Densho Digital Repository
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Elsie Uyematsu Osajima Interview
Narrator: Elsie Uyematsu Osajima
Interviewers: Brian Niiya (primary); Karen Umemoto (secondary)
Location: Los Angeles, California
Date: November 29, 2018
Densho ID: ddr-densho-1000-451-12

<Begin Segment 12>

BN: So you really were one of the first to go back.

EO: I guess so. And I wanted my girlfriend, she was still in camp, to come out and be my maid of honor, but she couldn't, it was too difficult. So we started married life in 1945.

BN: Were you aware of... because Pasadena was where William Carr, were you familiar with him?

EO: It was what?

BN: William Carr?

EO: I've heard of William Carr.

BN: He was one of the ones fighting against restrictive housing covenants of Nisei in that area. Esther Takei was famously the first student to move back to Pasadena.

EO: Yeah, that was later. She was the first Japanese student.

BN: Yeah, that was actually in the end of '44. Were you aware of...

EO: I read about it in the papers. Who's Carr? Was he the one fighting against...

BN: Yeah, he was trying to fight restrictive covenants to allow Nisei to live in areas of Pasadena.

EO: Oh, yes, I think I've heard of him. Yeah, he and his wife, very active.


BN: And then your, Francis's family --

EO: What?

BN: Francis's family, you mentioned, had a nursery in Sierra Madre.

EO: They had a nursery in Sierra Madre and Montebello.

BN: How were they able to kind of keep it through the war years?

EO: They had a lot of land in Manhattan Beach, Sepulveda Boulevard frontage. And they would sell pieces of it to keep going. So this man named Wally Naphus, he was a business manager, he ran the nursery, I believe, while everybody was in camp.

BN: So they (owned the) land even before the war.

EO: What?

BN: They owned land before the war.

EO: Owned lots of land.

BN: Was it that, it must have been registered in the names of their children or something? Or how did they own that?

EO: They owned it, other than the father owned it, the family owned it. We came back from camp, and we moved from Sierra Madre to Montebello. I believe they owned 167 acres. But that's because they had sold some to keep going. The heartbreaking thing is... well, I shouldn't talk bad about people. [Laughs] Well, Francis and his father were here living in California. They still had the business manager, and he talked... I don't know who he talked to, the son into it or the father, to sell the whole piece. The only way I found out is there was a receipt on the table for the land, and Wally Naphus's name was on there. So he was involved in the sale. When I saw that, I got so mad. That was their security. And I guess he told them they need the money to run the nursery. I don't know. The nursery's gone. [Laughs] My husband wasn't a businessman, I don't think.

BN: Was there a connection between that nursery and the Descanso Gardens story?

EO: Yes, when the war came, the Sierra Madre place was all camellias. They had two hundred thousand camellias, and he used to grow seedlings, those are new types of camellias. He had a lot of those. Manchester Boddy liked camellias. He was the publisher of the Daily News, and he came up to Sierra Madre and bought everything. And my husband's father sold everything because he had to move. So (Body bought) everything, even the little new seedlings, which he renamed in his family's name. His wife is named something, his daughter has another name on another camellia. And the camellia yearbook came out with a special camellia (edition) book because they got mad that the credit was taken away from Uyematsu for the seedlings and named other things. And they had a special edition. I think my daughter has one of the books.

BN: And then what happened with that collection?

EO: They had it. I mean, we weren't around. It was sold, everything.

KU: Can you say that again?

EO: What?

KU: Can you repeat that, because I interrupted by taking the glasses?

BN: Oh, sorry, what happened with the camellias?

EO: Oh, what happened to the camellias? They're all in Descanso Gardens. The ones that were bought, all in Descanso Gardens. And they put a plaque up for Uyematsu, and that was up there in the beginning. So they gave them credit for that. And then, years later, as recently as maybe five years ago, maybe five years ago, his picture's still there, but they changed the narrative, and they included San Gabriel nursery. So evidently, San Gabriel nursery had their own camellias sold to him also.

BN: Was that also a Japanese nursery?

EO: Japanese. So now he shares credit. [Laughs] We were wondering, what happened? What happened? So my daughter wanted to try and find out, closed lips. No one would tell her anything. We just want to know what happened, they wouldn't tell us. It's a mystery. [Laughs]

BN: You can still go see the camellias today.

EO: Yeah, you can still see the camellias.

BN: So you come back, and now the land is sold. What did you and Francis do then?

EO: Well, we still had Montebello (and) Sierra Madre. Oh, you mean the big land? Well, he had more money now to operate the nursery.

BN: So you and he were operating the Sierra Madre?

EO: Well, let's see, when we were first married we were in Sierra Madre. And then after Amy was born, we stayed in Sierra Madre about a year. We moved down to Montebello so he could be closer to the business office. So we lived in Sierra Madre about (three years and in Montebello for about five years).

BN: (...)

EO: They claimed eminent domain on the Montebello nursery because the high school needed a football field, they didn't have one, and we were right across from the high school. Just seemed natural that it belonged, so we had to sell the Montebello and go (back) up to Sierra Madre.

BN: So were you also working in the nursery then?

EO: I never worked in the nursery. I was, I guess in Japanese they call you okusan. I didn't work. I had a very easy life. [Laughs]

BN: But you had children.

EO: I had children, yeah.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 2018 Densho. All Rights Reserved.