Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Toshikazu "Tosh" Okamoto Interview I
Narrator: Toshikazu "Tosh" Okamoto
Interviewer: Tom Ikeda
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: April 30, 2009
Densho ID: denshovh-otoshikazu-01

<Begin Segment 1>

TI: So, today is Thursday, May 21, 2009. Running the camera is Dana Hoshide, and I'm the interviewer, Tom Ikeda. So let's start the interview with a really basic question. So where and when were you born?

TO: I was born here in Seattle, October 8, 1926. I think my birth certificate says 600 block of Dearborn Street. I can't imagine what's there, but I think there's some city, city facilities there, I think is what's there. It must have been... I think, if I recall, when I was kid, there was some old buildings there, hotels and stuff. I think Mits Abe had a grocery store down there somewhere.

TI: So is your sense that you were born in a medical facility?

TO: No, no, absolutely not. No, I'm sure that... I think my birth certificate says... what do you call those people that, Issei ladies that used to go around and help with the birthing?

TI: Like a midwife?

TO: Midwife, exactly. So I assume that's where I was born, in a hotel or apartment or something down there.

TI: Okay. And we'll get into this a little bit later, but what was the name given to you at birth?

TO: Toshikazu Okamoto. Toshikazu.

TI: And did you have, like, a middle name?

TO: No. I don't think the Issei gave middle names in those days. In Japan, that's kind of, you know, not very common that they have a middle name. 'Cause I know... at least none of my peers have it.

TI: When you were born, where was the family living at the time when you were born?

TO: I assume at that same, same address, six-something Dearborn Street.

TI: Okay, interesting. I have to go down there. They're, right now it's all kind of industrial.

TO: Right, right.

TI: Let's talk a little bit about your parents first. So tell me, what was your father's name?

TO: My father's name was Juhei, Juhei Okamoto.

TI: And do you know where he was born?

TO: In Kumamoto-ken, Japan. Other than that, I don't... I have very little knowledge about my father's life in Japan. I don't know why. Mothers seem to have a tendency to tell you about their childhood, but my dad, he never said too much about it.

TI: Do you have a sense of why he came the United States?

TO: Definitely. I think he, there were about three or four sons in the family and he was one of the younger ones. So of course there was nothing for him to do. I'm sure that... I'm not really sure exactly how old he was but I imagine it was sixteen or seventeen at the time he came. I'm sure any kid that was that age, that's a real draw, to go someplace else. Just like the college kids today, they all want to leave the city to go to college somewhere else. I assume that sense of adventure, and then he had nothing but work for his brothers in Japan. That's my assumption, the reason he came.

TI: And do you know about what year he came over?

TO: Boy, I'm sorry, I don't. I have all that information at home, so I should have.

TI: Okay, yeah. But around when he was sixteen or seventeen. Yeah, but still, I think about how... when I think of, say, my kids or when I was that age, it's still a big step to go to a different country.

TO: Oh, absolutely. I think for some reason he was in California for a while, in Florence, around Florence, somewhere around there. Central California anyway. I don't really know what he was doing. I assume it was doing the farm. I don't know how he, why he ended up here in Seattle, but I imagine because of his friends or something. But all I can remember him saying, telling us, in the town of Renton, for some reason, him and some of the other friends were in Renton and they were wanting to go buy some eggs in this butcher shop. I don't know if it was eggs or chicken, but they couldn't understand English well enough to tell the salesperson there. And so they waved their hands like this and that's how they communicated with the guys, the butcher there. As well as he was saying that they threw rocks at him in Renton. There were some, the natives that threw rocks at him. He don't know who they were or anything, other than they were white. He distinctly told me about that. And I don't know what they were doing in Renton at that time to be quite frank, but those two things I do recall him telling me.

TI: That's a good story.

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

<Begin Segment 2>

TI: Do you know how he met your mother, how they got together?

TO: I really don't know because my father, of course, was married before he met my mother, before he married my mother. And so it's my assumption that there was some kind of arrangements in Japan that was made before he went to Japan to get my mother. That's my guess.

TI: So let's back up a little bit. So he was married previously.

TO: Yes.

TI: So talk about that first wife. What do you know about the first wife?

TO: Well, the first wife is, I think she was quite a lady. Sounds like she was, had quite a bit to do around the restaurant and bar business at that time. And she was a, she had a sister here, Sakamoto, Mrs. Sakamoto, that was a Joe and Nibs, and I think he had two sisters. Their mother was her sister. But my father's first wife's a little different than the typical Issei lady at that time. For some reason, they had four children, and they just... I kind of... my father didn't talk too much about it. Nobody else talked about it, but she left my father. That's the sense I have of what happened. And she married this guy named Murakami. This Murakami was quite a character. I think they had (four) children between them. He was, the big story about him was he was murdered somewhere on Jackson Street because of his affiliation with gangs or something at that time. And nobody wants to -- I've asked people of that generation and nobody wanted to tell me about it because, of course, my relationship with that. So I really don't know the reasons why. But I understood that he was into gambling, that type of thing. I think there was... I don't know what they call that particular group of Issei that were, were part of this, I guess we'd call it gang today, but they called it something else in those days.

TI: Oh, that's interesting. So when you said your father's first wife was different...

TO: Yes, she was different. Well, I didn't, never knew her, of course.

TI: Right, right. So what do you mean by different? What would that...

TO: Well, she was more into, I don't know. She was... I know that she, I heard that she worked in the restaurants a lot, and of course she had family then, so I don't know how this all came about. And she was more, not as conservative as a typical Issei or even a Nisei lady. That's my take on it, but I don't really want to say too much about it because I really don't know, but that's... she played shamisen, she was an entertainer in restaurants and bars at that time. And then after they split, she took her three children to Japan.

TI: Well, so she had first four with your father...

TO: (Four).

TI: (Four) with your father. And then, and then she went back to Japan?

TO: She took them back to Japan and she left them there with her parents. And she came back, and that's when she married this Murakami. That's my understanding.

TI: Did your father ever talk about his first wife?

TO: Never, never. I didn't even know anything about it until I was probably in my... ten or eleven years old. Because that's when my brothers and sisters started coming back from Japan to this country. By then they were teenagers and they graduated, finished education there. That's when I found out who they, what happened.

TI: So it must have been a surprise for you to find out that you had, essentially, stepbrothers and sisters.

TO: Sure was, yeah.

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

<Begin Segment 3>

TI: So let's, so after the first wife left, your father remarried. So can you describe or recall how that happened with your mother?

TO: I really have no, no idea at all, other than I assume that... I know he went to Japan and brought her back. And so how this came about, I suppose some arrangement or something. My mother was, wasn't a typical young woman at the time, she was a little bit older than a typical bride in those days.

TI: And what was your father doing when he went back to Japan to meet your mom?

TO: As far as... he was working for, there was a pretty big Japanese company called the Furuya Company that was pretty well-known and a very prominent business organization here. And he was delivering food for them, different places, orders of whatever they were selling. I recall one incident he said that he was, must have had a big night before or something, but he was in his horse and wagon, he must have fell asleep. And all of a sudden when he woke up, there was a big ding-ding-ding. And I think he was on a railroad track, on those trestles that were going out to West Seattle. If you recall -- I don't remember them, but if you recall some pictures of the old days, there was some railroad tracks that went to, streetcar tracks that went to West Seattle. For some reason, the horse went out on that railroad track and they were kind of stuck out there. [Laughs] They had a heck of a time getting the horse and the wagon back off the track so the streetcar can get through. But I distinctly remember him telling us that.

TI: So luckily it wasn't like a train track where the train couldn't stop, it was a streetcar so it just stopped.

TO: It was a streetcar, yeah.

TI: How would you describe your father? What kind of personality did your father have?

TO: Well, he, if I recall, he was, he was okay as a dad, but he was very, not very nice to my mother. That's something that I do, that I do recall. And I think maybe that was one of the reasons for his first, splitting of his first wife. I really don't know. There must have been all kinds of reasons, but he wasn't very nice to my mother. I don't think that was too unusual for Issei men at that time, compared to us Nisei and you Sansei guys that were a little more different than we are. [Laughs] We've still got some of the old...

TI: Which is interesting because sometimes when... people who see this interview are generations removed from the Isseis. And when you say it was common for, sometimes, the Issei men to be hard on their wives, how would you describe that? Or what would be some examples of how the Issei would be, would act towards his wife?

TO: I think it was... I don't recall him being real demanding, but just the way, I guess it was just the culture of the thing, that he would be served first and those type of things that kind of impressed me. And then he was always, Mother would always let him take the bath first and all those type of things that kind of makes an impression on you.

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

<Begin Segment 4>

TI: So let's talk about your mother a little bit. So where was she from?

TO: She was from Kumamoto, too.

TI: And in terms of the age difference between your father and mother, what was...

TO: I think about twenty years.

TI: Twenty years?

TO: Yeah. She was... so my father was an old man by the time I was born, I think he was about fifty years old when I was born.

TI: And what was your mother's name?

TO: Sugie, Sugie. Shino was her maiden name.

TI: I'm sorry, maiden name was...

TO: Shino, S-H-I-N-O, Shino.

TI: And what do you know about your mother's family in Japan?

TO: My mother's family, when she was... I think she had a brother. I think she had a couple brothers, but one of the brothers was killed, he was in the Japanese army, and he was killed, of course. I don't think my mother heard about it 'til after the war ended, of course, and we started communicating. All I remember is she was, her nieces and nephews, they were having a real tough time as well as her, I guess, sister-in-law, so she'd send whatever she could to Japan to help them out.

TI: And do you have a sense of what kind of work your mother's family did before the war when she lived in Japan?

TO: I assume they were farming. Because when we went and visited Japan, it seemed like the neighborhood where her nieces, I guess, they were living out in the country and they were in the farm area. But I don't necessarily think they were all farming at that time. By then it was nieces and nephews that I met, so they were all, I think they were working somewhere and I don't think any of them were farming. But they still lived out in the old farmhouse up there, so I don't know whatever happened to that farm that they were farming, whether they owned it. But something very interesting at that time when we visited Japan. My cousin, I guess, my mother's niece, she was kind of interested in my father's background. And apparently there was some connection that she had that she knew the family of my father. But, of course, they were quite a bit older than us. But her, my father's brother, I guess, his grandson came and met us in Japan when my niece, when my cousin hosted this party. And he profusely thanked me for my father giving up his share of this farm, which I didn't know anything about. But I thought that was kind of funny. Here this strange man was thanking me for something that my father did for, I guess it was his parents. So he must have been the son of my father's oldest brother, is what I gather. But the language, my Japanese is not very good, and his English, of course, was nothing.

TI: So it sounded like your father had some share of the family land there.

TO: Apparently so. I was always under the assumption that the oldest son got everything, but apparently that wasn't the case. Or whatever, I don't know what the legal situation was. But he just kept thanking me and thanking me and thanking me.

TI: [Laughs] So you almost wanted to ask him, "How much was it worth?"

TO: That's right. [Laughs] I had no idea how big the property was or anything.

TI: As long as it wasn't downtown Tokyo. [Laughs] Okay, so we were talking about your mother's family and farming. How would you describe your mother? What kind of personality, what was she like?

TO: She was... well, being a little bit older than a typical mother, I think, she had four children. I'm the oldest son... I had an older sister, but I was what they called the chonan in the family. And so for some reason, she leaned on me a lot, because being the oldest son, doing different things. But I recall a couple of things. When I was a young guy, I think, probably nine, ten years old, we'd never raised chickens or anything. But some neighbors gave us a live chicken. And Mom told me to chop the head off that chicken. And that was very frightening for me. I didn't know how do to that. I grabbed this chicken and I had it on the chopping block. Everybody, all the farms, everybody chopping blocks. Our only source of heat was wood and cooking. So the chicken kept moving and I whacked it and whacked it. I got part of it and then I got scared, and the chicken started flopping around with half his head cut off. Oh, what a horrible experience that was. And finally the chicken died. That's something that was very unforgettable for me.

But if I recall, she was always full of praises. Like I remember carrying, I was real young and I'm carrying some wood, I think. I was just probably old enough to carry some wood into the house for her cooking and she praised me. Praises didn't come very often from anyone in the family, but that kind of impressed me. So she was a very kindhearted lady.

TI: Yeah, that is unusual. Because I rarely hear of the Isseis using praise.

TO: Yeah, right.

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

<Begin Segment 5>

TI: So you mentioned you had an older sister. And what was your older sister's name?

TO: Akiko.

TI: Okay, and then you came next. And then after you?

TO: Reiko, my sister Reiko. And then my youngest brother Juro.

TI: And what was the age differences between the siblings?

TO: I think it's about two years apart. And my father, for some reason, from his first marriage, every other one was a male and a female. The oldest was a sister, and then a male, then a female, all the way down the line, eight of us. I don't know how this all happened, but that was always amazing. But my younger brother and sisters are gone now.

TI: But your older sister is still alive?

TO: Yeah, and she lives in Connecticut. Very interesting situation with her. She never had any children and she married three times. All of her husbands died of cancer and all three of 'em were smokers. [Laughs] But anyway, she had stepchildren but she wasn't real close to them and so three years ago she moved out to Seattle because all her nieces and nephew and brother and my younger sister were still living then. But she just didn't like it out here. She just didn't fit in. She was with the Caucasian community. You know, our community is very close, but for some reason she didn't feel comfortable at all among the Nisei. And she just couldn't make those kind of friends that she had in Connecticut. So she was here for about two and a half years, and she just pulled up everything, stakes, and moved back to Connecticut, and she's happy as a clam back there.

TI: That's interesting. So at what point, she grew up, you know, with the family, at what point did she leave the community?

TO: Well, from camp, she went to, she went to New York City. She went to St. Louis first to work as a housegirl going to school part-time. Then this family moved to New York City, and he was promoted and was transferred to New York City. She went with the family to New York City and then she met this Chinese guy and she got married. And this Chinese husband, family, had, in the restaurant business, so they were going to open up a restaurant in Hartford, Connecticut. So she, they were asked if they'd go out to manage that Chinese restaurant, which that's how she ended up in Connecticut. And then the problem with a Chinese restaurant in Connecticut, you couldn't get any cooks. No Chinese cooks would want to go to Connecticut because there's no Chinese out there. So I think they finally sold the restaurant and got out of the business. And then her husband got lung cancer, I think he was a young man, about twenty-eight years old. Then she was all alone back there, so we told her to bring her husband out here. So he passed away here in Seattle, living with us.

TI: But it's interesting, I was thinking of all the Niseis who, from the camp, resettled away from the West Coast like your sister. And just in terms of how, how they feel about the community, their difficulty and perhaps coming back to the community. If she were to, if we were to ask her to describe the Japanese community in Seattle, how do you think she would describe the community?

TO: I think... well, I don't know. I think somehow she felt uncomfortable because we were so close and we had so much things in common. But she had the camp experience and evacuation in common. But when we were kids, when we were growing up out in the country, like I told you earlier, there was very few Japanese that we associated with. Because there was very few Japanese going to school. I think there was two other families that went to the same school, so she was never really with the, into the Japanese community like the kids that grew up in this neighborhood here. And so that was a difference with her. And then she was out there after the war, and so she never was associated with Japanese community. She just didn't have that connection or that feeling, although she did have some Nisei friends that she grew up with, that few that she got pretty close to in camp that she visited here. One of 'em was up in Mt. Vernon, Sakumas, one of the Sakumas' brides, brothers, one of the brides was one of her dear friends.

TI: Well, let's, I'll probably come back and ask you a question later because your path is very different. I mean, you are a key leader in the Japanese community in Seattle. So we'll come back to it later, because it's a nice kind of comparison to look at.

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

<Begin Segment 6>

TI: But let's go, I mean, so earlier you talked about how your dad worked at Furuya and then at some point, he made this change to being out towards Renton. So why don't you talk about where you grew up.

TO: Well, I think my father lost a job because of the Great Depression. It was very similar to times now. He was just laid off, and I think the Furuya company went broke, if I understand what happened those days. And so he had to do something, so I think we moved to... I don't recall those days, but out in Sunnydale. There was some farming out there and I don't know if working for another farmer or what, but he was a farm laborer in the farming one way or the other. And then from there he started his own farm in, I guess it's near SeaTac airport. It's on Highway 99. The only landmark you can see, and I don't think it's even there, there's a very famous restaurant there, and we farmed behind the restaurant. I forgot even the name of the restaurant, I'm sorry to say. But it's near Angle Lake, anyway. And by then, my oldest brother came from Japan, and he was with us and they were farming there. And, of course, he went broke, he just couldn't make it. And so we ended up working for, my father working for, in Lacey, Lacey, Washington, we moved down there. And he was working for an Obata family. Mr. Obata, that was an Alaska labor contractor, Alaska cannery labor contractor. And I think he raised a lot of stuff that they could salt and stuff, and feed his crews in Alaska. I remember that a little earlier in the year, there's nothing but woods around there, so they'd be out there picking ferns, warabi, to salt, I guess, or whatever they did, dry it or something, and took to Alaska. One of the distinct things I remember is they butchered a hog. I was never around anything like that up to then, they hung this hog up by the hind legs and then they had a washtub under it, and then they slit its throat. And, of course, I guess to catch the blood, and that hog just squealed and squealed. I still have occasional nightmares over that, because it squealed for the longest, longest time. [Laughs] And that made a big impression on me. I distinctly remember that.

We went to school in Lacey, for a very, very short time, in grade school. I think there's a picture but I don't even know what happened to the picture, this class picture that they took. But I think, when my mother died, I think it got lost someplace.

TI: When you think back to that picture, were there other Japanese students with you?

TO: No, just the Obata family, they were the only... and I think there was one, one of them was Hank, Henry Obata, and I think he's lived there in Seattle and I think he had some, has a son that's very prominent here in the news business or something. But anyway, that was the family. And I didn't know them, very little, because we were there for such a short time. And then my father, shortly after that, after we were there for, I don't know how long we were there, maybe a year or thereabouts, we moved to this place in Renton. And that was his, I guess, a good buddy from Japan, Oyamas, had a farm there. Mr. Oyama, and he went to work for him, farm labor. And right next to the Oyama farm was, a Masuda family had a chunk of ground there, I think about ten acres of land. And this is a well-known, Min Masuda, that's family. But it was just raw, raw land. I think my father must have made an agreement with the Masuda family that he could farm the land if he cleared the property for I don't know how many years. There must have been some kind of agreement. And so he was working for the Oyamas and he was part-time over there clearing, clearing the land. Of course, he really did manual labor. He burned the stumps because it was logged off. And it was very fertile ground now because of the big cedar trunks and stuff, and he'd burn it. He didn't use any dynamite, he had no horse or anything, he did it all by hand, if I look back. All I can remember is those fires to burn those stumps. We'd stick some potatoes in 'em and bake our potatoes in those.

TI: In the burning stump you would use that to cook potatoes?

TO: Well, we would, as kids. Not him. He really did it the hard way.

TI: And so I'm trying to imagine how they would do that, do they kind of dig under the stump and start a fire and just try to burn it?

TO: Yeah. That's all shovel and pick, no tractors or horses or anything, and so he did it the hard way.

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

<Begin Segment 7>

TI: You mentioned a little bit earlier that your stepbrother returned from Japan?

TO: Uh-huh.

TI: So was he there helping your father?

TO: No. By then he got a job working in the sawmills, so he went to the sawmill, I think, a place called Onalaska.

TI: So tell me, what was your stepbrother's name?

TO: Shigeru.

TI: And was he the only one that came back from Japan?

TO: No, no, his older sister, Natsuko, was here. She was here earlier. Kind of interesting, the connection with her was when she was a young woman and I think she had some nursing training or something. Because there was a hospital just on Twelfth and King Street there, a Japanese hospital. That's where that Chinese market there is now, right next to the Vets Clubhouse. And she was nursing there when she met, before she met her husband. But I do have that, I was told that, of course, that she was a nurse there, or a nurse's aide or something.

TI: And about how much older was Natsuko than you?

TO: Natsuko was probably about twenty years older than I was.

TI: Twenty years older.

TO: Yeah.

TI: And so Shigeru was also quite a bit older, too.

TO: Yeah, so he must have been eighteen, and Takumi was older, then Yoshiko. There was Takumi and Yoshiko. And Yoshiko just passed away. She was probably about maybe five, six years older than I was.

TI: Oh, so there were...

TO: There were four children. And the interesting part of them, when we were in camp, it was a big controversy because my oldest brother Shigeru --

TI: Right, so we're gonna get to that later. I just wanted to establish kind of... and so, although they worked, Shigeru worked at the sawmill, did he live with the family?

TO: No, no. I think at this sawmill camp there was housing.

TI: Or how about the younger one, Takumi?

TO: Takumi worked at the same sawmill.

TI: Okay.

TO: After he came from Japan.

TI: And then the daughter or the...

TO: The oldest sister, her husband was working in the sawmill, but they ended up farming.

TI: But there was a younger sister, too?

TO: Younger sister, Yoshiko.

TI: Did she live with your father, your family?

TO: Very short time. Then she went as a housegirl, then she got married shortly after that.

TI: Okay. Good, I just wanted to establish those four.

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

<Begin Segment 8>

TI: Okay, so let's go back to Renton, the farm. What other memories do you have growing up in Renton?

TO: Well, we didn't have a... we couldn't afford a truck or a car, and so finally I think things got a little better. He started, after he cleared the land, he was able to grow some vegetables and stuff. And meanwhile, on that piece of land, I think the Masuda family bought the lumber and rebuilt the house with my dad. Typical barn raising type of thing, he had an Issei friends from, different neighbors from the valley, I think, that helped him build this little house that we finally moved into and moved out of the neighbor's house that we were, as farm laborers, and we had our own house. And, of course, we didn't have any well at that time, so I remember Mom had to go to the neighbor's place and pump the water out. It was one of those hand pumps, pump the water out and carry it to the house to do the cooking.

TI: Go back to the building of the house, you called it like a barn-raising. I mean, so describe kind of how that all worked. I mean, so you had, sort of, neighbors from all over come, and these were all Japanese?

TO: Yes, Issei.

TI: And tell me, like about how many do you recall were there, and what kind of things were they doing?

TO: I think they were all farming. There was a guy named Yamashita, and I don't know, this must have been my father's friend. All I remember his nickname was Yankee. But he was kind of a carpenter type, so I think he was the one that did the supervising of building the house. Because, of course, I don't know if they, I'm sure they hadn't had any formal plans or anything, they just kind of cut and fit that, building a house. And I don't recall even how long it took to build that house. But I remember it wasn't too long, that they did get it built, but, of course, it was, by today's standards, just a shack. The boards, of course, in those days, all the sheathing on the outside of the house was what they called shiplap, it was green lumber, of course, it was dried out, and it'll open up and leave cracks. But they had tarpaper on the outside like the camp barracks. A very primitive house, of course, no indoor plumbing, it was a pit toilet, and we had no running water. We had no well on the property at that time, and we had no electricity. There was no electricity at that time at rural areas at all. It was shortly after that that the, after the house was built, that the electricity came up to the country. So everybody started having electricity, I distinctly remember that.

TI: Yeah, going back to the building, do you recall when the workers were done, was there food or drink or anything like that that happened?

TO: I assume there was. I don't recall that part of it. My dad liked to drink, so I assume there must have been some liquor. But I don't, for some reason I don't remember anything about that. I should, but I don't. I was there, I remember getting scraps of wood and playing with those scraps of wood. But I'm sorry to say I don't remember.

TI: Yeah, it's one of those things that I think over generations, we lose. I don't think the Sanseis or Yonseis would think so much about having lots of friends to build a house or something. It's something that's gotten lost over the generations. To think that the Isseis would just get together and build someone's house seems pretty amazing.

TO: One of the things I remember in those childhood days is making mochi with the neighbors. That was always a fun time. Of course, it was done in typical way, steaming it in a wood stove, you know how that's done, in the New Year's. My dad, for some reason, liked to cook, and so he had a lot to do with New Year's dinner. Of course, being, not having any neighbors, not too many neighbors, it wasn't a big, just our family and maybe the neighbors, because the neighbors, the Oyamas, Mrs. Oyama had passed away, so he had one son, so just the two of them, they'd come over and have a big feast that my dad would make. That was a big thing for him, so I distinctly remember that. Of course, in those days, we had no refrigeration or anything, so I don't really recall how this food was kept or anything like that.

TI: And so you were pretty far out. How frequently would you come into Seattle?

TO: Very, very infrequently. Very, very seldom. I think when I was a kid, I remember coming into Seattle on Fourth of July and riding in the back of the neighbor's truck, then we came into Seattle.

TI: And what would, so Fourth of July, I mean, what would be the reason to come?

TO: All I remember is we went to, I think it was... I think in Franklin High School there was Japanese baseball league, and I didn't play ball at the time. We went to ballgames there, watching. Then, of course, we ended up in Chinatown and had dinner and went home. And I think the parade, I think the Fourth of July parade was probably the reason we came in.

TI: And so when you'd come into Seattle, you'd see a lot more Japanese.

TO: Yes, definitely.

TI: How did you feel about that, when you saw that?

TO: I think I was kind of envious of how close they were. And I've kind of felt I was left out because they were all real close and they knew each other very well. And so that was my take at that time, I was kind of envious of them, of their situation.

TI: Let's go back in terms of your friends in Renton. Who did you play with?

TO: All hakujin kids. So I guess in some sense, growing up, and I didn't have some of the hangups some of the Nisei peers have because it was, I don't know, they were my buddies and I had no problems associating with hakujin at all. Only thing I distinctly remember when I was in grade school, as kids you play Cowboys & Indians. And for some reason, I was always picked as the Indian, and I was always on the losing side, of course. And that always, I think that kind of affected my complex or whatever, in being a minority. But that's the only thing I can distinctly remember because of my... after the war broke out, of course, that I was different than the others.

TI: Because you think you were always chosen to be the Indian because you, perhaps, were darker skin or...

TO: Exactly, and a little smaller in stature and all that.

TI: But other than that, do you recall any, being singled out for being Japanese or anything...

TO: I don't recall. I never had that feeling that I had any problems or they had any problems with me. I think at that time -- this was, of course, during the Great Depression -- and everybody was worried and everybody was struggling. Maybe in certain conditions people, white people were a little bit more discriminatory because the Japanese would work harder, work cheaper, but we never felt that out there. Because it seemed, I think everybody was in the same boat, we were all very, very poor.

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

<Begin Segment 9>

TI: And going to your family life, at home, what was the language spoken in the house?

TO: Mostly Japanese, yeah.

TI: So did, were your parents able to speak English?

TO: No. My father very, very little. He could say some swear words, but his English was very, very limited. My mother was, just didn't have any ability to speak any English.

TI: So as a child, you grew up learning or speaking Japanese.

TO: Definitely.

TI: And then when you went to school, how much English did you know when you went to school?

TO: Very little.

TI: So how was that for you, going to school?

TO: You know, I don't recall any real difficulties when I first went to school. All I remember is that the schoolteachers, the small, three-room schoolhouse, I think it was two, three teachers. But all three women teachers were very, very kindly ladies, real good teachers, very, very patient. And other than that, I don't recall any particular difficulties I was having because I couldn't speak English. Of course, my older sister was about two years ahead of me, so I'm sure she had some. Because for some reason, we started to speak English at home among ourselves. But that's, I don't recall any particular difficulties.

TI: And as you got older, you spoke more and more English.

TO: Yes.

TI: But you communicated with your parents in Japanese?

TO: Oh, yes, definitely.

TI: And I'm curious, did your parents ever talk to you about being Japanese and what that meant, to be Japanese?

TO: Oh, yeah, my father was pretty strong on that. You're Nihonjin, you got to be proud of being Japanese, don't bring shame to the family and all that stuff that typically, I think, the Issei laid on their Nisei kids, yeah. But my mother didn't. I'm sure some, in some subtle ways, she said things, did things and said things like that. But my father was pretty strong on that. He was real, I don't know what you call that, Japanese-Japanese, you know. And that showed during the Second World War, too.

TI: And so when you heard that from your dad, so it's almost like you're in the, almost two different worlds. If you go to school, it's a very American, sort of, culture and philosophy, and then your dad is more Japanese. I mean, how did you come to grips with that, these two different worlds in some ways?

TO: I guess when you're a kid, fifteen, sixteen, you don't think too much about those things. That's the way things were, and so I don't, I don't recall having to come to grips with that at that time. Of course, after the war broke out, then it was a different, totally different story. But during those days, I don't recall. And I think that the only... of course, all us Nisei, we were almost like a parent to our parents, because they couldn't speak the language, they didn't understand a lot of the culture and those things. So we were very responsible for them, which, of course, lasted all through our lives, or all through their lives, looking after them almost like a child.

TI: Well, can you recall, that's an interesting kind of issue. So can you recall an example as a teenager having to help your parents with something, whether it was a document or a meeting or something like that? Do you recall, can you give an example?

TO: Oh, yes. Whenever something like that came up, of course, we were very much involved in that. Explaining to them and trying to make them understand what was written and that type of thing. That was definitely something that we just, we didn't even think about it, it just became second nature, something we had to do. I'm sure that my, all my Nisei peers went through the same, same thing as what we did. But out in the country, we had no... my parents never had any close peers that they could just talk to. We had no telephones like they do today and they could call somebody. So there was a lot of depending on me and my older sister to do some of the things that needed to be done.

TI: Yeah, because probably even more so, in your case, because I think in the city, there were some Isseis who could speak English and so oftentimes the Issei would go to another Issei who could speak English and they would be the go-between. But in your case, it would really be the kids who had to do it.

TO: And our neighbors. The neighbors, Hiroshi, he was quite a bit older than we were, so we kind of asked him for advice, too. Of course, he was a Nisei, so he didn't know much more than we did, but at least we would ask.

TI: Now, do you recall any particular example, like a meeting, for instance, a specific meeting where you had to do this? Like maybe school or something?

TO: Not so much school because I don't think my parents were at all involved in our education. They just told us to study hard, and they didn't know what we were studying or anything like that. So no, I don't recall anything of that nature.

TI: Or possibly a certain type of document that you had to review from...

TO: I think, my father being older, and he was having health problems when we were quite young. And so a lot of those things we had to translate for him and take care of him. We had a hakujin doctor out there that my father couldn't understand, we had to explain to the doctor and those type of things we were involved in.

TI: Yeah, that's a good example.

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

<Begin Segment 10>

TI: Any other prewar memories about growing up that you wanted to share? Like a story or something, growing up in Renton? Something that, when you think of your grandchildren that they'd want to know about grandpa in terms of maybe how he played, or an adventure in the woods or anything like that?

TO: Well, speaking of adventure in the woods, I had this hakujin buddy, a guy named John Lendman, he was the same age and he was in the neighborhood. But when you talk about neighborhood in those days, it was still a mile away. But we'd get together and there was a guy named Cougar Martin, that he would go out and capture cougars. Dogs, you know, he had some dogs that would chase the cougars to the woods and then the dogs would tree the cougars, and then he'd take this long loop and bring the cougar down off the tree. But anyway, this Cougar Martin asked us if we wanted to go with him. So we were young, small kids, you know. And, of course, we had to follow the dogs, the dogs would be barking. Then when the dogs were barking in one place, we knew that. But I don't... we just went on and on and on, and really small, you know, climbing over logs and stuff. Finally we got to where this cougar was treed, you know. And this Cougar Martin, he was kind enough to wait 'til we got there and he showed us how he got this cougar, cougar down. And that was a real adventure for us, I distinctly recall, and that was a real fun thing for us at the time. I remember we were really pooped out trying to keep up with, the short-legged guys, you know, and these dogs are running. But that was... and, of course, he penned these cougars, and he had a bunch of 'em around his house. And I don't know whatever he did with 'em, whether he sold 'em to a zoo or something. But that was kind of his hobby, I guess, I don't know.

TI: Well, it's interesting, growing up, because there were cougars around there, did you have to be careful? I mean...

TO: Oh, no. We never saw a cougar other than this treed cougar. They were out there in the woods, but they would never show. Bears would come around looking through garbage and stuff, and, of course, coyotes, there were lots of coyotes out there at nighttime you could hear 'em howling. But that was just something that... you didn't give much thought of. Ever since you were babies, you heard them.

TI: So describe one more time where in Renton your place was. How would you describe it?

TO: It was, it was, the headwaters of the Soos Creek, you know, and that's between Renton and Kent off the... I think it's 108th or Benson Highway, east of the Benson Highway, and the little valley where the Soos Creek ran through. And I think the headwaters of the Soos Creek was a big swampy area. And I understand it's a park, park now. But in any event, along that creek, a little ways beyond the headwaters, there was a valley there that was very rich soil. And that's where my, the Oyama family and my dad were farming, next to each other. And for some reason, the lettuce was really big, really grew very, very well. And my father, for some reason leeks were very, his specialty. He was able to grow leeks, and for some reason, his leeks, the white part was real long because he'd keep piling soil on it. It must have been real labor-intensive, now that I think about it. His leeks were always real, most of the leeks you see, the white part's real short. His was real long, and so I assume he piled dirt. But I wasn't too interested in farming. I'd go out there and help him when he made us go out there, but it wasn't my thing. [Laughs]

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

<Begin Segment 11>

TI: And where would your father sell his produce?

TO: Well, at first, because we had no truck, there was a guy that used to come around and pick up the, on a certain day we had no telephone, so he just, certain days would come to pick up the vegetables and sell it. And a guy named, I think a Yamada that was in Kent then was in the wholesale produce business and he's send a truck out and then pick up our lettuce and vegetables and sell it on commission, I think. And I could distinctly recall he wouldn't come pick it up from those days. And so I had to get on the bike and go up to the store about a couple miles away to call them. They said, "Well, we got too much lettuce, we can't sell it, so there's no use us coming to pick it up. So then I don't know what my dad was, all crated and ready to go. But I think we just had to dump it if I recall. And I think my mom was a pretty strong lady, woman. 'Cause those lettuce crates were pretty heavy. And she'd be boxing 'em and then she'd carry 'em out to the road. And wow, thinking about those days and her, she had to be real strong to do that. But that was, later on, my dad was able to buy a truck, and he couldn't drive. And I had just, I think I was still fifteen years old when I was driving that truck, he'd sell a lot of his produce here at the Pike Place Market. So I'd, before school, I was going to Kent junior high school by then. He'd, I'd drive him into town with a load of vegetables to (Pike Place Farmers Market) and then I'd dump them off and then I'd go back to school. And in the evening I'd go back to school again.

TI: So you would have to wake up pretty early to do this. Probably it was still dark and just drive into the city?

TO: Yeah, yeah.

TI: And he would then just rent a stall to sell the produce?

TO: Right, uh-huh. Yeah.

TI: And when you would go pick him up, generally, did, would he have sold all the produce?

TO: Not... I don't recall. But yeah, he sold most of because I think... of course, towards the end of the day you lower your prices, so you're practically giving it away so you don't have to take it back. But I don't recall having to bring too much stuff back, unless it was something that would keep like leeks or onions, they would keep. But lettuce and stuff, there's no use bringing it back. So I think he practically gave it away, I'm not sure how he did it.

TI: And describe what you could recall about the community at the Pike Place Market amongst the farmers who did the stalls. I mean, what was that like?

TI: Well, it was kind of an interesting... I recall there was quite a few Italian farmers that were there, and I don't recall any animosity or anything between the Italians and the Japanese farmers. They all seemed to get along pretty good, joking with each other and things like that. I think there was, one Italian farmer, during the pickling season, he'd be selling pickles for pickling. And he'd have, you know, a whole table, and he'd be selling it like mad. And my dad thought, well, maybe he should try raising pickles. But for some reason, that particular place we were farming didn't raise a good pickle or cucumbers like other places. So he kind of gave that up. But I distinctly recall that.

TI: But I'm thinking, when you got there early in the morning, there must have been lots of farmers unloading and doing that.

TO: Oh, yes.

TI: Do you recall how your dad was assigned a certain stall? How would that...

TO: I don't recall exactly how that was. I think it was, they drew numbers if I'm not mistaken, ahead of time. So if he didn't have a good table, he wouldn't go to market. I think that's the way it was, because some, he wouldn't go all the time. Of course, the real bonus, like on a Saturday, if you got a good table, then that was a big thing for him. But I think it was by drawing. I'm not really sure how they worked that.

TI: Now, like on a Saturday when you didn't have school, did you often stay down there and help?

TO: Yeah, definitely.

TI: And when you were down there on a Saturday, who would be the customers?

TO: Anybody that came to the market. I don't recall any distinctive ethnic group or anything, anyway, that came along and bought the produce. I remember at that time, the metal tables they had, people were allowed to put boards up to make it more distinct, those slanted boards that you put right on the tables, those metal tables. And I remember some of those... and those customers were able to pick out the vegetables they wanted and then they'd hand it to the clerk or whoever was selling it. And oftentimes they would put that under the table and pick up something and throw it in the bag and sell it. I'd never seen people do that. My dad never did that, "That's wrong," he said. But I thought that was one of the things I distinctly remember. So I think later on, they wouldn't allow that anymore. But in the old days, they used to have boards that, their own boards that they used to put up on the tables and kind of slant it to make it a better display. And, of course, one person will do it and the person next stall, they'd have to do the same thing. Because a flat table isn't as nice as a slanted table.

TI: So there was all these little tricks that they would do to help sell the produce.

TO: Yes.

TI: Like setting prices for your produce, how would you do that?

TO: I don't really recall. There was a guy in the, older Nisei that would come around. He was kind of a sign painter. And they used these paper bags and put the price on, you know, put that bag on a stick and you put it into your produce yourself. But he would put down the price, so I don't know if he was the one that set the price. I imagine he knew about what everything was selling for so he would be up on that. But he would be a sign painter. I don't know how much he charged. I don't remember his name, but I distinctly remember the guy coming around. He was a nice, typical sign painter that would just mark each one of these bags.

TI: And then would you pay the sign painter with money or with produce?

TO: Money, I'm sure, it was money. I don't think he'd want produce. [Laughs]

TI: Any other stories from the market?

TO: Well, I remember that being a, growing up in the country, and very seldom we ever went to a restaurant, but for lunch we'd go to a, we'd get to go to a restaurant. Of course, I would go and then my dad would go. Boy, that restaurant was a real, real treat to go to a restaurant to eat something. We never, never ate at one.

TI: What would be an example of...

TO: I think for some reason, link sausage was really a treat, and hamburger, you know. Because we very seldom ate hamburger at home for some reason. We ate a lot of fish at home, but maybe Mom wasn't into hamburger back then. But those were treats.

TI: And when you made those long drives from the farm into town with your father, do you recall any conversations during those times?

TO: I don't recall. No, definitely, I don't think my dad was, you know, a small talker. If he had something to say, he'd say it and that was it, yeah.

TI: So pretty quiet, just back and forth.

TO: Yeah. Of course, in those days, you know, the trucks were a little noisier than cars and trucks now. But I don't, he wasn't a small talker. Like I said, if he had something to say, he'd say it, and that was about it.

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

<Begin Segment 12>

TI: Okay, so we're going to go into the second hour, Tosh. So we had just, you had just talked a little bit about the farmer's market and time you spent there. Let's go back to Renton and, again, some of the childhood memories like, for instance, fishing, berry picking, tell me about, first, fishing. What kind of fishing did you do?

TO: I think they were cutthroat that we fished. But the fishing was, really you couldn't call it fishing, lot more like trapping the fish. You'd just take the hook and put a worm on it and just leave it there in the creek, you know. We didn't even have a pole, we'd just have a line out there and drag the fish in. Every hour or so you'd go down there, or whatever time you want to go down there, and drag the fish out. Of course, that's certainly illegal, but at that time, there wasn't anything illegal. And, of course, the salmon would just, in the fall, would just come up in droves. And we'd go down there and take a pitchfork and bring 'em in, but they weren't any use for anyone. So we did it for a while, but there wasn't any use. My dad would use it for fertilizer and bury it someplace. One thing that I distinctly recall was we had pets, dogs, and one of our dogs that was one of our favorites, liked to kill chickens. And, of course, the neighbors all had chickens, and this dog would kill chickens. So my dad asked the neighbor to get rid of the dog, to kill that dog. So I took the dog over to the neighbor's. The neighbor says, "Well, you go with me?" Out into the woods and they shot that, shot that, killed that dog. Oh, man, it really bothered me. It really made me sad for a long time, you know. But that was typical farm situation. You couldn't have a dog that was killing chickens. I remember for Easter, one of the neighbors, an Italian family, real nice Italian family, he was raising rabbits and selling them. But they gave us, me and my sister, a little rabbit for Easter. We had it in a cage, and we'd feed it, and, of course, rabbits grew pretty fast. So pretty soon my dad -- I think the rabbit got out of the cage, my dad said, "We got to have that, have it butchered." So he didn't want to do it, of course, Mom didn't want to do it, I didn't want to do it. So they said, "Well, take it up to the Italian neighbor and have him butcher it for us." He said, "Oh, yeah, I'd be happy to." So he butchered it, cleaned it, and had it all ready for us, my mom to cook. I just couldn't eat rabbit. To this day, I can't eat rabbit because of what happened. [Laughs]

TI: So for city folks, your life was a lot different. So things like cutting chicken heads off, butchering of rabbits, but also a pet. I mean, if a pet would kill chickens, you would have to have your pet killed.

TO: That's right.

TI: These are probably all things that would be different for people who grew up in the city.

TO: It wasn't uncommon in those days, you know, that you have cats around and they have a lot of kittens, baby kittens. And people would just put 'em in a gunnysack with a rock and throw it in the creek and drown them. That was just something that was just a common thing that they do. So I don't recall us ever doing it, but we didn't have any cats, but we did have that dog. [Laughs] So farm life was a little different than what it is today. I don't know what happens on the farm these days. Cats, all farmers have cats. Pretty soon you have so many cats you don't know what to do with 'em.

TI: And growing up in terms of just, in terms of living in terms of, like, food, what would be your typical menu, I guess, during the week? What would you eat and things like that? Because it didn't sound like you went to the store very frequently.

TO: No. They very seldom went to the store. All I remember distinctly was wintertime, squash would keep. So in the winter, I remember we ate a whole lot of squash, and Mom would cook squash in sugar and shoyu, you know. Today I kind of enjoy it, but for a long time, I wasn't very fond of squash. Daikon, too, daikon would keep. Turnips, seems like we ate a lot of those type of things in the wintertime that would keep. Summertime, of course, we had more fresh vegetables, but I don't think, we ate very little meat. And the types of fish was, we didn't have any refrigeration, so things like salted salmon, we would buy salted salmon which would keep. And dried fish, and different kinds of dehydrate, and cook with vegetables, that type of thing.

TI: And you mentioned earlier the cutthroat trout, so you caught that to eat also?

TO: Yeah.

TI: Bring back fresh trout?

TO: Not a whole lot of it, but we did eat some trout, yeah. And I didn't particularly enjoy it, but it was something that you had to eat, yeah. And, of course, lots of tsukemono, because that was something that they could preserve, make and preserve.

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

<Begin Segment 13>

TI: Okay. So let's switch gears a little bit here. I now want to, we got you up to, you're kind of in your teenage years, and I want to go to the date December 7, 1941, the date that Japan, the Japan military bombed Pearl Harbor. Do you recall where you were?

TO: Oh, yes, distinctly. I distinctly remember that day because we had a neighbor farming that, in the chicken, raise chicken. And he'd give us all the chicken manure, and Dad would give him vegetables and stuff in trade. At that time, we went up to the chicken farm and loaded our truck up and brought it back to the farm. I was spreading chicken manure at that particular point, and my sister came down and she said, "Japan bombed Pearl Harbor." And I had this feeling that, "Well, that's certainly not going to be good for us," I didn't know where Pearl Harbor was or what, what the ramifications involved, but I had this real ominous feeling that something bad was going to happen to us. That's all I could distinctly remember. The good part of it, I never had to spread any more chicken manure. [Laughs] Anyway, we went into the, after I had finished hauling the chicken manure I went in the house and, of course, Mom and Dad would explain to them what was happening on the radio, trying to tell them what was going on. That's about all I remember. And...

TI: Do you recall any reaction from your father or mother in terms of words they said?

TO: I don't know, I don't recall my father and mother saying anything about it. They were just, just curious what took place.

TI: And what about your older sisters, do you recall her saying anything?

TO: She was helping me explain to my folks what the radio was saying, and that was about all.

TI: Well, then outside the family, when you went to school or, what reaction did you get from others?

TO: Yeah, interesting, I was going to Kent junior high school at that time. And there was a lot of Japanese kids that were from the Kent area. And so I don't recall any acts of discrimination from my classmates, or, for that matter, even our neighbors. All our neighbors, of course, Caucasians except for the Oyama family, but I don't recall that many. But they were so far away anyway, maybe the closest was maybe a half mile away. But I don't recall any, any acts of discrimination at all at that time. But we still had vegetables to sell because of the winter crops, you know, turnips and things. My dad, we took to the Pike Place Market, nobody would buy from him, so it was shortly after that that we just quit going to the Market. And I distinctly remember that my dad said, "Well, we won't prepare for any crops because it didn't..." well, you know, as time went on, of course, you kept hearing about evacuation. So my father wasn't prepared to do any farming at all. Of course, he didn't own the land or anything, so it wasn't much use. What happened was, you know, of course, because of that, because of not being able to go to Pike Place Market, we had no money, we had no income. And Dad, he was pretty much restricted because Isseis. There was a farmer down in Marysville, Maryhill, Washington, I don't remember the name of the farmer, Japanese farmer, right down the Columbia River. And he was looking for some farm labor. So me and a family friend of mine, Kaz Murakami, we went down there. I was in school, I just quit school, left school because we needed the money. And I went down there, I think we had to get special permits to go down there and travel. We went down there and worked on their farm for a while, until I think we had to evacuate. And for some reason, because of being on the Columbia River, I think because the water temperature kind of, stabilizing the temperature, the crops came out real, real early. So this was probably in, probably in March that we were down there. There was a whole bunch of us Japanese down there working on that farm.

TI: And so actually harvesting the crops?

TO: Yeah.

TI: Because that was early. Because most of the farms up here never were able to harvest.

TO: That's right. Yeah, that's about March, April. I don't recall, and I don't... it appears that they owned that farm, but I don't know if they ever went back. I don't remember the name of the people, the farmer, but they seemed to be, had been doing very, very well. They had a nice house, I think they had a daughter that had a piano that she played, that we heard. We never, we never got into the house because they had this bunkhouse for farm laborers.

TI: But it was a Japanese family that...

TO: Yes, Japanese.

TI: And what was the name, do you recall?

TO: I'm sorry, I don't recall.

TI: And this was where? On the Columbia --

TO: Maryhill, Maryhill. Just somewhere around where that... I drove down there once to see if I can find that farm, I never could. But there's a museum there, the Maryhill Museum, somewhere in that area. All I remember is the Maryhill, Washington. And I don't know how we got there. I remember we got in the bus, and I assume that we went to the closest bus, bus station. They must have picked us up, farmers must have picked us up and took us to the farm.

TI: That's interesting. I'm going to have to look into that, I'm curious now about this place.

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

<Begin Segment 14>

TI: So it sounded like you didn't go to school very much longer after December 7th.

TO: No, no. That was it.

TI: But in those few days that you were at Kent junior high school, do you recall how the teachers and administration handled the outbreak of war? Was there, like, an assembly, or did teachers talk to the classroom about what happened?

TO: Boy, I definitely don't remember anything, the reaction of the teachers or anything like that, good, bad or anything. It's kind of interesting that I didn't, but I don't recall anything being said, other than just talking among us Nisei at that time. Because I think that, I don't know what the percentage of Nisei students was at that time, but it was a pretty high percentage of us initially going to junior high school at that time, and high school for that matter.

TI: Do you recall amongst the Niseis what was said at that time?

TO: I don't recall anything definite, other than generally, "How are you guys doing?" And I don't... I don't know what the situation was in the city of Kent. I'm sure there was some discrimination, but I didn't hear too much about any bad things going on at that time like maybe in parts of California, that house was burned or anything like that. Maybe there was, but I don't recall anybody involved in anything like that.

TI: Well, how about when you were working down by the Columbia River, was there a sense of what was happening or what might happen to, say, your parents or to the Japanese Americans on the West Coast?

TO: We were so isolated down there that we had no communications with anybody, we just talked among ourselves. We just didn't know what was going on other than we heard that we had to go back because we heard that we were going to be evacuated and that was about it. So I don't recall anything distinctly, that was distinct that I can remember.

TI: Do you recall any problems traveling back and, or actually back to Renton?

TO: Definitely. We had to get some okay from the local sheriff or something to travel back to Seattle. But this Kaz Murakami was quite a bit older than I was, so I was kind of like his kid brother that just tagged along.

TI: And when you returned home, what was it like? I mean, what had happened in that time period you were gone? Anything?

TO: Yeah, those signs were posted around our neighborhood, you know. Trees, we had very few telephone poles, but there were telephone poles. So we definitely got the message that we were supposed to get ready to move out.

TI: And did you, what did you think when you saw those signs? I'm guessing the signs are those "notice to people of Japanese ancestry" to have to leave the area and things like that? What were you thinking?

TO: I was very frightened for myself and for my parents and our family. I didn't know, because by then, I was, had the role of being the oldest son, even though I had some older half brothers and sisters, I was the oldest son at home. So I was very concerned about what was going to happen to our family. I had no idea what was going to happen, because absolutely no idea. And I was quite young and innocent and not too familiar with the way the world worked, how things were. But other than being concerned and worried, that was about it.

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

<Begin Segment 15>

TI: So describe, so in Renton, where were you picked up or where did you go?

TO: We all went to the Renton train station, and we boarded the train there with our one suitcase, two suitcases, I don't remember how many suitcases we had. But I remember we still had those, I guess, suitcase-like things from Japan, that woven suitcase that you tied with a rope that my father and mother had that came from Japan. I remember we had one of those that was kind of odd looking thing among all the suitcases. But that's... I think my mom went and bought some suitcases, but we did have that.

TI: And how did you get from your home to the Renton train station?

TO: Neighbor took us down. We had a neighbor, I think the guy's name was Goodwin, and he was a retired Seattle police officer. And he was, him and his wife, I don't know if they had children, but they were real good people, real nice people. In fact, they bought our truck. Of course, they probably got it for practically nothing, but they were nice people. They never, even being a police officer, he never was discriminatory, treated us real good and helped us get down to the Renton train station.

TI: Do you recall any conversation you had with Mr. Goodwin about the situation or anything?

TO: No, I don't think I... definitely did not, no.

TI: So describe what the Renton train station looked like when you were down there. What was happening, how many people were there, what did it look like?

TO: It was kind of interesting. The people that were there at the Renton -- there wasn't very many Japanese around that Renton area. But I remember some of the people from the Maple Valley area, I think the Hirais, and I think there was a couple other families from the Maple Valley area. And there weren't a whole lot of people, but I think for some reason, I don't know how this came about, but I remember some of the people from the Highline area. They were on the same train we were, but I don't remember them boarding the train at the Renton train station, but they must have. Because it's kind of something that I should remember because it happened to me, but I don't remember too much about what happened.

TI: Describe what people were wearing.

TO: Well, I guess the best clothes we had, which was, for me, I think it was just my typical school clothes, I think. I don't really recall. I think I saw some of the men wearing their suits. I kind of thought, "Gee, that's odd," to be wearing a suit to go on the train, but they were wearing suits and maybe even ties and hats. They were very nicely dressed. But for me, I dressed in my school clothes, if I recall.

TI: And so when you boarded the train, were there soldiers?

TO: Oh, yes. Oh, yes. There were definitely soldiers. I distinctly remember the soldiers there at the train station when we got there. And I don't remember anything that they did that's distinct, other than they were there, I don't know if they... they were just standing around, I think. I don't recall anything, any action that was memorable, so to speak.

TI: And just how about the mood of the people at the train station? How would you describe...

TO: I don't really remember anything about that part. We'd talk to people that we knew, just small talk so to speak. We were still kids yet, so I don't... [laughs].

TI: So, the train ride, what do you recall of the train ride?

TO: Well, I remember... well, one thing I definitely remember is the Highline people. There was some of these, this one gal named Nobi Kodama, she's married to a judge, but she was a very attractive young woman and all the guys were saying, "Oh boy, look at that pretty girl." So apparently there must have been some other people from that Highline area, so I don't remember exactly how they got onto the, where they got on. They must have come to Renton and got on with us, but I don't remember how they got on. Then, of course, the train ride was, babies crying and very crowded and smoky. All the locomotives then were coal fired, at least the ones that were carrying us, evacuees, were coal fired, and so the soot and everything would come into there. But one thing, the way they fed us, we went into the dining car, that was very, something very different for us. And being on a train was very different for us because we had never been on a train before. But, of course, having your blinds pulled, and as we kept going south, it kept getting hotter and hotter, so we figured that we're going south. Of course, the train tracks, there's not too many directions it could go, so we kind of figured that we're south. And then we got to Fresno, I think, where we got on the buses or something and they took us to Pinedale Assembly Center. The only thing, distinctly, I remember on that train ride, for some reason, we crossed a real high trestle that you can look way, way down. And I don't recall that -- you know, we took the train back from L.A. just a couple years ago just to see what it was like. And I was looking for that and I never did find it. But I recall distinctly that it was a real high trestle going down into, must have been northern California, through the Siskiyou Mountains.

TI: Yeah, that's what I was probably thinking, maybe through Grant's Pass.

TO: Somewhere around there. But I distinctly remember that. I was looking for it when we came back from Los Angeles on the train, yeah. But I remember it was very crowded, and I think the worst part was those little kids crying and disturbing everybody, and that kind of bothered me more than one way. I felt sorry for the little kids that were crying.

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

<Begin Segment 16>

TI: So you went to Pinedale, which is Fresno. So it is, it's a pretty hot area.

TO: It was hot.

TI: So describe what, besides the heat, what else about Pinedale can you remember?

TO: I remember that the local, the train. I guess there was, they tried to build things so fast that the sewage system wasn't working, and oh, it was really, really smelling around the latrine. [Laughs] I remember in the mess halls, the food was such, and I guess the refrigeration system wasn't very good because everybody had the runs and the food was horrible. I remember one of my oldest brothers, brother-in-law, he was, had to go... there was coal, either coal or wood stoves at the, in the kitchens, and his job was to go around early in the morning to start the fires in those stoves so when the cooks got there, they'd have... and it was hotter than dickens. I distinctly remember that one thing, the barracks, the temporary barracks, the floors were all asphalt. They weren't concrete, they were asphalt. And those army cots, had those steel-leg army cots. Those cots would get so hot that it would sink into the asphalt. I distinctly remember that.

TI: So even though the cots...

TO: They were the metal, we were on the metal cots, you know.

TI: Metal cots, but they were inside, though.

TO: Oh, yeah.

TI: So it would be so hot inside...

TO: Oh, yeah, yeah.

TI: ...the barracks that it would just...

TO: Just slowly sink, and of course the weight. And I don't know how good that, the quality of the asphalt was, but they would sink in, definitely. I recall, outside, of course, there wasn't anything for anybody to do, there wasn't any playground, it was a very confined area. And the fence around there, of course, the guards and everything, but what really got our attention was the orange trees that was around there. You know, the orange was still on the trees, and that was really something for us to see because we never saw orange trees up here in this part of the country. And that was the only thing that I kind of distinctly remember.

TI: So were the orange trees inside the camp compound?

TO: No, no, they were outside the fence.

TI: So you could just watch them, look at it? [Laughs]

TO: That's right, yeah. No, they were across the road or something. I don't remember where they were, but they were right, at Pinedale, right among a bunch of orange orchards.

TI: And so what would you do to stay cool? How would you stay cool in such hot temperature?

TO: Us guys, we'd take, you know, our clothes. But women, that was another issue. But yeah, there was fans, you try to fan yourself. There was no electric fans or anything, so I don't know, we just suffered through it. I was young yet, so I guess I didn't suffer as much as some of the others. But yeah, I distinctly remember around the latrines, it was a horrible mess.

TI: And so what would you do to pass the time?

TO: That's another, I think we just sat around and talked. Because for some reason, I think that we were there long enough for the Issei to put up a sumo rink where the guys could do sumo. And so I remember that we'd go watch the guys that knew how to do sumo, to do that sumo wrestling. But the place certainly wasn't big enough for any baseball diamonds or anything like that. I don't really recall us doing anything but just hanging out and just talking and sitting around. Because there was no school or anything formal at that time.

TI: And who would you hang out with? Are these people that you knew from Seattle, or who would you talk with?

TO: Well, I never hung out with any Seattle people. Well, some of the kids I went to junior high school with, but they weren't... so whoever happened to be our neighbor, I don't distinctly remember anyone that I was real close to other than my relatives that were all there at the same time. Yeah, I don't remember being real close to any, and that's kind of interesting now that you ask, because...

TI: How about your parents? What did they do during this time?

TO: I really don't recall them doing anything different than what we were... just sit around and talking and trying to keep cool. Of course, Mother, she was, she had the most, she had to wash our clothes and those type of things. But man, I don't recall them doing anything other than just sitting around and talking. Of course, with some of them, it was kind of a relief, I suppose, that they didn't have to do those daily chores and worry about financials and all that. But that was just one side of it. The other side was altogether different picture.

TI: Do you recall how long you were at the Pinedale Assembly Center?

TO: I really don't know. I should look all that stuff up, but all I know is it was hotter than the dickens. And I think by the time we left, it was it must have been getting close to fall. I think we were down there, went down there in June, and so I think it was sometime during the winter we went to Tule Lake. I remember that was a long train ride to Tule Lake.

TI: So you were in Pinedale during the height of the summer.

TO: Oh, yes.

TI: Do you, I mean, how hot would it get in Fresno?

TO: I don't know. I had heard a hundred degrees is not unusual at all in that part of the country. But like I was young, you know. Today it might hit me altogether differently.

TI: [Laughs] Probably.

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

<Begin Segment 17>

TI: So after some time, you then went from Pinedale to Tule Lake?

TO: Uh-huh.

TI: So describe that trip. What was that like, going from Pinedale to Tule Lake?

TO: Yeah. I got to thinking -- we went... I guess we must have went on the train again. And I don't recall too much about how we, how we got to Tule Lake other than we... I don't remember even where we got off the train, whether it was Klamath Falls or there's another little town that was on the tracks near the Tule Lake camp in Newell, I think, Newell, California. I think there's a station there that we must have got off. then we got, I don't know if we had... at some point in time, we rode an army truck into the camp, and I don't know if that was from the Newell train station or going from Fresno to Pinedale. But at one time, I remember we had to all get on the back of the army truck to go into the camps.

TI: And when this was all happening, you're like fifteen, sixteen years old?

TO: Yeah, sixteen.

TI: Sixteen. Okay, so you go to Tule Lake, describe what you saw at Tule Lake.

TO: Well, it was vast, open areas, you know, compared to Pinedale. Everything was all very much confined. They call it firebreaks, big, big wide spaces that you play baseball. But the only thing was all sandy and wasn't conducive to do a lot of things. But, of course, us young kids, we had to do something, so we played football and baseball and whatever we could out there in those.

TI: And climate-wise, how was that for you?

TO: Well, I remember it got pretty cold that first winter we were there. And of course, the government issued us old, World War I army type of clothes, pants, wool pants, with kind of laces up the side and bottom like the cavalry. I remember those kind of odd things. And kind of the army... I think the navy peacoats, they were quite heavy, but they did furnish those for us because it did get pretty cold. Our particular block was Block 50. Block 50 was, half the block was a grade school, so we didn't have the full block like some of the other places did. So that kind of was a different situation in that full blocks they had block managers. And I think we had a block manager and all that stuff, but it was a little different situation. Because it was a smaller block, I think we were a little closer to each other in terms of, you know, socially.

TI: And so in Block 50, who was in Block 50? Were they all people from the same area that you came from or from all over?

TO: No, I don't know how this all got mixed up, but our neighbors were from Hood River, California, Hasegawa family from Hood River. I remember in our block there was an Episcopal minister, Reverend Daisuke something. I don't remember what his last name was.

TI: And do you recall where he was from?

TO: I think he was, lived in Kent or Auburn. I think that's where he's from. So, you know, but I don't remember where the other neighbors had come from. I knew who they were, but all I remember is next-door neighbors were the Hasegawas from Hood River.

TI: And so describe your living quarters for your family. There were, what, four kids and your parents, so six of you. Describe the space you had.

TO: Oh, I imagine it was a room about this size. I don't think it was quite this wide, but it was about this size.

TI: So maybe about twelve by fifteen?

TO: Yeah, that's about what it was. Of course, our beds were all next to each other, you know, just, no privacy or anything.

TI: And what would be a typical day for you at Tule Lake?

TO: Good question. What did I do? Well, of course, I'd go out and started hanging out with the kids, my peers. We'd go out and play baseball or football. And I started to go back to school then. By then it was high school. I don't recall them having a middle school or anything, I just, I remember going to school there.

TI: And so how about food? What was the mess hall like?

TO: Well, the mess halls were very interesting. For some reason, I just remember we'd get a lot of that Columbia River smelt. And by then, half of it was spoiled because for some reason, Columbia River smelt just don't hold up as good as other smelts. And everybody got sick of it and the cooks were trying to do the best they could with, trying to make it edible. But I distinctly remember eating that. But other than that, I don't remember too much about that part. I remember that us young kids, we wouldn't necessarily eat in our mess hall, you know, we'd go scouting around to see what... somebody said, "Oh, that mess hall is good," so we'd sneak into that other mess hall. And so I don't recall eating with my parents too much. I would be eating with my buddies.

TI: And you mentioned school, that you went to school. What do you remember about school?

TO: Well, I remember, I think the, we had benches for a while. I imagine that the camp inmates would, made those benches. And I don't remember even having a desk. It was benches for a while. And then later on, I think we got some desks. By then, I left camp and went to work out in the farm, so I quit school about then.

TI: What about teachers? Do you recall any of your teachers?

TO: No, I don't. No, I don't. I think there was one Nisei that was teaching, I don't remember what class it was now.

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