Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Yae Aihara Interview
Narrator: Yae Aihara
Interviewer: Megan Asaka
Location: Denver, Colorado
Date: July 4, 2008
Densho ID: denshovh-ayae-01

<Begin Segment 1>

MA: Okay, so today is July 4, 2008, and I'm here with Yae Aihara. I'm Megan Asaka, the interviewer, and the cameraperson today is Dana Hoshide, and we are at the Japanese American National Museum Conference in Denver, Colorado. So, thank you so much for doing this interview with us.

YA: You're welcome.

MA: So I wanted to start with just some basic questions. When were you born?

YA: August 18, 1925.

MA: And where were you born?

YA: In Tacoma, Washington.

MA: And what was the name given to you at birth?

YA: Yaeko Kanogawa.

MA: And a little bit about your family background. What was your father's name?

YA: Sho, S-H-O.

MA: Sho Kanogawa?

YA: Uh-huh.

MA: Do you know where he was from in Japan?

YA: Wakayama.

MA: Wakayama-ken. What did... do you know what his family did, in Japan, for a living?

YA: Oh, they were landowners, farmers.

MA: And do you know why he came to the U.S.? What his motivations were?

YA: He was the third son. See, in those days, only the oldest son can inherit property. And since he was the third son, there was no chance for him. So he immigrated.

MA: Okay. Do you know kind of what, what jobs he did when he first came to the U.S.?

YA: I think he worked in a trading company. Because he had a little college, but he worked at a trading company.

MA: And did he settle in Tacoma when he first came?

YA: No, no. He was in... see, my younger brother was born in Puyallup, and my sister was born in Tacoma, too, I think. So, from Tacoma we moved to Seattle.

MA: Oh, okay.

YA: My earliest recollections are of Seattle, when my youngest brother was born.

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

<Begin Segment 2>

MA: And just a little bit about your mother, what was her name?

YA: Shizu Otsuka.

MA: And was she from...

YA: Fukuoka.

MA: Fukuoka-ken?

YA: Uh-huh.

MA: How did your parents actually meet and marry?

YA: Through what they call baishakunin. And I think my mother was only twelve when she came to America. Because she went to school after she arrived.

MA: Did she come with her parents?

YA: She came by herself. And I think because her family was already in Tacoma, she was so anxious to be with her, her own mother, 'cause she was left in care of a step-grandmother who was not very nice to her. And she was, I guess, must have been willing to take that two-week trip by herself.

MA: Wow.

YA: Uh-huh.

MA: And then she lived in the U.S. for a while and that's where she met your... or was arranged to marry your father?

YA: Uh-huh, yes.

MA: Okay. So what were your parents doing for a living when you were born?

YA: Uh... I think my father was working at the trading company.

MA: 'Til the trading company?

YA: Uh-huh, yeah.

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

<Begin Segment 3>

MA: And when -- you mentioned you were born in Tacoma, when did you actually move to Seattle?

YA: When my youngest brother was born in 1929, that's my earliest recollection. So I'm just assuming that's when we moved there.

MA: And what neighborhood did you grow up in?

YA: It was an immigrant neighborhood. And I went to school with all Chinese, Jewish kids, black kids. It was really international, and especially my grammar school.

MA: And what grammar school did you attend?

YA: I went to Washington, Washington grammar school in Seattle.

MA: So it sounds very diverse.

YA: Yes.

MA: And did you socialize a lot with kids of other ethnicities?

YA: Only at school. Only at school.

MA: What about the Nisei students at Washington grammar school? How many, about, were there?

YA: In my class, the majority was Nisei. We had four Chinese -- two Chinese boys, two Chinese girls -- two black girls, and two black boys. And several Jewish kids, yeah, maybe six, and one white boy. So it was pretty diverse.

MA: What about your teachers at Washington?

YA: They were all white and single. The P.E. teacher was male, but most of the teachers were female. And in those days, you had to be unmarried to be a teacher.

MA: Oh, interesting.

YA: Uh-huh.

MA: Can you describe a little the home you grew up in?

YA: Well, the earliest home was... I just remember where my little brother was born. But the one I remember was on Weller Street. And the... the front had a bank with nasturtiums on it. I remember climbing through those nasturtiums. And my father loved to garden, and I remember him growing tulips. Seattle... that you could grow wonderful tulips. And he had a bank of tulips on the side yard. There was a concrete step into the basement where my mother washed the clothes in a washing machine. That's all I remember. We had a backyard that had a clothesline, and my father had vegetables back there, too... grew when he had time.

MA: And at one point your family opened up a grocery store?

YA: Grocery store, yes. In 1939 -- wait a minute. No, 1930... see, my youngest brother was... 1932, I think.

MA: And it was just a, sort of, neighborhood grocery store?

YA: Yes, uh-huh.

MA: And were most of your customers Japanese American?

YA: Japanese, yes.

MA: So what were some of your... back in your grade school days, some hobbies and activities that you, that you did?

YA: Well, I remember skipping a grade because I was able to... my math was, you know, the times tables, I could, I memorized it like that. So I remember skipping a grade. But my English wasn't... see, we spoke Japanese at home, so I was not articulate at all. That was a handicap when I went to high school. My, my vocabulary wasn't all that good yet. But I had to go to Japanese school every day, after... well, for one hour after grade school, grammar school.

MA: Did you enjoy the Japanese language school?

YA: Well, yeah. I was a good Japanese school student. I always got the good grades in Japanese school. [Laughs]

MA: And what religion did your family practice?

YA: Buddhism.

MA: Did you, were you active in the church or temple activities?

YA: I went to Sunday school every Sunday, yes. And in fact, I was coming home from Sunday school, Sunday school from the Buddhist church when I heard about Pearl Harbor.

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

<Begin Segment 4>

MA: So let's talk a little bit about your high school experience. So where did you start off in high school?

YA: I went... I started with Broadway High School. My sister was going to Garfield and all my classmates from Washington were going to Garfield. But the city had changed the boundaries of where you lived. You had to live south of this... or north of Fourteenth Avenue in order to go to Garfield High School. We lived south of it, so I had to go to Broadway. And I was not too happy there. I borrowed... after one semester, I borrowed my, my parents' friends' address and I went to Garfield and I got in.

MA: What were the big differences between Broadway and Garfield?

YA: Oh, just my friends. And Broadway was practically all Nisei. There were many Niseis there that I didn't even know. I would say at least a third of the school was Nisei. Maybe I'm wrong, but there were many, many Nisei students there.

MA: And what about Garfield?

YA: Garfield... not too many, but my friends were there.

MA: How were the Nisei students at Garfield treated by the white students?

YA: Well, we stayed together, we kept together. We couldn't, we didn't associate with the other students at all, white students. It was kind of understood. You couldn't hold office, it was understood. We couldn't go to the prom because it was held in a country club. And even if you were white and Catholic, you couldn't attend the prom. You had to be white and Anglo-Saxon. That's how discriminatory it was. And it was a fact of life in those days. You have to remember -- well, you can't remember, but in the '20s and '30s, it was a way of life. The whites were the dominant people.

MA: And you mentioned it was sort of this unspoken... everyone sort of knew that.

YA: Yes, knew. You knew your place.

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

<Begin Segment 5>

MA: So this group of friends that you were talking about, after you went to Garfield, what sorts of things did you do for fun or on the weekends?

YA: Well, you know, weekends, I had to go to Japanese school, and then I had to help in the market, in the grocery store. So we didn't go to each other's houses as much. I had one neighbor across the street who I would visit once in a while, but as a rule, we never had sleepovers. We didn't do those things. And we didn't have birthday parties like my children had. It just wasn't done, 'cause, well, for one thing, Japanese didn't, children didn't celebrate their birthdays like American children do. We didn't have the money. It was a luxury or unheard of to have birthday parties. So our celebration mainly was... the biggest thing was, of course, New Year's. And my father would close his market, his store, for at least five days. And they would go, what they call nenshi, to each other's homes to wish their friends a happy new year and they would always have food.

MA: So New Year's was a big, big deal.

YA: It was a big, big celebration.

MA: So, what did you do in your father's store when you would work there?

YA: Mainly I had to sweep the floors. Sweep the floors and wait on customers. And in those days, not too many things were packaged. We had to weigh the flour, we had to weigh the sugar, weigh the rice. Lotta times some people would just buy ten pounds of rice and we'd have to put it in a paper bag, scoop it out, weigh it, and tie it, and then... and that's how we sold sugar to... that was before packaging machines were invented.

MA: Did your whole family, your siblings, also work in the store with you?

YA: My older sister, and when my younger brothers were, became teenagers, twelve, thirteen -- no, wait a minute. Yeah, fourteen when the war started... they started driving early in those days. And they didn't have rigid tests like they do right now.

MA: Did your family have a car, a family car?

YA: We had a, a kind of, what they call a panel truck for deliveries.

MA: So in total, how many children were in your family?

YA: Four. Four

MA: Four. So you had an older sister, then you, then two younger brothers --

YA: Then two younger brothers, yes.

MA: Did your parents maintain strong ties to their families in Japan?

YA: Yes, the wrote letters. And the letters took a long time in those days. If my mother or father would write, it would take several months before we got a reply. And they were busy, so they didn't have time to write letters, too.

MA: Did they ever talk about current events in Japan and what was going on?

YA: No, no.

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

<Begin Segment 6>

MA: So let's talk about December 7, 1941, when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. You had already mentioned that you were walking home from Sunday school. Can you tell me a little bit more about that day and what you remember of that day?

YA: Well, I, I remember... see, December, it's already dark by 4:30. The FBI came to our house and they searched it and they took my father away, with just the clothes on his back. And we didn't know why, but somehow I... because it was Japan and we knew my parents were, we were all Japanese. So I guess prior to Pearl Harbor, the political situation was getting so bad and threat of war was very imminent, so I guess we kind of knew that the war would start. So when my father was taken away, we, we weren't that, we weren't in shock, but of course it was still a shock, but we didn't think we would be separated like that.

MA: So when the FBI came and took your father away, did they also search the house, did they take other things?

YA: They took some receipts. [Clears throat] Excuse me. My father was involved in the prefectural association, they call it kenjinkai of the Wakayama Kenjinkai, and he had been president for many years. I think that was one of the reasons. Another reason, he was a member of the Japanese Chamber of Commerce, and another was he had been appointed an advisor to the Seattle dojo. My two younger brothers were learning judo and I don't think they knew what judo was. They thought it was some secret art, that and kendo. So all the kendo teachers, judo teachers, they were all arrested, too.

MA: And when your father was taken away, did you have any idea where he was going, how long he would be there?

YA: Uh-uh. We found out he was being held at the Seattle jail, and then he sent word to please bring his toiletries and some clothing. And my mother prepared some Japanese food and she lined the paper with the newspaper, the Seattle newspaper, and we found out later that was the first newspaper that those men had read in... had seen. So they were, they read the newspaper, as difficult as it was for them, they read it.

MA: They were really isolated, it seems.

YA: Uh-huh, yeah.

MA: So when... how many days had passed, I'm sorry, when you made contact with your father?

YA: Oh, I can't remember, but at least three days.

MA: And at that point, Pearl Harbor happened and then when you went back to school the next day, on Monday, what was the, the --

YA: Oh, the next day, three white boys said to me, "You damned Jap. Go back where you came from." And I was speechless, I couldn't answer. I didn't know what to say. But it was... we were all just kind of, you know, shrinking like this, all the Nisei students. We just supported each other, but we couldn't say anything.

MA: Did the principals or the teachers support you at all?

YA: No, they didn't say... no, not at all. They didn't say... it was school as usual for them. But some of the white students were quite mean.

MA: So your father was taken away. How did your mother cope with that? I mean, I assume she had to run the store?

YA: Yes. And a lot of our supplier... well, we didn't have too many suppliers, but he was also arrested. So, consequently, the sales just went down. And it was just the neighborhood Japanese that came to our store.

MA: And so she was taking care of the store and also the family as well?

YA: But by then, my two younger brothers were twelve and fourteen, so they didn't require that much attention.

MA: Did you find you had to take on extra responsibilities after your father was arrested?

YA: Well, we had to work harder in the store. No time for fun. We had no time for that.

MA: So, the Executive Order 9066 was issued in February. At that point, was your father still in Seattle or was he taken somewhere?

YA: I think he was in Missoula, Montana, by then. And I remember my sister was, went with some other Nisei girls her age to visit their fathers in the camp and I don't think she got to talk to him one on one like this. Through maybe a fence she saw him, and he looked okay.

MA: Oh, so she actually went to Missoula?

YA: To the Missoula, yes, to the camp. But they wouldn't let them in the same room.

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

<Begin Segment 7>

MA: So, can you talk about that time, in preparing to leave for camp and what happened to the store and your possessions?

YA: Oh, we had two weeks. These, you know, those posters went up, and in our case it was May 9th. And we had two weeks to liquidate everything. The hordes of... we called them... vulcans? No, what's the other word. Anyway, they just descended on all our --

MA: Vultures.

YA: Vultures, on the Japanese businesses. And they offered ridiculous prices, but we had to take it. You know, our meat case, the scales, our meat slicer, our cash register, twenty-five dollars, my mother got. And our grocery stock, I think she got several pennies on the dollar. So we didn't get much out of the market, the store, at all. And we had to leave all our furniture, my mother didn't know anything about storage. And we had to sell our panel truck, it was practically new. [Clears throat] Excuse me. I don't remember how much we got for it, but it wasn't much. In those days, you could buy a new car for six hundred dollars, I think. So we didn't get much for the panel truck. We left all our clothes, only what we could take. And we bought big duffle bags in which to put our bedding. I forgot how we got to where we were to depart from. I can't remember where we departed from. But a friend took us, yeah. 'Cause he --

MA: A Caucasian person?

YA: No, a Japanese friend. He didn't have to go until another day -- they lived in a different area of the city.

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

<Begin Segment 8>

MA: And so, can you tell me about that day and you were in Puyallup, arriving to Puyallup and what that was like?

YA: We went to Puyallup with, on a bus. We... some people in Puyallup were still farming and they waved to us, so they came later. They left their crops in the fields for, I don't know... they lost a lot, too, the farmers. Unless they had a neighbor who was honest enough to harvest and then give them their share of the profits, yeah. But I think those were far and few, few and far between.

MA: And so when you arrived in Puyallup, what was going through your head at that point?

YA: Well, it, it was a totally new experience. In Puyallup, there was four different camps. And the most terrible thing of the, that camp was the women's toilets. I couldn't believe it was what it was. Usually an outhouse is only one person, but this one had to be shared by six women. No partitions, no curtains. I think in other areas of Puyallup they had running toilets. Like if it was in the infield, you know, where the racetrack was, they had running toilets. But in the, our area and another area, we had to share the toilet like that. And that was terrible. I'll never forget that. And we had to endure that for three months. The showers were also shared showers, no curtains, and six showerheads, that's it.

MA: You had mentioned to me earlier that you actually had a graduation ceremony?

YA: Yes.

MA: In Puyallup, right?

YA: In Puyallup. Fortunately the vice principal came and one of --

MA: The Garfield vice principal?

YA: Garfield vice principal, Mr. Hanselman, came And one favorite teacher of the Niseis, Leon Brigham, he was Jewish, (and) he was one of our favorite teachers. And Marian Jaffey, she was the Girls' Club president, those three came, and they gave us a little graduation ceremony. And I remember I didn't even had a, a new dress. My mother telling me, "Someday you will have new dresses," and she was right.

MA: So how many, how many students participated in the ceremony with you?

YA: I think there was about, gee, maybe twenty-six, twenty-five, twenty-six students. Maybe, that, not that much. But at least we got our diplomas.

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

<Begin Segment 9>

MA: So at this point, when you were still in Puyallup, you were telling me your father made the decision that he wanted to go back to Japan.

YA: Yes.

MA: Can you talk a little bit about that?

YA: Well, our family and another family -- the fathers were friends -- and I think that was the exchange during 1943 that he... wait a minute. '42, 1942, that he signed us up for. But, and we were the last families to leave Puyallup. We were there three months. And we got rid of a lot of our things. Since we didn't have to go, we went back, we went to Idaho and I think we, we asked for something back. Because I remember my sister kept the iron because she had... no, we asked for an iron back because my sister was still eighteen at that time. And so, with all four children and my mother, we all stayed back in Puyallup with the other, Kawaguchi family.

MA: So anticipating that you would be, go on the ship back to Japan.

YA: Uh-huh, ship to Japan, yeah.

MA: So why didn't you go at that point?

YA: I think that either didn't materialize or they didn't use us.

MA: Somehow that didn't work out.

YA: Yeah, it didn't work out. So, our two families were the last to arrive in Minidoka.

MA: So how are, how did you feel about the possibility of, of going back to Japan and living there?

YA: Well, in those days the father was the absolute boss. We obeyed our father; he was the, the king. We had to obey. And most Issei men were like that, they really ruled the roost. And so anything my father said, we did. Even when we went to Idaho and we were there one year, and then the 1943 exchange ship. And by then, my sister had a boyfriend, she was going to marry him, and she refused at that time to go to Japan. So it was just me and my two brothers.

MA: And your mother.

YA: Yeah, and my mother.

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

<Begin Segment 10>

MA: Okay, so you went to Minidoka. Was it, maybe September of '42?

YA: Uh-huh.

MA: And you were there for a year, you said?

YA: A year, uh-huh.

MA: Can you talk a little bit about your experience at Minidoka, maybe...

YA: Well, Minidoka, since I had finished high school, I worked as a time keeper. And I would go around to the different posts and check to make sure these people were working there. And a lot of times they weren't there, but then I would just check them off. I'd have to go all around the camp and that camp was not a square camp, it was kind of curved like this. So it was a long walk to go around the camp.

MA: At that point was your whole family living together in the same barracks?

YA: Uh-huh. In the barrack, we had the middle rooms, which were the largest. They went by, the, the end rooms were for couples and the next rooms were for families of three to four and then the two middle rooms were the largest. Every room had one light bulb, no running water, and a pot bellied stove.

MA: At that point, how was your mother holding up? How was she doing?

YA: Oh, she was... she grayed a lot, her hair grayed a lot. And I remember my aunt and uncle who were sent to Tule Lake, they visited us in Idaho because they were granted leave to work on a farm near, in Idaho. So they came to visit us. And I remember my auntie remarking to my mother, "My, you got so gray." And she was only thirty-seven at that time. So, you know, in looking back, it really must have been a big strain on her to get us ready to go to camp, and all that responsibility fell on her. And to think she was only thirty-six, thirty-seven at that time and she didn't speak that well, 'cause she only went to junior high school for a couple years before she got married. So her English wasn't that strong.

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

<Begin Segment 11>

MA: So, your father, you mentioned that he again wanted to try to --

YA: Repatriate.

MA: -- go back to Japan? And what, what happened there? So that was about 1943, you'd been in Minidoka for about a year?

YA: Uh-huh.

MA: So when did you hear from your father about that and what did he say?

YA: Well, the letters we got, they were all censored, but I think the repatriation... I don't exactly remember how, but the camp told us that we were to leave. And we had big wooden crates made to put our belongings in, I think we had three big crates made. And of course we had to say goodbye to all our friends. And this time there was more than just our family, so we knew we were actually going to leave. So we went, we left and went to New York.

MA: Back in Minidoka, did people treat you differently at all after they found out you, your family was going back to Japan?

YA: No.

MA: You didn't notice any change?

YA: No, no change. But, I remember having fun in Minidoka because my father wasn't there, for one thing. So I could go out with boys and, and have fun. I never went to a dance before, when my father -- he wouldn't let us. And every weekend there was a dance -- [clears throat] excuse me -- in the mess hall. And it was fun.

MA: And your sister, you mentioned, had a, a boyfriend.

YA: Boyfriend, yes. And so she was going to marry him, so she was not going to Japan with us. And she was only nineteen at that time.

MA: So she decided to stay in Minidoka with this man?

YA: Uh-huh.

MA: So when you were leaving Idaho, you were going to New York, was that to meet your father in New York?

YA: Uh-huh. And the train ride took four days, I think. We couldn't see anything, 'cause all the shades were drawn.

MA: Were you traveling with all these families that were going?

YA: Families, yes. There were quite a few. I can't remember how many, but there were quite a few.

MA: Do you remember anything, is there anything memorable about that trip?

YA: Nothing, except that it was hot. You know, there was no air conditioning in those days and September, going through the Midwest, it was very hot.

MA: Were there guards on this train?

YA: Oh yes, oh yes. Guards and we couldn't see anything. I don't know how we spent the four days on the train, but we did. In wartime like that, you made a lot of sacrifices. You know, have you heard the words shigata ga nai? Yeah. My mother... that's, we heard that so often, shigata ga nai. We just grit our teeth and bore it. That was the way of life, shigata ga nai. Gaman. [Laughs] That's another word that we grew up with, gaman.

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

<Begin Segment 12>

MA: So, you went to New York.

YA: New York.

MA: And where, actually, did you reunite with your father?

YA: I think it was in the dining room where we ate.

MA: Was this in Ellis Island?

YA: At Ellis Island. And we were separated with my brothers, the men were separated from the women. So my brothers got to see my father first. And then after we finished eating, I remember just running up to my dad and just hugging him.

MA: What did Ellis Island look like when you, when you went in? Can you describe that?

YA: It was... well, we had to sleep in a big room, my mother and I. Just cots lined up. The paint was peeling all over, and it was a dark, miserable place. When we found out that we were not allowed to get on the boat, I remember coming this far and being angry, "I came here to get on this boat." And, but the MPs herded us at the point of bayonets into this big freight elevator, us that were not going, the people who were not permitted to go on the ship. And they herded us and then they took us to Ellis Island. I don't... I think it was on a boat, too. We had to get on a boat to go there, 'cause it is an island. But I remember there were other prisoners there, Japanese soldiers. But they would not reveal to us their names or anything other than that they were Japanese. And the food was terrible. The only good food I remember was a shriveled up orange. I can't remember... it was terrible.

MA: So, just to clarify, so you arrived to Ellis Island and at that point found out you were not gonna go back to Japan. You couldn't get on the ship.

YA: Uh-huh.

MA: So they made you go back to Ellis Island and stay there for how long?

YA: Four days. We were there four days. So in, then during that time, I wrote a long letter to my sister, and some people were going to another camp. They were going back to a WRA camp. I guess they were going back... they were separating from their fathers. I don't know. But, she said she would mail my letter for me after she got to her camp, because I couldn't. So she mailed it for me.

MA: And who was this letter to?

YA: To my sister in, back in Idaho. See, because... and it took maybe a month before she got that letter. So she didn't know that we didn't sail on that ship, on the Gripsholm.

MA: In general, did most of the families that had come from Minidoka with you get on the ship?

YA: Yes. There were just two families that did not get on. I think it was a family from Portland and us.

MA: Do you know at all why you, again, couldn't get on that ship?

YA: Well, I think I found out just several months ago. You know about the Peruvians being kidnapped from Peru? They had used, I think, five or seven hundred of those people in that exchange that we were supposed to go on. See, in the first exchange, they didn't have enough people. And so the U.S. government, in order to have enough bodies to exchange for the next exchange, that's why they collaborated with the Peruvian government. I understand they tried to with the Brazilian government first, but they failed, much to Brazil's credit. So Peru agreed and that's why they used a large amount of those people and that was enough so we didn't have to go.

MA: Oh, I see.

YA: I think that's the reason.

MA: Okay, so they had Japanese Peruvians, who had basically been, I mean, kidnapped, and sent to the U.S. along with some other families that were in WRA camps, to send on this prisoner of war, basically, exchange.

YA: Uh-huh, yeah.

MA: But you... they probably reached some quota or something and you couldn't go.

YA: Uh-huh. So it was a really, a stroke of luck that we were denied repatriation. But, because my father's status is different, he's considered a prisoner of war, so he cannot go to Minidoka with us. But, if you want to stay, stay together, you go to Crystal City. And of course, that's what we did.

MA: So you were able to leave Ellis Island?

YA: Uh-huh.

MA: And was it known that you were only staying in Ellis Island for a short time?

YA: Well, I think during those four days we were there, they were making the arrangements. Because during wartime, trains... to get a seat on a train, it was very difficult. Trains were always full with soldiers and, you know, military personnel. I think they had to... and I remember from the train, when we got to New York, we actually went through Grand Central Station to, to get on the train to go to Texas. They paraded us all through that whole big station with the MP guards with the rifles. They took us to the train.

MA: And it was your family and other families that hadn't made it on.

YA: Families, yes. I think there was twenty-one people total that went to Crystal City.

MA: And you all went together in that one train?

YA: In that... uh-huh, yeah.

MA: Do you know, by any chance, what happened to the Japanese prisoners of war who were in Ellis Island?

YA: I have no idea. I have no idea, but I know there were prisoners of war there. Because my other friend said she talked to them, too.

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

<Begin Segment 13>

MA: So you arrived in Crystal City, in Texas, and what were your first impressions of, of Crystal City?

YA: Well, the first thing we saw in Crystal City was a statue of Popeye, 'cause that's the spinach capital of the world. That's where, Zavala County, that's the spinach capital. And then from, after seeing that, we were driven into Crystal City and taken to... we lived in a triplex with two other families. And we arrived there with the clothes on our backs. We hadn't taken shower for four days on the train. No change of clothes, so they immediately got clothes, clothing for us. And got to know our neighbors, our housemates. There was a couple, and I knew her niece, I happened to know her niece. And there was another family from Hawaii.

MA: In general, what, who were the other internees there? Where were they from? Were they from all over?

YA: All over. They were mostly from California. And the mainlanders... there weren't too many from the mainland. Mostly from Peru. Peruvians were, there were lots of Peruvians. I would say half were Peruvians. So because the mainland Niseis were, you know, we were a very small group, so we got to know everybody. And we are lifelong friends.

MA: What about other... were there German, Germans there?

YA: There were Germans also. Not too many, but they had the best quarters. Originally -- now, this is what I have read -- Crystal City was meant to be for Japanese. And I think the Geneva Convention, you cannot mix German and Japanese prisoners. So the German prisoners happened to arrive there first, and they got the best quarters, and they were supposed to be there temporarily. But the quarters that they had occupied before were much, were not as good as the Texas quarters, so they refused to leave. So that's why they were able to stay and the Japanese prisoners got the other buildings. The German quarters, they had a bathroom, shower, in their room, in their house. They had houses.

MA: And what were your quarters like?

YA: We only had a running toilet and we all had sinks. We had all, sink. But we had to go outside for our shower, community, communal shower.

MA: Were there, going back a little bit to the Germans, were there children there or was it mostly just men?

YA: There were children, there were children. I think some of the students, high school age children, went to the high school there. But they had a German school there. But there weren't that many Germans. Not too many.

MA: They had a German, like a German language school?

YA: I think so. They had a German school. But I never went to the German side at all. Only what my friends have told me.

MA: So in general, was it pretty segregated with the Germans and...

YA: Uh-huh. Not that we were not allowed to go, but we just stayed in our own section.

MA: What about the Japanese Latin Americans and the Niseis from the U.S., was there interactions there?

YA: Very, very little because we had no common language. And most of the Japanese Peruvian children were much younger than, than me. They were maybe ten, twelve, in that range. There were three teenagers like us and we spoke in Japanese, our limited Japanese.

MA: Was there a Japanese language school that you attended?

YA: Oh, yes.. I went every day to Japanese school, 'cause I had finished American school. And I learned everything in Japanese: math, language, every subject... geography, even Chinese writing, and art. Everything was in Japanese and it was taught by Buddhist priests, everything.

MA: What were some of the major differences, I guess, between Crystal City and Minidoka in terms of living conditions and...

YA: Well, for one thing, we did our own cooking. Everybody... every family got a food allowance in camp tokens. And the money, mothers would go to the market every day in their homemade carts. The wheels are wooden and we could hear 'em, the click of the wheels on the street. We would get our food rations for the day. And depending on the age and number of children in the family, you had more rations. And my mother was a good cook. And we had a stove, it was a kerosene stove with two burners and we even had a portable oven, and you'd be surprised how good bakers there were. They made cream puffs and cakes and cookies. Yeah, even I would make cookies in that oven. It's surprising what you could do with limited utensils. But if you have the ingredients, you could make it.

MA: How was your father at that point?

YA: Well, it was really a relief to be together as a family and I think my father, he really changed while he was incarcerated that one year, year and a half, by himself. Well, he was with other men, and he was no longer the autocrat. He learned to listen to us.

MA: Oh, that's interesting.

YA: I was amazed that he had mellowed so much. And I imagine during that year and a half, he had time to reflect on, maybe his relationship with his children. He was a good father after that. [Laughs]

MA: That's amazing.

YA: Yeah, it's really amazing. I actually enjoyed life with my father after that, even after, out of camp. We were able to talk to him like a parent and child. Before, it was just ordered... you know, he would order us to do this and that. So he really changed.

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

<Begin Segment 14>

MA: Was your sister able to come to Crystal City with you?

YA: She came one time. She had married and went with her husband to Hattiesburg, Mississippi, where the 442 was training. And I forgot how long she was there. Basic training is, what, three or six months, I don't know. As long as... and then he went overseas. And on the way to Salt Lake City, where she had found somebody to stay with, she stopped in Crystal City and visited us. There were limitations, you couldn't stay longer than so many days. I didn't see her until way after the war was over. As soon as my brother-in-law went overseas, it wasn't too long before he was missing in action. And, you know, it was the strangest thing. My sister had posted a letter. The night she wrote to us... you know, they couldn't send telegrams. Maybe she could have, but she sent me an air, a special delivery letter. And that night she posted it, I woke up. My sister was calling me. I even turned the light on, 'cause I was so sure she was in the room. But then, she wasn't, so I went back to sleep. And the next day the letter came saying that her, Horse, we called him Horse, was missing in action. And I was just in shock. Horse's... let's see, good friend, auntie and... sister and brother-in-law were also in Crystal City, so I went to their house to tell them that Horse was missing in action, I remember. 'Cause her brothers were also in the 442. They were also taking basic training in Mississippi.

MA: Oh, so sad.

YA: And after one year, they're declared killed in action. And I remember we had a memorial service, and it was really sad. We had no flowers, and we just passed a bowl of incense from one person to the next, and it was on a regular table, we just passed it. So it was really a very sad, pitiable, memorial service.

MA: So your sister, did she settle in Salt Lake City after that?

YA: Uh-huh. But after the war was over, she went back to Seattle because my uncle, I think he bought another hotel, apartment, and he said, "You could come and stay." So my sister went over there to live.

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

<Begin Segment 15>

MA: And how long were you in Crystal City?

YA: We were there 'til the end of the war. Let's see, it ended in August, September, October... and six months after the war, we came to Los Angeles.

MA: So you stayed a little bit after the war was over?

YA: Yeah. Well, we... there was another exchange ship in December of that year. The war was over in August, and the exchange ship in December. Some people were already leaving. They were starting to leave, but the exchange ship was in December and my brothers and I, we didn't want to go by then. We absolutely refused to go.

MA: But your father had wanted to try to get on that ship.

YA: Yeah, uh-huh, ship, because he was the first to, to sign up so he knew he was bent on going. But my brothers and I, see, we're two years older, they didn't want to go, I didn't want to go. So we said we gotta stick together and we're gonna stand up to my father tell him we're not going. And, you know, he said... he just nodded his head and says, "Okay." And we never questioned why he said no. Tomorrow I'm going to explain it, but we had a Crystal City reunion in 1988. And our friend from Seattle came for that reunion, and she said, "Do you know why you never went to Japan?" And we said, "No, we never asked my father." And he had already been, he was already gone by then. Well, in, during the war, her brother was in the MIS. He was a bilingual Japanese, Nisei. He visited Crystal City and he told -- and his father and my father were good friends. So my father went to that house to visit, and Marion's brother told my father, in utmost secrecy -- see the war is still going on -- "Don't go to Japan. They're losing the war." See, now, for him to say that to my father, you know, he could get killed or court-martialed. And my father never... he took that to his grave, he never told us. He never told us. And that's the reason.

MA: Wow, that's amazing.

YA: It's amazing. He knew Japan was losing, and after the war, in Crystal City, many Isseis felt Japan had won. I can't believe it, but they actually thought Japan won.

MA: This was after the war had ended?

YA: After the war was over, uh-huh. They were going to go to Japan in style, and they made dresses to wear to the dining room on the Matsonia. When they got to Japan is when they found out that Japan lost.

MA: I wonder why they were so sure that Japan had won.

YA: Well, it's the... have you ever heard of yamato damashi, it's the Japanese spirit. You never give up, you just, you do your best, you do your best. And that's what the 442 adopted. "Go for broke." That's Hawaiian for yamato damashi, is what I think. Anyway, it's... their spirit. They knew, and even I think my father felt that Japan would never lose because of that spirit.

MA: Do you think that's why your father wanted to go back to Japan those times?

YA: Yeah, uh-huh. And my aunt was waiting for us. She had everything ready for us. But when Japan actually lost, there were men crying in the camps. I could hear men crying and I asked my dad, "Why are they crying?" He said, "Because Japan lost." See now, those Isseis accepted that they were defeated. But some did not. They thought that all the news, the newspaper, was all propaganda. And even there was the rumor in camp that somebody had a shortwave and that Japan won this battle, they won this battle. It was pathetic.

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

<Begin Segment 16>

MA: How did your father feel about the end of the war, especially the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki?

YA: Well, he, he could read English little bit, so he accepted it. And he realized that it was such a fearful bomb, that it was an unbelievable bomb, first time. He accepted the defeat, I guess. When we didn't have to go to Japan, it was good.

MA: And that's when your father kind of made the decision to move the family to California.

YA: Uh-huh. My mother, at that time, had operation. I can't remember if it was after the war was over, but she was still recovering. And the doctor told her, my father, she shouldn't, we shouldn't go back to Seattle in February, it's too cold, so to go to a warmer climate. And my father, during the war, he met a man that lived in Los Angeles that came from the very same village, the same village, in Wakayama. And when that happened, it's like your blood brother. And my father's brother was happened to be the sonchou at that time -- sonchou is the village chief -- when Mr. Uyeda was still in... growing up, leaving, ready to leave Japan, to immigrate. And he recognized my father's last name. It's a very unusual name, Kanogawa. And, you know, they're like brothers. And he's, and my father was writing to him, and he told him our situation and he says, "Oh, come to Los Angeles. You could stay at my house." He had a big two story house, half empty because he was an empty nester. So he welcomed the four of us.

MA: Oh, so that's how you ended up in, in L.A.

YA: Los Angeles.

MA: And what neighborhood of Los Angeles?

YA: In Boyle Heights. We stayed in... well, I stayed there for two weeks and I found a housegirl, they called it, where you live in with a family and you keep house, help clean house, for three months before my parents found a house to rent.

MA: Were there a lot of Nisei girls around your age who did that?

YA: We all did that. We all did that, house girl.

MA: Was Boyle Heights at that point a sort of resettlement area for people coming out of camps?

YA: Uh-huh. Some Japanese still owned their homes. They had it in the names of their children. So a... there were a lot of Japanese families still in Boyle Heights after the war. There were a lot of Jewish families. It's predominately Latino now, but there are still a sprinkling of Japanese families.

MA: How did you feel about the community in Los Angeles, the Japanese American community in comparison with Seattle? Did you notice any differences in the attitudes of people there?

YA: Well, no. I think this camp experience, as soon as I met another Nisei, "What camp were you in?" That's how we got our conversation started. You know, invariably, we would know some person that was in that camp or, or were related to somebody. It's amazing what that camp experience... it was terrible, yet in some respects, made our world so small. Everybody knows everybody.

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

<Begin Segment 17>

MA: What type of work did your father go into in L.A. after the war?

YA: Well first of all, first he worked in a market 'cause that was his line. And he worked also... a friend had a parking lot and he helped to manage, run that. And then he eventually went into gardening. Bought a truck and started a gardening business. He kept it up until he passed away.

MA: Who were his clients? Were they other Japanese Americans?

YA: No. No. Mainly his customers were in Downey, Downey, which is just south of Montebello.

MA: In Boyle Heights, especially around the time that you came back, did your family encounter housing discrimination or job discrimination or things like that?

YA: Yeah, for a while, for a while. You know about the restrictive covenant in real estate? You couldn't... white families could not sell to any other people except white families.

MA: This was in Los Angeles?

YA: In Los Angeles, it was all over. Some Niseis would have their friends buy it for them initially and then sell it back to them, sell it to them. But then eventually that restrictive covenant was erased. When we bought our first house in a place called Bella Vista, which is in part of east L.A., we were the second Nisei family to move in. But right away the white families started leaving. So eventually that whole area became Nisei. So we were still considered undesirable, I guess, neighbors. But when we moved to Montebello, we were welcomed.

MA: And is Montebello like a suburb, sort of, of L.A.?

YA: Of L.A., uh-huh. At the time we bought our home, it was primarily white yet. The school district was white, but it was a very good school district. It was number two in the L.A. County. And that's the reason we moved there, because of the school district. We were welcome. Our neighbors were very cordial.

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

<Begin Segment 18>

MA: So, can you talk about meeting your husband and how that happened?

YA: Oh, I met him at a Buddhist temple. And when we were in Crystal City, there was a couple that had no children, who belonged to our same Buddhist denomination. I think that lady was already, you know, conniving that she's gonna introduce me to my husband. Which... well, I had met him at the church. So they became our, what they call baishakunin, when we got married.

MA: And was he originally from California?

YA: Orange County, yeah, he was from Garden Grove.

MA: What type of work did, did he do?

YA: He was in the insurance business.

MA: And what, what type of work did you go into, then, after you got married?

YA: I originally worked in a sewing factory.

MA: In Los Angeles?

YA: In Los Angeles, because my mother wasn't working and I had to help, you know, support the family. The rent... at that time there was what they called the Office of Price Administration, O.P.A., and we were paying a hundred percent over what that rent should have been, which was one hundred dollars a month. You know the average wage, in those days, was... I forgot how much it was, but less than a dollar an hour.

MA: Was it the landlord just, basically, swindling you?

YA: It was, because housing was non-existent. It was very hard to find a rental. Housing shortage, and all the veterans were coming back, so there was no housing. Eventually we found another place to rent that was owned by a Nisei. And he charged the regular rent, so we were able to save some money.

MA: You worked in a clothing factory?

YA: Uh-huh.

MA: Where was this, neighborhood was this located?

YA: It was in downtown Los Angeles and that company went, it's no longer there but it was a sewing factory for women's suits, and I did the hand sewing.

MA: Who were the other workers that were there with you?

YA: Jewish women and other Issei women like my mother. In fact, I was working next to, we sat next to each other. By then she was able to work.

MA: And what were the conditions like at the sewing factory?

YA: Oh, it was, it was a union shop so we had breaks and no overtime.

MA: And then after you worked at the factory, what did you do then?

YA: Yeah, I got married, and then, until I got pregnant. And then I became a housewife for twenty-three years.

MA: Tell me about your children.

YA: Well, I have four children. My oldest son is now fifty... he was born in 1950, so he's fifty-eight. I have a daughter who is fifty-six and two younger sons, one was born in... fifty, fifty-four and fifty-two, I guess. No, fifty-three, fifty-five. I can't keep track. [Laughs]

MA: Are they living all over the country or did they stay in California?

YA: No, no. They're all living in southern California. I have eleven grandkids.

MA: That's quite a family.

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

<Begin Segment 19>

MA: So you are also very active with the Japanese American National Museum. Can you talk about your involvement with, with JANM?

YA: Well, I started... well, I've been there over ten years, I think it's about twelve. And I'm a docent, and I conduct tours in English and Japanese. And last, was it last year? I volunteered for taiko and learned how to play a couple of pieces and performed for the museum talent show. And we did a performance for a high school in Montebello couple months ago.

MA: In general, when you're leading these tours as a docent, do you find that most people already know and they're aware of the World War II internment experience?

YA: Depending on the... most students now know about it. They're learning about it, which I'm very grateful for. Some of the... the first Japanese students that started coming, they didn't know that the United States and Japan were enemies at one time. They don't teach it. But now they're, they do. They know about it and in some instances their schools will kind of prepare them for our visit, for their visit to our museum. So they know a little.

MA: It's a great resource, I think, the museum is, for people.

YA: Uh-huh.

MA: So do you have any other thoughts or anything else that you would like to share? Any memories or any messages for, you know, people who will watch this interview or anything at all?

YA: Well, I think the museum, the reason it was built and the monies that were raised, the majority of the money came from thousands of people who donated the minimum of five hundred, because they wanted this experience to be preserved. And I thought it should be taught to every student that comes. You know, I never talked to my children about this experience because I was so ashamed. But with the museum, now I, I feel that I should talk about it, everybody should know about it. That it should never be repeated, and especially after 9/11, they were talking about the Arab Americans being put into these... and that should never happen again. I think the museum's purpose is so great. It's so important.

MA: Well, thank you so much. That's a great message to end on. So thank you for, for this interview. It's been a wonderful, wonderful story.

YA: You're welcome. And I hope... thank you.

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