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

<Begin Segment 1>

MN: Today is Wednesday, October 26, 2011. We are at the Centenary United Methodist Church in Little Tokyo. We will be interviewing Yukio Kawaratani, Tani Ikeda is on the video camera, and I will be interviewing, my name is Martha Nakagawa. So Yukio, let's start with your father. What was his name?

YK: My father was named Otokichi, and he was born way back in 1888 in the small city of Shingu in Wakayama-ken, Japan. And the reason he came to the United States was his older brother had stolen the mother's han and had squandered the family's fortune, so then they were rather poor. And so three of the brothers became youshi, which they married into families that didn't have any sons and they had to then become, adopt their name. My father was nineteen at the time, and he didn't have very many prospects, and he might have been ready to go into the military, so he decided to come to the United States. But of course he didn't know any English, so all he could do was work on the railroads. Then when that gave out, then like other Japanese Americans or Japanese farmers, they worked picking crops. They followed (the crops) up and down California, as the fruits or vegetables ripened, he would go and pick them. But then after about eight years, he decided he needed a wife, so he had his picture taken in a suit and sent back to the family in Japan and said he needed a wife. My mother's family didn't have any sons, so the oldest had married a youshi, but my mother was second and she was seventeen, so she was chosen as being the "picture bride." And so they were married by proxy. She, of course, didn't want to come. She was from a pretty well-off family, and she was even gonna be a schoolteacher. But anyway, she had to take the trip across. And then when she met my father, she was shocked because he was all sunburned and he didn't have any dressy clothes on.

When they went to the farm, she was even further shocked because they had to sleep in the barn along with the other workers. Of course, she was mortified. [Laughs] But my father was not to be denied, so he had a sheet and a, one blanket, and my mother to her dying day said, "We started very poor. We had one blanket between us." So that was the beginning. (...) Of course, that was my father's favorite recreation -- my mother was highly fertile and they soon had two sons. And then she wrote back to Japan saying, "(Things are terrible) here." They were in a little rooming house, and my father had to travel around. They quickly sent the money for her to go back to Japan. And then after being there about several months, my father said, "When are you coming back?" So they had to come back. My parents said, "Hey, if you go back with two sons, you can't work, so you'll never improve your situation." So she agreed to keep her two sons there. They said they'll raise them to be good Japanese sons, and (they became) what's called the Kibei. They were born in the U.S. but raised in Japan for fourteen years. Now, my mother --

MN: Let me stop you for just a moment. Can you share with us what your mother's name was?

YK: Oh. Yeah, my mother's name was Hisa Murata.

MN: Is she also from Wakayama-ken?

YK: Yeah, she was from Wakayama in the same city of Shingu.

MN: And you said she was going to be a teacher, so she had quite a lot of education.

YK: Yes, she went to a special girls' school. Their family had money because an uncle had been a samurai and inherited land.

MN: Very rare for women to have that kind of education at that time.

YK: Oh, yes, that's for sure.

MN: Now when your mother came to the United States, did she go through Angel Island?

YK: No, no. She came directly (as a wife). At that time, they didn't have an Angel Island. Now, my father, at that time, in 1907, there (were) anti-Japanese feelings. And so President Roosevelt with the Japanese government agreed on a Gentlemen's Agreement to limit the number of immigrants. So my father could have been a "wetback," (and) come through Mexico to California.

MN: There were many who came through Mexico.

YK: Yeah.

MN: So when your mother and father first started out, where in California were they living?

YK: Oh. They were mainly (in) Orange County. Well, that's where most of their farming was, in Orange County and L.A. County.

MN: When your mother gave birth to Tadao and Takashi, where did she give, did she give birth to them in Orange County?

YK: I don't really know. It could have been... probably Orange County. I think most of them were born in Orange County on the farm.

MN: And then you mentioned that she left Tadao and Takashi in Wakayama.

YK: Uh-huh.

MN: Did she ever share with you how she felt about having to leave them there?

YK: Oh, yeah. She really didn't want to. But she quickly had two more sons, a daughter, and another son and another daughter before me. [Laughs] And I was number eight.

MN: You had a really big family, I think a total of ten children?

YK: Right, there were two below me.

MN: I'm gonna read off their names, and you tell me if I got them right.

YK: Okay.

MN: From number one: Tadao, Takashi, Hideo, Yoshiko, Tsutomu, Kiyoshi, Fumiko, number eight, Yukio, yourself, Toshiko, and Chieko.

YK: Yeah. And they all survived -- Chieko died at one year old.

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

<Begin Segment 2>

MN: And what is your birthdate?

YK: May 30, 1931.

MN: And where were you born?

YK: I was born in the town of San Juan Capistrano, where the swallows come back each year to have their mud nests in the mission there. And so I used to kid that I was so small because the swallows instead of a stork brought me. [Laughs] But anyway, I don't remember too much of my first six years in Capistrano except that I was kidded that I once fell into the toilet in the outhouse.

MN: Tell us that story.

YK: Oh, well, I don't know, I was probably only about two or three years old at the time, and my sister Fumi was watching me. And, you know, we had the typical outhouse with the big toilet hole. And I fell through. [Laughs] So she screamed, and my brothers came running, and they pushed over the outhouse and dug me out and washed me up. So after that, I had to go on a gallon can. But anyhow, (that is what I was told). I don't remember too much more about Capistrano, except that my two brothers did come back after fourteen years, and they went to Capo High School, and my second brother graduated, but my first brother, he was already seventeen, so he only went for about a year or two.

MN: So you were born in '31, and then I think in '34 is when your two older brothers came back, oldest brothers came back. How did you feel about having these two new brothers live with you?

YK: Well, I had so many that I don't recall the impact of two more other than I remember they always talked (that) they were going to Capo High.

MN: And then when you were born, were you delivered by a sambasan?

YK: No. I was born by Dr. Eslinger, but he would come to the farm. So a lot of the children were born on the farm with Dr. Eslinger coming.

MN: Now when you were living in San Juan Capistrano, do you remember if you had an ofuro?

YK: Oh, yes.

MN: Who built that?

YK: What?

MN: Who built it?

YK: Oh, well, the whole house was built by my father with help from other Japanese families, so it was a wooden house. And then there always was the outhouse and then the furoba. Because we had to take the furo every night no matter what.

MN: Who had to build the fire?

YK: Oh, I don't know. I had so many older brothers and sisters. [Laughs]

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

<Begin Segment 3>

MN: Now in 1936, your family moved. Why did your family have to move?

YK: Well, we were restricted to a three years' lease, and so we moved to San Clemente, which was the next town over. And we were up on a high mesa there, so out in the middle of nowhere, we were the only ones up there. Although there were a few other farmers, Japanese farmers. And so since there was no water, they got together to build a pipeline all the way to the San Juan Capistrano River, and so then they were able to grow farm crops. But after a couple years, the farmers, the white farmers in San Juan Capistrano said, "No, we don't want any of the water taken away," so the pipe, the water was cut off. So we became kind of dirt farmers in a sense, dry farming, mainly beans. But we survived, and it was the Depression years, so they were hard times. But I don't remember feeling that poor, and I don't remember feeling hungry, 'cause we always grew our own vegetables and we had our own chickens.

MN: What did you grow?

YK: What did we grow? Well, spinach and carrots and lettuce and cabbage and things like that that grow easily.

MN: Now, before, you just mentioned dry farming. Can you explain to us what dry farming is?

YK: Dry farming is you have no irrigation, and in the wintertime you plant the seeds and hope that it gets enough rain that later on it will spring up, and that's mainly beans.

MN: And you know, when your family moved to San Clemente, you said your father had built everything at the San Juan Capistrano farm. Did you folks dismantle that house and then bring it over to San Clemente?

YK: No. In San Clemente, we were... well, I don't know. It was kind of a, my vague remembrance of it, that it didn't look too much like a house. It looked like a big, almost one huge truck or warehouse kind of thing. It just had flat sides and a flat roof. And I remember I slept on the floor on a mattress between my two sisters, so we didn't have too much money. But I guess with the sack of rice and the vegetables and chickens, we survived.

MN: Now this was during the Depression, so I know with some farms, the government would truck in city people and have them work on the farms to try to get food that way. Did any of the government people truck in people to your farm?

YK: No, we were such a small operation.

MN: And then shortly after you moved to San Clemente, your mother had the tenth child, Chieko, and you mentioned earlier she had passed away?

YK: Right.

MN: Can you share with us that story?

YK: Well, yeah, we were... (...) one of my older brothers was learning to drive the pickup truck in front of the house. He was going back and forth learning how to shift gears and back up. My younger sister and I, we were back in the back of this pickup truck and we were laughing. But then my brother stopped the car and then he picked up my youngest sister Chieko and she was bleeding from the head. So apparently she had wandered away and nobody knew that she had wandered where the pickup truck was moving back and forth. (...) I do recall that night my mother bathing me and my younger sister. So that was poignant moment, because we bathe every night no matter what. And then there was a big funeral, and the typical, I have the picture now, of showing all the people, and there's the casket, and my daughter, I mean my younger sister Toshiko and I were sitting on the grass in front of the mortuary there.

MN: Do you know if Fukui Mortuary organized the funeral?

YK: I doubt it. This was way back when, and way down in Orange County.

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

<Begin Segment 4>

MN: Let me ask you about your schooling. Which grammar school did you attend?

YK: Well, I attended grammar school in San Clemente, so my first three years were there. So, yeah, I really liked school, and the first grade teacher, I remember Mrs. Sturgeon. And I must have been pretty bright because after the first year they were going to skip me through to the third grade, but they decided I was too small. And then I had one incident there where we had to learn how to dance, and so I always picked this cute little blond girl. [Laughs] Then, of course, the time we're supposed to make the big production, she had already been taken up by some tall blond hakujin guy, and I got stuck because I didn't have anybody. I got stuck with the worst dancer. So that shows me that, hey, you better act fast or you get stuck. [Laughs]

MN: Now your school, what was the name of the school?

YK: San Clemente Elementary School. Yeah, there was only one.

MN: And what was the ethnic makeup of the school?

YK: Well, mainly white. And we were among the very few Japanese.

MN: Were there Latinos or blacks?

YK: I think there must have been some Latinos, but no blacks that I recall.

MN: You know, when you went to school, did you wear your brothers' hand-me-down clothes?

YK: Oh, yes. I never had new clothes. It was all hand-me-downs, of course.

MN: How about shoes?

YK: Shoes? Well, we were always barefooted. I think the only time I had shoes was the funeral.

MN: Was this common that most of the kids go to school without shoes?

YK: Yeah, at that time, yes.

MN: And then you said you did very well in school. Now, you had a tin windup duck that was very special to you at this time. How did you get this duck?

YK: Well, there was Japanese family, and there was a little girl named Vicky who was in the same grade, and they were housekeepers at this mansion. And so they had a... what was it called? Was it a Valentine's party? I forgot. Anyway, there was a party, I think it was an Easter party. And so we of course had the Easter egg hunt and I couldn't find very many, so Vicky kind of coached me as to where the special golden egg was, and then she announced that I had won. And it turned out to be this windup duck that actually walked. And so it was the only toy I ever had, and it was actually the first party I ever had. We never had birthday parties or Christmas parties and so forth. So I guess we were pretty poor. [Laughs]

MN: But I mean, really, when you're growing up poor, in that sense, you don't know that you're poor.

YK: No, that's true.

MN: Now, your mother, for the meals, what did she cook at home? Was it Japanese food or American food?

YK: Yeah, it was always rice. And then, too, we only had chickens for meat. We never had pork or beef. It was only chickens and sometimes some ducks. But... and then sometimes if my father shot a rabbit, we'd have rabbit. Or if they went fishing, we'd have fish, but other than that, I grew up on chazuke, 'cause we had all the rice and tea we could eat. But, so, it wasn't too nutritious.

MN: Did your dad take you hunting with him?

YK: Just once, and we shot a jackrabbit. And he showed us how to skin it whereby he could take the entire fur off in one piece. But when you start cutting the belly open, that was a little gross for us. [Laughs]

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

<Begin Segment 5>

MN: Now, in 1939, your family moved again, I guess because the lease was up.

YK: Right, the three years were up.

MN: And where did your family move to after Sacramento?

YK: Okay, we moved to a town called Trabuco Canyon, but actually we weren't in the canyon, we were up on the mesa, and there was a big windy road up there. And the mesa area was very flat, and there was ample water there because across the street were orange orchards, and then there were some other farmers there, too, raising cattle and other things. But we were the only growers of farm crops. And we had tomatoes and strawberries mainly, and we had one large acreage. And so we were doing very well there. In fact, other than our pickup truck, we had our first bigger truck and then our first passenger car. And then I had my first bicycle.

MN: Do you want to share with us how you got your first bicycle?

YK: [Laughs] Well, yeah, that was kind of a special situation, I guess. Well, my... there were only four of us kids about my age up there, and they had bicycles and were biking everywhere. And my friend Jackie Robinson would let me ride on his handlebars at times, but I really wanted a bicycle of my own. My brothers had two other bigger bicycles, and I tried to learn on it. Of course, I was way too short, and so I was always falling. But anyway, my brothers used to go into the town of Santa Ana once a week on Saturday to go get groceries. So then the three of us thought, "Oh, wouldn't it be great if you were able to go?" And so I was urged to talk to my brother Takashi, and he said, "Well, okay." So that's all we could think of was where we were going on Saturday and how much fun it would be. Of course, when Saturday came, then he didn't show up. (...) My father and my oldest brother showed up. I thought, "Oh, they're not going to take us." But I pleaded with them, but then they said no 'cause I had, 'cause my two buddies had shown up with their shoes on and their fancy church-like clothes. And so I felt, well, I really let them down, and so I started crying uncontrollably, and my father didn't understand why I was crying. He asked my brother Tadao, and he didn't know either. So Tadao said, well, that I wanted a bike very badly, so, "Let's take him and buy a bike." So our father said, well, okay. But I thought, well, but I let my two buddies down, but they said, "No, no, go ahead, get a bike." So I got in (the pickup truck) with my father and brother. (...) My father called me a nakimiso and scolded me. But they bought me a new bicycle, so then all four of us could ride all over the mesa and down the canyon and all over. So those were fun days.

MN: Yeah, I think you were sharing about when you trying to ride those bigger bikes, you almost tore off your toenail or something like that?

YK: Oh, yeah, yeah, it would get caught in the spokes there. [Laughs]

MN: Now when you first moved to Trabuco Canyon area, what was the sleeping arrangement like?

YK: Oh, well, we had a... the family had built a whole new house with a big living and dining area so all eleven of us could eat there. And it actually had running water inside. No hot water, they always had to heat that. And so in that house the parents and my sisters lived in it, I was in the bunkhouse with the other five boys. And there was a barn and also the outhouse and furoba and so forth. And we had a lot of chickens and mules to pull the plows and so forth.

MN: So at that time, it was all animals, no mechanized tractors?

YK: Right. Well, later on, we had a tractor as we made more money. And Hide was the main driver of that, he was the mechanically oriented one.

MN: Now once you moved to the Trabuco Canyon area, which grammar school did you attend?

YK: (We all) attended a grammar school way out in El Toro, which was twelve miles away. So one of the residents in Trabuco Canyon would drive us in their car all the way there and all the way back.

MN: And what was the ethnic makeup of this school?

YK: There were quite a few Mexican kids, because we were in farm country there. And all the farmers would hire the cheaper Mexican laborers, so there was a high percentage of Mexicans.

MN: So how... did you have any hard time making friends or was it easy?

YK: Oh, no, there was no problem.

MN: Now was it around this time that you started to go to Japanese language school?

YK: Yeah, we would go into Tustin where there was a Buddhist church where my parents would go and then they enrolled us there in the Japanese school, but we didn't learn very much. We only remembered recess.

MN: And was this Japanese school every day or just Saturdays?

YK: No, that was just (...) Saturday or Sunday, one of the days.

MN: Was it all day or just half a day?

YK: More or less half a day.

MN: Did your other siblings also attend?

YK: Yes, uh-huh.

MN: How strict was the Japanese school?

YK: I don't recall it being very strict at all.

MN: And what did you bring for lunch to Japanese school?

YK: Oh, gee, I don't recall. [Laughs] I don't recall whether meals were provided or whether we took our brown bags like we usually did to school.

MN: What did you bring to school?

YK: Just a brown bag, mainly a ham sandwich, and maybe a fruit and maybe a cookie. That was about it.

MN: So no rice?

YK: No. Well, I guess once in a while we would get rice, I guess, rice balls.

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

<Begin Segment 6>

MN: So by now, when the family moved to Trabuco Canyon, you're getting a little older. What were your responsibilities on the farm?

YK: Well, not too many. I was still, well, ten or less, and so I mainly took care of the chickens and fed them. And mainly my job was to stay out of the way and play with my two sisters. [Laughs]

MN: So the chickens, on what occasions did the family eat the chickens?

YK: Oh, well, every day, of course. And two of my older brothers were the executioners. They would grab a chicken and then put it on a block and then the other one would chop the head off. And so this was a daily occurrence. And one time we had an extra big rooster, and when they chopped his head off, he was actually running around for a while there. It seemed like quite a while, it was probably only a few seconds, but anyway, then he died. But I never took part in the executions, I just watched. [Laughs]

MN: Now even after you kill a chicken, you still have to take the feathers off. Who did that?

YK: Oh, yeah. Well, yeah, they were put in the big pot and boiled, and we'd have to all chip in and pull out the feathers. So that was a daily occasion.

MN: But there was like eleven people in your family and one chicken? I don't imagine it went too far.

YK: Oh, well, we killed more than one chicken every day. [Laughs]

MN: You must have had a lot of chickens on your farm.

YK: Oh, yeah, we had a big, whole bunch of chickens. And then, too, I had the responsibility of getting the eggs. So we had a lot of chicken and eggs.

MN: Now how often did your family eat seafood?

YK: Oh, well, that was only on the occasion when they would go down to Capistrano Beach and fish, or once in a while go out on a fishing barge and bring back fish. And that was usually my father and older brothers, but on occasion we would all go down and play at Doheny Beach and dig for sand crabs and look around for abalones and things like that.

MN: And you shared about how your mother caught octopus. How did she do that?

YK: Oh, yeah, she had two long steel bars about a yard long, and on one of 'em she would tie a string and (...) tie a little crab to it. And the other one was kind of a hook. And so she would put the crab near where there was a big rock, and a little pool of water, and put the crab in there, and then the octopus would come out and try to grab the crab and she'd try to hook it. And if she didn't, she would use what was called bluestone, which she would throw in there and then the octopus would come out and try to get away.

MN: What is bluestone?

YK: I don't know. It was bluish in color, and it was probably sort of poisonous because the octopus didn't like it. And then she would, afterwards, swish the water to try to make the blue go away, because she said, yeah, the game warden could fine her for doing that.

MN: How did your mother usually prepare the fish or the octopus?

YK: Well, most of it was boiled. Of course, the fish, we'd have everything from sashimi to soup to fried fish. And I used to like to eat the sand crabs. And then we also have the little, what do you call them? Snail like things, sea snails, and we would boil those and then you could pick it out with a safety pin and eat that.

MN: I think that was really common. We used to do that too. Now it's illegal to go get them. So you're eating all this for your main course, what did you usually eat for dessert?

YK: What did we have for dessert? Not too much. I remember on occasion they would make doughnuts, get some hot oil and make doughnuts, dip 'em in and put powdered sugar. I don't recall any cakes or pies or things like that. And I don't recall, we didn't have any oven, so she didn't make any cookies.

MN: But you had a lot of fresh fruit on your farm, right?

YK: Well, we had fresh vegetables, and I guess we had some fruit trees, but not very many.

MN: You weren't growing strawberries at this time?

YK: Oh, yeah. Strawberries were the main staple, of course. And our favorite way was to crush them and put Carnation milk and sugar and eat the strawberries. That was our main dessert, that's right.

MN: And it must have been good, 'cause it's home grown.

YK: [Laughs] Yeah. But I used to go out in the field and pick the best ones and eat 'em.

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

<Begin Segment 7>

MN: Now your parents are from Wakayama. Did they participate in the Wakayama Kenjinkai?

YK: Well, that was not until after the war. 'Cause we're way out in nowhere.

MN: So before the war, did you go to any of those picnics?

YK: No.

MN: Now since your family is from Wakayama-ken, did they have friends on Terminal Island?

YK: Well, I don't recall at that time having anybody on Terminal Island. That took place after the war started.

MN: And did your father ever, you mentioned they used to go down to Santa Ana to go shopping, did your father ever take you down to Los Angeles, Little Tokyo at all?

YK: Oh, no, not at all.

MN: Did any peddlers come to your farm to sell tofu or other perishable Japanese foods?

YK: Oh, no, we're way out in the inaka.

MN: What did your family usually do on Saturdays?

YK: They'd work. I think Sunday was the day off.

MN: What did they do on Sundays?

YK: Gosh, I don't recall. Probably also still worked. [Laughs]

MN: So they didn't go to Buddhist church or Christian church or anything like that?

YK: No.

MN: How did your family celebrate Oshogatsu?

YK: Well, back then, I don't recall much of that because it was just our own family, especially up in Trabuco, we were the only Japanese there. So I'm sure we probably had ozoni and things like that.

MN: Let's say you had ozoni. Where do you get the omochi?

YK: Well, that's true. Maybe we didn't have it. [Laughs] We probably just had rice balls with an in 'em.

MN: So you didn't do any mochitsuki on your farm?

YK: Oh, no.

MN: Did you have... I don't know if your family was Christian, but did they celebrate Christmas?

YK: I don't recall any Christmas celebrating back in Trabuco Canyon.

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

<Begin Segment 8>

MN: Now when you were living at Trabuco Canyon, your mother one day showed you a Japanese flag she had brought from Japan. How did you feel when you saw this flag?

YK: Well, I felt kind of a affinity to it because I figure, well, we are Japanese, we're different from everybody else. And we used to send packages to her mother in Japan. In fact, we used to save gum wrappers and other tinfoil, for the war effort against China there. And so I felt sort of patriotic feelings toward it, and so I asked her if could show the flag to others and I went running around the farm showing everybody. They seemed to appreciate that, so then I thought, well, the cars passing by on the street should also see it, so I put it out there. But then later a hakujin man came and he was quite angry. "You better take that flag down or there's gonna be trouble." And my brother Hide just told him, "Oh, go away." And he says, "Well, you better at least put a Japanese flag, I mean, an American flag next to it." But seeing this man angry, I ran out and took the flag down, so he was satisfied.

MN: Now, when you were living in Trabuco Canyon, did your parents subscribe to any Nikkei newspapers?

YK: No, I don't recall any newspapers.

MN: And you're still getting a little older now. Beyond helping out feeding the chickens and getting the eggs, did you have to physically help out on the farm?

YK: Not really.

MN: Did your father and brother... I know your two brothers were helping out on the farm, or was it three brothers now?

YK: Three brothers.

MN: And your father were out there. Did they hire other workers?

YK: Oh, yes. We had a lot of Mexican workers to come pick strawberries and tomatoes and things.

MN: So you had a pretty big farm.

YK: Yeah, it was pretty big there.

MN: How many acres, any idea?

YK: I would say probably at least about twenty-five acres. That was a fair size, yeah.

MN: Now your mother, did she help out on the farm or was she too busy with the kids?

YK: Well, by then, of course, we were more grown up, so it was mainly she would help on the farm, particularly on the packing of the tomatoes and strawberries. And then she and my oldest sister Yo would then have to, of course, feed everybody. They were mainly cooking.

MN: Did your mother have a little separate Japanese vegetable garden?

YK: No, I don't recall. We just had a common, regular garden of carrots and things like that. Peas, beans.

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

<Begin Segment 9>

MN: So now I want to get into the war years.

YK: Okay.

MN: What were you doing on Sunday, December 7, 1941?

YK: Well, I don't recall what I was doing, but I recall it came on the radio that Japan had bombed Pearl Harbor. So my parents were very concerned, they said, "Well, in America, everybody has discriminated against the Japanese and now with the war, what's gonna happen to us?" And of course my older brothers and sisters were also very worried. I was only ten at the time, so I could see that everybody was very worried.

MN: And the next day was Monday. Did you go to school?

YK: Yes, I went to school as usual. I remember one incident there where some kids were pretending to be shooting into the air, and shooting down, like they were shooting down a zero airplane, and they said, "We got you, Yukio." So that kind of hurt quite a bit.

MN: Now, what did your family do with all the Japanese books and the records?

YK: Well, yeah. As soon as the war broke out, then the FBI arrested everybody who had any authority. They were the ministers, the newspaper people, anybody who imported goods from Japan and had any connection to Japan, they were immediately arrested. And so in their cases, of course, the mothers and the children were really in a quandary. Then they said that, you know, word got around that you better get rid of anything that's Japanese or they may take your father away. So my mother, I recall her burning everything related to Japan, because these were her only ties to her childhood. So, yeah, pictures... well, I guess it was mainly pictures. Any magazines, I guess she subscribed to some Japanese magazines, so all that was burned. And then shortly after the FBI did come, there were three men dressed in suits and hats, and so they searched everything on the farm. And also we were required as soon as the war broke out to turn in all knives over three inches, and of course all radios that might be able to call (shortwave), anyway, send messages or receive messages from afar, rather than the standard radio. Any guns, of course, we had shotguns and other guns. And then when (...) they wanted to know, be shown the receipts of everything that was turned in to the police. And my brother couldn't find the one, and so they were really pressuring him. And so I was the little kid who said, "Oh, it was a 12-gauge shotgun." [Laughs] And then, of course, the family glared at me, so I shut up right away. And fortunately, my brother was able to find the last receipt. 'Cause they were looking for any excuse to arrest the eldest son or father. And then they also turned to my brothers and said, "There's a war going on. We need people for the army, so one of you should volunteer," and he was looking at my oldest brother. But my second oldest brother, he said the oldest brother was needed for the family, so he'll volunteer. So they said, "Fine," and they took his name down, so he was drafted about a month or two later.

MN: When all this happened and you're looking at this from a child's eye, how did you feel?

YK: Well, of course, I felt very intimidated, and I could see how my parents and my older brother and sisters were all quite worried. So I knew it was very serious business that we didn't know what's gonna happen to us. We did know, we had some relatives who were in San Pedro, and they were kicked out of San Pedro, so they came to live with us on the farm for a couple months, after which then they were shipped out to Manzanar. And then we heard that in Manzanar, some people did drive their cars there, so we were getting our car ready and truck with the trailer hitched to carry our goods if we had to go to a camp. But then we were told that we can only take what we could carry. So we had to then (stop preparing). We didn't know how soon we'd be called, so we had to then start trying to sell everything. And of course as time got shorter, we were way out in the country, so there were about five cars per hour passing by on the street. There were only about five other families on the whole top of the mesa, so we kind of had to give it away. And trying to sell the farm, we only had one taker, a guy named Henry, and he was a Hispanic guy, very pleasant guy. Of course, he could afford to, he was getting our house and everything, barn, the whole farm, for ten cents on the dollar. And my sister told me later that he was supposed to, after the crops were picked, send us some of the money, but of course we never received that. And then we had put some big farm equipment, the tractor and some of the tools and other things in our neighbor's barn, but then we were notified later the government took 'em for the war effort, so we kind of lost everything.

MN: I'm gonna backtrack a little bit, and you talked about that incident where you saw, your mother took out the Japanese flag and you ran around the farm with it. And then when you had to burn everything that was connected to Japan, did you burn that Japanese flag also?

YK: Oh, yes, of course.

MN: How did you feel about seeing that flag burn?

YK: Well, I knew everything had to be burned, because we didn't want our father to be taken away. We already heard that other people were taken away, and we had been informed by friends, "You better just get rid of everything." So I knew that it all had to go.

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

<Begin Segment 10>

MN: And then you mentioned that you had some family from San Pedro?

YK: Yeah.

MN: Were these Terminal Island people?

YK: Yes, uh-huh.

MN: And this is relatives from your mother's side?

YK: Yes.

MN: How long did they stay with you?

YK: Well, only a couple months, then they were, I guess, Manzanar got completed, so we got shipped up there.

MN: I know you were just a child at that time, but did you have any idea what happened to these people? Did you know they were kicked out of their home?

YK: Oh, yeah, we knew that's why they were on the farm, that there was concern that Terminal Island was right in the harbor, and so the navy claimed there could be sabotage of the ships.

MN: So you have this new family come in. Where did they sleep?

YK: Gosh, I don't know. I guess we got more cots and put 'em around, 'cause they were, there were about five or six of them.

MN: That's a lot of people to accommodate.

YK: Yeah.

MN: Did they help out on the farm?

YK: Yeah, I guess so.

MN: And how did they know that they had to go to Manzanar? Did the government locate them?

YK: Oh, yeah.

MN: And so you're now having to go into camp also. How did you feel? Did you understand what it meant to go into camp?

YK: No, I just knew we were gonna be sent away and we didn't know where, but we would be leaving our home and ranch. I remember we got up early and people helped us get to the Santa Ana train station where there were many families lined up there next to the train. We all had, we could only take what we could carry, so we had bought a bunch of suitcases, and we had a family number that we wrote right on the suitcases. Then we also had tags around our neck identifying us. And then we were lined up there, and finally, there was this big black train there with all the shades drawn, and we were finally ordered to board. And my younger sister and I were too small, so we had to be carried up, and then we were all able to sit in the same area of the train. But I told my mother I wanted to peek out the blinds, and she said, "You better not, 'cause there's an armed soldier at the front and the back of each car," and they didn't want us to look out. So as the train started away, (we all) just kind of felt that, well, will we ever, because we didn't know where we were going, and we didn't know if we'd ever come back again, so that was kind of scary.

MN: Now going back to your packing situation, was there a prized item that you wanted to take but you couldn't take with you?

YK: Well, my bicycle. [Laughs] That was the only thing I really owned. So the only thing I could take was I had in elementary school received a little ship inside of a bottle. I always wondered how they got the ship in there, apparently with long tweezers. But anyway, so that was my one possession that I had from San Clemente Elementary School. I don't remember what it was for, whether it was for good attendance or I don't know what for. But anyway, it's a thing I've held for a lifetime, so I did take that to camp. That was probably the only possession I had other than my hand-me-down clothes.

MN: So the bicycle, what happened to it?

YK: Well, it was sold for practically nothing.

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

<Begin Segment 11>

MN: So on the day that you're supposed to leave, how early did your family wake up?

YK: Well, it was dark, I remember, it was still very early, and we had our last breakfast, and then we all had to get in the vehicles, cars and things.

MN: What did you eat?

YK: I don't recall at all, I just remember it was very dark.

MN: And do you remember what day you left?

YK: It was May 22nd, I don't know what day of the week that was, 1942.

MN: Now, how did you get to the gathering point, I guess, it's the train station?

YK: Yeah, there were neighbors and also Henry drove us there.

MN: And you said these people also saw you off?

YK: Well, yeah, they could see us all lined up there.

MN: How did that make you feel?

YK: Well, I just remember the ominous looking train with the big wheels and the blinds that were pulled and so forth. And to me, the train, of course, looked huge.

MN: And once you got on the train, what was one of the first things you had to do?

YK: Well, they fed us, of course, some sandwiches and some water I guess. And then my mother gave us Butterball candies to keep us occupied, but we were all very quiet, wondering what's gonna happen.

MN: Did you get motion sickness?

YK: No.

MN: What were the bathrooms like on the train?

YK: Oh, well, of course, there were lines, but then they let us kids go first, 'cause they didn't want us to have accidents.

MN: How long was the train ride?

YK: Gosh, it just seemed like a long time, 'cause it went into the all day and into the night. We didn't arrive until it was sunny the next day, when we arrived at Parker, Arizona, which is a small train stop area. And it was actually on the American Indian reservation.

MN: On this train ride, you said it was, you spent a night there. Where did you sleep?

YK: Right on the seating. There were no beds, of course, it was just like sitting up.

MN: Did some people just sleep on the floor?

YK: I don't recall anybody doing that, 'cause there was no carpeting in those days.

MN: Were there any African American porters on the train?

YK: Oh, no, of course not. We just had two soldiers, and then somebody brought the food, I guess.

MN: You mean somebody on the train passed out food, or did you have to bring your own food?

YK: No, they passed out food.

MN: Do you remember what you ate on the train?

YK: No, not really. Probably just a sandwich and water, maybe a fruit.

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

<Begin Segment 12>

MN: And then you said the train stopped at Parker, Arizona.

YK: Right.

MN: And then once you got to Parker, what did you have to do?

YK: Well, we all had to get out, of course, and then there were a whole bunch of buses there, the army buses. And then everybody had to put their bags up on the roof. Then we went, it must have been at least an hour drive though just sagebrush country, nothing else but sagebrush, fairly level. And then we finally reached Poston where there were the guards and the barbed wire fence, and they waved us in. And when we, as we were passing by the various barracks, there were rows and rows of barracks that were roughly about a hundred feet long and about twenty feet wide, one story, black tarpaper sides and roof. And then when we (passed by kids) waving at us, our convoy, and of course because it was morning and they were lined up for the mess hall. So the adults just kind of waved and acknowledged that we were joining their ranks. And then, of course, once the buses stopped, then everybody scrambled to get their suitcases, 'cause that's the only possession they had other than what they had in their pockets.

MN: Did the bus go to Poston I, II or III?

YK: It was Poston I and we were in Block 43. And we were, I think, Barracks 12, and in the far corner of the block, there were about fourteen barracks in each block, twelve or fourteen. The mess hall was at the far other end, and then there were the toilets and the laundry room and other things in the middle of the block. And the barracks were elevated about three feet, and so you had to take steps up into it. Inside, there was no insulation at all, there was no ceiling, and there was just one lightbulb hanging down in the middle. We had two rooms, they were actually one room, the equivalent of two. So there were eight of us? No, at that time there were ten of us, I guess. So we were in this room with just army beds, metal ones. And we had to go to the middle of the block where there was a big pile of straw and fill in our mattresses, we had to do that, and we had to fill them in very carefully 'cause you wanted to sleep comfortably, so it couldn't be lumpy. And we were issued blankets and sheets and things like that. There was no furniture, and we learned later that the only way you can get furniture is to go where the people would, there was extra lumber from building the barracks, and there was always spare, mainly scraps, and we had to get those to then make our own benches and closets and some divisions. 'Cause at first we had to just get rope and put sheets or blankets on it to provide some division for the females of the family for some privacy at night. And then, of course, the outhouse was way in the middle of the block, so most of the men, I assume, males, would just go to the corner of the barracks and pee. Also, we had a, what do you call it, a toilet pad with a metal cover on it.

MN: Chamba?

YK: What?

MN: Did you call it a chamba?

YK: No, I forgot what we called it. Anyway, it was a chamber pot. And so the females could, instead of walking half a block to the toilet could go there at night. Of course, it was metal, so when they put the cover on, it was a big clank, but everybody pretended not to notice.

MN: Now you mentioned that there was no furniture, so you had to make it, but where did you get the tools to make the furniture?

YK: Well, there was a little canteen, a little store where you could buy some, a few things. But we were used to ordering out of the Sears & Roebuck catalog, so of course we ordered tools and then they came by the post office. So we had hammers and pliers and so forth. And we had the scrap lumber and nails and other things to hang up clothes.

MN: Now what do you remember of the food at Poston?

YK: Well, the food, of course, wasn't very good, because we had to eat in one common mess hall where there were long wooden tables and benches. And the cooks were volunteers. In fact, my oldest brother Tadao was one of the cooks. And they had to cook the food in huge vats. So one thing that used to bother me was the mush in the morning, because you scoop it out, it's so gooey. [Laughs] And the milk was all, what do you call it? Powdered milk, so it didn't taste very good. Sugar was in low supply. And then the meats were mainly mutton, and so not too tasty, so they used a lot of curry and ketchup to try to change the taste. But, so it wasn't very good food, but we survived.

MN: What is mush?

YK: Mush is oatmeal, actually.

MN: So that's what they served you.

YK: Yeah.

MN: Was there any rice or shoyu?

YK: Well, yeah, for lunch and dinner, it was always rice and shoyu.

MN: And when you first entered Poston, who did you eat with?

YK: Well, of course the family at first ate together, but after a while, you ate with friends. Because the three meals a day were at certain times of the day, people were at different places. And the mess halls, it was all common seating, so you didn't really save a place.

MN: So once you settled into camp, did you sneak out of camp?

YK: Oh, well, yes. After a while, the security was pretty lax, and so you could go beyond the barbed wire. People were calmly going out, really wasn't much, anywhere to go to. But we did make, later on, the trip all the way to the Colorado River, that was very brown and wide, so we couldn't walk across. And people were starting to build fish ponds, because there was a creek nearby where you could go fishing. And people were growing watermelons and things. And then they set up some dirt baseball diamonds, so we had a peewee baseball team.

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

<Begin Segment 13>

MN: So when you got to the Colorado River, did you camp out there or what did you do out there?

YK: Oh, no, we had to come back the same day. [Laughs] So it's only about five miles away.

MN: That's kind of far walking, though, in the desert, right?

YK: Yeah, but it was level.

MN: So did you fish out there?

YK: Did we what?

MN: Did you go fishing out in the Colorado River?

YK: Oh, no.

MN: You know, I've heard about these dust storms at Poston. Can you describe those to me?

YK: Oh, yeah, the dust storms, you could see it coming from miles away. It'd just be a gray, and from ceiling, I mean, from the ground to way up would be this high, gray area coming. Then it would hit and it would be very windy. And then the barracks being wood, particularly being raised up, the wind would get underneath and come up through the space in the boards. And so we'd get all kind of dust in the room, so we had to clean up afterwards. But it didn't happen that often, we'd have it, I recall, about three or four of 'em. Of course, I was only in Poston for about a year and a half.

MN: Now you were young, so you didn't have to work, but can you briefly tell me what jobs your older sibling had? Like Tadao, what did he... you said he worked in the mess hall.

YK: Yeah. Tadao worked in the mess hall. Hideo, because he could drive, he drove the truck, the watering truck that sprinkles water on the roads, because otherwise it would become very dusty. And then Tom worked on the farm, there was a farm nearby where they were raising guayule plants which they were making rubber out of.

MN: You know, I was really surprised to learn about that, the guayules.

YK: Guayule, yeah.

MN: I thought Manzanar was the only one that did that, that cultivated guayule for the rubber.

YK: Yeah, I wasn't aware of it, but later my brother told me, oh, yeah, he did that.

MN: What about your dad? What did he do?

YK: Well, my dad, of course, he was too old to do much of anything, so he would just sit around with the other old men and lament about "what the government was doing to us," and how he had lost everything. So he was pretty bitter about the whole thing.

MN: Was your mother too busy with those younger sisters to work?

YK: Yeah, she didn't work either.

MN: Now, movies. Were there movies shown in Poston?

YK: Yeah, once in a while they would show movies in the middle of the camp in the big firebreak. And so you had to sit on the ground, dirt, or people would bring towels or blankets and so forth and we would sit on gallon cans and things like that. And they would have first the newsreel, a little bit about the war, and then they'd have a Flash Gordon Series where Flash Gordon would be going on and all of a sudden he'd get into an impossible situation, and then the film would say, "Tune in next time." So we had to wait 'til the next session. And then we kids didn't really stay around for the main movie. But that was about once a week or something like that.

MN: So you know when it got really cold when you were watching the movies, how did you keep warm?

YK: Well, in Poston it didn't get warm... I mean, it didn't get cold. It was pretty hot. We were out in the desert, basically. So we never worried about getting cold.

MN: I know that some of the farmers recruited the camp people to work on the farm, contract laborers. Did your brothers go out for that?

YK: Oh, yeah, my brother Hide and Tom, there was a call from the Utah Sugar Beets Growers that they didn't have enough labor and the sugar beets were rotting 'cause nobody could pick 'em. So they did get people to volunteer from the camp to go work. And they were paid much more, because the wages in the camp were fourteen dollars a month for regular jobs, and then if you were a teacher or doctor, you got sixteen or eighteen dollars a month. And so by going to pick (beets), my mother didn't want them to go out, but they said, oh, no, they'll be back shortly after they pick 'em, so they went and came back. And then after that, my brother Tom was able to go back east to college again. But, of course, from there, about that time, in 1943 I guess, they had rated all, up to then, all Japanese as being 4-A, not eligible for the draft, but then they changed it all to 1-A. And so my brother Tom was drafted out of the university, and my brother Hide was drafted right out of camp. So my father was further angry because now he had three sons in the army, and here we're in camp, and then, too, it was rumored that those who were going in the army would be put on the front lines against the Germans and used as cannon fodder and may never come back. So then came the notorious questionnaire, "loyalty questionnaire."

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

<Begin Segment 14>

MN: You were still a child, so did you go to school in Poston?

YK: Oh, yeah, we went to school. We had teachers who were, basically volunteers. They, most of them weren't real teachers, but then they taught, and so we went to grammar school.

MN: Were these teachers, were they Nisei college students or were they outside hakujin people?

YK: No, mostly... well, in the lower grades it was all mostly just Nisei teachers. Of course, in the high schools they probably brought in some hakujin, but I wasn't aware of that.

MN: So how would you compare the education you were getting at Poston to the one that you were getting at Trabuco Canyon?

YK: Well, yeah. Well, actually went to El Toro, but...

MN: Oh, El Toro, I'm sorry.

YK: Well, I didn't notice too much difference. At that time, you're in your lower grades and so it doesn't seem to have much... I don't recall learning too much.

MN: Where was the school? Was it pretty far from your barrack?

YK: No, I think it was only a couple blocks away. So it was pretty close by, so we just walked to it.

MN: And you know, late 1942, Poston had this huge strike that lasted for days. Do you remember that?

YK: Yeah, kind of vaguely. It was, people were kind of protesting, and they were saying (come). So anyway, they arrested some of the judo instructors and said that, hey, they were leading the protests. I don't recall very much about it other than that... and that probably was because we weren't getting decent food. [Laughs]

MN: Do you know if your dad went out there and helped, was part of the protest?

YK: I don't really know.

MN: Now your first Christmas at Poston, do you recall what that was like?

YK: I don't recall having a Christmas.

MN: How about Oshogatsu?

YK: Well, probably the mess hall tried to give us something a little different, but we're all just going every day, and they're just cooking food in these huge vats. And sugar was always in short supply, so we didn't, I don't recall any celebrations at all.

MN: Now while you were in camp, you cracked your left wrist bone. What happened?

YK: Oh, yeah. Well, we kids are always kind of wrestling around, and so one time we were wrestling and we were falling over and I put my left hand out. And I cracked it. I had a small crack in my wrist, so it didn't hurt that much, but when we went to the doctor, he put a cast on, so I had a cast for a long time there, six weeks. And they said, well, when you wrestle and you fall, with the weight of two, you don't put your hand out, you've got to land on your body. So after that I was sent to judo school, and others had started earlier, so I was kind of a beginner there, so I wasn't very good at it. And I was the one that was usually thrown. So I learned how to fall. So throughout my life I found that falling, how to fall was very crucial, and I never broke anything again, even in skiing later. [Laughs]

MN: You know, let me go back to the hospital. The doctor at Poston, was that a hakujin doctor or a Japanese American doctor?

YK: No, it was Japanese American, yeah.

MN: Do you remember the doctor's name?

YK: No.

MN: How about the nurses there? Were they Japanese Americans?

YK: Yeah.

MN: How did you feel about going to the hospital there?

YK: Well, didn't feel any different. It was just, I thought my wrist wasn't that bad. But then after they took the x-rays, they said, "No, there's a small break."

MN: And then you said after that, so you learned to fall in judo classes.

YK: Yeah.

MN: Who was your sensei?

YK: Oh, I don't recall.

MN: Did you have a judogi?

YK: Oh, yeah.

MN: Where did you get it?

YK: Probably Sears & Roebuck again.

MN: They were selling that kind of stuff, huh?

YK: Yeah. Well, I guess so.

MN: Or someone could have sewed it in camp.

YK: Yeah, it could be that people were sewing them.

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

<Begin Segment 15>

MN: Now you had this incident in camp where you almost drowned?

YK: Oh, yeah. Actually, I had a couple incidents in Trabuco Canyon where they had these big watering holes, and I didn't realize it was so deep, and I was on the edge and just sticking my toe in. Jackie said, "Don't," but it just went straight down. I had a couple incidences of going underwater. But, so I always stayed away from the water. They were pumping water from the Colorado River, and so there were these big canals, and then there were some places where it was enlarged and a big swimming pool like areas were created and so people were going there to swim. And so my friends always went and I never did, but they coaxed me to go, and so I went, and I said, "But I don't know how to swim. So there was a little board whereby I could just grab the end of the board and kick around. But then some of my friends started teasing me and pulling me out in the deeper area, and I kept telling 'em, "No, I don't know how to swim," and they took me out to the deep area and then they swam away. So as I was going to paddle towards land, then this big kid from the adjacent block came by and just took it away from me. And I went, going down, and so it's quite an experience actually drowning, where the water was very brown and all I could see is my hands and the bubbles and so forth. And so I kept going down, down, even hitting the bottom. But, and yeah, you're sort of, your life goes through, but actually in this case, I had an out-of-body experience whereby I imagined myself flying high in the air with this person from yesteryear who was in a robe, and we were looking down on the edge of the swimming area and people were saying, "What happened?" They said, "Oh, Yukio drowned." So I said, "Oh, I guess I drowned." And my mother was there crying over me, and so I thought, well, since I drowned, I stopped struggling. At that time, one of the older boys from my block said he saw bubbles, so he came down and rescued me. And I hadn't passed out. I had a lot water in me, but... so after that I never went swimming again, or close to the water.

MN: Let's talk about something more pleasant like softball.

YK: Oh, yeah, we had a little softball team where Skip was the coach and I was the catcher, and I had to order from Sears & Roebuck a mask and catcher's mitt. So we had our own little peewee team. I guess we were eleven year olds, primarily. And I liked being catcher 'cause you're in on every pitch.

MN: So was this a Block 43 team?

YK: Yeah, right.

MN: Did you play against the other blocks?

YK: Well, not until the following year, then it became more serious, that we had to practice more since we were competing against other blocks.

MN: Did you compete against other, like Poston Camp II, Camp III teams?

YK: No, we did once go down to Camp II which was about, it was only about two miles away, and it was a smaller camp. I never did get to Camp III in Poston.

MN: I know also Saburo Kido, who was the national president of JACL, got beaten up in Poston I. Do you recall that at all?

YK: No. There were always rumors that there were people who were collaborating with the government and all the administration of the camp, and they were called inu, or dogs. So some of them, they'd get beat up by people.

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

<Begin Segment 16>

MN: Now, '43, the U.S. government came out with this controversial "loyalty questionnaire." Did your family have very extensive discussions on how to answer the two controversial questions?

YK: Oh, yes. Because... well, my father of course was so upset about what happened to us, plus having three brothers in the U.S. Army, not knowing what harm might come to them. And he had lost the farm and everything, and here now his whole family was in camp, so he was pretty bitter. And then my oldest brother was a Kibei, he was mainly raised in Japan, and when he came to the U.S. it was the Depression years. And then when we're finally doing good we get thrown into camp, so he wasn't too happy. But everyone said, "Well, you've got to answer "yes-yes," because one question was, "Are you willing to serve in the armed services and report for duty wherever ordered?" And the question there, which people said, "That's like asking to be drafted." And then the second question was, basically say you have supreme allegiance to the United States and would not have any allegiance to any other foreign country, or I don't know if they mentioned the emperor, but I think they did. And so there were some people who argued that, "Hey, you do that, the U.S. won't give you citizenship, never had." And so they all, the Issei still had their Japanese citizenship, they said, "You could be become stateless if you say 'yes-yes.'" So anyway, they were in a quandary. I always thought it was my father (that) made the final decision, and my sister, oldest sister thought it was the oldest brother. But then I found out later, I called them, wrote to him, I guess, he was in Japan, and he said it was actually my mother who said, "Look, I got three sons in the U.S. Army who are in harm's way, and then I may have two more, so let's declare 'no-no' and maybe then they'll be spared and also we'll keep the family together."

And so we became a "no-no" family and then we were shipped off to Tule Lake, which was a whole different ballgame because when you get there, it's an armed encampment, prison, where the front gate, you have all kind of guards and towers and you have very high security. And so, in fact the whole camp was surrounded not only by a barbed wire fence, but also beyond that was about fifty yards of no-man's land that nobody's going to go into. Then beyond that you have a ten-foot high chain-link fence with barbed wire at the top. Then you had a tower every so many feet apart with guards with their guns. And so it was a prison. Poston, we had some guards at the front, but after a while, the camp is just run by itself. There was no place you could go anyway. So Tule Lake was a whole different ballgame. It was a true concentration camp, prison-like situation.

MN: Now when you were in Poston and you became a "no-no" family, did the other Poston people treat you differently?

YK: Well, they kind of... some people said, "You're the disloyal troublemakers, you make the Japanese look bad." And, but most of the friends and relatives were more concerned, "What's going to happen to you?" Of course, we didn't know, but just a few months later, we were shipped off onto the train again in Parker, Arizona, and the long train ride to Tule Lake, which is on the northern border of California.

MN: Now I think you were only twelve years old at this time?

YK: Right.

MN: When you became a "no-no" family and you found out you had to leave Poston, how did you feel?

YK: Well, yeah, I felt bad because we had, I think we had in our block, we all became very close, we were on the same ball team, we ate together, and so we had close friends and so forth. So I felt bad that we're leaving them all. And I know my older sisters were upset because for the first time, they had some people that, of their same age who were Japanese that they could relate to and go to school with and play with. So they were not anxious to leave.

MN: So what is the process? How did your family pack to go to Tule Lake? Did you leave all the furniture that you created at Poston there?

YK: Oh, yeah. We can only take our suitcase.

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

<Begin Segment 17>

MN: Do you remember what month and year you left for Tule Lake?

YK: It was either August or September of 1943.

MN: Now, the day you have to go, this August date you had to leave for Tule Lake, how early did you have to get up?

YK: Oh, yeah. Well, we had to get up very early. I guess they didn't want us seen by the other people, so we had to go very early to the mess hall and have an early breakfast before everybody else. And then after we were all there, then we got on the bus and we left before everybody else got up.

MN: Was it a big group that went?

YK: Big what?

MN: Was it a big group that went to Tule Lake that day?

YK: Yeah, I guess so. But, well, from our block, we didn't fill up the whole bus, so we stopped in a couple other mess halls 'til we were full and then we drove off to Parker.

MN: So it was just one bus?

YK: Well, no, there were a lot of other buses, too. Because when we got to Parker, all the buses were there, and we filled up the train. Well, I don't know if we filled up the train, but anyway, a trainload.

MN: Do you have any idea, so how many people were on that, in that group that went to Tule Lake from Poston that day?

YK: No, I have no idea. I do know that eventually Tule Lake had eighteen thousand people who were from all the other nine camps.

MN: Do you have any recollection of what your last meal at Poston was?

YK: No. You know, breakfast is usually mush.

MN: So you got on the bus, and then you got to Parker. And then once you got to Parker, what did you do?

YK: Well, of course, the buses stopped right next to the train, and so we were all ordered onto the train again.

MN: Did the train go directly to Tule Lake or did it stop somewhere else?

YK: No, it went directly to Tule Lake, but it was a long, long ways to go.

MN: Do you, was it a one-day trip, or did you spend the night on the train?

YK: Oh, we definitely spent the night on the train.

MN: And was it the same, you slept sitting up in your seats?

YK: Yeah, it was the same thing, they were the bench seats.

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

<Begin Segment 18>

MN: And then earlier you shared about your first impressions of Tule Lake when you got there. It sounds like it was a real prison there.

YK: Right.

MN: Which block was your family assigned to?

YK: Well, we were in Block 43. Not 43, we were block 34, actually, and we were on the corner of the camp, which was close to the effluent or sewage treatment plant. So it was pretty stinky. In fact, the blocks in that portion of the camp were called "Sewer Heights." [Laughs] But you get used to the smell, but whenever you had visitors, they'd always say, "How can you stand the smell, the stench?" But anyway, that's where we were.

MN: So when you moved into Block 34, were there furniture there left from the previous occupants?

YK: No. No, we had to kind of start all over again. There was just the beds, and this time, they weren't straw mattresses, anyway. They had regular mattresses, and of course were given the blankets and sheets and things like that. And then we had to go scrounge this time behind the mess hall and get old wooden boxes to make some furniture.

MN: So you had to start all over again to make furniture.

YK: Yeah.

MN: Now when your family first arrived at Tule Lake, and your barrack had only six beds, but there were eight people in your family, how did you break up the sleeping arrangements?

YK: Yeah. Well, yeah, we were wondering why they only had six beds, and so two of my sisters slept together and then I slept with my mother. And then we did have an incident there where one night, my father came and stood next to the bed, and he kissed and fondled my mother, and eventually joined us in bed. And so I was, of course, kept quiet while they were making love. And, of course, in the end, things became more rapid, and he let out a nice moan in satisfaction. But my mother had ten children with him, so she was quiet most of the time. But, of course, I was already twelve, so I knew what was going on. But I wondered if the others had noticed, but, of course, they wouldn't say so. [Laughs]

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

<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.

<Begin Segment 20>

MN: Now you said your family moved from Block 34 to 75. Why did you move?

YK: I don't know why. We were just sent over there, and then as I said, that area, it was much more militant towards the administration. And we were in Block 75, which was more, we were, had come from different blocks. And so we felt intimidated by those in the other blocks. The kids seemed more defiant and sure of themselves. We were sort of the outsiders.

MN: So this "Alaska" area, were they people from a certain region, from central California or Imperial Valley?

YK: Well, some of them were from Hawaii, and some were from Manzanar. Manzanar had their own riots there. So it was a more militant portion in the camp.

MN: So you had Kinzo Wakayama in your area, is that right? Kinzo Wakayama? He was from Manzanar, one of the leaders of the Hoshidan?

YK: No, I don't...

MN: Don't recall?

YK: I don't recall any names. But now that you mention the Hoshidan, they formed and said that they had come to the mess hall and (...) the exercise classes (where there) were a lot of (people) outdoors every morning with the exercises, and they would try to recruit, saying that, "Look at what they're doing to us, you don't get decent food unless we organize (against) the administration, you go as individuals, the administration's going to ignore you. So we need to organize and protest as a group." So eventually my father, since a lot of them were speaking Japanese, then he joined, and my oldest brother and my brother Skip was eighteen at the time, and my sister, they joined at the encouragement of our father. But then after that, so there were some protests and so forth. And then after that came the renunciation issue. And so there was a big negative feeling that here we were with the "loyalty oath" again. And so the Hoshidan was saying, "Look, now they want to say you could renounce your citizenship. Our citizenship is worthless anyway, look what they're doing to us. In fact, the prisoners of war have more rights than we do. And so as a protest, you should renounce." And so a lot of people in Tule Lake renounced, mainly out of civil disobedience and protest. So including my brothers and sister. Of course, the rest of us were too young.

But then subsequent to that, one of the reasons they wanted us to renounce is that when they were talking about a prisoner exchange, it was brought out that you can't exchange American citizens, and that's why they wanted us to renounce. And so, but then they renounced out of protests. So then they thought, well, gee, they weren't expecting that many to renounce, and so they accused the Hoshidan of fomenting trouble and encouraging people to protest. And so they got the membership list, and they first took all the leaders and sent them to the United States Department of Justice detention centers. And my father and brothers were not really very active, so we felt they were safe. But my oldest brother got sent to Crystal City, Texas, and my father and my brother, who was only about eighteen or nineteen at the time, went to Bismarck, North Dakota, in the detention center there. So here, of our family of eleven, we were broken into six pieces. There was just my mother and my older sister, and then the other three of us were still kids. So that's all that was left in Tule Lake, and we certainly weren't any threat to the U.S. government. But anyhow, so I felt pretty out of it, 'cause I always had my father and my five older brothers watching over me, and here I was the only son, and I was only about fourteen, thirteen, fourteen, at the time.

MN: Let me ask you a little bit about the Hoshidan activities. You said your father and Tadao and Skip were in the Hoshidan. Your sister must have been a Joshidan, is that right? 'Cause they had a separate girl's group?

YK: Yeah. She probably wasn't in, I don't recall. But she, when the renunciation came, she did renounce, too.

MN: Did your father and brothers get the bouzu haircut?

YK: I don't really recall. I know I had one.

MN: Who gave you the bouzu haircut?

YK: I think my mother did.

MN: And why did she give you a bouzu haircut?

YK: Well, that was the thing. Everybody had it. Us young boys had a bouzu haircut.

MN: I understand they had a separate group for the younger boys called the Seinendan. Were you in the Seinendan?

YK: No, I was too young.

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

<Begin Segment 21>

MN: When this renunciation issue came up, was it a heated discussion in your family?

YK: No, it was more of a campwide thing, that everyone should protest and say that, "Here's the U.S. government again trying to (do it to me), so we need to protest back." And so this was one of the means of protesting the conditions in the camp.

MN: So was your father and your brothers out there with the hachimaki and, "Wasshoi, wasshoi?"

YK: My brothers, yeah, they would... and it wasn't all Hoshidan. Everybody went out for morning exercises, and they would have what they called rajio taisho, so they all do their exercises, then they would, at the end, sort of, "Wasshoi, wasshoi," and snake dance around the block. So that was an every morning thing. Of course, the military thought that this was a danger, but they didn't stop (it).

MN: I know you were on the younger side, but did you go and join them?

YK: No. So us younger kids, we had our own little, we had our own pretend exercise, running around the block. But we didn't have any sports, no basketball courts, no baseball, nothing. So we had our own little football, just among ourselves, three on three on the dirt, sand. But that was about it.

MN: And when the army started to round up the Hoshidan people, and your father and two brothers were also taken away, were you there when they came to take away your brothers and father?

YK: Yeah. They were both notified they had that, you had to be ready to go in the next day or two.

MN: What was going through your mind when all this was going on?

YK: Well, of course, seeing everybody who had protected the baby of the family, 'cause I was the youngest of six sons, were all disappearing. So it was pretty traumatic.

MN: Was your mother able to communicate with your father?

YK: Well, she tried, but even the ones written in English were very severely edited. Everything was blocked out, and I'm sure the Japanese language wasn't every word delivered.

MN: How did your life change after the government started to clamp down and round up these people?

YK: Well, I guess it didn't change that much. I still was going to Japanese school and still spending time with my buddy friends. So the only kind of a pleasant thing that we had was on Saturday night when they would have, what do they call it? The Songs of the Week, and so we'd listen in and see which songs were rated in the Hit Parade. And we then learned the words to the songs and each Saturday night we'd hear Frank Sinatra and others singing and see which ones were number one or number two and so forth. So that was one of the few things we had.

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

<Begin Segment 22>

MN: And I think it was around this time that the war was over?

YK: Yeah, the war ended when we heard that Hiroshima and Nagaski were bombed and Japan had surrendered. And my mother just kept repeating, "Hidoi bakudan," meaning, "very horrendous atomic bomb was dropped."

MN: What was your reaction to hearing that the war was over?

YK: Well, we kind of knew Japan was losing, and so we knew that sooner or later it would be over, so we were kind of shocked to hear that atomic bombs were dropped there. Then, too, we didn't know what happened to my father and brothers, and so it was said, well, definitely they were preparing, after that they prepared a ship to ship people back to Japan. And they said all those in these Department of Justice detention centers would be put on a ship and sent back. And so my mother was in a quandary. If my father and two brothers go back to Japan, what are we gonna do? And so she wrote to my two brothers in the army, and they came to the camp and said, "Hey, you can't go back to Japan. Japan's been destroyed, what are you going to do? Take your children there and they're gonna all go hungry." So he says, "Yeah, we shouldn't go." In the meantime, the Department of Justice said, well, no, they're not going to send everybody from detention centers, those who want to remain can. So at the last minute, they gave an option, and my oldest brother Tadao, he was definitely going back. But he was in Crystal City, Texas, but my father and my brother Skip was in Bismarck, North Dakota. My brother Skip asked my father, "Are we still going? We have a chance to stay," and he said, "No, we're going." So they went back. In fact, my oldest brother said he was surprised, because my mother had written, "Don't go, stay," so he thought was the only one going. And he was surprised to see my father and my brother on the ship, that they were going.

Then the camps were starting to close up, so we were preparing to leave camp. We were among the last to leave, the camp was starting to become deserted. We didn't leave 'til the middle of January, 1996.

MN: 1946.

YK: I mean, 1946. And my sister who had renounced, they said, "Well, we need to keep her," so only my mother and us three minors left the camp. So we went to Klamath Falls, Oregon, and got on the train. For the first time, the train window (...) blinds were up, so we could look out. And so as we left, I could see the town and the countryside, and it felt like we had come back to America after being in camp for almost four years. But, anyway, we came back to Santa Ana.

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

<Begin Segment 23>

MN: Before we get into that, let me go back a little bit. Your father and two brothers who went to Japan, were they on the ship the SS Gordon that left on Christmas?

YK: I don't know. That's about the time they left, though.

MN: Do you think the message that your mother sent to your father ever got to him.

YK: I don't know. She had my sister write it in English so it would go through. I guess he was so embittered that he said, "We're better off in Japan." I guess he assumed the family was going to follow him.

MN: Do you have any idea why your one brother ended up at Crystal City and then your father and your other brother ended up at Fort Lincoln?

YK: No, they were just ending up in different, there were various camps.

MN: Now right before you left Tule Lake, your sister sent you to the camp dentist.

YK: Oh, yeah, that was a traumatic experience. I'd never been to a dentist in my life, and she said, "Well, we should go." So we went very early in the morning to be first in line, and I of course had a whole bunch of cavities, so they did 'em all at once. So that was really a painful experience even though they had Novocain. But it was finally over, and my mouth was kind of raw and so forth, because he kept saying, "Open wider, open wider." And then, but then a few weeks or months later, my fillings started falling out, so they didn't do a very good job, but I didn't mention it. And then I started getting pus in my upper lip, and I just squeezed it out like pimples.

MN: You know this camp dentist, was it a Nisei?

YK: Yeah, they were Nisei.

MN: They were Niseis?

YK: So they probably didn't have the best equipment either. And they were closing down, 'cause this was towards the end.

MN: These cavities, were these cavities you got in camp?

YK: Well, they were probably my whole childhood. I'd never been to a dentist before.

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

<Begin Segment 24>

MN: So now you are leaving camp, and you said you left for Santa Ana?

YK: Yes, Santa Ana.

MN: Why was your destination Santa Ana?

YK: Well, I guess they knew that there was this apartment complex where we could go to. So it was only about five or six families, and so we got there in the middle of the night and had to wake up the owners. So we were in Santa Ana, and then there was one girl there about my age, and so she showed us how we catch the bus to school and sent us to the administration. They assigned us to our classes. On the first day of class at recess, the teacher took me aside and said, "You ought to take on an English name, then maybe you'll be more accepted," 'cause there were a few of us Japanese in that elementary school. And she said, "What do you want to be called?" I said, "I don't know." She said, "What about George?" I said, "Well, okay," so I became George. But we were in Santa Ana only a couple of months, and we moved to Long Beach where we were in a trailer camp. So we were in these little aluminum trailers where only two people could sleep in there. So we had, I guess, probably about three of four trailers that we lived in, and again, you had to go to the outhouse and for laundry and everything 'cause the trailers didn't have any plumbing. But... and at that time, too, I was still in the seventh grade, I'd been in the seventh grade for about three years. So it was January, so towards the end of it, in the second semester when we started. But we had to take a bus to the center of town, Long Beach, and went to junior high school there. So the only classes that were left were woodshop and music. So the music was easy enough because we just listened to records and memorized the names of the authors, and we'd always done the Hit Parade ones. Then the woodshop, I never made anything in my life, 'cause I always had five older brothers, so I didn't know how to saw or use a hammer or anything. And here we were in woodshop using these mechanical buzz saws. Luckily I didn't cut any fingers off, but I made my first sort of, I guess, book hangers, holders, and also my first footstool, which was my prize possession, I kept all my life.

MN: I think your mother used that also, right?

YK: Yeah, later on, then she used it. So anyway, after the semester was about over, then the counselor at the school said, "Hey, you're kind of old." But by then, May 30th, I became fifteen years old. He said, "You're kind of old to just be getting out of seventh grade." I said, "Well, yeah, I'm two years behind." So he said, "Why don't you go to summer school and we'll see how you do, and maybe we can have you skip to eighth grade." So I went to summer school, studied like mad, and I got all A's. He says, "Congratulations, you're now in the ninth grade." And he was the vice principal of the new school on the west side that we went to.

MN: So this, when you were going to the other junior high school, what was that junior high school called?

YK: William Logan Stevenson Junior High School.

MN: But that was a new high school, right?

YK: Yeah, it was brand new.

MN: Junior high school, I'm sorry.

YK: Yeah, it was a new junior high. All of a sudden, I was in the ninth grade and in algebra, and here I had almost no math background. So algebra was extremely tough for me. I had a very poor math foundation.

MN: But you skipped from seventh to ninth grade when you went into the William Logan Stevenson Junior High.

YK: Right.

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

<Begin Segment 25>

MN: So when you were living in the Long Beach trailer park, what kind of job did your mother find?

YK: Yeah, my mother fortunately had some friends who were working in the canneries in Long Beach and San Pedro, and so she would go with them on the bus to go to the fish cannery. The canneries liked to hire the Japanese because they worked so hard for low wages. And she would say, yeah, "Muri shita," she said, "Yeah, it was a real strain," because the fish keep coming and she was very short, probably only about 4'8", and she had small hands. She said it was really, really hard work. But, of course, there was no other work, so she had to do that. And then my brothers, when they got out of the army, Takashi and Hideo, they did gardening, 'cause that was the only occupation that was available to the Niseis, even though they had served in the U.S. Army, they couldn't get any other jobs. So they learned from a friend who was doing gardening at Laguna Beach and he helped them develop a nursery route -- not nursery route, a gardening route. Hideo was, always liked to be a mechanic, so he went to, got a job as a mechanic, and he was shocked at how low the wages were. And then he said he needed to go to school, but my mother told him, "Look, we can't afford to send you to school." 'Cause my other brother Tom was up at Berkeley and going back to school again, and she said, "We need you here to help feed the family." So she said, "Why don't you join Takashi in gardening? You guys work well on the farm." So they did gardening and then they branched into landscaping and then gradually, after only about two years, they were able to start a plant nursery.

MN: Now when they were trying to start this plant nursery, they had a little problem trying to get the land.

YK: Yeah, they were right on Pacific Coast Highway, and they found that small fifty by a hundred foot lot and they were trying to buy that. But the realtor said, well, the owners were having a problem selling to you because the neighbors on the other sides said, "We don't want any Japanese running a business next to our business." And so my brothers, who had many clients in Laguna Beach, told them about the trouble and so they went to their pastor and told them to help them out. So he agreed, and he talked to the owners and also the other businesses, said, "Hey, these two sons, they served in the U.S. Army. One of them even served in Italy and France. And so they're good American citizens and they fought for our country. So how can you in good conscience say they can't build a business next to you?" So we were able to start a nursery there.

MN: Now before your two brothers started this nursery, they were doing the gardening route. And while they were gardening, did you have to go out and help them?

YK: Oh, yeah. I worked every Saturday from the time I was in junior high, in the ninth grade. I would go down there every Saturday to help them, every holiday, every summer, I would go down to Laguna Beach and do gardening. And I did that all through high school and even when I was a freshman at UCLA, went down there and did gardening.

MN: Now, let's... I'm going to go back to your Franklin Junior High School years. When you had to first enroll, you, tell me how you got to school. Because this was on the other side of Long Beach.

YK: Yeah. We had to take the regular transit bus.

MN: You didn't have a car? Your family didn't have a car.

YK: No, and there were no buses provided. So with the other kids, we'd just catch the regular bus, regular transit bus to go to school.

MN: Now, you were a new student, and you had to you had to get a checkup.

YK: Oh, yes. So the nurse saw the puffiness in my gums and my teeth and so she sent me to the dentist. And he says, "Oh, no, you may lose all four teeth. We'll try to save two of them." So he pulled them out, and so there I was without my two top front teeth. And so I said, "Well, yeah, all the fillings had fallen out," and so forth. (...) He made a quick partial for me for the two teeth, but then a couple months later he said, "No, it's no good," so he pulled all four. So there I was without four front teeth on top. And I had this partial, and you could see some of the metal parts on that. So I thought all the kids are going to tease me about having false teeth. It did happen that there were mainly four of us who would go to Franklin Junior High School, and then so one of the guys said, "Oh," one day he said, "Yukio has false teeth," and so I thought, "Oh, my secret's out." But the other two buddies, they really got after him and said, "No, he doesn't, and you better not bring it up again or we'll really bash you." So that was a one time, after that no one ever mentioned it, but I knew. So after that I never did smile too much. Kept my mouth shut.

MN: And then this is where your counselor called you in and said you're a little old to be in the seventh grade, and you were able to go to summer school and you skipped the eighth grade and then you went into the ninth grade at the Stevenson Junior High School? And then this counselor, he became a vice principal at the Stevenson, is that right?

YK: Yeah, the school, right.

MN: And then your family also moved from the trailer camps.

YK: Oh, yeah, we moved into (housing). The main housing project there was called Cabrillo 1. We were in Cabrillo 2 which was across the Pacific Coast Highway, so it was a separate, smaller complex of, they were wartime housing, actually. So we were there. But in there, for the first time, we had in-house plumbing, hot and cold water, we had a toilet and bathtub all within the unit. So it was a real luxury, it was the first time we ever had that. And I think we even had an electric refrigerator, so we didn't have to have the blocks of ice and so forth, the ice blocks. So that was a big step up.

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

<Begin Segment 26>

MN: And then you did very well at Stevenson Junior High School. You even made it into the scholarship group.

YK: Yeah. And so, but I had this sourpuss teacher who taught for two (close) sessions, English and social studies. She had really insulted me once, especially when it was getting towards the end of the school year and she was asking all those with a birthday in May when I stood up. She asked how old I was, I said I was sixteen, she said, "Oh, you're a grandpa." So I kind of hated her. So when it came that we were supposed to (go to) the scholarship dinner, I figured my mother wouldn't go, and so I said, "No, I'm not going." But she sent me to Mr... what was his name? Wilson, I think, or Stevens. Anyway, and he had done so much for me, I couldn't say no. He just said, "You should go, it's an honor." And my mother actually went, too, so it was pretty good.

MN: Did that surprise you, that your mother went?

YK: Yeah.

MN: And I guess you eventually graduated from Stevenson, and then you went to Long Beach Poly High.

YK: Right.

MN: What was the ethnic makeup of Long Beach Poly?

YK: Oh, let's see. Well, mainly white. There were a limited number of blacks and Hispanics and Japanese, because all of us Japanese were on the west side in the housing projects. So there was a mix.

MN: Now, you tried out for the B football team.

YK: Oh, yeah, in the senior year, my friend and I, we decided to try out for the B football team. And our team wasn't very good. [Laughs] And so I think we won, out of a seven-game schedule, we won one and tied one. Then the big insult was at the end of the school year, they took our picture, and I was a starter so I was in the front, but they didn't publish it in the album. So we never even got our picture in there, our senior album.

MN: Why didn't they put it in?

YK: Why didn't they what?

MN: Why did they not put your, the picture in?

YK: I don't know. We just got the album, it wasn't in there.

MN: Now, I remember you were talking about when you played football in the streets, you would do it barefoot.

YK: Oh, yeah, we would play in the project, there was a big grass area and we'd play football all the time. And basically I was always doing it barefoot because that made me fast. And I was the scatback.

MN: So when you had to wear shoes on your team at high school, did that really slow you down?

YK: Oh, yeah, because then you had to wear a helmet. Because when we used to play tackle on the playground, I'd wear a cap to cover my ears, and a sweatshirt over my t-shirt, and a little padding on my left side, and that was the extent of it for tackle football. But when we went out for regular football, we had the heavy helmet, we had the shoulder pads, we had the waist pads and we had these heavy cleated boots. And so I felt like I was running in slow motion.

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

<Begin Segment 27>

MN: Now, you know when you were in high school, you and your friends also formed a club. How did you come up with the club name called the Royal Knights?

YK: Oh, well, yeah, my friend Moose was a big guy, and this younger guy named Takemi who had the only television in the (neighborhood), they had various Japanese friends, so they approached me and said, "We need to form our own Japanese American club," because various other ones were being formed, and in fact, the main one was called the Long Beach Royals, and they had anywhere from twenty to thirty members, they were older, and they were either seniors in high school or out working. They were pretty tough guys. They were nice guys, but they wouldn't back down on anybody who wanted to fight. So they would go around to all the (dances). It would be Japanese American dances sponsored by various clubs throughout Los Angeles, so we used to also go to all the different dances (...).

MN: So how many members were in this group?

YK: Well, at first there were only about a dozen (that) showed up and then we said, well, we're trying to organize the club. And then I said we need at least a president, vice president, and a sergeant of arms. So Moose, I said that Moose should be the president, 'cause he was kind of the boss and knew everybody, and he was big. And he said, no, no, he's too dumb, he'll be the sergeant of arms. So I became the president or the gang leader of the Royal Knights. Some of the people wanted to name us the "Royal Babies" because some of them had brothers in the Royals, and the Royals were the big feared group. But in the end, it became Royal Knights.

MN: Who came up with the Royal Knights?

YK: The name?

MN: Yeah.

YK: Well, it was the Royals, and then somebody came up with Knights, so then the two got combined together.

MN: I know you have a jacket also?

YK: Oh, yeah. We had our own black jackets with the emblem saying Royal Knights, and we'd have to wear that everywhere, to all the dances and other (places). When we had our own sports team, football, basketball, baseball, and we always had to have our Royal Knights jackets.

MN: Who came up with the colors and the emblem design?

YK: Oh, I don't recall. There were some people who worked on it, and they ordered them.

MN: Now you said you had the softball and the basketball teams and the hardball teams. Did you compete with the other Nisei clubs?

YK: Oh, yeah, we did, but we were the younger kids. So we weren't expected to win, so (if) we got one or two wins a season. It was a major victory.

MN: Did you get into a lot of fights?

YK: Did we what?

MN: Get into a lot of fights?

YK: Oh, no. We were the good guys. Only minor skirmishes.

MN: How about dances? Did you sponsor dances?

YK: Yeah, we sponsored some dances, but it was mainly my younger sister who had the Hardells, they were called, and they would have dances and we would also, they would have jam sessions where we learned how to do the jitterbug and cha cha and other things.

MN: So what did the Hardells, what was that short for?

YK: Well, they said it was Harbor Dells, but, of course, we called them "Hard Ups." [Laughs]

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

<Begin Segment 28>

MN: What year did you finally graduate from Long Beach Poly High?

YK: Well, I graduated in 1950, But there were two special tests that happened, that it influenced my life. One was sort of a psychological test where they give you a whole bunch of questions and then however you answer 'em, you were either an introvert or an extrovert. And, of course, they didn't have control over how you answered, so everybody answered "extrovert," and I was the lone person in the middle, and they said, "What is he?" She said, "Well, he's the ambivert." They said, "Ambivert? What the heck is that?" And she said, "Well, they used to think that such people were crazy, but now they think, well, maybe they're the most adjusted, 'cause they're sort of in between, they're neither extroverts or introverts, or actually part of both. So that affected my (whole) life. And the other was, they had a Kueter Preference (test) where what kind of interests you have to consider for going to college, and I came out high in design although I had never designed or drawn a picture in my life. So when I was considering going to college, you had to declare a major, so my brothers who had the plant nursery said, "Why don't you be a landscape architect? And you can draw the designs for the plants, gardens." And I thought, well, I didn't know what else to do.

So I went to UCLA (that) had the course, but you only had one year there and I had to transfer to Berkeley for three years. And the one thing fortunate at UCLA was that the Korean War started out, and I was able to get a college deferment, so I didn't have to go in the army then. The other thing at UCLA was that I was pretty far from the campus, and this dormitory, it was almost all hakujin except for one Japanese who was a senior. And we had to either take a bus or most of 'em hitchhiked to get to the main Westwood Boulevard, and then you had the long walk to the campus. But I had to, every Saturday, work at the Laguna Nursery to pay my way, so every Friday afternoon, I had to take the bus to Long Beach which took me two hours. Then I would take the next morning, get up to go work in Long Beach.

MN: Laguna, right?

YK: I mean, Laguna (Beach) from Long Beach. And then we would go out on Saturday night, and then sleep late Sunday and then take two hours to get back to UCLA. So I didn't have much time for studying, so I didn't do too good in my grades there. [Laughs]

MN: And then you transferred to UC Berkeley after a year.

YK: Yeah, went to UC Berkeley. And there I was able to stay at a Nisei men's dorm where there were about fifteen of us, and then there were about ten more who just ate there. They slept somewhere else. So it was all Niseis, and the guys running it were mainly veterans. So it was kind of nice. They would have various games each night, bridge and poker, chess. But after a while I learned that, especially bridge, you don't get involved. Because once you get in there, nobody wants to quit, I said, "I've got to go study," so I learned to say no. And chess would take forever, too. But we'd have dances there, too, and so it was kind of fun. And then there would be other (things). There was the Nisei Bears Club, and they would have various dances and so forth. So we had the social activities. Because at UCLA, all the activities were on Friday and Saturday nights, but I always had to go back to Long Beach, so I missed out on a lot of things, on the social part. So Berkeley was more (enjoyable). And then, too, everybody had more time to study, too.

MN: Yeah, you were at Euclid Hall, right?

YK: Yeah, Euclid Hall.

MN: That was eventually sold, I understand.

YK: Yeah.

MN: In the '60s, maybe, in the '70s?

YK: I don't know. It still is kind of a rooming hall for students. 'Cause we visited a couple years ago.

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

<Begin Segment 29>

MN: Now before we get into your Berkeley years, I wanted to ask you about your brother Tadao and Skip in Japan, and your sister Yo. They renounced their U.S. citizenship. Did they have to get the help of attorney Wayne Collins to regain it?

YK: Oh, yeah. Wayne Collins was the one who helped all the renunciants. He couldn't get a blanket renunciation change back to citizenship, he had to do each individual that he had to represent. So he did an enormous job over many years. And so my two brothers in Japan and my sister did get their citizenship back.

MN: Do you know if they, Tadao and Skip, when they were in Japan, if they were visited by Tex Nakamura to give an affidavit?

YK: I don't know. It's very possible, 'cause I know Tets Nakamura did work with Wayne Collins. Either he or someone else probably did go there, because they had to fill out the form and sign it and so forth, and Tets was a lawyer.

MN: How early were they able to regain their U.S. citizenship?

YK: I don't really know. I think it was probably about 1947 or '8.

MN: Did Tadao and Skip return to the U.S. after they regained their U.S. citizenship?

YK: Not immediately, but they did come back later.

MN: How about your father?

YK: No, he never came back. He only lasted seven years in Japan and he passed away. So it was pretty sad for him.

MN: Was your mother able to see him again?

YK: Well, she would do kambyou whenever we got sick, and she would go there, and she was there at the end with Tadao (...).

MN: Why didn't your father want to return to the U.S.?

YK: I don't know. I guess he was, whether it was bitterness or whether he was no longer -- he never was a citizen, I guess -- so I guess at that time it was hard for him to come back.

MN: Did you ever see your father after the war?

YK: Oh, no, because he died.

MN: Now, '49, you were still in high school, but that was a big year for your family.

YK: Oh, yes, uh-huh. Yeah, my various brothers and sisters were engaged and they wanted to get married, but my mother said, "No, you have got to go in order of age." So they were waiting for my brother and Tadao in Japan to get married first, and so in 1949 he did get married. So then that spring my brother Takashi got married and then Hide in the summer, and then my sister Yo in the fall. So we had four marriages in 1949. The nursery had opened up in '48, I think it was.

MN: Now, I want to ask you a little bit about your mother. You mentioned that she became associated with the Seicho no Ie? How did she become a member?

YK: Well, I don't know if she was so much a member, but she would always have the literature, and she would subscribe to the various magazines, Japanese magazines, too, 'cause she could only read Japanese. And she would always pray religiously every night.

MN: Now, are they strict vegetarians?

YK: No. So Seicho no Ie was mostly a way of living, kind of thing.

MN: I know we have a church in Gardena, Seicho no Ie. And you also mentioned your mother used to listen to Radio Little Tokyo with Matao Uwate?

YK: Oh, yes.

MN: Were you aware that Matao Uwate was at Tule Lake?

YK: No, I didn't know.

MN: So he never talked about that on the radio?

YK: Well, I never really listened to him on the radio. [Laughs] My Japanese was limited, so I didn't really focus on what he was saying.

<End Segment 29> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 30>

MN: Let's go back to your Berkeley years now. At UC Berkeley, what were you majoring in?

YK: Landscape architecture. So I first had to take a whole bunch of beginning architecture courses, including things like watercolor and pen and ink, which I had never done, but everybody in architecture had that probably when they were kids, for a long time. So I was way behind. In fact, in watercolor, I was lost. In fact, the instructor says, "There's a real question whether you should be in architecture." And that was the first F I ever got in my life, but it was a one-unit course, and they didn't require me to redo it. Pen and ink, I got by with a D. But anyway, but in landscape architecture, the bigger projects, I wasn't very good in presentation, but the bigger projects, I was pretty good in designing large parks, lake areas or golf courses, the bigger projects I did well. Because there, it was function more important than design.

MN: Although when you took that test in high school, didn't they say you were supposed to be good in designing?

YK: [Laughs] No, it just said that I had an affinity for design, interest. I had no skills.

MN: That came later.

YK: Yeah, when I got to Berkeley as a sophomore, I was expected to have design skills.

MN: Now when you were at Berkeley, you got really sick. What happened?

YK: Yeah, my senior year I had the flu, and so I finally went to a dispensary to get some medicine, and they said, "Well, you got a strep throat which is very contagious," so they put me in the hospital there, Colwell Hospital. And as the days and weeks went by, I was feeling better, but my fever wouldn't go down. I always had a slight fever. So they put me with the mononucleosis students who were there for weeks on end. And then the cap was, the hospital had a limit of thirty days, and I was starting to approach that, seeing my only symptom was a little higher temperature. And so they said, "Oh, no, you'll be able to stay on." But then about my twenty-seventh or twenty-eighth day, I started to break out on my hands with a rash, and then also in my crotch area. So when this Dr. Brown, who was a leader, came around with all their interns, says, "Aha, see, I told you he was gonna have scarlet fever." And they each took out of their wallet a dollar and gave it to her because apparently she was the only one who predicted that I had scarlet fever.

So then I missed a whole month of classes, and the main thing was the landscape design classes, over half of my time, it was a five-unit course, but I was way behind and so I tried to catch up on the project and I kind of threw some things together. But when the professor came around to give me my criticism, he really told me how bad it was. And I knew it was bad because he didn't recognize the fact that I'd been gone for a whole month. And so I just crumpled up the paper and threw it, and I walked out of the class and I dropped it. But then I did work out with one of the professors, who was mainly in my plant class, and another professor who was the head of the department, to take some classes from them during the summer, so I would be able to finish up. In the meantime, just before graduation time, everybody's getting their caps and gowns, but I got the flu again. I didn't dare go back to Colwell Hospital, so I didn't go through graduation and I had to stay there for the summer, but I at least was able to graduate that year.

MN: And that was '54?

YK: Yeah, so that was about August '54.

<End Segment 30> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 31>

YK: Then in September, I didn't know what I was going to do, because at that time, my draft had been deferred. At that time, you didn't know whether you're going to be called in one month or six months, so that was kind of hard to get a job with a landscape architectural firm. But you could volunteer to go quickly, so I volunteered for the draft and went into the army. Went to Fort Ord for basic training. And there, for the first eight weeks, you could never leave the camp. But we Japanese had an out. Since they didn't have Buddhist churches in camp, we got to get bussed to Monterey and go to Buddhist church there and they would treat us very nicely and even feed us afterwards, or we could go to a fancy restaurant and do some shopping. Then we come back, and everybody who has been stuck there with no place to go for eight weeks, said, "Can we become Buddhist, too?" And I would tell 'em, "No, you don't look Japanese at all." But anyhow, that's how we got around that.

And then my second eight weeks was in Virginia for a map reading class. But as soon as I got there, they said, "Oh, that just started last week," so I had to wait eight weeks to take a nine-week course. I was a barracks guard, and then I was with the post engineering, 'cause I had a degree in landscape architecture. But then they decided, okay, you have enough training, so I got shipped out to Germany on a troop ship from New Jersey. And I was sicker than hell for the nine days with seasickness. And on the tenth day, we're landing tomorrow, I finally felt better. Then in Germany at that time, they were shipping everybody to France in the (...) infantry, and they were going out on maneuvers and living in tents and everything. And so all the guys were crying when they got assigned that. So when I went to the line, the guy said, "Oh, you're from Long Beach." He's from L.A., I said, "Yeah. You wouldn't send a fellow Californian to France and the infantry, would you?" He says, "Well, we're supposed to." But he says, "Well, what can you do?" I said, "Hey, I'm a college graduate and landscape architect." "What can you do?" I said, "Well, I'm a draftsman." He looked in his book, "Oh, okay. We'll send you to Patch Barracks, Germany, draftsman. So it pays to know (somebody in the army). I became a clerk typist there for (the) training (office).

MN: And then you were there, and you were able to get out of the army a few months earlier and also fly back rather than take the boat back. How did you manage that?

YK: Well, in the army it's who you know and also what can you offer in return, so they told me, "If you want to fly back, you've got to see Foxy." So I went to see him, 'cause our, Patch Barracks was the headquarters for all 8th Army (troops in all of Europe). So all of us were working for officers and taking care of all the paperwork. So I went to see Foxy and he said, "Well, what can you do for me?" So I said, "Well, nobody likes to come to training every week. Sometimes I could overlook the fact that you were absent. And also, you got to go out to the firing range to shoot the rifle twice a year, and that's coming up, so I could say you shot a very good (score)." and he says, "Okay, that's a good deal. You'll fly home." Then they say you can get out three months early if you go see Eugene, so I worked out the same deal with him. So I learned in life, you (have) got to give and take.

MN: So when were you honorably discharged?

YK: Well, that was 1956.

<End Segment 31> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 32>

MN: When you returned, did you take advantage of the GI Bill?

YK: Yeah, uh-huh. But see, I had gone in in September so I couldn't get out early for to go back to school. So I got out by saying I'm going to work in my brother's nursery, he's my summer occupation. But then I went, decided to go back to school, graduate school. So I went to USC City and Regional Planning, 'cause I always liked larger scale (design). Of course, city planning was a little bit larger than I had in mind, but I went through there and there were only four of us grad students there. And it was only a year and a half course, but we had to write a thesis. Well, I delayed that, and one of the instructors had a consulting business, so he hired the three of us to go to work for him. So I worked for this private consultant who was doing master plans. The federal government had a 701 program whereby they would give grants to cities who did their master planning. So we would be the consultants to go in there, we'd prepare the whole application and everything and do master plans for small cities throughout southern California. And gradually I was able to do the whole master plan for Azusa and El Centro, plus working on the other cities with the other main associates. So that's how I became city planner, or I call it an urban planner.

MN: And I think you, at this time, you worked on Azusa and El Centro, and then also West Covina, Baldwin Park and South Pasadena?

YK: Right, that's right.

MN: Which were memorable cities that you worked on?

YK: Oh, I don't know. Probably El Centro because it was way down there, and I was really on my own. And so I really did the whole thing there, including getting the plan approved by the planning commission and the city council. So I did everything on that.

MN: And then around this time in '64, you married Lilian Kitagawa from Hawaii.

YK: Right.

MN: When you were courting her, did you share with her about your World War II experience at Tule Lake?

YK: No, not at all.

MN: When did you share that with her?

YK: Oh, much later. We really didn't talk too much about camp, you know, all of us Niseis, we really didn't tell our kids about camp.

MN: Now, when you asked Lilian to marry you, and when Lilian told her parents, her mother was very upset because you didn't go through the traditional route.

YK: Yeah, that's right. She said, well, first she was worried that she had married someone outside the race, and then when she told her I was Japanese, and she said, "Yeah, how come he didn't ask us properly?" So I had to write an apology letter asking them to let me marry their daughter, and I would take good care of her.

MN: And where were you married?

YK: Actually, a church in West Lost Angeles, but our minister was from the church in (Boyle Heights) Evergreen Church was just too small for us.

MN: Do you remember what you wore?

YK: Yeah, a tuxedo.

MN: Was it yours or rented?

YK: Oh, rented.

MN: Was Lilian able to get a wedding dress?

YK: Actually, she had a friend who was the same size, so she borrowed her wedding dress. [Laughs] She was looking around, but she says, "Oh, wait a minute. So and so just got married a year or two earlier," and she says, "You still have it?" So she borrowed it.

MN: Where did you honeymoon?

YK: Oh, where did we honeymoon? Oh, actually, we honeymooned in New Jersey. There was a friend who had a condominium, but they were going on vacation, so we used their condominium in New Jersey, and it was convenient to go to New York City and also to Niagara Falls, so that's where we had our (honeymoon).

MN: Now about a year and a half after you were married, you moved to Monterey Park, and there's an area there informally referred to as Banzai Hill? Did you move into that area?

YK: No, we didn't want to move into an ethnic, what do you call it? Anyway, not a barrio, but anyway, so we found a house just a few miles away in Monterey Park that was conveniently located.

<End Segment 32> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 33>

MN: Now I want to get into your Bunker Hill days.

YK: Okay.

MN: When did you join the Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency?

YK: Well, it was 1962. I left the Eisner office, and one of the main associates that really helped me at Eisner's office had gone and went to work for the Redevelopment Agency of Los Angeles and he kept trying to entice me there. And I said, no, I had planned to work for a private architect, larger architectural firm that did large scale urban planning. This one firm was doing the whole campus of USC and was doing the Irvine Ranch complex, and so I wanted to work for them. But he kept raising the ante, so I said, "Oh, wow, you're going to make me a full city planner and also give me such a high salary?" So I said, "Well, I'll come for a year and a half or two years." He said, "Yeah, 'cause we have a chance on Bunker Hill here, we had 134 acres of land that was being cleared of all buildings, and it was thirty-four city blocks. He says, "We can remake downtown L.A." So it was a real challenge, so I went to work there.

But at that time, redevelopment was, there was no experience in California. And so we hired I.M. Pei, who was an architect in New York, and he had done redevelopment in Boston, New York and Philadelphia, where they did some major -- [coughs] excuse me -- major redevelopment projects. And so we hired him because of experience, and he brought in Barton Ashman who did all their traffic and parking studies. And so we worked with them for about a year and a half, but then the money ran out, and they were spending too much time on specific design of buildings. We said, "Hey, we just need the concept, especially the top of the hill, we're just trying to get started on the west side where the land is level there. And so don't spend so much time." Then they wanted to do a whole big model of the area and we said, "No, no, we don't need it." But he did it anyway. So they left, and then (others) said, well, some of his concepts were too unrealistic. He had apartment buildings that were thirteen stories high and a thousand feet long. We said, "That will never fly in Los Angeles." So we started amending his plan and also, so it was just Art Schatz and me primarily. And we had some engineers helping us. We liked the street system, so we adopted that, but then we started changing. And also, we were changing the whole plan again. But there was a demand for actual development at that time, so we took his plan for a forty story office building, which became the Union Bank building at Figueroa and Fifth, and so we had a forty story office building and we're having an apartment complex of fourteen hundred units. And (others) said, "We've got to proceed with that." How do we do that? "Create design parameters and proceed with this." 'Cause now we were in the big time. All of a sudden, from little one and two story complexes in the various small cities, we were talking about a forty-story office building and fourteen hundred units of high rise apartments. And I kind of felt (overwhelmed). I told Art, "How can we do this?" Here we were doing, planning for little cities, and all of a sudden here we're in the big leagues of land development. And he says, "Oh, no, we can do it." He says, "We're well trained, and who else can do it but us, and we're the only ones here. We have to do it." And I said, "Well, that's true." Either we do it or it doesn't get done, then we have to bring in somebody else, but there were very few trained in redevelopment at that time. So I thought, "Well, okay, we're going to go ahead." And so I had to change my attitude that we're gonna do it.

So we proceeded with the negotiations with the forty-story office building, and then the apartment complexes, we actually took a tour of the various developers, there were five of them. So we went to five cities: New York, St. Louis, Chicago, Washington, D.C., to see their apartment complexes. And Art was sick at that time, so I went with two board members, our executive director and real estate. So we saw the various complexes and the administrator, Art and I liked the design of this one that was done in Chicago. He said, "That fits right in," but the Chicago complex was more of a middle income. And so it didn't look as flashy as the other highrises, expensive apartments that we saw in other cities, so the two board members said, "No, no, we're gonna go with the one that showed us the classy apartment across from Manhattan." And Low Kitchen was a big developer at that time, he said, "We got a big name, we're gonna really do well." But as it turned out, when they finally were going to do it, then they said, "Well, wait a minute." They learned the market isn't for apartments, this would be, there are no apartments downtown. This would be a groundbreaking thing. So they then started scaling way back and they changed the whole design. Art and I said, "We got 'em," but the board members said, "No, no, give 'em a chance, they'll come up with something good." So in the end, instead of the forty and fifty story office towers that they proposed to build, they built (far less). First they wanted to build one building first, and that was thirty stories, and it was kind a stumpy thirty stories, and then two eighteen-story buildings. So we were very disappointed in that, but that's what we ended up with. And for years people would kind of criticize it, "How come you don't have some lower buildings, too?" And it was in the original design, but then after it all got cut out. And so we just had to grit our teeth and know that, hey, we were overruled. But it got built.

And at that time, too, we had a central plant facility that was providing superheated chilled waters (for) the (two building) complexes, plus we were redesigning the whole west half (street system) of the project in accordance with the new plan. So we were entering all these agreements to these things. In the meantime, this differed from the original (official) redevelopment plan that was adopted in 1959. And so we had to go through a whole amendment process. The city at that time was trying to cut density in half throughout downtown, and so we had a major battle with them. And in the meantime, these other developments are starting. [Laughs] And they aren't under a legal redevelopment plan. So we really sweated it out, but it did work out.

And at that time, too, the chairman of the board of the Redevelopment Agency resigned after seventeen years or so. And so Mayor Yorty appointed this woman whose husband was a politician in Sacramento, and she was going to run it from the kitchen, you know. And she got in trouble with the executive director and Art Schatz, and so finally they in frustration resigned. So all of a sudden I was the only planner. And there was an architect, engineer under me, and they said, "Gee, how can we do it? We have a new chairman," and she brought in a new executive director who didn't know much. But I said, "Well, we've got to keep going." They only lasted about a year and a half, and they finally brought in somebody from San Francisco who was, I think, a federal person and a real tough guy, and he came in, he fired all the top staff and replaced them with people he knew at the various cities that had successful redevelopment projects. So above me was a director of planning head guy, and liked to really show who's in charge and he had this loud voice. So I had to quietly approach him and tell him, "Look, I don't mind you acting that way with other guys, but please, don't do it with me." So we got along. (He tended) to the redevelopment expanding all over the city, so I was still in charge of Bunker Hill. And I had the support of the new administrator, and I always had the support of the legal department, that's always important, and the real estate. So we built a lot of big buildings.

<End Segment 33> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 34>

MN: Well, at one point, the board chair wanted to get you fired. What happened?

YK: Oh, yeah.


MN: Okay, so they wanted to get you fired. What happened?

YK: Oh, well, that was on the Security Pacific Bank Building. The Security Pacific wanted a site on the top of the hill. This would be our first office building on the top of Bunker Hill where we wanted our major density. But we had to amend the redevelopment plan again, we had to go through the whole process again. So they were proceeding on while we had this long process of working with traffic, mainly traffic and planning and others to change the plan. So when we finally got that approved, we said, okay, so we couldn't enter into an agreement (until now), so we finally did. By that time, they showed us their plans, and they were very far along, and the chairman of their bank and board had already approved it. They showed it to us and I thought, "Oh, gosh." I said, so I tried to be diplomatic. I said, "Well, I think you did a first class job on the tower," and they had brought in a world class landscape architect to do gardens and everything. I says, "But in concept, this doesn't fit in with our overall Bunker Hill plan 'cause you shoved it way to the north, you turned this square tower at a corner so it looks askew to the rest of the development, and then you put a big garden on the south, so it's isolated out there. It's separated, surrounded by smaller buildings and open space. But their guy who was in charge, he was vice president with Security Pacific Bank, and he's a big, big guy. And so his face got red and he got very angry, and he didn't even let the architects respond to my comments, 'cause my comments, Mitchell, who was the administrator, agreed with me. And he just got up and stomped out, saying, "We'll take our hundred million dollars someplace else." And so of course afterwards, the chairman of the board, of our board says, "Can't we compromise here?" and so forth. And we figured, well, we couldn't afford to lose them, of course. Hundred million dollar developments don't come out too often. And it was our first office building on top of the hill, so we said, "Well, okay, we'll try to get amendments later." And so the administrator talked to the bank people, and I talked to the architect and tried to smooth things over, and so they went ahead. But then I learned later that the chairman of our board was suggesting that I be fired for getting this big Security Pacific Bank people angry at the Redevelopment Agency for even questioning what they were planning to do. But hand it to Mitchell, the administrator, he defended me, so I didn't get fired. [Laughs]

MN: Well, you saved a project, actually, on flip side of it, you saved the Westin Bonaventure (Hotel) project from being pulled.

YK: Oh, well, yeah, there was another case where, on that side, we had, couple times, we almost had the development of a thousand room hotel, and we were negotiating with John Portman, who was the major architect (and developer). He was building these round circular tower hotels in Detroit, Chicago and Atlanta, and he was being very successful. So we were negotiating with them. But they also said, "We're not going to enter into (an) agreement until we get everything designed and the city approves the permit. So when they came and showed us the design, you could tell it was way far along, and had these five circular towers, it had a huge nice atrium inside, seven stories high, but the outside was just concrete with little openings. Except on the Figueroa side there was some glass where (taxis) would pick up and drop off. But, so I tried to be saying that, well, tried to be diplomatic. He showed it to us, I said, "Well, I like parts of it," I told him about it, "and it's starting to grow on me." And Dick Mitchell says, "It doesn't grow on me at all." I thought, "Oh, no." So the guy says, "This is what John Portman wants to build, and he always decides what the design is going to be. He's the designer, developer of this. So if you don't approve this, your hotel is not gonna get built." So I says, "Oh, well, wait a minute here now." I explained to Mitchell, "There are some good parts to this, and the streetscape, but maybe some minor changes could be made there." But anyway, "Why don't we ask for some time to review it?" And Mitchell said, "Okay." So they said two weeks, so the guy said, oh, he didn't have to go back and tell 'em we don't have a project. [Laughs]

So in two weeks, we talked, we had some consultants from San Francisco who we could consult with, and they said, "Well, yeah, it's pretty good, it's pretty good. Yeah, the streetscape is not too good, but, yeah, we can live with it. And hopefully we can get some changes, and they may want to change it too. So the street looks pretty good, the entrance, other than the little tiny entrance." And so they did build it. And it wasn't 'til a couple years later, after it was built, that they dressed up the street and put in more stores and entrances like we wanted.

MN: Now you're working with millions of dollars worth of development.

YK: Oh, yeah, some of 'em were hundreds of millions.

MN: How many hours a week on average were you working?

YK: Oh, well, I would say seventy hours a week. Because I had a lot of responsibility, and we were in the big leagues. We were in the big time.

MN: Did you say seventy hours?

YK: Yeah.

MN: Did your wife ever see you? Did she complain?

YK: [Laughs] Well, she had four kids to take care of. But I came home, and on the weekends, particularly on Sunday, we made it the family time, and we always took the kids someplace. So we continued on. [Laughs]


MN: Total, how many years did you work at the CRA?

YK: Well, I worked for thirty-one years. And most of it was on Bunker Hill, but I did, in 1970, work a little bit on Little Tokyo, and I started the redevelopment plan there, they were wanting to get the benefits of redevelopment, because they couldn't do it by themselves. So... but I only worked on it for a couple years, and then I went back to Bunker Hill.

<End Segment 34> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 35>

MN: So since you brought up Little Tokyo, let's talk about that a little bit, because Little Tokyo was going through redevelopment during the '60s. Did you attend the Little Tokyo Redevelopment Association meetings?

YK: I don't recall attending them. I probably did attend a couple of them. And they were trying to redevelop on their own in the '60s. And then in the, about 1968, they decided that, hey, they don't have enough money, development isn't taking place, and so they said, "Let's take advantage of the redevelopment process." So then Dick Mitchell and I were called in, and so I did a study of all the uses and buildings and so forth. And we set the boundaries and we worked with the citizens committee. But we had one year to study it before it would become an official redevelopment plan. So we needed a project manager, and Kango Kunitsugu was irascible, very direct guy who kept saying, "You guys better not mess with Little Tokyo here. If you try to wipe us out like you did on Bunker Hill, we're going to jump all over you." So he was threatening. But then I approached him once, I thought, hey, wait a minute, we've got to turn all this energy around because he's a very capable guy, and I think he was working for a private (development) consultant at that time. He'd done some pretty good-sized projects. So I approached him, I said, "Hey, look Kango. You're criticizing how we're going to do this and so forth, look, the CRA, we're not in there to wipe you guys out. We're here to help you. In fact, under this new neighborhood redevelopment program, it's not gonna be clearance, it's gonna be incremental and we're gonna have citizens committees that are going to decide what's going to be done, how the money is spent and so forth, and which projects you approve. But we need someone from the CRA to be the project manager of this process. Why don't you become the project manager? That way you can help decide with the community what's best for the community and what projects should go and you can decide everything. And the CRA board, we're just turning it over to you and your citizens group. And our real estate and engineers and others, we're all here to help you." So he thought about it and said, "I've got to get back to you." But then he did the next day come back and said, "Okay, but I'm not sure what this is all about, but I'll try." And then he did a fantastic job. He got all the people in Little Tokyo involved, all the organizations, the businesses. He had umpteen number of meetings and we hired consultants to prepare the overall plan. In fact, he said, "I want the best," so we got Sasaki Walker from Boston to come in, and they'd done major projects beyond landscaping, a lot of planning.

So they sent one of their key guys over and we paid for it, and we had Tom Kamei do the whole structural analysis of every building there, and he found most of 'em were structurally deficient. And most of 'em were one to four story buildings that were built fifty years earlier, and they were all deteriorating, and they weren't up to earthquake standards and so forth. And so we prepared the overall plan, and said, "Well, among the things we want are a cultural center and museum," also they wanted a hotel, said, "Yeah, let's get a big hotel down here in Little Tokyo to kind of anchor things." And so an overall plan was prepared, and then it was officially, through the city council, adopted as a redevelopment plan. But we'd already done all the studies and sort of set the design and uses. And then so I helped write the redevelopment plan itself, and tried to make it as flexible as possible, because you never want to write a tight plan.

And so the redevelopment started, but then the controversy started because the Sun Building was being torn down in order to build the New Otani Hotel, and, "Where's the relocation going to be?" and "Look at all the people you're displacing and the cultural facilities." And so we said, "Well, we're going to build a separate complex where the smaller businesses can relocate, or they can build their own complex. We're gonna have senior housing, and gonna have a cultural center, we're gonna have all these things, so we need to proceed." So (Kango) took all the flack, too. He did a good job of selling it, and the CRA and the board backed him. And I only stayed on a couple years, and Tom Furoshiro took over as the project planner, and he was on there for the next twenty, twenty-five years. But we always had good project managers, 'cause they were really dedicated to the community. And so Little Tokyo got a lot of advantages of having CRA.

MN: Now, when Kango first started out, when you convinced him to take this position, how often was he calling you for advice?

YK: Oh, not too much. Well, we were both working on the project, so we talked about it all the time, what could be or couldn't be done, and how it should proceed. So we were jointly working on it. I was doing it while I was still doing Bunker Hill, too.

<End Segment 35> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 36>

MN: Now, you mentioned Kango was very upset before because of what had happened to Bunker Hill. Can you tell us what Bunker Hill was like before the CRA came in?

YK: Yeah. Well, Bunker Hill was, mostly built in the 1880s, 1890s, the early part of the nineteenth century, or the twentieth century. So most of the buildings were wood frame and stucco, even the hotel buildings. I guess the tallest building was about, oh, about seven, eight stories, but they were walk ups on the side of the hill, and most of the buildings were, the top had mansions that were only about one or two stories. So everything was deteriorating, and there was crime in the area, vagrants were living there, and to keep warm they were starting fires, and so the fire department was being called all the time. Health conditions weren't good, and it was becoming a skid row in a sense. They had bars there and so forth. So it was definitely deteriorating. And because, too, no building had been built for years, most of the buildings were built by the 1920s. And so nobody would want to go in there, so that's part of redevelopment to go in the areas where nobody wants to build new because of what's around them. And at that time, it became almost a total clearance project as we got the bad rep of being the federal bulldozer. Because at that time, it was total clearance. So that's how (it developed) and so Kango was concerned that, hey, we don't come in and wipe them all out.

MN: And Bunker Hill was also very famous for Angel's Flight, which was built in 1901, and CRA put that in storage.

YK: Yeah. Well, Angel's Flight, right, was built in 1901, and way back, they were talking about actually removing the entire hill, because it was impeding the westerly progress of downtown L.A. But that was unfeasible, so they had actually, 1903, they built the tunnel to give access to the west, and Angel's Flight was there next to it. And it functioned for about seventy years. Within 19, about 1969, we had built the new street system on the west side of Bunker Hill, but now we had to build the east side, and that was going to be a multi, two-level street system. And, too, we wanted to make the streets more, so their access to Bunker Hill wasn't so steep, so we had to cut off some of Bunker Hill, too. Well, we even cut off more, because we knew that development as it took place would have to excavate about three stories. So we took it all the way down to the lower street system. So we removed the whole top of Bunker Hill, and at that time it was very expensive to move dirt. But the sheriff's station at Monterey Park, there, they needed all the dirt they can have. So we got it done for about a quarter of what it would have cost to move all the dirt. So we moved as much as we could there. But then Angel's Flight couldn't function anymore, and yet, the preservation association said, "You promised to put it back, put it back." In fact, Dick Mitchell finally said, "Can we just stick it back there?" I said, "Yeah, but it's going to nothing. First the grades are wrong, then you get up there, it's just vacant land, parking lots. We're ten years away before we build anything up there." And so they would keep after us, so finally I came up with the answer. I said, if we said two years away, that's too soon, so I always said, "We're three to five years away." And that kept going three to five years away, and that worked for about two decades. [Laughs] But anyway, I was the dirty guy on Angel's Flight. But we finally eventually did put it back when it made sense to put it back.

<End Segment 36> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 37>

MN: Now you were with CRA for thirty-one years, and you were offered promotion several times during that time. Why did you keep turning them down?

YK: Well, I knew that if I (did), see, I wanted to be a technician, a super planner, actually work on the projects. If you move up in the administration, you're just supervising other people, you get projects all over the city and so forth. Bunker Hill was what I wanted, and this was where the real action was. This was where the big buildings were. I didn't want to work out in Watts or San Pedro or where have you, or supervise people working on it. I said, I just want Bunker Hill. And so I kept turning (them) down. I did have one (bright) guy who was, who had moved up, he was (once) below me, he moved up, and he couldn't understand why. And I told him (why), and he coined the phrase that I was the "Reluctant Samurai." And I said, "Well, that's true. I'm there to fight battles, but I'm reluctant to administrate, anyway." [Laughs]

MN: Now, Art Schatz, who brought you in initially, he didn't last as long as you at the CRA. Did you ever think about quitting and going somewhere else?

YK: Oh, no. I was (committed). Bunker Hill was my project. I was never going to leave it. So people said, years later, "Yeah, you'll never leave." I said, "Yeah, but when I do, better watch out, the ship is sinking." And, yeah, we went through various, I went through ten administrators, and it was really starting to deteriorate there. So I decided, well, I can take my retirement.

MN: Well, you know, after you retired, the downtown news publication ran a nine-week series and heralded you as the "Father of Bunker Hill."

YK: Well, yeah, it was in about '97, '98, it was going to be the city's or Bunker Hill's, oh, it was the agency's fiftieth anniversary, being in existence for fifty years. And so I said, "Well, I'll do research on Bunker Hill," and I made ten large boards showing pictures and text about the whole history of Bunker Hill from early times to the present. They showed that to the downtown news and they said, okay, they're going to publicize it for the whole nine weeks and then they put me on the front page of their newspaper and called me the Father of Bunker Hill.

MN: How did that feel?

YK: Well, feels pretty good. That was my fifteen minutes of fame that everybody's supposed to get in their lifetime. So that was definitely my highlight, that I was recognized for what I did on Bunker Hill for so many years. It was the major project of the region.

MN: Now what are some of the projects on Bunker Hill that you're most proud of?

YK: Most proud of? Oh, I don't know. I think the Wells Fargo Center was one of the better ones, because Rob Maguire was one of the (best developers), he was really forward-looking. He wanted and emphasized design and quality and artwork, and he agreed with all the things we wanted, the pedestrian connections related to other buildings. So that became the one project where they really incorporated a lot of things that we wanted. Most people want to do their own thing, they don't want to do what the Redevelopment Agency wants them to do. So that was one. But the biggest project turned out to be the, what we call Rusty, because of those parcels, R-S-T-U and Y-1. And we decided to sell all five parcels as one, so they could be designed as one project. And we had, gee, about eight proposals from around the country, major developers, and Rob Maguire. He had built only the first tower of Wells Fargo, and he still didn't quite have the financing for the second one. But he put together a team of world renowned architects, including those at UCLA. And he was, we were telling him, "Hey, you better get some money behind you." So he was trying to work out a deal to have an insurance company to come in with him. But in the end, he thought he could overwhelm us with the design, and he had our administrator, Ed Helfeld at that time. They had his support. So they thought they could do it. But with the board members, and including myself and some others on the staff said, "Hey, we're talking about a whole, five city blocks of parcels, and he hasn't finished his half of that parcel." It was a big parcel, but he hasn't finished the second tower yet. It's gonna take him a while to do these, whereas Cadillac Fairview was the big developer from Canada who was doing big projects in the United States, too. And they said, "Oh, yeah, we can come in with fifty million in cash tomorrow. And so the board members voted to go that way. So Ed Helfeld felt very disappointed (...) UCLA and the whole design community really were down on us for not selecting all the great designers.

But anyway, and then their project. Well, it was pretty complicated. It was done, designed by Arthur Erickson, who was from Vancouver, Canada, and he had a pretty wide reputation for doing a lot of big projects. So he came up with an elaborate design of three main office towers, thirty or forty stories high, and he had to unite (them) -- 'cause we had a big, Olive Street. He spanned over it, created a big fountain area and a performance plaza, and he had a hotel and office buildings, and so it looked like, wow, can't miss. But his was very complicated, and the office market had been very strong up to then. But by the time they got it all designed and built, then the market had changed, so they lost money on the first tower, and then they were reluctant to proceed with the second tower. We said, "Hey, we gave you these five parcels, we've got to go ahead. So they went ahead with the second tower, but that had this big space over the street, and so the city gave 'em all kinds of troubles at the time. By the time he got his office building up, the market turned again and they lost again, so they finally left. So that was (sad). So that's why there's a third tower never built. Some of the other portions were built, but (they) brought in a developer from Chicago who was mainly money-oriented, and built a cheap hotel and then they built a cheap residential tower. So it didn't go so well. That was supposed to be the crowning glory at the top.

But in addition to Bunker Hill, I was working on the (...) Central Business (District) Redevelopment Project. (...) I was working on the main downtown area. And the biggest project we got there was the, it was called Library Tower 'cause it related to the library, and it was (seventy)-two stories, so it was the tallest building west of the Mississippi. I had a lot to do with that because we had, the lawyers and I, we had to come up with different machinations of transferring density and so forth and tying it to the library. 'Cause money then went to completely expand the library. So that's the biggest one I worked on, and then the (Gas Company) Tower's fifty stories high, and then there was Sanwa Bank Building, it was about forty-five stories, and there are various other major highrises. Everybody wanted to build. As it turned out later, they overbuilt, and so there hasn't been a new highrise office building in downtown. They keep talking about it, but it hasn't been built yet, 'cause we overbuilt. [Laughs] We were too successful.

MN: Now, when you were going through all this, I don't imagine that a lot of people dealt with Japanese Americans. You were probably one of the few urban planners at that time. Did you encounter any problems because you were Japanese American?

YK: No, not really, because I had the full support of the administrator, and our legal counsel was very powerful in the very beginning. So he ran a lot of the strings and I always stayed on the good side. Got to stay on the good side of the lawyers. And so there were always some people I talked with, and they thought -- especially there was one guy I worked with on the Portman Hotel, he was in Atlanta. So he had to deal with the details of the plans and so forth. He says, "Oh, I'm surprised you speak good English." [Laughs] I says, "Hey, I'm American, too, and I was trained here in the USA." Just by the name, people think I came from Japan. And I'd have some young women, people, too, said, "Yeah, but you're so young and have so much responsibility." But I was over forty years old by then. So even though I wasn't high on the personnel list in the agency, I had a lot of power and influence on a lot of major development that happened. So in the end, we had more, bigger buildings in downtown than we did on Bunker Hill, but between the two, Bunker Hill, we had fourteen million square feet of development, and most of the buildings were thirty and forty stories high and worth about five billion dollars. That's not counting the downtown ones which were in addition to that. So we kind of overbuilt, but everybody wanted to build, so we said, "Okay, let's make a deal." [Laughs]

MN: Now, anything else about Bunker Hill you want to talk about?

YK: No, I think that pretty much covers it.

<End Segment 37> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 38>

MN: Now you retired, but you really didn't retire. And I want to ask, I wanted to ask you about your association with the Monterey Park Library. That was a full-time job. I mean, it really, you volunteered, but how did you get roped into that?

YK: Well, Monterey Park started where there was a Japanese American who was on the planning commission, he was an architect, but he left. And so one day I was approached by, I was working on Bunker Hill, and I was approached by the mayor, and he says, "I want you to be on the planning commission because of your background and so forth." And I said, "Well, really, it's the Chinese you ought to get, you got the wrong Asian here." He said, "No, no, I want you." And he says, "I can guarantee you three votes on the city council." I said, "Well, I have to think about it. I'm pretty busy on Bunker Hill." And he said, "Yeah, but they only meet twice a month, and most of these are small projects, so this should be a snap for you." So later I agreed and I was on the commission for eight years. Then later I was on the Recreation and Parks Commission, too. And then also instituted, they had a bus trolley line serving Monterey Park, so I said, well, the lines don't make sense. They go from City Hall to each of the corners of the (city). I said, "You've got to go along the main commercial streets," and they said, "Well, MTA won't let us do that." But then I said, "We'll change that." So I came up with new plan where they would serve all the major shopping areas, schools, and so forth, and then I convinced the MTA that, "Hey, we're the collectors, we're helping you. Yours are just going through the city. We're helping you. In fact, if you give out passes, they can ride our system free." So we got that done, so that was one of the accomplishments of Monterey Park. But then they wanted to put billboards all around our city, so I led the charge to stop the billboards, that took a long time. But then later the firemen wanted to go to the County, so then we stopped them from it, so we were becoming the community activists rabble rousers to get things (done) in Monterey Park.

But then in 1997, the chairman of the (Library Board) said, "The state's been taking money away and the city's been cutting back all our hours, and I really want some of these services and so forth. (We'd) pass a tax initiative to pay for this." And so I said, well, got to look into it. And then the City Manager says, "You can't just do it for increased hours and staffing time, you've got to have a building project." And then we decided, okay, we'll do a second story, twelve thousand square foot addition. (The tax initiative passed)... we hired an architect and we were (designing) that, then we heard that there was a three hundred and fifty (million) dollar bond measure (...) for libraries, so we could compete (for money). So we said, "Okay, we'll wait for the election six months," and then it passed. So then we had to wait another year before they got organized and how they're gonna give the money out. So we competed for that, and we won a nine million dollar grant, so we were able to double the size of the library from twenty-six to fifty-two thousand (square feet). We completely remodeled the other parts, and so we had a brand-new library in Monterey Park. So I'm known as Mr. Library, too.

MN: Now to get that money, though, the bond money, you went to Sacramento and you testified.

YK: Yeah.

MN: Tell us about that experience, 'cause you almost didn't get the money.

YK: Oh, yeah. Well, the bond measure was listed to favor new libraries, and also, especially those that were built next to schools. So it would be a combination of library school kind of thing. But many in the cities says, "Well, we can't, we want to build the library next to our civic center," or, "We don't want to do it near a school," but, "Can't we just have a, instead of a joint development, a joint agreement?" which meant nothing, of course. But we were a rehab because we were redoing that, we were doing a major addition, and the grant said that was possible, too. But we had worked on our (application), so I knew we had a great application together, 'cause I did it but not alone. But anyhow, we had the architect and the librarian, the three of us pretty much did it. So we submitted, and then we were told, just before they were having the hearing to approve the first one-third of the grants -- they had let us know ahead of time which categories there were. (We were one of the) eighteen that were designated "outstanding," and then so many as "very good" and others as "good." And there were about fifty-two applications statewide. And we thought, "Oh, okay, we got it." So the librarian and I went up there, because there were only about six that were rehab. We got up there and we thought, oh, we got duck soup. And then one person who was on the (...) state library board, overseeing this, she was the senator who had passed the bill. She wanted to get her money in San Diego. So she said, "Well, hey, we said that we were favoring new projects," 'cause there were only two of us rehab projects that were in the "outstanding." But she says, "We're favoring new projects, and those tied with an agreement. And so maybe we shouldn't fund these two rehab 'outstandings,' and put a couple 'very goods' in there. Fortunately, at that time, there was a recess, and so the head of the key staffpersons came by and said, "You better say something." I was mad that he didn't say anything, and the chairman, too, didn't say anything. And so I told the city librarian that, "We're being screwed," so I decided on how I could try to counteract it and get after them.

So when the recess was over, I was the first one to run up to the mike. (At) first they weren't going to let the public speak, but then the lawyer told 'em, "Hey, this is against the Brown Act." So I was the first one to run up there and speak. And I said, "I'm Yukio and I'm with the Monterey Park Library," and I said, "I am very disappointed in you." And I was really mad. And I said, "Hey, yes, you had said that preference for the new libraries, but with an agreement for joint development. But when all the cities said they (couldn't do it), they just have a written agreement and it doesn't mean anything, and you know it doesn't mean anything. And yet you're favoring that. And then also the act said, yes, they're going to give grants to rehab and expansion, which you are, and there are only two of us." And I said, "In fact," they have had the meetings over the year, I said, "In the past meetings, I brought up the fact this didn't make any sense for us to even put one in there, and your chairman said that" -- who was the head library administrator for the state -- said that, "Oh, no, Monterey Park should be able to put in a good application, and so you should submit." And then the head staffperson said, "Oh, yeah, if Monterey Park comes in with an outstanding project, you'll be funded." And I said, "Hey, your chairman of your committee and your chief staff person said we're outstanding, and you're gonna turn us down? And you also admitted that none of you have read any of the things. You're going by staff recommendation. How come you aren't going by your staff recommendation?" And I said, "I demand you do what's right," and I sat down. [Laughs] There was silence there, and then, of course, the senator was looking at the chairman and saying, "Is that right?" He's saying, "Yeah." So afterwards, they heard testimony from others, and then they decided, okay, you're going to have a vote, and they said the whole "outstanding" ones, we got it. But we came within an inch of losing the whole thing after five years of work. But that's how we got the nine million dollar grant.

MN: You saved the day.

YK: Yeah.

MN: So I understand there's this... when the library opened in 2006, you and your wife have a plaque in there.

YK: We had a what?

MN: A plaque.

YK: Oh. Well, yeah, they decided...

MN: Or a library wing, I'm sorry.

YK: Yeah. Well, we had decided that people who donated, those, if you gave at least twenty-five thousand, you get a room named after you, and we did it sort of lottery. And if it was a wing, contribute a hundred thousand for a wing. But then when they decided that I had put in almost seven years in this project, three-quarter time, and so they decided, yeah, I should get the ground floor wing. We had donated twenty-five thousand along with the others, but... and then there was one other guy who donated his council salary, and so they gave him the upstairs (wing). So it says, the "Yukio and Lilian Kawaratani Wing," in the library. So we got our due. And there are plaques in the front, too, listing who the key people were, involved in the new library. So it turned out very well.

<End Segment 38> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 39>

MN: Now I know you've also been very involved with Nisei Week?

YK: Well, yeah. Three years ago I decided to get away from Monterey Park, and I'd come back to Little Tokyo. And I was going to do a history of the redevelopment of Little Tokyo, and I was trying to work out a small contract with the CRA to give legitimacy to my study and so forth. And the things went round and round, and they said you had to tie it with a nonprofit, so I brought Bill Watanabe and the Little Tokyo Service Center and went around and around again, and then they were trying to tie us to another consultant. But anyway, in the end, because they were going to overcontrol what I was going to write, the interviews I was gonna do, write the questionnaire, and I said, "How dare they?" And so in the end I said, "Never mind, I don't want your grant." And also at that time, the Little Tokyo Historical Society I was with was doing a book on Little Tokyo. So I said, well, I'll help on that instead. I'm on the Little Tokyo (Community) Advisory Committee, which is a CRA committee, (and) Little Tokyo Community Council, which is all the businesses and organizations, and I'm on the Little Tokyo Historical Society, so I'm pretty active.

And then also three years ago they nominated me to be one of the pioneers, so I became a Nisei Pioneer. I told 'em, "No, I'm not old enough," and they said, oh, yeah, they had, from eighty, lowered it down to seventy. And it turned out one of my daughter's father-in-law also (who) used to be the Rinban at (Nishi Hongwanji). So our granddaughter had two grandfathers in the same parade. But anyway, that was another fifteen minutes of fame for me.

MN: How did it feel to be riding in the parade?

YK: Oh, well, yeah, it was kind of fun. Every time you see some people and (they) yell. It was kind of nice.

<End Segment 39> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 40>

MN: You're also known as Mr. Godzilla.

YK: Oh. [Laughs] Well, that was a long time ago where in one of the Nisei Week parades I was on a committee after I left CRA to think of how to bring Little Tokyo back up. And some of the ideas that people had were to bring Godzilla. And so we decided, and they made me in charge of trying to figure out how to get Godzilla there. So I worked with (a guy), someone knew a Nisei in Japan who knew the Toho people who had Godzilla, and he said he would help us. So we got into negotiations with them, we got them to donate four films for a film festival and give us the (big) costume for Godzilla. And we wanted to do some other permanent things, but they said, "No, nothing permanent because of copyright issues." So we only had just that one brief time. But we had a real battle over getting the costume here, because Japan Air Lines was going to ship it, and Toho was (to pack it). The two couldn't get together in Japan, each was kind of wanting the other to take the lead or kowtow to the other and neither would. So it was getting delayed. And in the meantime, Nisei Week was coming, so I went over (heads) and I kept talking to the intermediary, and he said, "Well, you don't understand the Japanese way." And I said, "Time's running out." So I talked to Kats Kunitsugu, and she said, "Just call 'em." So I called the head persons on each (company), they weren't happy to hear from me, but they could speak perfect English.

So soon after that, Godzilla came, and we had the film festival. We had Godzilla in front taking pictures, it was a costume that was, you get in and you feel like you're suffocating. You could barely see through the mouth portion. But it was the one they used in the movies. So we got one guy, it turned out to be a hakujin guy who was a real Godzilla fanatic. So we couldn't even zip up the back. But anyway, he performed in front of the theater where we had the film festival, lot of people came, and we had two showings on Saturday and two on Sunday, and everybody cheered when Godzilla (appeared). And then we had to go to the city council, and the mayor said, "Oh, come in the back room, we've got to take pictures." And the CRA PR person, she said, "We got fourteen showings on the TV about Godzilla." And then we had him in the parade, but we didn't have anybody in it 'cause you couldn't last more than ten minutes in there. But we had somebody with a stick waving his hand, and we had some Godzilla sounds, or record. And so we were in the parade with Godzilla. And so afterwards, I was lauded as being the Godzilla Man. I said, "Yeah, but he almost killed me."

MN: And you broke protocol.

YK: And the (Japan) contact said, "Next time we'll do Hello Kitty." I said, "Over my dead body. You Japanese, I don't understand you." But that's how Godzilla came and went.

MN: Let me just briefly ask about redress. When they started to talk about redress, did you think that was possible?

YK: Oh, originally I didn't think so, but then they kept going on, and I said, "Oh, maybe." And so I was kind of amazed that they were able to pull it off. And I thought afterwards, oh, I should have gone to testify, but I didn't. But it got passed, Senator Inouye did a great job. He says, "You got to set up a commission and this and that." And they showed how it was really unconstitutional and really a severe act that they did.

<End Segment 40> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 41>

MN: Now your family is a very interesting family because really you had brothers in the army and brothers at Tule Lake and went to Japan. How satisfied are you about the efforts to educate people on what occurred at Tule Lake?

YK: Well, I think there have been a lot of books on different camps, and some of 'em, "Oh, yeah, it was kind of fun," and they had different festivals, they had dance classes and so forth and so on. And in the (camps), some people say, "Oh, yeah, it wasn't so bad." They were kids, and, "Camp was kind of fun." And Poston was, it wasn't bad. But Tule Lake, we were in a prison. So not too much has. There have been some books out on Tule Lake, but not very much, because some people don't want to talk about it and they don't want the American public to know about that there were some dissenters. And in our own community, we were considered the "troublemakers." You know, when you get out of camp, everybody always asks, "Which camp were you in?" When you say Tule Lake, "Oh, you were the troublemakers." But that used to get me mad. So anyhow, I felt that we got a raw deal. It really hurt my family. I was young enough so I could recover, but I could say that they never got the opportunity to go to college other than my one brother. But myself and my younger sister, we were able to. But the others I felt were dealt a bad hand.

MN: So do you think we still need a lot more education surrounding Tule Lake?

YK: Yeah, I think so, but I don't know if JACL and the community are up to it. They finally... they finally pardoned the Heart Mountain draft resisters, but they never forgave the Tule Lake people. And so that's always been a bone of contention to me. We were victims of circumstances. And so it'll probably end up that way. And then this Korematsu thing has brought up some things. In fact, I was the one willing to testify and Pasadena was considering it, and so I was the only internee to go there to speak before the city council. And they passed a resolution supporting the Korematsu Day. And then L.A. followed soon after. So that's good, we'll see. That's on January (30th), we'll see what happens.

MN: Okay, Yukio. I've asked all my questions. I don't know if there's anything else you want to add?

YK: Well, only that, yeah, I've had a long, interesting life. I turned eighty this year, and I'm still actively involved in Little Tokyo. In fact, I'm now involved with this film called Little Tokyo Reporter, we're trying to raise funds. And so it's been pretty (hard). I've always felt a need for challenges, so I've always gotten in there and tried to do what (I can). I always figure, well, I won't do the mundane stuff that anybody can do, I'll only do what other people either can't or won't do, so I have my own challenges. And also, I think my story, including my book, it's really one Nisei's story, but it kind of gives (the picture). It was gonna be a family history kind of thing, but when you have ten children and twenty-four grandchildren and so forth and so on, that's impossible to do a family history. So I was told to do it as a memoir, and then I wanted to get in about Bunker Hill. People wanted me to write two books and I said, "No, no, I can't even write one." [Laughs] So it came out pretty good.

MN: Can you share some of those things you brought over here? Now, this is a book on Bunker Hill. Is this what Bunker Hill looked like before?

YK: Yeah, right. And so these were the mansions. And Leo Politi, who actually did children's books, he painted all these mansions in the 1930s, so the whole book has different pictures. And there is one key one here on Angel's Flight, and this shows it about 1905, about, 'cause Angel's Flight was put in in 1901, and the Third Street Tunnel was 1903. And you can see this horse and buggy still then. That was Angel's Flight with the development that was built along the hill, just terraced down the hill. 'Cause the hill sticks up over a hundred feet. So that's what we started with.

MN: Boy, it didn't look nearly as nice. I think it was deteriorating by the 1960s.

YK: Yeah, this is how it looked in 1953, and so you can see the old buildings, and they had apartments, mostly apartments and the mansions and some hotels. But they were all wood frame and stucco, so they were all deteriorating by the time we went to tear 'em all down. Of course, some people said, "No, you should never have torn any of 'em down." But this is how it looked from City Hall in 1953. And then I don't have a current one, but on my book that's titled Reluctant Samurai: Memoirs of an Urban Planner, I do show that I went from Tule Lake to Bunker Hill as it is today. And here shows part of Bunker Hill and downtown buildings. So it went from the old historic buildings to the new downtown. And here is where I made the front page of the downtown news, 'cause I had prepared for the fiftieth anniversary of the agency a whole history of Bunker Hill. I had nine different boards showing various pictures of that era or decade or so. And I had it on large boards. And so they printed it for nine weeks, and the first week they put me on the front page. And they called me the Father of Bunker Hill. This is one other thing I was proud of, in the City of Monterey Park, because I'd worked on the library and I did a lot of other things in Monterey Park, they have a tree award for past key people in Monterey Park and present, they award them a tree in front of City Hall. So I picked a big tree just across the street from the library. But this is the plaque that's at the bottom of the tree. And this shows me and my wife riding in the car in the Nisei Week parade. So I was one of six Nisei Pioneers. So I just tell people, "I got in there because I just got too old." And my family has always been a big part of my life, my wife and my kids, so this shows my three daughters and their husbands, and the four grandchildren. Actually, at that time, there was a fifth one on the way, so there are now five grandchildren. But this just shows my family. So anyway, I just consider myself an urban planner, and that's my history.

MN: Thank you very much.

YK: Okay.

<End Segment 41> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.