Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Toru Saito Interview
Narrator: Toru Saito
Interviewer: Martha Nakagawa
Location: San Jose, California
Date: December 1, 2010
Densho ID: denshovh-storu-01

<Begin Segment 1>

MN: Okay, today is December 1, 2010. We're at the Japanese American Museum of San Jose. We have Dana Hoshide on video. We will be interviewing Toru Saito. I will be interviewing him; my name is Martha Nakagawa. So let's start with, when were you born?

TS: I was born December 11, 1937.

MN: And where were you born?

TS: San Francisco Japantown.

MN: Were you delivered by a samba-san?

TS: No, I was born in the Stanford Lane Hospital.

MN: Now, children your generation mostly were delivered by samba-san. How did you end up at a hospital?

TS: I'll have to ask my mother for that information. I don't know.

MN: What is your birth name?

TS: Toru Saito.

MN: And a lot of people from your generation, Japanese Americans, end up adopting an Anglicized name. Did you ever have an Anglicized name?

TS: I did. In junior high school, in the eighth grade, my social studies teacher -- and I used to dread the first day of school and I used to dread when they got to the S's 'cause Saito was always the first S and the teacher would stumble and, and mumble and "T-T-To-Toru?" And she said, "I can't say your name, so I'm gonna call you Tom." And I was so happy. Finally I have a name that nobody has to stumble around with, and so I used that name, Tom, until, well, I was working at Kaiser Hospital in the psych unit and this was when, you know, "I'm black and I'm," black is beautiful, "I'm black and I'm proud" was popular, 1974, and during one of the staff meetings I said -- and I was in therapy at the time, too, and my therapist said, "You know, Toru, Toru is such a beautiful name and Tom sounds so blah. Why don't you use your real name?" And I said, "Yeah, that's a good idea." So I said, well, if people could be proud of being black, why can't I be proud of being Japanese, you know? So I went to the staff, the meeting and I said, "From now on I want to be called my real name, which is Toru." And since that time I've been Toru. No more Tom.

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

<Begin Segment 2>

MN: Now, I'm gonna go back to your childhood and ask you, now before World War II started, where did your family live and what did your parents do for a living?

TS: Well, we lived, I was born in, we all lived in Japantown on Geary Street and my father was a porter, but he mostly did odd jobs because good jobs were never afforded to Japanese. My father was a pharmacist from Japan, but he never practiced in this country, and he worked at a... when I was born, or shortly after I was born, my father was working at a sandwich shop on Market Street as a cook/sandwich maker, I guess. And he was always underemployed or unemployed, so that's my father's work history. My mother never worked because she had five children.

MN: Now, in the Saito family, of the siblings, where are you in the hierarchy? Are you the youngest, in the middle somewhere?

TS: I have two older sisters, I have two younger brothers, so I'm the middle of three boys and two girls.

MN: And what was your childhood like before the war? Who were your playmates, and did you folks, did you play in the streets?

TS: We played in front of our house. It was a lot of traffic -- well, it wasn't, not as much traffic as, Geary Street became a main thoroughfare after the war, but during that, when I was growing up, Geary Street was, it was on a slight hill. We played in the front of the house. I played only with my brothers, two younger brothers. My sisters were off to themselves, so we didn't have any playmates, per se. And there was no recreational facilities. We were just, we were just delegated to play in the front yard and on the sidewalk or in the house, and we had very little to no toys. We lived in the back of a, of a per diem employment office. People would call for service workers on a per diem basis or maybe a week, weekly basis and my mother would answer the phone and clean up, etcetera. We lived in the back quarters.

MN: So when you, you mentioned you didn't have a lot of toys, so what kind of games did you boys play?

TS: Good question. I don't remember. I don't remember any specific games we played. We didn't have a ball. We didn't have any apparatus. I really can't recall any organized games. There was no baseball, basketball, that kind of stuff. That's a good question, but I remember this: my, my mother still remembers that I, I had a drum, a drum with a string around it so you can put it around your neck, and I wanted to be in a parade, the parade down Japantown. I don't think I made it, but I remember, my mother still remembers that I wanted to be playing the drums in the parade. That's the only thing I did. Well, I guess I had a drum then. So I had something. Wasn't much, though. We never had any money.

MN: Now, in your household what was the main language spoken?

TS: It was all Japanese. My mother was born in Los Angeles. She's a Kibei-Nisei. She went to Japan when she was seven and returned to Seattle in 1924. She met my father and moved to San Francisco and the five of us were born. So we spoke nothing but Japanese. My mother, I just told you, my mother's a hundred and four today and she still speaks Japanese exclusively.

MN: Did you speak any English?

TS: I learned English when I went to the first grade in Topaz.

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

<Begin Segment 3>

MN: Well before we get to Topaz, let me ask you, when Pearl Harbor was bombed in 1941 you were still very, very young, did you understand the significance of this event?

TS: No, I didn't remember the significance, but I remember we used to have these, what they used to call blackouts and the sirens would sound and everybody had to put blankets over the windows. And I would peek through between the window and the curtain and we would see these searchlights searching the sky for, I guess, airplanes, and we were scared to death. But before that even my mother said there were reports of Filipino men knifing Japanese citizens in Japantown because they were upset about Japan's invasion to the Philippines, so my mother said, as soon as it gets dark always come in the house because the Filipinos were out there. And at the time I had never seen a Filipino, and I come to find out in my adult life the Filipino men were not giant monsters. They were little short guys. But we were deathly afraid of them, only because there was this rumor that some Japanese guy was knifed in Japantown.

MN: Now, were there FBI agents that came into your neighborhood to take people away after Pearl Harbor?

TS: If they did I had no knowledge of that.

MN: So after Pearl Harbor you saw this change in your life as a Japanese American kid?

TS: Oh yeah. I remember this car drove by our house -- we were playing in the front -- and this guy with these yellow teeth, some hakujin guy, he yelled out, "Go back to Japan, you fuckin' Japs." And he scared the hell out of me. And my brothers, we ran up the stairs and we asked my mother, "What does that mean, a Jap?" My mother said, "Never mind, just come in the house and don't play outside anymore." And, and we knew that Japan had bombed Pearl Harbor. We didn't know what Pearl Harbor was, but we knew it was a bad thing, and we were always feeling guilty for what something, what Japan did because we were Japanese and we identified with Japan.

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

<Begin Segment 4>

MN: So when the government issued the order to have all West Coast Japanese Americans put into camps, how did your parents or your older siblings explain this to you? Or did they even explain camp to you?

TS: Well, my mother, being Japanese speaking only, she, I know she didn't have any knowledge of... but in my situation was a little bit unusual because just before, my mother still remembers, by the way, May 10th was a Sunday and that was Mother's Day, and that was the day my mother, my father and my four siblings were put into the Tanforan racetrack stables, but I was in the San Francisco General Hospital because I had these earaches and I remember those horrible earaches, and I was in the hospital, they had a crib next to the bed. I was only four years old and I couldn't speak English and they had no bilingual staff in those days, so I was completely isolated. And so what, all I did was look out the window from the second story and between the buildings was a sidewalk and a bird bath, right below my window, so I would watch the birds come down and play in the bird bath. And one day I was looking outside and I saw my father, followed by these two hakujin men with black coats and hats, and then a few minutes later my father appeared at the door and the nurse brought my clothes to me, and I'll never forget, she brought my clothes like, like a waitress would bring food. And I jumped out of the crib, put my clothes on. I don't know who these men were, my father's, you know... we went downstairs, got in the back seat of this car. It was a green car with a white star on the door. The two men got in the front and we drove through San Francisco down to San Bruno. And to this day I've never been home, since I went from our home in Japantown to San Francisco General to Tanforan and subsequently to Topaz. So that was the first time. And I remember distinctly walking through this, there was this giant cyclone fence that was twenty feet high and there was a door cut in the middle on the bottom of it, and I went through the door with my father and we went into this office and they, they had my father sign papers and whatever, and then I went with my father down rows and rows and rows and rows of these buildings, these stables and whatever, and we walked down one, between two buildings and there was my mother and my sisters. And I still remember that, 'cause I missed them 'cause I was there for six weeks, couldn't speak the language.

And so consequently, because of that experience I have never been able to travel. I have never wanted to travel, because I've had this anxiety attack, even in high school, when we used to go to dances, and I remember we were in Stockton for a dance, the Stockton Buddhist church, and the sun was just going down, it was a summer day, and all of a sudden I got this terrible anxiety attack. I wanted to get home so badly, and, and it was because, a Jewish girlfriend of mine figured out, she said, "Toru, because of your going, leaving home, going to the hospital, then never returning back --" I've never been back to this day, to our home, and after the war they tore it down, so to me to travel is to come home and in my mind's eye every house on my block is there, but my house is just an empty lot. And I get these terrible anxiety attacks, so I have no desire to travel. Of the, well, there were five of us originally and then there was eight after my stepfather came, and everybody in my family's been around the world or to Japan and I'm the only one who has never had any desire to travel, never went to Japan, never care to go to Japan. I'm not, I just like to stick at home.

MN: And you said you were in the hospital for six weeks?

TS: Uh-huh.

MN: Did you have any idea what your family outside, what they were going through, that they had to go to Tanforan while you were in the hospital? Did you know all of this was going on?

TS: I knew nothing because there was no communication. We didn't have a telephone, and I don't know if I told you, but my mother remembers May 10th, Sunday, was Mothers' Day and my mother still remembers that on Mothers' Day she was put into Tanforan. So I knew nothing about this until I went with my father and these two men and checked in at Tanforan. That was, that was surreal, for a four year old kid. Because in Japantown it was like being in Japan; everything was Japanese. There were seldom, if ever, any hakujin there. They had no business in Japantown, never came there, no more than you see hakujins walkin' down Harlem. So for the first time, here we're surrounded by these barbed wire fences and all these hakujins with rifles keepin' us prisoners, so it was a rude awakening. It was a hell of a introduction to hakujins. I learned, even to this day, hakujins to me are the enemies 'cause that was my orientation to hakujin. Never seen 'em before, now they're surrounding us with guns and looking mean to us.

MN: When you go through this, the cyclone fencing and you go through these, all these buildings and you see your parents and, were they living in the horse stalls?

TS: Yeah.

MN: So how did you feel about all this, looking at them at a horse stall?

TS: Well, I was only four years old. I was four and a half 'cause my birthday's in December. This was June. I don't know, I guess as a kid you adapt to things, and I remember the, some of the older men were building a Japanese tea garden, a pond, and my brother and I would go to play there. It was a totally new environment, and there was no, there was no fear of being kidnapped or anything because we were all prisoners, so we were able to roam around. The only problem was it was so easy to get lost because the buildings were all identical, and we couldn't read numbers or signs or anything. But, yeah, I guess in retrospect it was, it was kind of a, it was traumatic, but I don't think it was, at that point, had the effects that I realize today. Yeah.

MN: And then earlier you said you didn't really speak any English, so once you went into the Tanforan Assembly Center, did the other kids that spoke English tease you?

TS: The other kids all spoke Japanese like we did. But I didn't have any friends, per se. We, we stuck to my sister Mae, my older sister, Akiko, and there's Akiko, Tomiko, Toru, Jiro, Benny. And my sister Mae was our surrogate mother, so she kinda kept us in line or kept us organized, whatever. So we were well managed. We weren't out doing whatever, and our world really kind of shrunk to our, our barrack. And I remember distinctly my sister Jane had a ball and she threw the ball and it went under the barrack, or one of the buildings, so I went crawling underneath there and it was the nails sticking out and I got this huge gash in my head. Blood was running down my face and my father came and grabbed me and they took me to the hospital and they did whatever. I remember that distinctly.

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

<Begin Segment 5>

MN: So what do you remember of other, how did you spend your time at Tanforan? You didn't start school yet at Tanforan?

TS: No. I didn't start the first grade until we went to Topaz, but in Tanforan there were, this is interesting you mention that, it was a horse track, racetrack for horses, and the bleachers where the betters sat, we would climb up those places and play up there, and I remember there was these piles of chocolate powder. Why it's up there I have no idea. So we used to lick our fingers and it was, it was powdered chocolate, and I remember going up there and doing that, 'cause we didn't have any money, we didn't have no candy, had nothing, and we played in the bleachers. We went to where the Japanese garden was being built. We went to eat at the mess hall, and the latrines were there and I remember, one of my clear memory is when we went to the bathroom, the washbasin was sheet metal. It was a trough and they had these hot and cold water, like a laundry spigot, right? So you're brushing your teeth and somebody upstream spits out all this toothpowder and it comes floatin' down, and I go, I remember seeing that and going, oh my god, you know. It was primitive. It was very primitive. And I remember that distinctly, thinking, oh my God, how, what a, what a horrible way to live. And I didn't know shit in those days; I was just a kid. But I remember that distinctly.

MN: What about, now you're in this public, you have to do all your private things, the bathroom and everything, in a very public arena, how did that make you feel?

TS: That's a good question. Because we had no father, well, my father always absent, and we had to go to the women's latrine with my mother or my older sister, Mae, 'cause, so we never went to the men's bathroom. And I remember later on some of the women were complaining to my mother they didn't want these boys in there, the women's latrine. But it was, it was a gradual orientation to prison life. Not that we realized we were in prison. We saw the guards behind the barbed wire fences and we were told to stay away, but I guess it didn't sink into little four year old kids. We were just trying to be kids, so we didn't realize, it wasn't 'til later that I learned the ramifications of what they did to us and that really pissed me, I'm still pissed off today, because I believe, I believe in fairness, if you're gonna, if you're gonna say you're gonna be true to me and say all that stuff and I find you cheatin' on me, you think I'm gonna sit there and say, "Oh my god, oh well, those things happened"? Fuck you. You don't lie to me and sit there with your, with your bare face hangin' out and expect me to say, oh well, I'll make excuses for you. Not me. That's bullshit, you know? So if you're gonna, if you're gonna have a constitution, why the hell didn't our government stand up for it? And so that's what to me really is a pain in the, pain in the ass to me today, to realize in retrospect how they screwed us and none of us knew any better to protest or rebel. We just went along with it because people were scared to death. And to take advantage of good citizens, you know, Japanese were good people. We obey the laws. I don't know if I told you, I worked in three county jails, Alameda County, Marin County, and the Napa County jail. Never had a Japanese male in jail. I had all different other kinds of people. Never a Japanese American in jail, because we obey the laws. We're good citizens. We're good people. We do good things. And we're treated like this? Hell of an insult. I cannot, I cannot for, in good conscience make excuses and say this bullshit. Well, it's shikata ga nai, can't be helped. Bullshit, it can't be helped. The people who did it didn't give a shit about us. I can't forget that kind of bullshit. I really can't. And to this day, I'll tell you that, tell you this, when I went to Topaz we had to say the pledge of allegiance to the flag, but since I left camp I cannot make, I cannot make myself say those words. They just can't come out. I feel like I'm tellin' a bold faced lie. "With liberty and justice for all," what a bunch of bullshit. And you're gonna make me say that and act like I believe it and it's coming from my heart? Can't do it.

MN: How did you feel saying that in Topaz?

TS: Well, in Topaz I was just a four year old kid. I went to first grade when I was five. We had to stand there and salute, say the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag, flag was hanging by the door. We didn't know what the hell we were saying. We just said what they told us to say, you know? But again, in retrospect, I feel like, my goodness. "With liberty and justice for all"? You know, if I, you look up the word "liberty" in the dictionary, it says freedom from oppression, freedom from control and blah blah blah, so "with liberty and justice for all"? I was born in San Francisco; I'm just as much a citizen as any other hakujin or whoever. And they pick us out, single us out and then they deny our constitutional rights and our civil rights, our human rights, and I'm gonna sit here and say, oh well, it can't be helped? Bullshit. I don't see how the hell people can say that, by the way, in good conscience, unless they just, they don't want to make waves, they just want to keep everything as quiet as can be. But you know something? I don't give a shit what people think of me. This is me, this is how I feel. I can't change my feelings. I can bullshit you and tell you, oh, it was la-di-da, but then I wouldn't be real. I'm trying to give you the real me. If you want the real Toru, that's what you're getting. If you want the phony Toru, find somebody else.

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

<Begin Segment 6>

MN: Now this, this feeling towards, let's just focus on the pledge, was it later in life, like after when the Civil Rights Movement started to come up, is that when you became more conscious of the injustice? When did you start having, start thinking about all those things about what happened in camp?

TS: Well, that's a good question. In, in high school and college you study the Constitution, you study U.S. history and you find out all these things about the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and everything, and then you start wondering, wait a minute, where the hell was the Constitution, where was the Bill of Rights and blah blah blah when we were put into camp? And even when the three or four people took it to the Supreme Court, the Supreme Court said, no, it's justified and, and umpteen years later they say, well, we made a mistake. Then when the Civil Rights Movement started, that's when I really became so enraged and angry and resentful. The thing that, like I said before, it's just two-faced bullshit. We want you to be good citizens and la dah dah, we'll respect your rights, but then when push comes to shove they make all these excuses, throw us in the camps and treat us the way they did. And if you know anything about psychology, you know that a child's first years of life are the building blocks of your sense of value of yourself as a human being, a sense of your own self esteem, etcetera. And when you're called a piece of shit and "a goddamn Jap that shouldn't be here," you should go someplace where you've never been, and you're put down because, and you're crucified and you're, you're put down for what you are, of Japanese ancestry, it breaks your heart. I tell ya, I grew up with a broken heart. I kept thinking, "Why the hell do we have to go through this shit?" And even to this day it's, you still hear it, you still see it. It hasn't changed. It's never gonna change. And when I hear people say, "Well, I'm doing this and saying this because I never want it to happen again," well, that's the biggest bunch of shit, you know, because it just happened in Guantanamo. It'll happen again and again. But at least, at least when we speak up about it people can know how it affects people, how it ruins your life or how it affects your life.

So whenever -- I told you I worked in a mental health clinic for twenty years and I've seen people who were the ones who didn't succeed, the ones who weren't the winners, and people went insane. People went insane because of this shit we went through. And it's sad, but you never see them. You never see them in front of a camera telling their story. They can't do it. They're so damaged psychologically, emotionally, socially, financially. And so whenever I go to a conference and I see all these people, these are the winners. These are the success stories. The losers who killed themselves, who went insane, you don't see them there. And that's the ones I always think about. I think, my god. There's a million tears out there that nobody will ever see, they'll never acknowledge them, they'll never hear about it, but to me, those were innocent people and I, my heart goes out to them.

MN: Toru, you're able to vocalize all this now. Now, growing up, I imagine you internalized a lot of this, and how did you deal with internalizing all of this anger? Did you always feel there was something wrong with you, or how did you grow up before you started to vocalize all this?

TS: That's a good question, because when, when we left Tanforan to Topaz, my mother divorced my father, so when we got to, at Topaz I grew up without a father. And my stepfather came into our life and he always told us from day one, "I'm not your father. You're not my son." So I grew up without a father, all my life. And, but when I saw Japanese men who had character, who had integrity, and had love for their children, like some of my buddies' fathers, I used to always say to myself, jeez, I wish I had a father like that. I really hurt me not to grow up like, it really hurt me to grow up without a father, without a good, a role model, without being validated and supported and loved and etcetera. But from all that anger, and from all that hurt comes the anger and I just, I've been in therapy for a long, long time and it's done a lot of good for me, but at the same time, when you have broken heart it doesn't go away. It's, it becomes a part of you.

And I heard somebody just at a bar, I went to the bar, when I was in Toronto went to a bar -- I was attending this Canadian thing, Canadian thing, the Canadians, what they went through -- and I went to the bar and I was talking to the bartender. He said, "What are you doing here?" And I told him, and he said, "Why can't they get over it? Why can't they move on from it?" I said, "It's easy for you to say, but when somebody's life's been ruined, you're gonna tell them get over it, put it behind you?" I mean, that's a cheap shot, you know? And I told him, I was a therapist and I had this young lady that came in and I always said, "Why are you here?" And she said, "I'm here because I can't remember anything from the age of eight 'til I was fifteen. I remember everything in my life, the Christmases, the birthdays and whatever, but from the age of eight to the age of fifteen, I can't, my mind's a blank." And I thought, well, that's not, how serious is that? But it bothered her, so after many sessions it dawned on her that she was molested from the age of eight to the age of fifteen, and so she blocked those years out. And I could really feel for her, that this was her first introduction to sex. So you're gonna tell a person like that, "Get over it. Put it behind you"? Well hell, that's easy for you to say. What about this young lady whose life was practically ruined? Hopefully she's doing okay today, but I, I know damn well that you don't, like me, when your orientation to hakujin are the guys with the mean face with the goddamn rifle lookin' down at me and callin' me a "fuckin' Jap." Shit. You think I'm gonna -- I have a lot of hakujin friends, that's true. But when I see these other hakujins that are insensitive to Japanese ways and culture and me as a person, I think those are the... hakujins are the enemies for me, until they prove themselves. [Laughs]

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

<Begin Segment 7>

MN: Well, let's go back to Tanforan. I want to ask you some mundane questions, like do you remember the food at Tanforan?

TS: You know, I can't. I can't remember a thing we ate in camp. That's something I must've suppressed or repressed. I cannot remember a thing we ate, except in Topaz I remember. But, but I remember there was a time, too, though -- and I don't know what we ate, I think we ate spinach -- and everybody had a sore tongue. Everybody's tongue was so sore from eating that spinach. What was in the spinach I don't know, but I remember everybody walking around with a sore tongue. But other than that I have no idea what the menu was in the, in the mess halls of Tanforan. We were only there for, since, well I was there from June to September and then we went to Topaz.

MN: And your earache was cured?

TS: No. No, I had chronic earaches until, jeez... that's a good question. I still have earaches if I'm in, exposed to extreme cold, but other than that it's not bothered me. Back in those days they used to do these, they used to call 'em ear mastoids. They would have to chisel through the bone behind your ear, 'cause I have a Japanese friend who had that. He has this horrible scar because they didn't have antibiotics in those days. To get to the inner ear infection they had to cut -- well, luckily for me, they didn't, they decided, maybe they thought, "Who's gonna waste money on this Jap kid?" But to my, to my advantage they never did it. I'm happy for it.

MN: So did you end up in a hospital a lot at Tanforan or Topaz because of your ear?

TS: No. I was never hospitalized after San Francisco General.

MN: Now, when you rode the train to get to Topaz, was this your first train ride?

TS: Absolutely.

MN: How did you feel about getting on the train? Was it exciting or was it scary?

TS: It was scary, and I remember so clearly my mother made a bunch of nigiri and put it in this cardboard box, you know, like you get at a Macy's or something, and there were all these nigiris in there with wax paper and we ate those. And, and I remember being in the train and the shades were drawn. Had never ridden the train before, and there was a guard at one end, each end of the train with a rifle. We were scared shitless. I mean, what the hell's going on? But I guess it was an adventure, but I sure didn't see it as, when I just, and the thing that really gets me is I remember my mother's face. As a kid you always look up at your mother, right? Looked at my mother's face and she had this worried look on her face that said, "Don't ask me any questions 'cause I don't know what the hell's going on either." So I suffered because I didn't know, my mother didn't know. They never told us where we're going, made us pull the shades down in the train so we couldn't look out. And after three or four days they tell us to get off the train and we get on the buses, school, old school bus, and they take us out to Topaz.

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

<Begin Segment 8>

MN: What was your first impression of Topaz?

TS: Hmm. That's a good question. I guess, I guess it was our, our Block 4, Building 10, Apartment, we got Apartment C and D. It, it went A to F, A and F. The buildings were a hundred and twenty feet long and they were twenty feet wide. Apartment A and F were the smallest slice, so they were twenty by sixteen. Apartment B and Apartment E took that extra four feet, so they were twenty feet by twenty-four feet. Apartment C and D were twenty feet by twenty feet. They gave us two apartments because we were a big family. And originally we were in Block 36, which was the southern eastern, southern western corner, and then they moved us to Block 4 because my two sisters came down with a bad case of asthma. They put us right across from the hospital, in case my sisters had to go. And I don't remember my sisters going to the hospital, but they really suffered from asthma. So to answer your question, I guess I remember the mess hall and the latrine. I remember going to the latrine with my mother and sister until the women got pissed and said, "We don't want these little Japanese boys in the thing lookin' at us." I didn't know what the hell I was lookin' at, anyway. I was just a four year old kid. But then we were relegated to the men's side, so we went to the men's side on our own, 'cause we didn't have a father.

MN: And then you said you started the first grade at Topaz.

TS: Right.

MN: What was it like starting school?

TS: Well, I went to, Topaz had two grammar schools, one, Mountain View, which faced Topaz Mountain, and on the other side of the camp there was Desert View. And I went to Mountain View. I remember drawing, this is interesting, I remember drawing, we all did this, we all drew, with a lot of care and pain, we drew this beautiful Mustang airplane. And I remember with a lot of care we drew this Mustang airplane and then we drew these little triangle airplanes with Japanese soldiers, pilots with the little slant eyes, with the little round circles, and then this Japanese, I mean, this Mustang airplane shooting down these little Japanese airplanes. Where the hell I got that I'll never know. Here I am siding with the United States Air Force against the Japanese. I remember doing that all the time in grammar school, and I, like I said before, I didn't, I didn't know a word of English until I went to school.

And I met my, I met my first grade teacher who, I met at a pilgrimage to Topaz, and she said, "You're Toru Saito? I was your first grade teacher." And I thought she was some, some woman with Alzheimer's that she, she, but she said, "I remember you for two reasons, Toru. Number one reason, you won the first place prize in a fire prevention art contest." And when she said that, I just said, wow, this woman knows what she's talkin' about. I remember distinctly I won first prize in a fire prevention art contest. I drew a picture of our stove with the lid open and the flames licking out, and we had a rope hanging, a clothes line hanging out when the, and the clothes ready to catch fire. And she remembered that picture. I was, I was blown away. Flabbergasted. And then she said, "There's something else I remember you, but I don't want to tell you in front of all these people," so later on she told me she was a seventeen year old high school girl, but she was so bright they made her a teacher, and she said, "Toru, when, the other thing I remember about you, Toru, you never smiled once in first grade, the whole year." And of course I don't remember that. And so she said she went to the administration and said, "This boy's family or his home life should be looked into," but, you know, these Japanese, they don't want to pry into whatever home.

Well, I was living with my stepfather. My stepfather came to live and he was a brutal, sadistic man. He used to beat the shit outta me. No wonder I was unhappy. He did some horrible, horrible, cruel things. In fact, my psychologist, who was a child psychologist in Patton State Hospital, Kaiser, blah blah blah, he told me, he said he had never heard of or read of a case where a stepfather or a father was more brutal and sadistic than my stepfather was. So I hold some kind of record, not that I'm proud of it, but I grew up a very unhappy kid. I mean, I contemplated suicide all my goddamn life. Life was so horrible for me. We got shit when we went outside. We were the dirty Japs, right? Come in the house, my stepfather made life miserable. So maybe that explains some of the anger I have. I was a Christian back then. Used to pray to God every goddamn night. You know, God, there's a passage in the Bible, "Ask and ye shall receive that thy joy might be full." I used to ask God every night, "Can you make it a little bit easier on me, God? Just a little bit of compassion, a little bit of love or some damn thing?" Zero. So I figured, well, I guess God was too goddamn busy for me, huh? And I always used to think, 'cause in the Bible they talk about long suffering. Blessed are those who have long suffering, who are meek and blah blah blah. I think it's funny, you don't see no hakujins suffering like we did. How many hakujins are asked to leave a place because we don't any hakujins in here, you know? Everybody kisses hakujins' ass because they're hakujin, but we're just something lesser than, and I resent the hell out of that, 'cause I know I'm, I know goddamn well in my heart I'm just as, if not better than them because we come from a better culture. We used to, we were living in luxury compared to some of these people living in goddamn caves. So I resent that bullshit.

MN: Well you, you mentioned your stepfather and, you know, getting abused at home, and then after going out of camp you were also harassed by the children. How did you survive all of this? You're, you're getting abuse from all ends.

TS: Well, that's a good question and I think the answer is you internalize it, which is kinda the worst thing you can do. There was no, there was no therapists available, so you just, I guess what I did was I internalized it and felt, well, I guess it's my fault. I must've done something bad to live a life like this. When I see people around me that are, the people that, the Japanese people around me, my classmates were little bit better off than I was, 'cause at least their father gave a damn about them. But I guess I internalized it and I felt maybe, who knows, maybe I did something bad and I need to be punished like this. But I could never understand it. I never did anything... I believe a kid who is naughty, who does something to hurt people should be punished, but to get your head caved in because, "I'm not your father and you're not my son and you're living under my roof," I mean, that's not justification. Well, that's how I had to grow up that way. And you don't think I'm resentful? I am. Why should other people have it so easy and I have it so bad? What the hell did I do? It's painful to think about those old days.

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

<Begin Segment 9>

MN: Let me ask you a little bit more about Topaz. There's these marbles that you brought back from Topaz.

TS: Right.

MN: You bury them over there when you were a child. Can you share with us about these marbles?

TS: Yeah. I went back to Topaz in 1989, in July 5th, we missed July 4th by one day. I went back with my, my friend Paul Takagi, and we went there and I was so excited. I wanted to go back to camp many times, but because of my vision I couldn't drive long distance anymore, and so when Paul said he'll take me to Topaz if I went to Canada with him I said hell yes. So we got there July 5th, went out there. It was the middle of the summer. It was so goddamn hot out there. Paul got into the truck, turned on, he had a pickup truck with a camper, he turned on the air conditioning and said, "If you want to look around go ahead." I was so excited. I wanted to find Block 4, Building 10, da da da, so I tried to find Block 1 and I couldn't. So I knew, I'll go to Block 7 and go backwards. Block 7 was distinct. Seven, six, five, four, when I got to Block 4 I found the, the mess hall, the latrine, the wash house, then I knew about where Block, or Building 10 was. I was walking down. The buildings were all gone, but the, the imprints of the buildings are still there. And in our block our front porch is still there. Except for the top. The frame of porch is still there. Block 4, Barrack 10, Apartment A and B, C and D, and as I walk back past Apartment A and B, I saw these bricks, these red bricks that Mr. Takahashi put in front of his porch. And I saw them and it came back to me instantly. I remember that. I remember that. So I went over to Apartments C and D and I looked at the, the framework of our porch. Then I saw where our, the front porch and our building used to intersect, and there was a pile of stones that I collected, and that brought back another memory. I said, jeez, I remember those stones. But if you would've asked me, "If you, if you went back to Barrack 10, would you..." No, but as soon as I saw it it brought back this memory. So I was standing in front of this, our front porch and I wanted to do some investigating or some digging around and some searching, but I thought, I shouldn't do this because my, this is also my, my brothers' and sisters' place and I don't want to disturb it doing any, doing any archaeological diggings and whatever, so I didn't do anything.

But I came back in 1995, which was exactly fifty years from the time we left, and I was standing at the front porch again and something told me to dig at the lower right hand corner. So I took a stone and I broke the surface of the -- desert floor was as hard as a rock -- I broke the surface, then after that it was like beach sand. I dug down about, I don't know, about eight, ten inches and there were twenty-eight marbles all nestled together that I had put from the side of the porch as my hiding place. And through the years the dust had covered it all up, but I couldn't believe my eyes. People ask me, did you remember? No, I don't remember putting those marbles, but when I found them I remembered. They were my marbles. I picked them up and I brought them back, and they're, because in Topaz there were no slides, there were no swings, there was no playground apparatus for children, so we had to make our own fun. And the only toys we had was marbles. Every kid played marbles, and we did. So that's been kind of a treasure from the past for me. I still have 'em at home. I show people and they, they can't believe it. But it's true.

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

<Begin Segment 10>

MN: Now, this '89 trip with Paul Takagi, was that the first time you returned to Topaz from, after the war?

TS: Correct.

MN: And you were really excited to go back there?

TS: I was dying to see Topaz. I have so many memories of Topaz and I, I talk to people who are older than I am and they have, they don't remember we, every block had a block manager. I remember our block manager, Mr. Takahashi. I used to go to his office. I remember some, Mr. Ogi, who lived in Block 4 -- we lived on the east side of the, the mess hall and the latrines -- on the west side was where Mr. Ogi lived. He drove a water tank truck and it was a small one. It was, had an oval shaped tank, and we would help him fill up the tank with the garden hose from the latrine. And after the tank was filled his job was to water the pigs at the pig farm, so he would sneak me under the seat, go through the main guard and take a right and then take a left and go to the pig farm, and he'd always give me his, his bagged lunch made by the mess hall staff and it was always egg salad sandwich. And so to this day I still love egg salad sandwiches. And I had a lot of fun as a kid, other than gettin' my head beat in by my stepfather. So those were my escapes, I guess. Those were some good days. I had fun.

I don't know if I told you this, but I hung around with Arthur Sugiyama and this other guy named Bobby, and I was the youngest of the three. And after a while the guards were not in the guard towers during the day, so we climbed through the barbed wire fence and climbed up this two by four ladder, straight up into the guard tower. So we climbed up there and Arthur told me, there was a telephone in the corner, and he told me to pick up the telephone and swear at the MPs at the other end. So I just knew a few choice words, shit, goddamn, that's about all I knew. And then there would be a jeep coming in a cloud of dust, 'cause we were in the middle between the north and the south borders. There was a guard tower at each corner and then in between. We were in the one in between, and we see this Jeep in a cloud of dust and we would scamper down the stairs, climb through the barbed wire fence and run like hell. And I never got caught. We did this two times that I remember distinctly. If my mother would've found out about it she would've beat my ass like you won't believe, but thank god we got away with it. It was my way of saying screw you. But we had a lot of adventures like that. We made our own fun. We had to. Nobody provided us with anything. It was either our own imagination or nothing.

MN: Now, that's towards the end of the war, when there was no guards up there.

TS: They weren't, they weren't in there during the day. They might've been there in the evening, but not during the day.

MN: Now, early on, Mr. Wakasa was killed by a sentry from one of the guard towers.

TS: That very same guard tower, I found out later. Yeah.

MN: It was the one that you crawled up, you --

TS: Yeah. When I heard that I go, oh my god, thank god I didn't get shot. But who knows? They might have shot a kid. I was only four, five years old.

MN: Did you, so you didn't witness him getting shot at?

TS: No.

MN: Did you hear about that?

TS: Oh, I heard about it, 'cause it was, there was a, almost a humongous riot happening because of that. But of course it scared the hell out of people, this guy got shot in the back. So, and that was for walking along the fence. He wasn't trying to go through. We went through the fence as kids during the day, but nobody gave a damn about us. But they, if they saw us, where could we go? We had no water. We had nothing.

MN: So when you heard this news, though, how did you feel that this man was shot?

TS: It scared the, it scared the hell out of me. My mother made sure I, we knew about it 'cause she didn't want us to be shot. But that was 1943, April 11th, if I remember correctly, but I was still, I was just, had turned five in '42, so '43 I was five, five and four months old, so what did I know? And my mother had so many, so many things that, to worry about, but in those days, you're in a prison camp. You ain't going nowhere, so nobody's gonna ask you, where the hell were you, blah blah blah, you know? Kids did what they want to do, and I know we did.

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

<Begin Segment 11>

MN: What other memories do you have of Topaz?

TS: I remember, when I went back in '89 I found our barrack, I found the latrines and the wash house and the mess hall, and I said, I remember distinctly there was a day in the summer when the, a bunch of men, Japanese men in a flat bed truck brought our one and only tree to Block 4, and it was planted right next to the, the northwest corner of our mess hall. And I was standing there and I said, Jesus criminy, there was a tree, we had a tree, right? And there it was, lying on its side, long dead with the branches hanging down, and it looked so sad and it looked so lonely. It died a lonely death after we had gone. And it's still there. But, and camp was so hard. I remember, as a kid, going into our barrack one time in the summer, it was so goddamn hot I had to run out of there. It was unbearable. Can you imagine wearing black in the summer in the desert? And if you ever look at pictures of the barracks, there were no eaves, the eaves of the roof. It was the minimum, maybe twelve inches, so when the sun was directly overhead there was no, there was no shade. And that one tree, I'm sure two hundred fifty people couldn't get under that little tree, so life was hard. And in the winter time it was so goddamn cold. It was thirty degrees below zero, and we didn't have the kind of clothes we have today. We didn't have, we didn't know we were gonna go to a desert. It's, it's unconscionable what they did to us. But somehow we survived. But I have a lot of scars inside, you know. Doesn't show on the outside, but I have a lot of scars inside. When you, when you grow up like that, hating yourself for being Japanese, it's not a pretty picture. If you have children you want to teach them that you're, they're loved, they're validated, they're supported, and you're valuable, you have skills and talents and creativity. When you get the exact opposite at home and then you get this bullshit from the government, what the, can you imagine?

I don't know if I told you this story. When I was in therapy I was, this was in the early '60s, and after each session my, the psychologist, Dr. Abraham, would have a yellow manila folder and he's, he would be writing some notes, and I was wondering, "Doctor, what are you writing?" And he said, "I'm writing, 'Toru is fucked up.'" And for the first time I felt good when somebody said, "Toru is fucked up," because he knew, right then I knew that this guy knows what the hell he's talkin' about. If he would've told me, "You're okay," I would've said, "You're full of shit." I was fucked up and I grew up that way. And, but thanks god, I tell you, thank god that Dr. Abraham, he taught me something in therapy -- he's still my therapist -- and the thing that he taught me was, no matter what the world does to you, and no matter what the people say about you, it doesn't make you one iota a lesser person. But when we were growing up, you were only what, your value was what other people said about you. If they said you were good, you're good. If they said you're a piece of shit, you're a piece of shit. But to get all that shit out of your head and say, hey, I define what the hell I am. I define my value as a human being, my skills, my talents, my integrity, etcetera, my faithfulness, my... faithfulness. But it's one thing to know something in your head, but to feel the feeling in your heart is a, two different things. And that's been my lifelong struggle, is to know in my heart, feel in my heart what I know in my head. So I learned a long time ago, the first half of your life you learn all this bullshit. The second half of your life you try to get over the, try to forget it and to learn the real stuff, that you're only as good as you say you are. I can't control what my wife says about me, and sometimes it ain't very nice. But at least I can, I have control of what I think of myself. I've lived a life where I was tormented inside the house and outside, and I told you, I came close to killing myself a million times and I'm so happy I didn't do it 'cause I have a lot to live for. But I have a lot of pain and a lot of bullshit, too.

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

<Begin Segment 12>

MN: Well, Toru, you're, you're unusual in the sense that you're very open about being abused at a child at home. Japanese American families don't really talk about that publicly.

TS: Right.

MN: Do you think there was a lot more of that going on in camp and outside after?

TS: Well, as an, as an adult, when I worked at the clinic I learned that among Asians there's a lot of wife beating going on, but of course they don't advertise that. I always thought I was the only one until I found out there are other, I heard of one case where this guy told me his father never spoke to him, never. Never spoke, never acknowledged him and it screwed him up. And I said, well, that's sad, but... and I was happy, I was kinda relieved in some ways to know that I'm not the only one that, but I never heard of a case where somebody was livin' like I had to live. Life was so painful. I just kept saying I'd rather kill myself. This life, this life is too hard to live every day. There was no, there was never any promise of anything changing in the future. It was really bleak. And I, thinking back on it, I don't, I don't know how the hell I survived lots of times. It would've been easier to just kill myself. I had it all planned out. I would dive out of our second story building headfirst. I said that surely would kill me. Or I would dive in front of those four wheels, those four wheels on the right side of a semi truck. There was a, there was, one, two buildings from our building in Richmond was San Pablo Avenue, and there was a corner where I would go there and hang on this pole that said San Pablo Avenue, Fall Avenue and I would just cry my eyes out 'cause my stepfather'd just beat the shit out of me. And I used to always think, this big truck would stop at the stop sign and then those four tires were right there, and I used to always say when the light turns green and that car, truck starts, if I dove in front of those two tires, four tires, I'd be deader than shit. And I thought about it and thought about it, but for some reason I never did it. I don't know. I really don't know why I didn't do it, but I'm glad I didn't.

I've had, as an adult I met, I have lots of good friends. It's been the celebration of my life. I have, today, I have amazing friends who are, these, these friends of mine are, are, today, this morning my friend I used to work with, psychiatrist friend of mine, came over to have, to have coffee with me. And he's been doing this for the last three or four weeks. Every Wednesday, he said, "Toru, I'm gonna come over and help you in your garden. I'm gonna hang out with you. We'll have coffee. We'll chat." And then he'll leave. And, and I have so many friends who are really, really accomplished friends and I really admire them. I look up to them and I, I wonder all the time, what in the hell are they doing with me? [Laughs] What do I have that would attract these people that are highly competent, successful in their field, they're super bright, loving, beautiful people. So I don't know. It's a big mystery to me.

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

<Begin Segment 13>

MN: Well, let me take you back to Topaz, okay?

TS: Sure.

MN: When there was talks that they were gonna close the camps and you were gonna be leaving camp, how did you feel about leaving this camp life?

TS: I, you know what, first of all, there was no preconceived plans. We didn't know where the hell we were gonna go. We didn't know where the hell they were gonna send us. But I remember the night before Mama said, "We're gonna leave in the morning. We're gonna get up real early." We got up at two o'clock in the morning. We had all our stuff packed, what we were gonna carry. And it was, I guess in retrospect now it was really kinda traumatic, 'cause we didn't know where we were going. Were we gonna go back to Japantown, San Francisco? We had no idea. And I remember my mother was pregnant with, with my sister Haruko. And we got up in the morning, we got dressed, and we, we had to go behind the men's latrine where the, this old school bus came to pick us up, and it was my mother, my stepfather, and the five of us and my brother Hajime, who was born in Topaz. So we walked out of the door down the gravel walkway, we made a left turn, and we all turned around, we faced our building, and I remember my stepfather said, "Goodbye, house." And we all bowed to that house, barrack. We turned around and we got on this bus, and the bus took us to a train and we, it was the only train in town. There was only one track that came through Delta, so we were on that train until we got to San Francisco, and we lived in Hunter's Point. So looking back on it, it was very traumatic because my mother didn't know what the hell was gonna happen to us. We didn't know. It was, it was like a blind date. You didn't know what you were gonna get.

MN: Now, why didn't the family go back to San Francisco's Japantown?

TS: Well, that was our home, except after we left, it was Japantown, there was Chinatown across, over the hill, next to Japantown was the Fillmore where, where the blacks had to leave, live, and when Japantown was vacated the hakujins didn't want to live where we lived, so the only people who could, who would live there were the, the blacks that were brought up from the South to work in the shipyard. Housing was at a shortage then, so they, they occupied Japantown. Well, when we came out of the camps the blacks couldn't move because the hakujins didn't want blacks living next to them, so these blacks had no place to live. So the government said, "We're stuck with these Japanese," so they put us into Hunter's Point, which was a shipyard. It was a federal housing shipyard, so they put us in there for about nine months. Yeah. Almost a year, as I recall. And, but it was, that was dormitory living. There was a parlor where everybody congregated. There was a men and women's bathroom. There was a laundry facility behind that, and there were two wings that went out, and each wing had rooms that had two single beds and a dresser. So you have a family of five, six kids now, almost eight, and you have mother and father in one room, or two brothers and sister in each room. I mean, that's a hell of a way to live. And across the street was where the cafeteria was. So the government moved us to Richmond, California, and we lived in these, that was wall to wall federal housing project, these cheap buildings that housed sixteen families per. And what the government did, it was, it was segregated. The blacks lived in the middle and the hakujins lived around them. The government cleared out one side of the street from the, from the blacks, put us there facing the blacks, and then over here on Victor and Gordon, the same situation.

So we grew up, the blacks were from the South and they were sympathetic for, they weren't about to discriminate us, 'cause they were discriminated on and shit on in the South. But behind us, these uneducated, working class, ignorant rednecks, they kicked our ass every goddamn day. They spit on us, they called us dirty names. "Fuckin' Jap" was the cleanest thing they ever called us. And I'll never forget this, we could only play with other kids 'cause we would never be caught alone because those kids would, it was a game for those hakujin kids. They would surround us, surround us and throw rocks at us, spit us, spit on us and beat the shit out of us. And I remember one day, for one reason, I can't explain the reason, but I was out there by myself playing in the sandbox and I made my little castle, and all of a sudden, I was on my hands and knees, and all of a sudden there were these two huge shoes stepping on my castle. And I looked up and it was about a nineteen, twenty year old redneck guy, and I go, oh shit. I'm on my hands and knees; he's gonna kick the shit outta me. I couldn't get away. I was on my hands and knees. So I looked up to him, he looked down at me, and he said, "Do you have any sisters?" "Yeah," I said, "Yes, I have two sisters." And he goes, "I wanna fuck your sisters." And it broke my, it just, even today I feel this, Jesus Christ, it's like a dagger through my heart. So I went, he didn't do nothin' else to me. I went home, I was cryin' and went home. Mother said, my mother said, "What happened?" I said, I couldn't tell my mother that. But I remember that, to them we were just like shit. We were like something for them to play with. And it's just so demeaning, to me as a human being, that these fuckin' low son of a bitches are gonna look at me and say, "You have any brothers or sisters? I'm gonna fuck your sister." What the fuck am I? What are we as a people? Something to satisfy these low motherfuckers because they want to have sex? Come on. What the hell would happen if I said, "Yeah, but then you have any white girls that I can fuck?" He would've killed me. It's just like the South. You know, they, hakujins have sex with their slaves and that's where the word "motherfucker" comes from, but it never is the other way around, because we're the, we're the inferior people. So they can look down their nose at us and our women are something for them to play around with and say, "Get the fuck outta here. I've had my fun." They don't value you as a human being. They don't look at you as a person that has feelings and emotion. I mean, that's, if that's not insulting.

And that's why, to this day, when I see hakujin, these Asian women with hakujin guys I go, oh my God. It brings back those memories. And I go, oh my God, I hope to hell this same shit ain't happening, you know? 'Cause I heard so many stories. I'm, so many stories with these hakujin, these Asian girls, "Oh, some white guy asked me out. Sure I'm gonna go out with him." He may look like shit. He may be a piece of shit, but he's white. So when they, she goes out with him and she gets "screwed, blued, and tic tac twoed" and kicked out the door and said, "I don't need it, I don't need you anymore. I've had enough of you." And they're resentful as hell, and I say to myself, hey, I could've told you that shit before. I could've told you that shit before. So as, as many hakujin girlfriends I had, I told every one of 'em, "Never marry a hakujin." Because if I'm married to a hakujin and one day she gets pissed off and calls me a motherfuckin' Jap, that would, that would kill me. I couldn't face her anymore. I couldn't face anybody who says "I love you, I'll be with you for the rest of my life," and when they get mad I'm a "fuckin' Jap?" No, thank you. Besides, the way I look at it, if I can't find an Asian woman to marry me, am I that much of a goddamn loser? Come on. I'm better than that. If I can't find an Asian woman to marry me there's something the hell wrong with me. That's how I look at it.

MN: But wouldn't you say camp sorta screwed up the psychology of, you know, what you're talking about is the status symbol to go out with a white person?

TS: Of course. We were the goddamn, we were the, we were like the pigs in the pig pen, and then the hakujins were the ones who were the farmers and they, they decided when you're gonna live and when you're gonna die, what they feed you, what they don't. We were the pigs. We were the animals. And shit, I can't go along with that kind of thinking. I mean, what the hell, I couldn't face myself in the goddamn mirror if I said, yeah, we're pieces of shit. Shit all over me. Fuck you. Not, you're not doin' that shit to me. No way. I've been through that shit and I ain't takin' it anymore, 'cause I know in my heart I'm better than that. I deserve the good stuff. I deserve the good stuff. I deserve nothing but the good stuff. I wouldn't settle for nothing less.

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

<Begin Segment 14>

MN: Let me ask you a little bit about school, 'cause I know your sister, oldest sister Mae, had problems in school because she was going to school in camp and, and then school outside was so much different. Did you have that same sort of trauma of getting adjusted to school outside of camp?

TS: Oh, of course. And like I said before, I used to dread the first day of school, when the teacher couldn't say my name and every, I was the, the brunt of all these jokes for these hakujin kids. These kids, they were raised in the, in Richmond and Berkeley, and so they were privy to how their parents felt about Japanese. In fact, when I was graduating from El Cerrito High School, 1956, I was the only guy that had the balls to ask three hakujin girls for a date to go to the senior prom. The first two girls said, "Oh, I'd love to go," because they were juniors. Then I would get a phone call and say, "I'm sorry, Toru, but I can't go, go to the senior prom with you." And I said, "Why?" Said, "My parents asked me who I was going out with and they said, 'You're not going to no ball, going to a dance with no Jap.'" And that broke my heart. I felt like it was a dagger in my heart. What, I didn't, what did I do? Didn't do a damn thing. I was just a, I was just unacceptable.

So it's, it was really tough going through, when I graduated from high school, all my buddies, Japanese friends, none of us had ever been to a party. None of us had ever been to a junior high school or a high school sock hop. We never danced with a girl. We never went to parties. We were just social outcasts. And in fact -- and I was just thinking about this recently -- when, when lunch period came I ate lunch with my friend Mabo and Yosh and I, maybe a third guy, a fourth guy, but I remember the three of us, we ate lunch together at our own table outside. The hakujins ate in the cafeteria. The blacks ate in the student union. We ate lunch, the three of us, all alone, outside in the, in the middle of the, in the area because we were just, we were just not worthy of taking space with the other people. And if we had gone to the cafeteria, tried to find a seat, the hakujin would give us this dirty look and say, "What the hell you Japs doin' in here? Get the hell outta here." So it was clear where the lines were, and it's pretty shitty to grow up when, when in your heart you know you're just as equal as anybody else. If you get the same grades, if you do well in tests and whatever, but when it comes to interpersonal relationships, can't go out with you, can't socialize with you. You can be buddies in school with the hakujin boys, but soon as school was over, "You go that way, I go this way."

In fact, my, one of my best friends in high school was this Portuguese guy, Michael, and he was a good looking guy, and he had a crush on this, there were these two Janets, Janet Wagner and Janet Schultz, and Mike had a crush on Janet Wagner, who was this blonde cheerleader, and I had this crush on Janet Schultz, who was a brunette girl. Mike Souza. And so we would walk down the hall and Mike would say, "Hey, Toru, here comes the two Janets." So we, Mike would stop and we're talking. The three of them would talk about, "Oh, are you gonna go to Marlene's party?" "Yeah, I'm going." And dah dah dah, they're talking about, "Oh, I'm gonna dah dah dah. My father's gonna take me. Blah blah blah." And I'm standing there. I'm a nonentity. I'm not invited. I'm a nonentity. It's like, "Shit, what, you mean you want me to invite your goddamn dog to the party? We don't want dogs at the party." And I remember standing there and thinking, Jesus Christ, it was like a dagger in my heart. I just, what the hell? I'm not a human being? Mike and I were good friends. We went, did PE together. I was one of the decathlon champions in El Cerrito High School. I was no fuckin' slouch. But in PE and school we were competing, were competitors. After school, you go that way, I go this way. "Hey, see you next Monday, Toru." That was it.

It was a shitty way to grow up. Why? Because my ancestors came from Japan, and it was so, it was so out of fashion to be Japanese in those days. And then, and in those days, too, anything from Japan was a piece of shit. There was these cheap cars, if you turned the cars upside down it said Coca Cola. They would send their scrap metal to Japan, they would take these pieces of printed material and turn 'em upside down and paint this yellow car or blue car, put two cheap little wheels on it. And to be Japanese, being from Japan was something to be ashamed of and the kids made fun of us. Said, "Hey look, this piece of shit comes from Japan." And I was embarrassed. What the hell did I have to do with what Japan sends over here? It was after the war. So man, that was the double whammy, you know? We got blamed for any, we got blamed for bombing Pearl Harbor. "You killed my uncle. You killed my father in Iwo Jima." Goddamn. What a way to grow up. Until recently, now, hey, they're serving sushi in, at high school. Everybody watches Japanese television, everybody drives a Japanese car. We all answer a Japanese telephone. We have Japanese computers. And Japanese philosophy, Japanese culture, Japanese everything is highly valued and admired. It wasn't, it was opposite in those days. And now it's fashionable to Japan, Japanese. People come up to me sometimes, say, "Hey, I'm looking for a good sushi bar." Feel like sayin', "Fuck you. Find your own goddamn sushi bar." But I don't. I just think, shit, I remember the days when people would look cross eyed at you, except just look at and say, "Wish to hell you didn't exist." Hey, I can't, I can't forget the bullshit. I really can't. and I'd be lying through my fuckin' teeth if I were sittin' here today and say, "Oh, you know, oh, we made the best of it." Shit, we had to do what I, we had to do, we did what the hell we had to do to survive, you know? But we ate a lot of shit doin' it, you know what I mean? And I don't, I don't like it. It's so demeaning to me as a human being when I know goddamn well I deserve nothing but the best. But in those days, that was not even in the equation. It's either eat shit, take shit or get the shit knocked outta you.

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

<Begin Segment 15>

MN: Tell me about music. You are really well known at Tule Lake for being the opening act and singing. You love music. I always see you with a guitar. When did your love of music start?

TS: That's a good question. Thinkin' about that, when I was gettin' my head beat in, I used to walk to that pole at the end of Fall Avenue and San Pablo Avenue, I was all by myself. When, when you're all alone and there's, even my mother wasn't very sympathetic or supportive or validating of me -- well, maybe she did, but other times not -- to me, a song sometimes is your best friend. You can sing a song that's beautiful. You can sing a song that's sad. And music period can be therapeutic. It's a way of expressing your sorrow. I don't like the blues. A lot of people like the blues. I don't like the blues. It's too depressing to me. "My wife left me, my girlfriend ran out with some other guy." Shit, I don't need to sing that kind of crap. I like those beautiful songs from the '40s and the '30s when people really crafted the songs. They, they knew the language and they wrote beautiful songs. I like people like Frank Loesser, Johnny Mercer, Cole Porter, all those great... well, I don't know if you know of names like, you've heard of Burt Bacharach, but Hal David, his, the guy who wrote the lyrics, he wrote beautiful lyrics. Hal David wrote many, many beautiful songs. And when I sing those songs sometimes I get all choked up because it brings back memories. It brings back sad times. It brings back good times. It brings back time of healing, it brings back time of you're your own self. Therapy, you know? So music, they say music is the lubricant of life and I believe it. It sure has been a salvation to me. Sometimes when you're all alone, all you have is a song sometimes. And one of my songs that I like is "With a Song in My Heart." And, and I was never without a song in my heart, to be honest with you. And so I guess music's -- lyrics, songs -- were one friend that never betrayed me. And to these days, to this day, I, I value those songs. They were part of my, what kept me together maybe.

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

<Begin Segment 16>

MN: Toru, tell me about your bus. In Northern California you're the Toru Pilgrimage Bus to Topaz, very well known. When did you start organizing these pilgrimages, and why did you think it was important to organize the pilgrimage back to Topaz?

TS: That's a good question. I went on a excursion to Yosemite, and it was for the elderly, senior citizens, and we got off in Berkeley, got off the bus and two elderly Nikkei women said, "Wouldn't it be nice if they had a bus to Topaz? You know, I've never been back to Topaz," she said. And I heard that, I thought, that's funny, there has never been a bus to Topaz. So I contacted the bus that we just got off of, and I found out what it would entail to charter a bus, and so I did a lot of research and I found out that the bus from Berkeley could go as far as Ely, Nevada, which is on the other side of Nevada. And there was this old town of Ely -- in fact, the oldest hotel in Nevada is in Ely -- and then from there it's about a two and half hour ride on Highway 50 to Utah, and then we would spend our second night in Delta and then the next day come back as far as Reno, stay the third night there and then come back to Berkeley. So I organized this bus. I did it all by myself. I had a friend that helped me, but, and I really couldn't have done it without her help. Kaz Iwahashi was a, she was a godsend. She was the organized one. I'm the unorganized one. And so I put in ad in the paper, the Nichi Bei, the Hokubei and all the papers I could. I made posters and put it up in the Japanese churches, the temples. I put, at the restaurants, I went to Tokyo Fish, I went to every place that a Japanese American would go to, and, and little by little they, people would call and say, "I want to go." And so I'd be, got about twenty-seven people the first time. And I found out that on a chartered bus, alcohol is completely permitted, so I had, I had this big chest, ice chest with water, soft drinks, beer, and sake. So my friend Harry Yonemura from Southern California brings a few boxes of just amazing sushi, so, and then I bought a karaoke machine because this bus that I chartered has a table in the back, the bathroom is halfway back and downstairs, so the, the back of the bus is this wraparound seat like a, like in restaurant, with a table, so I had a AC line brought in, from a, from DC conversion, converted to AC, so I had my karaoke machine stuck in there. So we were doing karaoke, drinking sake, beer, wine, whatever the hell and having a good old time.

But the thing that really came out on these trips were the stories that these older people told. Until then, that time it was somehow, it's really interesting how... I just did, let's see, the fourth bus this, earlier this year. The stories that people come out with, going back to Topaz, I guess, is a, you feel safe because you're among nothing but Japanese and people start, the closer you get back to Topaz, the memories start coming up and they talk about really meaningful stories about how their family were affected, et cetera. And so you hear all these great stories, and there's, I don't know if you know this, but there were three hundred and eighty-seven children born in Topaz and most of them have never been back. You would think, being born in a concentration camp, you'd want to go back one day, just to see where you were born, but for whatever reason these kids have a built-in adversity to go back to -- I mean, I guess it's like, if you were born in a prison would you want to go back to prison and say, "Hey, San Quentin, here I am. This is where I was born," you know? Maybe this is the stigma of that, but it's amazing, there was, let's see, one, two, maybe four or five people who were born in Topaz but never been back that came on these buses, I mean this last bus, and the other buses.

And I remember a friend of mine who never showed any emotion. He came back on my first bus, and he was a high school buddy of mine, and he said when he went to the block that he, his family was in, he said these tears came to his eyes, and I said, "How come?" And he said, "You know, when I see the ground where my mother and father lived and the mess hall where they ate," he said just all these emotions came up because he knew this was no picnic to be there, and yet his parents survived somehow. And I guess to, to, I don't know, to keep yourself together you, you suppress all these memories. You hear these, the most common story you hear is, "My parents never talked about it." They never talked about it. They didn't want to talk about it. And you don't blame them. Do you want to talk about when you got, some horrible thing happened to you? But when people go back it's always a, it's a way to kind of heal.

And somebody said something, in fact, Satsuki, Dr. Satsuki Ina said, and I think there's so much truth to this, sometimes when you go to the place where you lost your power, that's the, that's the very place where you regain your power. And I thought that was so beautifully said and true. So for, every time I have a Topaz bus -- and by the way, every time I did a Topaz bus I said, "I'll never do this again," because I worried about every goddamn thing. If somebody, I worried about somebody falling off the bus, breaking their arm or hittin' their head or God only knows, and these are elderly people and many of them are dead today that were on my Topaz bus. But I kinda feel in my heart that it was a good thing, that, in fact, somebody just told me recently, "Toru, you're providing a service for these people." It wasn't that much fun for me 'cause I had to worry about every damn thing. People would come up to me and say, Toru, this and this and this," and I'd go, oh my God. The most mundane things, the most unimportant thing, people would worry about, and you have to be a therapist for them to get over their thing, and they'd have these little squabbles and, but in retrospect it was worth it because I think these people need to reconnect with what we went through. And in some ways you learn that it wasn't as bad as I thought it was. It was bad, but going back, I really know how bad it was, but maybe it wasn't as bad as I thought it was when it's just a fantasy in your mind. When you see the whole thing you say, gee, we survived, we survived this bullshit? Maybe I deserve some kudos. So in that respect I think it was a healing thing, it's been for me.

MN: When was your first Topaz bus?

TS: Where?

MN: When. What year?

TS: It was 2002.

MN: So that's shortly -- now, 2002, and you've had about four?

TS: Right. 2002, 2003, 2005, and 2010. In fact, the 2002 one is when I met that, my first grade teacher. I've been in contact with her ever since. She lives in Pasadena. She's a San Francisco girl, and she's still teaching. She's still teaching. She must be ninety years old. So some things never change.

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

<Begin Segment 17>

MN: Now, I know you've been back to Topaz several times in addition to the pilgrimages you organize.

TS: Right.

MN: Do you feel some peace, going back to Topaz? Have you made peace with your past?

TS: Yeah. Well, you know, it's really interesting. I have a friend who's a Catholic nun, Joanne Haruko Doi, and I went back to Topaz with her last year. And she has this thing about burning incense, so we were standing in front of Barrack 10 in Block 4 and she said, asked me, "Toru, I brought these pieces of incense. Would you like to burn some incense for your..." And I said, yeah. So I went to, we were standing in front of our barrack. We were in Block 4, Barrack 10, Apartments C and D, and Apartment C in the southeast, west corner, my mother's, my mother's bed was there, so I lit a incense, I stuck it in the ground, and next to that were, was where my younger brother slept and my younger, my sister, and I put a, I burnt incense for them. And then on Apartment D is where my sister Mae and I and my, my brother Walt slept, so I put a, burned incense. After that experience I have never had the yearning to go back to Topaz again. I've always had this yearning, and I used to tell people if you want, somebody said to me, "You want to go back to Topaz right now, Toru?" I would've hopped on the car, said let's go. But I don't have that urgency to go back anymore. I don't know, there must be some magic in burning incense. I don't know if it's, it's acknowledgement of people or validating their lives, to, to acknowledge them, that they're good people. I don't know what it is, but it's like magic. I've been back to Topaz over twenty times. I used to go at the drop of a hat, but I don't feel that urgency anymore. I kinda feel like -- I mean, I'll go back, but I don't feel that urgency anymore.

MN: I know you're always at the Tule Lake pilgrimage also. You were not at Tule Lake. How did you get involved with Tule Lake?

TS: Well, back in the '80s I was on the Tule Lake Pilgrimage committee. We used to sell spare ribs at the, at the Cherry Blossom to make money to lower the cost of the, of the pilgrimage. Now, I wasn't in, you're right, I was never in Tule Lake. I was in Topaz. But you know, the truth of the matter is it doesn't matter what camp, every camp experience is the same. People were pulled out of their houses, they were put into some godforsaken place, they suffered the, the climate change and the insult of being put, becoming a prisoner, etcetera, etcetera, and you hear the same stories of self deprecation or deprivation, people learning to, to blame themselves for what the government did to us. But to me it's, it's a place of healing. It's a place to learn that if anybody should feel shame it's our government. Not us. And so it's like my therapy. I'm learning every day that it doesn't matter what anybody thinks of me or calls me or does to me. It doesn't make me one iota a lesser person. And I think this, this theme permeates all the camps. And I've been to every camp except Heart Mountain, Poston and Gila River. I've been to every other camp, and even camps that nobody'd ever been to, like Lordsburg, New Mexico. I've been to Leupp, Arizona, I've been to Moab. There's umpteen other camps. But I guess, people have asked me, "Why do you go to every camp?" I guess unconsciously, to me, to go back to the camps is a way to, to overcome all the bullshit they put us through. That, it's another step towards learning that we never did anything wrong. We're the good people. We are, we're the ones who were victimized by all this crap that our government preaches but never practiced. That we could, this is another opportunity to put a feather in your hat and say, "I'm a good person. I deserve nothing but the best." They did all this shit to us, but you don't see no shit on me. It's a healing thing. It's therapeutic. And I think without, without exception -- I met lots of people at the Tule Lake pilgrimage, I've been to the Tule Lake pilgrimage umpteen times and it, I always see people leaving the place with a sense of, of freedom, a sense of relief and a sense of a, just a weight lifted off of their shoulders that, you know, it's nothing for us to be ashamed of, that they did this to us. It's, it's like being resurrected almost.

So it's a good thing and I recommend everybody to go, whether you were in camp or not. Most people say, "I'm a Sansei. I was born after." It doesn't matter. You, and when you go to camp, and this is an interesting thing, people -- and this is what Satsuki said and I really, I agree with her -- people express their feelings and the emotions that their parents never did. They knew their parents were in the camp, they knew their parents suffered all these hardships, but their parents never bitched about it, they never threw a fit about it, they never cursed the government. They did none of that shit, but it's interesting, the Sanseis and the Yonseis, when they go back, they express the tears and the anger of their parents. And so it's, their parents are long dead, but they, they kind of maybe, I don't know what the word is, they kind of tip the scale the other way. They thought we were down here, but then they, they go to the camp and they go, "Hey, if anything my parents, it's like this. The government should be ashamed. They should be hiding their ass in the closet." So it's always a good thing. I always see people leaving with a smile on their face. It's one place, it's interesting, it's one place where you see Buddhaheads, they look at you, they smile and say, "Hi. Good morning." You see these people in the streets of Berkeley, San Francisco, they act like they never, you're a nonentity. They see you, they recognize you're an Asian, they look the other way, because they don't want to acknowledge that "you look just like me." It's a healing thing.

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

<Begin Segment 18>

MN: Well, what do you think about redress and the government actually apologizing and giving compensation?

TS: Well, I think it's a good thing and -- I don't think we got as we should have, but it's, like you say, it's better than nothing. And I'm glad they did it. It took a hell of a long time. My sister died before she ever saw that day and half of the other people died. But it's, it's kind of late in coming, but it's a positive thing. I knew I worked on the redress project. And when you think about it, the people who, who, there were a lot of people said, "You guys are off your ass. You're causing us embarrassment to ask for money." And I always said, "You don't think you're worth it?" Think of your self esteem. Somebody screws you and you're gonna say, "That's okay. You violated me, you ripped me off, but it's okay"? I mean, what the, how could anybody have one iota of self respect when you don't say, "Hey, you know something, you dented my car. Goddamn it, you're pay for the repairs of this." But to say, "No, no, no, I'll pay for this. It was your goddamn fault, but I'll pay for your mistake." I say fuck you. Jesus Christ, how many screws... you don't have to be a brain surgeon to know the Constitution and what it stands for, and they put us through a goddamn camp and umpteen years later they're gonna give you twenty thousand dollars in apologies and you're gonna say, "No, no, we don't want it." I haven't heard of one person yet who said -- and there were people who said, "I will never accept it." I haven't heard of one motherfucker yet that said, "I don't want the money." They, they got the money. We, they fought us tooth and nail for fighting for the money, but when the money comes they're out there like everybody else. But I think it was a good thing because it proved in some way that we deserve, we deserved a good thing. Then you're gonna violate us, you're gonna pay, goddamn it, because we're worth it. You're not gonna shit all over me and say, "Oh, I'm sorry," and I say, "Oh, yeah, forget it." Fuck you. So I kinda feel like in a lot of ways it was, it was a way for a lot of Nikkei to feel like, "Maybe I was, I was acknowledged as a human being," that you just can't do anything you want and we just say shikata ga nai and blah blah blah, just not be compensated.

I tell you, I just sued a Japanese orchard. I went there and, a year ago, and there was this dog following me around, a little cute white dog and he came next to me and was leaning against me leg, so I went to, to pet it and it bit the hell out of me, that little son of a bitch. And it took off running and I said, goddamn, my hand was bleeding like hell and it hurt like hell. So the owner ran in the house and brought me some peroxide and a Band-Aid, and I washed it off and, and I thought, Jesus Christ. And then somebody told me, "Toru, there's a sign in one of those barns over there that says do not pet the dog." Well, half an hour later I was in the other end of the orchard and the husband was out there. He said, and that same dog was hanging around. I thought, is that the same dog that just bit me? And he said, he said to the group that was gathering, "I understand that somebody got bit." I said, "I did." And he says, "Oh." He never said, "Oh, I'm sorry." He said, "Oh, my dog bit my daughter last week," as if, hey, it's a common occurrence, no big deal. And, and as we were talking, the dog was sitting in front of this elderly woman standing about ten feet away and it's lookin' up at this woman. The woman just started to pet -- "Hey," I said, "Careful, he'll bite you." And the owner said the same thing. I thought, these people don't give a shit. They're Japanese, we're Japanese, they have a dangerous dog that just bit the hell out of me, the guy never apologized. He didn't put the dog away and it almost bit another woman.

So when we got back, almost a year went by. I never heard a goddamn thing from them. And the people who organized this trip, JASEB in Berkeley, the woman who was in charge, I asked her, I said, "Hey, Vicky, did these people tell you that they had a dog that bites?" And she said, "No, but I saw the sign on the tree," she said. I said, "Well, did you tell everybody on the bus?" "No." And I thought, Jesus Christ. Here she's getting paid to look after us, she sees this sign on the tree that none of us saw and she's not gonna warn us? I get bit. She never once said, "Hey Toru, how are you doing?" They're with that couple up there, never called back, said, hey, how is that old guy doing that got the hell bit out of him by my dog, blood spurting all over the place. So almost a year went by. And I thought to myself -- and then the people on the bus said, "Boy, they're, they're lucky that Toru's not a hakujin." And I said, "Why?" "Because if you were a hakujin you would've sued them." So I thought about that and I said, yeah, you're right. If you're a hakujin you know your rights and you know that if you're damaged you should be compensated. But a Jap? "Fuck you. So my dog bit you? Tough luck. I'm not gonna apologize. I'm not gonna recognize, I'm not gonna acknowledge your wound. I don't give a shit about you." And I thought to myself, you know, I couldn't face myself in the mirror if I went along with this. I am a lesser than a hakujin. I know goddamn well if a hakujin got bitten under these circumstances they would sue, too. So I said, you know something, I couldn't live with myself. And I know there are certain Japanese who think, "That fuckin' Toru sued JASEB?" Fuckin' right I did.

I called my lawyer. I said, "I want, I want a thousand dollars for my injury," which is the minimum. My god, my lawyer got this letter to me, said, "They apologized, Toru. Here's your thousand dollars." And I said, thank you very much. [Laughs] Because I believe that I'm fuckin' worth it. You're not gonna shit on me and say -- but they never even said, "I'm sorry." They never said how they, if my dog bit somebody I would say, "My goodness, how are you doing? I feel so terrible my goddamn dog bit you. I'm so sorry." Zero. And to me it just goes to show you that if you're Japanese you're a piece of shit and you don't deserve the time of day. You don't deserve to be compensated, acknowledged for you damages. No. "Fuck you, go away. I don't want to, don't bother me with your --" I said, hey, they're gonna remember me, goddamn it, because I ain't takin' that shit from them or anybody else. But the fact that they were Japanese, I was, I felt kind of, maybe if I do this they're gonna say, "Toru..." I said let them say whatever the hell they want to say. At least I can look myself in the mirror and say, "Hey, this is one Jap that you're not gonna fuck over, because if you do there are gonna be consequences." It's not gonna be, oh well, can't be helped. Shikata ga nai. Fuck you. Not me, goddamn it. And I'm so damn proud. [Laughs] I'm proud as hell I stood up for myself. So maybe the therapy's working. Who knows?

MN: Just for the record, JASEB is Japanese American, is it Social Service of East Bay?

TS: Japanese, Japanese Service, Japanese American Services for the East Bay. They just changed their names, but that's what it was when I sued them. And I'm proud as hell. And I know goddamn well there are people gonna say, "That son of a bitch. Why would you sue?" Hey, I didn't, I didn't give a shit if it was a black, white or a purple organization. I'm not, I don't deserve, I didn't ask for pain and suffering. I didn't ask for my dog to go and bite them. All they could do is say "I'm sorry" and give me some money. That's, when you speed they charge you money for it. That's the penalty for it. That's the penalty. And when you, you injure somebody, the only way they could compensate me is money, but if I didn't stand up for it I guess I'm saying I'm not worth it. I mean, it's bullshit. I'm worth, actually, a lot more money. But they're lucky I just asked for a thousand bucks. But it was kind of a token thing. It was, it was a moral victory of kind. You ain't gonna fuck over me and have me say, "Oh fuck, Toru, Toru doesn't mean shit. You can do whatever you want to him. He'll never stand up for himself. He's a piece of shit and whatever he gets he deserves." Well, they learned different, man. You'll never forget me. And JASEB ain't gonna forget me either, and I think that's a feather in my cap. They're gonna know that you ain't gonna cast me aside and say, oh well, blah blah blah. No way.

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

<Begin Segment 19>

MN: Well, let me ask you something a little different. You brought up Dr. Satsuki Ina.

TS: Right.

MN: And you were involved in that, the video, Children of the Camp.

TS: Right.

MN: Was that therapeutic for you to be involved in that project?

TS: Absolutely. It was, it was like a therapy session. We talked about our experiences after camp, during camp, and whenever you talk about anything it's a way of defusing all the pain and the suffering and whatever's... so it's always a, it's always therapeutic. And I tell you, I've been asked to talk to, at UC Berkeley, Berkeley High School, all these grammar schools. They want, here's a guy who was actually in a camp. He was a kid at four, came out when he was almost five, and they want to know what it was like. And I always tell these kids, "The reason why I came here and told you my story and how I suffered from these camps because I don't want any of you kids to ever discriminate on another kid because he doesn't wear nice clothes like you do, his parents don't have as much money as yours, or he's from a different race or color or creed." I said, "We're all people and we all deserve the good things, so if you're gonna be one of those who are gonna persecute people because you don't have money or they don't like your religion or the color," I said, "you're just like the people who put us in the camp." Because they always agree that the government was wrong for doing what they did, but my point of going there is I, and I tell them all the time, I said, "I hope every one of you would grow up to be decent human beings with integrity, that you're gonna do the right thing, no matter how you feel about people, their sexual orientation, etcetera, that you're not gonna treat them any different, because they're valuable human beings. They may not be different as, they may not be the same, the same as you, but they deserve the best just like you do." That's the only reason why I did it, and that's the only reason why I do it. I just hope that we can learn from this and the other, the other point being that there are so many people who've already died thinking they were trash because the government shit all over them, and you can't, when you're dead and gone there's nothing you can say or do to them. But I hope for the people who live, and I hope for the people who survive, a hundred years from now these historians will look back in 1942 and say, "You know, now I understand why those people were the way they were, because they were treated the way they were." And you look, look at the contribution we made to this country. We don't go to jail. We abide by the rules. We're good citizens. You ought to look up to us and say, God, if there is any people that are model citizens, it's us.

MN: Well Toru, I want to thank you. I've asked my questions. Is there anything else you want to add on?

TS: I just want to say I appreciate the opportunity to come talk to you. And whenever I, I talk about these old days and the pains I went through, it really, it's like a, it's like living through a dagger in your heart. We're not talking about happy times when you were eating ice cream and cake. You're put down for being a, whatever you are, of Japanese ancestry, and it's painful, but at the same time, therapy is painful, too. You don't go to a therapist and talk about how you got straight As in school and your parents pat you on the head and said you were just the brightest kid on earth. You go to a therapist because you want to talk about something that's painful, and hopefully that'll make you a better person. And you learn, like I learned, that no matter what the world does to you, it don't mean you're one iota a lesser person. And I hope that people can learn from our experience and that, on the surface, people say, jeez, you look great, but deep inside there's all those scars and pains that we... when I worked as a salesman, you can't go to work and say, jeez, I feel like shit today. I'm gonna treat everybody like shit. Some people do that. But you have, you have a stomachache, but you still smile and say, "How do you do? Welcome, blah blah blah." You have to be an actor or an actress. And sometimes it's not easy to be an actor, when you're feeling terrible, to have to smile and put on a good face. But when you talk about the bad times and the painful times, it brings back painful memories, but in the end I feel like I, the pain and the, whatever the pain and the injuries are, are overlapped by the good it might do for other people. 'Cause I'm a hell of a lot better off than a lot of my friends. I see my friends... I went through the therapy. They wouldn't go through therapy for love or money. They say therapy is for crazy people, and I say, well, that's kinda true, too. But I've gained a lot from my therapist, and I thank God for it, not that I believe in God. But I am thankful for all the good things I've gotten from my life, as an adult. Like I said before, I have lots of good friends and I'm always overwhelmed by all the goodness I've received, and I'm always thinking, my goodness, what did I do to deserve all this good stuff? But I'll take it, 'cause I know I deserve nothing but the best.

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

<Begin Segment 20>

MN: There is one question I've been a little hesitant to ask. You shared about, just as an example of what your stepfather had done to you, and I don't know if you feel comfortable about sharing the story about the candy and how...

TS: Oh.

MN: Do you feel comfortable sharing that one example?

TS: Hey, look. I didn't do anything wrong. My stepfather was a brutal, sadistic man. And I found out recently that my stepfather didn't have no glorious childhood either. He was raised as, from an orphan, and so on and so forth, so, but my father was very sadistic. And when he married my mother there were five of us, but subsequently he had three kids of his own, and he resented us because we were a burden to him. And he kept saying, "I'm not your father. Why don't you go and find your real father and have him support you financially?" Etcetera. And I didn't even know what my father looked like, where he was or anything. But my stepfather was, he loved his own kids, so he would come home every so often and he would bring a bag of, he would buy a bag of candy and he would take a big handful of candy and give it to his son, a big handful of candy to his daughter, and another handful of candy to his third son. Then he would take one candy out and say, "Do you want a candy, Toru?" And I knew what that meant. If I wanted the candy I'd have to get on my knees and do choudai, put your hands together like this. And I refused to do that. So, I mean, not that I didn't want the candy. I refused to do that. But so he goes to my brother Walter, and my brother Walter would do what he was supposed to do, get on his knees and do choudai and he would give him one candy. He would do the same thing to my brother Ben. My brother Ben would do that. And, and then he'd come to me and say, "Why don't you want a candy?" I said, "I don't want one." And he'd smack me in the head. He'd say, "Now do you want a piece of candy?" I said, "No." Bam. He knocked the shit outta me. And my, to this day, my brothers, my brother just below me used to say, "Toru, why don't you just gave in and take the goddamn candy? Get on your fuckin' knees and do choudai and take the candy and avoid all this shit?" Well, I'm different from my brother. I wasn't gonna take that shit. He could, he used to walk away, tired of beating me, but I never caved in and said, "Okay, I'll kiss your ass. I'll take the candy." I would say, "Fuck you. You could beat me to death, but I ain't gonna cave in and do this bullshit." Just for a piece of candy? I wouldn't do it. I wouldn't do it for that or the beatings, so I always was the winner. I had the sore head, but I was always the winner.

And for those, for... just thinking about that, I kinda feel like those were my own little victories. It was painful. It was degrading, but I guess I, I don't know, for whatever reason I was not gonna cave in. And I never did. All through my life, I just refused to take that kinda shit and cave in and say, "Yeah, I'll kiss your ass. Gimme the, gimme the little candy." Fuck you. I'm, maybe I, at that time I knew I was better than that, I didn't even realize it. Anyway, that's my stepfather for you. In fact, my, my therapist told me, who was a child psychologist, he worked at Patton State Hospital and he told me, he said he had never heard of, read of a case study where a stepfather or father was more sadistic and brutal and mean as my stepfather was. And I thought, Jesus Christ, what a hell of a, what a hell of a... am I supposed to be proud that my, there was no stepfather that he ever heard of, read of a case study where a stepfather was more sadistic than my stepfather? I guess it kind of explains why I'm the way I am today. Thank God I survived it all, but long, long ago, I have to tell you, I was able to forgive my stepfather, long after he was dead and gone. I was able to forgive him because I realized, by being able to forgive him for all the shit he did to me I was able to rise above him. When you're hating and hating and whatever, people, you're down below and they're up above you. Shit, I look down on my stepfather and people like that. I'm way above them. So that was one of those hard lessons in life that I learned. I'm glad I'm alive to tell you about it today.

MN: So are we. Thank you for sharing your stories.

TS: I appreciate it. I appreciate the chance.

MN: Thank you very much.

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