Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Jim Matsuoka Interview
Narrator: Jim Matsuoka
Interviewer: Martha Nakagawa
Location: Los Angeles, California
Date: May 24, 2010
Densho ID: denshovh-mjim-01-0005

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MN: Now, December 7, 1941, you were only six years old.

JM: Right.

MN: What do you remember of that day?

JM: Oh, I think my father burnt everything at night, it was kind of odd that he, he brought out a little enamel pan, and then he had pictures of the emperor and any other things that pertained to Imperial Japan, he just lit it up and we had this little fire. And then I was instructed not to open the door unless I knew who was on the other side. So that was... I knew something, you know, was going on. I didn't quite know what Pearl Harbor was, or what any of this was about.

MN: But your life's changed as a result of Pearl Harbor.

JM: Well, of course, we were interned, yeah.

MN: Now, did your father get fired after Pearl Harbor?

JM: I don't remember. I don't recall that at all.

MN: Did your parents explain to you that, "Now we have to move, we have to go to camp"?

JM: Basically that, but none of the reasons for it and why.

MN: Now, what do you remember about preparing to go to camp?

JM: Not too much. I know that we, there wasn't a whole lot of things we could bring with us. I was concerned because my only impression of other kids were magazines that I saw from Japan. And all these kids had these little, nice little caps on and their backpacks, and they had these school uniforms on. And I was thinking, "Oh, my god, they're all gonna be there, and I'm gonna be looking like a bum." [Laughs] I mean, I just, I just had the wrong visual idea of what everybody looked like.

MN: Going on a train.

JM: Yeah, going on the train. So that was my greatest concern, that I didn't, I didn't look, I hope I didn't look so out of place. But as to where I was going or what the reason was and all that, none of it was explained to me. All I knew was I was going, and that's it.

MN: What did your parents do with the furniture?

JM: They stored it with somebody who they -- and I don't know who this person was -- but after the war, it was all gone. So they filed a claim in 1948, and I forgot the name of the act, but they were willing to give you a certain amount of money back if you could prove your losses. So I saw the paperwork on that, my father filed for something like around eight hundred something dollars in, in loss of furniture. And I saw a letter from the, I think the Justice Department was handling it, they said, "Would you settle for three hundred?" and I think my father said, "I'd rather get something than nothing at this point, 'cause we have nothing." So he said, "I'm willing to settle for three hundred." And I really don't know whether he even got that money or not. And that's the furniture. His savings account of twenty years was wiped off the books. He had it in Sumitomo because, of course, that's, that's where they had Japanese language clerks. So I still have some of the passbooks, and he had about two thousand yen in there, which, the yen, I believe the yen and dollar ratio was four to one. So he could have had a little bit more, but he would have had, he would have had something like a thousand dollars American money, somewhere around there. But in those days, a dollar would get you a meal. Some people were working, many people were working for less than a dollar an hour. But all of that was just wiped off the books. The worst part was the Justice Department said, and when I enquired about that, 'cause I said, "I have the passbooks and what have you, what happened to my father's life savings?" They said, "Oh, it's too late. We consider you having abandoned your claim. [Laughs] So, you know, I'm so, all right. So in a way, that's what kind of fueled my desire for redress, you know, these people are really... they're not giving us the time of day. I mean, they're just laughing at us. So these chumps, I'm gonna battle these suckers to the day I die. And yeah, I mean, in some of the worst of our moments, when we seemed like we were getting nowhere in our redress, you know, movement, people, you know, a lot of people would say, "Well, god, we're getting nowhere. Are we really, are we really wasting our time?" And I would say, I would just jump up and just kind of like explode and say, "You know something?" I said, "I don't think there's anywhere in the world I'd rather be right now than at this meeting demanding redress. I don't care how long it takes." But it comes from the contempt they used to show for us, you know. Maybe if they had given me some plausible explanation saying, "Well, put it in a foreign bank," and blah, blah, blah, and, "we had to use it for reparations to pay for somebody for what Japan did," I don't know. If they could give me some plausible explanation, maybe I could have bought that. To openly just say, "Well, you abandoned your own life savings," is really making a mockery of it, you know, of an injury.

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