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Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Hank Shozo Umemoto Interview II
Narrator: Hank Shozo Umemoto
Interviewer: Tom Ikeda
Location: Los Angeles, California
Date: February 6, 2019
Densho ID: ddr-densho-1000-462-1

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TI: Okay, Hank, I just start with the date and where we are. So today is February 6th, we're in Los Angeles at the DoubleTree Hotel. My name is Tom Ikeda, I'm the interviewer, and on camera is Dana Hoshide. And this is reminiscent, we actually did an interview with you back in 2010, Dana was on camera and we interviewed you, and we just did it a few blocks from here, we did it at the Methodist church. And in that interview, we talked a lot about your prewar life in Florin, and then your experiences at Manzanar, and then we just touched a little bit about the postwar. And so I've always wanted to come back and interview you about those, kind of that time right after the war and what it was like. So that's what I'm going to start with, and can you remember when you left Manzanar and how you went from Manzanar to Los Angeles?

HU: Okay. First of all, me and my friends, there were four of us, we took a short-term leave. So that's the first time I got out of camp. And I guess that's when I got introduced to the outside environment, because it's a lot different. At Manzanar we had an easy life, right, like a summer camp. And anyway, we took a bus to Mojave, and then we waited for the train. And in those days, they used Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe, because government had a contract. And even in some of these old movies, evacuation movies, you see this train, and it says Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe. And so anyway, the train came, and we --

TI: And to just make sure, is this when you did this short-term leave.

HU: Yeah.

TI: And one thing I forgot to say is, this interview is with Hank Umemoto, I forgot to mention that.

HU: Okay, that's okay. It could be anybody.

TI: Short-term leave, you and how many other...

HU: There was Kenji Yada, Roy Yonemoto and Ben Nahoi, and we were all sixteen years old.

TI: Yeah, you mentioned, so you were sixteen years old, and you guys had to get special permission, because you were probably the youngest ones just to be able to go out on your own without your parents.

HU: Right, so we had to get parents' permission, and my mother said, "No way you're going to go." So I went to Mr. Muro, Muro-san was living in Block 2, bachelor block. And Muro-san was more or less involved in Seicho-No-Ie group. Have you heard of it?

TI: No.

HU: It's sort of like Christian Science. It's not exactly a religion, there's God, but it's, according to him, it is a religion, it's more like Christian Science.

TI: And was the name again?

HU: Seicho-No-Ie. So anyway, my mother was attending the meetings and things, and Mr. Muro used to come down once a week and give some lecture on the teachings of Seicho-No-Ie.

TI: So was he kind of like a father figure to you?

HU: Yeah, yeah.

TI: Okay, because your father had passed away.

HU: Yeah, that's right. And so anyway, I went to Muro-san and said, "My mother doesn't want me to go out, so could you talk to her?" And so he did, and my mother gave me permission to go. So anyway, four of us, we went out, went to Mojave, that's where we loaded the train, and there was only one passenger train, most of them were freight trains. And we got on there and Pullman, it was a Pullman car. And it was the first time I see anything like it, because when we went to camp, it was a wooden bench and everything, but this passenger train, it had a soft, covered seat, I mean, it's a luxury seat, oh, wow. And so we found a porter, he kept going, he passed the middle section, he went to the end section saying, here we were, saying, "What's going on?" And he took us into this little room, actually, it was a restroom. And there's a restroom, and in front of the restroom there were about, maybe four feet wide bench on both sides, and they told us to wait there. So we didn't know what was going on, so we thought we were going to just wait for a few minutes. We waited and waited, and you know, the train, it took about seven, eight hours, all the way long.

TI: So this is like a train version of the back of the bus.

HU: Right, right, like black people.

TI: Yeah, so it was kind of a segregated area, away from the regular passengers.

HU: Right. But it didn't occur to us at that time that we were being segregated, because we were in camp, we were naive. The only thing was we were called "Japs" in newspaper, magazine, radio, but there was no actual contact, nobody came to us and said, "Hey, you Japs," right?

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2019 Densho. All Rights Reserved.