Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Giro Nakagawa Interview
Narrator: Giro Nakagawa
Interviewer: Tom Ikeda
Location: South Bend, Washington
Date: April 30, 2014
Densho ID: denshovh-ngiro-01

<Begin Segment 1>

TI: Today is Wednesday, April 30, 2014, we're in South Bend, Washington, and this afternoon we are interviewing Giro Nakagawa. So, Giro, just the first question, can you tell me when and where you were born?

GN: March 13, 1921.

TI: And where were you born?

GN: Seattle, Washington, March 15th.

TI: March 15th. And where in Seattle were you living?

GN: I don't think I lived there very long. No, I know what. I must have been about five years old when we went to Japan. Mothers used to go back and forth to Japan all the time, just about every family. And they were always pregnant, it seemed like, because one of my brothers, younger brother is the same age as Miyo, was born in Japan. So I must have been... no, we're four years' difference, she's 1925. So I was four years old when I was in Japan.

TI: And then, so after you returned from Japan, then you moved to Kent?

GN: Yeah.

TI: Before we go there, what was the name given to you at birth?

GN: Giro Nakagawa.

TI: Okay, so I just want to ask, the way you spell it is G-I-R-O. And so I'm more used to seeing it J-I-R-O.

GN: Yes.

TI: So why is it spelled with a G?

GN: We're guessing that it was probably the midwife that misspelled it, because we didn't go to doctors, I don't think. Midwife used it.

TI: So do you think you had a Caucasian midwife or a Japanese midwife?

GN: Probably Japanese.

TI: So why would they misspell it? I would think they would know.

GN: Giro, see, George Washington, what's the difference, see? I think that's why it's spelled with a G, I'm not sure.

TI: Okay. Well, that's unique.

GN: Yes, it's different. I'm the only Giro Nakagawa in the whole U.S.A.

TI: Yeah, that's good. And so you were just talking about your younger sister, I think. Can you tell me all your brothers and sisters?

GN: Oh, yes. I had two older sisters.

TI: And what were their names?

GN: Toshiko is the oldest, and then Masako was the second one. And Masako was born in Japan. And I have eight brothers.

TI: Eight brothers?

GN: There was eight boys.

TI: Wow, okay.

GN: So seven brothers.

TI: So tell me, can you give me all the names?

GN: Fred's the oldest, I'm the number two, and my brother who just recently died was Saburo, Sam Nakagawa, it was changed to Sam. Then below him was Kazuo, see, Kazuo is number two, right? And he was born in Japan. Then below Kaz there was Harry, Setsuko, Betty Nakagawa, and Henry. Did I get Harry in there?

TI: Yeah, Harry, Kaz, Betty, then Henry.

GN: George...

TI: That's ten kids right now.

GN: Oh, Kiku and Ben.

TI: So there were twelve kids?

GN: Twelve kids. Mom and Dad did not lose a single kid. We all grew up to, the youngest one, my youngest sister got killed in an automobile accident when she was nineteen in Seattle.

TI: Well, of those twelve kids, how many are living now?

GN: Me, Kaz, George, and Ben, four.

TI: Well, I think you hold the record of someone I've interviewed having the most brothers and sisters.

GN: Oh?

TI: Twelve, I mean, have you found very many other people that had so many children?

GN: There used to be a Miyagishima family in Auburn, Thomas, that had more, I think. But the good thing is that they didn't lose a single kid, we all grew up.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2014 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

TI: So let's go and talk a little bit about your father. What was your father's name and where was he from?

GN: Hiroshima-ken, Ibara-mura. Hiroshima first. His name was Genichi Nakagawa, he was the first son. How he escaped to America is beyond us.

TI: Yeah, because in general, first sons didn't...

GN: Couldn't leave.

TI: Did he have other brothers and sisters?

GN: He had one younger brother. He also went to Panama.

TI: Your father or your uncle?

GN: My uncle.

TI: So he went to Panama to live?

GN: Yeah, they had a barbershop business.

TI: How interesting.

GN: Yeah. The oldest son comes to U.S., and the younger one goes to Panama.

TI: I don't think I know of any Japanese that went to Panama, that's interesting. Do you know why he went to Panama?

GN: I have no idea. [Laughs] But he spoke English, I remember.

TI: Oh, interesting. Do you know what kind of work your father's family did in Japan?

GN: They had a farm. I think they made sake. [Laughs] I think he was a bootlegger. I don't know whether it was legal or not; it probably was. They always drank in Japan.

TI: So why do you think your father came to America?

GN: I think he was more of an adventurer type that wanted to see something different. He said he first went to Hawaii, and he said, oh, he's not going to live there, because Japanese are living like pigs there. He didn't like the conditions, so he hopped the next boat and came into Seattle, I guess on the ship, I don't know. Whatever, he ended up in Seattle.

TI: And then do you know what he did, what kind of work he did?

GN: He worked in railroads, logging camps, mainly in logging camps.

TI: Do you know which logging camp he might have been at?

GN: I know he worked in several places around Port Townsend and those places.

TI: So on the Olympic Peninsula.

GN: Olympic Peninsula.

TI: And then how did he, when he came back to Seattle, what did he do then?

GN: Evidently he was doing pretty good, doing something there. Probably making sake or something. Because we were looking at some of the old pictures of, especially my older brother and myself, and they'd taken the family portraits and stuff, and they're all dressed up in sailor suits. So he was doing all right.

TI: And how would you describe your father? What kind of person was he?

GN: He was a, sort of an adventurous type that liked to fish and hunt and do that kind of stuff, outdoorsman. He was a good worker.

TI: So how did he meet your mother?

GN: They knew each other in Japan, and they probably wrote back and forth. The families knew each other.

TI: So did he go back to Japan to get married, or did they get married by proxy and then she came over?

GN: I don't know that. I never did ask.

TI: And what was your mother's name?

GN: Itsuyo. Itsuyo Yamasaki.

TI: Do you know anything about her family, like did she have brothers and sisters?

GN: She had several brothers and sisters.

TI: Did any of them come to America, or was she the only one?

GN: No, we're the only... we had no relatives in the U.S.A.

TI: And how would you describe your mother? What was she like?

GN: I give a lot of credit to my mother for raising us kids in her condition. Until I was about eighth grade, sophomore in high school, we did not have running water, no refrigeration, no... and she kept us clean, she used to buy bolts of cloth and make our shirts and stuff in the winter. We used to hate it because we all looked alike. [Laughs] No difference. But she was very efficient in household chores. Whatever she did, she did it fast and efficiently.

TI: And this was all, I mean, your memories are from the Kent area when you were growing up.

GN: Yes, yes.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2014 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

TI: So tell me about the house or the farm that you lived in in Kent. What was that like?

GN: The first house we lived in in the Soos Creek area east of Kent, was really a chicken house, converted chicken house. So everybody, they used to hear us talking about growing up in the chicken house. [Laughs] And it was a converted chicken house, there used to be all chicken farms up there when we were up there. Cleaned it out.

TI: So when I think of a chicken house, I mean, those aren't that big.

GN: It was built more like a barrack. That's where we lived in. We had no running water there, we had to carry our own. Bring in the water, boil it, and wash clothes, boil it in the washtub, and take baths.

TI: Now did your father own the land that he was farming or was he working...

GN: He was buying it. And couldn't make it.

TI: And what kind of farming was he doing?

GN: Truck farming. Raising peas, beans, cauliflower, lettuce and tomatoes. Strictly truck farming. We cleared the land, too. In those days, you can clear land along the creek and make it into a farm. You can't do that anymore, because the salmon used to be running there.

TI: And how much, how large was the farm? How many acres?

GN: I think it was about twenty acres maybe at the most.

TI: But you said he couldn't make a go of it or it was hard. But he stayed there, right, or did he move to another job?

GN: No, he farmed there. In the wintertime we used to cut wood and sell it. Behind us was all woods, and I don't know who the land belonged to or any of that, who owned it. But we used to cut wood all winter long and sell it.

TI: So was that one of your jobs then, was to cut wood and sell it?

GN: Uh-huh, yeah.

TI: What are some other jobs that you had to do growing up? Because you were, like, the second oldest boy, right?

GN: Yes. [Laughs] Other than farming, help on the farm, I used to trap muskrats and skin it and sell it. And we didn't, the game warden come up to us, see who was doing this, and he saw we were a couple of little kids, so he says, "You don't have a license to sell it." He says, "Let somebody that has a license sell it for you." He could have given us heck, but he didn't.

TI: Oh, so he came up, saw that you were doing something illegally, but he just said, just get someone else to sell it.

GN: Sell it for us, yeah.

TI: Now, could you make quite a bit of money selling muskrat?

GN: No, no. I caught one muskrat, that paid me two dollars, and I thought, "Oh, man, I'm rich." [Laughs]

TI: But back then, two dollars was quite a bit.

GN: Yeah, it was a lot of money in those days. Most of 'em, you got about fifty cents or forty cents, somewhere right in there. When I had one nice big one, worth two dollars.

TI: Now what would people do with muskrat fur back then?

GN: Muskrat fur coat was a big thing in those days. [Laughs] If you owned a fur coat made out of muskrat, you were wealthy.

TI: Okay.

GN: Yeah.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 2014 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

TI: Now in the Kent area, there were quite a few other Japanese families. Did they have things like a Japanese school that you attended or things like that?

GN: Down in the valley they did, but I lived up on the hill and we had no way of getting to Japanese school. So luckily for me, I didn't have to go to Japanese school.

TI: So instead you just had to come back from school and probably do chores and things?

GN: Yeah.

TI: How about just Japanese community events? Did you ever go to, like, picnics or other things?

GN: We went to most of them. I can remember just about every family, the fathers were, by the middle of the picnic, why, they'd be drunk and fighting. [Laughs] Every family was taking the dad home.

TI: Would they actually be fighting or would they just be arguing?

GN: Actually fighting.

TI: Really?

GN: I used to see, I can still remember that guy carrying a rock in his hand, you know, looking for so-and-so.

TI: Now, what would the Issei men be fighting about?

GN: Oh, when they get drunk they fight about everything.

TI: Now if I went back in time to Kent and asked people about the Nakagawa family, how would they describe your family?

GN: Probably hardworking family with a lot of boys.

TI: Because you were probably one of the largest families, I would guess.

GN: Yeah. It wasn't unusual for a family to have seven or eight kids.

TI: Now what did you do for fun? Did you do things with your brothers or do different things or friends?

GN: No, I spent a lot of my time hunting and fishing. There was pheasants and quails and stuff. Like muskrats, they were eating the vegetables, so I had an excuse to trap 'em.

TI: And who would you do this with? Would you do it by yourself?

GN: I did it by myself. I made the stretchers and skinned it and trapped 'em, complete works by myself.

TI: So would you have like a rifle or something? What would you...

GN: Trap.

TI: Oh, a trap.

GN: Steel traps.

TI: Okay. So when you started school, at that time, were you speaking English or Japanese?

GN: When I went to first grade, I didn't speak a word of English. I can still remember, about the second day, there was a little blond-headed kid sitting behind me, and he kept kicking me, those folding chairs, he'd stick his feet in there and kick me. I'd try to tell him to cut it out, and he wouldn't stop. So finally I got up and slugged him a couple times and went to where my coat was hanging, and picked up my coat and walked out the door and went home. And the teacher didn't say a word, just let me walk out. [Laughs] I couldn't speak a word of English when I started.

TI: And so when you did that, was it because, yeah, you're kind of angry at him, but did you have quite a temper when you were a kid?

GN: No, I didn't have a temper, but you get tired of trying to tell a guy not to do something.

TI: I see.

GN: He was irritating me.

TI: And the teacher didn't say anything?

GN: She didn't say a thing. She just watched me pick up my coat and walk home.

TI: And so the next day when you went back to school, did anything...

GN: Nobody said a thing. And that kid became one of my good friends.

TI: [Laughs] That's a good story. So how difficult was school not knowing English? I mean, how did you get along?

GN: Oh, within about three months you're just like anybody else. Kept right up. We're all learning the same thing.

TI: And how about things like church? Did you guys go to church, your family?

GN: No. It's funny, because down in the valley where there was a lot of Japanese, a lot of the kids were held back a year.

TI: Because of the language?

GN: Yeah. Because of the language deficiency in the first grade, they held 'em back. Several of my Japanese classmates were a year older than me. They were all held back in the first grade.

TI: Was that by choice, the families held them back, or they had a hard time...

GN: They had a hard time running it.

TI: But you were able to pick it up fast enough...

GN: Yeah, 'cause it was mostly hakujins there.

TI: Oh, so they went to a different school then?

GN: Yeah. I went to a little school up there.

TI: I see.

GN: I think there was only three Japanese families up there. You know the Yamamoto girls? One's married to Furuta, Nishimuras, they're older than you.

TI: So they were up on the hill also?

GN: But they moved to Bellevue before they got out of grade school.

TI: Now, so was there a difference? If you lived in the valley, were they better off than the kids who lived up on the hill, or was it about the same?

GN: I think we were all scratching a living.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 2014 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

TI: So let's talk about high school. So when you went to high school, where did you go?

GN: Kent High School.

TI: So then it's both the...

GN: We all mixed, yeah.

TI: So at Kent High School, like in a typical class, how many Japanese would be in that class?

GN: My class, the perfect example, was it was a quarter Japanese.

TI: Okay, twenty-five percent would be Japanese.

GN: I think there was, twenty-five percent were Japanese. And my class was very unusual. We had five kids that made football team. In the class ahead of us and the class behind us didn't have any athletes. But in my class, five of us lettered.

TI: So did you play football?

GN: Yes.

TI: So what position would you play?

GN: I played running guard. I was the smallest, I bet you I'm the smallest guy that ever lettered there.

TI: So you're like a pulling guard, like on sweeps and stuff, you'd pull out and be a blocking guard?

GN: By the time there was three of us playing guard, the two ahead of me, they were bigger than me, myself. And when we were seniors, the coach had designed a play, all the plays to utilize us. And we pulled out and ran just about every play, even the pass plays, pull out and block.

TI: Because it was so powerful to have three of you pulling and running.

GN: Yeah. I had a great time. I only lettered one year, but I had a lot of fun.

TI: That was your senior year?

GN: Senior year, and we were number two in the state. Right next to... Garfield was rated one ahead of us, number one, and we were number two.

TI: So did you ever play the Seattle schools for football?

GN: We used to always play against Seattle Prep, but never, the Seattle schools never played any outsiders. I often wonder who we'd have done if we'd played Garfield.

TI: Yeah, it'd be interested, Garfield or Broadway, because then you would have played against other Japanese.

GN: Yeah, yeah. Cleveland had Japanese, Franklin had Japanese, Garfield especially. Garfield had a good team.

TI: Because you said you're probably the shortest one to letter, how tall are you?

GN: Smallest.

TI: Or smallest. How tall are you?

GN: I'm about 5'2". I can remember one incident, this was before a game, the coach had made his final speech and we had about a minute to go, and the room was just dead silent. And the coach looked at me and he says, "Nakagawa, what do you weigh?" I wouldn't tell him, so two guys sitting right next to me picked me up and put me on the scale and I didn't move. Hundred and twenty.

TI: [Laughs] So you were 5'2", 120, playing football against...

GN: I weighed, probably weighed about 110, 15 pounds.

TI: Yeah, because especially being a guard, I mean, you're going against probably guys that were six feet tall or something.

GN: I remember one evening, Bellarmine Prep from Tacoma came down and they were, they were specifically polished up on a couple of the plays. And one play came right over the door, and this bigger guy had a heck of a time, he was getting all chewed out, 'cause I was always short, so I was under him. And at the end of the practice, he came in to our locker room and looked me up and says, "You're the toughest son of a gun," he's ever tried to block. [Laughs]

TI: But you're right, because I played football, too, and sometimes it's about leverage.

GN: Yeah.

TI: And people don't realize that, if you've got a bigger guy, if you get underneath them..

GN: You've got to get under 'em.

TI: ...and drive 'em, if you lift their feet up a little bit, they have no leverage.

GN: That's right. And I can feel 'em. If they're coming over me, I can feel 'em.

TI: But still you have to be, your legs have to be pretty strong to drive them.

GN: Yeah. I'd always be under 'em.

TI: That's a good story. So that was your senior year in high school. So what year did you graduate?

GN: 1939. This was 1938 when we were number two in the state. We were undefeated, we were unscored on until about the sixth or seventh game of the season. We were playing Highline one year, that year, and we were wondering what they were yelling about. It didn't dawn on any of us that that's the first team that scored a point on us.

TI: Oh, so they were just happy to score.

GN: They were just happy, they were hollering because they scored on us. [Laughs]

TI: Now, did you play any defense, or just offense?

GN: In those days, you played both ways.

TI: And so on defense, what did you play?

GN: I played guard.

TI: Even at your size, you played defensive guard? That's unusual.

GN: You had to play both ways in those days. You couldn't go in and out, you couldn't substitute.

TI: Because I would have thought that they might have moved you to like a linebacker or defensive back or something.

GN: No, no, I was better off right in the guard, where I can cover my hole.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 2014 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

TI: So when you graduate in 1939, what did you do?

GN: Within a month I was over here working.

TI: So South Bend.

GN: Yeah. I graduated in May, end of May, and by the second, first week in June I was here.

TI: So how did you make that connection from Kent to South Bend? Because that's, what, like a two-hour drive.

GN: Some friends that... I was trying to get up to Alaska to work in the salmon cannery. But this foreman that we knew couldn't get us, couldn't get me a job, because that's the period when the Filipinos were taking over a lot of the jobs. So he says, "There might be a job up in, somebody over in South Bend's looking for workers to work on the, farm kids to work on the oysters." So this Kuni Sasaki that was in the [inaudible] and I, he had a car, so we drove down here to see what this was all about. The people here wanted farm workers, farmers to come out there instead of the city kids from Seattle, so they hired us, and that's when we came down.

TI: Now, when you think about it, so why didn't you go to farming in Kent? I mean, you knew how to farm there, why did you decide to, either want to go to Alaska or South Bend?

GN: We were starving to death. [Laughs] I was getting tired of work on the farm, and not having any money at all. I used to hate, I never walked home with the rest of the kids from high school, 'cause they stopped and had milkshakes and ice cream cones or something, I never had that money.

TI: So it was just a really hard, hard...

GN: Hard time. We just didn't have any money at all.

TI: And so did your parents encourage you to go out and either go to Alaska or South Bend?

GN: No, no, I was determined I wasn't going to spend any more time working on the farm.

TI: Now how about your older brother? Did he also leave or did he stay?

GN: No, he stayed home.

TI: So in some ways that helped you. Because if your older brother stays, then it's probably easier for you to leave?

GN: Well, he got to drive the truck. [Laughs] He didn't have to stay on the farm to work.

TI: So there's advantages to being the oldest.

GN: He was driving when he was fourteen.

TI: So what did you think? They said, "Okay, so come down to South Bend and become an oyster farmer." So what were your first impressions about oyster farming when you came down here?

GN: All I know is they were paying seventy cents an hour, which is way more than we'd make in a month on the farm.

TI: And how would you compare the work of, sort of, truck farming to oyster farming?

GN: It's both hard work, but one of 'em, you're getting paid. [Laughs] I wasn't going to spend any more time working on the farm for nothing. I told my mom that I'm going to go out and work and I'm going to help support the family, but I don't want to spend another year on the farm.

TI: And so with your wages, how much of that would you send back to the families?

GN: Just about all of it in those days.

TI: So in those days, did they provide room and board for the workers?

GN: Yes. We paid for the food, you know, split the food. But the board and everything else was paid for. In fact, if you had a car, they would even supply the gas. You can write it off.

TI: So explain to me, so you came down to South Bend to do oyster farming. So who did you work for?

GN: New Washington Oyster Company.

TI: And who owned the New Washington Oyster Company?

GN: It was a group of first generation, plus Bob Nakao. They brought Bob Nakao back from California because he had turned twenty-one. And when they formed this company, they needed a citizen, so they brought him back, and that's how he became shareholder of New Washington. His older brother was instrumental in bringing them back here.

TI: So it was good to be an older Nisei.

GN: Yeah. He said when he turned twenty-one, that's when they were forming the company, that was about 1930. Then they brought him back, and he became shareholder of New Washington Oyster Company.

TI: Now, so explain to me how many other oyster companies were down here? So this one was Japanese Issei and a Nisei, was that common down here? Were there other kind of oyster --

GN: There was one other company in Nahcotta, Long Beach, and there was a Kaoshima family, and they sent, they owned... she was a widow. Her father, her husband died somewhere during the Wallville, that's the one camp between, east of Raymond. And they came down here, and the Kaoshima family was very aggressive in buying land. And they owned oyster lands here, too. I don't know how they were able to own it. There was two Japanese families in Bay Center, just a little village about ten miles from here.

TI: So about what percentage did the Japanese control down here, the oyster farming?

GN: Oh, maybe ten, fifteen percent. There was three families that owned oyster ground.

TI: Now were the Japanese doing anything different than the other oyster farmers, or were they all about the same?

GN: They were all struggling oyster family, small operation, have a boat and a half a dozen guys working for you.

TI: And how did the Japanese get into oyster... like at the New Washington Oyster Company, were those Isseis, did they do oyster farming back in Japan and brought it over?

GN: No.

TI: How did they first get started?

GN: No, I don't know how they got started raising. They must have... Jackson Fish, probably. That's where the Yanagimachi family had some connection, Jackson Fish was a fish company. Like do you remember Main Fish?

TI: Yeah, uh-huh.

GN: Well, just like that. Jackson Fish was a company just about like Main Fish. And they must have been buying oysters, so they probably helped finance it, helped finance the company.

TI: So was it probably like maybe the Isseis first started down here maybe as workers, and then once they got more established they then started their own kind of...

GN: They must have got together and pooled their money and bought land.

TI: And when you say land, it's actually in the bay.

GN: This five-acre here, for one thing, to build a cannery on. And how they got the ground out here in Willapa Bay for oysters, I don't know how they... they must have bought it from somebody, some person.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 2014 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

TI: Now, when did the Japanese, or when did the oyster seeds from Japan, when did those start coming into Willapa Bay?

GN: Early '30s, or maybe end of 1929, '28, somewhere in there. But mainly in the '30s. When I came here in 1939, it was the early part of importing seeds from Japan.

TI: And when they first came, how well did the Japanese oysters do?

GN: Oh, they just grew like mad. They used to grow so fast, and then they spawned, and the spats took off and plastered the whole bay, really. It was getting away from them. It used to grow so fast that by the next season it'd be too big.

TI: Oh, so they couldn't harvest them fast enough.

GN: Yeah, they couldn't harvest fast enough.

TI: And so did... once that happened, once they came, did all the oyster farms start doing the Japanese seeds, too?

GN: Yes. Because that was the cheapest way to control it. You can plant... they don't grow wherever they felt like it, you had it on the farm.

TI: Now with the Japanese oysters, were they farmed or harvested differently than the older ones?

GN: The native?

TI: Yeah, the native.

GN: The native was, they had no way of getting seeds, get the seeds from those either. But there was no reason why they couldn't have. The Pacific, the Japanese seeds grew and took over the bay more rapidly, and the native oysters started to disappear.

TI: So that was 1930s, so this was eighty, ninety years later. Do they still grow the Pacifics out in Willapa Bay, or is it now different? What kind of oysters...

GN: You can still grow 'em, but there's very little of it.

TI: So what has taken over? What kind of oysters are out there now?

GN: These are Miyagi oysters from northern Japan.

TI: Okay, so still Japanese, but just a different type.

GN: No, Sendai. This is the original ones they brought in. They brought some in from Hiroshima and southern Japan, Kumamotos and those, they didn't do that well.

TI: And so is it because of the, because the bay is sort of, what's the right word? Sort of unique in certain ways that only a certain type of oysters grow well?

GN: The mixture of, probably the salinity of the bay here is about like Japan's.

TI: Like the Sendai area?

GN: Yeah, Sendai.

TI: So it's just finding all that. So when you came down in the late, like 1939, describe what kind of work you did. What would you do?

GN: Well, you'd buy seeds from Japan, and every spring they'd come in, you'd plant 'em and put 'em on your acreage, then the following summer you'd go out and break the, they grow in big clusters, so you break 'em up and scatter 'em around and put 'em on a bed that fattens up. You have what you call a nursery bed, seed bed, and a harvest bed. So you'd move 'em around. And then in the summer, winter, we're picking 'em and bringing 'em into the canneries.

TI: And when you say spread them around, I mean, is this when the tide goes out, you can do that?

GN: Yeah. When the tide goes out, you go out there and scatter 'em around so they're not all in one great big bunch. You try to evenly space it all over so they're not crowded.

TI: And then when you harvest, describe the harvesting. What was that like?

GN: Just before the tide dropped down, you spot your scow in a convenient spot. And when the tide goes down, you put 'em bushel baskets and bring it to your scow and dump it. And the tide usually runs about four hours or so. Four hours' time, you're expected to fill that scow up.

TI: Okay, so it's kind of a race against the tide.

GN: Yeah. You work hard during that four hours. Then the tide comes in and you go back and go to the bunkhouse and have your supper. Next morning it'll be high water, so you tie the scows together and bring it into the canneries to be shucked.

TI: Now, I... so I've interviewed sort of truck farm people, or land farming. So there there's a definite season when they can harvest. Like strawberries would be, like, in June that they do that. So for oysters, when is the harvest season?

GN: It used to be from the months with the Rs. Have you heard of it?

TI: Yeah, I know there was one letter that... so it's R.

GN: Months with R. So September through March, April.

TI: April.

GN: Yeah. During the summer...

TI: Oh, so May, June, July, August, those four months would not be as good?

GN: Yeah, that's right.

TI: So what happens, those are kind of the seeding times?

GN: Those are the times you're taking care of them and transplanting them to a good bed and that kind of work. Only thing you're not doing was we didn't open the oysters during the summer months.

TI: So right now, this is, we're interviewing April 30th, so this is the end of April, so May starts... so is this like the end of the season?

GN: This used to be the end of the harvesting season. But it's changed completely now. Now you have oysters that don't get spawny. Since you're doing the hatchery, you can raise oysters that don't spawn, become spawny.

TI: So then they can harvest year-round then.

GN: So now you're getting to the point where you're spending money in the hatcheries and raising oysters as you can harvest in the summer.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 2014 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

TI: So when you started oyster farming, it seemed like a very labor intensive operation.

GN: It still is.

TI: That's what I was going to ask you. So how has automation changed oyster farming? Because when you look at, I talk to the farmers now, they say, "Oh, farming is so much easier now than it was back in the '30s and the '40s." What about oyster farming? Has it changed very much?

GN: Oh, sure it has. You don't have the hand labor. You don't have to go out in the middle of the night and pick oysters. But more and more...

TI: So now they have machines that scoop up the oysters?

GN: You go at a highwater, which is in the daytime, and even if you have to go out in the night, you have big lights that floods the whole bay ahead of you, and GPS, you can take you right to where you want to go, and fancy equipment to dredge the oyster scow made out of all aluminum, it cost eight hundred, nine hundred thousand dollars. That's the difference. And the price of oysters reflects it.

TI: Because it's a lot cheaper now... is it more expensive or less?

GN: More expensive.

TI: Oh, because the equipment's so much more expensive.

GN: Sure, seed's expensive, diesel oil is expensive, license is...

TI: But their labor costs must have gone down, because before, you probably had...

GN: Labor's gone up, because you're still opening them by hand, remember? [Laughs]

TI: Well, so talk about that. So that was, you showed me the, kind of the processing area, where after you load all the oysters on the scows and then bring them in here, barge 'em in, then you'd bring 'em to the processing plant. You have these long rooms where the oysters come down, and in the old days, people had to individually shuck them, throw the shells in the bottom and they would have the oysters and they would then grade them and put them in jars. How... the same way?

GN: Same way, exactly the same. [Laughs]

TI: So they couldn't automate the shucking oysters?

GN: You can't automate that.

TI: So no one in the world has figured out how to automate shucking of oysters?

GN: You can freeze 'em quickly and open 'em up, but it does something to the tissues of the oyster. We tried electronics, used audio waves and all that kind of...

TI: Not even the Japanese with their robotics? They haven't figured that out yet?

GN: [Laughs] No.

TI: I would think that they might have figured that out. Not yet.

GN: They haven't done it yet.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 2014 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

TI: So for you, what would be... describe the operations. When you came down to the New Washington Oyster company, like how many other people were working there? Describe that.

GN: We used to have as many as forty employees here. About half of them would be oyster openers, about twenty, and the rest of them would be doing different other things. But we've had as many as forty employees here.

TI: And when, if you have, like, twenty oyster openers, is this... with the forty people, were they mostly men, or was it like men and women?

GN: Men and women both.

TI: Okay. And was it sort of, almost segregated by gender? Did the women do certain types of jobs versus the men?

GN: Most of the grading and packing were women, but the openers were men and women both. Some of the fastest openers were women.

TI: And then, but then out on the bay, the people who harvested, were they men and women also?

GN: No, no. Out in the bay was all men.

TI: And so of the forty, how many would be women, would you say?

GN: Opening?

TI: Well, no, just of the forty total, that were...

GN: About twenty.

TI: Okay, so about half and half.

GN: Yeah, uh-huh.

TI: And where would all these people live, these forty people?

GN: Most of our workers were local, between South Bend and Raymond, within the radius of about twenty miles.

TI: Okay, so they would just come here and report to work.

GN: Come every morning, go home every night. And some of the women lived right here. Japanese.

TI: Now what about the ones that were here year-round? I mean, you showed me the bunkhouse, things like that. So how many people lived here?

GN: Well, there was Yanagimachi family, there was two at one time, Mako and Margaret, and then Harry's family that lived here. And Bob Nakao's family, and Bob's brother Sam and his wife. Charlie Murakami and his wife, and T. Nakao and his wife. So there was, half of those were Japanese families living here.

TI: So like twelve to fifteen people who kind of lived in this sort of complex?

GN: Yes, including the kids.

TI: You also showed me some photographs, so I saw the bunkhouse and some of these little houses here, but you also showed me pictures of these sort of structures or shacks in the bay.

GN: Uh-huh.

TI: So people stayed out there also at night? Or who was out there?

GN: Mostly bachelors. There were some, like that Japanese man that lived out there and had family in Japan, he'd stay there for a couple of years at a time.

TI: So did you ever stay out in one of those?

GN: Oh, yeah, I lived there.

TI: So when you say lived there, I mean, would you literally live there? I mean, would you stay there...

GN: I stayed there all the time.

TI: Like how often would you come to land?

GN: You come to land every day to unload the oysters, and you pick up your supply or whatever you needed and go back.

TI: So what's that kind of... so once the tide came in, you're just, you're really kind of marooned in this building.

GN: Yeah. You did some fishing, that gets old real quick. So you listened to the shortwave radio that the sheriff confiscated when the war broke out. [Laughs]

TI: So how many guys would be living out in the... and what would you call those places?

GN: They were called station houses.

TI: Okay, so how many people would live in a station house?

GN: Well, during the summer, we used to have a lot of kids work out there. So there'd be as many as thirteen or a dozen.

TI: Wow, that's quite a few people.

GN: Yeah, well, it's a pretty good sized shed.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 2014 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

TI: So was that a pretty good paying job, to be a summer kid to come out here and do oyster farming?

GN: You couldn't get a job in Seattle for seventy cents an hour.

TI: Okay. So when you started, that seemed like a pretty good job, then.

GN: That was pretty good, yeah.

TI: Steady money, steady...

GN: Yeah. In fact, the company here were having a hard time keeping that payroll out there, 'cause they were paying all these city kids by the hour, you know. So when we came out here, (...) Kuni Sasaki and myself, and a couple other Kibei kids, they said, "We'll pay you by the amount of work, amount of oysters you harvest. So they started out saying, well, this is costing them something like ten cents a bushel or something like that, so, "We'll pay you seven cents a bushel." Next thing you know they're saying, "Gosh, those young kids are making more money than we are. We're gonna have to cut their pay." [Laughs] So they cut us back to five dollars a bushel, five cents a bushel, and I was making five bucks a day. That was big money, and we worked thirty, I remember I worked a hundred days straight.

TI: Well, so let me get this straight. So at the beginning, they paid by the hour, and they would get a certain number of harvesting, and they calculated that so it's about ten cents a bushel is the cost. But once they started going to piecework, people worked a lot harder, is that what happened, and so they were a lot faster?

GN: Well, yeah, that's part of it. You know, when you're getting paid by the... whatever, every time you pick up an oyster, it's worth so much, you work harder. Yeah, they give you an incentive.

TI: So did that change the whole way that they paid workers from then on? So they went from hourly to more piece?

GN: Nobody wanted to work by the hour, because we could earn way more.

TI: Well, and the oyster companies would make more money, too, right?

GN: The oyster companies were saving money, too, yeah. I didn't want to work by the hour. I could make way more money.

TI: And you said you... because then when you worked by the piece, you said you worked a hundred days in a row, that you wouldn't take any days off because that would be lost wages?

GN: That was the first stretch I worked, was a hundred days straight. We got a day off on Labor Day, and I was out there in the middle of, sometime in June. So I know I worked a hundred days.

TI: Wow. And so what would guys do with their money? I mean, if all they're doing is working, they had no time to spend it. What would people do with their money?

GN: Most of mine went straight home.

TI: But what about the other workers? You said they were...

GN: Oh, the city kids, I don't know what they did. I know they weren't helping their family as much as they should have been. But just about everything I made for the first five, six years, until the war broke out, just about all went, all the little kids at home.

TI: Wow, so I'm guessing it really helped your family then.

GN: Yes, it really did. And I didn't want to see my brothers going to school and not being able to walk home with the rest of the kids. They can't stop at an ice cream shop or something like that.

TI: So did your younger brothers and sisters ever talk about that, "Oh, Giro, thank you so much because I could stop and get a milkshake," or something?

GN: [Laughs] Yeah, they all really appreciate it. They remember it.

TI: Okay. Because that was good money, but you worked really hard.

GN: Yeah. I worked really hard, and I didn't spend any money on myself, I tell you.

TI: Now, when I talked to some of the Niseis who worked in the salmon canneries, so they made pretty good money, too, but they talked a lot about gambling and things like that.

GN: Yeah.

TI: Did that happen down here, too, the oyster farmers, that they would gamble and do things?

GN: The older guys upstairs, the Issei, they used to gamble among themselves.

TI: Because I remember talking to some of the Nisei, they were told, "Don't gamble." Because some of them would go up there, make good money, but when they came home, they had nothing because they had really good gamblers that would just come up there.

GN: That's right. Some of the guys used to go up to Alaska just to make money off the kids.

TI: Yeah, exactly, just to gamble and take their money. That they would go up and not work, but just to gamble, and they would take the money.

GN: Oh, I've seen guys do that. I used to see some of the younger kids come out from the cities and go to Chicago and get into horse racing, and next thing you know, they're making pretty good money gambling, you know. They quit their jobs and lose their butt, and then next thing you know they're right back to the factory working again. [Laughs]

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 2014 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

TI: So let's move on to December 7, 1941. So you're out probably on the station house.

GN: We're at the station house.

TI: So how did you hear about the bombing of Pearl Harbor?

GN: We heard it over the shortwave radio. You know, you don't know if it's true or not. But about a day or so later, the sheriff or somebody else came out there, couple people from the sheriff's office. I don't know if they were FBI or not, but they came out there and searched the station house and took the cameras we had, and radio, and they confiscated my .22 rifle.

TI: Now, what would you use a .22 rifle out on the station house for?

GN: [Laughs] Keep the seagulls off the roof. Because we used to use that water to wash dishes. You didn't have to shoot the whole bay, all you had to do was shoot one here and there and they get the message.

TI: So the seagull hunting...

GN: Keep the seagull off the roof.

TI: So the sheriff and a couple other men came out to the station house, they confiscated your rifle, the radio, cameras, things like that?

GN: That's all we had.

TI: And what did they say? Did they say anything to you?

GN: No, they didn't say anything, they just took it. They didn't give us any reason. Then they told us, "You guys can't stay here. We can't watch you here."

TI: Now, why were they concerned about a bunch of guys in the middle of a bay?

GN: They were concerned that we might signal, send signals out. In fact, just beyond the dock here, they had soldiers stationed there.

TI: You mean during the, right after Pearl Harbor?

GN: Right after Pearl Harbor.

TI: So what were they concerned about? That there was going to be some kind of landing or something?

GN: Yeah. Yeah, they were afraid they'd get invaded or something. Then they didn't want us signaling, so they had soldiers stationed there. They didn't know what they were doing, but they were there. [Laughs]

TI: And so what, when you heard about it when you were on the station house, shortwave radio, did you guys talk about what was going on? Was there any... what were you guys talking about? What was your reaction when you found out about Japan bombing Pearl Harbor?

GN: We had no idea what's going to happen.


GN: We really didn't have any reaction. We didn't know what's going to happen. The people had houses here, living here in the bunkhouse, they all stayed here, 'cause they were opening oysters. But they wouldn't let us stay out in the bay.

TI: So if they didn't let you stay in the bay, were you able still to harvest enough to keep operations going?

GN: They had to bring in hakujin workers.

TI: Oh, so they put the white workers out in the station house.

GN: I don't know what they did, because we all had to move out of here. They had guards on all the bridges, soldiers.

TI: And did you get any, sort of, negative reactions from the locals after December 7th?

GN: No, we really didn't. We had no reactions. It was only when we were, they were closing the camps and people, Japanese started coming down here and looking the place over that they got concerned and started having meetings.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 2014 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 12>

TI: So after they sort of didn't allow you and the other men to stay in the station house, so what did you do?

GN: I went home to my folks' place in Kent, in Thomas. And that's when the Indians in La Conner were starting the oyster business, and they needed help. So they came and wanted us to come over there and help them open the oysters and grade, and literally helped start the oyster business there.

TI: So they had started by, they've already seeded it, and they're harvesting and they...

GN: Just beginning to open, harvest the oysters, so they needed somebody that knew something about it.

TI: Yeah, so how did they find you and the others? I mean, how did they know that...

GN: I don't know how they found out. They heard that we'd gotten chased out of here and was living around Seattle, so there was three kids from Seattle area, and a couple of us out in the country there, Kent. They come over and says, "Oh, we'll give you a place in the reservation, we got a nice house there for you." One young couple cooked for us, and that's how we got started there.

TI: And the wages were okay, too?

GN: Yeah, they treated us real well, in fact. They hated the white guys at that time, you could see it.

TI: So when they, when you got there with the other... so you're pretty experienced right now. How, they're starting up, I'm curious how good their operations were when you first got there.

GN: It was pretty bad. One of the guys was a grader here, and he knew how to grade oysters. Another guy was a good opener, two of 'em were good openers, and the other two were like Kuni and myself, we had to learn how to open oysters. That's where I literally learned how to open oysters when I got there.

TI: Because before you didn't do that.

GN: No, because I was just working out in the bay harvesting.

TI: And so why didn't they have you do the harvesting? Was it the same reason that the police didn't want Japanese out in the water?

GN: Oh, I didn't want to... I really didn't want to work in a cannery standing there one place opening the oysters, I'd rather be out in the bay.

TI: Right.

GN: I was an outdoor type.

TI: But they wouldn't let you go out there? Like in La Conner, did you ever go out there?

GN: No, I wasn't interested in there, 'cause I'd be the only one out there.

TI: And so when the tribe people saw the workers, did they learn a lot in terms of how to grade and open oysters?

GN: Oh, yeah. They learned a lot. In the short time we were there... we were there about May when they started taking the... in fact, we were working right alongside the highway where the buses from Seattle would go by, five, six of them in a row, going from Seattle to Puyallup.

TI: So this was down, you're in Kent, Washington?

GN: Yeah. Then that spring there, after the oysters stopped in La Conner, why, we were home just waiting to go to the evacuation.

TI: But going back to La Conner, what was the relationship between the Indians and Japanese? Did you guys get along?

GN: Oh, yeah. They treated us real well. They used to tell us... you know, when we had that incident with the Swedes where they came in there and told all the Japanese to move out, and told the Indian kids to move out.

TI: So tell me the story again. So you're, and other Japanese are working side by side with the Indians.

GN: Well, we're mixed up.

TI: Okay, so you're all mixed up.

GN: You're all mixed up.

TI: And you're all, like at this point, you're opening oysters?

GN: Yeah.

TI: And then was it one Swede or a group of...

GN: No, there was about three of 'em.

TI: So who were they? Did they just come off the street?

GN: No, they were fishermen in that area. La Conner is a fishing town.

TI: Right. So they came in...

GN: One morning, yeah.

TI: And specifically because they wanted the Japanese to leave?

GN: Yeah, they didn't want us to be there.

TI: Okay, so they come in, three of them, and they walk in, and you mentioned how they walked by one Japanese...

GN: The first guy they got to at the end of the table, they looked at him, they decided he wasn't a Japanese. [Laughs] So they went to the next guy and said, "Well, this guy looks like a Japanese." They asked him if he was a Japanese, and the kid was kind of sassy and he says, "I can't help it if I am." [Laughs]

TI: But he was actually Indian.

GN: That's an Indian kid.

TI: Okay. And so the Swedes told him to leave or something?

GN: Yeah, told him, "Don't come back anymore.

TI: And so then what happened with that?

GN: Nothing. We all started laughing, you know. [Laughs] The Swedish fishermen kind of felt silly, so they walked out.

TI: Because what they had done, the three of them walked by the first guy, who was Japanese, they thought he wasn't Japanese so they walked by him, and then went to the Indian, they thought he was Japanese.

GN: Yeah, so they asked him.

TI: And he said he can't help it if he is, but he wasn't, and so everyone laughed. And so the Swedes just walked out afterwards?

GN: Yeah, "Tell all your Japs to get out of here."

TI: That's a good story. So it sounds like the Indians were kind of supportive of what was going on. Did you ever talk to any of them about what was happening, especially when you had to leave because the Japanese were going to be removed. Did they ever talk about what was going on?

GN: Well, no one was really certain of what's going to happen at that time. I used to argue with my mother, "They can't send us to camp or lock us up. We're American citizens." I was a history major; I was really interested in history and I can recite all those, Constitution and all that. I can recite the Gettysburg Address when I was in the sixth grade.

TI: So you didn't think anything was going to happen then?

GN: No, I didn't think they could do that.

TI: And so when back to Kent thinking, "Okay, so oyster season's over, we're going to go back to Kent."

GN: "We can't work here."

TI: And then, so what did you think when you saw those buses go by, you hear these buses...

GN: Oh, by that time, it was pretty obvious that they're not gonna make... my mother was right. So it was just a matter of days before we had to leave.

TI: Just one last thing about the oyster farming by La Conner, by the tribes. So were they successful? Are they still doing oysters up there?

GN: I think they're still doing it. We went up there and visited, but Jiminy Christmas, about twenty years later, we'd go up there and visit, all the older ones, Indians we knew were gone. And couple of the little kids that was big athletes. That one, James, Landry James, he became a big star at Washington State. He was still around, but by that time he was a coach in La Conner High School. But he was a little kid, but he was really good in everything.

TI: So if I were to go up to La Conner and go to the oyster farming where the tribes are doing this, would they remember or know about the Japanese?

GN: I bet you there isn't a one left that can remember us. They're all gone.

TI: That's a good story of how the two communities got together.

GN: They were waiting to... every May, they have a tribal rowing contest, and they were looking forward to us helping row a canoe. [Laughs]

TI: Oh, so they were trying to recruit you guys to be unofficial Indians to do that. That's a good story.

GN: And the guys that were running it kept saying that, "We're going to build our own cannery," and they're going to build it on their side of the slough, on their reservation. Says, "And then we'll see who can come over here and harass us," and stuff like that.

TI: But they never did that, do you think?

GN: They did build a cannery on their side. I don't know whether it was just a fish cannery or whether they...

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 2014 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 13>

TI: Okay, so after you see the buses go by for the Seattle Japanese Americans going to Puyallup, then pretty soon they started moving people in Kent.

GN: Yeah.

TI: So describe what happened then. I mean, what did your dad or your family do with all your property and everything? What happened?

GN: They had to sell it for what they...

TI: So he sold the farm?

GN: Yeah, yeah. They were either leasing it or buying it, I don't know what they were doing by then. I think they were just leasing it then. So one morning they told us that the truck will be here at such and such a time, about nine o'clock in the morning, be ready to get on the bus, and they took us to, on a truck to Auburn, which is about five miles away, put us on the train.

TI: Now were you surprised they didn't send you to Puyallup? Because Puyallup wasn't that far away.

GN: It was full. So the Thomas and... one side of the river, we all went to Pinedale.

TI: Now, at this time, how large... who was in your family? Was it all twelve kids, or how many kids were still...

GN: Well, there was, Harry, Kaz was four years younger than me, was high school yet.

TI: But the older ones, like your older sisters and Fred, they...

GN: Yeah, Fred, me... oh, Sam just graduated that year, spring. So I was, my older sister and my older brother and myself were the only ones out of high school, all the rest of them were still in school.

TI: And was your older brother... so when they moved the family, was your older brother with the whole unit, too?

GN: Yeah.

TI: So it was a big group.

GN: Yes. We had one big unit on one end of the barrack, and another family, a smaller family was in between, and we had a unit on each end of the barrack.

TI: Okay. So you guys could yell across to each other over that one family. [Laughs] That poor family, caught in between the Nakagawas.

GN: [Laughs] Yeah.

TI: So describe your first impressions of Pinedale when you got there. What was that like?

GN: Hot and dusty and disgusted. I was so... I wasn't mad as discouraged with the way the American Constitution works, they can do these things. I was really mad enough that I wasn't going to do a single thing in camp. I was just going to sit around and let 'em feed me, but like I told you before, the first night in that mess hall, the young girls were waiting on tables, and it's 120 degrees and all the older women were bussing tables, and cooks sweating away, I said, "Oh, I can't sit around and let everybody, my own people work like heck just to keep me fed and stuff like that. I got to do something." So the next day I went to the administration and told them to give me something to do to help out. Guy said, "What can you do?" I said, "You know, I can probably make, work as a carpenter or something, 'cause I took shop in high school, I was pretty good at it." He said, "Well, we need benches and tables, how about making that?" And I said, "What are you gonna use?" No lumber or anything. He said, "Well, we'll find some pallet boards and whatever we can find, and that's when I started making benches and those tables, little short table, coffee table like stuff.

TI: But you're making it out of pallet boards? So just the really thin wood.

GN: And hard wood, second (grade) stuff, we'd saw it up and drill it and put screws and stuff, and make that kind of stuff. But I only stayed in camp... by Fourth of July I was already out.

TI: So not too long then, just two or three months.

GN: Oh, no, less than a month. By Fourth of July I was out in Utah.

<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 2014 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 14>

TI: So how did you find out about Utah?

GN: Word gets around that some company was looking for workers to work out in the farm. And I was determined to get out first chance I get, you know. So I went to the recruiting place to listen and see what they were wanting to do. And this recruiter was pretty nice, and he was working for Amalgamated Sugar Company. And he says, "We'll put you up in a house, and you help the farmers harvest apricots, and work in the beet fields and stuff. We got plenty of work to do, we're short of labor."

TI: So was he looking specifically for farmers or would anyone...

GN: Anyone, really, but nobody but farm kids went out.

TI: So how many of you went and did that?

GN: I think there was about six of us.

TI: So why not more? I would think that more people would have done this.

GN: There were some Sacramento kids, you would think they would, but they didn't go. Sacramento kids, I don't think any of them left at first. I don't know whether... once I left, I never came back. Never went back into camp again. So I don't know how many of them... the first year, there was very few of us out there.

TI: And so going back, so what did the recruiter promise you? So he said it'd be a nice place to...

GN: A place to stay.

TI: And then what about wages and stuff like that? Did he promise anything?

GN: He said "prevailing wages."

TI: "Prevailing wages"? [Laughs]

GN: Something to that effect. We didn't even ask 'em what the price was. We didn't know if it was thirty cents an hour. No, we told him we want thirty cents, and he said, "Never heard of such a thing. Never paid anybody that kind of money."

TI: So you got there, and then are you negotiating with the Amalgamated Sugar, or the farmers, or who's hiring you?

GN: Well, the agent was doing the negotiating between the farmers and us.

TI: And so they offered you thirty cents an hour.

GN: They didn't offer us that, they wanted us to work by piecework, so much an acre. And when they, when we picked the apricots, that's the first, they paid us twenty cents or something like that, we said, "We're not working for that kind of..."

TI: Twenty cents like a bushel or something?

GN: No, an hour. They were not going to pay thirty cents an hour. But we said, "We're not working for that."

TI: But first, and let me back up. So first they wanted to pay you piecemeal.

GN: By the acre.

TI: By the acre.

GN: Yeah. So about six of us got, we worked like heck, we worked about twelve hours that day, worked hard.

TI: And you figured out how many acres you did.

GN: Yeah, we came home and figured out how many acres we did, because there was, this batch was so many acres, and we ended up getting, came out to less than ten cents an hour or something like that. We said, "We're not doing that." We wanted to try to see how much we can get done. We worked like heck, and that's about all. They weren't going to pay us that, but finally they agreed to pay us thirty cents an hour.

TI: Okay, and how would that be for prevailing wages? Was that pretty much what other workers would get?

GN: The canneries were paying thirty-five cents an hour. I don't know what they were harvesting, canning, but they were canning apricots probably, that's the first fruit that comes out.

TI: Now in general, would fieldworkers get paid less than cannery workers?

GN: Yeah.

TI: So cannery workers get paid a little bit more.

GN: Cannery workers always got paid more.

TI: Okay. So thirty cents an hour is probably a prevailing wage then.

GN: That's what they said, but I can't believe it. You can only... but they did pay us thirty cents an hour.

<End Segment 14> - Copyright © 2014 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 15>

TI: Okay, so you started with apricots, and then...

GN: Cherries.

TI: Cherries.

GN: Then we picked watermelons, tomatoes, mainly beets in the fall.

TI: And you did this from July 1942.

GN: Through that fall.

TI: Through that fall.

GN: Yeah. Then the sugar company, they were putting us up in a house on the warehouse grounds. They had a big complex warehouse, they had a house on it, and they put us up there.

TI: And how did people treat you? Here they were putting Japanese and Japanese Americans in these camps all around in that, kind of in that inland United States. Was there any fear about you?

GN: No, not a bit. In fact, we lived out in the country, you know, and we'd walk over to the railroad station and catch a bus and go into town. And that train is going right straight through Hill Field, which is the biggest Air Force base in the Midwest there. And nobody's paying a bit of attention to us, and we went right through the middle of Hill Field, you know. Just north of Ogden there's a big Ogden arsenal. We're walking by there, walking home. Nobody's paying a bit of attention to us. We're roaming around town. Only guys that made any fuss at all are the local Japanese. This one guy that had a noodle house in town, that first December, he made it a point to tell us not to come into town tomorrow. "You guys know what day it is?" He says, "Pearl Harbor day, stay home." We made it a point to go into town and walk by, let him know that we're in town.

TI: So let me understand that. So first, how many Japanese Americans were with you? How big a group were you?

GN: We're about, I think there were about eight of us at first.

TI: So you were walking freely around, no one's bothering you.

GN: Nobody's bothering us. We're free to walk all over town to go to... we used to in the movie houses, movies.

TI: Did you get funny looks or anything?

GN: No.

TI: And then, but this owner of a noodle shop, Japanese noodle shop, was he Nisei?

GN: Issei.

TI: Issei, okay. And he's concerned about having so many Japanese walking around, and he tells you on the anniversary of Pearl Harbor day, don't...

GN: Don't come into town.

TI: And why do you think he did that?

GN: I don't know. I think he just didn't want to see any Japanese walking around town on Pearl Harbor day.

TI: Because that might make it harder for him in some way?

GN: It must have. If we were to come into his noodle shop. We made it a point not to go to his place. There was a couple of other smaller places that were pretty nice to us, so we started going to those places.

TI: Well, what was the reaction of other Japanese in town? I mean, were they friendly or were they also kind of a little concerned?

GN: No, they didn't invite us to church, or we never went to any of the local Japanese family places. They just didn't want too many Japanese roaming around the area.

TI: So did that seem a little strange to you, or how did that make you feel?

GN: Not really. We had no intention of going, socializing with the local Japanese anyway. There was quite a few... there was one little pool house run by two Japanese men. I don't know whether they were bachelors or family men, but they had a nice, they had about four pool table and a nice confectionary with little sandwich. No liquor. We used to go there and play pool all the time, and never did see a local boy or man in there, just us evacuees.

TI: But would they go at other times when you weren't there?

GN: I don't think so.

TI: So his clientele was not...

GN: His clientele were mostly white kids.

TI: Interesting. So was he pretty friendly with you?

GN: Yeah, he was really friendly, yeah. He welcomed us in. We used to spend a lot of time playing pool.

TI: And this is Ogden, Utah?

GN: Yes, in Ogden.

TI: Interesting. And then the Japanese families that were there were farmers, generally, in that area?

GN: Most of 'em were farmers. And like I say, there was two other noodle houses. Yeah, noodle houses. We used to go in there for a bowl of noodles.

TI: So there were enough Japanese there to have things like a Japanese restaurant.

GN: No, but most of the clientele, they were white people.

<End Segment 15> - Copyright © 2014 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 16>

TI: Okay. So you get through 1942, you're there, so 1943, is it the same kind of work?

GN: We stayed in the same place. See, and the very first night, we were, the Japanese were put on the swing shift. And the day crew, they stayed there to see who's going to take over the swing shift and they saw a bunch of little guys, they're all hundred pound bags of sugar. And we were expected to put six bags on a hand truck and truck it to the, out of the boxcars into the warehouse, and load them back up and send it out. And they looked at us guys and I heard one guy tell the other, his friend, that, "They won't be here in the morning." In fact, come spring, they got rid of the white guys and kept us on full time.

TI: Because you guys were better workers than they were?

GN: Better workers, and without any complaints.

TI: Now, did the sugar company start recruiting more Japanese from the camps?

GN: Just one crew.

TI: You mean one more crew than you or just your crew?

GN: Just our crew.

TI: Oh, so even though you were such good workers, they didn't try to get more Japanese?

GN: Well, that's all the work there was, just enough to keep you going all year round.

TI: So then they promoted you from the swing shift to the day shift?

GN: Day shift, yeah.

TI: Good.

GN: And they took good care of us. But one incident, at the end of the day, you only have so many orders a day. The foremen made sure they stood around there and watched us do it, and towards the end, they give us a slip. We'd figure out how many needed to be loaded on the thing on such and such a car, we'd make out the bill of labels and tack it up and lock it up and put a tag on it, and just give him the slip. And he'd leave us completely alone. But at first they wouldn't let us go home when there was nothing to do. And they wanted us to... of course, we'd clean up completely, and the warehouse was like a living room, clean. And we said, "What can we do for another hour?" And they said, "Get in the back and hide. Make yourselves scarce." "We can't do that. We're gonna go home." Pretty soon we'd get the orders done for the day, and when we got through, we'd clean it all up and go home, and pay us for eight hours. But god, at first, it was terrible. That's the way they used to treat the white guys.

TI: Because first they'd have a supervisor just watch everything.

GN: Watched everything, yeah.

TI: And then probably they were slower than you or whatever.

GN: Yeah, yeah.

TI: And then, now, you guys would do everything, and get finished early, and they'd...

GN: Talk about literally wearing your fingers to the bone. They didn't have good rubberized gloves and stuff in those days. And when you're working with burlap bags and stuff like that, gee, you start wearing your fingers, we wouldn't have any fingerprints left.

TI: Wow, so hard work.

GN: Yeah, it was hard work, but gee, we were all just, by the time we got drafted into the army, it was just like barbell, man.

TI: So let's just... you mean really strong?

GN: Yeah, oh yeah. We got to a point where instead of... hakujin guys were big and tall, you know, so they can tip that hand truck and stuff like that. We figured out that if we put an extra bag on top, seven, it'd balance better. You can rake it easier. Then we started trucking it seven instead of six.

TI: That's good. Because yeah, again, it's just like, yeah, the balance is such that you...

GN: Yeah, we get a balance, you can wheel 'em all over.

TI: Although it's kind of like a lot of momentum, you had to be more careful around that much weight.

GN: Yeah. But little guys like us guys, trucking around seven hundred pounds, you know.

<End Segment 16> - Copyright © 2014 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 17>

TI: So in 1944, you and I guess the other guys all got drafted?

GN: One guy, he was a football classmate of mine from Kent, he never told us he was born in Japan. He was born in Japan so he didn't get drafted or called up for a physical or anything like that. He went back east and went to a chick sexing school, then he worked around the Midwest and ended up in Denver.

TI: And so this man, was he also, did he start in Pinedale also?

GN: Yeah.

TI: At that time, do you think if the WRA knew that he was a Japanese citizen, would they have let him go, do you think? I'm curious, the rest of you were U.S. citizens, he was a Japanese national.

GN: They didn't care. My younger brother, he came out there the second year, and he was born in Japan. I had a hard time, he didn't want to go back to school, he had one more year of school to go to.

TI: I was just wondering if the bar was higher in terms of who they let leave camp for work?

GN: No. It didn't make a bit of difference whether you're American-born or Japan-born. "Jap's a Jap," I guess. [Laughs]

TI: So it sounds like about seven of you then got drafted, one didn't, but the rest of you got drafted?

GN: Yeah.

TI: And then, so what happened next? You guys take your physical?

GN: We all took our physical within about a month's time, it seemed like. But the guys that went back to camp, just as soon as they passed the physical, they said, "Oh, I'm going to go back to camp and see the family," so they went back to camp. They were drafted right, called up right away. But my brother and I stayed there, we didn't want to go back to Heart Mountain from there. So we stayed there until the end there, and we were the last ones to get called up.

TI: Okay. And you were thinking that maybe they postponed it until after the harvest?

GN: The sugar company must have had us deferred for the rest of the season.

TI: So, and that difference, made a difference in that the ones who were called up earlier, they ended up going to Europe?

GN: They ended up in Europe with the replacements for the 442nd.

TI: Whereas you, those three months later, you trained later, so you weren't sent.

GN: Went to train with the mixed group. Which worked out real well for me.

TI: So describe that. Why did it work out better for you?

GN: Well, 'cause there was only three of us Japanese in my platoon. There was only thirteen of us in the company. So I don't know, the hakujin, all the officers were, and the sergeants were all white guys, and they had heard about the record of the 442nd and all that, and they knew we were from camp. So they treated us real well.

TI: Now was there any friction or tension? Because I'm guessing at this point, these men are being trained to go fight against the Japanese, because the war in Europe is kind of winding down, and the war in the Pacific is still going on. So were there any, kind of, talk about that?

GN: No, Europe was still going... when I was, final months of basic training, Battle of the Bulge was going on real strong. Because our officers and sergeants got, all of a sudden they disappeared and then we found out they were all shipped out.

TI: Okay. So it sounds like, in this sort of integrated unit, the Japanese were treated pretty well.

GN: Yeah, yeah. We were treated real well.

TI: So after you finished basic training in Texas, where did you go?

GN: From there I got called to Camp Ritchie in Maryland. That's where I run into Senator Inouye who made an actor out of me.

TI: So tell me that story. So at this point, you said Senator Inouye, but at this point he was a lieutenant?

GN: He was a lieutenant.

TI: And he had returned to stateside after being injured with his arm?

GN: Yeah.

TI: So he had his arm removed, and so what was he doing?

GN: He was there probably... they didn't know what to do with him, so they had him segregate us actors, you know the guys that could speak well, and the guys that, like the Hawaiians, they're absolutely useless, 'cause the haole guys won't be able to understand 'em. So they were in the group that was marching around in the front. I don't know what the rest of the guys -- we never talked about what we were doing. Only guys we knew were the three that I was with, myself and two other Niseis.

<End Segment 17> - Copyright © 2014 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 18>

TI: And so what was Camp Ritchie for? Was it just another army base that people trained, or was it specialized in anything?

GN: It was a specialty camp. Because my lieutenant in the basic, he was a West Pointer, and just close by. He knew exactly where I was going. And I told him I didn't want to go there, get me out of here, he says, "No, you just go get packed up and go, 'cause I know, I'll guarantee you'll be better off than the rest of the guys there.

TI: So he knew it was like a specialty camp?

GN: He knew it was a specialty camp. He told me, he says, "You guarantee me I'll be in better shape than the rest of the guys."

TI: And then you said, so you're there, and they make you an actor?

GN: In camp? In Camp Ritchie.

TI: And Daniel Inouye...

GN: Inouye gave me a sheet of paper like this and said, "Read this." I read that and he says, "Go to that room there." I go over there and there's half a dozen guys there, we were the actors being coached by...

TI: Because you could read it in a good voice, and that was enough to be an actor?

GN: I guess, yeah. I had a much clearer, stronger voice in those days.

TI: And so after Senator Inouye selected you, did he work with you at all?

GN: No, never saw him again.

TI: That was the last thing that...

GN: That's the last I saw of him. All we worked with were a bunch of old actors from the New York stage.

TI: So tell me, what was the acting for? What were you doing?

GN: We're going to act in front of a... you know, they had big theaters, they'll march a bunch of guys just coming back from Europe in there, and we're supposed to put on this play and show 'em what the mentality of a Japanese soldier that they'll be fighting against was, what kind of mental state they're in. So the three of us were a general, a colonel, and a young lieutenant, that's being overrun in the Pacific. And this general would rather commit suicide rather than surrender. And I'm standing there with a young colonel ready to help him finish him off.

TI: So you're supposed to cut his head off or something as he commits suicide?

GN: Yeah, he's supposed to cut himself, and if he didn't die instantly, I was supposed to chop his head off.

TI: And then what did the lieutenant do?

GN: Lieutenant was frantically trying to keep the (general) from doing, committing suicide. And along about the time he says he's going to commit suicide, the curtain falls. [Laughs]

TI: So this was to show that the, again, the mentality of the Japanese military.

GN: Yeah, they'd rather commit suicide than give up. That's the kind of guys you're up against.

TI: And so you would actually do this with... lots of GIs would see this.

GN: Yeah, yeah. Custom made Japanese uniform, for crying out loud.

TI: And how'd you feel about that? How'd you feel about...

GN: Oh, god, I didn't want to have nothing to do with it at first. What are we gonna do? None of us wanted to be doing that kind of stuff.

TI: Well, and then what did the Hawaiians do? You said they weren't selected because their English was harder to understand.

GN: They were out in the front marching around like a platoon of Japanese soldiers, marching, all the orders are given in Japanese.

TI: So these were Japanese Americans from Hawaii dressed up as Japanese soldiers.

GN: Yeah, carrying Japanese (rifles and sword).

TI: Pretending that they were Japanese soldiers?

GN: Yeah.

TI: And then why were they doing that? I mean, to show the American GIs what that looked like?

GN: Yeah, yeah. Show 'em what it looks like, I don't know what for.

TI: So how did these Japanese Americans from Hawaii, how did they feel about that?

GN: I have no idea. We never talked about it. We never talked to each other about that kind of stuff, it's funny. Yes, it's absolutely funny; we never talked about it. All I know is our lieutenant that was in charge of our group, he would tell us, "We're all meeting at the CP tonight," it was a tavern outside the post. And one night, we were supposed to be in camp by midnight, you know, it was about five minutes after, so we know where there was a hole under the fence. We crawled out, and the lieutenant was right with us, he crawls through that hole. [Laughs] By the time all of us got out from under the fence, there was the MPs there.

TI: So did you guys get in trouble for that?

GN: No. MP says, "Don't do this again," and just let us go. It was so funny, that first lieutenant...

TI: But the lieutenant was with you, too.

GN: Yeah, he was with us.

TI: I suppose he would be the one who got in trouble.

GN: Yeah, he would have gotten in trouble, too.

<End Segment 18> - Copyright © 2014 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 19>

TI: So after Camp Ritchie, then, and this acting job, where'd you go next?

GN: Then by that... that's when the Japanese, VJ happened, Japan surrendered.

TI: Okay, so they dropped the atomic bomb.

GN: Yeah. Then before we can go out and put this play on, why, got broke up again. And I got sent to... I don't know how they did these things. I was with about four or five guys that got sent to Camp Holabird, this CIC camp.

TI: Yeah, so it's counterintelligence.

GN: Yeah, Counterintelligence Corps.

TI: Now they, lot of times they select people, because you probably took some aptitude tests or intelligence tests to figure out what you would be good at?

GN: I didn't have any college or anything of that sort. And they put me in that Counterintelligence Corps and we sit through a lecture, about two hours' lecture at a time with attorneys speaking the whole time. Then they expect us to learn something? [Laughs] Stupid.

TI: And so... and before I leave, you mentioned earlier, VJ Day. So the United States drops the bomb, an atomic bomb, on Hiroshima. Now, this is where your family was from, that area.

GN: Yes.

TI: Did you think about that, did you have concerns about your family in Japan and what happened to them?

GN: I did, but I knew they lived out in the country. So they were just far enough out in the country that they didn't... one of the relatives who was working in Hiroshima got killed, that's all I know. I don't know if any of them got hurt or not.

TI: Now, did they give you information about the power of this atomic bomb, and did you understand the magnitude of what happened?

GN: Oh, yeah, we knew all that. We'd seen pictures of it. And we landed in Tokyo about November, end of November 1945. So when we landed in Japan, the airplane kept circulating waiting for our clearance to land, and we saw a lot of it from the air.

TI: Like in Tokyo, the firebombing?

GN: Tokyo, yeah, Yokohama and all that.

TI: And so when you landed and saw Japan, I guess you were there when you were a little boy, but what did you see? What were your impressions of Japan at that point?

GN: Oh god, it was completely burnt. The only thing standing were the cement foundations, big smokestacks. And around the imperial moat, they saved some of the buildings right there. They didn't bomb right in, or burn the imperial palace.

TI: But pretty much everything else?

GN: Everything else was, yeah. The railroads were, trains were still running, some of them.

TI: So you get to Tokyo, November 1945.

GN: Yeah.

TI: So what did they have you do there?

GN: Go to some more school.

TI: Again, counterintelligence?

GN: Yeah, more classes.

TI: So what were they worried about? Counterintelligence... what were they... the war is over, so what kind of intelligence did they want you to do?

GN: I don't know what the people in Japan did. You know, we never talked about it. We never talked among ourselves. I didn't even know what my buddy next door, good buddy was doing, other than he was going off by himself and I was going off by myself. It was never the two of us together.

TI: Well, for you then, what did they have you do? You didn't know what your buddy was doing, what were you doing?

GN: I myself was, went across the 38th on a convoy, and trying to observe how many Russian soldiers there were in these villages.

TI: So is this in Korea?

GN: Yeah, Korea.

TI: So now you're in Korea, so you go below the 38th.

GN: I didn't do any counterintelligence work in Japan. I was in Korea. And the minute you get across the 38th border, the people are standing there, but not one word. You know, in Japan, they're always hollering at you or wanting candy or this and that. But in Korea, not a word. They just stand there and just look at you.

TI: And how did they, Koreans view you? Because having been occupied by the Japanese, I know a lot of Koreans didn't like the Japanese. How did they perceive Japanese Americans?

GN: They wanted to talk to us, because they can all speak Japanese. But they didn't dare speak to us in Japanese, and we couldn't speak Korean, so they said very little to us.

TI: So you had enough, your Japanese was good enough to be able to converse then?

GN: Converse, I can hold my own. But I couldn't read or write.

TI: So it sounds like the Koreans were okay with Japanese Americans, the Niseis, they were okay with you?

GN: Yeah, they were all right with us.

TI: So anything else in Korea, any other stories?

GN: No, not really. People in Japan and Korea was different. Even little kids would steal you blind. It got to a point where we find ourselves hating the kids. And they tried to reenlist us, and they offered us commissions. Not a commission, but a warrant, warrant officer rating.

TI: Because at this point, you were a master sergeant?

GN: I was a sergeant first class.

TI: Sergeant first class.

GN: Yeah, they were trying to recruit us for another year. But one of my buddies was a Hawaiian, he signed up and told them he wanted to be stationed in Japan, and a month and a half later, he was right back. [Laughs] I'm not falling for this.

TI: So they did enough to get him to reenlist.

GN: Yeah, I wanted nothing to do with it. Especially when you find yourself, all of us guys began to hate the, even the little kids. Couldn't get out of there quick enough.

TI: And this is before the Korean War started.

GN: Yes. We wrote up pages and pages of reports saying that the Russians and the North Koreans were building up. You could tell.

TI: So you knew this was probably going to, or the Korean War was going to happen.

GN: We were all predicting within five years there'd be another war, Korean War. That's one the reasons I did not want to stay in the reserve or anything like that.

TI: So then you returned back to the States, you were discharged.

GN: Yeah.

TI: And so where did they discharge you?

GN: They gave me a ten days' pass in Seattle where my family was, and so I got, they had what they called delay enroute, they gave me ten days in Seattle. And I got discharged in Chicago.

TI: So why'd you choose Chicago?

GN: Because I was, I wanted to stay, get discharged in Chicago and spend the winter there. I came back about Christmas time, and I didn't want to come back here in the middle of winter.

<End Segment 19> - Copyright © 2014 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 20>

TI: So after you spend the winter in Chicago, what do you do next?

GN: Well, in order to have some kind of an income, I decided to use the GI Bill and go to a trade school.

TI: And so this is Chicago?

GN: Yes, in Chicago.

TI: So what kind of trade school?

GN: I went to a trade school to learn, I was going to learn body and fender, but I ended up mainly learning how to weld, you know, work with metal. And that really helped. I did all the cutting and the welding, bringing the cannery up to standard. We'd run the cannery during the day and have supper and go back and do repair work so it'll run the next day.

TI: So if you learn kind of this trade in welding in Chicago, you could do that in any city. Why'd you come back to South Bend?

GN: Because the people that had interest in the company and had families were loading the oysters onto a big GI truck, and hauling it to Seattle, and they had an opening out in Columbia city, and to give work to all the Japanese people who used to work here formerly, that was afraid to come back here. So they were waiting for Kuni Sasaki and myself to come back here and join the union. We used to be union members before the war.

TI: And so let me make sure I understand. So this is after the war, in South Bend it was hard for the Japanese families to come back here.

GN: They didn't want to come back here.

TI: Because they were afraid of how they would be treated?

GN: Yeah.

TI: So they wanted you and Kuni to come back first because you were union members. Because it was the union that was kind of the hardest one to, I guess...

GN: They were the most vocal ones.

TI: So they approached you personally, said, "Giro, will you go back first?"

GN: Yeah, yeah. They said they wanted us to, Kuni and myself to live here. So we came back.

TI: So before you decided to do that, what did you think? Because it's kind of like going into a hornet's nest, right? You're going to a place where maybe people didn't want you?

GN: I wasn't really afraid of that.

TI: Because you knew the people here, you thought it would be okay?

GN: Well, I was pretty sure we could take care of ourselves. We weren't worried about that. And we didn't have any trouble, except one night, there was three of us living in the house there. One night, somebody came in here with a pickup, and went just a little ways down the road and fired two shots over the house. It woke the other two guys up, but it didn't even wake me up.

TI: So did you ever find out who that was?

GN: Never did find out.

TI: Do you have a... do you think it was someone from the town or nearby that did that?

GN: I supposed it was some rednecks that live around here. They had to know we lived here. They knew we were living there.

<End Segment 20> - Copyright © 2014 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 21>

TI: So you and Kuni come back first, so describe what happened? So what did you do when you first got back to South Bend?

GN: We ran the cannery, and repaired the cannery, and more or less managed the cannery.

TI: So just the two of you at first?

GN: Yeah.

TI: How about interacting with the union? Did you do anything with the union?

GN: No, we just became a union member, but we never... see, by being a former superintendent, you're not really supposed to be a union member. But we just kept paying our dues until it got kind of ridiculous to do it, so we dropped out and became managers here.

TI: So you and Kuni started getting the place back in shape. How much longer did it take before the others started coming?

GN: The next year, fall. I came back in '47, and in '48 they were all coming back.

TI: And what was the condition of the compound, the buildings, the beds?

GN: Oh, everything was in bad shape. They never took care of a thing for five years. The cannery was in bad shape, and every, it took us a couple years to get it where it ran normal.

TI: And how about the other oyster farms that were not Japanese? Were they doing pretty well?

GN: Oh, they all made money hand over fist during the war. The guys that used to live on little skiffs owed the, bought, one that guy that was nothing but an oyster opener, he made enough money to buy an oyster farm in Hood Canal. Another guy that lived in a shed, Glenn Point's a perfect example. That guy, all he had was a little skiff and a dock. When we came home, he was riding around in a new Oldsmobile, he had bought a house and had bought that ground that was developed for recreational. And he says, "If I can't make two dollar profit on a gallon of oysters, I'm not monkeying around with oysters," he never did. If you can make two dollars a gallon if you can pick it up for nothing.

TI: So the war years were really good for oyster farmers.

GN: All the guys made money.

TI: So was there ever... I'm curious why the New Washington Oyster Company, why they didn't get someone just to run the place.

GN: They did. They had both fishery run. It was a big fish company based out of Boston in those days. They had a branch in Seattle where we used to buy all our oysters. They were supposed to be managing it.

TI: And they just didn't do it?

GN: They just bought the oysters and made money on the oysters. I don't know that... we had no proof how they did it.

TI: But then, so it took a few years to get things running back. And then your role, when you first started, you were just like, kind of a worker, harvest. But now after the war, what was your position?

GN: We were the managers here. Bob Nakao lived in Seattle, he only came down here three or four days out of the week and went back to Seattle.

TI: How about the Isseis who started the company? What happened to them?

GN: By that time they were pretty old, so they, only a few of 'em worked here, couple years, and then they gradually disappeared. After the war they were, about my father's age group, they were just too old to be working.

TI: And so how did they transfer ownership? Did you just buy them out? Or how did...

GN: Every time a stockholder went back to Japan, said, "You, you and you will buy his stock." And they took it out of our wages, and he got paid off. So most of the old guys got paid off.

TI: Okay, so the workers, it was good for the workers because if they stayed here long enough, eventually they would become the owners.

GN: Yeah, yeah.

TI: And then over the years, as the Niseis got older or they moved away, how... did it just slowly get smaller and smaller in terms of the ownership?

GN: Yeah, yeah. That's what happened.

TI: And so were you the last one left?

GN: Frank and myself, Frank Kawashima and myself were the last. Then we were having a squabble, because he had an oyster company in Portland, and he needed all the oysters from here. He was gradually taking more and more oysters from here to keep his plant in Portland going. So it became either you buy me out or I buy you out, and he couldn't get by without it to keep his Portland place going. So he bought me out.

TI: But you're still here though. So how did that work out?

GN: Well, I was out for two years, until this guy that bought me out decides he's going to sell this place to Bay Center Mariculture who I'm working for now, decided to buy it. So I said "If you're going to buy New Washington," then I'll join you guys and become a stockholder there, and they gave me good stop options.

TI: And then you help run it for them?

GN: Yeah, 'cause I knew all the beds and stuff. So that's how I became... I wasn't going to buy another oyster company again, see. But when they bought this out, I said, "Well, it goes together, and I'm living here."

TI: Now just in terms of the oyster industry, in terms of the value, I mean, I have no idea in terms of an industry. From the beginnings of the 1930s to today, I mean, I'm guessing it must be, like, a multimillion dollar industry now versus pretty small back in the '30s? Has it really grown over the years?

GN: The production hasn't grown that much, but the price has gone up so high, it's ten times more.

TI: And so is it now kind of a business for bigger corporations to run it, or is it still kind of family run?

GN: Well, all the smaller guys are... the bigger companies are still growing, same. Our company is... let's see, one, two, probably about the third or fourth largest in the bay.

TI: So how many Japanese are left in the oyster business these days?

GN: Me. Yeah.

TI: And how about, in the whole state, or just here? How about other parts of the state?

GN: Do you know Jerry Yamashita from Seattle?

TI: No.

GN: Well, I think he's still in it, he's about my age. I'm sure he's not working anymore, but I think he has some interest yet. That's it.

TI: So for the Japanese, I mean, at one point, it was, the Japanese were a large part of the industry, and now it's down to the two of you.

GN: Yeah, yeah. Just myself and... I'm ninety-three, so I won't be a part of it much longer. [Laughs]

TI: So you're like the last of a whole, kind of, era.

GN: Yeah. Read that book by Doug Allen.

TI: And so taking a step back, how much have the Japanese contributed to oyster farming in Washington state?

GN: Oh, gosh, to start with, a lot. The Murakami family, this company, Jerry Yamashita.

TI: They did things like they brought in, like, the Japanese oyster seeds, that was probably a contribution?

GN: Yeah.

TI: How about innovations in processing, anything else that you think the Japanese kind of pioneered in terms of helping the industry?

GN: I don't know about that. Everything just comes together, and everybody's doing the same thing. Because T. Nakao, he talks about these big companies, when they were getting started, they'd come over there and borrow his baskets and skiffs and something like that to get started. Now they're big companies, and now they're out of it and somebody else is running it. To start with, the Japanese had a lot to do with it, keeping it going.

TI: Well, good. So that's all my questions. Is there anything else that you want to talk about?

GN: Not really.

TI: This was really interesting; this was a lot of fun to come down here and get to know you.

GN: Well, it was fun meeting you, Tom. Gosh, I've heard about you. [Laughs]

<End Segment 21> - Copyright © 2014 Densho. All Rights Reserved.