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-1000-462-3

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TI: And what were your first impressions when you saw Little Tokyo, Los Angeles? Because you lived, you grew up on a small farm, and yeah, you may have seen Sacramento, but this was the big city.

HU: Yeah, it was exciting. But then we got out at Union Station for Stockton, and then Wanger, he wasn't too sure. He was definitely young when he left, and he wasn't too oriented in this area, so we took a cab, had to go to Muro-san's hotel. Because Muro-san was married to a Mexican American, and she was running this hotel.

TI: So this like Fourth and Main?

HU: Fourth and Main. In fact, 417 1/2 South Main. So anyway, we asked, there were a few taxi drivers standing around, so we asked them to take us to Fourth and Main Street. And they said, "Well, why don't you walk? It's not that far." At that time, I didn't realize that they didn't want, they don't want us anyway.

TI: Okay, so they weren't trying to save you money, they just didn't want to drive you. Because it was about a mile or so.

HU: Yeah. So we had these heavy suitcases and we walked. But when I come to think of it now, it's just because we were "Japs," they didn't want to give a ride to a "Jap."

TI: And about what time was this? Were there other, was the exclusion zone open long enough that Japanese businesses were starting up again in Little Tokyo? Do you remember kind of the date of this first one? Well, you said summer, so summer 1945, so maybe in June? And so there probably were some families.

HU: Yeah, they lifted the ban in January or February of '45, so when we came down here, there were already Japanese shops. I mean, before that, Little Tokyo was occupied by the black people, but then I think they got, the owners of the buildings, they wanted the black people out, so they had to, I guess they hired this professional crew, kind of relocate them to Watts or Willowbrook or whatever.

TI: And that was to make room for the Japanese to return?

HU: Yeah, uh-huh.

TI: Now, who were the owners? Were they Japanese owners?

HU: American owners, most of them, and then of course there were Japanese owners, too.

TI: Oh, interesting, okay.

HU: So when we came here in June, I didn't see any black people here. And they were the Japanese small shops opening up, and barber shops, cleaners, little cafes and things like that.

TI: And was this pretty much along, like, First Street?

HU: Yeah, First Street. First Street and also San Pedro Street. Although First Street went all the way down to Main Street just before the police station came up, so then First Street and then San Pedro Street, they were the last shops coming up. And then so...

TI: And then your, so you go to...

HU: Oh, Muro-san's.

TI: Muro-san's place. And he wasn't there yet, he was still back in Manzanar?

HU: Yeah.

TI: So this was his Mexican wife, and the adopted daughter, Hope, I think...

HU: Hope, yeah.

TI: And Hope was, you told me earlier, it's an interesting story because she was Nisei, but she stayed in skid row during the war. She didn't go to Manzanar.

HU: No. And she went to a Catholic, there's a Catholic church around here, Third and Los Angeles, anyway, nearby there was a Catholic...

TI: Oh, right, I think I've seen that.

HU: Yeah, so she went to school there.

TI: So she was just like under the radar and no one bothered her.

HU: Yeah, nobody bothered.

TI: Probably with the last name Muro, they might not have even thought that was Japanese.

HU: And in skid row, they don't bother with people down there.

TI: Now, did you ever talk to her about what it was like living in L.A.?

HU: No. She was kind of quiet, and I think that got, a little later, my article came out in Rafu Shimpo. And the guy, his name was Doi, I forgot his first name, in Seattle, he read it and he says, "Hey, I knew Muro, and he was a very good friend of my father." And then he called me and we talked on the phone, and he was saying that Hope, after Mrs. Muro died, Hope committed suicide and she was about forty years old. And I guess if she had gone to Manzanar and made a lot of friends there, I think she would have been a lot happier.

TI: Because she would have a larger community to support her after her mother.

HU: Yeah.

TI: Interesting.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 2019 Densho. All Rights Reserved.