Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Susumu Oshima Interview
Narrator: Susumu Oshima
Interviewer: Tom Ikeda
Location: Kona, Hawaii
Date: June 9, 2010
Densho ID: denshovh-osusumu-01

<Begin Segment 1>

TI: So today is Wednesday, June 9, 2010, and we're in Kona. And on camera is Dana Hoshide, and then I'm the interviewer Tom Ikeda. And so this afternoon we have Susumu Oshima with us. So the first question is, can you tell me when and where you were born?

SO: I was born in Kainaliu-Kona on August 15, 1926.

TI: And what was the name that was given to you at birth?

SO: Susumu. S-U-S-U-M-U. In Japanese you write "Susumu." [Laughs]

TI: And was it, are you named after anyone? Do you know why they gave you that name?

SO: No. I was the sixth child. (Narr. note: Mom was too busy with all the children. Dad was busy with his business management and operations.)

TI: And when you were born, were you born at your house or at a hospital? Do you know where you were born?

SO: I was born at home. The next-door lady was a housewife...

TI: A midwife?

SO: Midwife. She was a midwife, so she, and parents couldn't afford a hospital bill, so they always used to hire her as a midwife. So she came to deliver me.

TI: Was that pretty common, for families to have midwives?

SO: Yeah, in the 1920s, that was common practice. Everybody used to ask her, 'cause she was a good midwife.

TI: Do you know her name, what her name was, the midwife?

SO: Her first name was Ayano, last name Nozaki.

TI: And so she must have delivered lots of babies back in the '20s?

SO: Yes. Even in the '30s and '40s, too. And '40s, '50s, she used to help Dr. Mao, a Chinese doctor. She used to help him... oh, he used to help her get all the papers down.

TI: So she would still almost be in charge of the birth, but the doctor would be there?

SO: No. We just used to go to their home and then deliver paper, baby.

TI: Babies.

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

<Begin Segment 2>

TI: So let's talk about your father a little bit. Can you tell me what your father's name was?

SO: Father's name was, it says on the marriage certificate "Ken Saburo," but later on, he used to name the, he used to use the name Kanesaburo. Kanesaburo, he came to Hawaii January 17, 1907, on the boat Korea-maru. And he came as a plantation sugar cane laborer, and they landed in Okala, Hawaii, on the hillside And there, he signed a three-year contract. A sugar worker's life was very harsh, so he changed that after three years, then he managed to cancel his contract, and they moved to Kona with Mr. Tanaka. Mr. Tanaka, I think, came to Kona. He used to work for, he started working for the Captain Cook Coffee Company, and my father got a job with the W.H. Grinnell Estate Ranch. So he became a cook's helper, and Mr. Grinnell must have asked him to cut his hair. So that's how he learned to be a barber. So after staying home several, three years, he moved out and opened his own barber shop. And in the meantime, in 1914, he got a "picture bride" from his hometown in Nagano, Japan. And he got, he got married in Honolulu in 1914.

TI: And so going back to how your mother was a "picture bride," how was that arranged between your father and your mother? I mean, how, who was the one who decided that she would be a good one?

SO: That, I didn't hear anything about that story, so I'm not familiar with those things.

TI: But they were from the same village? Were they close by?

SO: Close by, close by village. Because he used to live in Furumachi in Nagano, and she's from, she's from Oshima-mura in Nagano.

TI: Well, so let me ask first about your father's family. What kind of work did they do in Japan?

SO: Oh, they were silkworm farmers, so not too much income. That's why he decided that he'll take a chance and then move to Hawaii where, something, new adventure for him. He had a promising job as a plantation worker.

TI: And how about your mother? Do you know what her, the family, your mother's family did?

SO: Well, same, they all did the same, silkworm culture.

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

<Begin Segment 3>

TI: And so your father, it sounds like he liked to learn new things, like cutting hair or cooking, and then he would start his own little business.

SO: That's, working for Mr. Grinnell, he moved, opened his own barbershop. And then with... now, after he got married and then with three children, he needed more income, so he moved to, two miles away to Kainalio, found a old building, and then he made a shoe house over there. Then that, he had two children over there, then he moved to the present location, and then that's where he started with a snack shop.

TI: So a snack shop, and did he still have a barber shop, too?

SO: At that time, no, not yet.

TI: Okay, snack shop...

SO: He just started a snack shop first.

TI: With a movie, or a, kind of a show place?

SO: Well, the first move was into a small house way, he had a show house. Then he moved three buildings across, toward the south, where he opened a snack shop.

TI: Okay. Let's talk about the show house first. Tell me what a show house is. What would be in a show house?

SO: Show houses have just Japanese shibai, all those things, and then silent movie. Then he wanted to get into bigger things, so he moved to the present location to open the snack shop, and they started to add more merchandise and then increase the business to support his family.

TI: And back in those days, who would be the customers of the snack shop?

SO: Oh, they were mostly coffee farmers who couldn't afford too much. Because those days, one piece of an pan used to be five cents, and soda pop used to be five cents, so that's all they could afford. So there wasn't much. But after we moved to the present location, then my mother learned to make ice cream. So we used to make ice cream, too. And since not too much milk was available, she used to use a canned cream. And that's how we started, selling ice cream.

TI: So for refrigeration, was there electricity or was it ice to keep things cold?

SO: There's no, there wasn't any electricity, so just had to use ice. So we had to sell it as fast as we can.

TI: Now, going back to your mother, what was your mother's name?

SO: My mother's name was Matsu Oshima, M-A-T-S-U.

TI: And her family name was?

SO: Tatsuguchi.

TI: And so she came about 1914, you said.

SO: Yeah.

TI: Describe what she was like. If you had to describe, like, her personality, what was she like?

SO: Oh, she was a nice, cool-headed lady. She kept on helping her husband, my father, do all the housework while he was busy. At first, (...) my father (...) bought a used car, and then he was running a taxi business to survive. And later on he opened a barber shop, but at first it was just taxi business and snack shop.

TI: And so a taxi business, so he bought a used car, and then he would drive people around and they would pay him?

SO: That's right. Those days, farmers couldn't afford cars, so to get to places, they had to hire a taxi. In those days, phone call used to be five cents to call locally, and to call north, you had to pay ten cents. So that used to be the charges.

TI: And did people come to the store to make phone calls, or did people have phones?

SO: Well, they used to go to the neighbor and borrow the phone so they can get transportation.

TI: Okay. So your father had the snack shop and then the taxi, and then what came next after those two?

SO: Those two and then he needed extra income, so they had the children to go out and help the farmers harvest coffee. So first, my oldest brother went to seventh grade, and then after he became fifteen years old, Father asked him to help run the taxi business. So that's how they started. The first car they bought was a used Durant car, and then the second used car they bought was a Starbrand car. Durant car was made by General Motors, I'm pretty sure. That was way back. And we had photos where, olden days, the cars used to have a running board. So all the children used to sit on the running board, and had one picture where my brother was on the steering wheel, (...) and my mother in the back seat, and my father was on the side and the children all lined up (on the running board) taking pictures.

TI: Was the car moving, or it was just stopped?

SO: Just parking, stopped and then... so we have two photos, one with the Starbrand car and one with the Durant car.

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

<Begin Segment 4>

TI: So did that make your family seem, like, wealthier than the other farm families? Because you had two cars, a business?

SO: Well, it seems that way, but my father learned how to (get a loan) he said by working, you cannot grow. So he figured he had to borrow. So he'd bring bankcard and notes. But one little note was hard, too, because those days, cars weren't that well-built. So he has to do a lot of maintenance work, so it was really tough for him.

TI: So when he, you said, borrowed, how would he borrow money?

SO: Well, he used to... one way was, he couldn't go to a bank and get a loan, so what he did was, whenever they had a tanomoshi meeting, people with money used to offer so much for loan. And the highest bidder, who can bid the highest interest, would get the bulk. And that's how he started building his business, by borrowing.

TI: So that's interesting. So these people would come together, who would have some money, and then they would each have a certain amount, it would go into the, a pot, and then whoever would be willing to pay the highest interest amount, they would be able to borrow that money?

SO: That's right. That's what he used to do it on Sundays, when people used to get... you know, those were the savings, we'd go to the meeting and offer how much they want to pay. In those days, it was much easier than going to the bank, because like at the bank, you have to apply and then goes through all the red tape. But go to tanomoshi meeting, as long as you had the trust of the people, they were willing to lend you money.

TI: And so what would happen if someone couldn't pay back the money?

SO: [Laughs] I don't know what happened in those days.

TI: So everyone paid back?

SO: Usually. Very seldom you would hear people didn't pay the note.

TI: And were these loans, like, kind of short-term loans, or were sometimes over many years?

SO: It was more short-term loans.

TI: And do you know what kind of interest rate people paid back?

SO: Well, they had to pay because otherwise they wouldn't be getting any more credit.

TI: So it sounds like your father was, we call it an "entrepreneur," kind of a business, he liked to think up new ideas, borrow money, and then start a business.

SO: That's right. He started it, because he came here with nothing. And back home, they used to raise just silkworms, but there wasn't money. So once he came to Kona, he figured, oh, he had an opportunity. He had the children helping him to go out and pick coffee, and that helped him a lot.

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

<Begin Segment 5>

TI: So the kids were a big help. You mentioned you were the number six child. Let's talk about all the kids now, there were quite a few. So can you tell me, like, who the oldest one was and just kind of go down the line?

SO: Yeah. Noboru was the oldest. So he had to... that allowed the owner to go to seventh grade. And after he became fifteen years old, then he had to drive the taxi. Now, Isamu, second oldest, had to lead the group to pick coffee. And for us, picking coffee was fun because it was just like going to a picnic where you can eat the rice ball and then all the other, whatever went with the rice, whatever Mom prepared. And after Isamu, the second oldest, came age fifteen, again, now, he was forced to drive a taxi. So he'd been driving a taxi, and now my oldest sister, Misao, had to lead us to all the different farmers to pick coffee, then it came down to Haruko, and then to Shizue. That's how we started helping Dad in money. And at the same time, when Dad could afford, then he would say, "You children been a big help, so there's going to be a three-ring circus in Hilo." And those days, people in Kona never heard of a three-ring circus, and we were the fortunate ones that father used to take us to Hilo. And when Dad took us to Hilo, now he asked... we used to go to Matano Hotel, M-A-T-A-N-O, Matano. And then there, told the man that he would like to have one room. And then when you went there and then went to the circus, came back, then he wanted to put us all to bed, and said, "Where's the bed?" Just one bed only. How many children do we have? Six? Now, you cannot, you have to rent three rooms. But said, "I can't afford three rooms, I can afford only one room. And back home, all sleep on the floor, and then took off everything, so that's what I want." [Laughs] So he demanded that they line three mattresses, we all slept on the floor. And next morning for breakfast, they said, "Ham and egg." And for us, this is the first experience eating ham and egg. Before, we never have such a breakfast. So it was really a big treat for us going to Hilo, going to the circus, and going to the hotel to sleep.

TI: And about how old were you when this happened?

SO: I was about seven years old. In those days, just to go to Hilo, with all the winding road, going to the plantation gulches, it used to take us four hours from Kona to Hilo. And me and my younger sister, we were pretty bad with motion sickness, so that was terrible. So we had to carry a lot of package, two pounds of package and be prepared to... whatever, when you had the motion sickness. So we had problems, but we still wanted to go and see Hilo, because that was Dad's biggest treat for us, going to three-ring circus.

TI: And again, so this trip was kind of a reward for the six oldest kids who had worked so hard to help him? So he wanted to kind of give them a reward by taking them to the circus.

SO: That's right. And that was, with the two older brothers back home driving the taxi business and helping him survive. So it was a really good incentive for us to help him work.

TI: Now, back in those days, what was bigger, Kona or Hilo?

SO: Seemed like Hilo was bigger because Hilo had all the government offices and county offices and everything. Kona was really a small district. And at first they didn't have a hotel, but later on, they built one hotel, Kona Inn Hotel. And Kona didn't have any water. No stream, no nothing. But still, they managed to put a water tank and then pull a pipeline, and that's how they ran Kona Inn Hotel. So Kona was really a small district, but today it's different.

TI: Yeah, going back to the circus, so you were about seven years old. Describe to me the three-ring circus. Did they have animals, or what kind of things were at the circus?

SO: Those days, they didn't have too many animals, but all the different entertainment. It was a treat for us because we never did experience, see those things in Kona. So it was really worthwhile for us.

TI: Describe your father. What kind of personality did your father have?

SO: Well, my father was... he never did spank us. All what he did was just scold us that, "You have to listen to your parents and then behave, and help Mom in the store, because she has so much work to do with all the children." So they were really nice to us.

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

<Begin Segment 6>

TI: Well, so you talked about your first two older brothers, so Noboru, when he was fifteen, he had to quit school and help, same thing with Isamu. How about your older sisters? When they turned fifteen, did they quit school also, or did they keep going to school?

SO: They had to. And then Shizue was the first one that went up to tenth grade, but she had to leave school, too. And when the war started, I was next in line, but I was fortunate enough to graduate Konawaena High School, I went through the twelfth grade.

TI: But this was after, you finished after the war?

SO: During the war.

TI: During the war you finished, okay. And so how did you get lucky that you got to go all the way, all the way through twelfth grade?

SO: I had two older brothers, and then three older sisters, they were all helping in the store. So... and the others were younger, but we were able to manage, to survive the war years.

TI: Okay, and we'll talk more about the war years, but I want to finish your siblings. So we talked about the first six, so you're number six. You had more siblings, too, brothers and sisters. So tell me who the other brothers and sisters were.

SO: The older brothers?

TI: The younger one.

SO: Young ones?

TI: Yeah, young ones.

SO: I had a younger sister, three younger sisters below me, and two younger brothers. Actually, there were eleven of us. One passed away, Mitsuye, so actually, there were twelve children.

TI: And so what were the names of the younger ones?

SO: Younger ones? The one below me was Yoshie, then Fujie, Fusaye, and then Wataru, and Stanley Kiyoshi.

TI: Okay. So one died, but eleven others, so you have eleven kids. What was it like growing up in such a big family? Was it common for families to be this large?

SO: Yeah, a lot of farmers wanted coffee pickers, so they used to have seven, eight, ten, twelve children. They used to have big families.

TI: So it wasn't, so for you, like, at dinnertime, what was dinnertime like when you have so many people there?

SO: Well, since we had the store business, we used to eat in two shifts. Half would eat first, and the other half would eat later on. Because we had to wait on customers in the store. So that's how we managed to run the family.

TI: And what would be a typical meal for dinner? What would you eat?

SO: Typical meal? Corned beef and cabbage. [Laughs] And Dad couldn't afford too much meat, so we used to buy the cheapest meat, and then my mother always used to stretch that by slicing all the meat and cooking with vegetable and shoyu. So that's how our meals used to be. And whenever there was an occasion at the church, any kind of occasion, they used to serve rice ball and takuan, and nobody complained. And those days, we didn't have soda pop, also, just plain water from the, wherever you are, faucet. That's how we used to survive.

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

<Begin Segment 7>

TI: So what about just early childhood memories in terms of, like, playing in the neighborhood? What was that like?

SO: Well, we didn't have too much, but we used to go to the neighbors and play all kind of games. Whatever we can use, like one family was Nakamoto family, got a lot of burlap bag for drying out things, so we used to use those for, to make tents and play, just like we're at the circus. And that's how we used to pass time. There wasn't much to do. Then we didn't have a playground, so we just used to go across the street, throw balls, and when the neighbor was cleaning the garden, we used to go help him clean the yard out, clean the garden, so they can plant the new vegetables. So wasn't too much to do.

TI: How about things like sports? Did you guys do sports?

SO: Sports, not too much, because we didn't have a big playground. It's just running around and playing with balls, that's all.

TI: Okay. So talk about school. What was school like growing up?

SO: Well, those days we had to walk two miles to Konawaena school every morning, and two miles coming home. And our parents couldn't afford shoes, so we used to walk barefooted going to school. And then those days, lot of the teachers were just, they used to call it "normal school teachers," they didn't go to university. But they were good teachers. And then that's how we learned all the Hawaiian songs in the olden days. But today, you don't experience those songs anymore. So it was fun going to school. Only playground equipment they had was a swing and then... not too much those days.

TI: So when you mentioned you walked barefoot to school, when you got to school, then you put shoes on?

SO: No.

TI: You're just barefoot all day.

SO: All day. Barefoot all day, and sometimes we would kick the rocks, and then the toenail, the skin would peel, and those days we didn't have any good medication. So, and still we didn't have infection, because those days didn't have too many bacteria going around. So it was so simple.

TI: So was it, was it common that all the children had no shoes, or did some have shoes and some didn't?

SO: Very few had shoes. Majority were all barefooted, because that's all, that's all they can afford, parents. They couldn't afford to buy shoes or anything.

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

<Begin Segment 8>

TI: And so when people don't have much money, if something happened where, if someone got sick or maybe a funeral or they wanted to do a celebration, how did they afford it? What would happen when a family that doesn't have much, they needed a little extra money or help? What would happen?

SO: So every family had to give koden, that was one dollar per family, used to give in an envelope. And then whenever there was a funeral, all the communities organized kumiai. So with the kumiai's help, they were able to perform a funeral procession. Or if you had weddings, they used to help. So, and those days, didn't have restaurant where you can go places, so you had to borrow a tent, put up a tent, and put up a table, one by twelve lumbers, and then that was the seating that they used to install. And then all the cooking was done with the help of the community. So not much, but still, everybody enjoyed whatever took place. Because that's the best we can do. And for transportation, it all used to depend on whoever could put up a car for a funeral procession or other things. So kumiai was a big help. So wherever you go, there's still kumiai yet. And then now, the other nationalities are getting interested, and they're joining the Japanese kumiai, too. So they do participate whatever they can.

TI: So to this day, there's still that same kind of feeling and help?

SO: That's right. Except today, you have all the different facilities, so you don't have to do as much cooking like before, because now you can cater. So things have improved a lot since the olden days.

TI: Now, when you talk about the community, how large was the community? How many people, you know, when you say the community? And I'm guessing it's Japanese community you're talking about?

SO: Yeah, communities used to be about half a mile, one mile away, depends on the group. And then that's how they used to form the kumiai. So whenever, today, they have a Kona Civic Club, Kona Japanese Civic Club, where they help the kumiai, and the kumiai in turn would help the civic association with whatever activities took place. So they can help whenever a Japanese ship comes in, or like earlier, when emperor came to Kona, so (Kona Japanese) Civic Club went out to help to organize everything, prepare everything.

TI: And so when you have a big event like that, how many people come to it?

SO: It's amazing that normally, on the road, you don't see too many Japanese. But when they have an occasion like that, all come out. Even at the, whenever they have a funeral, you wonder where they all came out from. So they all tried to come over and help each other. So it's a good thing that they started.

TI: So like a funeral, would it be hundreds? Like maybe more than two hundred, or about how many, do you think?

SO: It depends on the deceased person, how active he was. The more active that he is, more gonna attend his funeral. So that's how you can decide. Today, the church is all overgrown. So a lot of time when they have a service, lot of people are outside standing because the church cannot accommodate. And in Kona, we don't have any funeral homes, so they all gather at the church, whatever church you belong to.

TI: And so for a big funeral, about how many people?

SO: Oh, you can see with the line that's formed to pay respect to the person who passed away. So the more popular you've been, the longer the line, and you can see there's a long line going on for maybe one hour, hour and a half.

TI: So it sounds like, maybe, wow, so maybe hundreds of people. Hundreds? Several hundred?

SO: Oh, maybe five hundred.

TI: Five hundred, okay.

SO: Yeah. Amazing how they all come out. Normally you don't see them on the roadside.

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

<Begin Segment 9>

TI: How about other community events like Obon or picnics? Do they have those back in the old days?

SO: In the old days, we used to have picnics, so we used to hire a bus. And those days, we didn't have a fancy bus in Kona. All the bus were made from truck body, with one (1" x 12") lumbers, and some of them without seating, and we used to hire those buses. And at that time, lots of the roads been (leading to a) hotel. This road used to be all gravel road, and it took time and all with the swaying and everything, lot of people used to get motion sickness. [Laughs]

TI: And then for picnics, what kind of activities would happen at picnics?

SO: Picnics it's more children swimming because that's the only time they're able to go saltwater swimming. So we always enjoy going to a picnic. And then you bring your own lunch, and then at the beach, you'll share with all the different families, all the different foods. And we used to play all different kinds of games, ladies used to play the card games, and men used to play baseball, volleyball, and all those things, games.

TI: And what would the kids play?

SO: Kids? Oh, they play with the sand, bring the shovel and buckets.

TI: Yeah, it sounds fun. How about the relationship of the Japanese community with other communities like the whites or other ethnic groups? What was that like in Kona?

SO: At first, it was, seemed like statewide. Like the Republican party, they used to control, they used to call it the B-5, and they used to control all the business statewide. So when the boys, when Japanese boys came back from service, now they had the GI Bill money to go to college. So they all went to college, and then they got their education, they became attorneys, and then when they came home from the mainland college, then they got into politics, and then now they had a chance to create the middle class. Because way back, we didn't have any middle class, just first class and (low) class. So the Japanese and the Filipinos and all those were all known as the lower class people. So once they got organized, then they became stronger and stronger in politics. The Democrats began controlling the politics in Hawaii, and then there was a big fight, big fight. In fact, (T.H.) Davis, Lewers and Cook, (Alexander & Balwin, AMFAC, Castle & Cook) represented all those, they controlled, used to control Hawaii. So they did bring them up, and then after that, we had middle class people now. So the middle class became stronger and stronger. They started, they began controlling the government. So things became much better after that.

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

<Begin Segment 10>

TI: But in the old days, so you said there was like a first class and a second class. So the first class were these, like, big five families, the whites, and then the second class were, like, the Japanese and Filipinos?

SO: Yeah.

TI: And so when, when say your father dealt with, like, the whites, because he used to work with, like as a cook's helper on the farm and things like that. What was the relationship between the Japanese and whites back then? How would you describe that?

SO: Well, no matter where you go, it's the same. The rich is rich, and you were the lower class, so you just have to listen to them and do what they tell you. So that's all, that's how it was. So people knew that someday, they'll have to have a middle class. So that's when the boys, after they went into the service, came back and created the middle class. So that's how Hawaii grew.

TI: And so for you, it was like you were second class all the way up until after the war, and then after the war when these, the veterans came back, got the GI Bill education, then it started changing, more like in the 1950s, then? Then it changed? It became more of like a middle class?

SO: Yeah, the middle '50s, '60s, '70s, that changed everything. So now they began controlling the government, and then even labor, now they're able to do whatever they wanted, organize all the unions. And then so at first, they used to hire the Scotsmen as plantation foreman. In Hawaiian, they used to call it luna, and they used to ride the horse and control all the lower-class people. Then eventually owners of the plantation figured Japanese are different kind of people, they're aggressive, they want to organize. "So what we have to do is now we're gonna hire, replace all the Scotsmen foremen with Hawaiians. Then Hawaiians would be above the Japanese." And that's what they wanted to do, and then so again, the Hawaiians started to control the Japanese. But again, Japanese were aggressive, so they kept on organizing, and then they came stronger and stronger. So they controlled the legislation now, so they had more things to look after. Like before, they just had to sit here, do nothing, can't do anything. But now they were able to do whatever they wanted.

TI: But in the old days, you said, so they would hire, first, Scotsmen to be the luna, and then the Hawaiians. So were they trying to almost like pit one group against another? Like the Hawaiians against the Japanese and maybe the Filipinos against the Japanese? Was that part of the strategy back then?

SO: Yeah, though Japanese and Filipinos were treated the same. So now they wanted to use the Hawaiians to hate the Japanese. Then they can get, like if you wanted property and things like that, you were able to get it. The Chinese were different. Like Japanese wanted to save money and go back to Japan, but the Chinese, they weren't looking for that, they were just trying to make a living in Hawaii, so they got married to Hawaiians, so they got properties now. So they were much ahead than the Japanese. So they got a head start in owning properties now, the Chinese. So when the war started, at that time, the Chinese were real prosperous. They had all the money. But they were different kind of people now. The Chinese didn't want to share with their other Chinese friends, so they didn't expend too much. You can see that through even like TV ad, the Japanese had three TV stations at one time, the Chinese didn't have any. The Chinese said, "Why spend money to entertain the other Chinese? Whereas the Japanese had the TV station to entertain, to advertise, so they kept on growing faster. And then today, you can see that the Japanese became prosperous, so they're changing now. They're being more independent rather than working together.

TI: And so back in the old days, how did, say, for instance, the Japanese and Chinese get along, like back in, say, 1930, back then?

SO: They were... [laughs]. On the street they were friendly, but the Chinese were more aggressive. They had bigger business, and then they had the money, and then they had land, they had property, so they were much ahead before the war. So like Japanese had to work harder. But today, wherever you go, the Japanese are too aggressive, so they tried to stop the Japanese from coming into any country. No matter where you go, South America, North America.

TI: And when you say the Japanese are aggressive, what do you mean by that? What would be examples of Japanese being aggressive?

SO: At first, no matter what country, Japan had too many, the population was big. So they wanted to send out people to go out and look for different occupation. And as soon as they were invited to different countries, then, instead of being a farmer, the Japanese would become businessmen. So now they're trying to stop the Japanese immigrants from coming in. So that's true in America and then South America, too.

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

<Begin Segment 11>

TI: So going back to, like your father's story, so he came here as a contract worker on a plantation, and then he left that, learned skills, started businesses. So that would be kind of an example of a Japanese being more aggressive?

SO: That's right. So when you look back in history, that's true in every country.

TI: The Japanese doing that? Starting maybe as farmers or laborers, and then growing from there.

SO: Like when the war started between Japan and America, first thing what the white men, Caucasians did was tried to buy up all the properties owned by the Japanese. Because the Japanese were too aggressive, and they were taking over the West Coast. So that's why they, that's one of the biggest reason they interned the Japanese.

TI: Oh, so that's interesting. So when you think of why Japanese were removed and put in camps, it's because they had all that land that the Caucasians wanted, the whites wanted.

SO: Yeah. That's why all the Japanese had to sell the land at a really low price, giveaway price, and then they had, they were interned. So that's one of the reasons, big reasons why.

TI: But in Hawaii, there wasn't that mass removal, so Japanese like your family, for instance -- and we'll get into it later -- but your family, under your older brother's name, owned land and property, so they could keep it during the war and then grow from there.

SO: That's right, yeah.

TI: So Hawaii was much different than the West Coast.

SO: That's right. Yeah, but at one time, they were trying to intern all the Japanese and them on Molokai, island of Molokai. But had this policeman, (Chief of Police John Burns) ,and then he says, "No, you cannot do that. We need the Japanese to run the island of Hawaii. So you cannot," he stopped that, see.

TI: So going back comparing the Japanese Americans in Hawaii versus Japanese Americans on the West Coast, so the Japanese Americans in Hawaii were probably better off? More money than the West Coast Japanese Americans?

SO: Yeah, because of...

TI: Because of land and things like that?

SO: Yeah. So those, you know, like in Kona, when the plantation closed, lot of the lucky ones were able to acquire all those properties that the plantation had. Whereas Honolulu was different.

TI: Oh. So in Kona, there were more rich Japanese because of the land that they bought?

SO: That's right.

TI: Going back to the different ethnic groups, how did the Japanese get along with the Filipinos? Earlier you mentioned that they were kind of the same, but when you look at the Japanese and Filipino community, how did they get along?

SO: Well, the Japanese farmers used to hire the Filipinos. The Filipinos were all bachelors, so they used to hire them as coffee pickers. So there were more bachelors. But today it's different, because all the young ones were coming in. But in the olden days, we only had the bachelors, so they were really stepped on. But now, the children are all getting better education, so you can see, they're all TV announcers and policemen, all that.

TI: Oh, so the early Filipino workers were bachelors, and they pretty much stayed as laborers. So you mentioned they were stepped on, that they were taken advantage of?

SO: Yeah.

TI: Because they didn't get the education and raise the families?

SO: Eventually, with the children going to college today, they're really changed.

TI: Another question I wanted to ask in terms of just Japanese culture. So did you have to places like Japanese language school growing up and things like that?

SO: Well, parents used to require us to go at least one hour every day to Japanese school. At least you have to learn some Japanese language. Those who were able to go were fortunate that they were learning Japanese language.

TI: Okay.

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

<Begin Segment 12>

TI: So let's, let me ask you about, on December 7, 1941, that was the day Japan bombed Pearl Harbor.

SO: Yeah.

TI: Did you know that was happening on that day?

SO: That morning, we were picking coffee, and then the neighbor came down and said, 'There's an explosion in Honolulu going on. Something funny is going on." And then he couldn't understand what was going on. Then he went home and then he come back. And that day we were picking coffee until five in the afternoon. Then when we came home, then first thing my mother said is, "Japan declared war on the U.S., so from tonight, we're gonna have a blackout." So we wouldn't be having anymore of those lights. Then that night, the army came, this policeman came to arrest my father. And he said, "Oshima, hold you under arrest," and then they took him away. And then after that, we didn't know what happened to him. Then later on, we found out that he was held at Kilauea Military Camp, that's where they kept all the internees. And then after that, he was there for over a month.

TI: Yeah, before we go there, so why do you think the police came and picked up your father that night?

SO: Well, according to the arrest paper, my father knew that he was involved with the Japanese consulate. And he hardly had any correspondence with them, but still yet, he was just taken away, and my father knew that before that, Mr. Okamura, another merchant, was taking care of all that correspondence. But he told my father that since he was fluent in reading Japanese, that he should take over his position. So that's how my father got involved, and then that's how he got taken away.

TI: So when you say "correspondence" with the consulate, what would be a typical type of correspondence he would, he would help with?

SO: Oh, like dual citizenship, you were required to report whatever birth was in the family, and then the family wanted that recorded with the consulate general.

TI: So if a family wanted their children, a Japanese family wanted their children to have citizenship both in the United States and Japan, they would have to submit some papers, and your father would help, help these families do that?

SO: I'm not sure, but he was doing all the help that he could give them, correspondence.

TI: But he would do enough of it so that it was on record, so that when the FBI or somebody checked, they would see your father's name as someone who would be in Kona helping families.

SO: When you read that papers, you would find out.

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

<Begin Segment 13>

TI: And so your father was picked up late at night, so, I guess, probably early morning.

SO: Yeah, one o'clock in the morning.

TI: Yeah, on December 8, 1941, and then he was brought to the... so pronouncing it "Kilauea"?

SO: Kilauea.

TI: Kilauea Military Camp. So I'll abbreviate by saying "KMC," the military camp. You said he was there about a month.

SO: Little over a month, I guess.

TI: Now, so did your family ever go visit your father?

SO: Well, since the officer told him that they were gonna take him to a (mainland military camp) that we can visit him once. And then fortunately we had two cars, so the whole family were able to visit him at the Kilauea Military Camp. So that Sunday, we went in, and then our store, we never did close. So to close that Sunday, we didn't have keys, so we just went with the store (unlocked).

TI: So explain that a little bit more. You say your store was never closed, so it was open every day?

SO: Yes.

TI: And what kind of hours would it be open?

SO: About seven in the morning until... we used to have, we used to sell a lot of bread and things like that to the show customers. We used to wait until the movie got over every night. So that's the length of time that...

TI: So maybe, what, nine, ten o'clock at night?

SO: Yeah, nine-thirty.

TI: And then at the end of the day when you close, you wouldn't lock the doors?

SO: Well, the front (wooden door), but no keys. [Laughs]

TI: Oh, so there was just a way of... you'd be inside the...

SO: Yeah, we used to have our own door, just put a lumber on it, and the back door, no keys.

TI: And so when you went to go visit your father on that Sunday, everyone went, and so there was no one there, and there was no way to really lock it with a key.

SO: No.

TI: So that must have been... yeah, that must have been memorable for you to have to leave the place.

SO: Yeah.

TI: Okay, so on that Sunday, you went to the military camp. So what was the military camp like? What did you see there?

SO: Just a ordinary barracks with cots all lined up, and that's where they used to sleep. And then this Hongwanji minister from the Kau church was interned, and then he wrote a letter to his wife, and then he gave it to my father's brother-in-law. And the brother-in-law dropped the letter, and the MP picked it up, then he asked him, "Who did you come and visit?" He said, "Come to (visit) Kanesaburo Oshima." So now my father got blamed for that. So he had to clean the barrack for a month by himself for his wrongdoing, which he didn't do.

TI: Oh, so your, his brother-in-law accidently dropped the letter, the letter from, you said, a minister, a Buddhist minister? And then when he got caught, he said he was visiting your father. So your father had to do the barracks cleaning for a whole month.

SO: And that letter was mailed by the KMC to our family, which didn't belong to us. That's how we found out that that letter... then a few years later we found out that, what came about over there, what happened. We didn't know anything.

TI: Do you know if that upset your father, that he had to clean the barracks for a whole month?

SO: They overheard that, what happened and then he had to do that penalty, take that penalty, but he didn't complain and then he just did his job.

TI: Now, when you saw your father on that Sunday, what was he like? Do you remember him, talking with him or anything about him?

SO: Just a normal way of just talking, that he's gonna be sent away to the mainland concentration camp.

TI: Did he seem sad about it or worried or anything like that?

SO: Well, inside, he was worried because he has twelve children, war going on, food shortage, and then he was one of the breadwinners. And had cars, but, you know, there's no gasoline to run the taxi. So he was really worked up.

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

<Begin Segment 14>

TI: Yeah, so it sounds like your father... a lot depended on your father when he was running the business. And so for him to be taken away, he was worried about that.

SO: Yeah. And then he bought the, he bought two properties, now he had obligations, that there's a monthly note to pay for the property. And with all of that, he borrowed some money from some other friends that he had to return. So he really got worked up.

TI: Now all these properties and things like this, were these under your father's name as a Japanese immigrant, or did he put it under, say, your brother's name? How did that work?

SO: One property was under my oldest brother's name, and then the other property was on the two brothers. Then another property was my second brother. So all the notes has to be paid, so he was really worried.

TI: And so without your father, and especially in that first month when he was at the military camp, how did the family cope? How did you guys get by without your father? How did it work?

SO: We just managed whatever we can do. And then we didn't have too much of a grocery inventory to sell, but somehow we managed, scraping here and there.

TI: Like for you, you're about fourteen or fifteen years old. So what did you have to -- did you have to do extra work with your father gone?

SO: Well, I tried to plant the victory garden, plant vegetables, and tried to sell some vegetable. And that year when the volcano erupting... every time a volcano erupts, it's dry weather in Kona. So we had the hardest time planting vegetables without water, the rainfall. And there's no river in Kona, no stream. It's really hard for us.

TI: So who took charge of the family when your father's gone?

SO: Oh, my two older brothers and my mother.

TI: And so how well was the family coping when your father was gone? I mean, obviously it was hard, but was the family able to get by okay?

SO: Yeah, we tried to improve the business. And then making friends with all the salesmen and then they began giving us more merchandise, more groceries to sell. So we were fortunate that we got all the help, too.

TI: And so when you saw your father before he went to the mainland, I'm sure he wanted to know how things were going. And so what did your older brothers and mother tell your father?

SO: Oh, same thing, don't worry, we are managing. But knowing the situation, my father was really only half what was saying. He knows there's hardship going on.

TI: And so was your mother and older brothers maybe hiding some stuff from your father, maybe not telling him everything that was going bad, but just maybe the good things, or what do you think?

SO: Of course we were fortunate that everything was going smoothly, all the family was helping him.

TI: So maybe your father was worried more than he should have been?

SO: That's right.

TI: That it was actually, I mean, although it was really hard, things were, you were getting by. But you think that maybe he didn't think that, maybe he thought that it was harder than it really was?

SO: And again, when he was sent to the mainland, there were rumors that they'll be used for prisoner exchange. Again he was worried, because there's no place for him to go back in Japan. The family was all poor, he didn't know where to go, so he was really lost. And the biggest worry was about his family, you know, leaving eleven children with his wife. Just didn't know what to do.

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

<Begin Segment 15>

TI: So let's talk about this. So from the Kilauea Military Camp, KMC, he went to Honolulu first?

SO: Yeah.

TI And was there for a while, and then from there he was transferred to the mainland?

SO: That's right.

TI: And then which camp did he go to?

SO: Fort Sill, Oklahoma.

TI: Okay, so Fort Sill, Oklahoma. And do you have a sense how many people from the Kona area also went with your father?

SO: Not too many. I know the minister went.

TI: So just a few people.

SO: Just a few.

TI: How about in Hilo? A few more?

SO: Yeah. More in Hilo because there, in Hilo, there's more Japanese congregated, and there's more organizations over there.

TI: Now, when your father went to Fort Sill, did he know any other people that went also? Was he friends with anyone?

SO: There were about ten, one-tenth, huh? And then the only pastime was playing Hanafuda. They cannot do much. He didn't have too many friends, but he had to make friends and then now, for toiletries, he needed money. And he couldn't ask the family for money, so he had to cut the hair for five or ten cents, and the other internees just refused, lot of 'em refused because said, "We're not working, so how can you charge us?" But not knowing that he was in a sad situation, that he didn't have savings, no checking account, no nothing, just obligations. And then he had to do something, but the only thing was, fortunately, he was a barber, so he figured maybe he can cut some hairs. Even for five cents he would cut.

TI: But some of the, the other internees complained about that, because they said he was trying to make money.

SO: That's right.

TI: They didn't realize that he was just trying to make some, a little bit of money for his toiletries and basic needs.

SO: That's right.

TI: Okay.

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

<Begin Segment 16>

TI: So he's there, and then what I've read is, so something unfortunate happened in May 1942. So he's at Fort Sill, can you describe what happened to your father?

SO: Well, that morning, there was a lot of, I think I was reading about him, and then there were all different stories, too. But mainly he was, let's see, he was playing Hanafuda, he didn't have fun, he walked away, and he wanted to cut some wood with an axe, he asked for axe and no one would let him. And after walking around, then he snapped, and started to run for the barbed wire trying to escape. And the other internees said, "Don't shoot," to the guard, because you know those sentries, being in the service against the Japanese, they would be glad to shoot that guy. So that's what happened. "Don't shoot, don't shoot." He cannot get far, but he just pulled the trigger, and then he went down and died right there.

TI: Now, did the family ever, were they ever able to talk with anyone that was an eyewitness to this?

SO: Well, the government did have, like Spain, the consulate in Spain I think was in charge of Japanese. So they were investigating, and said, "Oh, he tried to escape, so that's his fault."

TI: Now, I'm wondering, but like maybe after the war, did anyone that was at Fort Sill, did anyone visit the family and explain what happened?

SO: Well, just had one minister, local minister, he came back, and then he talked to my mother what happened. And then he was Reverend Nakayama. Whether he was close by or next tent or the same tent, I'm not sure. Forgot.

TI: But he came back and talked to your mother?

SO: Yeah.

TI: So when your father was shot and killed at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, how did the family find out that this happened?

SO: Well, not immediately after what took place. But later on we found out. And then they would send a death certificate, that gunshot wound, he died from. So that's how we found out.

TI: Did your mother receive any other notice before the death certificate? How was she informed that your father was killed?

SO: Probably through the police department, through the army and then through the police department, they came to notify. I was at school.

TI: And do you know where your mother, was your mother at home or someplace else when she was...

SO: Yeah, she was at home. She was in the front of the store where the bench, so she was sitting there and talking with one of the neighbors. And then when she heard that, she just cried and cried, that's all.

TI: And how did you find out? Did they come to the school to tell you, or did you find out when you came home?

SO: No. Somebody came up to the school to notify that my father passed away. And all of a sudden I had a feeling, just, light feeling, lost someone valuable.

TI: And so when you first found out, you didn't really probably know what happened.

SO: No.

TI: So what were you thinking when you heard that your father...

SO: Just blank. Wonder what happened.

TI: When you went home, what was the reaction of the family?

SO: Just that Dad is gone, and can't do anything. And with the war going on, you just couldn't do anything, just listening.

TI: Do you remember anything, maybe your older brother, one of your older brothers said or said should happen?

SO: No one could answer, no one could say much because, you know, with the war going on, everything is, even the news is just go out and just, your father passed away, that's all. So we were just lost.

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

<Begin Segment 17>

TI: In something that you wrote, you talked about how when your dad was being held, first at the KMC and then later on at Fort Sill, that in school that you worked really hard.

SO: Yeah, I tried to study hard as much as I can. And I wasn't a bright student, and still yet, like the biology class with Mrs. Skinner, our teacher, she was really a strict teacher. And you have to speak up every time when she asks a question. And I was the only one answering, so I was the only one who was A in the whole class. And even those who didn't say much just flunked out, whole class.


TI: And so why, why was it that you were working so hard in school during this time?

SO: I just wanted to study hard for my father, so I tried my best. And my sister above me used to make fun of me and said, "You know, you're not coming home with good grades," because I was a bashful guy in school. I couldn't... she used to pick on me, so I thought, "Hey, I'll show her that I can do better than her, and then I can show my father that it's worth having me around for him." So I tried my best, but when I heard he passed away, oh, everything just came light, and I lost everything.

TI: Yeah, it must have been very, very difficult. And then what happened, so what happened to your life after your father was shot? What happened to you? So like in school, how would school work, and work and everything?

SO: Just had to keep on going and help our mom survive. And there was obligations that we had to catch up, so just have to help each other. So we all worked together.

TI: Did you see any changes in your mother after your father was gone?

SO: Well, she couldn't do everything, we just had to help her and then try to take care of us, too.

TI: How about the community? When they found out that your father was gone, was there any reaction amongst the community?

SO: Well, those days, they cannot pull on one side. So some would say, "Too bad for helping the community," that he got blamed for. All kind of reactions. And some guys made fun that he got shot, but didn't bother me.

TI: Why, why would they make fun of that? I don't understand.

SO: 'Cause they got jealous of our business, too. Our business was surviving and kept on growing.

TI: And how about the families that he helped? Because part of the reason he was there was he helped some families.

SO: Yeah. But everybody was afraid to talk. And it was really hard because like there's north and south corner, not too far from our store, there's a boundary. And then like the Japanese alien, they weren't allowed to cross the boundary. You had to stay only one side. And then they organized that Hawaii guard. Hawaii guard is all the different nationalities can hold a gun and then help the army guard whatever post they were assigned to. But Japanese, they cannot join the group. That's why they organized the 442 regiment. Said, you know, "You guys don't allow Japanese to hold gun. How's about let us volunteer, form a volunteer group, the 442, and then they would volunteer to fight for the country?" So that's how they started the 442. So the 442 was only for Japanese. And they wanted to join the other group, but they said, "Oh, you can't join the regular army, because you guys had the opportunity to join the army from before." So that was the answer to that.

TI: But you mentioned how your, the store was, like, right on the boundary of a line?

SO: Not too far from the store, a mile away.

TI: And that was the line where Japanese...

SO: Aliens.

TI: Could not go across.

SO: That's right. And then all the shortwave radios that we had, you have to turn 'em in. Then later on, they disconnected the shortwave and then they returned the radio.

TI: Now, at the store, did you sell things like knives or things like that that were called contraband or anything like that?

SO: Hardly. But we were selling radios, too. We were agent for RCA radio and then, those days, lot of radios had shortwave already installed. So those, had one guy, competitor, that we have to turn it in to him, so he would hold it, and he can sell it to anyone except the Japanese aliens.

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

<Begin Segment 18>

TI: Now that the war has started, did any of your older brothers go into the service?

SO: Yeah, my brother, my second brother.

TI: So he's Isamu.

SO: Yeah.

TI: And which branch of the service did he go to?

SO: He was with the engineer group in Honolulu. That was all Nisei boys.

TI: So the 232nd?

SO: 299.

TI: Oh, 299, okay, right.

SO: And for me, the following year, he was inducted May, 1944. And me, I was inducted May 1945. And then for us, they had this 299, that was more for Hawaii boys, Hawaiians, Chinese, and they were in that group. They went down South Seas to fight the war. But these boys, the Hawaiians are known for drinking. So instead of fighting the Japanese, they were fighting the Caucasian soldiers. So they sent them back to Hawaii to train us, now. [Laughs] That's what happened.

TI: So you're... because, so you were inducted 1945, so at a time when the war was just ending or already over. And so you were being trained to, I guess, for the occupation primarily, the after the war?

SO: No. At that time, not even occupation yet, because there was a lot of prisoners coming down from the mountains in Okinawa. And then now they wanted interpreters badly. To train a new interpreter takes three years, whereas they can just train us overnight.

TI: Because you already understand Japanese.

SO: Yes. So we had a half a day (Japanese language) training, half a day basic training. They were just rushing us. And here this navy lieutenant came, because Okinawa was controlled by the Marines. So a naval officer came and said, "You know, I'm here to pick up your ninety boys, we need you right away, because we cannot wait three years. So we want you right away, so start this study camp, Japanese language. I said, How can you study hard Japanese language? When you get out of Schofield Barracks camp, they said to, "speak American." That's right. Speak as much as you can when you go home. [Laughs] That's how we were trained.

TI: So this is interesting to me, because the people on the mainland who went to the Pacific, the Japanese Americans, most of them got their training in Fort Savage...

SO: Yeah, first Fort Savage, then Fort Snelling.

TI: Fort Snelling. But for you, you got your training in Hawaii.

SO: No choice. You're just, "You're going to be an interpreter. We need you badly."

TI: So essentially you're just going through basic training, and then, because you spoke Japanese, they were gonna make you an interviewer, interrogator, interpreter.

SO: And those who didn't do well, they sent them to a regular thirteen-week basic training on the mainland, whereas we were sent overseas on the first available cargo ship.

TI: So you were, you got a really, really short...

SO: That's right. There were ninety boys, so we were assigned with the Navy going to Okinawa. So the first cargo ship available at Pearl Harbor, they put us on that Aiea dock, and then went on the cargo ship. And then the cargo ship took one week to Marshall Islands. It took one week because the boat had to go zig-zag.

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

<Begin Segment 19>

TI: And so what, about what was the date of this when you left Hawaii?

SO: Oh, that was end of August.

TI: Okay, so the war had just ended then.

SO: Just about gonna end, because war ended September 2nd, so that was the middle of August. The boat was going zig-zag.

TI: Okay. And you went to the Marshall Islands.

SO: Yeah, and unloaded the colored boys. The colored boys were with the Seabees, and those days, Marshall Islands didn't have any trees, just a bare island. And these colored boys said, "Oh, no. Not this island," a small island, and from the boat, you can see the other end, other side of the island. And after they unloaded them, then they put us in the, now, we're sleeping in the center.

TI: So what, I'm curious, on Marshall Island, what would people do there?

SO: There was a U.S. base to refuel the ships. So there were hundreds of ships, hundreds of ships on Marshall Island.

TI: So it was like a gas station almost for the boats.

SO: Yeah.

TI: Okay. So you dropped off, you said, like, African American soldiers?

SO: The colored boys were assigned with the Navy Seabees, so they unloaded them. The boys were complaining, saying, "Not this island." And then, now, we're sleeping with the crew, because that was a cargo ship. Then now, the boys were, colored boys were sleeping in the front of the ship, so now they put us in the front of the ship. And then, you know, sleeping in the front of the ship, then I got seasick again, because the boat was going up and down. And then the cargo ship, there's no fresh water. So we had to take a, take a bath with salt water, and they issued us brown soap. That's the only soap that worked with the salt water, so that's how we used to bathe on the ship. And then, now, they wanted to assigned us some work, like shifting ammo from the front to the back. Then they asked, "Where's your sergeant?" "No sergeant?" "Where's your corporal?" "No corporal."

TI: This is for all the ninety of you.

SO: Yeah. Said, "What kind of outfit is this?" the Navy officer tells us. They're just rushing us. Then we got to Samar Island, Samal, in the Philippines, and that was a Navy replacement depot. This was a huge Navy replacement depot. Just to go eat lunch, first thing you get up in the morning, then when you go for breakfast, you have to walk one hour. Then you eat breakfast, and then takes you another hour to come back again. Then after you rest one hour, then you go back to lunch. [Laughs] And then, I don't know whether all these Seabees are ignorant, like the Filipinos, you don't blame 'em. They asked us if we were Hapon.

TI: Oh, from Japan, Japanese?

SO: Yeah.

TI: Even though you were wearing an American...

SO: I said, "Can't you see our uniform?" They're all confused, because Japan occupied the Philippines, and now, Americans took back Philippines, now they're occupying Philippines, so they were all confused, the Filipinos. Even the Seabees were ignorant. You know, they come from the middle states.

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

<Begin Segment 20>

TI: Okay, so we were talking about, you're in the army, and I think you're at the Philippines. You talked about that base where it'd take you an hour to walk to, to the meals and an hour back. But you were talking a little bit about, maybe you said the ignorance, or people didn't know that you were American soldiers, they confused you with the Japanese. And were these the Filipinos or the (Seabees) that confused you? Who was it?

SO: Oh, both the Caucasians and then the Filipinos. Then when we first got there, there was a siren going on, and that had a cloudburst (and wind). And for us Hawaii boys, the ninety boys, we didn't know what was going on. But first thing that came to our mind was, "We need a freshwater shower." So we ran out, removed all our clothes, and then washed clean, freshwater shower after being two weeks on the boat. And then later on we found out that this was a emergency, there was a typhoon. [Laughs] For us, it was a big treat, you know, with a nice clean shower.

TI: So people thought you were crazy. You're running out there in a typhoon taking a shower.

SO: So then after that, with the war over, now the navy sent us back to Manila harbor. So we got there about seven in the morning, and then, now, those days, they were still using signal lights. They were signaling back and forth. And then midnight, that night, they said, "Oh, we found your camp." So said, "Get ready and then pack up." And then after we packed up, then right now they told us, "There's a barge waiting underneath, so dump your bag out on there." Said, "Dump our bag?" How come early in the day, the white sailors didn't have to dump? All their baggage was put in a net and lowered in the barge. But here, us, we have to dump it down. So, oh, what the boys had to do was, "Hey, let's wrap all the bottles in a towel and then, and then we can dump it." Then we got off the ship, they put on the barges, then went to a smaller dock in Manila (city). And it was four o'clock in the morning, and then we got off the barge, we were waiting on the dock, and then finally a truck came and picked us up, and then we went to a placement army depot. And then after we got there, then there was a cloudburst, and then they told us, "Okay, dump your bags out and then get in the tent." After we got in the tent, then they said, "Oh, this army (replacement) depot, so now put your bags over there, and then you're assigned to KP duty." So we had to do KP duty, and then we were hungry, not eating all day. So we drank coffee, then before we knew it, then they said, "Oh, pack up. They found your headquarters." That was the ATIS headquarters. ATIS is Allied Translators and Interrogation (Section) headquarters.

So we got on a truck and then they took us to the ATIS headquarter. And finally, they found our destination, and then they told us that's our tent over there. So we had to sleep in the tent. Then they assigned us to the tent with an army cot with all the dirt floor in Santa Ana racetrack. So after we got there, then now every day, said, you're gonna have Japanese prisoners of war to converse with us, to practice more Japanese speaking. And they're staying over there for a week. Then one early morning, we heard a new group coming in, then we found out they were boys from Hawaii that just came in, and they were inducted a month after us. And these guys, they flew over, so took only one night to come over. Whereas it took us over two weeks to get to that camp over there (with the Navy assignment).

Then after another week, then they sent us to Calamba sugar plantation, prisoner of war camp, where they had about 40,000 war prisoners. And every day, we have to interrogate them, so we can send them back to Japan. And for me, I didn't smoke, so what I used to do was every day I'd open a new pack. And then before the interview, I used to give to the prisoner smoke one cigarette so they can relax and then, you know, don't feel like a prisoner. And then one day, one guy came tapping my back. And then when I looked at him, he said, "Can you mail this letter for me?" I said, "Oh, let me see it." And when I look at that, it says, "Minoru Inaba." I said, "Wait. Minoru Inaba is not too far from where I live. It's only about maybe two hundred yards away."

TI: So this is a Japanese soldier that tapped you on the back?

SO: Then later on I found out that his back was written "CI." CI means Civilian Internee, so he had a business in Manila, so he got interned. POW means Prisoner of War. These were CIs, so Civilian Internee.

TI: But he was interned because, a civilian internee because he was a Japanese national?

SO: That's right.

TI: So he was... okay.

SO: Yeah. So he was interned together with prisoner of war.

TI: And so he had a letter to send back to Hawaii.

SO: Yes, to the nephew. Then, the owner of Kona Hotel up on the hill, and this is where the sister was. So he said, "Can you tell my sister that I'm well, and I'll be returning to Japan in a month." So he was really fortunate that he got the right person to talk to.

TI: Because otherwise it would have been hard to get that letter to the right people, but you knew them.

SO: That's right. So that was one of my experience.

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

<Begin Segment 21>

TI: Any other memories? Because you probably talked to lots of Japanese, I mean, what was the... what kind of information or what kind of feeling did you get from all the Japanese soldiers?

SO: Well, like Japanese officers, they are, most of them are cocky because they know we are private, we didn't have rank. So the first impression is, "If you think I'm a private and you're an officer, if you don't want to go to (back to) Japan, if you want to return to your home country, don't answer me anything. If you want to go home fast, give me a simple answer, and we will interrogate you fast." So that's how we took care of that. So it was a good experience (talking) to them.

TI: But how about the more common soldier, their privates? How were they?

SO: Oh, they were nice. And lot of them are, left Japan in a short notice. So when we asked them, "What's the name of your wife?" "I don't know." I said, "If you don't know, if you cannot answer that, we're not gonna send you back home." Then they grabbed the poles and start thinking, they said, "I don't remember."

TI: So they left on such short notice...

SO: That's right.

TI: But they, how could they not remember their wives' names?

SO: Because they haven't been corresponding, I guess.

TI: But they forgot their wife's name? [Laughs]

SO: [Laughs] I don't know how long they were in the Philippines, but they were really confused.

TI: It's hard to imagine that they would forget their wives' names.

SO: That's right, but still, they said, "Just can't remember." Because they never thought much about the family, being in, fighting in the jungle.

TI: Now, what were you looking for? When you questioned them, what kind of questions were you asking, or what information would prevent someone from going back to Japan? What were you looking for?

SO: Well, they all knew that they were going to be sent back, so mainly we just asked them, "Your name," and then, "your rank," and everything, and then, "your hometown address." It was simple. And still, they had some officers, they don't want to get asked by us, private.

TI: Interesting. So after you finished with the Calamba sugar plantation, then where did you go?

SO: Then after that, after finishing, then they went back to our headquarter in the Santa Ana racetrack. And then...

TI: I'm sorry, headquarters at where? This is at the...

SO: From the prisoner of war camp, went back to our Allied Translation headquarters in Santa Ana racetrack in Manila.

TI: Okay.

SO: And then from there, we had to prepare now to moving to Japan. So we had to pack whatever we can. And then now, we had to stand guard duty at the Manila harbor, to guard our belongings. And then we formed parties. The Filipinos, they have regular guns, bullets, whereas ours, we'd go on guard duty with a carbine and then no bullets to stand guard. And then after arriving in Japan, then now we had to go claim for our wooden boxes. All open, everything is all stolen, so we have our clothing straight out, so now we have to regret for all, whatever belongings we lost.

TI: So when you were shipping everything, someone went through and stole all the good stuff.

SO: That's right.

TI: And so what kind of things would they take?

SO: Oh, the clothing, that's what they needed. And for us, the first day we arrived at the racetrack, now the clothes need laundering. So all these Filipino ladies come with their daughter to pick up the laundry. The first day laundry, the boys were asked to turn over to be washed, they didn't get any back. [Laughs] But after that, the honest women came out to pick up the laundry. And then it was close by because Santa Ana racetrack is next to Pasig River, so they just go there and wash and then they dry it. And after they iron it, then they bring it back. And they used to charge dollar a pants, dollar a shirt. [Laughs] We had good service.

TI: That's good.

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

<Begin Segment 22>

TI: And then after then, where'd you go?

SO: Then, oh, after that I was sent over, and then we went on a regular troop ship, a victory ship. Went on a victory ship, and then outside of Okinawa, we hit a storm, typhoon. And normally our boat would travel seven to eleven knots, but this boat was just going three or four knots going up and down. Every time the ship hits the ocean back again, the whole boat would vibrate, and there were rumors that a lot of victory ship that did split in half. So there were rumors, and then every day we had fliers, then morning the paper would come out and said, "Don't worry, this victory ship is well-built." [Laughs] And me, being a poor sailor, I just couldn't keep the food down. I'm hungry, go down in the chow line, and we had to use our meal card, can eat only one meal at a time. And then the minute you close in by the food, when you smell the food, then I had to turn away and go up. Then they said, "Okay, go in the other line and get your seasick pills, and then drink the seasick pills." Then the minute I drink the seasick pills, I go back in line again, then out goes the seasick pills. And they said, "Oh, keep on drinking some more." I couldn't eat, so I had to go downstairs, back sleep in my bunk. And then had one guy, a good piano player. And then since the ship was rocking back and forth, he tied the piano to the post, and he was playing this symphony music. Oh, he was a good (piano) player. So now, every time I hear that music, I think about, that I was sick on the boat. [Laughs] And my neighbor who lived below me would come and ask me for my food coupon because he was a good sailor. I said, "Here, have it." But came back, I don't know when I need my food again.

TI: Oh, that's funny. So your neighbor came to, because he wanted the extra food.

SO: That's right.

TI: That's good. And so where did you finally end up after the difficult ship ride?

SO: Then it was Yokohama harbor. Then I heard that's a big harbor, so we entered Yokohama harbor, then got off the ship, and we caught a train, then from Yokohama to Tokyo now.

TI: Now, was this your first time in Tokyo?

SO: First time.

TI: And what were your, what were your impressions when you saw Tokyo?

SO: Oh, on the way from Yokohama to Tokyo, we saw all the buildings that were burned. That was after the Americans dropped incendiary bombs. So you only saw rusted roof iron, so everything was down. Then after we got to Tokyo, then they assigned us to the NYK building, Nippon Yusen Kaisha building. So we went in there, and the building was... they were trying to install Western-style toilets and fix up everything, so it was a mess, and they had to install steam heaters since it was month of November, it was cold already. So everything was, lot of cement dust and all that, all the construction going on. But for us, it was a different experience, so we had a lot of fun. And for the next day, we tried to get our pass and then go down Ginza to buy whatever we wanted. And when we saw these dried squid, we thought, "Oh, this is what we've been missing." But we needed something to broil with, so we looked around for the electric stove, bought an electric stove, and then took it back. And the NYK building, everybody was broiling dried squid. Then these white boys were complaining to the officers, "Something is going on. It's really smelly in all, the whole floor." And here the officers don't know, the haole boys don't know, and then they're looking around. Said, "What's this smell? Something funny, yeah, in here." And right in front of their nose, all that taking place, all the squid being broiled. [Laughs] It was fun.

TI: Oh, that's a funny, that's a good story. [Laughs] Because I know what that smells like. That's good.

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

<Begin Segment 23>

TI: So you're in Tokyo, then after Tokyo, where did you go?

SO: Then after the first assignment was, 5th Cavalry outfit wanted to borrow us for a week. That was to look for Western-style homes since all the dependents were being planned to come over to move with the officers. So this was our first assignment. And the next assignment was going to Yokota air base because they had to build it. Yokota air base was a dummy air base with one airplane. And now they had to build a new airfield over there. They had a big, Atsugi air base, but they're gonna replace that with Yokota air base. So now we're with them and then now we had to move in the old Japanese barracks. And the Japanese barracks were, they used thin lumbers, so it was really cold. And then first they issued us two blankets, but they said, they told the officers that that's not enough. With winter, Japan winter, is our first experience, we don't have enough warmth with only two blankets. So they gave us... no, the boys went searching in all the barracks to look for more blankets, and they found some more blankets. And here this colonel, the committing officer, came to talk to us. His name was Colonel Barbsing. He said, "Oh, I used to be at Hickam airfield in Hawaii, so I used to see you boys from Hawaii. You'll finally get nice and warm." [Laughs] Nice and warm, nothing doing. So that's where we stayed, and then later on, they installed the heaters, so not too bad.

TI: That's good. When you were in Japan, you're a businessman, and when you saw Japan after the war during this period, did you ever see lots of business opportunities in Japan and think about that?

SO: Saw all the war-bombed damage and then all the dust and everything, Japan. Not much over there.

TI: So you didn't think there was much opportunity when you saw it. So when you see Japan, like, later, after the war in the '80s and '90s, I mean, what do you think of Japan and what happened to Japan?

SO: Well, there's a big difference, a big improvement. And then today, I thought the first New Year in Japan, 1941 -- no, 1945, December, the first year, right after the New Year, all the people came back from hiding. And then everything was crowded: the train station, the subway, everything was just packed. Before that, it was so easy to commute on those trains. But after, it's just so packed, that even the train conductor's helper, they were pushing all the crowd in to shut the door. It was that much crowded, and the children were all yelling. For us it was a different experience, so we had fun riding. But the unfortunate guys didn't realize that Japan had plenty of people fast on their hands, they were pickpockets. [Laughs] So this guy, next time, when he went on the subway, he tied his camera to the button, and nobody touched the camera.

TI: That's interesting. So why don't we come back, so you finished at Yokota, and then about then, were you discharged?

SO: Well, Yokota was being rebuilt, was built, so said, no furloughs, or everything's frozen. And then we were just like World War II, Nisei weren't allowed in the navy or air force. So they just had to... TDY, it's temporary duty. The detachment service means they're gonna borrow for long-term. But going with the 1st cavalry of TDY, temporary duty, for one week only. So we were with the detachment service, with the air force. And they borrowed us from the army. And then we stayed at the air base, and then we were assigned to do (interpreting) using Japanese workers. Every day, the Japanese workers would come into the field to work, and our job was to help them interpret. So that was our first assignment at the air base.

TI: So anything else about your military career that you want to talk about?

SO: Since the air base was being built, we couldn't get any leave. Leave is one-week leave. So the officers were nice enough to give us two three-day pass, so we were able to visit our relatives. So that's how we traveled.

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

<Begin Segment 24>

TI: So, let's see... so then you were discharged from the military, and then you returned back to Kona?

SO: First, eventually, being with the air force, they assigned us with the air force, so now we're air force personnel. So then we got promoted, too. So after we got promoted for PFC to corporal, then said, "Oh, ready to go home, so you're gonna get your discharge." So we got our discharge, went to Camp Zama. And those days, everybody had to go to Camp Zama, that was an army placement depot, too. So from there we came home and then since we didn't get any, since I didn't get any leave in the service, said, "You'll get forty-nine days," they used to call it terminal leave. You can come home, and then no need to go back to the base again. So I got a terminal leave for forty-nine days, and then in December I got discharged. And after that... before that, I volunteered for three more years as a reserve. So I got discharged from the reserve in 1949.

TI: Okay. But then you returned to Hawaii, or Kona.

SO: Kona, yeah.

TI: And so what, who was watching the business? Who was taking care of the business while you were gone?

SO: Oh, the whole brothers and sisters were back home taking care.

TI: And how was the business doing back then?

SO: Well, business was doing good. Then in 1948, I planned to use the GI Bill and go get some more schooling. But the fire came, so that was it. I had to stay home after that. That was in August. We had a Filipino show, and usually the Filipino show ends at nine-thirty. But that night, it ended ten o'clock, and like Filipinos, Filipino customers were different. After the show is over, then they'll come and buy bread, sugar, cream, all those necessities, so we had to wait for them. And that night, ten o'clock, and then it didn't take, after we closed the store, it didn't take too long, then I heard a crackling sound. So when I got up, I saw a full flame under the store. So that's how the fire started, from under the store.

TI: So do you know how it started under the store?

SO: No.

TI: Was it a common thing for fires to start like that?

SO: Just happened to our store. No, the investigator said maybe from our compressor, you know, we have a refrigeration compressor.

TI: So you saw the flames underneath the store, and then what happened?

SO: And then I went to wake up everybody, then first thing came to my mind was take out all the three cars. Took out all the three cars, then I went to help next door. He had an appliance store, so he had a two-story building, so went to help him take out all his clothing and everything with the other big boys. We had to remove all the heavy appliances, the ice box, the washing machines, and oh, everything got engulfed in no time. So four buildings just went down fast.

TI: And, you know, I read someplace where you were anticipating a big strike, and so right before the fire, you had stocked up with lots of goods and supplies.

SO: Yeah, those days, every few years was shipping strike. Shipping strike can last from thirty days, sixty days or longer, so we had to stock up on all the necessities like rice and all those things. And we didn't have fire insurance for the building or for the merchandise, so we just lost everything. And there was a contractor that was looking for job. So he said, "I can help you build." But we didn't have any (fire) insurance, we lost. So as soon as Walter Ackeman, one of Bank of Hawaii bankers, said, "You know, you guys been honest people, so I'm gonna lend you eight thousand dollars, so go right ahead and build." So we asked the contractor, yeah, if he can help us out with our building. So no problem. For eight thousand, a store is just an outer shell, so you can put it up fast. So he put up our building in a month time. And then we bought the lumber for shelves, and that's how we started the business. And we couldn't afford the cash registers, so we just used cash boxes. And then the only cooler we bought was a soda cooler, so that's what we used and that's how we started from scratch again.

TI: And how did you supply the store, though, with goods? I mean, where did you get those, the money to get all the products to sell?

SO: Well, the Hilo wholesalers were nice enough that they would give us three months' credit. So that's how we started, with three months' credit, and then after that, got things rolling.

TI: How long do you think it took the family to recover from the fire?

SO: I think it took about three years.

TI: And so during that time, was it hard? I mean, did everyone just have to be really frugal with their spending and the money? I mean, it must have been hard.

SO: Well, those days, we didn't have too much competition, business competition. And then since we had our new store, then we were able to get new customers coming in. And then with all the family helping, we didn't have to hire outsiders, so made it much easier for us to recover. And just happened, the coffee prices coming better, too, at that time, so that made it much, much easier for us.

TI: So explain that. You said the coffee prices were better, so people had more money?

SO: That's right, yeah.

TI: You know, when the fire happened, did, was there any discussion about maybe the family doing something else and not doing the store? So, I mean, you lost everything, so I suppose you could have started something else. Was there any discussion like maybe the family should do something else?

SO: The only thing we had was (three cars), so we were able to run the taxi business. So we were just waiting for the store to be rebuilt. That didn't take too long, so we were fortunate to recover faster that way.

TI: And so that was back in 1948.

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

<Begin Segment 25>

TI: So the store... so yesterday, I came by, the store is still going strong. Is it one of the older establishments in Kona, the Oshima store?

SO: Yeah, 1940s, [inaudible], and there were plenty of small stores in Kona. So when the big boxes came in, they gradually closed up all the small stores. But instead, we were enlarging our store, and then increasing the business. So all these years, we were able to survive competition from the big boxes.

TI: So how about the future for the store? Because I noticed lots of big shopping centers, there's Target and big box stores, how will you fare in the future?

SO: Well, now with the recession, we thought it's a good time to enlarge the store. So we have an application for, loan application for building permits to go ahead and extend the store forward. So we're not holding back, we're just trying to compete.

TI: Oh, interesting. So you think this is a good time to get bigger.

SO: Yeah.

TI: Now, so today, who's the, who's in charge of the store? I mean, you're the, you're probably the patriarch, you're the oldest there. I mean, but who runs the store now?

SO: I have a niece, she's a pharmacist, and she's the general manager. And she says she'll manage as long as I'm around to help. That's why I'm trying to help her. In the meantime, we hired a manager to take care of the grocery part, and then he being the personnel manager, so taking care of all the workers.

TI: And so I stopped in the store, you were still working the store. How many days a week do you work?

SO: Oh, I'm still working seven days a week, trying to help.

TI: Seven days a week. And about how many hours a day do you work?

SO: Oh, it depends. Sometimes six hours, usually seven hours.

TI: So seven days a week, six to seven hours, and you're eighty-four years old?

SO: This year I'm going to be eighty-four years old, August.

TI: So that's pretty amazing. [Laughs] Going back to who runs the store, you talked about during this recession is a good time to actually expand. Whose idea is that? Is that your idea or someone else's?

SO: Well, I thought I'll wait until a recession comes around so we can get more contractors with a lower price. Although the price of material did go up, but that'll make it easier.

TI: So it sounds like this was, you thought this was a good idea.

SO: Yeah.

TI: Okay, good. Okay. I want to go back and ask, there's something I forgot to ask about. After your father was killed, what happened to his body?

SO: My father died in Oklahoma, and then he was buried over there. But later on, my brother, my oldest brother Noboru, went to get his remains. And he had to have it cremated, and Oklahoma didn't allow any cremation, so he had to take the remains to the next state, Texas, and there he got it cremated and then he brought it back to Kona, and now, he's buried together with his wife.

TI: Okay. Because, and then your mother died in 1952?

SO: Yeah.

TI: And so she was still a fairly young woman at fifty-two, or 1952, probably in her fifties? Oh, yeah, I have the sheet here. So she was born 1907, is that right?

SO: Yeah. No... my father came to Hawaii in 1907.

TI: Or maybe she came here. Oh, I'm sorry, I'm on the wrong... yeah, I don't see how old she was. I think I have it here. So mother... 1893, so '52, so she was about, almost sixty years old.

SO: Yeah, fifty-nine.

TI: Fifty-nine years old. So Susumu, that, I finished all my questions. So what am I forgetting? Is there anything else that you want to talk about?

SO: [Laughs] No.

TI: I know I asked you lots of questions. But I think -- well, think about it, is there anything that I left out that might be important to your, maybe great-great-grandchildren? I mean, people who, I think of all the people who work at the Oshima store, and, say, in fifty years, what are some important things that they should know about you or the store?

SO: Well, Oshima family's been having a heart problem. So last year I lost one niece in California, she was forty-three years old, she had a heart attack. And the year before that, had another niece, she was a schoolteacher, and then she also had a heart attack. And before that, another nephew passed away, he also had a heart attack. He was a retired attorney from New York. So we lost him at age fifty-one. He went to Kona school, didn't go to a special school, but he studied hard and he joined all kind of activities. So when he applied for the Ivy League college, there were six or seven I recall that accepted him. So he went to Brown University, graduated from Brown, majoring in sociology. Then he went to Harvard after that, and went there for two years, then he transferred to New York law school, and then there he graduated four years later and then he became a corporate attorney. And then after working there for seven years, he transferred to another law firm in New Jersey. The first company had about, over a hundred attorneys, three hundred attorneys. And the next law firm he had was, he went to was about over two hundred attorneys, and then after working for five years, they made him a partner of the law firm. And then about three years later, he became manager of the New York office where they had about seventy-five attorneys. Then (retired at) the age of forty-nine, and then (passed away) at fifty-one, all those years he was helping the non-profit organizations with the law work. And then one Friday morning, he had a heart attack, and then he passed away.

TI: At fifty-one, so two years after he had retired.

SO: That's right.

TI: And this was how many years ago? Just a few years ago?

SO: That was three years ago.

TI: Three years ago. That's, yeah, it hits home for me because that would have made him fifty-four now, that's how old I am. So he's the same age as I was. Interesting, okay. Well, Susumu, thank you so much. This is a little bit longer than I told you, this is almost already over two hours, but this was fascinating to hear about your life and everything. So thank you so much for sharing.

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