Densho Digital Repository
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-1000-462-10

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TI: And then on weekends, what would people do? You and your friends, what would you do?

HU: Just hang around, listen to music. I used to spend a lot of time with Wanger, he used to live on top of the, Y's Cafe, and he used to listen to all the music, American music. And then Muro-san gave me a record, one of those 78s, and Japanese record, and we were playing. I made a turntable out of crates, and anyway, we were playing it, and it was music about ukiyo, the old geisha prostitutes and things, and we didn't know that it was about prostitutes. [Laughs] And Wanger's mother listened to it, and she just bawled us out. "You shouldn't be listening to that kind of music." [Laughs]

TI: You just liked the music.

HU: Yeah.

TI: That's funny. You grew up in Florin where there was pretty much Japanese and maybe some whites, and then you went to live in Manzanar which was almost all Japanese. And now you're in Los Angeles, which is much more diverse racially than you lived before. So tell me how that was for you, I mean, because you had probably Mexicans, Jewish people, Boyle Heights, you probably had some black residents around, but there's different races that you came across. How was that for you, and were there any kind of interesting stories about that?

HU: They were regular people. And one thing I didn't like was they had Jewish holidays that all the Jewish students were able to take off, and there was Russian holidays, but no Japanese holidays.

TI: Oh, they wouldn't allow you take off on Japanese holidays?

HU: Yeah, that's one thing I remember that I was unhappy about.

TI: But you thought it was unfair that the Jewish students got, like, Yom Kippur off and things like that, interesting.

HU: But we all got along.

TI: I want to get a sense of, you saw Little Tokyo like June of 1945, so when families were just coming back. You got here a couple months later in August, and then you kind of lived in this area for three years. Tell me about the change during that time period. Did you see much change?

HU: There wasn't that much change during that time, the beginning part.

TI: So was the population pretty stable? It didn't grow or get smaller?

HU: It might have grown, but haven't noticed it. And then after two years, then I was busy working and trying to make some money.

TI: When you think of Little Tokyo in the time you were there, were there some strong personalities that you remember, people just in the community that kind of stood out? They don't have to be necessarily prominent, but just people that you saw always on the street or something that kind of stood out?

HU: Yeah, I had friends that used to hang around here.

TI: So tell me about some of them.

HU: It was my friend Arata, Sammy Ota, he was a couple years older than me. He graduated high school in Manzanar, and when he came out, he didn't have, his mother died in Manzanar, and his father was older and wasn't working. So he rented a little house in Boyle Heights, and he got a job as a painter, spray painting. So he was supporting his father and he had a kid brother, and he sent his kid brother to college and things. But then he died when he was about thirty-nine, and I don't know was the cause was, but my suspicion is that the spray painting...

TI: Oh, the fumes.

HU: ...the fumes and things shortened his life. He was a fun guy.

TI: How about any other people that kind of stood out? It could be like a minister or anything that...

HU: Let me see... not really. There was Dr. Goto, he operated on my hernia and appendix. And he was, well, he was at Manzanar. And then there were stories about Dr. Goto there, he was transferred to Topaz, and some people say... there's all kind of stories, like the rangers there, before the work at Manzanar they go through this indoctrination course, and she was telling me that the way she learned was that Dr. Goto was sent to Topaz because he was performing abortions. So that was one story there. Then another story is that during the riot, Ishii, a seven-year-old boy, he got shot in the back. Because when they were retreating, they got shot. And then the administrators wanted to cover up the story, so he didn't want Dr. Goto to report that he was shot in the back, that's another story. And then I have my theory that each department head was hakujin, fire department, Free Press, our newspaper, police department, it was always a white person that's head of the department. And Dr. Goto, he was pushed to go there, and he was head of the hospital, which is the largest department, and I don't think that administrator wanted any Japanese to be head of a department so big, so he was transferred to... and then he was replaced by this hakujin doctor. That was just my theory.

TI: Right. And then he ended up back in Little Tokyo and he was your doctor.

HU: Yeah.

TI: Did you ever talk to him at all about camp or anything like that?

HU: No.

TI: Did people talk much about camp during these years?

HU: Yeah, because... well I think, this is just my opinion, but people had a good time. That it wasn't anything, we didn't think of being unjustified, I mean, it didn't even occur to us that we got screwed big time, but that was it. It was one of those things, it was no big deal. So I think, again, we were too busy trying to get adjusted to being accepted into the American mainstream, and I think, yeah, we never talked about it. Things like "concentration camp," we never referred to it as concentration camp. I'm not criticizing, no offense to you. [Laughs]

TI: Yeah, that's okay. We had this conversation last time. [Laughs]

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