Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Jack Y. Kunitomi Interview II
Narrator: Jack Y. Kunitomi
Interviewer: Martha Nakagawa
Location: Los Angeles, California
Date: October 26, 2011
Densho ID: denshovh-kyoshisuke-04-

<Begin Segment 1>

MN: Okay. Today is Wednesday, October 26, 2011. We are at the Centenary United Methodist Church in Little Tokyo. We will be interviewing Jack Yoshisuke Kunitomi. Tani Ikeda is on the video camera, and I will be interviewing, my name is Martha Nakagawa. Now, Jack, we were talking about Pearl Harbor, and then after, a few months after Pearl Harbor, in February, at the end of February 1942, the Japanese Americans on Terminal Island were kicked off. Were you aware of this?

JK: Oh, yes. Because the local chapters of the JACL put out a request for people who can, able-bodied people who can bring in luggage for the families because they were being relocated into L.A. And so my buddy Bud Mukai and I were working for a retail market bringing in produce from the wholesale market to the retail store. Because the afternoons were free for us, they decided to volunteer us to bring luggage from, for the families.

MN: So what was it like when you got to Terminal Island?

JK: Well, we saw despair, crying parents, and of course we saw young people unaware of what was going on. And it was a pitiful sight for us who, outsiders, who happened to see all this happening in front of our eyes. It was a sad moment for all of us, I think.

MN: Now, you saw this happening to the Terminal Islanders. Do you remember how you felt when you heard that you had to go into camp?

JK: Well, because others have started the process, it wasn't too hard to take. But, this idea of getting picked on to go somewhere where we weren't really needed, so I think it hurt our pride really. So, well, we had to take it.

MN: Now during that time, do you remember Chinese Americans wearing "I am Chinese" buttons?

JK: Oh, yes. It was a strange sight because we happened to know one of the families, Japanese family, who was keeping company with a Chinese young man. And we saw buttons on both of their lapels flaunting their freedom, I guess. But you can't blame them.

MN: Now your brother, Hideo, volunteered to help build Manzanar. Do you remember when he left?

JK: I know the busload was leaving the Maryknoll church, and ladies and gentlemen were invited to put the finishing touches at Manzanar. It must have been, oh, about two weeks' duration when they went to tidy up, I guess.

MN: Two weeks before you, your family went into Manzanar, Hideo went before? Is that correct?

JK: Yes, uh-huh.

MN: How did you feel when Hideo volunteered?

JK: Well, everyone felt that someone had to do something, so volunteer young men, muscles and all. Because I think all of us were in the mood for being a volunteer, except I was married.

MN: Now, when Hideo volunteered, did he write back letters to the family?

JK: Oh, I don't think they had time for letters. I doubted it. I know several people that went as volunteers, and they had a good time plus working hard.

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

<Begin Segment 2>

MN: Now, you know you have to go into camp and the war is going on. Did this prompt you to ask Masa Fujioka, for you to you ask Mary Masa Fujioka?

JK: Well, yes, because we knew that people were being sent, they were not caring where the families were divided. And so we took a chance and got married.

MN: How did you go about asking her to marry you?

JK: Well, because the father had been interned because he was a community leader. He was a secretary of the Japanese group, so he was picked up right away. In fact, it's like a movie mystery where people are tailed and don't know they're being followed. But they had a pretty good case on the father because he was such an important person.

MN: So he got picked up by the FBI?

JK: Yes.

MN: Was he... let's see, that's Shiro Fujioka?

JK: Yes.

MN: Was he the editor of the Rafu Shimpo Japanese section?

JK: Gee, I'm not sure what his real job was, but he was important in the eyes of the FBI.

MN: So in a traditional Japanese way, you would ask the father if you could marry the daughter, but the father's not there. So what did you do?

JK: Well, I drove my mother to see Mrs. Fujioka, and she felt the same way. You don't know where you're ending up. So she said, "Good luck."

MN: So the mother gave you her blessings?

JK: Yes.

MN: When did you get married?

JK: April 17th.

MN: 1942?

JK: Yes.

MN: Seventeenth or twenty-seventh?

JK: Must have been seventeenth.

MN: Seventeenth. Where did you get married?

JK: In one of the judges' chambers. At that time, the judges were the marrying type. They had offices open down Broadway, open for business for weddings such as ours.

MN: So who was present at your wedding?

JK: My sister-in-law and my bride's older sister, and another sister who were free to be witnesses.

MN: Anybody from your family?

JK: No, they were too busy doing something or other.

MN: Do you remember what you wore?

JK: Well, I had a suit because those days, when we went to dances, we dressed up. Like they would designate sports, formal or informal, men wore ties and coats. Yes, we did dress up for dances, not...

MN: Do you remember what Masa wore?

JK: Well, yeah, just regular dresses, I guess. Because most girls when they went to dances would wear a full dress. And, yes, but the girls did dress nicely, I think.

MN: Where was your reception?

JK: I just took the young men out who were around, chop suey. Yeah, that was about it. We didn't celebrate very much.

MN: So you didn't go to the Biltmore? You did not have a --

JK: We went to the Biltmore, yes.

MN: What did you do for your honeymoon?

JK: Well, there was a curfew, so we couldn't go anyplace except downtown, movie, limited travel.

MN: Did you spend it at a special hotel?

JK: Yes, we went to the hotel right across from Union church, the old Union church.

MN: Was that the Olympic Hotel?

JK: Yes, uh-huh.

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

<Begin Segment 3>

MN: Now your family lived downtown and were scheduled to go to Manzanar, but your wife's family's from Hollywood. Were you two able to go to the same camp?

JK: No. Hollywood group went to Santa Anita. And so we had trouble going to the same place. But since my mother had signed up for Manzanar, we ended up there, because we had more freedom to try to transfer later.

MN: So Masa was able to go with you directly to Manzanar?

JK: Yes.

MN: How did you prepare to go to camp?

JK: Well, we heard all kind of stories about snakes and bugs and things. So we tried to prepare for it with boots and high top shoes and things like that. We did a lot of unnecessary shopping for boots and things like that.

MN: Were there things that you treasured that you couldn't take with you?

JK: No, not much. But when you think of just suitcases.

MN: I know you loved music.

JK: Yeah. Well, I was into collecting jazz music. And in fact, I had a whole collection of swing music that we just had to give up. Yes, this was a waste of money because we used to go to, oh, Al Jarvis, he was a disc jockey who played all the songs that we liked over the radio. And we used to just adore his style.

MN: So you had to leave all those behind?

JK: Yes, I left them with my friend who took over our little mama and papa store. And, oh, I guess he made money. But...

MN: So you said you left it with a friend that took over the Gary Street Store?

JK: Yes.

MN: And did you leave all your furniture in there, too?

JK: Oh, yes.

MN: What did you do with all the Japanese books and the records?

JK: Well, our family didn't go in for too much of that. We had, well, flag and something from the records and things like that. But since Mother was all alone, I guess she used to listen to records. We, the second generation, didn't have too much art-wise, because I was out playing sports and the others were kind of young.

MN: Now, the day you left for camp, do you remember the day and the month?

JK: Well, it was April. It was, I think, Mother's Day, yeah.

MN: Where did you gather to go into camp?

JK: I know we were on... oh, on the train. We were on a station on Third Street, Third and, just east of Alameda.

MN: Third Street? I know they had a Fifth Street. Before the war there was a Fifth Street.

JK: Yes... I know because we were warned to keep the blinds down with the army MPs walking patrol and inside a car. Cautioned to keep our eyes closed inside the window. Then we had a tragedy. Somebody in San Fernando had a heart attack and they stopped the train and they had to take him off. So...

MN: How did you feel when you saw all these army people?

JK: Just disgusting. Well, they had their job to do, but it was a boring ride anyway.

MN: Did you get sick on the train?

JK: No.

MN: How long was this train ride?

JK: Oh, wow. Gee, I would say five, six hours. I remember going by the road, desert, and my gosh, what a forlorn place to go to. It was not a pleasant trip.

MN: And then where did the train stop?

JK: I know we stopped outside of San Fernando, and that's when they took the person off the train. And the last time was when we hit Manzanar, I guess.

MN: And then you got off, and did you get on a bus?

JK: I think it was a truck.

MN: Was it a army truck?

JK: It looked like it.

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

<Begin Segment 4>

MN: So when you got to Manzanar, was it daylight still?

JK: Just turning dark. And the winds started coming up, and then we heard from family friends, dust storm coming up. So we got in the shade, first thing, the dust storm.

MN: Was your brother Hideo there to greet you?

JK: Oh, yes, he was there to help us stuff our mattress with straw.

MN: So were the Kunitomi family, were you folks together?

JK: Yes, we were all... my older sister who was married. So we had three units, I guess. And we were all close by.

MN: But initially you had to share a barrack with another family, is that correct?

JK: Yes, because we were married. Yes, it was embarrassing, just married, for living with another family of five. [Laughs]

MN: So what did you do? Were you able to get out of that barrack?

JK: Yes. We went to housing the following day, and then got put in with two bachelors who we knew from...

MN: Now, you were talking about like early on, you had to get shots. And what happened to your wife when she got her shot?

JK: Oh, I don't know what... flu shot, tetanus shot, one shot especially knocked my wife out. And since we had no transportation, I had to carry her piggyback back to the cabin which was, oh, a couple of hundred yards away from the main traffic. Luckily, she survived. I think I got feverish, too. We had three or four shots that hurt us.

MN: So this was common for people to pass out?

JK: Yes. I thought I was strong enough to withstand the flu, but... but there were cases of people getting feverish in the arm or wherever.


MN: So your wife survived the shot, so you didn't have to take her to the hospital.

JK: No, no.

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

<Begin Segment 5>

MN: Now, what kind of work did you find at Manzanar early on?

JK: Well, I took any job that was open. And what we were doing, counting inventory of things that were being used in the camps. So all we did was count boxes and things in the boxes. [Laughs] That's all we did.

MN: How did you get this job?

JK: Well, besides our steady job was doing camouflage. And that was, there was a job all the time, everybody had to put in time on the camouflage nets.

MN: So what did you have to do when you worked on the camouflage nets?

JK: Well, we... they had set up a net, and they lowered it for the ladies who were working on the bottom of the net. And the young ones were doing the other things. So it was a teamwork. So everyone pitched in for the nets. And so it was left alone for a while while the people did something else. So it was... well, do it when you have time.

MN: And when you were working there, what did you... did you have little strips that you braided in?

JK: Yes. I think there were... I think they were 3 by 9, 3 inches by 6 or 9 feet. We had to weave in and out for the desert.

MN: Now I heard that people developed allergies working on the camouflage net. Did you have problems?

JK: No, I didn't have any trouble there. But lint, the lint off the strips bothered quite a few people.

MN: What about your wife?

JK: Oh, she was strong.

MN: So you worked next to... did you work together?

JK: Yeah, well, we used to.

MN: Now your group was one of the earlier groups that went into Manzanar. How much freedom did you have there?

JK: Well, everywhere we went, we walked. We even walked to the gates or anyplace guarded, because they were, the soldiers were active, at least they made menacing faces when we got close by. Because they weren't sure of us, we weren't sure of them, too. But we stayed away from the fences.

MN: So at that time, nobody was sneaking out to go fishing yet.

JK: No, no.

MN: How much of Manzanar was complete?

JK: I think the camp itself was... I think. Because there was no other work being done for the camp itself. Because I think all the mess halls were open, at least we didn't hear of anyplace that needed work.

MN: Now, how soon after you got into Manzanar did people start organizing sports teams?

JK: Well, first thing that happened was softball. And because most blocks came from the same city. It was easy to have teams like every block had a baseball team, like San Fernando, San Pedro, downtown. And so we were able to have leagues without any trouble. So that was the only thing, supplies. So people wrote to Montgomery Ward, Sears-Roebuck, to buy balls, gloves, whatever, bats. Whatever necessary we were able to get, because it was such a small request. So our league took off right away, and we had teams from San Pedro, San Fernando and a few other places, too.

MN: Which one were you with?

JK: Downtown. And because we had a pick of older players, we called ourselves Has Beens.

MN: What position did you play?

JK: Oh, I was shortstop.

MN: So you were really good then.

JK: Oh. [Laughs]

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

<Begin Segment 6>

MN: Now, let's see. In the fall of 1942, you went out of camp for the labor contracts?

JK: Yes.

MN: Why did you sign up?

JK: Well, we heard stories of people working, farm, and then continuing work for themselves outside. And you're young. But we got the idea because we were still outside in Idaho Falls, and then we wrote to get permission to go. They said Heart Mountain.

MN: So you went out to Idaho Falls. Did Masa go with you?

JK: Yes.

MN: And when you got to Idaho Falls, the train ride there, was there a soldier that escorted you?

JK: Hmm. No, I don't think so. I don't think they... they were outside of the Western zone, so I don't think there was a soldier on the train.

MN: So once you got to Idaho Falls, what did you do there?

JK: We, because we had a team of farmhands, we had a big house. This farmer had an empty house for the farm laborers, and so we all pitched in. Well, it was a two story, we had three married couples, plus several other singles. So we had a big outfit doing the farmwork.

MN: So how would you compare the living conditions here with Manzanar?

JK: Well, we ate good, because the wives, three wives got together. We would go to town to buy canned goods, so I think we ate fairly well. And on weekends we would go to town and stock up on fancy food.

MN: What's a fancy food? What did you consider fancy food?

JK: Well, canned fruits. All of us love fruits, so then we went out to Japanese restaurant.

MN: They had a Japanese restaurant?

JK: In Idaho Falls. It was outside the Western boundary, so they were free. Did sightseeing up and down the Snake River, learned geography of how the Snake River going up and down Idaho.

MN: Did you ever have any problems with the townspeople?

JK: No, we didn't, because we just went to the Japanese restaurant, and we went sightseeing at the river. No one bothers us at that time. At least people were too busy, and there were fewer people left in the city.

MN: How did you get to the city? Did you walk?

JK: Well, yes, we did walk.

MN: Now, you're a city boy and you're doing farm work. What was that like?

JK: [Laughs] It's hard on the back. All of us in that crew were city people. And, well, for one thing, that crop, that first crop, in fact, we went to a family, the brothers who were farming, the first brothers' farm wasn't much, the crop wasn't, a very poor crop compared to the brothers where we went the next time. Second time, it was much better, crop-wise. So we had a taste of not so good crop, plus a good one the second time, so we made money, little bit.

MN: So the second crop, the sugar beets were bigger on that farm?

JK: Yes. We could tell the difference because when the farmer plowed the beets, you could see the sizes. And what made it hard was when they dug, plow the plants, the sizes of the beets were so different. And you could tell by that use of the knife, which had a hook, to stab beets up and tell the difference in the weight of the beet. Said, "Oh, boy, now we'll make little bit of money."

MN: Did Masa go out there and...

JK: They stayed at home. I guess they probably do the laundry.

MN: Now this house that you lived in, did it have running water?

JK: Yes.

MN: So it was, would you say it was better than Manzanar?

JK: Well, yes, you got to cook your own recipes.

MN: Do you remember what you mostly ate?

JK: Well, everyone needed rice, so we had to buy rice, small sacks of rice.

MN: They sold those at Idaho Falls?

JK: Well, little... I don't know what kind of rice it was, but...

MN: Now how long were you working out in Idaho Falls?

JK: Late summer... oh, I'd say late October. Yes, before the frost set in, I think.

MN: So maybe November, December?

JK: Not, because we spent Christmas in Heart Mountain.

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

<Begin Segment 7>

MN: So I was gonna ask you next, so after your contract at Idaho Falls was over, why didn't you return to Manzanar?

JK: Well, oh then they were having trouble at Manzanar. So we hear, later we heard about the riot in Manzanar. Said, "Uh-oh, we better not go back there because we might get involved in the firing of the guns." So by that time... now was Masa pregnant? No, not yet.

MN: So when you heard about this riot at Manzanar, was your brother Hideo okay?

JK: Yeah, he was one of the leaders, well, looked like it. Because the fellow next to him, or next to him, neighbor, was killed. And the fellow had his finger shot off. So they were right in the front lines.

MN: How did this news of the riot at Manzanar reach you?

JK: Well, it was released in the papers, I mean, it was in the newspaper. So...

MN: So that was another reason why you didn't return to Manzanar?

JK: Yes.

MN: So from Idaho Falls, where did you go?

JK: We went to Heart Mountain. And...

MN: How were you able to arrange that?

JK: Well, I guess our family, that's why we reunite the family, I guess.

MN: Because Masa's family was in Heart Mountain?

JK: Yes.

MN: So when you got to Heart Mountain, what was your impression of Heart Mountain?

JK: Well, it's cold. Twenty-eight below zero. [Laughs] But we had another unit, and next block.

MN: How would you compare Heart Mountain to Manzanar?

JK: Well, Heart Mountain was pretty well-established because they all came from Santa Anita. And, well, when I left Manzanar, we were still playing ball. Because I guess the office staff wasn't quite...

MN: So what were some of the first jobs that you had at Heart Mountain?

JK: I latched onto a fellow from Kent, Washington, and he was telling me about his father who was a traveling salesman from Washington, driving down to Oregon, California, and he didn't like people in California, Japanese, because they were so uppity. [Laughs] He was telling me all the bad traits of the Japanese. So he gave me a very bad impression of Japanese as a whole in California.

MN: And did you work with him?

JK: Yes. We were just warehouse men, just leaving things, opening boxes and supplying.

MN: What did your wife Masa do at Heart Mountain?

JK: Oh, yes, she took to the hospital right away. So she was a receptionist at the hospital, although the walk was, no car, so she had to walk. Because unfortunately, we did live a few blocks away from the hospital.

MN: That must have been hard because it was so cold.

JK: Yes.

MN: It was snow.

JK: But we had peacoats.

MN: Do you remember how you spent your first Christmas at Heart Mountain?

JK: Yes, we had a party in the mess hall, and, well, people made nigiris, and little sandwiches, something that people went outside to get. Yes, we were lucky because we had friends that went outside and were able to buy some things from the outside. And better than that, after I started working for the Sentinel, I was able to go out every Friday to print the newspaper.

MN: Well, let's stay with the winter of '42. Now, going into '43, do you remember what the New Year's was like at Heart Mountain?

JK: Well, I think we tried to whoop it up.

MN: Did you have a mochitsuki?

JK: No, it was too early. I mean, people weren't quite ready for heavy duty mochi to eat.

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

<Begin Segment 8>

MN: Now I want to ask you about the strike, the farm strike at Tule Lake. In the fall of 1943, Tule Lake had a farm strike, and a group from Heart Mountain went out. Were you part of that group?

JK: Yes. We had another brother-in-law who was from Gila. Evidently had had problems in Gila over "yes-yes," "yes-no" questions.

MN: Is this Nobu Kawai?

JK: Yes. And so, well, we were working, somehow we all worked together. We had a timekeeper, foreman, so we all got together to work, peace time, we had arguments. So, when the Tule Lake people, farmers, went on a strike, we as a group said, "Hey, we could farm, farm the crops." And so, hey, let's do it. So we took off to Tule Lake.


MN: -- you going to Tule Lake with the group from Heart Mountain. Do you remember how you got there?

JK: Of course. Now that we are select company, we had the best seats. I can remember going from Heart Mountain to Portland. Portland was for, time for us to eat. And what made it for some of us worthwhile, because now we were making the public wait for us. We were in the dining room, armed guards watching the door, and all of us snickering because now the public was being shut out. And some of us were laughing because now we had the upper hand. But, well, then we were also going to do lot of work, too.

MN: Do you remember, was this an American restaurant?

JK: Yes. It was part of the restaurant at the station. So the armed guards were keeping the public out.

MN: So you had a nice, you had the entire restaurant to yourself.

JK: Yes.

MN: And then from there they sent you to, I guess, Klamath Falls?

JK: Well, we still rode on a train to get to California, and it was a short ride because Tule Lake is way up there.

MN: So when you got there, how big was the group, by the way?

JK: Oh, gee, I would say twenty, thirty people. Gosh... yes, twenty or thirty people, and most of them were people that we had been working with in Heart Mountain.

MN: Were they all men?

JK: Yes.

MN: So once you got to Tule Lake, where did you live?

JK: We were camped in a... one of those camps for, not the evacuation camp, camp site, but... 'cause, see, like, oh, I've forgotten the name of the camps that houses...

MN: There was a Tule Lake CCC camp nearby, is that where you went?

JK: I think that was a CCC camp.

MN: A Civilian Conservation Corps camp.

JK: Yes, that's probably what it was. Because we had freedom after work to do other things like sightseeing, peeking in on Tule Lake from outside.

MN: 'Cause you were not in the Tule Lake camp, right?

JK: No, no.

MN: Did you know why the Tule Lake people were striking?

JK: Well, no, not really. Because it was a shame because the crops were plentiful. Any farmer would be glad to raise crops that were raised there. And we had fun, too. It was fun for us because we had fog, we had all those geese and ducks and whatever, other farms. Because there was a game reserve there. And on weekends, the public came out to shoot the game, and when they shot them, they would fall wounded in, back in our camp. And so we had extra ducks and geese to eat besides our regular food.

MN: What was your regular food?

JK: Japanese-style okazu. We had lots of vegetables. So it was almost like home.

MN: Who cooked for you guys?

JK: Someone attached to the... I guess they had picked some cooks for the... yeah.

MN: Now, compared to the work that you did with the sugar beets in Idaho Falls, how would you compare that work to the work you did at Tule Lake?

JK: Well, Tule Lake was more relaxed because, for one thing, other produce that we pick at night were loaded in boxcars to send to Heart Mountain, Tule Lake, or Manzanar camps, that's dependent on the food supply. So it was gratifying for us to feed ourselves, our families, our friends.

MN: Did you say that you were picking at night?

JK: We were free at night. Aside from the work, we were in a tent, living in a tent, oh, I don't know, half a dozen. And we had all the blankets, I'm telling you, the blankets got heavy because we got cold. So we had fun and we supplied the food for our friends. So it was something we needed to do.

MN: So there was a group from Heart Mountain. Do you remember what other camps people were coming from to help?

JK: I heard Manzanar was there, but I really didn't see any friends there.

MN: Were you allowed to go into the Tule Lake camp at all?

JK: No, no, but we were sightseeing from our side. There was a hill where we could peek in.

MN: Are you talking about Castle Rock?

JK: Someplace.

MN: Did you climb up that Castle Rock?

JK: We were up there someplace.

MN: That's pretty high. How long were you out there at Tule Lake?

JK: I remember playing around with that cabbage that was sold, big, better than any cabbage that I saw in the markets. [Laughs] But, yes, it was a very rich soil where we were.

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

<Begin Segment 9>

MN: And then you returned to Heart Mountain.

JK: Yes.

MN: So from, at that point, is this when you joined the Heart Mountain Sentinel?

JK: No. I was working before that. I was kind of new, but...

MN: What were you doing on the Sentinel staff?

JK: Well, I had claimed, back in City College, I was taking a journalism class. And, "Oh, you're gonna be a newspaper?" But I was doing that because I was writing for my high school. And I said, well, I'll continue. So I did that and then learned something new.

MN: Who was the editor?

JK: Bill Hosokawa was just leaving. He was just leaving camp to go to Omaha, Nebraska, and George and his two friends, high school, were kind of employed.

MN: George Yoshinaga?

JK: And two girls, Mae Zaiman and... oh, the name... Mae Zaiman was from San Francisco, the other girl from -- Alice Tanouye, Alice. I think that was it. So they came to work for us.

MN: Now you said Bill Hosokawa was just leaving, but what kind of editor was he? Was he pretty strict?

JK: Oh, yeah. Well, I don't think he's, he deserved so much pressure. He was very nice gentleman, and we worked mostly with his managing editor, Haruo... now I can't remember the names.

MN: I want to say Ioka, no? Is it Haruo Ioka?

JK: No.

MN: I know who you're talking about. Anyways, what was your beat on the Sentinel?

JK: Well, main, our origin was sports.

MN: So what... you mentioned that softball was really popular. Is that what you covered a lot?

JK: Oh, yes, covered basketball. Basketball, now that the high school had started, busy with the outside teams.

MN: Did you say they played with the outside teams?

JK: Yes. Of course, at first, our boys didn't have much of a chance, because, well, for basketball, you need height. At first they took a beating, but in football and baseball, well, our teams did pretty well.

MN: I would think football they would be a little smaller, too.

JK: Smaller but faster.

MN: So did the outside schools come into camp or was --

JK: Yeah. First, they're afraid, I mean, public didn't want the high school to be in with a bunch of crazy Japanese. [Laughs] So it became back and forth, yes. So they had very good relationships with not only statewide, but some of the other cities. So, like build up good public relations.

MN: So when the camp team went out, were you able to go with them?

JK: No, I was long gone with the army.

MN: So let's stay here when you're still with the Sentinel. How often was the Sentinel published?

JK: Once a week.

MN: How did the staff get the paper out?

JK: Okay. We wrote the copies and edited... well, we went out Friday nights, we had a supervisor who had a car and he would take us to the small town of Cody. And we had a Japanese Nisei from the camp working with the printer, at the print, at the shop with a printer. And so he would have it printed at the print shop, and Friday night we'd go out to eat, come back, and all printed, take it back to the town, camp, and get it mailed. So we had a nice system. Yeah, it was a pretty nice setup, they had set up.

MN: So where did you go eat in Cody?

JK: I forgotten the name, but I ordered a roast turkey dinner all the time.

MN: Did the townspeople of Cody ever give you any problems?

JK: No, I guess by that time, the print shop there probably immune to all the sass, bad talk. Because I really didn't hear very much. And because the Caucasian person was such a nice guy.

MN: The Caucasian person who was the supervisor from Heart Mountain?

JK: Yes.

MN: And how long did it take for the print shop to print the Sentinel?

JK: Well, I'd say a few hours.

MN: So did you spend all those few hours at the restaurant?

JK: No. We ate, we went to a movie, and if you see a couple movies every night for a few hours... but it was fun because we had friends. Yeah, we had a small group of people.

MN: How many from the Sentinel staff went out to Cody every Friday?

JK: Three or four. Of course, everyone had shopping lists. So we all had shopping lists from everybody and his brother.

MN: Now, you're the sports guy for the Sentinel, you were the sports writer. Did you yourself get involved in any sports teams at Heart Mountain?

JK: I did earlier because when they first started, they needed teams. So we were playing on the Has Beens, old, old men. [Laughs]

MN: And this was at Manzanar?

JK: No, Heart Mountain, too.

MN: Oh, in Heart Mountain you also had the Has Beens?

JK: Yes.

MN: Now when did your wife Masa have your first baby?

JK: Gee, April 16th.

MN: What year was this?

JK: '44, '43. I keep forgetting my son's...

MN: Okay. Probably '43 I would think, because I think you went into the army soon after.

JK: Yeah.

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

<Begin Segment 10>

MN: So, and '43 is when the controversial "loyalty questionnaire" came out. Was this an issue with you, the questionnaire? Did you talk amongst your friends?

JK: This is... yeah, what started a whole controversy. My in-law, Nob Kawai, came from Gila. My brother-in-law became president of the student body, Ted Fujioka. And that's where we had problems in the family.

MN: So Nobu was, I think, before the war, the president of the Pasadena JACL?

JK: Yes.

MN: And he came to Heart Mountain from Gila River because of the problems he had at Gila River? Were you at any of the meetings where Nobu Kawai spoke in opposition to the Fair Play Committee?

JK: No.

MN: Did you ever clash with the Fair Play Committee?

JK: I sat in on the meetings.

MN: But did you get into any physical fights with them?

JK: No.

MN: Do you remember the fliers that the Fair Play Committee put up in the bathrooms?

JK: Oh, yeah.

MN: What were your feelings towards them at the time?

JK: Well, we just said it's one man's opinion. Well, they were all my friends, too, you know, my age group. Emi and... in fact, Frank Emi and I were good friends.

MN: Wasn't his sister on the Sentinel staff also? Kaoru?

JK: Yes. Was she advertising? But anyway...

MN: Did you ever go to any of those meetings?

JK: Yes.

MN: What were those meetings like?

JK: Well, heated. You hear too many one-sided ideas.

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

<Begin Segment 11>

MN: Okay, so you're in Heart Mountain where there's this huge movement by the Fair Play Committee. You joined the army. Did you volunteer or...

JK: No. I was -- excuse me -- I was married. In fact, the second draft took married people with children. I had another brother-in-law that had two, he was drafted that second time around. And oh my gosh, we thought that was unfair because the first draft, they didn't take any married people.


MN: I'm a little surprised that they were drafting married men.

JK: Yes. The second time around.

MN: You couldn't get a deferment?

JK: No, they didn't ask.

MN: So when you were going out of camp, did the other people who were, let's say with the Fair Play Committee, did they harass you?

JK: No, not really.

MN: Where did you go to get your physical?

JK: Camp Blanding, Florida.

MN: Oh, that's where you did basic training.

JK: Yes.

MN: Do you remember what year and what month you got into your basic training?

JK: July 7, 1943... '43?

MN: Well, you went to Tule Lake in '43, right? So it'd have to be '44.

JK: '44.

MN: So Camp Blanding, Florida. Now, when you crossed the Mason-Dixon line, is this the first time you saw the "whites only," "blacks only" section?

JK: Yes.

MN: Which section did you use?

JK: Well, we knew before, because we, you hear so much about that.

MN: What did you think about that?

JK: Well, I don't know. It's a lifestyle, I guess. You can't fuss with that too much or you get kicked yourself.


MN: So did you do basic training in a segregated unit?

JK: Our battalion was all Japanese, but the other groups were Caucasian. But we were, our company was mixed. No, I take that back. One thing I could never go around with was a boy who was half. He had curly hair, big nostrils, big lips, and yet he was in our company. And I said, "Hey, look." So he stayed in our company, and I'm sorry I never followed up and inquired what had ever happened to him. Kingi was his name, K-I-N-G-I. And I said, oh, god. I should have followed up on that.

MN: Was he dark-skinned?

JK: No, not dark.

MN: Now when you were at Camp Blanding, did you get a chance to travel to Arkansas and go to the Jerome or Rohwer camps?

JK: No, no.

MN: I think you mentioned there was a fight one time that broke out between the Niseis and the Caucasians.

JK: Well, this happened before we got there. From what I hear, the ones that were training, retraining, they've done that before because they were in the army long time. So they had a difference of opinion. And these Nisei boys were two or three years in the army already doing the same thing the newcomers there were doing. And yet they were being picked on.

MN: So by the time you came, did the policy change?

JK: Oh, yes.

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

<Begin Segment 12>

MN: Now, after your basic training, you were placed in the Military Intelligence Service.

JK: Yes.

MN: How did that happen?

JK: They sent out recruiters from Savage or... and they would test each person that kind of finished that basic training. "Can you read this line?" I was able to read two characters. My friend read four characters and said, "Oh, you two, you're for Minnesota, Minneapolis." So it was a hit and miss proposition, I guess depending on the makeup of the group.

MN: So how many from your group went to MIS?

JK: Just two.

MN: So two out of maybe two hundred men?

JK: Yes.

MN: How did you feel about joining the MIS?

JK: Well, I guess safer. I don't know about wartime, but I thought that was safer way to go.

MN: What was the MIS school like? Was it very strict? What was your schedule like?

JK: They had you pegged because they had a team already made up of strong in English, strong in Japanese, medium and so forth. So you were almost like picked. That's the way they wanted the team to work. So if you were good, you had that.

MN: Where did you fall in?

JK: My Japanese wasn't that great, so probably lower.

MN: Did your Japanese improve greatly when you were there?

JK: Well, greatly because we learned how to say Japanese word for machine guns and cannons and munitions and things like that. We never knew what those words meant.

MN: Was Masa able to join you in Minneapolis?

JK: Yes.

MN: Where did you two live?

JK: We lived in a hostel. Minneapolis was full of hostels, Japanese with wives. So of, there were many wives left alone with the men overseas.

MN: So what kind of job was Masa able to find in the area?

JK: Oh, yes, she worked at a home. She was lucky, she found man and wife who both worked. And take care of little ones.

MN: And how long were you at the MIS school?

JK: I guess a semester or so. I guess it depended on how the front was going. Because all of a sudden, our whole school was graduated. [Laughs] I guess we were due to be sent over. So it looked like the whole school was...

MN: Were they anticipating the end of the war?

JK: I think so. I think that was it.

MN: Do you remember when you shipped out?

JK: [Shakes head] I know two shiploads, one was going to Hawaii, we were going to the Philippines. Unfortunately, the ship going to Hawaii broke his rudder so they had to moor, harbor in Honolulu. And half of the passengers were Hawaiians and they couldn't get off. [Laughs] Poor guys. We sailed on to the Philippines and they came and joined us later.

MN: So close to home, huh?

JK: Yeah.

MN: When did the war end? Were you on the ship?

JK: We were on the ship, yeah.

MN: How did you hear the war had ended?

JK: Well, it was on the ships.

MN: What was your reaction to that?

JK: Well, big sigh of relief.

MN: Was there a lot of celebration on the ship?

JK: Yeah, I guess so. Yeah, all we did was throw empty Coke bottles and hit them with an empty Coke bottle. [Laughs]

MN: You know when you were going to the Philippines, did you get seasick?

JK: I didn't get seasick. Not a severe case. I was lucky.

MN: So you reached the Philippines, you learned the war is over, so what orders did you get?

JK: Well, in the Philippines, we still had Japanese stragglers, and they were active at night, and a wall of, Manila was a walled city. So at night the GIs had to be careful, you'd get shot. And that jungle in the hillside, they were still fighting. Kids were, women had taken the kids up on the hill, why? To make them starve? They were starving up there, the woman and the GI, soldiers, and the old people and the kids. So the job was for the American GIs to sweet talk, letting the young kids go or the old people go. I guess they managed.

MN: Now you're Japanese American, you could be mistaken by the soldiers for being a Japanese soldier. Did you have to have escorts?

JK: Well, I heard they have to have escorts, yeah. I'm sure I wasn't there.

MN: So you didn't have to have an escort.

JK: No, no.

MN: What was the weather like? I always hear it was very miserable.

JK: Yeah. Manila rained every day. Every day at three o'clock, rains.

MN: So did you, like, make, to get around the rain, did you create geta?

JK: Well, we made, it was dangerous to go to town because sentiments against Japanese soldiers. Same face but different... different faces. But when we went to town, we had to ask the nuns if they would go into town, then we'd tag along with the nuns. [Laughs] You can't tell what might happen.

MN: So the nuns were sort of a protection.

JK: Oh, yes.

MN: Did you ever feel like your life was in danger when you were out there?

JK: Yeah.

MN: So when you were in the Philippines, what was your main responsibility?

JK: Practice, practice interrogation, things like that. We were trying to read propaganda leaflets that we all had. Too difficult for some of us.

MN: So were you still in training?

JK: Oh, yes.

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

<Begin Segment 13>

MN: How long were you in the Philippines?

JK: Not too long, because as soon as I got there, we were going up with the GHQ.

MN: That's General Headquarters in Tokyo?

JK: [Nods]

MN: So what did you do at GHQ?

JK: Well, we waited for a long time for the units to follow from Philippines, from wherever they were to settle in Tokyo so they could ask for Japanese...

MN: So GHQ was pretty close to the emperor's palace. Did you get a chance to see the emperor?

JK: No. We never got a chance to see him. We did MacArthur because he was on the opposite side of the boat.

MN: You're talking about the signing of the peace treaty?

JK: Yeah.

MN: Were you on that boat?

JK: No.

MN: How much interaction did you have with the Japanese people?

JK: Yeah, well, we found them to be very curious and trusting. Yeah... it's unbelievable how people can get brainwashed. But I guess wartime does change people.

MN: When you arrived at GHQ, what did Tokyo look like?

JK: Well, in some places it was a mess. Just outside of Tokyo... well, I can't say that. The American bombers were so skilled that they left like the... would you believe MacArthur's home was left all alone? Because the bombers were told not to destroy the parliament building. So, well, yeah, it's... I don't know what you call it, fate. Japanese people were fooled so easily.

MN: How did you feel about seeing all that devastation?

JK: Well, the devastation itself was self-caused because all paper, wooden, and yeah, it's...

MN: Well, let me ask you about the other Niseis in the area that you met. Did you meet any Nisei WACs, the Women Army Corps? Were they there?

JK: Well, we saw the Nisei, some WACs and nurses, they came because they were assigned from headquarters. They were assigned... they were assigned to a building, so it was a main attraction for our GIs. [Laughs] So it was a fun time for some of the men.

MN: Did you often visit them? You were married.

JK: Yes, they knew I was married.

MN: So not much fun for you.


MN: Jack, I want to ask you, I know a lot of the people and even the Nisei soldiers got into the black market. Did you get into the black market at all?

JK: Well, we touched upon it lightly. We couldn't help, we couldn't help anybody without becoming involved. My friends got sent to Okinawa because they were in the black market. And luckily for some of us, it wasn't a major offense. It's too bad we had to say "he was bad" or "he was wrong," but it's too bad.

MN: Did you go to a lot of the taxi hall dances?

JK: We went to the dances because Tokyo was bombed. So they moved to the suburbs. And I had a friend that had an in with a dance group. So there we were, dancing away.

MN: You mentioned that you got into selling recycled coffee grounds? What was this all about?

JK: My friend, who was a Nisei, had a vision of becoming a big coffee ground black marketeer. And he had the American chefs dry out coffee grounds to resell in packages. I don't know how it turned out.

MN: Where did you get these coffee grounds?

JK: From the mess hall of the GI, coffee, cafeteria.

MN: So you just dried them out?

JK: On the roof.

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

<Begin Segment 14>

MN: Now, your family is from Okayama. Were you able to visit relatives in Okayama?

JK: Oh, yes. Well, we were given special cars. So, well, even though we had a special car for GIs, very few took advantage of it. But I took a trip to Okayama to visit relatives.

MN: Was this your first time visiting with them?

JK: Yes, uh-huh.

MN: What was that like?

JK: Well, it was a nice train ride.

MN: Were you able to communicate with your relatives?

JK: Oh, yes. They knew I was learning Japanese, and I guess that was the custom, to learn Japanese again.

MN: What kind of omiyage did you bring over?

JK: Well, the PX sold quite a few things, I think, like shoes, socks, clothes. Well, not clothing, underwear, some food. But our relatives were farming, so food-wise, it was, they were able to get by.

MN: Now, Okayama is close to Hiroshima. Did any of your relatives, were they affected by the atomic bombing?

JK: No, I don't think so. But they were awestruck by the explosion that morning. They were farmers, so they were working the fields when they saw this strange explosion. Of course, they couldn't explain it. No one could for a while.

MN: So they were able to see the mushroom cloud all the way to Okayama. Now, your brother, Kinya, was also serving in Japan at this time. Were you able to connect with him?

JK: Really, I missed him visiting relatives.

MN: How long were you stationed in Japan?

JK: Almost two years.

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

<Begin Segment 15>

MN: And what year were you honorably discharged?

JK: I have it... I have to look it up. Can you see this?

MN: You were discharged on August 17, 1946.

JK: Yeah.

MN: So after you were discharged, where did you go? Did you come back to Los Angeles?

JK: Uh-huh. Yes, my wife and child was living with my in-laws. So returned to their home and then started to, tried finding work to earn a living, and decided to become a teacher.

MN: So did you take advantage of the GI bill?

JK: Yes, uh-huh.

MN: Where did enroll in?

JK: University of Southern California where I took my teaching credential.

MN: As a Japanese American male, was it difficult to find a job as a teacher?

JK: No. In fact, men teachers were needed.

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

<Begin Segment 16>

MN: So I wanted to ask you some loose end questions. Manzanar, your sister, Sue, was so involved with Manzanar, and when she started to get very active and trying to preserve Manzanar back in the '70s, what did you think about that?

JK: Well, I told her, "More power to you. Just don't get hurt." Well, we never thought that someone would try to harm someone for trying to do good, but one never knows. Yeah, luckily nothing happened.

MN: Now, when the talks of redress started to happen in the Japanese American community, did you think this was possible?

JK: Yeah, I never thought that we would get something, that the government willed on us.

MN: How did you feel when the bill was passed?

JK: Happy, yeah.

MN: Now I want to ask you about the JACL. The national JACL held a ceremony to apologize to the draft resisters in 2002, and I know your in-laws, Nobu Kawai, who opposed the draft resisters in camp, what were your thoughts on this apology ceremony?

JK: Well, Nob had his ideas. He was a hard man for us to accept.

MN: What did you think about the ceremony? Did you think it was unnecessary?

JK: I don't know.

MN: Well, let me ask you about something else. Let me ask you about the Aoyama tree. In 2008, the L.A. city council voted to give the historic cultural status to the tree that was outside of the original Koyasan temple, and you saw this tree from the beginning. How did you feel about this tree getting historic status?

JK: Well, I said, "More power to the church." Yeah, that's behind me now.

MN: Do you remember that tree when you were a child?

JK: Yeah.

MN: And then I wanted to ask you, you have this scar on your face. Where did you get that scar?

JK: Breaking up a fight.

MN: Is this before the war?

JK: Yes.

MN: What happened?

JK: My friend's neighbor was being picked on by some Kibeis, and just escalated into a knife fight. And I got in the way, almost lost my eyes. Well, we didn't have too much trouble with the Kibeis. But...

MN: Were fights like that common before the war?

JK: Not too, no. Yeah, it wasn't too common, individual fights about this and that.

MN: Who won that fight?

JK: I don't know.

MN: Now in August, you just came back from the Heart Mountain interpretive center opening. Was this the first time back to Heart Mountain since the war?

JK: Yeah. We did travel, it wasn't a convention at Heart Mountain. Earlier, no one really thought that was the thing to do.

MN: So what did you think about the ceremony in August? What did you think about the opening in August?

JK: Well, I think it's a good thing. Got to spread the word outside the people that were in camp. Yeah. I'm all for going hundreds of miles.

MN: So you're happy with the direction that the interpretive center is taking?

JK: Oh, yes, I think so.

MN: Is there anything else, Jack, you want to talk about or want to share with us?

JK: No, not really. Chance to talk about old things.

MN: Well, thank you very much.

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