Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Thomas Shigekuni Interview
Narrator: Thomas Shigekuni
Interviewer: Martha Nakagawa
Location: Los Angeles, California
Date: August 31, 2010
Densho ID: denshovh-sthomas-01

<Begin Segment 1>

MN: Okay, today is August 31, 2010. We are here at the Centenary Methodist, United Methodist Church with Thomas Nobuyuki Shigekuni, and Dana Hoshide is on the video camera, and I will be interviewing and my name is Martha Nakagawa. Okay Tom, let's start with your parents' names. What is your father's name?

TS: Yonetaro Shigekuni.

MN: And what about your mother's name?

TS: Shizuyo.

MN: What is her maiden name?

TS: Sasaki.

MN: Your parents later in life got an Anglican name, do you know how they --

TS: (...) Somebody gave him the name Frank. That wasn't his idea. Somebody just said, "You're Frank," and he became Frank.

MN: What about your mother?

TS: Somebody gave her a name of Mary, but that wasn't her name either and that wasn't her choice, or the family's choice.

MN: And which prefecture did your parents come from?

TS: Hiroshima.

MN: How many children did your parents have?

TS: Three boys and one girl who died about six years old.

MN: And that would be Fumiko?

TS: Fumiko, (yes).

MN: Can you, from the oldest child to the youngest, can you give me their names?

TS: The oldest son was Tsuneo, T-S-U-N-E-O, and second one was Masaki Henry, and then me, and then there was a daughter named Fumiko (who) died.

MN: And she was right after Tsuneo?

TS: (Yes).

MN: Can you tell me the circumstances of her death?

TS: (Yes), she stepped on a nail and got blood poisoning.

MN: How old was she?

TS: Six.

MN: And you have the story about your mother and how she became a Christian because of your --

TS: (My sister who died at six years of age) was a member of the Church of Christ. My mother was a Buddhist at that point and she used to always come home and tell her about all this stuff that she was hearing in the Church of Christ. When she died, (my mother) joined the church. My mother came from long line of Shinto priests and I thought she was giving me a bunch of baloney (about Shintoism. When) I went to Hiroshima (I saw) a big shrine called the Sasaki shrine. I said, "Oh, she wasn't lying to me."

MN: Now, were you born yet when Fumiko passed away?

TS: No, I never knew her.

MN: Now, did your parents give Tsuneo an Anglican name?

TS: No, but they used to call him Tunney, T-U-N-N-E-Y.

MN: But by the time Henry Masaki, was born your parents were giving both a Japanese and an Anglican name, is that correct?

TS: (Yes).

MN: Was that typical of Issei parents at that time?

TS: I think so. (...)

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

<Begin Segment 2>

MN: Now, what is your birth name?

TS: Thomas Nobuyuki Shigekuni.

MN: Were you delivered by the samba-san?

TS: (Yes). I don't think anyone went to the hospitals in those days. I was delivered right on Thirty-sixth Street near Normandie, at home.

MN: And that, and that section is called Seinan?

TS: (Yes).

MN: What year were you born?

TS: 1929.

MN: Now, what kind of business did your parents run before the war?

TS: They had a nursery.

MN: And how many nurseries did your family have?

TS: At least two or three. I don't quite remember, but they had nurseries.

MN: Do you remember any of your parents' nurseries names?

TS: There was one called Centrose, C-E-N-T-R-O-S-E, that was at Central and Rosecrans, and I think the one at Inglewood was called Inglewood Park Nursery. We were near (the) Inglewood Park (race track).

MN: The racetrack?

TS: (Yes).

MN: Who were your parents' customers? Were they businesses or were they more residential people?

TS: Residential.

MN: And, and yourself, did you attend Japanese language school?

TS: Yes. I was (an) involuntary student. [Laughs] I didn't want to go, but I went.

MN: And where were these classes held at?

TS: At the West Side Church of Christ on Thirty-seventh near Normandie.

MN: Was this every day or just Saturdays?

TS: After school.

MN: After school every day?

TS: (Yes), every day.


MN: Now, there was this huge earthquake in 1933. I think the epicenter was Long Beach. What happened to the Church of Christ building?

TS: Nothing happened to the Church of Christ building. It was a wooden building, but the grammar school I went to was three stories tall. Thirty-seventh Street School, came down, and after that, when I was in grade school, I was always in a wooden bungalow.

MN: Oh, so it was your grammar school that came down?

TS: (Yes), from three stories they rebuilt it to (a) one story (building). (They) never had a three story building again, to this day.

MN: Now, what was this Seinan area before the war? I know after the war there was a lot of African Americans. What was it like before the war?

TS: Between Exposition and Jefferson and Arlington and Vermont there were a lot of Japanese (restricted covenants in California) which kept Japanese there. I think there were restricted covenants there, too, but they didn't enforce it. And there weren't many blacks there, but later on (the area) became (all) black.

MN: Now, you were born right before the Great Depression. Did your family have a difficult time making ends meet?

TS: (I never experienced any deprivation because we lived as well as any other Japanese people).

MN: But you didn't hear stories of your brother having to go to the dumpster to get food or --

TS: Oh no, nothing like that. My father was always employed as a gardener and he had a lot of customers.

MN: Did your parents, while you were growing up, enroll you in a martial arts class like judo or kendo?

TS: (Yes), kendo and judo, (...) I didn't like either one.

MN: Which, which dojo did you take --

TS: Seinan Dojo on Thirty-sixth Street near Halldale.

MN: And who was your judo and who was your kendo teacher?

TS: Judo (teacher) was Ken Kuniyuki (...). Kendo was (taught by) a guy named Kubota. He became the owner of the Kubota Mortuary later on. He used to be my neighbor on Thirty-seventh Street and Halldale.

MN: As a child, did you ever visit Japan?

TS: Not as a child. I did go (to Japan as a member of) the US Air Force.

MN: Later on in life.

TS: (Yes).

MN: What about your parents? Did they visit (Japan)?

TS: (Yes), they were going to Japan off and on.

MN: So before the war your parents were able to afford traveling to Japan and also afford to have you go to kendo and judo. It sounds like your parents were doing really well in the nursery business.

TS: (...) I don't know how they paid for any of this, because I was too young. I had no knowledge of what kind of income they had.

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

<Begin Segment 3>

MN: Who was the backbone of the nursery business? Was it your father or your mother?

TS: My mother. Oh, she was an aggressive businesswoman. My father, I think, was just taking orders.

MN: So your mother sounds like she came from a pretty educated family. Can you share a little bit about what, her family background in Japan?

TS: (Yes). One of the guys in the family was a military governor of Indonesia during World War II. (His name was) Ishihata. But I don't know too much about (this event because) right now my memory isn't good enough to recall, but I remember in 1936 we had a new 1936 Ford and we drove him down, he wanted to see the naval base at San Diego and I told my parents, "This guy's a spy." I was just a young kid, but I said, "This guy's a spy," because he wanted to see the naval base. And he saw a few submarines and he said, "Let's go." I said, "That's all you want to see?" I said, "There's a big naval base here." He said, "No, let's go." And then a few miles out of San Diego, coming back to L.A., (...) border patrol stopped us. They didn't ask this guy, this guy I thought (who) was a spy sitting in front. They asked me, "Where you from?" (I said), "L.A." "How old are you?" I don't know, whatever age I was. He said, "Go." I told my parents, "They asked the wrong guy. They should ask the guy here. I think he's a spy." (...)

MN: Do you think the immigration asked you because children are usually pretty honest?

TS: (Yes).

MN: Was he a spy?

TS: No. He was a military attache in London for the Japanese. He may have been a spy. I always said he was a spy, but he had a legitimate job in London and he was coming through to go back to Japan.

MN: And this was your, was it your mother's cousin?

TS: (Yes).

MN: And then after the war, when you were in the military, US military, you saw him again.

TS: I saw him in Hiroshima. He was hoeing weeds in his farm. I says, "What did you do from last (time) I saw you 'til now?" He said, "I was (the) military governor of Indonesia." I said, "Wow." Had a big job.

MN: So it sounds like he actually just wanted to see what U.S. military submarines looked like and (...) he wasn't really a spy.

TS: Well, we didn't spend enough time. We just drove up there in our new '36 Ford and, "Let's go." He just wanted to tell the people in Japan that he saw a naval base, I think. He didn't spend more than a few seconds there, so he couldn't have seen anything. I told my parents, "I think he was looking to see what our submarines look like."

MN: I wondered also, about your mother's side, now they in Japan had cattle. Is that correct? They had cattle? Tell me about that.

TS: I don't remember, but they had a big farm. I don't remember too much about it. I went there a few times and I ran into guys that knew my folks.

MN: But of course, it was very unusual for families in Japan to even have cattle, so your mother's family must have been doing very well. They were probably trading with foreigners.

TS: I don't know why they had cattle. Think they had twenty-nine cattle. I said, "What are you doing with cattle?" They just had 'em.

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

<Begin Segment 4>

MN: Okay, in 1941 you were attending Foshay Junior High School. Now, what was the ethnic makeup of Foshay at the time?

TS: Mostly white.

MN: And you were twelve years old when Pearl Harbor was attacked on Sunday, December 7th. What do you remember of that day?

TS: Some hakujin guy in my class, classmate said, "You guys attacked Pearl Harbor." I says, "What, 'you guys'?" I said, "Me?" He said, "Your kind." I'll never forget that guy. Accused me of bombing Pearl Harbor.

MN: Now, also some of the, is it FBI, or police officers came to your house.

TS: They did.

MN: What did they do?

TS: They snipped the shortwave, wires off of our Philco shortwave. We had a big console radio, and he, I remember the guy cutting down wires. I said, "What are you cutting 'em for?" He says, "So you don't communicate with Japan." I said, "We're not communicating with Japan. In Japan, they don't know us. We're nothing in Japan." But he brushed me off and he says, "We got to do it."

MN: Now, when you went to school did your teachers treat you differently?

TS: You mean after?

MN: After Pearl Harbor.

TS: No.

MN: So other than that one classmate that gave you a hard time, did you --

TS: He didn't give me a hard time, he just said, "You guys bombed Pearl Harbor." "Oh, we bombed Pearl Harbor?" He said, "Yeah, your kind." Nobody said much of anything, teachers or anything.

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

<Begin Segment 5>

MN: Now, after Pearl Harbor, do you remember the FBI coming around your neighborhood to arrest --

TS: Oh, (yes). They cut the wires, shortwave wires off our brand-new Philco radio.

MN: And were they arresting your neighbors?

TS: They arrested some people, but they didn't bother our family.

MN: Now, what were the rumors goin' around about why, why were the FBI agents arresting Japanese Americans? What were some of the rumors you heard?

TS: That we were spies. [Laughs] Most of them were gardeners and nurserymen or something like that (and working in) agriculture, but... couldn't have been spies.

MN: So the Terminal Islanders got kicked out of their home in the spring of 1942. Did any of them move into your neighborhood?

TS: (Yes), they did. Lot of 'em came around there.

MN: Did you get a chance to talk to them at all?

TS: No. I was too young then.

MN: I'm gonna step back a few years, before the war, 'cause your family went to Terminal Island quite often, you were talking about summertime. Can you share with us those stories?

TS: The beach, Brighton Beach. That was Little Tokyo Beach. Today it's a navy base there, but there was sandy beach there, Brighton Beach. It was all Japanese. I still remember pictures of that place. I don't know where they are now, but there were Model Ts parked there and all these Japanese guys that I knew.

MN: What did you do out there?

TS: Go swimming there. It's quite different. I don't think there's a beach there anymore. I think it's a naval base or something, (...) they used to call it Little Tokyo Beach.

MN: Did you have any interaction with the Japanese American fishing village on Terminal Island?

TS: No. Well, not at that time. Later on I got a job on a fishing boat and soon as we got out past the breakwater -- I thought I was gonna be a fisherman, that's why I signed up, and the (...) Issei guy told me, "You're the cook." I said, "I don't know how to cook." He said, "Well, it's just too bad." He showed me a room, about half the size of this room full of frozen food in there. He says, "There it is. Start cooking." My reaction was pretty bad. "I can't cook." I learned real fast. [Laughs]

MN: Now, how did you get to Brighton Beach?

TS: My mother used to drive us out there.

MN: So was it common for a Japanese American woman to be driving cars at that time?

TS: I don't know, but she sure was driving. She was always, I can only remember my mother driving us out every Sunday in the summer, we used, my mother was taking us out there.

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

<Begin Segment 6>

MN: Now I'm gonna return back to 1941. I know you were still a child, but do you know if your parents' bank account was frozen?

TS: It may have. I don't, they never discussed it with me because I had older brothers. I was the young punk and they didn't consult with me about anything.

MN: Do you know if your parents lost clients right after Pearl Harbor?

TS: They must have. (...)

MN: And once the government announced the camp incarceration orders, do you know what your parents did with the plants and the nursery?

TS: All I know is that the car, we had a pick up truck and we sold it to a guy named Winsel Gibbs' nursery. It was a big nursery in Inglewood. We sold it to them and we came back, the guy sold it back to us. (It was a) prominent hakujin nursery.

MN: They had, was that, did they have a chain of nurseries before the war?

TS: I think (they) did, (yes).

MN: When your family was preparing to go to camp, what did they do with the furniture and other huge household belongings?

TS: We stored it with a hakujin neighbor.

MN: Now, after the war, when your family came back, were they able to retrieve the belongings?

TS: (Yes), and I remember my brother was in the automotive racing business and I remember we stored his engine in (the) hakujin neighbor's cellar. We picked it up after the war and he resumed racing. My brother was very prominent in racing (...).

MN: Now, you were just a child. How did your parents explain to you that you, the family was going into camp?

TS: They didn't explain it to me at all. I knew we were going to camp. They had posters on the telephone poles telling us that we had to meet at a certain place. I think we met at Thirty-fifth and Normandie when we got on the bus to go to Santa Anita. (...)

MN: Do you know how you got to Thirty-fifth and Normandie? Did you walk there?

TS: We walked.

MN: Do you remember how you prepared your suitcase, what you put in there?

TS: Don't remember at all.

MN: So from this gathering place that you think was Thirty-fifth and Normandie, where did they take you?

TS: To Santa Anita.

MN: And how did, how did they take you to Santa Anita?

TS: What's that?

MN: How did you, how did you get to Santa Anita?

TS: On a bus.

MN: Was it an army bus?

TS: Looked to me like a regular bus.

MN: Now, when you got on the bus, did they announce that you were going to Santa Anita?

TS: They didn't announce anything. They didn't tell us anything.

MN: Did you know where you were going?

TS: No. I had no idea where we were going.

MN: Now, as a child, you're getting on this bus, what did you think? Was it scary, was it exciting?

TS: No, it wasn't anything. I just thought, hey, we're going somewhere.

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

<Begin Segment 7>

MN: Now, what was your first impression when you arrived at Santa Anita?

TS: Oh, this is sure a big place. (...) There's a big parking lot there, there was nothing but barracks there. And we were the third barrack from Huntington Drive. Huntington Drive is (...) right on the south end of Santa Anita. And we lived right there by the main gate.

MN: So your family did not go into the horse stalls.

TS: Oh no, we had a nice, brand new building, twenty by twenty with five people living in there.

MN: Now, as a child what did you do at Santa Anita?

TS: Run around with other kids.

MN: Do you know what your parents or brothers were doing?

TS: No.

MN: Now, you mentioned about your older, oldest brother Tunney, Tsuneo, and he was into racing, and, and so Vic Edelbrock came to Santa Anita to visit your brother. Can you share with us who is Vic Edelbrock?

TS: He (was) a famous (person and owner of the) Edelbrock Equipment Company, one of the leading (firms) in the world of racing equipment. Vic Edelbrock (was) of German descent, and he was very sympathetic (...). He used to come to Santa Anita all the time to see Tunney.

MN: Now, how did Tunney get to know Vic?

TS: I think Tunney used to do gardening with my father and they used to work around at LaBrea and Sixth Street, and I guess he used to drop in there to see the racing cars, Vic had (...) a small garage there, an automotive repair shop, and then later on he became big time (operators, one of the) biggest in the U.S.

MN: And I guess, since that's how his relation, your brother's relationship with Vic Edelbrock continued and then is that when your brother started to work for Vic Edelbrock?

TS: (Yes), he worked for him. Vic Edelbrock used to get a lot of customers to build racing engine because he was so famous, and he used to bring all the racing engines to our nursery. We had a large place there and in back we had a big shed. I remember as a kid we had nothing but racing engines back there, and my brother was working on porting, making the intake ports larger so the gas would come into the engine better and that's what he did, porting engines for Vic Edelbrock.

MN: And then your, then your brother eventually went into racing cars for Vic Edelbrock, is that right?

TS: (He went into roadster racing using Edelbrock equipment).

MN: Where did he race the cars?

TS: Carrell Speedway in Gardena, and there was a place in Hollywood. (There were a few other places where races were held).

MN: And then later on the Carrell Speedway in Gardena became Ascot.

TS: (Yes).

MN: That's how I know it as.

TS: Well, it was Carrell Speedway at first and we did very well at Carrell Speedway. We held many track records there because of Vic Edelbrock. He, he was way ahead of the curve on racing engines, this German guy.

MN: How was Vic Edelbrock able to have such fast cars?

TS: He was a smart guy. He, I always felt that he was one up on everybody else in that, I don't know if you much about crank shafts, but crank shafts (have) ninety degrees throws, there's eight cylinders, and Vic Edelbrock figured out that Ford wasn't making 'em exactly ninety degrees. They were sloppily made. So he would spray metal on the cranks to straighten 'em out, and it made a huge difference, just by having the cranks ninety degrees, each of the pistons would be firing at the (right) time.

MN: Now, he was also an innovator in terms of the fuel. Is that correct?

TS: (Yes).

MN: Instead of gasoline?

TS: (Yes), they were running nitromethane. Vic Edelbrock was ahead of everybody. (...) Mixing nitromethane with the (...) alcohol. We were (using) alcohol, one of the first guys (who) were (using) alcohol.

MN: Sounds like a pretty volatile mix.

TS: (Yes), it was. Sure made the cars go a lot faster. We held many track records all over (California).

MN: Now, was it common for Japanese Americans to be racing cars before the war?

TS: No. There were, guy named Yam Oka, Y-A-M Oka. Oka is the last name. He was a well known wild driver, Yam Oka was, but his engines probably weren't as fast as ours. Yam always used to complain to me, says, "When I win the trophy dash, these white girls won't kiss me. They only shake hands with me." That's what Yam used to say.

MN: What about your brother? Did he encounter kind of racism like that?

TS: I don't think so because we were good friends with Vic Edelbrock and he was dominant figure in racing. So nobody fooled around with my brother because he had some of the friends (who) were leading guys racing in America.

MN: Your brother, was he, these car races, was it for cash prizes or just for trophies?

TS: They were paying cash and trophies. I think. I believe... I wasn't involved in the financial aspect, though.

MN: What happened to Tunney's trophies?

TS: I believe that his wife threw 'em away. She didn't think much of his racing career. He, he married a woman and she threw all the trophies out. I was outraged when I heard that she threw 'em away. She should have given 'em to me. He had a lot of trophies, from the Dry Lakes salt flats.

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

<Begin Segment 8>

MN: I'm gonna go back to Santa Anita Assembly Center now. There was a huge riot at the Santa Anita Assembly Center. What do you remember of the riot?

TS: They were chasin' a guy and they, I said, "What are they chasin' that guy for?" They said, "He's a Korean." Beat him up.

MN: And Koreans at that time were interpreters, is that correct?

TS: I don't know what they, he was there. He was there as an interpreter or something, and I remember a guy named Mark Kiguchi who's still around, he was one of the guys pounding on this Korean guy.

MN: I heard stories also that they threw, like, typewriters at this guy.

TS: Oh, they were throwing everything at him. They wanted to kill the guy.

MN: Did you actually witness this or did you hear it?

TS: (...) I was standing right there. I saw this guy running and all these guys chasin' him. I said, "What are you guys chasin' that guy for?" He says, "He's a Korean."

MN: And then is that afterwards where the armies, military came in?

TS: (Yes).

MN: Were you one of the kids throwing rocks at the military, army people?

TS: I may have. It's kind of vague now. I was only about twelve or thirteen years old then.

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

<Begin Segment 9>

MN: Now, as a kid, as a pastime you were always, you talked about also hitching a ride on the army truck. Tell me about that story.

TS: Army truck would come through the front gate and they would go at about ten miles an hour and they'd go, I don't know where they were going, and they had the back tailgate down and we'd jump up there. They'd know we were on there, but they never tried to chase us off or anything. They just let us ride. We rode all around the camp. It was a free ride 'cause it's the only transportation there was. We just had fun riding.

MN: So, so the army people were pretty friendly with the kids?

TS: (Yes), the army guys were very friendly.

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

<Begin Segment 10>

MN: Now, after a few months at Santa Anita Assembly Center they sent to you to Colorado, and which camp did they send you to?

TS: Amache, Colorado.

MN: Now, the official name is Granada --

TS: Granada (War Relocation Center).

MN: -- but why does the, why do you folks call it Amache?

TS: We didn't, somebody gave it the name Amache. She was supposed to be an Indian princess in that area, goes way back, I don't know, a century or so, but Amache was a famous Indian princess. I don't know, I didn't even know that they had Indian princesses, but that's what they called it, Amache.

MN: Do you remember how you got to Amache/Granada?

TS: (Yes), on a train.

MN: Do you remember that train ride?

TS: (Yes).

MN: Share with me what you remember of that ride.

TS: The, nothing but soldiers, hakujin soldiers, and they were very friendly to us. I couldn't believe. You know, there's so much hostility on the West Coast against us, and these soldiers were very friendly.

MN: Now, these soldiers, were they passengers or were they guarding you?

TS: No, they were passengers going somewhere.

MN: So it was a mixed group with people going to camp and soldiers going somewhere else.

TS: In the train... when they transferred us from Santa Anita to Amache, that's when I saw these soldiers on the train.

MN: Now, what about the dining room? Was it all African American servers?

TS: (Yes).

MN: Did they treat you, how did they treat you?

TS: Fine. They talked to us, they served us. First time I sat in a dining room with tablecloth, and flowers on the tables. I said boy, this is fancy stuff. I never had that experience. My mother never had table, white tablecloth on her, at our house.

MN: Do you remember how long that train ride took?

TS: Couple days. Two or three days.

MN: Did you have to sleep sitting up?

TS: (Yes).

MN: Did the train stop at all?

TS: (Yes), they were always stopping. They were always puttin' us off to the siding and other trains would shoot by and then we'd get on. We apparently had a slow train.

MN: You mentioned about the trains back then, when you used the bathrooms --

TS: They'd spray 'em on the track. They didn't keep, have a holding tank. They sprayed it, and I remember we used to be standing on the side of the track and we, the spray hit us. I didn't appreciate that at all.

MN: Do you think that was done on purpose?

TS: I don't think so. They didn't know what was there, the people on the train.

MN: Now, when you got to Colorado, how did they take you off the train and into camp? Was it by a bus?

TS: Bus, they put us on a (bus of the ordinary kind).

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

<Begin Segment 11>

MN: And what was your first impression of Amache?

TS: I said, what is this? I said, is this it? (...) This is in the middle of nowhere. Amache was a town of two, three hundred people, not Amache, but Granada.

MN: Do you remember your barrack address?

TS: (Yes), 12-G-6-B.

MN: Can you share with me what was near your barrack?

TS: There was a fence and a guard tower right outside, and there was a Buddhist church right behind us. It was another barrack.

MN: Now, you said there was a guard tower. When you saw this guard tower, how did that make you feel?

TS: I knew I was a prisoner. It didn't make me feel anything. I says this is a continuation of Santa Anita. Didn't bother me at all.

MN: You were, you also mentioned a Buddhist church, since you were close to the Buddhist church, and was this the only Buddhist church at camp?

TS: (Yes).

MN: Did you ever visit this church?

TS: No, but I used to hear the funerals every night. "Namu Amida Butsu." I used to hear this Buddhist chant. I'll never forget that; at night I'm trying to sleep and I can hear this chanting. It's somebody's funeral. Almost every night somebody was dying.

MN: Now, the school didn't open immediately, so what did you do when you first got to Amache?

TS: Nothing. Just running around.

MN: Each block had an open area and in your block, what was that space used for?

TS: Baseball.

MN: Did you play baseball?

TS: Not me, but other older guys did.

MN: What happened if someone, your barrack was close to the fence --

TS: Right there. Right next to the southern border.

MN: What happened if someone hit the ball outside the fence?

TS: The guy's trying to chase the ball and the guard in the watchtower would say, "Get back."

MN: Did anybody ever get shot?

TS: No, not that I know. Not at Amache, anyway.

MN: Now, your two brothers left camp as soon as they could. Where did Tunney go?

TS: Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He got a job for the Yellow Cab company as a mechanic.

MN: And what about your brother Henry?

TS: He went to Elmhurst, Illinois, right outside of Chicago. Hauserman Greenhouses, they grew gardenias and we had some experience in growing gardenias, so he worked there.

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

<Begin Segment 12>

MN: Do you remember what year your two brothers left camp?

TS: Soon, soon as they could.

MN: Maybe 1943, does that sound about --

TS: '43, around there. (Yes).

MN: So you were left in camp with your parents. What did your parents do in camp? What did your father do?

TS: He was the rice cooker. He made rice for our block, a hundred pounds of rice every day. And he was also the janitor of the mess hall, so I used to go up there and swab that floor for him and he, he was making rice and I was swabbing the floors.

MN: What about your mother?

TS: I don't recall what she did. She was too busy trying to Christianize that whole camp. She said she's gonna convert 'em all to Christianity. I said, "You're crazy," so I didn't get along too well with my mother because she was out to evangelize everybody in camp. She said (...) the husbands all complained, but the wives were somewhat acceptable of Christianity.

MN: Did your mom hold bible studies at your barrack?

TS: I think she did, but I never stuck around.

MN: Now, your family, did you attend church in camp?

TS: (Yes).

MN: Which one?

TS: Church of Christ was a strange outfit. They didn't believe that other denominations of the Christian Church were Christian. They thought they were the only Christians, so they had a separate church at the bottom end of camp, the Church of Christ, and we went to a separate church.

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

<Begin Segment 13>

MN: Now, early on at Amache, classes were held in one of the barracks, but later on you folks got a huge school building.

TS: (Yes).

MN: Can you share with me how this building was funded and built?

TS: (...) I thought that the residents kicked in and paid for that school. I'm not so sure because I was only twelve or thirteen and I wasn't in the pipeline of information.

MN: But the story you had heard is that the people actually paid for --

TS: Paid for that school.

MN: Not the government.

TS: That's a nice school.

MN: Can you describe the school for me?

TS: The outside was like the barracks were, kind of a beige, it wasn't the black tarpaper, beige color. It was nice, nice building. It was long building and then there was a big auditorium where they used to have funerals. [Laughs] They used to have all the 442nd guys that were being killed having funerals there.

MN: Now, the school had music classes. Were you involved in the music classes?

TS: (Yes), I wanted a trumpet and they said, "We don't have a trumpet," and they handed me a clarinet. Said, "I don't want to play a clarinet." There it is. They handed it to me and said, "Learn it." So I learned (how to play) the clarinet.

MN: Now, you got into trouble in class for saying your own pledge of allegiance. Can you share with me that story?

TS: "With liberty and justice for all but us in camp." They, the teacher heard me and sent me to the principal. We had a confrontation and he said, "Who made you say that?" "What do you mean, who made me say that? I said it myself," and we had a very vigorous confrontation out there with (the) principal. I think (his) name (was) Herbert K. Walthers and Margaret Hopcraft, my homeroom teacher. And after that confrontation, Hopcraft and myself, we were standing there in this room and I complained about this interrogation of me. She said, "Thomas, you don't understand. We're trying to help you." I said, "I don't see any help at all from that interrogation." That was it. She said, "Go back to the room."

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

<Begin Segment 14>

MN: You got into another argument with your teacher, Margaret L. Hopcraft, when they started to draft the Niseis from camp. Can you share with me that story?

TS: I said, "We're not Americans. You can't draft us in camp. If we're Americans we wouldn't be here in this confined place."

MN: And what did she say?

TS: She says, "You don't understand. You're just nothing but a child. You don't understand." Okay, I'm a child. No sense arguing with her, so...

MN: And you were a teenager, and how did you feel about seeing these drafted Nisei leaving camp?

TS: What was that again?

MN: How did you, how did it make you feel seeing these Niseis leaving camp after they were drafted?

TS: Oh, I thought (it was horrible). I used to see 'em off to the 442nd, (...) I said, "We're prisoners. How can you be drafting prisoners? You put us in camp and you expect these guys to go out and die?" And they're all going to the 442nd.

MN: Did you know that there were draft resisters at Amache?

TS: There must've been. I think they went to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

MN: How did you feel about the draft resistors?

TS: I thought they were doing the right thing, although later on I volunteered for the service in the Korean War. I must've been crazy.

MN: But you've, you went when you were free person, not when you were in camp.

TS: (Yes), I was a free person, right.

MN: Now, in camp, junior high school, you also wrote an essay and that included your thoughts about the JACL, the Japanese American Citizens League. Do you remember what you wrote about them?

TS: I don't remember, but I thought, (...) Mike Masaoka (...) was the head of JACL -- I said, "He's pandering to the whites." That was my feeling. He was just trying to make friends.

MN: Now, you were still fourteen or fifteen years old when the "loyalty questionnaire" came out. Did this become an issue in your family?

TS: No, we never talked about it.

MN: 'Cause you didn't have to sign it?

TS: No, I didn't.

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

<Begin Segment 15>

MN: It sounds like you grew up pretty fast in camp. Can you share with me the story about the condoms in the sewer?

TS: Oh, (yes), my friend Junji Kumamoto, he (...) later on became a professor at the University of California. He was man keeping the outlet into the settling pond -- there were three settling ponds -- clean, so the sewers would keep flowing. I said, "What are you doing?" He says, "Keeping these condoms out of there 'cause it's plugging up the outlet." I said, oh? He said, "I don't know where they're gettin' 'em, but they're sure gettin' a lot of condoms." That's what he told me. And he later on became a professor, I don't know what University of California he (worked at).

MN: Were they selling these condoms in the co-op?

TS: I have no idea where they were getting 'em. [Laughs] They sure had 'em. I felt that they were trying to keep down the birth. They don't want to have too many babies in camp. That was my own opinion. I don't know.

MN: Could you also share about the story, this, the story of this woman across your barrack? She was having an affair?

TS: Oh, she was having an affair with all kinds of people. She, I remember one old man -- I won't mention the name -- he had a department store in J-town. He was a regular customer. He's always dressed immaculately in a suit, and he would come and all her daughters and everybody was all up on a coal bin in front peekin' in to see what they were doing.

MN: Did you watch also?

TS: I may have. I don't recall. (...)

MN: So this man that you mentioned right now, was he also married?

TS: (Yes).

MN: So he had a wife in camp?

TS: (Yes), he had a wife and kids, beautiful daughter and son. They lived on opposite side of the block.

MN: And then there was this other lady you said was this really sexy lady there. Tell me about this lady?

TS: All the boys used to come to see her. She lived on the opposite side of the block. [Laughs] I don't want to say too much about her, but... and I don't want to (tell) about the guys (who) used to come see her.


MN: Was she married, this lady that was sleeping around?

TS: (Yes), she was married, but her husband was out on a farm. He was working on a farm. He was out of camp.

MN: Now, the people around, did they know, like, people were fooling around?

TS: Oh (yes), everybody knew her.

MN: And did anybody say anything?

TS: They never said anything. She used to come into the mess hall with shorts on -- he was very well-built woman -- she used to have little shorts showing her legs and her buttocks, I mean real tight shorts and tight T-shirt. She was advertising herself.

MN: So you learned a little bit about sex in camp, what about alcohol and smoking?

TS: Lot of that. Lot of it.

MN: Did you make, did anybody in your family make moonshine?

TS: Not my family. Nobody drank in my family.

MN: What about the dances? Did you attend the camp dances?

TS: No, but I used -- I was too young, I was only twelve, thirteen -- I used to play the music for them and they used to always demand, the guys were always demanding what kind of music I was supposed to play for them. Glenn Miller, they wanted to hear Glenn Miller, slow Glenn Miller music. So they'd dance real slow, I says, "Hey, why, why you even need music? You're just standing hugging this girl. You're not even moving." I said, "(...) It doesn't matter what kind of music I'm playing." That's all I remember of my job.

MN: I'm gonna ask you about the mess hall now. What do you remember of the mess hall food?

TS: Bad. It was the same stuff coming out every day, rice and tsukemono and you know. It wasn't good food. The guy that was head cook, they used to call him the chief cook, he lived in our barrack, guy named Horimoto. He had a hakujin wife and she came to camp with their half-breed kids. I got to hand it to that woman. She was one of a few hakujin women that lived in camp, and she was a waitress in, in our mess hall. Very likeable person.

MN: Do you remember her name?

TS: Maxine Horimoto.

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

<Begin Segment 16>

MN: Now, you, the Amache camp had a farm. Did you work on that farm?

TS: (Yes).

MN: What did you do on that farm?

TS: Tractor. I drove the tractor, Fordson tractor, had a big wheel on the back and a small wheel in front. (...)

MN: Now, you learned a few things from your racing car brother.

TS: (Yes).

MN: What did you do to the tractor?

TS: I put a little device on the carburetor that made my tractor go faster than everybody else. I used to race all these other guys on the farm and I was always beating 'em because they had a governor on the engine that would back off it goes beyond a certain rpm, but mine kept revving because I had the thing neutralized, the governor. So I was beating everybody on the races. I never told 'em what I was doing. I had a little wire on there. "Hey, you got a fast tractor." "(Yes), it's the driver," I said. I told 'em it was the driver. It wasn't the driver. [Laughs]

MN: Let me ask you about the camp climate. What were the winters like in Amache?

TS: Cold. Twenty degrees below zero. Real cold and windy, icicles hanging down from the roof two or three feet long. Real cold.

MN: How did you keep warm?

TS: They gave us pea coats, black pea coats that come down to about the knee. That's the only thing we had. Nobody had jackets or anything.

MN: What about the summers?

TS: Hot. Really hot. Ninety, a hundred degrees.

MN: So how did you keep cool?

TS: You couldn't. I think we were able to buy a fan or something like that, found it somewhere. I don't know where we got it, but we had a fan. Didn't help too much.

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

<Begin Segment 17>

MN: Now, in early 1945 you left camp and you joined your brother Henry in Illinois, Elmhurst. What did you do while you were out there?

TS: Not much of anything. I was just living on 1012 North Clark Street where a lot of guys from our block lived.

MN: Were you working?

TS: No. Do you know Chicago? Well, (the area around) 1012 North Clark Street was nothing but brothels, whorehouses around there. That's where we were living. And the Toguris had a grocery store there and Tokyo Rose was a Toguri girl. The family was living there (with a) real prosperous grocery store.

MN: Did you enjoy any of the brothels there?

TS: No, I was too young. I was just right out of camp, fourteen, fifteen years old, and besides, even (if) I were older, I didn't have the money. These whores weren't cheap. In those days I think it cost fifteen dollars to go to the whorehouse.

MN: You weren't out in Chicago too long before you received a letter from your parents.

TS: (Yes).

MN: What did they want you to do?

TS: "Come back. We're going to the West Coast because the WRA got us a job in Piedmont, California." So I came back.

MN: You know, it's usually the oldest brother that shoulders the burden of looking after your, the parents, but in your case, you the youngest looked after your family.

TS: (Yes).

MN: How did, why is that so?

TS: Probably because my brother's wife, the girl that he married, I think she influenced him. (She was a very tough woman and my brother was very weak).

MN: Now, what did your parents do in Piedmont, California?

TS: My mother was a house maid and my father was an outside gardener and I was a gardener's assistant, and we lived in a servants' quarters in the back, right next to Piedmont High School.

MN: You were still a high school student and Piedmont High was near this family, family's house, but you weren't allowed to go there?

TS: No, they, the Chinese people we worked for didn't want me to go there, says, "You should go down to Oakland Technical High." So I went.

MN: Now, why did this wealthy Chinese family say that to you?

TS: Because (I think she was trying to protect her own family), she said, "Your kind, they don't go here." That offended me greatly and I told my folks that, "We're getting out of here. I don't like this."

MN: But you went to this Oakland Technical High School for a while and, and you used to walk by the fire station, and what did you overhear the firemen say?

TS: "Is he a Jap or Chinaman?"

MN: So you'd hear that all the time, when you walked by the fire --

TS: No, I didn't see 'em standing out there, but when I did see them they would make some comment.

MN: Now, at Oakland Technical High School, what was the ethnic makeup of the student population?

TS: I think it was mostly whites, but I didn't go there too long, so I don't have a big memory of that.

MN: So you weren't happy in Northern California?

TS: No.

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

<Begin Segment 18>

MN: How long did you stay in Piedmont before you came down to Los Angeles?

TS: Probably six months or so.

MN: When you told your parents you want to come back to Southern California, did they protest? Or what did they say?

TS: They said, "We're going with you." I said, "You people can stay here, but I'm going. I don't like it up here."

MN: Now, Southern California, like Northern California, had a real bad housing shortage, so where did you folks stay when you got to L.A.?

TS: We joined two other families. (Our family) shared one bedroom. They had three bedrooms and we had one bedroom. I think myself and my brother Henry, we slept on a couch in the living room of that house.

MN: You were eventually able to find housing near your prewar home. Where was this at?

TS: I believe it was on Thirty-Seventh Street between Normandie and Vermont. Somewhere around there, I don't recall.

MN: Now, which high school did you enroll in?

TS: First Manual Arts and then I was the only Japanese guy there, so I went to Polytechnic and it was full of Nikkeis, (...).

MN: Now, what did your parents do to get back on their feet? Did they go back into the nursery business?

TS: (...) They may have, at first, I think, they went into gardening, and then later on they went into the nursery business.

MN: Now, when they eventually went into the nursery business again, did they join a tanomoshi?

TS: I think so.

MN: Can you explain to us what a tanomoshi is?

TS: Kind of like a credit union where people would pool their money and they'd loan it to whoever needed it the most.

MN: And, and now the current Japanese credit union is really an outgrowth of the tanomoshi?

TS: I think it is.

MN: After the war there were a lot of Nikkei clubs or gangs. Were you involved in any of them?

TS: No.

MN: What did you, what do you remember of the gang fights during Nisei Week Carnival?

TS: Oh, they were always having (fights at) First and San Pedro. They were always having gang fights. Especially the guys from Hawaii, they didn't get along with the First Street boys and they'd have wild fights (...). Hawaiian guys liked to fight. [Laughs]

MN: Now, before the war your brother Tunney was also a well-known street fighter.

TS: (Yes).

MN: Was he involved in any of the prewar gangs like the Exclusive Twenties?

TS: No. He may have, but he was a well-known street fighter. He was always getting into fights with people. I never saw that in his character in the home. He was always a calm guy, never shouted at anybody, wasn't aggressive, but apparently he was a real fighter. And when we went to camp and Santa Anita he had quite a reputation. All the Exclusive Twenties guys knew about him. (...)

MN: Now I'm gonna ask about your education. You were able to attend Pepperdine University for free. How did that come about?

TS: (Yes). George Pepperdine, he used to come to the Church of Christ and I told him that I'm going to register at UCLA because it costs ten dollars a semester. He said, "Forget UCLA. You're coming here." I said, "I have no money." "We're not asking you for any money." And they never asked me for anything, not a penny.

MN: Now, why was this very rich man, George Pepperdine, doing in a Japanese American Church of Christ?

TS: I don't understand, although I later found out that he was associated with my cousin, Ryohachi Shigekuni, in Japan, and they were trying to evangelize Japan through the Christian Church, and they had set up a lot of churches north of Tokyo, George Pepperdine and my cousin. (...)

MN: Do you remember what year you graduated from Pepperdine University?

TS: I don't remember (exactly sometime) in the '40s.

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

<Begin Segment 19>

MN: You and your friend joined the National Guard?

TS: (Yes).

MN: Why did you do that?

TS: Because we wanted to avoid the draft. He said we were all gonna get drafted. I (said), "Well, I don't want to get drafted." That (was during) the Korean War. I said I don't want to be an infantryman, so we joined the National Guard. He said National Guard will always defend California.


MN: Now, we were talking about you joining the National Guard. Can you continue that story?

TS: (...) Don Hasuike, says, "Hey, if we join the National Guard (...) we won't have to go to Korea." And shortly after we joined we were gone. [Laughs] We went overseas. (...) All of us were sent to Air Intelligence headquarters in Tokyo, and the only guys that were kept there were Don and myself. Don was a linguist and they wanted him to read the Chinese papers from China that we were getting every day. And I don't know what I was doing there. I don't know why they kept me there, but they did and everyone else went to Korea.

MN: Weren't you, the Kibei, helping the Kibeis? The Kibeis were interrogating prisoners and you were helping them?

TS: Well, I was editing their reports because the English was so bad that the people in Washington, intelligence people, were complaining about all the reports, says, "We can't read those reports. They're ass backwards." I said, "Well, the Japanese language and English is different. It's backwards." Okay, so they put me in charge of (correcting the writing of) the interrogators -- not in charge, I was the editor for the hundred Kibeis (who) weren't writing intelligibly. Myself and a hakujin woman were editors for the whole bunch.

MN: Now, while you were stationed in Tokyo, were you also able to visit your relatives in Hiroshima?

TS: (Yes), I did, couple times.

MN: So I'm gonna assume this is the 1950s.

TS: (Yes), I guess that was when. I don't remember the dates too well.

MN: So by then was Hiroshima recovering from the atomic bombing?

TS: It was all one-story buildings, no, no high rise like today. Hiroshima's full of high rises now. I've been there many times since.

MN: Did your family lose any relatives in atomic bombing?

TS: No, because they were out in Shobara, which is in the mountain country.

MN: So you served your time in the military, you were honorably discharged at March Air Force Base, and then from there you were able to enter USC Law School on a GI bill?

TS: Right.

MN: Did your camp experience have any effect on you choosing to pursue law?

TS: I don't know. It may have. I don't know why I even went to law school.

MN: Now, after you graduated, what did you do?

TS: I think I opened up a law office in Gardena. (...) That's a long time ago.

MN: And you've been in private practice since?

TS: (Yes).

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

<Begin Segment 20>

MN: Okay, Tom, is there anything else you want to add? I've asked my questions.

TS: No. I don't know what I can add. There's probably a lot I can say, but probably better not, better not said.

MN: For example?

TS: My protesting of our internment to hakujin teachers. I didn't think they thought too much of me because I was always speakin' out against the internment. That wasn't a happy episode in my life because they were always down on me. They said, "You're always mouthin' off about this thing." I don't know what they expect me to say. "Hey, this is a wonderful experience"? I refused to say that.

MN: And you're talking about, this was in camp?

TS: In camp, (yes).

MN: But they didn't kick you out of camp school?

TS: No, nobody ever kicked me out, although I don't think they appreciated me too much because I was writing essays and things about what a horrible experience it was, and for someone to ask me "who made you write this" or something, that was insulting. I said, "I'm thirteen," I said, "I should know whether I'm a prisoner or not." Expect me not to know that I was a prisoner? So that offended me quite a bit.

MN: Did you keep any of your essays?

TS: No, I didn't keep anything. But I also offended a lot of hakujin teachers, when I wrote, for them to ask me, "Who made you write this?" That was very offensive. Nobody was telling anything about writing this or not writing. It was, they said write something, I figured they wanted my real feelings, not what somebody told me, but they didn't appreciate my writings. I didn't care whether they appreciated my writings or not. I just didn't care about those people (who) were our teachers.

MN: Now, where did you get the sense of right and wrong? Was it something you learned at school while you were living in Los Angeles?

TS: Yes. (The) minute they put us in the camp I said, "This is wrong." I said, "(...) If you drug the Isseis in here it's different matter, but," I said, "You got citizens here. We should be treated just like the white man." That was my position. That didn't go over well with (...) the white people. Japanese guys (said), "Hey, you're mouthing off too much." I'm just saying what I want to say, that's all. What could they do, I said, "What can they do to me? Put me to another camp? Tule Lake? (Yes), could you send me to Tule Lake?" So that was my feeling. So I must've been a headache for some of my teachers, to be raising all these issues. I should've kept my mouth shut. So anyway, poor Margaret L. Hopcraft from New Mexico, she had to put up with me for I don't know how many years. She's a good woman.

MN: But she didn't understand.

TS: (What)?

MN: She didn't understand your position.

TS: She didn't understand what I was saying. She thought I was unreasonable about complaining about being in camp. But I felt that maybe you would've done the same thing, although I don't know of anybody else that was complaining to them. In my class, (nobody) was complaining, they were all having too much fun going to the dances and all that. And I had a mother who said that dancing was evil. Maybe that's why I didn't go to the dances. My mother told me dancing's evil. "It's evil for what?" "You're hanging onto a girl." If I wanted to be evil I wouldn't be doing it on a dance floor. [Laughs] Anyway, so you can see my life with my mother was quite contentious. She was a strong woman, but she said her opinion, and I didn't agree with her. And my father never said anything. But I told you about this guy, the lieutenant commander and after the war he was a farmer.

MN: Your mother's cousin? Ishihata.

TS: (Yes), he was a farmer. Well, anyway, I don't know what else I can say about that. Probably could say a lot, but I, my memory is getting bad (...). This interview probably should've taken fifteen, twenty years ago. I could've given you all the blow by blow, dirty shots of everything and I could have named names. This woman that was a sexpot in our block, I think her name Miyo Osako. I believe that was her name, and her husband was always working outside of camp. And I always was asking other guys, says, "Does that guy know what his wife's doing here?" They say, "Oh, yeah, he just wanted to get away from her." [Laughs] Get away from her. I don't know if they ever divorced or what.

MN: I wouldn't be surprised.

TS: (Yes).

MN: I mean, with all the sleepin' around, was, were you aware of abortions?

TS: No, I don't... it's too bad. I'll remember all kinds of things that would be interesting after we leave, but --

MN: You could always come back.

TS: No. I got some nasty stuff to say, so I'm, better not, probably better not to say it.

MN: Are you talking about the JACL?

TS: No, the people in camp. Things about the sexual behavior, a lot of people in camp.

MN: Well, you don't have to name names.

TS: I'll think about it. I'll really think about it.

MN: Okay.

TS: But I admire this one woman, hakujin woman that lived in our barrack. She came to camp with her Issei husband, and I really admire her. Very few hakujin women came to camp, but she did and she stayed 'til the end. And I saw her after the war, very pleasant woman. Nice lookin' woman, very shapely, well built, tall, but I thought her husband was a heel, a real heel. I had a lot of opinions of people. There's a (...) married lady but her husband was in Japan, across the next barrack, and this well known guy from J-town used to come to see her all the time, dressed in an immaculate suit. I think I told you about him. Everybody in the block knew what he was coming there for, including her children who were peeking in on the window while they were having sex. (...) I think this was going around a lot in that camp. That's the kind of thing you won't hear in the history books. I don't think you want to hear that.

MN: But it makes us human.

TS: What's that?

MN: It makes us human.

TS: Yeah, they sure were.

MN: Okay, Tom.

TS: I don't want to say too much more.

MN: Thank you very much.

TS: You're welcome.

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