Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Yasu Koyamatsu Momii Interview
Narrator: Yasu Koyamatsu Momii
Interviewer: Sharon Yamato
Location: Los Angeles, California
Date: October 25, 2011
Densho ID: denshovh-myasu-01

<Begin Segment 1>

SY: Okay, we're talking today with Yasu Momii. It's October 25, 2011, and we're at the Centenary United Methodist Church in Los Angeles. My name is Sharon Yamato, and Tani Ikeda is our videographer. So Yasu, I want to start by saying happy birthday.

YM: Thank you.

SY: Tell us, tell us when your birthday was and how old you became.

YM: It was October 23rd.

SY: So two days ago.

YM: Two days ago, so I'm ninety years old.

SY: A milestone.

YM: [Laughs] Yes, it is.

SY: You are amazing. You look so wonderful for ninety years old.

YM: Thank you.

SY: So I guess the best place to start is where your parents were from, if you could tell us.

YM: Yes, okay. Both my parents are from Fukuoka prefecture, and my dad came to the U.S. in 1906, leaving my mother and two children.

SY: So they were actually married in Japan?

YM: Yes, he was married and he had two children. And he landed in Seattle, Washington, and I think he did a lot of odd jobs during the time before he, before my mother joined him, like lumber mills. He was a little guy, I don't know how, what he did in a lumber mill. [Laughs] And they worked on a railroad gang, they called it. Laying the tracks, I guess that's what it is. And at one time my mother said she was a cook for the crew and said it was a very lonesome job because after all the men went to work she was by herself for the whole day. Well anyway, my mother joined my dad in 1918.

SY: I see. Now, can we go back a little and talk about how, do you know, were they married because their families knew each other in Fukuoka?

YM: I know their, the villages are adjacent to each other, because we visited Japan, so we were able to see where they were from. And my mother's family are farmers, but my dad's family was not. I don't know exactly what it was, but I know my uncle worked for the depot or something, so they were not farmers. But I don't know how it was arranged or anything. I don't know that part.

SY: And, and your mother and father both had siblings, right?

YM: Pardon?

SY: They both had family, like siblings?

YM: Yes. My mother had, all the time that they were separated, my mother lived with her brother, who had eight children, and I think her mother was still living at that time, so that was a big...

SY: Right, plus she had two of her own children.

YM: That's right.

SY: And they lived in the same house.

YM: I think so, yes. [Laughs]

SY: Amazing. And you don't know, you never found out why, or why your dad came to the United States?

YM: No, but I've, for the first time I tried I figured out how old he was when he came, and he was, like, in his thirties, which is older than most of those who came from Japan.

SY: Right.

YM: But I'm sure it's for a better life.

SY: Right. And he was, I think you mentioned, when was it that he actually came? Do you know that?

YM: '06. 1906.

SY: 1906.

YM: And then my mother joined him in 1918 and left the two children because her brother insisted that he was so fond of the two that he wanted them to stay there. But then my mother, I think my father decided, oh no, that he wanted them, so my brother and sister joined them, I don't know whether it was 1918 or 1919, but they joined the family.

SY: So they were fairly old and your dad had not seen them in that long period of time.

YM: And then my brother who's right older than, right above me, was born in 1919 and I was born in 1921.

SY: I see.

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

<Begin Segment 2>

SY: Can you tell us your father's name and your mother's name, and then the siblings who were in Japan?

YM: Okay. My father is Mankichi Koyamatsu, and my mother is Hatsuno Sakai Koyamatsu. And my older brother is Susumu and my sister is Natsumi.

SY: And then your older brother here, was born --

YM: Takeo.

SY: Takeo.

YM: Yeah, the one that's right above me is Takeo.

SY: And then do you have younger --

YM: No, I'm the, I'm the baby.

SY: You're the youngest. And so when your younger, or your older brother and sister finally came, had you been born yet?

YM: No. Yes. No, no, I was born after they came, 'cause I was born in --

SY: After they came.

YM: Yeah. 'Cause they came in 1918 or 1919, I'm born in 1921.

SY: Wow. So they were, what were your earliest memories of your brother and sister?

YM: I don't really remember. Well, my sister was married. I remember that 'cause I was about four or five years old. She was married to somebody that worked at Jackson Furniture Company, and I think there's a lot of Japanese people that worked at that place. And then my parents by that time were farmers, actually raising vegetables, and every weekend they would go to, they'd take the produce to Pike Market, which is a big market in Seattle, and they'd sell their vegetables there. And I think every week they'd change stalls. They had to rotate so that everybody had a fair chance, I guess. So you could be selling radishes and carrots or something, the next stall would be selling the same thing. [Laughs] You never knew what was kind of a, who was selling what.

SY: So it was a tough life.

YM: Right.

SY: Wow.

YM: So they did that for several years, I guess, and my brother helped too. But my sister was married in 1925, so I guess she was out of the house.

SY: There's a big age difference between your oldest brother and sister.

YM: Oh yes, there is.

SY: So they, and they were Issei, really.

YM: Exactly. So many of my friends, their parents were the generation of my brother's. My parents were rather old for, compared to my friends' parents.

SY: Right. So they, yeah, 'cause when, by the time they had you they'd been married for many, many years.

YM: That's right.

SY: But they, I assume they wanted to have more, a bigger family, huh?

YM: I guess so. [Laughs] After being separated for twelve years, you know.

SY: Yeah.

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

<Begin Segment 3>

SY: So now when you were, so you were born in Seattle?

YM: Seattle.

SY: And your older brother was also born there too.

YM: Right.

SY: Were you born in a hospital in Seattle?

YM: I doubt it because, because my birth certificate says who delivered, who was the doctor or whatever, they ask, and it just says a friend. [Laughs]

SY: Really?

YM: They're either midwives or friends or somebody, and I think it says a friend.

SY: [Laughs] Wow. Good friend. And so your first, earliest memory was when you were around four or five?

YM: Yes.

SY: And you remember going to the Pike's Market?

YM: Uh-huh.

SY: And they would just bring you there to...

YM: I remember being there, not every trip, but I do remember being there, just, I think they sat me at a little shelf somewhere. I remember I dozed off and I fell off 'cause I, that's what I remember about it. [Laughs]

SY: But you didn't, you didn't hurt yourself?

YM: Uh-huh.

SY: That's funny. That's, you were pretty young when that happened.

YM: Yes, right.

SY: And then your parents, both of them actually worked in the market?

YM: Yeah, when they went I think they, they worked in the... it's just, I don't know how big a stall it was, but it wasn't that big. It wasn't as if you had to walk back and forth.

SY: Right. Do you know if they did any truck farming too, or was it just --

YM: No, I think that's just what they, I don't know how they made a living just going once a week, but I think there were people who were there every day, not raising their own vegetables. They'd be just a regular market for them, buying and selling. But our folks were just, and I think there were a lot of Japanese people who did that.

SY: And did you, do you remember actually doing the farming, your parents actually...

YM: No, all I remember is, the farmland was a little lower than our house. I remember we had to go down the hill, and it wasn't a big patch. I don't remember it being a big patch, was very small.

SY: So the children didn't have to do much except your older brother.

YM: Yeah, I think my sister, when they first came they had to pitch in a little bit.

SY: But you were young enough that you didn't have to. So then where did you end up going to school?

YM: Well, in Los Angeles was my first school.

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

<Begin Segment 4>

SY: Oh, so you moved, then when did you move to Los Angeles?

YM: Yeah, my brother was in school in Seattle, but I think they kept thinking we're gonna move, so they just never put me in school. So when I came to L.A. I was already six going on seven.

SY: I see. And how did you get to Los Angeles?

YM: Well, first my brother and my sister and her husband got in their Model T there and they drove down to Los Angeles -- [clears throat] sorry -- and I think it took them almost a week, 'cause the roads are, they're up in the mountains they have to go through and they had some brake problems, and it was, they had a rough time. But they made it, and in the following year, in 1928, my dad, my parents and Tak and I came by ship from Seattle to Los Angeles. And my brother, older brother had rented a house, or it was a back house and it was, in that area there were a lot of more than one home on a lot, there'd be back, rentals in the back, so that's what we had. And it was a very small, it was a duplex in the back of a house, and I think it was just one big room with a kitchen and a bathroom. But then we didn't stay there too long. The front house opened, so we went to the front house, which was a two bedroom house. And then after that the landlord wanted to build a new house there so we had to move again, so we moved about another five blocks away, still in Uptown area.

SY: I see. That Uptown area is where you originally came and decided to live there.

YM: Uh-huh. I don't know how my folks, my brother found the area, but that's where we started and we lived there until, until the war years.

SY: And your brother was sort of taking care of the finances too?

YM: Right, I think.

SY: He worked when he first got here?

YM: Well, our family's always been in the produce business in Los Angeles, so I think my brother already had some kind of business going. And my dad was there too, and my mother would go once in a while. And my brother-in-law would go. It was sort of a family business, so we had several, moved from one store to another. We had quite a few stores, not at one time, but we moved around a lot.

SY: So you kind of sold your produce.

YM: Yes.

SY: Were you still farming, raising?

YM: No, no. That, in L.A. we did not...

SY: Do any farming.

YM: Do any farming, no. Wasn't any farming, just go to the wholesale house.

SY: And so it was more retail.

YM: Yeah, it's retail. It's called retail.

SY: And did it have a family business name?

YM: No, not really. No. It was, one of the stores, early store was in, near Culver City, near La Cienega somewhere, I remember, and it was called Robert's Public Market because it was near, I think it was a street called Robert somewhere around there. I remember that store. That was one of the earlier ones. And I think they had another one earlier, but I don't know exactly where it was.

SY: So they supported themselves just, that whole time, prewar, with doing this retail business?

YM: That's right.

SY: And in the meantime, you were just going to school?

YM: Right.

SY: You went to elementary school?

YM: I went to Hobart Boulevard School, which was very close to where we lived, and then Berendo Junior High School and Los Angeles High School. Then I went to a trade school. It's called Frank Wiggins Trade School, which today is Trade Tech, and I took up dressmaking and design.

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

<Begin Segment 5>

SY: And I think you mentioned that your mom was sort of involved in making clothing in Japan.

YM: Oh, in Japan while my, when my dad was here in America, my mother, I'm sure they had a lot of chores during the day, but at night she had a loom, where they make fabric, and she would make this fabric they call kasuri, which is an indigo with little white patterns on it. And what she did was they tie-dyed the yarn in such a way that would make this design, and so she worked, my sister says she worked late into the night making, I don't know how long it took to make one... it's a, in Japan the fabric is a certain length 'cause the kimonos are all the same size, so I don't know how many, how long it took her, but she did that to help a little bit with the income, I guess.

SY: She sounds very labor intensive, because --

YM: [Laughs] Well, with the family she was with, there was, they made all their own miso, they made their own shoyu and tsukemono and everything for the family. It was a huge family by the time my mother joined them, so again, I'm sure they were pretty busy during the day.

SY: I see, and then this, this kasuri was actually woven?

YM: Yeah, and so she had the loom.

SY: So she dyed it first and she wove the...

YM: Right, you tie-dye it so that certain parts would be white and when the warp and woof come together they have little white designs. And my sister says she used to make very nice designs on her own, so she was very good with her hands.

SY: Yeah, but she gave that up when she came to the United States?

YM: Oh yes. That was just...

SY: So you never knew her as someone who was involved in...

YM: No. But she was very good with her hands.

SY: Did she make all your clothing too?

YM: Yeah, she did. And she, well, my sister used to always say that in Japan they, she wore her hair with a little knob on top like this, and if my mother did it, it would last all day, but if anybody else did it by the end of the day it would fall apart. [Laughs]

SY: So did you pick up these things from your mother?

YM: I don't know.

SY: But you obviously had a talent for dressmaking, because that --

YM: Well I liked to, I remember I liked to sew a lot, and I started young. And I remember my mother had a, in this little house we lived in, she had a little piece of yardage covering an orange crate or something to make a little table out of it, and I loved the fabric so much I wanted, I went in the back and I cut a piece off. And I was so afraid to cut it, it wasn't really good enough to make anything. I should've cut a larger piece, but anyway, I loved the fabric and stuff like that. I guess that was, I was pretty young, doing something like that. [Laughs]

SY: Interesting. But that's a, that must've been kind of an inherited thing.

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

<Begin Segment 6>

SY: And then when you were, so this area that you moved in Uptown, was it, do you remember growing up with a lot of other Japanese kids?

YM: Yes.

SY: Other races too?

YM: It was mostly Caucasian. In the grammar school we were, there were a few Japanese, but then as soon as we got to Uptown, our folks enrolled us in a Japanese language school, which happened to be St. Mary's, was a church. And there was another Japanese language school on the next block, and I don't know how they chose St. Mary's, but that's why I ended up at St. Mary's Church at the language school. And so there were quite a few Japanese when you get to the, 'cause we went to school every day after public school and there would be about two or three, the early ones who got out at two o'clock and three o'clock, so we had quite a large Japanese...

SY: Japanese students.

YM: Japanese students, yes.

SY: And so your parents weren't really religious; they just started you at this Japanese school.

YM: Right. Because my parents were Buddhists from Japan, but we ended up there mainly because of the school, but then we were affiliated so anything with St. Mary's they supported. They weren't actually members attending, but they supported the church.

SY: I see, but did they, all the kids, you and your brother, go attend, and you went to Sunday school too?

YM: Yes, we did.

SY: And your parents would, would they go?

YM: No, unless it was a special occasion or something they would attend, but not the service. Any function they would go, but not in church.

SY: Not the regular Christian service.

YM: Right.

SY: And is, so did you become acquainted then with the Yamazakis? Is that when you first met them?

YM: Yes, Father Yamazaki.

SY: Father Yamazaki.

YM: He was one of the founders. He was the minister there at the time.

SY: So he was the, he was Issei.

YM: Yes, and there was an Issei congregation. And I was there when they, it was a, in an old house at first, like living room was a chapel and they had remodeled it that way, and they tore that down, I guess, I think the new church was built in '31 or '32 and I was there for the dedication of that.

SY: And so he pretty much was the founder but also was the only minister at that time.

YM: Yes, he was. Right.

SY: And did he have, was, the whole congregation then was pretty much Japanese?

YM: Yes, it was. It was. And we had -- [clears throat] excuse me -- we had two services, one in Japanese and then one in English.

SY: I see. And were there other people who were Buddhist that went to the church? I mean, since there were, there were probably a lot of Japanese there who were originally Buddhist, right?

YM: Some, yeah, probably.

SY: But they --

YM: But there are some, there were some people who were Christians from Japan, surprisingly.

SY: I see, so a large, probably a large number of them were already, already involved with the church?

YM: I think so. Some of them, anyway, 'cause it was early on and there weren't too many, that many Christians in Japan, I don't think. But surprisingly there were some that were Christians.

SY: And so your generation, the Nisei, there were probably more kids that, your age, that went to the church then, and a lot of the parents?

YM: Yes. Yes, right. It isn't like a whole family thing.

SY: So that was kind of, was that your social life too?

YM: Yes, it really was, everything. [Laughs]

SY: What did you do? What were some of the activities at St. Mary's?

YM: Well, let's see, early on, I don't remember too much about when we were younger, but as young people we were very active there. And sing in the choir, I think I didn't start in the choir 'til high school, but there was always that, and later on there was a lot of activities. But as a real youngster I don't remember exactly what we did.

SY: You just went, you went to the Japanese school for sure.

YM: Uh-huh.

SY: And then, so that was every day.

YM: Every day, five days we went to Japanese school.

SY: And then you went on Sundays too for church.

YM: Yes.

SY: I see.

YM: Take our little pennies for offering to church.

SY: So your friends, were they mostly St. Mary's kids?

YM: Yes, right. So there were so many of us that we went to public school and St. Mary's together, so we were together a lot.

SY: You hung out, hung out mainly with other Japanese Americans during that time. And do you still, are you, are they still around? Do you still see some of those people?

YM: No. We used to meet once in a while, but it's dwindled down to a couple, I think, a couple or two or three, so I don't see them anymore.

SY: But those, I would imagine, are your lifelong friends that you met back then.

YM: Yes, because there were at least four or five of us that just went all the way from grammar school through high school together. So a longtime friendship.

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

<Begin Segment 7>

SY: And then when the war broke out, when... can you describe what happened? Do you remember when Pearl Harbor...

YM: Well, I remember being in church and after we, the service was finished we happened to be sitting in the front of the church and, outside, since the rectory was adjacent to the church one of the priests' sons went home and then he heard it on the radio so he came right back to the church to tell us what had happened. But there was only a couple of us sitting there, and I don't remember what reaction we had or what, but that's the way we, I found out about what had happened.

SY: And did you go home and tell your parents? Or how did they find out?

YM: I'm sure I went home, but I just don't recall what the reaction of any of that was at the time. I don't.

SY: Do you remember if you knew what, where Pearl Harbor was?

YM: Probably not. [Laughs] But I know it involved Japan.

SY: Right.

YM: We don't know what it meant, you know. Not a sophisticated as a twenty-year-old. Well, I was, I guess nineteen or so, out of high school. I don't remember.

SY: You had been in trade school for, at that time for how long?

YM: Yeah, I was in trade school and then I went there about a year, and they limited us to what we could, what classes we could take because it was one of those schools where they have an employment office and after, after you have your courses you could apply, and apparently they found it hard to place Japanese.

SY: That's what they told you?

YM: Uh-huh, so that's what we heard, so there were people, we used to always hear how hard it was to get into that school. Some had applied and never were ever called. So this girlfriend and I decided, well, we'll register there and then we'll wait and see. We don't know when we'll be called so we'll go to City College, so we were going to, we registered at City College and, lo and behold, we were accepted. For just two days we tried to do both, went morning to City College, went afternoon to classes at the trade school. We figured it's just not gonna work out, so we dropped City College and we stayed at the trade school.

SY: And do you remember the name of it, the...

YM: It was called Frank Wiggins Trade School. And, like I said, today it is called Trade Tech and it's, the Wiggins was like a high school level, but Trade Tech is, you get your AA there. So then the kind of, since they limited us to whatever we could take, and we would finish, and there were many more courses we could've taken, so then I went to, in Japanese-town there was a lady who was teaching dressmaking, so I went there. And while I was there my girlfriend that I worked, I was with at the trade school, we had to partner in one of the subjects, so she went to work -- she had a job -- and she noticed that all these people would go to the personnel to recommend other students, so she decided that she'd go up there and recommend me. So I got a call from this place in, it was on Rodeo Drive, it was a place called Howard Greer, and he was one of the Hollywood designers. And that must've been in October of '41, around October, and I was there maybe six weeks or two months or something like that, and then was December 7. When that happened, I don't know whether it was the next day or the two, three days later, but anyway, we were fired. We were let go, and there were other, about two other Nisei girls that were working there. I didn't know them, but we all had to go, leave. So even then I don't remember if I was shocked or whether I expected it or what, whether... I don't really remember. [Laughs]

SY: You reported for work, though.

YM: Yeah, I know.

SY: And then they just told you...

YM: Uh-huh, I guess we got called to the office and we were told.

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

<Begin Segment 8>

SY: And before that happened, before Pearl Harbor, did you feel like you were being discriminated against at this workplace?

YM: No, no.

SY: Not at all?

YM: Nothing like that at all.

SY: Although you felt that at the school, right, because they, they wouldn't let you take certain classes? At the trade tech school.

YM: Well, yeah, that was sort of behind, in our mind, that they wouldn't accept everybody, but there were quite a few that did go there and they had all kinds of, you know, hairdressing, trade, and sewing, and others, but most of them wanted to go to the dressmaking design school. But I didn't know until we went there that they were gonna allow us only to take certain classes. We just thought we'd go through the whole, whole curriculum.

SY: So do you remember the classes that they wouldn't let you take?

YM: Well, it was, of course the top is design, so in between there's draping and there's whatever else. And I was, there's even kind of a position called copier -- I didn't even know it existed -- which is you go to all these department stores and wherever else, look for designs and make copies or adapt whatever it is you get your ideas, and I didn't even know that kind of a position even existed. But anyway, they said this was it, so that's why we left.

SY: So they wouldn't allow you to take the design classes, or were --

YM: No.

SY: No design.

YM: They just told us that that was it. I had four classes, I think, but, so we didn't even know what was happening.

SY: I see.

YM: I just know that we didn't, I don't know, we didn't know, we're not sophisticated enough to know everything when we go into it. It's not like today. Maybe your parents know about it or whatever; we're just innocent little, you know. We just go... [laughs]

SY: Yeah, you didn't have anybody to show you the way.

YM: Right. But we do know that some people, there were quite a few Niseis that applied there, and after we left there we realized that somebody went there, whoever else went there, so it was a popular school if you didn't go to college.

SY: I see.

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

<Begin Segment 9>

SY: And you, and the fact that you had to get accepted means that you had to have some sort of test or skill.

YM: I don't know how, how they...

SY: Decided?

YM: How they figured out which, who to, maybe they were finding it easier to have, find employment for us. I don't know. But we, I never went to the employment office 'cause I didn't intend to work right away 'cause I wanted to go to a little more, so I went to the sewing school in Japanese-town.

SY: I see.

YM: Was very popular. She had so many students.

SY: Really? What was her name, the teacher's name?

YM: Mrs. Fujii. And it was in a hotel room and people from other parts of country, room and board, they come there to study.

SY: Wow. So she must've been a really good instructor.

YM: 'Cause there were Niseis who lived on farms, their folks had farms and there'd be kind of some distance for commuting, so they would just have a board there, room there.

SY: I see. And how, how did you get into J-town? What would you do to get -- 'cause you were living in Uptown -- how did you get there?

YM: We just got there by the, not the bus, it's called a streetcar. [Laughs] In those days it was the streetcar. Yeah, we managed.

SY: And did you go to Little Tokyo often? If it, with this class how many, how often would you go?

YM: Well, when we were very young my folks went to Little Tokyo a lot because there was everything there, whether you wanted dry goods and shoes, they had florists, they had a photographer, hairdresser, restaurants, everything, complete little, little town that you could almost do all your business there. So I don't really remember when I first went to Broadway maybe on my own or something to shop, because if I was shopping with my parents it was always in Little Tokyo.

SY: And you did your food shopping there too?

YM: Well food, we had, we had some little Japanese stores in Uptown besides Safeway and Ralph's. But there were, in Uptown there were at least two complete Japanese food stores, so we were able to do that. And sometimes these stores would send out people to their home to take orders and deliver it.

SY: Really? Wow.

YM: Home delivery service. So there were some people who took advantage of that. But we always had, then we had a fish man that came around, and you could buy your tofu and your fish and whatever, and so they had a route and so if you wanted tofu you go out there with your little pan and you dig it out of the pot of water there. It wasn't packaged; it was loose. But you could get more than fish. I'm sure there were a few other things you could get from the fish man. So somehow they managed and were able to get what we, they wanted.

SY: There must've been a fairly good population of Japanese for these guys to survive.

YM: That's right. That's right. Between, it's like a one square mile, and I'm sure there are other areas in L.A. that had Japanese people there, in Boyle Heights and in the Seinan area, but we happened to be in Uptown, which was, like I say, one square mile maybe, and so I don't know how many fishermen, or different fishermen there might've been, but there was always somebody to... and then we had the helmsmen, the bakery that came around if you wanted a bakery.

SY: That was not Japanese, that wasn't Japanese owned?

YM: That wasn't Japanese, but still, you don't have to travel. If you wanted to you could be home and the ice man came, put your ice in your icebox.

SY: So do you think that the church had something to do with the population there? Did people come to that area just because of the church?

YM: Well, I don't know exactly. No, I really have no idea why people congregated there. Whoever started it, I'm sure they figured there's some Japanese there and they, because I'm sure every block practically had, from Western to Vermont, almost every block must've had some Japanese, and some blocks were like every house would be Japanese, clustered.

SY: In that area.

YM: Uh-huh.

SY: That's amazing, yeah. 'Cause you don't, you don't hear too much about Uptown really a lot today. A lot of people talk about Seinan area.

YM: Yeah, it has, actually it has become Koreatown. What Koreatown is --

SY: Today in Los Angeles.

YM: -- was, a part of it was Uptown. And it's still Uptown. We had a theater, movie theater called Uptown Theater on Western near Olympic, and we had several others, but it was Uptown.

SY: But was it Uptown to just the Japanese, or was it Uptown to everybody?

YM: No, I think it's Uptown to everybody. Like I say, there was a theater there called Uptown.

SY: So it wasn't just Japanese people, but it was a lot of --

YM: I don't think we named it or anything. It was already called Uptown.

SY: I see. Yeah, so you, when you got this job it was west of there in Beverly, considered Beverly Hills?

YM: Yes, it was, yeah, it was in Beverly Hills. I didn't even know what Rodeo Drive meant then. [Laughs]

SY: So do you remember when you started there, what, how you reacted to that sort of, it's kind of a different...

YM: It was. It was different. It was, and I didn't get to know a lot of people because you worked as a crew, like four or five people worked on one garment and there'd be another group. And so I don't really remember just staying, I remember staying with a group and doing whatever I had to do, and I don't know what else other people were doing.

SY: And what, it was designing for movie productions?

YM: Some of them were, not all of it, but apparently he did a lot for them. I didn't know that he was head of the Paramount, he was the head designer of Paramount. I didn't know it at the time, but I know he was one of the celebrity fashion designers. There was quite a few in those days.

SY: So it was kind of a prestigious position to be working there even.

YM: Right. Yeah, well I thought so. I didn't know, when I first went there I had no idea who he was or what it was. It was a job. [Laughs]

SY: But you didn't, like, make things for retail sales. He didn't have a regular clothing line. Or did he?

YM: No, I don't think so. But he had regular clients, I guess, from the industry, because he did work for them at the Hollywood companies.

SY: But you didn't come across any of those people. You were...

YM: No, no. [Laughs]

SY: And how big was his operation, the dressmaking area?

YM: I don't know exactly how big 'cause I never really went around walking. I don't know how big it was.

SY: But you were among half a dozen, four, five people all the time?

YM: That's right. We would get one garment and there's four or five of us working on one garment, parts of it. We all pitched in. And so when you're the bottom of the pile there you just do work, like covering a shoulder pad or something like that. [Laughs]

SY: So did you, do you feel like you learned a lot working there, though?

YM: Not really. It'll take a little longer than a couple of months or so to get up the ladder or whatever. We were, when you just start there it's just really not that even interesting, but at least I had a job.

SY: I see.

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

<Begin Segment 10>

SY: And your parents meantime were, were still working in the produce business?

YM: Yeah. My brother, older brother, we were always in produce until the war. Even after that he did the same thing.

SY: And then what, I mean, do you have any memory of, besides being fired from your job? Then a couple months later, right, you had to start packing?

YM: Well, let's see now...

SY: Between the time, Pearl Harbor and then the time that you ended up going to camp.

YM: Yeah, we, I found another job after that.

SY: You did?

YM: Uh-huh. It was a lady who used to import -- my family did a lot of home work if it was available, and this lady used to import beads from Czechoslovakia or something like that and when the war broke out she couldn't get any more of what she needed, so her brother started a, he dyed elbow macaroni and we strung them and they made necklaces out of them.

SY: Wow.

YM: So I went to work for this company, made macaroni. [Laughs]

SY: And it was a big business? Or...

YM: There were about four or five of us girls, and then her brother, this lady's brother would make big needles out of coat hangers, pound this end to put a little eye on it so we could string, use it for a big needle to string the macaronis. That didn't pay as well as the other job. [Laughs] And so I think ended up, the family ended up braiding the macaroni. You know, you have three or four strands and you braid them. And I remember the family, my older brother, he had -- oh, in the meantime my brother, who had a market in Santa Monica on Third Street near Wilshire, which today is a promenade, and it was a very nice market and the, after Pearl Harbor the butcher, who had the master lease anyway, he said to my brother, he says, "You know, Sam, I like you," and all that, "but my customers are not comfortable with your being there." So he wanted my brother to sell the business. So then my brother was home without work, so here he was braiding the macaroni necklaces with us. [Laughs]

SY: I see. You could take it home and do it.

YM: Yeah, it's a home, the lady would just deliver the stuff and my mother would help, my sister-in-law could help. We could all do it.

SY: Wow. Do you, did you save any of these?

YM: No. And I always wondered how it sold. [Laughs] Well, he had to figure out how to dye the macaroni so it won't stick and all that, and the brother was, he was thinking all the time.

SY: That's amazing. And then, yeah, so anyway, so your brother had, like a small produce business inside this larger market?

YM: Yes. In those days the, one of the, either the butcher or the meat department or the grocery would have the master lease and then they'd lease out either little flower shops or little produce department or delicatessen or whatever, so whoever has the master lease has the ability to choose who has a shop there. And it was a very nice market 'cause it was small, we didn't have to have two, three grades of apple or whatever. You'd just sell extra fancy because the clientele was very nice. So in a small area you could do as much business, I guess, in a big one where you have three, four kinds of oranges, different sizes and all that. We didn't have to do that 'cause it was very small. We couldn't do it, anyway, to begin with. It was a nice store. And it was the beginning of frozen food and my brother was talked into putting in one of these electric refrigerators, and I remember trying to get the customers to try at least peas. That was, that was the best beginning of frozen, frozen vegetables, from Bird's Eye, I think it was. They had some corn, but anyway, peas were very, very good, and they still are one of the better frozen vegetables. But I remember that was something very new at that time, which was 1941, I guess, '40 or '41.

SY: So you bought the frozen food from, from whoever was the supplier.

YM: Yeah. I'm sure some salesman came along to put their ware in your store, so we had a little tiny refrigerator there with the -- and that was really something new.

SY: And the clientele there was probably more, were they more affluent?

YM: Yes, it was. It was. We used to have some, I remember there was a lady named Alice Cooper. She's an actress. She was a very good actress. She'd come in. You'd never know she was an actress, in a T shirt. But it was, and then some chauffeur would come with her.

SY: So you really sold, being a Japanese American, you didn't have other Japanese Americans that you were selling to. It was really, you were just the produce people within a more Caucasian...

YM: It is. It is, right. But the thing is, very often the Japanese did the vegetable part, fruits and vegetables in a market.

SY: I see. Always, that was kind of their specialty.

YM: Yeah. Right. That was their, their specialty. That's right.

SY: And now, your dad, was he also involved?

YM: Not at that time. He was until he passed away. He was, they were all in the business together.

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

<Begin Segment 11>

SY: So now, tell us when your dad passed away.

YM: Pardon?

SY: When did your dad pass away?

YM: Oh, he passed away in '36.

SY: In 1936. And he, it was, how old was he then when he passed?

YM: He was in his sixties. So then after that my older brother's family and myself and my mother and my brother, we lived together.

SY: So this was still in that same house in Uptown that you moved to.

YM: Yes, that's right. Near the grammar school there. And at the time my brother had two children, so there were seven of us. He had two children, his wife and himself. And then they had two more children while we were there, before the war anyway. And so my father did not go through evacuation at all. He was gone by then.

SY: So that, your brother kind of was the head of the household?

YM: Yes, he was.

SY: And your mom was how old by then?

YM: By then, what, let's see, she's in her sixties.

SY: When the war broke out.

YM: Uh-huh. By the time --

SY: After your dad died and then she --

YM: Right, if I'm twenty she's sixty-four, so when we evacuated she was, like, sixty.

SY: Sixty, in her sixties. And was she in fairly good health?

YM: Yeah, she was pretty good. And in camp she learned little crafts and things like that.

SY: She stayed busy.

YM: Hmm?

SY: Did she, she stayed busy.

YM: Yes. There were, there was things for them to do, which was nice since had to replace all the cooking and housekeeping and everything else, keep busy.

SY: So she kind of took care of all those house things while your brother worked?

YM: Yes. And my sister-in-law was home too because she had children. So then, and then my brother Tak and I were in school.

SY: So your brother was the, so did you feel like you were fairly comfortable as far as the money coming in?

YM: I guess we did okay, because I really don't know too much about the finance and all that, but we all lived together. I'm sure it was hard on my sister-in-law, but, 'cause my mother being so much older she wasn't gonna go out to work. She never did go out to work anywhere after she came from Japan.

SY: So it was, at least you had food on the table.

YM: Yes. That's right.

SY: You never felt like you were going to have to do something.

YM: Yeah. And my brother, the one that's right above me, he would work summers and things like that. It's not as if we needed... well, I don't remember getting an allowance or anything. I don't know what we did, how we did it. [Laughs]

SY: You, so your first job was really in this, in Howard Greer.

YM: Yeah, real job. I used to help at the market on Saturdays, but we'd be making about a dollar or something like that. Just, just, it's not like I'm a full time clerk or anything, but I used to help on the weekends 'cause it's always busy Saturdays.

SY: Yeah, so that was kind of your allowance.

YM: Yeah, I think that's where I got my allowance. [Laughs] It went a long way.

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

<Begin Segment 12>

SY: So when your family, then, had to pack up to go to camp, you remember that process, how you, what you took, what you left behind?

YM: I know my sister and her husband owned a house, so a lot of our stuff went into their garage. And I do remember as we left the house that day to go to Santa Anita we had this lone sewing machine sitting in our dining room 'cause somebody had purchased it but hadn't picked it up, so I thought here was an empty house with this one little sewing machine sitting there. I said goodbye to the house and we went to, St. Mary's was the pick up place for that area, so we all took our one suitcase. And I look at the suitcase now and I was wondering how we ever got enough stuff in there, but we survived.

SY: You don't remember what you took or what you decided?

YM: Yeah, so sometimes I look at snapshots and I think, how did I get that, I know I wore that in high school, I must've taken it with me. [Laughs] And we had to take linens, so that, I don't know if I packed linens in mine or whether we were allowed one extra, I don't know what. But when I look at the suitcase now, it's a suitcase that everybody had. It was from Sears.

SY: But it must, was it sad for you to leave the sewing machine?

YM: No, it was a sad sign that you were emptying the whole place.

SY: But you couldn't have taken it, right? It was probably too big.

YM: Probably not, no. It was what you could carry. Unless you had a portable or something, maybe, but this was a standard. It was, sat on wheels.

SY: And did your mom still do sewing at home?

YM: She, not too much at that, when I was in grammar school she used to sew my clothes for me.

SY: But by that time you were, you were more the seamstress in the family.

YM: Yeah, I'd do my own.

SY: And then did they have a car? Did you have, your family have a car?

YM: Yes. They had a, you were allowed to take your car if you wanted to, and so looking back I don't really know 'cause there's, my brother had six, that's four children and the, that's six, and that's nine of us. We couldn't have all gotten into one car, and so maybe my mother went with them and then my brother Tak and I, maybe went on a bus. I just have no recollection of how we got there.

SY: How you got, how you got to St. Mary's or how you got --

YM: Right. I don't know how we got there, how we got to St. Mary's -- to Santa Anita rather. But I know my brother drove his car. And all the cars were in the infield, there for years, for months, and I think they were encouraged to sell them, sell it or something. I think my brother sold it while he was in Santa Anita.

SY: Sold it to another party, you think?

YM: Yeah, there was somebody handling this kind of...

SY: I see. Trying to get rid of things.

YM: Yeah.

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

<Begin Segment 13>

SY: So at St. Mary's, when you arrived there, do you remember what happened when you arrived and how you, how you got from there to Santa Anita?

YM: I don't remember. I just know, I know we got to Santa Anita towards evening. It was not that far, so I can't remember why, but it was dinnertime or something, so we had our first meal there.

SY: At Santa Anita?

YM: Soon as we got to Santa Anita. And I know it was something like kind of a salad with beans. I know there were beans in it. And in the middle of the night I had a tummy ache, so I went to the latrine; there was a whole line of people at the latrine. [Laughs]

SY: In the middle of the night?

YM: It just didn't agree with us, I guess, whatever it was. [Laughs]

SY: You hadn't had beans before. Wow. And did you have any idea of what was, what was gonna happen to you?

YM: No. Just followed the line wherever we're supposed to follow, whatever line up we had to do. And we were assigned barracks. And we were under one family name, the whole nine of us. It's not like we had two numbers. So it was kind of hard to get a place for nine people, so they must've given us two, two rooms or something. But it was too small, so we were there for a little while and they moved us to another section for the quarters to be more comfortable. So I don't know how long we were all together, my brother's family and myself, but we somehow moved to, away from our own group because the available barrack was kind of far away. So I was, we landed up in the corner of the parking lot, away from the grandstand. It was a long walk to the grandstand. And everything was happening, happened at the grandstand, except mess halls. There were several mess halls within the parking lot, and we're all assigned to one mess hall. But if it was bathing or laundry or going to classes or anything it was at the grandstand, so we had a long walk 'cause we were on the edge.

SY: You had to walk. And you were separated from the rest of your family?

YM: I think just, I think so, because it was too many of us and they couldn't put us all in one room or something. So we went from Green mess to Orange mess.

SY: So it might've been you, so you went, might've been just you and your brother?

YM: Yeah, and my mother. I think the three of us must've moved. I can't even remember that.

SY: But you remember walking.

YM: I think my, the rest of my family must've all gone together. Anyway, yeah, so we had to, if we worked it was in the grandstand area. It was a long walk. And you take a shower and on the way back you're all, it was so hot you just perspire on the walking home.

SY: Really? At Santa, this is at Santa Anita still?

YM: Yes.

SY: It was hot there?

YM: Oh, it was. It was. I worked on the camouflage nets there on the, in the grandstand there's a ramp there where people could go watch their horses and so we, they put the net with the pattern on it on first and then they put another net over it and we just copied the pattern with these burlap pieces. We weaved and we'd tie the end, and we'd weave it and then tie the other end. And it was so hot, and we had to, we're on the ground, we're squatting, we're sitting on the ground and doing this, and we used to complain, so we'd take turns going into the shade and refresh ourselves for a while. And we were envious of those who were in the building, until we saw what they were doing. 'Cause their, their nets were hanging and they would roll it up as they wove the stuff, and when you weave burlap the lint just gets all over you, so the girls would wear scarves and long sleeve shirts and masks, and it was hot in there. So we were grateful we were outdoors.

SY: And this was, were, was it just women who did the camouflage nets?

YM: No, no. It was men and women, except our crew happened to be all female. But I think they had, you had to do so many a day or something like that, so they had some quota or something.

SY: And you were recruited, basically signed up for it?

YM: Yeah, it's a, it was a job. It was...

SY: So you got paid for it, extra for that.

YM: Uh-huh, that's right. 'Cause there weren't that many available jobs, but I don't know how long I did, I know I didn't do it the six months I was there because I went to some classes. There was a man who had a tailor shop in Japanese-town and he was teaching tailoring, so I went to some classes there for several days, several, so I must have not been working. And then towards the end of the time in Santa Anita I was a clerk in, working for medical social service, social service, and what they did was, there were many people in camp who had relatives outside the camp who were in hospitals or convalescent homes or such, and this particular department would arrange bus trips for them to go see their relatives.

SY: I see.

YM: So that's what --

SY: So it was kind of a service that they were providing for people in camp.

YM: Right. It was like, everything was, you were either inside or you're outside. This is the outside, for the outside. You called everything "outside." [Laughs]

SY: Those are the words, huh?

YM: Yeah, right. I heard my little nephew said any time they, when I was in Cleveland, or when I had left the camps, they would say, "Ask your," ask me in the outside to get this for them, "Ask my auntie in the outside."

SY: Right. 'Cause by then you were outside.

YM: You were outside or inside.

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

<Begin Segment 14>

SY: So this, so you remember, then, that whole period in, at the assembly center in terms of your working, and was your mother working in the, at the time?

YM: No. No, she never worked. My sister-in-law didn't work, just the head of the house. My brother probably did. And my brother that's right above me, he was teaching. They had classes there, I guess. Some people graduated, I guess, while they were there.

SY: So you, yeah, you had to, you all had, tried to think of things to do, then.

YM: Right. But, like my mother when, I think -- no, I can't remember where she, no, this must've been in Gila. It wasn't Santa Anita. But they had things to do somehow. It's amazing, in, not Santa Anita so much, but later on, what they did with the camp. It's amazing. But Santa Anita, we had, one thing we had was entertainment. Over the weekend there was entertainment or a dance or a movie or whatever at the grandstand.

SY: And what kind of entertainment?

YM: Well, they had, there was one fellow who was a Hawaiian singer, and we had some of our local talents, and mainly some kind of music. Maybe they had a band or something like that.

SY: But it was all people within the camp.

YM: Yeah, right. Yes, all within the camp. And it's amazing how people get together and organize a group or something like that, but when you have certain talents I guess you seek other people.

SY: And they had, they had instruments? Or were they...

YM: Yeah, I'm sure they brought their instruments.

SY: They did bring their instruments.

YM: And then we'd have dances on this ramp, which was, like, inclining, kind of hard to dance on, but we enjoyed it.

SY: And people had records? They brought their own records to use for the dances?

YM: I guess so, probably. It amazes me that they could get up, figure out things like that so quickly while we're there.

SY: And your friends? Did they, did you manage to stay in touch with some of your friends?

YM: Yes. There was, I must've gone into an area where the Seinan people were because some of the friends from Seinan area were in that area, so I saw a lot of them.

SY: And sort of describe what Seinan area is.

YM: Seinan area is around Normandy and 36th.

SY: So it's the next area of Japanese that lived --

YM: Yeah, exactly. I don't, there may be more in the Seinan area than Uptown. I'm not sure. There's quite a, there was the Methodist church, this church was the --

SY: Centenary.

YM: -- center of that area.

SY: And so you knew some of those people when you were growing up?

YM: Yeah. Sometimes 'cause some of them will be in the same high school or something like that, so I knew some of them. And so when I, when we moved from one barrack to the other there was still some friends on that corner, 'cause it's a long walk up to the other end. Had one friend in, I had one friend in the horse stable.

SY: Just one friend?

YM: I had two friends, but this one friend was a girl and her mother, and they didn't stay there very long because they had another sister who was in Manzanar already. She was an RN and I guess she had volunteered, so the mother and the sister were going to join her up there. So she was one of my good friends and she left very early. She wasn't there more than a couple of weeks, I guess. They managed to transfer them out there.

SY: Do you remember talking to her about those stalls?

YM: Yeah, we, we went out to the stalls, and it was like, it's not enclosed all the way up. It's, I mean, you could hear the neighbors, in other words. And you could see they painted over chewed up wood.

SY: Fixed them up a little bit.

YM: It was pretty bad. So anybody who could move out of it... but see, these are only two people, and maybe the smaller families got them. I don't know. But they were definitely in there.

SY: And that was, I guess you don't, how do, how did they choose the people that went into the stalls, that was the question.

YM: Right. Maybe it's the size of the family or something. So the unfortunate ones.

SY: Right. But you your living conditions weren't terrible.

YM: No, no. It was bare, of course, and it was so temporary that we didn't, I don't think we put too much work into it like we did after in Gila.

SY: And the mattress, did you have regular mattresses?

YM: We had regular mattresses, yeah. You hear stories about stuffing straw, but that was not us.

SY: That was more in the horse stalls, you think?

YM: No, I think, like in maybe Manzanar, 'cause everything wasn't organized when they first, the first crew went to Manzanar, the volunteers.

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

<Begin Segment 15>

SY: So as people left Santa Anita, like your friend, did you have, wonder what was gonna happen, where you were gonna go? How did you find out where you were gonna go?

YM: After we were there, when we went to assembly center I don't know if we even knew we were gonna be moved again. We didn't know it was temporary or anything. We just went wherever they told us to go. So then I don't know when we found out that we were all gonna be separated, and so all the people in Santa Monica, Santa Anita went to several, went to several different camps.

SY: And your group, was there still the St. Mary's group that stayed together?

YM: Yes, there was. I didn't know how they figured the two groups, but Frank told me that it, that at St. Mary's there were two days that left the group, the groups left on the 29th and 30th. I didn't remember that. So it was those who went, registered on the 29th, and we registered on the 30th, they were divided. That's what he told me. I didn't know that. But so, yes, Father John, which is the second generation Father John Yamazaki, went to Gila. So that's where we went. We happened to be in that group.

SY: And he, yeah, he was the son of, of...

YM: Yes, and the father went to Jerome with a group.

SY: And they basically took a big group of people, or did...

YM: Yeah. Well, like Frank said, the certain people that registered on a certain day went with Father John, and certain people went with Father Yamazaki.

SY: And Frank is Frank Omatsu, who was a friend of yours.

YM: Yes, Frank Omatsu. Yes.

SY: And he sort of gave you that information later.

YM: Uh-huh.

SY: Interesting. So the group that you were in was all your family, right? They, you stayed together with your family?

YM: Yes.

SY: And where is it that you ended up going to? What camp?

YM: Gila, Arizona. And their barracks were a little bit different, and we got two units and we opened the door in the middle or something like that. So my brother's family lived in one part, larger part, and my mother and my other brother stayed in, we were connected, but it was adjacent to each other.

SY: And so was there another family on the other side of you?

YM: Yes. Each barrack had about, I guess four units of different sizes. The end units were probably larger, and some would be just big enough for four or whatever. But there was a description of how they divided each barrack.

SY: And you were, you remember the family that lived in the barrack with you?

YM: Now that I think of it, I think my, my sister must've lived in the same barrack. Not in the same barrack, not in the same room, the same barrack.

SY: With her husband.

YM: Yeah, I think she was there too. But I don't remember who the other ones were.

SY: So you probably had three separate rooms.

YM: Yes. All, the whole clan of us, yeah.

SY: And was it, so it was pretty much divided, though? You didn't, you didn't have, you couldn't hear what was happening in the unit next to you?

YM: Well they were all, yeah, separate apartments.

SY: It was pretty private?

YM: Yes, it was. And in Gila, since it was so hot, they had a double roof to try to make it cooler, I guess.

SY: But did it help? [Laughs]

YM: Well, it was really hot out there too, though.

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

<Begin Segment 16>

SY: So you remember when you, do you remember the train ride to Gila and getting there?

YM: Yes. It was a very old, old train, and I guess it took us overnight 'cause I think we slept sitting, and by the time we woke up our mouth was so gritty and you couldn't put a comb through your head 'cause it was just, I guess it wasn't airtight or whatever it was and going through a desert or something. It was the most uncomfortable feeling 'cause you think you chewed sand or something. It was awful.

SY: And did they give you any indication of where they were taking you?

YM: I don't remember. They must've told us where we were going. I don't know.

SY: And you were all, I mean, you had lots of people that you knew that were going to Gila with you, so you all stayed together?

YM: Yes.

SY: With Father John.

YM: Right. So most of the people on our block were Uptown people. We were on the end of the camp, last row in camp.

SY: There were two camps at Gila.

YM: Yes, there were. Canal was the, we were called Butte -- that's the second camp -- and the first camp was Canal, and they were, I think they opened earlier than Butte. They filled up Canal first. And then there were three barracks, Twenty-Eight, Twenty-Nine and Thirty, that was overflow of the Canal, so they were Fresno people. And we were in Block 31, the very end of the whole camp there, so it was just empty, just sageland back of us.

SY: I see. And all the people in this little area were Uptown people, then?

YM: About, a certain section. Just, I don't know how many barracks, but I think the Uptown people were close, adjacent to, the barracks were all together. But there were lots of other people from other places, but it was so big.

SY: Sprinkled in. Was that your first impression? When you got off the train, where did you end up when you first arrived?

YM: Let's see, what did we do? How did... I just, I don't really remember how, we must've lined up somewhere to get our barracks. [Laughs] I don't remember.

SY: Yeah, that's, because it, you might've taken a bus maybe. I don't know.

YM: I don't, yeah, from the train. We couldn't have been, it wouldn't have gone to the camp. I'm sure we took, yeah, I'm sure we took a bus or something. I don't really remember that.

SY: Do you remember when it was, what season? Was it hot when you arrived?

YM: It was October, but it was not cool. But there were hotter days than the day we got there. Got pretty hot.

SY: And when you arrived there, what was, once you got settled... did Father John -- now, in the assembly center was there a church, or was there a service that you all went to?

YM: In assembly center I don't remember, but in Gila he had a church. He had a barrack that was a church, about three, four barracks from where we lived, and so I guess he had services there. I don't remember going every Sunday or anything like that. But he was close by.

SY: So you sort of weren't real regular at the church at that time.

YM: Yeah, I didn't, I didn't go regular. We went regular all through those years, and then when we were in assembly center they had a huge one, big Christian service. Maybe take, they took turns or something. I don't remember too much.

SY: But they were Japanese ministers that were in charge.

YM: Right.

SY: And then in the, at Gila there were a lot of different little church...

YM: Probably. I'm not sure. I'm sure there were Buddhist churches and other churches. I'm sure there's more than one Christian church. I'm not sure.

SY: But Father John was able to keep his group going.

YM: Yes.

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

<Begin Segment 17>

SY: And then what did, what exactly did you do when you arrived there?

YM: Let's see, I started to work. I found a job at the hospital, housekeeping section, and what we did was, they had all this surplus bedspreads from the army and in order to make our wards more colorful, we made little curtains and stuff like that to make it a little more like, less barrack-like. There was one nurse who hadn't been practicing recently so she didn't have a uniform, so I remember making her a white uniform for her.

SY: So you actually got to use some, do some sewing.

YM: Sewing, yeah. It was in the, I guess it was in the Courier or whatever it was, classified ads or something. It says something about wanting a seamstress or something, so that's why I applied. And it was just Mrs. Koda, whose husband was a doctor and she was a housekeeping chairman, so whatever she needed, make sheets with little holes in it for operating room. And I remember we couldn't get any new sewing needles, so Mrs. Koda got us little carborundum or something. It's a little, make, sharpen my needles with, since we couldn't get any.

SY: But the sewing machines were already there.

YM: Yeah, it was all set up. So we did all, little things I can't remember, but she would know what the names were, so whatever she wanted done I just, I worked there for a while. And then there was an opening in the lab, clerical work in the lab, so I did that for a while. And let's see...

SY: So was that unusual, to go from job to job like that?

YM: No, not, people, there were some people that really stuck with one job, I'm sure. And they even had camouflage net in Gila. I didn't see where they were doing it or anything, but I read that they were doing it. The government just needed it badly, needed them badly, so they had an area for that, but I don't know where. And I know they had a lot of vegetable gardens and stuff, but I didn't see any of it. You had to really walk around to find out. I didn't know.

SY: So you were, but you were, kind of got to choose.

YM: Yeah. It was just like anywhere else. You want, you're looking for a job and whatever appealed, you know? Like camouflage, there's a mass of people that they could use so it was easy to get that job. It was probably the, low paying in the totem pole, but anyway, we were paid something for it.

SY: Right. So then you did the clerical job, and then... so you kept pretty busy, did you?

YM: Yes. I was only there about a year, but I was working somewhere and kept busy.

SY: And do you remember off hours, when you were, when you...

YM: They had, we had movies, and we had, each block had its own mess hall, so sometimes there would be entertainment in that little mess hall. And I remember having some kind of talent show or something in the mess hall, local, local group. And then there was a baseball team from our block. What else? Anyway, we were kept busy. And that's where I think my mother had some lessons from, for making flowers out of double crepe paper. It was pretty nice.

SY: Crafts kind of thing.

YM: Yeah, made roses and whatever. And my mother with her bifocals, you know. [Laughs]

SY: And how about you? Did you do any of that kind of crafty stuff?

YM: No, I don't remember doing anything. And I'm just wondering how, I remember sewing something for myself and I was wondering, where did I get the sewing machine? I don't know if somebody, if I borrowed it from somebody. It must've been a portable, of course, but I don't remember.

SY: How about the fabric? Where did --

YM: But I remember making something for myself.

SY: You got the fabric from some place too?

YM: Yeah. Well you know, good ol' Sears.

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

<Begin Segment 18>

YM: I'm telling you that, in Gila, by the time it got to Gila everybody, it's not asphalt like the assembly center, so they had beautiful gardens. People planted all kinds of things. And it made it home-ier. And then we would, I remember my older brother, it was so hot they would dig under the barracks and stay down there. It's cooler down there.

SY: It was actually underneath the barracks?

YM: Yeah, underneath the barracks. They would dig a hole and put water in there and dig it again. They kept digging it and they'd put more water in it until it was big enough to go down there and sit under there, sit down there. It was that hot.

SY: So you could sit on the ground, though. They just sat on the ground?

YM: Yeah, on a dirt floor, but it's cooler.

SY: Just, just above your head kind of.

YM: Yeah, probably just, 'cause I can't remember how high the, there was steps, I think, going up to the barrack, so there was room enough to go under, but anyway, if somebody starts it, it gets like, catches on so fast everybody's doing it. Then my brother made a cooler, I guess. You wonder, where did they get this and where did they get that? They bought a fan and they got some excelsior that was like shredded wood thing they use for packaging, they put that behind the, between a net, wire net like, and then they put the excelsior in there and have a drip system that wets that excelsior and the fan goes through it. And that was our cooler.

SY: So it was just --

YM: You'd make a big hole on the side of the barrack to allow this fan to sit there. And it was, like, so sticky. It was humid. Oh, if you sat in front of it you'd be, just get so sticky. But they tried, tried to do all kinds of things. And like I say, if somebody starts something, just everybody else hears about it. And you wonder where they get everything, but anyway, everybody's very innovative. They think of all kinds of comforts if they can, 'cause they have, you don't have to cook, you don't have to go to the shop. They have all day to do this. So some of the gardens were really pretty, just in front of the barracks, and you figure, well, I guess the bulbs come from Sears or somewhere, bulbs or plants. They all managed somehow. It's amazing. You'd be surprised. But since I was there only a year, later on I think my older brother was interested in Japanese plays -- they call it shibai -- and so he and a friend of his, they really, from what I hear, had a ball rehearsing and presenting plays.

SY: Putting on these plays.

YM: Yeah. So they had, he had a good time. My brother being a Issei, so they...

SY: Your oldest brother. Wow. So what, can you describe what the food was like? And did you miss cooking and all that?

YM: No, I think the food in, the presentation was much better in Gila because in assembly center they served so many in one mess hall and it was like you go with your plate and, you know. I remember they gave us our meal and then they had ice cream for dessert. They put the ice cream right on top. [Laughs] By the time you get to your seat and all it'd melt all over your beef or whatever it was.

SY: Wow.

YM: But so I think the mess halls in the relocation camps were much like home, more like home than eating in a huge mess hall in Santa Anita. But we didn't have any complaints. I did miss milk or something, 'cause it was only for children, younger children they'd allow. So I, once, when you don't have it, even if you didn't drink it all the time, if you don't have it you think, gee, you could sure use a cold glass of milk. [Laughs]

SY: Really, 'cause it was so hot, I wonder how did, what did they have to, did they have cooling to keep it --

YM: I'm sure they had the refrigerator and everything in each mess hall. It was a regular mess hall, and each block had a latrine for men and women and then they had the shower room and laundry room, right between the two rows of barracks. It was very convenient. It's not as if you had to walk miles to do anything.

SY: And did they complain about the lack of privacy?

YM: No, by the time we got there it was, at least the stalls had something. When we first went to Santa Anita it was just, it was so, they didn't, probably wasn't completed. But we had to get used to taking showers though. You try to go when there's nobody else there, naturally, but I think it had about eight showerheads around in one room, so you just face the wall. [Laughs]

SY: I see. They were open.

YM: Yeah. Right.

SY: You could see each others' heads?

YM: Not for, shower was all open.

SY: I see.

YM: Yeah.

SY: Even at Gila.

YM: Even in, yeah, right.

SY: At Gila. So...

YM: But the showers in -- I can't remember if it's Santa Anita, but anyway, the Gila showers were, there were still about, like I say, must be eight or, six or eight at a time.

SY: And your mother was fine with that? She didn't, she didn't complain?

YM: Yeah, she didn't complain. And the laundry room was convenient. Then they had men and women's latrines, so it was much better, naturally, than the assembly centers.

SY: So that was, that was an improvement.

YM: It was.

SY: But amazing all those little things though that, the ways that they came up with making it more comfortable.

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

<Begin Segment 19>

SY: Can you think of any other things that they did? It's, I think it's so amazing.

YM: Let's see, well, I remember somebody making ice cream at the, in the administration building, and he must've made it with canned milk, I think. Whatever it was, they made it though. Those things that you crave, you never probably would've done it at home, but when you're in a place like that you think it's so novel. So I remember somebody making ice cream out there in the, in the office area.

SY: Did you ever feel like you had no place to go for privacy? Did you find places? Did people find places to go so that they could be, like just maybe one or two, like say a couple, a boy and a girl?

YM: I don't think there was much of that. No, it was just a whole group of...

SY: Everybody did everything as a group.

YM: Yeah. And one thing I remember was there was an empty lot in, close to, adjacent to our, where we were living, and my brother-in-law was a tennis enthusiast, he loved it, and so a group of them got together and tried to make a court there. They cleared up all the weeds and whatever, then they'd water it down and they'd smooth it out and, water it down and smooth it out. And I thought, well, they have all day to do this, so I think I left before they ever used it, but they were working on it. Those things that, you think of how to make things more livable or comfortable and it's amazing how they come up with ideas what to do.

SY: That's true. I never thought about how all these facilities... the baseball fields and all of that, those were done already though?

YM: Probably. They probably had a baseball field or something because they, I never went to one of them, but we used to have, in Gila we used to have a, I don't know if you've ever seen a picture of Butte, it's usually with a water tank on top and it's kind of on a butte like this, and that's where we had the movie. So we'd sit on the butte like this and then the movie was down below, so it's like stadium seats. [Laughs]

SY: Self-made.

YM: Yes.

SY: And the, but I have heard that the dust was really bad, the wind.

YM: Right. No matter how, what you do, windows closed, doors closed, it gets in when there is a dust storm. And it, they gave us linoleum floors which was a maroon color, and you could see the sand on it, and some people just really suffered from it. One lady would just close up everything and clean up just like a, I mean, it just affected her so badly. She's just cleaning all day, just couldn't stand it. But most of us just took it in stride, I think. You know, here comes another dust storm. [Laughs] But you just have to keep dusting it, and the windowsill gets dirty and whatever, but generally you kept your windows open to keep it cool. But like I say, this maroon linoleum, they came and laid it. We had a pot-bellied stove, wood-burning stove -- I think it was wood-burning -- anyway, they came and put linoleum on our floors.

SY: So that was after you arrived?

YM: Yeah, after we, after we were there they came. And they did it so fast. They did, had to do hundreds of 'em, so they were very efficient, and I don't know how many they did a day, but they really worked fast. And let's see, what else?

SY: So did you use that stove very much? Was it cold enough?

YM: Yeah, when, in the... yeah.

SY: In the winter.

YM: It can get cold, yes. It's a very sharp cold. Let's see...

SY: All of those, really, that, I never thought about all those little things that make a difference.

YM: Uh-huh. But it is amazing how people thought of how to make it comfortable. If somebody went there about the second or third year they'd probably think, "Oh, it's like a resort," you know what I mean? Everything, it wasn't bare. It wasn't, it was livable. They all tried so hard to make it livable. And they, like I say, they had the time to do it.

SY: That's great. That's great.

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

<Begin Segment 20>

SY: So now you were there only a year.

YM: Yeah.

SY: And then how did, how is it that you were able to leave?

YM: Yes, there were people leaving even early in the year, especially if they were going away to school 'cause there were a lot of services where you could apply and try to find a suitable school. So some of my friends left, like in March of '43, which meant they were in camp only, not even a year... not even a year, because we were half a year in Santa Anita and two, three months, well, five months... anyway, they started to leave --

SY: They started to leave fairly early.

YM: Yes.

SY: And these were people that were college age.

YM: Right. They were.

SY: As opposed to people who, like you. You had already gone to college, so what, did you think about leaving?

YM: Just employment is what we went out for.

SY: So you were thinking about ways to leave.

YM: Right. So they had a classified ad, an opening here in Cleveland, opening here in Detroit or something. It was usually for domestic work. They were looking for domestic work, so if you wanted domestic you could just go any time 'cause there was lots of jobs available. But I went to Cleveland because my brother had gone before me to school, so he was there.

SY: I see. And he liked it. Did he write back and say he liked it there? Is that why you went?

YM: No, not necessarily, but at least he was there. [Laughs] It's a little bit better than nobody.

SY: And it was better than camp.

YM: Well, yes, I guess it is. Yeah. I remember I went to Newberry's and I thought, oh, I want a pumpkin pie with whipped cream on it. In those days they used to have little counters at the dime stores.

SY: And that, so you were looking forward to it, and your, and your cold glass of milk, right?

YM: Yeah, glass of milk.

SY: So you, how did you get out of camp? Did you take another train?

YM: Yes, I left in early October, and all trains go to Chicago, so we stopped in at Chicago and took a transfer to Cleveland.

SY: You left by yourself?

YM: Yes. There was, most people who left would head for a hostel 'cause there was a hostel in almost all the big, large cities. So you enroll, I mean register, at the hostel and you're allowed to stay there about two weeks, and you should find housing or a job.

SY: So the job wasn't necessarily waiting for you when you got there?

YM: No. You could go there and look for something.

SY: So they let you leave even though there was not a specific job that was...

YM: Well, I looked for domestic, so I went to two, three interviews and -- I don't know if you've ever heard of Shaker Heights, but that's Cleveland's old area, but it's kind of a nice area -- I went there and the maid's room would be up on the third floor but it had an elevator. [Laughs]

SY: Fancy.

YM: And I ended up in a place called Cleveland Heights, which was a newer area, not the old, like the... anyway, so I finally went there.

SY: And it was a residence?

YM: Yes, it was a couple in their late thirties, and she wasn't able to have children so she adopted a little girl and so the next year she had a little boy. Happens, you know. And so the boy was six months old and the little girl was a year and a half. So I went there and I stayed about six months there.

SY: They just wanted someone to take care of the house?

YM: Yeah, house work and --

SY: Baby?

YM: The child, children. Not the young one, she took care of him 'cause he was only like six months old. But the young one, yeah, the older girl, and housekeeping.

SY: I see.

YM: And a little cooking. We didn't do much, too much cooking. They were not fancy. And the husband ate out every lunch, so dinner was simple 'cause he had a good lunch outside.

SY: So they were obviously well off enough to afford a domestic.

YM: Yes. And I didn't know it, but there was another girl there before me that was somebody I knew, and I didn't know until years later that she had been there before me.

SY: At the same house? So what was that experience like? Were they nice to you? Was it --

YM: Yeah, they were very, very nice people. But I remember vacuuming the stairway and I'm sitting there thinking, what am I doing here?

SY: Well, it's not your first choice.

YM: Yeah, you know? So anyway, about end of six months I went and the lady was very upset because it takes time to train and to have another new girl. She was pretty upset. But it was just time to go. And then I went, there was a lady who rented a large house and she had, they made a co-op out of it where there were about seven or eight living there, and they were all working and there were more men, I think there were two ladies or something and the rest were men. And this one lady was a nurse and she, she said, "Oh, Yasu, come help us. Help 'cause we're so tired when we get home," to cook and... so since I wasn't doing anything -- and I don't even know where I stayed in between that time. [Laughs] But so then I went into this co-op house and did some cooking, and I think I got room and board or something for it.

SY: And this was a Japanese American woman?

YM: Yes. No, the lady was, she was from Sacramento area. She was a missionary to Japan and somehow she's connected to this whole evacuation because she was at the hostel. She used to help at the hostel with, well, employment and stuff like that. She was, and so she spoke Japanese 'cause she was in Japan at one time. So anyway, she was, she rented this house and started this co-op house, so I went there and worked for a while. And then --

SY: It was, but she was someone who was kind of trying to help all these kids.

YM: Yes, exactly. That was her whole idea, of helping.

SY: And you were someone that she could hire to work there.

YM: Uh-huh.

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

<Begin Segment 21>

YM: So anyway, I went there and I don't know how long I was there, but then there's a Mr. Max Franzen and his wife Ellen, they ran the Cleveland hostel, and Max --

SY: The hostel that you originally...

YM: That we originally went to. And the hostel was a really nice gathering place where people would come, especially weekends if they had lived there at one time, or even if they hadn't. It was a meeting place, and we played bridge and chatted, and some people made their, met their dates or something there or something like, it was very active during the early days. It was a lot of fun. And anyway, by 1944 -- all the young people came out first and later on they start having families come out, with children, so it wasn't quite like the very first groups of people that were there. Anyway, Mr. Franzen came up to me and he said he wanted somebody to do the cooking at this hostel because they lost, whoever must've left, so I pondered about it and he said, "Oh, come on," he sat me down, he talked to me, "Come on, Yasu, we need you." So I got talked into it and I went to work at the hostel for one year, and we closed the hostel in 1945 so I was there for the last year.

SY: You, were you one of several cooks?

YM: No, no, I was the only cook, but it's not that difficult because the, I don't have to make the menu or the shopping or anything, just do the cooking. So whatever they said is on the menu tonight and they had all the ingredients there, then I would cook.


YM: So anyway, Mr. Franzen and his wife were, they're hired by, I don't know what is this, part of the War Relocation? I'm not sure.

SY: I see.

YM: But the hostel itself is, was sponsored by Quakers, and I think a lot of the hostels were sponsored by Quakers. And I don't know what the, how the system worked, but they were employees of, maybe WRA. I'm not quite sure. Could be.

SY: Yeah.

YM: 'Cause it was a place where people could go to before they hit their city, get acclimated.

SY: So do you have, by this time, by the last year, there were quite a few families.

YM: Yeah, they were, well, like a couple with two children or whatever.

SY: And so did you cook mainly, was it Japanese, all Japanese, right?

YM: No. No Japanese food. All...

SY: American food.

YM: Uh-huh, American food. Once, once I said, "Let's have some chow mein," so I made little patties of noodles, was egg noodle or something, individual patties instead of making a big sheet, and put the vegetables and little pork on it. But the hostel, Saturday nights were their treat kind of a thing and they used to get the best pork chops, for making teriyaki in the oven, in the, because it's a mass of -- and it was delicious. And the butchers, they got to know the organization, I guess, so they would put away stuff for us, and these pork chops, I don't know what, it's a blade cutter, something, they were beautiful. And that was a treat, really, one of the best meals they served there.

SY: So whatever they bought, whatever food they bought, you would cook it then.

YM: Yeah. Right, exactly. So they, they'd pin up a menu 'cause they've already...

SY: Bought the food.

YM: Bought whatever they need to do, and so I just followed whatever was for the day. Except dessert or something, I just made whatever was available or whatever. They didn't tell me what to make for dessert, but I used to come down after lunch and make dessert.

SY: So this sounds like kind of a hard job. Was it hard? Was it hard, difficult work?

YM: Well, I remember we had a skillet, a cast iron skillet. It must've been, I don't know, largest -- it's this big.

SY: Carrying it was hard.

YM: And the pot of rice, we used to make rice and it was an aluminum, thin aluminum pot. They didn't have a heavy pot. We had to put a -- you know they had this food grinder that you latch onto the edge of something and you grind it? -- we used to put that on top of the lid of the rice thing. Otherwise the lid would just pop off 'cause it was such a lightweight, and it would always come out with a shell of rice all stuck on the side because it's burnt like, I don't know how to describe it. You always had the waste. It was just terrible, but we used to make rice. [Laughs]

SY: Because the supplies weren't very good.

YM: Yeah, we didn't have the best equipment, utensils. We did with what we had.

SY: Right.

YM: But I remember, what was it I used to make in this big skillet? Maybe it was fried rice or something like that. I could barely lift that thing. [Laughs] But, 'cause the thing is the building was a fraternity house, so it was perfect for --

SY: The kitchen was big.

YM: Kitchen was big and they had two huge living rooms and a dining room, and I don't know how many rooms or how many it accommodated, but it was ideal for the purpose. It was right in town too.

SY: And all the people that lived in it, they would go and work their jobs and come back every day?

YM: Right, if they found a job before two weeks or something.

SY: That's right, they, so it was always people moving in and out 'cause they were only there for two weeks.

YM: That's right. That's right.

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

<Begin Segment 22>

SY: And then when it closed, then everybody just moved out?

YM: I guess so, yeah. It was tail end of it. I remember the first day I went to the hostel I saw Mr. Fukui -- I don't know if you, the, he would be the present Fukui's grandfather, I guess he would be.

SY: Fukui Mortuary Fukui.

YM: Exactly, Mr. Fukui from, and I've always seen him at funerals with his suit on, and here he was at the hostel sweeping down from the second story, the steps. He was sweeping or vacuuming or something. I thought, I couldn't believe it. I thought, oh my gosh.

SY: 'Cause you remembered him from camp, huh?

YM: Yeah. Well I, he was there with his wife and one daughter, I think, but I thought it's like, feels like it's come to this. What is this? [Laughs] It was kind of a shock. I thought, oh my gosh. But the way, everybody had chores to do in the hostel. They were assigned either kitchen help or do the living room or whatever had to be done that way. It just happened to be his turn, I guess.

SY: Yeah, 'cause really, he was, was he prominent in Little Tokyo before the --

YM: Pardon?

SY: Prominent? Was he, in Little Tokyo...

YM: Oh yes, oh yes.

SY: By then, before the war?

YM: Oh yes, everybody...

SY: Everybody knew him.

YM: Everybody that was Nihonjin went to his... yeah.

SY: I see.

YM: He was the only Nihonjin at the time, Nihon, Japanese undertaker at the time. Yeah.

SY: So he was quite...

YM: Yeah, he's still in the same area on, they used to call it Turner Street but it's called, I forget what it is now.

SY: Hewitt, I think. Hewitt or something.

YM: Anyway, still in the same building. I remember the first time I went there when my father died, it was just a house and it wasn't a, they didn't have a building then, and the caskets were upstairs to look, to look over, and across the hall here's their daughter ironing their gym clothes or something. [Laughs] It was a regular residence.

SY: They lived there also.

YM: Yeah, that's the way they were, they started.

SY: Amazing. So he ended up in Cleveland like you did.

YM: Yeah, he did. I don't know what, where, what he did after that, but I remember seeing him.

SY: So now, in the hostel, that's where you met your husband.

YM: Yes, that's right. Very early on, when I first got there, I met him. And the thing was he has an uncle, and we knew his uncle.

SY: Your family knew his...

YM: Yeah, we were... because his uncle's wife happened to be a distant relative of my mother. Isn't that funny? So anyway, "Oh, Momii?" I said wait, I know a Momii, in conversation, you know how it is.

SY: Right.

YM: And after that we didn't actually date right away or anything like that, but went around, we, I'm sure, went out with him before, then we went, got together about in '44 or so.

SY: So by, when you left the hostel you didn't see him for a while, before you, when you, you both left the hostel 'cause you went working for this family.

YM: Yes. Yeah. And he had been at the hostel and gone out already. He was not living there. He just happened to come to spend time there and a mutual friend introduced me to him.

SY: So when did you hook up again?

YM: Well, I saw him from time to time at the hostel 'cause he'd be there with his friends, and then I think in '44 we started to go around together, so we were together about one year before we were married.

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

<Begin Segment 23>

SY: And then so when the hostel closed were you, did you...

YM: We were still not married. We were married right after the hostel closed. So it was so funny, when the hostel closed, this lady I'm telling you about that was a missionary, she was married, she married a Japanese fellow and they had bought a house, so they used only the upper unit so the downstairs unit was open and she just had stuff in there that, nobody was living down there. So she invited us to live there, so here was this one hakujin couple and Rick and I, and then Nicky and her husband, who, she was Japanese. He was Japanese, she was... I thought it was kind of unique to be in the same house together. So we took all our meals and whatever upstairs with, Nicky and Eddie is the people who own the house.

SY: So you were, you and Rick were just sort of, by that time you were still not married.

YM: No, we were not married. Yeah. So I keep thinking, did we have separate bedrooms?

SY: You don't remember that. [Laughs]

YM: All I know is it was downstairs and everything, meals and everything else we lived upstairs 'cause downstairs was not livable really. It's just full of stuff. But so when we married, we married out of that house and so we had the little reception in that house.

SY: In that house.

YM: Uh-huh.

SY: So you were, there were a lot of people who kind of, non-Japanese people who really were very helpful during that period when you, in Cleveland, when you were in Cleveland. There were a lot of non-Japanese that kind of took you in?

YM: Well...

SY: Sort of helped you?

YM: Yeah, well, this lady that we lived with, she's the one that had the co-op house and so she invited us there, but other than Nicky I don't think there were any other Caucasian --

SY: The Franzens.

YM: Except the Franzens, yeah. We got to know them very well. They were --

SY: But they were, they were doing it more for money. In other words, they were, they were, it was their employment.

YM: Right. I know Nicky was from Indiana originally, I don't know about -- the Franzens were living in Washington, D.C., before they came to Cleveland for this particular job, and I don't know how they got the job or why or what their qualifications were to run the place, but they were very nice people.

SY: And then what was, what was Rick doing when you first met him?

YM: Let's see, I don't know if he was employed at the time, he started out working at a bakery or something like that, so that's probably what he was doing when I met him. But later on he and a group of about five fellows from Topaz, they all lived together, and at one time they were all working at Cleveland Hotel in the dining room, restaurant or whatever, in the kitchen. They were all, had some kitchen talent, I guess. But actually one of the fellows really, he became a chef at St. Francis in Chicago. He was head chef there, so he really pursued that career.

SY: St. Francis Hotel?

YM: Uh-huh. The rest of them did everything else besides work as a chef or, in the food business.

SY: Right. So they all had kind of, I guess you'd say menial jobs.

YM: Whatever they could get, but it was available. There weren't too many unemployed. There was some, something to do. And I think once one Nisei was hired there would be quite a few more, if one opened the door to one place there'd be quite a few there.

SY: And you didn't have to pay very much for living expenses.

YM: Yeah, that's one thing I never did 'cause I never lived alone. I did domestic, then I went to the co-op, then I went to the hostel, so I didn't, so then I was married so then I just never lived alone. And this, when you have room and board you could save a little bit of money, you know. It's not like having to rent an apartment. And there were so many people living in converted space because housing was so hard that everybody that had a larger house would make a rental out of their extra rooms or whatever.

SY: I see. So you managed, everybody managed to survive.

YM: Right.

SY: And then, I mean, was living in Cleveland a nice place to live?

YM: It really was. I think people were very friendly there, you know? I don't think, I don't think we heard of anybody getting any kind of a bad time, given a bad time.

SY: Being called a...

YM: Yeah, it was, they were very cordial, 'cause I had coworkers that worked together and nobody never felt anything. It was really, to me, I didn't anyway, and I never heard anyway, firsthand or any hand, where anybody was, felt any prejudice.

SY: Had you experienced that before, any kind of prejudice besides getting fired from your job?

YM: No, not really.

SY: So you were lucky.

YM: Yeah.

SY: You managed not to --

YM: Right. I don't remember.

SY: And then --

YM: Yeah, except when my, I remember my older brother saying, how come they -- the swimming pool used to be called Plunges, okay? -- and he says, "How come they won't let us in the Plunges? My skin is as white as..." [Laughs] But there was, so my older brother's era, maybe they, they might've found a little...

SY: That was back in Uptown area?

YM: Yeah, that was way back in the '20s, late '20s and '30s, so they might've felt more. I don't remember anything.

SY: But you felt, by then, even with the camp and everything, you didn't have too much problem?

YM: Yeah. I didn't. And in Cleveland it was really, it was a nice place to be.

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

<Begin Segment 24>

SY: So why did you decide to leave Cleveland?

YM: Well, we were there 'til 1948, and we were married in '45 and we were there 'til '48. It was about time we, 'cause my home was Los Angeles.

SY: You were keeping in touch with your family all this time?

YM: Yes.

SY: So you knew what happened to them after the war? What happened?

YM: That's one thing I didn't experience, is what it was like to return to California. And I think it was a hardship on a lot of people, but since that would've happened like in 1946 or so, we didn't, I just heard what it was like. But we didn't experience that.

SY: But your family had the house to go back to.

YM: The, my sister's house, since she had the house, I think they all lived there together, which was kind of hard. She had a two bedroom house. And then the men of the house were trying to find work, and my brother-in-law and my sister did well, though, he said he even did dishwashing. This is my brother-in-law, and eventually he and his wife did antique repairing, which is working with porcelain, china, figurines and things like that, and they did very well 'cause he was very artistic. He was very good with his hands and he did beautiful repair work. As a matter of fact, some dealer that, he'd bring him, bring him stuff that somebody else had repaired and he'd do it over 'cause he was really, really good at that. And they did well, but my sister said they were just lucky, the timing, because people were coming back from Europe and there was all of this stuff coming out of Europe, and all the dealers were getting this and some had to be repaired and whatever. And then they had just a regular, just anybody that had broken pieces or something, they would come, and so he did, they did very well after the war.


SY: So I'm curious what your oldest brother ended up doing when they came back to Los Angeles, 'cause he was the one that lost his business, right?

YM: Right. Are we on? Okay. Yeah, I wanted to tell you about how he lost his business, if I have time. After December the 7th -- I, did I go through this already?

SY: I think you mentioned that he, yes. Yes, so... right, exactly, he decided to close it.

YM: Yeah, he sold it to the, one of the meat department men wanted to buy it. So later on as, I don't know exactly what it was, but there was a time where people who had a business were able to claim some...

SY: Loss.

YM: Loss, and they would be paid for it. And this was loss due to evacuation and they were, if you had a business and you lost money on it or what. Well, my poor brother, he had sold the business not because of evacuation but because of the war breaking, so the poor fellow, he didn't, he wasn't able to recoup any of his money for the loss of, I'm sure he didn't sell it at a, you know.

SY: At the normal price.

YM: Yeah, the price was probably not right. So he missed out on that, so after the war they wrote to us, he didn't go right into produce again. He had a business of some kind of crate. In the old days they, all the vegetables, fruits came in wooden crates, and I guess there was a need for people to repair these crates and resell them. There was something available like that, so he started that, still related to what he used to do, and I think they had a fire or something so that was the end of that. And then I think he went back to produce again, so the rest of his life he had a produce business, the same type of produce business that he did prewar.

SY: So he was able to restart.

YM: Yeah, so he --

SY: He had, like a produce retail...

YM: He was in retail for all those years, yes.

SY: And so he ended up taking care of your mom?

YM: Yes, and so by the, that time my brother and I were moving out, we were married, so my mother stayed with my older brother and she stayed there for a long time. Yeah, until she passed away, so it was a long time for them to be together.

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

<Begin Segment 25>

SY: And then you ended up with Rick coming back to Los Angeles together? Or did you --

YM: Yes. We came back together, and at the time his father had a Japanese newspaper here in Los Angeles, so we worked for him for a while.

SY: And what was the newspaper called?

YM: It was called the New Japanese American News, or Shin Nichi Bei, and he had a, he had a newspaper before the war, in the '30s, and this was, he was trying it again. But he decided to publish a directory, and so actually when we were still in Cleveland Rick had come to L.A. to help his dad, and he came back in time for us to move back to L.A. So when we came back then we worked for his dad for a while because of this directory that needed a lot of hands.

SY: And his dad really had started the newspaper in, somewhere else?

YM: Yeah, he had a newspaper, he's been in newspaper business two, three times as a business, and he was a good journalist I think. But when they decided to make this, publish this directory he had to travel to Colorado and Denver, I mean, Denver, Arizona, Texas to get all these Japanese people that were all that way farming, get ads and whatever for the directory, so he wanted Rick to come. So he came, Rick came here and he was here for several months, and he came back to Cleveland, then we moved back together here and worked for the dad.

SY: I see, so it was just, by then it was just this directory. The newspaper was --

YM: No, the directory, it was still, the newspaper was still going, but he took time off to make this directory. And eventually he sold the business, and after that Rick took some classes in linotyping and so he did that kind of work, something, everything in the printing business the rest of his life too.

SY: And what happened to his father's newspaper? He, it just dissolved?

YM: He sold it to somebody.

SY: So someone bought it and kept it going for a while.

YM: Right, for a while. [Laughs] For a little while.

SY: Just a short time.

YM: [Laughs] Short time, yes.

SY: Because there were probably only three, well, there were three newspapers at the time.

YM: Exactly. There was the Kashu Mainichi and the Rafu Shimpo, and then just about that time I think Crossroads, was that the little newspaper?

SY: Yeah, there was a Crossroads.

YM: Yeah, that came out too. That was all English. Yeah, I think that came out too, so it was just flooded with papers.

SY: Things, yeah. And so Rick was, during the war when, he was at Topaz with his parents?

YM: Yes.

SY: And his, did his dad, was his dad involved in the newspaper business during the war?

YM: Not, no. Not...

SY: I mean, did he do anything at Topaz?

YM: Well, his father was never in Topaz 'cause he was taken the, right after Pearl Harbor.

SY: Because of his newspaper business.

YM: Yeah, he was, yeah.

SY: So he was in one of the other camps that were for --

YM: Right. And he went to several camps, actually. They shifted him around several camps. So he did go to Topaz, his father did go to Topaz because his, Rick's mother passed away in Topaz and he was allowed to come with two bodyguards to the funeral, so his, 'cause Rick's mother passed away in January of '43.

SY: Soon, fairly early on.

YM: Very early.

SY: And did Rick have siblings who were in --

YM: Yes, he had, he was one of four. He was the oldest of four boys. And so after that all the boys, couple of 'em went to Salt Lake City and the youngest one eventually went, was in the army, so they were all scattered and so they were never a family after that. Each one went his own way. They were old enough. It was a sad day for them.

SY: Right.

YM: So the father was in at least several. I don't know why they, what the method was, but they shifted him from one camp to another. And recently, I don't know if you heard of Miss Wegars, she published a book on Kooskia, Kooskia camp in Idaho, and Rick's dad had been there so we were talking, we were in touch with Miss Wegars for, while she was writing the book.

SY: Working on the book. So did she remember Rick's dad? I mean, did she do research on --

YM: Yes. She went through the archives and she gave us a stack of information, everything that pertained, so we have a whole stack at home, everything she did all the research for. She did a lot of research for that. It's a little camp there that hardly anybody heard about until she wrote about it.

SY: And how did Rick's dad pass away?

YM: He passed away, he was eighty-four. He wasn't well.

SY: And he, by then he was out of the newspaper business completely.

YM: Yeah. He was, he was in some, let's see, he had bought a restaurant sometime around when he was eighty-five or eighty-six, and I don't know what he did with it. I think he probably sold it again, but he was always into something. [Laughs]

SY: Adventurous.

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

<Begin Segment 26>

SY: So when, so when, where did you live when you came back to California?

YM: Well, first we lived on First Street. [Laughs]

SY: In Little Tokyo?

YM: Yeah, in Little Tokyo, 'cause his father -- and he had remarried -- and his wife, so they had two rooms so they gave us one room. It was, it was right on East First in the middle of, between San Pedro and Central.

SY: Convenient.

YM: So we lived there for a little while and then I was expecting my first child, so we moved out to a little place near south Pasadena and we lived there for a while. Then we moved back to Uptown for, my mother found a house there.

SY: I see.

YM: [Laughs] Yeah, so she said there's this little house so we moved to Uptown for a while, right off of Olympic Boulevard.

SY: And you had your, you had one son?

YM: By then I had two children.

SY: Oh, you had two children.

YM: Yeah, and then Randy was born there when I lived there, and then so we moved to another house.

SY: So all together how many children?

YM: I have three children.

SY: And can you tell me a little bit, the first one was born in...

YM: Yes, first one was born when we were living up in south, near Pasadena, and in those days they still had the Japanese hospital, so he was born there. And that was 1949 and that was the one winter that it snowed in California. I have a picture of, when it was, this was right before he was born. It was in January of '49, we had snow, and that's when I had my first child. [Laughs] And then Judy came along in -- the first one is Rick -- and Judy came along in 1951, still up in the Hills there, and then we moved down to Olympic Boulevard in Uptown, then Randy was born in 1954. And then we moved to an area near Fairfax in Washington and we lived there about eight years, and then we moved to our present house.

SY: I see. And all this time when you were having the children Rick was working in the printing business?

YM: Yes.

SY: And you were doing what?

YM: Well, I used to do some home work if there was, 'cause there was a group of people that if they get some home work they'll let you know that it's available or something, so they, the first thing I did where, was making graduation gowns for, this was for, Bullocks Wilshire had a contract with Marymount and the one in Pasadena. Anyway, there're two girls schools, they had a contract for their graduation gowns, so I don't know, somebody that was working on it, so they shared it with me or something, so I had five gowns to make. They were long graduation gowns.

SY: So you really kept kind of in this, doing the tailoring and seamstress work.

YM: Yeah. That's right. Just for a little spending money. So I did that, then later on there was a Cahill company that made wedding gowns, and I don't know if you remember, in the old days they had all these buttons down your back and buttons up and down your sleeve, and they needed loops like this and so that's what I made for quite a while, making, they'd send me the satin and I'd make the loops so they could just sew it up. So I did that for a while. And then when we moved to Olympic there was a Jewish neighbor next door, and he was from the old country and he wanted to start a business, so he bought this bow tie company, and so since we were neighbors, we didn't know each other, but he came up to me, wanted to know if I'd be interested in making bow ties. So he gave me some samples and I... then he said, oh yeah, that's fine. So then I started to work for him, made the bow tie with the little clips on 'em, that kind. And I worked for him for quite a few years, and then when I moved I had to quit, and I thought, well, I'll quit for a while. Then one day he and his partner comes over to my house where I'd moved with a sewing machine, with a power machine, and he says, "We're gonna make cummerbunds now." You know the ones that you, it goes with the...

SY: Tuxedo.

YM: Yeah, tuxedo. So I made cummerbunds for a while. And even when I moved to the house I'm in now, I made cummerbunds for quite a few years.

SY: For this company, wow.

YM: Yeah, and then when Randy was in junior high school, then I quit home work and went out to work.

SY: Once he was in school.

YM: Yeah, once he was in school.

SY: And what did you end up doing?

YM: Well, I ended up working for the old Thrifty Drugstore company, and they happened to be on Rodeo and La Brea, which makes it very convenient for me to get to 'cause I'm a bus rider, and so I only had to take one bus to La Brea. And so I worked for them, and towards the end we moved to Wilshire Boulevard right next to the Ambassador Hotel, I worked for Thrifty for twenty-three years.

SY: Wow. Just doing clerical kinds of work?

YM: Yes, clerical work and accounting, accounting department.

SY: I see. Wow. That's a long time. I didn't realize you worked for Thrifty for that long.

YM: [Laughs] Of course, by the time I worked, finished working there, retired from there, the following year there was no more Thrifty. They had merged with another company and they merged, that company merged or something else, and now Rite Aid is actually part, part of Thrifty is right now Rite Aid.

SY: They merged.

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

<Begin Segment 27>

SY: So then, Yasu, what did you do for your social, you had all these jobs that kept you busy and you had the children, but what...

YM: Well, we had, Rick, my husband, and two or three others, we started an investment club. So that was, at the very beginning just the men met, but later on the women joined it 'cause the children were grown by then. We were together for about thirty-five years, so that was part of our social life too.

SY: Really? And what, you just invited your Japanese American friends? Is that...

YM: Pardon?

SY: You just included your JA friends in this club?

YM: Well, we had twelve couples we got together with as a group, with the bylaws and everything else. And at first we used to have, once in a while we'd have the broker come and speak to us, but they were supposed to get some stocks and study it and present it to the group. Later on it didn't continue like that, but anyway, we kept buying and selling and later on, since our children were growing up, then the ladies...

SY: Got involved.

YM: Yeah. Anyway, we got together with, and so the first meeting was at our house and I just served cake and coffee. And then the, when the ladies got involved it start to get to be like a dinner almost. [Laughs] So we would rotate the meetings. There were twelve of us, so we'd have eleven meetings and the twelfth one would be installation at a different, at a restaurant or something, so we'd rotate by having a different month every year. So we did that for thirty-five years.

SY: Who came up with this idea of having an investment club? Was that common among...

YM: It was. There was quite a few going up, actually.

SY: Really? In Los Angeles, in that area? Or all over?

YM: I don't, there were, I know of two, three other groups at St. Mary's that have their... but we made it all St. Mary's groups so that if there's some function that involved church then we'd all be involved in it and we wouldn't have absentees. So anyway, they were all from St. Mary's, and one of the members worked for a broker, the wife worked for a broker, so that helped. That helped in organizing the group.

SY: So was it, was it really more of a social group?

YM: Well, it started out to be, supposed to be something, an investment group, but there was a lot of social, you know. So every month we'd, towards the end every month we would, went to different houses, and the women would be in the kitchen and the men would be in the living room. They'd have their meeting and we'd have our gab fest. [Laughs]

SY: So the women would sort of stay separate kind of in these kinds of things.

YM: Yeah, and then at dessert time we'd get together. So we did that, like I say, for thirty-five years. And then Rick belonged to a golf club, so we had some get-togethers there. They would have family outings and stuff. But mainly our social life was around church, the church functions, and we did a lot of volunteering at church. We did, we were very involved. Both us were very involved at St. Mary's.

SY: And how about with your kids? Did you have lots of school activities with your kids too?

YM: Well, whatever, no, not that much activities 'cause I didn't belong to the PTA or anything like that. But...

SY: But did they have, did the kids get involved with the church as well, with St. Mary's?

YM: They were all, they were, girls, Judy sang in the girls' choir and the boys were acolytes. So yes, they all...

SY: So their social life was kind of around the church as well.

YM: It was. And then they had, course the boys had CAC. Now, I don't know exactly what that stands for, but it was an athletic club, organization, and they played baseball. Both of them played baseball. That time basketball wasn't as popular as it was today, it is today, so they had baseball.

SY: And it was all Japanese American league, kind of a league?

YM: Yeah, it was a, I can't remember what it stood for, but it was a Japanese league. Yeah, for the Sanseis.

SY: So they mainly hung out together then, really grew up with a lot of other --

YM: Well, some of them, but sometimes those clubs get children from different areas. It wasn't just a local thing, so there were a lot of people they never saw except at the games, a lot of players, co-players. Some of them they knew but not all of them that well.

SY: So your, that community, though, really stayed pretty tight, that Uptown community, up til when?

YM: The Uptown, yes. Well, when our children were young there were so many children of that age. That was, the baby boomers I guess they called it. We could, we filled a chapel with just children. We had to have two services, one for the adults, 'cause there were lots of children there. But they came from all over too, and as time went on people moved further away and Uptown was not where we all lived. To go to church we were all coming in from areas far as Anaheim or Irvine or Hacienda Heights or whatever.

SY: So even though adults stayed, a lot of the adults stayed, many of the children then went outside.

YM: That's right. They didn't, there are some families, thank goodness, that their children are there too, being active just like we were when we were there. We had a lot of activities at church in the old days.

SY: And the Nisei today, are they, do they, is there a, still a Nisei population that lives there?

YM: No, we're dwindling. [Laughs]

SY: But there's, St. Mary's is still a fairly strong congregation?

YM: Well, no, it has really shrunk a lot, and we're trying very hard to find some ways to get a little more involved with maybe the neighborhood or something. It's a little hard 'cause the old members have all moved away and their children, if they didn't come then they're not gonna, they're not coming back. So it's a difficult time trying to get...

SY: Keep the church...

YM: Yeah, keep growing, trying to keep it going, but it's very hard.

SY: And Father John, Father John was the minister after the war?

YM: Yes, right after the war he was for I don't know how many years. He served about forty years at the church, and we've had several ministers after Father John.

SY: And so his family pretty much, after Father John, didn't continue.

YM: Yeah, no involvement.

SY: So it's a totally different community now.

YM: That's right.

SY: But you decided to stay because it's, why did you decide to stay there in Uptown area?

YM: Well, I don't know. I'm still, I'm not in Uptown area now, but then it's still convenient for me to go. So I don't know, one of the few of our generation because it's shrinking. There aren't too many of us, our generation, there now. But we're still there. We are.

<End Segment 27> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 28>

SY: And your kids have all gone to other places?

YM: Other places. Not other churches, just other places. [Laughs] Except Judy, she goes with me.

SY: Judy's your daughter?

YM: Uh-huh. She goes with me.

SY: And she is your, she was very active in East West Players at one time.

YM: Yes, she was. And actually she, I don't know if you heard of Cold Tofu Group, but she and, she was one of four.

SY: Improvisational.

YM: They were the four that started that group way back in early '80s, I think. And it's still going.

SY: That's amazing. So they've, at least Judy was very active in the Asian American, Japanese American community.

YM: In, at the theater anyway she was.

SY: Stayed active.

YM: She was active there for quite a few years. And in those days it was like a family, the group that was there. They studied there and they stuck around there. It's a little different now. She had some good times there.

SY: And she stayed, she stays with you now because she, she...

YM: Yes.

SY: You want to talk a little bit about what happened?

YM: Oh... not really.

SY: No? Okay, we won't talk about it. But she lives with you?

YM: Yes, she does.

SY: She lives with you, and she's... your other two sons, are they, they stay pretty active in the Japanese American community?

YM: My, in what?

SY: In the JA community.

YM: No. Well, Randy's son was for a while because he took taiko, was in the taiko group.

SY: Which is very good.

YM: Yes. But that's, when the taiko ended that was it. [Laughs] So my oldest son is not a church-going son, and my oldest son lives in Truckee, which is near north Tahoe, near there.

SY: Wasn't he involved in writing for a while? Was he a writer?

YM: Yes, he did all kinds of things. He went to, after high school he went to City College for a while. Then he went to work for Lockheed for about four years, then he went to East West Players. He was there for a while. He was at Tozai Times, I don't know if you remember, it was a newspaper. He helped with the first edition of that. And then he was at Pacific Citizen for a while. And then he went, moved up north, and ever since he moved up north he's been into more, he worked in the Silicon Valley, that type of work there. He's a, I guess what you call a computer tech or something. He's retired mainly, but he does go out on jobs sometimes to help somebody with a computer.

SY: So you were saying that you are trying to preserve some of your history by writing some of these things down, to share with your children?

YM: Well, I keep thinking someday I won't be here so I was writing it down for that.

SY: And do you, have you, do your children know very much about this? No?

YM: No. This will be something new.

SY: Okay, good. I think they'll really appreciate it. As much as it, it's been interesting talking to you. So is there anything else that, I'm trying to think if I missed anything.

YM: Well, Randy here, I have to ask him about what he did after high school, just for this. And he went to Cal State L.A. for years -- I didn't realize that -- 'cause he didn't know what he wanted to do. So finally when he decided on what he wanted to do he went to Trade Tech, and now he's telling me he's been in the graphics area for thirty years and it's hard to believe.

SY: Graphic design?

YM: Graphic, yeah, graphic design.

SY: So he's a, kind of an artist.

YM: Yeah, I thought he was, when he was little he used to do little tiny artwork, and I thought, so I told him one day, why don't you take art in class, whatever? He didn't want to do it. Anyway, I hope he's enjoying his work.

SY: Where, is there, that in your family, or in Rick's family, some sort of art, anybody in that field?

YM: No, not really.

SY: But I think the work you do, that your mother did with the, with the kimono and all of that.

YM: Well, I don't know.

SY: That's very fine work. So anyway, well I hope, you've been a wonderful interview, Yasu. Thank you so much. I enjoyed talking to you. Unless there's something else we missed?

YM: No, I don't think so. [Laughs] I've talked enough.

<End Segment 28> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.