Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Eugene Tatsuru Kimura Interview
Narrator: Eugene Tatsuru Kimura
Interviewer: Tom Ikeda
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: September 5, 2008
Densho ID: denshovh-keugene-01-0011

<Begin Segment 11>

TI: Well, how about growing up, then, especially during this time, in terms of jobs? Did you start picking up jobs either after school or during the summers that you recall?

EK: No. I think my mother was interested in making sure that I got a good education, she was a believer in education. But the, I think 1938, for the first time, I went to the countryside, I don't know where it was. Farm outside of, outside of our home, and then worked picking up or, what shall I say, weeding strawberry patches all day long. I detested that job. In the hot sun, bending over. So I was, that sort of turned me off to anything that had to do with the farming and so forth.

TI: How about other summer jobs? I think in your writing you mentioned working in Alaska.

EK: Yeah. Well, we figured that, both my brother and I figured that if we wanted to go to college, we better get some money elsewhere. And at that time, lot of -- not a lot, but quite a number of Niseis at the University of Washington and at the, in the Portland area, worked during the summer months in Alaska in the salmon cannery industry. The workers were composed of, half were composed of Filipinos who worked the farm system going up north, and half were Niseis and so forth. So in essence, we got along very beautifully because we knew we had to make money and so forth. And just with the money that we made in the summertime, that was enough for tuition, books and new clothing and so forth, so that was the, not the only way, but that was... it wasn't the only way, but the best way in order to continue with education.

TI: So it was a pretty-good paying job. I mean, in that short, fairly short period of time, you made enough to kind of sustain you the rest of the year.

EK: Uh-huh.

TI: And what kind of work was it? Can you describe...

EK: Well, the work was varied. The most dangerous job was the work in the fisheries in the cannery, or in the salmon that came from the scows and so forth would go up by means of chains and then go into an area to be divided into king salmon, sockeye, coho and so forth. And then it was the job of the sorter, he was called the sorter, and his job was to stand there as the fish were coming. And then with a pointed material, he would fling the fish into the various compartments. It was a hard job, but it was the elite job here. Then came the job in the fisheries, wherein the salmon would be eviscerated, and material taken out, and those were called the slimers. And then the more difficult job and the more dangerous job was for the workers to slide the fish across the table, there was a circulating knife. The idea being that the knife, or rather the fish would be placed in such a position that only the head would come off. And I had been told that in some of the canneries, after a person had been working for hours and hours, they would slip and then their hands might be, fingers might be cut off. So it was a very dangerous job. My job was, fortunately, was in the warehouse, wherein we helped to pack the, what shall I say, the salmon that had been cooked into boxes and so forth. And then move the boxes to pile 'em up and so forth. So that, it was a, it was a less physical, less, should I say, demanding skillful job. Plus the fact that those who were, those who had the prestige jobs, more extensive jobs, were, of course, older people like, for instance, the Filipino workers who had been there for years and years, and the older Niseis who had been in the cannery for a number of years. I worked there from 1938, '39... '39, '40 and '41. The summers of '39, '40 and '41.

TI: And were you always working the warehouse, or did you move to any other jobs?

EK: In the warehouse. My first job was at Kasaan, K-A-S-A-A-N, Alaska, which was slight northwest Ketchikan. You know Ketchikan, yeah. And there, I was a replacement worker with a half a dozen of the Filipinos. So I looked upon this as more of a transient job. I wanted to go where there were more Niseis and so forth. So that for '40 and '41, I was able to work at Excursion Inlet, four days and four nights by ship up north. And there I did the same type of work, but I was quite content because I didn't want to be exposed to the fisheries, knives and so forth.

TI: And generally, when you, you mentioned some days were long because people would get tired. I mean, how long would you work during the day, usually?

EK: Well, normally, it might be about eight hours. But if the, if the salmon catch were huge and just when I was working, I think one of the canneries across the bay and so forth burned down. Therefore, all the fish that they would have been processing were brought to our place. So I think for a brief stretch, I think we had about three or four hours of sleep a night. But then that was pure overtime, so in spite of the fact that we were tired, we said, "Hey, we're getting overtime pay."

TI: So, and during those times when it wasn't so busy, what would you do with your free time? I mean, if you worked eight hours, you had extra time, especially in the summer because the days were so long.

EK: Yeah.

TI: What would you do?

EK: Well, I do remember one day, a group of us borrowed a salmon and brought it up into the hills and then cooked it over a fire. And I must say, that was fresh salmon. And I think that's one thing that I remember. And some of us may have been doing some hiking and so forth, or just playing and cards to pass -- oh, not only that, but then we, before we left home, we packed a needle, spool of thread and so forth and button. So we did our own mending and so forth, because there was no one do to it for us, so that we were on our own. And we also washed our own clothing there. So it was not a, not a... what shall I say, a resort.

TI: But you learned to be, learned how to become more self-sufficient. How to mend your clothes, wash your clothes, cook.

EK: Yeah, at least we didn't iron them.

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