Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Yukio Kawaratani Interview
Narrator: Yukio Kawaratani
Interviewer: Martha Nakagawa
Location: Los Angeles, California
Date: October 26, 2011
Densho ID: denshovh-kyukio-01-0019

<Begin Segment 19>

MN: Well, thank you for sharing that. Now, in the fall of 1943, Tule Lake had this, a huge farm strike. And it wasn't just a farm strike, they were protesting the overcrowding and the sanitation and the food shortage. Do you remember this?

YK: Yeah. I had thought it was primarily because they had to go outside the camp to farm the crops that were used to feed the inmates, and they were, it was hot and dusty work, and here they're getting fourteen dollars a month, and they had armed guards, like they were convicts or prisoners. But what set it off was, so they were unhappy to begin with. What set it off was that a truck rolled over, and so one of the workers was killed, and they said, "See? You don't provide proper equipment and so forth." So they protested. And so it became kind of a whole camp-wide protest. And so they went to the administration office and protested. So the administration was concerned that there'd be a riot, so they had brought out soldiers. (Soldiers) were there and pointing guns at the crowd. And when the crowd still wouldn't go away, they had some soldiers from outside finally come, and so then the crowd dispersed. And then there were other incidents where they said that they weren't providing adequate food. Of course, the cooks would say, "Hey, we can only cook what they give us." And there was especially shortage of sugar. And so they said, oh, they're giving the food to the people who were coming from other camps, because people within the camp, they weren't gonna be strikebreakers, 'cause they would surely get beaten up then. So they had to bring 'em from other camps, and they were saying, "You're feeding them well and paying them more," and so forth. And they said, "There's probably some stealing at the warehouses," so some of the leaders went over to check on that, but then they were caught in kind of a restricted area, and so they were tossed into the stockade. So there were further protests to get them out of the stockade. So then the army really took over Tule Lake.

So one night we heard a rumbling that came and then went away, and the next day we saw tank trucks in the street. And from then on, too, when they delivered food, when the food truck would come around to the mess hall, they had armed guards, two armed guards get out, and they would be standing there and they're pointing guns while they're unloading. So the army was trying to really play rough. Well, so soldiers came around to each barrack and searched everything. And then in our barrack, they found one knife, and they said, but was only a couple inches long, and they asked, "What are you doing with a knife?" And (we) said, well, that's to cut food, whenever anybody's sick, then the food has to be brought to the barrack and they can cut it into smaller pieces. So they let that go.

MN: So you're witnessing all this, the tanks are rolling in, there's protests, you're very young. How do you feel about witnessing all this?

YK: Well, as you get older you realize all the problems that developed out of it. At the time, we were kids and you (could) see that, hey, this is serious business. This isn't like Poston where they let you do anything you want. This was the army telling you what to do, and they had actual guns pointing at you. So it was pretty disturbing. And then, too, one thing that subsequently came out was that there were rumors flying that they were gonna ship us to Japan as exchange for prisoners that Japan had. And so my father decided, hey, you kids better learn how to speak Japanese, 'cause we might all get shipped to Japan. So after only one semester at English school, I was halfway through my seventh grade, we changed to going to the Japanese school that was opening up there. 'Cause in the meantime, we had left Block 34 and we were shipped to Block 75, which was where new barracks were added, and it was called the "Alaska" area.

But in that area, there were, the different groups were much more militant, and they were saying, "Hey, look what they're doing to us," and so forth, and they started the Japanese school and they had the, started the Buddhist churches and so forth. So we went to Japanese school there. First my father says, "Well, you're a boy, so you should get on the second year class with the older sister." And of course then really struggled there and got demoted down to where my younger sister was in the first year but then I did very well. So by the end of the year I was a yuutousei, one of the honors students. And so my older sister's friends said, "Hey, wasn't he the one that flunked out of our class?" [Laughs] So anyway, well, then Japanese school, so we had a lot of Japanese indoctrination, too.

MN: What was the Japanese school like? I mean, did you have to do the chourei and bow towards the east?

YK: Oh, yeah, every morning, you bow to the east and to the sensei.

MN: Did you have to learn the Kyoiku Chokugo? The Kyoiku Chokugo, the education edict by the Meiji Emperor?

YK: No.

MN: They didn't make you memorize that?

YK: We were basic beginning Japanese.

MN: And these teachers, who were they? Were they Kibeis, were they from Japan?

YK: Well, the one we had was pretty strict, and he was either an older Kibei or he was Issei. And so he was very strict.

MN: Now, let me just go back a little bit. You spent your first winter in Tule Lake, and this is on a more pleasant note, you learned to ice skate.

YK: Oh, yeah. They would, on the firebreaks areas, create just a six-(inch) mound around the area, and then take buckets of water and fill it up, because it was so cold at night it would freeze over. So we ordered some ice skates from Sears & Roebuck, and we ice skated there. And it was cold there, so everybody (was) issued these peacoats which were the dark, navy blue overcoats or jackets.

MN: Is this your first time experiencing snow and ice?

YK: Oh, yes. It was the first time. It didn't snow very much, so you really couldn't make snowmen. It would only be a few inches of snow. But it was cold, and we only had that one potbelly coal stove in the middle of the barrack.

MN: So I guess you had to keep a lot of coal by your barrack.

YK: Oh, yeah.

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