Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Sakaye Aratani Interview
Narrator: Sakaye Aratani
Interviewer: Tom Ikeda
Location: Los Angeles, California
Date: February 11, 2017
Densho ID: denshovh-asakaye-01

<Begin Segment 1>

TI: So today is February 11, 2017. We're in the home of Sakaye Aratani, and I'm the interviewer, Tom Ikeda, and on camera we have Akira Boch. And so the first question I always ask people is can you tell me when you were born and where?

SA: Oh, I was born on December 11, 1919, here in Hollywood.

TI: So how old are you today?

SA: Ninety-seven, I'll be ninety-eight in December.

TI: What was the name given to you at birth, your full name?

SA: Sakaye Inouye.

TI: How about siblings? Did you have any brothers or sisters?

SA: Just one sister.

TI: This is your younger sister?

SA: Vicky, my younger sister?

TI: And how much younger?

SA: Twelve years.

TI: How about your father? Can you tell me his name and where he is from?

SA: Oh, he is formerly from Japan, Wakayama. And his name is Eijiro Arthur. And he was involved with nursery, so my grandfather had a nursery here in Hollywood when I was born.

TI: And in Japan, what kind of work did...

SA: He came quite early to go to school here. He was very interested in botany, and he did a lot of study of botany.

TI: And you said your grandfather was also here, so did they come together?

SA: My grandfather, yes. He had the nursery also, and he was here in Hollywood with my grandmother.

TI: And do you remember about when? You said early, about when they came?

SA: What?

TI: Do you know about when they came to the United States?

SA: Oh, to United States? I have no idea.

TI: But was it like in the 1800s?

SA: I believe so, because my grandmother came after my grandfather. My mother was born in Japan, and then I have two uncles that was born here from my grandmother.

TI: So their children would be your cousins.

SA: Yeah, I call them "uncle," the oldest one was Iwao and the younger son was Lloyd Nakayama.

TI: So your family has, for Japanese Americans, probably one of the longest family being in the United States.

SA: Oh, yes.

TI: That's exciting.

SA: I remember my grandfather telling me that while he was here, before he got married... no, no, he was already married, but he was working in, I think he said Wyoming, they were putting railroad track, and he was a cook for the people that worked there.

TI: How interesting. My mother-in-law's family grew up in Wyoming, too. Same way, they got there by the railroad work, and then once they were there, they decided to settle in a small town called Worthen, Wyoming, so it's a very, very different story. Did your grandfather ever tell you why he wanted to leave Japan?

SA: No, he never did.

TI: How about your father? Did he ever about why...

SA: Well, he wanted to come and study botany, and he was so interested in, so I think he did schoolboy while he was going to school.

TI: And so let's ask about your mother, how did your father and mother meet?

SA: Oh, through a baishakunin. [Laughs]

TI: And so was your mother in Japan?

SA: Yes, and then she came, I think she must have been about, maybe around eighteen or nineteen, after she graduated school from Japan, then she came to America.

TI: Tell me her name.

SA: Oh, her name is Katsuko.

TI: And her maiden name?

SA: Nakayama.

TI: Do you know what kind of work her family did in Japan?

SA: No, I have no idea.

TI: So your father worked in the nursery business with his father.

SA: Yes, doing landscaping.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2017 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

TI: So when you were born, describe your house. Do you remember the house you grew up in?

SA: It was on the nursery, the house was on the nursery, but I don't remember too many, just going to school when I was five years old. I remember that, but other than that...

TI: So let's talk about that. What do you remember about school?

SA: Yeah, I went to the school called Santa Monica Boulevard, I think, in Hollywood, and it's still there. And I remember walking to school every day. I became very close friends with a family that had no children. They had a florist here in Hollywood, and they used to treat me like their own daughter, so I tried to spend as much time with them while they were there.

TI: And so like after school, you would go visit them?

SA: Yes, every day.

TI: And what would you do? Would you go to their shop?

SA: I went to the shop and then I would ride with him on his delivery truck, the flowers that he had to deliver, I would always ride with him, but they were very good to me.

TI: And do you remember their names?

SA: Yeah, Kakihara was their name.

TI: That's interesting. And when you went to school, were there very many other Japanese Americans?

SA: No, there were not too many, not too many.

TI: And so tell me about your friends when you were growing up in elementary school. Were they Caucasian, or who did you play with?

SA: There was a Japanese family that had a chop suey in Hollywood, and they had, I think, three or four children, and I used to play with them a lot. But I don't know what happened to them.

TI: Because even though you have a sister, she was quite a bit younger.

SA: Big difference in age, yeah.

TI: And so I'm guessing that when she was born, you were old enough that you had to take care of her.

SA: Oh, I enjoyed it, I really enjoyed taking care of her. Always bought her clothes and shoes, she still remembers. Like the other day, last week, I bought her a car, and she says, "You're always doing something for me." But she's my only sister, so I want to do whatever I can for her.

TI: So you were almost like, it almost sounds like, almost a second mother. Because you were a teenager and older when she was just growing up.

SA: That's right.

TI: Any other stories about... well, let me ask you this question. When she did something bad or something, were you the one that had to reprimand her, or was it your mother?

SA: No, we never had a problem.

TI: She was always good?

SA: She was always good, and she's still good. [Laughs]

TI: But then did you explain to her all the things about going to school, all those things?

SA: No, no, I didn't.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2017 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

TI: Back then, did you and your family participate in very many Japanese community events?

SA: Not that much. My grandfather did. My grandfather was very active, and here in Hollywood, I think they had some kind of a gathering, I think at... I don't know if it was a church or what, but he was very active. And he was also a very strong Buddhist, and he helped the Nishi Hongwanji, which is in Los Angeles, build the church there.

TI: And so when the church or the temple had a, like a picnic or something like that, did you and your family go?

SA: Oh, yes, we always participated.

TI: Tell me about that. Where would the picnics be? Like tell me more about that, the picnic, where was it, do you remember where it was?

SA: I was, I think, at Elysian Park, that's where the usual gathering point, yeah. But I don't remember too much.

TI: How about Japanese language school? Did you go to language school?

SA: Yeah. Me? Yeah, I attended. I wasn't a very good student, but I attended Japanese school.

TI: And do you remember which language school, where it was?

SA: This was in Gardena. The family, the nursery was sold, and my grandfather bought a property in Gardena, so we all moved to Gardena.

TI: And how old were you when you moved to Gardena?

SA: I must have been about seven or eight, maybe seven.

TI: And so back then, what was Gardena like? Now I go down there and drive around Gardena and Torrance, it's just so many houses and everything. When you were a child, what was Gardena like?

SA: Oh, it was very rural, not like what it is today.

TI: What kind of farming?

SA: Well, my grandfather bought a ten-acre property, and he had like a wholesale nursery, and he also had a nursery on Western Avenue in Redondo Beach, and it was called Western Avenue Nursery.

TI: Earlier I told you that I came from Seattle, and when you said Western Avenue, in Seattle, that's the street that all the Japanese farmer would do their wholesale.

SA: Oh, is that right?

TI: It's interesting how you to go city to city, there's all these sort of common names.

SA: It's still Western Avenue. It's a long street.

TI: In Seattle, too, it's still Western Avenue. When you were growing up in, say, junior high school and high school, how would your friends describe you? If they were to talk about you and say, "Oh, Sakaye is like this," how do you, like personality, what would they say about you, your friends?

SA: I don't know. I don't know what they say about me. We were just a group, a very friendly group, and we always got together, even at high school, we had a lot of wonderful times.

TI: So what would be a typical activity that you would do with your friends?

SA: I wasn't all that very active, so it wasn't... just a friendly gathering at lunchtime at high school. I wasn't all that very active.

TI: How about as a student? As a student, your grades, how would you...

SA: Oh, average. [Laughs]

TI: And was there like a subject or something you were more interested in?

SA: Oh, I always was interested in home economics. That was my favorite.

TI: Good.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 2017 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

TI: So now, after you graduate from high school, what did you do?

SA: Oh, there was a family in a place called Norwalk, and they had no children. They were kind of related to my father, and they had a chicken farm. And my mother was interested in raising chickens, and so after high school, I thought maybe it would be a good opportunity for me to learn also, so I moved to Norwalk and lived with an elderly couple who had about maybe a thousand, five hundred chickens. And I used to help them gather eggs and sorting the eggs, and also they had an incubator where they raised little chicks. And all that, I wanted to learn, so I went there and stayed with them for about nine months.

TI: So really learning the chicken business.

SA: Yes, I was interested, and it was a good opportunity to learn everything I can.

TI: And then after you learned about the chicken business...

SA: Then my parents decided to go into chicken business.

TI: So in Gardena?

SA: In Gardena, yeah.

TI: So tell me about that. How do you start a chicken business?

SA: Well, we had a big incubator where we had little chicks, and my mother used to... she was a very good, I should say, not a farmer, but anyway, she did her share and raised chickens and we sold the eggs. It was a pretty, quite a nice business.

TI: So when you were young, you were actually an entrepreneur. This was kind of a little business that you created.

SA: Yeah. [Laughs]

TI: I mean, that's pretty impressive for you to do that, because it brought in income and food for your family. And when you did that, what did people say? Were they really encouraging that you did this?

SA: Yes, I had so much support. Like I would deliver eggs to where a lot of Japanese ladies are working in the nursery, and every week they all wait for me so that I could bring fresh eggs to them. We had a very, well, I wouldn't say lucrative, but it was good income.

TI: And how big did it get? How many chickens?

SA: We had about two thousand.

TI: So even bigger than the...

SA: Yeah, we got bigger and bigger and bigger. [Laughs]

TI: And leading up to the war, did you have this chicken business during the war?

SA: Yes, this was a big headache. Because they're alive, I can't leave them, so I think I was the last person to leave Los Angeles when the time came for all of us to evacuate. And my family decided to go to a place called Reedley, up near Fresno, and my uncle and friends, and there was a large group of us, all evacuated to Reedley.

TI: Because you thought that you could actually stay there?

SA: And I had to stay, because the chickens are alive, I can't leave them.

TI: So what happened?

SA: So I got a special permit and I sold all the chickens. Finally, I was able to leave. I think I was the last Japanese to leave. [Laughs]

TI: And so who did you sell the chickens to?

SA: I had a big sign out in the front of the house, "Selling live chickens," and so many people stopped by to buy chickens from me.

TI: Were you able to get a fair price for the chickens?

SA: No, it was reduced price to get rid of them.

TI: And I'm curious, people bought chickens from you, did they ever say anything about you being Japanese?

SA: No, never.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 2017 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

TI: So backing up a little bit, on December 7, 1941, what were you doing, or how did you hear about the attack at Pearl Harbor?

SA: Well, it was a big shock. And there's a place called Terminal Island, and we had several friends living there, and they had to leave within twenty-four hours. They had no other choice, so we opened up our home and invited three families to come and live with us until they were able to relocate. And then after that we all relocated, but in the beginning, that's what happened.

TI: Where were you when you just first heard?

SA: Oh, this was in Gardena.

TI: Tell me how you heard. Who told you, or how did you hear about Pearl Harbor?

SA: I think my father told me. It was unbelievable at the first.

TI: And what were you thinking would happen?

SA: Well, I never thought we would have to evacuate, so I thought we were gonna just stay put, but things have changed.

TI: And how about your father, was he worried? Because he wasn't a U.S. citizen, you were a citizen.

SA: No, no, he was not worried.

TI: But then when they had people leave Terminal Island, how about the people who stayed with you? Did you talk with them?

SA: Well, it was very temporary, but they had to leave so quickly that they only stayed a few days. But yeah, it was chaos.

TI: And when you started hearing about the instructions that you had to leave, so tell me what you did or the family did. You have this big nursery, you have all this business, all this property, the chickens...

SA: Everything had to be sold. Rock bottom price, yeah, it was just like giving everything away.

TI: So you said you were maybe the last Japanese in Los Angeles.

SA: I think so, because I had to take care of the chickens before I could leave.

TI: So everyone else was sort of rounded up and left on buses and things, so how did you leave Los Angeles?

SA: How did I what?

TI: Yeah, how did you leave Los Angeles, as the last person?

SA: Oh, well, I... oh, my uncle, he took a group to Reedley first, and then came back after me, so that I could leave with him.

TI: And so he had a car and just picked you up?

SA: And so I enjoyed the family in Reedley.

TI: But at this point, all the other Japanese had already left.

SA: Already left.

TI: And they left to, like, the assembly centers and places like that?

SA: I really don't know.

TI: And do you remember kind of the date that you left, about when?

SA: Hmm?

TI: Do you remember like the time or the date, what day you left Los Angeles?

SA: No, I have no record.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 2017 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

TI: So tell me about Reedley, what happened then?

SA: Oh, we were so fortunate to be able to stay with a Caucasian family. He (owned a dairy farm) and he had a big barn, so he was so generous to let us stay in the barn until we found a house. And we moved into quite a large house, two-story house, and we worked on different orchard picking fruits. Because we had to do something to make a living.

TI: But then pretty soon you had --

SA: And then after that, we had to evacuate again.

TI: And then where did you go?

SA: I went to the camp in Arizona called Poston. And Poston had three camps, and I was in Camp III.

TI: How was that? What were your first impressions? When you went to Poston, what did you think?

SA: We were so used to a different lifestyle, things that really changed so much. Somehow we all accepted what had to be done, and I don't think too many people made big commotion about that. We were treated well.

TI: And how did you handle the heat? I've interviewed people who went to Poston, and they said it was so hot...

SA: Oh, in Poston? Boy, it was really, really hot in the sun, very cold in the winter. It was on an Indian reservation.

TI: And when it got really hot, what would you do to stay cool?

SA: We bought a cooler, and tried to stay indoors.

TI: And those coolers where you added water to it?

SA: Yes, that's right, that's right.

TI: And at Poston, did you have a job?

SA: Yes, I did. I was a secretary, and enjoyed my work, whatever I had to do.

TI: And was this in the administration building, secretary for who?

SA: No, this is a secretary for the block.

TI: I see.

SA: We had blocks, you know, and I was secretary of our block.

TI: And at Poston, who did you live with?

SA: My mother and father and sister.

TI: And so there were four of you.

SA: Yeah. And then my grandparents were there, too, in the same block.

TI: And so for your apartment, in the barrack...

SA: We only had one room.

TI: One room? And so four of you.

SA: Four of us shared, yeah.

TI: You had all had four beds.

SA: Cots.

TI: Cots. So when you weren't working, what would you do at Poston, what would you do with your time at Poston?

SA: Oh, I belonged to the sports group, and I was on the baseball team. And then I belonged to the choir, and let's see... and then not that much activity, but I was always busy at the block secretary.

TI: I didn't know you played baseball.

SA: Oh, yes.

TI: So tell me about that.

SA: I played baseball and basketball and tennis and golf.

TI: So it sounds like you were a pretty athletic...

SA: Very, at that time.

TI: So on the baseball team, what position did you play?

SA: Uh-huh, I was a pitcher on our team.

TI: So was this softball?

SA: Softball, oh, yes, softball.

TI: How about social activities like dances?

SA: Oh, yes.

TI: So tell me about that.

SA: Oh, we had, opened up the mess hall, and we had dancing. We had many social activities.

TI: And so was it common for you and your friends to have lots of dates, or did you go as a group? How did, like a dance, I'm curious, did you go with a date or did you go just because...

SA: No, we just go individually, those who want to attend.

TI: And then you would just dance with lots of different people?

SA: Yeah, uh-huh. It was fun.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 2017 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

TI: I read that at some point you needed, like, dental work or something.

SA: Yes.

TI: And you had to go to another place?

SA: Yeah, I went to a place called Gila.

TI: And so why was that?

SA: They didn't have dental care in Poston that was good, and I heard there were good dentists in Gila. So someone recommended that I go over there and have my dental work done. So I decided, well, I might as well have it done right, and applied for the pass to go, and I was able to do that.

TI: And so when you go between Poston and Gila, Gila River, how did that, how would you go?

SA: On the train. From... Parker Dam was near Gila, and I took a train.

TI: And you did this by yourself?

SA: Yeah, by myself. [Laughs]

TI: And how did that feel? Because now you're out of the camp, and you're out in public.

SA: It was great. I went shopping and bought some things at the department store in between Gila and Poston.

TI: So tell me, what did you buy?

SA: I bought a coat, and then I bought gifts for my family.

TI: So when you got to Gila, I read that you actually spent time with George.

SA: Well, he was very ill. He had an illness called Valley Fever, which is an illness of that area, and he was confined to bed. When I heard that, I thought, "Oh, I'll go visit him."

TI: How did you know him or the family?

SA: I don't know. I don't know I knew that he was in Gila, I don't remember.

TI: Now, when you went to go visit him, were you, at that time, were you romantically interested in him?

SA: No. [Laughs] Just a friendly visit.

TI: And so when you saw his condition, I read that you had a special kind of remedy for him. Can you tell me about it?

SA: Yeah. So after I went back to Poston, I told my mother that George had this Valley Fever. And she said, "For that, a live turtle's blood would be very medicinal. So there was a Colorado River running through Poston, so she asked some friends to get the live turtle for her so that we could send it to Gila to help George.

TI: And what did you think? Did you think that was a good idea?

SA: Hmm?

TI: Did you think that was a really good idea when your mother said that?

SA: Well, I believe that it would be, if it's helpful, anything that would help. So I thought we would just send it, and he was so good about drinking the blood.

TI: Yeah, I'm trying to think if I would do that. I guess in today's world, we don't do as much of those natural remedies, and do maybe medicine or something. So I'm trying to think how I would react if someone sent me a live turtle and said, "Drink the blood." But he did it, right?

SA: He did it.

TI: And did it help him?

SA: I don't know if it helped or not, but I hope it did.

TI: And after you did that, what did George do? Did he write you a note or anything?

SA: Yeah. He's been writing quite regular, all about himself.

TI: So do you think after you met at Gila, that he was maybe interested in you, a little bit?

SA: I think so. [Laughs]

TI: Now at this time, were there other men who were interested in you also?

SA: Yeah, there were.

TI: So go ahead, tell me just a little bit. These were men maybe at Poston?

SA: In Poston. There were a few men, young boys, I should say. They were very friendly.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 2017 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

TI: So given that you had all these men interested in you, why George? What was it about George that made you interested in him?

SA: Well, he made a very good impression. And when I first met him, it was before the war. I met him at Los Angeles, he came down from Guadalupe, and a friend of mine wanted me to drive her to Little Tokyo, because we were living in Gardena. And she asked me if I would drive her, so I said, "I'd be happy to." So I drove her to the place called Olympic Hotel, which was before the war in Little Tokyo. And she introduced me, and I thought nothing of it. I thought she was there for her business. But when I think back, I think she had other plans. [Laughs] She wanted me to meet George.

TI: And how did that first meeting go?

SA: Well, I thought nothing of it. I thought, "Oh, he was a nice guy," and very friendly. Then the war broke out right after that.

TI: When you talked to George later...

SA: No, I didn't.

TI: No, but later after you got married, did you talk about that first meeting? Did he remember that first meeting back at the Olympic Hotel, did George remember that first meeting?

SA: Oh, I don't know. I never asked him. [Laughs]

TI: So going back to Poston, so George made a good impression on you, and so you decided he was going to be the one.

SA: We started corresponding.

TI: And so I think you went back to Gila for maybe more dental work?

SA: Yes, I went two times.

TI: So tell me about the second time.

SA: Oh, the second time was a little more friendlier, and we got together more often. He was not very healthy person, so he was confined for a while. At that time, when I was ready to leave, he proposed to me and asked me if I would join him. And I said, "Well, I'll think about it, I'll talk it over with my parents." He said that was the right thing to do.

TI: So that's such a touching love story. Now, during this time, George was going through some difficult financial situations.

SA: Very, very.

TI: Because his family business, which was entrusted to him, and he was responsible, was having a really difficult time. Could you tell that was going on?

SA: It was very hard on him. He took all the responsibility, it was a very trying time. He had all his people that took care of his finance and things like that come to Gila and discuss it. But what they said and what they did wasn't two different things. So he was wiped out.

TI: And did George share all this information with you?

SA: Yes, he did.

TI: He did?

SA: Yes, before he proposed to me. He wanted me to find out what his situation was. He was very open and honest about everything.

TI: That says a lot about him because some men wouldn't do that. They would probably not want to share that really bad news like that.

SA: But he told me all his problems.

TI: So after George proposed, and you said you would talk to your parents, so what did your parents say?

SA: My parents, well, they were happy to hear that this had happened. There was an elderly couple named Kijima, and they were kind of pushing George, I think, in Gila. But when I told my parents about the proposal, this elderly couple came from Gila to act sort of like a baishakunin, you know what that is?

TI: Yes, I do.

SA: And they wanted to be the baishakunin, so they came from Gila to Poston to ask my parents.

TI: And your parents agreed.

SA: Yes.

TI: And so this elderly couple was representing George.

SA: Yes, right.

TI: So very traditional.

SA: Yeah, rather. [Laughs]

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 2017 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

TI: At this time, too, George knew that he was going to go to Minneapolis also. Didn't he know that he was going to go to Minneapolis?

SA: That's right. He got a job offer for instructor of the MIS in Minnesota. So he wrote and said he was leaving the camp, but he will find a place in Minneapolis as soon as we got there, but he never did find it. [Laughs] It was so difficult to find a place.

TI: And so you went up to Minneapolis to go meet him.

SA: My mother-in-law and I, we both went together. She didn't want me to go alone, so she came after me from Gila.

TI: So this is George's stepmother?

SA: Stepmother.

TI: And so she came from Poston?

SA: From Gila.

TI: Gila.

SA: To Poston.

TI: To Poston, okay, to go in.

SA: To come after me and take me to Minneapolis. So we both got on a train and went to Minnesota.

TI: And at that time, George didn't have a place for you to stay?

SA: No, he didn't have a place. And as soon as I got there, I started looking at the newspaper ad to see if there was anything available. And I came across one house that they wanted to rent out. So I contacted the lady who was taking care of the rental, and she never saw a Japanese before. And somehow, she had a list of people who wanted to rent, but she took a liking to me, and after I visited her, she said, "You could have it, I'm going to let you have it." So I was so happy because it was a two-story house, and it so happened this lady's son was a gangster, and he lived upstairs. He was Al Capone's gangster, he belonged to the group, and we were kind of frightened when we first heard about it, but they were very open about him, and the mother told us that, "My son lives upstairs, going to be living upstairs, but you'll have to share the house with him." So I said that was okay.

TI: So did you have very much interaction with her son?

SA: No, no, not at all, not at all.

TI: And so was he a real gangster, so he had guns?

SA: I think so, but I never became friendly or anything with him. All I knew, that when he was home, you would hear him going upstairs and coming downstairs, that's about all. Never associated.

TI: But the mother was really open about that.

SA: Yeah, the mother was, she told us about it.

TI: Wow, what an interesting story.

SA: Hmm?

TI: That's interesting.

SA: And so I don't know why, but she said immediately, "I think I want to have you take over the house."

TI: Because you said she had a whole list of people who wanted to rent it.

SA: Yes, because she put an ad in the paper, people would come and leave their name and telephone number. But somehow she liked me, and she said I could have it. And I was so happy.

TI: And do you know why she liked you?

SA: I don't know. I don't know why, but she was an elderly lady, gray hair lady.

TI: Had never met a Japanese before?

SA: I don't think so. I don't think she ever...

TI: And a gangster son. That's a good story.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 2017 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

TI: So now you're in Minneapolis with your mother-in-law and George. So tell me about the...

SA: Yes, my mother-in-law went back after she, after we got married.

TI: Tell me about the wedding. What was the wedding like?

SA: The wedding was held at a Christian church, and the reverend was Reverend Hayashi. He did the ceremony for us, it was very simple. We had a little banquet, and George invited his friends, and we had a luncheon after.

TI: So how was it for you having a...

SA: Well, I didn't know anyone.

TI: No, but the ceremony was with a Christian church.

SA: Yeah, I was a Buddhist, but everything was all arranged, George arranged everything before I got there, so I had no choice. But that was okay.

TI: Did you have the traditional wedding dress?

SA: No, I did not. Before I left the camp, I made a white suit so that it would be appropriate.

TI: And the white suit was something that you could wear other times, too, or was that just for the wedding?

SA: Mainly the reason I made it was for the wedding, but it was just a simple soup.

TI: So tell me the story, too, you made something else before you went to Minneapolis. It was like a bedspread?

SA: Hmm?

TI: At Poston you also made something else.

SA: I made a bedspread.

TI: A bedspread, yeah, can you tell me...

SA: I made a bedspread that was all hand-crocheted, and then I put a big A in the center of the spread, and it turned out quite nice. [Laughs]

TI: And when you put that A, people didn't know you were going to get married, or your friends didn't.

SA: No, no, they didn't.

TI: So what did they think when they saw the A?

SA: They thought I was doing it just as a hobby.

TI: But they didn't know why the A was there?

SA: I don't think they even knew it was there.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 2017 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

TI: So now that you're married, your mother-in-law leaves, what happens next? What do you?

SA: I decided that I'll go to school. So I registered at the University of Minnesota. After several months, we decided to start a family, so things changed.

TI: At the University of Minnesota, what classes were you taking?

SA: Home economic. I always enjoyed that.

TI: So you decided to start a family, and that's when you had a daughter.

SA: That's right.

TI: On January 22nd, I know that date because that's my birthday.

SA: Yeah.

TI: And so that was a big change for you.

SA: It was a big change in our life, yeah.

TI: And you told me that you got help, though, that it wasn't just you. Did your mother and sister, your mother and sister came to help you?

SA: Oh, they came after my baby was born, they wanted to see her, so they were in Wisconsin, so they took a train and came and visited me.

TI: So before we talk about Minneapolis, what were they doing in Wisconsin?

SA: Oh, my mother and father was working in a hotel. My mom got a job in a hotel, and my father was doing the garden, gardener work.

TI: And so your mother and sister come to Minneapolis, and they come to live with you?

SA: No, no, they just came for a visit.

TI: To come and see the baby.

SA: That's right, was the main purpose.

TI: And at this point, how old was Vicky?

SA: She was twelve.

TI: Okay, so interesting, she was about the same age that you were when Vicky was born, you were about twelve.

SA: Yeah, that's right.

TI: So it's interesting that your baby, or daughter, Vicky, was the same age that you were, interesting. So then what happened next? You had Donna, and then what happens?

SA: Then it was time for us, for the school, the MIS school, moving to Presidio in Monterey, so we all had to pack up and we drove all the way from Minneapolis.

TI: So this was after the war?

SA: After the war, yeah.

TI: And how was it for you when you heard about the ending of the war, especially the way it ended, with the atomic bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, what were your thoughts when the war was over?

SA: Oh, we thought it was just horrible. And George would come home and tell me what he heard, and oh, it was just devastating.

TI: Did you have any relatives who were affected?

SA: No, no one.

TI: How about George?

SA: No, he didn't have any direct family.

TI: Okay, but now you get to go back to the West Coast. I know Minneapolis was good to you, but it was pretty cold during the winter.

SA: Very, very harsh.

TI: And so the MIS school moved to Monterey, so that's not too far away from where George's farm was.

SA: George was growing up in Guadalupe, Santa Maria.

TI: So that's what, about two hours away?

SA: Yeah, I believe so.

TI: And so what was it like, where did you live?

SA: Oh, there was a living quarters at a place called Fort Ord, where many of the servicemen's families would live. It was a nice apartment, two-story, and it was, I'm thinking, about five rooms. It was very comfortable, and we lived there while George drove to the Presidio every day.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 2017 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 12>

TI: So when I think about that, so the war is over, I know George had all these ideas about business, why did he stay? Why did he keep working?

SA: He didn't work too long. He wanted to pursue his plans, so we weren't there that long.

TI: So after that then, after he quit the school, where did you go?

SA: We came back to Los Angeles. And then my parents were in Long Beach, so temporarily we settled there for a while, and George decided to go to Japan, but there was no airplane at that time, it was only by boat. And he left for Japan, and I moved to Boyle Heights because it was more convenient than living in Long Beach. And while we were, while I was in Boyle Heights, I kept looking for a place where we could settle, and there was a place called San Marino, which was quite a nice place, but they refused to sell to Japanese. So I started looking all over, and I found a home in Montebello. I liked it so well, I couldn't wait for George to come so I decided to buy it. So George was so worried until he came home, wondering what kind of house I bought, but he was happy I bought that house. We were all very happy about it.

TI: That's a good story, so you took a chance. You bought a house without George.

SA: Without George.

TI: Without George seeing it or even knowing about it, you just bought it without even asking him.

SA: I said, "I found a house and I decided to buy it." [Laughs]

TI: Now, did you ask other people's advice?

SA: No, only my mother-in-law.

TI: And what did she say?

SA: She stayed with us and she liked it, too. It was a lovely house.

TI: Well, and you had to get maybe a bigger place, because you had Linda also. Linda was also born.

SA: Yes.

TI: So two daughters.

SA: That's right.

TI: And your mother-in-law. That's a good story. When you first told George, what did he say about the house?

SA: He said, "I can hardly wait to see it." He wired back to me.

TI: But you said he was worried, though.

SA: Well, not knowing what I bought, I guess he was kind of worried.

TI: So he told you that later, that he was worried.

SA: Yeah.

TI: Good, that's a good story. It shows me how strong you are.

SA: [Laughs] I don't know. But I saw this house that I couldn't resist, it was so nice.

TI: But as I'm learning about your story, things like the chicken business, I mean, that's something that you wanted to do, your taking care of George when he was sick, moving to Minneapolis, buying this house, I mean, there's a pattern here about how you live your life that I'm starting to learn. So during this time, George is just traveling lots and lots.

SA: A lot.

TI: How was that for you, was that hard for you?

SA: Well, I accepted it. I figured that's what he wants to do, he should do it. And then my mother-in-law was so, wonderful person, I learned so much from her. So we had a very happy family.

TI: So that isn't always normal or usual, I mean, I've interviewed lots of people, and oftentimes the wife and mother-in-law relationship can be difficult for many families. Why was it so good between the two of you?

SA: Because she was good. She was a wonderful person, she graduated university in Japan, and she taught English in Japan. Then she got married to George's father, that was a second wife, the first wife passed away. And she came, oh, she was so wonderful. And then she became a teacher here, teaching tea ceremony, so I have a Japanese room where all the ladies gathered every week and had tea ceremony.

TI: Because she lived in this house, too.

SA: Oh, yes, we were always together.

TI: What do you think you learned from her? I mean, when you say she was wonderful...

SA: Oh, every little thing, like porcelain ware, if I received a nice gift from Japan, she would explain to me the background, And then I learned. And she was a reader, too, she read a lot. And she would tell me what her experience was reading certain book, always teaching me, she was just so wonderful. And then she was a good cook, so that was very helpful, too.

TI: How about helping raise Donna and Linda?

SA: Oh, she took care of Donna like her own daughter. They slept together, they did everything together, she was very close to Donna.

TI: Yeah, it sounds like a very special woman and relationship.

SA: Oh, I can't praise her enough, she is such a delightful person.

TI: George was working really hard, traveling, and then at one point, he got hepatitis? He got sick.

SA: Hepatitis.

TI: Yeah, tell me what happened.

SA: We were living in Montebello, and he was confined in bed for almost a year, and I took care of him all that time.

TI: So you would go, I mean, he was at the hospital or at home?

SA: No, at the beginning he was at White Memorial Hospital, and then after a while he was transferred home.

TI: And so you were taking care of him.

SA: I was taking care of him for almost a year, he was able to get back on his feet again.

TI: Now, during this time, was he still trying to do work and business, or was he just...

SA: No... well, yes, yes. That's right, because my sister was like a secretary for him, and she would come to the house or to the hospital, take notes down, and he was always interested in business.

TI: Oh, interesting. So your sister Vicky, was this like her first job?

SA: That's right. She went to USC and she graduated, and that was her first job, as secretary.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 2017 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 13>

TI: So there's another story... well, I'll talk about that later. But when you were at the Montebello, there was a club that got started, the Montebello Japanese Women's Club. Was that when you were living in Montebello?

SA: Yes.

TI: Okay, so tell me about that. How did that get started?

SA: Well, at the beginning, there was about five or six of us got together and decided we should form a club, because there's nothing like that over there in Montebello. So we decided, well, we'll make plans to raise funds and get the ladies interested. And I think even 'til this day, there's no club like the Montebello Women's Club. We were so active, we did so much for the community, and I'm so proud of being part of it.

TI: So tell me about the early days when you just started. You said there were five.

SA: Five of us decided we'll form a club, and our first big fundraising was a dance, we decided to have a dance, and we had to pick who we were going to give the money to. So we decided we'll give it to City of Hope. And at that time, my husband was in the medical district, well, what should I say? Anything to do with medicine, so he knew a lot of friends. And there was a doctor at City of Hope called Dr. Kinoshita, and we invited him and a few people from City of Hope to come to the dance, and then he donated the money to City of Hope. And then we also had many wonderful fashion show.

TI: But going back to this first event, so you chose City of Hope and not a Japanese organization, because I'm curious why the City of Hope.

SA: Was chosen?

TI: Yeah, and not maybe a Japanese organization.

SA: Yeah. So I suggested we should give it to some important place where they could use some funds, so we decided on City of Hope.

TI: And do you think it was important that it came from the Japanese community? Was that something that you were intentionally thinking about? In terms of... I think about, this is after the war, and you're kind of reestablishing the Japanese community in Los Angeles, I was curious if you did that kind of strategically almost, or intentionally, that it would be good to donate to a big, important cause. Did that make sense?

SA: No.

TI: That's okay, we'll go on.

SA: And then we also helped Keiro, we bought wheelchairs for the Keiro. It was a very wonderful group.

TI: Well, so there's a story that I heard, you had one project, another kind of, to help Japan. Someone got the idea to send them used nylons?

SA: Yes.

TI: So tell me about that.

SA: Oh, yeah. We wrote to several ladies organizations, because ladies all wore nylons, and they discard it whenever. So we had very good response from various women organizations in that they would all ship it to us. And also there was another group that was doing something similar, and I was part of that group, too. And so I learned more about how all the nylon hose was helpful to the war widows in Japan so that they could make a living. And we decided, well, we'll participate and send the hose to Japan. But I had to do a lot of legwork, because when we had enough nylon hose and connection with a boat, Japanese boat coming into the harbor, we had to make all the arrangement ahead of time so that they would take it to Japan for free. We didn't have to pay, and they delivered the nylon hose to the war widows organization.

TI: And what would the Japanese do with the...

SA: What they did was during wartime, there was no thread. So they made thread out of nylon hose, and they made some ornaments, and made, like, little flowers and little ornaments they made where the hose was still good, where there's no run, they made various art, quite a few things, and they returned it back to us, and then we sold it for them.

TI: Oh, interesting. So they would make things in Japan, send it back, and you would sell it, and then with the money, you would send it back.

SA: Yeah, with the money returned to the war widows, so they could make a living.

TI: And so how many nylons did you send to Japan?

SA: Oh, so much. Huge gunnysack full, several.

TI: And you would collect them?

SA: We would collect them and then we would pack them in the gunnysack.

TI: What a good story. So tell me the story about when your car broke down on the freeway.

SA: Well, I heard that the boat was coming in, certain day, so I thought I'd better get the nylon hose to the deck. So I was driving along the highway, and I had a flat tire. My car was loaded with nylon hose in the back, in the trunk, in the front, so I never changed any tires, so everything was so new to me, I didn't know what to do. And I was standing by the highway, and then a young man came along and he offered to help me. And when he opened the car, he saw all these nylon hose in a gunnysack, he says, "What are you doing with all this?" And I explained to him that I was going to the harbor to deliver this, and I got a flat tire. So he says, "Well, let me help you." So he was kind enough to put the spare tire on for me. And I was so grateful that I got his name and address and mailed him a set of Mikasa dinnerware for appreciation.

TI: Wow, that was a nice, I mean, it was a tremendous gesture on his part to help you, but then what a nice gift to get.

SA: Well, it was just, I couldn't thank him enough.

TI: That's a great story. And maybe this is a good time to talk about this. Japanese were very appreciative.

SA: Very what?

TI: Very thankful for this work, right? Because the Japanese government, later on, gave you an award, the Kunsho award, because you and the others helped so much.

SA: Yes.

TI: And I find it interesting that you got the award five years before George got his award. People know about George and all these business things, but it's these more personal things that you did that I think the Japanese really appreciated it. I think it really mattered to the people in Japan. I think it's such a beautiful... and when you got the award, do you remember what they said about what your contribution was?

SA: I don't remember. [Laughs]

TI: It's such a good story.

<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 2017 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 14>

TI: So I want to move to this house, because you were living in Montebello, and then you moved, I think, in 1959.

SA: '59.

TI: Yeah. So tell me that story.

SA: Well, we decided that it was time for us to make a move, so I kept looking at different property. Then there was an ad in the paper. [Phone rings] Linda will get it. There was an ad about this property, and so one day George and I drove up here to see what it was all about. And then when we saw the lake and this was all empty up here, I said, "Oh, this would be a nice place to live," and George liked it so much. So we decided, well, we would like to make a move here.

TI: And so it was just raw, just land, right?

SA: It was, yeah. There were a few, but we were, there were just a very few homes.

TI: And back then, how was the transportation between here and, say, downtown? Was the highway and everything in place? Was it easy to get from here to, like, downtown?

SA: Oh, yes, it was no problem at all.

TI: So you have all this raw land, so how did you build a house?

SA: Well, my sister's husband Henry is an architect, so he said, "Let me see what I can come up." So he came up with this idea, and we all liked it, so we decided to go along with his design.

TI: So he looked at the property and the views and everything, so made a custom built home...

SA: Yes, he did.

TI: ...for you with sort of a Japanese tea room area and everything. And so '59, so you've been in this house almost sixty years?

SA: Yes.

TI: And so tell me, it's a gorgeous house, what are some of the events that you did in this house? It's very much like a party house.

SA: [Laughs] We had so many activity here, and one was like inviting the Nisei Week candidates for the queen, they were all here for that. And then we had many guests from Japan, with George's connection, everybody wanted to come to America at that time. And we had many, many visitors come from Japan and some would stay with us, as they didn't have a place to stay. And then George decided to open up a business in Tokyo. So all the more, our connection with various people grew. And then we would have Kenwood party and Mikasa party, oh, we were kept so busy all the time.

TI: No, I'm thinking, especially with Japanese guests, it must have been so... what's the right word? Impressive, for them to come to Los Angeles and then to go to a home not too far away from downtown, for it to be so private and beautiful, it must have been very impressive for, especially, Japanese. And what were some of the comments when they would come for the first time, what would they say?

SA: I don't remember. [Laughs] And they all wanted to go to Disneyland. Every guest wanted to go to Disneyland, so there were times where I went two time in one week to take the guests.

TI: That's a long ways.

SA: To Disneyland, yeah. I knew that place inside and out, there were so many guests.

<End Segment 14> - Copyright © 2017 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 15>

TI: So George has to do all this business with Japanese, and so it sounds like your role was to play the hostess a lot of times. You had to entertain a lot of Japanese guests, sometimes they would stay here. How was that for you? Did you enjoy that?

SA: Oh, I did. I enjoyed it, yeah. I really felt like I was helping somebody, and they came and enjoyed my home. I enjoyed it very much. And my mother-in-law was with me, so it made a world of a difference. She was so gracious.

TI: I used to work in the high tech industry at Microsoft, and I know how intense business can get at times. And to have someone be as supportive as you for his business, I know it made a big difference. I'm sure he must have been very appreciative.

SA: Well, I just want to do whatever I can.

TI: Now, when you think of George, what made him so successful? What was it about him that... because when I read his life story, he had so many challenges. I mean, when he lost the family business during the war, his illnesses in his life, and through all that, he succeeded. What was it about George that made him special?

SA: He was a fighter. Once he decided to do something, he always fulfilled his wishes. He was a fighter. Very, you know, the word in Japanese, gaman? Yeah.

TI: Now, were there...

SA: And his personality, I think, kind of made a big difference. He was always so generous and helpful and caring.

TI: How would he deal with when things didn't go well? Like if something failed, how would he respond? How would he bounce back?

SA: He kept going right on, he never backed out. He was very good about that.

TI: Now, were there any times when he was really, were there times when he was discouraged and he would just sort of be tired?

SA: No, I don't remember him at all being that way.

TI: That's amazing.

SA: He was a fighter. And whatever he did, he did well. And I think his personality made a big difference in how he succeeded, yeah.

TI: Now, were there ever times when you or his mother told him, "George, maybe that's too big, maybe you should slow down?"

SA: No, we always let him have his way. [Laughs] He was a very good husband and good father.

TI: After the war, you helped set up the Montebello Women's Club. When I think of the Japanese American community today, it feels like lots of the organizations are getting smaller, it's harder to raise money, it's hard to get more Japanese Americans involved. What advice do you have? You started, you said, the Montebello Women's Club, there's nothing like that right now.

SA: No, there isn't.

TI: How could the younger generations create similar things? What advice do you have?

SA: Well, while we were growing up, we all kind of depended on each other for any activity. But I think the younger generation doesn't have that fight. I think they lack in something, yeah, they really do. Their attitude is not like ours. I don't know how to explain it, but I think we were more caring about supporting different organizations supporting whatever we can. I think things have changed.

TI: Why do you think that? Do you think it's because the younger generations were further removed from Japan? Or what are the difference is that maybe we're too comfortable, that we didn't have to struggle as much? I'm asking that same question, why don't we have that same community spirit?

SA: I really... I don't know what to say about that. Yeah, it's just, as we grow older, we all kind of depended on each other as friendship or whatever activity we did. We all helped each other. But maybe I'm getting too old and not being as active as before, so I don't know what's going on.

TI: Kind of the final question I want to ask is, during World War II, Japanese Americans were put in camps, and because of, people didn't trust Japanese, a lot of people are saying that today, similar things are happening in our world with maybe like Muslim immigrants and things like that. Have you been following the news, and what do you think about what's happening in America today?

SA: You know, I'm not much of a follower in what goes on. I just don't have the interest, so I have nothing to say.

<End Segment 15> - Copyright © 2017 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 16>

TI: I'm sorry, one other question. In terms of you being a trailblazer, you were the first woman to be on the board of the Sumitomo Bank of California.

SA: Yes.

TI: How did that happen? Why did they ask you?

SA: Well, the man who was in charge of Los Angeles Bank, Sumitomo Bank, he came over one day, so I thought he was going to come and see George. And he says, "No, I want to talk to you." I said, "Me, what for?" So he sat down and explained to me that they would like to have one woman serve on the board. I told him, well, I'm not qualified, I cannot accept it, because I have no experience, and there's nothing to back me up. I don't think I qualify, so I don't think that... I will not accept it. And he went back and he came again, and he said that they discussed this, but they felt like there was no one else they could ask. I said "Well, I'm sure there are," but I told him, "I'll try for one year, see how things go." So I was there ten years. [Laughs]

TI: And what do you think your contribution was? I mean, to have a woman there, how did they change things?

SA: Well, I don't know if they were happy to have me there, but we all got along very well. I didn't know anything about banking, I had to learn so much, because it's so important when you're asked to be on the board. But somehow, I got along well with everybody that was on the board.

TI: I'm sure you learned a lot, too.

SA: Oh, did I ever. I never realized how important banking business is.

TI: And how did that change your thinking? Did you think more about finances because of that experience?

SA: No, not that much. But I enjoyed it. And I enjoyed being on the board of the Japan-America Society, I was vice president for ten years, and at that time, I started a golf tournament. And even to this day, they are continuing playing golf tournament every year. And our first tournament was held in a place called Huntington Beach, and the green fee was five dollars. [Laughs] But that was, then everything was still not organized, but we thought we'll go pursue this plan, and it's been going on ever since.

TI: Well, you've started so many things that are still going on, it's so impressive. I have one more question about, on your family vacations, I read that George wanted the family to actually travel separately, like you would be with one of the girls and George would be with one of the girls, if you went to Europe or something you would travel on separate planes. Why was that? Why did you do that?

SA: Well, he felt... let's see, I think there was an incident that there was a family traveling together, and they lost everybody in the family, in the tragedy. And he felt like it'd be safer for us to travel separately just in case something happened. So every place we went, we had to book two separate flights to all the places that we visited. We took a two-month vacation, just our family, and traveled many places.

TI: And so was that on every flight, or just the big overseas flights?

SA: Every flight, no matter how far, it was always separate.

TI: Wow, so that took a lot of extra planning.

SA: Hmm?

TI: It took a lot of extra planning.

SA: Oh, yes, George did all the whole planning, so he set it all up.

TI: Now, did other families start doing the same thing?

SA: I don't know, I never heard. Never heard, but he wanted to be cautious. He's a very cautious person, he was always making sure of everything.

TI: So I finished all my questions, and I just wanted to say that this was such a wonderful interview. Not only did I learn...

SA: I hope I qualified. [Laughs]

TI: This was fabulous. I'm so glad we had this chance, because I think so much attention has been directed towards George, but your life is incredible in terms of the things that you've done, and learning about all the things that you've started, and they're still going on. And it's such a powerful legacy, I wanted to just thank you for everything you've done.

SA: Oh, my pleasure. My pleasure, thank you.

TI: Is there anything else that you want to say, or anything that maybe I didn't ask about that you wanted to talk about?

SA: No, I think you've covered all of it.

TI: Well, thank you so much.

SA: You're most welcome, thank you.

<End Segment 16> - Copyright © 2017 Densho. All Rights Reserved.