Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Mary Kageyama Nomura Interview
Narrator: Mary Kageyama Nomura
Interviewer: Tom Ikeda
Location: Torrance, California
Date: July 9, 2009
Densho ID: denshovh-nmary-02

<Begin Segment 1>

TI: So today is Thursday, July 9, 2009, we're in Torrance, California, at the Holiday Inn. And on camera we have Dana Hoshide, and I'm the interviewer, Tom Ikeda. And so, Mary, let me just start from the very beginning, and can you tell me when and where you were born?

MN: I was born in Los Angeles in 1925, centuries ago. [Laughs]

TI: And 1925, what month and day?

MN: September 29th.

TI: And so that will make you eighty-three years old?

MN: Almost eighty-four.

TI: Almost eighty-four. And you drove down from Huntington -- or drove up from Huntington Beach?

MN: Yes.

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

MN: Just Mary Kageyama, I had no middle name. All my siblings had Japanese names, and I did not.

TI: Do you know why?

MN: I don't know why. But my mother called me Meri instead of -- you know, my birth certificate says "Mary," but she always called me Meri, M-E-R-I. So my little business -- well, this is something else -- I call myself Meri.

TI: Okay, interesting. So you mentioned your siblings had Japanese names. Let's go through and list your siblings in birth order.

MN: Akira, Frank Kageyama.

TI: And did you call him Frank or Akira?

MN: We called him Akira. And my sister Fumi Miriam, and my other sister Mae Michiye, little sister Tillie Yuriko.

TI: Okay, so you were the fourth.

MN: Yes. And a half brother.

TI: And his name?

MN: Bill Susumu Fukawa.

TI: And in terms of the age difference, like your older brother, how much older was he?

MN: He is nine years older than I.

TI: Nine years older. And then your elder sister --

MN: Was eight years older.

TI: Okay, and your -- Michie was...

MN: Mae is two years older than me. Yes, she's two years older than I am, and then my little sister was four years younger.

TI: Four years younger. And then your half brother, Bill, was?

MN: Oh, my gosh, I don't remember.

TI: Quite a bit younger.

MN: Quite a bit younger, yes.

TI: And later on, it will be important to kind of know those age differences, that's why I wanted to ask.

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

<Begin Segment 2>

TI: Let me ask next about your father. Do you recall his name and where he was from?

MN: His name was Tomitaro. Tomitaro (...) Moritoki. And when he came over from Japan, he took my mother's name, Kageyama.

TI: So like a yoshi?

MN: Not quite yoshi, but maybe because he was an illegal person. He didn't come over with the proper papers, I understand, so we all took Mother's name, so we're all Kageyamas.

TI: Oh, interesting. So when you say your father came over illegally, do you know how he did that?

MN: Through Mexico, that's all I know. He went to Mexico on, aboard ship someplace, and then he walked across, I understand. That's what someone told me.

TI: Now, was that fairly common in the community?

MN: I think so, yes, quite a few of them. In fact, some very famous people came over the same way.

TI: Oh, interesting. So Moritoki, and then, but he changed his name to Kageyama.

MN: Uh-huh, Kageyama. His name was Moritoki.

TI: Moritoki, okay. And your mother, what was her name?

MN: Machi. Not Machiko, just Machi Kageyama.

TI: And do you know how she came to...

MN: I don't know. I imagine it was legally, and she came over as a young girl, and she met her husband here.

TI: And do you know how they met?

MN: I don't know, maybe through music, I don't know.

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

<Begin Segment 3>

TI: So let's talk about music a little bit, with your mother first. And tell me about how she was involved with music.

MN: Well, as a teenager, I understand, she would not go to school. She would cut classes and go to the music school where they taught dancing and shamisen, and they would have to call the parents to come get her because -- not call, but sent messages, and they would come after her. But every single day she would just cut classes and go to that school. So they finally gave up after how long, and they finally gave up and let her go to that music and dancing school. So first she learned to do odori and shamisen.

TI: And was this all in Los Angeles or in Japan?

MN: No, in Chiba, in Chiba, Japan, Tateyama, I guess it is.

TI: So as, it's interesting, so as a young girl, she was passionate about music and a little rebellious.

MN: Yes. We went to see the relatives in 1999. We never knew the relatives, so we went there to seek them out. And the cousin who was there said that she was a real rebellious child, very tomboyish and hop on a bicycle. Girls never rode bicycles, but she would hop on a bicycle and take off for the music school. And so they washed their hands of her because she would not become a regular, what a little girl should be. But that's how passionate she was about music and dancing.

TI: Oh, how interesting. And when she came to America, did she come with her parents?

MN: No, alone.

TI: Alone? And do you know about how old she was? Because earlier you mentioned she was young when she came.

MN: Very young. She must have been early twenties, if that.

TI: Wow, that really is adventuresome for a single woman to just come...

MN: Yes, but she was just a little different. [Laughs]

TI: And do you know what she did when she arrived?

MN: I have no idea. Only my sister who passed away would have all that. She had a wealth of knowledge about what my mother did, but now she's gone and no one knows.

TI: Wow.

MN: We never asked her things like that.

TI: How interesting. Your father, do you know anything about his family in Japan?

MN: All I know is they came from Okayama. We went to see -- that, 1999, we went to see that part of the family, too. And we went to the cemetery, and every tombstone there had Moritoki on it. It was all Moritoki clan. And they came from a group of potters. They made the pottery called... Bizen, Bizen-yaki. So we did go see some of the family there, and they could see the pottery that they made.

TI: So both your parents really came from a art background.

MN: Yes, yes.

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

<Begin Segment 4>

TI: And when you mentioned Los Angeles, that you were born, what part of Los Angeles?

MN: Boyle Heights. I think we lived near Maryknoll church, in a hotel. That's what I remember of that era.

TI: So when you were a young girl, first your father passed away, and you were, I believe, four years old when this happened. Do you have any memories of your father?

MN: Scant memories. I remember we had gone crab fishing, he would sit on the end of the piling of the pier and put a net down in the water, and I still remember that, catching crabs. And then living in a hotel near the Maryknoll church. I remember one instance when he was being taken downstairs on a stretcher to go to the hospital because he got pneumonia. He caught a cold, and in those days they didn't have medication for things like that, and that's the last time I ever saw him. In the hospital, and he had passed away. And I do remember he was very artistic, and he would build things, like he would make beautiful shoji screens and cover it with silk cloth and put calligraphy on it. I remember his sewing something for me, a dress, a lavender-colored corduroy dress, I still remember that. And I guess I wasn't even quite four at that time. But that's the only thing I remember, those three instances of my father.

TI: Do you remember the aftermath of his death in terms of his service or anything like that?

MN: I don't remember the service. I remember my mother's, but not his. We have pictures, but...

TI: Okay. So after your father died, what happened next with your mother, for instance?

MN: She remarried shortly. Because I do recall seeing a family portrait taken of the whole family when my father was still living, and my stepfather is in that photo with another cousin, I believe. The cousin is a stranger to me, I don't know who he is, who he was. But the stepfather must have been a family friend. And so that family picture has him in it. And then shortly after, she remarried, and had his child.

TI: And that's Bill.

MN: Bill, uh-huh.

TI: Okay, so you were four. And going back to your mother, you mentioned her love of music and dancing, the arts, and being rebellious. Personality-wise, how would you describe her?

MN: She was a very gentle person, but she was, well, I guess she had to be strict because she was our mother and there was no one else. We didn't have that much to say about my stepfather, he was always out working or something. And so, but he was, I remember her being a teacher of odori, she was an odori sensei, and she had taught -- by the time that she remarried, we had moved to Venice. And there, she taught all the farmers' daughters, who were wealthier, we were not wealthy at all. And then so she was teaching them, and we never got to learn from her, because we were not paying students. But we learned from watching her students. And so any time we had any recitals, we got to join in the little chorus, but not the individual dances. But we got to dress up like the rest of the girls, and so we have pictures like that. My sister and I both got to dress up and pretend we were one of the students.

TI: Now, how did that feel for you? Because you're like a young girl who's six, seven years old, seeing your mother with all these other girls around her, she's with them. And how was it sharing your mother with those other girls? Do you remember any feelings about that.

MN: We didn't have any feelings of jealousy or anything, but we enjoyed the company of seeing other people. 'Cause we just had our little close-knit family. So when she had these odori classes and we got to see them, we enjoyed having people there. I guess we were all a bunch of social butterflies in our family, so we enjoyed the camaraderie of the students, and we still have, we're still friends, and we still see them.

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

<Begin Segment 5>

TI: Any other strong memories of your mother during this time?

MN: She was a very proficient shamisen sensei also. And she used to play the, we called it the futo, the big shamisen, the real bass one. And she used to play that thing like a banjo player. I mean, she would just tear into that. And we had a, I remember one instance, there was a professional sensei from Japan that sat right across from her, and she played note for note with him. I mean, just... they call it jongara, jongara shamisen, so she's very good at playing shamisen. And so, and then she also taught the Japanese singing, the Japanese-type opera, where she would accompany with the shamisen, and the male, only male singers, would narrate a story, and all their voices, whether they were women or men or children, they had to sing with that type of voice, and we would listen in on them and enjoy that, too. Because it was just an enjoyable part for them.

TI: As you describe this, it seems your mother is quite the personality, quite the presence in terms of her music, her singing, her dancing. Was that pretty much how you kind of...

MN: Oh, yes. I think she had a lot of people admiring what she could do.

TI: Any other memories outside of her performances like at the home or outdoor activities, anything that comes to mind?

MN: Well, we lived in Venice, and we just had a little tiny old plot behind our house, and she would grow vegetables behind the house. Behind our little plot was a ranch. A Japanese group, Japanese family had a big celery farm back there, and we made friends with them. And they would invite us to go over there and pick whatever we wanted from their ranch and eat them and whatever we wanted. And so my mother, I guess, being that kind of person she was, we made a lot of friends, and people were very gracious to us. Being that it was during the Depression, and we had no money. We were quite unwealthy, I guess I would... poor, I would say. So we were very fortunate that there was a good relationship with neighbors and the community.

TI: Good. During this time, you mentioned your sisters participating in the dancing. How about your older brother? Was he very much into the arts, like either the...

MN: Not that I know of. He used go to all the recitals and be there, 'cause I could tell from some of the pictures that the whole family was in there with my mother. But he didn't do... he did appreciate good music. To this day, he appreciates classical music, and we grew up with classical music in the house. My sister, too, she appreciated the arts and painting. But we just, we're different. [Laughs]

TI: No, this is. It's not common, when I interview Niseis, to hear about so much music and the arts in the household.

MN: My mother always instilled in us the appreciate of art. She said, "If you a dime" -- not me, my older sister and my brother -- "take that money, take the streetcar, and go take in a concert." Whether it was music or whether it was dance or whatever, she said, "Whatever chance you get to go to these things, go." So to this day, we all appreciate the arts. She was different for an Issei.

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

<Begin Segment 6>

TI: Moving on a little bit, when you were about eight, your mother died. What happened?

MN: She... I would say, with her second husband, she had complications in childbirth, and she passed away at that time. So we had that little half brother, and my father, stepfather went to work diligently. And we took care of him, the little brother. And while we went to school, we took him to a little grocery store, Japanese grocery store, and had them take care of him while we went to the school and all that. And after he amassed, my stepfather amassed enough money to go back to Japan, he took his son with him, but offered to take my little sister and me, too. But my brother said, "Oh, you can't take the sisters because they'd want to separate them." So he bribed me. Of course, we both wanted to go, it was an adventure to go to Japan, my gosh, you know. But my brother bribed me. He says, "If you don't go, you stay here, I'll send you to music school for singing and dancing." Great, so I was bribed and I stayed. And very fortunate that I was able to do that.

TI: So your brother, the oldest in the family in terms of siblings, really wanted to keep the five of you together.

MN: Yes, yes.

TI: So it was him and the four sisters. But he's only, at this point, seventeen years old?

MN: Seventeen... let's see, I was eight, so he was nine years more than that, so seventeen.

TI: So he was seventeen.

MN: Uh-huh, so he quit school to support us.

TI: So your brother at this time was seventeen, your sister is sixteen, your oldest sister. And then you're eight, and your other older sister is about ten, and then you have another younger sister who is about four.

MN: Four, five, six, seven... uh-huh, four or five.

TI: Okay. So going through the ages again, so your brother's seventeen, sixteen, ten, eight, four. And your brother wants to keep the five of you together.

MN: Yes, they did come after us, the orphanage in Los Angeles. And my brother and sister said, "No, you can't take them. We can't separate them."

TI: But before we go into that, I guess I want to go back into your mother's death. Because you're eight years old, and through your description, it's clear that you really looked up to her. She was something, a really important role. How did that affect you, your sisters, your brother, when your mother passed away? Do you remember that?

MN: Oh, my. I really can't even say how I felt at the time. It was a loss, I went to the hospital where she had already passed away. I don't know if I was that naive or unfeeling, or what, but Mother was gone, that's all I felt, that Mother was gone. Since my father was gone when I was four, maybe I felt, that's what happens, that parents don't stay with you. I don't know. I can't really say what my feeling was, when my mother was gone. But I knew that there were only just the siblings left, and we knew we had to just make do. I didn't even know if we were gonna face sacrifices or what, I wasn't aware. I was too naive, maybe.

TI: Now, how about, you mentioned you recalled some of the service for your mother. What can you remember about the service?

MN: I remember it was at the old Koyasan Church in Los Angeles, which is not there anymore. They relocated to First Street. And I do remember going to the service and seeing her coffin and seeing her in the coffin. I just don't remember too much more after that, except for this, the burial service. We had to go to the Evergreen Cemetery, a long cortege of the cars, and had pictures taken. And then I remember I was in the limousine going to the burial, and I started to sing in the limousine. And my brother or my sister, one of my older ones, shushed me and says, "You shouldn't be singing." I said, "Oh, okay." That's how I was. I guess, I don't know, it's not that I was unfeeling, but I always had song in me. No matter where or what, I started to sing. That's all I remember, I was shushed by one of my siblings, says, "Don't sing."

TI: Do you recall what song you sang?

MN: No. And I remember -- this is something I will never forget -- is when after the service in the cemetery, oh, I'll never forget this. They put her coffin into the little space where they cremated her, and I could hear that oven going. I'll never forget that. I don't think we were supposed to have been there when that happened. But I'll never forget that. That's the last. I don't remember her being -- oh, her ashes were sent back to the Koyasan Church to be placed there for us to have enough money to bury her. We didn't have enough money to bury her, so we did not bury her ashes until after the war, when my father's ashes, her ashes, oh, I did have a brother who I never knew about, he passed away before (Mae) was born, so I never knew him. His name was Isamu, he died of blood poisoning as a child. But his ashes, Mother's, Father's, and my sister's, Fumi, Miriam's, ashes were buried at the same time. That's when we were able to buy a tombstone for the Evergreen Cemetery, so we buried their remains there at that time.

TI: Thank you for sharing that.

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

<Begin Segment 7>

TI: Going back to your, so after the funeral, how long was it before your stepfather left for Japan?

MN: I can't say in years, I don't remember. I imagine my half brother must have been about six or seven. 1937 my sister got married, and he was still here. So my mother passed away in '33.

TI: So about, it sounds like three or four years.

MN: Five, five six years.

TI: Five or six years.

MN: My father, stepfather took his son and went back to Japan.

TI: Okay. So at this point, when he left, because you were living with your stepfather and taking care of Bill... so when your stepfather left, you were about, looks like about (twelve) years old.

MN: Yes, I imagine so.

TI: And that would put your older brother at about twenty-two, twenty three? Yeah, okay. And so it was at that time, when you were about (twelve), and your younger sister was about (eight), that your stepfather went back.

MN: Uh-huh. I'm just guessing at that age, I don't remember.

TI: Yeah, just roughly. But still, okay, so age-wise, your older brother, who's about twenty-two, and your oldest sister, about twenty-one, they really want to keep the family together.

MN: Oh, now that you say twenty-one, I don't believe she was twenty-one. She got married at a very young age. I think she must have been about nineteen (...) when she married, I believe. But we lived on the same street, so she was very close by.

TI: Okay. And so you mentioned how your brother kind of bribed you, said he would send you to music lessons if you stayed. So let's talk about how the family operated now that your stepfather and your younger half-brother is now gone. How did the family operate?

MN: My brother went to work for a nursery at the onset of the time when he had to start taking care of us, and learned about plants and things. And I imagine he was going on the bus, because he didn't have a car at that time. And later on, he started taking -- after they would purchase the car, he was, or rent a car or something, I don't know how he got the car -- he got a book from the library on horticulture, and learned all about gardening and became a gardener. And he supported us by going and doing gardening. And what little money he was able to make, he would leave a dollar bill on the kitchen table when he went to work. My sister, who was just (two) years older than I, would take that dollar bill, go buy things for our lunch for school, and our dinner for the night, and she would cook, and I would help cook, cook rice and things. But that dollar saw us through lunches for school and dinner, every day he would leave a dollar. But in those days, in the 1930s, that sufficed. And it's amazing.

TI: And for a dollar, what could you buy for lunch and dinner?

MN: Bread, bologna, mayonnaise, little bit of meat or something to cook okazu for dinner. And if she was able to buy a chicken pot pie, that was a treat. We ate well, I mean, we survived. But in those days, a dollar would do it.

TI: And were you still living in Venice?

MN: We were living in Venice in the same house that my mother was living in, and that's the house that we left to go to Manzanar.

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

<Begin Segment 8>

TI: When, after your mother died, and pretty much your brother is taking charge and doing all this, did you get much help or support from friends and other people, neighbors in the community?

MN: We had a guardian, which, just in name only. They lived in (west) Los Angeles, and they were an elderly Japanese, Japan couple. And they would come over sometimes with rice or oshoyu or something. And then I know at Christmas time, we didn't get toys. We got rice, oshoyu, miso, things like that, to keep us going, and to help the larder. And one day, one Christmas, we were given a pair of skates for all the siblings to share. I mean, that was a milestone, and then we were able to have fun on the street, asphalt street, by sharing the skates. That was a big treasure for us, to have a toy. My mother left instruments that we were able to (play with) shakuhachi and taiko and shamisen, but we never touched her shamisen. Because, you know, it was a precious thing, and we would have torn it. But we were able to tootle around on the shakuhachi, which we couldn't do, but she could play it. She had a piano, we tinkered on the piano, and she played the violin. But we never got to pursue all that, because you had to take lessons from that. But here I'm deviating from what you asked me, I'm sorry. [Laughs]

TI: No, no, this is great. And in fact, I was just trying to get a sense of, almost like the everyday life for you and the kids. I mean, in terms of, like, discipline, if someone didn't do something right or got in trouble, who would be...

MN: My brother. He ruled us with an iron hand and his voice. He would never strike us. Maybe he would swat us on our rear or something, and then that would bring us to right away. And he taught us, my sister and my brother made sure we all had proper manners, and so we grew up okay. I guess it was instilled into them by my mother. And we still, we thanked them for our survival.

TI: How about things, as you grew up into a young woman, in terms of dating and things like that, did your brother talk to you about those things?

MN: Well, my dating, I was such a wallflower, I didn't date until I went to Manzanar. My sister, just two years older than me, she was quite popular, just a pepperpot, and everybody just chased after her. They used to come over and try to date her and all that, but my kid sister and I were just little brats. [Laughs] So they had no interest in us, we were just little teenagers. But after... that's going into the camp now.

TI: Well, so let me ask you this. So, for instance, the sister older than you, just older, who a lot of boys wanted to date, how would your brother handle that? Would he talk to her or watch out for her?

MN: Yes. Yes, he would be around, and made sure that the right boys were coming over, and I guess he would, the scowl or something would turn them away. [Laughs] And being that he was just a few years older than us, he was the patriarch, so he had to make sure that my sister had the right kind of boys. And the fellow that used to come over, she finally ended up marrying him. She was very popular. And then my other sister, my eldest sister, when she had to find work to support us, she went to work in a market, and then she was introduced to the supervisor who was the produce supervisor for the chain market that she worked for, and she eventually married him. He was ten years older than she, but it lasted a while.

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

<Begin Segment 9>

TI: And so I'm curious, it seems like your, especially your brother, had to grow up so fast.

MN: Yeah.

TI: Did you ever sense a change in him after your mother died in terms of him actually taking that responsibility? Do you recall a change in him?

MN: Just that we looked up to him because he was the one that was in charge of us. He never said, "You toe the line, 'cause I'm in charge," he never was that way. He was always a very gentle person. He ruled us with a voice, and this is what goes on and this is what doesn't go on, and we minded him. And the rest of the family, as we grew up, that's how we raised our children, the way he did.

TI: And you mentioned, to help support the family, he quit school and became, went into gardening.

MN: Yes, eventually became a gardener. And to this day, he's into gardening.

TI: And when he quit school, that was probably a big sacrifice for him to do.

MN: Oh, yes.

TI: Did you recall any other sacrifices that you thought to yourself, "Oh, my, he has to do this or sacrifice that to take care of the family"?

MN: I never thought of it as, my gosh, he's sacrificing to take care of us. We just took it as, well, in Japanese, atarimae, that he would take care of us, because he was the head of the family now. But we never thought that we were depriving him of anything, 'cause... maybe my sisters did, but I didn't, and my little sister didn't. So he eventually was able to join a bunch of guys who played baseball or something, that's what kept him going, because he was able to do things like what young boys were able to do in their late twenties, early twenties and stuff. But when we were growing up, when I was eight, ten years old, we just took it as for granted. He was the one that was supposed to be taken care of us. He was our father figure.

TI: Okay, and how about as he got older? Did he ever date?

MN: Yes. Eventually, he might have looked at some girls, but I can't remember his dating people, per se, as in, "I'm going to be out because I'm dating," or something. But he would come home, and my stepfather, I remember he was still living at our place, at our home, he would lock all the doors so they couldn't come in, he couldn't come home. 'Cause it was after hours, I guess maybe they had certain curfews. And, of course, he's knocking on the window, and we'd open the window and let him come in, because my father would have, stepfathers would have the doors locked. [Laughs] But I remember that, that a few times my sister and my brother used to come late. My father knew, stepfather knew that they were coming in, but father figure, you know, he would lock the door.

TI: And did your brother, it seems like there, you almost had two father figures in some ways, your stepfather and your brother. Did the two of them ever conflict?

MN: I don't know. I imagine they would have, but it was not visible to me. But after a while, I don't know how long it was after Mother passed away, my father moved out and went to live in a little tiny one-bedroom, one-room little cottage to amass enough money to go to Japan, and left the family and his son with our family to get by, and then he took the son and went back to Japan.

TI: And I'm sorry, where was that cottage again? Was it nearby?

MN: Yes, it's just walking distance.

TI: So why would that save money? It seemed like if he stayed...

MN: He didn't support us. He didn't have to support us to pay rent and all that.

TI: Oh, so that really fell to your brother then.

MN: So my brother had to do all that. Of course, the rent in those days must have been quite minimal, but to come up with the money must have been quite minimal, but to come up with the money was pretty hard. So we cooked for the family, and my stepfather cooked for himself. We used to go see him, 'cause we were little, we didn't have any animosity towards him, but my brother and sister had to step in and take care of all us when he was gone. But -- I should not say this -- but he was not the real father figure to us.

TI: Okay. Once your stepfather moved out, it would seem a little unusual to have this family unit with such a young man in charge. I mean, did you ever sense that the way you lived was a little bit different than your friends? That you didn't have, really, parents, but that your older brother was taking care of you? Did that ever come up, or did people ever...

MN: We didn't express it in a way, but we knew that our friends all had parents and they lived with parents. But I would think we felt a little bit more free, because we didn't have the real father and mother figure put their foot down and watch over us. But my brother being the kind of person he was, he was fair, he taught us things to do and not to do, so he was, I think we were fortunate.

TI: Well, that's what I wanted to get at. So the sense that you maybe were a little more free than...

MN: I think so.

TI: So did you at times think you were lucky because of the situation?

MN: No, that didn't enter our minds. Maybe it was because we thought, well, atarimae, you know, it's supposed to be.

TI: Earlier you mentioned that you had this guardian in, I guess, west L.A. that would come by. How about other neighbors or other people that, any other memories of acts of kindness or anything?

MN: I can't remember. Maybe my brother and sister might know, but I do remember that that's what we were given, was foodstuff for Christmas. And when my guardians would come over, they would have little goodies for us, but I can't remember what or when or how often. And they eventually went back to Japan, and so we lost touch with them.

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

<Begin Segment 10>

TI: In terms of, during this time period, music, how did music sort of stay alive with the family? Were there certain things that you or your sisters did to continue with music?

MN: Well, we had an old victrola, we used to play all our classical music on big old giant disks and play music. And, of course, we had a radio, we'd sing with the songs and learn songs with the Hit Parade. And we always were a bunch of hams, we always entertained each other. We would have little talent shows and call the neighborhood kids, hakujin kids, we would all take turns having little programs and that's how we made our own jollies. [Laughs] And eventually, when I was able to go to singing school and dancing school, I was asked by a group to entertain for get-togethers.

TI: So singing and dancing school, when did that happen?

MN: I was twelve, I guess I was about twelve when I used to go. No, maybe before that. It had to be before that because my promised that he would send me to singing and dancing school if I didn't go to Japan. It would be around twelve or so.

TI: Yeah, you were about twelve or thirteen when that happened.

MN: Uh-huh, and I used to take a bus and go to Santa Monica and take my singing and dancing, tap dancing, and I was worthless, tap dancing, I was like a stick. And my sister would take ballet, and I think she was taking some kind of dance with my older sister. But we all enjoyed dancing and singing. But the singing is what kept me going. And eventually the teacher in Santa Monica would come to the house and teach me singing, and he was teaching me piano. And I would not practice piano, so he says, "I'm not going to teach you anymore, 'cause you don't practice." So he washed his hands of me. But singing he kept up with me. So 'til 1941, '42, I took singing lessons.

TI: And while you were taking singing lessons, did you do very much in terms of performance?

MN: Yes, from about twelve years old I was performing with JACL groups and things.

TI: And so when you performed for JACL groups and things like that, what kind of events would these things be?

MN: It would be their installation, or they would put on a talent show, and some of their members would dance and sing, and they were all adults, of course, I was the only child. And so we put on very good shows. We were even, we even went to army camps to entertain the soldiers, and that was unheard of, for a Nisei group to go over there and sing and dance and put on a show for them. I remember that.

TI: So when you say "we," this sounds like a group.

MN: The (West Los Angeles) JACL group.

TI: The JACL group.

MN: Uh-huh, and I was the only kid.

TI: And when you sang, was it as a soloist?

MN: Uh-huh, yes.

TI: And what were some of the songs you would sing back then?

MN: Oh, like things that were popular in those days like Pennies from Heaven and, gosh, I didn't remember those songs way back then. But it's the popular songs of the Hit Parade era. I would learn it by (...) listening to the radio, writing the words down, and then singing it, 'cause I couldn't afford the sheet music.

TI: So I guess I'm imagining that here you're with a group, they're adults, and you're the only kid with them, that you were already viewed as being a really good singer, that you stood out in many ways as a singer, even way back then. Would that be a fair thing to say?

MN: I guess. I was a ham, and I was never afraid. I would be nervous, but never afraid. Once I started singing, my lips stopped trembling, and then I would just sing and wouldn't be afraid after that. But before I sang, I was actually shaking, 'cause I was afraid to, because it was all a bunch of adults. But even through when I was in Manzanar, I would be nervous, but I was never afraid.

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

<Begin Segment 11>

TI: Now, did you sing much with, like, Issei groups? Did you ever sing at functions for Isseis?

MN: When you say Issei, it goes way back to when I was five years old. I sang with a group of these men students that my mother had, and she would play the shamisen, the futo shamisen, while her students, the male students, would sing their operas. And I would mimic them by listening to them in their lessons. And then one day she put me on the stage and I sang the opera song that they, that she was teaching them, and I sang it. And I was only five. And the audience would start crying, and they'd throw money at me. In those days, it was okay to throw money on the stage. So I remember that. I never got to see any of the money, but I know they were throwing money on the stage.

TI: And you said, the audience, they would start crying?

MN: They would start crying, because I was just five years old singing the Japanese-style opera. They called it Gedayu, Gedayu, or now they call it Jorori. But I remember, I have pictures of that, sitting on the stage with my mother. [Laughs] But I guess I was a born ham, just like my mother, just always enjoying music.

TI: Now, when you said they cried, was it tears of, like, because it was like moving music?

MN: Moving, because it was this little five year old singing heavy opera stuff that the adults were singing before.

TI: But then would they still cry if, like, when the men sang the same song?

MN: No, no. It was expected of them because they were taught. [Laughs]

TI: But to see this five year old singing this...

MN: And I wasn't taught, I just mimicked them. I didn't know what I was singing, it was all in Japanese.

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

<Begin Segment 12>

TI: Now, your sisters, were any of them performers, too?

MN: No. But my sister started to take shamisen lessons. Who would teacher her? I guess because, I don't know how old she was, but maybe the war interrupted it, I don't know. She must have been a teenager when she was learning shamisen, because I know it was at the Venice house. And my little sister was always a little rambunctious child, no one could keep her down, she was always rambunctious. Being that she was raised with no parents, no supervision, no one could handle her. But she eventually became a very good singer. In her sixties, she became a very good singer, beautiful voice. She died untimely.

TI: Do you think if she had more training when she was younger, she could have also been a performer?

MN: I think so. I think so. She had a lovely voice, and she could sing Japanese songs. She didn't know what she was singing, but she could sing it, karaoke. And she married -- this is really going far, far away from where we started to talk -- but she married a fellow from Terminal Island who spoke Japanese, understood and read Japanese, so he was able to tell her what the song meant and how to sing it. So she was able to do it beautifully. Go to Japan and Hawaii and take in all the contests for karaoke, she would win, either come in first or second. No one knew that she couldn't sing, know Japanese until she started to sing. It was really amazing.

TI: Oh, that's a good story. As you sort of got recognized through your performances, how did your siblings feel about that, when they would see you up on stage getting all this attention?

MN: They were quite supportive. And eventually, my brother, he had a nice voice, my sister had a nice voice, but they were all very shy. I was the only one that was a ham. And so we made up a trio, and we sang at the Nisei Week talent shows, and my singing teacher is the one that taught us all the harmony. And so we had a great time performing at different functions, too, at JACL group functions and at the talent shows at Nisei Week in L.A. So we all, the three of us used to sing.

TI: And so even before the war, you were, you and your family were quite well-known as performers.

MN: I don't know, I guess so. [Laughs]

TI: Okay, so let's... well, before we go to the war, I'm just curious about things like, oftentimes when I talk to a lot of Niseis, when they're going through school, they had to go through things like Japanese school and church. Did you participate in those things?

MN: We did not go to Japanese school, we did not go to church. Only went to church for services for Father and Mother's memorial services. My kid sister, being so rambunctious and hard to handle, had to go to Japanese school after school to keep her out of the house to be quiet, so we could have a little bit of -- this is not nice to say-- but she was really a holy terror. And so, but she lucked out in the long run because she was able to read and write Japanese, and we couldn't. But she could not understand what she was reading and writing. If someone told her to write this, then she'll write it. If someone sent her a letter all written in hiragana or katakana, she would be able to read it, but not knowing what it meant. Because we didn't speak Japanese at home, we all spoke English. So she lucked out in the end. [Laughs]

TI: Oh, that's interesting. Because she was so rambunctious, she was essentially -- was that a decision your brother made?

MN: Yeah, my brother and my sister said, "She has to go to Japanese school to tone her down." [Laughs]

TI: That's interesting.

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

<Begin Segment 13>

TI: Okay, so let's move on to December 7, 1941. Do you recall where you were when you heard about the bombing of Pearl Harbor?

MN: We were home, it was a Sunday morning, and we heard it on the radio. And then immediately the neighbors, a few neighbors, would look at us funny. We're Japanese, you know, "enemies within us." But some of them stopped talking to us. Some of them, nothing mattered. I mean, they were still our friends, embraced us. School made a difference. Some of the classmates didn't have anything to do with us. I remember when the notice to evacuate came out, a teacher asked me, "When are you leaving?" That's something I'll never forget. For an adult to say that to us, "When are you leaving?" And no one ever called us to our face that we were enemies or "Japs" or anything like that, but we could feel it. The closeness and the friendliness wasn't there anymore.

TI: So it was kind of like, just the tone that people used, and their voices?

MN: Yeah. But the friends we did, who were friends, remained friends, and I'm thankful for that.

TI: So I'm curious, the friends that remained friends, did the topic ever come up about the war starting and the Japanese?

MN: No. I guess, I don't remember their ever bringing it up. Just never said, "You're a friend, the war makes no difference." They never said that. But it was felt by reading the paper and all that, because we were taking the L.A. Times in, of course, everything was in there. And we knew that people were feeling that animosity towards us. But I guess we were more... what's that word? We rolled with the punches. That's what it was, shikata ga nai, we just did it. We just survived.

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

<Begin Segment 14>

TI: Now, in those days following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the FBI was picking up some of the community leaders. Now, were you aware of things like that happening?

MN: Yes, we heard, I guess my brother must have heard. And so we took all of my mother's books on music, all the text that was all written in Japanese on rice paper, beautiful songbooks that she had for her students. We made a bonfire and burned them all, because it was all written in Japanese, in calligraphy, beautiful books. And to this day, it shattered me, because it's gone, of my mother's things. But we did keep her instruments, that had nothing to do with it.

TI: And going back to the burning of those books and documents, because I've heard from others that there were rumors going around that those, you weren't supposed to have those kind of things. But I've heard that more in terms of the Isseis being concerned, because they were Japanese nationals. But in your case, you were all Nisei, or U.S. citizens.

MN: Uh-huh.

TI: So you still had those same concerns?

MN: Yes. We thought having books written in Japanese might be subversive. So we, that's what my brother did, just gathered them all and threw them all, bonfire, backyard. I remember that; I could still see it.

TI: And then tell me what happened next. After you burned these Japanese things, the books and documents, what are some other things that you did during these weeks before leaving for Manzanar?

MN: When we got the notice that we had to leave, my brother took things like my mother's instruments and my musical instruments and the cameras and whatever else we thought was valuable, we took it to the Japanese school to keep for us during the war. That's what a lot of people did, put their better furnitures and things like that in there. And during that time, we understand, a lot of the caretakers let a lot of people come in and loot it. So we never, we didn't get our camera, we didn't get some of our things that we had put away in there, it was gone. But my sister got her furniture back, but my sister was already married. But some of the things of my mother's, I don't know what it was, but my brother said it was gone. But I remember taking them.

TI: How about her musical instruments?

MN: The shamisen was still there, and then the platform type thing that you put in front, like an easel type thing that they put their songbook on, that was all stored, and that was not taken. But things like they could make money from, like, the camera and things like that, that was gone. And in camp, when people were taking lessons among themselves, the teachers, one of the teachers... one of the students wanted the dai that my mother had used for her students. And so my brother sent for it, had it brought into Manzanar, and he bought it, I don't know for what, for a song. So that was not in our hands anymore, this one man bought it. So that was this beautiful lacquered easel, two of them, it was a set. And I don't know what happened to that, but it was something that I wish we hadn't gotten rid of.

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

<Begin Segment 15>

TI: So Mary, the first part, we talked about essentially your life before Manzanar. And I thought we'd pick it up on the day that you left Venice to go to Manzanar. So can you describe that day for me?

MN: I had no idea what was happening. I thought, "Well, we're gonna go on a trip." Being sixteen years old, I thought, "Well, good, we're gonna go on a vacation or something." That's how naive I was. But I guess it was pretty... to the adults, older than I, were more aware, it must have been just earth shattering. But to me, it was, my kid sister and I said, "Oh, we're gonna go someplace." And then we had no money to buy suitcases. So my eldest sister bought some canvas ticking, and bought the, made duffel bags for us. And we put all our clothes in there and whatever we could take, I took my sheet music, and my brother took his collection of classical music, even smuggled a little record player in the duffel bag and we all carried duffel bags. And the day that we left, we went directly to Manzanar by bus from Venice. We didn't have to go to Santa Anita or any of those places and we went directly. And then when we got there, I thought, "Oh, my goodness. This is where we're gonna live?" I had no idea that it was gonna be such a desolate, ugly place. I mean, the mountains were beautiful, but ugly black tarpaper shacks, I mean, barracks. And we had no idea what was gonna happen. We just disembarked and were led to a place to gather our papers to see, we were told where we're supposed to stay and we were taken to the barrack. Had to stuff (canvas ticking), little mattresses with straw or hay or whatever you call it. And we were taken to a block, and said, "This is where you're going to live, and this is what you're gonna have to do, this is where you're gonna go to school, this is where you're gonna go eat." All that was told us at one time, when we got there. We had to, told where we're supposed to go take a shower. It was a shower.

TI: And your family unit at this point was your brother. You mentioned your sister had gotten married.

MN: She had already married, had a husband and a child. But we went all together, so we stayed in the next apartment, but in the same barrack. We kept the family together.

TI: And so your apartment was your brother, (older sister)...

MN: My little sister and I, the four of us.

TI: So three girls and your brother.

MN: Uh-huh, yes. And so all in one little 25' x 20', whatever it was. And with army cots.

TI: And so as you're being shown all this, you're going to see the black tarpaper... so here you go from Venice, and in that same day you go to Manzanar, long bus ride, and then you're shown your new quarters. What was going through your mind?

MN: More shock than anything else. It was, "This is where we're going to live? How long, and how are we gonna do it?" But so being sixteen and very naive, I just rolled with the punches and went along. It must have been very hard for my brother, "This is what I have to do to take care of my sisters?" But we felt like we weren't gonna have any harm done to us. But we did accept it, which it wouldn't happen now, but we accepted it. And so we settled in and tried the best we could, stayed in one room with my brother and my two sisters, and answered the clanging of the bell for eating and all that.

TI: Do you recall, when you first got there, just the expressions on people's faces?

MN: Just dumbfounded look on their face. And the people who greeted us, it was windy and stormy, of course, and dirty and dusty. And people were looking up at us, looking for people who they might recognize as friends or family. And it was just a shock because they all had old army fatigues on for their (clothing), from the old World War I uniforms, that's what they were issued to keep warm. And it was a shocker. And to be met by people like that, and they were all strangers. And then when we did have to go to these different places to be "indoctrinated," and told to do this and do that, we just marched along like little soldiers and did it.

TI: Now, do you recall anything your brother said during this time in terms of how to cope with all this?

MN: I guess he just expected us to cope with it, because he did and we did. He never, I don't remember his telling us, "This you've got to do," but we were told by somebody above him, "This is what you have to do."

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

<Begin Segment 16>

TI: Okay, so after you get settled in a little bit, what would be a, kind of a typical day for you, your sisters, and your brother? How would the day unfold for you?

MN: Well, first of all, I guess my brother had to find work, 'cause we were going to be, he was going to get paid at whatever wages he was going to get, eight or sixteen dollars, I don't what he was going to get paid. And then we being, my kid sister and I were still being in school, had to walk across the whole campground to go to school, trek across the camp, we were up, we were in two different places when we first went to camp. We went to one block and we were moved to another block later, because of the circumstances. My big sister was already, my sister next to me had already gotten a job in the hospital as a stenographer, so we got to move way out to the uppermost part of the camp near the hospital. So it was a little bit nicer up there. But then we had to trek all diagonally across onto the bottom of the camp to go to school every day. Back and forth, eat lunch, back again. That was pretty rough because it was, of course, dusty and stormy. But we survived and just made do. And every time things got a little bit better, we were told that we were able to do this or do that. Or we eventually were able to meet with the people and form clubs and things like that. Within a year, we were able to do things like that.

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

<Begin Segment 17>

TI: So you mentioned that you moved up by the hospital -- my memory might be off, but I've been to Manzanar a few times. Was that... there's also something that's pretty well-known at Manzanar, the orphanage?

MN: Yes, we lived right across the street from the orphanage.

TI: Right, so it was nearby the orphanage.

MN: Yes, across the street from the orphanage.

TI: So did you have much interaction with the kids in the orphanage?

MN: (No). My kid sister did. She made friends with the younger kids there, but I did not. I had already made friends with the girls in our class, and I guess she being in grammar school or junior high, I forgot, because I was already an eleventh grader when we went to camp. So I was able to make friends from the school, but then she did make a few friends in the orphanage. They were a pretty close-knit group, because they had their own kitchen and they were different from our situation. We had to go to a mess hall to eat, take baths and do our ablutions in the whatever, in the public one, but they had their own. They had three huge, beautiful barracks, and made for them, and the boys and the girls were separate, they had their own kitchen and own bathroom and everything. So it was different. But I didn't make friends with them as much, because I had my classmates to make friends with. But we were raised differently from the kids in the orphanage.

TI: The... well, when you think about the orphanage, was the sense, though, the kids were fine, that they were happy? Or did you have a sense of the kids in the orphanage, how their life was?

MN: I didn't really take that into consideration. Just that I thought they lived in a nicer place than we did. [Laughs]

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

<Begin Segment 18>

TI: Earlier you talked about sort of growing up in Venice, how, I guess how poor you were. You didn't have much money. And then you go to camp. And one of the things that I hear when people went to camp, that before the war, there was... I don't want to say classes, but there were, some people in the Japanese American community and money and others didn't. But that when they went to places like Manzanar, there was what they would call like a leveling effect?

MN: Yes.

TI: That all of a sudden, money didn't matter because everyone lived in similar situations, ate the same food. Did you feel that when you were there, that all of a sudden...

MN: I did not feel that there was a class difference before and during camp or anything. But I noticed that people who went there, who had more wealth, were able to do things like send for things, nice material, or extra food or something like that, and they were able to live more comfortably. But I never felt any jealousy towards that, because we were fed. And you can't say we were clothed, but it was more like an equal thing. And we did have friends who were of that upper, more or less upper class, but they never lorded it over us, 'cause we just got along fine.

TI: And when you say more of an equal thing, more equal than it was before the war started?

MN: Yes, yes. Uh-huh.

TI: And so before the war you felt a bigger difference?

MN: Yeah, but it didn't bother us. 'Cause it was a way of life for us, I mean, what else is there for us to expect? So we never felt that, "Oh, that person has really got it great," and we had to deprive ourselves or we're deprived or whatever. We never felt that way. I guess because we were so happy-go-lucky. [Laughs]

TI: So it's not that I'm trying to say one's better than the other, I'm just trying to get a sense of how camp maybe leveled things a little bit. So what would be an example? I mean, besides food, so even thought it leveled, what I'm hearing is that people who did have money were able to bring in things to make their lives a little more comfortable. Do you recall anything specific that you recall someone, like a neighbor or something got that you said, "Oh, that's really nice?"

MN: No, I don't remember, just little different things like they were able to send for nicer shoes or more expensive things from Sears Roebuck because they had the money. But whenever I got a pair of saddle oxford shoes, I said, "Whoa, I'm queen of the hop." But they were able to do that more freely.

TI: And besides those shoes, what are some other things that you or your family members ordered?

MN: Fabric and things that we were able to... what is that word? Get a sewing machine from -- the block had one recreation type place where you were able to borrow, rent out -- not rent, but just borrow ironing boards and irons and sewing machines on a time schedule. So with that, my sister was able to make skirts and things like that for us. Otherwise, you have to send for ready-made things to Sears and that cost quite a bit more. So that's how we were clothed during the camp time, (by) buying material. And then one time I remember my brother's former employer (where) he was a gardener, used to send fabric to him to give to me for a graduation present or something so that I could have something made. I mean, they were very sweet people, they even kept my brother's car for him, and put it on the block and bring it down and run it. But that's the kind of people that were so good to us. And so that's how we did, we just sent for things from Sears Roebuck when we were able to.

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

<Begin Segment 19>

TI: Well, you mentioned that, so when you, at Manzanar, you had to go to school. What was school like at Manzanar?

MN: It was very good. I understand from, I talked to the superintendent of the schools and she says, the camps, but Manzanar, that she knew of, had the highest academic rating of all the California schools. Because the students were different. They were diligent, and they aspired to become good students and they weren't sloughing off. Of course, there must have been a few, but the majority were, you know how the Japanese were, "Oh, yeah, I've got to do this because it's going to bring shame to the family." So we all tried very hard. And they had the regular classes like physics and civics and math, and they even had typing and shorthand and the arts, music appreciation, all that they had like in the outside world.

TI: Now, were you able to continue with your music?

MN: Yes, I was able to join the acapella choir, I was able to take music appreciation, and partake in the different functions that the music department put on.

TI: And how would you rate the quality of education in the music area, something that you kind of knew a lot about? What would you say?

MN: I thought we had a terrific teacher, but he's very famous. Well, he's famous now that he's gone and they made documentaries about him. But he left UCLA as a twenty-something, he was just about the same age as my husband-to-be. And he came to Manzanar to teach these kids music. So he taught band and orchestra and singing and drama, and we all survived and functioned like normal people because of him.

TI: And this is Mr. Frizzell?

MN: Louis Frizzell. Louis Frizzell.

TI: Describe your relationship with him. I mean, here you're a really good singer, he's the music teacher.

MN: I would say he was my mentor. I mean, he just took me under his wings and he supported me and went to Los Angeles to buy sheet music for me so that I could learn new songs. And every time there was a program he would accompany me. And he tried to get me into that movie... what is that movie by Houston? Farewell to Manzanar. He was the only person in that movie, book, movie, who was actually in camp, took a part of the teacher. And he wanted me to be in there. So he came to the... I met him in Los Angeles, and we recorded the song, and he spoke to me, and he said he's going to try to get that into the movie. But somebody had already been recorded to sing that song that he wanted me to sing. But this girl -- no, to sing the song that he wanted me to sing. But this other girl that they hired was a young girl, and she sang opera, and they called her the "Songbird of Manzanar." [Laughs]

TI: So they didn't use the real "Songbird of Manzanar." Now, "Songbird of Manzanar," who gave you that nickname?

MN: I have no idea. I imagine it was Louis Frizzell, but I can't say for sure. But he did write a song for me, and I still have the music he wrote for me. I owe him so much.

TI: Now, did he do this with other singers or other performers in camp?

MN: No.

TI: So he really helped you, he really focused...

MN: Yes, he was my mentor.

TI: And the music that he brought and helped you with, where did you perform? What did you do with this?

MN: Every time we had a school program or a camp program. I even sang at a funeral. And the very first get-together was an introduction of the faculty or something, and just a few months after we got there. I guess they heard that I sang at the Nisei Week talent shows, so they asked me to sing. And I sang with no accompaniment, and I sang Tangerine. I guess you have never heard of that song, it's so old. But that's when I was sixteen. Yeah, I was still sixteen when I sang that song. But later on, as I got to know the faculty and the people, they asked me to sing different things, different functions, graduations and different things.

TI: Now, was this all inside Manzanar?

MN: Yes, inside of Manzanar.

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

<Begin Segment 20>

TI: Were you ever asked to sing outside?

MN: In that acapella group learned a song called, it was the musical called Ballad for (Americans). It was a beautiful song, and they wanted to take that to other camps and take it out to different places to see that this is the kind of song that the kids in camp are singing. It's all about America, it's the history of America from King George in England and to the machine age or whatever. But it was a wonderful song, and they wanted to introduce it to all the other camps. But they could never get the permission. But we did have the outlying Caucasians come into the camp to listen to the program that we did sing for them, the Caucasian people in Bishop and Lone Pine and Ridgecrest, they all came into this program that we all sang.

TI: And where would they, is this the auditorium?

MN: It was... the auditorium was not built yet. Maybe it was built already. It could have been in the auditorium. No, no, it was not in the auditorium, it was in a big mess hall. I remember now, it was in a mess hall.

TI: And what would be the occasion that the local people would come into camp?

MN: I guess it was just by advertisement or whatever, word of mouth or whatever. They said this program was going to be on and so they came in and listened.

TI: And these were like musical programs?

MN: Yes, yes. But I believe that was the only thing that was presented, was that one song. It was a long song, it's the history of America.

TI: Wow, so it must be a long song. [Laughs]

MN: Yeah, it was a long song, yes. And all of us took part and then we'd narrate it and we sang different parts of it. Maybe there was orchestra, too, I don't remember. The orchestra might have performed before or whatever.

TI: It's called Ballad for (Americans)?

MN: Ballad for (Americans).

TI: And do you know who wrote this?

MN: I have the sheet music, I mean, I have the music at home, but I'll find it. (Narr. note: Ballad for Americans is a narrative solo for baritones by John LaTouche and Earl Robinson.)

TI: Okay, I was just curious. I never heard this. Did you ever go outside camp, other places in Owens Valley?

MN: Not during camp, never.

TI: Did you guys have a sense, like in places like Lone Pine or Independence or Bishop, how the townspeople felt about the Japanese in camp?

MN: I'm sure there was lots of animosity. They really said they didn't want that camp there among them, but the government said, "We're going to put it up," and they put it up. And the people of, the citizens of Lone Pine, Bishop, Independence, actually volunteered to work in camp, in the different departments. One was at the Red Cross section at the very beginning, she was in the Red Cross. And some people worked in the electrical department and plumbing, they all got paid by the government.

TI: Did you ever develop relationships with any of the people?

MN: Yes, yes.

TI: So describe some of those.

MN: Oh, this one lady who became a nurse became our dear friend. And her husband ran a gas station in Independence, and her... gosh, I can't remember her name. But we used to, she used to come in and we used to get together through after the camp (closed). And we became friends and we would take things to her that she couldn't get over there, and we had a fish market so we would take fresh things to her, and we just became fast friends and there were people who worked in the... the county seat is in Independence. And they oversee everything in Lone Pine and Independence and Bishop. And the librarian there became a very good friend and she donated a lot of things to my husband to put into the museum, my husband's connection with the Eastern California Museum, that she had that she had collected in camp. And even the former director of the camp, Mr. Ralph Merritt, his son became a very fast friend. And we used to go to his place in Fontana and we just did a lot of things together.

TI: That's good.

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

<Begin Segment 21>

TI: Earlier you mentioned that back in Venice, you were kind of the wallflower, but that later on, when you were at Manzanar, you started dating. Can you tell me about that?

MN: I did not date until I was a senior in high school. I didn't wear lipstick until I was a senior, (my eldest) sister sent me some lipstick from Chicago, 'cause she had gone, relocated there. And I put it on and went to school, and the boys looked at me and one boy says, "Wow, Mary's got lipstick on." They all teased me, 'cause I really was a wallflower. I was afraid of boys, but I was always able to perform, but I never thought of dating. But I guess maybe the boys were afraid of me, I don't know. But I don't think I hated boys, but I was actually really a wallflower. And then when the boys used to ask me for dates and I would ask my brother. "So and so asked me to go to the dance. Can I go?" I would always get his permission. And my sister, who was still not married, my sister above me, she used to say, "Mary could do anything she wants. I have to always ask permission and I always get turned down, but Mary gets everything she gets to do." [Laughs] She used to say that for a while, but then she eventually got married in camp. It was funny. Maybe because I was so quiet, I was not rambunctious like my kid sister, and my sister already was dating, so maybe my brother was more permissive (towards) me.

TI: You mentioned makeup or lipstick. When you performed, before that, would you wear makeup?

MN: Uh-uh. And during, going back to the prewar days when I used to entertain at the Nisei Week show, I was thirteen and fourteen the two years that I performed there. And I was quite tall, I was already this tall at that age. And we'd go to the carnival and stuff after the (show), and the boys would look at me and say, "She's not thirteen." Because I was already this tall and I was already developed. [Laughs] But that's how it was because I was very tall, and my sister was very short.

TI: So I'm guessing, because you're a performer, you were taller, many of the boys might have been intimidated by you.

MN: I think that's what it might have been, they were afraid of me. [Laughs] I wasn't a worldly person.

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

<Begin Segment 22>

TI: Well, eventually, you met the man that you married. Can you describe how you met your husband?

MN: Well, he heard me sing at the Nisei Week fashion show with his girlfriend. He was already in his twenties, and I was fourteen at that time. And he loved music, and he saw me sing and he said to himself, "I'm going to marry that girl." I mean, what a cad. He had a girlfriend sitting (...) beside him. And I said, "Whoa, are you two faced," I was thinking after I met him (when) he told me that. He said, "I always thought I was going to marry you." But anyway, I had to sing at a function of a club called the Manza-Knights, they were one of the most popular boys club in Manzanar, and he was the advisor. He was just a few years older than all the boys. But then I was asked to sing, and then he, being a very proper person, he asked, when I was asked to sing, he asked the boys, "Does Mary have an escort?" Because he said, "Make sure everybody has an escort, they can't go by themselves at nighttime." So they said, "Well, so and so has an escort, but Mary doesn't have one because her boyfriend just left camp, relocated." He says, "Well, then one of you boys take her." And all the boys were this tall, and all the boys who were taller had dates already. So he said, "Well, this won't do. Well, then, I'll take her, but you guys make sure you ask, when you ask somebody to entertain, you ask them, make sure they have an escort before you ask them." So he had his friend come to where I was working for the public works department and said, "(Shiro "Shi") Nomura is going to come pick you up. He will be your escort for the night." I said, "Okay." So he came to pick me up, and the rest is history.

TI: What were your first impressions of Shi?

MN: Oh, I thought he was the best-looking man in Manzanar. He was a very handsome man. And, but the fellow who brought the message to me was his (...) best man (at our wedding). And of course we remained friends. And his sister was in the same club that I was in that we formed while we were in Manzanar, and we still get together. But since then, we just hit it off and got married.

TI: Well, describe how you and Shi dated at Manzanar. What would be a typical activity?

MN: Only to go to movies, the outdoor movies, or dances that were held. (...) He was a fast worker. We were introduced at the Thanksgiving dance called the Turkey Trot, that was the Manza-Knights every year thing, it was in 1944. And by the time I left camp in January, we were already promised to each other.

TI: So within just a few months.

MN: A few months, yes. And so I left camp in January when the Pacific coast opened up. He didn't come to California, Pasadena, where I was, until March of '45. And then in June of '45, we got married.

TI: That was fast.

MN: It was fast, yes. I would say he was a cradle-snatcher and a fast worker. [Laughs] There was a six-year difference between us.

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

<Begin Segment 23>

TI: So you mentioned January of '45, you went to Pasadena.

MN: Yes.

TI: So why Pasadena?

MN: The sponsor was a professor at Cal Tech university, I guess you'd call it, institute. And he gave my brother a job at Cal Tech in the horticulture department, 'cause my brother was into the guayule project. That's another subject in camp, about camp, that he was working with, making rubber for the United States, because (rubber was not available) because of the war. And he took him, my brother, under his wing, and (they had a project in) Manzanar -- with the guayule project. And they made rubber, successfully made rubber out of the guayule plant. And it's another big story. But he sponsored our family to go to Pasadena, gave my brother a job at Cal Tech institute. And then we rented a home through him, and I was able to go to (Pasadena) junior college. But I did not feel comfortable there. I felt insecure, people were staring at me. "What's this Japanese girl (doing here)?"

TI: I want to ask you more about that, but before that, let's go back to those plants and what your brother did. So he was working with this professor at Manzanar, so it was kind of an experimental...

MN: It was an experimental study that he brought into the camp, to show that these people, the Japanese people in Manzanar are doing something for the government, for America.

TI: Because rubber was in short supply?

MN: Yes, it was impossible to get because of the war. And so with the guayule plant, which is native to the desert, they brought seeds in from middle California, and they planted seeds in Manzanar. They harvested it and they germinated it, everything was done in camp in the study, and people who were scientists in camp made a... what is that word? Not recipe.

TI: Like a formula or...

MN: Formula from, yes. To make rubber from this wild guayule plant, and they actually made rubber. And to this day, my brother and his son, who is a professor at UCI, or Pomona now, could get this guayule plant and make rubber to show people. He does this demonstration to the public now. To this day, he could still do that.

TI: So did this experiment ever take off and was used during the war?

MN: Well, the government quashed it because the big oil companies wouldn't let them do it, because it meant that they could not make synthetic rubber from oil, from their oil. And so they would not be able to make it, (but) they made (miniature) tires and stoppers and just wonderful pieces of rubber. Actually made rubber. But the government said no, Chevron and whatever company was too strong and they said, "No, you can't do it."

TI: Oh, that's interesting. I've seen, there's the government newsreel called Japanese Relocation, and they show a scene of them making, or trying to nurture the guayule plant.

MN: That's the one that my brother worked on.

TI: Interesting. And so this professor was impressed with your brother, so he sponsored him to come to Pasadena and help him at Cal Tech.

MN: Just gave him a job. But he did sponsor a lot of people, making sure that they were taken care of and (one) of those (guayule project persons, a professor, Shimpei Nishimura, deceased), was quite bitter because of the fact that they were working so hard to get this for the government, and they were stopped. So this man went to his grave with that secret and this thing, he would not give the formula away. But my brother knew it, and so he was able to do all that. But the machinery and everything was made in Manzanar. I mean, they designed the machinery to grind the seeds, and they had it made and shipped in. I mean, they had to design the whole machine. And that was, it was a wonderful thing. There is a documentary made by my nephew and my brother about that.

TI: Oh, just about this whole project? Oh, interesting. I'd love to see that. Was your brother bitter about the whole project not being...

MN: He was bitter, but he was more supportive of the fact of this Dr. Emerson, who was the one that... he said, "What he did for the Japanese in camp and what he tried to do for the government," he says, "I've got to keep this man's name in people's eyes, in the public's mind, because he did so much. And so that's why he'll, at the drop of a hat, he'll go to these different places and put on these demonstrations.

TI: Oh, interesting. Okay.

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

<Begin Segment 24>

TI: So going to Pasadena, so you went back in January of '45, so that's right when the West Coast was opened up.

MN: Opened up, yes.

TI: And so I'm curious to see what the reaction was. I guess... I don't want to say welcome, but I guess it was more reaction from the people in places like Pasadena when Japanese started coming.

MN: It was very fortuitous, I guess you would say, that we were in Pasadena because there was a huge hostel there run by the American Friends. So we were neighbors just down from the street from (them), and we had the support of them plus the fact that I was able to go into school, I think maybe pulled strings in Manzanar with the teachers, one of the teachers who was a counselor, tried to get me into college in the East Coast. But I said, "I won't go because it's too far from my family." So I went to Pasadena instead. And I didn't have the feeling that I was welcome. I'm being, like, a shy person to begin with, I felt like they were staring at me and saying, "What are you doing here?" There was another Japanese girl there, she was already a student up there, and she was embraced. But I was new, and I just felt insecure. And so I didn't last long, I don't know how many weeks I was there, but I quit, and I went to work as a housekeeper.

TI: Okay. You mentioned going to the large hostel there, the American Friends. So they're also known as the Quakers?

MN: Yes, yes.

TI: Describe that. What was a hostel, what was it for, who was there?

MN: They were welcoming all the people from camps. And we all stayed there. And the ironic thing about that is the Quaker reverend that used to come to our camp, Reverend Nicholson, who was from Pasadena, he was a missionary in Japan and all, and he used to come to church, conduct the Christian services in Manzanar. He used to come to the hostel because he lived in Pasadena. He actually married my husband and I at the hostel. We got married in the hostel with the people there. We has just the people who lived at the hostel as the guests, plus my husband's mother and his best man came from Manzanar just for the wedding and went back.

TI: The person who introduced the two of you?

MN: Yes.

TI: Right. So going back to this hostel, so this was set up by the Quakers specifically to help Japanese return to Pasadena and get them started again.

MN: Uh-huh.

TI: What kind of building...

MN: It was a large home. And they used all the rooms that they could, to put the people up. And they made arrangements for people to be able to take other people in, they had their Quaker Friends and their American Friends group. And they, in turn, called people in Los Angeles, and some of the people relocated to the ones in Los Angeles. It was a wonderful thing that the Friends did for the people who came here out of camp.

TI: Yeah, that is... it's often not well acknowledged in terms of what the Friends and some of the groups did to help Japanese come back to the West Coast or other places for that matter. Because I know they're known to help people resettle in places like the Midwest and the East during the war. And I didn't know as much about these hostels on the West Coast. And so before, we talked about your wedding at the hostel. When did your husband come to Pasadena?

MN: He came in March of, March of '45, and then he stayed. He was able to leave camp, but his mother was still in camp, and she just came out for the wedding and went back into camp. And she did not come out until November of '45 when the camp closed, when the rest of the family all came out.

TI: So I'm curious, so Shi comes out in March to get married. His mother comes to the wedding, and I guess the question I ask, why go back? Why not...

MN: She didn't have the clearance to relocate, 'cause she had no place to go to. You had to have a place to be able to go to, and Shi had a place to go to because my future sister-in-law's parents had a home, renting a home, so he was able to stay there. If they had no place to stay, no one to accept them as a resident in that place, they couldn't come out of camp. They had to have the clearance. And so when the camp closed down, (Shi's) family had a place to go to, and they went to Buena Park (to farm).

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

<Begin Segment 25>

TI: So you and Shi get married at the hostel, and then what do you do next?

MN: He went on a bus and became a gardener, used the residents' tools, cut their lawn and trimmed whatever, he never gardened in his life, he was a farmer before the war.

TI: So say that one more -- he took the bus, so he didn't have a truck?

MN: We had no car, we didn't have a car. So I used to take a bus and go housework and take different places, and do their, either ironing or washing or cleaning little house or taking care of the little kids. And we actually eventually went to live in a home together, he as a gardener, I as a housekeeper, and took care of the little boy. But I was not a good enough cook for her. She said, "You can't even bake a pie." I couldn't. I knew how to do things like cook different stews and things like that, but she said, "We want desserts and you don't know how," so we were laid off. And so we eventually (...) joined his father and mother and the rest of the family in Buena Park. That's when I quit housekeeping. And Shi, my husband, went to work as a farmer with my brother-in-law. And then eventually he started his own little business.

TI: But I wanted to go back to make sure I understood. There was, when you first started in Pasadena, as a gardener, he didn't have a car or anything, so he would take the bus. And because you were on a bus, you can't bring a lawnmower or something.

MN: No, no.

TI: So he would just use the person's...

MN: The customer's things, their lawnmowers and their clippers and all that. And he would have to come home on the bus stinky and dirty. And that's what he did every day. And eventually, he was able to buy a car by borrowing money from the Filipino people who used to work for him in Carson. It used to be called Keystone, but after the war, they called it Carson. And the Filipino workers that kept the farm going, it was not theirs. they kept the equipment and everything for them. But he borrowed five hundred dollars from them, bought a little car, and he went gardening with that. And the Filipino people eventually got paid back and then they went back to the Philippines. That's the kind of people that worked for him.

TI: Yeah. Were there other acts of kindness that you can recall during this, kind of these years right after Manzanar?

MN: Well, during the camp, there was a lady who was called Mrs. McFarland, who lived in Wilmington. That's where my husband went to high school. And she loved the Japanese people. She just did everything for them before and during the war. And she used to come in a car to visit Shi's family and bring them things that we could not get, I mean, they could not get. I didn't know her at that time. And that's the kindness that they were showing him when he was in Manzanar. And Dr. Emerson, who was the professor, used to bring things for -- my brother's, well, our family.

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

<Begin Segment 26>

TI: So you talked about going to Buena (Park) and stopping work, and so what did you do after?

MN: To Buena Park, it was in Orange County. Well, maybe it was Orange County, or was it L.A. County? But I was just a housewife. I'm worthless as a farmer, I couldn't do anything, so I just stayed in the house and cooked and stayed with Shi's sister. And she was a gem, she and her mother, my mother-in-law, they were the ones that took care of me and showed me different things that I knew nothing of. And showed me how to cook and how to speak Japanese, 'cause I didn't know how to speak Japanese. I knew how to say kamaboko and that's about it. But I learned to speak Japanese a little bit from them, and then afterwards, later on, I learned to speak Japanese from my customers (when we operated our store).

TI: How about performing? Did you perform during this time?

MN: Here and there, but not too much. But somebody's wedding or something like that, or some kind of... they didn't have too many fundraisers in the early days, but later on, when they had fundraisers and stuff, they would call and ask if I would go and entertain.

TI: Well, that's what I wanted to ask. Because as a performer, so you had a sense of the events before the war, during the war at Manzanar, and I just wanted to get a sense of after. Right after the war, the type of events the community would hold. Like were there JACL installation dinners and things like that?

MN: There was more like, more like talent shows, I guess to bring up the people's spirits and things, they had talent shows quite often in L.A. And in Venice or whatever -- not too much in Venice, but in Santa Monica, West L.A., where they had a larger group of people who resettled, would have get-togethers and they would ask me to sing. But not too often after I got married, until a little later when they started doing things for Day of Remembrance and things like that, and when I was kind of old. [Laughs]

TI: Well, during this time, did you ever consider professionally...

MN: Prewar days, I had that kind of an aspiration. I wanted to become a radio singer. I wanted to be a singer so badly. But after camp, that was gone, 'cause I got married, and that thing just wasn't in my mind anymore. And then when I did perform at something one day, a young man came to ask me -- he was also a performer -- he asked if I would cut a record and sing songs with him. And I looked at my husband, he looked just like a kid, he says, "I wish you wouldn't." He was afraid that I would take on that professional life, and he would lose the (homelife)." So he said, "I wish you wouldn't." So I said, no, I didn't. So ever since then, my girlfriend would say, "Oh, that darn Shi. He cut your career short." [Laughs] But I don't have any regrets.

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

<Begin Segment 27>

TI: And as a housewife, you eventually had children?

MN: Oh, yes.

TI: So tell me about your children.

MN: Since 1946, I had... '46 to '57, I had five children. And subsequently, I had twelve grandchildren.

TI: So why don't, let's start with your children. Can you just tell me their names and...

MN: Oh, yes. Al is now sixty-three, and he married a girl from Japan, but she came as a five-year-old, so she's just like a Sansei. And they had one child, she is now thirty-five, I believe. And my next daughter, next child's a daughter who is Mallory. Did I give you my son's name?

TI: Yeah, Al.

MN: Uh-huh, A-L-A-N. My daughter was Mallory, and she married a Jewish fellow, (Tom Saul), and they have one son and one daughter. My son-in-law is a medical engineer and he plays the shakuhachi.

TI: Oh, interesting.

MN: And he goes anywhere, all over the world, with a shakuhachi strapped to his back.

TI: Oh, that's good.

MN: He's so funny. And my third child, was Lisa, married Gerald -- oh, I didn't give you my son-in-law's name, (Ishibashi). She married a Japanese fellow, and they have three daughters. They're all in show business, and they're, two in New York and one in L.A., and they do a lot of show business work. And my fourth is my son, who is now fifty... oh, my daughter is, Lisa is now fifty-seven, and Mallory will be sixty this year. And my son Norman will be fifty-five? No, what is he? Two years younger than... anyway, he's fifty-five.

TI: Yeah, he'd be fifty-five.

MN: Yeah, and then my youngest, the baby, she was born in fifty-seven, so she's fifty-two years old, and she has (three) children. Oh, and Norman has three daughters, and Nina has (three) children.

TI: And her name again was?

MN: Nina.

TI: Nina, okay.

MN: I named her after my Italian girlfriend who was my neighbor, who was so sweet to me when I was growing up and during the wartime.

TI: And in the same way, as you raised your children, was music part of their lives?

MN: Oh, yeah (...). Every single one of 'em, they loved music. And my eldest son loves classical music. I mean, he can name all the music and all the composers and stuff. And his daughter, she loves classical music also, but is more into semi-classical music. And my daughter, Mallory, her daughter is in ethnomusicology, she graduated college, UCLA, with that (degree). So she and her mother, do belly dancing, flamenco, you name it, they do anything weird. And my son-in-law plays the shakuhachi. And Lisa's daughter are all into show business. One of 'em is into commercials and acting and movies in L.A., and commercials, too, (Nissan and AT&T) commercials. And the two daughters in New York are into acting and singing. And Norman's three daughters are not into music, but they do enjoy, the second daughter loves music, (she plays the flute). My son has a lovely voice, he sings for the joy of it; he has a lovely voice.

TI: And this is Norman?

MN: Norman. And, but he loves to do public speaking, he's into Toastmasters, he's good at that, so he wants to become the world's best Toastmaster, that's what he wants to be. So that's his forte. And the youngest one, the youngest one loved music, but she didn't sing or perform. And her youngest daughter is now eleven, plays piano like I've never heard a child that age play piano like she does. So that's it, they all love music.

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

<Begin Segment 28>

TI: And how did you introduce music to your children?

MN: We always had music in the house, always.

TI: Like what? I mean, just on the record player?

MN: I had classical radio or classical music records going all the time.

TI: So just like in the background, just always in...

MN: Uh-huh, all the time. And so the kids would come and say, "Oh, Mom's listening to that kind of music again," but they learned to like it. Now they can enjoy it as I do.

TI: And how about singing? As a family, did you do much singing?

MN: The kids, my three girls and I always sang harmony or something, doing dishes, cleaning the house or whatever, we always sang. So even to this day, we can still harmonize and do things. My second daughter harmonizes naturally, and she also has a wonderful voice. She's asked to sing a lot, but she doesn't sing too much now. She sings at weddings and receptions and things like that.

TI: And so do you think that's kind of one of the... what's the right word? Good things to do with children, just having music around and singing?

MN: I think so. It's very important to have something that the family can do together and enjoy, and music was one of those things. You know, there are people that can do artwork. Some of my kids are good in artwork. It just comes from being from the family that loved any kind of art. So my youngest daughter did beautiful artwork, she did beautiful macrame, she did everything beautifully with her hands, but she didn't sing. But she would sing with the sisters, harmonize.

TI: And how about Shi? When he was alive, with kids growing up with music and singing, did he sing along, too?

MN: He had a wonderful voice, he would never sing for us. One time we came home from someplace, he was working on his books singing away, recording it. Saying things like, "Four dollars and thirty-nine cents," or something, he would write it down, and he would start singing away. And we came home unexpectedly, and we were listening, and we were flabbergasted that he had such a lovely voice. But he always loved music. His mother even played shamisen. She was not very good at it, but she played shamisen. My brother-in-law did the Gedayu like my mother taught, like we just belonged together, music and arts. But it was funny that (Shi) loved music, and maybe that's why he married me. [Laughs]

<End Segment 28> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 29>

TI: Well, good. So Mary, I'm at the end of my questions. I was wondering if there was anything else that you wanted to talk about or say, or something I missed maybe that you think is important to talk about?

MN: Wow, there you go. I've got to say, "Duh." [Laughs] Well, I just feel that it's very important that something like this is kept up for the future generations to learn about, 'cause they're not gonna read it in books. But with the computer now and all that, which I am ignorant of, with, and so what you are doing, I think it's just a wonderful thing that people could learn this and tell people about, "This is what happened to the Niseis and Sanseis and Isseis." So that I will wholeheartedly support. If anybody asks me anything while I've still got my little bit of wits about me, I'm always willing to participate. But I can't say the -- I'm very poor at words, so I don't know how to say it, but I really wholeheartedly appreciate that this is being done.

TI: Well, thank you. I mean, just to let you know, you are one of the most upbeat people that I've come across. You're just, your life was filled with challenges, and the way you view those challenges is always in a very positive way, so I just wanted to acknowledge you and how you view life. I think it's really important for people to see this.

MN: To say, in that vein, I've always been very positive. I've never been very negative. So when I started to sing with this group called The Grateful Crane, when they took me to all different cities and (other states) to sing, my song was "Accentuate the Positive," and that was more or less my theme song.

TI: That's perfect. That's perfect. [Laughs] Well, again, thank you so much for your time.

MN: I appreciate what you do. Thank you so very much.

<End Segment 29> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.