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-1000-462-2

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TI: And before you tell the rest of the story, the four of you, what were you thinking and hoping, going on this excursion? So this was the four boys, sixteen years old? As a group, the first time probably on your own, and you're going to the outside world after living in Manzanar for like three years. What were you thinking?

HU: Oh, we were working on the, this is summer vacation, and we got a job as a roofing crew, and we were putting a new roof on the barrack. And come to think of it, I'm still wondering why we were putting new roof on the barrack when people were leaving. So anyway, every morning we'd pick up the tarpaper and bring it to the site. And one evening, we saw fire, and what happened was the warehouse that kept the tarpaper just went up in flames. So the next morning we went to sort of clean up, and that was it, we were out of a job.

TI: Oh, I see. So summertime, you were out of jobs, you didn't have anything to do, so you felt it'd be good to go out. And was it kind of like as an adventure?

HU: Yeah, it was. And this guy, Roy Yonemura, he was from French Camp, and they had a farm, 15 acre tomato farm. And he had this German immigrant that was a neighbor taking care of his farm. So we already had a contact, so we went, so we trusted, we depended on Roy to make all the arrangements, so when we got there, his name was Joe, neighbor, was there to pick us up. And then we were naive, we didn't think of how to get a job, so we were out of a job for 48, two days. I mean, Joe was kind of looking for jobs for us, but they couldn't find it. And during the meantime, we were living in Joe's shack. I mean, he had a house of his own, he had a little shack for harvesting, the harvest workers.

TI: And I'm sorry, so how long were you kind of doing this for?

HU: Forty-eight hours.

TI: Forty-eight hours, okay, two days.

HU: Yeah. But the thing was, Joe had this hand pump, and then it was situated right next to his outhouse, and we just didn't have the guts to drink it, so we didn't drink the water for forty-eight hours, and of course there was no food, we weren't prepared for that. So we went without food and water for forty-eight hours, and then finally we said, "Hey, we got to do something," and we said, "How much do you have?" And there was a sort of a store. Out in the country, they used to have these gas stations, not that big...

TI: Like a convenience store?

HU: Right. So we had about sixty-seven cents or something like that all together, so we went to the grocery store and then picked up two Royal Crown colas and mustard and bread. And on the way back, we picked up some onions, because it was summertime, so they harvested the onions, and there were a bunch of half rotten onions. So we picked up whatever was not too rotten, onions, and then there was a cemetery, and inside the cemetery was an apricot tree full of apricots. So we took a bunch of that, so we went back to Joe's shack and we had onion and mustard sandwich. And so it was the most delicious lunch we ever had.

TI: Well, the other thing I was thinking as you're telling the story is, this was like, I guess, for you, welcome to the outside world. I mean, all of a sudden, what it's like to be on your own, and not having a place, food, and all that taken care of for you, because that's what your existence was like at Manzanar, now in the outside world, you'd have to figure out all these things on your own.

HU: Yeah. It was fun.

TI: So I know on this trip we touched on it last time, and how you actually did a side trip to Los Angeles before. When you looked at Los Angeles, was that your first time?

HU: That was the first time. First time in any big city. I used to go to Sacramento, and Sacramento back in those days, it was a town sort of...

TI: But Los Angeles was much bigger.

HU: Oh, yeah.

TI: And did you guys go to that Little Tokyo area?

HU: Yeah. Kenji Yada, we used to call him "Wanger," he got his name Wanger in the shower room. He's tall, and people figure, well, he has something that big, so they called him Wanger.

TI: So spell that, W...

HU: W-A-N-G-E-R.

TI: Wanger, okay.

HU: Okay, sort of a big dick type.

TI: [Laughs] That's what I thought he said. Okay, that was his nickname.

HU: Anyway, he grew up in Little Tokyo area. I think he lived on Towne Avenue, Fifth and Towne, there was a Japanese section there where people used to live.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2019 Densho. All Rights Reserved.