Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Jack Y. Kubota Interview
Narrator: Jack Y. Kubota
Interviewer: Tom Ikeda
Location: Los Angeles, California
Date: May 4, 2012
Densho ID: denshovh-kjack-01

<Begin Segment 1>

TI: So today is Friday, May 4, 2012. We are in Los Angeles, at the Buddhist Temple on First Street, and so Jack, I'm gonna start -- and here we're interviewing Jack Kubota. On camera is Tani Ikeda, and I'm the interviewer, Tom Ikeda, and this is an interview being done for the Densho Project in Seattle. [Interruption] So I'm gonna first kind of focus on your parents, and let's talk first about your father. Can you tell me his name and where he was from?

JK: Ukichi, U-K-I-C-H-I, Ukichi Kubota. He's from Shizuoka-ken in Japan, and he came to America in 1906.

TI: Okay, before we get to the, to America, what did his family do in Japan?

JK: They were in the farming business.

TI: Good. And so in 1906, or where, thereabouts, why did he decide to come to the United States?

JK: Well, he'd actually come to the Western hemisphere in the year before, in 1905, and he offloaded from a freighter or something in Mexico and then he worked the silver mines in Mexico. I just looked at a tidbit of family history, and it turned out that that's, the Japanese nationals were told this was the promised land, but they started out in Mexico. And they had a one year contract in Mexico, and at the expiration of that they decided, a group of them that were there, to come across the border and come to California.

TI: Now, do you know much about what it was like to be a silver miner back then? I mean, was that hard work?

JK: Well, that, I don't know. It's pretty much that these folks were the classic immigrants, well, what you see today. They just came, they wanted to make a living and send some money home and stuff like that. So a group of them started out that way.

TI: Now, do you know how your father found out about this job?

JK: In Mexico?

TI: Yes.

JK: No, I don't know.

TI: Okay, so he's in Mexico silver mining 1905, then after about a year he decides to leave Mexico. So what happened then?

JK: Well, according to this tidbit of family history, he, including my mother's oldest brother -- his name is Masashi Suzuki, okay -- they got to be friends there, and they and a group of them bought some mules and things and started this, I don't even know where Sonora, Mexico is, but they made the trek north and they ended up in Nogales, Nogales, Arizona, which is just south of Tucson, and they crossed the border there. And then I remember family stories about the fact that they got on the train and they were told to buy soda crackers and American Eagle condensed milk and sit in the back of the train and keep quiet, and then make their way to Los Angeles to get into the Japanese underground railroad, so to speak, but illegal immigrants.

TI: And so they came across undocumented.

JK: Oh yeah.

TI: They, essentially, walked across and then, I guess, crossed the border.

JK: Yes.

TI: And then hopped on a train.

JK: Hopped on a train, yeah. In today's language I'd be a classic "anchor baby." Isn't that what they call 'em?

TI: Right, so you would be born in the United States, "undocumented."

JK: Right, my father was undocumented. My mother, my mother was actually, she came in legally. She was a "picture bride." Remember I told you that her oldest brother and my dad were good buddies?

TI: Right.

JK: Okay, so yeah, I guess he showed him a picture of his kid sister and they said, "Okay, she'd make a good bride," and then she came over. She came to San Francisco, and she came in 1915 or something like that.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

TI: But going back to your father, were there ever any complications in terms of documentation for him while he was in the United States?

JK: Well, of the, remember I told you it was a group of them that were in Mexico, they finished the one year contract? The history indicates that among them was one guy who said he was suffering a lot on making the trip and something to the effect that he got caught by the border patrol back in that era, and he got actually deported. And that happened as he was turning back apparently, somehow, and then years later they hooked up again and he said he regretted very much turning back and starting all over again.

TI: So he ended up living in Mexico while his, while his buddies went to the United...

JK: Somewhere, yeah, something like that. His buddies come on, came on into California.

TI: But for your father, I mean, just in terms of living in the United States, were there times when, because he didn't have any papers or a trail of coming into the country, was that ever a problem for him?

JK: To the best of my knowledge, no. Now, he's talked about the intimidation and the harsh reality of being an Asian immigrant... what's the word I want to use? It's not a good word, but just being a coolie, being a servant. [Interruption] And he kind of made it, those were not good years. There were great prejudices. Well, I'm sure you're familiar with the prejudice here on the West Coast, particularly with the Chinese, and so if you were an Asian you were pretty much stomped on and looked upon as a real servant class.

TI: You know, what's kind of interesting to me is, so your father did this over a hundred years ago, and in the United States today it's still an issue in terms of undocumented workers crossing the border illegally and working. I mean, what are your thoughts about that? I mean, is that similar to what your father did? Or what are your thoughts about that?

JK: I live in a very peaceful, very comfortable neighborhood in Carlsbad, California, a hundred thousand people, and most of my neighbors have Hispanic gardeners, Hispanic housekeepers, and every time I see these folks I see my mom and dad, 'cause that's exactly how they started in this country. I think you would call it servant class, if you're in the South it would be the Afro Americans, or the poor Irish folks that vacated their islands -- well, they got run out of Ireland, I understand. So what I, and then I got to the car wash, everywhere I go and live in -- in fact, this morning at our hotel, there were four Hispanic ladies there all talking in their own language to each other, okay, and that's what I call the classic servant class. And we in our Western society, we Americans, we flourish with these folks doing all these chores for us, okay? [Interruption] And of course, there's a great conflict because of that, because the people that are there that feel threatened. Yeah, from a national perspective, I hope that we can come to grips and treat the issue honestly.

TI: Right. And given your background in terms of a father who crossed the border undocumented, what do you think our country should do today? I mean, here we have millions of workers who are undocumented, who are, as you mentioned, working in lots of these more menial labor positions. How do we consolidate that nationally? I mean, it's kind of interesting from your background, if you had an opinion or perspective on that?

JK: Well, it's easy for me to say it 'cause I'm an old guy, you know? If we would all wash our own cars -- by the way, the car wash, right, all you see is foreign, folks from the foreign lands working there -- if you just look at who's doing the chores of America, okay, doing what I call the chores, not the automobile and the mechanic, I'm talking about the folks that just do the chores, okay? If you can't reconcile someone else doing that, if you teach your children to do it or teach the young kids to do it, if you can't reconcile that, then in my opinion, you just have to accept, either one, just straight away, guest workers, or accept them and find a path for 'em because we cannot live the way we do in our level of a society without them. And I've been to Canada, where I went into an airport and all the people who were doing the chores in the airport had turbans on. I go back East, how about to Connecticut, Boston, found a large colony of Brazilian illegal immigrants.

TI: So it's really this immigrant class that oftentimes will do many of, as you call, the chores that Americans who have been here longer aren't willing to do?

JK: Yeah. Well, yeah, between not wanting to and, I hate to the use the term, but too lazy to do it. I drove, a month ago I drove from Carlsbad -- you know about California, we have a great Central Valley that's the breadbasket of America, right? -- everywhere you look in the fields there, grape fields, produce, everything, right, they're all Latin American workers.

TI: And when you say kind of, sort of lazy or not willing to do this, many Japanese Americans, family-wise, have been here for over a hundred years like your family, would you put the Japanese American community in the same kind of boat in terms of changing over time, generation by generation?

JK: Well, in some respects, yes. I mean, I like to believe that my wife and I embedded into our children the culture that our parents did, and as far as I'm personally concerned, my father and mother taught me to work like a dog from morning to night. My children, they did extracurricular things in school, but they had to work. They wanted, in their case particularly, if they wanted some cash in their pocket they had to go work for it. My children, all three of 'em, they were indoctrinated, so to speak. And I, frankly, I feel that's part of the culture of the Japanese, the Japanese culture. There may be other cultures -- by the way, I have a buddy I went to college with, his ethnic background is German, he's just the same way. We laugh about it. "Boy, those..." but I call it the folks from the old world. I like to use the term, people from the old world, if they're from the peasant class or from the working class, they're gonna pass on to their next generation that idea that... and of course, and the Japanese, at least my family, my god, my mom and dad, boy, they just told you, "You go to school and you get an education, and boy, we'll be on your tail until you get through there." Yeah, so that's part of what I call -- and I don't mind telling you that, yeah, I take pride in being of Japanese ancestry. Yes, there was Pearl Harbor and a few other things, and I feel the pain once in a while when I think about some of the things that went on during World War II, 'cause that's my generation.

TI: Okay, so let's continue your story. This was kind of a tangent, but when you brought up the fact that your father was undocumented I thought that would be a good opportunity to talk about kind of current events.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

TI: So let's, so you talked a little bit about him crossing the border, and when he came to the United States, where did he end up? Where did he go?

JK: Well, he ended up with my uncle in Central Valley, and they did some cherry picking and peach -- they were just classic, like today's workers, they did exactly the same things that folks do today. And then somewhere in there my uncle ended up with an ostrich farm. [Laughs]

TI: In the Central Valley, an ostrich farm?

JK: Well, and he settled down in a city called Stockton, which is here in the Bay Area, on the east side. And for years and years he was Stockton Papa and his wife was Stockton Mama, even though they're our uncle and aunt. And it didn't register to us until many years later that it's, we call 'em that because he was from Stockton.

TI: Interesting. You thought it might've been a Japanese term.

JK: We thought, "Well, I don't know what that means, but that's okay."

TI: Okay. And then you talked about earlier, so your uncle, at that point he was a friend of your father, he introduced, essentially, or told your father about his younger sister, who ended up being your mother.

JK: Yeah.

TI: And in 1915 she came to the United States as a picture bride. So let's talk a little bit about your mother. What was her name, and where was she from?

JK: My mom's maiden name is Takeno Suzuki, and she was from Tohoku Sendai.

TI: That's another kind of interesting current event, so Tohoku Sendai, so that's where the recent earthquake --

JK: Earthquake, tsunami.

TI: And so do you still have family?

JK: Yes, I have my cousin who was, spent World War II in Japan, and because he was educated there only as a kid, he has on his mother's side, kinfolks in Sendai. In fact, he communicated with 'em after that tragedy, and they're okay. But on my side of the family, I'm not aware of anyone. I have a sister who just turned ninety-six, and she stayed in touch with, it would be her cousins and so on, but she's not mentioned any survivors in recent times.

TI: Okay. It's interesting, in my interviews, I haven't come across very many people who emigrated from Sendai or from that area. Was that, but apparently your uncle came over with probably other ken folk from that area?

JK: Actually, I just found some historical documents in my little archives of this, like a group of the people from that area that had come to America, and this guy in Japanese and all that, they chronicled who they are and what they're doing, and that one was dated 1934. I don't know, would, do you, would your people --

TI: Yeah, after the interview I'd like to talk to you more about that. I'm always interested in that.

JK: If you have an interest in, I've got a pile of photographs from Japan and studio pictures and things. Kind of fascinating if you're a history buff.

TI: Yeah, no we, and we are, so I'll talk to you later about that. So your mother comes over 1915, and as a picture bride, and meets your father. So at this point, where do they, where did they live?

JK: Okay, and after they got together they moved down to Pasadena where my mother became just a lady, housekeeper lady, and my dad was a gardener and a chauffeur, in a family, for a family called Mr. and Mrs. Johnson. Don't ask me why I remember the name, but I do.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

TI: Okay. And let's talk about, you were born in Pasadena.

JK: Yeah, all of us, all the family children except my sister Kichan were born in Pasadena.

TI: Was it Kichan or Yoshiko?

JK: Yoshiko's the oldest.

TI: Right. And she was born in Pasadena?

JK: Yes.

TI: Okay.

JK: And then, Yoshiko and then the next sister is Aiko, they were born in Pasadena. And Kichan was born in Brawley, California. My dad moved down to Imperial Valley for about a year or two.

TI: I see.

JK: Then he moved back to Pasadena, and then my brother Bob, and then myself. So what is that? There's six of us.

TI: Well, and one more sister, Haruyo?

JK: Haruyo was also born in Pasadena.

TI: So there's six of you, so four older sisters, then your brother Bob, and then you.

JK: Yeah, there's six, and then, six, yeah.

TI: You were the youngest.

JK: There were two more children born, and one of 'em was just, I guess, stillborn, but one of them was a young boy. And his remains are actually, there's a burial plot for him in Pasadena. I just found out about that from my cousin.

TI: And where was he in the birth order?

JK: He had to be somewhere like the second or the third child, okay? Let's see, Yo was 1916 and Aiko was 1919, so I think, I would imagine he was in there between them somewhere.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

TI: Okay. And then after you were born, I guess in about six months after you were born, your family then moves back to the Imperial Valley?

JK: Right, El Centro.

TI: And do you know why your father decided to move back to Imperial Valley?

JK: Well, see, he was in, by the time he got, started out gardening, right, then somewhere along the line he got involved in becoming a truck driver and he started driving a truck, and he'd make, from somewhere in Los Angeles he'd make runs down to Imperial Valley to haul produce back. And so at that point, then he made a decision to move down there and get into the trucking business, so he'd live down there, haul produce to Los Angeles and then come home the next day. And see, by then the Imperial Valley was populated by a great number of Japanese truck farmers, so those were his clients, customers. So that's how he established his business.

TI: 'Cause he had those connections, both in the Imperial Valley and in Los Angeles.

JK: Yeah, in Los Angeles.

TI: So that seemed like a good connection. Plus he was a chauffeur, so he knew how to drive.

JK: Oh yeah, he knew how to drive. And then remember I told you, because he's buddies with my mother's oldest brother, Stockton Papa? Okay, Stockton Papa started working in the produce, wholesale produce market in Los Angeles. See, now you get all the connections, so these guys all gravitated into the produce businesses, truck farming.

TI: Okay, so with these connections, how did the business go for him?

JK: Well, my dad, he just, it was starting to go and go, and it kept getting larger and larger, and he ended up with a fleet of trucks of either twelve or fourteen trucks by the early '30s. There are pictures of him with the trucks -- you know how you'd see a fleet of trucks all lined up with the numbers on the radiator and stuff like that?

TI: So early '30s, this is, I guess, really impressive given that this is the Depression.

JK: Absolutely.

TI: This is a very difficult time.

JK: But see, that's what happened, he got bigger and bigger and bigger, and then I don't mind telling you, by the time he got to the middle '30s and the late '30s it was all gone. [Laughs]

TI: Okay. So yeah, whether a bad loan or something...

JK: A bad loan, and also, he also ventured into farming, and he lost his shirt doing that too 'cause I guess he figured, well, he'd gamble, see if he could make some money farming.

TI: Probably just, and I'm speculating here, but it seemed like almost any other time he would've been a very successful entrepreneur. I mean, trying to do this during the Depression would've been very difficult, but given his connections and if the economy were growing in any way, this could've been a very large enterprise, if he had continued.

JK: I've often laughed, people ask me, "How come you're an engineer?" I say, "I probably, if it wasn't for World War II, I'd probably be a truck, I'd either still be a truck driver or, two, know what I mean, I'd still be hangin' around kicking tires and telling the truck drivers what to do, something like that."

TI: Yeah, because if your father had had a really successful business you would've been asked to work there.

JK: Oh yeah. You see, in the Japanese culture, right, you do what your parents tell you to do, right? So I have every reason to believe he would've told my brother and I, "Go ahead and get your education, but come on home and I'm gonna make you work."

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

TI: So tell me a little bit about your father. What was he like?

JK: My dad's what I call a classic samurai warrior, man. He's just a, just a machine. You work like a dog, you come home, and then, you know the classic, my mama would walk ten steps behind him, he'd bark out orders and he would tell us what to do in the morning, and boy, if we didn't have it done when he got home, man, we were in trouble. Yeah, he'd, I hope it doesn't sound like I didn't love my dad. I guess I loved him because he taught us things to do, but I guess I just, I call him just a classic macho guy. I never saw too much affection between him and my mom, but that's the way the guys are. Well, I don't know if this is traditional in other parts of this culture, but in Imperial Valley, every New Year's the deal was all my dad and his working colleagues, his customers, they'd drive around Imperial Valley to see, pay their respects to the family, the business. But my dad did the same thing, so none of, he wouldn't be home when all his buddies would come around. My mother'd been cooking for four days and they'd come and have some sake and enjoy some feast items, and then go on their way. And we kids, we loved it because every one of 'em would bring us some omiyage, so we didn't, so... and then sometimes when, I don't remember seeing any limousines, how did this guys spend the whole day partying and boozing, paying their respects to their friends and neighbors? I don't, have you heard anything?

TI: Yeah, it was pretty common. Yeah, other communities did the same thing, where the men would, on New Year's Day, make the rounds and the mom, or the mother, would be at home.

JK: Right, and they, all the kids, and then of course, we always did the mochi. 'Cause this was a farming community and so some designated person would have a place to go, and then we'd all go there in the car and everybody would party all day, and then we'd all bring home our share of the mochi. Oh yeah, those... [Laughs] And then I guess it's okay to talk about it now, it was so many years ago, we also had, in Imperial Valley we had a community still where the Issei families would make their own brew. And so it was our turn to go, my mama had, she had a kerosene stove, man, my brother and I were hauling kerosene to that stove all day long 'cause she's cooking up the mash and drip, drip, drip.

TI: So you guys would take turns, using the still.

JK: Yeah. It was a community, a communal still.

TI: Now, where was that located? Was it just on someone's farm? Or did they...

JK: Well, I figured the still was stashed away in somebody's farmhouse somewhere. And then, and then... anyways, all I remember is that my dad had a pickup truck and we'd lay the still in the bed of the truck and then we'd cover it with blankets, and four kids would sit on the damn still.

TI: That's a good story. [Laughs] And in terms of your father, just, beyond just the more traditional, like the mochi pounding or New Year's, just in terms of socializing with other men, did he do that very often?

JK: Are you kidding? My dad was a party animal. He, well, of course he was, remember we were talking a little bit about the Japanese association? Yeah, he was a real active person in that, and then every year there would be, like, a festival. And remember I told you he was in the trucking business? And think of it in terms of a big semi truck or a big ten-wheeler, he always, that was the stage for the annual picnic, okay? And so they'd bring potted cherry blossom plants and things like that, they'd bring microphones, PA system, set it up on the bed of the truck, right, and then people would sing, dance and do things like that. That was always an annual event.

TI: So let's talk about your father's involvement with the Japanese association. So he would bring the truck for the stage and do parties with these guys. What did the association do? I mean, what, describe their function, their role.

JK: Well, of course I have, because most of the Japanese community were members of the Buddhist church, somewhat centered around the Buddhist church, and in our family case, we were one of the small minority of Japanese families that were Protestant. And my mother was very religious and so she was very active in the Protestant church there. But as far as the association itself is concerned, they were very active in community affairs with the Japanese as well as linkage to Japan. And for example, what I remember is like, every year on the emperor's birthday we'd all assemble on the county fairgrounds in Imperial and there would be a ceremony, and then, what, the "Tennouheika banzai." We'd do that three or four or five times, whatever often, how many times you're supposed to do that. And that was an annual affair. Another one --

TI: Now, so I want to ask you, when you did that, when you did the banzai to the emperor, what were you thinking as a kid? I mean, here you are, a young boy, and everyone's doing that. What was going through your head?

JK: Well, I don't know, just, I frankly never gave that much thought. I'm just there and my mom and dad are there, and I guess we partied afterwards. [Laughs] It was part of the, part of the fun.

TI: Well, I'm trying to get, and you might've been a little young to think about this --

JK: Yeah, I was probably, in that era, what I remember, I was seven, eight, nine years old, somewhere in there.

TI: I was just trying to get a sense of, in terms of being a Japanese American and in this interesting place where Japan was at this point a very important part of your family's life, and yet you're going to regular school and you're American, and how you thought about kind of these, this sort of bi-culture existence.

JK: Well, you know, I've thought about that. I'm gonna give a presentation in a couple of weeks to a group of high school students, and these are Japanese, Japanese students of the Japanese business community in San Diego. And these are children that were born and raised in Japan, but now they've come to America and they've become assimilated in the American culture. And so they want me to share with them what I perceive that they feel like as a Nisei, where they come from a culture of Japan and here they become totally immersed in the American culture, and what happens to you as you do that. Yeah, I actually, frankly, other than things like Imperial Valley at least, we lived in a part of El Centro, even in a town of ten thousand people, we lived in a town area, an area between the railroad tracks and the highway, which was just considered to be kind of a mixed, mixed ethnic group. East of the railroad track was blacks only, or instead of, well, however you say it. And then west of the freeway, I mean west of the highway was for whites only. And then, for example, like the community swimming pool, that was for whites only. So it was not like we were not aware that there was this, these social or racial barriers. You know, it affected us a little bit. I remember my Mexican buddy and me -- he lived across the street from me -- remember I told you that's, we lived in the mixed zone, and so we'd go over there and the kids were taunting us, "You can't come in, you dummies." And my, I remember telling my Mexican buddy, I said, "Okay, one day we're gonna get rich and we'll buy this goddamn swimming pool place, and we're gonna swim in here and exclude all those yo-yos." [Laughs] But that's kid talk.

TI: Interesting. That's a good story.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

TI: We were talking a little, I want to come back to your childhood, but we were talking about your parents and we learned a little bit about your father. How about your mother? How would you describe your mother?

JK: Well, sir, I have to tell you, in my world, my mother was a formidable, formidable personality, full of strength and dignity and lots and lots of love. You know, she, remember I told she was deeply religious? Okay, I kind of, as I got to be an adult, I kind of wandered away from my mother's teaching, so people ask me today, "What's your religion?" And I tell 'em, "I would like to believe I can practice my mother's religion." And that's dignity, love and affection, be tolerant, don't be judgmental. You know what I mean? And try to live a good life. And I'm, frankly, I am... yeah, she was a nice lady.

TI: Yeah, I can tell that you were very close to her. How about personality wise, how would you describe her personality?

JK: [Laughs] She was funny. When we were younger, my brother two years older than me, and I can remember she'd order us around because we were classic kozos, and she says, "You guys think you know how?" She says, "Go out on the living room floor." She says, "I'm gonna wrestle you guys and I will take you down."

TI: This is your mother who did this? That's unusual for an Issei.

JK: [Laughs] Oh yeah, man. So she'd, I mean, she doesn't stand four foot nine, for god's sake, she doesn't weigh ninety pounds, for god's sake. "I'm gonna take you down." So of course, there was a time when she couldn't do that anymore, but funny, funny.

TI: Now, she did this out of kind of discipline, or just out of play?

JK: Well, I guess sometimes discipline and play, but yeah... I guess in a word, she had a tough life, tough life. This is... my apologies.

TI: No, no, no. And if any point you want to take a break or something --

JK: No, no, I'll be okay. I'll be okay.

TI: You talked about, I'm curious about her religious devotion and how she got involved with the Protestant Church. Was there something that happened or a time that she got more involved?

JK: You know, that's something I really don't know. My sense is that, that there was this Reverend Kokubun in the Imperial Valley, in El Centro, and he was a very dynamic individual, and I've often thought that he might've had an involvement. And also, she might've also -- while she lived in Pasadena... I'm gonna see my sister. She lives here in Los Angeles. I'm gonna ask her next time I see her about that, what she might remember about my mother's getting so attached. And I'd have to believe in Japan she probably was a Buddhist, 'cause they just were back in that era...

TI: Yeah, generally there, it's not common for, Japanese who practiced Christianity in Japan. There are a few. There were some, but it was not that common.

JK: Yeah.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

TI: Okay. Let's, so let's move on to kind of your childhood memories of growing up in El Centro. I mean, first just describe your house. What was your house like?

JK: Well, we lived in two houses when we first moved there. We moved into a little house, 1038 Woodward Avenue. I tell you that just to show off, right? How do you remember a place you lived in eighty years ago? But my brother and I went there and we took a picture of ourselves in front of that house. [Interruption] Then we lived there from 1929 to 1936, then we moved to 377 Hamilton Avenue, and we lived there until we departed in 1942 to go to camp.

TI: And so describe your -- there was six kids and two parents, so there were eight of you -- describe... actually, let's describe the Hamilton house. So what, how many bedrooms and how was that --

JK: Well, let's see, it was a living room, dining room combination, a kitchen, in the back, a screen porch area that was laundry, laundry tray and a laundry tub and an ironing, roller, ironing thing. And then on the east side there was a kind of a screen porch area, and then there was a bedroom, and then there was a bathroom in the middle, and then there was a bedroom in the back. By then, the Hamilton Avenue house, by then my oldest sister Yo had already left the home. She graduated from high school in El Centro in 1934, and she moved, she went over to Japan to get her college education at a Japanese women's college. And so, and then I think my sister Aiko had graduated in 1936 and she went on to Pasadena, and she enrolled in the Pasadena Junior College. So I think by the time we got to Hamilton Avenue there were only one, two, three, four of us. Yeah. My brother slept in the screen porch in the front, my mom and dad slept in the bed, regular bedroom, I slept in the bedroom closet 'cause I was still a kid and I wanted to sleep by my mother, and then my two sisters lived in the back room.

TI: You know, as you were talking, or telling that story, it's interesting to me that your two older sisters went to college, one to Japan and one to Pasadena. That wasn't that common. I mean, oftentimes women back then didn't, weren't able to pursue sort of advanced education. So where did that come from? Was it your father or mother or both of them who really emphasized education?

JK: I think the major emphasis was my mother, but my dad went along with it. And of course, the fact that my mom and dad would send my oldest sister to Japan for an education in a private women's college, that can give you some indication of the economic standing of my father and his business and everything. These were the good times that he could afford to do all that. And so, and then my sister Aiko, she was a very, very aggressive personality, brilliant young lady, and so she wanted to go places. She wanted to go places. In fact, she and my dad used to go -- she was just like my dad in many respects. Boy, they used to go at it all the time, 'cause he was just such a hardheaded Issei and stubborn as an ox. And she would, actually, she would've been like a women's liberation person today. In fact, she always said -- she went to, she ended up UC, University, School of Medicine, San Francisco, and I really believe her -- she said, "If I was not a woman, I could've become a very successful medical doctor. They just would not tolerate the idea that a woman could go to medical school." And she had, she had the horsepower to do it too.

TI: Interesting.

JK: She went on to become a public health nurse. She went back to New York and got a Master's degree in public health nursing, and that was, that became her career. But I always remember, boy, she would, she was a bulldog.

TI: Good.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

TI: You talked about your dad really making sure that you guys did your chores and things, what were some of the chores that the kids had to do growing up?

JK: Well, when, firstly, my dad loved gardening, so we had to cut the grass, we had to weed the yard. He always took pride in the way the premises looked. And then the usual things around the house, you cleaned the house, mop the floor and all those grunt chores. Today's culture, we'd hire some immigrant to do it. I'm kidding. [Laughs] But then, like... are you familiar, like when you get produce it'll come in a box or crate? Now they used cardboard mostly, but there was an era when they used wooden slats and things. Well we, there's a little, you bought all that lumber loose, and there was a jig, and you took a hammer and nail and you handmade those, okay? Well, my dad got us a job, for both my brother and me, after school we'd come home and we'd go back in the back of the shed and make crates. And I think we got like two cents a box, some --

TI: Okay, so it was like piecemeal kind of work and you would do this.

JK: That's right, yeah. We had to do our chores. And then of course, when my dad got into the farming business, okay, then we had to go out to the farm. When we weren't in school, out at the farm. Oh yeah, worked like a dog.

TI: Now, did your father treat the boys differently than the four girls?

JK: Yeah, he always yelled at us.

TI: [Laughs] But was there, like, a different set of rules for boys versus girls during that time?

JK: Yeah, I guess it's because my sisters were all... gosh, they were so nicey-nice. My immediate older sister, my dad never raised his voice with her, never. And as I got older I said, "You know, she was the ultimate politician. She never made a wave with her dad." She was good. [Laughs] I don't know if that's a lady thing, but now, my late wife, for example, she was from a family of six, and so when, I've got these two boys now and of course I'm on 'em like a tent, and I always remember my late wife saying, I find she'd never accept the fact that I'm barking at my boys. She said, "You know, my dad raised all of us, including my two older brothers, and he never raised his voice." And I said, "Well, he must've been truly a gentle man." Of course, my late wife, she was a, she was a very, very fine, fine lady, very fine. And I'll tell you a story about her too a little later.

TI: But it sounds like, based on what I just heard, that, so your father raised his voice with you and your brother, but not so much with the girls.

JK: No, no. Except my, that, remember I told you that one sister because a nurse? Okay, she went to college, and in today's language she became a liberal, you know what I mean kind of a thing? And so she and my dad actually used to get into political debates.

TI: And back then, what would be the, kind of the debate about? What would the issue be? Can you remember? Like women's rights maybe?

JK: No, and it had to do with my dad's nationalism and his allegiance to Japan, and the fact that my sister would try to say, like, "Okay, now you've assimilated. The fact that you've learned English, you learned how to write English, you're good with... now you need to love America a little bit more." And then he would respond -- and I don't know why I remember this, but he'd respond, he said, "Yeah," he said, "but you know what?" He said, "I'm still not treated like a first class citizen, you know what I mean? I'm still..." I hate to use the term, but, "They still call me nigger. I'm still a damn Jap." And that kind of stuff. And I, because my dad is the way he is, remember I told you about the samurai thing? To the day he died, you know what I mean, he, inbred in him was his spirit of nationalism and the pride of being a Japanese.

TI: And then what was your sister's sort of stance or viewpoint?

JK: Well, "You need to become more American. You need to become more enchanted. This is your land now, okay? This is now your land. You've come to America. You don't have to, you don't have to be as Japanese anymore."

TI: Interesting. Now, was your sister involved at all with the Japanese American Citizens League?

JK: No, not that, I don't recall that particularly. It's just apparently, my sense of it all is she's a very independent thinker. And I just remember one little debate, and I remember -- I don't know why I remember stuff like this, but, and my dad talking about, "Well, if America's so great, how come they treated the Indians so bad?" I always remember that because, see, my dad was intellectual. Remember I told you he learned to read and write, okay? Yeah, so that, even though he never got past third grade or something in Japan, he self-taught himself to become a businessman.

TI: So he could see the pattern, or how in America certain groups weren't treated well.

JK: Right. And he felt, and I think he felt pretty strongly, yeah. He said... he got dumped on pretty good, I'm sure. Like where my late wife was raised, they had segregated schools, but it was Asians only, and then everybody else in other school. I never knew that.

TI: So she grew up in, like Sacramento area?

JK: Yeah.

TI: Okay. Interesting.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

TI: Well, since you talked about school, let's talk about your school. So if someone, if your friends were to describe Jack at school, how would they describe you?

JK: Well, kind of crazy, I guess. Although, god, this is kind of vain of me, but I hooked up with a young lady that I went to school with, whom I haven't seen since 1942, I met her late last year.

TI: And so you were, like, about twelve years old back then?

JK: We were, no, no, this was when we were, we were in the third grade together.

TI: Okay, so since you were seven...

JK: Yeah, we knew each other since the third grade, or second or third grade, and then we parted company, and she's one year older than me now. Anyway, I emailed her and I said, "I'd like to introduce myself." Through a connection I found out where she was, and I says, "I don't know whether you remember or not," but she said, I said, "I'm Jack Kubota and we were in the eighth... when I left for camp and everything." And she emailed me back and says -- and back then everybody called me Jackie -- she says, "Oh, I remember you, Jackie." Comma. Said, "You had a wild personality." And I thought, oh my god, I said I wonder, I must've been a badass -- excuse me -- bad kid. [Laughs] So anyway, so yeah, but no, as far as school is concerned, in my childhood life there, no, we had fun in school. I mean, I never felt, I never felt anything other than being part of the gang, except when they wouldn't let me go swimming with 'em.

TI: Now, when you mention this woman was a year older than you, did you, were you younger in your class than the other students? Or was she just a grade ahead of you?

JK: No, it's a long story. But remember I told you I have an older brother? Okay, well he's two years older than me, so when he went off to school, I followed him to school every day 'cause I wanted to hang out with my brother, and then, but then they'd always make me come home. My mother had to... so then it kept going on 'cause I just wanted, didn't want to be at home without my brother, so the next school year my mother and father lied and told 'em that I was older than I was. [Laughs]

TI: Because you were just such a nuisance when he would go to school. [Laughs]

JK: That's right. [Laughs] So then, so then I sneaked into school, but by the time I got into second grade, a teacher called my mom and said, "What's with this kid? How come he's always crying? They're not supposed to cry anymore like this when they get to school." And he says, "Well, actually he's not six or seven, he's only five." Or some cockamamie, but that, yeah, apparently that's what happened. So actually yeah, I started school pretty early.

TI: Okay. That's good. And besides regular school, did you go to Japanese school?

JK: Yeah, Nihon gakko, you betcha. Remember I told you my parents were like the classic Isseis. They want their kids to get educated.

TI: And was this an everyday situation, or a weekend thing?

JK: Every Saturday.

TI: And describe that. Who else was in that class?

JK: Mostly, between the Buddhist church and the Protestant church we went to, most of the families that could afford it all sent their Nisei children to Nihon gakko.

TI: So like in your class, were you there with your brother, or was it just your grade?

JK: Yeah, I seem to remember my brother. Like my two older sisters, they were totally immersed in it, so yeah, they were never in a classroom with us, that I remember.

TI: And about how many people would be in Japanese, your Japanese class?

JK: Maybe twenty, thirty kids. Maybe we were all in one room.

TI: You know, and going back to your regular school, I forgot to ask this, in terms of just the racial makeup, I mean, how many other Japanese were in, like, your class?

JK: If I could get a picture, maybe, like in my class, maybe there was two or three. But see, El Centro, the farming communities where, mostly the truck farmers were all in the rural areas, El Centro was the big city there and it's the capital of the county, it's county seat. And so I'm sure there were a lot more there. In fact, today you go down there, in the city of Imperial the football field's named Shimamoto Field. That's a big family that was there for many, many years. They're one of the few families that went back there after World War II, 'cause they owned the property there.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

TI: And we talked earlier about your father's business and how kind of in the mid '30s it was really booming, went really well, but then at some point there was a downturn for him.

JK: Yeah.

TI: And so when did that happen?

JK: I want to say, I think the middle '30s. He went into the farming business and lost so much money there, and then I guess he got late with the payments on his trucks and everything, and pretty soon all the trucks were gone. And I remember it got so bad that my dad had to have me and my brother and sister turn in our little student bank accounts. We might've had fifty bucks by then or so, but he, and then he had a pickup truck that he had on payments, and then the guy came and repossessed the pickup truck. And so now he didn't have anything. He was down to walking.

TI: But how did your father handle this? I mean, from being very successful, able to send the oldest daughter to Japan to a private school, and then really have this downturn, how did he deal with all this?

JK: Well, the best of my knowledge, my dad was a tough cookie. Remember I told you he had that samurai ethic? And he just sucked it up, and that's a whole other story, but he had a friend there that he got to know in Imperial Valley that had a gas station, and he got to know this gentleman by name of Mr. Hatton, from the early '20s -- remember I told you he used to go down there with a truck? -- and he started buying gas and tires and stuff. And Mr. Hatton had an old car, and so he let my father use his old car, and that's how he stayed in contact. And then what he did was he had these independent truckers, the gypsy truckers, he would bring them in and he became a broker for them. Because he had the contact with all the farmers, he'd arrange and then he would get a commission from all the truckers. And as the economy started coming back again, he might've had like six or eight independent guys working for him, and so that's how he was starting to make his financial recovery. And then, of course, the war came along, so that ended that part.

TI: Okay. Before we go to the war, anything else before the war you wanted to share? Any other thoughts or stories?

JK: No, I don't know. Imperial Valley, it's just, it's a place where a bunch of kids live, it gets hot in the summer, and it's a farming community kind of a place. I don't know, we had a lot of fun, Fourth of July. I like to tell the story about, remember I told you we lived along the highway, we lived between the highway and the railroad track, and this was the main highway between El Centro and then Mexicali, and so, like during the watermelon season the truckers would bring a bunch of leftover watermelons, and they'd give 'em to my brother and me, my brother and I, and then we'd take 'em on roadside, put a number on there or whatever and sell these things. And we always thought that was fun. Boy, we were making money like crazy. That, it's easy enough. And the truckers all liked us, so they'd bring us more and we'd sell more, so classic stuff. And I mention this because in later years -- and remember now, my children, right, my daughter, she's my only daughter, bless her heart, during her college days she became a corner flower stand girl. That's what she did for her pocket change.

TI: So it reminded you of what you and your brother did.

JK: Yeah. And so here I am, I was so proud of her. I said, "And she's got, she's a chip off the old block. She wants to go out there and hustle, make some bucks." She started out sorting flowers in the shop back in the hills, and then she graduated to the flower stand on the corner there in Oceanside.

TI: That's a good story.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 12>

TI: So Jack, let's start the second hour, and so we're gonna start with December 7, 1941, Sunday. Can you describe that day for me in terms of what happened to you on that day?

JK: Yeah, it started out as an ordinary day, but of course, by about, I think our time about ten o'clock in the morning, we find out that Pearl Harbor was bombed. And then, "oh well" kind of thing, and then next thing I remember was is that, through a telephone thing, my mom and dad got a phone call that all his colleagues were being picked up by the FBI and so he'd better be ready. And then, so my mom packed a suitcase for him, and it was, she was told by -- you know how this grapevine gets around the Valley like it does -- and to pack warm clothes. So she did that, and my mom and dad and all of us were kind of mulling around for the... and about five o'clock, it was like late afternoon, here some people came to the door. And I remember my mother said, "Oh my goodness, what's gonna happen now?" And remember I told you about this gentleman that owned the gas station that loaned my dad the car? Well, he had come to the house to see if my dad was still there, just to check on his old friend. They called my dad, his name's Ukichi, but typically as an immigrant like him, he got an American name, English name, he called him Harry, Harry Ukichi Kubota. So he wanted to make sure that Harry was okay, so he was relieved that my dad was still there. So that pretty much ended the day. That just pretty much ended the day. I just, all I remember is just a sigh of relief. And years later I read where J. Edgar Hoover said that there was no reason to incarcerate the Japanese on the West Coast. He said, "I've picked up everybody that's a suspect. I had 'em two hours after Pearl Harbor." And what I understand is, see, they were watching all the members of the Japanese community that were active in the Japanese Association.

TI: Yeah, so the FBI had created what were called the ABC lists.

JK: That's right, absolutely. And my dad the, my dad made the cut simply because, remember I told you his economic downturn, so he had to go out and he was driving a truck himself practically, so he had to, he was really tending to his own chores, so he had to drop all that affiliation with the Japanese Association.

TI: So that's interesting. So if he had remained prosperous, if his business had continued going well, he would've stayed active with the Japanese Association.

JK: Oh, yeah.

TI: And earlier, when you mentioned colleagues being picked up, these were, essentially, the other leaders of the Japanese --

JK: Of that group, at that point, up to a certain time. My dad, like he left, I don't know, when he was thirty-seven, thirty-eight, and I'm just guessing, but I'm sure it had to do with his own economic, his economic status.

TI: And so after that, that day, what happened? I mean, what did your father do after, at that point?

JK: You know, there was a transition period there. I really don't recall anything particularly happening. I really don't. I know that's, even at school, I don't recall, like my friends, school friends, my buddies and everything, feeling one way or the other. I do know that there was an element of fear, because in Imperial Valley there were either, I think either two or three homicides where the Japanese were actually gunned down, and they were, I believe... you know, I've been wanting to look at the newspaper articles. I think it was two, but it was the Filipinos that lived in the Valley, and I think, like one of 'em was when Corregidor had to surrender, and their reaction was to go out to a Japanese home and whenever, whoever showed up at the door, just blast 'em, something like that. In fact, I know that that's one of the reasons that you hear, from that era, right, that we, one of the reasons we were removing 'em all, well, a hundred and eighteen thousand, because they may all be shot dead by somebody for being an alleged traitor.

TI: So in other words, they were being removed "for their own protection" was what some people --

JK: Yeah, exactly. In fact, I heard that a week ago, out of the clear blue sky. I guess they know I'm Japanese and then they figured out, "Well, you were, so you were one of those..." generally they'll ask something about, "Well, did you ever have to go to one of those camps?" In fact, they call, "You know, that was really for your protection, wasn't it?" And I say, "Well, not really, but..." [Laughs]

TI: Right, right. And the story I hear is when people are confronted with that, they say, well, when they got there the guns were actually pointed at them, not out protecting them. They weren't pointed towards the outside.

JK: Different kind of a place to be.

TI: Did you ever have any conversations -- you mentioned that you had, like, a Mexican friend that you did things with -- when, at the point when it became clear that you were gonna be removed, you had to leave the area, did you have any conversations with your friends about that?

JK: You know, I don't. In fact, this lady that I mentioned, that was at school with me, we don't have any recollection, so how many, was there a lot of goodbyes? I don't recall that at all. I really don't have that much recollection of that at all. There was no balloons or sad farewell, and I think it has something to do with being young. It's like even today, service families, they move all over the world, right? And it's, "Okay, see ya," kind of a thing.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 13>

TI: How about just like preparations? Do you recall anything that you had to do with the house or anything else to prepare? Like the --

JK: Only thing I remember is that we had this monster garage sale like you see today. And I guess that's, everybody said, "That's what you do. You put all this stuff out on the lawn and then the vultures come and see what they can find." I think we sold an oscillating fan for like twenty-five cents. Some, now I think about it, today's world, where I live they don't allow garage sales, but where my son used to live, my son and daughter-in-law, they allowed garage sale once a year, and so I took some gear over there to have 'em -- so I'm sitting there watching, and my son said, I said, "I want forty-five bucks for that tent. I paid two hundred dollars for it." And my son says, "Dad, you'll be lucky if you get twenty-five dollars for it." But I promised my wife that I would come home with at least forty dollars, so I said, I'll take the twenty-five dollars and put my own fifteen dollars on that. I took it back and said, "Hey, we made it, honey." I said, "Here's your forty dollars." But, and so I laugh like a, every time I see a garage sale I have a flashback to here the Kubota family's got to liquidate everything.

TI: Wow. So it brings back memories whenever you see a garage sale.

JK: Oh yeah, I see bad stuff. The only thing my mother saved was her Japanese dishes. And there's a story about that too.

TI: So go ahead and tell me the...

JK: Well, see, you know how some people lost their -- in our case, my older sister, the property was put in my older sister's name, so we maintained ownership of the property. It was this little house on Hamilton Avenue, right? Okay, we had no clue as to when we were coming home, so my mother said, "Okay, I would like to save my dishes." So she put 'em in, like, remember I told you these wooden crates, she just put 'em in there, in the crates, just kind of stacked 'em and put 'em in there. Well, so okay, now the war's gonna end, they're gonna leave Poston, okay? And the government, bless their heart, they said, "Okay, we'll make you a deal. We're gonna relocate you to Stillwater, Oklahoma, but we'll go back to El Centro, pick up the possessions that you have there." So they have somebody go to El Centro, go down in the basement of Hamilton Avenue, get those crates of dishes, nice Japanese dishes, as my mother put 'em in the basement. They came to Poston, every one of them were busted, 'cause they're glassware.

TI: So they weren't really packed for transport. They were just packed for storage.

JK: Just packed for storage.

TI: And so when they moved it everything broke.

JK: Everything broke.

TI: Your mother must've been, just been so disappointed when she saw that.

JK: Yeah. And I don't know if you have time, but that's the one thing I wanted, I thought, if it was appropriate, I brought this little book about my mother's sewing machine, and we don't have to talk about it, but anyway, I always talk about the Kubota family, in the war we left El Centro with family, one suitcase apiece, and my mother's sewing machine. When my mom and dad came back from the camps, they came back with one suitcase apiece, my sister's ashes, and the sewing machine.

TI: But the sewing machine probably really came in handy when you were at Poston.

JK: That's right. Yeah, my granddaughter made a, wrote a little story about it, so I'd like, if you don't mind, I'll even let you take it if you promise you'll send it back to me, but it's the story of Grandma's, Great-grandma's sewing machine.

TI: Yeah, we'll, 'cause that, from the stories I hear sometimes, people saying, "Oh, I wish I brought the sewing machine," because they could use it and there was so much time to do things. So that's interesting. I wanted to just ask, I didn't ask it earlier, but you mentioned, like, the homicides in the area. Was there a lot of fear amongst the Japanese community? Like did your parents say, "Jack, you have to be careful, come home at night," or anything like that?

JK: No, I don't remember any impact on our lives, as far as our daily lives were concerned. Well, it happened. Yeah, my mom and dad were pretty steady people. They never got, yeah, they never made a wave.

TI: Okay.

JK: Very disciplined people.

TI: During this time period, right before you left for Poston, it was your thirteenth birthday.

JK: Yeah.

TI: Was there any celebration or acknowledgement of your thirteenth birthday? Do you remember that?

JK: All I remember is my mom and dad never forgot any of our birthdays. She always did something special for us. Even in the depths of the Depression when we barely had enough to eat, she'd do something for our birthdays. Yeah, birthdays were special for all the kids.

TI: So for your thirteenth, so this is just days before you go to Poston.

JK: Yeah, I'm sure, I don't remember what we did, but yeah, I'm sure, I wouldn't, I'm sure my mama did something for me.

TI: And what would be kind of a special thing, growing up, that she would do?

JK: She'd always bake. She'd bake something. Oh yeah, she was a good cook. I'm sorry.

TI: So from the Imperial Valley, from El Centro, you go to Poston. Tell me about the journey. What was the journey like from El Centro to Poston?

JK: Well, we took a bus ride. I'm actually gonna make that trip here on May the 22nd of this year, on the seventieth anniversary. And if you'd like, I'm gonna, I'll give you the tape of my journey. It's gonna be one day later than we actually did it. In other words --

TI: So this'll be the seventieth anniversary of --

JK: The seventieth anniversary, I'm gonna go to El Centro the night before and then I'm gonna get up in the morning, I'm gonna go to the Buddhist church, and I'm gonna drive the route of the bus and go to Poston.

TI: So is this with others, or just --

JK: No, I'm gonna do it solo. My granddaughter wants to go with me, but I disappointed her. But I said, "No, I think I'd rather drive alone and then I'll just," then they're gonna put me in with a tape recorder and I'm gonna record my thoughts as I go along.

TI: Interesting. I'd love to get a copy of that.

JK: Okay. Well okay, I'm told 'em I'm gonna sing a song or two, you know. 'Cause I'm an old World War II guy, right? So you're gonna hear some old World War II guy songs.

<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 14>

TI: And before we go to Poston, I just remembered something. After Pearl Harbor and before Poston, the family buried things in El Centro.

JK: Yeah.

TI: Can you tell me about that?

JK: Oh yeah. There was, it was coming in the grapevine. The order was if you were an illegal alien, one, you had to register, and then two, you had to turn in all your guns, radios and cameras. And so obviously, the Isseis are not dummies, and they said, "Well, if we turn in these guns, cameras and radios, that means we've been doing espionage. Hell with that. We're gonna go bury the damn things or destroy 'em." So my uncle -- remember my uncle and my dad are good buddies, right? -- so my uncle's got a farm out in Holtville, he digs a hole, and then my dad gets his, in our case, we had, I have a full inventory of this stuff, don't ask me how I remember this, but my dad had a pistol, we had two radios and a camera, and two kendo sets. See, you remember, they don't want anything that tied you with the Japanese culture. My uncle had guns, I think he had one camera, 'cause he's a farmer and he used to go hunting for pheasants and dove, and that was his food on the table. And so he, we buried it and we buried it right beside the ditch bank there of his place. And I spent the last almost nine months trying to retrace where that spot is. I found it two weeks ago.

TI: So you found the --

JK: No, I didn't find the treasure, but I found the location. I finally, I use aerial maps and I talked to some local people, and I found the, where it is, but what's happened is they filled the area about six or seven foot of dirt on it and it's now got crops on it. So I'm gonna go back down there now and try to hook up with the property owner, that if he ever changes the crop -- it's got alfalfa and stuff on it -- if it goes dormant or something, or if he'd give his permission and then if I can find a metal detector that'll go probably ten, twelve feet deep, I'm gonna try to find that stuff.

TI: Okay. Again, if you do that, let me know. I'd love to find out.

JK: No, no, I'm gonna, yeah, my hope is, is that before all my, I make the roll call, in fact, I'm gonna, I have the maps and everything and I'm leaving this with my kids. I says, "Okay, if you ever get the chance and if you want to go on an adventure, I'd like to dig it up." They say, "Well, frankly, I don't know what's there."

TI: Yeah, this is interesting. So they, this idea of this kind of buried cache that you'll get, and then also the fact that seventy years after the journey you're gonna take the journey by yourself. Why are you doing this?

JK: You know, I've seen, from time to time I've seen programs -- in fact, a year or a couple years, there was a couple of ladies that took, they played Les Brown theme song, "The Sentimental Journey," and they had reflections about camp life and all that, and I thought, you know what? I said, just for the heck of it, you know? And another thing that did propel me, you remember I mentioned to you that I had a sister named Kichan two days after we got there, and I was curious as to what, what the climate was, what was it like? And my mother had asked the authorities to please let her ride in a passenger car so she could make the journey a little bit easier, but they wouldn't, they wouldn't allow it, so of course, we lost her. But I guess it's just, it's kind of like what all, I think, old people do. Like I stay in touch with my old navy buddies, and then every time we talk to each other, whatever we talk about, "Hey, we ought to go back there." I went to the Charleston Navy Yard, I don't know, ten, fifteen years ago and stood around where I, our ship was in dry dock there. I went on a trip to the Mediterranean and I went to all these ports, and I was with my new bride and another couple, and it just so, coincidentally, where the ship, cruise ship, was going were places I had visited when I was aboard ship. But I always remember, after the third port of call, they said, "Okay, Kubota, we don't want to hear any more chatter about the bars you went to, and we're not gonna go looking for them, okay?"

TI: [Laughs] Interesting. So just, just something for you to consider, I think it would be fabulous if you actually allowed one of your grandchildren to go with you, especially one that was curious, just to ask you questions as you're driving. Because I think it's, that interchange between you and the grandchild would be pretty precious.

JK: Is that, well, that's an interesting thought because what I, my thought was that, okay, it would actually, it might be a distraction for me in terms of what I recall. But I see what you're saying, that it might actually stimulate my thoughts.

TI: Right, especially if maybe they even listened to this interview beforehand, just so they know your life and everything, and again, that interchange, I think, would be priceless for that. But anyway, that's something to think about.

JK: Yeah, it's gonna, it's coming down to a couple weeks. Well, she's back in New York.

TI: Well, after this you can get on the phone and talk.

JK: [Laughs] Okay.

<End Segment 14> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 15>

TI: So let's go back to your journey. So you mentioned earlier, now, and I want to talk about this a little bit, about your older sister, Kichan, and tell me about her health at this point. What is she like?

JK: She was disabled from childhood, and so they said something like rickets or something like that. She had deformities, like she never developed a full, a fully formed body. Her arms were deformed, her legs, torso, everything, her head, and her upper body area as she became an adult. She was born in 1921, so she would've been, what, twenty-one years old when we went to camp, and so stature-wise, she'd probably, maybe, what, three, less than four foot tall. And she was pretty, in fragile health.

TI: And your mother would take care of her? Would that be the primary caregiver?

JK: Yeah, her mobility, she could get around on a tricycle, from childhood, and she was able to, to, with her deformed arms and her deformed legs, nevertheless, be able to ride a tricycle. Or if she couldn't, then we'd, anyplace we went we would push her on the tricycle.

TI: And so when you had to take this journey to Poston, how was the family transported?

JK: We went on buses. And frankly, I don't even remember what they had, I'm sure they had to carry her on the bus, if she had to go to the restroom. And I believe they let us take the bicycle, but, you know what I mean, she just... yeah, camp life would've been extremely harsh, 'cause from, like even from our barracks to where the mess hall was, there's no way, it was all sand, you know what I mean? She wouldn't, there was no way she could've even gotten from there to there, all the food. And then the restroom was, like, maybe she would have had to use a bedpan every day. I mean, it was just, it would've been...

TI: So given her condition, was there ever any discussion about not having her go to camp, to maybe another facility or something?

JK: No, I don't, that, I don't recall. But I must say that my recollection as far as camp life is concerned, I don't recall ever seeing anyone like a disability like she had in the camp. I just don't even remember that. I don't remember seeing anybody in wheelchairs, for example. I may have seen old guys with a cane or something like that, but I honestly don't recall... I think, I lived in a block, I don't, I guess maybe the museum would know... like, I live in Block 26, I don't know how many were in the block, maybe a hundred. But like, I don't recall anyone having any kind of physical disabilities.

TI: And so tell me what happened. So on the trip, how was it for her?

JK: Well, by the time we got to Poston, you know what I mean, she was already, she was all distressed, and she just laid there, she was... and they called the ambulance and took her to the hospital, and then she expired the next day. Of course, my mother was, of course, was devastated. But that's, yeah, it just, it just went very quickly, just went very quickly. Yeah, my daughter Charleen did some research, and the best she could figure it is that Kichan was the second death in that camp, among internee death.

TI: And how did that impact you? So this is your older sister, someone that you probably helped care for too during this time. What did it mean to you?

JK: Well, I guess for me, I'm a typical kid, I just, so selfish and stuff, I says, well, thinking about my own life. But the main thing I remember, of course my mother was in great mourning, and I just remember the service for her. It's kind of in that book a little bit, just one coffin propped on two egg crates or orange crates or something like that, not flower one. And then all the elderly people, they're, remember you only get one suitcase, right, so no pictures or anything, but I can just picture people in whatever they were wearing, and that was it. That was it. And then I was told my mother insisted that she wanted her cremated, and so they shipped the body back to San Diego and it was cremated at a mortuary in San Diego. And then, in fact, my mother and father were interred there in a cemetery in San Diego, right across the street from where Kichan was cremated. In fact, she's, her remains are buried there, close to my mom and dad in San Diego.

TI: Do you recall any contact with the camp officials while this was going on?

JK: No, not myself. No, I really, that, I don't recall. I just, I think, just yeah, kind of all I remember is, "Wow, where are we," kind of a thing. [Laughs] Classic...

TI: It must've been, so that probably, I mean, so here you're in a brand new place, but then you have all this family stuff going on. It must've been a lot going on in terms of your head, in terms of what...

JK: Yeah. It just, yeah, I think, I kind of feel like I was in a mental no man's land. Just, "What's going on? What are we doing?" And then ultimately, I think we settled down where... of course, remember my uncle, Stockton Papa? They were with us; we were all together. So somehow we got to the point where we had to get on with our lives. And the Colorado River's five miles away, so we started hiking to the river 'cause it's the heat of the summer. So we'd hike to the river and go swimming there, stuff like that. And my dad was a fisherman, so, and he had to settle down, kind of. And I remember Stockton Papa, he's like a Euell Gibbons kind of a guy. He, one, he wanted to trap a coyote and try to tame it so it'd be a dog, and then he started making charcoal right away, right away. He knew how to make charcoal. He'd go out right to the edge of the camp and chop down some mesquite trees and start, build a big bonfire and dig -- and he was a, he worked like a dog and so, farmer guy. So yeah, we were probably one of the first families that had charcoal already.

TI: And what would they do with the charcoal? What was the charcoal for?

JK: Well, if you wanted to heat, like the hibachi, if they wanted to cook something in their own little rooms. And of course, by the time winter came, then you needed the hibachi to stay warm. We did it to stay warm because there were outdoor movies, and so everybody brought their own little one gallon can full of charcoal that you lit. You'd put it under your damn seat there like that, so there's a couple a hundred of you with a hibachi under, with the charcoal. You know the one gallon cans that the food comes in?

TI: Right.

JK: Yeah, and that's how you stayed warm while you watched the dumb movie.

TI: Now, was there any issue of carbon monoxide poisoning in camp or anything like that?

JK: No, I don't remember.

TI: I was just curious with charcoal and things like that.

JK: Well no, the barracks all had holes in the floor and holes in the wall.

TI: So they had enough ventilation that you don't have to worry about that. [Laughs]

JK: Yeah, you kidding? [Laughs]

TI: Okay, that's true.

JK: No shortage of oxygen in those damn barracks.

<End Segment 15> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 16>

TI: So what were some of the activities that you did as a kid in Poston? So you're, again, thirteen years old, so what would you do?

JK: Well, you know, all I remember is that in the summertime we just knocked around, try to find a shady spot and go to river as often as we could. And of course, once school started, then you had to go to school. That's pretty much... I'm trying to recall, but I think the first summer we were there I just kind of knocked around, but I know I was there for three summers, and so the second summer I got a job as a plumber's apprentice. I worked all summer. They paid me twelve dollars an hour, so I worked like a slave. And then the third summer I got onto the construction crew, and I was, I guess, what, that was like 1944? I was driving a truck.

TI: So you were about fourteen, fifteen years old, fifteen years old.

JK: Yeah, I was driving a truck. See, my dad had taught me to drive a truck when I was driving when I was like ten or eleven years old, so I knew how. They know, farm kids, you do that.

TI: How about your older siblings? What were they doing in camp?

JK: Well, my oldest, Yo was married and had two kids, and so she was a homemaker. She lived in camp too. Aiko was a public health nurse, so she worked at the camp hospital. And then Haru, I don't remember what Haru did, and I don't remember what Bob did. 'Cause Bob didn't work with me in the plumbing shop and he didn't work with me out on the construction -- wait a minute, no, wait, wait, the first, yeah, see, all of them left after the first year. And I don't remember what Sis did.

TI: So that first year Bob may have, you may have worked with Bob in the first year.

JK: Yeah, I don't remember what he did that first year. Yeah, first, 'cause he was gone by the second summer. I was the only one after the first year.

TI: Yeah, so your siblings left after that first year. Where did they go?

JK: They went to Colorado Springs, Colorado.

TI: And why Colorado Springs?

JK: My, remember the nurse sister? She got a job in Colorado Springs as a nurse, and so then she sponsored my sister Haru and my brother Bob. By the way, I wanted to, I wanted to make a mention there that, I think I realize now, the part of culture is that in the Japanese culture, right, your parents are in charge, right? So once Aiko made the decision she's gonna move to Colorado Springs --

TI: And this was the headstrong one. This was the one that used to bump heads with your father.

JK: That's right. She got orders from my mom and dad, "Well, take your kid sister Haru and take your kid brother Bob with you." So I figured that out here recently. I said, "You know what, why the hell did they do that?" Well, she did it 'cause she was, as a part of a family unit, in spite of the fact that, all this tension with my dad, I always felt it was my mother that told her, "Okay, this is what you're gonna do. This is our marching order."

TI: Because you don't think that she wanted to bring --

JK: Well, she may or may not, but I think, hey, she says, "Hey, that was the thing to do." And she might've wanted to also, get the kids out of there. Yeah. But she didn't call me out there.

TI: Well that's what I was gonna ask, so why not you? You were about, you were fourteen.

JK: Yeah, because I think two was enough is why. [Laughs]

TI: Okay.

JK: So, but see, the other thing too, see, by the second year, right, my mother could see I was going down the toilet education-wise, and so she ordered my sister Haru to sponsor me. And that's how I got out after the second year.

TI: Now, what was it like for you to be an only child? So after your brother and two sisters are, leave the family unit, did the dynamics change with you and your parents?

JK: Well sure, 'cause I, now I'm on my own, I'm just a, now I'm a young wild dog. Okay, and that's why my mom and dad were so mad, 'cause I was flunking school and doing everything. I wasn't, I never thought I was, became a delinquent, per se, but you know, I'm just pretty much running around acting like I knew what I was doing. And I didn't, I really didn't.

TI: So did it change for you, not having the influence of your older sisters and brother?

JK: Yeah, I'm sure. I'm sure. Yeah, 'cause they were always around me, and so once they, once we separated, I figured I must've become pretty neurotic.

TI: Was there anything in particular in that year that your siblings were gone that you recall, in terms of an example of your behavior?

JK: Yeah, I think I was, at that station in life too, I was in an era of puberty, or post, pre, whatever all that business is, and so I got involved in various little things and, and I've often thought maybe my mother sensed that or something. Like we had a boys club room in our camp, in our block, and no self-respecting, they wouldn't come within a hundred yards of that place, that kind of a thing. I hope I don't, I don't offend your daughter, but like, I was at the age where I was just, I did the guard duty, you know what I mean? So the older guys, whomever they could entice to go in the clubroom would... so yeah, I said, "Gee, a guy like me, I'm the guard guy for all this stuff? What's going on?" [Laughs]

TI: And as much as you can tell me, what kind of activities did the all boys kind of club have?

JK: Well, I know they played cards or whatever, and if they, if they could entice some ladies to come in there, I'm sure they would, they had romance on their mind and stuff like that, yeah. But it was a kind of a, just hang out. It was a guy place. I don't want to suggest it was a wild, wild place as far as gentlemen club of today that are, something like that. And of course, we all had all kinds of sports. They had basketball and baseball and stuff like that. I always remember I lived in Block 26 and we could never win any games, we didn't have much athletic talent, but we could always win the fights afterwards because most of our guys were from the L.A. area. They were from the old L.A. street gangs of the Japanese, the Nisei guys. They were, compared to us guys from Imperial Valley, just country bumpkins, these guys were all city wise guys.

TI: So how did you get connected with them? I mean, here you were, kind of more the country kid, and here were the city folks, oftentimes I heard that they kind of kept separate. But it sounds like you kind of joined the city guys.

JK: Well, they seemed like they were having more fun, I guess. [Laughs] What can I say? They seemed like a wild bunch.

TI: And so your parents could see that.

JK: Oh yeah, I'm sure they, I'm sure. And of course, my grades were failing and everything, you know what I mean? Taking life, I was taking life too casually.

TI: So they got you out of camp. They got you to join your sister --

JK: My sister Haru.

TI: -- and your brother in Colorado Springs.

JK: Right.

<End Segment 16> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 17>

TI: So let's go there, so tell me about Colorado Springs. What was that like?

JK: Well, my sister at the time was nineteen years old, she found a little apartment and she got a job working in a, for the Spreckles Sugar Company. I don't know if you ever see that brand around. They're big in Colorado Springs.

TI: And this is Haru that --

JK: Haru, yeah.

TI: Haru, and then, 'cause you had, your older sister...

JK: Aiko.

TI: Aiko was the nurse?

JK: Right, she was a nurse.

TI: And she was the one who sponsored you.

JK: Yeah, she sponsored my brother Bob and Haru.

TI: Okay.

JK: And then she moved on to New York.

TI: I see.

JK: So then my brother, older brother Bob, he moved to Boulder, Colorado, where I had an Uncle Dave and Auntie Kumi there.

TI: Okay, so you were just living with your sister, then.

JK: So I just lived with my sister Haru and myself.

TI: Okay. Wow. So a couple teenagers living on their own in Colorado Springs.

JK: Yeah, she always said, as we led on in life, she always she had four children, three daughters and a son, and she always said, boy, she said, "After having to put up with my kid brother for two years," she said, "I can handle any of you, okay?" [Laughs]

TI: Well, because especially coming from that environment in Poston where you were kind of hanging out with the bad boys, and then she had to kind of mother you.

JK: Yeah, exactly. She had to go to the principal's office, da da da. Poor thing. We lost her a couple years ago. Bless her heart, between she and my mother, I don't know how I could've ever survived. And now I'm, she, like my oldest sister, she never ever forgot my birthday.


TI: Wow. So I guess looking back over all these years, do you ever feel bad in terms of how you were, you acted in terms of, kind of with a big situation for your sister, nineteen years old and she's trying to make it on her own in some ways, and she has to take care of her little brother?

JK: Badass -- excuse me -- badass brother, yeah. No, we talk about everything and, bless her heart, she was always, she always took care of me. I went in the navy and the first thing she did, she sends me a pipe and some tobacco, and she said, "Every good sailor ought to have a pipe." Come on, I'm not Popeye, for god's sake. Yeah, she was a great lady, great, strong lady. Strong lady, she was a powerful lady. Only thing I, over this two year period that we lived together, I had to screen all of her dates, okay? 'Cause she was a very lovely lady and then at that time in Colorado Springs there was a, there's Fort, it used to be called Camp Carson, but it's Fort Carson, and there were a lot of the Nisei soldiers from, that were coming back from the European campaign, and through whatever connection they found out there's a good-lookin' Nisei gal who lives down the street and everything. So she'd get dates for these guys, and I'd give her this [thumbs up], I'd give her that [thumbs down].

TI: [Laughs] So you would check these guys out.

JK: Oh yeah. And then she finally hooked up with an ex-army officer, Uncle Tom, and I always told Uncle Tom, I said, "Aren't you glad that I screened 'em all out so she could find you?"

TI: That's funny. I mean, were, but seriously, were there guys that you just didn't like and you told her, "Don't go out with this person?"

JK: Yeah, well, I'd let her know, "The guy, you know, he's a slimeball. Forget it." I'd, no yeah, I would tell her, "Yeah, he seems like okay."

TI: Okay, so she trusted your judgment. She really...

JK: Well, yeah, we were good buddies. We were good buddies.

<End Segment 17> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 18>

TI: Going back to you, in terms of, like when you went to school, how did people treat you in Colorado Springs? I mean, here's this Nisei coming into their midst, did they know where you were coming from?

JK: Well, that was an interesting experience as well, because moving to Colorado Springs obviously changed my life, it changed my whole track of life. I had some discipline issues, but I was fortunate that I got back on, I had a physics teacher and a chemistry teacher and these two folks saw some redeeming social and educational value in me, and the result of which is that I was able to get good -- also in mathematics, my math teacher, the three of them -- and they gave me a thoroughly good education. And so, and the reason I share all that with you in the context of, when I finally got, started, wanted to go to college, they looked at my grades, my history was F, my language was F, but my physics was A, my chemistry was A, and my algebra was A, so at state college they didn't care so much, but when I went to Cal Berkeley, I was right on the cut line. But they said, "Hey, this guy, he knows a little bit about this stuff," so that's how I got into Berkeley. And so it was those folks in Colorado Springs that did it.

TI: You know, I'm curious, especially these teacher who saw something in you, did they know kind of your situation, that you had come from a camp and you were Japanese from the West Coast and things like that?

JK: You know, I'm not sure, but I, but of course I was the only, the only Japanese student in the whole school. [Laughs] They must've known. Yeah, I might've said something crazy, 'cause I know there was, I did have an element of arrogance and such, so it got me in trouble at the principal's office. But other than that...

TI: Or even, like in terms of discipline, disciplinary action, did it ever come up in terms of --

JK: No, it didn't, no, I don't feel ever, I don't ever feel like there was anything... no, actually, my two years at the high school there I thought were just very nominal. Course, I just went to school and as soon as I got out of school I had to go to work 'cause it was my sister and me, and she was working just to pay the rent and I was working to pay the food so we could live together. So yeah, as soon as school's out, I had to go to work. I mean, I got out the classroom and I walked down ten blocks and went to work. I started out in a grocery store, and I stayed in the business maybe the first year, then I became a cobbler's apprentice, shoe repairman apprentice.

TI: How interesting. So you had to just kind of hustle for work. You had to kind of go around, find after school work.

JK: After school, yeah.

TI: Summertime work, things like that, just to help.

JK: Oh yeah.

TI: During this time did you stay in contact with your parents?

JK: Yeah, yeah. My sister did. I didn't. My sister did, yeah.

TI: So she wrote letters back and forth.

JK: Oh yeah, my sister was a great letter writer. She was very good about that. Haru was a, she was a well-organized, very bright lady. She was the only child in our, other than Kichan who passed, she's the only, went to a little, took some business courses, 'cause she became a classic receptionist. She's the only one that didn't go to college, but she was a bright lady. I think any other circumstances, I'm sure she would've gone on to school, done whatever she wanted to. But she, she married an accountant type of guy and he was a great, great provider for her, so she became just a classic homemaker.

TI: So it's kind of interesting to me how just the two of you, I mean, you were really quite young, when you think about sort of a fourteen year old and a nineteen year old living alone in a city without really much, without relatives, without really friends.

JK: Out there, yeah, out in the middle of an island, the sea. Yeah, it's quite an adventure. That's what I tell people today, I left home at fifteen. So like my kids, when they got out of high school, I said, "Get out of here. You're gone." You know what I mean? My late wife, she was orphaned at the age of fourteen, so we didn't give 'em much slack.

TI: Yeah, so the expectation is you're old enough to really strike out on your own.

JK: You know, if you're not ready, forget it, 'cause you're gone. You know, obviously they came back from time to time. Life got tough for 'em.

TI: Now, did you ever have any issues about being Japanese? Did anyone ever, like any comments about you being Japanese or your sister being Japanese while you were in Colorado Springs?

JK: You know, honestly, no. In Colorado Springs, I often think of that as an interesting experience because no, in that context they were just, we were just people. If anything that, I felt was, is I was one of those common people that had to ride the bus. Today when I see people riding the bus in my neighborhood I says, "God," I says, "I can remember being, riding on a bus." I said, "Someday I'll make it. I'll buy me a car." Yeah.

TI: Well, especially with your father, who was always involved with cars and trucks, I think that would be something.

JK: Yeah.

TI: How about Governor Carr? Did that ever enter your consciousness, in terms of the governor there and his, his acceptance of Japanese?

JK: No, I don't recall any of that, that social or that cultural aspect of it. No, I really don't. We just left, I thought we left a very... there was a little Japanese, there was a church, I think, where a number of Niseis went to, went to this church, and I know that there was a Nisei couple, the husband was a chef at the Broadmoor Hotel there. I don't know if you ever, that's a big mega resort hotel, it's very world famous, and he was the pastry chef there. And so he would invite my sister and I and other Niseis to their home for a little social gathering, and among them was a guy named, Ichiuji was his name. I forget his first name. I found out a month ago that he's passed on now, but his widow, Irene Ichiuji lives in Monterey, California, and he was a shoe cobbler and I got to know him. And I have a friend that went up there to see him and told Mrs. Ichiuji that there was a connection between me and her late husband, and it's, I can't believe I'm talking about from 1944. So when I go to Monterey I'm gonna look her up and tell her sea stories about her husband before he was married.

TI: That's good.

<End Segment 18> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 19>

TI: Well, so you mentioned sea stories, so after you graduate from high school, what did you do?

JK: I joined the navy. [Interruption] So I shot a letter to my mother and said, "Dear Mom, you have to sign for me because I'm underage." And I explained to her that if I joined the navy I can go to college. Two years in the navy gets you four years of college, so that was, that was good news for her that I was thinking of going to college.

TI: Now, why the navy? Most Niseis joined the army and not the navy. Why navy?

JK: Okay, the way I understand it was, remember I told you about this couple that was, the husband was a chef at Broadmoor Hotel? The wife of that couple had a kid brother, and as I understood it, on January of 1946 the navy lifted the ban of Japanese Americans belonging to the navy, so he joined the navy, he went to boot camp, came back, and I just happened to meet him casually. I says, "What are you doing?" He said, "Well, I joined the navy, man. Go see the world." So I said, "I tell you, that sounds good to me." So that's how I ended up going to the navy.

TI: And was there any, I guess, recruitment of you to join, like the Military Intelligence Service?

JK: No.

TI: 'Cause at this point they were looking for Niseis because of the occupation. They really wanted people who were bilingual to help with that. But there was no --

JK: No. And of course, I flunked Nihon gakko, so I had none of that, so no, I just said, "Hey, I'll just join the navy and act like I know what I'm doing."

TI: So you join the navy, and at that time, the navy, there were many in the navy that were very anti Japanese, especially after Pearl Harbor and, and the World War II.

JK: Oh yeah, yeah.

TI: In the navy, did you have, did you come up with anti Japanese sort of feelings?

JK: Not so much anti Japanese, but anti peasant class. When I got out of boot camp, then they assign you to duty, so I'm in this line and so then everybody's in the line and I'm with all my buddies that we're in boot camp with. And so come to me and, "Okay, we're gonna put you aboard da da da, destroyer da da da, and you're gonna be a steward." And I said, "What's a steward?" And they said, "Well, you'll do duty in the kitchen, KP, and then you'll be a waiter in the officers' ward." And I said, "I didn't join the navy to be no coolie in the damn kitchen or serve people." He says, "Okay, smartass, we'll make you a deck ape." And I says, "I don't," I said, "What's a deck ape?" "Well, you'll find out." And so I became a deck ape. Now, what a deck ape is, like in the marines if you're a grunt, or if you're in the army, you do everything that nobody else will do, okay? Aboard ship, you load the ammunition, you load all the food -- on your shoulders, by the way -- you get up at five every morning, you scrub the deck. You do all the menial chores that no other person will do. It's the lowest level of servitude.

TI: So in some ways, being a steward would've been a lot easier than --

JK: Are you kidding? I would've gotten in the front of the chow line. In fact, and later on I used to laugh, I said, "You guys eat better than we are." No, no, I said, "Hell with that." But obviously I was just typecast, right? I'm Asian, so I go in the... and even to the, in the [inaudible] era. In fact, while I was in the navy, I mean, like two years I was aboard a ship, no blacks. I take it back; we had maybe five or six, and the rest were all Filipino, doing all the chores. And then when I went to a dry dock in Boston, I had one black and that's all. The rest were all, one black and one Asian [points to self] and the rest were all Caucasian. So yeah, pretty much so, pretty much so, the navy was pretty much all white.

TI: And given that kind of segregation, how would you characterize, maybe the others, in terms of their view on race? I mean, here they're around, essentially, just whites, versus the army, there tend to be perhaps more variety, more diversity.

JK: Yeah.

TI: So again, did they, did the navy, then, kind of think of themselves as maybe better than the army because of that? Or did you ever have those kinds of --

JK: You know, I don't know that they, I was conscious, 'cause I noticed, even like aboard ship, the officers, they just saw a little bit of latent talent in me. They gave me an opportunity to advance. And then ultimately I ended up going to radiomen's school and I became a radioman, skills, with some skill sets, so I got better duty than just being a deck ape. So yeah, I moved up from my servant class. [Laughs]

TI: So where were you stationed after you finished all your training?

JK: Well, I was in boot camp in San Diego. They shipped me, our ship was in the Mediterranean fleet, so we got transported across country by rail to Brooklyn, got on an army transport, went across the Atlantic for ten days, and we landed in Leghorn, Italy. It's called Livorno, but that's where the Leaning Tower of Pisa is, Pisa, and that was a big debarkation center for the army, 'cause we were on army transport. And took a train down Italy to Naples, and that's where our, the ship, I was aboard a light cruiser, USS Fargo, and that's where the Mediterranean fleet was headquartered, in Naples.

TI: I'm curious, I mean, so you mentioned these places and they are similar, or the same places that many of the 442 guys also either fought or visited, did, were you aware of the 442 and what they had done?

JK: It's funny you should mention that. Yeah, I was aware of what they did, and then I took a tour, our ship, we ended up in Trieste, way at the, I don't know what sea that is, but anyway, Yugoslavia, right up on the eastern side of Italy, and so I took a tour of Switzerland and I went by train through Milan and then up to Switzerland and stuff. And I always remember going into all the honkytonks and bars in Switzerland, and they always liked Japanese guys. Said, "Oh, I like you guys." I felt like I was living in a kingdom. They all remembered the Nisei soldiers.

TI: Okay, from the 442 because they were up there.

JK: Through northern Italy.

TI: A lot of, what, R&R, or they were there fighting? I can't --

JK: No, they were all on R&R in Switzerland. So yeah, so and even like in Genoa, Italy, in all the places around there, so I felt somewhat like a celebrity. They hadn't seen any Asians for a long time.

TI: How about the navy guys, were they aware of the, of what the 442 had done? I know when I talk to other army guys who were stationed in Europe, I mean, they kind of knew what the 442 was and how they fought. Did the navy guys know?

JK: No, I don't think so. I don't know. No, I don't think so. No, there was not very much said. The navy guys, pretty much they're just living in their own zone, I thought.

TI: Okay. So any other stories about the navy you want to mention before we move on?

JK: No, just the usual stuff. You know, sailors go to the bar, right? [Laughs] Every... cultural things. Maybe there's one that I think, I laugh, my brother joined the army -- he was living in Boulder after he... and then he was stationed in Fort Belvoir, Virginia, and so I went to visit him when we came back to Brooklyn Navy Yard, and I always do remember go visit at Fort Belvoir and he's in the enlisted men's center, he's throwing beers down, and I'd been at sea for six months so I never had any fresh milk, so I'm guzzling milk and he was very embarrassed by that, I'd asked for some milk instead of booze.

TI: [Laughs] What happened to his kid brother?

JK: That's right, what happened? Went down the toilet in the navy.

TI: [Laughs] Quit drinking and now drinking milk.

JK: I'm down to drinking milk, for god's sake.

<End Segment 19> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 20>

TI: So Jack, we're gonna do the third part of this interview, and we had just finished your navy career. So we talked a little bit about that, and now you come back to the States, so tell me where you go. What do you do next?

JK: Well, by then my folks had moved to San Diego, so I went back home to San Diego, and then I applied to go to school. I wanted, I wanted to be an engineer, so I applied for UCLA and then I applied at San Diego State College. Then I found out that UCLA only had a three year curriculum for engineering students, but the only institution had a four year, full Bachelor's program, was UC Berkeley. So I decided I'd stay in San Diego, my first year at San Diego State College, then I transferred up to Berkeley the following year, '53 -- I'm sorry, '49.

TI: You talked about your grades not being the greatest in high school. Did you have any trouble getting into San Diego State?

JK: No, not there. 'Cause they're, the standards are a little bit lower than UC Berkeley.

TI: And why did your parents decide to resettle in San Diego?

JK: Well, there was no, there was no future for them to go back to Imperial Valley, so when they left, when the camp was starting to close, they actually closed the camp in November of '45, but prior to that, in August of '45 my oldest sister, Yo, had, got an assignment to teach Japanese language to naval officers at the University of Oklahoma, University, Oklahoma A & M in Stillwater, so my mom and dad moved from the camp to Stillwater, Oklahoma.

TI: Okay, and that's where that, those dishes, that story came in earlier.

JK: That's right, exactly. But then, in the meantime then, they couldn't handle the really tough lifestyle in Oklahoma because of the humidity. In fact, my brother living in Boulder, I was living in Colorado Springs, and my mama ordered us to come back to Poston because we're, all the family were gonna go move to Stillwater. So, by the way, you'll notice what's happened? Yeah, she ordered us back from where we were 'cause we're a family unit and we're all gonna go to Stillwater and live. We got to Stillwater and they didn't like it. My brother and I didn't like it. We said, "This is not a place for us to live." So just coincidentally, there was a Japanese, Nisei family that was there, and they were going back to Colorado -- and don't ask me why -- so my brother and I hitched a ride with them and we went back to Colorado. [Laughs] And he went back to Berkeley, I mean to Boulder, and I went back to Colorado Springs where my sister Haru still was. So she was stuck with me for another year. So then my dad had a friend that was from Shizuoka-ken that lived in San Diego, and his wife was a barber, but he was a gardener, so somehow they got, made a connection, and so my mom and dad moved from Stillwater to San Diego, and then that's how that became their postwar home.

TI: Okay, and your older, your oldest sister Yo, she stayed in Stillwater?

JK: Yes.

TI: For her job.

JK: For that, for her assignment and doing that navy language school.

TI: That's interesting, there was a navy language school in Boulder too.

JK: Yes.

TI: But she was stationed in Stillwater.

JK: She went to, now, in Boulder, my mother's younger brother Dave Suzuki, he was an instructor at Boulder.

TI: So your, so this is your uncle.

JK: Yeah, Uncle Dave.

TI: Okay. Interesting. And did he have any stories about teaching there that you recall?

JK: No, not particularly. I'm, the only thing I remember is that he got my brother a job working in the mess hall of the Navy V12 program, and he would bring home all the leftover food from the mess hall, and so every time I visited him he said, "Hey, we've been eating pretty good." Anytime, turkey, roast turkey, anything like that, they'd all bring home. I remember him bringing home butter, butter by the ton. All that stuff was kind of scarce in the civilian market, but the navy folks, they didn't, they're doing okay.

TI: Now, do you think that may have influenced you about the navy too, just having your uncle working with the navy?

JK: No, I don't think so. I think it was just more seeing the guys in the uniform, join the navy and see the world, very fickle-minded guy that I was.

<End Segment 20> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 21>

TI: Okay, so you're now in San Diego, attending college, and I think it's about this time where you met your first wife.

JK: Yeah.

TI: So tell me about that. How did you meet your first wife?

JK: That's a funny story. Remember I told you my mother was very religious? Alright, so she said, "You know what, now that you're home, why don't you go, start going to church again like you used to when you lived with us all?" Said, "There's, the reverend is there, the missus is there, and the reverend has three daughters and two sons, and they're all about your age." Da da da. So I said okay, so like a good son, I did what my mama told me to do, right? I went to church, and that's where I met, I met the reverend's oldest daughter. Her name was Miriam, Miriam Kikuchi, and she and I got to be good buddies. She's a little older than me. And so we started commuting to San Diego State College together because the church was close to where my mom and dad lived, and so we started socializing at church and everything. I could see her every morning. We'd go to school, come home, and then in the meantime, when I went to the admissions at the state college, I was standing in line and there was another Nisei guy in the other line. His name was Paul Oyama, and I didn't know who he was, he didn't know who I was, but then somewhere along the line, turns out that Paul Oyama had a severe crush on this Miriam Kikuchi, okay? And so we ended up meeting each other and everything, and then he and she started dating and stuff, and so then in the meantime, then I'm going to church and I spotted this lovely lady in church, somewhere around, I don't know, after I started school so it'd be the fall, right? And I told Miriam, I says, "You ought to get me a date with that young lady." And she pussyfooted around for, I don't know, three, four months, she said, "No, she's dating a guy who has a job. He's out of college and he already has a job, so forget it." [Laughs]

TI: 'Cause you're a lowlife student. [Laughs]

JK: That's right. You said it, I didn't. [Laughs] But anyway, make a long story short, Miriam finally got, we got a date, she got me a date after the New Year, somewhere around there, and we double dated, so that's what happened. And then I got to meet Paul, and every chance we get we'd socialize. And Paul was about the same size as me, stature-wise, so we used to exchange clothing so that we could look like we had a lot of, big wardrobes and stuff. In our era, it's classic, we're just all from World War II era, so we went to go see all, every time a big band came to town we'd go to the local Pacific Ballroom, go to a dance, classic things. So we knocked around, and yeah, Paul and Miriam got married, in fact. I just talked to Miriam three days ago, and they just celebrated their sixty-second wedding anniversary. I was the best man at their wedding, and Paul likewise was for my wedding. And we've been lifelong friends.

TI: That's good.

<End Segment 21> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 22>

TI: And so at San Diego State, what were you studying?

JK: Engineering. I went to, I started with the, on the GI Bill, and so I started in basic civil engineering.

TI: And why engineering? What was it about engineering that was interesting?

JK: You know, on my navy separation papers, it says, "What are you gonna do?" And I put down I was gonna become an electrical engineer. Then I have an auntie -- you remember I told you about my Uncle Dave that taught the Japanese language school? His wife, Auntie Kumi, she said that I told her, like when I was twelve years old, that I wanted to be an engineer, I was gonna become an engineer. I thought I was gonna be a Greyhound bus driver. I thought that was, I'd see the world, travel on the bus, wear that snappy uniform. But she said that, so anyway, yeah. Now, I switched from electrical engineering to civil engineering because I was having great difficulties with calculus, and so when I was going to school on GI Bill and I was flunking calculus, the VA sent me to psychiatrists and everybody, says, "You ought to consider some other place to go." So I settled on civil engineering and I, my specialty is water and wastewater, so it's been a very rewarding career. Life goes where you take, it goes.

TI: And so you, so from San Diego State, earlier you talked about Berkeley, so from San Diego State, you completed your engineering at Berkeley?

JK: Yeah.

TI: So you had your four year degree, civil engineering.

JK: Yeah, four years. I graduated in '52.

TI: Okay. And I think during the break we talked about this, so in a month or so you will have a sixty-year career in engineering.

JK: Yeah.

TI: 'Cause you are still working at eighty-three.

JK: Oh yeah, I'm still going to the office. In fact, I'm going to a meeting this afternoon in L.A., part of my job.

TI: So, and your specialty is waterworks?

JK: Water supply and wastewater, and I've also done quite a bit of municipal engineering, and that's like city engineering where you get involved in the infrastructure of the city, streets, storm drains and street lighting, bridges and things. I don't design 'em, per se, but it's all, that development activities, subdivisions and big developments. Yeah, I did all that stuff.

TI: So in your sixty-year career, what's your biggest highlight?

JK: Well, frankly, I'm, I think I would classify my engineering as a classic grunt, in the sense that I did, I just, I started out early on as a public health engineer. That's my fist gig after I got out of college. So my job was to inspect water, public water systems, public sewer systems, and be involved in the public health aspects of the water supply and wastewater treatment disposal. Then I graduated from that into municipal engineering, and my first assignment was, like, one of the programs, the city public works department, I was -- in a small town, Carlsbad -- I ran, I was responsible for the water system and sewer system. Then I went on from that, continued, and I got to the level of management of the water agency. But you know, a lot of construction -- in fact, I recall probably enjoying the most the construction part of it 'cause I like being outdoors, smoking a cigar, acting important, but that part of it, where I'm building something. Yes, we designed a lot of things.

TI: Was there a particular project, though, that you felt really good about in terms of building something?

JK: Sure. In fact, I'm working on a project right now that our firm -- I ultimately established an engineering firm, small firm -- we did the design of this project in the middle '80s and we're back on that same site. We're doing some remedial work at that site. People look at it and they just see my name on the plans and stuff. "Golly," and they say, "Is this you?" And I say, "Of course it is, man." [Laughs]

TI: Wow. So this was something you had done thirty years ago, when you were a small firm.

JK: Yeah.

TI: And now you're with a consulting, or helping with a much larger firm, and they're going back and doing this.

JK: Yeah. In fact, this particular water agency in Carlsbad, they invited me back to talk to 'em, and I started, and it was interesting, this young man has only been there eight years but he wanted to know the history of the water system. And I said, "Okay, I can tell you 'cause I was here when this entire water system was first developed." I started in 1957. And I said, "I came to the area in 1957, and so I've been, I've watched this system grow from its inception." So I was very pleased that he, one, he'd invite me, and two, he seemed very, very pleased that I would, somebody would share some of that history with him. And I was very, I was a little surprised. I was very energized that a younger guy is that interested, he wants to really get into it.

TI: Well, it's pretty unusual. I mean, I'm an engineer also by training, and to have someone who has that kind of knowledge, fifty-five years' worth of knowledge on a particular system is very unusual because oftentimes you come in and there might be documentation, but rarely do you find a person who actually was there.

JK: Well yeah, that context, I guess I would do what they today, knowledge transfer. Yeah, I'm more than happy to share this stuff with you. He seemed genuinely intrigued by the, some of the stuff I shared with him.

<End Segment 22> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 23>

TI: So Jack, I'm curious, you're eighty-three and you're still working. Why do you continue to work at eighty-three?

JK: You know, I think in some respects it's because I've done this all my life, it's part of my entire lifestyle, and the fact that I can stay connected, what I call the real world, and then to think that there are people who think I can bring value to the enterprise with my knowledge and experience. And in some respects I say, well, it's kind of flattering that... I started out on my own, me and my late business partner, we formed this small company. We, what, we had about twenty-five, twenty-six at the peak, and then we got bought out by another firm that had, I want to say maybe four hundred. And then that firm got bought out by a firm that had eight thousand, and then that firm got bought out by a firm that had three hundred and twenty-five thousand. And then the firm that had three hundred twenty-five thousand, they divested the engineering section, so I'm back to a firm that's about maybe fifty, sixty thousand. And then to think that during all these transfers of ownerships... in fact, the last transfer that I made, they said, "Who are you?" I said, "I just came with the furniture." [Laughs]

TI: And they're probably saying, "What's this old guy here for?" [Laughs]

JK: What's this old guy? I said, "Well, I'm the designated old guy, and I think I bring you a little ethnic diversity." Da da da. But in all seriousness, yeah, I just, I think that I find it rewarding personally because I can share what I have with the colleagues that I work with. And then I can, and strangely enough too, a lot of my work is business development and so most of the people you'd say, "Well, haven't they all retired?" Well yes, but I have, but I cultivated relationships with all the new guys too, so the new guys still know who I am by virtue of the guys that were there beforehand. And this is maybe a little vain on my part, but I was recently rewarded with a, I joined an honor roll of participants around the local agency. It's their fiftieth anniversary and they, they created an honor roll of twelve people who were there from the beginning and helped establish this enterprise, and they awarded, they made twelve of 'em, one for each month of the year. That's just kind of part of the fiftieth anniversary. And so I was one of those named as an honoree, and they gave me a big plaque. I thought it was interesting that they remembered who the folks were that started this all. People yelling at us and calling us names, and particularly to see us so successful.

TI: Well, I just wanted, an observation is, eighty-three, you're working, and in terms of your mental capacity, your physical capacity, it's quite impressive. I've interviewed quite a few people your age, and in general, they're not as good a shape as you are, in terms of both mentally and physically.

JK: Well, thank you. You know, in all honesty, yeah, maybe there's somewhere in this thing too, if I can do a little quick preaching, is that you've seen a little bit of my lifestyle, but when I turned forty I had a, they think I had a heart attack and the doctor told me that I wouldn't live to fifty. And he says, "You better do something, buster, or your widow and your three children are gonna be without you, and they're gonna, you're gonna be dead by fifty." And so he whispered in my ear, and that, I think that more than anything changed my life, because my late wife, bless her heart, I didn't, hell, I became uninsurable, the whole nine yards. So I had to lose thirty-five pounds, quit smoking, quit drinking, quit working twenty-four hours a day, and I had to go on the road, get up every morning, go jogging. Took me five years in order to rehab myself to where an insurance company would insure me with a penalty. That's how bad off I was. And I tell people now, I say, "I am now at the age of eighty-three, I can almost fit in my navy uniform when I joined the navy at seventeen. And I do that with discipline." And I credit -- actually, and this is what, I'm serious about it -- I credit this, I think about my mom and dad and what they had to do with their lives, mentally and physically. My mom and dad were moving and grooving, my dad until eighty-six, my mom until eighty-four. And she passed away out of loneliness because after, my dad passed away and she was gone in nine months. But other than that... and so I tell people, I say, "You know, if you ever have an interest," I don't ever want to get conceited about this, but, and that's what, again, that's the reason why I go to the office too, I want to stay connected with young people, young people like your daughter, my children, my grandchildren.

[Note: the following is not included in the video portion of the interview.]

JK: You know, I want to go back and talk a little bit about Patti. We had talked about, back in 1949, early '50s, meeting Patti while you were in San Diego. So let's talk a little bit about her, so what was her maiden name?

JK: Patricia Reiko Yoshikawa.

TI: And where was she from?

JK: She was born in Isleton, California. That's in the Sacramento Delta area. She was born and raised in the Delta area there.

TI: Okay. And tell me a little bit about her. How would you describe her?

JK: Oh man, just a lovely, lovely lady, and just made of steel like my mother, just absolute steel. She lost her mother when she was twelve, she lost her dad when she was fourteen, and she's on her own. And she had brothers and sisters who would help her, but she basically was an iron lady. Lovely, lovely, lovely lady.

TI: And then with her you had three children, so let's, can you tell me their names?

JK: Yeah, the oldest is Charlene, her middle name is Joyce, and she was born in 1952.

TI: Okay.

JK: See now, coincidentally, I've been in business sixty years, right, and she'll be sixty years old in June.

TI: That's a big milestone for her.

JK: That's right, that's right.

TI: And then you had two boys.

JK: Yeah, the two boys, Edwin Lester, he's born in 1955, and then Russell Alan, R-U-S-S-E-L-L Alan, and he was born in 1958.

TI: Okay. And you talked a little bit about raising them, in terms of how they would be a little rough at times too and how you would yell at them. And you mentioned that your first wife died.

JK: Yes.

TI: And how long ago was that?

JK: We were together for forty-four years. I met her in '49, so she passed away...

TI: '93?

JK: '93. '93, '94, yeah.

TI: Okay.

JK: Yeah, I lost her to ovarian cancer. Boy, that, talk about a silent killer. She was never sick a day of her life. And she was a petite, lovely Asian lady, and I met her, she was ninety-four pounds and this tall [holds hand up], four foot ten, and other than her three pregnancies, four foot ten, ninety-five pounds. She was an elegant dresser. And I'll tell you something about her, in terms of the kind of person she was, not only did she have discipline, she had all the money. See, I couldn't, I couldn't keep a dime in my pocket. When we bought our first home on the GI Bill, it was from her dowry. She, when we got married I had to borrow fifty bucks from my sister. She wept openly and said, "How could you possibly be such an idiot?" I said, "I'm okay." But in all seriousness, she was a magic, magical lady. She took care of the family.

And of course, she was a money manager. That's because she was orphaned at fourteen. She had to learn to be self-sufficient, and she's gonna teach those kids to do the same thing.

TI: Good, okay. And then later you remarried. You told me off camera about your nickname, Old Dog, and so tell me about your wife.

JK: Well, I met Gracie, actually it's, there's a family connection. Gracie has two older sisters, and the oldest of the sisters, her name is Hiroko and her nickname is Ski, she and my brother had been married for sixty-something years. So I had met Gracie when she was ten years old, when my brother was dating her big sister, and so we went on our different ways, and then after I became a widower I just, I was just having a good time being an old dog -- stray dog, by the way -- and I didn't think I'd remarry 'cause my mother taught me to cook, to sew. I can cook, sew, I can iron, I do all that housekeeping. But anyway, to make a long story short, after a while we decided to get married.

TI: And tell me the story about the dog tags. That was something.

JK: Okay, yeah, the deal was, I don't know how, just on some kind of a whim, I thought I'd get her a piece of jewelry, big spender that I am. So I got a replica, I had a jeweler make a replica of my navy dog tag, and that time that was kind of fashionable. Women wore this thing. And so on the front side it says Jack Yasuo Kubota, U.S., and Protestant, blood type, da da da, birthday, serial number. Then on the flip side I had it engraved, it says, "Gracie's old dog's tag." And that's, that's that story. [Laughs] So ever since then, that's my nickname.

<End Segment 23> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.