Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Frank Sumida Interview
Narrator: Frank Sumida
Interviewers: Tom Ikeda (primary); Barbara Takei (secondary)
Location: Los Angeles, California
Date: September 23, 2009
Densho ID: denshovh-sfrank-01-0013

<Begin Segment 13>

TI: So, Frank, we're going to get started again, and I apologize for that interruption. So I guess I want to go now to...

FS: War?

TI: Yeah, December 7, 1941. And what are your memories of that day?

FS: Well, you know what a rice in a bag, rice in little pebble? I was that little pebble. I didn't even know what was going on. I didn't know what bombing of Pearl Harbor meant, except that a plane bombed, but I didn't know the consequence, what effect had nationwide, nationally. It was beyond me. When they say the "Japs" bombed Pearl Harbor, but to me, it didn't make sense. I didn't know. To tell you the truth, I don't want to say this and that, make a lie of it.

TI: What about the reaction of people around you? Did you notice... so you said you were like the pebble in a sack of rice, so when you say that you were --

FS: One rice.

TI: Yeah, so you were different than everyone else.

FS: I would say the surroundings, there was nobody beating me up or calling me names or something. I think the people are all numb. They were like me, they probably couldn't comprehend the bigness. If they bombed Los Angeles, maybe they'll wake up. But Hawaii, a lot of people didn't know where Hawaii was at one time, right? We all know where it is, but... so I think if you want my true feeling of this, up here, at that time, I had no knowledge. It was too big.

TI: Well, how about things like your father's business? Because eventually he had to...

FS: He lost it.

TI: shut that down.

FS: He lost a ten thousand dollar restaurant. Never compensated. Not a penny. And then the Jewish and all the, not the Jewish, but the wholesale people that do restaurant equipment, they were waiting out the door for us to go to camp. And the minute we went in camp, they just go right in there and steal everything. They won't buy it. They knew we were going into camp, so why buy it when you could get it free? And that's what they did. You know, when I think about that restaurant, it had stainless steel in the kitchen. All the working table and everything were custom made. And we had a small walk-in freezer. It's unheard of. And then even the dishwashing rack, huh? Not tin, stainless. It was a pretty, pretty fancy restaurant.

TI: Do you recall your dad's feelings, realizing he had to walk away from this restaurant, was it hard for him?

FS: It was hard. That's when he started saying that when he left Japan, he didn't have nothing. At that time, 1941, December, I think he had -- because every month, I used to bring three hundred dollars to the Yokohama Specie Bank to be remitted to Japan. Three hundred bucks American money he used to send once a month. So that money was put into the bank in Japan, okay? But meantime, we had money in the Yokohama Specie for local, American money. That was frozen when the war started. FBI froze it right away. So my dad had no money to operate, and he couldn't sell the restaurant, so he just hung on, because he knew that, we heard about the camp. So we thought that the sooner we went to camp, the better, because the less we suffer, monetary. But we went to camp in April of '42. Yeah, April. So all during that time, from December, my dad was operating without hardly no money, except for the daily money. The bank was frozen. So my dad was disgusted with America. He had land in Japan, farmland, a house, and a big, what they called a kura, storeroom, and he had all kinds of stuff. He had farmland in two areas, my mom's area and his. So he was pretty rich. All came from America. So he knew there was more stuff in Japan than what he hid, and here he had nothing. Here when we went to camp, we were supposed to be rich, but we didn't have no money. So my dad had to work just to get supplement money, pennies. He had thousand dollars in the bank. I don't know how many dollars, but three, four thousand dollars. That was his extra savings, couldn't touch it. His checking was no good no more. Same thing.

TI: Well, during this time period, so it's hard for your dad, he was just living off the daily receipt.

FS: Daily receipts.

TI: What were you doing during this time?

FS: Same thing, working in the restaurant and hearing about the war. Japan did, Japan was going here and there. I didn't know where the hell Indochina was, or Singapore, let alone.

TI: And how about business? Did business change after?

FS: No, no change.

TI: So still the same people.

FS: Same people came, the white people. We had a lot of white people in Little Tokyo. All the other restaurant had Japanese people. But my dad's way of, what do you call it, taste, and type of food that we had on our menu, it was more for Americans, the white people. They liked that. They liked my dad's food, so we had a lot of factories around, warehouse around Little Tokyo. They all came. And noontime, they used to stand and wait. People were standing and looking at the guy eating, "Oh, he's down to the last spoon." Wait for him to get out. You don't just stand anywhere, you look at the guys eating. Said, "Oh, one-third, one-eighth," you know what I mean.

TI: Just to get seat, they were waiting for a seat.

FS: Just to get a seat.

TI: And so his business still kind of was okay then?

FS: I don't, I didn't see much change. Maybe a little bit, because the trend of the war did change things, movement of people. You know, factories open up, this and that, clothing here, open. So maybe there was a fluctuation. But funny people, the Japanese trade in Little Tokyo was not the one you want. I'll tell you why. You've heard of Komai newspaper, Rafu Shimpo? His reporter used to come to our restaurant in the morning. And my mom is the one that told me. We used to give two cups of coffee, one cup and a refill. And then two doughnuts for I don't know how much, ten cents or five cents. So this guy would get one cup of coffee, eat one doughnut for his first, then he told my mom, "I'll come in the afternoon for the second." Second cup of coffee and a doughnut. So that's how tight those guys were. I'm talking about nickels. So my dad didn't, my mom didn't like the Japanese trade because they're too damn tight. Can you believe that? But how many people know those things? Not many people know these things. You have to be in the restaurant business and see that.

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