Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Akio Hoshino Interview
Narrator: Akio Hoshino
Interviewer: Stephen Fugita
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: July 11, 1997
Densho ID: denshovh-hakio-01

<Begin Segment 1>

SF: This is July 11, 1997. The narrator is Akio Hoshino. The interviewers are Steve Fugita and Lori Hoshino. Okay, Akio, I'd like to begin by asking a little bit about your background with regard to what was going on before the war. Where were you, where were you living? What were the circumstances like for you before the war?

AH: Just before the war I was living with the family in the, I guess you would call, the central area of Seattle. And I was employed as a truck driver for a beer distribution company. And that was, that was my life just before the war.

SF: In order to drive the beer truck, you had to be a union person?

AH: Well, Japanese were not allowed to become teamsters. However, they had given a special consideration for the Japanese who had a lot of grocery stores around the town. And so they had given us permission to drive as, I guess, so-called teamsters, driving a regular beer distribution company trucks. And that was the only reason we were part of the union.

SF: So, you couldn't go downtown to the white establishments?

AH: No, we were all, just went to Japanese establishments, grocery stores, there were a number of hotels that were Japanese-owned in downtown and skid row. And quite a few taverns on skid row. As long as they were Japanese we were able to service them.

SF: Did you ever get challenged by...

AH: Oh yes, I was taken off of the truck at one of the grocery stores up on Madison Street. A guy came up to me and said, "Hey, get off that truck. How come you're driving a truck?" And so I had to give them a number to call and the number was a Japanese representative to the teamsters union -- I forget what his name was -- but he immediately called the union and told them that I was being challenged. And I forget just how the communication went through, but this guy was satisfied that the union had approved my driving a truck. But that's the way it was. We were not supposed to be driving trucks, especially a brewery truck, Rainier Brewery truck.

SF: So the brewery was a regular mainstream brewery?

AH: Well, yeah. The distributor was a Japanese distributor and they handled various kinds of beverages, soft drinks and all that. And there were two of those Japanese distributors in Seattle at that time. I worked for both of them. And I think twice I was challenged. But otherwise, I never had any problem.

SF: So did the folks who worked for these Japanese distributors, they were all Nihonjins, too -- or Japanese?

AH: Japanese and Chinese.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

SF: You mentioned the Japanese stores and hotels in Seattle -- the Japanese area at that time -- can you describe a little bit about what Seattle's Japantown looked like in those days?

AH: Most of these stores were out in the outlying areas that delivered all through Seattle area. And as I mentioned, hotels were mostly down in what we call "skid row" area, Occidental Avenue, Second Avenue, and around that area. There was a lot of hotels in First Avenue as you go up the street. I still remember we used to double-park and block the traffic when we were delivering up to the hotels. Every so often the police would come by, but somehow or other, having Rainier Beer emblem on the truck and everything, they just joked and walked away. So that was my job. I'd say... the Japanese -- there was a lot of taverns, the Japanese owned quite a few taverns right in the skid row area and up Yesler Way. We delivered to all of those people.

SF: Who were the customers of these Japanese taverns? Were they mostly other Japanese, or white folks, mixed?

AH: The customers, I think, were pretty well mixed. I don't remember seeing too many Japanese hanging around. They probably were bachelors if they were.

SF: You mentioned that there were a lot of Japanese hotels. Why were there so many hotels that were run by Japanese?

AH: I don't know. These hotels were for bachelors and people like that. It wasn't a regular first-class hotel. But they were -- what would you call them? Resident hotels? Where people rented a room by the month and stayed there. And up on First Avenue there must have about eight or ten hotels.

SF: How would you describe the, sort of the lifestyle of the people who ran these hotels? Was is, was the whole family always working, and were they working long hours?

AH: Most of them were family-run. And my wife was from one of those hotels down on First Avenue and Washington Street. And they had a bunch of drunkards and a bunch of senior men, mostly men, and they gave them a place to live and they became, well, not families, but they got to know each other and took care of their residents.

SF: Were the Japanese hotel keepers sort of organized into some kind of hotel keepers...

AH: They had an association, Japanese hotel owners association. I think it was hotels and apartment owners association, because a number of Japanese owned apartments also. And these were more up on the hill and they were regular apartments, they had families living there and they had an association. I think right now, it's sort of dead, association, because at a number of funeral sodans I've been to, they always wonder if they were former hotel owners and would want one of their members to come and represent the association at the funeral. And we always have a pro and con on this and we left it up to the family. And if they did then there were people who were on who were officers of the association, and they would come and represent the association at the funeral. As an organization, I think it's pretty well dissolved now.

SF: Since there were so many of these Japanese-run hotels, did they compete against each other, or did they basically help each other out? How would you describe that relationship?

AH: Well, I don't know. Because I myself was never really associated with it. My parents worked outside of the Japanese-run businesses. And the only reason I know about them is that I used to deliver to them and then my wife's family was from them. And I would say there must have been some kind of a competition. But the clientele that the hotels had were not the kind that you would think of as the Olympic Hotel or one of those major hotels kind of a feeling. Their front desk was a little apartment that the family had up in the second floor somewhere. And they just knocked on the door if they wanted any business.

SF: For example, for the wife of the hotel owner, was her life very hard? I mean, does she constantly have to handle the customers...

AH: I would say so. It must have been hard for them, because they had to run around and make beds, clean up -- some of them weren't very clean clients -- and I think the wives had a fairly hard time.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

SF: You mentioned, Akio, the incident you had with the teamster truck driver. That brings to mind the kinda whole question of what were the relationships like between the Japanese and whites in general?

AH: There was no so-called relationship. We just knew our position in society. Like I mentioned, every once in a while, we behaved like third-class citizens. In that way we never had any confrontation.

SF: So you kinda, if you stayed within your own kind of boundaries, then things were pretty okay.

AH: Yeah. And it was a comfortable life, as long as you knew your level, you didn't go barging into stores where you knew they weren't, they won't appreciate Japanese. I've been to stores downtown and they absolutely refuse to serve you, so you never go back again.

SF: How about some other establishments, like swimming pools, or anything like theaters. What was it like in those days?

AH: Theaters, you know, I really didn't have much problem with. Although some people used to mention they were supposed to sit in the balcony in the back somewhere. But I've never had that problem as far as theaters were concerned. And public facilities, there was no out and out segregation as far as I could remember. In fact, we, well, most of the ballparks we played in, like Collins Playfield, which was smack in the middle of the central area, there wasn't too many Caucasians. There was a number of Jewish people and blacks. But we were, got along pretty well. As long as you didn't compete for some position, is when you'd get into the trouble.

SF: So how were relationships in school, in school between the Japanese and the other groups?

AH: School was another social community that was, I guess, as close to being a real democracy as can be. There was very little, as far as I could remember... we were all students, equal rights, equal... nothing was brought up as a confrontation. And had good friends. It's only after school that you realize, in the so-called competitive world, then you were Japanese or you were some other ethnic race.

SF: How about in the area of -- this is following up on the school question -- the area of boy-girl relationships, say in high school?

AH: As far as I could remember, and of course, I didn't go through high school, and I did not have very much relationship as, social relationships. But I think, more or less, the ethnic groups stayed within their boundaries. There were a few who were a little more adventurous and dated out of their own group. But I think they were kind of rare.

SF: How did people react to people who sort of pressed the limit and say, maybe dated outside the Japanese group?

AH: Uh... I'm sure their parents, who were probably Isseis, did not wholeheartedly approve. I don't know, maybe people talked behind their backs. But there were a few who, there was a few intermarriages. I know one family, a family friend of ours, had a daughter who married out of Japanese. But it was a slow process of integration.

SF: Were most of the marriages sort of arranged in those days, or were they purely romantic?

AH: I think we tried to stake out on our own and find our own spouses, more or less. And there were a number of them who did not, and waited until their parents or some other friend suggested a good partner. Personally, I found my own. And the question came up with my family -- I'm sure it did with her family too -- is that, first thing, what ken or kenjinkai were they from? You know, for the Isseis that was very important. To go out of your ken to get married, and then, I'm sure that their family immediately investigated my family, and my family inquired about their family in Japan. And they didn't find anything that was too alarming. And so we got a, what they call a nakodo, what do you call that, an inter-person that would make the arrangements. And went ahead with it. And got good friends with the family. But little by little they broke away from the old Japanese customs, couldn't help it in this country.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

SF: In those days, did you belong to any kind of mainstream groups that were involved in patriotic things or civil, civil service kinds of things? Like, you mentioned something like homeguard?

AH: Oh, yes. When the war started I enrolled in, I think it was called homeguard in those days. It was a kind of a quasi-military type training and preparation for anything that should happen. And stayed a few overnights at the armory and trained in military steps and things like that, until one day the commanding officer called me into the office and said, "I want you to resign." And I said, "Why?" And he said, "No reason, just want you to resign. If you won't then you'll be just taken out of the ranks." And deep down in my heart I knew the reason: being a Japanese. And I don't think there was any other Japanese in the group that I was in. So I just quit and went home.

SF: What year was this, or what time period was this?

AH: Uh... '41 to the beginning of '42, just at the war.

SF: Right after the war started. When you went home and you told your parents about what had happened, how did they react?

AH: Well, I think it hurt my mother more than it hurt me. I just felt, that you know, a third-class citizen, this kind of thing would happen. But for my mother, she was hoping that bringing us up here as American as possible, that we would be treated fairly and squarely. And to be, again, picked out because of our ethnic origin, she felt that we still didn't have our chance in this country. And you have to remember that they themselves were not allowed to become citizens at that time yet. And so, I guess their hope was that America would be my country to uphold.


SF: Your father?

AH: You know, he never said very much. Never said very much. I guess like all Japanese males, we're quiet. He may have felt it, him being in this country since he was about eighteen or nineteen years old, he probably knew the status of our lives pretty well, also.

SF: Do you think that sort of, the Issei sort of, being really invested in the future of the Nisei children, was that real common, do you think, among the Isseis, that somehow, even though they were themselves discriminated against a lot?

AH: I think so. I think there was no choice. I mean, most of them, when they came to this country, came to gain a little wealth and money and go back to Japan, maybe show off a bit. But once they got married and started getting children, they were tied to their children. And some of them sent back their children to Japan to educate, get educated back there. And some families moved back to Japan, but the longer they stayed here the more attached they became to this country. And they accepted that position, but had hope that their children would gain a little better status. And so, I think that would be the feeling of most of the so-called Isseis, that never having planned to come and become this country's non-citizen citizen, it just became forced that way.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

SF: You mentioned that sometimes people went back to Japan and so forth. Did you go back to Japan at all?

AH: I went back to Japan twice before the war. Once when I was quite young and then once in about, I think it was about '39, when I had, I had a sister who was born at our previous visit to Japan. And at that time, the American immigration laws would not allow her to be, to come to this country, even though she was my sister. And so she was left there. And a couple who had no children asked to take care of her. And by, it was, 1939, I think it was, she got ill, just, just in senior high school, and passed away. So that was the reason we went back to Japan. And at that time, Japan was at war in Manchuria. And every young male was being conscripted. And all my relatives told me to just, "Get out -- get out of Japan and go back to America."

LH: You mean to say even though you were an American citizen, that they could have...

AH: Didn't matter, didn't matter because I think we had dual citizenship. The, all the Japanese gave their children, I think, dual citizenship. So I came back by myself. And of course, after the war, or prior to the war, many of the dual citizenships were cancelled. But the parents, our parents, had attachment to Japan because that's the only country that they had. And so, I think that's the reason they chose to make their children citizens of Japan also.

LH: Being that you had a way to see two countries, how did it affect, affect how you thought of the two? Could you compare them?

AH: Well, the first time, I can't remember too well. But the second time I went back, I felt like a foreigner, and yet suddenly, here I was surrounded by all Japanese, familiar places and I really felt at home. Because until then I associated only Nihonjins in the Japanese community in this country. But aside from that I didn't like the conditions that they had to live in. And I would much prefer this country. But I still remember that feeling of, somehow or other, it felt expanded, that you were a part, a wholehearted part of the community.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

SF: Do you think that that experience of being a part of a community in that way, do you think that that had any kind of effect on the way you viewed things, or anything you did later?

AH: No, I don't think it did. I was still used to the customs and things of this country. And there was enough Japanese around the place to associate with. I worked for Japanese and stayed within the community.

SF: What did you do for social things? Play baseball, go to Japanese dances?

AH: Unfortunately, I had to quit school early to help support the family. So I had very few social activities. In fact, I didn't, I did used to go to church. But I can't remember any social activities as such.

LH: Which church was that?

AH: Buddhist church. The old church up on Main Street.

SF: Maybe I could ask you a question about what family life was like in those days. How would you describe your relationship with your mom and dad?

AH: Well, we obeyed them. [Laughs] That's the way we were brought up and we didn't rebel against what they had told us we should do and should not do. We were very close-knit families.

LH: Did you feel that there was any special responsibility conferred upon you, being the oldest son?

AH: To some extent, but this is a funny thing -- I wouldn't say a funny thing -- but when the war started and the government started to issue directives and things like that to us, suddenly the shift of responsibility was from the Isseis to the Niseis. Because the Niseis understood what was going on and we were able to comply and take orders from the military. And so suddenly the... to me, the Isseis lost their, I guess would you call it, not control, but the senior members of the family. That we took orders and said, "Okay, we have to do this, we have to do that." And they had to comply with it. So that was a big switch.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

SF: When that happened -- when Pearl Harbor took place and so forth -- can you describe what it felt like? I mean, there must have been this huge event that took place and changed everybody's lives. What did it feel like?

AH: It was a Sunday morning, and when the news came on, first hand we couldn't believe it, just couldn't believe it. And yet, all the newscasts couldn't be lies. And as far as I was concerned, I had no idea what my life will be from then on, knowing that I was a third-class citizen, offsprings of alien Japanese. There was no way that we can plan anything or think of what we should do. And for our parents, I think they had mixed emotions. This was their parent country and here were their kids in this country. Of course they... I knew they listened to every bit of news they could get from Japan. And of course, their loyalty was Japan. And the propaganda that they used to get was that Japan was winning all over the area. And, I don't know whether I should say they were happy or what, but they expected Japan to come up on top. That was something that they never even thought about, Japan losing.

LH: Do you feel that that was the prevailing attitude among the Issei population?

AH: Uh... I wouldn't hazard to say it was the prevailing, but I think that most of the Japanese, they were not American citizens, they didn't have any rights here... I think the feeling was that they were hoping that Japan would win, and hope that there was a future for their kids here. [Laughs] It's kind of straddling the fence. But, I don't blame 'em.

SF: Did that kind of difference in perspective between the Nisei and the Issei, did that cause, kind of tension? How did people deal with the different views about the countries and the war and so forth?

AH: I don't know if it created any real tension. The only time it did, I think, was when the American draft was instigated while we were behind barbed wires. There was nothing they could do. They had to go along with, the best way they can, if they could maintain a family, where... I guess by, not by law, but they were divided. Parents were enemies and the children were the enemies of Japan. They just had to take it and get along the best they can. It was a pretty hard situation. Of course, I'm speaking from my own point of view. There were some Isseis that were very much for the country, for this country, and stated the fact that... I really don't know where they came from, not being citizens, but there were a number of Isseis who felt that way.

SF: When you first heard about... that evacuation was going to take place, what ran through your mind?

AH: Well, I just felt that it was inevitable. There was no way we could stand up and oppose it, in my mind. Although there were three or four Isseis that did legally oppose it. To obey their commands and go was the only thing we could think of. No other choice. I went along with... at that time, I also belonged to JACL and I went along with their... I think they did the best they can, at that time, to prevent a catastrophe for the Japanese. I don't know if they had really opposed the government at that time, what could have happened. It's hard to imagine.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

SF: So, you went to Puyallup. Is that right?

AH: Puyallup Assembly Center, yeah.

SF: How did you get from Seattle to Puyallup?

AH: Bus. We were loaded onto a bus down by Weller Street. And, you know, I had forgotten, "How in the heck did I get to the bus?" And my sister told me, "Oh, your Chinese friends" took me. And they had stored some of our personal things. Fellow workers at this brewery. And we went to the bus, and as we drove down the East Highway, so-called East Highway, there were all these Japanese farmers working out in the field, and they knew that the next group is them. But the government ordered them to stay with the fields and keep growing things. So they were all out in the field workin' away. Really a compliant a group.

SF: When you got to Puyallup or "Camp Harmony," what, when you saw it, this fairgrounds, I mean, and that was going to be your future home for some unspecified period. What was your reaction to that?

AH: The same old reaction as being evacuated. We had to do the best we can as to what is to be our life for a while. The first thing we did, they gave us canvas bags and they told us to go fill it with straw for mattresses. So we all made straw mattresses. And barracks were military-type barracks with, military cots -- some canvas, some steel cots. One room per family with a single pot-bellied stove and a light hanging in the middle. The Puyallup Assembly Center barracks, the walls came out only about 6... 6 or 7 feet and since it was a single sloped roof, there was a triangular open space that you can hear all the way down the barrack -- you can hear 'em. Some of these people used to work in the mess hall and they would bring home things from the mess hall, and you can smell all the extra food that they brought home to eat. And we had to fill all the knotholes and chinks with paper or whatever, because you walk by the barracks, you could see all these cracks and knotholes going by.

LH: I had heard stories that some of roofs leaked.

AH: Oh, most likely. Most likely. But we were there only about three or four months. And then we were packed onto trains and shipped off to Idaho -- Minidoka, Idaho.

LH: Do you recall what you felt when you were in Puyallup and saw those guard towers and the soldiers with guns...

AH: It's a funny thing, I can't remember how I felt. I didn't feel mad at them. The guards were all friendly, and the group had formed a band -- a dance band. And I used to take one of the military trucks and I'd transport the band from... we had four areas -- three parking lots and the central area. And they had dances for the young people. Used to drive the truck around to them and I remember bringing them home to Camp D, which was a central area. And out jumped the bugler to blow "Taps" from the back end of the truck. [Laughs] So... I guess we just took what had to come, and did what had to be done. And the funny thing is that you remember happy times a lot more than you remember sad times, and I still remember some of the fun that we used to have.

SF: What kind of things were fun that stick in your mind?

AH: Well, in the camps, about social, dance socials and parties and things were the only things that we could have. I did a lot of ice skating in Idaho because ponds froze over and you couldn't do that in Seattle, we had to go to the rinks. But over there you just go down to the ice pond and sometimes it was kinda risky with the ice being so thin. But, those kinda funs.

LH: Where could you get the ice skates at that time?

AH: I had 'em. I don't know whether I had brought 'em over there or had 'em shipped back to Seattle. I think I probably had 'em sent back to me. After we got there, we were able to work... I mean, communicate with whoever was keeping our stuff, and have so-called "luxuries" sent to us. And so I had ice skates and I skated around. That's the kinda job I did was in the legal section I was working to write letters for the internees back to Seattle regarding their personal belongings. And so that was part of my, my work. The very first job I had, we were one of the very early transferees from Puyallup, and I was working in an office issuing beds. Beds and other things that the families as they came in needed to be shipped to their apartments. I... like I said, we had canvas cots and steel cots, and it was decided that senior citizens and ill people would get the steel cots. And the canvas cots, you know, the kind that folds up in a little bundle in two little indents in 'em when you open it up, were issued to everybody else. And I still have friends who were really mad at me, and one of 'em reminds me every time I see her, "You never would give us a steel cot." [Laughs]

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

SF: How was the quality of life -- if you wanna call it that -- at Minidoka compared to Puyallup?

AH: Oh, Minidoka was much more organized. Puyallup we ate in one mess hall. I think we had several staggering times to go. But in Puyallup -- in Minidoka the set-up was much different. We had blocks, forty-two blocks in Minidoka. Each block contained twelve barracks of, I think it was six units per barrack. It had a combination of small units for couples to about a room for five or six cots for the large groups. And then we had our own dining room and own washing facilities. And so things were a little bit better. Of course, there was quite a competition between the different kitchens. The different cooks getting the same material would come out with something that was better. And run over to another camp, another block to eat. [Laughs] So, you know, that's kinda... there was hardship but we all had to undergo the same hardship. It was 10,000 of us, about, in camp, and we were living under the same conditions. So we didn't feel that we were suffering. At least I didn't. And it was a great big community. My parents were playing baseball, and I thought they were outta their mind at that age, playing baseball. I never seen my father play, actually. But they were were a little... they were in their late forties. And thinking back... why not play baseball? It was the first time I think they had a real vacation. They had a roof over their shoulder and they had something to eat every day. So, there's room to complain and yet there wasn't that much. Of course, behind barbed wires, not being able to go out, but we had a little city of our own.

LH: Was every adult given a job?

AH: Anybody who wanted to work, I think, were given a job. And I think the minimum wages were fifteen dollars a month. And the maximum was, I think, $19. All professionals got nineteen dollars a month. Even doctors were working for that price. But you had room and board. [Laughs]

SF: Could you ship things in from Seattle that were stored or... just as long as you could get it into the camp?

AH: Yes, you could have 'em shipped in. You had to pay for everything, or friends who came out picked up things and brought it in for us. Reverend Andrews, of the Baptist Church, was a predominately Japanese church, very close to the Japanese community, and he made number of trips back and forth, bringing things that the people had requested. And there were a number of other Caucasians that befriended us.

SF: With everyone crowded into such a small space, did family relationships get worse, better, or just different?

AH: I think it got more deteriorated, control, children's control. Eating in a mess hall, where we used to all eat as a family group -- the fathers would go with their cronies to eat, the kids would go to their friends' to eat, and I think it was very hard for the mother to try to keep any control. And it sort of broke up the close family relationship. And in a way, for the older group, it opened up a much wider world for them because many of them went to continue their education back East, which they probably would have never done if they were in Seattle. And so they went out and dispersed the Japanese a lot more. So there's pluses and minus.

SF: How did people feel about those people who left, especially in the early years when...

AH: I don't think they had any reason to not like what they did. Or, I think if they had the opportunity, good for them.

LH: Under what conditions were they allowed to leave? Did they have to have a job...

AH: Uh, yes, from camps they had to have a place to go to. Somebody that would sponsor them, and schools that would accept them. There were a number of schools who'd refused to accept Japanese. There were states from where, I think governor down. They refused to accept Japanese. So they went where they were accepted and most of the leading colleges, I think, accepted Japanese back to their schools.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

SF: One of the most controversial parts of the internment was the registration...

AH: ...for draft.

SF: ...or the registration for, with the "yes-yes" questions.

AH: Oh, yes.

SF: Can you tell us a little bit about that?

AH: I wish I could remember the real details of that. I can't even recall when it was brought out, and when... of course, we discussed it in our family, and we didn't know what our future was. Here we were citizens and we were yanked away from our homes and put in behind barbed wires. We didn't know what our status was. My sisters were still quite young, and my parents, of course, were aliens. The big thing that we had in mind was being sent back to Japan -- expatriated. And... there was, to me, there wasn't much choice. I mean, the family was the only sure thing that I had at that time. My... I feel my government has forsaken me, and so I decided that I'll stick with the family unit, as the group. And since my parents would -- I don't know whether they signed it "no-no" or not -- being they're non-citizens here, I guess it was sort of understood that they would sign "no-no." And so we, I decided I would go along with them. And my children -- my sisters naturally went along with them 'cause they were still minors. And it did raise quite a stink in the camps. It broke apart families, and you can't blame 'em. I mean, it was a real... I don't know, I think everybody feels it was a dumb thing for the government to do at that time. Especially since we were behind barbed wires with armed guards above us. But that's the route I went. And there was a lot of families who went "yes-yes" and volunteered or eventually be drafted. It really split the thing apart.

LH: At Minidoka, was the majority... what was the majority opinion, as far as which way to go?

AH: Minidoka had the largest group of volunteers and draftees, from what I understand. And very few who opposed the draft at that time.

SF: So when the people volunteered for the 442 after registration, did most of the camp sort of support these folks going off and volunteering...

AH: I guess there was no way to... no other way to go. I mean, that was the only route that I think they felt they had at that time. Their idea was that they're not aliens, they're American citizens even though they were treated that way, and they were going to fight for the country that was their country. During, just after the war started, I was in the draft 1-A, then I think they put me down to 4-C. Most of the Japanese, I think, were 4-C -- undesirable aliens -- or something like that. Then they put us behind barbed wires and all the sudden say, "You're 1-A," again. And I don't know, that was kind of a wagamama thing for the government to do. Just flip-flop like that.

LH: At the time when you discussed the issue with your family, did you know what the consequences might be of answering one way or another?

AH: Yeah. I thought that the first thing, they would be sending us, shipping us out to Tule Lake, and from there would be, the next step would be to get a boat. 'Cause they were sending back evacuees from Tule Lake. Tule Lake was the people... most of the people there were real controversial kinda people, who vocally opposed what the government did. And of course, the second thing was that I would be breaking the law and be sent to prison. We knew that. We had hoped, I had hoped, at least, that at the trial they would understand the reason why we took this stand. I said "we," but I should say "I" took this stand. The group that was from Minidoka, they all felt that way and we had worked out our argument. But when we did get to court, the judge said, "That has nothing to do with what you're here in court for." And his very word was that, "You are standing in front of me, which means that you did not go for induction. You're guilty," that's all. And they didn't, we didn't get a chance to explain why we took that kind of a step.

SF: So you got your induction notice and did you go for your physical?

AH: I went for my physical. I had to get a permit to go out and pass the guards at the gate to go out for even that.

LH: Where was it being conducted?

AH: Gee I forgot where it was. Did we go to Boise? I don't think we went that far... no, I don't remember where it was.

SF: What was going through you mind at that time, in terms of... you could have said, "I'm not reporting for my physical," I guess.

AH: Uh-huh, that crossed my mind also, but then I was hoping, hoping that there would be a change of attitude in the government. And that we would be free. We could go wherever we want, West Coast or whatever. And that would mean I had all my rights, and I couldn't imagine sending us to prison just without the government considering the reasons those stands were being taken.

SF: So, did you have a good feel for what was likely to come or did you have a good notion as to what the outcome, what you were doing was going to lead to at that time? In terms of resisting...

AH: Well, we did break the law. And we could be punished for that, but the hope was still there that the government would treat us like what we felt we should be treated -- as American citizens. Either that or they should have taken us to court prior to this, before they sent us to camp, you know. Take us away from our home, and all that.

LH: Did your group... did you act alone in your decision? Or were their others of the same mind that acted similarly?

AH: Uh, we, we all had the same thought in mind, but we did not act as a group. Each one, each one made their own decision. And they all had their personal reasons.

SF: How many people were resisters at Minidoka?

AH: Uh, Minidoka was... gosh, there were about fifteen of us.

SF: Did you hear about the Heart Mountain people?

AH: We... I didn't, no. I didn't know any of the others.


SF: When you made your decision to resist the draft, that must have been a pretty difficult decision. Did thoughts of your friends' reactions, other people's reactions, people in the camp, affect, affect you, did you feel pressure?

AH: I don't think I had any pressure. This was a decision that I made on my own -- together with my family, and I knew that there would be repercussions in a way, but to me, the main thing was that I wanted to be with the family or have the family core not split apart. Take whatever has, there's in for me, just accept it and go. And so, I don't think the outside, there was any outside influence as far as I was concerned.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

SF: Since you reported for your physical, how did you get "picked up" by the authorities? When...

AH: Of course, after I went to the physical, and I passed. You know, I can't remember clearly, except that I must have got the orders to report, and I did not. And so the next thing I knew there was a marshal in the front door to take me away. And we all accepted it. I mean, the family knew that it was going to happen, and we just said our goodbyes, and I went along with him. I was treated very well. Sat in the front seat with the marshal as he drove. And we stopped for lunch, and we just walked in like we were a couple of friends, stopped for lunch, and got in the car again, and went. I don't know whether the people outside knew the circumstances, but they certainly must have known, having to come behind barbed wires to pick me up and all that. I was treated very civilly.

SF: Then where did he take you?

AH: To Boise County jail, and there, there were some of the others that also took the same stand. And they were picked up and brought to the county jail. Funny sideline to this thing is that place is filthy, and so we asked the jailer, "Can we clean up the place?" And they said, "Oh, by all means." They furnished everything that we need, we took the mattresses and beat 'em up, cleaned up the place. And then the chef said that he's been wanting a vacation, and asked one of us if we'd cook. So we said, "Sure, we'll cook." [Laughs] We cooked a whole bunch of rice. I don't know what the other inmates of the jail felt, but we cooked rice and had Japanese-style food. Gave us practically the run of the place. You know, it seems funny to think of it. Even when the date for a court appearance came, they just opened the door, gates, and said, "Okay, let's go." And we all meandered down the streets like a bunch of visitors. And went into the courtroom, and went through, to me, what seemed like a mock court procedure. We were judged all guilty. Given three months, three years -- three years, three months, and three hundred dollars. I don't know what formula they used, but that was our sentence. Then on the way back, the guard says, "You guys wanna pick up something at the dime store?" "Yeah, we wanna pick up a few odds and ends." "Go get it." So we all scatter around and went into the dime store, got what we needed, and got what we wanted.


AH: No sign of a, of a, whatchacall it. And when we came for a day to go back to the West Coast to where we were supposed leave, we just boarded the train and went along with the guard. Got unloaded at McNeil... of course, in a prison, it's completely democratic. I mean, you behave and you have your prisoners' rights and that's it. They didn't feel like a majority or minority, you're one of the group.

SF: What did you feel like when the judge read the sentence?

AH: I don't recall exactly what I felt like. I felt that this was their decision, I just have to go along. There's no way I can fight it, and the attorneys that -- court-appointed attorneys -- would do nothing except to put us on the stand and say, "Okay, you say what you want," and that's it. There was no help. No... nothing.

SF: Did...

AH: Funny thing about... there was one person who was a Kibei and he said he can't speak English, and he could. But, so the judge told me to interpret for him. And so I interpreted for him, and he said that, no, he's a Japanese, he's going to... "I don't understand English," he's not gonna go army. So I interpreted it exactly the way he told me to, and the judge -- I could hear him -- he went into his chambers with the attorney and said, "This guy's gonna be no use in the U.S. army. What's the use of drafting him?" And so, he just, they just released him. I still know him, and... [laughs]

SF: How did the other guys feel about that? That this guy got off.

AH: I don't know. I don't know how the other guys would feel about... mostly I guess he felt that, good for him. He got off of it. We all took it seriously, and yet, it was like a mock trial. And we knew what was going to happen, eventually, and we were just ready to accept it.

SF: Among the group of you, you stayed in the same area of the county jail, right?

AH: Oh yeah, we had one, one area. We had the run of the place. Cleaned it up...

SF: Did you become good friends? Or...


AH: Among each other?

SF: Yeah.

AH: Oh yes. We all knew each other, and we all had a close tie. The reasons that they took that step was the individual reasons. We didn't plan an organized attempt to do anything. We became good friends. After the war, they... when we were all released back in Seattle, they were my closest friends among the Japanese community.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 12>

SF: You mentioned that you went from Boise by train, I guess, to McNeil Penitentiary, right? How did you feel about McNeil when you first got there?

AH: It was sort of frightening. I never had expected in my life to go to a federal penitentiary. And, but we went through the regular procedure, admittance procedures, and all that. And then after a period of isolation, we were placed into cells of about... eight, I think it was eight, in a cell. And given jobs. I was given a job as an office clerk. Went into their recording office for, where recorded all the inmates records, updated inmate records, and things like that. Met a Japanese national who -- I don't know what wartime regulation the company did, but he had to take blame for the company -- and was sentenced to federal penitentiary. And so he was serving his time there. And he always mentioned the fact that he was the down guy for that company -- Japanese company that was here. And he worked in the same office.

SF: All of the Minidoka resisters went to McNeil, or did some of them go to Fort Leavenworth?

AH: I think they all went to McNeil, they all went there.

LH: While you were at McNeil, was there any social hierarchy within McNeil? Where maybe certain groups of people had higher status?

AH: No, it was a complete democracy. Everyone was the same. They were all prisoners.

LH: So your group of Japanese Americans were treated just equally, with everyone else?

AH: Oh, yes. Completely equally. We got along with most of the other people, but we usually stuck around together. Towards the end, I was assigned to farm, farm work, and all I did was go outside during the day and work on hotbeds, and things like that.

LH: What's hotbeds?

AH: Seedlings. Grow seedlings and start out plants and such.

LH: Is there anything that you perhaps missed?

AH: Missed?

LH: Missed while you were at McNeil?

AH: Well...

LH: Anything that comes to mind?

AH: Missed the family. But aside from that, we had a place to sleep. Didn't enjoy sleeping in barracks. Later on we were taken out of cells and put into barracks. I don't know how many were in the barracks. But, just had to do what everybody did.

LH: So you were in there, even after the time your family was released from Minidoka?

AH: Uh-huh, they were brought back to Seattle, and after that my sisters used to come visiting, every once in a while.

LH: Did your parents also come?

AH: Huh?

LH: Did your parents also come to visit you?

AH: No, my parents never did come to visit.

SF: Why did you think that was the case?

AH: That they didn't come? I think they just felt out of place. And since my sisters were coming, they knew exactly what was going on and how I looked, and...

SF: How did you feel when you first... your sisters first visited you in the penitentiary?

AH: You know, I can't remember. Of course, they used to write letters all the time. And I can't recall. They would probably know more that I do. Of coming and getting on the boat and going up to the McNeil Island. Pass through the guard gates and come up and visit me.

LH: How much time were you allowed with a visitor?

AH: Gee, I can't remember that either. I don't remember these details at all. It's something that happened in the past and I don't remember how long those visits were. But it wasn't too long after they were returned to Seattle that, I think, we were released. With good behavior and all that, I think it was a little under three years that we were released.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 13>

SF: When you were in McNeil, did... what did you think your life was gonna be like after? Were you pessimistic or optimistic just waiting to get out or...

AH: Of course wanted to get out. I did not know what the community reactions to me would be. I really had no idea what the future held for me. Looking back, I would say I must have been apprehensive about getting loose out there in the community again. Meeting all kinds of people, but nothing, nothing drastic happened. I started to work for a gardener and we never talked about the past. Everyone was trying to make a living back in Seattle again. And, that's all it was. I joined the -- well, not really joined the church, but I started attending Buddhist Church again. Because at church I didn't think there would be any direct confrontation, and there was none. And I became fairly active in church, and that's where I stayed, mostly. Church friends.

SF: Did you go into gardening or work for this particular guy because it was harder for you to get jobs in other areas? Or it just happened...

AH: I didn't really think that there were job opportunities open. Especially for someone like me who does not have formal education. And so I took the first job that was available, which was gardening. And stayed with the gardener for oh, a year or so. In the meantime, I was told that there was a opening for a janitor in one of the hotels downtown. And so I decided, well, that'd be a little better work where during the wintertime, I'd have a job. And so I quit gardening, which made the gardener mad -- to quit him at a peak time when he needed help -- but I was thinking more of myself. And got a job as a janitor and gradually I upgraded to become a maintenance man, repairs. And the owner of the hotel that I started to work for sold it to another owner who eventually bought the Roosevelt Hotel -- one of the largest hotels that Seattle had at that time, where Western Hotel started from. And he wanted me to come along with him, and I went along as the so-called chief engineer, building engineer for the hotel. Took care of all the mechanical maintenance and upgrade of the hotel. And that's where I stayed until I retired.

SF: When you first got back from McNeil and you had to start working with white people, how did you feel? Was there something difficult doing that?

AH: Of course, immediately after I came back was gardening, and that I didn't have to... no interface with white people, except that they were customers and every so often they would come out to see how we were doing. But it was all Japanese. Then when I started to work for the hotel, of course, initially I would be under the... the housekeeper, the managing housekeeper. She was a white woman, and I felt... I don't know whether I would say scared, but I had very little communication with the hakujins and I felt a little, I guess you could say inferior. That's been my life compared with hakujins. But she was very friendly and very helpful. I still remember that time when we... she said, called me Tom -- I always used my English name when I worked outside. "Come on Tom," she says. "I gotta go get some, order some sheets and things. Let's go up and see what they have." And she wanted to go out to the wholesaler up the street. And I had to walk along beside her and I felt so conspicuous walking with a hakujin woman. It was all on my part. Because she didn't make me feel that way at all. And gradually I got to learn to live in, more in the hakujin world. Where I became very good friends with the owner and the different managers that they had. And visited their homes and got to know them pretty well. Got a little more relaxed with the hakujin community.

SF: With regard to the Japanese community, when you first got out of McNeil, did the, did the resisters get together socially because they felt that the larger Japanese community might reject them or feel hostile or that people would feel uncomfortable, or something like that?

AH: Well, individually I think we felt that way. There was no signs to show that we would be rejected. But, we... at least I felt that I didn't want to put myself into a position where we could be confronted. You never know when you go into a group, there might be one person who would antagonize you, and that would put us in a very inferior position. So, I think it was the feeling that we'll stick along with each other. We formed investment clubs and things like that, and did things our own. I think it was when I, really not helped, but I was with JACL committees to -- like the redress committees, and things like that -- that I started to interface a little more with the Niseis and Sanseis. And never was I confronted or accused of anything. Of course, I would stay away from any controversial subjects. Got along very well. Better than expected. I had dire feelings in the beginning that I'd get spitted on and confronted, and things like that. But no, nothing like that happened.

<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 14>

SF: Looking back over the draft resistance, do you think that you changed your own feeling about doing that over the years?

AH: I always felt, and I always reply that way, that under the circumstances that existed at that time, I would feel I had no other choice. With the experiences that we have now, I would feel that no, the government would not put you in that kind of a position again. And, I sincerely hope so. But it did happen to me once, and the doubt remains in the back of my mind. I hope my children will not experience that experience when they feel a lot more American than I did. I had gone through all that discrimination and the third-class citizenship attitude was just embedded in me. But I think the younger generations, Sansei generations, have much more confidence in this country and the way the government is run.


SF: Do you think what you did has any important implications for how one should, how citizens should act in a democracy?

AH: Well, yes. I think so. I think us Niseis were very quiet in that we accepted what we felt was not right, but we did not fight it. I think society now has changed, just completely flip-flopped. And your voice can be heard. And that whatever happens, I think you should take a stand. Like I was starting to say, that that's one of my big concerns is that my children will have the opportunity -- which I don't think a lot of us had in this Nisei area where college grads graduated to get dishwashing jobs. Either that or went back to Japan to use their education. They weren't allowed to become... like Boeing's, they wouldn't work there. But now it's full of Japanese. I... when I started to work, I joined operating engineers union, which wouldn't have happened in the old days. Society is completely different. But, you have to be careful as to what might happen to you if you don't speak up and ask, demanding for your rights. And so like I tell a lot of kids who come through Wing Luke on the tours and we go through this "evacuation" portion. And I tell the kids, "Now, when grow up to be the leaders of the country, you look after your own rights as well as look after the rights of the others." And that's the way I feel. You have to speak up now. Speaking up is common and allowed now. I don't know, like Gordon Hirabayashi and the group, they took their stand and spoke up and got sent to prison. But I don't think that'll happen right now, I think you'll be heard out. I hope.

SF: Okay, I think that's a good ending note.

AH: Yeah, like I was saying, I enjoy going out to talk to these groups through Wing Luke. I was sent out to a number of colleges. Even spoke to University of Washington Culinary Workers group, and U.S. West employees, out in Bellevue. They're all very curious about what happened during the war. What happened to the Japanese. Why it happened. And I think it's important for that message to go out. I returned to Green River Community College three times already. I don't know how much longer I could keep it up. But one at PLU, Pacific Lutheran University, is that in Tacoma, PLU? It was a whole auditorium. I was surprised. With a panel of... 442 veterans. There was five of us, one from Hawaii. And they specifically asked me to talk about being a "no-no." And that's the first time I spoke in public about that. And it was kinda hard. Really coming out in the public and talking like that. I was pleasantly surprised, later on I got a letter from the professor that organized this panel meeting, that after our session was over and the person from Hawaii spoke up and sent him a letter saying that he was proud to be sitting next to me on the panel and talking. So that was a nice feeling. So, that's about it. Enjoying a good laugh now.

SF: You deserve it. That's great.

<End Segment 14> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 15>

LH: What have you told your family, your children about your experiences?

AH: I haven't. From what I hear, most of the Niseis never did talk to their kids very much about the evacuation and such.

LH: Why do you think that was?

AH: I wonder... I don't know. It that an old Japanese attitude? You don't talk about yourself. I don't know whether it will carry on into the Sanseis now, I'm curious. But it seems like a lot of the Sanseis were not told very much by their parents until they heard about it through schools and different things.

LH: Are you surprised at the lack of information in the textbooks about the Japanese American experience?

AH: Well, here again I felt that that's the standard for Japanese, that you weren't important. I mean, important enough to be in the textbooks as to what they did. I understand there's only one or two paragraphs about the evacuation of Japanese during the war -- citizens or non-citizens. And so many people that come through Wing Luke Museum are surprised that such a thing could have happened in this country. That the mass evacuation without court order, U.S. citizens being herded by armed American soldiers to camps, and placed under guard behind barbed wires. They can't believe it could have happened. It doesn't happen in a democracy. And there was two or three persons who pointed their finger at me and said, "You guys are just making this up." They won't believe it. That it happened. And there's some of those people still here. There's one -- I forget her name, everybody seems to know her name, but I forget, from California -- that would come up to every meeting, during, especially during the redress hearings, and really speak up against this. That we were all, we were all "Japs," and that "look how they treated Americans back in Japan," is her point of view, all the time. They forget the fact that we're citizens. To her we we're still "Japs." That's all there was to it.

LH: So, to this day, how do you view your own status?

AH: My status? I feel that my rights will be upheld now in this society as it is now. And...

LH: I heard you mention before, several times, the word, the words, 'third class citizen.' Does that feeling, somewhat, still persist?

AH: Yes, it does. I don't know. I don't think it's an official status anymore. It's a social status of society itself. I don't know whether they'll give me equal ranking. With the younger generations, I think, although we look Asian, we are American citizens. And will be given equal status. But discrimination, you just can't get rid of, easily. I think it's a long step. After the war, I had to find a place to live and went out with a realtor to -- right in, on Broadway district -- went to the house that was up for rent, and the lady next door came barging out yelling all kind of obscenities. She wasn't going to have any Jap living next to her house. And she stormed and yelled around the neighborhood, and the realtor was so embarrassed, he didn't know what to do. I said, "Just forget it." And I went back to the car and sat, and he tried to talk her down, and she just wouldn't quit. And, discrimination is something that's gonna take time. Take time to really get -- you know, Hawaii is a good place where you don't dare discriminate, because you don't know what mix you're talking to. So they're Hawaiians. And we're gonna have, all become Americans. Just Americans. Then discrimination will slow down. But, I don't know whether it should be tolerated, but I don't know whether... how far you can fight the thing.

<End Segment 15> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 16>

SF: What was your reaction when that woman -- I guess it's Lillian Baker -- said --

AH: That's the one. Lillian Baker.

SF: "This just didn't occur. Look what you did over... look what the Japanese did with American..."

AH: Yeah, I just feel she's ignorant. She is ignorant. She doesn't know. And she doesn't want to know. She's got her mind just blocked out completely.


SF: Is there anything that you'd like to add?

AH: I think I spoke my piece, quite a bit. We covered a lot of phases of what had happened. I would like to say that this is my own, my own feeling. I'm not speaking for any group. But I feel a lot more comfortable now, speaking up about how I feel. Without keeping myself quiet. I have not spoken to a Japanese group, as such. The first time that this happened was at a last retreat for the Buddhist Church. We had it up there in Camp Houston and our Minister, he's white, and he, since the retreat was held on Memorial Day he wanted to do something in connection with the Memorial Day, the military, and all that. And he asked me, if he spoke, if I would speak with him. It turned out that he was a conscientious objector. And he learned about my experiences. So I couldn't very well say, "No." And so, it was predominantly a Japanese group. And I spoke of what I did, I told them this is a very difficult subject for me to speak. And I had no negative responses, but I did have two or three positive responses that they appreciated me speaking to them so candidly about what happened, and so I don't know what the reaction from the rest of them was. There was veterans there, and everything. But I think they all are at this point where they're not going to fire up a controversy. Like I mentioned once before, the only one that remains now is JACL, and the group that wants to have the "no-no" boys share... shared in the wartime occurrences of the Niseis and those that say no, they are not eligible for being a part of JACL's controversy. And that's still to be settled.

LH: I understand that the JACL was instrumental in the redress movement, and that... what are your feelings about that?

AH: Well, I think they did the right thing. Really, there is no other organization that will represent the Japanese. Whether they're as a U.S. citizen or as a Asian. It has a very strong voice now in the government. I always felt that you had to have some backing. And whether they shared the same point of view as you do or not, I think JACL is doing a fairly decent job. They're having all kind of controversies about it. Most people feel like they supported the government evacuation order. But I feel that they did the right thing -- only thing that could be done at that time to make it comfortable for the Japanese people. If they had made an issue of it, I don't know what would have happened. So, I think they did the right thing. I know I participated in a lot of redress committee meetings, and not much of a help, but... I think it all started in Seattle, a lot of this redress movement, and gained the national support.

<End Segment 16> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 17>

LH: And when you received your check and your letter of apology from the government, did that make any difference in the way that you thought about the government?

AH: I guess I'll tell you the same thing I tell these groups that come through Wing Luke. I tell 'em that that showed how great a country this was. To say that they made a mistake and apologize. I don't think there's any other country in the world that does that. They make all kinds of mistakes, but "the government is right" kind of an attitude. But this one, we did receive an apology that they did make a mistake, and that they did reimburse us as much as they could at that time. I think, I think it's a sign of a real good government.

SF: Do you think the JACL should, for the sake of the larger community, apologize to the resisters at this point? Or do you think it's better just to...

AH: I don't think they should. It isn't going to help any, it's just going to raise up another tempest -- another controversy. My attitude is "let sleeping dogs lie." Whatever opinions people have, they could keep it.

<End Segment 17> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.