Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Kazumi Yoneyama Interview
Narrator: Kazumi Yoneyama
Interviewer: Martha Nakagawa
Location: Los Angeles, California
Date: May 23, 2012
Densho ID: denshovh-ykazumi-01

<Begin Segment 1>

MN: We're at Nishi Hongwanji Temple in Los Angeles. We will be interviewing Kazumi Yoneyama, and we have Tani Ikeda on video, and I will be interviewing, my name is Martha Nakagawa. So Kazumi, I wanted to start with your parents' information. What is your father's name?

KY: Takuichi Yoneyama.

MN: And which prefecture is he from?

KY: Hiroshima-ken.

MN: And what is your mother's name?

KY: Koyuki Yamanaka, her maiden name.

MN: And which prefecture is she from?

KY: Also from Hiroshima-ken.

MN: Now in total, how many children did your parents have?

KY: I think in total they had seven. When I was born, I was the last surviving child of five.

MN: So you were the last, so you are the youngest.

KY: Correct.

MN: And where were you born?

KY: In Hollywood, California.

MN: Were you delivered by a sanbasan?

KY: If that's a midwife, yes. [Laughs] According to the birth certificate.

MN: And what year were you born?

KY: 1932.

MN: What is your birth name?

KY: Bob Kazumi Yoneyama.

MN: Can you share with us the story how you almost got the name Stanley?

KY: Well, when I was growing up, I had three older sisters in this country. And they are like thirteen, fifteen and seventeen years older than me. And none of them have hakujin names. Apparently my parents wanted to give me a hakujin name of Stanley, and my sisters didn't like that name. So the story goes that they convinced my parents to name me Bob.

MN: Did you ever go by the name Bob?

KY: No, I didn't even (know) I had that name until probably high school. And then I put it on my high school diploma, and I used it as a middle name. But when I had to get my birth certificate to get a passport, I found out on my birth certificate that Bob is really my first name.

MN: So before you knew that you had this name Bob, you went by Kazumi. But Kazumi is probably a very difficult name for Caucasians to say. Did you ever feel pressure to adopt another English name?

KY: No. I think as far as before the war, the teachers were pretty understanding in that they didn't say anything about my Japanese name.

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

<Begin Segment 2>

MN: I wanted to ask you, what language did you first learn?

KY: English, I would think. My parents would speak Japanese to me, and I would answer them in English. But I was just going to American school, probably until I was six, and then I started Japanese school until the war started (when they) closed up Japanese school. And I was very happy because I only had to go to American school just like the hakujins.

MN: Now the American school that you went to, do you remember the name of it?

KY: Not really. It could have been Grant, although that may just be a name that I think of, and may not be accurate. I was nine when the war started and ten when I went to camp. I don't have a lot of recollections from those days.

MN: Do you remember the American school, the ethnic makeup of your classmates?

KY: No, but there weren't too many Japanese Americans. As I vaguely recall, everybody else was white. I know there were no black kids, and I don't think there were any Mexican Americans.

MN: So since there weren't too many Japanese Americans in your school, how did you get along with the other students?

KY: Oh, I don't think I had any problems because I was Japanese American. If they didn't like me that was because they thought I was a jerk, which is fair.

MN: Can you share with us that time that, at school, they asked you to bring a recipe?

KY: Oh. Well, I don't know what grade I was in, that one of the projects that the teacher had was for all the students to bring a recipe from home. And my mother used to bake cupcakes. So I took a cupcake recipe in to school.

MN: Do you have any idea where your mother learned to bake Western-style deserts?

KY: No. As I said, my sisters were quite a bit older than me, so I'm sure when she had them and they were growing up, that's when she learned how to make American food. 'Cause when I was growing up, we had Nihonshoku, but every once in a while we would have the yoshoku with gohan. Like maybe stew or spaghetti. And this isn't Western, but my mother also used to make homemade chow mein, which was a treat. 'Cause she spent a lot of time preparing that meal, and the second day when the noodles and everything had absorbed all the flavor, it tasted better than the first day. But she would cook egg and shred it, so you could spread that over the top of the chow mein. And in our family, we always ate it with gohan, even though my Chinese friends used to tease me about having gohan with chow mein, because chow mein is supposed to be a snack.

MN: Now you mentioned that your mother cooked a lot of the Nihonshoku.

KY: Yes.

MN: What about when you were going to school? What kind of lunches did she make for you?

KY: I think she made sandwiches, but I don't recall ever having a meat sandwich. I think I had like butter and bread, perhaps butter and sugar, sometimes butter and jam, and butter and peanut butter. Of course, the best one was when there was jam and peanut butter in the same sandwich.

MN: How about when you were going to Nihongo gakkou, Japanese school, did you have the same lunch?

KY: I don't remember. And I don't remember whether I went to Japanese school after American school or if it was only Saturday.

MN: Which Japanese school did you go to?

KY: Hollywood Gakuen.

MN: Were they pretty strict there?

KY: I don't know. I was a well-behaved child, because I was sort of ingrained with the feeling that I couldn't misbehave because I would bring dishonor to myself, my family, and all the Japanese in the world.

MN: Let me ask you a little bit about your parents. What did your father do when you were growing up?

KY: Well, we lived in a four-plex. And until I found out differently, I thought we owned the apartment. But when I became a volunteer at the museum, I found out that my parents couldn't become naturalized citizens and they couldn't own property in the state of California. So they may have been managing the four-plex for somebody else, I don't know. We lived in one of the units, and the other three were rented out. I think my mother was a typical housewife of that era where she shopped, cleaned house, did laundry, and cooked, and looked after the children. To my knowledge, she did not work outside the home.

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

<Begin Segment 3>

MN: Now you mentioned earlier that there weren't a lot of Japanese Americans in your school.

KY: Right.

MN: What about your neighborhood, and when you were growing up, who were your playmates?

KY: Well, there were two Japanese American boys, Harold and Gordon, that I spent my time with. There was one hakujin guy named Jimmy who I knew, but only at school. I don't remember doing a lot with other kids. But Harold and I used to roller skate together, we used to go to a movie theater called "The Hitching Post" that showed two cowboy movies, a cartoon, and a serial. And there was no newsreel, and there were no love stories. It was just everything that an eight-year-old boy wanted to see, and nothing that I didn't want to see. And we paid fifteen cents.

MN: Now you mentioned the movies, how about Japanese movies? Did your parents take you to see Japanese movies?

KY: No, not before the war, not that I remember.

MN: You mentioned that you roller skated.

KY: Yes.

MN: What other games did boys your age, before the war, play?

KY: I really don't remember. I know I had a tricycle, I had a bicycle, and my dad had made a swing in the garage, which was with ropes and a wooden plank to sit on. I don't remember if I had marbles or not. I think I did, but not at that time. And I don't remember what else we did for fun.

MN: You mentioned you had an apple scooter?

KY: Well, one of the things that my dad made for me was an apple box scooter, which was a flat piece of board, sort of like a skateboard, with roller skate wheels underneath. And in front of that was an apple box turned long side up and with handles on it. And so that was the front of the scooter and you steer with that. I don't remember what happened to that when the war started, and I don't think I was able to take any of my toys with me when we moved.

MN: You mentioned that your neighborhood didn't have a lot of Japanese Americans. Where did your mother and father go and buy Japanese food?

KY: I don't know. I think there used to be a truck that came by every so many days to sell seafood, so I think they used to buy the seafood from there. But I don't know where they used to buy the Japanese food. And I was too... well, I was too young to know and too young to care.

MN: Do you remember your parents taking you to Japantown?

KY: I think we used to go to Little Tokyo on special occasions to eat dinner at Far East Cafe, and that was a treat for us.

MN: What did you usually order?

KY: Oh, the same thing every time. Chow mein, chau siu, pakkai, pi chow yu, egg foo young, almond duck. Oh, and chi sai kai, seaweed soup.

MN: Do you know how often your parents took you to Little Tokyo?

KY: No, I don't remember.

MN: Now Sundays, what did you do on Sundays?

KY: I think I had to go to church. And, of course, at that time, all the sermons were in Japanese, the chants were in Japanese and the songs were in Japanese. So I didn't understand what I was saying, but I was smart enough to remember the words, or be able to read them. As I said, I was a goody two shoes student as well as, also in Sunday school. So I didn't get into any problems at Sunday school or Japanese school.

MN: Now, which church did your parents go to?

KY: Oh, Hollywood Gakuen.

MN: And this was a Buddhist...

KY: Yes.

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

<Begin Segment 4>

MN: Let me ask a little bit about, like, special occasions and holidays. Like for Halloween, what did you kids do?

KY: On Halloween, we lived across from Le Conte junior high school, and they used to show cartoons in the auditorium, so that all the kids would go to the auditorium and watch the cartoons instead of creating mischief. And it was walking distance from the house, so we'd go there. One of the things that I remember is that in many, in front of many houses, the people would water the lawn between the sidewalk and the curb so that kids wouldn't step there to do anything to the car because their shoes would get wet. And I think it was fun to go see cartoons.

MN: What about for New Year's?

KY: Well, as I vaguely recall, my mother made gochiso, and we were one of the families that stayed home. So people would come to our house to eat, and my mother would make everything from scratch at home. So I'm sure she spent many, many hours preparing for that.

MN: Can you give us some of the gochiso, what kind of gochiso did your mother make?

KY: Well, we always had... I guess it's like the lobster. And I guess we had whatever the typical New Year's food was then, like renkon and sardine thing, and, oh, of course gobo with goma on it. And I'm sure we had mochi. But a lot of what I'm recollecting may be from later years, not from the war years, 'cause my mother continued to do that after the war until there weren't enough people coming other than the family to warrant spending so much time preparing the food. So she was able to buy more and more of it at the store. And so she did that.

MN: Now you mentioned the mochi. Did your family do mochitsuki?

KY: No, not that I remember. 'Cause I was the only boy, and I was really too small to pound the mochi. And my sisters were not much older, and by the time that the war started, two of them were married. And so I don't think my sisters had to help with mochitsuki at the church or wherever.

MN: I'm just kind of curious, you mentioned also the lobster. It seems like a lot of the families before the war, lobster was for the people who came and the family couldn't eat it? Was that like yours?

KY: Oh, I don't know. I know it was on the table, sort of like the centerpiece. And I don't ever remember eating any of it, but I don't know if that was why.

MN: Now, I know you said your family went to a Buddhist temple, but did your parents observe Christmas?

KY: Not that I recollect. And I sort of felt left out at school because I didn't know anything about Easter. I didn't know really the religious reasons for Christmas.

MN: What memories do you have of your parents taking you to Hiroshima Kenjinkai picnics?

KY: I'm sure we went, but I don't remember. I know we used to go to White Point, which was like, I think, a spa. But I don't know what we did there. The name White Point rings a bell when I hear it.

MN: You also shared about being a member of the Woodcraft Rangers?

KY: Yeah, I think that was sort of like the equivalent of Boy Scouts for boys who were too young to join the Boy Scouts. And as I vaguely recollect, we probably met at Le Conte junior high school, too.

MN: Now you also shared that your family had a player piano.

KY: Yes.

MN: Did you or your sisters take piano lessons?

KY: I did not, and I don't know whether my sisters did or not because they were essentially gone by the time I remember anything.

MN: Now for those of us who may not know what a player piano is, can you share with us how that works?

KY: Okay, there's a roll of paper that has holes in it, and if you push some pedals, it activates this paper roll. And the holes in the paper is a program that causes certain keys on the piano to play. So I guess it's sort of equivalent to a program for a computer. And I don't know why we had it and I don't remember anyone ever playing it for us.

MN: Did you fool around on the piano at all?

KY: Well, I learned how to play "Mary Had a Little Lamb" with two fingers, and I think that was about the only song that I knew.

MN: You had a little dog also. Can you share with us about the little dog?

KY: Well, we had a dog, I think it was a Chihuahua, and I don't think it came in the house. But again, I don't remember. And after the war started, my parents, one of my older sisters and I voluntarily evacuated to Sanger, California, east of Highway 99, so supposedly we wouldn't have to go to camp. And we did not take the dog with us. And I don't remember what happened to it or all the toys I left in Hollywood when we left.

MN: So I guess you left the player piano and probably all the furniture?

KY: As far as I remember, yeah. I think we just got in the car and drove to Sanger. And in those days, going through the "Ridge Route" was very difficult. And most of the times when we drove there, our car would overheat, so we would have to pull off to the side and someone would have to go fetch some water, bring it back down to the car, pour it in the radiator, and when the motor cooled down enough, it started, and we'd continue on our way.

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

<Begin Segment 5>

MN: Since we're talking about getting into the war years, what do you remember doing on Sunday, December 7, 1941?

KY: On that day, my parents were having the minister over and they were having some kind of gathering for their friends. The sister who was still at home and me, were allowed not to participate in that. So she and I were in one of the bedrooms in the back listening to the radio when we heard about Pearl Harbor. And, of course, I don't think either of us knew where Pearl Harbor was or what had happened there.

MN: Did anyone you know get taken away by the FBI?

KY: Yes. There was a gentleman who lived below us who was Charlie Chaplin's chauffeur. And I understand that the FBI came and took him away Sunday night. When I went, before I went to school on Monday, my mother said that if anyone asked if I knew this gentleman, because they had the address from where he was taken in the newspaper, that I was to say no. But fortunately, no one asked me, so I didn't have to lie.

MN: What was it like at school on that Monday after Pearl Harbor?

KY: I don't remember it being any different than any other day. I think when you're nine years old, you're not affected by world events unless your parents tell you how you should behave.

MN: Now shortly after the war started, I think you shared that you were playing an arcade game at the Sunset Bowling Alley?

KY: Yes.

MN: Can you share with us that story?

KY: Well, it's a game where an airplane circles the inside of this game machine, and in each corner there are antiaircraft guns that shoot down the plane. And I was playing that, and I guess I was cheering for the airplanes, which I guess was a Japanese plane.

MN: Did anybody make any comments about you playing this game?

KY: No, not that I remember.

MN: And then can you share with us a little bit about the Sunset Bowling Alley?

KY: Well, at that time it was the largest bowling alley in the world. It's where Channel 5 KTLA is right now, on Bronson and Sunset, and it had fifty-two lanes.

MN: That's big. And I think before the war, all the pinsetters, were they all human?

KY: Oh, yes.

MN: That's a lot of work.

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

<Begin Segment 6>

MN: Now, you shared that your family moved to Central California from Hollywood. Do you have any idea how your father came to that decision?

KY: No, I don't. I came from a typical family where the man who was an Issei is the dictator, and he doesn't explain any of his decisions. And whatever he decided, we were supposed to follow without question or without hesitation. So him telling us to do something was not anything foreign to me. And doing what he said was nothing other than what we would do anyway.

MN: So when you moved to Sanger, was there like a cherished, treasured item that you had to leave behind?

KY: I don't know. As a kid of nine or ten, probably the toys.

MN: Do you remember seeing your parents burn any Japanese books or photos?

KY: Not that I remember, but they may have done it when I was at school. They never made any big deal out of it, and I don't think we had a lot of Japanese paraphernalia exhibited. So even if we had it, I don't know. I know we did not have a picture of the Emperor on the wall. I'm sure we had a butsudan.

MN: Did your parents take the butsudan with them?

KY: I don't think so, because I don't think we knew how long we were gonna be, where we were going. And I think we put everything in one car and drove, so I don't think we had a lot of room other than for our clothes.

MN: Now, once you got to Sanger, what did your parents do?

KY: I'm sure they were, became farm laborers. You worked on a per hour basis doing whatever. And I'm sure both of my parents worked.

MN: Do you recall if your parents enrolled you in school?

KY: Well, they must have, because I was too young to do it myself.

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

<Begin Segment 7>

MN: Do you remember how you found out that you still had to go into camp?

KY: No, I don't remember. I mean, if Papa says, "Tomorrow we're going someplace," tomorrow we went someplace.

MN: Do you remember the day or the month you left for camp?

KY: No, I do not. I know it was the first time I had ever been on a train. It was the first time I had left California, because we ended up in a concentration camp in Gila, Arizona. And I don't know how we got to the train station or any of that.

MN: Do you remember a lot of soldiers?

KY: No, I don't remember a lot of soldiers. I think once we got on the train we were told to keep the shades drawn, and I think we stayed, well, at least I stayed in my seat all the way except when I had to go to the toilet. I don't remember if we stopped anywhere or if we were allowed to leave the car that we were in.

MN: And is this the time you had a pet turtle?

KY: Yeah, I had a turtle and I put it in this matchbox, and I forgot to give it water, so it went to heaven on our way to Arizona.

MN: What did you do with the turtle remains?

KY: I don't remember. [Laughs]

MN: Now when you got to Gila, which camp did you end up in, Canal or Butte?

KY: We ended up in Canal, and most of the people in my block were from Central Cal. And I don't exactly remember if these were kids from my block or my school, but we had people from Sanger, Fresno, Fowler, Kingsburg, probably Reedley, in the block.

MN: Do you remember what your address was at Gila?

KY: 22-12-A. And my uncle, my aunt, and my three cousins lived in 22-12-B.

MN: Now in your apartment, who did you live with?

KY: My parents and I and my sister, until my sister got married in camp. She married a Selma boy that she had met -- Selma, California -- that she had met either on the boat going to Japan or the boat coming back from Japan just before the war. And when we left camp, I think we were probably one of the last to leave because my parents didn't know where they wanted to live when they grew up. So we went to live in Selma with my brother-in-law, to his family farm, and we stayed there for a few months and then we moved back to Sanger.

MN: So when you left Gila, did you leave with your sister and your brother-in-law?

KY: I don't remember, but I would think so. But, well, let me back up. My brother-in-law had two brothers and a mother in camp in the same block as we lived. So my sister may have gone with that side of the family.

MN: Now you mentioned this sister got married in camp. What was the wedding like?

KY: I don't remember. By that time, people had been sent to Tule, so there were some vacancies in our block. So my sister and her husband moved to a barrack, but it was within our block, just not in our unit.

MN: And then who occupied the other empty apartments?

KY: Well, in 22-12, I don't know... I don't remember who lived in C and D.

MN: Once the Tule Lake people left, did the Jerome people come in?

KY: Yes. We had a few of those that came in, into our block.

MN: How did it change the atmosphere of the block once Jerome people came in?

KY: Well, I don't know how it changed the atmosphere. There were two boys that came in from Jerome who were like my age, a little bit younger or a little bit older, so, I mean, as far as a kid goes, that was the important thing, that there were two more boys in our block. But as far as anything else goes, again, I was too young to get involved in the politics or any of that. My father was the Block Manager of Block 22 for a while, so it may have caused him extra work to account for people moving in and out. One of the things that I enjoyed in him being a Block Manager is all the mail got delivered to the Block Manager's office, and there were little cubbyholes for each unit. So when somebody got like a Life magazine, I read it before I put it away which probably wasn't kosher. But my father didn't object as long as nobody else knew about it. [Laughs]

MN: What did your mother do in camp?

KY: Oh, I think it was the first time she ever had any leisure time. Because there was no use cleaning the room. She didn't have to cook, because we all went to the mess hall, and that might have been when she started to do crocheting and knitting, because she probably never had time to do that before we ended up in camp.

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

<Begin Segment 8>

MN: Now, since we were talking about Tule Lake, I wanted to ask you if the so-called "loyalty questionnaire" was an issue with your parents.

KY: Again, I was ten years old, so they're not going to talk to me about that.

MN: Did your parents ever say in front of you that they want to go back to Japan?

KY: No, they did not. I don't think they even considered it since they had three grown daughters here, all of who were married. And they still had me, and I was like ten or eleven or twelve, whatever. So I don't think they wanted to sacrifice what they had here for what they might have had to face in Japan. Especially if Japan lost the war, they're going to be in very poor economic shape. And once we got to, back to Los Angeles, my parents used to send packages back to Hiroshima. At that time, there was a company called Asahi Shoe in Little Tokyo that prepared the customs records so that you can take things that were allowed to be sent to Japan, and they would package it, fill out all the necessary documents, and send it to Japan for my parents. So I'm sure they sent food and clothing back to Hiroshima. I went back to -- well, I went to Hiroshima for the first time in 1992, and I met my Hiroshima cousins. One was my father's nephew, one was my mother's nephew. And I think they welcomed the chance to repay my parents by being nice to me, and so they showed me around, they wouldn't let me spend any money, and it was a very enjoyable trip for me. And my Japanese was adequate, so I could converse with them on a very basic level. And when they were talking to me and I couldn't understand what they were saying, I would say, "Hey, wait a minute," and then they would stop and repeat what they were saying at a much slower pace.

MN: Do you know if your family in Hiroshima were affected by the atomic bomb?

KY: I sort of asked my two male cousins about that, and one of them, fortunately, was (out of) Hiroshima for work. And I'm not sure where the other cousin was, but they had no apparent damage from the atomic bomb although both of them died relatively young.

MN: How did you feel meeting your relatives in Hiroshima for the first time?

KY: Well, the two male cousins had been in the United States, and I had met them here. So when I went back it was not like being with strangers, but I had never met their wives. And one of my cousins had two or three sisters who came to his house, and that was the first time that I had met them. And when I went to Nihon, I took my jizu with me. And the first thing I did when I got to their house was I went to the back where the family cemetery is and paid my respects. And I think they appreciated that, for a gaijin I knew enough to do that.

MN: Now one of the things also people worry about going to Japan or coming back is omiyage.

KY: Yes.

MN: What kind of omiyage did you bring over?

KY: Well, I went to Japan on a kankodan, a group tour, with Yamato Travel. And my auntie had written to my cousins and told them that, "Okay, Kazumi is coming over, but he's coming on a kankodan, so he can't bring any omiyage with him. So don't give him any because he can't bring it back." And so at that time people in Japan liked beef jerky. So that's all I took was beef jerky to them. And I think they appreciated that and, I mean, just the fact that I was there, I think was... they liked that. And the last day I left, after they had shown me around Hiroshima, they came to the Bullet Train station to see me off, and both of them gave me an envelope full of money. And they said, "Well, you can put this is your suitcase," and what can I say? So I was trying to spend all my yen before I left Japan, but I ended up with this money from both of my cousins. And I had taken pictures of my cousins, so once I got home I made 8x10 prints, and I sent them back to Japan. And because I didn't know what else to do, and I think they appreciated the fact that they now had a formal record of me being there with them. The wives of my two cousins said that they understood romaji, so I wrote in romaji to them thanking them, and I had told them that I can read a little bit of katakana. So when they wrote back, they wrote back in katakana, and what I couldn't read I took to someone who could read it and had them translate it for me. So we exchanged a couple of letters after I got back, and I took copy machine pictures of my sister's adult children and I sent them back to Hiroshima saying, "Okay, this is Neesan Mitsuye no musume," or mago or himago. And so that they could relate to who these pictures were of.

MN: Now when you were in Hiroshima, did your relatives take you to the Peace Park?

KY: I'm sure they did, but that's part of the tour. I mean, when you go to Hiroshima, almost automatically you end up in the Peace Park.

MN: How did you feel about witnessing what the atomic bomb had done?

KY: Well, it wasn't the first time I had seen pictures of the destruction, so I don't know if it affected me that much.

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

<Begin Segment 9>

MN: Let me go back to the camp era. Now, you entered camp with your father, mother, and yourself and the sister right above you before she got married. What happened to, you had two older sisters. What happened to them?

KY: Okay. The oldest sister was married and had two young children, and they lived in Gardena. And they moved to Chicago so that they didn't have to go to camp. The middle sister was married, and she and her husband and her mother-in-law came to camp or was forced into camp, and my sister was pregnant, and she didn't want her kid to be born in camp. So they didn't stay in Gila too long, and they also moved to Chicago so that her child could be born free.

MN: Now when you entered Gila, did school start immediately?

KY: I don't know.

MN: Do you remember what the school you went to was called? Was it Gila River grammar school?

KY: No, I don't remember what it was called, but there was only one school in the camp, in Camp I. So all the children went there. I think the grammar school went from K to 8, and high school probably was 9 through 12.

MN: Now when you first started school, did the classes have desks and pencils and chalkboards?

KY: We had desks and chairs, and I think we had books, yes.

MN: I know some of the classrooms and different camps had students of the hakujin administrators in there. Did you have any hakujin kids in your class?

KY: Not that I remember. Our principal was hakujin, and his hakujin wife was one of the teachers. But I don't remember ever seeing any hakujin children in our class.

MN: Now were your teachers all hakujin or were some of them Japanese Americans?

KY: I think just the principal's wife was the... she might have been the only hakujin teacher that I remember. I think the rest were... I'm trying to think. No, I take it back. My eighth grade teacher was a hakujin male from Oklahoma.

MN: Were you able to make a lot of friends at Gila school?

KY: Well, I don't make friends easily, and the boys teased me because of my size. So school was not a fun experience for me. Fortunately, the Scoutmaster... well, a gentleman formed a troop, who lived in our block, so all the kids in my block joined the Scouts. And although I was too young, he allowed me to hang out with them because there was nothing else for kids to do. And so I became friends with the kids in my block, most of whom were older than me. That was probably a saving grace for me, that I had someone to, boys to spend time with that didn't tease me because of my size, and were willing to accept me. And I still kept in touch with some of them after we left camp.

MN: Now some of these boys that would tease you, did you get into fights with them?

KY: No, if you're the small dog, you don't get into fights. You try to avoid fights.

MN: Was this the first time... when you entered camp, was this the first time that you got teased like this?

KY: I think so, because before then, there wasn't that much size difference between my classmates and me.

MN: Did that sort of affect your views of how you related to other Japanese Americans?

KY: Yes. Negatively. I vowed that I would never live with "Japs" again, and I have not since. I mean, exclusively.

MN: Now, regarding your education in Gila River, how would you compare that education to the education you got outside?

KY: I think it was comparable. Because when we left camp, I started the ninth grade at Selma Union High School, because they had four-year high schools. And I was able to keep up with my classmates.

MN: Now you mentioned the Scoutmaster in your block.

KY: Yes.

MN: What kind of... now, you were too young to join the Boy Scouts, but what kind of activities did you join, do with them?

KY: Well, I guess we had to learn how to tie knots. And I know one time we were able to go on the desert side of camp. Because if you left camp from there, they didn't care, 'cause if you went out in the desert and died, you're saving the government forty-two cents a day. So the whole Troop went out to the desert so that the regular Boy Scouts could earn their Merit Badges. So that was fun for me to be allowed to go out there with them.

MN: Now other than with the Boy Scouts, did you have other occasions to go outside of camp?

KY: Our grade was allowed to go to some small town in Arizona so they could play baseball, and I got to go with them. And as I recall, we were transported by truck, and we were told to behave when we were on the outside, and so we did. But I think it was fun to just get out of camp.

MN: Now you also shared about how your Block 22 had a gymnastics bar?

KY: Well, we had one bar, yeah. And, well, this is hand-built, of course. It was just a piece of wood and a pipe, and so you could hang on the pipe and do tricks with it.

MN: So this is something that you often played on?

KY: Well, I don't know how often I did, but I did play on it occasionally, yes.

MN: Did you get involved in any team sports in camp?

KY: No. Again, I was... I would be the last person picked on the team, so I didn't particularly want to do that.

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

<Begin Segment 10>

MN: Now, Gila River is out in the desert.

KY: Yes.

MN: Was it difficult for you to get adjusted to the weather?

KY: No, I don't think so. I think since we had lived in Fresno, we were sort of used to living in hot, dry weather. And I think even then I tolerated hot weather much more than cold weather.

MN: Did you have any incidences where the heat actually got to you?

KY: Yeah, I fainted one day walking home from school or someplace. And when I woke up I was in a hospital in Butte. And I don't know how I got there. I don't know how I got back to Canal, and I don't know if anyone let my parents know. I do remember when I got home, my parents didn't say anything about what had happened to me. So I guess it was no big thing. They didn't think it was a big thing and I didn't think it was a big thing either.

MN: What happened? Were you just dehydrated?

KY: I would think I was either dehydrated or perhaps I ran out of salt, I don't know. I think we were given salt pills, but I don't really remember.

MN: Now, was this the only time you went from Canal to Butte camp?

KY: Yes.


MN: -- Gila, and I wanted to ask you if you could share with us what your father did to your barrack to keep cool.

KY: My dad dug a basement beneath our unit. It was probably four by four by four. And he built a trapdoor in the floor of our barrack, and he had stairs, so we could go down there and sit beneath the ground level. And it was cooler down there, so we used that sort of like our own private basement, just to stay cool.


KY: And I don't know where he got the tools to do that, or the shovel to dig out the dirt, or what he did with the dirt once he dug it.

MN: Let me ask you a little bit about the food in camp. Now, I know people today, they still can't eat certain foods because it's associated with camp.

KY: Right.

MN: Do you have that problem?

KY: Well, for a long time I couldn't eat pancakes because if you ate pancakes in camp for breakfast, they'd still be at the bottom of your stomach at dinnertime. And so for a long, long time I didn't eat pancakes at all. And I do now, but...

MN: Did you ever get diarrhea from eating food at camp?

KY: No.

MN: Now, were there foods that they served in the mess hall that you'd never eaten at home?

KY: I'm sure there was, but, I mean, you ate what they gave you.

MN: What memories do you have, I mean, what sort of foods did they serve in camp?

KY: I don't remember. Nothing memorable. [Laughs]

MN: I hear stories where families in camp were broken up because the kids no longer ate with their families. What was it like in your family?

KY: I must have eaten with my mom, although I don't remember. I don't think I had the guts to go eat in another block. I don't think I had any boys that I was close enough to that I would go eat with them.

MN: Can you share with us the time you ate a rattlesnake?

KY: Oh, well, it was just something that they cooked over the fire. And it was no big thing.

MN: Do you recall what it tasted like?

KY: No.

MN: But I guess it wasn't so bad that you did spit it out.

KY: Oh, no, not at all. I mean, it's just a reptile.

MN: Let me ask you a little bit about the public latrines. Was it difficult for you to get adjusted to a public latrine?

KY: No, 'cause most... if you go to sporting events, as far as boys go, you use the urinal, and everybody's there around you. As far as the shower goes, if you're in school, you take showers without partitions or stalls or anything like that. So it wasn't anything that I hadn't been used to. We did wear getas in the showers, so that our feet wouldn't touch the concrete, but I think that was mostly to prevent getting athlete's feet. And also when you walked from the men's shower room back to your barrack, your feet would stay dry. But as far as urinating or sitting on the toilet, it was no problem as far as modestly goes for, I think, most boys.

MN: Do you have any idea where you got the geta from?

KY: No, but I would think probably Papa made it.

MN: What about movies? How were movies shown at Gila River?

KY: There was like a drive-in screen, except the people who lived in the camp would take their own folding chairs, and they would have speakers throughout this open space, so that you took your chair with you, sat wherever you wanted, and you can hear the sound of the movie. And when the movie was over, all the kids used to run back to their block and go take a shower before the adults got there, and while there was still hot water.

MN: Do you remember what kind of movies were shown?

KY: No, I do not. There were a couple of them that were very boring as far as I was concerned, because I didn't understand the movie. And I don't remember seeing any cowboy movies or cartoons or things that I would have preferred.

MN: Let me ask you about some of the holidays in camp. What was Oshogatsu like in Gila?

KY: I think was had mochitsuki in our block, but I'm not sure. I know one year we did, and that was a fun day for me because I got to eat mochi after it was being made without having to be cooked. And I also got to run around and throw flour on everybody else.

MN: What do you remember of Christmas in Gila River?

KY: I think someone gave all the kids in our block presents. I think they did it anonymously. I don't remember ever writing a thank-you letter to anybody. There was one family that had a lot of kids, and they were upset 'cause they didn't get any presents. And apparently someone forgot to bring the box that had all the toys for that family, and they found it and then they gave that family their toys.

MN: Did your block have things like a Santa Claus or a Christmas tree?

KY: I don't think so.

MN: Do you have any other memories of camp?

KY: No.

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

<Begin Segment 11>

MN: Let's talk about how you got out of camp, then. Do you recall what month you left Gila?

KY: No, I do not.

MN: How did you feel about leaving camp?

KY: I don't know. Like I said, I was a kid, so I did whatever Papa said. So it didn't matter how I felt.

MN: Now you had mentioned earlier about leaving Gila to go to Selma.

KY: Yes.

MN: What memories do you have of that drive?

KY: The only thing that sticks in my mind is we went through a town that had a sign that said, "No Japs Allowed." And I was very fearful that if we had car trouble, I didn't know what would happen to us. But we didn't, so that was a big relief.

MN: Now once your parents got to Selma, what did they do?

KY: I guess they worked on the farm again. I don't think they had any other skills that were useable as far as the unskilled labor.

MN: And how long were you in Selma?

KY: I don't really remember. I think I went to part of the ninth grade in Selma before we moved to Sanger, but I don't know if we stayed the whole school year or not.

MN: So did you go to part of ninth grade in Selma and then finish off at Sanger?

KY: I think so.

MN: Can you share with us this incident you had when your family moved to Sanger with this truck driver?

KY: Well, if you're talking about VJ Day, we were walking on the street and some rednecks drove by and said, "Why don't you fuckin' Japs go back to Japan?" And that was a little frightening, but they didn't stop, fortunately.

MN: Now how did your family hear that the war was over?

KY: I don't know.

MN: How did you feel when you heard the war was over?

KY: I guess it didn't matter to me. I mean, I was on the outside now, we were able to do pretty much what we had to do. So the war being over was not any different than the war continuing.

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

<Begin Segment 12>

MN: Now from Sanger, where did you go?

KY: My parents still hadn't decided where they wanted to live, so they sent me to live with my, one of my other older sisters in Gardena. So I moved in with her, her husband, and their two young daughters, and I went to Gardena High in 1947. Then my parents told me I could come home, so I joined them in Los Angeles sometime between 1947 school year and the 1948 school year, and I finished high school in Los Angeles.

MN: Which high school did you go in Los Angeles?

KY: John H. Francis Polytechnic, which was located at Washington and Grand in L.A.

MN: At that time, what was the ethnic makeup of Polytechnic?

KY: There were a lot of Japanese Americans there, and I think we were essentially running the school, because many of us were Student Body Officers. And I was Student Body Treasurer, and I also worked in the student store.

MN: How did you do in high school?

KY: I did very well. I was Ephebian, CSF, again, because of the emphasis to be a good boy and study hard, and I did that.

MN: CSF was California Scholastic Federation?

KY: Something like that, yes.

MN: What year did you graduate from high school?

KY: Summer of 1949.

MN: So how old were you when you graduated from high school?

KY: I think I had just turned seventeen.

MN: So you were younger than a lot of the others.

KY: Yeah, I think I skipped a grade when I was a kid, you know, in lower elementary.

MN: Before we continue with that part of your life, I want to go back a little bit. Your parents are now in Los Angeles, they had moved from Sanger. What were they doing in Los Angeles?

KY: They bought a transient hotel, which meant we rented our rooms by the week. And my mother did the cleaning, I think she washed the sheets and cleaned the place, and my father did all the routine maintenance like carpentry and painting, and I think a little electrical, but not too much. Because I think that was, some of it was beyond his capability. He did do the plumbing.

MN: And did you have to help out in the hotel also?

KY: No, I was very lucky that only when my dad needed some help, he asked me to help him. But again, because of my size, there were a lot of things that I couldn't help him with.

MN: What sort of people stayed at your parents' hotel?

KY: Poor people. We probably rented the rooms for like fifty cents a day or something like that. And so these were unskilled people. But as long as they paid the rent, that was all that mattered to us.

MN: Were they Asian, Caucasian, African Americans?

KY: There were no African Americans. I don't think there were any Mexican Americans. I think they were all essentially Caucasians. And there were no Asians.

MN: How long did your parents run this hotel?

KY: Probably close to ten years.

MN: And after that, did they retire?

KY: Well, we bought a house in Boyle Heights in December of 1957, and moved there, and my father died in April of '58. So my mother and I lived in Boyle Heights together until she passed in 1976. I had graduated from college in 1963, so I was working as a professional since probably September or October of 1963.

MN: Now going back to your schooling, judo, right after the, shortly after the war, you took some judo classes.

KY: My father made me go take judo. I was still much smaller than the other participants, so I competed against kids who were my size but much younger than me. And I kept that up until my dad said I didn't have to anymore.

MN: Which judo dojo did you go to?

KY: I think it was in Little Tokyo but I don't remember.

MN: And you said until your dad told you to take it, but how long did you take judo? One year, two years?

KY: Not too long. I probably got one or two colored belts, but I was not geared for that sport.

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

<Begin Segment 13>

MN: Now, you graduated from Poly in June 1949.

KY: Yes.

MN: Now once you graduated, while you were growing up, did your parents ever pressure you to go into a certain profession?

KY: No, they did not. They didn't encourage me to do anything or discourage me from doing anything. I think when I was in the ninth grade, I took a class called Junior Business Transactions, in which we manually filled out spreadsheets with columns and rows. And this was to keep track of the profits that a hypothetical business achieved. And I was able to do that well, and it interested me, so I took a commercial course in high school learning bookkeeping, typing. So that sort of geared me to what I was going to do as an adult. And I went to L.A. City College as did most of my classmates, and I got a AA Degree in Business Administration with an (Accounting) major.

MN: After you graduated from Los Angeles City College, what did you do?

KY: I found a company in the wholesale produce market that was willing to hire me without any experience. Because most of the jobs that were being offered required that you have some experience. And if you didn't have any experience, you couldn't get a job, and if you didn't get a job, how can you have experience? But he was willing to hire me as a bookkeeper, and so I worked there, I worked hard, and I stayed there for, like, ten years, until I felt that I had no future there, because I could not advance any further than where I was. So I asked my mother if I can go back to college. She asked me, "Who's going to pay the bills?" and I said, "I will." And she said, "Okay, then you can go back to college." [Laughs] So I went back to L.A. State for a semester and a half, daytime, and got my Bachelor's Degree in Business Administration with an (Accounting) major, and I passed the CPA exam, and I kept going to night school once I got my professional job and got my Master's in Business Administration with an (Accounting) major in 1967.

MN: Now those of us who don't know how difficult the CPA exam is, can you share, like, how many days you have to take it, and on average, how many times do people take it before they pass?

KY: Well, it's a two-and-a-half day exam that covers the subject of law, principles of accounting, principles of auditing, and practical use of how to record transactions. I don't think there are that many people who pass that at one time, because if you pass two portions, you get credit for that and you can come back and take the other portions later. Luckily for me, they asked the right questions, so I passed the entire exam at one sitting.

MN: That's quite an accomplishment because I understand it takes, on average, three times to pass it.

KY: Oh, I don't know. The funny thing or frustrating thing is I told my mother that I had passed the CPA exam, and she says, "That's nice." [Laughs] Because she didn't really know what a CPA did, and I really couldn't explain to her. So later on when I was making pretty good money, I would show her my paycheck. Because I was working for the state, and we only got paid once a month. So at that time it was a pretty big paycheck, so I figured, well, if she sees how much money I'm making, then maybe she'll think I must be doing something worthwhile. Three of my nephews and one of my nieces became schoolteachers. And that was very... my mother was very impressed, because I think Isseis particularly were proud that their children were in education and were schoolteachers, and that was an honorable profession.

MN: But you almost became a teacher also.

KY: Well, I was debating whether I wanted to become a teacher once I was working as an auditor. And so I signed up to teach Advanced (Accounting) at L.A. City College at night, just to get my feet wet, to see if I can handle it, and especially if I can handle the discipline. I thought if I was teaching an elective at night, the only people who would be in class would be people who were interested, and so they would be more motivated to study. And especially at night, they're not going to go there at night and raise hell, 'cause they can do that not in class. And it was gratifying when a student will say, "Oh, I understand what you mean, Mr. Yoneyama." But after I had taught like a semester and a half, my mother ended up in the hospital. And so I was going to see her every night, I was working full time in the daytime, and the easiest thing to give up was my night class. So I quit teaching and never pursued it after that.

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

<Begin Segment 14>

MN: I'm going to go back a little ways and go back to when you graduated from... is it Cal State Los Angeles you graduated?

KY: When I got my Bachelor's it was probably called Los Angeles State, and when I got my Master's it was Cal State University at Los Angeles. But it was located at the same site.

MN: Now, you passed the CPA exam, you have your Degree, were you able to find a job easily?

KY: I found a job with the State because the person that interviewed me had had favorable experiences with Japanese Americans. So when I interviewed with him, being Japanese American was an asset rather than a liability. So he thought, well, if I was like his other Japanese American employees, he'd be well-off, so he'd be willing to hire me.

MN: Why didn't you join a big CPA firm? You have the grades, you passed the test.

KY: Because I was Japanese American. Even in 1963, there was obvious prejudice against us. I had two classmates, and we were in the top five percent and top one percent of our class. But they were hiring Caucasians with C averages rather than us. And one of the recruiters had the nerve to tell me that his firm wasn't prejudiced, but their clients were, so they didn't want to hire us, which I thought was a bunch of baloney, but there's not much I could do about it.

MN: So you got hired with the State of California.

KY: Yes.

MN: So you're working as a professional now. What did you wear to work?

KY: Wore a suit every day. And I bought my custom made suits from Joseph Men's Wear in Little Tokyo.

MN: Now, you shared about, in this case, being Japanese American was an asset working for the State.

KY: Working for this Agency of the State.

MN: This Agency of the State. Now, did being shorter affect how you were promoted at this job?

KY: I think it was not helpful, because one of the things that people judge you by is how you make your first impression. And they have in their mind's eye what a CPA should look like, tall, white, male, and young. And I struck out all three.

MN: Now, with the State also, is it my understanding you worked for the Regulatory Agency also?

KY: I worked for three different Regulatory Agencies.

MN: So when you had contact with the public, how did the general public treat you?

KY: Well, depending on who you're talking about, most of these people are licensed by the State. So when we go see them, they're looking at us as their Regulatory Agency, so they have to show us a certain amount of respect, whether it's sincere or not. Some people, especially attorneys, think they're better than a mere auditor, or some other accounting person would tell me, "Well, I'm a CPA." So I said, "Well, so am I. So what?" And then that pretty much shut them up.

MN: Now, you're working full time, and then you also mentioned you went to night school and got a Master's Degree.

KY: Yes.

MN: Why was it important for you to get a Master's Degree?

KY: Well, it looks good on your resume. And although I didn't need it where I was, I don't know when I may need it in the future.

MN: And then you're also teaching night school, and you were caring for your mother.

KY: Well, not really caring for her, I was just visiting her. She was in the hospital.

MN: When did your mother pass away?

KY: She died in 1976, in January.

MN: Now were both your parents, you mentioned earlier your father passed away in '58. Now, before they both passed away, were they able to become U.S. citizens?

KY: My mother went to school and became a U.S. citizen. My father did not.

MN: Did you celebrate your mother's citizenship when she got it?

KY: I don't think so. One of the benefits was that she went to school, and she learned enough English to pass the test. But she also learned enough English that she could read thank you notes that her grandchildren sent to her, and I think that gave her a big dose of pleasure. And when she got notes from her grandchildren and she couldn't understand what they meant, she would bring the note to me and I would translate. And I think that was one of the things that getting the membership -- excuse me -- citizenship helped her, because I don't think she would have gone to school otherwise. My mother was a typical Issei in that she was looking out for her children. And so we used to tell her, "Don't save money for us, spend it on yourselves." And so we finally brainwashed her to the point where she was giving money to her grandchildren instead of saving it for her kids. So that was good in that she became closer to her grandchildren, and I think that was a big morale booster for her later. I think she was closer to her grandchildren then they were to the paternal grandmother.

MN: As you got older, did you ever talk with your mother about camp?

KY: No. We were both in camp, so there was nothing to say.

MN: Have you ever returned to Gila River after the war?

KY: No, I do not contemplate doing so, because it would not bring back pleasant memories for me. I went to a couple of reunions, but I haven't been to one probably since 1992.

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

<Begin Segment 15>

MN: Now let's get into the three turning points in your life. Can you share with us the first turning point, when you became a runner?

KY: Well, that was in, I ran my first race May 16, 1982, and I think that changed my life around. Because it helped my self-esteem, other than for running, because I had never done anything physical before. And here I was able to run as well as an average person. Running is not a team sport, so you can run when you want, you can stop when you want. And if you crash and burn, it's your own fault, but if you succeed, it's only you that allowed you to succeed. And I met a lot of people that I enjoyed being with through running. And even now, if I'm five miles away from home, I have no fear that my car would conk out because I know I can always walk home or run home. But I never had that feeling before.

MN: What prompted you to become a runner?

KY: Well, I hadn't skied for a long time, and I was going on a charter bus to Mammoth, and I wanted to get ready for my first ski trip in many years, so I started running at lunch at my work to build up my legs and my cardiovascular system. And the first day of our trip, I was able to sidestep up a hill if you're familiar with that, and I was also able to ski for longer distances because I had built up my legs and my lungs. And the best part was the next day when you're usually sore, I was not. And I guess the final kick was I had met someone on the ski trip who was a runner. And so I needed no more persuasion to continue running. I found out that it was my sport, and I run to this day.

MN: But like in high school, didn't you do any running in school?

KY: Well, during PE, since I was too small to participate in any team sports, I would run around the track. But that was just on my own and would just kill time, so I would run maybe a quarter mile every PE session.

MN: But at that point you never thought about just doing, becoming a runner?

KY: No, not at all. I did ski and I did bowl, so I wasn't completely physically inactive, but running was not something that I even thought about.

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

<Begin Segment 16>

MN: Now, volunteering has been a really big part of your life.

KY: Yes, it has.

MN: We're going to get into your second turning point. Can you share with us how you started volunteering at KCET, and what did you start volunteering?

KY: I started in probably August of 1988. At that time, KCET, which is a PBS television station, used to have pledge drives where volunteers would answer the phone, people would call in and say, "Okay, I pledge X number of dollars to support your station." And I was watching that on TV and I called KCET and I asked if they'd take individuals as people to answer the phone. And the lady said, "Yes, why don't you come down?" So I went down there, and I met the volunteer coordinator who was a very pleasant, welcoming lady. And so I worked Pledge Night, and I found out that they had volunteer opportunities during the day in the office. So I started working there during the day doing clerical work. Because at that time, they had a lot of mail that they needed to be collated, stuffed, envelopes labeled and all that kind of work that was mindless but necessary. And there were a lot of fellow volunteers who were very interesting and nice to be around, so I started doing that.

And then, oh, about six months later, I was talking to a JA friend of mine, and she asked if I would be interested in volunteering for the museum. And I said, well, not particularly, and she says, "Well, I have a friend who's trying to recruit volunteers for the Japanese American National Museum, so let me put you in touch with her." So I went for an interview and they were interested in picking my brains on how KCET treated their volunteers. And then Brian Niiya was the Assistant Collections Manager at the museum then, and he was looking for someone to do data entry and word processing for him. And I told him, "Well, if you're willing to teach me, I'm willing to learn." And he was willing to do that. And so I started working for the museum in February of 1989. And I owe a lot to Brian, because I knew no Japanese American history up to that time, my parents being Issei, never spoke about themselves. I never asked them, and through Brian and the museum, I found out that my parents couldn't become naturalized citizens, that they couldn't own land in the state of California, and I liked the people who were working on staff at the museum, and I thought I could learn JA history and perhaps give something back to the community. And so I started volunteering there, and I'm still there off and on now.

MN: Now while you were reading a lot of these books, learning about JA history at the museum, you shared about this one book that you couldn't, you had a strong reaction to, you couldn't finish it. Why couldn't you?

KY: Well, this was John Tateishi's book, I think it's called Equal Justice for All. And in it he interviews these Niseis, and their stories are so frustrating to me in the difficulties they faced, and the prejudice they faced, that it just made me too mad to continue reading. So I never did read his book. I guess probably my first book that I read was Years of Infamy, and I read Frank Chin's book The Big Aiiieeeee!, so I got a good capsule version of why we Japanese Americans were being treated the way we were, what led up to it, what the consequences of it were. And being a volunteer at the museum, I got to meet a lot of the pioneers or legends like Michi Weglyn, Gordon Hirabayashi, Frank Emi. And those people turned out to be my heroes. And so I guess I have Brian to thank for that.

MN: Now, what were some of the early volunteer work you did for Brian that required word processing?

KY: Well, in the Collections Department, people submit artifacts and documents that they want to donate to the museum. These documents and objects have to be evaluated to see if in fact we really want them, and that they meet the mission of the museum. So if the committee chooses to accept them, then we have to write a letter to the proposed donor saying, "Okay, we will be happy to accept whatever," and we describe whatever the item is. "And we would like you to sign this deed of trust," which transferred the ownership of this object or document to the museum. So that has to go on in a formal manner, and we have to follow up until, in fact, these people return it. If in fact we do not want to accept, we still have to send these people a letter saying, "Thank you for offering this item, but at this moment, we cannot accept it." So at least we give them the courtesy of formally rejecting their item. Now, at that time, we also had databases by the donor's name, by a unique number that he assigned to each artifact or document that we accepted, and also by the type of item this was, so that we can do a search to look for, say, passports. So there were three databases, and at that time, we didn't have an integrated system, so we had three separate databases. And it was very tedious but necessary. And having been an auditor, I was used to detail work, and so I was happy to do that and I think I was able to do that.

MN: So you, as a volunteer, you took care of overseeing the letters going out, once the committee made a decision, and then as a volunteer, you helped categorize these donated artifacts.

KY: Right.

MN: Can you share with us some of the steps that is required, you gave this example, but another example you gave last time was the shamisen.

KY: Okay. There's a book called Anglo-American Cataloging Rules Volume 2. And they have a uniform set of descriptions that can be used and is accepted by museums, at least in the United States if not over the world. So that if you classify a musical instrument, you can classify it as a wind instrument, or a string instrument, or a percussion, or something like that. So you have a base, and so there are some artifacts that are uniquely Japanese, and trying to classify them as you think other people would do is not as simple as it sounds. Hanafuda is a Japanese card game. Now, that's pretty easy to classify as a game, as a card game. But as far as a shamisen goes, it's a musical instrument, it's a string musical instrument, but is it a guitar? Is it a banjo? So that's kind of judgmental. Whereas I may think it's a guitar, you may think it's a banjo. And so we may have the same artifact in our respective files, and yet classify it differently. So that if you did a search using your criteria, you may not find that I had a similar type instrument. So that was kind of interesting most of the time, frustrating at other times. And it was, it was something that helped me learn more about Japanese American artifacts, because an artifact may have begun in Japan, but when it comes to this country, it changes.

MN: Now you did another very tedious but very important work in helping to organize and file newspaper and magazine articles? Can you share with us what went into this work?

KY: Well, at the time that I started, we had something called a "Subject File" where we had manila folders that covered a subject because there wasn't enough about that particular subject to have a separate file for it. And so we had a collection of theses and dissertations, we had magazine articles about Japanese Americans, Japanese American history, and so someone had to physically separate them and prepare manila folders and keep a database for that. And again, it was not something that required a lot of judgment or smarts, but it was something that required time and enough care to make it accurate. And so I did that for Brian, and we also started a bibliography of the books that we did have. And this eventually turned into the Hirasaki National... RC. So that was something that Brian started. And again, he allowed me to take home some of those books. And so I probably read most of the textbooks that you have to read to get an Asian American Studies Degree.

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

<Begin Segment 17>

MN: Now you also helped as a volunteer on a number of exhibits. Which was the first exhibit you worked on?

KY: Perhaps Sumo, U.S.A. It was a small exhibit that Brian curated. My heart and soul exhibit was called More than a Game: Sport in the Japanese American Community, and I did research for Brian, I loaned the museum some of my running shirts for the exhibit, I solicited funds from my nephews, and prepared a database for Brian. And I think I also did a lot of transcribing of interviews he did with some of the people who were featured in the exhibit. And that was an exhibit that was a labor of love.

MN: Now you said you bowled. Did your bowling contacts help in this exhibit?

KY: No, but some of the people that they had in there were familiar to me. And so it's always fun to read a name where you know them personally.

MN: Now during this time, Brian moved to Hawaii.

KY: Yes.

MN: And so how did you continue assisting him on this exhibit?

KY: I guess we probably talked by email. But he was here also, and they had a project manager here, so I worked with her.

MN: Why was this sports exhibit so important to you?

KY: I guess 'cause, as a boy, I was always interested in sports. And so the articles that I would read in the Rafu and the Kashu were sports-oriented. Like "Fingertip Release," like Tosh Kinjo, The Maestro, I even read Horse's column in those days because he wrote about sports and not this other nonsense that he writes about now. And I knew some of the people who participated in NAU sports. And so reading their names in the paper was interesting for me, and I knew many of the players who played for the Su Plumbers basketball team, because they were like my contemporaries. So I used to go watch them play basketball. So I guess that was perhaps the main attraction. I used to go to the racetrack, so they had a very famous Japanese American jockey named George Taniguchi. And they had a famous Japanese American woman bowler named Chiyo Tashima, and there was Fuzzy Shimada, a male bowler from San Francisco. And I had heard about Zenimura and the diamonds that he had made in Butte camp.

MN: That's right, he was at Gila River.

KY: Yes, Camp II.

MN: Yes. But I guess you never went to go see that when you were there.

KY: No, I did not.


MN: Once Brian Niiya left the museum to work in Hawaii, did you continue volunteering at the museum?

KY: Oh, yes.

MN: Who did you work around with then after Brian left?

KY: I probably started working with Sojin Kim. And I think the first exhibit we worked on was Boyle Heights: The Power of Place. And I had lived there for twenty, twenty-five years, so again, that had a personal connection to me. I donated a picture of a butsudan to... well, I didn't donate the, I donated a copy of a picture to the museum for the exhibit, and it showed up in the book. And I did a lot of database management for Sojin, and also once the exhibit was over, we used the comments of the visitors as support for, request for grants, to show how the public had supported our exhibits. And I think the Boyle Heights exhibit was very good in drawing different ethnic groups to the museum, because Boyle Heights is such a multicultural area, or at least it used to be.

MN: What kind of volunteer work did you do for the Big Drum exhibit?

KY: Probably just did some research, did a lot of grunt work. I guess my main use of time was to edit the transcripts of the videotaped interviews that Akira Boch and the others from the Media Arts Center made of the pioneers of taiko. Like Grand Master Tanaka, the Hirabayashis from San Jose Taiko, Johnny Mori, and Kinnara, and some of the groups in Hawaii, like Maui Taiko.

MN: Now when you were working on this exhibit, did you also start taking taiko lessons?

KY: Well, I wasn't part of the exhibit, but yeah, I took some taiko lessons from Tom Korai, and also here with Roy Okida. But I found out to my dismay that I can't remember the patterns anymore. So I quit playing, but I still appreciate taiko.

MN: Did you get to meet a lot of the taiko legends?

KY: Yes, I did. I got to meet Tanaka-sensei and got to meet Roy and PJ Hirabayashi, got to meet Kenny Endo. And I had seen Johnny Mori around, because I think at that time he was the talent director for JACCC. And I know some of the Kinnara members, like Khris Yamashita, she's Chris Komai's wife. And Kevin Higa is Karen Higa's brother, who used to work at the museum. And George Abe, as I mentioned, used to work at the museum. So that was sort of another labor of love, exhibit for me.

MN: Is there other exhibits you worked on with Sojin?

KY: Probably not. I think Big Drum was the last exhibit she curated before she left.

MN: Didn't you work on a landscaping one with her?

KY: That was a tiny exhibit, though, and I didn't do a great deal with it.

MN: You know, you put in a lot of hard work as a volunteer, and a lot of people, most people get paid for what you do. What keeps you motivated and coming back as a volunteer?

KY: Well, in the old days, I think it was the person that I was working for. Brian Niiya and Sojin Kim and Audrey Lee-Sung, workaholics. And when your boss works that hard, you want to work hard, too, or at least I do. And I have to work for people that I respect as well as like. And I think they were appreciative of my efforts, which is one of the paybacks for being a volunteer, is that your work isn't being taken for granted.

MN: Why is it important for you to volunteer at the museum and continue the museum's legacy?

KY: Well, I guess, as I mentioned, when I was growing up, there was no Japanese American history in the books. At least now there is, you see programs about Japanese American history on television, not only on PBS but on other commercial stations. I think we're getting more accepted as regular citizens, not second-class citizens. And I don't know why otherwise.

MN: Now when you were growing up, how did you feel about being Japanese American, and did volunteering at the museum affect your views on being a Japanese American?

KY: When I was growing up, I guess the experience of job discrimination was the big, one of the big factors that I found as a negative. And I forgot the second part of your question.

MN: Oh, did volunteering at the museum, did that change your view or affect your view of what a Japanese American is like?

KY: I don't think so. I just learned more about what other Japanese Americans had done that I didn't realize.

MN: Now, when your parents were alive and they came back to Los Angeles, which church did they join?

KY: Probably Nishi Hongwanji.

MN: Now, when the old Nishi Hongwanji became part of the museum, how did you feel about that?

KY: Oh, I don't know if I had any particular feelings, because the Nishi had moved to this present location. So as far as the site goes, it didn't matter. When I used to take my aunt to the museum, I think she got a big kick out of being there, mostly because she remembered it as the Nishi. So I think at least one of her sons got married there, they had a celebration for her fortieth or fiftieth anniversary with the husband there. So I think it brought back a lot of pleasant memories. And her older son was very active at Nishi, so I think a lot of things that he did were probably at Nishi.

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

<Begin Segment 18>

MN: Now, I just have a few more general questions. Now, as a Japanese American who's a little shorter, you've had to overcome a lot more obstacles than an average-sized Japanese American. What are some of the accomplishments that you're most proud of?

KY: Well, I don't really know. Well, I guess finishing in the Portland Marathon in 1987 was a highlight of my life. Because I ran a breakthrough race. I had never run so fast for 26.2 miles before or since. And that was something that was only possible because of my perseverance and discipline. And so I can take all the credit for doing that, and that was a great thing. It might have been the happiest day of my life. Other than that, I think other things I've done, other people have done, so it's no big thing to pass the CPA exam or devote a lot of time to volunteer work. I don't find that significant at all.

MN: It's an accomplishment to pass your CPA test on the first try.

KY: No big thing. I mean, that's, they asked the right questions.

MN: What are some of the things that irritate you that most average-sized people do or say to you?

KY: I guess a lot of people don't take me seriously. They equate size to ability, which is not necessarily true. They do things to me that they wouldn't do to an average-sized person, like hit me on the head. That's very insulting or demeaning.

MN: I've asked all my questions.

KY: Good.

MN: Is there anything else you want to share? Oh, you know what? I do want to go back one more thing that I forgot about. You were born during the Depression era, 1932, so you may not know a lot of this, but I wanted to ask you how the Depression affected your family, if it did.

KY: Well, I don't know. We lived very frugally. From talking to older volunteers at the museum, many of them said they had plain bread sandwiches to take to school, and I never had that. I always had something to put on the bread. My mother cooked very simply, and so we had okazu. And we always had gohan and ocha, and I drank milk all my life. So I don't really know how the Depression affected my family's life. And I have no basis of comparison as to what other JA families were going through. I only learned about the bread-only sandwiches from talking to, or listening to some of the other volunteers here who are a little bit older than me.

MN: Now your father managed this four-plex, and I know you were just born in '32, but did you ever hear stories where a tenant couldn't pay their bill, they had to be thrown out?

KY: No. I was a kid; they're not going to tell me things like that.

MN: Okay, those are the questions I had. Any other memories you want to share with us, anything else I should have asked you?

KY: No, I think you've covered about everything, Martha.

MN: Okay, good.

KY: Thank you.

MN: Oh, well, thank you very much for sharing your story.

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