Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Akira Otani Interview
Narrator: Akira Otani
Interviewer: Tom Ikeda
Location: Honolulu, Hawaii
Date: March 3, 2011
Densho ID: denshovh-oakira-01

<Begin Segment 1>

TI: Okay. So Akira, we're going to start, and so I always start with the date and where we are. So today's Thursday, March 4, 2011, we're in Honolulu at the Ala Moana Hotel. On camera is Dana Hoshide and then I'm the interviewer, Tom Ikeda. And so Akira, I'm going to start, the first question is can you tell me when you were born?

AO: Birthdate, January 26, 1921.

TI: So that makes you ninety years old?

AO: Correct.

TI: Okay, ninety years old, you look great. And where were you born?

AO: Honolulu, Hawaii.

TI: And which neighborhood?

AO: Kakaako.

TI: And where's that located?

AO: Kakaako would be... the best reference would be Fisherman's Wharf. At Koula/Keawe Basin, would you know where --

TI: Well, I know where the Fisherman's Wharf area is, right there, it's kind of just --

AO: It's between here, it's not very far from here at Ala Moana, so from here downtown it's not quite midway, one third of the way to downtown on the ocean.

TI: Now were you born in a medical facility?

AO: No, born in a home and my grandmother, my mother's mother delivered me.

TI: So next I want to ask you about your father. Can you tell me your father's name?

AO: My father's name is Matsujiro Otani.

TI: And where was he born, where was he from?

AO: He was born in Oki-Kamuro, the island, a tiny island of Oki-Kamuro in Oshima-gun, Yamaguchi-ken, Japan.

TI: And what kind of work did his family do in Japan?

AO: Well, they were involved in the fish business even then. The fishermen more or less brought their catches in, naturally those days the ships were very small, they beached the boats with the catches, unloaded and apparently sold the fish to different buyers right there on the beach and he was one of the buyers. My dad wasn't, my dad's father, you know, my grandfather more or less did the buying of fish then.

TI: And then he would buy the fish and then what would he do with the fish?

AO: Well, they would peddle it to different people.

TI: So why did your father leave Japan?

AO: Well, my father... well, he had been, even at his young age he had been talking to different people and the story was that rather than the meager wages they were making in Japan with that type of livelihood, that some people were going to Hawaii and others were going to Korea to better their type of living. And so he made up his mind if there is that kind of opportunity in other lands then he would like to take advantage of it, too. He tried very hard to make arrangements to come to Hawaii but then before that he... the tiny island he lived on was real tiny, was a little island off the island of Oshima, which is again off Yanai which is in the Inland Sea. After he got through grade school in order to get further his education he had to go by boat from Oki-Kamuro island to Oshima island to get a little bit more education, you know, to go to so-called middle school today.

TI: So every day he had to commute to go to school?

AO: No, no, he couldn't do that so what he did was he was... the principal of that school was good enough so that he let my father stay in his house so for maybe one or two weeks at a time and in between he would come home to his home in Oki-Kamuro island.

TI: Oh, so the island, how many people lived on the island?

AO: Well, I don't know for sure but it must have been two, three hundred people, it's a real tiny island.

TI: Small. So your father, he essentially left Japan for a better life I guess.

AO: Correct.

TI: Was that with the blessings of your grandfather? Was that okay with his father?

AO: Yes, definitely, he knew it was going to be hard but it was always his intention as well as I think many of the other people that left Japan to go to other countries, it's always to earn enough money, send money back home to their families and eventually come home to wherever, to their birthplace, so to speak.

TI: And do you know about how old your grand -- or your father was when --

AO: My father was sixteen at the time he left and he made seventeen upon arrival in Hawaii.

TI: And about what year was this that he came?

AO: So that would be about 1906, 1907.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

TI: Okay, so then tell me what he did when he came to Honolulu?

AO: Well, on the basis of his book, what he wrote in his book, he was able to contact other people that had come from his same village. And in as much as it was not too easy to find housing, through contacts with the other people that had come from his village he was able to stay with others that had come from the same village. So he was able to live with them for a while.

TI: And then so he's here for a while then what did he start doing for work?

AO: Well, what he did was he felt that in order to, well, to succeed in life, he'd have to learn the language of the country he was in so he felt he had to learn English. And so he sought work in a so-called American-owned store selling, I don't know for exactly, I cannot remember exactly what kind of product it would be. So as a double dose, in a way he moved over and he stayed as a houseboy in someone's house, an American I think, and at the same time he went to work in this particular store as an apprentice more or less.

TI: And so in some ways he was forced to learn English by being first a houseboy and then where he lived and then like retail, he needed to be able to --

AO: Correct, to some extent, yes.

TI: And so he was pretty adventurous, or pretty courageous to put himself out there?

AO: I would think so. Even when he was trying to come to Hawaii to buy his ticket from the immigration station so to speak, in Yanai city, I understand and this I got from his book, he tried to buy the ticket and he couldn't get a ticket to get on board the ship to go from there to I think it was Kobe and from Kobe to Yokohama and then to Hawaii. But he had a heck of a time trying to buy his ticket and then he kept on going back often to the so-called immigration station and I think those are the people that handled the selling of the tickets for transportation. But he was refused so many times so one day I think he asked those people, "How come you won't accept my offer to include me as one those people going to Hawaii?" And then he was told, "You represent only one fare," and most of the people that were coming in couples and he would rather get two fares than one. So my dad says, "Well if that's the case, I will offer you, even though I want to go by myself, I will offer you the equivalent of two fares in order to, so that I could go to Hawaii." So I think that falls in line with what you were just trying to say, you know. Of course, some people don't agree with me but to my way of thinking, I thought that that was quite enterprising on the part of my dad to even think about something like that.

TI: So it sounds like he's a pretty good problem solver, you know, once he kind of knows what he wants, and when there are obstacles he'll figure out ways to figure it out.

AO: Correct because when he was getting such a hard time in between there, he even thought about going to Korea because the talk was that some people were also going to Korea and doing well as well as going to Hawaii. But his basic desire was more to go to Hawaii so this is why he tried so hard to come to Hawaii rather than go to Korea and by that means he finally, to make a long story short, he got to come to Hawaii.

TI: That's a good story. So he's in Honolulu, he's learning English as a houseboy and then also working in a store, then what does he do?

AO: But eventually he moved over with people from the same village, you know, to be among his own kind, so to speak, and then eventually he started working in a small trading store, a Japanese owned trading store selling various dry goods I guess. Initially I understand he was selling, going around trying to act as a salesman, selling goods here in Honolulu but I think there came a time when the manager or owner of the store had him go over to Maui, to the other island and tried to get some sales over there. So he went to Maui and started selling goods there and the means of transportation when he got there was either horseback or something to that effect. But he had a hard time but eventually he made sales and to make a long story short, when he came back to Honolulu he discovered that the store people weren't willing to pay for his work, for his wages and acting as a salesman selling their products so he left the company and went into something else which was peddling fish.

TI: So let's talk about that then. So because in some ways he felt cheated by this store.

AO: He was unhappy, yes.

TI: Unhappy so he decides to go into fish selling business.

AO: Yes.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

TI: And how did he get started in the fish selling?

AO: Well, because it's like I say when he moved over to these people that had come from the same village, they were mostly, in as much as most of these people were from the fishing village, they were mostly fisherman and although they were very small, nevertheless they were in the fish catching business. And through that type of connection he was able to find sources or places where the fish was being sold and he bought the small lots and started peddling, going around peddling fish or whatever he had bought at the market. So he started peddling fish, that was his first individual endeavor in business.

TI: Okay, now he's a fish peddler so he goes down like similar to what your grandfather was doing, he would go down --

AO: No, no that's different, back home I think it wasn't so, I think what they were doing back home was I think they were just selling the fish right off the boats, right on the beaches and that was it. But in this case he actually bought the fish and started peddling, walking around house to house and started peddling fish.

TI: This is your father.

AO: That's my father, yes.

TI: But wasn't your grandfather doing something similar?

AO: No, more... I don't know too much about it but the way I gathered, there was more or less as the fish were being unloaded on the sandy beaches in Oki-Kamuro, there were buyers and I guess sales were being made right there on the beaches.

TI: Okay, so now your father is buying fish and now going around selling the fish.

AO: Correct.

TI: And now how old is he? How long has he been in Honolulu now?

AO: Oh, I don't know, I don't know, I'm not sure but maybe he was seventeen... maybe nineteen or twenty years old by then, I'm not sure at all.

TI: Okay, and now how long does he do this before he meets your mother?

AO: Well, it was a marriage arranged but my mother... my mother's parents were also from the same village in Oki-Kamuro and my mother was really born in Hawaii so I'm really a two and a half, I'm not a full Nisei. So my mother was born in Hawaii and the marriage was arranged so I don't know when the date of the marriage or anything else like that but eventually they got married and so once my father started peddling fish, initially he went out peddling by himself. Then eventually he started getting a donkey to carry his products and go around peddling and of course in his book he mentions how every night, no matter how late it was, when he came home after trying to sell all of his fish, my mother would have to look after the donkey or the horse, you know, because my dad by then would be so tired. So that was one of the chores that she had.

TI: Do you know how large a territory your father had to sell?

AO: I don't know but probably around the district of Kakaako and nearby area because... although by present day standards, you know, the area might be small, during those years I don't think it was that restricted and small, it's quite a bit because once I started going to school we found out it wasn't very, you know, the distances weren't very short, it is quite a bit... it took time to travel.

TI: And so walking around selling fish... and then during the day what did your mother do while your father was peddling fish?

AO: Well, my mother after all brought up nine children so she was... while bringing up the children she also... there were times when she worked at a fish cannery because there was a tuna cannery a few blocks away from my house at that time. So like I say, while bringing up nine children, she also worked at the cannery and still looked after the kids.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

TI: And what was your mother's name?

AO: My mother's name, maiden name was Kane, K-A-N-E, Yanagihara.

TI: Okay, so you mentioned there were nine children so let's talk about the children, kind of in birth order, so who was the oldest?

AO: The oldest was a sister named Florence. She's gone, she's no longer alive now.

TI: And then after Florence?

AO: Then we had Mildred and she's gone too.

TI: And then after Mildred?

AO: Brother, Jiroichi, he's still alive but he's not well but he's still alive so he must be, oh, about ninety-five, ninety-six years old now.

TI: Wow, okay, after Jiroichi?

AO: Then a sister named Gladys and she would be about two years below... ninety-two or thereabouts. And then I come in at ninety.

TI: And then after you?

AO: And after me I had another brother, Kenji, he's gone.

TI: And after Kenji?

AO: And then after Kenji there's a brother named Toshiro, he's in Washington D.C., he retired from his job as a... doing cancer research with the National Cancer Institute there.

TI: So was he a doctor or a scientist?

AO: Yes, he was scientist.

TI: Scientist. Okay, that's seven so after Toshiro?

AO: And then I had another brother named Gilbert and he's home, he's still alive, he's home. He was in real estate but he's quite old now too so he's... and then the baby of the family is a sister named Evelyn.

TI: Good, okay so, yeah, two, four, six, eight, nine, so nine children.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

TI: So now I just want to get a sense of growing up, what your childhood was like, you know, in the neighborhood and the type of activities in the neighborhood. So let's start with school. Like what school would you go to?

AO: Well, our grade school was named Pohukaina School and it was located maybe about seven, eight blocks from where we lived. So we would all walk to school naturally in those days, you know, very few people had any cars or anything. We all walked to school.

TI: And describe your classmates, were they mostly Japanese or different races?

AO: They could've been mostly Japanese but it still were mixed, we had some Hawaiians, we had Filipinos, we had some Chinese but I think the bulk of the students were mostly Japanese.

TI: And how did all the races get along with each other?

AO: No problem, we never gave it a second thought as to why we were different or what.

TI: And then how about Japanese language school?

AO: We all... there was a language school up to ninth grade maybe about a block and a half away from our grade school so that is one Japanese school. There was another about five blocks away so the students from our grade school either went to the school that I went to which was only about a block, block and a half away which was called Kishida Japanese School and they had classes up to the ninth grade. And there was another school there that they called it Alapai Japanese School which was five, six blocks away and there were some students that went to that Japanese school.

TI: And was this the type of Japanese school that you would go like every day after --

AO: Every day for one hour after English school, yes.

TI: And so describe, so after your English school, what would you do, would you go directly to the Japanese school, would you have a little break?

AO: We went directly to the Japanese school, we walked.

TI: And then when you're done with Japanese school, what would you do?

AO: By then, of course, it would be getting pretty dark and we would go home and some of us would maybe stop by along the way and play some kind of sports, whether it was mostly baseball at that time. But it's not organized, it wasn't organized and then of course we all went home.

TI: And then you'd go home probably to have dinner, is that --

AO: Yes.

TI: And then after dinner what would you do?

AO: Well, I think mostly we'd just spent the time with the family. After all, in our case, I mean, there were nine kids there, we needed a pretty large house but... nobody had any special room, I think we all slept in a more or less a common room with... those days there were no such things as beds so we all had futons laid on the floor. I don't know, of course there was no TV, I don't know, we did studying of course and I think that's about it.

TI: How about would you take like a daily bath?

AO: Oh, yes, definitely.

TI: And with so many, what was kind of the order in terms of how people took their baths?

AO: Well, I don't know if there was... but for one thing it was the type of bath where we burnt wood underneath the so-called bathtub and it... well, you can't call it community, it's a family bath so I think... but the thing is my father always worked until late so he never got to take a bath early. In fact, we very seldom got to see my dad even for dinner because he worked until so late. Of course, the fish business is the same today, even in those days, we never got to see my dad going to work, he left so early. And he came back after we probably were mostly sleeping so as far as the order of who went to take a bath first, I don't know, I think it could've been that the eldest went first, I don't know, the younger kids went later.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

TI: Okay, so at this point when you're like in school, describe your father's fish business now because before you talked about how he would buy the fish and then with a donkey walk around. Now that as you're growing up, what kind of fish business did he have?

AO: Well, finally he got to a point where he... I don't know, you can say he bought a stall in a market building and started retail, retailing of fish which was he bought it wholesale and sold at retail to different customers that might come up to him.

TI: And were his customers like residential or were they restaurants, what kind of customers?

AO: Well, it's mostly retail, individual people coming over and that, of course, expanded into commercial because from then on different people running the business operations came to order some fish and he would buy it at auction and either make deliveries himself or eventually got to a point where he hired people to make deliveries of the fish that he sold to these people.

TI: And so I'm thinking, you know, there's lots of different fish peddlers, what made your father perhaps different, I mean if people were to think about the different stalls, was there something a specialty or a difference that your father had from other fish peddlers?

AO: Well, I don't know but, you see, the word "peddlers," you use the word "peddlers," peddlers came into being somewhat later after automobiles and trucks started to get into the picture. In other words, people would buy from the middlemen or so-called wholesalers and these middlemen would buy at what we had, even at that time, what is considered an auction where the middlemen would buy at auction, bring the fish to their place, and either primarily to sell to individual customers but eventually which developed into selling to different business establishments, restaurants and hotels and so forth. In which case, it developed to a point where deliveries were being made to these different institutions.

TI: And so when I said fish peddler, you said that's probably not the right term, what would you call that in terms of what... if you were to describe your father and what his occupation was, what would you call that?

AO: Well, I don't know, at that time I guess he was just, he started out as a fish retailer.

TI: Okay, fish retailer.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

AO: And eventually that developed into a wholesale business. And then he branched off into becoming involved in the fish auction operation.

TI: So when they first... so back then they had a fish auction, can you... were you ever working down there? Can you describe how that worked?

AO: No, they had auctions way, way back, many years ago, in fact they had several, five, six different auction companies independently operating through representing their own fishermen. But naturally it was so spread out that even the bars got spread out so that it developed to a point where what became my father's whole market building became the central point for one of the bigger auction companies to be located and from which more fish was being sold to so-called middlemen and then from other locations.

TI: So there's different auction places, now if you're a fisherman, did you always go to the same auction person or did they go to different ones?

AO: If you were a fisherman, the first thing you'd be concerned about is what kind of prices you're going to be paid, and how soon am I going to get paid for the fish that is sold. So that I think was more or less the key to my dad's thinking and operations and even today stands as the key point of our fish auction company which is we give the best service to all the fishermen, fishing boats and so forth and the main thing is we pay the fishermen the very day on which his fish, or their fish is sold to so-called middlemen.

TI: So back then that wasn't common?

AO: That was not common, that was not common and so sometimes some fishermen were dissatisfied, they would bring fish directly to so-called restaurants and hotels but they had a hard time, number one, getting collection and they were having a hard time getting so-called fair price. So eventually what developed is something like what our... but our, my father started... he didn't start the auction company's operations as such because there were many other auction companies all splintered, you know, little ones here and there. But my dad had in between along the way gone to Japan and had seen the large fish auction operations in Tokyo and so forth. And his idea was to develop something along the same line to auction off the fish representing different fishing boats, selling at auction and whenever it's an auction, and it's different people, the middlemen bidding, you know, depending on their need and quantity they required. So that developed into the best prices being offered by the different buyers and therefore the bidding takes place and eventually it came to a point where the settlement had to be made for the fish sold. So on the one hand, you had the fishermen who want their money for the fish sold and other side you got the fish buyers, the middlemen who bought the fish, so collection had to be made by... from the buyers and payments had to be made to the fishermen. So that is the key to, I think my dad's idea to do the best possible job, number one, get the best possible prices for the fishermen, number two, make sure the fishermen got a fair price and got paid for the products they sold.

TI: So it was pretty business savvy because he understood that if the fishermen, you know, the fishermen who had the fish came to his place then it would grow and the way he would do this would be to make sure they got paid right away. But then by having a bigger auction business, the prices would go up also because more middlemen would be there so that's... it seems so basic in a sense.

AO: Correct, it's basic but it's very hard to carry out and accomplish, you know, because in between even today you find some fishermen sometimes feel they might be dissatisfied with whatever prices they might get but you see, if you were to look at our fish auction operation, you'd find that on the bigger fish like the tunas and the swordfishes and the marlins and the other kind of fish, the larger fish are all sold individually. And the smaller fish, the bottom fish, the opakapaka, the snappers and so forth, they might be sold in small batches at a time. But especially on the tunas, each individual tuna depending on the quality, how much fat content, the freshness and so forth, you can get a variation in price, say even today you might have whole round, a good tuna with a lot of fat might go at auction for fifteen dollars a pound and a tuna that's not good, no color, doesn't look so fresh, would maybe sell for a dollar a pound, so you could have this great difference in price. So the fishermen realized that if they get good fish and they take better care of it, they get a good price then they don't take care of the fish and it's poor quality, then naturally the middlemen will not bid very, too much of high price for their fish. So there you have it, you know.

TI: So I would think as a fisherman, you know, they would understand that. That it's really not just someone... it's whatever the market will give them, I mean, it's --

AO: Well, it's common sense. Every person would want a better price for his product, whatever product he's selling.

TI: Yeah, but it's smart too because then you're right, the fishermen understanding this would take better care of their catch in terms of, you know, preserving it or getting it to the markets as fast as they can so it's fresh.

AO: Well, even today our people still have a hard time convincing some of these different fishermen. We have fishermen come from different nationalities. At one time we had a lot of Japanese doing the long line fishing but today we don't have even a single Japanese fisherman. It's mostly the Caucasian from the mainland, we have Vietnamese fishermen, we have Korean fishermen, local Hawaiian fishermen so all these people, naturally they're trying to earn the best living they can. So number one, they try to catch as much fish as they can, number two, they try to get as best a price for their products and number three, of course, when they sold it they want their money right away. So that's the key on which we operate today our company. And this is why even though others, like the article will tell you, ours is the only fresh fish operation where people actually, the middlemen buyers, see, look, touch the fish and paid for the fish, the same as they do in Japan. Ours is the only one in the whole United States. There are no other, you know, operations like that in the whole United States.

TI: Yeah, when I go to Japan I always love to go to the Tsukiji, you know, it's such a fascinating operation to watch it.

AO: See my dad somewhere along the line had gotten to become good friends with certain Japanese people and one of the many he befriended was the president of Taiyo Gyogyo and at one time that was one of the biggest fishing companies in the world. But the thing is through contact with people like that, learning and being taught and following suggestions and so forth, this was how he was able to develop his own business.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

TI: So let's go back now before the war again. Now did you spend much time in the fish market area? Did you do jobs or anything like that?

AO: No, I did not because, number one, there wasn't much time because as I grew and as we went from grade to grade and then we had to go from school to school like, I don't know how it is in Seattle, but here we had the grade school up to sixth grade. Then from seventh to ninth we used to call it intermediate school, they call it middle school now. Then from tenth, eleventh, twelfth the high school and in each case there were not very close, we had to walk from home to... grade school was close, maybe five, six blocks and Japanese school was right there. But then when we went to seventh, eighth, ninth, to middle school, it was about by walking maybe about two, three hours of walking time one way so by the time we got home, well, the thing is after middle school then we had to go to Japanese school which is far away again, so by the time we got home, many times, it was dark. So there wasn't much that we could do. It was only when I started going to the university I think that on weekends I used to help my... I used to go to the market and do some work but not the handling with the fish products as such. It was mostly doing some office work.

TI: Well, how about summertime, summer break, what kind of work?

AO: Summertime, mostly the people were very fortunate, in the summer we had what they call the pineapple industry and Hawaiian Pine and Hawaiian Pine which is Dole and the California Packing Corporation and Libby all the big canning companies, they all had their plants in between more or less where our fish operation is, more or less, it's in between the airport and Honolulu town. It's not quite Kalihi but there we had the canneries and school children, both men and girls, boys and girls, worked in the canneries during the summer time. And those that were in town went to the canneries, those in the country worked in the pineapple fields. So we were very fortunate, we were able to go to the canneries, pay was cheap, but then everything is relative. So we considered very fortunate we were able to go to work in the canneries, earn enough to pay for our school tuition but that took maybe... the summertime was more or less, it coincided with pineapple picking and production, canning period and so it fit right in so that most of the children went to work in the canneries and earn some money at that time.

TI: Now did the school year fit exactly or did they actually move the school year a little bit just to --

AO: No, I think it just about fit in perfect, just exactly in the summertime.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

TI: So let's move now to when you're at the University of Hawaii, so you were attending University of Hawaii, I think in your freshman and sophomore year you did, or maybe sophomore, junior year, you did ROTC?

AO: Well, yes, I don't know how it is in the mainland but here it was more or less required for anybody that's healthy enough and all the boys were required to, you know, to take ROTC and I fulfilled my duty and completed my freshman year, sophomore year in ROTC.

TI: And what was your major in college?

AO: My major in college was business.

TI: And what did you think you were going to do with a business degree?

AO: Well, all I wanted to do was go into my father's business and, you know.

TI: And how about your older brother, Jiroichi, so was he already working with your father?

AO: Yes, he was not a healthy... he had injured his back as a child so he was not healthy but nevertheless normal and he went into business right after high school and he was helping my dad, yes, he was in my father's business.

TI: Okay, so you were the first son to go to the University of Hawaii then?

AO: I was the first one in my whole family to be able to go to college, yes.

TI: And was that kind of special thing for you to go to college? 'Cause you're the first person in the whole family to go to college, what did that mean to the family and to you?

AO: Well, I don't know. I never realized it at that time but the thing is I think livelihood was tough to come by, my oldest sister had to go out to work, my second sister had to go out to work, my older brother had to go out to work, they all had to go out to work to earn a living to help our folks, you know. So I guess I was lucky being able to go to college and even then I hard time going to college. I wasn't very smart and I barely made it, in fact, I never did get to complete it because of the war at that time.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

TI: Because you were a senior when, you know, December 7, 1941, happened.

AO: Correct.

TI: So let's talk about that day. So December 7, 1941, what were you doing?

AO: Well, my dad had just completed the renovation of his market building. He had his whole building and it had been destroyed by mostly, major portion of the building had been destroyed by fire. And it took several months to reconstruct and it had finally been completed and prior to December 7th my father had a few events celebrating the completion of that building. But on December 7th he was going to have another small reception to more or less to invite a few of the market tenants as well as the people that were involved in the construction, the reconstruction of the building. And so we were... I was there quite early and my brothers and my dad, they were there at the time all hell broke loose. So we were supposed to have a small reception, you know, to celebrate the completion of the renovation of the building.

TI: And so could you see, from where you were, what was happening over at Pearl Harbor?

AO: Yes, we saw it very clearly, we're not very far from Pearl Harbor. We're right in town so we could see it, we could hear all the noises, we could hear all the noises, we could see all the black smoke and all the thundering noises of all the explosion of the ships. And then I was looking up in the sky, you could see the planes, you could see all the explosion of shots, I even got to see two Japanese planes, yes, we got to see all that.

TI: And what were you thinking when you saw this activity, this, you know, this happening?

AO: Well, number one is it's unbelievable, I never realized that maybe there was some people that expected something like this but as far as I'm concerned, I never expected anything like this, it was a shock, hard to believe that something like that was happening. Well, it's just unbelievable, I mean, it was terrible seeing all that black smoke and all that noise coming out of Pearl Harbor. We could hear all that, we were close enough that we could see and hear.

TI: So you see the Japanese planes, you realize that Pearl Harbor is under attack, at this point was there any concern on your part about your father being Japanese and anything might happen to him?

AO: No, no concern, so all we do then of course then naturally everybody turn on the radio, we got a report that this was a real thing, that Japan... we're under attack by the Japanese and that there wasn't anything we could do about our celebration of the completion of the renovation, So my brother, my older brother took my dad home and I had to kind of clean up the mess of the preparatory work that had been done for the celebration. Then that was completed so I started to go home and of course the driving was very difficult because I was so darn nervous, I was shaking, you know, in that something so unusual was happening and you could still hear the loud noises coming from Pearl Harbor, still the black smoke and then you still listen to all the radio about what is happening. So, no, it was unbelievable, that's about it.

TI: So sounds like you were pretty shaken as you were, you know, going home or probably that whole day.

AO: Well, yes, it's hard to imagine but at the same time we didn't feel good. We got very mad at the Japanese for having attacked us because, you know, there's no distinction being made that the Japanese or we were all Americans, well, people living in Hawaii, and we were being attacked period, you know.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

TI: Okay, so you're driving home and you make it home, so what happens then?

AO: Well, I finally made it home okay but then we got to stay at home with the rest of the family for a while and then after a while as we were gathered in the living room, then we noticed some people come to the door with a couple of cars. And then of course, they announced themselves as FBI people and they were there to come to arrest my dad.

TI: And about what time in the day was this?

AO: I cannot remember, it must've been some time in the late afternoon or early evening, I don't know, I cannot remember.

TI: And what was your reaction when you saw the FBI there?

AO: Well, the reaction was there wasn't much you could do because they had... they were armed. And they said they came for Matsujiro Otani which was my dad and my dad was inside, he had already been shook up quite a bit from the events and he was resting. And of course they said they wanted to see him to bring him out, so I think one of my brothers or sisters went inside the bedroom to bring my dad out. Then we had a brother-in-law living in a back house, he was a police detective with the Honolulu police force and so somebody went over to call him and he came over too and said, "What's going on?" And of course, the FBI people, the thing I remembered was they waved their firearms and said, "You stay out of this, can't you people understand that we have been attacked by the Japanese and that we are at war, we are arresting Matsujiro Otani, period." And so by then they were practically dragging my dad to the car. And of course my mom said, "Well if you're going to take him, take me too," because he wasn't a well man even then. But they waved her away with the firearms. They said, "No, you stay away, we just want him." So they were taking him to the car, the car was out in the front, and so my mom rushed in and went to get some, I don't know, I think got some pair of shoes and some overcoat or some kind of clothing anyway and tried to give to him but the FBI people wouldn't allow that so eventually what she did was she finally got to throw it into the car as he was going in. And that was it for the longest time as far as my mother was concerned, or where the family was concerned in seeing my dad.

TI: It was interesting that, you know, your father, so your brother-in-law was a Honolulu police detective and that had no impact, that the FBI didn't give any consideration or anything.

AO: None whatsoever.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 12>

TI: And when your father was gone what happened at the house after that?

AO: Well, it was nothing but gloom, nobody knew what to do but we all listened to the radio and that is when I heard an announcement on the radio that there were calling in the ROTC cadets from the University of Hawaii to report to the University Armory, that service was required. Well, like I said earlier, I had already been out of... I served my time as an ROTC cadet so to speak during my freshman and sophomore years so there was no place for me to go to the University, they were calling in only those people who were in the ROTC at that time. So what I did was ride around and the next day I went to the armory and the armory was a building located where the state capitol building now stands but for the life of me I can't remember how I went from my home in Manoa to the armory, whether I walked all the way or went by bus but I turned right around, of course, I told my mother, "Well, I got to go." And so I turned right around and just went and volunteered my services to serve in the territorial guard.

TI: Although you said, "I got to go," you actually, when they made that call, it wasn't really for you because you weren't a cadet so you were just thinking at this point, "But even though it's not specifically for me, I'm still going to go to volunteer"?

AO: Yes, because I knew myself that I had received ROTC training, both in high school and at the university anyway so they probably could use people like me with background in ROTC work. So I felt, you know, the country is in dire need of people, I go.

TI: Was it difficult given that just hours before, they picked up your father?

AO: No, well, to me it wasn't that difficult. My father, yes, my father had been arrested, taken in, but there wasn't anything anyone of us could do as far as that's concerned, you know. Well, I don't know, we could've brooded and whatnot but at the same time a call is being made for volunteers and I felt that was something I could do so. Of course, when you look back some people might think that wasn't a very smart or very good thing to do after seeing your father get arrested to turn right around and to volunteer your services as a soldier for the country that arrested your own father. And when you look back, some people might think back but I don't know. As far as I'm concerned at that particular time, I felt that it was my call that I should do something and do my part and that was it.

TI: Okay, good. So when you got to the armory to, you know, to volunteer for the HTG, the Hawaiian Territorial Guard, what did you find, what was the kind of the state of the situation when you got there?

AO: Well, it wasn't very well organized as you could expect, there were other boys, or other men who had come to, for the same purpose, to volunteer and the first thing they were asking us to do was to sign some papers and of course none of us knew what we were signing except that we were volunteering. And then there was a whole bunch of equipment and arms on the floor of the armory and they told us, "Okay go ahead and get your uniform, whatever uniform that will fit you," and so we went there and tried on some uniforms, they were mostly too big for us, we were so small. The shoes were mostly too big, the helmet was the old time World War I helmet, the flat type, the old gas mask was the same old World War I type of gas mask. Like I said, the shoes were mostly too big but we picked the best we could. And then we were issued what they called a 1903 Springfield rifle, the bolt action type and they handed us a rifle. And then at that time they also gave us a clip of bullets which I never realized at that time, but I see from the records that the clip held five bullets. Of course, there wasn't very much anyone could do with five bullets but that was what was given to us at that particular time. And then we were told to report to certain groupings and that was our squad and from then on we followed whereever the squad went.

TI: And what kind of things did they have you do when, you know, in the HTG?

AO: Well, different companies and different squads were assigned to different areas that the main function was to, in as much as the National Guard had been federalized, in other words they had become, from the territory that had become federal people, the territory had no soldiers of their own and we were the soldiers for the territory. And what they did was, they said the territorial guard soldiers were given the assignments of guarding different government installations, government buildings, utility buildings, the gas company, telephone company, the water company, water tanks, the waterfront, downtown government buildings and some of the important bank buildings because they were I guess holding the funds for the state. And things of that type, you know. In fact, some of us were even sent to some fire stations so that they could be protected in order to provide the protection in case the need was there. And there were, some of us were sent over to different water tanks because they to preserve the water supply for the people of Hawaii.

TI: Now when you were on duty with HTG, at night were you then, did you go to barracks or did you... were you then just sent home to sleep in --

AO: No, no, we never had a barrack as such. We were with our squad and we stayed with the group wherever we were assigned to, in other words, one of the first assignments I was given with our group was to guard a fire station and so we bunked at the fire station and we guarded the facilities there. We also guarded water tanks, fresh water tanks to safeguard fresh water supply but we never went home. In fact our families never knew where we were until somebody told our families, "Oh, we saw your son at a certain-certain place standing guard and so forth," you know. But, no, we never had contact with the families as such until later on.

TI: And what kind of reaction did you have from, you know, people when they walked by and they saw you, did you ever talk with people and what did they say?

AO: No, I can't remember, I don't think we did much talking. I think everybody realized the gravity of the situation and there wasn't much talk. You must remember it was only two, three days after the attack, you know, and so like my friend, Tsukiyama says, I didn't feel the same way but he says in his case, when his squad was sent over to St. Louis Heights near the university, they expected Japanese paratroopers to drop down and start attacking the grounds over there and so, you know, it was all high tension things over there. But in our case, we were told to guard different installations, in fact one of our assignments was to guard the KGMB radio station and so we stayed in the station right through maybe for several days until some other squad came to replace us and we were sent over to guard other buildings and facilities.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 13>

TI: Okay, so we were talking about the, you were with the Hawaiian Territorial Guard, you know, after the war had started, and I was just going to ask you, you know, after about two months or so they disbanded or they told Japanese Americans that they could no longer be with HTG? Can you tell me about that, what happened?

AO: Well, my memory on that isn't as good as Ted's, but we were I think we were sent to the firing range and toward Hawaii Kai and so the whole organization more or less was assembled at one point. But according to -- and I can't remember at all -- but according to some of the reports that Ted Tsukiyama and others made, they woke us up real early in the morning, they gathered, the whole organization told us we're out, that this HTG was being disbanded and in essence all the Japanese boys were let go and the next day they were reorganized without the Japanese boys and we were classified as 4-F or "enemy aliens" or whatever it is, you know. And then we were out.

TI: Do you remember that period when you were out and how you felt about that?

AO: Well, it's hard to say except that we were all so mad, you know, here we are we volunteered our services to do whatever we were called upon to do and not knowing what we were going to do and all of a sudden... we did all we what we were asked to do... and all of sudden we're out and naturally the boys were all very unhappy, some of them go very mad and everything. But things settled down and a lot of the boys went back to school again. And that's where some of the boys got together again and started talking and getting together with people like Hung Wai Ching and Shigeo Yoshida and so forth. So that's a development that --

TI: And so for you, when did you start hearing about this new group that was being formed and how did you hear about it?

AO: Well, like I say, I was a senior so I still had one more semester so I went back to school and sitting around with some of the people and then you hear that some of the guys that are in the HTG were getting together and then so I went to look into it and first thing you know I was with the group. And then you read all about how somebody got to write up an offer to the (military) governor to offer our services or whatever. If they don't want to let us carry arms and then we'll carry picks and shovels we'll do whatever is asked of us. And first thing you know we're in the labor battalion.

TI: Now do you know how the name came about, the Varsity Victory Volunteers?

AO: Pardon?

TI: Do you know how the name came about?

AO: No, I don't know how it came about but I guess somebody figured that, you know, we were at the university which is associated with varsity, but well I don't know victory volunteers, but we were volunteers anyway, we volunteered for the labor battalion as such.

TI: And how did that feel to you, you know, just a few weeks before you were being asked to, you know, carry a gun, guard things and now you can't do that and they just give you now a shovel to carry. I mean how did that feel for you?

AO: Well, we thought we were doing something anyway, you know, even if we... naturally like I said, it's pretty disappointing when you were offered yourself to do anything, and you had arms for a while and then they take it away from you. But then we offered to do whatever that would be required of us even without arms, well again, we said we would serve in whatever capacity were asked to do, that's what we did.

TI: So when you did that did you have to then again drop out of school?

AO: Oh, yeah.

TI: Okay, so you could never finish that last semester of college. And so they attached the VVV with the 34th Engineers as a kind of, again, work helper group.

AO: Correct.

<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 14>

TI: And do you remember about how long you were with the VVV?

AO: I think it was a little less than a year, about eleven months I think.

TI: Because after about that time, then the government announced that they were going to allow, you know, Americans of Japanese ancestry to join the Army. Do you remember that announcement?

AO: Well, yes, it was very clearly because they got our whole group together at, our triple V group together and made the announcement and then I think at right then and there they asked us if we wanted to volunteer for the new combat organization that was going to be organized. And many of us right then and there signed up as volunteers.

TI: Now did you talk with your mother about his decision?

AO: Oh, no way, we just went and signed up.

TI: And at this point where was your father?

AO: Nobody knew where he was. We knew he was in the custody of the... whether it was the Army, probably actually the Army but they didn't know whether he was at the immigration station in Honolulu or had been sent away. All they knew was that he was in the custody of the American government.

TI: So there was no family visitation?

AO: No, not as far as I know.

TI: Okay, so you didn't even know where your father was when this was happening?

AO: No.

TI: And yet you decided you're going to volunteer?

AO: Correct.

TI: You didn't tell your mother.

AO: No.

TI: When you went home what was her reaction?

AO: Well, very resigned, I think, you know she just said, "Well, if that's the way you feel, it's for your country, you go ahead and do the best you can period." But that somewhere, you know, if you can get to see Dad, to let her know, to let the family know. Where he is and how he is because he was a sick man and they were hoping that he would still be well.

TI: How about your older brother or older sisters, did they say anything to you about your decision?

AO: No, they couldn't have said anything anyway, you know, they couldn't have changed my mind or anything.

<End Segment 14> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 15>

TI: Okay, so then what happens after you volunteer, what's next?

AO: Well, we signed up and then we just... we signed up there at Schofield at the time the announcement was made I think and as a group I think almost everyone, I don't know, I can't say for sure but I think almost everyone signed up right then and there. And then we reported to Schofield Barracks again I don't know when or how or but then we were assigned to different units, given uniforms assigned to different units and so forth and I don't know how long we stayed at Schofield Barrack before we got orders to go to number one, first of all I think we went to Iolani Palace as a group, I think you've seen the picture. So some reason or other, I don't know, the men who had served in the Triple V were put in the first line. So if you were to look at that picture, we from the Triple V are shown right on the first line of the whole group over there.

TI: Oh, so can you see your face in that picture?

AO: I can, yes.

TI: Okay, yeah it's a very famous picture. I think you're all wearing leis too, aren't you?

AO: Yeah, that's right. I still have that lei too.

TI: Oh, so it's this dried lei that you --

AO: It is a dried... it was a paper lei... oh, yarn, she says it's a yarn.

TI: Okay, and you know, another kind of well-known story is when you were carrying your duffle bags to the ship. Do you remember that?

AO: Oh, yeah, you can't forget it because it was short if you consider you were riding in a car but when we were so small and carry such a heavy duffle bag which most of us couldn't carry, most of us were dragging, and it was supposed to have been a secret that we were going to be shipped out. Yet, the whole streets from the time we got off the train, and we came out from Schofield barracks to downtown on a train but it's a freight car, mostly just a plain, I don't know what kind of car you call it, you know, no seats or anything. The end of the line for the train was right near our fish market in town and from there we walked six, seven blocks but it was a long six, seven blocks because the bag was so heavy and with our helmets, bags, we being so small most of us were dragging our bags. And the thing is it was supposed to have been a secret yet the streets were just filled with parents and friends and so I guess if the Japanese had spies out there they could've... they knew when the ship was going out, they could've torpedoed the ship and it went out in broad daylight too.

TI: So was there anyone there sending you off? Did you have any family?

AO: Well, the news went out like wildfire to different families and they were all... the people from the different families of the boys were all lining the streets, six, seven, eight deep, you know. And I got to see my family along the way, yes.

TI: Now during this time were there any kind of, you know, perhaps more pro-Japan sort of feelings with some people and they were critical of you and others who had volunteered?

AO: Not that we know of, not within our own group or not among our friends, but no.

TI: So let's keep going, so then after that what happened? So you go on the ship and then I think the ship goes to, what, San Francisco?

AO: To Oakland but I don't know how many days it took but I think there were about... they put nine or twelve total was in a stateroom, three tiers and it's pretty crowded. But I'm a poor sailor, I got seasick, I was seasick most of the way and yet along the way the people were put on guard duty and I was put on guard duty one period, I don't know, four hours, eight hours whatever. But I couldn't stand, I was out in the hallway I was just sitting on my okole just because I couldn't stand I was so seasick and yet I'd been assigned to guard duty and we just guarded the hallway. And I don't know how many days it took but along the way I thought maybe one day I felt pretty good that of course during the time I was seasick I couldn't eat. But one day I felt maybe I feel really good so I might go down to mess and get some food. But as I was in the line and the moment I saw some food then I felt the seasickness come right back so I turned right around and went right back without eating. And so for the full trip I don't think I ate anything.

TI: And then you got to Oakland.

AO: We went to Oakland.

TI: And what were some of your first impressions of the mainland?

AO: Oakland was very interesting I think because when we approached the dock everybody yelled, oh, we finally reached land and then all of a sudden somebody started, he said, "Hey, look at it, they got haole longshoremen, they got haole longshoremen," which is very rare. See, in Hawaii most of the longshoremen are Hawaiian, some Japanese and other nationalities and there's no such thing as white people acting as longshoremen. And here we hit Oakland and that was the biggest attraction that there were white, Caucasian longshoremen. Most of the boys made a big fuss about it, well, it was something very unusual we thought so that was one of the interesting things.

<End Segment 15> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 16>

TI: And so from Oakland then by train I think you make your way across the country?

AO: Yes.

TI: Is it to Mississippi?

AO: To Mississippi, yeah.

TI: And tell me about going to the South and how that was for you?

AO: Well, the thing is along the way, somewhere along the way, I don't know where but the train stopped for giving the boys a break and all the while the train is going we were required to put the blinds down on the train. We couldn't see outside but when we reached a point, I don't know, to rest or recuperate or what, we opened up and some of the boys went out just to take a walk. And some of the white people around there, they were surprised to see us and they wanted to know who we were and when we told them... some of the boys told them we were from Hawaii. They wanted to know if we had come all the way from Hawaii on that train, you know. But you see that's the kind of people or mentality or educational background some of these people were. But that was only one thing and then we went all the way to Hattiesburg, Mississippi, yes.

TI: And what were your kind of first experiences with segregation?

AO: Well, you hear a lot but the actual experience was that I had was I was on a bus one day going out to town for when we had a leave and there were a bunch of us and for some reason or other in Hawaii most of the boys when we used to go into the bus we always like to take the back seats as kids. So same thing when we travelled by bus on weekend passes from the camp to Hattiesburg, getting to the bus and first thing you know we head for the back seat and then we got reprimanded by the bus driver saying, "Don't go in the back seat, that's not for you." And we said, "Why not?" They said, "No, no, that's set aside for the blacks. It's not for you." No, so what you know. So I mean, that's the kind of... it was nothing to us and yet it was such a big deal over there. And another incident was at the bus station and the train station we found that there were signs saying "white" and "black." And the Hawaii boys never felt that, well, such segregation should be in effect so when we felt like going to the toilet, we just went into whichever one was convenient and some of them went into the "blacks" and the boys got reprimanded for it. And then of course because of these things that resulted in many, many hand fights among the whites and some of our boys. And so I think it must have reached a level that came to the attention of the higher ups and they said this wasn't very good because we were creating too much trouble by anti-discrimination actions being taken. In other words we should observe whatever rulings or laws that were in effect at that time, in other words, the blacks were blacks and the whites were whites. And so the commanding, I don't know if he was a general or colonel of the 442 got the whole group together one day and says, basically what he told them, "Look, you're in the south, there are certain practices and rules and regulations that must be observed here. There are certain areas that you're not supposed to go in and you are being considered whites and therefore you're not to visit or go into the 'black' toilet, so bus areas. And you're considered white so if you want to stay like that you got to observe," otherwise they said, you know, "we'll just have to do something drastic to make you people observe whatever rules and regulations and laws that are in effect over here." So he laid the law down to the boys.

TI: So he was essentially giving you guys an order to stay away from the "black" areas?

AO: Exactly, to observe the rules and regulations of the South, you know.

TI: You know, another question is when did you start hearing about the camps? That, you know, Japanese Americans were put into place like Jerome or Rohwer?

AO: Well, I think there was quite a bit of publicity among the... those officers or people involved in trying to... you see, the feelings among or between the so-called mainland Japanese and Hawaiian Japanese boys, the relationship wasn't very good because it's just that for one thing I think you mainland boys spoke too well, you know, you used perfect English and where us Hawaiian boys we used pidgin English, broken English and said things in very poor English. And of course we thought, our local boys thought we were being looked down upon and you know. So there was a sense of bad relationship and then because they were there before, the mainland Japanese boys were there, they were our sergeants and we came in and they were our sergeants, they were superior to us and they were giving us orders, that added to the fire so to speak. And so they were our superior, we had to do what... and basically I think it's like I say, it must be because they spoke so well, which was natural for them but our boys didn't realize all that so there wasn't good feeling and there were a lot of... not lot but fights every now... here and there, you know, some of the boys didn't feel they were being... well, they were being looked down upon and being unfairly treated. But because of all these happenings I think some of the officers felt that something ought to be done and therefore I think some people, the higher ups felt that maybe if the local boys were introduced to people in the camps and saw under what conditions these people are living or being treated, and in spite of that, that many of the boys volunteered to serve in the service, they might get better relations between the Japanese, the Hawaii Japanese and the mainland Japanese boys. And so the tours had been arranged and so on certain, it was really weekend trips I think, a bunch of boys were given passes and trucked from Hattiesburg, Camp Shelby to... I went on a trip to... let's see --

TI: It's either Jerome or Rohwer?

AO: We went to Rohwer, there were many that went to Jerome but we went to Rohwer, yes. And I went on one trip and they kept on rotating and letting different... so I think it was very helpful in that for the first time the other Hawaii boys realized that after all, you know, these guys are getting it rough and they gave up a lot of their so-called special foods and whatnot to treat the Hawaii boys to good meals and so forth and dances and different kind of social activities. So I think it changed the minds of many, many of the Hawaii boys, yes.

TI: So that helped the relationship between Hawaii and the mainlanders?

AO: Yes, definitely.

<End Segment 16> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 17>

TI: Okay, so after a while I mean I know the 442 they had three battalions, you know, first, second, third, but then they kept the 1st Battalion back, you know, back and they sent the 2nd and 3rd overseas?

AO: Well, what happened was... and I was in the 1st Battalion, and they didn't keep the whole battalion back but they kept the cadre, the so-called sergeants, you know, they call them cadre, but they kept a few of the sergeants back from headquarters, companies A B C D and say a company might have one, two, three, four, four sergeants per platoon and get three platoons, so maybe fifteen to twenty sergeants in the company. Those sergeants were held back so from A Company, B Company, C Company, D Company only the sergeants were held back and the rest of the men were dispersed, distributed between the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Battalion, anti-tank and artillery and so forth, you know, dispersed.

TI: And why were these sergeants, you know, kept back, why were you and the others --

AO: In order to train the incoming, future recruits that were coming in so they needed a core group to serve as sergeants or trainers to take care of training the new draftees and inductees or whatever you want to call it.

TI: Okay, so most of the men were then sent overseas. You and the other sergeants were, you know, stayed there for the, to help train.

AO: Correct.

TI: So how did you feel about being left behind?

AO: Well, actually there wasn't very much you could do because... have you ever been in the army?

TI: No.

AO: No, you see, you do what you're told and that's it, you're given orders and they're all written orders and they all stayed back and that's it. We couldn't do nothing, you know, so we didn't feel good naturally, you know, see all our friends leave and you're left behind. And so, no, we didn't feel good, we hated to see our... you wanted to leave together with the rest of your friends.

TI: Now was it about this time that you went to Fort Benning also or how long were you there before you went to Fort Benning?

AO: I think we stayed there for about three or four months, we must have trained three, about three different groups of inductees and in one of these groups I met her brother, one of her brothers. Of course at that time he was just one of the boys but I did remember him. So eventually when I got together with her, it's through having known her brother at one time. But I think we stayed there about three or four months and we took care of about three or four different groups coming in.

TI: And then they approached you about the Officer Candidate School?

AO: No, they don't approach, they just give you a written order and they tell you you go and you know.

TI: Oh, I always thought that was supposed to be a volunteer --

AO: No, they tell you to go and you've been selected and you go. But the strange part is that even though a bunch of went, they never put even two of us in the same company, it's always just you by yourself, you know, you're the only Nisei in each class over there as far as I know.

TI: And what was the thinking? Was the thinking that you would get officer training and then you would be then shipped to Europe?

AO: Correct, I think that was basic idea upon which this whole program was set up but it didn't turn out that way, you know, the way it turned out you know. Because we went and like I said, maybe about, in my class there were about three hundred, plus or minus three hundred candidates so to speak, of which about a hundred graduated and received their commissions. And those of us among the Niseis that we got our commissions, we were sent to Fort McClellan, Alabama. And there again we were sent there I guess to receive, well, we were supposed to get training to become platoon leaders, you know, to lead our men supposedly when we went overseas I guess. But actually what we were doing was we were again training recruits coming in both other nationalities... white troops as well as Nisei troops coming in.

TI: Now during this time did you ever have problems with someone calling you "Jap" or, because you're Japanese, looking down at you?

AO: Never.

<End Segment 17> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 18>

TI: But you're now commissioned as a lieutenant?

AO: Yes, a second lieutenant.

TI: So then after Fort McClellan, then what happened?

AO: After Fort McClellan and then we got orders to go to Fort Snelling.

TI: Now as part of that did they give you any test, like Japanese test or anything?

AO: No test, no nothing. This is why I sometimes wonder just how much background research the people in charge do before taking a lot of these actions because they, even when we were at Shelby, some of the boys told me that different groups of people came to scout them and give them tests and this and that. But I was never approached and I wonder to myself, why was I not approached or considered to go to the language school? Because compared to a lot of these other kids, you know, my background in the Japanese school was that I think that I went to the eleventh grade which is supposed to be pretty good those days. But not so from at McClellan no test no nothing just received orders to go to Fort Snelling, that's all. That's about it to go to the Japanese language school.

TI: It's almost like they couldn't figure out what to do with you after they sent you to Officer Candidate School then, you know, to Fort McClellan, it was like they changed their minds or their plans. Rather than sending you to Europe, they --

AO: I think, well, looking back, you know, when you face back it could be that... and after hearing some of the stories from some of the other friends, the war in Europe was winding up and some of the boys were sent over but came right back so they must have felt that it would have been a useless... when you were to send us over there and then come right back. And you know as much as we had some knowledge of the Japanese language that they would send us to Snelling, you know.

TI: So at Fort Snelling I'm curious because, you know, all the other, you know, Japanese Americans who went to Fort Snelling were not officers. Even though they would get that training, you know, they would complain, especially the earlier classes how they would get the same training as the whites and the whites would be officers, you know, they would be commissioned as officers but they would remain enlisted men and not get officer ranking. Here you come in as an officer, as a Japanese American, so that's a little bit different wasn't it? Because all the other Japanese Americans were, what, corporals or --

AO: That's why I say it doesn't make much sense because even I myself noticed that... I just couldn't understand it, I know... so I go into a class and I spend one week there and then they promoted me to another class. And another week they promoted me to another class because they find out that apparently my knowledge of Japanese is a little better than what they thought. So I keep on, every week I'm going up up up up you know. But they never gave me a test or anything to find out, you know, just how far or how knowledgeable I was or how poor I was or whatever. But it just didn't make any sense so your question is a good one, you know, why some of these white officers were placed together with Nisei corporal, sergeants when many times the Nisei were so much better as far as the language was concerned. But that's the army.

TI: But how about your status as an officer, did that cause any interesting situations with the other Niseis?

AO: No, no problem.

TI: So did you live with the other Niseis even though you were an officer or did they have a special --

AO: No, we were in a bachelor's officers' quarters with other Nisei officers.

TI: And how many otherNisei officers were there?

AO: There were quite a few, thirty, forty, I don't know and some of them had come back from the Far East, you know, had gotten field commissions and they were in for retraining and so forth, you know. So which made us more or less inferior because we were green, we had no actual training, you know, no actual experience being in the... combat experience in the Far East.

TI: But on the other hand you probably had a lot more like infantry background.

AO: Well, exactly, yes.

TI: Because of the cadre you knew how to train men and so you had that kind of more I guess leadership sort of experience.

AO: Correct, so maybe that's the reason why, you see because our background is infantry. You know, as an infantry soldier you know, more or less but it's hard to say, you can't figure these guys out.

TI: It is interesting because I've interviewed so many different situations and it doesn't make sense, I mean, there's always different ways that people went to, say, Fort Snelling and, yeah, it's not really clear why certain things happened. A lot of people who got in, you know, for instance I'm not sure if you know my Uncle Joe Hashizaki.

AO: I knew him too.

TI: And you know he knew no Japanese going in he said.

AO: And yet you see again why didn't they study his background a little more and put him in the right place with all, you know, with all his knowledge and he's a smart man and why put him in the infantry as such.

TI: Yeah, because he grew up in Montana with no Japanese experience.

AO: It's really ridiculous, it didn't make any sense.

TI: Yeah, so that's why it's just, it's interesting.

<End Segment 18> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 19>

TI: So when you finish your training, where was the war, I mean, was the war winding down about then?

AO: Of course we weren't aware that it was winding down but we had been alerted to go overseas, a bunch of us, and not quite received our orders yet but we were told that we were going to go overseas. That's why flight arrangements were made for us to go to the Far East.

TI: Now because of your combat training, were you going to be given a special assignment?

AO: No, I didn't have any combat training but the infantry training.

TI: Oh, infantry, infantry training I mean. Because of your infantry training were you going to be... did they kind of have a special assignment for you and the others?

AO: No, no such classification or anything like that. It just didn't make any sense, that's all. So we were told we were going overseas but then they dropped the atomic bomb, Russia gave in, the war was ended. But they said the orders had been cut so we're supposed to go to Japan. So we flew, but we were supposed to fly from Presidio in California to Japan. Well, in the meantime the interesting thing is although I was supposed to fly out of Presidio California to go to Japan there was a time space in between so what I arranged for was... by then my dad had been in an internment camp initially at Santa Fe, New Mexico, and he had been released from the internment camp... well, initially he was at the concentration camp at Lordsburg, New Mexico, then transferred to internment camp. And from internment camp he'd been released to go to the relocation camp in --

TI: I think Amache.

AO: Amache, Colorado, yes. So when I wrote to him that I'm going to California and I'd like to go and visit him on the way then he told me that he had received his order to go to Seattle as a port of embarkation to be sent back. So I say okay fine then I'll go to Amache and then I'll take him out and get him to Seattle, which I did. So I went up to Amache, I think spent overnight with a family that had taken such good care of my dad, got on a train and --

TI: And when you at first... when you're at Amache, the first time you saw your father, how had he changed physically when you look at him?

AO: Oh, he was physically... he had lost a lot of weight, he had shrunk in size. But nevertheless he seemed to be well, weak, you know, seemed to be weak because he had shrunk so much he seemed like a small man. Because in his younger days he was more robust and well-built but after all those years in the custody and in the concentration camp, internment camp but he had stayed with a very nice California family and at Colorado they took such good care of him you know. So he had recovered part of his physical appearance, he had gained some weight, but nevertheless he was still very... he had shrunk, he was very skinny and everything. But I was able to get him out and by train we went to Seattle and then I put him in a hotel. We checked in at the hotel but my big problem was now what do I do, I had my orders to go to Presidio. So I had to follow up and see what I could do with him, you know, I couldn't just leave him the hotel by himself, he was a sick man. And the first answer that came was WRA, you know, so I went to that office and there I met the person, he was one of the boys that had been in the classes at Shelby and, you know, after greetings and so forth he asked me what I was doing there and I told him the reason I was there and see what I can do about my dad. And so this person happened to be a good friend of May's family so he's says, "Oh, why don't you talk to her?" I think you knew his brother, you know. And I say, "Yeah, well, I'll give you her phone number and make contact anyway and maybe she might be able to help," you know. And so I got... he made it possible for me to talk to her and get to see her and then she was the one that helped me find this minister, what was she, Ms. McCullough? But what her position, she was a missionary, she was a Christian missionary person. And she was running the Fujin home, I don't know if you're familiar with it.

TI: Yes, I've heard about that.

AO: Well, she was running the Fujin home and so she took me with my dad, we went to see her and she says, "Oh, we'd be very happy to look after him," until he gets his orders to go home to Honolulu.

TI: So people in Seattle were very helpful and friendly?

AO: Yes, so that's what they said so you know, she helped me.

TI: And many of them had just returned to Seattle too, they had not been there probably that long because this was right after the war.

AO: Yeah, right after the war.

TI: You know, I was curious when you went from Amache to Seattle on the train with your father, did have very many discussions and did he tell you what it was like in camp?

AO: I don't think so, I don't remember. I can't recall.

TI: Can you remember that you guys talked about?

AO: No, it's just I think the fact that I saw him at least relatively well and we were able to take him out of the relocation camp over to Seattle, you know, I think that was a big deal enough that I don't think we did very much talking, just happy to see each other I guess, you know.

TI: So now you're in Seattle, I just want to kind of summarize this a little bit. So it's there you met your future wife, May Funai who's in the room off camera. But at that time when you first met her, was there an interest? Was that someone that you thought, "Oh, this is someone that I'm interested in"?

AO: No, it was not so at that particular time but I thought she was very nice. She was very helpful because I needed help at that time and then she was a sister of a soldier that I had befriended too. Not a special friend at that time but I did know him, you know, among all these other Seattle people as well as other California boys. But somehow I did remember him and, no, it wasn't so at that time. I didn't think of her as a future bride at that time, no.

TI: Okay, so your father is now taken care of and so then you, what, take a train down to San Francisco?

AO: Yeah, by train or... I don't know whether I flew or went by train to... yeah, I went down to Presidio to report in.

<End Segment 19> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 20>

TI: Okay, so Akira, we're going to start the third section and where we left it was you had just got your father to Seattle. He's being taken care of, now you're now at the Presidio ready to go to Japan so why don't we start there, so what happens next?

AO: Well, I think it was because we had been scheduled to go overseas prior to the end of the war, we were very fortunate that we flew, so we went to Presidio to get the plane and the plane went from Presidio to Hawaii to Johnston Island to Manila and then to Tokyo. But upon arriving in Honolulu we told the officer in charge at the airport in Honolulu that we were from Hawaii, that we hadn't been home for, what, almost over three years, and we'd like to see our family. And as much as here we are in Honolulu anyway. He said, "No, your orders read you got to go right on, you just got to go." And so some boys said, "No, but here we are, we served for over three years and here this is our hometown and we'd like to see our families." "No you cannot." So we were kind of resigned but after the officer left there was an enlisted man, I don't know what his rank was, he was sergeant or whatever, but he pulled us to the side and he said, you know, I know how you guys feel, he says, I'll talk to another officer and see if he can't get you guys to stay over a few days. And so he made it possible for us to... he says, yeah, he got approval so he says, "You guys can go," there were about five of us I think. He says, "You guys can go but here's my number so when you guys are ready to go, you call me and I'll put you on another plane." And so we were able to go home and see our family, each of us, which was quite a deal because we hadn't... actually from '43, '44, '45, yeah, a little over two years.

TI: So it must have been a surprise for your family because they weren't expecting you?

AO: Yeah, they weren't expecting us. It was a surprise. We were able to stay about two days I think and we thought, well, we should go. We can't let the guy down that had given us a break. And called him and made arrangements and so we went back to Hickam then they put us on the mail plane, U.S. mail plane, you know, which means no chairs, no nothing. There's just a freighter with nothing but a big pile of mail, mailbags, so we just made ourselves comfortable but I was very happy because I can't take a... you know, go by boat, I get seasick so badly. So we flew by mail plane to Johnston Island which was a real tiny island in the Pacific but it made it. And then flew from there to Manila and its right after the war, this was still in the end of September, middle September I think. Of course the war ended, what, on August 14th I think. So I think it was the middle, no, I think early September.

TI: So just a couple weeks after the war had ended.

AO: Yeah, and so here we were landed in Manila and the aftermath and in fact some of the pictures I took, you know, the whole city is really demolished and everything. So we wait for our next plane to fly from Manila to Tokyo and so I think we spent one night but we stayed at a billet which was where we sleep and stay at awaiting the plane. But from our billet to the mess area we had to walk a few blocks and of course we were specifically instructed not to go by ourselves. Because even though we wore United States Army officer's uniform, we still look like Japanese. And so he says, "Don't go out by yourselves," you always go around with the hakujin officer or somebody of that type, which was good advice because walking from our billet to our mess area, they Filipinos would be pointing at us and "Hapon, Hapon," "Japanese, Japanese," you know.

TI: And were they kind of angry or what was kind of the sense about that?

AO: Well, they must not have felt good but they couldn't do anything anyway, you know, we were not carrying any kind of arms but just the fact that we wore American uniforms, you know. So there was no incident but the damage was very bad but one thing I noticed too is that even going through all the mess over there, it's an outdoor mess, you know, we get our food like how you see. And at the end of the line after we get through with the disposing of our leftovers or whatever leftover there was, there was a long line of Filipinos just waiting for our leftovers. So that was very... it touched us real, you know, it's pretty sad to see. They don't have anything to eat, enough to eat, and they were waiting for our leftovers. Plus the fact that they... the other thing that I noticed was that they weren't doing anything to better their station in life. Because I noticed that even because from the moment after we got from Philippines to Japan and after I arrived in Osaka, which was my final station, even going around the city you could see, you know, it was only a few, matter of a few days, but in Japan the people were picking up wooden boxes from the military bases. And with it, either the wood from the boxes they were making shelter for themselves. They never came to our mess area to beg for food, leftover food or anything like that. But after we went to Japan I noticed this big difference in the way they added to their station in life between the two different people. That's a big difference. But as long as we were in Manila, we made sure that we were always with hakujin, Caucasian officer but we never did go out very far from our billet area. The only time we went out is from our billet to our mess and back.

<End Segment 20> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 21>

TI: So let's go to your trip to Japan. I mean, this is the first time you've been to Japan?

AO: Yes.

TI: And so what were some of your impressions when you first got there?

AO: Well, our first station was in Tokyo before we got assigned to different duties and it's amazing that the few building which were more or less on the outskirts of the Imperial Palace, they were all intact, they were good buildings, intact and the Americans had taken over the buildings. So we were assigned, we slept in the buildings there and waiting for an assignment and of course we didn't have too much of a chance to go around to go sightseeing or anything like that but from our area we could, we were, like I say, we were right next to the Imperial Palace. So we could see anyway the Imperial Palace and there's no damage to the palace as such and the surrounding area. But the people, it's amazing, they accepted us even though we were Niseis, they seemed to accept us, we had no problem with them, and they were hard workers. Another thing that kind of caught our attention was the use of toilets, you know, it is a common toilet, men, women all together so it's very unusual. So we could go in and you could see women going in and women coming out and men going in and men coming, you know, it's all mixed in. But that was something very unusual for us because something we were not used to. But otherwise we stayed in Tokyo only for a few days until we got our assignment. And once we got our assignment, in my case I was sent over to Osaka.

TI: And what was your assignment in Osaka, what were you to do?

AO: Well, I was assigned to what they call CCD or Civil (Censorship) Detachment, not civil service but civil... anyway, had to do with communication, I forget.

TI: Civil Communications Detachments, CCD?

AO: CCD, yeah, Civil Detachment anyway, I can't recall exactly. So what our duty was, it was a postal mail censorship detachment and the detachment was supposed to censor every piece of mail going through the Japanese mail system. But the thing is because there were not enough Americans to censor the thousands of mail going through, they used the Japanese nationals who could understand Japanese as well as English. So these censors, the Japanese censors were the ones doing the actual censoring and we were in the review section. So that any time any of these Japanese censors found anything of interest to the Americans, whether it was the morale or spy or whatever that might be detrimental to the interest to the United States Army, they were sent over to our section, the review section and we would review to evaluate whether or not it meant anything and to what extent. And then if we found that there were really suspicious information included then they were sent to the counterintelligence or the watch list section where they were sent to specialists who investigated more seriously and to track the people that sent it to the people that the mail was supposed to go to.

TI: Now at this time, one of the issues that the United States government was concerned about was Communism or the spread of Communism.

AO: Correct, exactly, they were very much afraid of Communism so they were on the lookout for Communists, yes.

TI: And so that was one of the things that you were looking at in particular?

AO: That was one of the things we were looking out for?

TI: Okay and what kind of things would you look for for Communism, would people talk about it or I mean how would you look for Communism?

AO: Well, mainly... you see the thing is whenever it came to our attention, it was very roughly, fast routed over to the counterintelligence and watch list section and I had a friend, Dick Kosaki, I don't know have you interviewed Dick Kosaki?

TI: Kosaki?

AO: Kosaki.

TI: Yes, Richard Kosaki, yes.

AO: Yeah, Richard Kosaki, he was in the watch list section together with us but he was one of the smart boys in doing a lot of extra work over above us.

TI: So you were kind of like a filter, you'd try to find the interesting stuff and the important stuff he would --

AO: Yeah, in between, you know, the intermediary before it went to the bigger people.

TI: Okay, so it was kind of like this whole, it's like a pyramid where the Japanese nationals would find things and anything interesting, they would go to you first and then you would look at it and then maybe one or two things would then go up to the next level.

AO: Reroute it, yes, correct.

TI: And how long did you do this?

AO: I stayed in Osaka for six months and the reason I didn't stay any longer is that I felt I had been in the service for... ever since December 8th and it's about time, I just wanted to go home and call it quits. So when they said okay you had enough, you could, so I said, "Fine, I'll go home," you know.

<End Segment 21> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 22>

TI: So before we take you back to Hawaii, any other just memories or experiences in Japan?

AO: Yeah, one of the things I'd like to mention is that along the way I contacted my father's sister of the family in Oki-Kamuro, the island that my dad came from. And I had contact with her and so I told her I'm going to have a leave before I go home, maybe if you could tell me how to get there I want to visit Oki-Kamuro. And she says, oh, she'll come out to Osaka and she'll take me to the home, you know. So I said fine so I made arrangements to get the tickets and this is another interesting thing which is another, a foolish thing on the part of the American army. But because I was an officer and I wanted to go to this place in Yamaguchi-ken by train, when I reported in, because I'm an American officer, they gave me a whole train, a whole car.

TI: Just for you?

AO: Just for me and my auntie, you know, I don't know how many, fifty, sixty, eighty seats. And in the meantime all the Japanese are going crazy, they want transportation, they're on the rooftop, they're banging on the windows and everything else.

TI: So all the other cars are just packed.

AO: Yeah, they're all packed. So I felt sorry for them so I told the soldier in charge, "Let them in," and I almost got shoved out because of all the... but that's how bad it was but, you know, there was no gratitude on their part, all they wanted was transportation and somebody made it possible for them to got one but they gave me a, mind you, the whole car, it doesn't make very much sense, you know, again. But anyway I got to go to the island and from the main island to another island there was a bridge, no, there was no bridge at the time, there was a big boat that took us from the main island to this Oshima and then we had to go around this island by car and then from the end of this area from this Oshima town to go to a little island, you had to catch another small boat which I think at that time, I don't know if they had any motor on it, these guys kind of rowboat, you know. So there I went with my auntie, my auntie took me to this island and you know, the Japanese style we go to visit the graves so you pay your respects to the ancestors and so forth. And I think I spent, I don't know, I think one night or two nights.

TI: It must have been a pretty big event for --

AO: For them so therefore somebody told somebody to ask me if I would like to talk to the people there. And I said, "Yeah, I'd be happy to," so I said, "I don't know if they'd be able to understand." But the thing is, so when a group gathers, it was nothing but old people, small women, children and that's about it, you know. So I told them in my poor Japanese that I was a Nisei from Hawaii, that I represented the American army but I said the war is over... basically what I told them is, "The war is over, your people don't have to die for the nation, will you please live for your country now, the war is all over. So now you got to live for your country," I mean, that was the crux of my main talk. And I don't know if it meant anything to those people but... and it is such a small island but yet I think there must have been close to fifty, sixty, eighty people, I don't know how many, you know.

TI: Did anyone say anything to you after your speech?

AO: There were a few came to ask a few questions but I don't remember too much after that.

TI: That's a good story. So you got a chance to go back to your, essentially your ancestors' home.

AO: Yeah.

<End Segment 22> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 23>

TI: Any other experiences, I was going to ask you about Tsukiji, if you had --

AO: Oh, yeah, well, yes, in fact that's one of the first thing I did because my dad had contact with... I don't know if I'd mentioned earlier, with the people from Taiyo Gyogyo. Taiyo Gyogyo was the world's largest fishing company and the main office was in Tokyo but some reason along the way my dad had got to know those people. But actually he didn't know the high ups, he knew the in between or lower echelon people who were in the business section. And somebody in the lower echelon that my dad told me, "If you go to Tokyo will you look up this person? I'll give you two names, look up this person or this person and see if they're alive," number one, and number two, if they are alive just to tell them that he's okay and that he's hoping that they are okay too. So I inquired, first of all I went to their head office of Taiyo Gyogyo in Tokyo and I inquired and I asked for a certain person's name and many people didn't know but I finally somebody who said, "Oh yeah, he's at the cold storage section," some few blocks away in the industrial district. So I don't know, I think I had a jeep driver and I had him take me to that cold storage area and I found this person, he was in charge of the cold storage but he all by himself. And he remembered my father very well and paid his respects and he said, oh, he apologized greatly that he couldn't do very much for me because there were nothing, all he could offer was some tea and some frozen oranges that he had in the cold storage. I said, oh, I didn't expect... I just wanted to see his face and see that he was well so that, "I could report back to my dad that I had seen you and that you're fine and your family is okay." So I made that contact and it was from that contact on that my father started rebuilding the relationship with this company again. To a point that someday many, well, a few years after that, that was still '45, '46, I don't know, in the middle '50s I think, got to a point where the president of that company wanted to send his son to school in the United States and needed a sponsor but they didn't know who to... they didn't know anybody who could sponsor the son. And then they found out that this man that I had looked up, that we were doing business through that company, knew my dad. So they asked him to contact my father and see if he would sponsor their son. So to make a long story short, my father got to sponsor this boy and he went to the school in California, I forgot what. And eventually he got so that my father had to sponsor his cousin whose father became the next president. But eventually this guy that my... the second boy that my father sponsored became the president of Taiyo in later years. But they never forgot that my father sponsored them. And the thing is at that time they could not export any dollars. So in other words, my father had to sponsor them by spending U.S. dollars without any assurance of being repaid in U.S. dollars. Eventually he was repaid, yes, you know, but at that time it was just a matter of doing a favor and hopefully... but it helped his business. I guess my father's own mind that, you know, he wanted to do business with this company, eventually, hopefully that they could help him too you know.

TI: So you helped reestablish that connection?

AO: Yes, we established it, yes.

TI: Good, and then you know, back to the fish market, Tsukiji, yeah, I mean, did you visit the fish market when you were in Tokyo?

AO: Now when was this again now?

TI: This was when you were still... during the occupation.

AO: No, no, I never did, that was the end because after that I went to Osaka, so I never did spend any time in Tokyo after that.

TI: So why don't we... are there any other stories Japan or should we go to Hawaii now?

AO: Well, I don't know but I probably think about it later but no, I can't think of anything here.

TI: Okay, so let's... so you finally after being in the service --

AO: Well, one thing, yes, one thing was when I was in Osaka, one of my fellow officers, officer from Hawaii he wanted to go to Hiroshima so we passed through Hiroshima very fast because he was looking for his relative. And he was able to find the relative quite a bit outside of the city so he was not killed by the atomic bomb. But from there, what we did was we went together by jeep, we went to Sasebo which was a big naval base for the Japanese Navy and there we visited the naval base and we saw several large battleships and other ships all sunk, they had been sunk by the Japanese themselves, you know, to prevent the American Navy from taking it over. But they were all in the water and I took pictures of all the ships. That was another interesting, you know, short trip.

TI: And why did they... they sunk 'em so that the Americans couldn't use them even though the war was --

AO: Well, before the war ended they sunk it you see?

TI: Oh, before the war ended. Okay, interesting, did you visit in Hiroshima the blast area?

AO: I just passed through when we went through by train, you know.

TI: Okay, so you didn't get a good view.

<End Segment 23> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 24>

TI: So let's go back now to Honolulu. So when you return to Honolulu, how had things changed?

AO: Well, it didn't seem to have changed very much because, well we, of course, the families got together and everything is... everybody is happy but we tried to get together with our friends and a lot of our friends were not back yet. And then I felt that I should go back to school and get my degree anyway, I had one more semester left and I think I made an application to go back to school. I did get... they did let me go back to school but I needed a couple of courses but I had the hardest time because I think my mind just was not attuned with the type of training because of the time I spent in the military. And I had the hardest time graduating, making it one course. But I did graduate, I graduated the same time as my kid brother who also graduated and that was in 1947 I think I took one semester of course and I completed it.

TI: And how was the business doing, you know, the fish business?

AO: Well, it was still in an infant stage at that time although my brother was running it and he was, like I said, he was not a well man but he ran it good considering all the difficulties he had. But those were the growing days and I guess that's how the honor that would bestowed, that's the hardest time that my brother and my dad had trying to rebuild the business because there were no boats, very little boats still in existence, they were all the wooden sampans and he had to start -- well, not he but the industry had to start rebuilding itself. As the demand for fish became greater and greater we found that we needed boats, we needed men, in fact, as we got more boats we found that there was not enough men to man the boats as crew members. So somewhere along the line my dad got together with the Japanese consul general as well as people in the industry and made it possible to negotiate with the Japanese government and in fact they referred us to go to Okinawa and bring in some imports of Okinawan fishermen to man some of our boats.

TI: So what happened to all the sort of old time fishermen, before the war, you know all... it was an active fishing industry.

AO: Well, they had all disappeared, they had died or had gotten too old and during the war years they couldn't go out fishing, you know, just as we were kicked out of the army they couldn't man the boats, they couldn't own boats and they couldn't run, even become crew members.

TI: That's interesting, you never think about that, but you're right, so this industry had just sort of disappeared.

AO: Yeah, you know, there were no boats or very few boats and so boats had to be rebuilt and then once they started getting a few boats, no matter how small they were, they needed crew members and that's how my dad got together with the Japanese government, the consulate general, and made it possible for one of our managers and me to visit Okinawa and negotiated an Okinawan... the American army was still in control of Okinawa then and it was very fortunate that some of our, the guys that we knew in the army together that were the special aid and they were in the Okinawa military government who controlled the country anyway, the Okinawan community. So it made it possible to import initially maybe fifty then later on over hundred Okinawan men to work on our boats which was very helpful you know. And even to this day I think there are maybe two or three of the Okinawan fishermen still left, the rest of them all went back and they became millionaires because at that time, the few five, six, seven hundred dollars a month they were making, you know, made them millionaires back in Okinawa.

TI: So you essentially bootstrapped the industry, I mean, you know, you had some boats and then you got the crews, and then once they were able to start fishing, you had this market.

AO: Yeah, my dad, yeah, made it possible for the industry to start gradually being built up again because the boats without crew members... even right now today the industry is short of actual people who will work on boats. There's no Nisei and there's no Sansei, there's no Yonsei, there's nobody that want to work on a boats. So what happens is actually for the longest time Vietnamese fishermen were brought in, Korean fishermen were brought in and today they're trying to get Filipinos and other nationalities through special arrangement but it's been very, very difficult to find.

TI: So why is that? Is that because the work is really hard or is it because it's not very financially rewarding?

AO: It's very hard, it's a hard life. Long line boats would, you know, these boats are maybe... a small boat would be fifty-feet in length, the bigger ones a hundred twenty feet, they each carry maybe five, six men but they stay out there for... some of them at least three weeks, some of them five, six weeks at a time. It's not that easy of a life and then it's still a gamble. If they do well they do very well and if they don't do well they get a hard time. And there's no guarantee of wages or anything so it's not an easy life. It's hard to get men to go out fishing on a commercial basis.

TI: And when they do that do the crews usually share the risk? I mean so if they get a good catch everyone makes more money or it just really the owner or the captain?

AO: No, the crew... the system is such that a crew always shared... from the total proceeds of the sale of the catches, our auction company takes a commission off the top. The balance goes to the boat owner, now the boat owner has his own arrangements with the crew members, of course, first of all he got to take care of his expenses. His expenses of the fuel, the ice, the food and whatever repairs that had to be made to the boat. And the expenses of the sale and for the balance the boat owner takes maybe thirty, forty, fifty percent depending on what kind of investment he has in his boat and the balance is shared among the crew members. So if they do well, the crew members do well. If they do poorly, they can hardly make the expenses.

TI: Right, so the crew would get hardly anything.

AO: But the only thing is that they would have had been fed along the way, that's about it. But if there are family members, they get hard time.

<End Segment 24> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 25>

TI: Now talk about your role, I mean what type of changes did you make to increase the business?

AO: Well, it's not my role as such because the main thing is I have a good management team. And they're the ones because by the time I got involved, you know, it's hard work, like my son, I have my two sons involved, too. But my son leaves the house at three, three-thirty in the morning and he doesn't come home until six-thirty, seven, seven-thirty at night. And all of our management crew for... see our general manager, the assistant manager, and the mid management group members, you see, the boats start unloading the catches, our long line boats. Start unloading their catches and the catches could run between 40,000 pounds for a smaller catch or up to 70, 80,000 pounds per boat. So depending on the size of the catch and depending on the order in which they return to port, they start unloading the boats maybe twelve midnight because our auction starts at five-thirty in the morning, sharp. So they start unloading the boats about midnight, they unload it, brought to a weigh station, each tuna or each swordfish or whatever is weighed, labeled, put on pallets and put on a block. But when you figure you got thirty, forty, fifty, sixty, eighty thousand pounds of fish, that's a lot of fish going through. So they start the procedure maybe about twelve o'clock midnight, auction started at five-thirty sharp, and it just keeps on going until every piece of fish is sold and removed from the premises. So that takes time and so then the bookkeeping work that's done since because of the sale, by computers they go to the office and the work is done and the boats usually ask our company to... of course we deduct our commission, we deduct, they deduct the cost of the fuel, the food, the ice and whatever else, the repairs of the vessel and then they tell us what shares the boat owner gets and the rest we split up the crew and we do all the bookkeeping work for them. And the final proceeds and we even make out the individual checks to the individual fishermen. And they all get paid that very day you see, the sale is made.

TI: Wow, so you do a lot of work.

AO: We do a lot of work.

TI: So it wasn't just like giving one big check, you do all that calculations?

AO: No, we do all that, yes, correct.

TI: So that by the end of the day everything is all taken care of.

AO: It's all taken care of as far as the boats are concerned.

TI: And for tax reasons, everything, it makes it a lot easier for everyone 'cause everything is done.

AO: Correct, yes. That's why they hold us in high respect because we do all that and on top of that as far as the sales that are made or the purchases made by the middlemen, it is our responsibility to collect from them. The boat owners, they have gotten their money already so it's our responsibility to collect from the middlemen that bought all that fish.

TI: Now is that difficult sometimes?

AO: Sometimes it gets but we have to keep on the ball all the time, otherwise we cannot survive.

TI: Especially during these difficult economic times.

AO: Correct.

TI: Where they think they can sell it and if they can't sell it, then they don't get the money and so they have hard times too.

AO: That's what we want to make sure that these people are a good people, substantially, financially, you know, responsible and everything else. That's our job.

TI: And so to be successful it's really trusting or finding good people to work with, I mean if you have good buyers, good fishermen, then everything works well.

AO: Correct. And we have to get good people too. We have to get a good management team because like I said, they start work early, they do a lot of hard work, they're very responsible and we still, you know, they have their own families to look after too. And we work six days a week, Monday through Saturday. Sunday is the only day they don't work.

<End Segment 25> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 26>

TI: So I've read newspaper articles and, you know, I know it's been a while, a little bit but you have a new pier, or the new building.

AO: We have new facilities, yes.

TI: New facilities and everything so is this pretty much your dream or do you see more things happening in the future?

AO: Well, I don't know, in our business it's hard to anticipate or to plan too much because the government, not only our national government, but international governments are involved and they're restricting or trying to control the catches of certain species of fish, especially tuna because they feel that the supply is dwindling. There's overfishing being done especially of the best quality tuna though, the hon maguro, the blue fin in Japan, that all over the world, they're overfishing. And so they're trying to restrict the quality of such fish to be taken from the sea and even in our case, now last year they stopped our boats from fishing a certain prime area where most of our boats concentrate on doing their fishing because they say that this area is being overfished and therefore as of November maybe fifteen or so last year, they stopped our boats from going to it and they had to go some area which was not as prolific as far as the production of tunas. So for us we are controlled or we are overseen by the American government by its regulations and so forth but internationally we don't know how much control or watch is being done over their catches.

TI: So in some cases it's like a unfair playing ground.

AO: Yes, it is, well, it's definitely unfair because we observe all the rules and regulations but we don't know how much they are doing it and yet they're fishing in the same pot. So we can't make too much of a... we can't plan too far ahead because we... you know, you might hit a blank. So we just have to go along and watch and observe and see because more and more if you notice the government is just getting involved in controls, controls, controls.

TI: Well, because the seafood markets has you know increased so much, yeah, you're right, a lot of these fisheries are being overfished and there's concern about sort of sustaining them for a long term so I know there's lots of rules. You know, in the northwest it's salmon.

AO: Exactly, you've seen that there, yeah.

TI: In terms of monitoring that and trying to sustain it. But then, yeah, then there's issues with Indian rights and everything in terms of how that all works, interesting, well, good. Well, so Akira, I've finished all my questions, is there anything else that you think you should talk about?

AO: No, that's about it I guess.

TI: It's been three hours.

AO: I've told you whatever I remember as best as I could. I know some of them might not be as accurate as you may want it to be and there might be more stories but that's about it for now I guess. Thank you very much. I don't know I hope it helps plus whatever material I gave you there will help future generations anyway, you know.

TI: No, it has and so thank you very much for --

AO: But I think basically we owe it to our parents, my father, my mother. My father I know worked awfully hard, my mother worked hard, my wife worked hard, she knows what I've gone through you know.

TI: Well, I should note that when to prepare for this interview, I had to call you when you were still at work and so even though you are ninety years old, you still go into the office in the mornings.

AO: Well, I'm still in 'til two-thirty, three o'clock anyway. I feel as though the day I stop going, that's the end of my life anyway. So even though I don't do very much because like I told you I have a good management team, I have a good general manager, Mr. Goto, and good assistant manager, Brooks, and my two sons are there. My son goes to work, he leaves the house at least by three-thirty every morning, six days a week, doesn't come home until seven o'clock, you know. So he doesn't have much of a family life but being a businessman being involved in the fishing business, it's not easy, it's tough, it's tough. I've gone through it and my wife knows it, you know, spent a lot of time. Thank you very much, you know, I hope it helps somebody in the future anyway.

TI: No, it's fascinating, so thank you very much.

<End Segment 26> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.