guess, to Japanese Americans, so I got drafted. And I got assigned to the signal corps, which was not part of the 442. And I spent most of my time up in Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, in a signal corps school until I got discharged.

TI: Going back to, to your civil service position where you were processing insurance claims, so explain this to me. These were like life insurance policies, or what kind of...

AA: Yeah, GI life insurance.

TI: And so, so the people that you would process were those that were, like, killed in action and things like that during the war?

AA: Yes.

TI: So I'm curious, did you ever come across any Japanese American?

AA: Oh, yes. I was assigned to... each clerk had an assignment for ten thousand policies, and I happened to be, get assigned to a batch that contained the, all these 442 soldiers. And it used to bother me to see those death notices come through, I'd have to pull those policies and send them to the claim adjusters.

TI: So you would see the, the impact of how many Japanese Americans were being killed in the 442, 'cause you had to pull those policies. And then you went, I'm sorry, to the signal corps, so I just wanted to follow on, then you're, and then you're done with that. So what did you do after your military service?

AA: I went back to the University of Washington and finished up in the School of Business.

<End Segment 23> - Copyright © 2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 24>

TI: And what year did you graduate from UW?

AA: 1948.

TI: Okay, so now you're a veteran, you're a college graduate, what did you do next?

AA: Couldn't get a job, nobody would hire me.

TI: So explain this to me. Now this is after the war, and you're a veteran and a college graduate, and still you had difficulties getting a job?

AA: Yes, I was majoring in marketing, and I tried to get a job with big department stores like the Bon Marche, Frederick & Nelson, and Sears Roebuck. And I remember one day going to the employment office at Sears and they wouldn't give me a form, application form and I sat down there about three days. I finally got tired of waiting, and I had mentioned to my brother-in-law, Ted Nishimura, that, the problem I was having. And he says, "Oh," says, "I know Doc Shinbo, he's a friend of, friend of the manager at Sears Roebuck." And so he talked to Doc Shinbo and says, "Oh, tell him to go down to his office and don't talk to the personnel people." So I went down there and says, told the secretary I'm looking for a job. So she was very pleasant and says, "Oh, he's busy right now. Can you wait fifteen minutes?" And I said, "I can, I can wait hours. I can wait days." Says, "I've been sitting in that unemployment office, you know, for a couple of days." And she said, "Oh, that's too bad." She started asking me various questions and she says, "Have you had any experience on a yacht?" I thought that was kind of a peculiar question to ask, and I said, "Yeah, I've worked on a yacht before." She said, "Who did you work for?" and I says, "I worked for the Griffith family on the Sujiya." And she says, "Oh, yes, we're familiar, we're friends of the Griffiths." And I remember at the Seattle Yacht Club when I was working there, that I used to see this fifty-some foot yacht parked about a couple of slips away, and it was, belonged to Stanley Donnoll, who was the manager of Sears Roebuck. And she says, "Oh, I think Mr. Donnoll will be pleased to see you." So we got to the dock and then I told her, you know, my background, and says, "I'm trying to get a job in the store." "Oh, you're not looking for a job on Mr. Donnoll's yacht?" I said, "No, that's the last job I want." [Laughs] And she said, "Oh, Mr. Donnoll doesn't hire, do any hiring for the store." She said, "You gotta go through personnel," and so she ushered me out the door.

And I kept on pounding the pavement for six months, I couldn't, couldn't get a job. Finally, the Veterans Administration started passing out refunds on the dividends, and the reason that there were dividends was that the GI insurance premium was based on the American Experience Table, but the GIs that went into service were very healthy, they had no medical problems. And so normally, they would be prime subjects, but those deaths were paid, paid by the General Treasury of the United States, and not out of the premium funds, so they had a surplus, and so they were passing out dividends. And so there were openings, so I got, I got an interview, and they were very glad to have me aboard 'cause I had worked for them all these years. And they had, they had classes to bring, bring all the people that they got off the streets up to date on (procedures to calculate refunds). They had these lectures for two weeks, the school. And they had these people giving the lectures had never worked on, in insurance before. But they, they were giving the lectures, and a couple of times they slipped up and made some incorrect statements, and I'd raise my hand and I says, "I don't think that's the way it was," and I'd explain to them. And this guys says, hey, he went up to the boss, was Ms. Peterson, that used to be my boss. She was about a third or second level supervisor in the central office. And he says, "This guy, he tells me that this isn't the way it was." She said, "Oh, yes," she said, "you listen to him. He knows what he's talking about." Because I worked as a, I was working as an auditor for them, and so I got along fine.

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

<Begin Segment 25>

AA: When the refund was over, I had to have a job, and so I went to the Civil Service Commission and I said they, Civil Service Commission at that time was laying off all the temporary employees and giving jobs to the veterans that were coming back. And so I said, "I need a job," so they sent me to the, what is now the FAA. It was known as the Civil Aeronautics Administration at that time, so I got a job with them. But in order for me to get the job, they had to lay off one person that was an old man that was a wartime employee. And so that didn't go over too good with the people in that warehouse, to think that a Japanese had replaced one of their buddies. So they gave me the cold shoulder for a couple of years.

TI: Were you the only Japanese American in the shop?

AA: Yeah, I was the only one, yeah.

TI: And what kind of work was this?

AA: Oh, I was in charge of all the stationery supplies and sending the supplies up to the office. And because of my background in the military, and I was familiar with electronics, and so the Civil Aeronautics Administration was, had a lot of electronic transmitters and receivers and things like that, so the clerks and things, they weren't too familiar with the technical portion of it. And so I was filling in, and the people uptown would, the procurement office would order things, and those girls up there were, in procurement, they weren't technically knowledgeable either. And so when some vendors wanted to substitute something, they'd come down and ask me, and I'd tell 'em whether the substitute was satisfactory or not. My boss got laid off for some irregularities, sale of surplus material that we had, and he got laid off. And so because of my college background in economics, I got the acting supervisor of the warehouse.

TI: And so you supervised all those guys who were giving you the cold shoulder all these years?

AA: Yeah.

TI: And so how did that work out?

AA: Well, that, all of 'em didn't... pretty soon they hired a couple of other GIs, and I got along fine with the others. But anyway, the other guys that were giving me the cold shoulder, they tolerated me because I was their boss. [Laughs]

TI: Yeah, I hope so. And then how long were you with the Civil Aeronautics, CAA?

AA: They finally, they finally opened up the, my position, and they put out the advertisement, but instead of giving me the job, they gave it to a fellow in the Alaska region that was housed in the same building as I was. He had a lot more experience than I, he had worked for them for about ten years, I had only worked for them for two or three years, and so... but I had a college education and I had a background in electronics, but they still gave it to him.

TI: So, so what did you do? So you were then demoted back to your previous position?

AA: Well, I was never promoted, I was just acting.

TI: Oh, I see, okay. And so all of a sudden you had a new boss, essentially.

AA: Yeah. And he was a nice guy, I got along with him fine, but I didn't make waves. Another interesting facet of my job there was that there was a Japanese girl that was working in procurement, she was a GS-4, and they wanted to give her, give her a promotion to a 5. So they wrote up the position description of so many years' experience and things like that. I wasn't aware of what was going on, and I saw this advertisement and I looked at it, and I says, "Gee, I could do that job very nicely." So I put in a bid, and then pretty soon, a couple weeks later, I got a visit from my boss, and the personnel boss, and the procurement boss. And he says, "Hey, we got a dilemma here." He says, "We, to be honest with you, we wrote the position description to promote this other person." He says, "You're a veteran, and this other person was a veteran, too." Says, "You've had an experience as an accountant in camp, Minidoka, and also you got a, you got a degree in the university whereas she didn't. And also, you're familiar with electronics." So he says, "You should be appointed to that position, but that's going to throw a monkey wrench because we don't have an extra position to put this woman, she can't take your job, she's not qualified." And so he said, "What we'll do is we'll promote you to the same position." I was a GS-3, so they jumped me one position to a 5, and I knew this person, and so I said, "Well, okay." They said, "Be a nice guy and withdraw your application," so I did.

TI: That's interesting how things like that work.

AA: [Laughs] Yeah.

<End Segment 25> - Copyright © 2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 26>

TI: And so how long did you stay with, in this area?

AA: Oh, when they decided to consolidate... when Eisenhower was president, Nixon was the vice president, and they decided to consolidate the various regional offices, and they moved the Seattle office down to Los Angeles. And I had no desires to go down there, that job that I had was given, was consolidated with the Los Angeles office, so they gave that management position to the guy down there. And so I figured, oh, that's another put-down for me. I says, "I've had enough of this," and so I resigned, and I went down to work for Boeing.

TI: So this is like the late-'50s, kind of?

AA: When was it? '49, '50s.

TI: Well, Eisenhower, I'm thinking Eisenhower was in the '50s.

AA: '50s? Okay, the early '50s. Boeing was just building up, and they were, they were hiring.

TI: And what work did you do at Boeing?

AA: I was working in an electronic shop.

TI: And did you ever, when you were at Boeing, get to use your business administration background?

AA: No, never did.

TI: So it was more --

AA: But I was, I became a lead engineer, or a lead technician down there. I had about twenty-five guys working for me, but then I decided that what I was doing wasn't all that satisfactory. I was working long hours, and I was married at the time, and I figured there's better ways, and I decided to go back to school. And so I was going to school daytime and working swing shift, I did that for a couple of years. Then that got kind of old, so I finally took a leave of absence and went to school full-time, and I got a degree in electrical engineering.

TI: So you had a business degree and an electrical engineering degree, lots of work experience. Do you feel that given your background, your experience, that Boeing was fair to you and other Japanese Americans who worked?

AA: It depends on the supervisor. I was really appreciated when I had a supervisor by the name of Carl Martinez, who was a Mexican, and he told me about his struggles. He had a PhD, and so I got hired in as, not as a junior engineer, but an associate engineer, which is a couple of steps up. Then a short time later, I became a lead engineer. And then my supervisor, boss, got ill and I was acting supervisor for a while. But they never, they never promoted me to supervision.

TI: And why do you think that was so?

AA: Well, I had some problems with one of my other supervisors, that I figured he was a, kind of a bigot. I got stuck on the bottom of the totem, totem five, whereas previously I was acting supervisor. And so I decided I had enough of that, and so I looked around for another job at Boeing, and I got on with another organization. And the unit chief said, "It's unfortunate you got in a situation like that." He says, "A person just doesn't drop from the top down to the bottom one rating period." He said, "I've looked over your resume, you've had an excellent resume up until now." So he says, "I'll do what I can do to get you back up." And then pretty soon the whole organization moved down to Huntsville, Alabama. I had no desires to go there, 'cause I had been going down there to Alabama on company business for the missile flights down on the cape.

TI: And so you transferred to another group, then?

AA: No, let's see... that's when I went back to Boeing as an engineer at the time.

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

<Begin Segment 27>

TI: You know, at this point, I'm going to switch gears a little bit, and you mentioned earlier that you were married and raising a family, going back to school and all that. Tell me how you met your wife.

AA: She was a secretary at the Civil Aeronautics Administration. I used to send supplies up to her and I used to talk to her, she'd order stuff and I used to send it up. One day, one Christmas, they had a Christmas party, and so I went up there, and that's where I met her for the first time.

TI: And up to this point, did you do very much dating with other women in terms of through school and after the war and all that?

AA: Oh, I had, yeah, I dated occasionally, not... I didn't have anybody steady, just once in a while, different girls.

TI: And what was this woman's name that you, eventually became your wife? What was her name?

AA: That's Kay Yoshihara.

TI: And what was it about her that, that attracted you to her?

AA: Well, I used to talk to her on the phone for quite a while, and I was curious to see what she was like, her voice was pleasant. Went up and saw her, and after the Christmas party, she used to take a bus home to Renton, and so I had a new car, so I said, "I'll give you a ride home," so I took her home and then we started dating.

TI: That's a good story. So tell me a little bit about Kay and her family. Did she have siblings?

AA: Yeah, she came from a large family, too, they had eight kids in the family. The father was working for, as a gardener, he worked for Kubota Gardens. She had an older brother that had contracted tuberculosis in the army when he was up at Fort Snelling, and so he, he got discharged and he was in Firland's at that time. So my wife had pretty much, she was the second child, so she had pretty much the responsibility for the whole family. The parents were not very fluent in English, and so she took care of all the legal things, helping with the youngsters. They had a whole bunch of younger kids, so she, so she looked after the family.

TI: And this is a slight tangent, but more recently, she's been honored for her work feeding the homeless in Seattle, and I've read several articles about her. And so she's done a lot of good work in this area. So I'm now going to switch gears again, 'cause we have about twenty minutes.

AA: Oh.

TI: Go ahead.

AA: Her family, her younger brother is named Takeshi, and he was the first Japanese American to be appointed to Annapolis.

TI: Oh, that's interesting.

AA: And he eventually rose up to the rank of captain, and he retired.

TI: Good, yeah.

<End Segment 27> - Copyright © 2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 28>

TI: Yeah, I wanted to actually kind of go back a little bit, to after you returned to Seattle. You were asked to join this new organization called the Nisei Veterans Committee.

AA: Yes.

TI: And I wanted to talk a little bit about that in terms of what your reaction was when they approached you.

AA: Sab Ogishima was the, was the commander at the time. He was also my insurance agent, and he asked me to join, I says, "Oh, I'm not really that interested." I says, "I wasn't in the 442, although I had volunteered." And he said, "Well, that's okay," he says, "we accept everybody." Anyway, I says, "Well, I wasn't in the 442 so I'm not too comfortable." 'Cause the organization was pretty much run by the 442, but he twisted my arm and so I figured, well, okay, I'll try it. And so when was it? Back in 1947, I think I joined.

TI: And how did the 442 guys accept you once you got in?

AA: Well, I was a good friend of Shiro Kashino, he was one of the top, top 442 guys, and he was kind of a hero. He used to work for Tashiro Hardware, and so I got to know him quite well. So anyway, since he accepted me, nobody else made any remarks or anything, and so I got along with most of 'em. That was in the early stages, and that's before they had that Vets Hall, and they used to hold chow mein dinners and, or I mean, bazaars at the Washington Hall. And in those days, these GIs were pretty much single, they used to have stag parties and all kinds of things. Since then, they've changed significantly. [Laughs]

TI: [Laughs] Changed from being young, single men to mostly having families.

AA: Yeah. But when we got the Vets Hall, the kendo people had the hall, and they let us have it for a nominal amount. But it was in terrible shape, and so we needed to renovate the place. And of course, we were all young and we were going to school, raising a family, and had no money. And so we remodeled that place pretty much with sweat equity.

TI: Do you remember about what year that was, where you took it over and started renovating Vets Hall?

AA: It's... not that quick here. It was in the early '50s, I think.

TI: And this is the building on King Street?

AA: King Street, yes.

TI: Okay, so terrible shape, early '50s, no money. So how do you go about fixing up a place?

AA: Well, we figured that we had no money, so I figured, "Why don't we set up a system where we have life membership?" I had worked in the insurance business so I knew, I'm familiar with actuary, and so I figured, let's see, the vets are in their twenties, and we figured the life expectancy, and I figured, I calculated that at that time, the dues I think were either two or three dollars a year. I figured a hundred dollars would be a nice, came fairly close, would be fairly close, so I think that was a nice number, round number. So we set the price at a hundred dollars, and so we had enough people that became life members to pay for the materials. And we got a lot of donations.

TI: Oh, so this was your idea. So rather than, so it used to be that everyone paid an annual...

AA: Annual due.

TI: And that would give you maybe, if you had, like a hundred members, a couple hundred dollars a year. But what you said was, "Let's front load it, let's let people pay their memberships for life in one lump sum." And do you remember about how many men did this?

AA: I really don't have any count.

TI: But a significant number that --

AA: Significant amount, yeah.

TI: And this gave you, then, the money.

AA: The capital. We bought siding and floor tile and lighting and a bunch of things like that. We did this with all sweat labor, we didn't hire anybody. Lefty Ichihara was the crew chief, and he was pretty handy, and we had Mac Nogaki, who was kind of a carpenter. We got all that plywood that was, mahogany plywood that was in that meeting room, we got that donation from C.T. Takahashi and then we fured that out and we raised, made, we dug ditches for drain tile and we put up the siding. We stained it and nailed it up.

TI: And so try to explain, about how many men -- would you do this at night, weekends, when would this happen?

AA: Night and weekends.

TI: And, but how many men would be working on this?

AA: We'd have ten, fifteen at a time, or maybe even different people, you know, whenever they had time they'd come down and give us a hand.

TI: And so literally, that clubhouse was, was really built by the hands of the veterans.

AA: It was renovated, yeah.

TI: Renovated. I mean, you had the, kind of the skeleton or the...

AA: Well, the inside it hard partitions and things like that, we had to tear out, we had to tear out all the plasterboard walls and stuff like that.

TI: See, I'm guessing that made, as a group, that made you closer, too.

AA: Oh, yes, it was very, we had a very tight-knit group. Except that there was really two factions in the Nisei Vets: one was the 442 and the other was the MIS group. And since the organization was started by the 442, they took pretty much command of what went on.

TI: And so what kind of...

AA: MIS started their own organization, I guess.

TI: And how long did it take to finish the renovations at the clubhouse?

AA: It was always ongoing. They... after I went back to school, I was away from there for a while 'cause I was too busy. And I remember they put in the new ceiling and lighting, and they did a number of things when I wasn't there.

TI: But generally happening, probably, most of it in the '50s, this renovation.

AA: Yes. Yeah, we built the kitchen cabinets and we did all kinds of things like that.

<End Segment 28> - Copyright © 2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 29>

TI: So this last part is, you mentioned your children. Can you tell me sort of the names of your children in the order?

AA: Yeah. The oldest one is, daughter is Carolyn, and she's married to a Chinese fellow, Robert Ling. He's in the software business, he works for AT&T wireless.

TI: Then after Carolyn you have...

AA: It's Mike, and he's a program manager for the Washington State Division of Banking. He's single.

TI: I also see him at triathlon events, too. And then after Mike?

AA: Next is Janet, she's married to a Chinese fellow named Steve Lee. He's also in the software business and he works for Starbucks. He's an expert in firewalls. And then the youngest is Norman, he's single and he's a dentist, and he works for the low income dental clinic, Hispanic dental clinic. He's one of those guys with a lot of education, he's got a chemical engineering degree from the University of Washington, and he's got a master's degree from Carnegie Mellon, and he's got a dental degree from the University of Washington.

TI: That is a lot of education.

AA: The guy with a lot of education is Kay's younger brother Takeshi.

TI: The one who went to Annapolis?

AA: Annapolis. He's got a horrendous number of schools that he went to. After Annapolis, he got a bachelor's in military science from Annapolis, then he went to Rensselaer Polytech and got a bachelor's in civil engineering. He went to University of Illinois and got a master's in civil engineering, and also a PhD. And he went to UCLA and got an MBA, and he, after his military tour of duty, he became a speech writer for Senator Matsunaga from Hawaii, and he became a Director of Economic Development for Governor Ariyoshi in Hawaii.


TI: Well, it sounds like a, quite an individual.

AA: Yeah.

<End Segment 29> - Copyright © 2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 30>

TI: Well, we're at the end of our tape now, and I just wanted to ask you, is there anything else that you wanted to say in completing this interview?

AA: No, not a great deal. There was a, part of the period of the Nisei Vets that was broken up was the fact that I was working on the construction of the Blaine, Blaine Church. I had to come up with some very creative financing for that period of time. I found out that, looking for help, there was no banks that would give us any loans. People were not interested, banks were not interested in loaning money to churches. I just got the results from that problem over in that church up on Tenth Avenue, Tenth Avenue and Aloha, it was that church that had started during the Depression, and the congregation couldn't meet their obligations on the mortgage, and the bank foreclosed on 'em. And it made the congregation so angry that they withdrew their money from the bank and they told their friends and relatives and they all made a run on the bank.

TI: And so because of that, banks were reluctant to do church projects.

AA: Yeah, they all remembered what happened there.

TI: So what did you have to do for Blaine to make it work?

AA: Well, I had... we had a pledge program going on, it was three-year pledge, and money that wasn't coming in, and we had the obligation, the progress payments to make. And so I approached the congregation and told 'em, "Hey, you people have money in the banks that are paying you four percent interest." I says, "How about loaning it to the church instead, and we'll pay you the same amount?" Not only that, I got ten of the more influential members to guarantee the amounts in case they wanted the funds, and we sold bonds in five hundred dollar increments. And so a number of people purchased those bonds, and I raised fifty thousand dollars that way. The church program was, was about two hundred eighty thousand dollars I guess. We built that time when the World's Fair was being constructed, and all the subcontractors were working on the fair, and costs were skyrocketing 'cause of the shortage of labor, and so our costs were escalating. And then the Methodist Board of Missions agreed to lend us fifty thousand. And then I got a fifty thousand dollar loan from United Savings, and the reason we got that is George Kawachi, our member, was on the board when that bank first started up. They didn't have enough assets to loan us that fifty thousand, but they parceled it out among the rest of the banks. But we had the main loan with United. And their stipulation was that the members would open up an account with them to bring up their asset base, and so we talked to the congregation and so a number of people opened an account. And they serviced that loan to the, to the Mission, the Methodist Mission.

TI: That's fascinating. So you had to be really creative in several different ways.

AA: Oh, yeah. I had a background in economics and so on, I was able to come up with ways of doing things.

TI: Good, that's a good way, that's a good story, that's actually a good way to end this interview. So again, Art, thank you so much for doing this, and I really enjoyed this.

<End Segment 30> - Copyright © 2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.