Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Hiro Nishimura Interview
Narrator: Hiro Nishimura
Interviewer: Tom Ikeda
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: April 28, 2009
Densho ID: denshovh-nhiro-01

[Correct spelling of certain names, words and terms used in this interview have not been verified.]

<Begin Segment 1>

TI: Okay, so Hiro, today is Tuesday, April 28, 2009. Running the camera is Dana Hoshide, interviewing is me, Tom Ikeda, and we're here this morning with Hiro Nishimura.

HN: Oh, yes. I know the Ikeda family.

TI: Okay, but Hiro, before we go, let's get some basic background. Can you -- and you've done this already, but can you tell me when and where you were born?

HN: Seattle, Washington, August 8, 1919.

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

HN: Hiroyuki Nishimura.

TI: How about a middle name?

HN: No middle name.

TI: And let's start with your father first. What was your father's name?

HN: Hisao.

TI: And do you know where Hisao was born?

HN: Oh, yes. Hiroshima, Asa-gun, Shiraichi. I've been there myself several times.

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

HN: Yeah, they were landowners. They were landowners.

TI: And do you know how much land they owned?

HN: I don't know how much land. All I know is when I went there, I was told that they were, they loaned money out. So I assumed they're landowners.

TI: And with their land, did they do things like rice and crops and things like that?

HN: I think they owned property. So they must have lent out, leased out land to farmers and people. That's my assumption.

TI: So it sounds like the family was pretty well-off. And so why, why did your father decide to leave Japan?

HN: Being the second son, inheritance, first one gets everything, right? Second and third, you get nothing. So that's it, like other Issei parents, fathers.

TI: So why did he decide to come to America and not --

HN: Well, his reason, well, number one, he has no obligation to the family, right? He came to America legally, the form letter said he came as a student. He came as a student with a fellow student, a high school student, Dr. Ishibashi, classmate, they came as a student. That's his visa. And that's why his English was so great, surprised me. I didn't realize he was an English... well, that was his purpose, study English. He was good in English. I never told him that. I don't know why I didn't. [Laughs]

TI: So where did he first go? When he came to America, where did he go?

HN: My official residence, first residence, was Panama Hotel, everybody knows that. 501 1/2 South Main Street, I know that. I lived there.

TI: And so when your father first came to Seattle as a student, what did he do? Do you know...

HN: Yeah, he was working at that Sorrento Hotel and then I think he was working there as the elevator boy, this and that, but I think he was a co-partner of the Panama Hotel. Because I lived there five years when I was born. That was the first business.

TI: Oh, so he also ran the Panama Hotel?

HN: Oh, he and Mr. Maeda, they were co-owners. It's all in my birth certificate. And then in the meantime, he was working in the Sorrento Hotel.

TI: So back in those days, when he ran it, did that mean that he owned the property, or did he just lease the property?

HN: I assume... that I don't know, but I assume that he and Mr. Maeda were, well, they were co-operators or co-owners. Because Mr. Maeda's name is on my father's Hiroshima albums, photo album. I have the Hiroshima Kenjinkai, prefecture's photo album. All the biographical data, and Mr. Maeda is named in there.

TI: Now, by any chance, do you recall about what year this would be when he came to Seattle?

HN: Yeah, gosh. I was born in 1919, I think it was year, but... gee, I have the forms at home, but I can't tell you that.

TI: Okay, that's fine.

HN: Yeah, but I have the records at home, all his immigration, alien registration papers and all that. My mother came later, of course, because they got married in Japan, Yokohama.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

TI: Okay, so let's talk a little bit about your mother. What was your mother's name?

HN: Fukuda, Fumiko. Eldest daughter of the four families, four daughters, I mean. She was the eldest. The oldest one, as you well know, the oldest one has all the responsibilities. Greatest, heaviest responsibilities. Oh, my mother, oh, yes.

TI: And as the oldest and responsibility, what was she like?

HN: Very strict. I thought she was the strictest mother in the world.

TI: So when you compared her with the other Issei women, you thought she was --

HN: Well, the Issei women don't, I didn't live with them. But my mother, to this day, I thought she was the strictest mother in the world. I wanted to leave the house twice. I don't think many Nisei felt that way, but that was how I felt. She was so strict that I wanted to leave.

TI: Now, what would be an example of her being strict that you thought was unreasonable? HN: Very ethical, very moralistic, very disciplinary. It was so... mental strain. She was a restrainer, ethically, morally, culturally, very difficult.

TI: So would it come up, like, in terms of you want to maybe do something with friends or something, she wouldn't let you? Is that kind of the situation?

HN: Very, very ethical. She let me, yeah, she wasn't negative, she was too positive. "Be sure you do this, be sure this." It's not, "Don't do this." Of course, there was, "Don't do it," is a cultural trait of the Nikkei, isn't it? "Don't shame your family." Well, haji, that kind of thing. But my mother was so hundred percent strict, ethical.

TI: And so would that show up that she would always make sure that you did certain things?

HN: That's right.

TI: So it was more...

HN: That's right. "You do it right. Do it right so you don't embarrass the family," right? That was a cultural trait, that was not hers. But she was very strict, I think so.

TI: And so probably in things like school that she would make sure that you would study hard?

HN: It was everything, you might say. How you dress, how you talk, how you... that's why I thought, "Well, I want to leave, go out." But I can't survive.

TI: Well, about how old were you when you considered leaving?

HN: High school freshman. Yeah, twice I wanted to leave. Twice. Not just once. To add to this, to add argument to my point, my brother, who was living in Chicago -- this is after the war. This is after the war, we're not kids now, this is after the war. He comes to Seattle for two weeks' vacation. Every year he came for vacation. Two weeks became one week, and then after one week he says, "Hiro, gee, I feel sorry for you." She applies the same ethics to my brother, who was visiting just for a week or two weeks. "Did you do this, did you do that?" Issei come and bring gifts to my brother because he's here visiting. This is the Issei culture, isn't it? "Did you go thank them? Did you write a letter?" My brother finally said, "Hiro, I can't stand this. Mother is too strict." Very, very ethical.

TI: Now, when you look back and think back to your mother and some of the things she stressed, that she talked a lot about, what do you think about that? It sort of captures sort of that Issei mentality. What do you think in terms of, what was important about that?

HN: Of course, I wanted to leave home twice, so I didn't really accept all of this. It was very hard on me mentally. Very tough on me mentally. I think that's why I said I thought my mother was the strictest mother in the world.

TI: Okay, good.

HN: To the point I wanted to leave, but I thought that would be, from the frying pan, I'd be jumping into a fire because there was discrimination out there in the world. I can't survive. Today is different. I could leave anytime and I would survive. But with the discrimination, I won't survive. I won't get a job. No one will hire a Japanese, you know that.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

TI: So let's, I wanted to go back and ask, so where was your mother from?

HN: Hiroshima, too.

TI: How did she and your father meet?

HN: The trouble -- I shouldn't use the word "trouble" -- the reason my mother was so strict was because she was the oldest of the four. Her grandfather was a naval officer. See, it adds, not being, not only being the oldest daughter with lots of responsibility, the father being a navy officer, you could imagine the lifestyle she had. Lot of discipline, right, with a military family, and being the oldest. I think that, I think that's the reason why she was so strict with me.

TI: Interesting, okay. And then, again, so how did your mother and father meet?

HN: Oh. They married in Yokohama when my dad went back there. But I think, I don't know how they met. I think it was a baishakunin, you know.

TI: An arranged marriage.

HN: Arranged marriage. Because my father was in Seattle, Nishimura was... actually, my mother was born in Nagasaki, the naval base. But later they came to Kure, which is Hiroshima, Kure, but my father and mother never met. So it was arranged thing. And the story, I remember, is, my father and my mother told me, her uncle, Kumano family, uncle of my grandmother, my mother's mother, told my dad, "When you get married, she is not to work." In fact, it's in her passport, mushoku. Mushoku means, literally, non-work, unemployable. In her passport, I still have it. In her passport, "mushoku" it says. The governor signed that, all the governors signed all these passports, right, for them to leave the country, right? They had to get a passport signed by the governor.

TI: So it sounds like your mother's, your grandmother on your mother's side, the family, I mean, they must have been concerned about her coming to the United States.

HN: Obviously. Very obviously.

TI: And wanted to be very clear that she was --

HN: Not to be working. Well, people came to work; that's the reason why they left, right? They didn't go for pleasure.

TI: So let's talk about when she did come to Seattle. I'm guessing that she did have to work.

HN: She didn't work.

TI: Oh, she did not work?

HN: No. Well, when I was five years old, when I was born, I lived at Panama Hotel. There's a picture in the Hiroshima photo album, okay, probably in 1922 in Tokyo, photo album which I still have. In that album, there is Panama Hotel, picture of Panama Hotel. There's my father standing on the sidewalk, and the Maeda family, Mr. and Mrs. and the little boy. My mother is not in the picture. That told me that she's not into this same kind of thing. She's just a, you might say, oku-san. Stay home, not to be out and about. So even later on, after I grew up, my dad had a grocery store.

TI: So tell me a little bit about your father. What was your father like? How would you describe your father?

HN: Very quiet, very quiet. He didn't say very much. He didn't have to because my mother did all the talking, discipline. He didn't have to worry about it.

TI: Was he a hard worker? How would you describe him as a worker?

HN: Oh, yeah. Isseis were, most Isseis were hard workers. They were all hard workers.

TI: How would the other Isseis, perhaps, describe your father? If they were to talk about your father, what would they say?

HN: Well, like getting into your grandfather, Mr. Ikeda, used to consult my father because he was in business and this and that, about hotels, apartments. I think, yeah... my father, fortunately, didn't get involved into the community activities, affairs, responsible. I'm glad he didn't, because he would have gone to camp, special camp, immigration. So I'm glad he didn't do that.

TI: So let's talk about you a little bit now, in terms of siblings. Where are you in the birth order? How many brothers and sisters?

HN: One brother, that's all.

TI: And your brother is older or younger?

HN: One year, two months younger.

TI: Okay.

HN: Toshiyuki, Tosh, just one. It's my one regret, just having one sibling. I envied my friends that had two, three, four siblings.

TI: Why is that?

HN: I was lonely. I was lonely. Especially after the war. My brother's in Chicago, I'm here alone, we're both alone. I felt very lonely. I envied my friends that had lots of siblings; I told them that. That's one regret. When I see young people today, they say, "Oh, this is my daughter, this is my son." "Be sure you give them a sibling." That's important.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

TI: So you talked about your early childhood growing up at the Panama Hotel. What are some early memories of the Panama Hotel?

HN: I don't have memories. I can't remember. I lived there five years, too young. I don't have memories, except for pictures of the Panama Hotel. You know, the biographical sketch of my father in the Hiroshima photo album, in Japanese, of course.

TI: Then after the Panama Hotel, where did you move?

HN: I think we went to Coast Hotel, which is on Weller Street and Tenth Avenue, I think. Then from there, we went to Twelfth Avenue and King Street, just a couple blocks from Bailey Gatzert, the historical Bailey Gatzert, the present Indian Center now. That's where eighty, ninety percent of the Japanese kids went to, right?

TI: But after the Coast Hotel, was there another hotel that you --

HN: No, we went to the grocery store. He had a grocery store at Twelfth and King, just above the present Nisei Vets Hall.

TI: Okay, good. And so when did you start remembering -- did you remember the Coast Hotel very much?

HN: A little bit, very little.

TI: Then let's talk about the grocery store, growing up there. What was that like?

HN: [Laughs] Yeah. Now, I was into first grade and second grade. I remember... of course, my father was driving, delivering groceries, this and that. My mother just stayed in the store. We had a young Nisei, older than me, working in the store. So my mother was just sitting there. But we had this young lady, Nisei, older, working there. She did most of the... in that sense, my mother really, and later when we had the apartment house, and of course, she would at least open the door and receive the rental from the renters or answer the phone, I suppose. But she didn't really... well, by that time... so my mother didn't really work. I didn't... another reason was she was handicapped. She fell and hurt her arm, and then elbow got fused, and she couldn't bend it. She spent time and went to Japan, but anyway... she lived like a lady.

TI: But let me go back to your life. When you think back, being the first and second grader, what would be a typical day in terms of waking up, getting ready? Why don't you describe a day when you would go to school, and what you did after school, just so I can get a sense of an everyday life for Hiro back in the second grade.

HN: Well, I don't think I really liked school. I don't think I really enjoyed school. I don't think I really cared to study.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

TI: So say you're in second grade, and why don't you start from the moment you wake up, why don't you just kind of walk through a day for me and what happens?

HN: I remember my feeling about school, I felt, I didn't really look forward to school. But I remember one time, the principal, Miss Mahon -- that's a memory that I remember to this day -- she took me... I was playing with money in the class. See, I wasn't a very good student. I was playing with a coin or something. The teacher took me to the principal, principal took me to my father's store, just about a block away. And the principal took me. Because little kids aren't supposed to, I don't think, are supposed to be having money with them. Anyway, I remember that incident.

TI: And what happened when Miss Mahon took you to the store?

HN: I heard her talk to my father. My father was very fluent in English. I heard Miss Mahon, the principal -- I was frightened, I was terrified. I was little. "Well, we're going to maybe have to send him to Mercer Island." There was a boy's school in Mercer Island. Did you know that?

TI: No, I didn't.

HN: Down in the... there's still, the building, the structure, I've heard of this boy's school, reform school. She said, "Mercer Island," right away I thought, "Oh, my goodness. My goodness, I'm in trouble." Well, anyway, that was all. I think that she said that to terrify me. I think that was important.

TI: And it sounds like it worked, too, that you were frightened.

HN: Yeah, I think I took the money from the store, the till, you know. But being a kid, you do that, I didn't realize that. And so I wasn't studying, I was playing with a coin at the school. But I'm glad the teacher... but one thing I remember which I'll never forget, third grade or whatever. What a suffering. I had to change, I had to change my writing from left hand to right hand. That's my memory of my grade school. I had to, it took me a year. So I didn't really enjoy my grade school. I had a bad experience.

TI: So, Hiro, explain this to me. So you had to change from left hand to right hand. Explain to me why you had to change.

HN: I think, I thought about it, and I think that was due to the penmanship. Nowadays, you don't have that in school, penmanship, but I think the, in order to get the proper curvature, you had to write. Because I don't think the left, you could get the right curvature of your penmanship. They don't do that anymore.

TI: So was this true for all the students who were left-handed?

HN: I suppose, oh, yeah. That's true, because there was one guy, Kiyoshi Kawaguchi, that had the fish store on Jackson Street. He was left-handed, but he could not change. He did not change. I guess he, I guess he didn't have willpower. He didn't change. That was one guy I remember. He was left-handed, too.

TI: And when you say he didn't have willpower, because it took a lot of willpower to change?

HN: [Laughs] Yes. Every night after school I had to practice at home. I think it took me a whole year. I was left, I was left-footed, everything, shoot marbles. That was very, very torturous. Very difficult. So that was bad for my... well, I don't want to blame my grade school for my poor attitude about studies. Well, anyway, I was not a good student.

TI: Earlier you mentioned the principal, Miss Mahon. What was she like?

HN: Very strict. Well, at least I thought, I think she was strict. And all the parents, all the parents liked her, being the disciplinarian. How to blow your nose. I remember the assembly, she said, "Okay," we were all lined up, "take out your handkerchiefs, unfold it this way, then plug your one nostril and then don't blow... plug one side and then blow your nose." She was even, I never thought about that 'til now. She was a disciplinarian. That's why the Issei parents liked her. They're disciplinarians, too, you know that. Issei were disciplinarian.

TI: Well, so it's interesting, so you would have, I guess, values, or you would learn things from your parents to do a certain way, and then Miss Mahon would show you some other things. So how were they different?

HN: They were very, not different, they were very much alike. [Laughs] Different? I think, gee, disciplinarian at home, disciplinarian at school, I think that's why I got a dislike to school. All my bad experience about changing my writing style and everything, I think it was just bad.

TI: So let's go back, like before school, did you have breakfast before school?

HN: Oh, I'm sure. I'm sure I did. I don't remember being hungry, but I imagine, yeah.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

TI: How about after school? What did you do after school?

HN: That's another bad, bad experience, going to Japanese school. You're bringing up a lot of my bad, early... you might say, really, I would say unhappy in that sense, that is, study-wise.

TI: So explain to me. Why was that a bad memory?

HN: I didn't want... Japanese language was very, very difficult. I'll get into that later in my talk later on. But Japanese language, I don't know how much Japanese you know, but I hated going to Japanese school. I played hooky, my brother and I, I'm not going to it. I hated it. It's so difficult. That's why I hated going to, after public school, go to Japanese school. Did you know, heard the phrase, "Tip School"?

TI: I have. Do you know why --

HN: Yeah, I often wondered how that terminology originated. But my interpretation is that you had to pay. It was a private school, "tip," you got to pay out money. I think that's why. It was not a free public school, it was a private school that parents had to pay, right? And I think that's where the terminology "Tip School" means, that you had to pay for it, parents did.

TI: So which language, Japanese language school did you go to?

HN: The one and only Nihongakko. On Weller Street.

TI: The one on Weller Street.

HN: Yeah, that was the one and only. Well, gee, there again... gee, what a bad experience. All the bad stuff that comes in. Well, anyway, I had the resentment, and a lot of bad... so I went to the principal's office, kouchou, principal. I got sent to the kouchou's office. Only bad boys went. Girls didn't go there. I went to the principal's office, kouchou -- kouchou is principal's office -- three or four times. Only bad boys went. I guess I wasn't very, I wasn't such a good boy.

TI: And so you say you weren't... because later on, we're going to get into it, 'cause you learned enough Japanese to join the MIS. So I'm curious, so how much Japanese did you learn during this time?

HN: In spite of my playing hooky and my resentment about studying Japanese, as I reflect back, and even then, I didn't want to go to the army language school, which I told them, and tried to avoid the interview -- I'll get into that later -- because I didn't want to study too hard. It was very torturous. Japanese language is very difficult.

TI: Now, at home, did you speak Japanese with your parents?

HN: Yeah, that's another bad... oh, God, discipline, discipline. My brother and I, naturally, at dinnertime, we're speaking, what else, English, right? My father would say, "Speak Japanese so your mother could understand the conversation." End of conversation, my brother and I. We're not gonna talk in Japanese, gee, that's a struggle. But there was, I think that was all-important. I realized this later, many, many years later, that those were very important lessons that my parents, they taught me.

TI: And what was that lesson?

HN: It was not just my parents, it was all the Isseis. We owe it to the Isseis.

TI: I'm sorry, but what was that lesson? What did you learn from the Isseis?

HN: The virtues. Our cultural virtues. That was the important thing. That's what makes us... that's what I'm so proud of, our culture.

TI: But it's funny, a lot of the things that you've said were difficult for you growing up --

HN: It was very difficult.

TI: -- are now, you view back as --

HN: Now I sort of appreciate. Now I appreciate it. In spite of all these difficulties, because that's what made us. That's what made us different. I'm really proud of our culture now, after many, many years, yes.

TI: Okay, good.

HN: Yeah, I'm going to talk about that later.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

TI: So let's talk about, still childhood, but what were some of the fun or pleasant memories growing up? It seemed like I've been asking all the ones that you didn't like. How about the things when you played with your friends or your brother? What are some fond memories you have?

HN: Well, my fond memory is, especially in high school days, okay, high school, playing baseball, basketball. Those were the fond memories. Those were the fond, they were very, very important, playing baseball and basketball. Very important.

TI: So let's start with baseball. Where did you play baseball?

HN: We played here in high school, Garfield High School, Columbia, Rainier playfield, or Franklin High School, or the old, down there by Yesler Terrace, there was a sandlot there, an open lot that we used to play football, sandlot. Those were the happy days. Oh, I went to judo, too. I didn't really like judo. You know what? That reminds me of another bad experience. Judo, you know, midwinter, midwinter now, this is on purpose, cold, midwinter, you go five o'clock in the morning, six o'clock, before school. God, what a... that's discipline. They call it kangeiko. Judo, five o'clock, midwinter now, on purpose, not summertime, five o'clock, it was different. Cold, bare feet. One morning, my brother and I were just, we had an apartment house, so we walked downstairs, we're at the, by the front door. We didn't want to go out, it's so cold, my brother and I. My dad came down, checking up. After that, no more waiting around there. There was a lot of discipline, you know, the Isseis. I'm grateful to the Isseis and our culture. We had a wonderful, wonderful heritage. If it wasn't for that, I don't think I'd be very proud to be talking to you.

TI: Well, let's, so let's talk about high school. Which high school did you go to?

HN: Garfield.

TI: And when you said you played at all these different schools, did you play on the school baseball team?

HN: Yeah. No, no, I didn't play for the school team, no. Not good enough. Niseis, there weren't very many Niseis playing baseball.

TI: Did you play on a Nisei baseball team?

HN: Oh, yeah. Just the community teams, yeah.

TI: Which team?

HN: Church. Buddhist church, mainly Buddhist church. Or the field house, there was a field house.

TI: The Collins playfield?

HN: Collins, yeah. There was a field house, so we played in the field house, and we played in the Courier, so-called Courier League. James Sakamoto's Japanese American Courier newspaper, the Courier League. We owe a lot to... I'm glad I thought about the Courier League. We owe a lot to James Sakamoto, the blind person that organized all these activities, baseball, basketball, and football. Well, I didn't play football then, but he really helped out the Japanese community.

TI: So how important were these sports leagues? The Courier League, to Niseis...

HN: I think that was very, very... that was the thing. That was the only thing that kept us going, I think. That brought the community together. And I think back, and because we had the intercommunity activities, so we got to go to different, Fife and Tacoma, White River, Bellevue, Auburn and different places. I think it really unified the community, got to know each other. I think that was very... I think that's another thing that Japanese community as a whole, kept us very, very... cohesiveness, I think. Kept us from getting into trouble. I think that had a lot to do with it. Of course, our parents are the foremost, our parents. But James Sakamoto certainly helped out as far as the youth activity is concerned.

TI: So I'm thinking about the times. When you were in high school, this was during the Depression, and your father had a grocery store. Was it hard for people in the Japanese community to pay for things sometimes?

HN: Yeah. I thought, yes, yes. I remember... well, we never went hungry, always had food on the table, so I'm not complaining. But I realize that, yes, it was a hard time then. But all in all, all in all, I think the Japanese community, Nikkeijinkai, the community, there was a Japanese community still going on there. I think we were well-organized. I don't know any individual cases, but I'm sure that they were very important in maintaining harmony in the Japanese community. I think it helped out.

TI: But how about your father? Were some of the customers, like, unable to pay, or how would they work with that?

HN: That I don't know. That I don't know. I can't relate to that. But I think there were, I think there were hardships in the community.

TI: Now, the location of the store is right in the middle of, in the Japanese community. Were there other races that, other ethnic races or ethnic groups that shopped at your dad's store?

HN: No, it was ninety-nine percent Nihonjin.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

TI: And so describe, for you, as you go to school like at Garfield, you're mingling with other ethnic groups. How did --

HN: No, no mingling. No, no mingling. No, no. No such thing. No, no. It's an entirely different world from your world.

TI: Describe that. What do you mean by this?

HN: We Nikkei, my friends, to my knowledge, none of us had hakujin friends, meaning they didn't associate with us. No Nikkei that I knew of, my Nisei friends, boys and girls, had any hakujin friends or black friends, for that matter. We were classmates, we may say "hello" in the hallway, but nobody had hakujin friends. There was one guy in Tacoma, hakujin, Hall, in Tacoma, that I used to see him mingling with Japanese. That's the only hakujin that I knew that mingled in the Japanese community. Seattle, nobody that I knew, my friends, had hakujin -- nobody had hakujin friends.

TI: So explain to me, I don't understand why. Why was this?

HN: Because the first generation whites are discriminatory, prejudiced. That's why the kids didn't associate with us. We didn't go to prom, high school prom, no reason to. We were outcasts. Well, it's not so much that, we won't enjoy ourselves, why should we go there?

TI: And these, your classmates that were white, how did they treat the Japanese?

HN: Just ignore us. They weren't discriminatory, they just ignored us. They weren't racist, they just ignored us. Well, that comes from their parents. Their parents, the first generation, were very, very prejudicial. Not the kids' fault, now, I don't blame the kids. But anyway, I understand why they don't associate with us. So I tell my kids, and I'll tell you, you say, "What? What? You didn't... so what?" Well, it's not like, it wasn't like that. But what changed it? What changed that? What changed that scenario? How come the Sanseis had a lot of white friends now?

TI: And why do you think?

HN: Why do I think? Because of what you call the past hurts of the Issei and Nisei. Of what we went, what the Issei and Nisei did, our achievement, individual and collectively, our achievement.

TI: So that because of the achievements of the Issei and then the Niseis, that made it much easier for the Sanseis to have friends?

HN: No, no. Well, that, too, but mostly the whites, the general society's acknowledgment, understanding of the virtues, you might say, the virtues of the Japanese people, the Nikkei.

TI: Got it. Okay, good. Well, so we talked about the whites. How about other ethnic groups like the Chinese or the blacks? How did the Japanese get along?

HN: You know, speaking of the Chinese, for whatever reason, they were like this. [Makes a 'V' sign with fingers] Chinese and Japanese were. Now, there was really prejudice there because of the past history Japan and China had. They didn't have a very good relationship, right? They were at war most of the time. So for that reason, I don't blame the Chinese. But the Chinese were very prejudicial, and they didn't want anything to do with the Japanese. I don't blame them, I don't care, personally. So Chinese were in the minority anyway, compared to...

TI: And how about blacks? At, like, Garfield, was there...

HN: Yeah, a lot of blacks, but you know, I think the Nisei, the Nikkei, we were not too much into intermingling with other minorities. I think today it would be a little different, it's very diversified. At those times, everybody kept to themselves, especially the Chinese.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

TI: Okay, good. I'm going to switch gears here a little bit. I wanted to ask about the community events. In the Japanese community, when you were growing up, what were some of the major events where the whole community or a large community...

HN: Baseball tournament. The baseball tournament was the big thing. Fourth of July baseball tournament, that was the big thing. That drew, that drew teams from Portland, Spokane. Not Canada... there were teams in Canada, too, but Fourth of July tournament. Fourth of July baseball tournament, that was the biggest thing. That was the biggest thing. Judo tournaments were big, too.

TI: Well, let's talk about the baseball. So how many people would come to these tournaments?

HN: How many? [Laughs] Well, I never counted them, but there were many, many teams. You'd think the whole Japanese community was out there.

TI: So fans, lots of fans?

HN: Oh, fans, the players, yes. There were, it was a big thing.

TI: So are you talking about, like, hundreds, or thousands? HN: Well, I would think there were certainly hundreds, yes. There were, yes.

TI: And this would be Isseis and Niseis?

HN: Oh, yes. my father used to... well, not my father. There were other Issei that went to the game. In fact, yeah, of course, the other big thing was the Japanese school picnic up in Jefferson Park. That was the only one day, that was the picnic. That was a big thing, play lots of games. But that was just one-day event. But baseball, the Fourth of July tournament was about a three-day tournament. Big thing, that was a big thing.

TI: And where would the out-of-town players stay? Like Spokane --

HN: Oh, they stayed at N-P Hotel. Or maybe one or two teams stayed at my father's apartment house. We'd take in a team from California or Oakland or whatever.

TI: So during the day, you would play baseball, at night what would people do?

HN: Oh, I don't know about nighttime. I don't think we...

TI: Or after the games.

HN: I don't think there were... yeah, think back, everything was done during the daytime. There were no night events that I recall.

TI: So were there, other than playing against, like, a California team, were there any social things to get to know the players?

HN: Yeah, speaking of California teams, yeah, there was a basketball... that was another big thing. There was an interchange of California Nisei basketball champions would come up to the Northwest and play the Northwest teams. That was a big thing, too, that's right. That was a big thing. And then the Northwest champion would go down to tour California, yeah. Those were very, very enjoyable.

TI: And how competitive were the Seattle teams with California?

HN: We were, they were better than us, because there were more players, more teams down there. So they were more competitive. But our Seattle Buddhist church team, we beat the Oakland Acorns, they were the California champions. I felt very good about it, we beat them. Other northwest teams lost, but the Buddhist church team, we beat them. I felt very good about it.

TI: And so when you think back to your sports career, were you a pretty good athlete? How would they describe you?

HN: Yeah, the sports, this goes back to the Courier League and the sports. That's what kept our community very close together. I think that was very, very important as far as our outside activity was concerned. I think that kept us from juvenile delinquency and all that. Very important.

TI: But if your teammates were to describe you as, say, a basketball player, how would they describe you as a basketball player?

HN: Well, maybe I was the sixth man. I enjoyed playing. I think I got a lot out of sports.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

TI: So I want to... you've mentioned the Buddhist church a couple of times. Tell me what role the Buddhist church played for you growing up. What did you do in terms of the Buddhist church?

HN: Well, I'm glad that they had sports activities like baseball and basketball team. They even sponsored a kendo class. Other than that, I just went to, I went to church because my mother took me there. Actually, other than that, we were pretty much... you know, the offspring, Nikkei offspring, we were very fortunate because we had, as a whole, our parents were very, very responsible and caring. I'm very happy about that.

TI: But how about things, did they have things like Dharma school?

HN: Oh, yeah, of course they had Dharma school.

TI: So on Sunday...

HN: In fact, I was even... yeah, here again, believe it or not, the Sunday school teacher... I enjoyed that, Sunday school. I was coaching girls' basketball team, coaching boys' basketball team, I was going to UW. And then I realized I was failing. Registrar said, "You're gonna flunk out if you don't bring your..." then I woke up and realized, well, I'm having too much fun. I've got to study. So I quit Sunday school, I quit basketball team, coaching. Anyway...

TI: But you had a good time.

HN: I had a, yes, I can't complain about my youth days. I had a good time. I can't blame it... well, my mother was very strict, yes. But other than that, I think all in all...

TI: So let's, what year did you graduate from high school?

HN: 1938, I think.

TI: 1938 from Garfield. And then what did you do after you graduated from high school? It sounds like you went to the University of Washington?

HN: I think so. I maybe took a year off or two years off, then I went to UW.

TI: And what did you study at the University of Washington?

HN: Well, I went to UW because I didn't want to work. In fact, there wasn't much work to talk about. So that was the only alternative, going to school. I studied biology. But those days, it's an entirely different world. There weren't very many jobs for Nisei. Being a Nisei, in that sense, I keep thinking that we were handicapped because of our racial background. It's a different world. It was very hard to survive. And so you have to give our parents a lot of credit for surviving in this harsh, cruel world. You could understand that, because later on, well, we went through internment.

TI: Right.

HN: It was a hard world, a cold world out there. But our Issei parents survived. They were made of good stuff. That's why they survived.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

TI: So you're at the University of Washington taking biology. December 1941.

HN: Oh, what a shock.

TI: So talk about December 7, 1941. What do you remember?

HN: Gosh. How can I forget? I was at Ishibashis' house, my father's high school classmate, the one that, Ishibashis was Wataru Ishibashi house. Then there was a, we were there for... my brother was, I don't know where yet. But I was there with my dad, and there was a Japanese vice-consul there, Kihara, I remember that name, Kihara. Vice-consul now, Japanese vice-consul. We had a consul. It was not a consul-general, it was, at that time, it was just a consulate. And then the radio blast came on, and we were all listening, and, "Pearl Harbor? What's that? Pearl Harbor, where is that?" My dad and Ishibashi-san said, "Oh, taihen, taihen!" They both, Dr. Ishibashi, well, he was my dentist, and he understood English. So, "Taihen, taihen." I was shocked at that. Then the vice-consul said, "Taihen. Jimusho ni ikanai dekinai. Jimusho ni dame da." He just left. And so later, I, well, I got up and for whatever reason, I left the Ishibashi house and went walking home slowly. But in the meantime, I'm agonizing over this, what this means to the Nikkei community.

TI: Can we go back to that, when you first heard it on the radio? So the vice-consul was there and your father and his friend. And so they were there at a social setting.

HN: Yeah, yeah, we were there for dinner, I think. That's why we were there.

TI: And then you hear over the radio that Pearl Harbor... and the reaction, first of the vice-consul. So he heard this, and then you did it in Japanese. I wasn't sure, what did he say?

HN: "Taihen, taihen."

TI: Which means?

HN: "Bad news, terrible. Bad things have come, terrible."

TI: And so would you, would you characterize the vice-consul as being shocked or surprised?

HN: I was shocked, too. I think we were all shocked.

TI: And so he, did he immediately get up and leave?

HN: Yeah, oh, yeah. He said they got to go to the jimusho. Jimusho is "office." He got to go to his office. So that was a surprise to him, too.

TI: And so when this is happening, what reaction did your father and his friend have to the vice-consul when...

HN: Ishibashi.

TI: Ishibashi. What did, do you recall what they, perhaps, said?

HN: Yeah, "Taihen, taihen."

TI: That horrible news, bad news.

HN: "Bad news. Terrible things to happen. Bad things are going to happen now." It's bad enough with all the discrimination, prejudice, now, this is the last straw. This is the worst thing that could happen to the Japanese community on top of all the, we were all cognizant about the prejudice and discrimination. We all knew that. We all knew. That's why some of these college students were going to Japan, because they couldn't get a job. You heard that.

TI: Oh, so this is interesting. So the reaction was, because Japan had --

HN: "What's going to happen now?"

TI: -- had just bombed, what's going to happen to the Japanese or Japanese Americans?

HN: Yeah. My concern, my dad was mutual concern, was, "Now what's going to happen?"

TI: And now after the vice-consul left, what happened in that room? Did people stay in talk or did the party break up?

HN: No. I left, I told you. My dad and Mr. Ishibashi, that's all. I left. Whatever reason, I couldn't just sit there and ponder about the eventuality, the consequences of this. I said, "Well," I talked to myself walking home, I said, "Now what's going to happen? What more is going to happen? This is the last straw." And then I thought, "Monday, tomorrow, I'm going to school. Back to school what for? Go back to school, what am I going to do at school?" I started to think about the future. Things are bad enough. Now, with the war on, I anticipated, what else will go wrong? I felt the world fell apart. That's the way I felt, the world. "Should I go to school Monday?" Well, I didn't want to. I thought, "Gee, what's the use of going to school?" Well, anyway, I went back to school Monday morning as usual, walk into the library. Library is very quiet. Everybody studying. As I opened the door, I walked in, I felt all the eyes. I felt all the eyes were upon me. That's how self-conscious I was of my, of my ancestry, of my Japanese face. It was undescribable when I walked in the library. I just felt that all eyes were on me. Maybe they weren't on me, but I felt that way. And I just went, walked out. I walked out right away, because that was agonizing, because of this Pearl Harbor. I think I figured, well, that's the end of the, end of our community. That's the way I felt. Well, okay, maybe I shouldn't quit school. What's the purpose of going to school? Because I knew that some of these guys were, older Nisei were going to Japan to get, to find work. I could name five or six guys that went to Japan to work. In fact, my brother and I went to Japan when we were in the grade school. I think that was the idea, to live there, get educated. But my grandfather died while we were going over on the ship. So when we got there to my mother's house, there were black ribbons there, of course, my grandfather. So Grandmother didn't want to take care of us because she had four daughters. She can't, she told my mother, "I can't take care of two boys," by herself. I could understand that, so we came home. We were supposed to stay there.

TI: But let's go back to when you went to the library, this is the Monday after Pearl Harbor. You walked in, you felt all these eyes on you, and you walked out. Then what did you do? Did you ever go back to school?

HN: Yeah, I went back to school. Everything, that first day, Monday, was very, very difficult. Very hard, very difficult. Then I thought about quitting school, I thought, "What's the use of going to school?" [Laughs] There's no future, there's no opportunities, going to school, so what? Anyway, there was nothing else, there was no job anyway, so, well, I just stayed in school. But they realized that there was no future for Nisei.

TI: During this time, did you ever talk to your father about what was going to happen?

HN: No, we didn't, we didn't talk about that. I think we... no, we never got into discussion, because I think we all mutually understood the pain, the mental anguish we were going through. I think it was internalized. No, I didn't talk to my father and mother about what's going to happen to this. We understood that things are not going to be good for us, as we all know. It didn't turn out very well, did it?

TI: Well, so eventually, the community did find out that they were going to be removed from Seattle, they had to leave Seattle.

HN: Yeah. Internment, yeah.

TI: And so describe that. What happened to the store?

HN: Oh. No, the store is gone. We were up in Eighteenth and Yesler, apartment.

TI: Okay, so what happened to the apartment? What was the next step with the apartment?

HN: Well, like all the Issei, they had to give it up. I assumed that, well, I'm sure that's what happened, they had to leave, right, evacuation. But I was in the army, so no more school for me.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 12>

TI: So Hiro, the first part, we talked about your early life, went through growing up in Seattle, and we went up to the point where you learned about the bombing of Pearl Harbor. And then we're talking about, now, those months after. And at this point, you said you joined the army?

HN: I was drafted.

TI: So this is after...

HN: I wouldn't have joined the army.

TI: This is after Pearl Harbor you were drafted?

HN: Yeah, February. Two months after December. '42 I got drafted. I had to go, I suppose I could have gone to prison. I wasn't happy about it, but it did, it was a better alternative than going to -- I suppose, later in hindsight -- better than going to camp, isn't it?

TI: Yeah. But it's interesting because it's very -- what's the right word? I guess Niseis were treated differently in terms of military?

HN: Of course, we were treated differently.

TI: Well, no, I mean in terms of some Niseis wanted to join, but they weren't able to because they were Japanese?

HN: That's right. We were discriminated against. We were segregated.

TI: And you're probably one of the few people that I know of who, after Pearl Harbor, in the months after Pearl Harbor, you were still drafted by the army.

HN: Yeah, okay. But after the Nikkei went to camp, no more draft. You know that.

TI: Right. But so during that period, in like --

HN: They were still drafting.

TI: -- like in January, February, March --

HN: Yeah, February they were drafting.

TI: Were there quite a few --

HN: March they stopped. They stopped in March. Because camp, evacuation was coming, right?

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 13>

TI: Okay. So you got your draft notice. What was the reaction that you had when you first got it?

HN: It was such a, after Pearl Harbor, there was so much commotion going on there, whether I should continue school, and then now their draft notice. Well, yes, so I wasn't happy about draft, but at least it helped to, maybe alternative to go to the service, because I didn't know what to do with my life. I would have probably quit school.

TI: So I'm curious, so when you reported, what was the reaction of the army people when they saw you?

HN: I don't know that. I got no reaction from them.

TI: Okay, so from your perception, you couldn't tell if there was any reaction.

HN: No, no. No, no. No sign of prejudice, no. There was no sign of that.

TI: And where did you report?

HN: Fort Lewis, closest camp, fort.

TI: And so no reaction from --

HN: There were other Nikkei there, too. Yeah, there was no reaction. In fact, my parents came out to the Fort Lewis reception center. The parents are invited for a reception, lunch, so my parents came to Fort Lewis. I'm surprised they came. I didn't think, I didn't think they would be...

TI: And when, so at this reception, how many other Japanese Americans were...

HN: Oh, there were about twenty offhand, I would guess.

TI: And twenty out of how many for the reception?

HN: I don't know how many out of the total.

TI: But was it like a small portion or a fairly significant portion?

HN: Well, I'm thinking about company size. Because I'm sure it's a fort, so it's a division size. They didn't do ten, twenty thousand people, but we were just in one company.

TI: Like a company, so about, so close to a thousand people then, about that size?

HN: There might have been. This is all new experience to me.

TI: But again, I was trying to get a sense of, during the reception, were there any reactions from the other families?

HN: No, I didn't really think about that. But I was surprised to see my parents there, my brother, and that they had come to the reception center for lunch. Things were happening so much that I couldn't really... wondering about what's the next... go to the next step, okay, next step.

TI: So what about your parents' reaction? Because in particular, your mother...

HN: You know, that was just one time, and I really didn't talk about, to my mother or my father or my brother at that time. I think we didn't, we didn't have much... I think there was so much change, sudden change of events, the Pearl Harbor and my being drafted, and everything was so up in the air, you might say.

<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 14>

TI: Did you ever get a chance to talk to the other Niseis who were drafted the same time?

HN: Yeah.

TI: And what did you talk about in terms of what was happening to the families?

HN: Well, I knew the Seattle guys like Tetsu Oye was from the Buddhist church, Shig Sumioka was from Buddhist church, Matt Tanaka was from Buddhist. Most of 'em, now that I question that, most of those guys were from Buddhist church. But I'm sure there were others, too, from other... oh, yeah, there was one Shio Oyama from White River. But there were other Niseis, too.

TI: Because while you were in the army, people, your family, had to leave Seattle and the other families had to leave. Did you talk about that when you guys were, got together?

HN: You mean, later on, you mean?

TI: Yeah a little bit later on.

HN: I went there on the furlough.

TI: Well, not furlough, but you're now training.

HN: Oh, yeah, writing letters, you mean.

TI: Yeah, writing letters and...

HN: Because I was in Arkansas. My parents went to Hunt, of course.

TI: Right. But when your, when your parents had to leave Seattle, where were you at that time? Were you in Arkansas?

HN: Arkansas.

TI: And so when you heard that they had to leave, what did you think? Not just your parents, but then your brother also had to leave.

HN: Of course.

TI: Yeah, so what did you think about that? That all the families in Seattle...

HN: I was shocked. I was shocked. I thought, "Now what? Now what's going to happen? Am I gonna see them?" You know, everything was bewildering. Everything was all really confounding. Everything that's happening was, to say the least, it was... we couldn't figure out what's going to happen. Well, you got a... I'm in the training so I got to do my thing. But at the same time, I'm thinking about them, too, and wondering what's going to happen to them. It was not the, certainly, it was not the best of times. It was chaotic. We got to, we got to be, in the meantime, you have to be a good soldier, you have to train, and then in the back of my mind, I'm thinking about my parents, "What's this? What's this? What's that going to mean?" Later on, they became much more concerned.

<End Segment 14> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 15>

TI: So which base were you being trained at in Arkansas?

HN: March through... three months, three months. March through... three months' training, basic training.

TI: And where was basic training at? Where?

HN: Fort Robinson, Arkansas. Then came the shock, first shock in the army. After basic, okay, we're all going, the word was we were all going to Hawaii, all going Hawaii, to the Pacific Theatre. We all got on the -- well, everybody was getting, final day, we were all getting on the truck. No Nisei, we're all on the ground. We don't get, we're not ordered on the truck. So innocent me said, "How come we're not going on the truck, going to Hawaii?" Then it struck me. "Oh, yeah. Oh, sure. We're still discriminated." Then segregation, of course, that's why we didn't go. What a big disappointment. What a big disappointment. Then realization awakening that we are discriminated. We're not going to the war. We're not going with the white guys. Then we get shipped to another camp and we find out that they're all Japanese, no whites in the camp. We're segregated.

TI: And which camp was this? Where were you shipped after Robinson?

HN: I went to Camp Crowder, I think that was. Camp Crowder, Missouri. All the barracks we went to, all Nisei, no whites. "Oh, I see." Then it dawned on me, we're discriminated, that's right. We're still Japanese.

TI: About, at this Camp Crowder, about how many Niseis were there, would you say?

HN: The whole company.

TI: So hundreds.

HN: Hundreds, yeah. All Japanese. Then the realization came that we're discriminated.

TI: And so what did the army have you do during this time?

HN: Do? Menial tasks, KP, garbage detail, firing range. All the menial tasks. Pick up cigarette butts. Serving with the limited service people, who are handicapped. We were handicapped racially. We were, Nisei soldiers were discriminated because of the war.

TI: And how would you describe the morale of the Niseis?

HN: Morale? [Laughs] Of course, depression. Second-class soldiers, like I described myself, we were second-class soldiers. What else can they be? That's all we're doing. We're not soldiers.

<End Segment 15> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 16>

TI: And so what happened next?

HN: We're discriminated, we're segregated, so that's one thing, there's no whites with us.

TI: And so how long was this like this?

HN: How long? Until, until the news came out about the MIS, Military Intelligence Service Language School, MIS school.

TI: So describe that. How did the news come out? How did you find out about MIS?

HN: Mixed feelings.

TI: No, in terms of the news, how did you find out the news? Who told you or how did you find out?

HN: I don't know who told me, but when I got the news that there's going to be an MIS school for the Nisei linguists, well, then I had a little different perspective. I thought, "Well, now we could get out of this segregation, being a second-class soldier. Now we could get into the war." That was my initial reaction, "Oh, now we could get into the war, become a first-class, become a first-class soldier." I was happy, elated. Well, even though I didn't like Japanese, it was a chance for us to get into the war, because we were depressed.

TI: And so how did, so what was the next step? What happened next?

HN: Well, it gets very confusing and complicated. Then next step is, okay, the recruiters are going to come. They're going to come recruit for the language school. Then it took a little different test, said, "Oh, my goodness. I have to go to school for six months, eight hours a day?" Then the old memories of the Japanese school come back to me. "God, do I have to study for six months?" Then my, then went through agony again. I thought, "Oh, my goodness, I don't want to do that." But I was happy that the opportunity was there. So I said, "Okay, I'm not going to... I don't want to get interviewed." So that was that, they wouldn't come. So I stayed away from my barracks for the interview. I stayed away on purpose to avoid the interview, then I came back. I thought, well, maybe they're gone by now. Then they were just leaving. I thought I got caught. I got caught. They said, "Oh, we got one more." I thought, "My goodness." But I thought, "Well, shall I bluff?" But I didn't know how to bluff. So I said, "Well, okay," I told them, I said, "I don't want to go MIS school." "Why?" "Because I don't want to study, it's so hard. And besides, I want to go to the 442 school." We were supposed to, by the way, 442 was coming up in February. This was in December. 442. Anyway, there was 442, so I said -- anyway, okay, so I didn't go. But one month later they got me. I had to go to Camp Savage, Minnesota. I was not very happy about that. Well, I was happy that the army did recognize the linguistic ability of the Nisei, so I was very happy about that.

TI: And when the recruiters for the MIS school came, and you were just about ready, I mean, they were just about ready to leave and you came --

HN: [Laughs] Yeah, I was trying to get out of the recruit deal.

TI: So how did they know you spoke Japanese? What did they do, how did they interview you to know that you were...

HN: They gave me a book to read. And I was thinking, "Well, shall I bluff?" You know, pretend I can't read. But I didn't know how to do that, so I thought, "Well, I'll just play it straight," and told them I'm not interested. They asked me why.

TI: And so after you read, then...

HN: Yeah, I read it straight through.

TI: And they said they were interested in having you come to...

HN: Oh, definitely, definitely.

TI: And that's when you said you weren't interested.

HN: I said I'm not interested. Besides, they're going to form the 442 down in Camp Shelby, and we're supposed to go as a cadre. So I'm looking forward to going there in February.

TI: But then later on you got orders to report to Camp Savage.

HN: I didn't go the following week. Dozens of guys went, and I didn't go. I thought, "Oh, my goodness, thank goodness I don't have to go.

TI: To, first to Camp Savage. So one group, the first group left...

HN: First group left. And one month later, they got me. [Laughs] Just me.

TI: When you look at that first group that left, how good were their Japanese skills? Were they all pretty good?

HN: I can't remember everybody that went, but I'm assuming they were at least my caliber, if not... I'm just average, so I have to assume these guys were better than me. I have to look at that. Maybe there were a few that may be less fluent than me, but I figured an average. But that's a very important thing. That finally the opportunity was given to the Niseis for future recognition of our contribution to the country. I think that was very important.

<End Segment 16> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 17>

TI: So let's talk about it. So you get orders to go to Camp Savage. And you go there, so tell me what that was like.

HN: Reaction? I was angry, I didn't want to go. I was very angry. But I thought, "Well, okay, I'm going to be the dumbbell of the class," I was so upset that I didn't go to... but anyway, that was my first reaction. "I'm going to be the dumbbell of the class. I'm not going to study," because I didn't want to study. But my class, my deskmate was Captain Jones, Professor Jones was my deskmate. And I thought, "Well, I don't want to be the dumbbell of the class. I don't want him to think I'm real dumb." If I didn't study, I'll be a dumbbell, and I didn't want him to think that he was smarter than me. So I said, "Well, I'm going to study. I don't want him to think I'm a real dumbbell." So I studied. Plus, the competitiveness of my fellow Nikkei. You know, they're studious, they're very studious. But the main thing, I didn't want this hakujin to think I was a real dumbbell, so I studied. Maybe all in all, on the hindsight, that was a good thing for me because I may not be here if I went to 442. A lot of my guys that I played basketball with in the church, one became amputee, one was killed, two were killed, three were killed. I could... I could go on and say, you know, I could have been one of them, too. So this is in hindsight after many years. Getting back to what you touched on, I have to give credit, gratitude to my parents that made me go to Japanese school, you know that? I look back on that. I said, you know, even in spite of my anguish playing hooky, just like for Japanese school, maybe because of that I'll survive.

TI: That's ironic.

HN: Yeah, ironic. That's the way I look at it, positively, see. Then I talked to my hakujin friends, they asked me, "Hiro, were you 442?" I said, "No, MIS." So I tell them about that.

TI: But going back to the MIS, how hard was it for you, the training? You said six months, eight hours a day.

HN: Yeah, I know, very hard. No let up, because... well, it's wartime, and then there were instructors, there were three or four instructors. Everything is... it's wartime, so everything's dead serious. So you have to study hard. In fact, I had no time. I had no time to goof off. I didn't want to goof off. I wanted to be competitive. [Laughs] Well, you know, when you get into a situation, Japanese as a cultural trait is to study and work hard. I think that's our cultural trait.

TI: And you think the whole group was pretty competitive?

HN: Oh, definitely. No question about that.

TI: And so everyone was concerned about the scores they would get on tests and try to be better than someone else?

HN: Of course, of course. Of course, yeah. You can't avoid that. Then I don't want to be the dumbbell, so I have to work hard.

TI: So tell me --

HN: Well, that's okay, that's okay.

<End Segment 17> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 18>

TI: So tell me about some of the people who ran the camp. Like John Aiso...

HN: Yeah, he was the director.

TI: What was he like?

HN: Super, amazing, that's the word. My first reaction was, "This guy is super." He was really brilliant. I think he amazed everybody. He even amazed the War Department because he was a civilian, right? You know that. Because during the graduation, the War Department's chief of intelligence, MIS, Military Intelligence Service, came to the graduation. You know the story.

TI: No, tell me the story.

HN: General Strong, I think that was his name, he came to the, from the War Department, the chief of the MIS. He saw Aiso addressing -- because he was the superintendent, director of the... addressing the graduates, all the soldiers. There were hakujin students, too. And the story goes, after the ceremony, he told Colonel Rasmussen, superintendent of the school, said, "What's a civilian ordering the soldiers?" You don't have civilians ordering the soldiers. Well, army didn't give a commission to the Nisei. That's why he was a civilian.

TI: And so after that, the --

HN: He became a major, he got a commission.

TI: Because the general was so impressed with him and felt that they needed to...

HN: Yeah, he was very, very impressionable. Everybody, I'm sure of that. I was impressed, yes, very, very highly.

TI: Any other people that you were impressed with who ran the school?

HN: Well, there was one... no, not necessarily. Aiso was the whole show. Of course, the commander, superintendent of the school was Danish, of Danish ancestry.

TI: And that was Rasmussen?

HN: Rasmussen, yeah. Kai Rasmussen. But other than that...

TI: Okay. Well, maybe not so much people but any other strong memories or memorable events from this period at Camp Savage?

HN: Yeah, there was one Nisei woman there, one Nisei woman, Mitzi Matsui, Tak Matsui's -- I don't know if you know her -- Tak Matsui. But Mitzi was a secretary to an adjutant. Oh, I had two Hawaii, I had two Hawaii sergeants in my barrack. I can't forget. In my barrack, I was the only Northwestern... I was the only Northwestern, okay, and the two barrack sergeants were two Hawaiians from the 100th Infantry. The rest were all Californian, I was the only Seattle, only one from the Northwest. Very unusual experience. [Laughs]

TI: Was there something you remembered?

HN: Humorous, yeah.

TI: What would that be?

HN: Humorous. Well, since I went there at midnight, and the next morning I went to the mess hall to have my breakfast, and there was a guy across from me, he cinched the butter. That's an army term. When you say "cinch," there was a plate of food, or bread or butter. If you take the last one, it's empty, right? When you do that, you cinched... the word that you took the last, you should go up to the mess sergeant and get another, fill it up and bring it back. And this guy cinched the butter, and I said, "Hey," I said, "you cinched the butter." He said, "What?" I said, "You cinched the butter." I didn't know he was a recruit. "Hey, what do you mean, Kotonk?" You know, that's the first time I heard the word Kotonk. "Hey, you wanna get fresh, Kotonk, you wanna come out there and fight." Fight? What do I have to fight about? Well, anyway, I got up and got my butter. [Laughs] Then I went to canteen, I can't ever forget it. I was having a Coke with Poison Kato, I don't know if you know the family. He was in my... I was in basic training with him, so I knew him. Then this guy comes up to me and says, "Hey, Kotonk, you want to come out and fight?" What's there to fight about? This is all new experience for me. I don't know about Hawaiian soldiers. I heard about it later. "You want to come out and fight?" Well, anyway, so I ignored it. The next thing, my Hawaiian barrack sergeant, Miyazaki from 100th Infantry... this guy that's been talking to me is a recruit, see. Naturally he doesn't know about the military rules about cinching butter. He said, "Hiro, you know what? They were gonna gang up and beat you up. 'There's a fresh Kotonk from Seattle, gonna beat him up.'" All the Hawaiians got together. They liked to gamble, so they all go to one barrack and they're gambling. And so word got out that there's a fresh Kotonk Nishimura, fresh Kotonk. So Miyazaki, being a buck sergeant, 100th Infantry, told the guy, "You leave Nishimura alone. Leave Nishimura alone. He's in my barrack." If he didn't do that, they would have beaten me up. Stories that happened, you heard lot of stories about Hawaiians ganging up. So that's a humorous story. [Laughs] That's a humorous story.

TI: So it sounds like the sergeant saved you from getting into a fight.

HN: Yeah, that's right, that's right. I would have got beat up.

TI: That's a good story.

HN: But that's the only...

<End Segment 18> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 19>

TI: Well, so after you finished training, what happened next?

HN: We shipped out to India and Burma.

TI: And tell me about that. What was your duties in India and Burma?

HN: Fifty-eight days on the ship. Fifty-eight days on the ship.

TI: And then what? After the ship, where did you land?

HN: In Karachi, India. It was India. Now, it's Pakistan, but it's Karachi, India.

TI: And for what purposes were you being sent to...

HN: We were linguists, we were translators. I was an interrogator and translator. So I was overseas for about two years.

TI: And who were you assigned to?

HN: British 26th Division. See, the Nisei, the Americans, we were joined up with, we were on loan to the British, to help them out, our allies. [Laughs] Interesting story about Burma, yeah. Being, I had a bodyguard. Well, we had to have a bodyguard when you're in the front. Well, one night, we moved into a new bivouac in southern Burma, and especially at nighttime, when you move into a new area, the movement, all the night movement is naturally suspicious. Then we moved into a new area about ten or eleven o'clock, during the nighttime. No lights, of course, no fires, of course, this is the front. But the full moon, and I have a bodyguard. So we moved in, and then said, well, we're digging our trench, foxhole, and then pitch our tent for the night. Then I noticed about six or seven limeys, "limeys" are British, we called them limeys because there were the old British on the training ship, and they were sucking limes to avoid scurvy. We called them limeys, they called us "Yanks." But there were about seven white faces under the full moon, limeys. We were looking at each other for about three or four seconds. So I saw there were a bunch of limeys there. We're digging our trench. Before you know it, we're digging a trench, and before you know it, we're surrounded by six limeys. And the British officer said, "Stand up. Stand up, follow us. Follow us." So my bodyguard and I were surrounded by six limeys, and marched into CP, Command Post. Technically we were prisoners, captured by the friendly force. So I had to stand at attention for about fifteen minutes while the British officer cranked the old field phone, and I gave my name, rank, serial number, British major, Tar, and then the British unit, mobile unit, this and that, while he was cranking the phone talking to different people to give me clearance.

TI: And you were given a bodyguard, so wasn't the bodyguard instructed to explain to people the whole situation?

HN: Well, he had to explain himself, too.

TI: Oh, so both of you, so they thought maybe you were spies or something.

HN: Yeah, they had to clear him up, too. Because there were traitors, too, you see.

TI: And so when, once they found out, do you remember --

HN: Oh, then we were released. But we were their, we were technically prisoners.

<End Segment 19> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 20>

TI: And so in addition to you, how many other Niseis were assigned to the 26th Division?

HN: Oh, at that time, there were about five or six. It was rather interesting interrogating.

TI: Yeah, so tell me what your role was. When you say you were an interrogator...

HN: Well, up in the front, we were interrogating and reading the captured documents about the interrogation of the prisoners who were, mostly they were wounded and they were all on the stretcher. Not to... we never caught a healthy... they were all emaciated and they were wounded, they were very sickly. So our job was to get the name, rank and serial numbers and everything else, the unit, battle of order, find out their commanding officer, this and this. Well, first, they were, naturally in their condition, they're not in a mood to talk, so they don't talk too much. But we give 'em cigarette, it's a natural thing to do because they don't have much amenities, so give 'em cigarette, or they get fed and they take their [inaudible]. Suddenly, they start talking, suddenly they're talking, interesting. And then they're grateful, express gratitude for taking care of them, feeding them. Yeah. In fact, even tears rolling down their eyes, gratitude of the treatment. One time one of the prisoners said, "Tsuuyaku-san," tsuuyaku is interpreter -- Mr. Tsuuyaku-san, hanashi ga arimasu. I said, "Okay." And he tells me that he can't understand the British officers' Nihongo. Because British has an accent. You gotta take, you got to get used to it, see. At first it's hard to understand. Even English, there's accent. But in Japanese, it makes it much more... but I got used to it, working with a British officer. Said, "Ano, hakujin no Nihongo wakarimasen." So Major Tar asked me, "What did he say?" I had to make up a story, you know, something. So that was the one humorous...

TI: So the British Japanese officer, he couldn't understand the Japanese...

HN: The prisoner couldn't understand. I understand their Japanese, yeah, I do. But British have an accent, so it's a little hard to, would think that native Japanese would have --

TI: But were the British officers, were they able to understand the Japanese prisoners?

HN: Oh, yeah.

TI: Okay.

HN: Oh, yeah, they could understand them, yeah.

TI: It was just the Japanese couldn't understand the --

HN: Of course not. Because they got the accent. British got an accent, yeah.

TI: Okay. So were there any, during this time period, what were some memorable things that happened during this time period when you were...

HN: Overseas?

TI: Overseas with the British 26th Division.

HN: Well, just being overseas was, you know, this is hindsight, but it was thinking about my parents and my... that was very difficult, that was very hard. I thought I was constantly worried about what's going to happen to my parents, where am I gonna... am I going to see them again? I wonder where they're going to be after the war, because no one knew what the situation was. So that was constantly on my mind. But my mind was, when the war ended, I was so happy, elated, I was so happy and elated to go home. "Now, I can go home and get together with my parents." End of the war, war is over, peace is... "Okay, great, I'm going home." So looking forward to going home. And the adjutant said, "Hiro, we want you to reenlist." Came back from Singapore back to New Delhi, midnight, come back, you're going to go home, got the points to go home, get discharged. Said, "Hiro, we want to enlist. We'll give you a commission." Said, "What? I'm going home. I'm going home to be a civilian." Next morning, same thing. "Hiro, we want you to enlist. We'll give you a commission." No, no, I'm going home. I was so happy. "Hiro, if you don't take it, we will give it to Arai." I said, "I don't care what you do, I'm going home." I was so happy, though, going home. Because my first concern was my parents, really. That's all that mattered. The army wanted to... after the war, the army wanted the Nisei to stay for obvious reasons.

TI: To help during the occupation?

HN: Occupation, yeah, occupation. Yeah, occupation, I mean. Military government. A lot of Nisei did that. But after that, I went back to school on the GI Bill which I'm very, very grateful...

<End Segment 20> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 21>

TI: Before we go there, I kind of want to go back to the 26th Division. How well did the Brits treat the Nisei linguists?

HN: Oh, I was treated fine because I was working with the, working with the intelligence unit, mobile unit, they treated us, they treated us, gave us similar food as the officers. We didn't have to resort to the army's K-ration, C-rations, the GI rations. We ate with, they cooked the food for us.

TI: Oh, so even though you weren't officers...

HN: No. But we got the officer treatment because we were doing the military intelligence...

TI: Now, when you were with the Britons, were you ever put into any combat situations?

HN: Well, we didn't really, we were not a riflemen like the 442. We weren't up in front shooting rifles, we were just doing the prisoners and the captured documents. Whenever the prisoners are brought in or documents are captured, then they come and get us and we have to interrogate them, tactical information you want to know. Right away you want to know, so they would wake you up middle of the night. You're in the foxhole, then you have to go to the command post and then look at, talk to the prisoners or the documents. So one night I was coming back after that, then the Hindustani guard, because we got to have a guard, you know, "Password." Password, you got to give a password. It's dark, you can't see. But there were guards all around. You got to have password to go around. But he didn't want just password, he wanted to know what I'm doing up here walking around. I could understand the Hindustani, but I thought, if I start to stumble in my humble poor Hindustani, it may arouse suspicion that, "This guy is maybe a Japanese soldier," if I start fumbling around with their... it might arouse suspicion. It might be dangerous. So I told him, "Wait." That's the one word, "wait," and he understands. I thought I better not try to engage in conversation, he might... so I backtracked, backtracked to the camp. It was dark, you can't see where you... but I backtracked, I told the British officer, "Tell the guard here," I told him what happened. So the guard got dressed down. Because I gave password, that's all you need. You don't have to ask me where I'm going, what I'm doing, you know, that kind of thing is... anyway, so he got dressed down. So they took me back. But that was the one scary...

TI: Good, okay.

HN: Of course, I got my letter yet, but you can't avoid that.

TI: The reason I ask is that I know some of the other MIS were, especially in Burma, they were assigned to people like Merrill's Marauders...

HN: Oh, did you talk to any Merrill's Marauders?

TI: Yeah, and they were actually in the jungle, so that's why I was curious.

HN: Oh, I was in the jungle, too.

<End Segment 21> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 22>

TI: Okay, so you were also in jungle duty. That was...

HN: Oh, yeah.

TI: So can you describe what that was like? I mean, that was pretty intense experiences.

HN: Terrible. Well, what Merrill's Marauders went through was very, very... there was a continuous campaign, they had to. Number one, the jungle has all kinds of diseases. All kinds of diseases, terrible. All kinds of diseases. Dysentery, blackwater fever, cholera, they got all kinds, malaria, they got all kinds of diseases. But they went through, the Merrill's Marauders went through hell, went through hell. Like General Stillwell said, "Man for man, equipment for equipment," General Stillwell said the CBI veterans -- he's talking about the infantry -- the MISers, the whole unit was all volunteers. He said, "Man for man, no one did more than the Burma veterans." He's referring to the Merrill's Marauders, he's not referring to us MISers. Well, they were MISers too.

TI: But you did have jungle duty, so there was some similar experience.

HN: Oh, of course. I know what they went through, yes, definitely. They had a terrible time.

TI: And so in the jungle --

HN: They all got sick, they all got sick. Nobody got killed except Captain Lathin, MISer, he got killed.

TI: So you're in the jungle, so you're really, you're really on the front lines, then.

HN: You can't see any... that's why one or two times, they killed each other, friendly fire. Because you can't see, you're in jungle.

TI: So in the jungle, are there any particular stories that you remember, or memories?

HN: No, no. Well, it's not ideal... you know, there's no comparison between what the 442 did on the open field, pretty much open field. You know where your enemies are, they're ahead of you. Down there, Merrill's Marauders, they were behind enemy lines. They didn't even know who was there, they even killed their own people. Because you don't know where they are. That's the danger of the jungle warfare. So the MIS, especially the Merrill's Marauders. Oh, Tom Takeda, I got to tell you about my army buddy, my army buddy. Tom Takeda was San Jose, deceased. This is... I have to put this in. Sixty-six years, I met him at Camp Savage, he came looking for me after we played basketball. I had no idea who he was, he came looking for me. But anyway, that's how we became friends, he came looking for me. But that was an interesting story. But he served alone, he was the only lone Nisei that served in the combat area alone, single Nisei. He's the only one that I know that served singly in the combat area. Because we all went, we all went, shipped out as a group of ten. Group of ten, then we paired off and then two here, four here, six here and so forth. Tom Takeda shipped out alone and serving in Burma. He was the First Air Commando, Colonel Cochran was... Milton Caniff was a cartoonist, Milton Caniff. He characterized Colonel Cochran as the... I forgot the caricature, comic strip. But Milton Caniff was a cartoonist.

TI: But you were telling me about Tom Takeda.

HN: Tom Takeda, yeah. His unit was, you know, was characterized, the colonel was characterized... but Tom Takeda was the lone Nisei that served, only Nisei that served... he had to be very, very special to serve singly. Because we all paired up with English and Japanese, that's how we paired up.

TI: Right.

HN: For most efficiency.

TI: And you were which side?

HN: I was the English.

TI: English, okay.

HN: [Laughs] I'm not a, I'm not a Japanese specialist.

TI: Right. And so Tom was by himself --

HN: Tom had to be both.

TI: And this was in the 26th Division?

HN: No, he was the First Air Commando. No, he was not with the British.

TI: Oh, got it.

HN: He was the First Air Commando, the special air force commando group, that was a U.S. group. Very unusual.

TI: Good.

HN: He had to be very special. He was special, very special.

<End Segment 22> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 23>

TI: Okay, so Hiro, so I'm now going to go back where you said you were offered a commission, but you said no, and now you come back to the United States. So let's pick up the story there.

HN: Oh, yeah. After I went back to school, being a civilian -- army sent me a letter of recommendation. "You have been recommended." [Laughs] I got a letter of recommendation from the regular army. I have a recommended for the regular army. No thank you. No thank you, they wanted me to get into the regular army. Somebody recommended me.

TI: I'm not really clear. So you --

HN: I got a letter from the regular army.

TI: To recommend you.

HN: I was recommended by somebody.

TI: To do, to do what?

HN: To enlist. To join the regular army.

TI: After all the things that you had just done, to enlist as --

HN: I had no, I guess I was a good soldier. I have to, you know, think this. They offered me a letter of recommendation for the regular army. Somebody recommended me, so I tried to be a good soldier.

TI: Is this to, you mean, recommend you for an award?

HN: To join the regular army.

TI: To join as an officer?

HN: Yeah.

TI: Okay.

HN: To join the... the army we were in was the wartime army. That's not regular army.

TI: I get it, okay.

HN: To join the regular army, well, you have to volunteer, I guess. But to be recommended for regular army, I guess that was somewhat humorous because thanks but no thanks. Throw the letter in... I was happy to be a civilian. That's good because the wartime experience gave me a good appreciation of the military. I'm grateful to the military for that matter. It was very positive. I proved I was a man and not a boy. Because they boys ended up in [inaudible], most of the boys. I guess I was okay. So I'm proud of that. The army was a very positive thing for me.

TI: So now that your army career is over, what did you do next?

HN: Well, I went back to school. But now I have a deep appreciation for the military. Grateful to the government for giving us the GI Bill to go back to school. I'm grateful to that; I'm very grateful. I don't regret my military service, in fact, I'm grateful. I think all the Niseis are grateful, too.

TI: Okay, good.

HN: But mind you, now, if I have to say this, it was because of the MIS that served in the South Pacific first, Military Intelligence, Niseis serving in the Pacific, Bougainville, Guadalcanal. In the meantime, Nisei in the camp were volunteering, they were clamoring to volunteer for the military. War Department said, "No, no."

<End Segment 23> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 24>

TI: Okay, but I want to move on with your story. So you come back, school, was it back at the University of Washington? On the GI Bill.

HN: Yeah.

TI: And you finished your biology degree?

HN: Yeah, yeah, finished, yeah. And continued working in the Health Sciences.

TI: Before we go there, so you had left Seattle for quite a while. How was Seattle different when you came back after the war and after your military service? What did you see? Like the Japanese community, how had it changed?

HN: Japanese community?

TI: Yeah, in Seattle. What was different?

HN: It wasn't much different. There was still discrimination, I was shocked. I was angry. Even after the war, when the people came back to Seattle, especially in the Kent area, valley area, especially, "No Japs allowed." "Japs go home." As a veteran, I was angry. In fact, we told, Mike Lowry was a county councilman, and there was a professor from Utah, University of Utah staying at Edo Sasaki's house. Smith, I think his name was Smith, anthropologist. They said, "Let us go to the Kent Valley public meetings," they were having meetings to keep the "Japs" out. "We don't want Japs here." Especially led by Smith Dairy, which is still existing there. Smith Dairy was very, very anti-Japanese at that time. But thanks to Mike Lowry and this Professor Smith told us Nisei veterans to stay out, stay home, "Let us do the, let us go to the meetings and educate the public about the Nisei GIs and Nisei soldiers, veterans, and the Isseis." Anyway, finally, I think they were having a lot of meetings. After five or six months, it finally died out. People stopped coming, because they were doing all the propaganda work for us. It had to be. It had to be favorable, you know.

TI: So even though there was discrimination, there were friends who would come out and...

HN: Oh, definitely. Mike Lowry for one, and Professor Smith, Elmer Smith, yeah, that was his name, Elmer Smith. But anyway... but even in Seattle, there were signs, Masako Shibuya told me this and other people told me that there were signs, housing was hard to find. Jobs were hard to find. Masako Shibuya said they saw a house for sale or for rent, they went and said, "Oh, you got a sign there." "Oh, I forgot to take it down." But that time, Masako was, employer was Ken McDonald, the lawyer in downtown. Oh, that's where Sadie Yamasaki comes in. See, Sadie was working for McDonald, okay. I knew both of them. Masako took over from Sadie when Sadie left. Masako went and said, "for sale," "for rent," so Ken McDonald, next day, went up there, the same place, and saw the sign, "Sure, it's available." Discrimination.

TI: That's a good, good story. You know, there's another story -- I'm kind of jumping around a little bit, but I've read about that you at one time had a Japanese flag?

HN: Yeah. I returned the flag to Japan, yeah.

TI: Can you tell that story?

HN: It's in my, it's in my book.

TI: Right, can you tell me that story?

HN: Yeah. Since the flag is a, well, it's a souvenir, I brought it home as a souvenir. It had no military value because all it had was names of the friends, the well-wishers that gave him the flag when he left from Tokushima Prefecture, the one I interrogated. So I picked up this flag because it had no military -- otherwise you had to turn it in. I brought it home unwrapped, folded, it was folded. For whatever reason, I never unfolded it and displayed it. I just kept it folded. And one day, one year later or I don't remember, somebody from Japan came to UW for a conference, PTA conference or whatever it was, Mr. Tsutsui came. Somebody asked me to take him, show him the UW. Somebody in Seattle asked me. So since I was at UW, I showed him around. Then I told my father, "I wonder," something that said maybe we would ask Mr. Tsutsui to take this flag back to Japan. Oh, yeah, he also wanted to go to Chicago, so my father said, "Well, let him visit Dr. Ishibashi," the one that was at the, you know, when Pearl Harbor news came. Yeah, he wanted to go to Chicago, so my father referred him to Dr. Ishibashi in Chicago. But at the same time, since we were getting a little more familiar with each other, said, "Gee, the flag was there, and whatever it is," I told my dad, "I want to, let's ask Mr. Tsutsui to take the flag back to Japan." It took eight years because there was no TV then, just radio, newspaper. It took eight years, I got the record, the chronology of the dates. After eight years, the brother saw the news about the brother's, Sano-san, Seiichi Sano, flag. And finally the brother saw the newspaper, and contacted the brother, who was alive. Well, anyway, I got together with him in Tokyo. He was still alive, he came back. So that flag is enshrined in the Tokushima City, the mountain. That's written in my book.

TI: Oh, so you were able to --

HN: Oh, so you knew about this.

TI: Yeah, reunite the flag with --

HN: Yeah. So he donated the flag to his museum up in the Bizen Mountain top, the museum. There's a pagoda museum, they call it pagoda. And I met with them, and with my cousin in Tokyo, had lunch with them. That story is... yeah.

TI: You mentioned your book, and I should just mentioned, yeah, you wrote a book some years back. And I did read it when it came out, just to let you know.

HN: You did?

TI: I did.

HN: Oh, okay. Yeah, so Sadie, yeah, that's right. That was Ken McDonald, yeah.

TI: Okay, so Hiro, I want to bring you back now, back to your life story. So you graduated from the University of Washington in biology, you worked at Health Sciences, and I used to see you there because I was also a student at the University of Washington.

HN: Did I see you at the U?

TI: Yes, I used to see you out there, too.

<End Segment 24> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 25>

TI: But tell me about your family. So how did you meet your wife?

HN: [Laughs] My goodness, you're really getting into details. My goodness, turning out to be a life story here. Well, I saw her at the Buddhist church again. Here comes Buddhist church again. I saw her doing odori at the Buddhist church. Well, so I found out she was doing odori in the dining room there. So I found out who she was, and then I started dating her. She lived, the family lived down there in the Pioneer Square. Anyway, so I got to know her.

TI: And what was her name?

HN: Dorothy Hisako Yoshida.

TI: And about what year was this when you first saw her?

HN: Early '50s.

TI: And then you got married.

HN: '53, yeah.

TI: And then tell me about children. How many children?

HN: I've got three daughters, you know that. Celia, Robyn, and Karen.

TI: Good. Celia, Robyn, and Karen, three daughters.

<End Segment 25> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 26>

TI: And I just wanted to finish this, because there were two things you wanted to talk about.

HN: That's right.

TI: And so let's talk about those things now. It's like you mentioned earlier, a very Buddhistic thing, we had to set the table. We had to talk about your life before I wanted to talk about this. So now, let's talk about the things you wanted to talk about.

HN: This is a story about my two most important decisions I made. It's a story about my struggle that resulted in making my two most important decisions. And that story of my decisions, unexpectedly, resulted in my book. Because I'm not a writer, I hate to write. That's the worst subject, English composition, literature is my worst subject in all my years. No, I will never do that. But my important thing is the struggle, the two struggles I had in my life. Number one, dealing with internment, number one, internment. The issue, the crux of the issue about internment was 1981, September, when there was a three-day hearing, U.S. Commission, that was my first struggle. To testify or not, that was a very tough...

TI: Explain to me, why was that a difficult decision?

HN: I'll explain to you. Even though I was not interned, I was very, very... about the injustice of the internment, not only that, ignominy of the internment, the mental, physical, financial hardship, the suffering the Niseis went through. Very burdening, all that bitterness. In fact, I'll be honest, I was bitter about the internment. How could anyone be happy about internment? But anyway, I had to make a decision to testify or not. It was a very tough struggle. As a veteran, well, it would have made no difference whether I was a veteran or a non-veteran. But maybe more so as a veteran, I thought that we should take the leadership in testifying, the injustices suffered by our community. The physical, financial, mental suffering that we went through. I thought it was our duty, especially as a citizen, and more so as a veteran, that we should speak up. It was a duty, privilege. But guess what? Only four Nisei veterans spoke up, only four. After, after I talked to many of my comrades at the Nisei Vets Hall, we had a big discussion about this redress hearing at the community college, NVC Hall, we had a big discussion whether we should testify or not. And not everybody -- I'm not saying the whole membership -- but the leadership at that time said, used the main excuse that, "We're not interested in reparations, the money." And I told them I disagreed. It's not about the money, it's about the principle. I argued with them, that was one thing. But the important thing is I talked to some of my comrades about testifying, because I wanted, I wanted to testify, but I wanted company. I didn't want to be the only one. I wanted to testify. So I talked to about half a dozen of the guys, and their excuse was, "I wasn't at camp." And I told them the same thing, "I wasn't in camp either." I said, "Why don't you testify for your family?" No comment. No comment because they were under, they were under cultural restraint, enryo, "don't rock the boat." Don't stick your head up, you'll get pounded down. I think that was, we were also, we had a cultural syndrome to, we were confirmed with the cultural syndrome.

TI: So let me make sure I understand this. This is, I think, really important.

HN: To me, it's very important. This was my struggle.

TI: So there were some veterans who were reluctant during redress, these hearings...

HN: To testify.

TI: testify.

HN: We had discussions, yes, but testify.

TI: And you're saying it's...

HN: Only four. Only four ended up testifying.

TI: And the real reason was, you think, cultural restraint from...

HN: My, that's my interpretation, that we were struggling with our cultural syndrome. Otherwise, I can't explain it.

TI: And so for you...

HN: As a veteran.

TI: Because you felt the same thing --

HN: I felt the same thing. That's why I wanted company. I didn't want to be -- see, I was held back by the cultural restraints. I didn't want to be the only head that, nail that sticks out there. I want to... that's why I was seeking company. But five or six or seven guys I talked to, their only excuse was, "I wasn't in camp." So when I told them that, "I wasn't in camp either," And then I said, "Why don't you testify for your family?" No comment. That made it very hard for me to testify.

TI: Right. And so what was the reaction after you testified, with the vets? Did anyone...

HN: The reaction was very different. After I testified, I was so happy. I was so glad I testified. I told you, it was one of the most important decisions I made. No regrets, I'm glad I did. After I testified, what a feeling. People complimented me, thanked me. Nisei vets, some of 'em, not all of 'em, and other people. But a few veterans thanked me because it was a very tough decision. It was a struggle. I'm glad. And the reflection, it's a shame that only four of us testified out of Washington State, Oregon, there might have been seven hundred, eight hundred. Out of that, only four testified: John Kanda, Joe Nakatsu, Bob Mizukami of Fife, who was the mayor of Fife, just only four. I'm glad I did, very proud. That was my first struggle.

<End Segment 26> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 27>

TI: So do you want to go to your second, your second one? You said there were two decisions.

HN: Second, yeah. Well, after the interview, I was so exhilarated, I was so, I felt I was reborn, and then I ran into Reverend Paul Nagano, who was at Baptist church. He testified, and then when I met him a day or two after, I told him, "Pastor Paul," we called him Pastor Paul, I said, "Gee, I feel so exhilarated, I feel reborn. I feel..." he said, "Hiro, exhilarated, that's catharsis." Catharsis. I learned a new word, catharsis. From then, strange reason, I used to take a bus to UW every day, lot of memories of my past life, about my culture, my legacy. So from then on, my mind was just filled up with my past life, I started to take notes. Well, to make a long story short, I ended up with about ten notebooks of notes. I started to compartmentalize into different categories. I had about ten or twelve notebooks. I couldn't help it, I couldn't stop. All my, you might say, my past life was coming to... well, I started to say, "Well, I'm going to write down these things. I got lots of material at home, too. So I started to organize them. Then came the second hard decision: what am I going to do with it? [Laughs] What am I going to do with this, all this stuff, my past, about my heritage, my culture, my legacy. What am I going to do with all this? Tell my kids, "Go down the basement, and in a box, there's a lot of notes about my heritage, my culture, our legacy"? They're not going to look at it. If you got time, go down to the basement and look. My grandkids are going to go look at it? Then my second most important decision was, I was poor in English, my worst subject. I got D's. I tell you, I admit, I got D's in English, my worst subject. Even in college, I had a hard time. I was not a writer. Not being a writer, I had hatred, aversion. Not that I was poor at it, I hated it. So it was a struggle between my cultural value to pass on my culture, heritage, legacy, to my kids, grandkids, or have to write it. You know, I thought about that. Maybe I should have had a writer. I never thought about it.

TI: No, I think, I think what you did was fine. Because what you did was, you took all those notes, and you created a book.

HN: That's my, that's what I'm saying, that's my second struggle. I'm not a writer. If I was a writer, it's no big deal, so what?

TI: In fact, keep sitting there. I'm going to grab the book so you can just show it to the camera. So stay there, see if I can do this. So why don't you go ahead and hold the book up so that the camera can just see. Just hold it up a little higher. Yeah, so this was the result of your second decision, to write this book.

HN: It was not to write it. It just happened unexpectedly. Because I didn't, my value of my culture, heritage, was greater than my anguish or hatred for English and writing.

TI: Good.

HN: That was my second struggle, and I'm glad I did.

TI: And what was the reaction?

HN: Very, very difficult for me to do that.

TI: And then after you finished it and published it, what was the reaction of people? Or how did you feel after you finished this?

HN: I was so happy. To say the least, I was so happy. I'm glad I did it. So like I said earlier, those two, testimony, testifying to the hearing, that was my first struggle, first of the two most important decisions of my life. And the second one was my being caught between the rock and hard place. That's all there was about writing the book. If I was a halfway decent writer, it was no problem, no story to talk about. But this was very, very difficult decision and an important decision. And no regrets.

TI: Very good.

HN: That's it.

TI: So I've finished all my questions. Is there anything else that you want to say to end this interview with?

HN: That's the only two things I wanted to do, is talk about my struggle, and my two most important decisions. So that's what's important. The rest of it is not important.

TI: [Laughs] Well, I disagree. I think all of that was important. And so, Hiro, thank you so much for taking the time to be interviewed. I'm glad we did this. It took a while to get here, but I'm so glad we did. So thank you so much.

HN: But in conclusion, I want to thank you for this chance to talk to you about it. I'd like you to know of my pride and my... my pride and joy of expressing my appreciation for my heritage, legacy, perpetuate it, promote it. I think that's very, very important. Thank you for your time and interest.

<End Segment 27> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.