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

<Begin Segment 1>

TI: So today is Friday, September 5, 2008. We're in the Densho studio. Dana Hoshide is on camera, and then I'm Tom Ikeda and I'm the interviewer. So Eugene, the first question, again, some basic stuff, can you tell me when and where you were born?

EK: I was born in Sheridan, Wyoming, September the 19th, 1922. And I was the, I was the younger of two brothers.

TI: So when you were born, were you born in a hospital, or do you know what kind of conditions you were born?

EK: I don't remember when I was born, but what I was told was that I was born in a hospital there.

TI: Okay.

EK: What really confused me was on the birth certificate, it says that I was the third child. I don't remember another child, so I wrote to the Bureau of Vital Statistics in Sheridan, and also in Cody and so forth. And they said, "No, this must have been clerical error, that you are not the third child. You are the second child." And I'm still wondering how come the physician wrote down three. But anyway, it doesn't make much difference now.

TI: And you mentioned you had an older brother.

EK: That's right.

TI: What was his name?

EK: Kazuo, K-A-Z-U-O, K. Kimura. So he had to go through life known as "KKK."

TI: [Laughs] That's funny. So, and when you were born, what was the full name given to you at birth?

EK: Tatsuru Kimura.

TI: And now people call you Eugene.

EK: Eugene because, for the simple reason that in grammar school, teachers had a difficulty pronouncing "tsu," Tatsuru seemed to be very difficult insofar as non-Asians are concerned. So sometimes, teachers in exasperation would say, "You." [Laughs] So that I just decided that, like most Niseis, I decided that it might be a good idea to get an English name. So for some reason, I chose Eugene.

TI: So do you recall, did you choose Eugene or did someone else choose it for you?

EK: I chose it.

TI: And do you recall why Eugene?

EK: Well, it seemed like an unusual name, not like Tom, Dick or Harry, you know. So I had some names on a piece of board, and then one, two, three, flipped a coin, whether it's heads or tails, so it came out to Eugene. So by the flip of the coin I became Eugene.

TI: And do you recall about how old you were when you decided?

EK: It was obviously past grammar school because the cumulative difficulty that teachers had with Tatsuru, you know. So I think it was in high school or slightly later years that I said that, well, look, just for, so that people wouldn't point to me and say, "You," I might as well get a name. Not You, it's Eugene now, instead of You.

TI: [Laughs] That's good.

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

<Begin Segment 2>

TI: Tell me a little bit about your father. Like, what was your father's name?

EK: Kasaburo, K-A-S-A-B-U-R-O, Kasaburo. Kasaburo Kay Kimura. That's why my brother -- not my brother, yes, my brother's middle initial was K, Kazuko K. Kimura, because my father's name was Kasaburo Kay Kimura.

TI: And Kay spelled...

EK: K-A-Y.

TI: K-A-Y, okay. And do you know where your father was born?

EK: I think it was Okayama, Okayama-ken.

TI: And do you know what kind of work his family did in Japan?

EK: No, I do not know, simply because we didn't have a chance to interrogate him because they, he died in 1936. And then subsequent to that, things were kind of busy in our family. So the interesting thing is that my father was a yoshi, in other words, he married into the Kimura family. So I don't understand the circumstances of why they did that, probably to preserve the name Kimura for some reason. I do not know the reason. But anyway, I think, if I'm not mistaken, that could have affected his manly, what should I say, feelings, to give up his name and move into, his wife's name. But anyway, I'm just guessing.

TI: Do you know what his, his given name was before becoming a Kimura?

EK: No. There again, I have a feeling it may have been Okamura or something like that, but I do not remember.

TI: And how did you find out he was a yoshi? Did he mention --

EK: Because of my, because my mother told me.

TI: Okay. Do you know why your father came to the United States?

EK: To find, like most Isseis, to find a, what shall we say, better life and so forth. So what he did was to, I imagine what he did was to, like most Issei, find the most available job, which was either farming or railroading. So he may have worked on the railroad.

TI: And how did he end up in Sheridan, Wyoming?

EK: Well, I think probably in his journeys there, he may have stopped there. And then he had a friend by the name of George Nishi, N-I-S-H-I, and both of them decided to start a truck farming business there. The interesting thing about George Nishi is that his real name is Nishizaki, and then I think he jumped ship. And so that he did not talk too much about how he came to America. In fact, during World War II, he was operating a grocery store, and during the, right after Pearl Harbor, somebody threw a brick through his store window. And because he didn't want to make an issue of it and have police start investigating him, what he did was say, "Well, maybe a passing car threw that brick into my window," and so forth. So he tried to keep things quiet.

TI: Oh, so even though someone intentionally threw a brick, he tried to make it seem like it was just an accident, and it stopped the investigation.

EK: That's right.

TI: And you think part of it was because he was concerned that...

EK: They might find out how he came to this country.

TI: Okay. That's a good story.

EK: And also, the authorities wanted to keep it quiet instead of having it broadcasted that people were throwing things into his window. So that's the conjecture on my part.

TI: Interesting.

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

<Begin Segment 3>

TI: How about your mother? What was your mother's name?

EK: Masano, M-A-S-A-N-O.

TI: And her maiden name?

EK: Masano Kimura.

TI: No, before she was married, though.

EK: Her name was Kimura, Masano Kimura. Masano was the first name, and her family name was Kimura.

TI: Okay. Oh, so wait a minute, but your father was a Kimura, wasn't he?

EK: No, the father had a different name like Okamura or something like that. Since he's a yoshi --

TI: Oh, I got it, okay, I got it. So he took on the...

EK: The name of my...

TI: Mother's family.

EK: That's why I said that it may have affected a little bit of his manliness to give up his family, his own name.

TI: Okay. Yeah, I misunderstood. Sometimes, you know how some families, like, they have several sons, one of the sons, they sort of give to another family so that they... so I got confused with that one. Okay, I got that. Do you know what your mother's family did in Japan?

EK: Well, I think, if I'm not mistaken, I think she was better-educated than my father because she knew enough about the Japanese language and all its nuances, so that she was able to teach Japanese in Seattle later on. She also played the koto and knew about flower arrangement and so forth. So then she used to talk quite a bit about the family, what should I say, in Japan many years ago.

TI: And did she grow up in the same area as your father did?

EK: That I don't know. She was a "picture bride."

TI: Okay.

EK: Probably, probably.

TI: And so how, how did the two meet? You said "picture bride," so was this an arranged marriage in Japan with pictures?

EK: I cannot say for sure, but probably it was, because that was the custom in those days.

TI: And when she came to the United States, did your father meet her on the coast, or did she meet in Sheridan with your father?

EK: Here again, I don't know.

TI: Okay. And that's okay, I'm just curious to see how this all happened. How about their age difference? Were they about the same age?

EK: My mother was about two or three years older than my father.

TI: That's interesting. So she was a little bit older, more educated, and your father took her, her family's name.

EK: That's right. She was quite facile with words. My father, on the other hand, was very taciturn, so that fortunately, both of them were not talkative. Both of them were not mute, anyway.

TI: In terms of personality, let's talk about your father first. You said he was a little taciturn. What other traits would you, how would you describe your father besides being taciturn?

EK: Well, I think he's as you would say, the silent type. And I think that would be the most fitting description.

TI: And what, what were some things he would do, perhaps, to relax? With his friend George Nishi, when they got together --

EK: Oh, that I don't recall how they relaxed and so forth. But then there were several photographs that they took, you know. I think he, George Nishi and my father built the home in, where they're living, by where they were farming and so forth. Then they may have played cards, that I do not know.

TI: How about, I think of Wyoming as lots of outdoors. How about things like fishing, hunting, any of those kind of activities?

EK: No, I don't believe he did much fishing or hunting of that nature. I think they were, more time was taken with the, with the running of the farm and so forth.

TI: And your mother, how would you describe your mother?

EK: Oh, vocal. She was not shy of words, which probably led her to be always a good teacher, because of the fact that she was able to explain things.

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

<Begin Segment 4>

TI: In moving to, sort of, Sheridan, I read in your writings how your father eventually got a hotel, he became a hotel owner?

EK: Uh-huh.

TI: Can you describe the hotel, where it was, and what kind of, like, customers? Just, can you just describe the hotel business for me?

EK: Hotel was near the railroad station. Not adjacent to it, but maybe a couple blocks away. And the entrance was up a long flight of stairs. And the, I don't know the nature of the people who came in there, probably transients and so forth.

TI: And do you recall, as a, like at the hotel, did you and your brother have to work in the hotel?

EK: No, no, we'd just play around in the hallways and so forth. For the simple reason that when I was six years old and my brother was eight years old, my mother and father, especially my mother, said that, "We cannot leave these kids here in the hinterlands. They have to learn the Japanese language and some Japanese culture." So that my brother and I and my parents moved to Seattle, Washington, because they knew there was a fairly large Japanese school there.

TI: Okay, so we're going to get to that a little bit later.

EK: Yeah.

TI: But, so going back to Sheridan, were there any, besides Mr. George Nishi, were there any other Japanese?

EK: Yes, there were, maybe a handful. But I was never introduced to them. I did not know their names at all. But in the neighborhood, neighboring area around Sheridan, yes.

TI: Okay. And the hotel building itself, was that owned by your father or was he renting or leasing?

EK: Probably owned it, I suppose.

TI: And in thinking about your early home life, before you started school, how did you communicate with your parents? Was it in English or Japanese?

EK: Strictly Japanese.

TI: And so before starting school, did you know English?

EK: Little bit, little bit. But I do recall that I may have had a little difficulty communicating, simply because the language that I used daily was Japanese.

TI: In those early days in Sheridan, how about churches? Did your family participate in any churches?

EK: Not that I know of.

TI: And besides your brother, do you recall any other playmates in Sheridan?

EK: No, I do not know. I think we, just the two of us played together.

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

<Begin Segment 5>

TI: So let's, let's talk about, in your writings, again, you talk about your first day at school. Why don't you describe what the first day of school in Sheridan was like for you.

EK: I'd say it was traumatic, because I was seated, I did not seat myself, but I was seated in the first row in the middle of the class. And then when the teacher's back was turned, a kid in overalls with white hair stood up and socked me in the eye. In other words, "Have a good day," and so forth. And my mother had always, my parents had always said that, "Don't do, create something to bring shame to the family, so tone it down." So that I didn't do anything at all. And then when I went home and told my mother about it, she said, "Shikata ga nai," that's the usual Japanese phrase, "It can't be helped."

TI: When, when this other boy socked you in the eye, what was the reaction of, of the other students?

EK: I think in general it was quiet, but some were gleeful, some were sort of shocked and so forth. It's like the general behavior of a large population, that you find people who were sympathetic, people who are, to you, people who are antagonistic to you and so forth. But in general, they didn't stand up and wave their hands or anything like that. Because I believe my teacher turned around, and then may have said something after a while. But I don't believe the teacher was entirely sympathetic to me. I was the only Asian in the room there.

TI: And so when you say you were the only Asian, do you think that is why this boy did what he did?

EK: Well, he didn't sock anybody else.

TI: And do you recall what it felt like being hit, or what you were thinking? You mentioned how you thought about what your parents said in terms of not bringing shame. Do you recall any other thoughts?

EK: Well, it ran through a gamut of surprise, anger, and then that's about it. Surprise, anger, and then hurt, my eye. I think that was the whole situation. Because I just kept on remembering my parents' admonition, "Don't create something to bring shame to the family." So it was the usual Issei phraseology and syndrome of shikata ga nai.

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

<Begin Segment 6>

TI: Do you recall ever talking to your brother about this, Kazuo? Because he, he probably had to go through a similar situation when he started school.

EK: No, we never discussed anything like that, no.

TI: And so you said you returned home, they said, "Shikata ga nai," can you recall anything else? Any sympathy or was it pretty much just, just that's the way it is?

EK: Shikata ga nai.

TI: Well, so what's interesting to me is pretty soon after this incident was when your parents decided to go to Japan. Or not Japan, but Seattle. Do you think this may have played into their decision to leave Sheridan and go to Seattle?

EK: Not necessarily, I think. I think the reasons primarily were to bring us to Seattle so we can get some Japanese education. So I don't believe the smack in the eye had much to do with it. Because it all fell under the syndrome of shikata ga nai.

TI: Okay, so this is about 1928.

EK: That's right.

TI: You're about six years old, and you go from Sheridan, Wyoming, to Seattle. Can you tell me how you got from Sheridan to Seattle?

EK: Great Northern Railroad.

TI: And so did that just bring you right into, sort of, the train stations, downtown Seattle?

EK: Yes.

TI: And what were some of your first impressions of, of Seattle?

EK: "Gee, it rains a lot here." [Laughs]

TI: [Laughs] It does. And do you recall where you lived in Seattle when you moved here?

EK: Yeah, I think we were living in the hotel for a day or so. Then we found a home at 163 Eleventh Avenue between Spruce and Fir. And that's, that's how I spent grammar school, high school, and two years of college there.

TI: Now, when your parents decided to come to Seattle, did they have friends in Seattle that they knew?

EK: I'm sure they may have. Not a large number of friends, but I'm sure they must have had some friends.

TI: And tell me what kind of work, first your father. What did your father do?

EK: My father, as I understand it, used to work on the railroad. And then he and George Nishi both opened up the, what shall I say, started the K.N. Gardening. K for Kimura, N for Nishi, K.N. Gardening, and they had quite a successful, what shall I say, farming operation and so forth. But that thing split up because our family moved over to Seattle. So, and I think George, yes, George Nishi continued. He himself bought a grocery store right next to the railroad station, and the only people that came in were the transients the dropped off the station in for a few minutes to buy gum or something of that nature. But he was a bachelor, and I think he stuck pretty close to himself both socially and so forth.

TI: So it must have been a, probably for him, a loss when your family came to Seattle.

EK: Probably, probably.

TI: Because it was probably, socially, his, probably his closest friends.

EK: That's right.

TI: So when your dad came to Seattle, what kind of work did he do?

EK: At that time, it was a fukeiki, or depression, you probably know fukeiki, depression. There were no, very few jobs available, especially for Asians, you know. So then he, because of his skill as a farmer, he worked with a group, or rather individual, who was doing landscaping and so forth. So he worked as an assistant landscaper.

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

<Begin Segment 7>

TI: And how about your mother?

EK: Mother started teaching.

TI: So at the, the Japanese language school, Nihongakko?

EK: Japanese language school, yeah.

TI: And do you know which, which language school she taught at?

EK: That was the largest one, Nihongakko, Japanese language school.

TI: So the one on Weller Street?

EK: That's right.

TI: That's interesting. So this would be the first time I can talk to someone about the language school before the war like this. Do you remember, can you describe kind of what she did, what, like, grade level and as much as you can remember about the language school?

EK: Probably she taught, maybe third, fourth, fifth grade and so forth. Then they, there were a sufficient number of students so that each grade had about, oh, three classrooms. To make sure that I would not be her student, they made sure that my teacher for a particular grade would be somebody else.

TI: So there were enough students --

EK: There were.

TI: -- that you could have multiple classes for each grade.

EK: Apparently. Probably more for the lower grades than upper grades.

TI: And so for one, one class, how many students would, would be in a class?

EK: Oh, I'd say maybe -- this is just a guess here, I'd say about forty or so, plus or minus.

TI: So you had hundreds of kids.

EK: Oh, you betcha.

TI: And, and when would, what time would you do Japanese school? Because you would have your regular school.

EK: Yeah. And then after regular school, we'd, many of us would walk to the Nihongakko and then the school started from four until five in the wintertime, and four until five-thirty in the wintertime. And sometimes we had summer school, but it was, learning the Japanese language after we were loaded down with homework from our regular school. So that we had, what shall I say, we had enough work to keep us busy.

TI: So every, every day, an hour to an hour and a half of extra school.

EK: That's right.

TI: That you would have to do.

EK: Yeah, and then my mother, like most Japanese women were very competitive, so that she said that, "You better do a lot of good work and be a yuutousei," in other words, and honor student, because, "You will bring shame upon me," or something of that nature. So I was so busy that I didn't have very much time to hit the streets, I had to hit the books.

TI: And so do you think you studied at Japanese school more than the normal Nisei?

EK: I think so, because of the pressure that was put upon us, both my brother and me. Whether my brother experienced that same sort of pressure, I do not know. But I do know that I kept on being pressurized to study.

TI: And so you attended Japanese school from when you were six or seven all the way through high school?

EK: Almost all the way through high school.

TI: And at the end of that training, I'm curious, how good was your Japanese?

EK: I was able to speak quite fluently with the Isseis and so forth. In terms of reading kanji, well, that's a heck of a difficult language. So if you don't use it, you forget it. So that I was able to read simple portions of a newspaper with the aid of a dictionary and so forth. But once you get away from the language, if you don't use it, you lose it.

TI: So, so you were fluent enough to talk with Isseis, you could read the simple parts of newspapers. Was that, was that a pretty common level for your other classmates to be that fluent?

EK: I don't know because I don't know to what extent my classmates were pressurized by their parents.

TI: But then could you just tell in your classroom in terms of how your Japanese compared with, say, your classmates', if it was better or worse or about the same?

EK: Well, maybe it was slightly above average.

TI: Okay, yeah. I mean, for the people I have talked to, it sounds like your Japanese was much, you got more Japanese training than a lot of other Niseis who were, many Niseis would say they went through Japanese school but they didn't really learn that much. That's interesting.

EK: Well, my mother made sure that I did. [Laughs]

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

<Begin Segment 8>

TI: So again, I'm thinking, just like your typical day, going from your regular school to Japanese school, was there a break? Did you have, like, a snack between? Or what was it like in terms of that day?

EK: Well, after leaving Broadway, grammar school, Pacific grammar school or Broadway High School, I would walk home. None of us drove home 'cause we didn't have cars then. Then we may have just deposited our homework from the Caucasian schools and then had a apple or something like that, and then we walked to the Japanese school come rain or shine.

TI: So this prevented probably you and other Japanese American students from doing very many extracurricular activities?

EK: Not much.

TI: Because you couldn't do, like, after school sports or things like that. It'd be hard to...

EK: Not, not that I know about in terms of the students at Broadway High School.

TI: So growing up in Seattle, do you recall some of the friends you had?

EK: Yeah, there's the neighborhood friends, yeah. I still remember a friend who, let's see, he was one of ten children, I think his name was Watanabe. I think his name was Takeshi Watanabe. He was a stockily built individual, was very good in judo that I remember. But we used, we used to pal around with him. Then across the street at the Star apartment house, there was a, twins called Sam and Shuko or Sarah, Sam and Sarah Terao. They were short, but he was quite talented in making, assembling balsa wood planes and so forth. And he also, I think he also melted lead over a fire and made it into a mold and so forth. This was before people knew that lead was so toxic, you know. But I do remember his leaning over the kitchen sink and heating the lead with unknown vapors of lead probably permeating the whole room. But that didn't last too long, so we were not exposed to it constantly.

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

<Begin Segment 9>

TI: Before we started the interview, I think you were able to visit, kind of, the old neighborhood that you grew up. And someone mentioned that there was a, like a small door. Can you tell me about that? Describe the door, where it was, and how that was used.

EK: Oh, that door was, let's not put it, like a typical door, it was just a piece of wood that closed the outside from the inside. And it was probably opened by means of a little latch or something. And then the, since our home was heated by a wooden stove, he was aware of the fact that I needed a lot of kindling wood. So then if he had some boxes that had to be destroyed, or not destroyed, but dismantled, he would give it to me. And then he also gave me some magazines and so forth that he had collected. And that door was about, oh, about ten feet from the edge of his apartment. And then he would say, "Here's something for you." So he would open it up, I would get the kindling wood and the magazines and take it home.

TI: And who was this person that did this?

EK: I don't recall his name. I don't recall his name.

TI: Was he a Japanese?

EK: No, no, he's a Caucasian, no. At that time, I wasn't too interested in what his name was or what his ancestry was.

TI: And how was, what was his demeanor when he would do this? Was he friendly?

EK: Friendly prior to December the 7th, yes. And like most Caucasians, most Caucasians, their attitude understandably changed after December the 7th. Some, of course, were sympathetic, but the majority sort of looked at you with a jaundiced eye.

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

<Begin Segment 10>

TI: Earlier you mentioned that your, your father died when you were a teenager, a boy. So can you, can you tell me how your father died?

EK: Yeah. For some reason, he contracted... what was that... slips my mind. Well, anyway, it was a blood disease.

TI: Leukemia?

EK: Yeah, leukemia. And then at that time, the only treatment available was very drastic. It was daily doses of x-ray, and three or four drops of solution, potassium arsenite in water. The whole theory being that the cancer cells would be more susceptible to the toxic effects of x-ray and arsenic than the host cells were. But then this was not to be the case because in essence, what happened was that unknowingly, the x-rays and the potassium arsenic may have been contributing factors to his death, but they may or may not have aided, or may or may not have accelerated his death. That, I don't know. But he was in a coma for quite a while. By quite a while, I mean in terms of my perception it was quite a while, but actually, he died a very short time after he went to Virginia Mason hospital.

TI: It's interesting, when you mentioned x-rays and arsenic, I mean, it's almost like these were, like, early forms of radiation treatment.

EK: He died in '36, 1936. He was fifty-five.

TI: Yeah. So, but like early treatment of, radiation treatment and chemotherapy, I guess.

EK: Yeah. That chemotherapy is not the sophisticated chemotherapy, it was arsenic.

TI: Yeah, yeah. So you were about thirteen years old when your father died?

EK: Yes.

TI: So at thirteen, I'm guessing this must have been a pretty traumatic time for you, because you're, you're just in your adolescence, and to then lose your father. Can you talk a little bit about, first, what the impact on your family was? You said it happened pretty quickly. And so how did this change the dynamics of the family?

EK: Well, insofar as my mother was concerned, tremendous load, responsibility fell upon her to raise two young teenagers and so forth. In terms of how it affected me, I was much closer to my father than my mother, but, so it was kind of traumatic. Because I remember when they brought the, his body and placed in the open casket in front of our, in our living room, I had a childish hope that he would all of a sudden get up and say, "How are you?" or something like that. It was a childish dream. And then after school, I would walk to the Virginia Mason hospital and see him, he was still in a coma there. And then after a while, I would walk, my mother was there, and I would walk home. And as I walked home, past some apartment buildings and so forth, you know, I could see the family light in the living room, the family assembled there. Then it hit me because I knew that when I went home again, it would be a dark home. So that's the most, what shall I say, traumatic thing, event that I remember about my childhood.

TI: Yeah, it was hard. What about the community response when your father died? Like the memorial or funeral service, can you describe what that was like?

EK: All I remember very clearly is that it was the Japanese custom to give koden to the widow, the survivor of the family. So my mother with her meticulous way kept track of everyone who did contribute money. And when someone else who contributed the money died, she would make sure that she would return the money to the individual. And I do remember that the neighbors, some of the Japanese, quite a bit of Japanese neighbors brought some food over. That's the typical thing that they do, anyway. Beyond that, I do not remember much. I think I was just trying to forget it, I suppose, erase it from my mind.

TI: Do you recall where the service was held, was there a service like at a church or a temple or anything like that?

EK: I'm embarrassed to say I don't know. I don't remember, I don't remember.

TI: That's fine. And so your, your mother felt the impact of this extra responsibility. How about you and your brother? Did your lives change at all after your father's death?

EK: Well, I can't speak for my brother. His personality was slightly different from mine. But I'm sure it affected him, too. Because Japanese families say the responsibilities rests on the oldest child and so forth. But what can you do when you're a teenager in terms of responsibility? Nothing much.

TI: Do you recall, was it, like, financially difficult for the family after your father's death?

EK: Yeah, yeah. I suppose whatever money she had was from the profits of the, not profits, but the residual amount that she may have had from my father selling the hotel in Seattle. But then she, of course, knew that that was not sufficient. And the fact that she was able to teach, she started teaching at the Japanese language school. And of course, how much can you get for about an hour and half to an hour of work? But then it still was enough for pocket money, and psychologically, she could say that, "I wasn't just lying around there, I was trying to support the family."

TI: And so was there any kind of community support? Do you know if other families helped out in any way?

EK: No, not that I remember. I think my mother was too proud to accept anything. And this was only after social security had been in effect for a couple of years, so actually, in essence, we got nothing from social security. I think nowadays you may be able to get some money, but not at that time.

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

<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.

<Begin Segment 12>

TI: I'm curious, in your writings, you mentioned the summer of '41, when you returned, that the U.S. government officials acted differently when you returned to Seattle.

EK: Yes.

TI: Can you describe that?

EK: Yeah. This is on the return home from the, the season's work, the fishing, after working in the fisheries. Our ship docked at Sitka, Alaska, which was near the coast there. And the idea being that they would supply, bring the supplies to the local areas there, the canneries, and then take on canned salmon and so forth. And there was a two-hour layover at that time in August of 1941. So a group of us left the boat, got off the boat temporarily and were looking around Sitka. Then what surprised us was that in the distance were armed soldiers patrolling an area there, and they were building army barracks. So we said, "Hey, what's going on there? Whom are they expecting?" Are they expecting the Chinese? Obviously not. The only person they were, people they were expecting, possibly expecting, might be the Japanese. Anyway, we didn't think much of it. Maybe they just were building some barracks just because they needed it. However, when we got to Seattle, the, half of the workers who were Filipinos were told by government agents -- they looked like government agents -- then they were told to, "Hey, get off the boat." Other half, the Niseis, were segregated into a unit there, near the boat there, and subjected to questioning. Like, for instance, "Why, what are you doing here?" "What, is this your main job? What else are you doing?" So I would say that, "Well, many of us are students," and so forth. "Do you have any birth certificates?" "We don't normally carry birth certificates with us." "What other identification do you have?" "Well, I have my University of Washington card." So that seemed to put, satisfy him. So I asked one of my questioners, "Why are you questioning us?" He said, "Just routine, just routine. Move along, move along, next." So then that stuck -- it was more important, or rather, penetrating, seemingly, in my eyes. So I said that, "I think something's gonna happen." So this was August of 1941. But then I had forgotten that, most of it because of the fact that we were more concerned with the, going to school and studying and so forth. But then this, this thing just came to a head on December the 7th. So then I said to myself, "Hey, maybe I wasn't wrong. Evidently, they were planning to get rid of us." And this is, this very faintly substantiated Kashima's statement that the U.S. government was thinking in terms of evacuating, getting rid of the Japanese since 1920, two decades ago. And that thought stuck in my mind when I read Kashima's book, you know.

TI: So let me, let me see if I can summarize. So months before December 7th, so this was summer 1941, up in Sitka, you saw the army building barracks for soldiers probably. And then when you came into Seattle, they were questioning the Japanese American students, trying to, just checking them out, putting them under surveillance. So you're, you're surmising that, perhaps, the government knew something was going to happen.

EK: Yes.

TI: And that work that's coming now, like by Professor Kashima and other, indicate that the government had plans for things like internment camps and things like that, in preparation for possible war with Japan.

EK: You described it.

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

<Begin Segment 13>

TI: So where we left off after the first hour was right before December 7, 1941. So let's, let's go to that date, Sunday, December 7, 1941. Can you describe where you were when you first heard about the bombing of Pearl Harbor?

EK: Yeah, I was at home doing homework. My mother was correcting some Japanese school test papers and so forth, and we heard that Pearl Harbor had been bombed by Japanese. I was incredulous. How in the heck do they, would this happen? How can they, what shall I say, hope to antagonize, or rather to take on America with its vast resources and so forth? So that, in a sense, we didn't believe it, we didn't want to believe it. But then the newscasts kept on repeating it and substantiating the fact that it was not only at Pearl Harbor, but in Philippines and so forth. So I think I greeted the news with wonderment, fear, apprehension, the whole spectrum and so forth. And then we looked outside and we saw neighbors who had never been too friendly with each other talking about it and so forth. So even at the young age, I felt, "Hey, my life's gonna change." But, by the same token, we said to ourselves, "Look, we're American citizens. We were born here. I feel sorry for our parents, but the government wouldn't -- not shouldn't -- but wouldn't do anything to native-born Japanese." So that seemed to allay our feelings, which was totally wrong.

TI: Because you, at this point, you were in college, so you had --

EK: Yeah, sophomore at the University of Washington.

TI: Right, so you had studied civics, the Constitution and all that. So as a U.S. citizen, you felt that you would be protected by the laws, the Constitution of our country. So let's talk about, say, the next day when you went to school.

EK: Yeah.

TI: What was it like going to school? Did you notice anything different in terms of...

EK: Yeah. In our carpool, there were four Niseis, you know. I think it was four or five Niseis. And as we stopped at a stoplight, people, Caucasians in the cars often would look, pointed at us and so forth. So it made us feel uncomfortable. And when we went to the university... what happened now? They said that the class would be suspended temporarily while we listened to President Roosevelt come out with his "Day of Infamy" speech. And then when that happened, they were saying that there was a state of war. I'd say that the vast majority of students did not display much emotion, but there were some that were very sympathetic, very understanding, said, "Hey, this is kind of tough on you guys, isn't it?" and so forth. On the other hand, there were others which were just, did show their innate racial hatred and so forth, but we tried to ignore them. Because we kept on listening, remembering our parents' admonition of shikata ga nai, don't rock the boat, and so forth. But it was very uncomfortable. Then came Executive 9066, was it --

TI: Well, even before we get there, talking about, or thinking about your experiences that summer where you were in Sitka, you saw the barracks, you were questioned coming into Seattle, and then Pearl Harbor, I think in the last section you mentioned that it kind of, you were thinking that something perhaps was happening more than what you were just hearing over the radio. That perhaps there might have been more information that, in terms of, perhaps, what the U.S. government had been doing or whatever. But were those the kind of things that you were thinking at this time, or did this happen much later? At what point did you starting maybe questioning what you heard on the radio versus the reality of what was going on?

EK: Well, the thing that sort of surprised me was that the Japanese technically were able to do this, traveling over vast distances, and the fact that the U.S. was totally nprepared -- not totally, the U.S. servicemen and certain leaders like the Short and so forth in Hawaii, were not informed that war or something would happen. This was all after it happened, after I kept on reading things and so forth. So that, in essence, in the back of mind was, "Hey, maybe I wasn't wrong about that four months ago." But I wouldn't go advertising the fact that, hey, I saw things going on in Sitka. But to myself, I said, "Hey, this is part of the whole scheme of things." And this whole scheme of things were revealed in Kashima's book, too, that the plans were, plans were drawn up twenty years ago to get rid of us.

TI: Right. And how did you feel about when the press, the media kept saying over and over again that there were spies and saboteurs within the, the Japanese community?

EK: I didn't believe it.

TI: Okay, so when you read that, you just said, "That's not true," or did you think, "Oh maybe there are some." What were you thinking?

EK: No, I didn't say that. I think that those people who were responsible were trying to find a scapegoat.

TI: Good.

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

<Begin Segment 14>

TI: In those weeks following December 7th, it was a pretty confusing time for, for many Japanese Americans. Can you describe some of your memories during those weeks right after? I mean, what were some of the things that you saw? Do you remember any incidences or events during those two weeks?

EK: Well, curfew was declared, and we didn't, we weren't able to get out of the house before what was it, eight o'clock or something of that nature there. So that I noticed that things were tightening a little bit, screws were being put on a little bit to us. So I didn't notice the full extent of the, what shall I say, the plans being laid. Also, another interesting thing happened, was that when my father was, had his farm, he had bought a .32 caliber automatic for home protection and so forth. I knew, as a kid, where that gun was hidden. So when there was no one in the house, I went to the shelf, to the drawer, took the gun off of its furoshiki cover, and then looked at the gun. And I knew enough about the mechanism of a gun so I took the chamber, the extra chamber out, ejected the bullet in the firing chamber, put the bullet, rather, the gun in the nice leather holster attached to my side, and I walked through the house like John Wayne. [Laughs]

TI: And how old were you at this time?

EK: I think that was just shortly after my dad died. I was a kid.

TI: Yeah, as a teenager. But you knew enough to take out the bullets.

EK: Yeah. And then after about several episodes like this, I said to myself, "What's the use of my walking around with a gun? I better fire it." So I went to the basement -- it's not a regular basement -- it was still covered with dirt and so forth. So there was a block of wood. It's the kind of wood that you see in these movies when they're chopping up the wood and so forth. So I placed that on the stand and then stood about six feet away from there, took aim and pulled the trigger. And fortunately, I was a good shot, because I hit the piece of wood. And then I had an axe or something, a hatchet, broke it down until I recovered the bullet. I should have kept that bullet. But anyway, I didn't do anything, but that was the end of my gunslinger days.

TI: So you were just really curious about the...

EK: Curious. Kids are curious. Kids are curious about weapons and so forth. Plus the fact that I've always been fascinated with the properly engineered material, and a gun is really properly engineered. So as I said before, in the back of my head, I said, "This is wrong." On the other hand, I said, "Hey, I want to do it."

TI: That's interesting. So during these weeks after Pearl Harbor, you knew that inside your house, you had a gun.

EK: Yeah.

TI: And so what happened to that gun?

EK: Then, shortly after Pearl Harbor, I think it was a, probably FBI agent, government agent came. And after questioning and so forth, said, "Do you have a weapon here?" I said, "Yes, I have my father's .32 caliber Colt automatic." So he said, "May I see it?" and took down the serial number and handed it back to me. And I thought that was the end of it. But the following day, an army sergeant came with a gun on his side and said, "You have a Colt automatic .32 caliber serial number such and such? Hand it over." We handed it over, he looked at the serial number, and then he asked us to sign some paper, and gave us a dollar bill. So that was how the final transaction of the infamous Colt .32 took place. And then at that time, my brother chastised me, saying -- the older brother -- chastised me and said that, "You shouldn't have done that. That was Pop's favorite weapon," and so forth. But I said, "What am I going to do? What if you or I, I in the concentration camp, you working outside, were to have your gun found?" The consequences would have been draconian. They would have immediately thrown us in prison. So in a sense, I did the, I think I did the wise thing, but my brother was chastising me by saying, "You shouldn't have done that." But I think I did the right thing.

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

<Begin Segment 15>

TI: How about any other stories, like, in terms of, like, how did the other Asian Americans treat Japanese? Like the Chinese or Filipinos?

EK: Oh. The Caucasians had difficulty differentiating between Japanese, Chinese and Filipinos. Therefore when the Chinese and Filipino were at the end of racial remarks and so forth, they started wearing buttons saying, "I am Chinese," "I am Filipino," and so forth, so that they wouldn't be attacked. But we Niseis felt that we didn't have to make buttons saying, "I am Japanese."

TI: But how would you feel when you saw, say, a Chinese with an "I am Chinese" button? I mean, did that, what did you think?

EK: Contemptuous. But by the same token, I can understand their feelings.

TI: And during this time period, was there any anger directed towards you because you were Japanese, by Caucasian or anything else that you can recall?

EK: Nothing overt. But then, prior to the war, during the war and afterward, the Hearst newspapers constantly, daily, said, "Jap, Jap, Jap." So that was drummed into our ears. So I would say, by the media, I think, we were assaulted, but no physical assault that I can remember.

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

<Begin Segment 16>

TI: Well, eventually, I mean, how were you informed that you were to leave Seattle? Explain that.

EK: A sign was, two feet by five feet sign and so forth, tacked onto the neighborhood telephone pole. I think these were in all areas of the Western Defense Command, saying that within one week, "You will be assembled at such and such a corner, with a minimum of bedding and so forth, forks and spoons and so forth, no pets, no furniture, all the luggage you can carry, and we will direct you to somewhere." So we knew that we would be going to Puyallup, Washington, and that place was called "Camp Harmony." Some wiseguy probably called it a harmonious place. So that's how our, that's the next phase of our life started.

TI: And so when you were given those, that notice, describe kind of the day you left Seattle. And so where did you have to meet, and how were you picked up? Why don't you just try to recall that for me.

EK: Well, let me go back a little bit further. After the, after we read the signs there, we were dumfounded. Saying, "One week?" So, but we had to, had to get rid of our, we were renting our place, so we had to get rid of our furnitures and so forth, either gave them away or loaned them to somebody else. And others, we put into Bekins Storage Company and so forth. And then on the day of departure --

TI: And actually before you move on, who did you sell the furniture to?

EK: Oh, I think one person that I remember is my brother's friend, Seivert, and so forth. And then we told them that, "Could you please take care of this?" And then my mother and father had a beautiful porcelain flower pot or something, we loaned it or gave it to the Baptist Church Home, which was about, diagonally opposite our home, in the hopes that we would be able to come back and claim it and so forth. Other personal material, we put it into suitcases -- not suitcases, but trunks, and put it into Bekins Storage and so forth. So then we assembled only the necessary things that the government said that we can have, that we can take with us and so forth.

TI: And I'm curious, when you packed, you have to pack kind of the necessities. Did you ever pack anything that was more personal that you wanted to keep? And I'm not sure, I'm asking if there's anything that you can recall, like a memento or something, that may have been viewed as maybe frivolous to bring?

EK: Well, I didn't have any mementos of that nature there. So mine was a very simple life.

TI: Okay, good. And so let's go back to that, that day you left. And so where, where did you have to assemble?

EK: At the corner of where the bulletin... it's just about diagonally opposite where we were living.

TI: And then so you were picked up by buses?

EK: Picked up by buses, yeah.

TI: And then the buses would then bring you to Puyallup?

EK: That's right.

TI: And what was your first impressions of Puyallup when you got there?

EK: What a place. Then the first thing that we were told, after we were processed, our tags with numbers were taken down and so forth, and we were assigned a barrack. Fortunately, my mother and I were assigned a barrack, whereas some families had half a barrack with a sheet spread. But anyway, the first responsibility was to pick up the cotton ticking and so forth that was there, and then to go to the stable, and then to fill the ticking with straw, and then bring it back and put it on our army cot. That was our mattress. So then I don't recall what my mother's feelings were, or the feelings of the Issei were, but I'm sure it was, they were devastated. But what else could they do? Shikata ga nai.

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

<Begin Segment 17>

TI: So you mentioned you and your mother. Where was your older brother at this point, Kazuo?

EK: My brother, fortunately, and three or four other seniors, at the behest of the dean of the college there, were able to transfer to Washington State University in Pullman, Washington. And then they were able to stay there, and then be able to get enough credit to be graduated from the University of Washington. And from there, so that they, we would not be wards of the government if we wanted to move, got a job through George Nishi. And he was working, my brother was working in the railroad at Wyola, Montana. So that at least we can tell the government that, "Hey, we won't be a totally dependent ward of the government," that he had some money. Plus the fact that my mother may have had a few bucks and so forth.

TI: And so after December 7th, your brother was a senior at the University of Washington.

EK: Yes.

TI: And so he got assistance from the university to be transferred to Washington State in Pullman, which is east of the mountains. And so he was there for enough months to be able to graduate in '42 then. And then from there, he went to, back to Wyoming.

EK: That's right.

TI: Okay. And so he was, so during this time when you were in Puyallup, he was then at, at Pullman, Washington State at that point.

EK: And then later on, he was, what shall I say, working in the railroads. Because after we received notice that we might be forced to move, my brother and I wrote letters to the mayor of Sheridan, Wyoming, army officials, mayors and so forth, stating that we wished to return back to Wyoming, Sheridan, Wyoming. We didn't hear anything, until about a month and a half that my mother and I were in camp, then we got permission to move.

TI: And so you had left Sheridan over ten years, I mean, like, twelve years. And the people that you were writing to, were they people that would still remember your family?

EK: That I don't, I don't recall. Maybe they had investigated us and found that we were not terrorists or anything, and these, it was just a widowed mother and two kids, and so forth. So they may have done that, but I do not know.

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

<Begin Segment 18>

TI: So let's go back to Puyallup. So you have an apartment, your mother and you --

EK: Well, "apartment" is a generous word. Shack.

TI: A space, a living space.

EK: Space.

TI: For you and your mother. So describe, describe the living space for me.

EK: Well, there was only two cots there, with straw mattresses, one bare light bulb, and one stove, which served as heat and so forth, and maybe making hot tea or something of that nature. And the barracks were made during the rainy season in Seattle, which was constantly. So that when the sun did come out and then the wood would shrink, and then dust and dirt and so forth would come in. And I think they were tarpaper, but even despite the tarpaper, I'm sure the dust would seep in. So that it was not as primitive as some of the other permanent camps that some of the other people went to. But then, but then in the final analysis, it was not what we had expected or what we were used to anyway. But then, here again, shikata ga nai, what can you do?

TI: Describe some of the sounds or smells that you could remember from Puyallup?

EK: Oh, it was a pitched roof, and to separate each room, there was a, should I say, wall about eight feet high. So that during the day, you can hear conversation of people talking, laughing, arguing and so forth, all the way down, halfway down the barracks hall. And at night you could hear a baby crying because of being, wet diapers or hungry and so forth. So it was, it was community living. The most important, most memorable thing that I remember when the lights went out was the coyotes. One coyote serenading the night, another coyote answering back. And also the lonely whistle of a train. I said, "Gosh, I wish I were on that train." So it was a, what shall I say, a nostalgic, cruel moment here. And again, I said, "We're U.S. citizens."

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

<Begin Segment 19>

TI: In your writings, you mentioned there was a moment when they came through and they confiscated things like axes and hatches you used to chop wood.

EK: Yeah.

TI: Can you tell me about that?

EK: Yeah. I think the Japanese naval forces attacked, or occupied the Aleutian Islands, certainly the eastern, western Aleutian Islands there. So this must have caused much consternation and fear in the officials of the War Relocation Authority. Prior to that time, each household or unit was assigned axes to, axes and hatchets to cut the wood in suitable sizes to be put into the stove and so forth. When that happened, they confiscated all the axes except one for the unit, your block, to cut, what shall I say, wood and so forth. It seems to me that this is sort of a stupid thing to do. What did they expect us to do, come out charging out of the barracks, of the concentration camp wielding axes and hatches and meeting the invading force two thousand miles away? But then when the person or government agencies are afraid, they'll do stupid things.

TI: And in general, how were the military guards or the other guards at Puyallup in how they treated you and the other Japanese Americans?

EK: Most of them were uncommunicative, but they did not smile or anything, or gave us gum or anything of that nature. In fact, we had to keep so many feet away from the fence. And then most, because of the fact that they were probably given orders, they didn't speak to us at all. But the people, government employees who were probably local farmers and so forth, acted as "guards," quote/unquote, as we went from one area to another to shower or something. And they were the most disgusting ones because I remember very clearly one day one of them, as we were being marched from one barracks to another, said, "Come on, Japs, make a break for it," and so forth. So that at that moment, we preferred the quiet guards to this individual, anyway. But here again, what could you do?

TI: So this one guard was taunting you, just saying, "Make a run for it."

EK: He was not an army guy, he was a civilian guard. He looked like a, probably blue collar, older farmer or something, of that neighborhood, who was hired by the War Relocation Authority or the army post to guard us from one area to another, within the large compound.

TI: When you look back, I'm thinking, and at some point maybe one of your kids asked you this question. Here you were, a Nisei, a U.S. citizen, in your early twenties. Do you ever look back and wonder, could the Niseis have done anything to prevent this? Do you ever think about that, and could anything have been done differently?

EK: No. In terms of politics and so forth, we had no representative or senators or mayors or anything who could speak up for us. So there, we were helpless. And the average age of the Niseis was late twenties, early thirties, so they had not been established either financially or politically to wield any power and so forth. So that in essence, we were left alone, with the exception of the Quakers. They voiced sympathy, but they themselves didn't have any political clout, so they couldn't do anything. But at least we had the emotional sympathy of the Quakers anyway.

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

<Begin Segment 20>

TI: So let's, let's go to how you left Puyallup. Because you mentioned earlier that you had written these letters trying to leave or to get permission to go back to Wyoming. So describe that. How did you leave Puyallup?

EK: Nothing, we heard nothing from the agencies that we had written to until about a month or so after we had been there in Puyallup, we received word that we were free to leave and to go Sheridan, Wyoming. So that they did not hospitably arrange everything for us to go, I had to go use the phone and get the railroad tickets, find out the railroad tickets and so forth, using the phone in the office where there were Japanese, Niseis had, doing some paperwork. And they could, of course, hear every word of my conversation. And then when it was evident to them that we were leaving camp, I could see them raise their eyebrows, saying, "These people must be crazy, leaving the safety of this camp to go out into the wild woods," and so forth. They didn't ask me any questions, I didn't answer them, I just walked out.

TI: Oh, so that's interesting. So you think the, when people would find out that you were leaving, they thought that it would be dangerous for you to, to go.

EK: Yes.

TI: And that you were crazy.

EK: Yeah, you're crazy. "We're safe here behind barbed wires."

TI: And so what was it like when you left the confines of the barbed wire, and stepped out, essentially into the exclusion zone, and area that you weren't supposed to be, what kind of reaction did you get going to the train station, on the train?

EK: I don't remember much of the, what shall I say, of the reaction of the local populace seeing us. Because I was more concerned about, "Hey, where are they taking us? How long is it going to go?" and so forth. But I do remember that when we got on the train there, there was absolute dead silence. People looked around and stared at us. As I said before, it was the same kind of a whole gamut of emotions, from sympathy to hatred and so forth. Not a word was exchanged between them and us. And then after about so many days, we finally reached Sheridan, Wyoming. But it was in a "hostile" quote/unquote territory, but at least we were free, anyway. Because my mother had said, long before, said that, "We should not stay in this camp here and become like sheep," and so forth. But it was better to go outside and meet whatever the outside was willing to offer us. So I give credit to my mother for saying that.

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

<Begin Segment 21>

TI: And so when you finally got to Sheridan, I'm curious, how did -- first, I mean, what were your first impressions of Sheridan? How had Sheridan changed?

EK: I didn't remember much about Sheridan. But I knew that there were more cowboys there with their clinking spurs and so forth. Not too many, but it was like any other small town, you know. And then George Nishi, our friend, lived a very monastic life, and didn't know much about what was going on outside the store. So he suggested we go back to the Rex Hotel, which my father had run. So we went up there, and then as we were walking down the hallway, doors opened and flashily dressed women smiled at us. So even at my age, I said, "Hey, these are not, what shall I say, cultivated women. Probably women of the night, you know." So we immediately moved out, and in a neighborhood, a family which has, what shall I say, been helpful, found us a temporary quarters and so forth.

TI: And in general, how did the townspeople in Sheridan treat you and your mother?

EK: Indifferently. Some with curiosity. And also, when I walked from the, my home, my temporary rented place to George Nishi's store to help, he didn't really need help because they didn't patronize his place. But anyway, couple of elderly women looked at me and said, "Oh, there goes that Indian boy again." So I said to myself, "I'm finally called a native American."

TI: That's good.

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

<Begin Segment 22>

TI: So you were, in Seattle, you were a sophomore at the University of Washington. You were in Sheridan, and from there, you were able to get accepted to the University of Nebraska.

EK: That's right.

TI: So can you explain why you chose Nebraska? What was it about Nebraska?

EK: Well, for the simple reason that many of the colleges refused to accept Japanese. Those that accepted Niseis had a quota system of, "We will accept only five," or something like that. But Nebraska, Lincoln, Nebraska, was a strong church town. And maybe because of the nature of the populace there, they said, "Welcome, come." So that's why we went there. There was a large contingent of Niseis at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. So I'll be forever grateful for the people in Lincoln, Nebraska.

TI: And how did you hear about the welcoming nature of Lincoln, Nebraska?

EK: Well, oh, I think it was from word of mouth, plus the fact that we had been told Lincoln was a very strong church town. And then we do remember Gerald Kennedy was the minister there who later became a, Bishop Kennedy of the Methodist Church. But it was a strong church town. That may have been instrumental to the fact that they did not ostracize us to the extent that some of the other universities did.

TI: And so when you got there, not only was it a university, but the other townspeople were quite welcoming to you and other Nisei?

EK: Not all, not all. The students there, of course, were sheltered, they were taken care of more readily by the university, whereas my mother and I was a quote/unquote "family unit." So I went to one home there and they looked at me, and they slammed the door in my face. But then I said, "Well, shikata ga nai, it can't be helped." So, but then, there again, some of the more Christian, more Christian women, people, rented us a upstairs apartment. So in, well, in Lincoln, Nebraska, I lived upstairs.

TI: And when you got to Lincoln, Nebraska, and you were attending school, what would your mother do?

EK: Stayed at home. To keep her informed, I went to the local library and got some new books on flower arrangement and so forth, but in essence, she didn't do anything. I do remember some family came with a captured Japanese flag and wanted my mother to translate the things on that flag, the writings on the flag. So that's the only contact concerning Japanese. Oh, another thing, I fell, my mother fell ill one day. So I knew that there was a doctor about two houses, oh, about two, three houses away. So I ran over there, rang the bell, and I said, "My mother isn't feeling too good." Apparently, this doctor was entertaining somebody, a group of people, and surprisingly, he looked at me and said, "You should have used the back door." But at this point in time, I wasn't going to argue with him. I said, "Would you come over and look at my mother?" Apparently my mother recovered from whatever she had, but that was the, that episode I do remember. "You should have used the back door."

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

<Begin Segment 23>

TI: I'm curious, you're in Nebraska, and there was a well-known Nisei who was serving in the Air Force, Ben Kuroki.

EK: Yeah.

TI: Were people aware of Ben when you were in Lincoln, Nebraska? Was he well-known at that time?

EK: Yeah. The newspapers wanted to advertise the fact that their native son, American-born Japanese, was serving the army, and so forth. So I think he received quite a bit of favorable publicity.

TI: Did that help you and the other Niseis to have the Ben Kuroki story out there?

EK: Probably, probably. Because the exploits of the 100th and the 442nd, of course, helped to a greater degree. So even one Nisei, I think, his exploits would help in his immediate neighborhood.

TI: And what about in terms of your military service? You were draft age, what happened with you?

EK: Well, during the Battle of the Bulge, they must be scraping the bottom of the barrel, because they, I got an order to report for a physical examination. So I took the bus and I went to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, with a lot of other potential GIs passed the physical. "You're 1-A, we'll expect you in about a couple of weeks." I had heard that the army did not, at times, report or rather ask the people to come back until about a month or so, so I just kept on going to school. One month went by, two months went by, and so forth, nothing happened. Then they finally gave me, sent me a letter for me to report. So since a certain number of months had gone by, and for some military reason or technical reason, I had to take a second physical. This time, the examining physician pressed kind of hard on my appendectomy scar, pushed hard, and said, "Does that hurt?" I said, "Of course it hurts." He didn't say a word, said, "You're 4-F." I didn't argue with him because I knew that a replacement for a combat unit, a replacement does not last long. So that I did not question it and saying that, "I'd like to have an opinion, second opinion." So I just took the train back and went back to Nebraska. So there were advantages and disadvantages of not serving in the army.

TI: I'm curious, were you ever aware of the Military Intelligence Language School? Because --

EK: Yes.

TI: The reason I ask was because of your Japanese language ability, you would have been a strong candidate for that.

EK: Yeah. A candidate, true, but then not a specialist. Because I would feel that the specialists would have been the Kibeis who were born here but may have attended college, and some of them may have gotten military training intelligence, so they would know the military terminology. Whereas the Niseis probably would not know all these difficult terminology, nor the writing, not the simple hiragana, katakana, kanji, but then the script type. But whatever their reason was, probably a sufficient number of Kibeis who served there and served the purpose of the army.

TI: But there quite a few Niseis who also were in the MIS, and probably your Japanese language abilities would have been superior to most of the Nisei.

EK: That I don't know. That I don't know.

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

<Begin Segment 24>

TI: So going back to Nebraska, so what were your degrees at Nebraska? What did you graduate with?f

EK: I graduated with a BS in pharmacy, and a master's in pharmaceutical chemistry.

TI: And so what did you do after you graduated?

EK: Went to the University of Chicago, I was accepted at the University of Chicago.

TI: And so this was into their doctorate program?

EK: Yes.

TI: And so what, what area was this in?

EK: Pharmacology.

TI: Okay, so how long were you in Chicago?

EK: Oh, I'd say about three or four years. Possibly a little bit longer, yeah, about three and a half to four years.

TI: So about the time that you were in Chicago, Chicago was a major resettlement area for Japanese Americans coming from the camps or coming from the coast. Were you aware of very many Japanese in Chicago and were you in contact with them?

EK: Well, was I aware of the Japanese, yes, I was aware there were a lot of Nihonjins, yes. But I didn't contact them, nor did they contact us. What shall I say, the Japanese groups did not contact us. I assume you mean the groups, did they contact us?

TI: Well, or whether or not you socialized, whether or not there was other Niseis that you saw, and maybe you...

EK: Just local Niseis.

TI: Local Niseis to Chicago?

EK: In the area.

TI: In the area, okay.

EK: Most of my friends were from, Caucasians. That's what sort of sets me apart a little bit from the typical Nisei because I'd always been amongst Caucasian communities. Even today, we're in our senior retirement home, and we're the only Japanese.

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

<Begin Segment 25>

TI: And so when you, when you finished your school, I mean, your degree, your doctorate program in Chicago, then what did you do?

EK: Well, I was searching for where I would work. And my keen interest through all the years I'd been, to see New York City. So then when I first heard that there was a job opening in Yonkers, New York, at the Nepra chemical company, N-E-P-R-A chemical company, I applied to and got the job there. The company was owned by about three or four Jewish brothers named Lazdens. And, of course, because of the nature there, the, many of the chemists and so forth were living in the Bronx, Brooklyn and so forth, way down in New York. Their only job opportunity was to join a Jewish chemical company so they commuted long distance here, to Yonkers, New York. So here again, my acquaintances were Jewish people, and then there were people from Ukraine, Russia and so forth, all the other... and a couple of blacks there, too. So that my life has been primarily with non-Japanese.

TI: So I'm curious, when you, when you met, you're in Yonkers and you meet the Jewish community and other, sort of, Europeans, I'm thinking about World War II and their experiences in some of those communities. Did you ever share what happened to Japanese Americans on the West Coast? Were they aware of this?

EK: Share what?

TI: Share what happened to Japanese Americans, that they were picked up, incarcerated, put in concentration camps. Were they aware of that?

EK: Yeah, the Jewish people were, primarily because they themselves were subjected to discrimination. So much so that they finally put, put some trust in me, and then one day they had a kosher lunch, they Jews brought their own pots and pans and so forth, and they invited me to lunch and so forth. And then there was a Ukrainian worker there who wanted a couple of witnesses to be, when he was sworn in as a citizen. So he invited a couple of us to act as a witness. And he prized that citizenship quite a bit. So after the ceremony, he gave each of us an ice cream cone. [Laughs] But we knew that he was very happy.

TI: Did you ever get in discussions about the concentration camps that Japanese Americans --

EK: Yeah.

TI: And what kind of discussions did you have? What was discussed?

EK: I discussed what had happened to us, the discrimination and so forth. So they were sympathetic with that. Plus the fact that they lambasted Roosevelt. Because from what I understand, a boatload of the Jewish refugees came to this New York City, and then they could not be permitted to land in the States because the local unions said that, "They will be taking away our jobs," so the ship was turned back. That's what I hear. Whether this happened, really happened, I do not know, but they were very vehement about that.

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

<Begin Segment 26>

TI: So now I want to kind of shift gears and go more towards your family life. When were you married?

EK: Oh, it was February the 12th, 1950.

TI: And where was this?

EK: At the, one of the chapels at the University of Chicago.

TI: Okay, so you were in Chicago, so how did you meet your wife?

EK: Well, I attended a JACL meeting, and then I met her, and then I found out later on that she lived only about four blocks away from us. So then we started dating and so forth.

TI: And so tell me a little bit about her. Where, what was her name and where was she from?

EK: Oh, her name was Grace Watanabe. She had two sisters, one was in Webster, Texas, and the other one was in Chicago. And she was a, her mother was a widow, because their father was a minister who died alone in Los Angeles while the rest of the family was evacuated.

TI: So why was her father still in Los Angeles when the rest of the family left?

EK: They, he was critically ill, and the army would not permit his mother, his wife or the children to stay. They said, "Move." It was only after he had died that they permitted the widow and the three children to go there temporarily.

TI: Okay, so you met Grace, so she's from Los Angeles. And did she go, so which camps or camp did she go to?

EK: I forgot the name. [Laughs]

TI: Okay, but she went to a camp, and then from there, she resettled in Chicago.

EK: Yeah. Settled there just for a short period. Because before, before he died, her father had written to some friends in Abilene, Texas, Hardin-Simmons University, because he had attended there during his ministerial studies and said that, "Please take care of my daughters," and so forth. So all, two of them were permitted to enroll at Hardin-Simmons University.

TI: And so that's where Grace went also?

EK: That's where she got her degree.

TI: Okay. And so in Chicago at a JACL meeting, the two of you met, and then from there you started dating. And then you were then married on February 12, 1950.

EK: Yes.

TI: And then, and then she went with you to Yonkers.

EK: That's right.

TI: And during this time, was your mother still with you? Where was your mother during this time?

EK: She was with me, but then after I said I was gonna get married, she took, my brother arranged for her to live with him. So then she changed her domicile and then started living with my brother.

TI: And where was your brother living?

EK: I think it was on the East Coast in Philadelphia or somewhere like that.

TI: Okay. So your mother went to go live with Kazuo on the East Coast, and you went to Yonkers. And then you started having children. Tell me about your children in terms of, maybe, yeah, your oldest to your youngest.

EK: Oldest was Kathy, Kathryn, and then the second one was Eugenie, E-U-G-E-N-I-E, and the third on was Alan who was born in Waukegan.

TI: Okay, and Kathy and Genie were born in Yonkers?

EK: Yes.

TI: Okay, good. And you have three children. Any grandchildren?

EK: Yeah, uh-huh. Kathy has two sons and a daughter, Eugenie has one son.

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

<Begin Segment 27>

TI: So at this point, I want to kind of do more, kind of, reflections or looking back. Because I know that you've, you've spent time and you've wrote about your experiences. You also agreed to be interviewed. And I wanted to ask you, why do you think it's important that you and other Niseis tell your story?

EK: Well, I look upon it this way. You might say that my manuscript was a lonely cry in the woods, saying that, "Look, we had been, we were U.S. citizens, we've been treated this way, and this is not right." That was my lonely cry in the hopes that I would have a, find a kindred souls that would say, "Yes, yes, you're right." And also some [interruption] saying, "Yeah, now I understand a little better what you went through," and so forth. So it was more of a message of clearing my mind and heart of what had been mulling in my mind for, since 1942. It's 1975, and plus the fact that, well, I think a little bit more, another motive was that I hoped that somebody, some other people would appreciate what I wrote, and some of the Caucasian might say that, "Hey, there must be a truth in what this guy's saying," and so forth. That's sort of a feeling there. And that manuscript I wrote is not an autobiography, it is not a Densho, it's merely the musings and thoughts of a guy who, in 1975, wrote what was on his mind, and whatever's written there should be in the light of that period. Here again, another thirty-three years later, we're looking at it now, so it's a span of sixty-something years that had elapsed from the time of Pearl Harbor. So it's, you have to look at it in that context and whether some of the things that I have said may sound ridiculous and so forth, and romanticized, but it was not. It was something that I experienced.

TI: No, I think it's really valuable that you and others do that. Because I think otherwise, people won't know. The thing that I, I haven't picked up, and I'm curious, when you look back and you write about it, but I'm not quite sure. I want to ask you, do you feel bitter or resentful about what happened to you and other Nisei and your parents sixty-five years ago during World War II? How do you feel about this?

EK: Well, I have empathy for my parents and for all Isseis and what they did, because many of them, at the height of their professional careers and so forth, their lives were destroyed and they were, by the time they get out, they did not have the energy to continue, or the resources to continue. So for them, I feel very, what shall I say, sorry for them. For the Niseis, I think it's entirely up to the Niseis as to whether they want to go ahead and make something of themselves, or just say, "Shikata ga nai." So that, that manuscript all depends on the internal mechanism, order of whoever reads it.

TI: But how about for you? If you were to read this, or to think about it for your life, how do you feel about this?

EK: I think it's cleansing my soul a little bit. And I hoped, I had hoped when I wrote that -- of course, I was more gung ho when I was writing that -- I hoped that somebody would read this and so forth, and not say that, "Hey, this is just a bunch of theatrical grammar," or something of that nature. 'Cause there was a reason there, because I wanted people to know that here was a Nisei who somehow was born in the (West), migrated across the country, worked in Alaska, then I had, what shall I say, some experiences which were not, may not have been typical of a typical Nisei in Los Angeles and so forth.

TI: Well, I've come to the end of my questions now, and wanted to just ask you if there's anything else that I haven't asked you, like if you want to make, if there's just anything else you want to talk about or say while we have the camera running. Like if I forgot to ask you something.

EK: Well, I'm thankful that I've been given this opportunity to talk to you and to the people here in Densho and so forth. Because it does help me to, what shall I say, air my feelings and so forth, and to feel that you people are appreciative of what little I have said, so I am grateful for that.

TI: Good. Well, Eugene, thank you so much for taking the time. I know it wasn't easy for you to take this time to come here and do this. I so appreciate it because you were able to give us this different journey, this different path that we haven't been able to capture. Wyoming to Seattle, back to Wyoming, and then later on to the East Coast. So this helps enrich, I think, the overall story of what happened to Japanese Americans. Thank you so much.

EK: I'm glad to do it. Thank you.

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