Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Shig Yabu Interview
Narrator: Shig Yabu
Interviewer: Tom Ikeda
Location: Culver City, California
Date: February 23, 2010
Densho ID: denshovh-yshig-01

<Begin Segment 1>

TI: Okay, let me start by saying today is Tuesday, February 23, 2010. We're in Los Angeles, or Culver City, and on camera is Dana Hoshide. And I'm interviewing Shig Yabu and I'm the interviewer Tom Ikeda. So that's just the formality, so why don't we just start, Shig?

SY: Okay.

TI: So tell me when you were born and where you were born.

SY: I was born in San Francisco, California, and the reason for that is the fact that my mother was a student at University of Washington, and she was (attracted to Frank Teruo Yabu, also a student. Frank was from Japan, and Hana and Frank got married.)

TI: Okay, so we're gonna get all that, just focus on just where and when and then I'll ask you about your grandparents and all that.

SY: Oh, okay, I gotcha. I was born in Stanford Clinic Hospital and (we lived in Nihonmachi and I was born on) June 13, 1932.

TI: Okay. And so let me, let me... yeah, because I know you want to talk about your mother and your grandfather, so let's first talk a little bit about your mother's father, or your grandfather on your --

SY: Okay, Setsunosuke Horishige came from Japan at the age of fifteen, and he started out in Seattle, Washington. Immediately started a business... (Narr. note: Setsunosuke invested in purchasing horses and a wagon and delivered wood, coal and furniture.)

TI: And before we even get to Seattle, do you know where in Japan, what part of Japan, like what prefecture?

SY: It's southern part of Japan, but I don't know the exact area. (Narr. note: Agenoshomachi, Yamaguchi Prefecture.)

TI: And did you ever hear why he left Japan to come to the United States?

SY: Well, according to a relative, the brother of my grandfather, son lives in New York (George Horishige), and he won't talk at all, but he'll talk with me. He says that that family started off with lots of money in Japan. Now, why he migrated to Seattle, Washington, I have no idea. (Narr. note: According to George, it was adventure and financial gain.) But because of the fact that he was successful in his business, at that time the Japanese immigrants could not marry to any other ethnic group, so he got a "picture bride" from Japan, and they got married.

TI: Okay. Well, and let's now back up a little bit. So your grandfather came to Seattle, fifteen... so this is in eighteen hundred --

SY: 1892 or --

TI: 1892 around...

SY: (He was born November 26, 1877.)

TI: Okay, so pretty, pretty early for Seattle, that's one of the earlier people. And tell me what your grandfather did when he came to Seattle at about fifteen years old.

SY: Well, he started a business. He got horse and wagon and he transported coal and wood. At that time, evidently they didn't have a gas furnace and so forth, and, but he also hauled furniture. But he made, according to George Iwasaki, my cousin, and Peggy, he said he had a tremendous amount of energy, that he could do the work of two people, you know, hauling things. But at the same time, because of his financial background, he was able to help all the other immigrants that came from Japan, either feeding them, housing them, loaning them money, just to get started. (Narr. note: He started the furniture, express and coal business with two horses and a wagon. Later he purchased a truck.)

TI: And maybe even helping them get work and things like that, do you think?

SY: That I don't know.

TI: Okay. But you mentioned lots of energy, was he, I mean, hauling coal, wood, furniture, was he a big man?

SY: That I don't know. I did see him and meet him when I was four years old, but when you're four, everybody looks humongous, you know, so I can't really say how big he was. (Narr. note: My cousins told me he was strong and did work for two men by himself.)

TI: Did you ever hear what kind of man he was in terms of his personality? Was he a quiet man?

SY: He was so well-liked that whenever he got drunk and then went to the jail and after he sobered up, the jail was like a revolving door, "Okay, don't come back again." Because he was, his personality was so great that everybody loved him. (Narr. note: I was told that he was able to meet people and he was well-liked with a great personality.)

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

TI: So let's talk, so your grandfather came to Seattle about fifteen, working with his business, helping other immigrants, and then you mentioned your grandmother. So tell me, you said "picture bride," so she came from Japan. (Narr. note: Nami Ota came from Ochima Gun, an island, in Yamaguchi prefecture.)

SY: Japan, I don't know what area.

TI: And her name was?

SY: Oh, this is embarrassing...

TI: Nami?

SY: Nami Ota. And, according to a relative in New York, said that they have a relative, I think it was either brother or sister, somebody that had several grocery stores in Brisbane, and then two in Washington area. But they, Peggy Fusan tried to find, locate them, but they were long gone, you know, so there's no connection anymore.

TI: Okay. So in my notes I have that your grandfather and grandmother married about, what, 1905?

SY: Yes, true. (November 29, 1905, in Seattle, Washington).

TI: And then shortly after that they started having children.

SY: My mother was born in October 1907, the first and the oldest, and then had two sisters, and then the youngest was a boy, Sam Horishige. (Narr. note: Hana Horishige, 1907, Sachiko Horishige, 1914, Mitsuko Horishige, 1914, and Sam Horishige, 1919.)

TI: Good, so there were four siblings.

SY: Correct.

TI: And your mother was the oldest. And her name was?

SY: Hana. Now, I see some reference to Hanako, but she went mostly with Hana, so I don't really know whether the "k-o" is significant or not, you know. It could be because her sister is Sachiko and Mitsuko, so probably Hana was Hanako. (My birth certification says Hana Yabu).

TI: And tell me a little bit about your mother's childhood growing up in Seattle. What do you know about her?

SY: Well, here's what she mentioned, as my grandfather's brother had a barber shop and a bathhouse, and as a three-year-old, they assigned her to clean the bathtub. And she was so ashamed because she has to lean over, and she was so worried about exposing her buttocks when people came in to the bathroom, you know, bathtub. And I guess a lot of people just took a bath every so often, they didn't have access to it in their home, and, which I didn't know. And then she used to sweep the hair in the barber shop, and evidently that's how she made her little extra money.

TI: Wow, so at a very young age she had to help out with, I guess, the uncle's business.

SY: That's right. And my grandmother was not what you call a healthy person, even when she came on the ship, she was detained on the ship for a month or two or whatever time until she got well before she came into Seattle, Washington.

TI: And when you say Seattle, so they lived right in sort of what we call like the Nihonmachi area of Seattle, with other Japanese?

SY: I've been to the house, it looked like it was a little bit, little bit higher, I think it was 19th Street, or something in that area. Now, I don't know Seattle at all, so I can't give you the exact location.

TI: Okay, yeah, in that whole corridor, yeah, there are a lot of Japanese, and actually other ethnic groups, Chinese would live there, African Americans, but primarily Japanese would, Japanese was the largest, the largest group, so that's good. And so I'm curious, as your mother's, in terms of language ability, what language did, was her --

SY: She was bilingual. And when... the mother died early and at that time the three sisters went to Japan to live with the grandmother, and they didn't really like it, and so eventually they came back, maybe after less than a year.

TI: Okay, but she had to navigate both the Japanese world and the American or English kind of world.

SY: That's right. But what I understand from the relatives, she was a scholar. She loved mathematics. In fact, even later on life when the modern math came, she went to night school to learn the modern math.

TI: That's interesting because in my notes I have that she attended the University of Washington as a premed student.

SY: Correct. Yeah, for two years, and then she met my father, who was also from Japan, my real father, Frank Teruo Yabu, and according to Peggy, that name may have been changed, Yabu may have been a longer name, but in those days they shortened names. And, as a student, they both met, and there's no history, but my belief is that, when they got married, the father really objected, you know, because he wanted her to finish school, especially as, had a potential of becoming a medical doctor. So, because of that, the two of them moved down to San Francisco, and my belief is to get away from, from their father.

TI: That's interesting. How much do you know about your biological father, Frank?

SY: Absolutely nothing. And, in fact, my mother and my father and I went (to Osaka, Japan), when I was six months old, the three of us went to either Osaka or Kyoto, and six months later just my mother and I came back, alone. And we got detained at Angel Island in San Francisco Bay because my mother did not take her birth certificate with her, and so I could honestly say I was in Angel Island for a couple days. And then, now my mother said she either had sixty dollars or seventy-five dollars in her purse and that was it, so she worked as a maid in a mansion in Pacific Heights in San Francisco, so I was farmed out to different babysitters in different locations. And for some reason or another, I was, when I, my mother met my, her new husband, I remember certain buildings, like I remember Post Street and I remember Laguna, and I can't tell you exactly what building, but I can remember the area, even as young as I was. I remember the Catholic school I attended as a pre-nursery school. My mother believed in education, so I went to school at a very early age, but... now this is hard to believe, I don't believe it myself, but according to my mother, she testified that I was not walking at six months old, I was running at six months, so I could see why I had to change babysitter constantly, so I was in different areas, different homes.

TI: And so you showed at a very early age this athletic ability.

SY: I don't know if it's athletic, it was just maybe boredom. [Laughs]

TI: Going back to your mother, did she ever talk about, I'm thinking when she came back from Japan, she decided to go back to San Francisco, but essentially as a single mother, why she didn't go back to Seattle where the family was?

SY: I think because she was ashamed of the fact that she was a divorcee. She never told me that I had a father, but I, it's in my birth certificate, so I could figure that out. She never talked about my father, all the pictures were destroyed, all the information about him was never revealed to me. And I have a feeling, whenever she got mad at me, my mother got mad at me, she talked about the possibly he may have been a gambler, he could have worked at the bookstore in San Francisco when he came from Seattle, but other than that, we have no knowledge, and my assumption is that when he went to Japan, he either had his ex-girlfriend or had a new girlfriend or whatever. And there was one rumor that, according to the relative in New York, he could have gone to Brazil, but I checked, after my mother passed away, I checked with Japan, with the Salvation Army, I checked with the ambassador at Brazil, and there's no record whatsoever. But that's okay, I mean, at least I tried.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

TI: So going back to this early, your early childhood, so your, initially, your mother is a single mother, she has a young son, and then you're, during the day she's working as a maid and you're, like, at different babysitters.

SY: Right. She did indicate this, which I thought was quite interesting, the only day off she had Sunday, and she would take me to a park the entire day until the evening, then she had to put me back into the babysitter and she would have to walk to Pacific Heights and San Francisco is a very hilly area. So the thing that I noticed about San Francisco after moving to Los Angeles area, I noticed San Francisco's very cold, and then, being in the park area, you have a lot of wind, fog, and whatnot. And so she'd mentioned that to me, that that was her prime time with me, something goes back in my mind, I said, well, you know, with that hardship, coming back from Japan, she was really sensitive about cleanliness, and I would always think about being six months or a year old, how did she do the diapers and how did she maintain the cleanliness, and how do you dry diapers in a ship or whatnot? We never talked about it, but in my mind I think about this. But I never digressed back feeling sorry for myself about the fact that I didn't have a mother for six or five days, or six days, Sunday was the only day I saw my mother for four years, but I think it made me a stronger person, and that's just my own opinion. I could have felt sorry for myself, got into trouble, and blamed the parents for this. I never did. And so everybody has different answers.

TI: Good. In thinking about your mother, what kind of personality did she have, how would you describe her?

SY: I was, at the time, when I remember as a child, I'd describe her as a mean, very opinionated, outspoken, a nagging mother. And I always pictured her as old, she never went to a hairdresser, all her clothes was given to her, she knew how to alter her clothes, she never bought any clothes other than underwear, she always believed in clean underwear, just in case she had an accident that the doctors was, you know, you got clean underwear. That was one thing that she was very concerned about. So I always pictured, even in camp and even before that, I always pictured her extremely old, and I didn't really want her to participate in any school activity because of the fact that I was ashamed that she was a lot older than the other mothers. And it turned out that she was extremely young, but it was my perception of what she looked like.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

TI: Let's talk about other childhood memories. So growing up in San Francisco...

SY: Well, one of the things I remember was -- this I don't remember, my mother was invited to a card party, and included me. Hana is the name of the game. And that's where my stepfather came into the picture, Joe Okada. Quite an artistic gentleman, he was gifted in carpentry, electrical plumbing, you name it, bonsai was his expertise, he's a very kind man. The only problem he had, I thought, was he, when he got drunk, he couldn't handle the alcohol. The other thing was the fact that he was an illegal alien, he jumped the ship, he was shoveling coal on the ship, and then when he saw San Francisco, he was determined to stay in the United States, start a new life. And so he became a houseboy, but he never had any problem of finding jobs, and the reason for that is because he was a hardworking person, he was well-liked by the Caucasian, so people, he had a lot of references. And, again, he did everything exceptionally well, gardening, housework, extremely fast, but really good.

TI: And how was he as a stepfather to you?

SY: Well, like I said, the only time that I had regrets was when he became drunk. Other than that, he was very intelligent, he's a storyteller, very dramatic. The one thing that I did not like as a child, well, going to Japanese school. I resented it, I hated it, and, because all the other kids were out of school, and I lived out on the outskirt of Japantown, a bus came and picked me up, and by the time I came home it was dark, and we had a cleaner. And I felt that I was missing out on a lot of activities because most of my friends, the school I went to, I was the only Japanese American. And so I felt very lonely about that. But on Saturdays it was matinee time, looking at the newsreel, so we knew there was trouble in Germany, or Europe, Hitler was conquering Europe. We loved the cartoons, we loved the football, you know, the sports newsreel, and then the movies, (especially the Cowboy & Indians movies).

TI: And these were, you went to the matinees with your Caucasian friends?

SY: Definitely.

TI: So when you went in Japanese school, how was that for you? I mean, did you feel like you were different than the other Japanese at the Japanese school?

SY: Oh, yes. I like my friends. Akira Yoshimura, Togo Okumura, Togo was killed in the Korean War, also Ben Kyodo, manju place, but I enjoy the recess. I look at that yard now, and, gee, how small it was, but at that time, when I was young, I thought what a big, massive yard. But the teachers, I recall, were real mean. I went up to the fourth grade, I don't know how, because there was so much memorization, and my stepfather was gifted in Japanese language and writing and so forth, and he really promoted that, I don't know why, but I didn't like it. But when the war started, I didn't have to go to Japanese school, so that was one thing I said, hey, alright, this is great.

TI: That's, that's good.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

TI: In my notes, you also talked about the World's Fair.

SY: Yes.

TI: Tell me about that.

SY: Well, every Sunday, the cleaners closed, so we would take, once a month, we would take a ferry boat, and we would go to Treasure Island, and at that time they had this water fountain with color, and we thought, that's the most spectacular thing you ever see in your life. I mean, now people laugh at that, you could see that in Las Vegas, you know. Then there was this one restaurant I recall. The cooks are up high, then once they finish their cooking, the dish came rotating around (a slide) and then they handed it out to the people. We never could eat, because we didn't have enough money, but I used to see the food, and I said, "Someday, I'm going to eat in a restaurant." And my mother always used to say the sanitation, the hot dogs are not cooked well, the hamburgers are bad, but in the long run, she was right, the cholesterol and the other stuff, which we didn't even know about. And, but the other thing that I noticed as a young man, a young boy, rather, that we went to the area where they had not only displays but they had the armament, the soldiers and the navy people from different countries, including Japan. And they had the cannons, and as a young boy, we saw a newsreel about these guns and weapons and tanks. Because of what happened in Europe, we wanted to see. As a boy, why, we grew up in the Cowboy & Indian era, you know, when we played, we played cowboys and Indians, except when we played with girls, they would play house, and I won't talk about that, but anyway, it depends on who you're playing with. I noticed the Japanese soldiers and the navy personnel were extremely nice, smiling, cordial, and they would have a great rapport with all of the families. And then later on, out on the marching field, they had people marching. And all of a sudden when the Japanese army came, and all the audience, majority were Japanese in that section, "Banzai!" " Banzai!" Well, monkey see, monkey do, as a kid, "Banzai!" We had no understanding what was going on in Japan, we didn't know that they were preparing for war, we had no knowledge. We just knew that, I always wished that, when I went to school, I wished I was a Caucasian, why do they have blonde hair and I have dark hair, slant eyes where they have round eyes, and so on. But as a kid, you're more sensitive to these things. But getting back to the World's Fair, it was something that I looked forward to.

TI: Going back to the, to watching the Japanese march, did, and you said "monkey see, monkey do," but how did you feel? Did you feel a sense of pride of, by being Japanese and seeing these Japanese soldiers?

SY: Well, you have to understand, when you went to a bookstore there's books about the Japanese army. As a kid you look for medals, the generals, and the high ranking officers and the privates and all the way down, different areas. And we didn't believe in the war aspect, but, because nobody wants to get killed, but if you look at these books, it was an honor to die for your country. Although I couldn't read the book, but the picture tells a story. When they carry bombs on their knapsack and go in under the tanks, or have, like, some kind of bomb, four, five people going into barbed wire so that the army could go through, it was not necessarily against the United States, it was anybody, it didn't matter what country it was. So we knew there was tension all over the world, not only the Pacific, but also in Europe as well. So I don't know why I remember that, but I did, I have never heard of anybody talking about that. And then when the ships came in, we would go to the ships and they would throw these long streamers, and everybody's happy on the ground, waving and so forth, and I used to think, well, gee, why are they so happy to leave the United States, and those that came in were happy to come in. And so, I don't think nobody ever thought of the war aspect, at least I didn't.

TI:Even before the war, though, I'm just thinking about, in terms of how you felt, in terms of, you said earlier how, because you went to a place where you were, like, the only Japanese, and most of your friends were white, whether or not when you were with the Japanese community seeing the Japanese military, and people are really proud of that, or, you know, they're yelling banzai, if that had any effect on you.

SY: No, no. I did walk all the way down to Japantown, because two of my cousin lives there, they're both sisters. A lot of my friends lived in Japantown, and so I enjoy going to Japantown, just to buy manju or whatever, and it was sort of a way of getting away from the house, being the only kid until I was fifteen, but all throughout the war I was the only boy. So I had to make my own friends, and so this is the way I associated with different types of friends. But when the war broke out, we were very patriotic to the United States. They had a wagon that recycled newspapers, and we made ten cents for a stack of paper, we gave them pots and pans and whatnot, but the one thing that is really disgusting was we would walk all the way down to Market Street and pick up cigarette packages and take off the tin foil and pack it into a ball. And for all these years I often wonder, what can you do with tin foil, because it burns, it disintegrates, and just two years ago, where I work, there was one gentleman, we call him C.R. Ramirez, he talked about, every time he hears a noise, airplane, he could identify the plane. And I says, "Because you know so much about the Air Force, what, why do they collect these tin foil?" He says, "Well, what they did was, these planes would go out and they would throw a bunch of shredded tin foils down, and the radar picks it up. And instead of one or two or three planes, they think there's thousands of planes coming." I said, "Oh." It took me all these years, over sixty-some years to find out what actually happened.

TI: That's good. Yeah, I didn't think about that either. Because you're right, you can't melt it for the metal, because it would just burn.

SY: No, but I always wondered about that.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

TI: So going back, we're talking about the outbreak of war. So December 7, 1941, do you recall that day?

SY: Definitely.

TI: So talk about that.

SY: I happened to be at a wedding. And I don't know whose wedding it was, but all I recall was it was on Pine Street in Japantown and there was a long stairway, and a group of young boys like myself and a group of girls, young girls, we were playing. I don't know what we were playing about, but then all of a sudden, a newspaper man came by, not in front of us, but across the street, yelling, "Extra! Extra! Read all about it, Japs bomb Pearl Harbor!" Well, we knew the word "Jap" was not a kind word for the Japanese, but that startled all of us, and the parents were petrified, especially our family, because my stepfather was an "illegal alien," and sure enough, they thought he was going to be the first to be arrested. But fortunately, my mother did all the paperwork so that he did not get, immigration did not get caught up with him until 1947, I'll go into that later.

TI: Yeah, but so, after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, sort of, aliens, noncitizens had to register, so did he register, or did, how did, what did he do during that time period?

SY: That I don't know, but all I remember was we had a, in our cleaner's, our little tool shed, inside a little closet, we had a jackknife, and I have a feeling I lost it, throwing it against the wood fence and trying to make it stick, because you saw that in the movies. And my parents were terrified, the fact that the FBI's going to find that hidden jackknife, and we turned in the bayonet that we used for cleaning out the area where we went camping to Russian River area, cameras, and radios, and so forth, we turned all that to the police department, which we were required to do. But that one jackknife we couldn't locate, and that was quite interesting. But I'd like to revert back to, we were talking about my mother. We had a cleaner and the kitchen was in the back, but we had a door whenever it opens it rings and the customer was there, but as I was leaving for school, I learned a real easy lesson by pushing the no sale and the cash register door open. But if I held it real slowly, it won't ring. And I remember taking six cents out of the cash register, and on the way to school I went up Divisadero, up McAllister Street, and, about a quarter of a block, there was a candy store. There was this, I don't know the name of this candy, but it was a paper with all kinds of dots on there, different color. And I ate that, I mean, not just a little roll, but, for six cents you could eat a lot of candy, little Tootsie Roll, and by the time I got to school I was sugar high and sick. But when I came home, my mother was waiting at the outside. "There's six cents missing from the cash register." I went into my Shakespearean act, "What do you mean? Who took it? I don't understand. You sure? You miscounted," you know. Well, I was lying because I didn't want to get scolded. Well, my mother talked about that all through my elementary school, through the camp, all throughout my high school, all throughout the time when I came home from the navy, all throughout, until the age of forty. I says enough is enough, I must confess, I did it, this is a good time, so after dinner I said, "Mom, Dad, I got a confession to make. Let's sit down, I want to -- "

TI: This is when you're, like, forty years old.

SY: Forty years old. I says, "I want to tell you the whole story." I said, "The six cents that was missing in the cash register that you guys mention all throughout my life, made my life miserable, I did take it, and I bought candy with it." And their, both response was, "What six cents?" But I think they taught me a good lesson, that never steal, because all throughout my life, I remember that misery I went through with that lousy six cents that I took just for that terrible candy that I ate. But anyway, I'm sorry, I went ahead of my time.

TI: No, that's a good story, I'm glad you told that story.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

TI: So we were talking about after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, so eventually people were rounded up and had to leave San Francisco. Can you talk about that?

SY: Oh, no, before that, I think is very important, because it was December the 7th Pearl Harbor was bombed. After that, it was early part of January, Franklin D. Roosevelt declared war on both sides, Europe and Pacific, or Japan. Our allies were, of course, Russia, England, France, and United States. So we did not go to assembly camp 'til May of 1942, so I went to school at Fremont Elementary School. And while I was at school we said the Pledge of Allegiance every morning, we purchased what we could afford to buy U.S. War Savings Bonds, and we took great pride in that. We practiced bombing (drills), going under our little desks, we did have fire drills, going down the stairs and so forth, and all this time we're fearful of war. During the evenings we had air raids. Sirens would go off, we had black curtains, and we would go into one specific room and wait 'til the siren goes on again, and then we could turn on the lights, not only us, but everybody did that. So, but in school, all the kids were very, extremely nice, with the exception of one kid, Walter Mitchell. He was real, a kid that was really chubby, he was a foot taller than I was, but for some reason or another, his behavior, we used to punch him, and we would get in trouble with the principal. And so when we had a farewell party at Fremont Elementary when I vacated, the teacher cried, the students all wished me well and so forth, except Walter Mitchell. He said, "Someday I'm going to get you." And sure enough, when I came back from camp and I was at Marina junior high and they announced my name, "How do you pronounce your name?" and so forth, and, in the middle of the class, here's this six foot two guy, Walter Mitchell says, "I remember you," and he says, "I'm going to pound you after school." And sure enough, he was waiting for me in the backyard in Marina Junior High, and my first instinct was to run, and I took about ten, fifteen steps, and that guy couldn't run, he was so overweight. But I said to myself, you know, I was really mean to that kid, I deserve to get punched out, I deserve to get punished, so I said, I'm going to fight back. I didn't want to fight, but I said to myself, "I did wrong." So I turned around and I hit him with all my might in the stomach, and it felt like my whole arm went through his belly, and he was on the asphalt, sitting down, and he reached his hand and says, "Friends." And I said, "Sure, friends," because I didn't want to really fight. But the minute I hit him, I knew I could beat him, because he was so soft. But, again, I'm not a fighter. So probably the saddest thing was to get rid of my four animals.

TI: But before we go there, I want to go back to the, you said at your school they actually had a farewell party for you. Tell me about that. Whose idea was it to have a party?

SY: The teacher.

TI: And you said people were in tears, they were crying?

SY: The teacher was crying. And the kids all bid me farewell, and I was embarrassed to see the teacher cry. At that time I was a real good student, I took pride in school and everything else, and I was well-liked by the kids.

TI: Did the teacher ever say anything during that time about what she felt or, do you recall her saying anything?

SY: No, she was too embarrassed to talk about it, because of fear of what the other kids might hear. This is my assumption. And the kids in the class were very kind. They knew that I was leaving, they didn't know, I don't know whether they knew why I was leaving, and so basically what happened was they wanted people of the, local Japanese people to go in interior of San Francisco so you don't see the San Francisco Bay, because you could see the ships coming in and out. And the irony of this the MIS school was right near the Golden Gate Bridge almost in Presidio where these Japanese people could see all the ships going in and out, And the other stupidity was, if you look at the paper they'll list all the ships that were on there, and when I told the officer that I work for, Lieutenant Hewitt, he says in that time all the enlisted men had their ship's name on their black hat, and so we laughed about all this. So we knew which ship was there and so forth.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

TI: So let's go back to, you said the most difficult thing was your four pets.

SY: Now what? Four pets, yes.

TI: Talk about that.

SY: I had a dog, and the dog was a great companion, it would go to the park with me and so forth. It was probably a mixture of German shepherd and something else. I had a canary. The canary my mother adored because this canary would ring a bell whenever we sat down to eat. And so we would give... it loved rice, so we called this canary, yellow canary, a Japanese canary because, you know, how many birds would eat rice, we don't know. Then, at the World's Fair, you could buy these little turtles with beautiful colors, decorated pictures, and at that time it was legal to sell, they had thousands of them. But now, because of the bacteria and so forth, they don't allow you to buy those things. And the, let's see, the bird... there was one other animal I had -- oh, goldfish, a real cheap, inexpensive goldfish, I probably wouldn't have ever missed that one, but it was still a pet. And so how do you get rid of it? My friend, a Caucasian fellow by the name of Russell accepted it. And the irony of this is when I, when a little town, I can't even remember the town, in Wyoming, they had a article in the Wyoming newspaper and, it was near Laramie, and the students -- teacher asked, "Could we send you a questionnaire?" I said, "Sure, please do." And one of the questions that I answered, it says, "After the war, World War II, were you able to see your pets again?" And I had to write back, I did go and try to locate my friend Russell, he was gone and I never did see the animal. But even after all those years, the kids were still interested whether I was able to see, and I'm talking about kids, not adults, I'm talking about what the kids felt.

TI: Yeah, kids, I mean, pets are so, so important.

SY: Right.

TI: So Russell took the pets.

SY: Yeah, he took the pets, and I never saw him after that.

TI: Then, what happened next? This must be getting close to the time that you had to leave?

SY: The other thing that -- Russell and I decided to go hiking one day, and we went and we saw this nice, tall hill. We climbed up to the summit, and all of a sudden I looked out over, and I saw ships in San Francisco Bay, and I immediately ducked down. And Russell said, "What's the matter?" I said, "I am Japanese. I'm not supposed to see the San Francisco Bay." And he laughed, and he says, "Who is going to know? And who really cares?" So I took a look at it, and when I went home and I told my parents, I says, "You know, United States is going to win the war." I said, "I have never seen so many ships in that San Francisco Bay," big ship, little ship, you name it, different types of ships, and I was so impressed with that, that the U.S. was definitely going to win, even before, just right after the war. And so it would be nice to see Russell again, just to talk about that incident.

TI: Yeah, see if he remembers.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

TI: Okay, so let's talk about leaving San Francisco.

SY: Okay, well, before, just before, we had to move in with another family in Japantown, and the family was real nice. And so what we did was we, I went to a different elementary school where there was a lot of Japanese, so I felt real comfortable being among a lot of Japanese, although I felt comfortable in Fremont, too, but I felt that I was set back because I felt that when you transfer to a new school, boy, these Japanese kids are smart, intelligent, and I felt real retarded because I thought, gee, I can never catch up to these kids. But anyway, there was a time in May, they said, okay, we would meet at the Buchanan YMCA on Buchanan Street in Japantown. So we went there, we got our ID card, and, like everybody else, they did the same, they went to Tanforan racetrack, and eventually they went from there to Topaz or Tule Lake. Well, we were expecting to do the same, went on a bus, took us to the train station, and of course we're excited, boy, we get to go on a train. So, as we went by, we could see Tanforan, so we thought that the train was gonna go and backtrack, and let us off, because in those days the freight train had priority, because this is war time. But the train kept going faster and faster and faster, and the rumors started, especially the elderly people. "We're to going to go to a place like Sahara Desert, southern California." So a lot of the ladies, elderly ladies, had these funny-looking hats, they opened it up, so it'd be like a protection from the sun. I don't know why, the older, elderly people, they wore their suit, which is extremely stupid because it's so hot. And so we did land in Pomona, and, but all the way down, I remember my mother saying, "We're going by San Maria." I says, "Make sure, don't breathe too hard because they have a polio epidemic," I don't know whether it's true or not, but polio was a most fearful, dreaded disease because you become invalid, you can't walk and so forth.

And so we landed in Pomona, and I was bored because the military police was searching all of the suitcases and going through piece by piece, and so I told my parents, I said, "I wanna look around," and no sooner did I vacate that premise, maybe twenty steps, about fifteen, twenty kids came after me. And the reason for that is five hundred fifty Bay Area folks were on this train, because Tanforan was overcrowded, so we landed in Pomona assembly camp not knowing why, at that time. So I had a few friends, the Yamoto family, the Miharas, the Yoshimura and our family, among other people, but these are my friends, the other people we didn't know. And so a young boy my age, or maybe a little older, said, "Hey, you're from 'Frisco." Well, I never heard the term 'Frisco. I want to be polite. I was not permitted to wear Levi's, we wore nice, clean white shirts, so we stood out like a sore thumb because most of these people from San Jose or Yakima or Los Angeles area, so guys like myself stood out like a sore thumb. He says -- so I answer very politely, "No, I'm really from San Francisco," I thought I was making points. Well, that really made me look bad. Another guy says, "No, you're from Fog City." I thought, Fog City? "No, I'm really from San Francisco," I thought Fog City was a city. Well, all of a sudden, I thought, well, maybe I should go to the restroom, try to get away from these guys. So I nonchalantly made up a story, I says, you know, some of these guys are kicking me, the little ones are kicking me, punching me and so forth, and I said, and I lied, I said, "You know, I don't mind fighting one at a time," I said, "but to fight all fifteen, sixteen of you, it's ridiculous." And so the leader came up to me and says, "Yeah, you're right, you're taking me on," and I thought, oh, me and my big mouth again. So he took me into the shower stall and I say, "Hey, look, you know, we're both gonna get dirty." I was thinking about my white, clean shirt and my clean pants and so forth, and he looked down and he said, "You know, you're right." So they escorted me to a vacant barrack way away, and I thought, oh, this is stupid, I could yell bloody murder and nobody will hear me, I could get killed. And so they lock the door, and all these guys are outside making sure I couldn't escape from the window. You couldn't open the windows anyway, I don't know, but they're all lookin'. And we go in the middle of the room and I notice how hot it was, I'm not used to this weather. So he grabs me by the shirt and twisted it, and I notice how strong he was, and he says, "Do you know how to do judo?" And I relaxed and I said, "No." Well, it turned out that my, the Horishige that lives in New York, he's older than I am, he was living with us because he came from Japan, well, he was from Seattle, parents died, went to Japan, and he came back in 1939, lived with us. So he used to practice judo on me, he never -- and so when this guy was doing a koshinage, or a hip roll, he was going "one, two" and then he was ready to throw. Well, I knew exactly what he was going to do, I grabbed his head and went down, if he turned left, I went the opposite way, and I knew exactly what to do. So all this time he pretended he was death, dead, he pretended he couldn't breathe, and it seemed like it was eternity, I was trying to preserve my life and I wasn't gonna let go, I wasn't trying to be a tough guy, I just wanted to get from being beaten up. And finally he whispered real slowly and lightly, he says, "I give up." I said, "Sure," I let go. He jumped down, says, "You give up?" I said sure, 'cause I was worried about the other fourteen guys outside. Well, all throughout my assembly camp, Pomona, and Heart Mountain, whenever I saw the guy, although he was husky, weighed more, even though I was afraid of him, I stick out my chest and I pretended, you know, "You don't scare me," but that was all a pretense, that was a good act. And I think he respected me because of the fact that he thought I was wiry and strong, but I let him think that I was strong, but that's a way to protect yourself, you know.

TI: But you were strong in that you stood up to him and that whole group.

SY: Well, it was, I had no choice. I wasn't trying to pretend that I was strong and tough, I just was trying to get out of it with the hopes that they'd say, "Go home, go back to your parents." So I met with my friends like Akira, the people I knew, and we were walking around the premise at Pomona, and we watched these elderly people carve beautiful birds and one of the things I had never seen in any of the artifacts, they used to make little hearts with toothbrush (handles).

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

TI: So this is now where, at Heart Mountain, or Pomona?

SY: No, Pomona. And because we had nothing to do but just walk around. In the evening they had judo matches and they had sumo wrestling matches, every Friday night they had a talent show, which we loved, but the sad thing about the talent show was we hated the Japanese shows, the dances and the kabuki and so forth, but we loved the band era, modern songs, which we never learned, but when we went back home, back to our barracks, we were out on the open field, and we had so much dust, you'd blow your nose, it's all dirt, but we didn't care because it was some type of entertainment that we'd look forward to, you know.

TI: Was that the hardest thing about Pomona, just the boredom, or just finding things to do?

SY: Well, there was no school at that time. They did register because this was, we got there in May, so June, July, August is summer vacation, so they really did not have any school, and so during the day most of the people were just laying around because it was too hot for these people. We'd go to the mess hall, every once in a while some of the seniors, it'd be a long line because the food would run out, of the menu, and you'd see a guy fainting and, next thing you know, ambulance come, pick him up and take him to the hospital, wherever, and I used to feel sorry for them, but then I used to wonder, why do they wear all this garment in the hot weather, but I guess they were used to that. And one thing that I always remember is that in the morning -- there was a sugar rationing, and they gave us a little piece of a paper bag that you see, find in McDonald's now, little sugar -- and there'll be a gentleman collecting, "Hey, if you don't use that for your cereal, can I have your sugar?" And he had a little gallon can, he'll fill it up, and I would say, yeah, we're not using it. And just recently I asked my friend, Tak Hoshizaki, I said, "What did he use that sugar for?" He says, "Don't you know? They make sake out of it." I said, "Oh?" and I just learned that this year, but whether that's true or not I don't know.

TI: No, I've heard other stories similar, yeah, that the extra sugar, they could do that.

SY: So it must be true. [Laughs]

TI: Well, I'm not sure about, I'm sure there was some of that going on. Other stories, Pomona, that you remember?

SY: Well, I had the worst case of athlete's feet, because we had an open shower facility, and one of the things that most kids, and I'm talking about a nine-, ten-year-old kid, yeah, we soap and rinse and so forth, and we neglect to dry between our toes. I'm not saying everybody, but I'm talking about myself, we're just too lazy to bend down and go between your toes, which, if you have athlete's foot, athlete's feet, it spreads. Well, my mother had a bottle of Listerine that she carried with her, and that was my medication to cure athlete's feet. And oh, it was itchy and cracks in the skin, and I thought, oh my gosh, why doesn't she take me to the doctor or hospital, but they didn't want to, she did cure it, ironically, but later on, not at Pomona, but when we went to Heart Mountain, they had these little tubs of, it looked like iodine or something, and we would saturate our feet in there, and they said, hey, there's more bacteria in that than if you didn't use it, so we start all wearing getas, with scrap wood, we all made getas, and that worked great.

TI: Oh, so to keep your feet away from all the bacteria, you'd wear that, because that was pretty common in the showers, for people to get athlete's foot?

SY: Well, nobody talked about it if they had it, because they were ashamed to admit it, and if they did have it, I don't know how they cured it, but it doesn't take much to have that spread, rampant, just everybody gets it, you know. So when you see that many people wearing getas, you know that it works. In those days they didn't wear that rubber zori, they had the kind of a woven, it looked like hay or whatever, but nobody went in the shower with that. But geta works good because even the men and the women and the children all wore it. You could hear 'em, you know, and they had different shapes and so forth. But I was mentioning about the toothbrushes. They would cut that and make little hearts and earrings, pendulum, and they made getas and so forth, and in Heart Mountain everybody made a Heart Mountain display, whether they painted it or what.

TI: Okay, good.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

TI: And so we just finished up talking about Pomona, so why don't you talk about the journey from Pomona to Heart Mountain?

SY: Very interesting journey, it was a four-day trip, and of course, I told you earlier that I grew up in the Cowboy & Indian era, all the movies we loved to see, Gene Autry and all these high profile cowboy movies, and we always thought the Indians were real bad because they were always attacking, and all the way up to Wyoming I looked out the window, looking for cowboy and Indian, never saw one, but that's okay. But one of the things that we stopped for every freight train, and one evening, I think somewhere near Salt Lake, they said, "You're entitled to eat at the dining room." Wow, high tone. We're hungry and I was the very first one in line. My mother was right behind me, pushing me along. The first train we entered was full of military people, navy, marines, they didn't have air corps at that time, army personnel and whatnot, with their girlfriends or wives or whatever, and my assumption is that they were going to Seattle to depart towards the Pacific. Some of them were laying down, some of them were embracing, kissing, whatnot, and they looked at the Japanese Americans walking by, of course some of them are old, elderly, so, naturally, they look like people from Japan. They were very kind, they didn't say anything, and we were, they were startled, we didn't know what to say, we just looked and just kind of smiled, walked on, to the dining room, and then after we ate we had to walk back. But that was an eye-opener, you know, to see all the military people and four or five trainloads of people going through this area, but then we got to eat in this place. Then we went through a bunch of tunnels, and people couldn't stand the smell, seemed like we got a lot of black soot all over us, but that's okay. It seemed like it was forever, but when you're a kid you want to see the scenery, not just the inside of a tunnel.

And then we went to Billings, Montana, there was a group of kids, looking at us, staring at us, and we said, "Hey, come on over and talk to us." And they hesitated, they kind of walked backwards a little bit, kind of afraid, they probably never seen this many Asians in their life. But somebody was brilliant, we had some leftover cookies and fruits from the bento lunchbox. "Hey, want some cookies?" Well, they came over, then we got talking. And then we departed, landed up in Heart Mountain, late at night, and everybody was tired, they gave us our ID card, they told us what block we're gonna go. All I remember was an open-end truck, and I was at the very front, looking, because I want to observe where we're going, what the camp looked like, I was just curious. And whereas the adults, you know, they sat down, huddled up, cold, miserable, didn't know what was going on or anything about the barracks, very confused, because we didn't know what "block" meant, like in our case Block 14-1-C, what does that mean? Mess hall, what does that mean, you know, other than you eat in a different compartment? You have to go to a benjo, you have to go to a latrine, or bathroom, and so forth.

So we had to learn all these things, but as soon as we got to the camp they told us what barrack we were in, we walked in, and there was one dim light, and we had the light on, we sat down on our bed, no furniture whatsoever, no running water, and, with army blankets on the end, and we sat there, exhausted, and didn't really know what to think other than, well, they're gonna wake us up in the morning with a bell. Each block had a different sounding bell, they had different metals that rang, and he says if you miss your breakfast you won't have any 'til lunch, so we made sure we went to lunch. And, of course, a lot of the adults were intimidated with the open commodes and so forth, and kids didn't care, but one of the things the kids did was we copied the teenagers, lined (the toilets seats) with toilet paper. Now they have special paper that you put on the seats, but at that time it was a novelty, so, every once in a while, we used so much toilet paper that it would plug up the toilet paper, commode, where it restricted, instead of having ten or whatever commodes, made it nine, and eventually eight, and so forth, until somebody was able to open it up, but we adjusted. And, so... the food, again, long line, lot of noise, especially the dishwasher, and we noticed the young guys all sat in the first three or four tables, without their parents.

TI: So these are, like, teenagers?

SY: Correct.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 12>

TI: And your family unit was your mother, stepfather, and you, just three of you?

SY: Three of us, we ate together, and they didn't allow me to eat with them. I was embarrassed because I was one of the few people that had to eat with their parents, but they believed in a family unity. But we had a lady by the name of Estelle Ishigo she was a Caucasian lady, and my mother would holler to her, "Mrs. Ishigo, we have opening space here," and she would come and eat with us.

TI: So I'm curious, how did others treat her? I mean, she's Caucasian, this is the character in Steven Okazaki's film Days of Waiting, but your mother was friendly with her.

SY: Well, because she was able to speak both, bilingual, and my mother was very friendly, open, and she always admired her beauty. You know, blonde hair, nice skin, and she always talked nice about her, always a very, very friendly person, but a lot of people were intimidated because she looked bigger than most of the Japanese ladies, although she was married to Arthur Ishigo. Arthur was a boilerman, and he was what, I call now, the first hippie we ever seen, long beard, and he was shoveling coal in the boiler room, and he would go out there in a blizzard without a shirt. And we thought, you know, the guy has to be nuts, I mean, we had coat and jacket and sweater and T-shirt and long johns and we're still cold, but not Arthur Ishigo, he was out there, and later on, he would entice me to go fishing with him, so we became real good friends.

TI: How did other families treat Arthur and Estelle at Heart Mountain?

SY: Well, we really don't know, because Estelle would be the one that would pursue the friendship to other people, those that would care to talk, but a lot people who could not speak English would not dare communicate with her. But she was one of these person that played in a band, she played the violin and the mandolin, so each week she would be up on the stage, on the front, and she stood out playing the mandolin with this little band, with a smiling face and so forth. Whenever she went out she was always sketching, she was an artist. And so she would, my mother, on a normal day, when I say normal, sunny day, they would talk in front of the magpie bird and communicate. I don't know what they talked about, but they talked for a long length of time, you know. And I'm sure one of the things that they were last to leave November 15, 1945, because they had no place to go, they didn't have the money, and it was a sad adventure for them. And I know that Arthur always wanted to be a movie, in the movies, some way or somehow, because he worked at Paramount at one time. But the other thing I mentioned was that there were a lot of group gangs, and that depends on where you live, the peers that you hung around with and so forth, so a lot of the parents, adults, knew what was happening, so they created a lot of sports activities, such as softball, the older teenagers taught us how to play football.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 13>

TI: Going back to the, you said group gangs, tell me how they were structured. Like, generally how large, were they from the same original city, or the age group? Tell me a little bit more about that.

SY: I can't honestly answer that other than there was a guy named Dive Bomber. He was not a tall gentleman, but his body was shaped like a V, and maybe that's where he got the "Dive Bomber." And everybody talked about him, that he was strong and vicious and loved to fight, so whenever we saw him, we steered away from him because we didn't want to antagonize him, although I'm sure he's not gonna fight somebody a lot younger than we were, we're talking about high school age. And the Los Angeles group had a group that hung together. Depends on where you live. I'm sure the San Jose people stuck together. And I remember there was a fellow by the name of Min Ando, he was from San Jose, and in the bathroom there was a whole, maybe about three or four guys coming and asking us, "Where does Min Ando live?" And years later, when I saw him at a Heart Mountain reunion, I said, "What were they mad about you?" I says, "I never could understand. You seemed like such a nice, easy-going guy and everything." Well, he was too embarrassed to talk about it, so I don't know what actually happened, or what made 'em angry, but some of the older gang guys, they used to hang around the canteen, not looking for trouble, it was a social thing. And dances was a big thing with the older teenagers, especially with the military people coming back from furlough, and, although we were too young to dance, we were curious because, why did they put the lights so dim, and we were curious to see, oh, what's going on, you know? And how close are they dancing, and all this kind of stuff. But we were kids, we were just curious about those things.

TI: Okay.

<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 14>

TI: Going back, you were just going to talk about sports now, so talk about sports in camp.

SY: Well, sports was... well, before sports, they had a laundry room. And on the opposite side was, like, a little recreation room, and so before sports even came about, we all met, especially on a snowy day or whatever, and we would play games like checkers, yo-yos, tops. And the older guys taught us games like Blind Man's Bluff, Sink the Battle Ship, when the weather was nice, Annie Annie Over, Prisoner's... I forgot the exact title, but it was, you split the team in two and you try to run through without getting tagged. So we would play, the older guys would teach us all these different variety of game. And then, as the sports, somebody had a ball, a football, it depends on the season, they taught us how to kick and throw, play game and so forth. And softball was a big thing during the summer, and we would have pick-up games when the older guys were working, and we would play the whole afternoon, just playing pick-up game. If we didn't have enough players, we would have a game where somebody would pitch to you and if you hit it and somebody catch it, he's out. And so we would rotate to see who was going to be batters up. We had an outside basketball court on Block 7, so my father worked with the government and some way or another met with some of the Caucasian people and they gave him old basketballs from high schools, and he was able to repair that, so I was one of the popular guys with a basketball. But then not everybody played basketball, but since it was so close, we had a lot of pick-up games and so forth. Horse was a big game, and so forth.

And then, because of the winter, somebody came up with the idea of putting dirt all the way around, filling it up with water, and next morning you have ice skating rink. And little by little people start buying ice skates. Our parents were too poor, so what we would do is we have a fifteen-minute rotation, of borrowing somebody's ice skates. And some people had figure skate and hockey skate. Well, we thought that hockey was, hockey skate was for speed, it was more masculine, and the figure skate was for the girls because they could do the twirls and all that, but they could stop better, so there would be a long argument which was the better, and I think it didn't really matter, it depends on who owned what. And if the skates was too big we would stuff it with cotton so that we would fit into the skates. And then the football field was converted into ice skating, seemed like there were hundreds of people ice skating, and so teenagers, adults, young kids, all seemed to be enjoying ice skating because they all could do it. And so that was a type of winter sport. But then the people were involved in churches, some people were involved in the Boy Scouts, with I joined, Troop 333, and we went camping at Shoshone River and so forth.

<End Segment 14> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 15>

TI: Let me, let me ask you a little bit about your mother, 'cause you mentioned how she was bilingual. How well did she fit in in the sense of most, probably most of the other women her age were Japanese, Issei. Did she kind of, was she, like, in two different worlds sometimes, you know, sometimes more Japanese and other times more American, or how did you see her at camp, especially with so many people?

SY: Well, I think it depends on the other person. If they spoke in Japanese, she spoke in Japanese. If they talked in English, she spoke in English. And I resented the fact that when I went to elementary school she became PTA president, and the reason for that is they had A, B, C, D classes, and the D class was the largest, and it seemed, it appeared that the A were the real bright students. And I was in the D class and I assumed that the D stood for "dumb class," because we had over sixty students, and those that were, during the winter I remember Mrs. Kassing telling us that she felt sorry for the kids that were near the stove, they were too hot, and those that were away from the stove, they were too cold. But because of the sixty students, we were actually clowns, I mean, we knew how to make spit wads and we knew how to shoot rubber bands and we would entice the girls, heckle them and do everything to make them miserable, miserable, and I felt sorry for the teacher. We made so many teachers cry because we were so unruly, where the A class had a smaller class and they were more involved with the education. But I didn't care because of the fact that I knew, what could they say with the president of the PTA, I was, she would bail me out, I hope, you know. [Laughs] So she was involved in that type, 'cause she didn't work, one of the few people that did not work, because she believed in making sure that I went straight.

TI: And, and what would a PTA president do in...

SY: I really don't know. All I know is that she met with the teachers once in a while, and... I don't know what her role was, all I know is she had that title.

TI: Well, do you recall, did they have PTA meetings?

SY: That I don't even know. But, because of her educational background, she just automatically became the president. But they had two different elementary school areas, and I went to one of them. She was only the PTA of the one I went to in Block 7.

TI: Okay. In my notes there was a game that you played, I'm not sure how frequently, where you would get a group and they would all hold hands...

SY: Yes, somebody come up with this ridiculous idea of getting electrocuted, or just getting a shock, and one person will, well, first of all, we all hold hands and we all rotate, because we knew that the person on the far, the last one, would get the biggest jolt. And then the one person will have one hand holding the other person and sticking this knife into the electrical socket, and it would jolt all of us, and, but the end person would get the biggest jolt. And, and I didn't like the idea, but it was the peer pressure that we had to do, but one summer, a guy named Omori, Tom Omori, said, "Hey, remember that game we played, let's all hold hands," and we all said, "No, I don't, we don't want to do that," but he stuck this knife in there. It turned out that he was holding the plastic area where it had a great big blast, and it turned the plastic or whatever all black, and it's a good thing because I think all eight or nine of us would have been dead, if we'd held hands and, and that was the last time we thought of playing that game.

TI: And so was he hurt when he did that?

SY: Well, he, he held the, fortunately, he held the place where, there was no electricity.

TI: Okay, but if he had been holding the, the metal part, holding hands...

SY: He was lucky.

TI: Yeah, and you were lucky that you weren't holding hands with him.

SY: Yeah, we just refused to do it.

<End Segment 15> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 16>

TI: Other, other things that were perhaps dangerous, you're ten, eleven, that age, I mean, what were some other activities, maybe, like, in the summertime that you...

SY: Okay, we had what we call "cut the pie." We just make a, it depends on how many people involved, but usually two people, we challenge each other, we make a great big circle and we make a line in the middle, and each of us have a knife. If we stick it in their territory, we cut the area where the line goes, and we take the biggest property, and erase the one, so now we have three-quarters of the property. And then, if we throw the knife and it doesn't stick, it's the other person's turn, so if he sticks it, depends on if the line connects with his property, then he could take a lot of the property.

TI: So essentially you're trying to, to minimize, or shrink your opponent's area?

SY: To a point where it's so small that, you know, you no longer could stick the knife in. And that was kind of a dangerous sport, but we enjoyed it because it was a game of skill. Another game we did was, on the table, we spread our fingers, and we would get a knife and go boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom all the way back, with the hopes that you don't stick yourself. And, as you get better, we go a little faster, and... to a point where the person that could do it the fastest would have the reputation of being the best.

TI: So you would sometimes race each other, or time each other and see who's the fastest?

SY: Oh, yeah. I know it sounds corny, but we had things that we, that we just automatically did, you know.

TI: Yeah, and then you also mentioned the Scouts, so you were part of a scout, I think you said 333, so talk, talk about that. What were some of the scouting activities?

SY: Well, number one, the leaders wanted us to at least become a First Class, or a minimum of Tenderfoot, so you have to learn the knots and you have to memorize the Scout oath, so it was like a one-on-one situation. You had, like a counselor teaching you, because they want everybody -- and they had this board, and it's a check-off list. At one of the Heart Mountain reunions, Kaz Shiroyama said, "You weren't in our troop." I said, "Well, Akira Yoshimura brought me in." He said, "Well, here's a picture of Akira, so, he was in Troop 333 -- but your name isn't on there." And then Akira said, "Well, wasn't your name Okada?" I says, "Yeah, all the social activities and in my block I was known as Shigeru Okada, but for the school activities, official activities, I was Shigeru Yabu." But the irony of the Yabu was -- remember I was telling you I never had Levi's, so I always had holes in my pants, whether, depends on what sports we played. My mother always patched it up. So, ironically, "yabu" means "torn," so my nickname was Yabureta Pantsu, so even now some of my old friends say "Hey, Yabureta Pantsu," and we laugh at that because, how do you remember that name, you know? Well, Yabu, Yabureta Pantsu.

And so marble was a big, big game. We played fish, we played chase, and somebody came up with a great idea. At the beginning, our barracks, people used to complain how cold it was because the bottom was open, because they had bricks holding up and the bottom was open, and they complained about the cold. And eventually they put dirt all the way around, which prevented the wind to come in at the bottom, but then somebody came up with the idea of making little trenches, and you played marbles, as long as you stay on the trench, and then the idea is to stick it in a little hole, like pool game. So you go through the whole course, and some people would even have little bridges made. Or you could go from here to here, but, if you missed, you had to start from the beginning.

TI: And this was, like, underneath the barracks?

SY: No. You know where that dirt mound I was talking was slanted? Well, you made the mound on the slanted dirt.

TI: I see, so on kind of the perimeter.

SY: Yes. But people were very creative. Each one, each block had different types of creativity. They said, "Oh, the guy in Block 7, you should see his," so we'd go see theirs and copy their ideas and so forth. It was a fun activity.

TI: That's, I never heard, that's a good one.

SY: So we had a lot of marbles in our pockets, you know, and I don't know who the losers were, but...

<End Segment 16> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 17>

TI: Well, let's talk about hiking. You actually left camp sometimes to go hiking, and talk about that and where you would go.

SY: Well, the first area was just a walk around the premise, around the outside of the camp and maybe a little bit out away, and some of the older people said well, we got a route, a hiking trail. And I remember I was so embarrassed wearing longjohns, because you have buttons on the back, and, no matter how hot it was, I didn't want to take off my sweatshirt or whatever because, to let them know that I had longjohns on. But our parents were so worried at being in Wyoming, it was so cold because there was snow out there, but the sun warms up. So we were searching for arrowheads, they told us be careful of rattlesnakes, scorpions, black widows, ticks, and we all had to take tick shots, three of 'em, and I know the needle wasn't that long, the arm wasn't that long, but that was the most painful shot that we ever took, and, like I said, we took three of 'em. And we were concerned, or the officials, WRA was concerned about Rocky Mountain Fever. Now, nobody ever got that, but it was within range of half a mile, somebody found a little area called, dry riverbed, at times there'd be water trickling down. And, eventually, that became a nice place to go hiking to. Seeing the movies, cowboy movies was, slide down the hill, and when the sand was soft we would slide down. And the older guys would say, "How'd you do that?" And I'd tell 'em, I don't know why I had the nerve to do that, but when you're young you're pretty stupid, and then, next thing you know, everybody had to do it. Once you made a trail, everybody else did it. And with the Scouts, we had this practicing to go to Shoshone River, we made this Lipton soup. Oh, we thought that was the most delicious thing in the world.

TI: So you made this out in the, on this hike?

SY: Yeah, we took our own water, cooking utensils, and how we made our table, we made trenches. We'd look at the Scout's manual and, if you make two trenches, you got, your legs went into the trench, now you got an automatic table. And the big thing, this sounds terrible, but, at that age, passing gas was a big thing. You did it, you know, "Corks," you get to hit somebody, and if you don't wipe it the other guy get to hit you back, and if they don't wipe you, wipe after you get hit... so it was a game, but, you know, a normal human being wasn't supposed to pass gas. Well, at this campsite, I mean, this table that we made, we all sat down and had our soup and one scout had the loudest gas you ever heard. And everyone says, Scout's honor, mother's honor, you name it, nobody did it. Well, one guy walked all around us, and then he says, "Wait a minute, look here." There was, like, a powder puff, and so the guilty guy was because of the, the passing the gas, because the dirt was soft and it kind of made a marking, and so all the Scout's honor he did was all a lie. But that, ironically, it was such a big subject amongst the young kids, and it's a normal thing, and, even to this day, rarely people talk about it, but if that many people talked about it while in camp, it has to be mentioned. It just had to be mentioned because we, sometimes they had contests who could pass the most gas, or the loudest. I mean, it sounds a terrible thing to do, but that was that age era that we were involved with.

TI: That's a good story.

<End Segment 17> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 18>

TI: I want to kind of get to, in terms of your, the pets that you got in camp, and I know you found, you guys were out there, I think you guys knocked down a magpie nest or something.

SY: Oh, prior to that, I had a lizard, because they were so abundant. And we had a cage inside of our barrack and so forth, and they move very little. Lots of horned toads, I had that with the lizard, and eventually we went hiking a little further, and we found a canal, and during the winter, embedded in the ice, was a salamander. I was so intrigued by that salamander, it can't swim because it was encased in ice. Cut the ice out, brought it back, and I had that in my house, or barrack, rather. Well, eventually, we felt sorry for the salamander, the horned toad, and the lizard, so I released them to the area that, where I thought I found them. And then at the dry riverbed, there was this, it wasn't a snake, it didn't have eyes, it didn't have a mouth, it looked like a worm, but it was hard, it was kind of a reddish purple color. And I brought it back, put it in a Coke bottle, put water in there, and that thing would swim around. I don't know what it ate. We put a knot on there and it would untie itself, and, to this day, I describe this to biology teachers and so forth, they can't understand what I'm talking about. But one guy described it as a horse hair, that, a horse went by, one of the hair came out, and that became that worm, and that's what I had as a pet. Well, it didn't do too much. Then the next thing, a lot of us kids, we had a bottle, we filled it up with sand, put ants in there -- we had a lot of red ants -- and we could see the tunnels and everything. And that became old, and so we discarded that idea.

So Shoshone River was a place to go hiking, and we said, at that time I told my friends it was about three or four miles away. It turned out, later on, it was only three-quarters of a mile, but it seemed like it was a long distance. We had to go under a tunnel, under the canal above. And what was interesting about that was our real purpose was to go swimming, and we touched that water, it's ice cold, and the current was so swift. And my friend Akira Yoshimura almost drowned there, and I was there, I could hear him yelling, "Help, help, help," and so I asked him, later years, I says, "Why did you, how come you almost drowned? You're a good swimmer." Well, he was trying to swim upstream. You can't swim upstream, the current was too swift, and fortunately one of the older guys grabbed him and saved him. But every -- it was the talk of Heart Mountain, a guy almost drowned, so we were afraid to go swimming there. But there was a little pond that we went swimming in, that, the pond water was next to the Shoshone River. I don't remember how cold it was, but it was a nice, brisk swim, and, in fact, my stepdad went there. He went under a rock and come up with a little trout. I thought, whoa, I know if I touched a thing that moved I would be yelling and screaming, you know, anything that moved. And then pretty soon, as we were swimming, he said, "Hey, look, there's a snake." I say, "Well, at least it's harmless." One of the kids looked at it real closely, he said, "Well, look, it's got rattlers on there." Well, that's the last time we went in that little pond, swimming. We swam in the ditch, we swam in the canal, and then one of the Boy Scouts in Troop 333 drowned in the canal, and later on found out that he had a bad heart. So some of the older people, probably the farming people, dug a hole, so it wasn't a swimming pool, it was a swimming hole. We used to swim there. One hot summer day, Ken Suo, who lived next door to us, was a year or two older than us, but he was the slingshot champ of Heart Mountain, and he was good. He made his own -- we didn't use the stalk of the tree -- he made it out of pine wood, it was real small. And I think he went to the motor pool, and whether he stole the tube or whether they gave it to him, he never told us the secret, but he was nice enough to give us the rubber tube. So we learned the technique from Ken Suo, and so we became pretty good. We had lots of marbles, abundance of rocks, so we never had to worry about rocks, and so we would practice and practice and practice.

<End Segment 18> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 19>

SY: So one day we decided, since we couldn't, looking at the Sears and J.C. Penney catalogue, we knew we couldn't ever buy a bow and arrow or buy a shotgun or a rifle, so we had to resort to slingshot. Well, we could hear the magpies in the distance, we didn't see any coyotes, we didn't see any animals, so we thought... one kid, one of the boys said, "I bet you can't shoot, hit that magpie nest." There was hundreds of nests. Why that one, we don't know. So we start shooting at it, and next thing you know, we could see it shaking, and next thing you know, it rolled down, hit the ground and it rolled and stopped. Well, we wanted to see what was inside of a bird nest, not knowing that it was a little baby magpie bird. The minute it saw us, it started making all kinds of noise, thinking that we had food to feed the bird. We start looking for little bugs, and we get some water from the Shoshone River to try to keep the bird from making noise. Well, as I had mentioned earlier, I was one that went from babysitter to babysitter to babysitter, and when somebody said, "That baby bird is gonna die because the mother is gonna reject it," I says, "I'm gonna adopt this bird." And I carried it in my T-shirt, brought it back, tried to keep it cool.

And the irony of this bird was it was like any other internee. We were forced into camp behind barbed wires, that magpie bird went between the barbed wire, went in just like an internee. And as it went in, each of us held the barbed wire apart so we won't get hurt, and my mother is waiting for us with folded arms, with a big smile, because we returned from a hike. But when she saw that bird, she saw microorganisms, she saw viruses, and she says, "Take that back where you found that bird." I says, "No," I says, "the mother's gonna reject it, it's gonna die." And my mother not only talked loud, but she screamed, because she didn't want us to get this disease. Well, fortunately my stepfather was a nature boy. He knew what to feed the bird, how to take care of it, he made a beautiful cage from the scrap lumber, and fortunately they had mesh, wire mesh, and so it resembled a -- and we had driftwood where the bird could stand. But I immediately, I didn't know whether it was a male or a female, I even put a mirror to see if it was attracted to, you know, to see if whether it was a male or not, the bird didn't tell us, so I even put twigs and strings to see if it would make a nest or not, it didn't respond, so I just automatically named it Maggie. It just sounded close to magpie. And we knew it was a scavenger bird, so the mess hall people and the dishwashing people saved all the best of the meat for Maggie, so the Maggie always had the best of food. But my mother didn't understand magpie bird, it's a scavenger bird, it will stuff its chest out where it gets so big it will regurgitate and bury the meat into the dirt, which we put on the bottom. My mother will take all the meat out, because it didn't want the bird to get sick, because she, you know, medical student and so forth, she was always conscious about good health.

Well, every day that bird will be the first to be up in the morning, and we had a canvas on, and when people walk to the restroom or whatever, it would bounce back and forth, jump up and down, make all kinds of noise, and responded to every person. And most of the people were just determined to just go to the bathroom, don't want to talk, don't want to do anything. But the bird liked people, and so every time I would leave the premise I would go down the stairs, I would say, "Hello, Maggie." Every time I come back from school, or playing with my friends or whatever, I would say, "Hello, Maggie." Or, when I spend time with the bird, give him quality time, trying to make him -- at first he would peck my hand, it would bleed and everything, but I wanted that bird to land on my... [indicates shoulder] like the parrot, to sit on my shoulder, and eventually it did. But the thing that I noticed about Maggie was it loved to be stroked on the head. The eyes would turn completely white because it loved it, it loved to be nurtured on the chest, and so it was a great, great opportunity for me to get to know the bird. But my mother, from the very beginning, would scold the bird, yell at the bird, and the bird will scream back, and they seemed like they were fighting at each other, looked like they were mad at each other, hated each other, but I didn't realize 'til years later that they were the best of friends, they enjoyed each other.

And so one day, when I said, "Hello, Maggie," the bird said "Hello, Maggie." I looked around to see if there was a ventriloquist or, or somebody's playing a trick on me. I went up to the bird, I said, "Hello, Maggie," and the eyes turned white and it said "Hello, Maggie." I told my friends. "You're a liar." Again, two for lying, if you tell a lie, you get to punch a guy, if you don't wipe, you get hit again, opposite person get hit. Well, they came, they heard, sure enough, it did say it. The word starts spreading all throughout camp, eleven thousand people, not that every eleven thousand people came, but the children came, because they said, well, it was like a zoo. The seniors came, because they wanted, they had nothing else to do. The teenagers came, and, of course, the teenagers used profanity, so the bird said profanity that we didn't teach, and I was embarrassed because I didn't know that the bird said profanity until, at a Heart Mountain reunion, a guy I never met before in Block, upper Block 14 said, "Hey, you know, you got a bad bird." I said, "What do you mean a bad bird? Everybody loved it." "Well, it cussed at me." I said, "Oh, I'm sorry." I said, "It was the teenagers heckled him." And so they used words such as, "Come on, Maggie, what you doing?" It could whistle, it could laugh, just like, if you laugh a certain way, it copied exactly how you laugh. And during the summer, my stepfather clipped the wing because we knew it couldn't survive in the wilderness. It was too domesticated. So we would let him out between the barracks. It would socialize, going from one stairway to the other. Well, there was two old ladies that used to sit each evening on the summer night, laughing, talking, laughing and talking, and Maggie would be in the middle, talking in Japanese and laughing, and it sounded like there was three old ladies talking, where there was really two. And every once in a while the bird would go to another section of a different barrack. It gets confused, because they all look alike. And so some man would say, "Come on, Maggie," and he'll walk, the bird will follow the bird -- the man. "Okay, here's your barrack," and she could identify our barrack. So it was a very intelligent, intelligent bird.

<End Segment 19> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 20>

SY: And so the bird was really, because I didn't have -- there were times where you can't find friends. The weather was too cold, it was raining, people didn't want to come out. Sometimes I'd go to see my friend maybe five, six blocks away and he can't come out for some reason or another, so you start looking for different friends. And eventually, my next door neighbor was a girl, so she would entice me to go on a walk to Shoshone River or whatnot, so she became a girlfriend, but I didn't want to tell anybody because, you know, it was kind of embarrassing when people started teasing. But the embarrassing thing about it was she wrote a love letter and put it in our mailbox, and my mother never told me, and we went to the mess hall and while we were eating lunch, she stands up, with her loud voice, she reads this letter: "Dearest Shigeru," and then signed by this girl. Everybody in the mess hall could hear it. And I think, I look back now, being a single mother, she did not want me to get associated with a girl, and, especially having a child, because she went through hardship for many, many years.

TI: How did that feel? That must have been incredibly embarrassing for you.

SY: Embarrassing for the peers, not the adults. I could care less about the adults, because the adults would just kind of laugh, and that's it.

TI: Right.

SY: But the peers, was the one that you didn't want to know, because they're the ones that talk.

TI: And so after your mother read this, what did you do?

SY: Well, I was embarrassed, and, obviously, some of my close friends came up and wanted to know more about the relationship and everything. And at that time it was, "Hey, let's break up," you know. My mother was successful achieving what she was determined to do. And I remember there was one girl in school, she had these bug eyes, she was dark, and I did not like her, and she would say, "I love you." And I didn't want nobody to hear, because I didn't want my peers to know that she liked me, because, if anything, you don't want that girl to be associated with me. So I had a ruler in my hand, I says, "Well, I'm gonna let this go if you say that one more time." Well, accidentally, it hit her head, and she started crying. The more I apologized, the more she started to shake and cry, louder and louder. And I thought, oh my gosh, I says, how could I make her stop? Well, eventually, I didn't say I loved her, but I said, "I really like you," and then she quit. But there was another girl in my eighth grade class I really liked, but I was too embarrassed to talk to her, and so I used to be a clown in that class, with the hopes that I could get her to talk to me. And there was another situation where Sam Yamoto, his real name was Masaji. And I said, "Hey, you know," I says, "I think the Buddhist church has the most girls going to it." I said, "Why don't we go to church one Sunday?" "Okay, let's go." So, it was a blizzard, and, from the lower Block 14 to upper 14 (an open space) -- it's less than fifty yards or, I don't know exactly, enough for a baseball field -- we go halfway, and (Sam) wants to lay down and sleep.

TI: This is out in the cold, the blizzard?

SY: The cold, the blizzard, yeah. And we're dressed appropriately, and I keep lifting him up. I said, "What are you doing?" And he just wanted to lay down, so I drug all the way back to the boiler room and then we stay there for an hour or so, and then he went home. And when I visited him his mother said he had frostbite on his cheek and nose and toes and so forth. Well, years later I belong to the Baron's Club in San Francisco, it's a social club, and I said, "Hey, Sam," (said), "You remember the time we were going to go to church and you wanted to sleep?" He said, "You're the guy." He said, "The doctor said you saved my life." I said, "What do you mean?" He says, "If I laid down and slept, I wouldn't have never got up." I said, "I did?" So here's a little, young teenager saved another teenager's life without knowing, until years later. That's how cold it was, but we never thought about cold as cold, you know. Hypothermia is probably what he had, which we didn't even know about.

TI: That's a good story.

<End Segment 20> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 21>

TI: You know, there's another story I want to just touch upon that was the Ben Kuroki, when Sergeant Ben Kuroki visited Heart Mountain. Could you talk about that?

SY: Oh, definitely. Sergeant Ben Kuroki came to Heart Mountain. And we wanted to see his uniform, we wanted to see his medals, we wanted to see what a military hero looked like. And he came to Heart Mountain because... and let me refresh the story of the background. On December the 6th, 1941, Mike Masaoka went to Omaha, Nebraska, and gave a talk to the JACL. And, this was the day before Pearl Harbor, and there was two Caucasian people went up to Mike Masaoka, grabbed him by the arms, and took him to jail. Nobody knew who they were and what the purpose was. But Mike Masaoka had enough clout with the Utah high officials that they says Mike Masaoka is a good American citizen, a Mormon, let him go, so he was dismissed, they released him from the jail. So the very next day, after Pearl Harbor was attacked, (Kuroki's father) Ben Kuroki told (Ben and brothers), I don't know what his brother's name was, he says, "You go to the recruiting station and join the U.S. Army." So they both marched to the recruiting station. (...) "We can't take you. You may have relatives in Japan, and we, we can't trust you. Go on home." So they went home. So I don't know what the time period, but they had an announcement on the radio. "We are looking for recruits to volunteer, join the Army Air Corps." At that time they did not have a Air Force. Army Air Corps. So he calls up on the phone, he says, "Is it true that you're recruiting military personnel for the Army Air Corps?" He says, "Yes, we are. Come on down and sign up." "But I have to tell you, I am of Japanese ancestry." And the recruiter says, "I don't care what you are. I get two dollars for every recruit that signs up. Come on down." So he, Ben Kuroki went down, he signed up, and he took a transport eventually, after his basic, and while he was going over, he met another guy from Omaha, Nebraska, who eventually wrote a story about Ben Kuroki. Well, they became good buddies, after the war.

Well, (Sgt.) Ben Kuroki became a tail gunner, and went over Germany, thirty missions. And at that time they said, "All you need to do is do twenty-five missions, and you could come home for good." But England was having difficulty in Africa with General Rommel. He was the German general that was masquerading the English. So, I believe twenty-five bombers went to assist in Africa. And eventually, after they completed their mission, many of the bombers who were returning, many of the bombers were knocked down by anti-aircraft cannons, but, fortunately, three survived. Except Ben Kuroki's plane ran out of fuel, landed in Morocco. He became a prisoner of war, and when he became a prisoner of war, he did not like the sanitation, the food was miserable, the bedbugs, so he decided he was going to escape. So he went to the American side, exactly where I don't know. So the high officials, army generals and so forth, they says, "You know, we honestly have the first Japanese American hero. Why shouldn't we send him to the ten relocation centers and recruit the Japanese Americans to join the U.S. Army?"

The first camp he went to was Heart Mountain, and I was one of the few people who marched behind him. I won't say few, it was quite a few, the drum and bugle corps (troop) 379, all... And they were right next to our barracks, so Maggie could hear all the commotion on the other side, couldn't see it, (...) so she was responding to that. But anyway, we marched up to the administration building, and he gave a speech. I don't remember or recall anything about the speech, but, according to Bacon Sakatani, he said that one of the things he said was that, "Well, we're gonna go to the Pacific and go get the Japs." Well, a lot of the Isseis, and older Niseis, did not like that word. But later on I talked to the author's son, and I said, "By any chance, (...) who actually wrote that speech for Ben Kuroki?" I have a feeling that, in my opinion, they're not going to let just any Japanese hero make any speech, you're gonna have a riot. And I have a feeling that it was written by an army official, public relation person. And he says he remembers his father talking about, yes, there was another person writing his speech, so he had no recourses what the speech was all about. He went to Minidoka, and I believe, Topaz, and all three of the camps disliked his speeches. So he told the high officials, he said, "I no longer want to be involved in the recruitment," and he says, "I would like to be assigned to the Pacific." At that time, the high official in the Pacific says, "Oh, no, no, no, we can't have a Japanese ancestry go over there," but he had enough clout in Europe, Africa, and United States they allowed him, permitted him to go to Japan. And when I had lunch with him once, he says he honestly felt sorry for the people below, when they were bombing. And that was the first time Ben Kuroki got injured, because some American military person stabbed him, and he never talks about it, but he almost bled to death. And now he lives in my town, Leisure Village in Camarillo. A wonderful gentleman, wonderful, and I certainly love to see him honored by all the Japanese American and tell the true story what he stood for and how much good he has done. Because, if you go to places like Nebraska, he's a idol. Smithsonian now has his artifacts displayed at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C.

TI: Good. Well, thank you for sharing. I didn't know all that about Ben, that was, that was good. I didn't realize you knew him so well, so that's a nice kind of... oh, what's the right word, I mean, circumstance, in terms of, as a boy, marching behind him and now being able to still connect with him after all these years. That's good.

<End Segment 21> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 22>

TI: And so I want to kind of move along now and talk about that period when the war is ending and people start leaving the camps. So why don't pick it up around there someplace, a good place to pick up.

SY: We knew that the war was ending, because we went to the movies. We knew how the map was shown, and how the United States was overtaking islands after islands, so we knew it was just a matter of time, and that the war was ending. But on August the 14th, 1945, for the first time, the sirens went off from the administration building, not for a minute, but for thirty minutes or longer. But prior to that, we were playing basketball, and it was a real windy day. And if the basket is here, we would shoot way over here with the hopes that the wind will carry it over towards the backboard, not expecting the ball to go into the (basket), we just wanted it to go near it. And immediately, when the sirens went off, we thought, our assumption was the war has ended. So we laid down on the ground, laughing, crying with happiness, but that wind was so strong that, as we looked up, we could see a little tornado, not a real tornado, but a whirlwind of dust swirling around above us. Most normal adults would go indoors to get away from dust, but we were so ignorant, we didn't care about our hair, we didn't care about our clothes, we were boys. And now we're talking about going home.

TI: Explain your, your happiness at that moment. You said you were on the ground, laughing and everything, so what was, what were you happy about?

SY: Going back to San Francisco. Going back to what we used to do. Not that there was going to be a World's Fair, but the Golden Gate Park, Coit Tower, Muir Woods, the San Francisco Zoo, the activities that we remember. And of all things, milkshakes, hamburgers, can you imagine a banana split, all the things that we did not have that we talked about all throughout camp, that we dreamed about. The popcorns that we didn't have, we remember getting at the theaters. Oh my gosh, we talked about the types of soda water we drank and so forth. Not that, when we went to Cody we could have got those things, but these are the memories that was embedded as kids that we wanted to resume. And so the friendships that, the Japanese Town that we frequented, the Japanese, the Chinese restaurants that we used to frequent, these are the activities, the friends that we had that we wanted to resume our activities again.

<End Segment 22> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 23>

TI: So, with the ending of the war, what happened next?

SY: Well, what happened was everybody will pack up and go to the train station. Not everybody, but every week we would, there'd be I don't know how many trainloads of people, and we would all go there and wave goodbye, wish them luck, and those people on the train, with all smiles and laughter and joy, waving us, farewell to us. And they would depart. We had no idea where they were gonna end up, whether they were going to the East Coast, Midwest, Denver, West Coast or what. Now, each week we would go, not to the train station, we had no train station, but the railroad tracks. Again, the same scenario. Group of trains leaving with all happiness, with the exception of those that had to stay. And we were those that stayed. And as each week went by, we noticed, the schools did not start, they consolidated mess hall, we had all the privacy we wanted in the, at the latrines, bathrooms, showers. Next thing you know, my friends are gone, so my communication, my entertainment was Maggie. And we would talk about, "What are we gonna do when we get to San Francisco?" I would talk to Maggie, and I said, "Well, I don't know what the rules, you know, you can't make this kind of noise like you did in Heart Mountain. I'm just wondering if it might be the wisest thing to do to donate you to the San Francisco Zoo." We used to call it Fleishhacker Zoo, "where you could entertain thousands and thousands of people." Plus that my incentive was to see, each weekend to visit Maggie, with the hopes that she would still remember me. And so we would converse and talk and so forth, I don't know whether Maggie understood. But, as I mentioned before, Heart Mountain actually became a ghost town. In our block we had the Ishigos. They were determined they were never going to leave, and, finally, they set the date. "November fifteenth, we are going to close down for good." And LaDonna Zall and Heart Mountain, Wyoming Foundation, her father said, "Okay, LaDonna," and her sister, "we're going to go the train station, or train tracks, and see history. This is the last load of Japanese leaving Heart Mountain." And now LaDonna is on Heart Mountain, Wyoming Foundation. She still talks about that day.

Now, we did not leave on November the 15th. We left the week before. But in October, mid-October, for the first time, I found Maggie on the bottom of the cage, with eyes flickering, and I carried Maggie on my chest, and I could hear my mother sobbing in the back of me, not saying a word. But I had great hopes that, tonight Maggie is going to sleep in the barrack, under my bed, and in the morning she's going to be well, and she's going to be the happy Maggie that I knew all the time that she was in Heart Mountain, and, again, another internee like all the rest of us. Well, I went to bed, I got up early in the morning, and she was stiff as a cardboard box. It was a sad moment, so my only thought was to bury Maggie, place some of my, some of her toys, and my T-shirt, some marbles, some of the things that she enjoyed, and I made a homemade cross and placed it. And even now I have people come up to me and says, "Do you know the exact spot where you buried that magpie?" No, I can't, I don't really know. Everybody has different opinions, but I wish I remembered, but I honestly don't remember. I was probably too sad to remember that day. But my stepfather left about two or three weeks earlier, looking for a place to live, looking for a job, so he went to San Mateo, because we knew a family there, the Ikedas, not you, but another Ikeda.

TI: Right.

SY: So all the way back from Heart Mountain, we got on the train...

TI: Well, going back to Maggie, do you think, what, how did she, why did she die?

SY: We had no idea, but this is a author's opinion. Peter Duchow, he's with, he does Hallmark, a good friend of mine, and he felt that Maggie was an internee, Maggie served the Heart Mountain internees by entertaining, being one of the internees, and all of a sudden, when people started to depart, felt that her mission, her job is completed, she no longer was needed. And she did not want to leave Heart Mountain, she did not want to leave the Shoshone River area, and did not want to leave Wyoming, and the fact that we talked about San Francisco, the San Francisco Zoo, that was not her life, and this was Peter Duchow's remark was. And the more I think about it, the more I have to agree with that, because here, when you don't see the internees going in front of the cages, you're no longer needed.

TI: Okay, good. And, yeah, so that must have been really difficult for you to lose Maggie, and especially all your friends. It must have been a hard time for you.

SY: It was, but, you know what's ironic about it, all throughout my adult time I lived, my mother, father always talked about Maggie. According to my brother, he's fifteen younger, fifteen years younger, he was born after we came back from camp. He said two weeks prior to her death, she yelled out, "Shigeru, Shigeru," in her dream, and right after that, she yelled out, "Maggie, Maggie," twice, and two weeks later she died. So she was a lot closer to Maggie than I realized, so when I wrote Hello Maggie! book, I learned more about my mother, her feelings and her hardship. And one of the days I visited San Francisco, and just as I was leaving, she came up, when I was in the car, and she said, "I'm sorry I was not a good mother." And I thought that was a terrible thing to say to your own son, and I thought to myself, well, maybe she felt bad because I was in a babysitter, and whatever the reason she never explained, and I was too embarrassed to ask her. And most families will talk, and I guess I was too hard-headed to discuss this kind of situation.

<End Segment 23> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 24>

TI: In going back to your decision to, to do the book, Hello Maggie!, so you did a children's book based on the story you just told. How did that come about?

SY: Well, it turned out that my mother was living by herself and she was very lonely, although my brother lived in South San Francisco, and I was in a basketball tournament in San Francisco area, and they had a San Jose reunion. I went to the first reunion in Los Angeles, the Heart Mountain reunion, and I heard my name, Shig, and I turn around, it's not the wrong, wrong Shig. And I found out that this is really a Heart Mountain for high school and older, not for guys my age and under. But, I said I'm not doing it for myself, I'm doing it for my mother's entertainment. She really liked it. She loved talking with people, communicating, but the thing I noticed was there'd be somebody sitting in the corner, a couple, and I thought, they came from a strange town, and not, going back home, not talking to anybody, so I would go up to them and say, you know, "Where are you from?" "What block were you in?" not to be nosy, but just to make them feel that I am interested in you. And so my mother, since she enjoyed in so much, and I went home and then I got a postcard from the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation. And I received it, you know, to join the Heart Mountain Foundation, and I said, well, why would I want to join Heart Mountain Foundation when all I talked about was leaving, not ever going back? So I put this on the side of the, the side of my desk, and three weeks later I was ready to chuck away the things I don't need. I looked at this and I thought, Dave Reetz, Patricia Wolfe, John Collins, LaDonna Zall, you know, all the other Caucasians, they had a few Japanese, Carolyn Takeshita, Takashi Hoshizaki, and so forth, so I thought, I felt sorry for 'em. Those poor people in Wyoming helping the Japanese, they didn't have to go to camp, and the least I could do is join.

So I submitted my twenty-five dollars, and I said, "Here, I support you." And I get a newsletter looking for artifacts. The only thing I took out of Heart Mountain was an emblem that actually hung at the window of Block 14-1-C, on the inside, showing that Sam Horishige, my uncle, was in the U.S. Army, and below was, outside, was Maggie's cage. So I donated that one thing, so all throughout my high school and all throughout the years I lived until my mother died, it hung in my bedroom. And so I donated this, and I wrote, "To whoever it concern, the stem is broken, it's discolored, so if you throw it away, I understand." But then I got thinking, how many Japanese American was able to take out (artifacts) -- because you can only carry, carry in so much, you can only carry out so much (items) -- so, I'm thinking nobody had cars, so I felt sorry for the Heart Mountain Foundation. So I said... because of the people that can't donate, I don't know why, I got a brand new typewriter, I mean, a computer, I wrote Hello, it wasn't called Hello Maggie!, it was about that magpie bird. Patricia Wolfe said, "I went to Heart Mountain, I delivered flowers to Heart Mountain for Maggie, nobody would ever know that the flowers was for Maggie except you and I." And I thought, here's a Caucasian that feels so strong about this bird, and this is over fifty years ago, after the war. So I called her up (to thank her), and she said, "We're having a little get-together in California. Why don't you come out?" So I said sure. I didn't realize, I thought it was going to be in Los Angeles, it was in San Jose, so I went over there, and that's how I got involved. Later on, I joined the support group and later on Patricia Wolfe said, "How about joining the board of directors?" I said, "Wait a minute, I only have a B.A. degree." I says, "You got people with, with PhDs, you got people with money." I says, "I honestly, I don't get a pension, I don't have the money," I says, "you wanna get people with higher caliber than I." And she said, "Shig," she says, "we can't get men to join." I felt sorry for her again, and the Heart Mountain Foundation. I said, "I'll join." And I have a hundred percent attendance with all the Heart Mountain Foundation meetings. It's cost me a pretty penny, but I don't look at the money aspect. I'm looking at it, my appreciation for the Caucasian that helped. And, because I believe in thanking the people that have done the work, and when they went to Washington, D.C. and said, "Here, we'll help any other relocation camp that's interested, we won't do the fundraising for you, but here's the technique what we did." Sharing. And I think all the relocation camps should be saying, "Thank you, thank you, guys." You know, how hard is it to say thank you? [Laughs] This is where I come from. And when I was in the service, I was at -- (Narr. note: I was a hospital corpsman stationed at the San Diego Naval Hospital and transferred to the 11th Naval District headquarters in San Diego.)

TI: Well, before we go there, so, I want to just follow up in terms of, the book. So it sounds like you wrote about Maggie, you went to your computer, you wrote a little bit, and you were getting positive feedback from the other Heart Mountain people, and so I'm just curious about the whole book and how that all came...

SY: And what happened was they had a resister seminar at the University of Wyoming, and I attended, and I was a brand new board member at that time. And so I took off my board member badge to meet all the teachers, because the majority of 'em were Caucasian. You know, "Any questions about Heart Mountain? I was there," all this, except at the very end there was a elderly that came up to me and said, "How did you get involved?" "Well, I was in Heart Mountain." And she says, "No," she says, "Why are you here?" And so I said, "I'm on the board of directors and the reason why I became a board of director is because they (wrote) a story about my magpie bird in the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation newsletter." She said, "Here's my card. Send it to me." And I said, "Sure I will, and not only that, but I'll send you all the other information that I have in my computer." And then, I did all this, I got all the information, I got her card. I can't, I have her name in my address book, but, Barbara (Chatton), PhD, University of Wyoming, she teaches youth, children's book and youth, and she's the one that said, "Write a book on it." So here's a lady that wanted all this information so that she could get potential book, children's book writers to get ideas, not just only my story, but all ideas, especially camp, because unless you're there, you can't tell the story, unless you hear it from someone else, secondhand. And now, the next thing I did, I wrote, maybe about five, six stories, different ways. One way was from a bird's aspect, and this PhD says, "No, no, that's not, that's not good, write it from your standpoint." And at that time I contacted Willie Ito, and I said, "Hey, Willie," I said, "I'd like you to illustrate this book, because you were in Topaz and all the camps are very similar. We all had a guard tower, we all had barbed wire, we all had mess hall, we had similar activities, and so forth." And at that time he was working with Disney, and so it took us maybe another three years before we got this rolling. And he got really interested, and so now, not only Willie Ito, we got Barbara Bazaldua, Jim Franzen, Waitak Lai, we got all these Disney people, that I'm the only one that's not involved with Disney, and these people are all helping out. And all because of Maggie, and I thought this is tremendous, you know. And now I look at it in a different aspect. I belong to an organization called, it's a place where they have the largest collection of bird eggs, from little tiny bird eggs like this to ostrich eggs. I'm not heavily involved with it, but they donated a real magpie stuffed bird for the foundation. And so I join each year and so forth. And now, I'm looking at these stories for the newspapers, the polar bear, because of the ice melting, they're dying off, the foxes and the eagles and the condor -- I just read today two condors were dead because of the lead in the bullets -- and on and on and on about there's no animals that's going to survive, because the human element has taken over.

<End Segment 24> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 25>

TI: So it's almost like, by writing this book, it's really opened up this whole world for you, in terms of being much more aware. It seemed like it's connected you with your mother more, in terms of just understanding how much she cared for Maggie, and it seems like it's really, it's a great story.

SY: And also, too, the interest of the students. I just gave a talk at Newberry Park, where they asked, "Do you mind if we have two classes?" I said, "Sure, bring 'em on." And when I gave this story, I, these students wrote beautiful notes about the magpie and about me, and it was not about me, it's a story... one Chinese girl, "My parents were immigrants, and I can understand what you went through," and all this stuff, and so you get different ideas from all these different other people. So I hope, eventually, with this new book, A Boy of Heart Mountain, it doesn't really apply just about me, it doesn't apply just about Heart Mountain, it applies to, whether it's a boy or a girl, it applies to any camp, because it's a story about human beings, what we went through. And I told Willie, I said, "I do not want to write an autobiography because I don't want to be doing this." [Pats self on the back] So when this Barbara Bazaldua said, "I want to write a story about internment camp," I said, "Hallelujah, this is what I want to hear." When somebody else from another ethnic group took that much interest to do research and write about a camp, that takes a lot of courage.

TI: And so you, so what you've done is you've actually inspired, by having, in some ways you could say Maggie has inspired, through you, by telling that story it's inspired other people to not only learn, but to create new things, too. That's a, again, it's a wonderful story.

SY: Well, I believe... a lot of times, you know... Fred Kochi recently gave a book to his aunt. She was in Heart Mountain. Now, chances are she never seen or heard about Maggie, but when she read the story, she pictured everything about Heart Mountain, the day she entered, the day she left, the activities and the social acts, because of the pictures, because of the story, it brought back a lot of memories. And I think, it's like any other story, it depends on how much imagination a person has, and I look at it, you know... I had a pug dog that I wrote a story about once. The title of that was Doggone Excuses People Make About Smoking, and there was nothing about anti-smoking, it was excuses people make about smoking, but this, you could eliminate the word "smoking," you could put down procrastination, you could talk about overweight, you could talk about you name it, any subject you so want, but I was ahead of my time about the smoking, because it was too, too much ahead of my time. But, being a Boys Club director, I believed in health, activities, physical fitness, and so forth. And so, even today, now, I'm still involved in activities, not as I used to, but just two weeks ago I walked to Santa Monica Mountain. It was only, like, eight miles, but the hard part was coming back on those steep hills. And, but I suffered because my knee hurts, and my back hurts and everything (due to arthritis).

TI: Well, you also said yesterday that you were playing basketball, I think, you played basketball...

SY: I did.

TI: And, Shig, so how old are you now?

SY: I'm seventy-seven. In June, I'll be seventy-eight. And it's not the age that matters. It's the quality of life, and using your brains. And what I like, in my activities, is association with people. Whether they like me or not, they have to accept me as I am, as an honest person, because when I tell the story, I could, I tell it the same way over and over, and I don't have to say, "I wonder what I said to Tom, because I don't want to cover up my excuses or lies or whatever, 'cause they're all the truth.

TI: Well, I'm glad because we document this on camera. So it's all done, but, you know, Shig, we're at the end of the interview. We've gone well over two-and-a-half hours, and I want to thank you so much for this.

SY: I want to thank you, and I wish Densho the very best, because you have one of the greatest reputation of all the people I know that does oral history, and I want this, all the oral history story to go out throughout the country because there's nothing better to tell the internmentship story better than this.

TI: Great, and I agree, and I'm so glad your story will be on there, so thank you very much.

SY: Thank you.

<End Segment 25> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.