Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Irene Najima Interview
Narrator: Irene Najima
Interviewer: Megan Asaka
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: August 4, 2008
Densho ID: denshovh-nirene-01

<Begin Segment 1>

MA: Okay, so today is August 4, 2008, and I'm here with Irene Najima. I'm Megan Asaka, the interviewer, and the camera person is Dana Hoshide. And also in the room, listening in, is Scott Najima, Irene's son. And we are in the Densho office in Seattle, Washington. So Irene, thank you so much for coming all the way up to Seattle and doing this.

IN: My pleasure.

MA: So I wanted to start by asking, when were you born?

IN: August 9, 1927.

MA: And where were you born?

IN: Petaluma, California.

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

IN: Miyoko Nakano.

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

IN: Juhachi Nakano.

MA: And where was he from in Japan?

IN: Fukuoka. But a small village, Ishikaki. Ishikaki (now part of the township Tanushimaru, Fukuoka-ken).

MA: And what type of work did his family do in Japan?

IN: They were rice farmers.

MA: And do you know what his motivations were for coming to the U.S.? Why he decided to come here?

IN: I think he felt that, by that he could financially make a better living, take the money, whatever money, and return to Japan.

MA: And did he come over to California on his first stop?

IN: No, originally, as a young boy, fifteen, sixteen, he worked in the coal mines in Japan. And made money there and then went to Hawaii. Honolulu, and worked there for a while, on the plantation. And then made enough money there, and then came to California.

MA: Okay, so he worked on the plantations in Hawaii, sort of saved up money and then...

IN: That's right.

MA: ...was able to come to California. Where in California? Did he go to San Francisco right from Hawaii?

IN: No, he went to the more rural areas, which is in, I think he went to a place called Healdsburg, which is near Santa Rosa, California.

MA: And what type of work was he doing around, in Healdsburg?

IN: I think initially he worked as a cook for a gentleman who owned a large house. Initially, I think he was a cook.

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

<Begin Segment 2>

MA: And how did he meet your mother?

IN: Well, after he made a little bit of money, he decided he was very lonely. So he asked his parents, could they look for a bride, a woman for him. And they sent a picture of my mother, and her name was Hanae Iwahashi. And he was pleased and she received a picture of him, and she was pleased. But my mother was a very quiet lady, but in her own right, she was very ambitious. So she was willing to risk coming to America, so they both decided they were, it was fine.

MA: And how old, do you know how old she was when she came over, about?

IN: I think about seventeen.

MA: So young, yeah. So then your mother came over, met your father, and that was in Healdsburg?

IN: Well, he had to go after her. To San Francisco. So of course, he got on his horse and buggy, and it was a long trip in those days. He met her at the, when the boat came in, and they got married.

MA: And then you had a story about going back to the town for the first time and what your mother thought.

IN: That's right, she, they took the long ride home to Healdsburg, and when they initially rode up to the, I guess it was more or less of a ranch, she saw this large mansion. And she thought, "Wow, America is everything that was promised." And of course, he went around the house into the back and there was a little shack with, I think it was a one-room shack. And then, of course, she says, well, it's a little different from what she pictured it.

MA: So just going back a little bit to your mother, was she from the same town as your father?

IN: Neighboring, from Morube.

MA: And what did her family do? What type of work in Japan?

IN: My mother's family?

MA: Yes, your mother's family.

IN: I'm not too clear on that. I don't think they were farmers, but I'm not clear on that.

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

<Begin Segment 3>

MA: And then, how did your parents end up in Petaluma?

IN: Of course, they accumulated their money, because initially their plan was to go back to Japan. He saved a little money and a very, very good friend of his had moved to Petaluma and bought a ranch. And he advised my father, "Why don't you come and join me?" Buy a ranch -- because my father had saved up quite a bit of money -- and the poultry business, go into the poultry business. And that's what my father did. And of course, he was not allowed to buy property in his name. So he put it in the name of his three sons.

MA: Who were U.S. citizens, right? So then he could own the property through them.

IN: Yeah, own property there.

MA: So then your father went into the poultry business in Petaluma. And he had a ranch, a chicken ranch, is that right?

IN: Yes, ten acres. Uh-huh.

MA: And what, was it a, did he raise the chickens for the eggs, is that right?

IN: Oh yes, primarily, yeah.

MA: And was that main industry in Petaluma, was the sort of poultry?

IN: It certainly was, uh-huh.

MA: And tell me about your siblings, how many children were in your family?

IN: Seven. And after they moved to Petaluma, then four more were born. And there were five boys and two girls.

MA: And were you the... where did you fit in with that age range?

IN: I was the youngest.

MA: So can you describe the house and the ranch where you grew up in Petaluma? What did your house look like and how many rooms was it?

IN: The house was reasonable, I'd say, a typical small ranch house. But as the family grew, my father expanded on it. And I would consider my father -- and I've always thought this -- a Renaissance man. He did everything. He knew how to do electricity, I don't know if it would pass inspection today. But he knew plumbing. he built all the chicken houses. And so he decided to expand on the house. So the latter part of my childhood, we had running toilet, extra bedrooms, he modernized the kitchen.

MA: And he did all this work sort of on his own?

IN: Excuse me?

MA: He did all this work himself?

IN: That's right. Everything.

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

<Begin Segment 4>

MA: And what about the area where you grew up? Who were some of your neighbors and what was that area like?

IN: It was primarily Caucasians. They all were in the poultry business. At times, we felt some of the neighbors were not too keen on Asians. And there was a little bit of discrimination, even at that time. But there were a few neighbors that were very, very accepting.

MA: So what are some, do you remember any times when you really felt like, in terms of discrimination, that you remember that stand out for you?

IN: Yes, although we went to the same school, Penngrove grammar school and junior high combined, we came home together, it was a mile and a half away, the school was. But we were not permitted to join the, our friends, school friends, once we came home. We were not, some of the neighbors, not all, we were not allowed into their yard, and that was told to us by the parents. And we were not allowed to play with them out of the school time.

MA: Did your father have, what were his experiences like doing business in Petaluma? Was that in terms of with the Caucasians, was that ever a problem? Did he ever have any issues with competition or animosity or anything like that?

IN: Oh, I'm sure there was. But I think the Asian people knew their place. And so we didn't go into circumstances where we would meet adversity, if you know what I mean. So the people we did business with, being that he had a poultry ranch, they were fine. But if we went into town, we knew that we were not allowed in certain places, like restaurants or bars. So we just kept away.

MA: So it seems like there was an unspoken sort of divide.

IN: Definitely, yes.

MA: Okay. So you mentioned that you attended Penngrove school? Where was the school located in relation to the house you grew up in? Was it pretty close by?

IN: It was mile and a half away. It was a combined elementary and junior high school. The students were primarily... very few Caucasians had ranches, it was the Asians, believe it or not, that had the ranches. The Caucasians were, had, they usually went out on their jobs, but they were not wealthy, they were very, very poor. And I think it was the Asians that were the landowners and a little more wealthy.

MA: That's interesting. So in your school then, it was mostly Japanese.

IN: Oh, no. Very few.

MA: Oh, very few Japanese.

IN: It was mostly Caucasian.

MA: Mostly Caucasian, okay. Okay. And what were the school facilities like?

IN: Well, it was 1930, '40 school. Very similar to today. Not much difference.

MA: And were, who were your teachers? Were they mostly like Caucasian women?

IN: Caucasian, yes.

MA: And how was the relationship that you had with them? Was it pretty good?

IN: Well, you know, there was an understanding. We had our place, and we knew what that involved. So there was very little conflict. We knew our place. And the teachers were all Caucasians, of course. And I hate to say this, and maybe I shouldn't, but I'm going to. The Asian people were the, more of the brighter students. And I don't know whether it came from the background that, you know, education was important or what. But we were usually top of the class. [Laughs]

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

<Begin Segment 5>

MA: So can you describe maybe when you were attending Penngrove, a typical day for you? What it would like, what time you would get up, and all of that.

IN: Well, I would get up early and tend to the ranch, help my father with the ranch. And then my mother made our lunch. We would walk the mile and a half to school. School started about, I think eight o'clock. We did our reading, writing, and arithmetic. We had recesses, and I was pretty good in sports. [Laughs] One of the better girls. Had lunch... it was a typical rural school routine. Nothing much different. We didn't have sophisticated subjects. But we did have music, I played the piano a little bit.

MA: And then after school would you go home and help out again at the ranch?

IN: Oh, sure. Pack, pick up the eggs, pack 'em. Clean them and then pack 'em, and then put them in the case.

MA: And would the eggs be shipped, or driven somewhere to be shipped? Or were they sold locally, do you know?

IN: I think they were shipped. I don't know if it was shipped nationally, but certainly in the Northern California area. I'm not sure on that.

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

<Begin Segment 6>

MA: And what, when you were growing up, what religion did your family practice?

IN: Oh, Buddhist. Buddhism.

MA: And can you tell me about the Buddhist church in your town and what it looked like? And there's a story, it's quite a well-known church, and if you could tell me a little bit a about that.

IN: It was named Emanji. But before the actual church was built, there was a minister that came from Japan. And you know, I remember his name, it was Mr., Reverend Goto. And it was done more or less in an ordinary looking house. Then eventually, during the Chicago Exposition, they decided, the Japanese community decided to purchase the pavilion. So it was then a Japanese pavilion at the Chicago Fair. And so when they purchased it, it was carefully taken apart and shipped to a city called Sebastopol, which is the town that the church was. And there were very few Japanese knowledgeable enough to put it together. So it was my father's project -- [coughs] excuse me -- to put it together and build it. And he more or less was the one who did most of the work, the putting it together, getting the plan together, and the carpentry. And it became a very well-known church in Northern California called Emanji. And "Ema" is "heaven."

MA: And it sounds like your father had a really big role in making that happen.

IN: Oh, yes.

MA: And what are some of the activities that were held in the, in the Emanji?

IN: Well, I think it's like any church. They had the Women's Club. And the Men's Club. And they had a staff, and the important people of the church. They didn't have as many children's activities as the Christian church has. But what it would do, is, on Sunday, there would be a meeting of the church, and it was done because it was a minister from Japan, it was all in Japanese. But we were required to go and sit. It was very difficult, and to listen to the chanting and the sermon, but we didn't understand any of it. But we were required to sit there, hour and a half, two hours.

MA: And you were telling me about the movies that they would show. The Japanese films?

IN: Oh, yeah, well, that was at a hall.

MA: Oh, that was at a hall. Okay.

IN: That was another, and what it was was more or less, it was called, Nipponji. I'm not sure on that. But it was a hall in the same town, but I'd say about five, ten miles away. And it was a community hall. And once in a while, they would have fundraising events there. And of course, one of the primary fundraising events was to make money for the church, to get money for the church. So what they would do is they'd request a benshi. Benshi was a person that made the rounds of the different Japanese communities in California. And he would bring a movie, and interpret the movie. But he would make the rounds, and the community would go. And of course, it was donation, so all the members of the church and the community would donate money. And the money that was donated would be written in Japanese on a sheet of paper and strung on like a laundry line, and how much you donated. Of course, my father always had to be one of the prime donors. [Laughs]

MA: This benshi, so you said he traveled kind of around California showing these movies. And so they were silent movies, is that it?

IN: Correct.

MA: And he would kind of portray the characters in the movie?

IN: Oh, yeah. He would take on their voices. I guess it was memorizing a lot of the line. But he would take on all the characters: the women, the children, the men. And so, you know, it was quite something that you would never, never see today.

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

<Begin Segment 7>

MA: So I'm curious about Japanese language school, and if you attended Japanese language school. And how you enjoyed it, if you attended it.

IN: We didn't enjoy it, because it was added to our regular five-day school. So we attended on a Sunday, but there again, it was more or less controlled by the certain outstanding people of the community. And later on, in Petaluma, there was a feud between two factions, and even the school split. And there was one, one was named Showa Gakuen and the other was, I think Kimon Gakuen, I'm not sure. But it was split into two factions. And of course, it was, it was like the Martin and McCoys, I guess, you know, where there was a feud going on, whose side you were on. I thought that was very interesting. Politics.

MA: Community politics. So which school did you end up attending?

IN: We went to the Showa Gakuen. And they imported the teachers from San Francisco, because most of the community Japanese were not educated. Even in Japan, they were from farmer stock.

MA: And so would the teachers from San Francisco come just once a week or something? Or did they actually move to the town?

IN: No, they commuted on the bus.

MA: Okay.

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

<Begin Segment 8>

MA: So your parents, you were telling me, took you on a trip to Japan? And can you talk a little bit about that trip and who you were visiting in Japan, and why they, why you actually went?

IN: That was in 1937. Very interesting year, 'cause that was the year the Manchurian War broke out. We went for about four or five months. My eldest brother had just graduated the university and was able to take over the ranch for that period of time. So my father and mother went, and then of course, I was the baby of the family, so they decided, I was nine, going on ten, that they had to take me. So I had the privilege, out of the seven children, to be the one to go to Japan. We took a liner called the Chichibu Maru and of course, we were on the lowest deck possible, where all of the motor was running, the pipes were on the ceiling. But it was a very exciting trip. Took a long time. We stopped -- [coughs] excuse me -- we stopped in Hawaii. I had an uncle there, living there. In those days, the kanakas, who were the Hawaiian, the native Hawaiians, would come to the boat in the water and ask us to throw money. So we would throw the money in, and as the money swirled through the water, they would dive and pick it up and then come back up and show us that they got the money.

MA: Did you get a chance to see Honolulu at that point? Did you disembark and see your uncle?

IN: We didn't tour, we stopped to see my uncle.

MA: And then you saw an interesting person on the ship, you were telling me.

IN: Oh, yeah. I, one day, with another friend, I was, I went up to the deck and this friend of mine was a little older than I was. And she pointed out a lady that was at the edge of the upper deck. And she says, "Irene, that is a very famous lady." And she said that was Helen Keller, with her, what was the name of her...

MA: Her mentor, Anne Sullivan?

IN: Anne Sullivan. And so, we waved to her, she waved back. At that time, I didn't know about Helen Keller, to be perfectly frank.

MA: That's interesting. And so she must have been headed to Japan.

IN: Must have been.

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

<Begin Segment 9>

MA: So then you had a long boat ride to Japan, and when you arrived, did you go see your relatives in Fukuoka?

IN: Not immediately. My uncles from the country, in those days, when it was a country, it was really the country. So my uncles, I had two uncles that came to the boat. They had come from Fukuoka to Yokohama, that's where we docked, and they came to visit us. So we took them and we went on a tour of Tokyo -- no, Yokohama? I'm not sure. But we went sort of on a tour. And it was very funny because one of my uncles, being very, very rural, never been in the urban area, got carsick at every car or bus that we rode. He was not used to it, that kind of transportation. So he was constantly upset getting out. [Laughs] And then after that, after we toured a little bit, we went to my father's birthplace.

MA: And you were telling me you were able to travel a lot around Japan, right, with your father?

IN: Once we got to his birthplace and met the family and his mother and father, my father decided to tour Japan. So my mother was a very frail woman and not much into traveling. So he took this nine year old as a companion. And I think that's when I got the travel bug. He took me, and you know, Japan was the old Japan, where there weren't as many tourists. It wasn't as... so all of the temples, etcetera, were very quiet, what you think Japan was in the old days. But I had a very pleasant trip. Saw a lot.

MA: And you saw an interesting scene in, was it in Beppu? You went to the, you saw the courtesans walking around?

IN: Oh, yeah. So my mother wanted to go to the onsen, which is the hot bath, so we went to Beppu. And in those days, Beppu was a very, very small little town. It's not what it is today. And so one night, my father wanted to take a little walk. So of course, he took me. And I think he had a reason to take me. We walked through a district where all the lovely ladies in their kimonos were sitting outside their little shops. And they would come up to my father and try to urge him, you know, to come in. And then they were, tell me what a sweet little ojouchan I was. So they'd try to pull my father in, but my father said, you know, no, he's got this daughter. But I think to this day, he took me so that he could avoid that situation. But I remember that to this day. These powdered ladies with the neckline very, very low, urging my father. [Laughs] Then I found out that it was a, what do you call it, red light district.

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

<Begin Segment 10>

MA: And you also were able to go off to Korea, is that right? During your time in Japan?

IN: Yes, and then of course we went back to his village. And my father had gone back primarily because the father was getting very senile and they wanted to settle the estate. They had gotten to be one of the wealthiest farmers in that village, Ishikaki. Because my father would send back money every year, and the exchange ratio was so great that they became very, very wealthy and landowners. Brought up, contrary to America, the rice plots were not in one place, like on a ranch. You bought property where it became available. So they owned many, many plots of rice, located in different parts of the village. And the grandmother at that time was the matriarch of the family, and I guess, was the spokesperson for the settling of the estate. My grandfather was very, very senile. And I guess they had given my father -- my father, by the way, was the second oldest brother, so of course naturally, the oldest brother would get the prime property. But my father was not given, as a second son, the prime property. He was given a lesser. And he was very, very angry about that. And my grandmother and my father never really, I guess, agreed on the plot that he got. And he left Japan in a very angry tone, which was really unfortunate. But because my father's thought was to, because he was not wealthy, but you know, he had enough money, that he was going to return that property to one of the members of the family, but she didn't give him that opportunity. So he left very angry at my, at his mother, which was really unfortunate. And we returned, I think, a little earlier than what we had planned.

MA: So when did your trip to Korea happen?

IN: Yeah, it was during that time. Our stay, we, my mother's sister was an ikebana teacher. And so, I guess the government had asked her to go to Korea. And so they were living in Korea, and I went with them, met my aunt and uncle and their children.

MA: What was Korea like that you remember?

IN: Very backward. Very backward. Poor, they cultivated their property in a very, I guess you'd say, old-fashioned way. But very poor.

MA: And then you were telling me that you actually had cousins who were going off to fight in the Manchurian conflict.

IN: Right, because it had started. And what it would be was you'd go to the train depot with the recruit, the military recruit. And they would get on the plane and everybody would have a Japanese flag. And we would wave it as the train pulled out, with "Banzai, banzai."

MA: How were you treated as a Japanese American in Japan? Were you treated like a Japanese person?

IN: At that point? Oh, just normal. It was nothing different that I could remember. I was a child. So, I remember distinctly that the schoolchildren, the boys were definitely, definitely the preferred ones, you know, they were very aggressive. And the girls were more of the little, they would stay in the background. But the boys were very aggressive, even at the early age, dominant.

MA: And so how long total were you in Japan?

IN: I'd say four or five months.

MA: So that's quite a long, long time.

IN: It was.

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

<Begin Segment 11>

MA: So you came back to Petaluma and started school. Can you tell me about the time you went on a picnic near the Russian River and what happened there? You told me a story about sort of encountering discrimination that one time.

IN: Oh, yes. That was when I was about three years old.

MA: Oh, you were younger. Okay.

IN: Very young. And we decided to go on an outing. And of course there was a beach near a bridge, river, bridge. And we decided to go there, because they had sort of a playland area, so we went there, but there again, we knew there was an understanding that we were not to mix. So we stayed in the background, we unpacked our lunch, put our little blanket right near the fence, which was adjacent to a bunch of gum grove trees, eucalyptus. And so we were having our lunch there, and a gentleman came. And to this day, his face, at three years old now, was as vivid, vivid to me as it is today. He was a man, about I'd say sixty. And I don't know what authority he had, but he came and he told us that we were still part of the beach area and he wanted us to move over the fence to the gum grove where there was no sand. And I forget what we did, I don't know. But I know at that time, fear clutched my heart. Didn't understand at the age of three, but I knew something was wrong. And I think, I know so, things like that, leave a very deep impression on a child. Never to be forgotten.

MA: Yes.

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

<Begin Segment 12>

MA: So let's talk about, then, December 7, 1941, the day that Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. And can you talk about, I mean, you were fourteen, thirteen at the time?

IN: Thirteen, fourteen.

MA: Yeah, what do you remember about that day and hearing about the news that Japan had bombed Pearl Harbor?

IN: I guess it was sort of unbelievable. I couldn't believe it, that my father's native country had declared war on America. I didn't, I felt uncomfortable because I was of Japanese descent. And when I went to school the next day, I was a bit uncomfortable. We happened to have a -- I was in the ninth grade then -- and we happened to have a principal by the name of Mrs. Dinwiddy, and she was very understanding. And of course, she made the announcement that we were born in America, and we were Americans, and she reminded the students. And at the time, I appreciated that. But I did feel uncomfortable ever after that. I never felt natural. And of course, when we pledged allegiance to the flag, to say the least, I was confused. There was utter confusion in my mind. That here I was, pledging allegiance to the flag, and my father's country, because he was not a citizen, had declared war. A great amount of conflict, not really understanding.

MA: What about your parents? What was their immediate reaction?

IN: And I'm going to be frank about this. My father thought that Japan would win. Because they were not permitted citizenship, and because they were not able to be accepted by the Caucasian community. I must say, their allegiance was more to Japan, and he thought Japan would win.

MA: Did you notice a difference in the way that the Caucasians treated you after Pearl Harbor? Maybe not in school, but in the town?

IN: We didn't mix very much. We really did not mix too much with the Caucasian community. We didn't attend any of the social events, the restaurants, the community events, you know, where they gathered in the park, none of that. We knew our place. And confrontation is not fun.

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

<Begin Segment 13>

MA: So let's talk about, then, when your father was actually picked up by the FBI. And can you tell me your memories of that day?

IN: Well, because there were rumors that the leaders of the community would be taken to a concentration camp. My father expected that because he had heard rumors that certain people from Los Angeles area were being taken, leaders of the community. So we expected it. And then there were one or two members from our community that were taken. So my father expected that. And the day did come when our driveway -- we had a very long driveway -- a black limousine drove up and some men got off. And they were from the sheriff, the FBI, and the Petaluma police. And I went out and he says, "Where's your father?" And I knew that they had come to take him. So my father was, of course, working on the ranch, and I went to get him. And he knew that this was it, that they were going to take him away. Came back and they handcuffed him, without any words saying why. But before, he says, "Would you permit me to change my clothes?" So they took off the handcuffs and they followed him into the house and he was able to change his clothes. And he came back out, they put the handcuffs, and he, they took him away without any kind of explanation or anything, they just took him away. And later on, we were able to visit him and I think, I'm not sure, it was in San Francisco, at that Presidio? I guess it's at the Presidio, I'm not sure. But we went to visit him for the last time. And he came out and he told us, very poignantly, that we may never see each other again. Because he said, "This is war." It was very sad.

MA: And what happened to the ranch and the business after your father was taken away?

IN: Yeah, then it was our turn. My father was taken to a real concentration camp, Crystal City. So then, my eldest son came back and we got ready. Announcements came over the radio that we were to turn in all of our radio, radios that had long... what do you call it?

MA: The shortwave radios?

IN: Shortwave, right. All our cameras, all our binoculars. And that we were prepared to leave, I believe, with one suitcase, I think. I can't remember, but I'm sure it was one that we should prepare, that we would not have much time. So of course, we took in all of the binoculars and the shortwave radios into the police station in Petaluma. And as far as our furniture was concerned, we had to sell it very cheaply. But our heart broke when, I think, for twenty-five dollars or less, I don't remember, we had to sell our spinet piano. So cheap. It was a beautiful piano. But what would do, the people from the community would come and buy whatever we had that was worth buying.

MA: And were you able to find someone to lease your house or property?

IN: Uh-huh. We were very fortunate, compared to other farmers. We leased the place for twenty-five dollars a month. And when we got back, we were happy and amazed to see that he had kept the ranch in reasonable condition. And he did pay his rent, so we were one of the fortunate ones. Because I hear that some farmers came back to a disastrous situation.

MA: And you had a story about your brothers, a funny story kind of about their camera?

IN: Oh, you want me to tell you that? [Laughs]

MA: Yeah, I love that story.

IN: Well, I have two brothers that were right above me. They were probably about, oh, '41, very young teen boys. And they had this one camera that my father had bought that was one of the most superb cameras. So they, without knowing, unbeknownst to us, they wrapped it up real tightly, and we had an outhouse, and they put the camera and its wrappings on a hook, fishing hook. [Laughs] And they lowered it down the outhouse toilet and they said, cause they just couldn't take that to the police station. And they left it there. And we never knew about it 'til they pulled it up when we came back.

MA: And it was still there.

IN: Yeah, it was still there.

MA: And so you also had a car that you ended up storing.

IN: That's right. We had bought, we had a 1939 -- isn't that funny, I remember the year -- Plymouth. It was blue. And the fellows said, "Hey, if we sell this we're going to get nothing for it." So what they did was they put it in the garage and jacked it up. I think they took off the tires, and did everything to it, hoping that when we got back it would be intact. And sure enough, when we got back, they put back the tires, they put the oil in, the water, started it, and believe it or not, it started. So we had a car.

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

<Begin Segment 14>

MA: Okay, so I wanted to ask you about the day that you left for the Merced Assembly Center, your memories of that day.

IN: We were given, I think, about a week's notice. Maybe more, maybe, I don't remember, but it was short. And I don't remember how we got to Merced, but I know it was right after a rain. And they had built these, what would you call them? Barracks? And all I remember is they had sort of leveled the ground, but it was newly leveled, and it was muddy. And I remember plowing through that mud. But it was a very short stay in Merced. I don't remember how long we stayed there.

MA: And what were your living conditions like in Merced? Like the barracks you were in?

IN: It was a barrack, a one-room barrack. They were new, I think they were newly built, but it was just barracks. I don't remember too much about the assembly center. All I know is I remember it was muddy, really muddy. Because they had touched the soil recently.

MA: And so going with you to the assembly center was your mother and all of your siblings?

IN: No, by then, my older brothers were off to the university, or they were going to college. My sister was with me, my two brothers, and myself. The other brothers were all gone by then. Either to the university, or on a job, I guess.

MA: So they, some of your other siblings weren't ever in camp? They were inland?

IN: Right, because one of my brothers had just graduated optometry school at the University of California, and they had waited for him to graduate to induct him. And the minute he graduated he was put into the military. Oh, by the way, he went in as a buck private, and he had a degree. And the highest he got was, I think, private first class.

MA: And did he serve throughout the war, and was he in Europe?

IN: Yes, he served in Arkansas. He never went overseas, but he worked as a optometrist at the camp. But he always worked under somebody else. And he became a private first class. We were very pleased when he, when he got that. [Laughs]

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

<Begin Segment 15>

MA: So as you said, you were only in Merced for a short time, maybe a few months. And then you left for Amache.

IN: Uh-huh, Colorado.

MA: And can you describe the journey to Amache and what you remember of that train ride?

IN: What I remember -- we went on a train and the train was not a scheduled train. Therefore, along the way, there were times when we had to go on a side track and wait hours for a scheduled train to pass. Sometimes we would just wait hours. And I remember we waited a long, long time at Salt Lake City.

MA: And how long in total, do you know, was the journey to Amache from Merced?

IN: I don't remember. It was slow. Of course, we didn't have first-class accommodations. So we must, we must have slept on the hard seat.

MA: Were you aware of where you were headed? Did they inform you that you were going to Colorado?

IN: I don't know, I forgot. They must have. I'm not sure.

MA: And when you arrived in Amache, what was going through your mind when you got there and saw the camp?

IN: Okay, first, it was in a desolate area of California, as desolate as you can get. It had nothing but tumbleweeds and dust and sand. No trees to speak of. But we arrived there and we went on a bus and we passed a little settlement. And believe it or not, it was a settlement where there were three or four little stores. And on the porch of one of the stores was an old man in a rocking chair with a corn cob pipe in his mouth. [Laughs] And I said, "Oh my gosh, where have we gone?" Like in the movies, Pa and Ma Kettle.

MA: So it was very desolate, sort of in the middle of nowhere.

IN: Absolutely in the middle of nowhere.

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

<Begin Segment 16>

MA: And that first day, what was that like? That first day in Amache?

IN: I can't recollect. All I thought about, remember now, I was a teenager, a young teenager. And I guess a lot of my attraction, you know, to the social part of life, and to the opposite sex, was getting there. So to me, I was excited because I realized that for the first time, our social life was going to be a little more important. Being on the ranch, we didn't have a social life. You were pretty much isolated. So, you know, there was a little bit excitement, because I had heard that the group from Santa Anita, some of them were being sent there, as we called them, "city slickers." So, you know, it was interesting to see their city ways, whereas we were really, as you say, quote "country hicks."

MA: And these were people from Los Angeles, right?

IN: Right.

MA: Came from Santa Anita.

IN: That's right.

MA: I'm just curious what was different about them, or what made them sort of city people. Was it their clothes?

IN: Oh, a million ways. Once I attended school, I realized the difference. The women knew how to put on makeup. Their hair, they would put it in one of those nets. They knew how to do the, what do you call it in those days, the dance... I forget what you call it. But they knew how to do the recent dance, (the jitterbug). And they chewed gum a lot, which our family was not allowed too much. But, I mean, they knew the ways, I thought they had a lot of confidence, whereas the rural girls were really backward, almost like they were just off the boat from Japan. But the girls and the boys, and the boys were zootsuiters. They had pants that were tucked at the ankles, and their hair was you called pachuco, you know, where it would be long here and then overlapping in the back. So they were really cool. That's what I thought.

MA: Yeah, that's interesting.

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

<Begin Segment 17>

MA: So you attended high school then in Amache. What was the name of the high school?

IN: Amache High School

MA: Amache High School. And who were some of the teachers that you had? Were they internees or people from town?

IN: No, they were recruited from the outside, the government. And I must say, those who volunteered were very -- some of them, not all -- were very dedicated to the students, I must agree on that.

MA: And how did you feel about your education there in Amache High School?

IN: Well, see, I can't compare, because I never went to Petaluma High School. I can't say. There's no comparison.

MA: And the facilities of the high school? Was it in a barrack or something?

IN: No, they built special buildings for that. But all in all, I thought the teachers were very dedicated, when I think back now.

MA: And who were some of your friends that you made in Amache? You were telling me that you had a close-knit group of friends?

IN: Well that was the block, I lived the block 6-H. And could you call it a little girls' gang? But it was a little gang. And of course we had the leader, she was very aggressive, but very nice, called Setsuko. [Laughs] And we were all a little boy crazy, we were all from the country. And I'll tell you that incident Setsuko befriended a soldier, a Caucasian soldier, that looked over the lumber during the night. Because I guess a lot of the evacuees would steal the lumber for their little barrack. So he was lonely out there. And then she would tell us, "C'mon." After we had dinner and it was sort of later on in the evening. And she says, "C'mon, let's go out there. This soldier is very, very lonely." So we'd go out there. And he'd build a campfire, a little campfire, and he would talk to us. And I forget where he was from, but we would talk to him, and then we'd go home. Now, I don't know how much involved Setsuko was, but... [Laughs]

MA: And I'm curious about your meals. Did you eat mostly in the dining hall with your friends?

IN: The mess hall we called it.

MA: I'm sorry the mess hall.

IN: Yeah, and I had a job, and most of my friends had a job. Waitressing, I remember carrying metal containers of water and filling up the waters for the people. And I remember how much I got paid, sixteen dollars a month. But then that's room and board.

MA: Did your mother also work in camp?

IN: Yeah, she was a dishwasher. And we all got sixteen dollars a month.

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

<Begin Segment 18>

MA: So at this point, you said your father was interned in Crystal City, Texas. Had you been able to correspond with him?

IN: Letters.

MA: And did you know how he was doing? And I assume the letters were censored, but could you get a sense of how he was doing there?

IN: At first, he accepted the situation. He, again, was a cook there, from his past experience. But I think all of the internees there got involved with different kind of crafts. And my father, we have one today, an example of that today, made out of dogwood... was it dogwood? No, cotton?

MA: Cottonwood?

IN: Cottonwood root. And you know, they're huge. He made a, sort of like a vase, and we have one, decorated in our home today, this day. But later on, as the war progressed and they realized that the internees were rather harmless, that the possibility of sabotage was really not there, they decided that they would give them a mock trial and release 'em. So my father at that point got very, very impatient. He wanted his turn to come up and it didn't. And we would go to the community manager and say, you know, "Why isn't my father's trial coming up?" There was nothing they could do. So my father, at that point, started to get paranoid, and began thinking in his mind that we were doing it so that he couldn't return. My father was quite a disciplinarian and strict. So he, he got to believe that we didn't want him home, and his letters got very harsh. Then, of course, the date came when he got his mock trial. It wasn't really a trial, there was nothing to try him on. And he came home, but he was never the same. Never the same. And I used to think my father was a Renaissance man, but he became very paranoid, and I don't think he ever got over it. His business, the ranch business that he had built for years, he didn't know what had happened to his ranch. And I guess I don't blame him. I wonder how I would have reacted. You know, after coming from Japan and working his way, then having it all destroyed. But he accused -- and I'll bring this up, 'cause it's for posterity -- he accused my mother of having an affair with a 6-H manager, and it was really terrible.

MA: So you really saw the effect of this internment on him.

IN: It was tragic.

MA: Right. How did that impact you, and I guess the rest of your family?

IN: Oh, it did. I had no comparison of what I would have been like if the war hadn't occurred, and, you know, how it changed me. But I think it did change me to the point where I felt in a quiet way, I had to exert my rights as a U.S. citizen. But I knew I could not do it in a aggressive way, that it had to be in a more subtle way. And I guess in my mind, quietly, it just developed. And to this day, I'm very interested in politics. That's all I watch over TV is politics, and how it will affect, you know, the people.

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

<Begin Segment 19>

MA: And I think part of your life, which we'll talk about later, is an example of that. Of you, sort of, fighting for your rights as a U.S. citizen.

IN: Yes, well, when I went off to college at that time, students were, Japanese students were permitted in the elementary school, to be an elementary school teacher. They were not permitted to graduate in a secondary school curriculum. So, I didn't want to be an elementary school teacher. I wanted to be a business teacher, a business education teacher. And at San Jose State, I tried to get into the secretary education program, and I was not permitted. This is of course after I had completed my undergraduate courses. So I went to Dr. Atkinson, I remember his name to this day. And I pleaded with him to please let me. He says, "No." And I asked him the reason and he said, "It's because we cannot accept anybody in the secondary education if we cannot place them after the graduation." And I told him I would forego that, I would write a release and forego that. No, he says, "We can't do that." So then I went to the dean of the school. At that time, his name was Dean De Voss. And I told him that I didn't understand that as a citizen that I could be deprived of entering a program if I was willing, you know, to take that gamble of not being able to get... he says, "Well, I can't go over the decision of the head of the education there." And I was really angry and frustrated, and I wrote a letter to California legislature. And to this day, I don't know what happened to that letter. Is all I know, suddenly I got an invite from Dean De Voss and says, you know, "We've decided to put you into the program." So at that point, I went, I was permitted into the program, but I often felt that the teacher, professor, department head, was really anti-Irene. So I was never really happy or comfortable.

And when the time came at the, when I got my degree, and sure enough -- about, in those days, teachers were not that plentiful as it is today. And San Jose State was the only teachers' college that I know of at that time. So a lot of the principals of all over California, would come to San Jose State to recruit, and it started about February. And sure enough, I never got one interview. And my other peers would come up to me and says, "Well, Irene, what interviews did you get?" And I said," I haven't got any yet," and they would have about five or six interviews. Well I didn't have any, sure enough. But that's okay, because I told them verbally, that you know, I would not have them commit themselves. So I accepted that, and I was not a bit surprised. And I was in the personnel office, and the personnel lady at that time felt very badly for me. And, I said, "That's okay. That was the condition." And so I went home, back to the ranch. And in the month of August, I got a telephone call from that personnel lady, and she says, "Would you like to go to Hawaii?" And I said, "Oh sure, I'd love it. Oh wow." And to me, Hawaii was Honolulu. There was no other Hawaii. There was not Kauai, there was no Maui. So I said, "Oh, sure." And she says, "But I have to tell you, it's on an island." And I said, "Well, what island is it?" She says, " Kauai." She says, "It's a very rural school." And I thought about, I wanted to get back at the department head, so I said, "I'll take it." So of course, I accepted the job. I had to borrow the money from my father because I didn't have any money. However, before I went, I went to the orchard and picked prunes in that hot sun to make a little bit of money. So I picked prunes. [Laughs]

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

<Begin Segment 20>

MA: So I wanted to go back a little bit and talk about leaving Amache. So your father was released, well, quote/unquote "released" 'cause he came to Amache from Crystal City. Was that like 1944? Sort of right before the war ended?

IN: Yeah, about '44, or '45, right.

MA: And when you, the time came that the camp was closing --

IN: No, we left before that.

MA: You left before, okay.

IN: Because you see, we had a place to go home to, or we hoped to get. The people that didn't have a place to go home to stayed. But we, my father was anxious to see if the ranch was still intact.

MA: Okay, so then the family went back to Petaluma, back to the ranch.

IN: And at that time, the brother, not next to me, but one above that, got a letter from the military. And he had graduated optometry school in Chicago, but he got a letter from the military. It said that you have to go into the military. So he had a little bit of time before, so he came to the camp and took us, helped us get back.

MA: And when you came back to Petaluma, what was the reaction that people had?

IN: It was very bad. We were on the bus, we didn't stop in the town. But as we were passing by the main street, there were all kinds of signs on the windows and signs saying, "Go back, Jap. We don't want you."

MA: So when you returned back, you'd said before that the tenant had actually kept up the property pretty well.

IN: Yes, we were, we were on a Greyhound bus. We were left off about a half a mile from our home on the 101 Highway. And we got our suitcases, because I think we only had one carrying suitcase. Left on 101, as the Greyhound bus went on and walked back to the ranch. It was quite an experience.

MA: And so when you came back, you had graduated from high school at that point, right? What were your plans? You mentioned previously that you went to college, and how did your parents feel about that?

IN: Well, first of all, I went to, I believed in education. All the boys had been educated, but my father and mother, too, did not believe in a woman getting too much education. My sister had gone to business college before the war. In fact, she was at the Burbank Business College in Santa Rosa. And then the war started. So they believed in the business college. I didn't want to go to a secretarial college, so I first, I knew I wanted education, and so I commuted on a bus to Santa Rosa Junior College. I went there for a brief time. There was a business teacher that told me, encouraged me to go into business teaching, because I was very good in the different subjects. So then I pleaded with my father at that time, after a short while, I could go to San Jose State. He really rejected it for a while, but then he came around and I was permitted to go.

MA: And how was your father doing at that point? Had he started up the ranch again?

IN: Uh-huh. Well, to start up the ranch, they needed finance. So the brother that had been waiting to go to the military, he and my father went to other poultry ranches and worked for them.

MA: And eventually built up enough money.

IN: Enough, uh-huh, finances to start a small business.

MA: Okay.

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

<Begin Segment 21>

MA: And you then, so you attended Santa Rosa Junior College. And when did you enter San Jose State? What, what year was that? And was that for your teaching certificate?

IN: No, I went there about two years, three years.

MA: And then you told that story about gaining admittance to the secondary ed. program and having trouble being recruited and encountering difficulties with the head who didn't want you there because you were Japanese American.

IN: By the way, I stayed in a dorm, I'd say about a half block from the college. It wasn't fancy. It's nothing like the dorms of today. But we were required to do the different tasks. Clean up, I used to prepare the meals. So we worked our way. I also had different jobs, I babysat. Then eventually, I got a real good job at the library, the college library.

MA: And at that point, how many other Japanese Americans were at San Jose State? Was it a sizeable group?

IN: Well in San Jose, there was quite a large Japanese population. They, I think they had a very active Buddhist church, but they were still in the minority. You know, maybe in a class, there might have been three, two or three.

MA: And then you were the only Japanese American in this program.

IN: In secondary education.

MA: Right. Secondary ed. program. And aside from the department head, how did the other professors and teachers treat you?

IN: Normally. I don't know if they knew about it, but I was treated all right. I have to this day, no love for the college. And when they send me all kinds of things to support the programs, isn't that terrible? I reject it. I had such an unhappy experience.

MA: Well sure, it sounds like they did as much as they could to try to keep you out of the program. So yeah, I understand that. So then let's talk about Hawaii. You had mentioned that you had to save some money, working, picking prunes for your flight over there. And you were going to go to a small, rural school in Kauai. So let's actually talk about the plane ride over there and you saw again, someone special.

IN: It was the first time I had, I had been on a plane. I didn't really know where I was going. My drive to show them was so strong, I really didn't care, I could have gone to Timbuktu. I would have gone. My drive was so strong that I was a citizen of this country. How dare they? So anyway, I got on, I think it was called the PanAm Clipper. And it was a four-propeller plane. They didn't have jets. And in first class at that time, they had the King Cole Trio was travelling to Hawaii. It was called the King Cole Trio. And Nat King Cole eventually soloed after that, but they performed for us. It was quite a treat.

MA: What a great introduction to your new life in Hawaii.

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

<Begin Segment 22>

MA: So you ended up in Kauai.

IN: Honolulu first.

MA: In Honolulu, okay.

IN: And stayed with my uncle for a few days. 'Cause as I told you previously, my uncle had migrated to Honolulu. And then I got on a plane and went to Kauai. And at that time, Lihui didn't have an airport, Kauai didn't have an airport, so I landed at the Mana military airport. And it was mostly sand and cement. I don't even remember if they had a hanger. But we landed and I got off. I had two suitcases and I was standing there, and there was a gentleman with an old, old truck with no side doors. He came up to me and he said, "Are you one of the teachers?" And I said, "Yes, I am." "Are you going to stay at the teacher's cottage?" And I said, "Yes, I am." He says, "Hop on." So I hopped on this truck and he took me to the cottage and at that time, the three teachers, I think two were from the island of Hawaii, and one was from Honolulu. And I met them and I started my teaching career there.

MA: Were these other teachers of Asian ancestry?

IN: No. Two were Japanese ancestry and one was Chinese.

MA: So there was four of you, living, and what was the teacher's cottage like?

IN: It was very nice. Very open being that, you know, the climate is so good. But it was very nice. Not fancy, but had a kitchen and four bedrooms, each one of us had a separate bedroom. And a living area.

MA: And what were you teaching at that time?

IN: Waimea High School.

MA: And what subjects?

IN: Business and economics.

MA: And what were the students like?

IN: I was surprised, because there were very few Caucasians. They're really the minority. At that time, there were mixes, but not as much as there are today. And there was a lot of, at that time, the general population involved Japanese, Chinese, Portuguese, Filipino, Hawaiian, mostly. And very few Caucasians.

MA: And were most of these students from, like, plantation worker families?

IN: Right, most of them were, majority, yes.

MA: Was there one main plantation on Kauai, or were there several?

IN: Each village had its own plantation. And I think that's why the houses, the residences grew around the plantation. But most of them lived in plantation homes. And I don't know, I think they must have rented it. But you know, they were all similar. The neighboring villages had their plantation. But we recruited from, it was called Waimea High School. From Waimea, oh, it encompassed about, I'd say five miles both ways. Five, ten miles, in a circle.

MA: And how was it for you, being in a majority Asian community?

IN: How did I feel?

MA: Yeah, how did you feel being in that environment?

IN: Gee, I think it felt really good. To this day, I feel good when I go to Hawaii.

MA: Yeah, much different than the U.S.

IN: Uh-huh. The principal was Caucasian, but the vice-principal was Japanese.

MA: And what sorts of, when you weren't teaching, what sorts of activities did you take up while you were there?

IN: Well, let's see, how old was I? About twenty-two, twenty-three. Of course, I was interested in men. [Laughs] So we met some of the men, some of them were from the plantation. Some have business, stores, one was a contractor. But we met a very eligible group of men. And they played tennis, so guess what? I learned how to play tennis. And I never had picked up a racket in my life, but of course, they were there, so I had to learn how to play tennis, and I did. And I won the championship.

MA: So you're quite good then.

IN: I guess. You know, it's a small competition.

MA: Oh, that's great. So in total then, how long were you in Hawaii teaching?

IN: Three years.

MA: And reflecting back, how do you feel about that experience in Hawaii? Very positive?

IN: Wonderful. First time I experienced being not a minority. It was a good experience. It was a different kind of life where the social life was different from what it is today. You go out on the beach, you'd cook food on the beach, you'd sleep overnight on the beach, you'd go fishing on the pier. It was such a easy life. Different.

MA: And what about teaching-wise, how was your experience as a teacher for the first time?

IN: Well, I was young then, so the students really, you know, accepted me. Because I was so very, very young. When I compare it, very obedient, very much, the parents were very much interested in educating. They respected the teachers so much. I got so much respect. To me, they were very nice children. Nice teenagers, put it that way.

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

<Begin Segment 23>

MA: So then you were in Hawaii for three years, and why did you return to, was it, did you go back to Petaluma after you finished in Hawaii?

IN: In the meantime, my parents had moved to Berkeley, they retired. They sold the ranch to my eldest son. By the way, who had a philosophy degree from University of California, but he couldn't find a decent job. So one example of that is he tried out for a civil service test for a postal person, to deliver mail. Took a job, I mean, a test, and I'm sure he did well. And they have the choice of the first three got tested, and he was never selected. So, my eldest brother, with a degree, he was very brilliant. He worked in a laundry for a while and then decided, since my parents wanted to retire, to buy the farm. So he did. So my father retired to Berkeley.

MA: And then your brother was operating the farm back in Petaluma. Okay, so your parents were in Berkeley, so you returned then to Berkeley when you came back from Hawaii.

IN: That's right. Well, my mother wanted (me) to come back. She was not in the best of health. My mother was always frail. Maybe it was because my father was so authoritarian, she had a very hard life. And so, I decided that my mother was not that well, her arthritis was acting up. I decided to come back.

MA: And you stayed with your parents then for a while?

IN: That's right. Uh-huh.

MA: What work did you do in the meantime? Cause you took a break from teaching, is that right?

IN: Yes, I wanted to take a break. And I worked with a Japanese export-import company. For about, I'd say two years, San Francisco. And then, I got married and I decided I wanted something closer. You know, I had to go across the bridge, the Oakland Bridge, so that was too far. So I got a job in a legal office with four lawyers. One of them, by the way, was a Mr. Yonemura who was a Japanese attorney. And I worked for all four of them. I was pregnant with my first child, and I worked, I think, until about three or four days before I delivered. [Laughs]

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

<Begin Segment 24>

MA: And what, I'm just curious, what year did you get married?

IN: 1953.

MA: So you were working and then you had your first child. And that, what year was that, that you had your first?

IN: Oh, well, Pam was born in '55. So 1955.

MA: Pam, okay.

IN: We lived in Berkeley on top of a bakery. It was a little flat, nothing fancy. We got, we bought a sofa, I don't know if we bought it, or I don't know, picked it up somewhere, where one or two of the springs were loose. So when we had guests over, of course they'd notice the spring.

MA: And I'm just curious, your impressions of Berkeley and the Berkeley Japanese American community. I mean, coming from a more rural background, what you thought of the differences between the two communities?

IN: Not really. Everybody had sort of, you know, gone to different areas. It was not as concentrated as before. People were scattered. People didn't come back, and if they came back, they weren't as concentrated. So I guess it wasn't that bad.

MA: That's interesting. So the war sort of scattered the community.

IN: Scattered everybody. Yes, uh-huh.

MA: And what work was your husband doing?

IN: Excuse me?

MA: What type of work was your husband doing around that time, when you were in Berkeley?

IN: He was working for the, he was a officer at the Bank of America.

MA: And you had your first child, Pam, right, in 1955. And what about your other children? When were they born, and their names?

IN: Oh, Paul, I have a second son, Paul. He was born in '57, I think. And then of course, Scott was born in '58. I had them pretty close.

MA: And when did you go back to teaching full-time?

IN: And then in the meantime, we moved to Richmond. A very small house, three bedroom, but very, very small, up in the Richmond hills. And my husband worked at the bank, but he felt there was no future in that. So he, when he was a young boy, he used to help his father in a barbershop. The father had a very successful barbershop in Oakland, and he used to help my father. And he would get the money from the customer. You know, by the way, my husband was going to Cal then. So he that was his pin money. So after being rather unsuccessful at the Bank of America, he decided it was not his cup of tea. So he decided he would go back and open up a barbershop and that's what he did, in Berkeley. And he became very, very successful.

MA: And during this time, you said you moved to Richmond? And then can you talk about, I guess, did you start teaching part-time?

IN: Yeah, part-time. I taught in the Richmond School District and the Pinole School District. And the Richmond School District, to this day, one of the roughest district you could imagine. It's a city owned by the petroleum business. You know, and so I taught part-time and I noticed the condition of what was really going on in the junior highs and the high schools there, and I didn't like it. So, my husband was doing fairly well in the barber business, so at that time, I wanted to move. Because I saw what was going on in the high schools. There was no learning. Absolutely, kids came to school with knives, and I didn't want my children to be in that environment. So then, much to my husband's objection, we moved to an upscale community on the other side of the mountain, called Moraga. And it was at that point, after being there for about a year, I decided I would go back to teaching full-time. Scott was the youngest, and he was already pretty independent.

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<Begin Segment 25>

MA: And so can you talk about getting your job at the high school, was it Miramonte?

IN: Yeah, Miramonte.

MA: Miramonte High School.

IN: Uh-huh. I went, first went into the part-time teacher program. And of course, I went to a different, it was called the Acalanes School District. And I went to the different high schools. One was in a neighboring city, etcetera. But mostly, I was recruited at the Miramonte High School, which was really convenient. Only about a half a mile, or three quarters of a mile from our house. So I taught there a lot. And there was a principal, and as long as a I was a part-time teacher, it was okay for him. But then, the teacher that I substituted a lot for wanted to leave because she was pregnant. So then I asked this, I forgot who I went to, but it wasn't possible for me to become a permanent teacher. And I was told that in the history of Miramonte school, since it was very upscale community, that they had never hired a minority teacher, or a minority, period. So then, but I thought, well, I got good reviews and I did a good job. So I went to the superintendent, I went to the principal and asked him if they could possibly consider me as a permanent, and he told me no. He hinted the fact that they had never had a minority school teacher. And that angered me. That brought back the days of when I was going to San Jose State. And so then, one day I was called in by the superintendent. And he says, I says, "You know, I did a good job, I've gotten good reviews, you know. But evidently, I'm not going to be hired." And I said, "You know what?" I said, "I wouldn't work for that principal for all the money in the world." And then the superintendant had a funny grin on his face and he said to me, "Irene, would you consider it if he weren't the principal?" And I said, "Oh?" He said, "Yes, the board has decided, or they're deciding whether to keep him or not, and I think he's out." And my eyes brightened up. I said, "Oh, I'll take it." And sure enough, he was fired from the job and I was hired. First minority teacher.

MA: In that school district?

IN: Yeah.

MA: That's amazing. Yeah, wow. And so the students at Miramonte, were they all pretty much Caucasian students then?

IN: Oh, almost 100 percent. There were a few Chinese that had moved in. But it was almost 99, 99 percent Caucasian. No blacks.

MA: And how did the students and your fellow teachers treat you, especially in the beginning?

IN: My fellow teachers were wonderful. They knew the predicament I was in, and they didn't like the former principal. They accepted me with open arms, the fact that I was the only minority teacher. They knew that I felt very uneasy. And as far as the students, I don't think that they could have cared less. They were interested in the games and the dating and the debutante social life that they had. No, I don't think I received any kind of really anti-racial action at all during my teaching there.

MA: And how long were you at Miramonte High School?

IN: Fifteen years.

MA: So you spent your, your, the rest of your teaching career, then at --

IN: Excuse me?

MA: So you spent the rest of your teaching career at Miramonte?

IN: Uh-huh.

MA: And then when did you actually retire from teaching?

IN: Must have been about, and this is approximate, about 19... after fifteen years, it must have been about 19... well my daughter got married in '85, so must have been about '85, '84, '85.

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<Begin Segment 26>

MA: And something I wanted to talk with you about was your family's move to Moraga and the sort of way that the Japanese American community talked about that or treated you because of that move?

IN: Yes, even by my best friends, I was sort of criticized. You know, "You're just runnin' away from the problems that we have." And I was greatly criticized and never recognized after that. I never got, was really deeply involved with the Japanese community anyway. I think my ideas were a little more flamboyant, aggressive than the normal Nisei population, a little different. I never really socialized with the Japanese population. I didn't feel comfortable with them. I think I was too aggressive. [Laughs]

MA: And did you feel that they were maybe a little more conservative or traditional also?

IN: Yes, they all felt that. My family felt it. In fact, my older brother's comment was, "Oh, you're gonna' to move back to the other side." I never did. I felt perfectly at home.

MA: And you told me one story about the swimming pool?

IN: The what?

MA: The swimming pool.

IN: Oh, yeah. So we had a pretty large backyard, and we didn't know what to do with it. We didn't want to plant it so it required a lot of work. Well this, our neighbor had a pool. They built a pool and the lady there was, I think she was a little on the biased side. But in the community at that time, she was the only one with a pool. So she would have these little flags, red flags, yellow flags, and that represented different signals to the kids in the community. You know, kids all want the pool, especially during the summer. And so she would raise the green flag if certain people were allowed. Red flags, you weren't allowed or whatever. And it got to the point where I felt -- I didn't want the pool, I don't swim -- but I felt that it was not good for the children to be eliminated constantly like that. So I says, "Hey, we've got a big backyard. Why not put in a pool?" So we did. But of course, the Japanese community really criticized that. I mean, it was, I know they felt that I was going over the top and sort of that, "you stay in your place" syndrome, I call it. But it was wonderful. Because now, the children didn't have to look at the flags or feel that they were being eliminated deliberately. And I didn't want that to happen.

MA: Why do you think that the Japanese American community felt that away about you? Was it because you were going against the grain and sort of doing things that other people in the community weren't?

IN: Yeah, I had a little different view of how to get what I wanted. And that was not to always feel to keep your place. Why did I have to feel I have to keep my place? I'm an American citizen. So I think, my philosophy was -- and I've told this to the children -- if you want to do something, consider two or three things. Number one, if it hurts you mentally or physically, then don't do it. If it hurts the family deeply, you know, psychologically, don't do it. But after considering those things, if you want something or do something, go ahead and do it. Don't let anybody stop you. And that has been more or less my creed. And I think I was highly, highly criticized for that. And I felt that the that you mingle in the white community, the Caucasian community, was not to feel that you had your place, but to prove to them, reverse it, that you were just as capable and just as good. And the only way that you can do that is to get in to the white communities, not by isolating yourself. And I've done that.

MA: And you've broke a lot of barriers in your time.

IN: I've told my children, "Do anything." Once when I was young, about forty, fifty, my hair was pitch black. And I wanted to streak it, because that was sort of the in thing. And you know, Niseis didn't do things like that. I just said, it doesn't hurt me, physically or mentally, it doesn't hurt my family, although my brother objected to it. I had my hair streaked. And people were, my brother just was aghast. [Laughs]

MA: So why do you think that you have this drive, you know? What do you think, I mean, you mentioned earlier you felt the internment had a big impact on you in terms of proving that you were equal.

IN: And I had my own way. I don't believe in clubs, and I never joined the Buddhist church club or the JACL. I did it my way, alone. And I've taught my children that. Each time you represent when you go out, you not only represent yourself, you represent your race. And they've done that, all of them.

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<Begin Segment 27>

MA: So one thing I wanted to ask you was about the, I know you went on the Amache pilgrimage a few years ago. And can you talk a little bit about that experience?

IN: That was really my son Scott's idea. And Scott wanted to take his nephew, or my grandson, back. So, he did a lot of investigation and we communicated with this gentleman who was trying to start a program there, of making it, a what do you call it? A, when you have something to represent a group or an idea.

SN: National monument.

MA: Oh, the national monument, right.

IN: National monument. And that's the work he was doing. So we communicated with him and we met him, and he took us to the grounds. And it was barren, all the buildings were gone. In fact, I had heard the community of Granada or the town next to it had taken a lot of the construction material. But I remember 6-H because it was the nearest to the hospital, and I could see the markings of the hospital. So I went back and of course there were all tumbleweeds. There was one memorial to the soldiers that had fought in the war. And I think some of them perished on the, it's in Sicily, Italy. And some of them died in the invasion of Normandy. So that is there, the memorial is there, but very little else. But I remember 6-H was right next to the hospital, so I looked for sort of the foundation marks of the hospital, and I found exactly the cement markings of where our barrack was and where our particular room was. It felt very strange. And my grandson was with me. He's very aware of the evacuation. He's, by the way, he's half, he's not full Japanese, but he's very tuned in to the plight of the Japanese.

MA: That's great he was able to go to the pilgrimage then.

IN: Especially Scott wanted to take him. My son Scott is very much proud of his heritage. [Laughs]

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

<Begin Segment 28>

MA: One more thing I wanted to ask you about was going back to Japan and seeing your family's hometown recently. I know that Scott sent me photos of your trip and seeing the cemetery, and can you talk a little bit about that trip?

IN: Well, it has always been the dream of Scott to take a pilgrimage, and he wanted to take his nephew of his heritage. So the day came where I was well enough, and Peter was -- that's my grandson, Peter -- was old enough to more or less absorb the culture and understand. So the three of us went back and our primary goal was not to see Kyoto or Tokyo, because we had seen it before, but to show our grandson and to go back to (Fukuoka-ken), to the village (of Tanushimaru). And it took a lot of research and investigation to make it back there. And Scott hired a gentleman who would be our guide. He was a, he spoke English fluently, but he helped us get back to the small village, Ishikaki.

MA: And I'm sorry, was this the first time you'd been back to Japan since in the '30s?

IN: Yeah, that's the first time I went back to Fukuoka, the village.

MA: To Fukuoka. Okay.

IN: And when we go there, of course, my cousins that were my age, remembered me, and they greeted me. They gave us a grand party. And believe it or not, because my -- and I say this with pride -- my father had made a wealthy family. They still maintained the wealth of the community, very wealthy. But the old village was gone, and they had built a new home, gave us a grand party. And it was my goal to go back to that church where my father's name -- in those days, your birth and everything was registered at the temple. So then, we went back to that particular temple and the minister was gone, unfortunately, but the minister's wife was there. And yeah, she says my father, Juhachi Takano, was a great contributor to the church. And she showed us the different gifts he had given, a huge golden lantern and things like that. But I was surprised, I looked on the side of the church and my father's name was written as one of the benefactors. I didn't know that. So, I said to myself, my father wanted recognition, and there it was.

MA: Yeah, that's great. So is there anything else you'd like to share? Any memories that you'd like to talk about?

IN: Not really. It was, I think, for me, I'm eighty-one, and it was a long journey. A lot of grief, a lot of disappointments, but all in all, I think I'm satisfied with my life at this point.

MA: That's great.

IN: I have to say that. And I leave with a lot of peace in my heart. Because I see you younger generation and the opportunities that you people have gotten, you know, compared to my mother and father. We've come a long ways, and that's what's important. So I leave and when my day comes, I think I'm pretty much at peace and happy.

MA: Good. Well, I think that's a great way to end the interview.

IN: I think so.

MA: And I want to thank you so much for talking with me today. It was a wonderful story and it was great meeting you, too.

IN: My pleasure.

MA: Thank you.

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