Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Ken Yoshida Interview
Narrator: Ken Yoshida
Interviewer: Tom Ikeda
Location: San Francisco, California
Date: October 17, 2007
Densho ID: denshovh-yken-01

[Correct spelling of certain names, words and terms used in this interview have not been verified.]

<Begin Segment 1>

TI: Ken, today is Thursday, October 17, 2007. We're on the campus of Cal State San Bernardino. My name is Tom Ikeda, and I'm the interviewer, and in the room we have Cherstin Lyon, and Cliff, your last name?

Off camera: Schaeffer.

TI: Schaeffer. So I'm going to just start from the very beginning, Ken. So can you just tell me where and when you were born?

KY: I was born in Tacoma, Washington, July 31, 1923. And I think I was born at home.

TI: Okay, and what was the name given to you at your birth?

KY: Oh, Kenichiro Yoshida.

TI: Now, Kenichiro, was that named after anyone, or do you know why they named you Kenichiro?

KY: Well, my parents kind of... well, my mother picked the name from different people in Japan, and for each children she picked the name from different people, from different families with a Japanese name. So we had all Japanese name.

TI: Okay, good. So let's talk a little bit about your parents. Can you tell me your father's name and where he grew up in Japan?

KY: Gee, I don't know where my father was raised. But my mother was from Tokyo. And I think my father went to college in Tokyo, and that's probably where he more or less met my mother.

TI: Okay, so let's go back to your father. So what was your father's name?

KY: Oh, his name was... I don't remember.

TI: That's okay.

KY: Because the thing is, I just know him as my father, and Yoshida, that's all I can...

TI: How about your mother? Do you know what her first name was?

KY: No, I think it was Saki or something like that. But my wife would know all those things because of detail, and I'm not much on details.

TI: And so growing up, you just called them...

KY: My mother, yeah.

TI: What about in terms of when they were in Japan, do you have a sense of, like, you father, what your father's family did in Japan?

KY: No, I don't know nothing about either family. All I know is anything that started in Washington before I was born. Anything beyond that, I know absolutely nothing.

TI: Well, what about this... in terms of your father, do you have a sense of why he left Japan to come to the United States?

KY: No, I don't know. I don't know why. But I understand, I think he came here by himself to Washington, and he went back and got married and came back with my mother. And that's how they got together, raised a family in Washington, Tacoma, Washington.

TI: So Tacoma, Washington, so that's where you were born.

KY: That's where I was born, yeah.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2007 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

TI: Let's talk about, a little bit more about the family. So how many children did your mother and father have?

KY: My mother and father had seven children, and I'm the oldest boy, which is number two, and my sister was number one.

TI: And your older sister's name was...

KY: Was Toshiko Yoshida.

TI: And how much older was she than you?

KY: She was about a year and a half older.

TI: Okay, so born maybe 1921, around then?

KY: Yes, I think so.

TI: Okay, then that's number one, then you're number two. And then after you, who was next?

KY: It was Masamitsu Yoshida.

TI: And how much younger was... and his nickname was "Mac," right?

KY: They called him Mac for short.

TI: How much younger was Mac?

KY: Probably about a year and a half. All the family was about a year and a half apart, except for the last two, which came later.

TI: Okay, so I won't ask the... so about a year and a half between. So after Mac, who was next?

KY: Sakae. And he was about a year and a half younger than Mac. And after that I had a sister, and she was about a year and a half after that.

TI: And what was her name?

KY: Her name was Aiko. Then I had two brothers that were born in California, because the rest of them were born in Tacoma, Washington, and I had two brothers that were born in California. And one was born in Santa Maria, and I don't know where the other one was born. Might be Santa Maria, too. They were born pretty close to each other.

TI: And what were their names?

KY: One was Takashi, and the other one was Shigeru.

TI: So let's go back to Tacoma, Washington, because that's nearby where I'm from, I'm from Seattle, Washington.

KY: Yes.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2007 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

TI: And I'm just curious, what memories, if any, do you have of Tacoma? I know you were young, but what can you remember from Tacoma?

KY: Well, I can remember going to school, in grammar school, from the sawmill where my father worked, we had a house there. And going on the streetcar across the river, and going to school, it was on top of a hill. That I remember when I was a kid, I never forget that. Then as far as I was, my neighborhood was concerned, we lived near a canal. And I imagine the canal was built more or less for the sawmill. But anyway, our outhouses were over the canal. That's where outhouses were, over the canal, and it was built on boards over the canal, and the toilet was right on top.

TI: So let me understand. So your house was near the canal, and then, like in the back of the house, there was an outhouse.

KY: That's right.

TI: And that was suspended over the canal?

KY: Canal.

TI: And so after you finished doing your business, it would just fall into...

KY: It'd go right into the canal. So that was the sewer system.


TI: Oh, that's a good story because I know my kids really don't know what an outhouse is, and that was just a common thing to have. So the other houses, were they all kind of doing the same thing, do you remember?

KY: The other house? Oh, yeah, because we were out on the farm. And so there was no indoor toilet, it was an outhouse. They had regular outhouse building, some of them would have two seats, and some of 'em had one seat. So if there was one seat, you just wait your turn. [Laughs] And we couldn't afford toilet paper, so my mother used to get books, and the paper, they were pretty soft paper. That became our toilet paper. And we grew up with that for years.

TI: And so how big was your house? When you have, at that point, five kids and your parents...

KY: There was about two or three bedroom. There was five kids, but you know, we all slept in one room, more or less. And so I think there was, we had one or two, I think about three rooms, but I know my mother and my father slept in with the kids, with the girls or something like that. Because we didn't have that many bedrooms and there were five kids. So we just, like when we go to eat, we never had chairs. We had chairs on the end, but they were mostly benches. And that's the way we were brought up, like out on the farm.

TI: Do you recall what kind of meals you had?

KY: Oh, yeah, we had a regular Japanese meal, because my mother was from Japan. So it was all miso soup and rice. But at one time I remember we were very poor in Washington, because my father was a, liked to have a good time. So he spent a lot of his money having a good time. [Laughs] So my mother had to go out and pick dandelions and mushrooms in the wintertime, and things like that, and we lived on that. But it was fantastic. As I grew up, they're selling dandelions as vegetables. So I said, well, gee, I had that when I was a kid and I was a poor man. But now they're selling that in groceries, and they're asking nice prices for it. I said, oh, ridiculous. [Laughs]

TI: That's a good story.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 2007 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

TI: When you were about seven years old or so, you moved from Tacoma, Washington, down to California.

KY: Yes.

TI: Why did you move, why did the family move?

KY: Well, my father got a job in Santa Maria, Guadalupe, in that area, teaching judo. And so he moved down there, got a job, and since our family was from Washington, by boat to, I think, it was San Francisco. And then from there we took the train to Santa Maria.

TI: When you say by boat, how do you take a boat from Tacoma, Washington, to San Francisco. What would the path be, do you remember?

KY: Well all I know is we got on the boat in Seattle or Tacoma, and we came right on down the coast and it took us about two days to get down there, to get to San Francisco. Then I think we got on the train and went to Guadalupe, because the train went through Guadalupe, and that's where my father was teaching judo. So he picked us up there, and we lived in that neighborhood for a few years.

TI: Now, do you recall any, going from the Pacific Northwest to California, what differences did you notice? Like in the weather or the people, did you notice anything different?

KY: No. I was on the ship, and I had to take care of my kid sister. So I always had my kid sister, she was only about, what is it, year old or something like that? And so I always carried her with me on the ship. I stayed with her and watched the little girl. Because the other ones were a little older so they ran around on their own.

TI: Now, that seems a little, a little unusual to me, that you would take care of your kid sister and not, say, your mother, father, or your older sister.

KY: Well, my father was not on the ship, so it was just my mother. And my mother had five kids, so she had to kind of watch all those five children, and so I kind of got stuck taking care of the little girl. Because I was, I think, seven years old at the time, you know, to take care of her.

TI: And so in California, Guadalupe, what childhood memories do you have of Guadalupe, things that you did?

KY: Well, actually, we say Guadalupe, but actually we was in a little town called Betteravia, which is only a few miles from Guadalupe. But there is no Betteravia there anymore, it was a sugar factory there. And a lot of work, they had homes there and a hotel for the employees to work in the sugar plant, and that was way before I got there. Because the sugar plantation was closed by the time I got there, but the thing is, it was a building that my mother, my father rented. And that's where we lived for a year or so. And I think that's where I started my life in California there. We moved from Santa Maria, Lompoc, then back to Santa Maria and around that area, because that's where my father taught judo.

TI: So you're kind of a young boy, say you're nine, ten years old. What would a typical day be like in the summertime for you when you're not going to school? What would you do?

KY: Well, this is a farm town. So we used to go to the packing shed, see the workers work in the shed, packing vegetables. But the thing is, we went to the shed, and we found out ways of getting inside. [Laughs] And having a grand time in the building, stealing the rubber band and stretching them out for blocks. But it was... and then went home, we played Kick the Can or Hide and Seek or whatever it is that we can play around the neighborhood. Because we had some neighbors that we got friends with, our neighbors, so we had a great time when we were kids. Get flooded out in the wintertime because Santa Maria is sort of like in a valley, and the rain from the mountain went through Santa Maria. So when it rains up in the mountain, we had a flood in the street. But it was great for us, because we'd take our shoes off and we'd play in the streets in the water, and it was about six to eight inches deep, and we had a great time out in the street, get all wet. I remember enjoying that. You see a log or a piece of wood come by, great, we'd get on that thing and sail down the road for a while, as far as we can go. And after that, the lumber kept right on going, and we couldn't go any further because there was a street blockage and the water went under like a creek or something.

TI: When you say "we," you mentioned your neighbors.

KY: My neighbors, yeah.

TI: So who were some of your friends during this time? Do you remember their names or who they were?

KY: No. I know a Japanese family, Iwamoto family, which was only a block away. But we went to camp and they were in Santa Maria Valley, but we had moved to Redwood City. So I lost track of all those people, because they went to another camp, and we went up, and we ended up in Tanforan Racetrack.

TI: Before we go there, so back in, your friends, you mentioned a Japanese family, were most of your friends back then Japanese?

KY: No, I had, my neighbor was Portuguese, and I had another family, I don't know what it was. He must have been Irish or something like that. But they were more like country folks, because Santa Maria's a country town. So that's the way the family were, like country family, so we got along real well. We were not city slickers. [Laughs] So that was something.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 2007 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

TI: Okay, so then you said you then moved to Redwood City?

KY: Yes.

TI: And why did your family move to Redwood City?

KY: Because my father got a job in Redwood City. And so we got a place in Redwood City where they had a nursery. And there was a home there, we moved into that home and we worked for the nursery, but he taught judo at nighttime. Because just judo alone, he couldn't make a living. There's not enough people. So he always had a regular steady job during the daytime and taught at nighttime, judo.

TI: And when you said "we," so did the family help out at the nursery also?

KY: Yes. My mother worked at the nursery, and if I got the chance, I worked a little bit. But I was more or less fooling around more than anything else, I was too young. But my mother worked there pretty steady.

TI: So in the nursery business, what kind of work, day to day, what would a typical day be?

KY: Oh, it's mostly, she was picking gardenias, and they had a nursery, hothouses, and they rose gardenias, and she used to pick gardenias. And they used to take them to Redwood City, the father would take it to the flower market in San Francisco and sell the flowers out there. That's what my mother did most of the time, work in the nursery. But I also, I went to work, too, but when I was going to high school, I went to work for a furniture store as a janitor. And, see, I worked there about a year in the furniture store until the war started.

TI: Now, was it common for other, sort of, boys or young men your age to be working and going to school at the same time?

KY: Well, a lot of people were nursery people, they were raising flowers out in the field like chrysanthemum. But we ended up in a nursery place where they grew the chrysanthemum. But they were all, the Japanese families were raising chrysanthemums, or they had nurseries. They had big nurseries in Redwood City, big ones.

TI: But your classmates, I think about your classmates in high school, so like the other kind of classmates, did they all have, like, jobs, and they would have to do either the nurseries or furniture store, for instance?

KY: No. Well, most of them worked in their own nurseries. So they had their whole family jobs, is what it was. See, but I was already going to school, and I didn't want to work in the nursery. So I got a job in a different... whatever I can find, I got a nice job working in a furniture store, which was about ten or twelve miles from Redwood City. But it was a great job, and my check was a fairly good-sized check I used to bring home, and my mother loved that. Because I was the oldest boy in the family, and I had to more or less help support the family. And I was working pretty steady at nighttime and going to school. When I'm at school, in my history class, I'd go to sleep.

TI: Before we go there, I just want to make sure I understand this. So you worked at night and things, good paycheck. And this money, what would happen to this money?

KY: My mother got it. Oh, no, my mother had to raise the family, and she needed all the money she can get. And so I was working for the family, because I'm the oldest boy. So I would get a nice job, make few dollars. She'd take the paycheck and she'd give me a couple dollars.

TI: And because you worked at night, you would fall asleep during class.

KY: History class. And one day the teacher came up to me and says, "You working at nighttime?" I says, "Yes." He says, "Go back to sleep." Says, "Go back to sleep."

TI: So the teacher was very sort of understanding.

KY: Yeah. She was an older teacher, so she knew what life was about. So she says, "You go to sleep."

TI: Do you remember what you thought or felt when that teacher said that to you?

KY: I didn't feel nothing, but I know I went to sleep. I went to sleep real fast. I was real sleepy. But it was, history was great, I loved history. I love history. Going to school, I always loved history. But I don't know, for some reason in her class I'd fall asleep. I guess it wasn't quite as interesting. [Laughs] But it was great; I learned a lot.

TI: So during this time, did any of your brothers or sisters also have side jobs like you?

KY: No. They were younger, they couldn't have jobs. Because I was eighteen, seventeen or eighteen, I was the oldest boy, and the other ones were fifteen, too young to have jobs. So I went to work right away.

TI: So you mentioned earlier that your mother really liked that you brought this big paycheck.

KY: Oh, yeah.

TI: How about your father? Did you ever, did he ever talk to you about your work and what it meant to the family?

KY: No. He was, like I said, he was like a playboy. He liked to go out and have a good time. So a lot of his money went to, you know, seemed like, going out and having parties or something. So my mother had to work, and I had to work, and that money went into the family.

TI: So was it a case where... so your mother was the one who took care of the finances?

KY: Oh, yeah.

TI: So, but your, it sounds like your father, with his money that he earned, a lot of that didn't come back to the family?

KY: No, no. He brought some of it to the family, but not enough, you know, to live on. So she depended on herself and myself. Because when we were living in Santa Maria, I was only about fourteen or fifteen, and I was working out in the field with the grownups. But they paid me less money... it was twenty-five cents an hour, and the grownups were making thirty-five cents an hour. But it was a job for me, to know, to go with my mother, and I could drive, I was driving at the time. So I'd take the car and her and I would go to work on the farm. But it was a great help for her, raising the family.

TI: So it almost, at this point then, this was right before the war, you were almost the breadwinner for the family.

KY: That's right, oh, yeah.

TI: Do you think your father saw you also as the breadwinner, or was there any conflict?

KY: No, he wasn't... doesn't seem like he was interested in the family that much. He wanted to go out, stay out and have parties and have a good time, and I figure that was his life. But he's been independent all his life, too, and very stubborn. So my mother kind of gave up on trying to get in to be part of the family. He raised the family, but that's it.

TI: How did you feel about this? Because you had to work extra, to the point where you had to work at nights to help support the family, and you saw your father, in some cases, squandering some money. Did that ever make you resentful of your father?

KY: No, no. I was kind of resentful because he wasn't helping out as much, but I just let it ride. You know, I was the oldest boy, and I just let it ride, because I figured there's nothing you can do about it, because he's an older man. So I just let it ride, and I just went to work myself and helped with the family. And so my kids all knew, my brothers and sisters all knew that I helped the family. And so when they grew up, they knew I worked a lot and raised the family. I had a great life with the kids.

TI: Your father was still the judo instructor.

KY: That's right, yeah.

TI: And in many communities, the judo instructor is viewed as a person of pretty high esteem. I mean, judo, kendo, Japanese language, are all...

KY: Oh, yeah.

TI: So in this community, Redwood City, was your father viewed as one of the more prominent people in the community?

KY: No, no. He was just a teacher. They knew he was a teacher, and that's it. They looked at him as a teacher, and not like a real professional instructor, just as a teacher. That's how he lived. But he never wanted to be no big shot. My father was not like that.

TI: So you've talked a little bit about your father in terms of enjoying, sort of partying, stubborn. What was your mother like? How would you describe your mother?

KY: Oh, my mother was family. She was strictly family. She raised a family, and that's where her interest was, raising the family. Because she had seven kids. And I figure she did great. All the family stayed together until the war started. Then one of my brothers went in the service, but the rest of the family all stayed in Topaz.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 2007 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

TI: Okay, so let's talk about this. So December 7, 1941, Japan bombs Pearl Harbor.

KY: Yeah.

TI: How did you hear about this event?

KY: Well, I heard it on the radio. And, well, there's nothing I can do about it, so I just let things ride as it went. And pretty soon, we had to go to the Tanforan racetrack, because they assembled all the Japanese families, and that's where they went, from that area, Bay Area, they went to Tanforan.

TI: Before you went to Tanforan, you had some months before. During that time, what kind of things were happening in Redwood City? Like did you see...

KY: I was working. I was going to school and going to work, so I paid no attention to nothing. And because I was tall, people thought I was Chinese, so they left me alone. In fact, I used to ride the train from Redwood City to San Mateo, and this is at midnight. They'd just look at me, and that's it. They never bothered me.

TI: Well, wait a second. So midnight, at that point, there was a curfew.

KY: That's right. And I'm traveling on the train to go to work. They just looked at me and that's it, they never bothered me, because they thought I was Chinese.

TI: Now, during this time when you were, when you're really busy working, what did you think was going to happen to you and your family? Did you think anything was going to happen?

KY: No, I didn't think nothing was going to happen until they got notice that we had to go to Tanforan for the evacuation.

TI: And then when you got that notice, what did you think?

KY: I just waited for the time to move, that was it. My mother had a package for, more or less, each one of the kids who can carry something, and whatever you can carry, that's what you went with. And that's how we went through life, through the assembly center and then to relocation center. They call it "relocation," but it was actually a concentration camp.

TI: I was just thinking, you talked a little bit about your father being a judo instructor. It was common for the FBI after December 7th to pick up a lot of Japanese language school instructors, kendo instructors, judo instructors. Were they doing that in Redwood City, too?

KY: They were picking them up in Redwood City, but we had just moved from Santa Maria to Redwood City, and they were looking for him in Santa Maria, and they could never find him. So we went to assembly center and Topaz, and when the camp closed down, the FBI man says, "We were looking for you. Where you been?" He says, "I've been in camp with the family." They said, "We've been looking for you all over." Couldn't find him.

TI: Wow, so if you had not moved, he would have been picked up, but they couldn't find him.

KY: I don't think they looked very hard. They got him after camp, they said, "Where you been? We've been looking for you." "I've been in camp."

TI: So all they had to was look at the list of who was in camp.

KY: Yeah. Well, they didn't care who was in camp, they're not interested in people looking in camp, they were looking for people outside. So they never bothered him.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 2007 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

TI: So let's go to Tanforan. So you were there, what memories do you have of Tanforan?

KY: Only hay mattresses. [Laughs] We went to Tanforan and we got bags. Everybody go to the hay field and fill it up with hay for your mattress. And that's all I know of Tanforan. I just didn't do nothing in Tanforan but just, everybody just wandered around, they might have a program up in the grandstand. But other than that, there was nothing. But we only stayed there a few months, and then as soon as Topaz was finished, they shipped us to Topaz, which is in Utah, Delta, Utah. And we went to camp there, and that's where I stayed for two or three years.

TI: And the thing about Tanforan, so you're there, so this had just happened. Like when you're in places like the mess hall or the lunchroom, people were just sort of talking about what's going on. Do you recall some of what people were saying in terms of what they thought about what was going on?

KY: No. I never talked to people. I was -- excuse me -- I was always on my own. I never met, made friends or anything like that. I was always an individual. I hate kidding around with a bunch of people, so I always stayed by myself. I might make one or two friends, but I never ran around with anybody.

TI: How about the family? What happened to your family in Tanforan? Did things change in terms of the dynamics of being together or not?

KY: Oh, no, the family all stayed together. All through camp, the family always stayed together, never separated. Well, they went to eat at different mess halls in Topaz, but in Tanforan, everybody was, our family stayed together. They went and played with, there was different kids during the day, but dinnertime or evening time, they all stayed at home.

TI: Now, did you see anything different with your parents? Because all of a sudden they didn't have to work. And I'm thinking about your father, he probably wasn't able to party like he was before. Did you see your parents in a different way?

KY: Oh, yeah. They became a family. The whole thing became a family, my mother and my father and all the kids, we all stayed as a family. And we stayed as a family all the way until Topaz, 'til I was picked up.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 2007 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

TI: Okay, so let's go to Topaz. And so describe Topaz.

KY: Well, Topaz, I went to Topaz, I got a job as an ambulance driver, and I drove an ambulance for a few years. Then after that, got tired of that, I went and worked on the farm.

TI: Well, let me back up. So ambulance driver, because Topaz is like a little town.

KY: That's right.

TI: And so generally you had this little ambulance.

KY: That's right, an army ambulance.

TI: How frequently would you have to go around and pick people up?

KY: I hardly picked anybody up. We were more or less a chauffeur for the nurses and the doctors, you know. We'd just go and pick 'em up once in a while, or do things like that, delivery, milk for the babies or something like that. There were very few emergencies as far as ambulance is concerned.

TI: So were you on duty at a certain time, did you have be by the ambulance on call?

KY: Oh, yeah. You had to be, you worked like a regular laborer, you work, I think it's about eight hours a day. And you put in your shift and you go back.

TI: So it sounds like there's a lot of just sitting around.

KY: Sitting around, oh, yeah, lot of sitting around. People were always sitting around in camp. You know, they eventually got jobs working on the farm or a nurse's aide, or an ambulance driver or whatever you get. He was making sixteen dollars a month. Only ones who got more money was the doctors and the professionals, but they only got nineteen dollars a month. Ridiculous.

TI: So you said you were in Tanforan, kind of like an individual, you kind of stayed by yourself. Is that the same in Topaz, or did you find some friends or people that you...

KY: No, I stayed by myself in Topaz, too. I never traveled. But near the end of, before I left Tanforan, I had a little gang of girls and boys, but it was about six of us, family type. We all stuck around together and spent the time there as a group. Because, you know, there's a lot of people in camp, and you don't see people from the outer areas. You just want to meet with people within your area.

TI: Well, because in the camp, with so many young people, they had dances, bands and all those things. Did you ever go to a dance?

KY: No, I was never a dancer. Never a dancer, I hated those things.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 2007 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

TI: After being in Topaz for several months, the camp officials or the government came out with a "loyalty questionnaire."

KY: Oh, yeah.

TI: Do you remember that?

KY: Oh, yeah. I got the questionnaire and I just put "yes-yes." And then I think it's about two or three months later, I got a draft notice.

TI: Let me explain. So when you say "yes-yes," there were two questions, question number 27 and 28. One said that you would forswear any allegiance to the emperor of Japan.

KY: That's right.

TI: And you said "yes," that you had no allegiance to Japan.

KY: That's right.

TI: And hen the second one, "yes," would be the question, would you be willing to serve in the armed services of the United States, and you said yes.

KY: Yes.

TI: Did you think about the answering and why "yes"? Because that was a controversial question. Some people said "no-no" or "yes-no."

KY: I was thinking of "no-no." I thought I wrote "no-no," but they said, no, I wrote "yes-yes." But the thing is, I had nobody in Japan. So why would I want to go to Japan? So I figured this was my country, so I just put "yes-yes" and I stayed. But when they told me to come in the army, I said, "No, no, I'm not going in the army." Because the thing is, because I said "yes-yes," but that's if I'm outside. But if I'm in camp, in a concentration camp, I'm not going to go in the service.

TI: Okay, so let's do it in a couple steps. So the army first came into the camp and asked for volunteers.

KY: That's right.

TI: So at Topaz, did very many men volunteer to go into the army?

KY: No, in Topaz there were very few. So they had drafted them.

TI: Right. So after that, when they came back...

KY: And they started drafting.

TI: ...they reinstituted the draft. They originally enlisted men like from 1-A to 4-C.

KY: There was no more 4-Cs.

TI: Yeah, and then they went back to 1-A, and then they started drafting you and other men. So how did you feel about that, being drafted? When they drafted you, where were you thinking, what was your reaction?

KY: Oh, I was going to go. I was going to go in the service, but not from camp.

CL: Right after the "loyalty questionnaire" was distributed, your father made a decision for the family, is that correct?

KY: Yes. But I don't know anything about that. After I was, draft notice came and they picked me up because I wouldn't go, I don't know what happened to the family. So whatever my father said or my mother did after that, I had no connections with the family.

CL: But before the draft, did he suggest that the family ask for repatriation?

KY: No, no. As far as I know, he asked nothing like that. They just left things as it is, because he had five boys in the family. So he just left things as is. But I think he kind of changed his mind after I was drafted and wouldn't go in the service. And while I was in the county jail, one of my brothers, because there was three of us that wouldn't go, but one of my brothers that was below me couldn't stand jail.

TI: Okay, before we go there, I want to get back to your decision. You said earlier, when you got the notice, you said, yes, would do this if you weren't in this camp.

KY: That's right. But I never answered that question like that. I just, it was all in my mind, nobody else's.

TI: Now, for you to think that way, did you talk to any other men about that?

KY: No.

TI: Or how about your brothers? You said two brothers came with you.

KY: No, I never did.

TI: Now, do you think your brother were influenced by your decision, were they kind of watching what you did?

KY: Yeah. Well, our family was real close. So that my brothers just followed right behind me. And I think it was a month, two months after, they come walking in the door at the county jail. I said, "What are you doing here?" They said, "Well, we didn't go in the draft."

TI: So you went first.

KY: I was first. I was the first one from the camp.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 2007 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

TI: So let's talk about this. So you were the first one to say no. What happened? I mean, how did the, what did they do next?

KY: Well, the FBI man and a sheriff came down and looked for me. And I was at the, you know, front door, and they asked who I was, and then says, "Oh, your name? Okay, we came to pick you up." I said, "Fine, let me go in and get my toothbrush, I'll go." So they came in, and it was windy that day and dusty. They came in, went inside, I got my stuff and I says, "Okay, let's go." I get in the car, and the FBI man tells me, he says, "With this wind blowing like this," and in the building itself, too, he said, "I wouldn't go in the service." I said, "Oh, I have no problem with this man." So I got on the bus and had no problem with him.

TI: Oh, so when the FBI man was saying, when he looked at the conditions that you were being held under, he was essentially saying he wouldn't have gone.

KY: He says, "I wouldn't have gone."

TI: Because he said based on how you were being treated...

KY: That's right.

TI: ...that he would have done a similar thing.

KY: So, you know, I felt, oh, real good, I had no problem. And I had no problem going to county jail or nothing. That man really took care of us; he didn't treat us rough or nothing. A lot of these other camps, the fellows got treated pretty bad, but I got, we were treated well. Oh, and the day that I got picked up, there was another fellow got picked up right after I did. And he was from the same block that I lived in, and I didn't know he wasn't going.

TI: Before you left, did you have an opportunity to talk to your mother about leaving? Did she say anything to you?

KY: No. They didn't know nothing. They know I wasn't gonna go, that's all they know. What else is gonna happen, they didn't know. All they know is when they came to pick me up, they were home, and they saw me, and I wouldn't go in the service, so they picked me up. And that's a normal thing that happened, I guess in camp days, there was nothing you can do about it anyway. You're in a concentration camp.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 2007 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

TI: So when you went to the county jail, describe that. What was the county jail like?

KY: Oh, county jail was just a regular county jail with the cells. And it was about, I think, two person to a cell. And the time I got picked up it was only this fellow Irvin and myself. We got put into a cell and that's where we stayed for one month, thirty days. We just had missed the grand jury. So every six months they had grand jury, so we had to wait six months. So when we went to county jail, we had to stay in the county jail for six months. But after we stayed in that cell, about a month or so later, they put us downstairs in the trustee like area. And so we made, put bread together, and I think we had prunes, and that's about... coffee, and that's what you got for the breakfast.

TI: So your treatment was much better.

KY: Oh, yeah, yeah. We had no more cells, we were just downstairs, and we had the whole basement. That was great. It was a mess down there, but the thing is, I was down there, and at that time, when I got down there, there was about four or five of us Japanese from the camp there. We went downstairs and we cleaned that place up. There was cockroaches and mice and everything. And we cleaned that place up and got rid of all the cockroaches and the mice, and cleaned it up. Oh, in fact, there was a washing machine down there. And I got that thing going, and it was working. So I washed all the blankets that were in this department, and first thing you know, they knew I had the washing machine going. So from upstairs, they started sending their blankets downstairs, and I was washing the blankets downstairs for the upstairs.

TI: So let me make sure I understand. So before you got there, it was dirty.

KY: Dirty and messy.

TI: There was a broken washing machine in the basement.

KY: Yeah, well, I don't... actually, it was not broken, it just wasn't working. People didn't work in there.

TI: And then after you and the others were downstairs, you cleaned the place up and got the washing machine going, and you started washing all the blankets.

KY: Oh, yeah.

TI: So they must have been pretty happy with having you there.

KY: Oh, yeah. It was supposed to, when we were in the cells, the best cell, best tier got Bull Durham once a week. And if the downstairs were no good, they didn't get nothing. We got our Bull Durham every week, no problem.

TI: So you were viewed as the best.

KY: Yeah. Each tier got their Bull Durham, but we got ours all the time. We never missed.

TI: What's a tier? Is that like a level?

KY: Yeah, well, it's a tier with a hall with the cells alongside. So they have gates for each cell, and then they have a tier, and they got a main gate for the whole tier. So you're in your cell, and you come out during the daytime, that way you can walk around and everything.

TI: Now, when you weren't busy cleaning the place up and washing blankets, did you and the fellows ever just talk about what was happening and just talk about...

KY: Yeah. Well, I think they sent us some cards downstairs, and we played cards a lot. And they, I remember they sent us a drum of cockroach thing, and spray cans, and everybody got those spray cans, and they were after those cockroaches. We got mousetraps, and I don't think there was a cockroach in the cell downstairs after we got through, it was so clean. There was some barrels of whatchamacallit, some sort of meat, it was all terrible. We'd dump all that all out, got rid of all the bad things. And we were down there, we had a couple of Caucasian fellows, and we had prunes down there. Those Caucasian fellows got that prune, I don't know where they got the sugar, they made some home brew and they got drunk. And they found out about it, and they were put up to the cell. They came down and inspected the basement, they got rid of all that home brew. That was really something, though. Home brew.

TI: So they lost some privileges. I mean, downstairs was nice --

KY: No, we kept our...

TI: You kept yours.

KY: But the two that made the thing, they knew who made it. I don't know how they found out, but they knew who made it. So they got rid of them, and we had the whole basement to ourselves.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 2007 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 12>

TI: So at what point did you have a hearing? I mean, you were in these kind of holding cells waiting. Did you have a hearing or a trial?

KY: We had nothing. We had to wait almost six months for the grand jury to come. So when the grand jury came in, they took us to court, all of us plead guilty except one fellow, and we pled nolo contendere. And one fellow wanted a jury trial. So the nolo contendere, went back to the cell, and they said, well, we got two-year sentence.

TI: Actually, don't hit your microphone, because it --

KY: So the nolo contendere got two years, and the fellow that asked for a jury trial, he went to trial and he got five years, because he wanted a jury trial. And so we went from there --

TI: So let me make sure I understand this. So because this person, one person out of the group asked for a jury trial, you think he was being punished by being given a longer sentence?

KY: Yeah, because, see, he asked for jury trial.

TI: Because the other ones sort of went no contest, but one person went to a jury trial, and his sentence was five years.

KY: Five years.

TI: Versus how long did you and the others get, that did no contest?

KY: We got two years, two years. But actually, by the time I was, served the six months, and eighteen months in the road camp, that was two years. So actually I served two years. But all of us went to Tucson road camp.

TI: And going back to the -- I'm just thinking -- did you have a lawyer to help you decide to plead no contest or advise you what your rights were?

KY: No, no, we had nothing. Well, the thing is, I don't know what the other fellows felt, but to me, I figure, well, I'm in a concentration camp. They did what they want, it's no use me trying to fight the government, so I just went the best way I could go by going in the draft, doing my time, and get out and come home. Because the thing is, I figured, I'm a citizen, actually, so what can they do to me but send me back to Japan, by taking my citizenship. But I says, they can't do that, because I'm born and raised here, so I'm a citizen. So they had to leave me here. So in my long run, I knew that I eventually would stay in the United States, because I was born here and I'm a citizen. So after the war ended, sure enough, they gave us a pardon. Served my eighteen months, came out, and I think within three months, we got a pardon. All the draft resisters got a pardon.

TI: Right, so President Truman did this.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 2007 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 13>

TI: But let's go back to, so after the grand jury, you were sentenced to two years, then you mentioned the work camp. Tell me about the work camp, what was that?

KY: Oh, work camp was just a regular work camp, that's all it was, barracks and no cells, no fences. As far as the fence was concerned, out on the road camp, they had big boulders there with white paint on it, and you had to stay within the white paint on the rock. That was the only guard we had there. And you know, there was no guards out there.

TI: So who were the prisoners at this work camp? Who else was there?

KY: Oh, mostly were draft resisters, Jehovah's Witnesses, and people connected with the Indians. Because during that time, we couldn't sell Indian, no blood, I mean, no wine. They're not allowed alcohol. And they were there. But we had one Indian fellow there was for draft, and I think he served eight years. Because they sent him a notice, he'd serve his time, get out, go home, they sent him another notice, he wouldn't go, and he was back in again. And he served about eight years there, just because he wouldn't go in the draft. He was quite a character. But when I went once to Topaz one year for a get-together, I met him there. But he looked like an old man by then. So I talked to him, and he says, "Oh, I had a great life."

TI: So you talked about the Jehovah's Witness, the draft resisters, and then the Indians. About how many men were in the work camp?

KY: I'd say there was about two hundred men.

TI: So it's a sizeable group, then.

KY: Yeah, oh, yeah. We worked on building a road through the Catalina Mountains in Tucson. And it was a road that was not very, it wasn't a very important road, it was a road that's going up in the mountains. And it's going to a resort, they made a nice resort area up there. We went up there to the resort area, I think the second trip I was up there, we went up to the resort area, and I talked to one of the fellows that owned a delicatessen store. He says, "Oh, you helped build the road?" I said, "Yeah." He says, "Oh, stay there, I want to come back with a camera," and he took our picture. He was so happy to have somebody, knew somebody that built the road. Because it was a beautiful resort, they had snow up there fifteen feet high one time, they said, it was really something.

TI: So what was it like... so before the road camp you were in Tanforan and Topaz, and then the county jail. How would you compare the work camp to those other experiences?

KY: Oh, road camp was fantastic. I have no complaints about the road camp. No guards to worry about, nothing to worry about. No bad weather, it was like a summer camp. To me, it was like a summer camp. And the food, no heart, no inner parts of the animals.

TI: So you're talking about the food that you got at Topaz.

KY: Topaz, yeah.

TI: A lot of organ meats like heart.

KY: Yeah, tongue and stuff like that. And when we went to the road camp, we got better food. It was not a real choice food, but you know, it was much better than camp days. And we had nice weather, we worked six days a week. You know, just like camp, six days a week. But the war ended, we went back to where I was working five days a week. And I said, "That's funny, working five days a week, and sit around Saturday and Sunday? I said, "Boy, this is really relaxing." And here the people in the summer camp, people in Tucson were roasting to death. Here I'm up in the mountain, nice and cool.

TI: Now during this period, did you ever communicate back to your family, letters about...

KY: Oh, yeah, we were allowed one letter a week. So my sister used to write to us, and we'd write back.

TI: By any chance, were any of those letters kept? Did the family or anyone keep these letters that you wrote?

KY: No. But anyway, while we were in road camp, the fellow that got five years, he wrote a letter saying he wanted to get out of this camp. He said he can walk out of here. The guard read it, that night, they picked him up and sent him to a walled institution.

TI: Oh, so they thought he was a risk.

KY: Yes, because he wrote that down, and it was written down. So they picked him up and put him in a road camp, I mean, to a walled institution. And he stayed at the walled institution 'til after the war ended. And when they got the pardon, they let him out of the walled institution, and that's how he got out of jail.

TI: I just want to make one comment before we take a break. It seems a little ironic to me that here were convicted felons getting much better treatment than the people at Topaz, and much better conditions.

KY: Oh, yeah. But it showed. The weather was beautiful up there, I had no complaints. People say that was crazy, but the thing is, to me, that was fantastic. I enjoyed that life, it was great. You can buy your cigarettes up there and everything if you want to smoke. And they had a place, we had woodcraft, we could do woodcraft work. So it was fantastic.

<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 2007 Densho. All Rights Reserved.