Densho Digital Repository
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: June Yasuno Aochi (Yamashiro) Berk Interview
Narrator: June Yasuno Aochi (Yamashiro) Berk
Interviewer: Brian Niiya
Location: Studio City, California
Date: December 18, 2018
Densho ID: ddr-densho-1000-453

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

<Begin Segment 1>

BN: Okay, so we're here interviewing June Aochi Berk on December 18, 2018 in her home in Studio City. Interviewer is Brian Niiya, and Yuka Murakami is videotaping this. And I think, when we start, as we often do, if you can tell us a little bit about your, starting with your parents, who I believe are both Issei.

JB: Right. My father, I found out, came to United States in 1906 as one of the railway workers. And as he tells it, he worked on, while they were laying the tracks in Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, and he was the cook. So he went to the stores to shop. And as he tells us, when he needed eggs, he would go like a chicken, and then he would taste each barrel to see whether flour, salt or sugar. And he also told us the story that when he was feeding the workers on the table to make pancakes, and he'd always say, "Shut up, shut up," and the guys would get upset with him, get angry. He didn't know why they were getting angry with them, he just came, "Shut up." What he was saying was syrup, "Pass me the syrup." [Laughs] Anyway, he was a gidayu teacher, and the gidayu teachers are those shamisen players, and they teach the singer to sing and narrate the kabuki story. So he must have learned that in Japan before he came over.


BN: Before we go on, what was your father's name?

JB: Oh, Chujiro Aochi. He was born in 1879, so he came over here when he was in his early '20s, and he had heard that the streets were paved with gold. And he said, "After I make my first million, I'm going to go back to Japan." Well, he never went back to Japan, he's one of those. And I don't know what he did after working on the railroads. I know he got married up there, and his first wife died and left him a son. So then he went back to Wakayama and married my mother and brought her back. And she came here in 1924, just before the time they had to close Japanese coming over. So she was here, and she's my mother, and her name was Kay Aochi. And through them, I have an older sister, Kay, and I have an older brother, Yas. And I had an older half brother from his first marriage named Tom. Tom was in the 442, in Company M, and was injured in Europe, but safely came home, he was one of the lucky ones to come home. My brother was active in sports in Los Angeles before the war, in camp, and also in Denver, Colorado.

BN: This is Tom?

JB: Yeah.

BN: How much older was Tom?

JB: Tom was fifteen years older than me. He was already married when he volunteered for the 442, and he was in Poston camp; he wasn't even in Rohwer.

BN: He was already sort of on his own.

JB: He was on his own, he was married and had three children, and he volunteered. But luckily he came home. But he is now deceased, and so is my sister, so now all that's left is my brother Yas and me. We grew up here in Los Angeles, in the Hollywood area, sometimes known as Virgil District. And talking to my brother the other day, he can remember every family that lived on Madison, Westmoreland, Virgil, and it was sort of like going back in time. It was fun. And we were evacuated in 1942, May 7th, I remember. And we were sent to Santa Anita. And I recently visited the horse stall that I was in in Santa Anita, that was really something. Because I didn't realize how small the horse stall was; I thought it was a big room when I was small. Because my mother, my father and I, slept in the back stall, and my brother and my sister slept in the front living room where they kept the hay, I guess, for the horses.

BN: Actually, I want to go back a little. But before we leave this, you found the exact stall, still standing, that your family was in?

JB: Uh-huh. And a horse was still in there.

BN: Do you remember the address?

JB: Barn 5, I think it was. I have it written down, I can't remember off the top of my head. But we took a picture of it recently, and that was this past year.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2018 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

BN: Before we get there, I want to ask you a couple more things about prewar. Do you know how your father and mother met? Was that arranged?


JB: As I understand it, my father's first wife passed away, so he went back to Japan. And as I understand it, my mother had originally come to San Francisco as a "picture bride," but the man that she was supposed to marry, it didn't turn out well, so she went back to Japan. And so now she was considered an old maid, not marriageable. So when my father went back to Japan to find a mother for his seven-year-old son, it worked out fine and the two of them got together. So it was sort of an arranged marriage.

BN: She was sort of considered already married, right?

JB: Not married, but I guess --


JB: But I think the fact that she had been, I guess, sort of promised to another man here, but that didn't work out so she went back, so I guess that put her in a category of not marriageable. So it turned out good for my father, and they came back to L.A. For some reason, I don't know how he ended up in L.A., but he had a pool hall near Cahuenga, Sunset, and I was born right around RKO Studios at that time. It was a large community of Japanese Isseis, and my uncle had a store near Hollywood Boulevard, and so the men would gather around the table in the morning to drink coffee, and they take their lawnmowers and they would just roll it down Sunset Boulevard, Hollywood Boulevard. [Dog barking] Sorry, I'm trying to keep him quiet. So they would roll their wheelbarrows, I mean, they would roll their lawnmowers without a truck, just walk it down Sunset Boulevard and Hollywood Boulevard, and just ring the doorbell and tell the lady or the man, "We'll cut your lawn for fifty cents," and that's how the gardening got started, I hear, in Los Angeles. So then they would cut the lawn, and then they'd have to walk the lawn mower back to the store, and then they would bring a wheelbarrow with a gunny sack, and then they would gather all the cuttings, put it in the wheelbarrow and take it away. So that was gardening before trucks, gardening trucks. And then later on he had enough money to, I guess, buy a truck.

So then my father, being the gidayu teacher, we were very involved with the Japanese kabuki and odori and culture here in L.A., in Little Tokyo. We used to perform at the Yamato Hall, which is no longer there, but it was a big hall where they had gambling on the third floor and performances on the second floor. It was an all-day performance. People would bring their lunches and sit there and we would perform dances and kabuki plays. Miyoko Watanabe was... oh, it was an all-girl kabuki, it was called Shojo Kabuki, and all the actors were women, no men. When I was in Japan, kabuki actors are all men. So here it was all women, and some of the notable women that became noted in their careers, like Miyoko Watanabe went to Japan, came back, and she came back with the Grand Kabuki, the first tour, and she was a translator. And then later she taught kabuki at Columbia University. And then there's Michiko Iseri, who was on the kabuki troupe, and she became the first dancer after teaching Japanese dancing in Heart Mountain. She became the lead dancer for The King and I with Yul Brynner. And there she did other Broadway shows. There were quite a few other girls from that kabuki troupe that went on to become dancers. I was still about five to seven to nine years old, but we all did kabuki in those days. We would practice on First Street, and we would do odori dancing on First Street at another studio, and we would walk over to the kabuki practice studio to do our kabuki. So I had a lot of Japanese language training through kabuki.

BN: Did you also to go Japanese language school?

JB: Yes, I did. Hollywood Gakuen in Hollywood. And I went up through the fourth grade, learned kanji, hiragana, and katakana. We used to have to go every day after school, we hated it. So when we went to camp, we were so thrilled there was no more Japanese school so we could play.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2018 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

BN: Was the entire family involved in the kabuki, you said your dad, but were your siblings?

JB: No.

BN: So just you and your dad?

JB: Yes. My brother and sisters were in high school, and I was still young, five years old. And I loved Japanese dancing and kabuki, so my parents got me into all the dancing and the kabuki plays because I loved it. Whereas my sister and my brother, they were busy with their high school friends. So they weren't interested in anything Japanese like that.

BN: What did you like about it?

JB: I guess I was always... I remember when I was even as young as maybe three or so, I would always carry a kimono wherever we went to visit anybody, and I would always wait for someone to ask me to dance. And I would sit there and sit there, and finally somebody would feel sorry for me and say, "Do you want to dance?" and then, of course, I put on my kimono and I would dance. I just loved Japanese dancing. My father, being the kabuki, they would narrate the kabuki play while we were doing the acting, and my father would tell me the stories. And I remember one play where it's called Awa no Naruto, where it's a two-person play, just a mother and a daughter. And I didn't know until I just saw it on the internet the other day, this play was first performed by the Bunraku puppets back in the 1700s. So it's been around, Bunraku and kabuki have been around for years and years in Japan. And I was so thrilled to find this because now I understand the story of what I was doing. And so many of the plays that I learned, they would give me a script and they would tell me what to say in Japanese, but I never understood what I was saying. So the same with the dances, too. It wasn't until I was much older, in fact, the age of the internet, then I could look up these stories on the internet to find out, oh, my father was telling me the truth. I thought he was just telling me stories, but these were actually kabuki stories from the 1700s. So that was fun. But I've always liked performing.

BN: At what age did you start taking the formal...

JB: I was five years old when Kansuma first came back from Japan. And my mother and father took me there to learn Japanese manners, cultural Japanese manners. And the dance was secondary, but I learned the dance, and we danced at the Hollywood Bowl. We would dance on Japanese ships that would come into Long Beach or San Pedro, and we would dance. There was once an airplane that was called Nippongo, and this plane was on a peace mission. And this article in the LA Times or the Rafu Shimpo which I haven't found yet, this plane when it landed here, Kansuma made a dance for it, and it was called Nippongo, for the airplane. And this was just before World War II started. So the fans were with the hinomaru, the red and white fans that would fly like an airplane and dance like this. And then when we got into camp, the same dance was turned into silver wings because we're now flying the air force planes. We were very flexible. But when we danced at the Hollywood Bowl, there was the sailor dance, and again, it was with the red and white flag and American flags, both.

BN: To back up, you mentioned Kansuma, can you tell us a little bit about her? She's very famous, of course.

JB: Right. Fujima Kansuma went to Japan when she was a young teenager about fourteen, fifteen, studied at the Fujima school. And she, being from America, she was treated as a foreigner in Japan. She had it very rough, they were very hard on her, because they kept saying, "She's Amerikan, Amerika-jin." So she said, "In Japan I was American, and I come here to the United States, I'm Japanese." But because she was not born in Japan, and she was from America, they were twice as hard on her. And so her training was really rigid. But she stuck with it, she persevered, and when she came back to Los Angeles she was only sixteen when she started teaching, and, of course, we all wanted to be her students. And so I was five, at the age of five I became her student.

BN: She was only... how much older?

JB: Six years older.

BN: That's all?

JB: No, sixteen, sixteen years older. She's sixteen years older than I am.

BN: But still, she's very young.

JB: Very young, and beautiful, she's absolutely beautiful, and her dancing was incredibly beautiful. She had so much passion in her dancing, and people were just in awe when she was onstage. She was like the Baryshnikov of ballet, you just didn't want them to stop dancing. And wherever she danced, people would just be in awe of her, mesmerized, she was so beautiful. So I feel very lucky that I got to see her dance like that. And as she's teaching her students, she's also dancing, so we just sit there and watch her perform. But not only was she a good dancer and a beautiful woman, but she was one of the kindest, most generous women I've ever met. She was just very, very kind and gentle, but very strict with us. She would not allow us to even speak English during our classes. We had to speak Japanese.


BN: The next thing I want to ask you, because you were talking about the dance, how many students did Fujima Kansuma have at that point?

JB: Oh, she had a lot of students. She would go to Gardena to teach, she would go up to San Jose to teach. [Phone rings] Sorry. She had quite a few students.

BN: What was the age range?

JB: Anywhere from five on up to the girls that I was dancing with were about sixteen years old. And I still see some of them now. And unfortunately, many have passed on, lost their memory. So I feel very fortunate. But even her daughter has not seen her dance. And the new students that she has now have never seen her dance, so they always said how lucky I am that I got to see her perform. Like I say, she's like Baryshnikov, and once you see the best, everything else just... she set the bar, she was the bar. She not only set the bar, she was the bar. But like I said, she was very, very kind and very gentle, but she demanded the best and the highest. And so she wouldn't let you go out of that room until you did it right. So even if we were practicing, we'd be crying because we can't get it right, she wouldn't let us sit down until we got it right. She was very strict in that sense, but that was because she wanted us to be good dancers. But her emphasis was always, her teaching was not just being a good dancer, but being a good person, that was her ultimate. So we would get all these lectures from her on how you need to give back to your community, how you need to behave. And she was very, high standards.

BN: These lectures would be in Japanese?

JB: Yes.

BN: And then I know your paths cross again later in camp and later, so we'll go back to that.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 2018 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

BN: You mentioned your father had a pool hall?

JB: Uh-huh.

BN: Was that continuing into the war?

JB: No. He had a pool hall I understand, and then my brother tells me that he invested in the oil, and I guess there was a big oil boom until he lost all his money, so he had to go back to gardening again. And then depression hit, so it was the worst time for him. And I think just before we were evacuated, he was finally able to get a secondhand truck, and I remember that was one of the things he had to leave behind, and I don't know what happened to it or anything like that. But he had had his ups and downs. But the thing that kept my father going mostly was his gidayu and teaching that to the men. And he had quite a few students. And although I never learned gidayu myself, when the men would practice in our house, I could always tell when a man would hit the wrong note, and I'd go, oh, my god. [Laughs]

BN: Was this part of his livelihood? They would pay for this?

JB: Yeah, he was known as... they would call him shishou or sensei. So this was more his life than the gardening, the gardening was secondary. So growing up in that kind of atmosphere, I've always loved Japanese theater, Japanese dancing, even though I was never really good at it myself. I think my mother and father spent a lot of money on me thinking that one day I would probably become a natori or dancer. But war came and I never did follow through on that. But in camp, Santa Anita and also Rohwer, when the authorities finally decided that they would allow Japanese dancing, we were performing almost every weekend, Japanese dances. And that made the Isseis very happy. So Kansuma performed in Santa Anita, she performed in Rohwer, and then she was able to travel to different camps to perform and teach.

BN: And did you also go?

JB: No. I went to Jerome. About six of us went to Jerome to perform. But later on, in Denver, I did one or two recitals for her, but then she was here in Los Angeles so I didn't follow through with that too much. When I was about eighteen I was probably through dancing. But I recently went back to her a few years ago, and I was going to try to learn again, but my body doesn't move that way anymore, and I can't remember all the steps. But it was good to see her again because I enjoyed just being with her.

BN: Does she still teach at age one hundred?

JB: Yes, I think somebody... nobody has told her that she's a hundred, so she acts like she's fifty or sixty, she's remarkable in that she has the energy and the strength and the mind, she remembers everything. And I can't remember from week to week, but she remembers dances that she choreographed back before the war. She'll remember every dance that she choreographed. And her dances are, I think this is the genius part of her, she was able to not only do traditional Japanese dancing, which most people found kind of boring, she was able to tell stories with modern music, which would be like, what we would call maybe jazz in American music, she was able to be a contemporary dancer, and that was her talent. So it made the audience enjoy her dancing more, because it was not this traditional dance. She made it come alive with stories, samurai stories and things like that.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 2018 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

BN: And then I want to go back now to Santa Anita, and you mentioned that you were in one of the horse stalls. Do you remember what your, did your parents work there?

JB: In Santa Anita?

BN: Yeah.

JB: In Santa Anita my father and mother did not work. My sister worked in the white mess hall.

BN: And when you say "white mess hall," the mess halls there were color coded.

JB: Color coded, everybody had to eat, was assigned to eat at a certain mess hall. Red mess hall being the best because it's in the grandstand, blue mess hall being the worst because it's in the horse stalls.

BN: Which ones...

JB: The blue.

BN: You were in the blue?

JB: Blue.

BN: Because you were horse stalls.

JB: Then my sister worked in the white -- [phone rings] -- sorry. My sister worked in the white mess hall. She met her to-be husband there because he was the bookkeeper. She was always late so they met and then one of the things that happened in Santa Anita was, they had dances on Friday nights, and there was a teacher from the outside that would come in, and I think they even formed a band in Santa Anita, but there was always records. So us young kids would go up to the grandstand to watch the older kids dance, and that's how we learned how to dance.

BN: This is the western style dance.

JB: This is the foxtrot and the jitterbug. And there was a young man named, we called him Boogie because he could play the boogie woogie on the piano so well. So I remember following Boogie around, and he ended up in Rohwer. And then even after camp, he still carried the name Boogie, and he became a hairdresser. So in camp, there were, I think each camp almost had their own band, swing band. At least I know there was one in Poston, one in Gila, one in Manzanar, which is very famous. So I think the swing dancing was very popular in camps, and that sort of caught my eye, too, I enjoyed that.

BN: Just to clarify, how old were you when you entered?

JB: Ten.

BN: And the your sister was...

JB: She was eighteen. Just graduating from high school, so she was very upset and angry because she had just finished her civic lesson, she was supposed to graduate, and she knew that it was against the Constitution to put Japanese Americans in camp. So she told my parents, "You're going to go to camp because you were born in Japan, but all of us born here in America will not have to go to camp." But she found herself in camp, so she was very upset, angry. She never moved back to California, she stayed in Michigan because she was so angry at being, she and her husband both felt the same way, being kicked out of California. And it was really something that they lived with all their lives. Whereas myself, I was so young, we were just having fun, and we were not thinking about civil rights. If there was a riot in camp, I remember one riot in Santa Anita, we just said, "Oh, there's a riot, let's go see what's going on," so we would just follow the crowd and see what's going on. And we saw soldiers and bayonets, tanks coming in. But to us it was just an adventure, because we were so young.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 2018 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

BN: Did you go to school there?

JB: Yes. Well, actually, when we went into camp it was May, so it was summertime, June, July, August, so we didn't have really school-school, but they had classes for fourth graders, fifth graders. And it was held in the grandstand, and then the grandstand was also your Christian services, your Buddhist services, your Catholic services, so it was like a place to just gather. So we went to the fourth grade there. I don't know exactly what we did all that time but we just must have played. Then we went to Rohwer in September on a train that took us about four or five days to get there. And that was an adventure. And I think when I went to camp, from Los Angeles to L.A. was a bus ride, and that was my first big bus ride. Then going from Santa Anita to Rohwer, was also a big adventure because that was my first train ride, and it was exciting to go on a train. My brother was a car monitor, and he tells me that as car monitors, I remember he used to get off the train to go buy candies and magazines and newspapers for us. And then in the evening, he says that the car monitors all ate with the railroad workers, I forgot what they called them. But they would have, they were all African American, they would have jazz dances in the dining cars, and they got to eat there. So he had a good time. So that was fun because he got to join them, I'm trying to think of what they called the railroad workers, but he got to party with them.

So we get to Rohwer, and in Rohwer, we were one of the first to arrive there, so everything was still brand new. And compared to the barns and the horse stalls in Santa Anita, we said, wow, this is great. This is nice and clean and a big room. My mother worked as a cleaning woman and cleaned the bath stalls, and my father would be shoveling coal into the heaters to keep the hot water going. And I think my parents -- I don't know about other parents -- but the parents in our block, they did everything to make life happy for us kids, and they built swings out of lumber, and they even built seesaws for us, made stilts for us to walk around in, and we used to find these little small tomato plants, we would take the seeds out and put it in our mouth and pretend like they were frogs. We had fun. We played volleyball every day, it just was a time, as ten to thirteen, we had not a care in the world. I think our parents didn't worry about us running away, there's no traffic to get run over or hit by a car. I think it was a pretty carefree time, and my mom and dad had just come through the hard, tough days of the depression. And so they had worked all their life, both of them. My mother used to take in laundry and ironing, and grew plants in the backyard. So actually, they said while they were in camp, it gave them time to rest. And so they said, "This is nice." I think they took advantage of it by my father doing gidayu and my mother making gifts out of old material. She would tear them into strips and braid it, and make slippers and give them as gifts. Or she would cut material and put it inside of a brown box and make a jewelry box out of it. So they found all kinds of ways to be busy and enjoyed it. And then, of course, I had my Japanese dancing. And the men, they would go out into the woods and bring back the bark or the roots, and they would be carving that and make beautiful artworks.

BN: This is the [inaudible]?

JB: Yeah. So I only saw the nice part of camp, and of course, I didn't know anything about civil rights. I didn't know we were in a prison because we would open up the barbed wires and walk out, and a group of us would go walking down the road to the swamp, and we would play in the swamps and then, of course, you come home because you're hungry. And we saw such poverty in the South. We went to a store in Rohwer, the town, and the store had one gas station, and I remember the floor was dirt. We asked to buy ice cream, and the man says, "We don't sell ice cream here." And I said, "You don't have ice cream? We have ice cream in camp." And the people were just so poor they couldn't afford even ice cream. We would walk back and we'd see these desolate looking homes, and I think we probably were better fed in camp than people on the outside, there was such poverty there. So we felt kind of lucky in a way that we had ice cream in camp, they didn't. So my experience in camp was a good experience. I don't know anything about the "no-no boys," I think our family just didn't even think about it or even talk about it, I think we just signed off fine. My brother volunteered for the army, so it was just not a problem.

BN: This is your...

JB: The oldest brother.

BN: The oldest brother.

JB: He was sixteen, so he was not old enough, but he did not like school in camp because we had nothing but southern teachers, and he felt that they didn't speak English, and so he said he wanted to go to Chicago. So he got a job and left camp. And my sister left camp to go to a school in St. Paul, Minnesota, sponsored by a Quaker family, so she left camp. So in the end, it seemed like the only people left in camp were the old people and the young kids, and we just played, went to school. I was in junior high school by then, and it was a fun time. I don't remember ever being... oh, yes, I remember being upset because the boys used to chase us home with mud balls, they would throw, get these great big balls of mud and grass and pound it down and they would throw it at us as we're walking home from school. They tried to do that to the teacher one day and the teacher's smart enough to let, they're hanging the mud ball over the door, and as soon as the door opens, the mud ball falls down. So it's supposed to hit the teacher on the head, but she was smart, smarter than the boys. She opens the door and lets the ball fall, and then she walks in the door. I remember her name was Miss Tabuchi, and we just all laughed because she outsmarted the boys.

BN: Were your teachers mostly Issei or white?

JB: Caucasian. They were recruited, I think, from the South, Oklahoma, Mississippi, because they all had thick accents, but they were good teachers. I had an English teacher who was really, sentence structure, diagramming, and that was the fifth grade. And I'll never forget her or Mrs. Fox, she was an excellent teacher. So I think we had good teachers. I never had any problems with any of the teachers. But my brother, he felt that he couldn't understand them, they don't speak English, is what he kept saying. [Laughs]

BN: Do you remember your camp address?

JB: Uh-huh, 14-10-A.

BN: And then I assume all five of you were in one...

JB: One room. In fact, the paper barracks that you see at JANM, the folding thing, that's Rohwer barrack 10. So it was a replica of the same barrack that we lived in, and that was kind of interesting to see that it was taken from Rohwer.

BN: Did you partition up the room?

JB: Yes, we did.

BN: Or build furniture?

JB: Well, somehow, I don't know who built the table for us and a couple of chairs. Rohwer was full of mosquitoes, so my mother had mosquito netting over my bed. I think it was partitioned, maybe, I'm not quite sure. But remember having boys and girls over in our room, Dave Komatsu, I remember, with my brother. Another girl named Shigeko Nakano, she went back to Japan. I have a picture of all of them in our room, and we have pictures of movie stars on the wall, so I think we did that to brighten up the room. I think with my sister and my brother and that age group, that high school, college, it was really hard then because it interrupted their plans for going to college. I think that they had it the hardest. Our parents, while my parents did lose everything, it wasn't so horrible that my parents felt like this was a time for them to relax and just enjoy what they have in the camp. So there was no bitterness. I can't say that camp life was bad for me personally.

BN: Because you were that age.

JB: Uh-huh, where we would have fun. It's only later on that I find out our civil rights are violated, we were in prison, then I get angry. While I was there, sunsets were beautiful, the soil was rich, and the parents grew strawberries, different kinds of vegetables, flowers. So to me, my personal experience, I should say, was very nice.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 2018 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

BN: Now, as time goes on, camp is closing down, your family ends up going to Denver. Was there discussion or thought about going back to California? Do you know what drew you to go there?

JB: Well, when we first left Los Angeles, we signed up with the Little Tokyo group because the Little Tokyo group was all into Japanese culture, the kabuki and the odori. That's why Kansuma was in Rohwer. And my father, kabuki singer, people wanted to all stick together, the Japanese cultural group. So they all signed up together from Little Tokyo. So instead of signing up from Hollywood, we signed up with the Little Tokyo group. And we were good friends with the Hamano family who had Mikawaya at the time. So from Rohwer, the Hamano family went to Denver and they opened up Umeya Senbei and Mikawaya. And so when it was time for us to leave camp, they sponsored us, so we went to Denver.

BN: They had already gone out first?

JB: Yeah, they already had established Mikawaya and Umeya businesses. So when we went there, my father worked as a janitor and my mother worked as a cook, and they also had a Chinese restaurant called Laramie Chop Suey, and I was the dishwasher there. We worked for our food, basically, we didn't get paid. It was just room and board. Then later on, my parents borrowed money and we bought Mikawaya from the Hamanos who came back to L.A. And then they opened up Maruya because the Hashimotos already had Mikawaya here.

BN: Are the Mikawayas related?

JB: No.

BN: Just same name?

JB: The Hashimotos had Mikawaya back in the '30s, and then Mr. Hashimoto wanted to go to Japan to retire, so he sold Mikawaya to the Hamanos. Then when the rumors of war started coming out, Mr. Hashimoto wanted to come back to America. So he came back just before the war started, and he asked Mr. Hamano, "I want to buy the store back." Mr. Hamano said no, but, "We'll talk about it after the first of the year." And then December 7th happened, so the Hamanos get sent to Rohwer, Hashimotos go to Amache. Then when the Hashimotos come out of camp, they come back to L.A., so they open up Mikawaya. Hamanos come out of Denver and they opened up Mikawaya. So there were two Mikawayas but totally unrelated.

BN: And the Mikawaya today is derived from...

JB: Hashimotos.

BN: The Hashimotos who lived in L.A.

JB: And the Umeyas are from Hamanos.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 2018 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

BN: Before we continue, I wanted to go back to something you mentioned earlier, which was how you, rather than being removed from Hollywood, you wanted to kind of be taken from Little Tokyo so that these groups would go together. How logistically did you do that? Did you physically move?

JB: No, you just signed up and used somebody else's address. I think we probably used Hamanos' address.

BN: So you were actually still living in Hollywood?

JB: Yes.

BN: But you got the notice to go off with the Little Tokyo people, so you just then moved all your belongings.

JB: We just met them at the bus stop, I guess.

BN: In Little Tokyo.

JB: Uh-huh.

BN: Do you remember which, you probably don't remember which exclusion order, but which, were you met, or were you at the departure point?

JB: Yeah, we were just saying, so many of us, my girlfriends and myself, too, we can't remember how we got from our home to the bus or the train station. I remember the bus ride and my friends will remember the train ride, but somehow we've drawn a blank on how we left our house to go to the bus stop.

BN: Especially because you're going a good distance now, because you're not going from...

JB: Right, and you must be saying goodbye to your house.

BN: Do you remember if, by doing that, did you leave before the people in Hollywood?

JB: Yeah, they left and went to Pomona. So we're thinking, my brothers and I were thinking maybe somebody from the neighborhood, our friends from the neighborhood took us to the bus stop, because we were leaving before them.

BN: So your neighborhood friends went to Pomona and then to...

JB: Heart Mountain. So all of the Hollywood Virgil District people went to, we were separated.

BN: You're probably too young, but did you know of John Aiso? He was Hollywood.

JB: I don't know him.

BN: Because he was significantly older.

JB: Right. And I think even like the Fujiokas, I know the name, but I didn't know them personally.

BN: Probably your oldest brother might know.

JB: Everyone sort of seemed to know each other, the families. I was too young.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 2018 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

BN: Anyway, back to Denver, where physically were you located, and did it become kind of this Japanese area?

JB: Uh-huh. In Denver, the Japanese seemed to congregate on skid row. There were a lot of bars and pool halls and things like that. And first it started out maybe a Japanese grocery store and another Japanese grocery store, sort of like a one block area. Tosh Ando, the lawyer, was there, Manshu Grill was there, Furutas opened that. There was the pool hall next door, there were jewelry stores, Nonaka barber shop. So it was all sort of like in a one block area. Granada Fish was there, Pacific Mercantile, and then the Buddhist church came up. So people didn't live there, but the businesses were there. But we didn't live too far from the business, we were still sort of like in the downtown area, but there were a lot of Japanese who moved in East Denver or north, people that had houses. I was just talking to my brother, we lived in what they call Seicho-No-Ie, it's a Japanese movement, I'm not sure what it is.

BN: It's considered one of the new religions.

JB: So we lived upstairs in a one-room room. At that time, most of the people that were first moving into Denver usually stayed in one hotel room. My girlfriend, her brothers, mother and father, were all in one room, just like camp. And, oh, yeah. So several of us girls, we'd congregate in the hallways of these hotel rooms, and that's where we started calling ourselves the Rugged Lovers. And the Rugged Lovers was this group of girls that hung out together through junior high and high school. And we would practice dancing, go to the movies with boys, it was just a fun time. The uniform that we wore were men's maroon shirts, extra large, with a white pleated skirt that showed about that much skirt, so it was mostly all men's shirt. And then we wore a white bow on our hair, in the middle of our head. That was the Rugged Lovers.

BN: Where did the name come from?

JB: Well, do you remember Gillette? You don't remember Gillette. The Gillette commercials on boxing matches in those days was, "Look sharp, feel sharp, be sharp," then the Gillette blue blades would come on. So we took that as our motto, "Look sharp, feel sharp, be sharp," that was our motto, and then we had our outfits, and we were the Rugged Lovers.

BN: How many girls?

JB: There was about six or seven of us.

BN: And then you're how old?

JB: Now we're all in our nineties.

BN: At the time you started it.

JB: At the time we were thirteen.

BN: You were about thirteen when you left camp.

JB: Yeah, we left camp at thirteen, and so this is the area of, like, thirteen to about sixteen, seventeen. Junior high school and high school days.

BN: And then were these girls you met in Denver, so they're not people you knew in camp.

JB: In camp, no.

BN: So it's all people who had come from different places to Denver.

JB: Right. And they had dances on Thursday night at the Y, and we used to go to the dances as just girls, and the boys would be there. We'd go to those movie theaters as all girls and sit in the front row, and then the boys would sit in the second row right behind us, and that's how we watched movies in those days. [Laughs]

BN: Was there a boy's club that you were affiliated with?

JB: No. The group of guys... they were all, I don't know how you'd say it, really nice guys. Art Maeda, Art Tsuji, Mickey Takeshita who helped bring the Heart Mountain barrack back from Heart Mountain to L.A. Art Maeda became, he was a CPA or something like that. Anyway, all these young boys grew up to be very nice young men. But when we were all hanging out together, all we did was just dance or have fun, just hang out together.

BN: And then when you came to Denver, were you junior high or had you started high school?

JB: Junior high.

BN: You went to junior high and high school.

JB: Both, in Denver.

BN: Which schools?

JB: It was called Cole junior high and Manual Training High School. It's called Manual now, Manual Training. And that was sort of like the high school that was in the center of town, then you'd have East High School, West High School, South High School, North, but Manual was in the center which was mostly African Americans, Latinos and Japanese and some Caucasian. It was a mixture of people.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 2018 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

BN: How many Japanese were there? I mean, roughly, percentage-wise?

JB: There was quite a few. Quite a few Japanese and we all knew each other. We had problems with a young gang of girls, for some reason they wanted to fight the "Japs." And we kept saying, "We don't want to fight, we don't know how to fight," and they kept saying, "We want to fight." Finally, they started picking on some kids going home from school and I heard there were some fights. Then the African American girls came by and protected us and fought for us so that we didn't have to fight. We were saved by them. [Laughs] That was growing up, junior high school and high school in Denver. One boy got his face cut with a knife, he still has the scar. So it was kind of rough.

BN: Was that, do you think, connected to the World War II events?

JB: Oh, yeah, it was right after the end of the war.

BN: Stereotypes.

JB: Yeah, stereotypes, right after the end of the war. And I don't think these kids that tried to pick a fight with us, I don't think they even felt that way. It's just something for them to say, they're trying to get us angry, but it didn't bother us. We still said we don't want to fight.

BN: As far as where you lived and so forth, was it a largely Japanese area?

JB: Yeah. In Denver, too, I think coming out of camp, all the Japanese hung out with each other. We didn't even try to mix. Maybe some did, but most of our friends were all Japanese. The businesses also being right around there were all Japanese. So the resettlement of Denver, I think at one time there were thirty thousand Japanese there. I'm not sure. But they had their own newspaper, the Japanese newspaper, they had a JACL, it was very active. And our store was right in the middle of everything, so in a way, our store was fun because we would have people coming from the East Coast going to the West Coast, they had to stop in the store. And then people coming out of camp would stop in our store, and so we'd have to meet a lot of people going back and forth from the East to the West Coast.

BN: Your father and family bought the store, right?

JB: Uh-huh.

BN: It requires a certain skill, ability to make the...

JB: Right. My mother called my brother from Chicago and Detroit because he wasn't working, so my brother came and he learned how to make the manju, and my mother also knew how to make the manju. So with the two of them making the manju in the back room, and then I was in the front selling, so this is how our store operated. We had another salesgirl, plus my brother had a couple of other men working for him who were Japanese speaking, knew how to make the manju, so that helped a lot, too.

BN: Did you have any competitors, or were you the only ones?

JB: We were the only ones at first. Later on, just about the time we were ready to close, the Japanese population in Denver was going down.

BN: People were going back to California.

JB: Going back to California. So then my parents decided to go back to... the way my father put it was he wanted to go back to the place, he wanted to die in his home. So I thought he meant Japan, but what he meant was here, Los Angeles. He wanted to come back here to die. And just after we moved back to Denver he died about six months later.

BN: After you moved back to L.A.

JB: Uh-huh.

BN: What year?

JB: 1953, and he was ill, but he said, "I want to go back to my home to die," so we came back to L.A.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 2018 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

BN: So you were in Denver for...

JB: About ten years. It was about '45 to '54, '53, something like that.

BN: So eight years.

JB: Eight, yeah. I think we came out of camp about '44 or '45. So I think my time in Denver is about ten years, I think.

BN: So you guys were in high school there, and then did you start working for JACL after graduation?

JB: Yes, after graduation. When Min Yasui became the president of JACL, Mountain High JACL, I think it was, I went to work for him.

BN: Now, were you working for him in the capacity of JACL or involvement in his law practice?

JB: Both. Well, his law practice was, he would do everything himself. And I always remember Min as the person who the Isseis would come in to have their papers looked at, and I think there was evacuation claims at that time, claim up to three thousand dollars of loss if you could prove it. And he would help the Isseis do that, but he wouldn't take any money. And I remember this one time I was in his office on the outside of his office, and he was inside with this Issei man. And the man got up and stood up and he says, "Well, how much do I owe you?" And Min would say, "Nothing, you don't owe me anything." And the man said, "No, you got to take some money, you've got to take something." Min said, "No, no, forget it. Happy to do it." And I remember the man insisting he's going to pay, so Min finally says, "Okay fifty cents." But he had done all his legal work for him, but that's how Min was. He was very, very generous. I had so much fun with him. And just going out to lunch with him, having him tell me all the things that happened to him, it was just, I would just sit there and just listen to him. He was such a good storyteller.

BN: How did you meet? Just because you were neighbors?

JB: Uh-huh, neighbors, probably, or maybe he came to our store and knew I was taking secretarial classes, maybe that's how. I met Bill Hosokawa there at our store, he was working for Denver Post, and Hikaru Iwasaki.

BN: What was Hikaru doing?

JB: He was a photographer.

BN: But, who was he working for?

JB: Life.

BN: So he was hired by Life.

JB: Uh-huh. We knew him, photographer for Life. He might have been doing this freelance also, on the side, I'm not sure.

BN: Then you would have graduated in...

JB: 1950.

BN: Started that fall?

JB: I think I started, I didn't go to college, I just started secretarial school and became a secretary. Then we left Denver in '53, and when I came back to L.A., I had a full time job and two part time jobs at night, and one of them was with JACL here.

BN: But you were also active in JACL in Denver.

JB: Not so much active, I was just his secretary.

BN: So you were more...

JB: He would travel a lot, because it's the time of, they were trying to get the McCarran-Walter act, immigration act passed. So he would travel to Texas and Mexico and Wyoming, wherever there was an audience, he would go to speak. And I remember one time he wanted me to join them on one of the trips with his wife, Tru, and the baby, and I couldn't go because I had to work at the store. But he would go, he traveled even to the southern states just to get people to try to get them to, encourage them to support the bill. And finally it did pass, and I did get to meet Mike Masaoka at one of the... I can't remember if it was a convention or a meeting, I can't remember what it was. I remember I was taking notes. I was taking notes at the JACL meeting, so more than being a participant, I was more like a secretary. So taking my notes was all on stenotype, so I was able to look around and see what's going on while I'm taking shorthand. That was fun.

BN: A lost skill today.

JB: Oh, yeah, even lost with me because I wouldn't know how to do any of that either myself.

BN: Now, I know when you were in Denver, we were talking earlier, you were on the cover of Nisei Vue in 1948. How did that come about?

JB: Well, for some reason, Hikaru Iwasaki wanted to take photographs of us fishing as a promotion for Colorado, maybe, I'm not sure. So he gathered my friend Pearl and I, and Homer Yasui, and we went to Granada Fish Company and we bought a dozen trout, ready to eat trout. And we drove up to the mountains, Rocky Mountains, and we laid the fish out there and he took pictures of us fishing, like we were catching fish. [Laughs] But the fish were all dead that we caught, but they were beautiful trout. For some reason, I don't know how I met Hikaru, but that was a fun trip to do. I think I didn't even realize it was for a magazine, I thought it was just taking pictures. It did end up, my girlfriend Pearl, we were friends for a long time, even here, but then she has had Alzheimer's. But Homer is still doing well.

BN: Yes, I saw him not too long ago.

JB: Yeah. I haven't seen him for a while, but I got together with Holly making the movie, and we had a Min Yasui civil rights committee here in L.A., and we put on a program at the museum on Min Yasui, honoring Min Yasui, so that was great.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 2018 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 12>

JB: Yeah, Denver was a great place where we met a lot of people because of the store. My brother and his friends would be working in the back room. In those days, like before the war in L.A., if you worked for a Japanese company, you ate breakfast, lunch and dinner there. The store would feed you, it would feed all the workers, so it was like a family. And I remember in the middle room was where our packing room was, pack manju to send to camps or back east, Chicago or anywhere. And in the packing room, some guys would come out and we'd listen to music all the time, we had jazz records that we would play and things like that. So it was a social scene also, besides being a store. I don't think we made any money, but we had a lot of fun. [Laughs] But soon, like I say, people started leaving.

BN: And then the business declined.

JB: Yeah, so we closed up and my brother brought my parents back.

BN: How did you feel? Did you want to stay there or were you ready to go back?

JB: No, I definitely, I think by then, Min Yasui had gotten into my mind, and what a terrible thing happened, civil rights and all that, what a horrible thing that it was that the government did to us. And so I was already becoming an activist, so I wanted to go to Chicago and New York, and I didn't want to come back to California. In fact, yes, I remember now. Min made me a Republican. He said, "Don't vote Democrat, they put you in camp." So I became a Republican. And he said, "And never go back to California, they kicked you out of California." I said, "Yeah, I'm never going back to California." So Min was already in my brain, so I was parroting everything he said. So I didn't want to come back to California, I wanted to go to Chicago and New York to study design, or something like that, fashion design. Only, my parents wanted me to come back, so of course, I came back here because there was no one else to support them. So I came back to California.

BN: Because your older siblings were on their own.

JB: Married, yeah, they were already married, so I was the only one left.

BN: Did they stay...

JB: My sister stayed in Detroit, Michigan, and Yas stayed in Denver, then he wanted to come back to California, too, so they moved back. And my parents moved back and I followed them and about two or three months later I came back. But like I say, Min was a big influence in my life at that time, because I was working for him and I felt that, no, I'm never going back to California.

BN: But you did.

JB: Yeah, I did. [Laughs]

BN: And then you mentioned when you came back you worked for JACL and for someone else?

JB: Kashu Realty on the west side, and then I worked for a baking company during the day as my full time job, and JACL was my nighttime job. That's where I met Edison Uno, Saburo Kido, and Tats Kushida was the head of JACL.

BN: What was that district?

JB: Pacific Southwest JACL.

BN: Where was that?

JB: It was right in the Miyako Hotel, right in Little Tokyo. Before they tore down Miyako Hotel, there was an underground Ginza bar there, which is now Horikawa's. And Mas Hamasu was singing there, and it was like a Japanese American nightclub.

BN: And then where did you live?

JB: We lived... excuse me, on the west side. My brother first lived back in Virgil, he was living in Virgil, and I got an apartment for my mother and father and myself on the west side.

BN: And what does "west side" mean? Because I think it has a different meaning today.

JB: Yes. This west side is like Jefferson Street, Adams, it's what was formerly known as Seinan district, where Centenary church was, and there's a big Japanese group there. I was there until I got married, I had my children, and then I decided I wanted to move into an area that is not all Japanese. So I wanted to be diversified with African Americans, Latinos, Jewish, so we moved to Granada Hills, which, they had this Eichler home, and Eichler home was known to be a place, a very liberal place to live, and there was a very diverse neighborhood. Because when we lived in L.A. at that time, you couldn't live in certain places, they had your boundaries. And Granada Hills was wide open, anybody could live there, so that's why I chose Granada Hills.

BN: And this is a few years later.

JB: Yes, 1963 we moved to Granada Hills. Until then we lived in the west side, is where my children were born. It was a while, I guess, the whole neighborhood was just Japanese American, and you stayed within your group.

BN: And you wanted to break away from that?

JB: Uh-huh, wanted my kids, by then I had six, five kids. And so I wanted them to grow up in a diverse neighborhood. That was important to me, that they grow up knowing all different kinds of people.

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

<Begin Segment 13>

BN: And I want to get back to that, but before we get to that, talk about the Nisei Week --

JB: Nisei Week?

BN: -- period, and how did that...

JB: I don't know how that... it's a mystery to me, too. I had just got back here from Denver, and somebody asked me if I would like to run. And my mother said no because we don't have any money, and I knew we didn't have any money. In those days you had to buy your own clothes and everything was, there was no sponsorship, you were on your own. So I made all my clothes. I mean, when I say I made them, my girlfriends all helped me make them. Basically I made my own clothes to wear. It was the era at that time where, in Little Tokyo, in order to create business for Little Tokyo, the Nisei Week was started in the '30s, right? So what they did was, every time you bought something, for every dollar you spent, you get a ticket, and then on that ticket you vote for whichever queen you want. So they would have our pictures plastered on the walls of the stores and the restaurants, and people would go in and whatever they purchased, they would give them the ticket and then they would write down the names. So Rafu Shimpo would have a weekly tally of who's leading, and then the top five get to become the court. And then from the top five, one is judged to be the queen. So in the time leading up to that, George Yoshinaga had me pegged as the dark horse, 'cause I was about number seven, and you had to be in the top five. So these people would... and I guess it was successful because people would tell me, "I bought my refrigerator and I put all my votes for you," or, "We bought this and we put our votes for you." I didn't know these people. I didn't know anybody in L.A., practically. So it was a big surprise when I slid into fourth place, I guess.

BN: Yeah, fourth.

JB: Fourth? I thought it was fifth. And then from there, they had judging in private home, and so we didn't have to go on stage or anything like that. I think being selected as queen was probably due to my Japanese training. I remember Consul General Hogan was one of the judges, and I think I impressed him by knowing Japanese, how to speak Japanese, where the other girls didn't know how to speak Japanese. So I think that gave me an edge.

BN: What were you judged on?

JB: Bathing suit. It was done at a private home in a swimming pool. So bathing suit, evening gown, they interview you, we each had to go in to be interviewed in a room. Those things, whatever you said, or your poise or whatever, that was what we were judged on. But we didn't know who won until that very night. And at night they would say, "Okay, fourth, fifth runner up is so-and-so," and then she goes out the door first and marches down. And it was at the Palladium. I don't know how many people were there, but she would go down. And the third place is so-and-so, and so she'd go down. By the time you get to second, and then the first runner up, there's only two of us sitting there left. When it was announced, I was pretty shocked. My mother was in the hospital at the time and she had just had surgery for cancer, so she wasn't there. So I called her right away, and I think I called Kansuma, too, I'm not sure. I thanked her. My mother said, "It's quite an honor." She said, "The first thing you have to do is you have to go to the gravesite to thank your father." So the next morning, I went to Evergreen Cemetery to thank my father. And being Nisei Week queen let to my becoming a model, and then that's when I was supposed to go to Japan with Hari Greer, and that was in that Scene magazine. And I did some movie work, a little bit, not too much. It opened up other kinds of opportunities for me. But then I got married and had kids, so that was the end of that. [Laughs]

BN: I read a little bit about the projected trip to Japan, but it kind of fell through.

JB: Yes. There were five of us, four Caucasians, they were from New York, models, and I was from here. They gave me a send-off trip, they gave me a send-off party, it was all set to go. And the day before the trip, Japan canceled me because they had Miss Japan and Japan to be a model. I was canceled.

BN: If they were going to bring people from the U.S...

JB: Yeah, you could bring the Caucasians.

BN: Yeah, you could find somewhere like you there.

JB: They said, "We have a lot of Japanese girls here, so you don't need to bring the Japanese girl." So Hari Greer said, "I'm really sorry to tell you this, but since they're paying for the trip, they said we have enough Japanese girls here." I was disappointed. But on the other hand, it was terrible because all my relatives in Wakayama, I heard they took the train to Tokyo to go greet me. It was a big deal. And then Fred Yamashiro, who was in the army, Korean War there, he saw my picture in Stars & Stripes, and so he told all his buddies, "This is my girlfriend and she's coming to Japan." So when he called this place in Nagoya, they said, "Oh, June couldn't make the trip." But then he called me when he came back from the Korean War and we got married. So there was this continuation of events, even though I was cancelled. But I still modeled here in L.A. for Ko Kaneko, mostly Ko Kaneko. She was a fashion designer, we modeled at different restaurants.

BN: And is this, you were talking earlier about Nobu McCarthy, this period in...

JB: Yeah, Nobu and I did the auto show together, and she had the Toyota car, and I had... was in the Datsun, the very first Datsun that came over. And everybody would stop by and say, "That thing is built out of beer cans." [Laughs] Next door to me is the Maserati on that side, and the other side of me was some, I don't know, Mercedes-Benz.

BN: You were with the Japanese cars.

JB: Yeah. And then Nobu was down the row with her Toyota, but at least Toyota had some style, it was pretty. Datsuns looked like, it was a Japanese taxi cab, is what it was. It was fun. So we would do different shows together.

BN: Is it something that you were thinking of pursuing professionally?

JB: Yes, I wanted to be a model, and then I wanted to be an airline stewardess. But at that time, they weren't hiring Japanese for airline stewardess, not until Japan Air Lines came.

BN: Or in Hawaii.

JB: Yeah, right.

BN: That was the time Pan Am was hiring, specifically looking for Nisei stewardesses.

JB: Oh, really?

BN: And just, it was a Hawaii thing.

JB: And then after a while I became afraid to fly, just didn't want to fly anymore. But there was a time when I thought I wanted to be a stewardess.

<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 2018 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 14>

BN: You said you were in some movies?

JB: Oh, yeah. Later on, Geisha Boy with Jerry Lewis.

BN: And Nobu...

JB: Yeah, she was in there, Nobu. And then the other one was The Barbarian and the Geisha with this girl from Japan, I can't remember her name right now. Beautiful girl.

BN: Is that John Wayne?

JB: John Wayne, uh-huh.

BN: I can't remember the name of the person either.

JB: Aiko something. She was six foot tall, and they found her in Hokkaido as a bar dancer. She was so nice, I really liked her. We had a good time.

BN: And these, you were doing these, this is after you got married?

JB: Yeah.

BN: So you're still doing some of that.

JB: Right, modeling sometimes, off and on. So basically that's the only two movies I appeared in. The one with Jerry Lewis, when the movie came out, my scene was cut out. So I guess that was the end of my acting career.

BN: Did you make the other one?

JB: Uh-huh.

BN: So you're actually on the screen.

JB: The screen, yeah. But Geisha Boy, I'm just doing some still motions, I'm not acting in a scene. But that had a scene I was supposed to do with Jerry Lewis, and that was funny because the director came up to me and said, "Do you know how to swim?" I said, "Yeah." He said, "You know how to dive?" I said, "Yeah." He says, "Here, you got the part." So he said, "Take the script home and memorize it and we'll be shooting in about a month." In a month I had to learn how to swim, I had to learn how to dive. [Laughs] I had to learn how to dive like a pro diver and wiggle my legs or something. Anyway, I failed. But they took me out, I remember they took me out to Paramount Lake, and Jerry Lewis is in the middle of the lake and he's singing "'O Sole Mio," like an Italian guy on a boat. And I thought, "Oh, my god, I can't swim from here to the middle of the lake, I'll drown. They'll find out that I don't know how to swim." I could barely swim, but I can't swim half a lake. So fortunately, they took me out on a boat. And I'm supposed to dive down like a pearl diver, I'm supposed to be a pearl diver. And I'm supposed to come up with a pearl and I say to Jerry Lewis, "Here, this is for Elvis Presley. Give him this pearl." And then I said, "He's cool, man, cool," and then I'm supposed to dive back down in the water. Well, I must have been pretty bad. [Laughs] It ended up somewhere on the cutting room floor. And all I remember is Jerry Lewis going, "Oh, my god." So we did the scene over and over and over, all day long, and I ended up with a sore nose, water going up my nose, it was a disaster. So that was the end of my career.

BN: You got a good story out of it.

JB: Yeah, it was fun. Yeah, I'm not an actress, I found out.

BN: Or a swimmer.

JB: Or a swimmer, or a diver, or a pearl diver. So when I see the movie, you just see Jerry Lewis point out to the lake, telling the guy, "Oh, look, there's some pearl divers out there," and that's the end of the scene. [Laughs] Didn't do too well.

BN: Chance of stardom out the window.

JB: Yeah, right. They missed their chance. [Laughs] It's interesting, around that time we were trying out for Sayonara, I remember going out for the audition for that. And different movies, they were starting to do a lot more Japanese type movies.

BN: Yeah, there was a period, the "Japanese craze" in the early '50s that I remember Larry Tajiri would write about, with all these movies and plays.

JB: Uh-huh. But that was it for me.

<End Segment 14> - Copyright © 2018 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 15>

BN: And then when did you get married?

JB: I got married during the year I was Nisei Week queen, 1954. Like I said, he came back from the Korean War.

BN: You obviously already knew him.

JB: Oh, yeah. When I was in Denver, my girlfriend and I took a summer trip to Chicago, and I met a lot of people in Chicago during that 1947, I was fourteen and my girlfriend was sixteen, two country hicks going out to the big city of Chicago. Chicago at that time was really jumping. Everybody was on the stoops on 43rd and Berkeley, on the front porch. One guy, Nob Iyasaki had a car that he won in a raffle, that was the only car that anybody had. So everybody would jump in the car and go to the beach, we'd go to Aragon Ballroom and danced to, I think it was Vaughn Monroe, Chicago is where I saw Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong. So it was the summer of '47, and I went to see the College All-Stars play, Doc Blanchard, and Glenn Davis, Charley Trippi playing against Buddy Young. So that was fun. But going back to, I got married and I had five children. During that time, we lived in Granada Hills, and I was pretty much cut away from the Japanese community. During the years that my children were growing up, that's the years of Yellow Brotherhood and the redress. So I wasn't involved in the community at all during that time.

BN: Did you work outside of the home?

JB: Yeah, I worked at Bel Air Presbyterian Church again.

BN: Bel Air.

JB: Uh-huh, Presbyterian church where Don Muma was pastor, and Reagan used to come to the church. The story there is Min Yasui came out from Denver with his wife and little girl, and we had Sunday brunch at the Holiday Inn off the 405. And Min gave me a letter to give to President Reagan, because he knew that he worshipped for the church that we're... so he gave me a letter. And I said to Min, "I can't really give this to him because we're not supposed to approach them when they're worshiping." So I gave the letter to Don Muma, our pastor, and I told Don that my friend wanted this letter to go to the President because it's to encourage him to sign the civil rights, redress act. And I saw Reagan. Reagan gave me a cowboy hat that he signed for the Taste of Bel Air Food Festival, and I said to President Reagan, "If your secret service men weren't standing next to you, I would give you a hug." So he just grabbed me and just gave me a big hug. So I now was President Reagan's big fan. [Laughs] Anyway, he gave us a hat for our silent auction. But I don't know whatever happened to that letter, but President Reagan signed the civil rights act, so I thought, "Oh, that's good." Signed it anyway, so I was happy that President Reagan signed that bill. It was really good.

BN: But you never did give him the letter.

JB: I didn't. I gave it to my pastor, I gave it to Don Muma. I don't know what Don did with it.

BN: Maybe it had an impact.

JB: I don't know whatever happened to the letter. I never asked him whatever happened. But I think he was going to sign the bill anyway. I think he was very kind, I liked him, he was a kind man. When he used to come to our church, I was working at the church at the time, so whenever he would come, we'd have to have the whole secret service go through everything, set up separate phone lines, we had the SWAT team out to guard from the rooftops and all that, and we had secret service stationed at every exit and door. And my curiosity got the best of me and when everybody was praying, I looked up to see if the secret service had their eyes closed or not. Were they watching to see the President or were they having their eyes closed? No, they were watching everybody. [Laughs] But Reagan and Nancy were members of the Bel Air church when I worked there, and they used to come every Sunday. It was fun.

BN: You really did know everybody.

JB: It's sort of like in the back doors.

<End Segment 15> - Copyright © 2018 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 16>

BN: So now you're active in the community and all these different things, and at that time you were not. What kind of brought you to that?

JB: After Reagan signed the EO9066, it was not, shortly thereafter, I quit Bel Air and I went to work for KCET, and the riots happened.

BN: So '92.

JB: Yeah. The museum just opened. Or was it?

BN: Yeah, the museum literally opened the day the riots broke out in 1992.

JB: Oh, really? So anyway, I didn't work for the museum.

BN: At that time.

JB: But I went to work for Rebuild L.A., which was Peter Ueberroth and Barry Sanders. They were my boss, so I worked as a secretary there at Rebuild L.A., and it was sort of like Tom Bradley and the board of directors were a hundred people on the board, and it was to revive South L.A. And it was a good idea, and I think Peter Ueberroth was a great leader, I really liked him. And I worked for Barry Sanders as the co-chair. They were really good, they were really trying to help, but I think politically Peter Ueberroth stepped on some people's feet, and he got into a war like with the city council. Even as he tried, he ran into roadblocks along the way. Well, it was supposed to close anyway in a couple years or three years. And so after they closed, I opened up a boutique here in Studio City called Satori, and then the earthquake happened. So then I went to work for, I was out of a job, so part of my store was at Yaohan downtown in Little Tokyo. And then I heard Irene needed a secretary, so I went and applied and that's how I got to Irene's secretary. I didn't know anybody.

BN: You didn't know Irene?

JB: Uh-uh, no. I didn't know anybody there. And being out of the community for so long, I just sort of thought this is about time I started to give back to the community, and I think that's where... you know the Japanese how they say you're born with on, giri and gimu? I remember hearing that so much from the Chrysanthemum and the Sword. And I think I was really conscious of that and giving back to the community, so that's how I sort of started getting back. Being Nisei Week queen, I think I felt an obligation to give back to the community. And so even now, today, my volunteer work has to do with giving back for my parents who are no longer here. It's a way of caring for my parents who are no longer here. So for me, it has that kind of a satisfaction, so that's probably why I'm so involved now.

BN: So things like Santa Anita, Tuna Canyon, can you talk about how you got involved?

JB: Well, working for Irene, she was really inspiring to work for, really enjoyed working for her. And met a lot of people through her and the Senator. And she was an inspirational person because she had so much energy. I never heard her say, "I'm tired," I never saw her yawn. And I think I've had the great opportunity for working for extraordinary people like Kansuma, Min Yasui, Irene, and I've learned from each one of them, they're such giving people. I think that's what I admire most about all of them. [Phone rings] They gave much more than what they had to gain, and I think each one of them were so inspiring. I think that's why I learned from them that you gain a lot, you become happy because, if you can do anything. And I think Irene taught me that, and I think Min Yasui taught me that, and I think Kansuma taught me that. Barry Sanders at Rebuild L.A., Peter Ueberroth, all those people just really were inspiring people to work for. That's probably why I'm still able to enjoy the people that I met before and the people that I meet now.

So I volunteer at the, what was formerly Keiro retirement home, it's now Sakura Gardens retirement home, I have two classes there. I have a knitting class which I really don't teach them how to knit, just serve tea, and my other class is called Talk Stories, and they're all senior women older than me in their nineties now. And each one of the women that I meet in my class, they have so much to say. And it's just fun to hear their stories, so I do that. And then I started a Nikkei Women's Legacy Association with the thought of giving back to the community, and to somehow do kindness in the community, however that comes out. So we did some programs. But then the mission that girls wanted to follow was different than what I wanted, so I left, and they continued on with their mission of supporting Nisei Week. I didn't feel that that was my role.

So I'm just doing volunteer work on my own. Koreisha, the senior food program in Little Tokyo, these people live in Little Tokyo Towers or Little Tokyo, senior homes around Little Tokyo, and they have hot lunches every day for them. And I've really been amazed at the people that work there as volunteers are all from Japan, no Niseis. I'm the only Nisei. And I'm just amazed that these people that come day after day to volunteer, are so dedicated. They'll take a bus and come from far distances just to volunteer. So I enjoy working there.

So then Tuna Canyon, just from being at the museum, my sister's father-in-law was in Tuna Canyon. And then when Kanji started talking about Tuna Canyon, I became very interested in that. And from there, we've got a grant to do interviews of descendants, so we're doing that. So that's where I am today.

BN: How many interviews have you done?

JB: We've done maybe... under the grant we've done fourteen. We have about ten more to go. Before the grant, the museum was generous enough to do interviews for us, and they took the cost of it. And we did about twenty there, so all in all, maybe about thirty-four. But we still, in all of our exhibits, and just talking to people different days, we come across names almost every day. And right now we're about 174 names, so we need a lot more grants if we want to do more interviews.

BN: What drew you to Tuna Canyon? Because this is something that was almost unknown just a few years ago.

JB: Right. Yes, I saw an article in the L.A. Times that caught my eye, and I didn't know anything about it. And then, like I said, my sister's father-in-law was in Tuna Canyon, Reverend Tsuyuki where my parents used to worship, he was in Tuna Canyon. And little by little I heard of different people who I knew were in Tuna Canyon, even though my family was not involved. I thought this story has, I was so surprised that even I didn't know about it. And so many people don't know about it. They hear about EO9066, but there is not too much that is told about these U.S. Immigration and Justice camps. So I feel this sense of satisfaction in finding these descendants and hearing their stories and trying to promote that story of what happened to these people.

BN: And then were you involved with Santa Anita?

JB: Yeah. We had a Santa Anita reunion, Santa Anita committee, and Bacon started it. But Bacon says, "I'm not from Santa Anita."

BN: Bacon Sakatani.

JB: Sakatani, whose father, in fact, was from Tuna Canyon. So there's Bill Shishima and Hal Keimi and Mor Wada, and several of us, Min Tonai, who are from Santa Anita. So nobody wants to be president. So Bacon says, "I'm going to appoint a president, and you are going to be the president." I go, "Oh, okay." [Laughs] So that's how I.... then we had a Santa Anita reunion at the museum, it turned out good. So I've been to a couple of Santa Anita reunions, and it's always good. Wish we could do more. Wish we could have another reunion.

BN: There's probably still a lot of people around, it was so big.

JB: Well, the next reunion I'd like to do is my friend Takayo and I, Rusty Frank is, she has this swing club. So she did a program about camp dance, and so we've gone to several places to talk about how we learned how to swing dance in camp. And we've got that program that we do now that we talk to different groups, so that's been fun. And in camp, they had these dance cards that Tak Hamano gave to me, and people would write, they would go around the room and find girls to fill in dance number one, dance two. So found my sister's name on a dance card, and that was kind of exciting. So I'd like to do a reunion where we have dancing in camp, so the music of Glenn Miller, all those, Duke Ellington, Harry James. And even if the people can't dance, we could sit around on tables and listen to the music, and whoever, the young people now, the caretakers and the parents or the children can all get up and dance. I think that would be fun. But I haven't gotten that far yet.

BN: Better get busy with all your free time.

JB: [Laughs] Yeah, right.

BN: Anything else you'd like to add? I'm done with what I wanted to ask you.

JB: No, I think I've talked enough. [Laughs] I feel very, very lucky, very, very fortunate to have met so many wonderful people. And I love being a volunteer at the museum, and being a volunteer at the retirement homes, too. So it's hard to give any of it up.

BN: Thank you very much.

JB: Thank you.

<End Segment 16> - Copyright © 2018 Densho. All Rights Reserved.